Alex and I decided to take a weekend road-trip out of town, considering we had a 3 day weekend (MLK Monday, thank you government!) – and go snow-shoeing in Estes Park for the very first time. The plan was to drive from Denver to Estes Park, CO Sunday morning, show-shoe in the afternoon, spend the night, possibly snow-shoe again Monday morning, and make it back to Denver again by early afternoon. A quick there-and-back trip with an overnight. We met the night before at the REI on Platte Street in Denver to gear up. Neither of us had ever snow-shoed before, so we had no idea what we were doing or what to expect. That was half the fun. Luckily, the nice folks at the flagship REI were more than happy to educate us on the art and science of the snow-shoe, and of course sell us some at the end of the day. Renting was $24 a day (around $30 if you weren’t an REI member), and buying some low-end all-terrain snowshoes for my body size/weigh (petite) was $170 – and it included poles and a bag. That meant that buying the gear would be cheaper than renting if….
I don’t usually review staycations from therestlessroad, as I typically veer towards the exotic – and Ojai is only a modicum of fascinating. However, it’s been far too long since I’ve written – not since Elana and I took that car trip from Denver to Mount Rushmore in September 2014. It’s 2015, and I thought writing about my weekend adventure in the rolling hills North West of Los Angeles would be a good way to ring in the New Year. As always, I hope your New Year (and mine too) is filled with adventure and exotic, restless roads unfolding ever before your weary yet impetuous feet. My New Year’s Eve was spontaneously awesome. After stopping at a family friends house for a lovely dinner, I met my friends to spend the night on a catamaran in the Channel Islands Harbor. Greetings from the yacht! As I’m originally from Los Angeles (Westlake Village, to be exact), I visit quite frequently – as much as four times per year. Thanksgiving and Christmas are a must (unless I can convince my parents to spend Thanksgiving wherever I happen to be, which has actually happened a few times in the past – Boston, Raleigh,….
After Mount Rushmore, we made a long push out of Custer State Park and into Scottsbluff, Nebraska through the Oglala Grasslands. Nebraska is one of the most boring states I have ever seen. Flat, rolling farmlands. That’s it. No signs. No side roads. No towns. Just emptiness, dotted with an occasional farmhouse, grain silo, or fence to keep the cattle in. I was bound and determined to make the best time possible through this very boring stretch of land, but unfortunately got stuck behind a gang o 10 bikers and their mini-van ride-along caboose. They refused to go above the speed limit (55 mph) and were clearly on an afternoon joyride. There was no way to pass them since their caravan stretched for a very long distance. Of course they had no thought to pull over and let me go by. This went on for 2 tedious hours. Elana and I had a discussion about trying to overtake them at high-speed along a stretch of straightaway, but we decided against it for fear of engaging the notorious biker wrath. We thought the Oglala Grasslands were going to be interesting but it was just more of the same. There was occasionally a….
We decided to hit-up Mount Rushmore again by day on our drive back to Denver. Even though we got some great shots 2 nights prior at sunset, we didn’t get an up close view of the Presidents and it was only a 30 minutes detour or so past Rapid City to get back into Custer State Park and re-tread our path out of the Badlands back in to the mountains. To remind you, here’s what we did at Sunset on Saturday night for Mount Rushmore. We found a perfect vista lookout point off the road coming from Custer State Park, which put us about the same elevation as Mount Rushmore. We recommend this approach because it makes a spectacular first-time epiphany viewing moment. Here’s another one, where Mount Rushmore is framed perfectly by trees. We learned our lesson at Crazy Horse and decided not to pay the entrance fee to Mount Rushmore, but rather just stayed outside and grabbed some pics from viewing areas along the road. Perhaps this is part of the reason we like Mount Rushmore much more than Crazy Horse (because we weren’t suckered in to the tourist trap – which I’m sure exists all inside the Mount Rushmore….
Before visiting Mount Rushmore, we decided to check out Bear Country USA in Rapid City. Its a 250 acre animal park where you can see bears, buffalo, wolves, reindeer, elk, mountain goats, and more. We were prepared for it to be a huge tourist trap – and it didn’t disappoint. It was a whopping $16 per person and there was a long line of cars waiting to drive in. We decided to give it a whirl anyways, since both of us were eager to build up our collection of animal photography. We felt like we were on a ride and Disneyland and expected to hear a voice saying “Keep your arms and legs inside your vehicle at all times, and keep the windows rolled up and doors closed” followed potentially by a “or you will be eaten.” The first section of the 1 mile driving loop was game – elk and reindeer. I love this shot of the reindeer – he has quite a snout! The next section was wolves, which we didn’t actually until the bear section of Bear Country USA, when a wolf came right up to our car. After the wolves we got a chance to see mountain goats….