AFTER Yosemite, I caught the train to Denver, Colorado. My intention was to spend four nights in Colorado. After that, I planned to catch a plane to Little Rock, Arkansas, which as you can see from the maps has no direct Amtrak rail connection to Denver. I wanted to look up former Arkansas Governor and later US President Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock, after having read his autobiography. And I also thought it would be interesting to be there on election night, even though Hillary Clinton’s election night HQ would actually be at the Javits Center in Manhattan.
I got my car at the Denver airport, which was an SUV, and I think the car knew how I felt about it. About five minutes after I picked the car up I did a U-turn and then they gave me another SUV. They had no station wagons — also known as wagons in the USA or estates in the UK — which was disappointing. Station wagons used to be as common in the USA as anywhere else, but they have almost been rendered extinct by the SUV craze. I just find SUVs too bloody big. Apart from that, the good thing about a station wagon is that you can sleep in it.
Throughout my travels I had met several people from Denver. One guy I met really ran the place down and really what he was saying would have put anyone off from going there, but not me. He was saying that they’ve decriminalised marijuana and thirty thousand deadbeats have gone to live there because of it. However, there are five other states that are meant to be decriminalising marijuana, and that will take the pressure off Denver when that happens. Then we had some discussion about people being homeless in Denver because they’ve gone there for marijuana. I don’t know but I wanted to see it for myself anyway.
A pleasant city with a backdrop of the dusty blue Rocky Mountains, Denver is also the capital of the state of Colorado, the second most populous state in America’s former Wild West after Arizona. Five and a half million people live in Colorado with nearly three million of them in Denver. In contrast, neighbouring Wyoming has little more than half a million inhabitants in the whole state, its largest city not much more than a farm town.
I’m not sure what Colorado’s secret for encouraging people to come and live there has been — apart from scenery, of which there is no shortage in Wyoming either — but obviously it has worked.
Driving into Denver, I found that there was no car parking anywhere. On my first night, I stayed at the 11th Street Hostel. That was great. It had a fridge and a lounge in the room and cost about $33 a night.
I got talking with a guy there and I mentioned how I wanted to visit Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park (which is singular by the way, not Rocky Mountains but Rocky Mountain).
He turned around and sneered, “those people at Boulder are a bunch of environmentalists who don’t allow people to build and want nothing to do with oil — bunch of environmental snobs.” I was a bit taken aback by such a negative description. I didn’t tell him I didn’t mind and that I was a supporter of environmentalists.
One thing he did tell me that was helpful was that the accommodation was incredibly expensive in Boulder: no doubt because the environmental snobs didn’t allow people to build anything, assuming that was true. So, I stayed for one night in the city before heading off again. I did want to go to another national park. Winter was fast approaching, and I knew a lot of the roads would soon be shut and things like that, so I had to keep moving. I drove to a town called Estes Park and I got there on a Thursday afternoon. When I got to Estes Park, I drove a little further into the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park and noticed that there were so many walks I could go on, that I thought the next day I would go back and do some.
I got a reasonably priced room in a place where I stayed for two nights. I asked the lady at the reception if it would it be the same price for both that night and the next. The lady at reception said yes.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have a microwave in the room. Because I’m gluten intolerant, I have to make my own food a lot of the time.
The problem with some of the accommodation in the US is that it doesn’t really cater for single people, I mean in my room there were two large double beds, I only needed a single. The price is reasonable for a family, but if you’re a single person alone, you could spend up about $200 a day just on transport and hotels, and that would be skimping it.
So anyway, then, the next morning I asked about the room, and they said it was an extra $10. I didn’t want to pay the new price of $87 just for me, and I was frustrated the price had changed overnight. I told them I wasn’t paying that and that I would stay somewhere else. Then I realized I’d left my toilet bag there and I went back to look for it and it was gone, chucked out by the cleaners.
Then I thought blow it, I will try camping. So, I went and hired a sleeping bag and bought a water flask to take with me. I walked out the door with my sleeping bag but without the $22 flask, which I didn’t realise until it was too late.
So, I was losing things all over the place — but I loved sleeping at the camping ground. I went to sleep looking at the stars. The bears were hibernating at last in these parts, so everyone was sleeping outside in tents, and to make things even better it was a very warm November for the Rocky Mountains. I was very lucky to be able to camp out.
I went back to the store after a couple of days out and told them about the flask. They said I lost the flask, but I don’t recall taking it. I gave the sleeping bag back and went on my way.
To add to my troubles, I ran over my gas cooker and my gas bottle because I had to move my car in a hurry and simply forgot they were there. I decided I wasn’t going to bother with a gas cooker anymore unless I could get a cheap one at Walmart.
Apart from all that, Estes Park was a lovely little town, and the locals were nice. When I went to the local store to get coffee there were people selling some crafts and things, so I bought a hippy bag and a wallet. I was a bit peeved though when they tried to charge me $19 when it clearly had a sign saying $12. I think tourist towns take advantage of you.
I went to the end of the road where all the trail heads ended, trails being what they call tracks in the US. I went to the Alberta Falls. Then, I went to an area called Mills Lake. Mills Lake was beautiful, and it was going to freeze over very soon, and when it freezes over it freezes with ripples in it, so you can’t ice skate on it because it isn’t flat. I thought that was interesting. The mountains looked amazing: they had glaciers on them.
