Colorado 2021: Planning

Dune field and Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Square Tower House, Mesa Verde National Park

Painted Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Monument Canyon, Colorado National Monument

Split Mountain, Dinosaur National Monument

Hi. It has been a while.

As Sean and I flew home from New York on March 2, 2020, we couldn’t have known how profoundly the world was about to change. We also couldn’t have known that it would be some eighteen months before we’d visit our next National Park unit. We’d had plans to visit Parks: a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park with my parents was already booked for April 2020; we were looking at Santa Fe and White Sands National Park in 2020; September of that terrible year was supposed to include a marriage celebration on Cape Cod followed by Acadia National Park and the Canadian Maritimes; we had loose plans for a weekend trip to St. Louis and Gateway Arch National Park. For 2021, we’d been considering possibly the Hawaiian Parks and American Samoa, maybe a 10th anniversary return to Isle Royale National Park combined with the Lake Superior Circle Tour, and then maybe that marriage celebration would be feasible for fall 2021.

None of those trips happened. Instead we stayed home, coped, watched in horror as the pandemic raged. We adjusted and created new ways to socialize. We even made some great new friends. Between gorging on poetry and the news, I built my business. As soon as it was our turn, we got vaccinated. We’re still skittish about flying, which was of course a fundamental component to nearly all of our Park trips. In June 2021 we bought a car, my first in seventeen years, because without it our horizons had contracted to the quiet, leafy streets of our Chicago neighborhood.

In early spring 2021, when it became clear that New England and the Canadian Maritimes were unlikely for the fall, we looked to alternative trip ideas. It may have felt optimistic, but we figured it would be good to get a trip booked even if we later had to cancel. Anticipating a road trip (even though we were yet to actually buy the car), we turned our gaze to Colorado.

In April, the plan for Sean’s firm was to return to at least a hybrid office model on Tuesday, September 7, the day after Labor Day. Classically, we’ve done Park trips in September as things get less busy and kids are back in school. But with Sean’s return on the calendar, we decided to look at the couple weeks before Labor Day. We also wanted to avoid some client events on my end. Looking at late August/early September, it was soon clear that we’d avoid Rocky Mountain National Park and its expected crowds. So we turned to the other three National Parks in Colorado: Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde, in particular, was a Park that Sean had expressed particular interest in way back at the beginning of all of this over a decade ago.

Then there was Dinosaur National Monument, which should be a National Park. I have long wanted to visit it and see the Dinosaur Quarry and the canyons of the Green and Yampa Rivers. As I was mapping out the trip and looking for available campsites and lodging, every time I dropped Dinosaur from the itinerary it found a way to make it back on.

Eventually I mapped out and booked a route that began in Denver and moved clockwise throughout the state returning again to Denver. This left us open to fly and rent a car if we did actually decide to do that. Plus we have friends there we would get to see.

As the time for the trip grew closer, I booked our tours at Mesa Verde (tickets for ranger-led tours are available two weeks ahead). Getting a spot on the Square Tower House tour was a lot like scoring concert tickets.

Here is the final itinerary:

Saturday, August 21

Drive from Chicago to Denver

Saturday, August 21 – Monday, August 23

Denver, Colorado

Sleep: The Art Hotel

Monday, August 23

Drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park

Monday, August 23 – Thursday, August 26

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Sleep: Piñon Flats Campground, Site 58

Thursday, August 26

Drive over the San Juan Mountains to Mesa Verde National Park

Thursday, August 26 – Sunday, August 29

Mesa Verde National Park

Sleep: Far View Lodge

Friday, September 27

8am – 12pm: 700 Years Tour

3 – 5pm: Long House Tour

Saturday, September 28

11am – 12:30pm: Mug House Tour

Possible Afternoon Trip to Hovenweep National Monument or Yucca House National Monument

Sunday, August 29

8:30 – 10am: Square Tower House Tour

Drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Sunday, August 29 – Wednesday, September 1

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Sleep: South Rim Campground, Site 14A

Wednesday, September 1

Drive to Colorado National Monument, then on to Dinosaur National Monument

Wednesday, September 1 – Saturday, September 4

Dinosaur National Monument

Sleep: Green River Campground, Site 42

Saturday, September 4

Drive to Denver

Sleep: Hotel Born

Sunday, September 5

Drive home to Chicago

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