On the third day of our summer road trip from Santa Fe, New Mexico through Colorado, we had already done and seen so much that it felt like we had been driving for well over a week. When we got up that morning, we were still annoyed about our over-priced dinner in the too-big hotel the night before in Vail, so we vowed to do something simple for breakfast – like fast food. We were all surprised and pleased to find a McDonalds just outside the hotel on the other side from where our car was parked. We laughed, wishing we had known about it the night before – a simple McDonalds dinner was all we had really wanted, not the loud, fancy hotel restaurant.
After a warm breakfast with the early morning Colorado sunshine streaming through the windows of McDonalds, we got into the car and back onto Interstate 70. We did not have far to go on the Interstate, as we were continuing with our sight-seeing route through the mountains on back roads and through small towns. We turned south at Route 9 and headed toward Breckenridge. I was excited to introduce my two middle-school aged daughters to the tiny town of Breckenridge. While growing up, my parents had owned a condo there, and we spent many weekends in Breckenridge, either skiing and ice skating in the winter, or hiking and horse-back-riding in the summer. It was a safe town where my brother and I could walk into town and play video games at the local arcade or see a movie at the old fashioned movie theater.
But when we arrived in Breckenridge on that June morning, I had much the same reaction I’d had the day before in Vail. It was different, but unlike Vail, Breckenridge was completely different. I looked up; the mountains were the same, although many more ski runs had been cut through the trees on the surrounding mountains. But the town was completely different. It was not as if only fifteen years had passed; it was more like a century had passed. The last time I had spent any time in Breckenridge, it was very much like quaint Leadville, that we had visited only the day before. Yet today, Breckenridge was a booming tourist town. Everything had been completely re-done, even the way the streets were set up. It was as if the old town had been swallowed up and a new one was in its place. While I had wanted to introduce my daughters to Breckenridge, the Breckenridge I had known and loved was nowhere to be seen. I made the quick, unilateral decision to simply stay in the car and keep going on to Colorado Springs. I wasn’t up for any more surprises on this trip across my past.
Route 9 is an incredibly scenic drive any time of year, and we were treated to yet another gorgeous sunny day that is so typical of Colorado. We enjoyed the narrow, winding road that took us to the top of Hoosier Pass, also the mark of the Continental Divide, and then we followed the steep way down the other side, alongside the headwaters of the Platte River. My mom and I reminisced as we drove through the small but familiar towns of Alma, Fairplay, and Hartsel, and when we looked back over our shoulders, we could see Mount Princeton in the distance. Still my favorite mountain in Colorado, I was sad to be leaving it.
About that time, we came upon Route 24 in South Park and enjoyed seeing countless Pronghorn Antelopes as we drove the long, straight road east toward the front range of the Rockies. After at least forty five minutes on the high, grassy prairie of South Park, the trees began popping up again, and we started climbing up Wilkerson Pass. We stopped for a bit at the Wilkerson Pass rest area to take a few last photos of the now very distant Collegiate Range, and then we got back on Route 24 and headed east toward Colorado Springs, the last stop on our Colorado summer road trip. Although we had a few more stops to make, one might say we were on the home stretch of our trip, and it made me sad.