It was in Mills Lake that I met a person called Colleen, and it was interesting talking with her about her point of view. Colleen was a Trump supporter. Something I noted was how people are so well versed in why they are voting for Trump. I spoke to her for a good couple of hours. She was a businesswoman, and her and her husband had been selling pumps for the last 20 years and they were based in Texas. It was really interesting getting the rundown from her. She said she disagreed with the US gaining open borders, and she talked about the costs of her small business, that they only had a 20% profit margin.
She said before Obama, they had what was known as Medicare, except now everybody calls the expanded system Obamacare. They pay healthcare for their employees, it used to be $6,000 a month and now it’s $13,000 a month. She said that some of the regulations under President Obama were hard on them. She told me about one regulation which was that if their customers brought from them online, and then the customers’ details get hacked, it becomes their fault for being insecure in addition to the criminal that’s doing the hacking. Colleen did tell me that hacking is becoming a big problem there; but I think it is like that anywhere nowadays with the internet such a big part of our lives.
Colleen said she had stopped working in the company for the time being because they were waiting for the outcome of the election. If Clinton was elected, they were going to lay off two-thirds of their staff because they couldn’t afford a tax that the Democrats had proposed.
She was a born-again Christian, but she was open to my views on religion. Colleen also said the reason why she moved to Colorado is because the standard of living in Texas was not good enough and that she was voting for Trump because she certainly didn’t trust Clinton.
Colleen said she had initially supported Dr Ben Carson for the Republican nominee, because he was a neurologist and a qualified individual. But he didn’t get the nomination. She said that the Republican Party had withdrawn funding for Trump, so he had to put in his own funding; but then as the ‘emailgate’ charges against Clinton came to the fore, the National Committee had turned around and accepted Trump, belatedly. It was clear that support for Trump was far from universal among Republicans and was partly based on party loyalty alone.
Colleen had health issues. So, she went trekking every day for exercise. She said you just had to enjoy each and every day for what it is. And I have to agree — I loved staying in my SUV under the stars. You have your bad days when you travel, and you will always get ripped off in tourist towns. But you have to enjoy each and every day for what it is.
Next stop was Boulder, the environmentalist town — maybe I’d fit in with my hippy bag. It was a one-hour drive there from Mills Lake
Boulder, Colorado, was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be. I’d assumed it would be just a little place with a wooden sign saying Boulder, but it turned out to be a university city, whence its liberal reputation, with a population of 300,000. As the name suggests, Boulder is also a popular rock-climbing area, with excellent rock-climbing walls. There was red rock everywhere which was beautiful: I saw a lot when I went on a three-hour walk. The town was surrounded by parks, and I went to the beautiful outdoor Sunrise amphitheatre on Flagstaff Drive.
After that, I headed to Colorado Springs, south of Denver and a solid three-hour drive from Boulder.
The reason why I was going to Colorado Springs was because my father liked a true-life criminal TV series called Homicide Hunter that was set in Colorado Springs, in which a seen-it-all-and-then-some detective named Joe Kenda recounted some of his cases.
My father suggested I should go there and report back on what it was really like, so I did. I liked the town; the house prices were reasonable, and it did not seem overly populated even though it had a population of more than 700,000 people overall. Despite all those legends of the lonesome cowboy, about two-thirds of the population of Colorado live in and around Denver and the two neighbouring cities of Boulder to its north and Colorado Springs to its south.
There were plenty of pharmacies that sold medicinal marijuana, so I walked into one to see what that was like. There were about 500 different varieties of marijuana with their scientific name and a list of effects they could have on you. A guy offered to take me out to have a look at a marijuana farm, but I didn’t go. I was surprised it was such a huge industry. I can’t remember what the pharmacy was called: but it would have been Strawberry Fields, or Maggie’s Farm, or the Healing Canna, or something of that sort: a far cry from the sort of pharmacy that is run by a conservative-looking individual in a white coat.
I ended up staying the night in Colorado Springs in the beast of a car I was driving.
Colorado Springs is more than a mile above sea level, but it was still warm enough for me to go around with casual jandals (or thongs) on my feet. I went on a railcar up to the top of nearby Pikes Peak, which is nearly as high as Mont Blanc and the highest peak that you can get to in North America by means of wheeled transportation, both rail and automobile. There is a tram to the top, an unexpectedly European touch, and also a road.
All sorts of racers try scrambling to the top overland in buggies and dirt bikes, some of the latter with a special key connected to the rider’s leathers so that when the rider falls off the engine cuts out. That’s called American Hill-Climb. The idea is to get as far as possible up a really steep bluff on some sort of homemade special with big knobby tyres and a huge Harley-Davidson-type engine for extra uphill grunt, before falling off. A sort of dirt-bike rodeo in other words, more humane but even more crazy.
For me, it was a beautiful and relaxing ride up with a lot of history around it. I got to the top and there was snow, so I stood there in the alpine snows of oncoming winter with casual streetwear jandals on, which had seemed appropriate at the bottom. I went and dropped the SUV back at the airport that afternoon and then headed to the train station.
Still closer to Colorado Springs is Cheyenne Mountain, which has some more scenic attractions on top, but which is best known as the headquarters of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) between the mid-1960s and 2008. With its successive 25-ton blast doors in the tunnels that led down into a granite interior, tunnels that eventually widened out into caverns within which eleven multi-storey buildings sat mounted on springs, NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain HQ was designed to withstand an almost direct hit from just about anything. This was a fact that must have reassured the good folk of nearby Colorado Springs, living in wooden suburban houses, no end.
With election night approaching, I left for Little Rock as planned.
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