On this holiday through Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming you'll experience some of the most majestic landscapes in America. You’ll soon understand where the inspiration for the John Denver song, Rocky Mountain High came from. Colorado alone boasts the thirty highest peaks in the Rocky Mountain range.
From the mountains to the monuments, you'll experience natural beauty and man-made creations beyond what you thought was possible. Throw in some wild west and of course mighty Yellowstone and now you've got one serious holiday!
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Immediately after outlasting several surrounding cities for the title of capitol of the Colorado Territory, Denver began to develop a transportation network, cattle exchange, banking, cultural offerings, grand architecture and energy, working to make itself the thriving, contemporary, world class city that it is today.
The 16th Street Mall connects the Colorado State Capitol building with Lodo, the cultural district. The Mile High city gets its name from the fact that the Colorado State Capitol Building, gold dome and all, has a brass cap embedded in the stairway at an elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level, exactly one mile high. The very interactive Colorado State History Museum provides an overview of the state and city’s history. The Denver Visitor Centre, located at 1600 California Street, is chock full of information about the other 38 museums in Denver. One of the most interesting smaller museums is the Molly Brown House of unsinkable Molly Brown fame. When you hear her real story, you’ll quickly realize it’s quite a bit different than the legend.
It’s only 70 miles from Denver to Colorado Springs and Pike’s Peak. Standing majestically in the distance; the lofty heights inspired the song America the Beautiful. During the 1850s, Pikes Peak or Bust! became the mantra of pioneers travelling from the edge of the Great Plains through the mountains to a land of new possibilities.
The Garden of the Gods is filled with red rock landscapes and Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument encompasses some of the oldest fossilized material in the US. Awesome manmade wonders include the United States Air Force Academy, gold mines, old western towns, museums, the arts, and historic architecture. Couple that with the Cave of the Winds and you’re about to have an adventure that’s up in the air. The Peak still serves as a major attraction for visitors who want to travel to the top of one of the highest mountains in the United States by car, cog railroad and even on foot.
Distance: 63 miles
Stand on the roof of the Rockies at Rock Cut. Pull over at Rainbow Curve, elevated over two miles above sea level, and see trees transformed by long, repeated exposure to the harsh winds, ice, and grit of this severe environment. At Milner Pass, the byway meets the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail which crosses approximately 3,100 miles ranging from the Canada-Montana border to the Mexico-New Mexico border. At elevations over 10,000 feet, this trail offers spectacular views of the Rockies and the meadows that lie at their base.
Distance: 195 miles
Once you reach Scottsbluff, you’ll find the beginning of a very interesting road in the middle of the Midwest. The region, named after the Sandhill cranes that migrate through here, is literally 20,000 square miles of sand dunes, tentatively, as the locals say, covered with grass. They’re more than just sandpiles, they cover the Ogallala Aquifer, the world’s largest underground supply of water. The largest gathering of sandhill cranes in the world—some half a million strong—is a phenomenal sight to see here every spring. Instead of city lights, fence posts, barns, windmills and corn fields are the skyline. This end will be a great place for a wildflower hike, a walk through the Nebraska National Forest, the largest hand-planted forest in the country or a stroll on the actual dunes.
Distance: 245 miles
The hot springs which dot the area are the result of water pressure being caught underground when the earth changed position. Stop at Mammoth Hot Springs where the remains of mammoth’s are still being found in a sink-hole. Nearby, Jewel Cave National Monument is 135 miles long, making it the second longest cave in the world. Air currents indicate there are vast areas left to discover.
The most dramatic time to visit Mount Rushmore is in the evening for the illumination ceremony. The program includes a short ranger-talk, a film about the four presidents, the playing of the National Anthem and the lighting of the sculpture. A dramatic end to a day of dramatic visual landscapes.
Distance: 390 miles
Tonight even if you’re not staying at the Irma Hotel, established by Buffalo Bill in 1902, check out the Western style entertainment on hand nearly every night.
