Colorado and the Great Plains

Day 1: Dallas to Paonia

STOPS: Horsefly Brewing Company, San Juan Brews, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Root and Vine Market

Caitlin flew into Dallas the prior day, then we flew together in the morning to Montrose. Got some midday burgers and beer at Horsefly Brewing Company and some coffee at San Juan Brews (good). We headed to Black Canyon of the Gunnison to check it out (such cool views of the rock walls), then drove to Paonia for our AirBNB. Since we were tired from all the travel, we picked up dinner at Root and Vine Market.

Today's distance: 95

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Day 2: Black Canyon of the Gunnison

STOPS: Coffee Trader, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado Boy, Stone Cellars

We got up, made breakfast, then picked up coffee at Coffee Trader (okay) before heading back to Black Canyon and doing the Warner Rim nature hike all the way at the end. We stopped at some of the different viewpoints but it was getting hot, so we went back to Montrose for some pizza at Colorado Boy. We headed back to the AirBNB and spent some time winetasting at the nearby Stone Cellars.

Today's distance: 149

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Day 3: Colorado National Monument

STOPS: Doghouse Espresso, Colorado National Monument, Cafe Sol, Octopus Coffee, Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

Today we headed to Colorado National Monument, getting some Doghouse Espresso (good) on the way. We did the Serpent's Trail hike, which gave some nice views of the town. The scenic drive took us past all sorts of crazy views and steep ledges. The weather was getting hot again, so we went to Grand Junction for food at Cafe Sol and Octopus Coffee (bad), then took the scenic route on the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway.

Today's distance: 213

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Day 4: Paonia to Grand Lake

STOPS: Coaltrain Coffee, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Needles Rock, Big Wrap, Ink Coffee, Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, Independence Pass, Sagebrush BBQ

Today we picked up coffee at Coaltrain Coffee (okay) and went to the North Rim of the Black Canyon, which is much less visited but has a great couple-hour hike to Exclamation Point. We backtracked, stopping by Needles Rock for me to examine before heading to Aspen for food at Big Wrap and coffee from Ink Coffee. We took the long route (Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway) to see the snow-capped peaks at Independence Pass before making our way to Grand Lake and our AirBNB. We picked up some Sagebrush BBQ and wandered the town before bed.

Today's distance: 324

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Day 5: Grand Lake to Berthoud

STOPS: Grand Lake Marina, The Hub, Rocky Mountains National Park, Odell Brewing Company

With the new Rocky Mountains NP entry timing, we had some time to kill before our 11AM entry pass, so we went kayaking on Grand Lake (rented at Grand Lake Marina), which was perfect in the morning before the boat traffic picked up. We entered the park and took our time, it wasn't overly busy. We saw a ton of elk and a few moose (meese?) but no sheep. Having enough, we went to our AirBNB (which has llamas!) before meeting some of Caitlin's college friends at Odell Brewing Company, then called it a night.

Today's distance: 132

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Day 6: Berthoud to Harrison

STOPS: Denver Airport, Paramount Cafe, Phoenix Books, Scotts Bluffs National Monument, Chimney Rock National Historic Site, I&L Coffee, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Staabs Drive Inn, Toadstools Geological Park

Got up and said goodbye to the llamas, then took Caitlin back to the airport so she could head back to Cleveland since she had to work the next day (sucks). I booked it to Cheyenne (AKA SHAIYANNNNN) where I got coffee at Paramount Cafe (good) and checked out the books/records at Phoenix Books. I then drove through fields and plains to see the views at Scotts Bluffs National Monument. I took a detour towards Chimney Rock National Historic Site where I did the short hike through the brush to the base of the rock, impressive. I also decided to stop by the affiliated museum where I got a great Bigfoot of Nebraska shirt. I continued on, getting coffee at I&L coffee (bad) before continuing farther north to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, which has a short hike with some awesome mammal fossils still embedded in the rocks. I picked up some excellent food from Staabs Drive Inn then took the dirt roads to Toadstools Geological Park, hidden in the middle of Nebraska. I hiked around and watched the sunset, then watched the biggest thunderstorm I've ever seen roll in and shoot lightning everywhere for hours while I tried (poorly) to sleep in the car. Awkward.

Today's distance: 428

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Day 7: Harrison to Glendive

STOPS: Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Needles Highway, Java Joint, Common Grounds, Devils Tower National Monument, Medicine Rocks State Park, Makoshika State Park, Monte Carlo Pizza

Woke up super early (4AM) to catch the sunrise over the rock formations. Drove up to Wind Cave National Park and hiked around while avoiding the bison and prairie dogs. I took a detour through Custer State Park (and got stuck behind a herd of bison and babies) then took the Needles Highway Scenic Byway through the Black Hills to enjoy some amazing views, then picked up food/coffee at the Java Joint (good coffee), then got more coffee at Common Grounds (bad). I drove through Aladdin to get to Devils Tower, where I did the walk around the base and enjoyed the calm of nature despite the crowds. I headed out of Wyoming and drove through rural Montana with only a couple deer and pronghorns to keep me company. Made a quick stop at Medicine Rocks State Park before heading to Glendive to watch the sunset at Makoshika State Park. Unfortunately I was too late to get a campsite, so I found a motel and picked up dinner from Monte Carlo Pizza.

Today's distance: 510

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Day 8: Glendive to Belle Fourche

STOPS: Makoshika State Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Hidden Springs Java, Burly's Roughrider Bar and Grill

Woke up and went back to Makoshika to do some of the hikes. Once I'd had enough, I drove to North Dakota to check out Theodore Roosevelt National Park full of bison and loads of cool rocks. Each visitor center and location had something different to offer, but I really loved the North Unit (much less busy). Also picked up some coffee from Hidden Springs Java, which I think was my only deviation from drip coffee the entire trip. I stopped at Burly's Roughrider Bar and Grill for some prime rib, then found a hotel outside of Rapid City due to it being tourist season and apparently the rodeo was in town. Oh well.

Today's distance: 441

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Day 9: Belle Fourche to Dallas

STOPS: Dinosaur Park, Badlands National Park, Delta 09 Launch Facility, Wall Drug, Reptile Gardens, Himalayan Kitchen, Pure Bean Coffeehouse

Woke up (ridiculously) early to drive to Dinosaur Park for the 5AM sunrise. Immediately headed (via SD 44) to Badlands National Park, where I drove around, stopped at every viewpoint, and did some of the shorter hikes before taking off once the crowds started showing up. I stopped by the Delta-09 Launch Facility (because why not) and picked up some postcards from Wall Drug. I then went back to Rapid City for Reptile Gardens to see all the snakes and crocodilians. Realizing I hadn't yet eaten or had coffee (urgh), I went to Himalayan Kitchen for some goat curry (yum!) and coffee at Pure Bean Coffeehouse (good), then made it to the airport in time to drop off the car and catch my flight back to Dallas.

Today's distance: 291

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