Les Carnets de Traverse Colorado Road Trip with Sixt – Week 2

Sixt rent a car gets Les Carnets de Traverse on the road in Colorado and New Mexico

Sixt was happy to help out French travel bloggers Les Carnets de Traverse with their recent road trip. Read about their impressions of the US as they drive through beautiful nature and cities of Colorado and the Southwest with a Sixt car rental. Check out their Facebook and Instagram to see their incredible photos taken on the journey.

Sixt Rent a CAr

image credit Les Carnets de Traverse

Day 10: On the road in Colorado

On our way to New Mexico we cross briefly into Colorado and there is a noticeable change in atmosphere. And for good reason as it’s begun to snow! (And we are not exactly prepared). Driving to Farmington (New Mexico) and then on to Pagosa Springs (Colorado),  the drive oscillates between highways and small snowy mountain roads. Tonight we sleep at Zapata Ranch at the foot of the Great Sand Dunes.

Day 11: Bison Ranch in the Great Sand Dunes National Park

This morning as we wake up at the ranch, everything is white! The sun filters through the clouds creating quite a surreal light and just looking out the window from our room makes us smile.

The park is not great, especially if you don’t have an 4×4 (a “primitive” route is only accessible with 4WD). Our idea is to climb the dunes. So we have fun, we run out of steam (it is difficult to climb in the sand!). We get wet feet, we laugh. There are not so many people because it’s not high season here in Colorado, so we basically have the dunes to ourselves.

Let us tell you about Zapata Ranch, which is an active bison ranch. There are some bison in a pen, the others we see far over the lands of the ranch with the large sand dunes in the background. While staying at the ranch we can participate in the daily work if we like or we can just observe and photograph all the wildlife found on this land like owls, snakes, coyotes, and antelope. The ranch is part of the Nature Conservancy program and they have a naturalist with whom you can go hiking, a photographer for workshops, and you can also fish.

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image credit Les Carnets de Traverse

Day 12: Denver is very cool!

We leave our beautiful ranch in the morning with little lunches prepared by Julia 🙂 Today’s direction: Denver! There is a lot of miles to cover within 4 hours and the road is not especially beautiful, so just this once we will be efficient and take the Interstate. There is still the Garden of the Gods to see on our way to Colorado Springs. It’s a small park with beautiful red rocks formations. It doesn’t leave us a real lasting impression, but it’s nice to visit if you are in the area (especially since it’s free).

But we continue towards our goal- the great city of Denver! Honestly, we had no clue what we were going to find. To us, some US cities are too much alike or are without charm. We arrive downtown in the late afternoon and check in at the Curtis Hotel. I like the decor and it’s a great location just a few blocks from the only the cool neighborhood in Denver which I named Lower Downtown, “LoDo” for short!

A bar we can recommend is Williams and Graham (3160 Tejon St.), which is found hidden behind a bookstore façade. Denver also has many micro-breweries for beer lovers! The highlight for us is, Union Station. This is a fully operating historic railway station (1881) that has been renovated and is now home to bars (the great Terminal Bar occupies the old ticket and much of the hall), bookstores, cafes and a great hotel, the Crawford Hotel. Frankly this is the place to be! Cooper the hotel’s restaurant and bar makes amazing cocktails! In addition, there is free WiFi (Did I say the magic word?).

Union Station Denver

image credit Les Carnets de Traverse

Day 13: We stayed in the hotel from The Shining

We leave Denver, heading north and to the town of Estes Park where we enter the Rocky Mountain National Park! We find nature, mountains, deer…

What drew us here is a very special hotel: The Stanley Hotel. It is known as the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining! And yes, we’ll sleep there! Woohoo!

Stephen King came in 1973 to spend the night with his wife Tabitha and it happened to be the last day of the season before the hotel closes for the winter and you guessed it- the hotel was very empty. They sleep in room 217 and King starts having a nightmare where his three year old son runs screaming down the hotel corridors pursued by a fire hose. He wakes with a start and the outline of the book. Legend says that King also met some ghostly children while wandering the halls and that he even witnessed a party in the MacGregor ballroom filled with guests … from another world.

The more we explore the hotel, the more details we gather from the novel. The “endless” corridor is there (and has an end). We find a similar carpet, crooked doors, clawfoot tubs, the mountains … Some rooms are more haunted than others (because yes, the hotel is haunted). We enjoy walking the long dark corridors at night when they are deserted. And I confess later in the night the creaking sounds of the old wooden house made us a jump a little. The next morning at check out a lady swears that a ghost was in her room on the 4th floor.