Distance: 119 miles
In the Madison Natural Area, thermal action bubbles up in many colours. A one-mile trail takes you through the colourful hot springs and the two large mud pots of the Artist Paint Pots just south of Norris Junction. The Old Faithful Area is actually made up of four different geyser basins surrounding the famous geyser, where 60% of the world’s geyser’s share a small space. There are nearly 150 of these thermal wonders within one square mile adjacent to Old Faithful.
The Grant Village Area and the Lake Area are both adjacent to Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake at a high elevation in North America. More than 7,500 feet above sea level, it has a surface area of 132 square miles and 141 miles of shoreline. It is 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. The deepest portion is in the West Thumb area at 320 feet. The bottom of Yellowstone Lake has the same terrain as Yellowstone Park, namely geysers, hot springs. A hot spot at Mary Bay got up as high as 252F.
Distance: 160 miles
Three Scenic Drives in the Park are also a must do. The Teton Park Road follows the base of the Teton Range from Moose to Jackson Lake Junction. Jenny Lake Scenic Drive skirts Jenny Lake which is clear, blue and dramatic. Signal Mountain Summit Road gives you panoramic views of the Teton Range, Jackson Lake and the Jackson Hole valley. Jackson Hole is the name traditionally given to the bowl-like valley that surrounds the town of Jackson, Wyoming.
Be sure to consider a Teton Sciences School Wildlife Expedition - a 4 hour trip into the back country wilderness not accessible by car or bus. The best chance to see wildlife is right at dusk.
Distance: 251 miles
Farther south, the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area was discovered on a spring day in 1869 when John Wesley Powell and nine men boarded small wooden boats at Green River, Wyoming to embark on a daring exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Powell and his men slowly worked their way downstream, successfully completing their journey in late summer. It was on May 26, 1869 that Major Powell named the Flaming Gorge after he and his men saw the sun reflecting off of the red rocks.
Distance: 183 miles
Coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, and desert bighorn sheep are also seen. Smaller mammals like foxes, desert cottontails, squirrels, and other rodents are often seen scampering off the sides of the Rim Rock Drive or hiking trails.
Coming down off the Monument’s roadway, you have the option to proceed through the heart of Grand Junction to follow the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway along the rim of the world's largest flat top mountain and discover all 360-degrees of singular alpine skyline. High altitude and clear alpine air invite visitors to look westward to clarion views of the La Sal Mountains, 60 miles to the west in Utah. Highway 141 also leads to the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. Interesting museums in Grand Junction include Dinosaur Journey, which is part of the Museum of Western Colorado and the Museum of Western Colorado.
Distance: 147 miles
Once a hunting ground and summer residence of the Ute Indians before the arrival of the white man in the mid-19th century. Irishman George Gore, known as Lord Gore, and American frontiersman Jim Bridger were among the first to venture into the region. From 1854 to 1856, they spent the summers hunting and exploring the peaks. A few years later, Bridger returned to the region and named the mountain range and valley after Gore.
By the 1870s, the Gore Range was attracting fortune seekers for both silver and gold. Mines were set up and railroad tracks laid down to transport the precious metals. It wasn't long before the miners departed and the valley returned to a peaceful home for sheep. In 1939 construction began on Highway 6, running from Denver through the Gore Valley and the rest, as they say, is history.
Golden, Colorado, the state’s first capital city, is today a great western town at the base of a mountain with huge buttes ringing the town. It’s also the home of Coors Beer.
Today’s blend of western, southwestern, Hispanic, African American and Native American cultures makes Denver most interesting. In addition, it has more college graduates and babyboomers than any other city in America. The performing arts complex is the largest in the nation after Lincoln Centre.
Although still very much a western mountain town, Denver is not actually located in the mountains. The foothills of the Rockies begin about 15 miles from downtown, spiking into the soaring 14,000 foot peaks of the Continental Divide a few miles beyond.
Today you depart Denver for the UK, however your adventure doesn't have to end here. Perhaps you may want to extend your stay and contrast your tour with a stop off at New York, Boston or Washington DC for some shopping and sightseeing? Or maybe, take in more of America's magnificent landscape with a trip to dramatic national parks of Utah?
Call the travel experts at Bon Voyage to discuss your ideal Natural Wonders adventure.