Recalling treasured family vacations in the Rockies
While I grew up on the flatlands of the Midwest, I’ve always loved the mountainous West. When we were kids, my parents drove us out to Colorado’s iconic Front Range and beyond many times over the years.
In my mind, a trip to the impressive Front Range is the beginning of excitement and adventure, and it’s an opportunity to see people and places in a new, dynamic environment. The mountains continue to “call me,” drawing me to new sights, great scenery and unique adventures.
The Front Range runs north-south between Casper, Wyoming and Pueblo, Colorado rising nearly 10,000 feet above the Great Plains. Longs Peak, Mount Evans and Pikes Peak are its most prominent landmarks, sometimes visible as far away as 100 miles on a clear day. The area is a popular destination for mountain biking, hiking, climbing, river rafting and camping during the warmer months and for skiing and snowboarding during winter. The natural beauty of the area draws tens of thousands of visitors annually.
Growing up in the 1960s, we’d often go tenting out West, and Mom would load the car with food, clothing and jackets for the cooler mountain regions in addition to our cookstove and tent. So, following in my parents’ footsteps, my wife and daughters Amy and Alison set out in the early 1980s and again in the mid-1990s to rediscover what the Front Range and surroundings offered us as a vacation spot.
The main interstate highways that run through the Front Range from the east are Interstate 70 and Interstate 80 (parts of I-80 follow the original Oregon Trail and the Lincoln Highway, the first road across the United States). Even the long drive from central Illinois to Colorado set us up for adventure. While driving west, the first one who saw the mountains won a hot fudge sundae, which meant that all of us got a sundae as well. Amana Colonies in Iowa and the Omaha Zoo were great stopping-off points along the way to let the kids’ “wiggles” out.
Upon arrival in Colorado, it was straight to picturesque Estes Park and 415-square-mile Rocky Mountain National Park, which offers 300 miles of hiking trails, horseback riding, boating, swimming, rock climbing, warm campfires and starry nights. There was time in Boulder for lunch and for the girls to go shopping for school the next fall.
Then we’d visit as many surrounding sights as we could, including the bustling mile-high city of Denver and its thrilling playground called Elitch Gardens, founded in 1890. At Golden, west of Denver, situated at the foot of the Rockies, we visited the Colorado Railroad Museum, which features 100 narrow and standard-gauge locomotives and cars.
We drove to the top of 7,300-foot-tall Lookout Mountain, where we could see sweeping views of the flatlands of Eastern Colorado. At Red Rocks we witnessed large red standstone outcroppings like the one called Seat of Pluto and toured delightful Tiny Town, a miniature village with a steam train the kids could ride.
We put our feet in the ice-cold rushing mountain waters of Clear Creek and took in the pine-scented smells in the forests. We also visited the quaint resort town of Manitou Springs, where we caught the thrilling 8-mile-long Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the top at 14,115 feet.
Then there was Colorado Springs and Garden of the Gods, where the kids roller skated, the Flying W Ranch Chuckwagon and the stunning Air Force Academy. And we can’t forget touring the historic mining towns of Black Hawk and Idaho Springs. Today we still remember all the fun we had on these family trips!
There’s nothing more exciting than getting out, hitting the road and ending up in an inspiring Adventure. Just ask my family.
Don Heimburger, with a journalism degree from the University of Illinois, is a well-versed travel writer, editor and photographer who has captured the charm and appeal of numerous domestic and European destinations for many years.