Day 14: Estes Park to Salida

We had reached the most northern point of the road trip and today begins our descent. Unfortunately, it is too early in the year to take the Trail Ridge Road, a high mountain road through the Rocky Mountain National Park. Instead we drive the Peak to Peak from Estes Park to Idaho Springs (via Nederland), a scenic road that winds through the mountains. It was very nice but not as spectacular as we thought. We stop in Central City, founded during the gold rush. The vein discovered here was exceptionally rich and around 1870 there were up to 10,000 gold miners in town. Today, there is of course less people and those who come do so mostly for the casino. Further on we encounter a closed Independence Pass and I decide for some reason to stop in Salida. Turns out it was a great idea! Salida is super nice, an unexpected gem sitting there south of the San Isabel National Forest. The few downtown streets are animated, with some cool bars (one with an airstream <3), large murals, children on bikes straight out of the Goonies, it’s a super nice atmosphere!

image credit Les Carnets de Traverse

image credit Les Carnets de Traverse

Day 15: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

We depart Salida heading west and our goal today is to reach another national park, this one less familiar: Black Canyon-of-the-Gunnison. On the road we pass through beautiful Colorado landscapes, following the river to Montrose. An abandoned motel enchants us to spend time and take some photos and Polaroids. We love these unplanned stops, we love road trips for these small moments, these finds that seem to exist only for you. When we arrive in Montrose it’s gray. We check in at the Black Canyon Motel and then it’s time to make a short tour of the city. The sky opens and we will able to see the sunset! Yes!

The Black Canyon has especially amazing views, but of course no one can walk down into it. It’s so steep and pictures do not do justice to the feeling of dizziness one gets looking at it! We attack the South Shore (South Rim) with a drive along the scenic viewpoints: Gunnison Point, Chasm View, Painted Wall (the star), Sunset View.

I have to say, I’m cold and although the canyon is impressive it’s difficult to photograph. At its narrowest point the canyon is only 12 meters wide! The light parts of the canyon contrast sharply with very dark parts so we decided to wait for the sun to have less violent contrasts. We are rewarded with a spectacular show! The sun falls gradually, rays of light pierce the canyon and everything glows, flares, blinding us. Crows flutter in the setting sun and then the light disappears. Another memorable American experience!

image credit Les Carnets de Traverse

image credit Les Carnets de Traverse

Day 16: The Million Dollar Highway

We leave Montrose on US 550 and take the famous road through the Colorado mountains, the Million Dollar Highway! Its name speaks to both its views and the amount it cost to build. It is a beautiful road that climbs up three high mountain passes: the Coal Bank Pass (10,640 ft), the Molas Pass (10.970 ft) and Red Mountain Pass (11.018 ft). The US Route 550 from Montrose ends in Berlanillo, New Mexico. We found Ouray to Silverton (24 miles) to be the most interesting part. We loved the little town of Ouray (nicknamed “American Switzerland”, God knows why …) and Silverton even more for being so “Wild West”.

Before arriving back in Farmington we decide to stop at a little known Navajo sacred rock called Shiprock, which means “winged rock. To the Navajo this stone bird supposedly turns enemies into stones. It’s beautiful, but difficult to access as the road is 30 minutes of potholes and cracks. I’m amused, but the car not so much (thank you Sixt who upgraded us!). Still, a beautiful vision to end the day, and already very different from Colorado. I have to admit driving through the high mountains to the desert, has been really emotional and intense, so it was nice to close out the day with something a bit mystical.

 Day 17: Road to Route 66!

And thus ends the Colorado leg of our road trip! We are now in New Mexico, land of … Walter White (Albuquerque) and Fox Mulder (yes, Roswell, remember …). But we’re not going to that side, we are heading south. Our base tonight is Gallup and from there we will go up Route 66 into Arizona and California. We take 371 to Thoreau and the road is beautiful! Super long deserted stretches (so deserted that we were almost out of gas)to Interstate 40 (which is more or less on the route of the old Route 66). We arrive late afternoon in Gallup, time to have a little dineeeeeer ❤ Petit night tour in Gallup and we visit the famous El Rancho, a historic hotel that has hosted the biggest stars of cinema. It sports a proud “Home of the Movie Stars” hall that is covered with autographed portraits. We walk Gallup at night (well when I say we walk … This is not Venice, eh, so I mean drive!).

image credit Les Carnets de Traverse

image credit Les Carnets de Traverse

Day 18: Going west on Route 66!

We take Route 66 back to the West and we’ll see you again soon !

*Translated from French and condensed and edited from the original

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