“Cheap” airfare to Denver. Let’s go!

Flying into Denver Airport

A couple of months ago we were looking at trying to get to the Pacific Northwest. I lived near Portland, Oregon for a number of years and loved it there, and getting back out there is something we wanted to do. I checked airfare, but for over $800 roundtrip for two… uh, no. Wait, what’s that? Airfare to Denver for $500!? Round-trip? For two?! Click, BUY!

We booked the flight, not knowing where to go, stay, drive, eat… anything. Pretty much how we do things to start off. Over the course of a few weeks we rented our car for the 4 nights we’d be there, made our lose itinerary, and reserved some campsites and a hotel. I figured we’d save some money on camping and cooking, so splurged on a hotel for two nights of the four. Plus it’s the off-season and a groupon!!!

The day came for our flight and we were up and packed early as the flight was at 6:30am. Unfortunately things were going too smoothly, so before we grabbed our bags to head out the door, the downstairs toilet decided to wash our floor and, because it’s hardwood just outside the door, include our basement floor too. I quickly mopped up the mess but had to leave the heap of towels down in the basement. No problem really, as we had someone coming to watch our zoo (1 dog, 4 cats) for the time we’re gone. Only I forgot to ask them to wash ’em.

We got to the airport and it was smooth sailing again, until Dexter inadvertently tried to get a Nalgene bottle of water and a knife through check-in. It didn’t work, of course. A few minutes delay, a surrendered bottle and knife, and we’re (finally) off!!!

Arriving in Denver at 10:30am local time it was already almost 80 degrees. We grabbed our bags and headed to Avis to pick up our car. It didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped, first getting the wrong vehicle, then agreeing to the insurance upcharge as our patience was waning. If you rent a car, google about all the extras they try to tack on. It’s crazy.
The good news was after some haggling we ended up a Nissan Murano with only 105 miles on it at the same cost as a smaller Kia. And off we went…

We drove south toward Colorado Springs, stopping at Garden of the Gods. A great little place to walk around and explore the beautiful landscape. We were caught in a rain storm so ran a half mile back to the car, but it wasn’t bad at all. From there we headed to our campsite at Cheyenne Mountain, stopping at a diner for lunch on the way. We had a “no chain restaurants” agreement, and it wasn’t hard to find little places out of the way to eat.

Camping at Cheyenne Mountain State Park was great! We had site #48 which proved to be the best site in the park (and everyone we saw told us so!). The bathrooms were clean and close, and our site was a bit away from the others, too. We watched a lightning storm in the distance, and soon drifted off to sleep in our tent.

Up for the sunrise (and reveille. Bear in mind Fort Carson is nearby, but being prior service I didn’t mind at all). We had coffee and cleaned up, then on advice from a fellow camper, headed to the Manitou Incline. Click the link to see this insane climb! We were back down relatively early so off we went toward Salida!

I’m going to assume the season hasn’t kicked off yet in Salida. There were numerous closed stores, and many empty storefront windows. We walked the riverfront, stopping at the local five & dime store which had EVERYTHING it seemed. After gassing up we drove on to our Sunday night destination: Ruby Mountain Campground.

Ruby Mountain Campground, Site 19

Our tent site (#19) was great. It’s a lot more open than many other places, but the views up the river were phenomenal! The toilets are vault toilets, and there’s no running water so keep that in mind if you stay there. There was no staff on site, so firewood might be something else you should bring in with you. Dinner was tuna with mashed potatoes, and some shots of rum. A few. 🙂

Up the next morning, we had breakfast and coffee. Somehow a mouse(?) got into the vehicle and nibbled on some fish crackers, but the little b@#$tard got into our creamer, nibbling 6 open and drinking it!!! UGH!!! Oh well, we’re in a real bed tonight! But first, time to try something new!

Rock climbing with the AVA staff

We drove north through some heavy construction delays, arriving at Arkansas Valley Adventures for our adventure of the day! I had booked it without Dexter knowing, but now she was looking forward to a half day of rock climbing and half day of whitewater rafting. The rock climbing was a blast, although Dexter is afraid of heights.
She did great though! Then on to rafting some class IV rapids! We both thought that was amazing and highly recommend using AVA if you’re near Buena Vista! Even the fajita lunch they made was great!

After getting somewhat dried off, we made the trek north through Leadville (where we got significant hail at the 10,200 elevation), and arrived in Grand Lake that evening. We stayed at the Gateway Inn which was absolutely wonderful. Seriously, the room, staff, location, bar, breakfast… all of it was great. Look for a groupon and off-peak times but we highly recommend staying here! And that shower was a welcome sight after the last few days! We strolled through Grand Lake, grabbed some amazing food nearby at Sagebrush BBQ, and returned to sit at the bar for a bit. It was an early evening for us both, however.

East Inlet Trail

The next morning we went for a hike on the East Inlet Trail. It’s a great trail and we almost walked right into a moose! It was on the trail in front of us but slowly ambled into the woods after giving us the once over. We didn’t see anybody on the trail until we turned around at about the 2 mile mark, and we made our way over to the Shadow Mountain Trail nearby. This one shows you the extensive damage the pine beetle has done to the trees here. I learned that the trees are actually starting to grow again, but the amount of deadfall is still alarming. We hiked 4 miles in before we had lunch and turned around, getting back to our room around 2pm. We still had laundry to do! By 5pm we were both spent, so that evening we ate what we bought at the nearby grocery store and just decided to stay in and rest.

Up and at ’em the next morning, we drove to Denver Airport, returned the car with no problems, and made it through security with no issues this time. The trip was amazing for sure, and while we went about $375 over our budget, the memories are more than worth it! And we can cross rock climbing off the list now, because I don’t think we need to do it again! HA!


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