For the last eight summers, we have used Aspen as a base for exploring western Colorado. My favorite part is the extensive network of hiking trails and bike paths, and we are always finding new ones. My least favorite part is flying between Chapel Hill and Aspen, which requires two jets and a turboprop plane for the Denver-Aspen leg. Flying in a turboprop over the Rocky Mountains is an adventure when the weather is good and a nightmare when the weather is bad, which is surprisingly often. Renting a car to/from Denver is another option, but it makes for a very long travel day and adds another major expense to the already expensive airfares.
Our new motorhome started us thinking that we should try driving to Aspen this summer, camping along the way. In the past, there’s only one thing that has stopped us every time we contemplated this: Kansas. Specifically, I’m talking about the portion of I-70 from central Kansas to eastern Colorado. This stretch of freeway -- no offense to those who call that area home -- includes the most boring 400 miles you are ever likely to drive. Although it’s been 20 years since I drove this route, I remember it as a hypnotic straight line through a nearly featureless landscape, although I’m sure I must be exaggerating (well, maybe not so sure). And doing this twice on a roundtrip between Chapel Hill and Aspen? Let me check those airfares again.
But then we looked into ways of turning this vacation into a roadtrip that could bypass the dreaded I-70 stretch altogether. We ended up planning a route that followed the Missouri River for over 700 miles, veering north just as we reached Kansas City, heading up western Missouri into Iowa and South Dakota. Our stops included Badlands National Park and the Black Hills National Forest, with scenic drives through Custer State Park and opportunities to see bison, pronghorns, and prairie dogs. Of course we also stopped to see Mt. Rushmore and the much larger Crazy Horse Memorial, still a work-in-progress. We then drove through eastern Wyoming, with a stop at Devils Tower National Monument and a short stay at the beautiful Whistling Elk Ranch in northern Colorado. Of course, all this added over 1000 miles to our trip to Aspen, which took us seven days of driving instead of four.
Perhaps you’ll get the feel for what we experienced on this trip by looking at some of our photos, now posted in a new South Dakota collection. Kansas, we have not forgotten you -- we’re taking a shorter trip back home and will see that entire I-70 stretch, with help from lots of new music and podcasts.
[Follow-up in this blog post]