How to Get Snowed Out: Road Tripping the Colorado Spring
Around the beginning of March, when the ground begins to thaw just a little, I get a bad case of cabin fever. The winter in Colorado has not been terrible snow-wise, but it has still been dark and cold. A certain ennui has descended. I am not even certain why I feel weary and dissatisfied until I realize the reality of winter: I am unable to do any of the activities I love and make my heart come alive. Yes, I love reading and spending time around the fire over a glass of whisky, but going months without the beauty and restorative power of the outdoors takes its toll. The solution? A road trip.
My wife and I are on a budget, so traveling somewhere warm is out of the question. Instead, we plan a road trip through the best of Colorado, spending six nights in the wilderness. First, we will camp in the Rocky Mountain National Park, then we will move down to the Longs Peak area, and finally end our trip in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. In all, six nights camping and hiking and exploring the beauty of the mountains.
Driving up into the Rocky Mountain National Park through Estes Park, I am struck by the awe-inspiring beauty of the snow-covered peaks. Already it feels worth it as the winter lethargy breaks off of me like caked mud. It’s a lot colder than I thought it would be, though. We spend our first night layered up in everything we brought. Cold as it is, it’s worth it for the simple joy of cooking on a camp stove and building a fire. They’re such straightforward productive tasks compared with what feels like the futile efforts of working on a desktop. The next day, we hike into the Glacier Gorge and later enjoy a campfire in light snowfall. I can feel myself begin to breath again.
And then the weather rolled in.
Springtime in the Rockies, as is true of any mountainous area, is unpredictable. Check the forecast all you want, the weather can change in an instant. Our first two nights were cold but doable, but as we drive to our next camping spot, an intense snowstorm begins to shroud the mountains in white. What felt like early spring is now smothered in a world of frozen white. It looks like January again. In an attempt to rescue the trip from the cold, we skip Longs Peak and keep driving to our last destination, hoping the San Luis valley will provide some warmth.
Normally, the Great Sand Dunes are a unique desert paradise. They’re warmer than other parts of the state. You can feel the deserts further south. When the sun is out, the sand is blistering. Just the thing after a long winter cooped-up.
By the time we reach the Great Sand Dunes National Park, we have just enough time to test out boogie boarding on the huge dunes of sand before the storm we fled appears over the Sangre de Cristos. It’s snowing. In my sandy paradise. Rather than try and force it, buckle down, and ride out the weather, we head home.
Given that it was cut in half, it’s hard not to see our trip as a failure. I am slammed with disappointment—I had placed a lot of hope on this trip. I expected it to restore my soul, to be an answer to months of ennui. Usually, my heart goes pretty far with disappointment. It sounds extreme when I say it out loud. Phrases like “It is my fault” “Yep, this is as good as it gets” “life truly is random and there’s not telling if it will work out” or “The enemy has won—joy and life have been stolen” run through my head. The phrases sound out of proportion, but in the moment, they sure feel true.
Later on, I was able to see that the trip was not in fact stolen. But it honestly took a few days to get there. After the dust had settled and I was able to get through the disappointment, the trip was uncovered to be exactly what I hoped it would be. It was shorter than planned, but the first couple days are a source of joy that has fueled me through the last weeks of winter. The trip as a whole did not look the way I wanted. However, it was exactly what I needed.
The joy of a road trip is not in making a checklist and crossing off points. The joy of a road trip is being there, breathing in the beauty, getting to be flexible with the plan. And for the most part, the joy of a road trip is in the conversation and intimacy shared with your partner in the adventure. Even in the spring, that can’t be snowed out.