Planning a twenty-one day road trip can be a bit overwhelming. Actually, it’s incredibly overwhelming. It took me several hours and many weeks to figure out the major places we wanted to visit. After what seemed like an eternity, it was finally time for us to leave our little town of Paradise, Texas and head out to the Wild West! We began our 21- day, overland anniversary adventure in our newly-lifted, Toyota 4Runner, which toted along our teardrop camper.
Our first main destination was the never disappointing Salida, CO. One of my favorite things about a road trip is trying out great new food destinations along the way. If you ever find yourself in Salida, don’t leave before you try out Moonlight Pizza. Add cream cheese to your pie; you will have no regrets. After lunch and a stroll around the town with the pups, we made our way to the KOA campground in Buena Vista, Colorado. This campground boasts gorgeous views of the Collegiate Peaks mountain range. Just wait until sunset; you won’t be sorry.
After setting up camp, I told Joey I had an anniversary surprise for him. Quick side note: Every vehicle we own somehow makes its way off-road not too long after we purchase it. The 4Runner is mine and I make every effort I can to let Joey know that. I don’t care if it’s meant to go off-road, I don’t want it scratched, dented, dinged, etc. So when Joey decided a month prior to our trip that we needed to lift the rig (3-inch Old Man Emu Medium Duty springs - rear / 2.5-inch TOYTEC – front) and replace the original highway tires with the all new BFGoodrich A/T KO2’s, I knew the inevitable was coming. I decided to embrace the inevitable and told him we had a mini off-road adventure we should go on; The Aspen Ridge Trail. My research led me to believe this trail would be a beautiful way to see the changing aspens and boy, was Google right! Like any responsible adventurer, we left with less than a quarter tank of gas and hoped for the best (just kidding, we don’t recommend that). The trail actually dumps out back into Salida, but we didn’t mind backtracking, especially without the added weight of the trailer. This was essentially the maiden voyage for the 4Runner. I would recommend airing down a bit because of the trail’s rocky nature, but this trail could easily be done (weather permitting) in almost any vehicle with a slight amount of clearance.
The views were killer. The dogs made a couple of new cow friends along the way (Be aware! They often stand in the road) and the trail was only a couple of hours long. The sunset near the end of the trail was such a beautiful sight and we were able to make it to the town of Salida around dusk.
The next day we tried out a local coffee shop and found our way up to the Mount Princeton trail head. Of course we put it in four-wheel-drive and drove as far up as we could. For whatever reason, hiking a 14er has always been on my bucket list. I am in no way an avid hiker but I still just couldn’t pass this opportunity up. If you think the Collegiate Peaks are daunting from the town of Buena, I dare you to make your way past the tree line. That’s a long scramble up for a bunch of low-altitude Texans. We made it way further than we ever imagined we would, but near the summit we decided to turn around because the dog’s paws were getting raw. The dogs had so much energy left but we bipeds were beat. What better way to finish off the day than dinner with a new-found Toyota friend - Shout out to Matt Berzon and his 4Runner! Definitely check out Eddy Line Brewery if you find yourself in Buena Vista, and grab a pumpkin beer and a burger.
The next few days we found ourselves traversing through central Colorado and on to the Rocky Mountain National Park. This was one of my favorite days of the trip. The views were unbelievable everywhere we turned. The drive through RMNP way exceeded my expectations. The sun was starting to set when we drove through and the light bouncing off the mountains was to die for. The end of the park road left us in Estes Park which we had originally planned to stay in. However, a short drive through the downtown area had us hightailing it out of there away from the masses. We decided to head on to our next destination in Ft. Collins, Colorado. We spent a day or two roughing it in a hotel and checking out the stores and eateries. If you have the chance, make sure to stop by the JAX Outdoor Store - (leave your wallet in the car). Don’t forget to grab some grub at any of the several restaurants around town; our favorites are Yeti Bar and Grill, Rio Grande, Blue Agave, and Snooze.
The next portion of our trip had us heading into Wyoming. Laramie is where we stopped first and met up with an awesome photographer, Joe Haeberle. We lucked out and made another new friend on the trip. He captured some great shots of us and the rig, a couple of which are featured with this article. After a day or two in Laramie, we made the long trek north to the Grand Tetons. After a day’s worth of driving, the majestic peaks were finally in sight. I was in awe at the ominous, craggily peaks. They aren’t your average mountain range and I found myself taking way too many pictures of them. We made our way into the little community of Moose where a local bar tender told us where we could find primitive camping. We nabbed a great little spot down by a river where we celebrated our anniversary with some grilled bratwursts, while we sipped on a Jenny Lake Lager. It’s the simple things! We spent most of the night warming ourselves around a fire while I fretted about being eaten by a bear. Sunrise proved we had survived the night with no such intruder, so we moseyed on over to Jackson, Wyoming. This is an area of our trip where I wished we had allowed ourselves more time. Jackson is such an interesting place; we found it to be one of our favorite parts of the trip.
The story continues in Part 2 of our next issue.
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