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Old 07-01-2015, 11:01 AM   #21
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Westward ho! Pennsylvania to Colo, Wyo, Mont, Alberta

Sat., June 20, cont.

Ever watch the reality show "Truck Stop USA" on the Travel Channel? This is it. Midway Travel Plaza near Columbia, Missouri. A bit of a dive compared to most modern truck stops, but we were driving right by and it was convenient for a bathroom break.

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Old 07-01-2015, 11:06 AM   #22
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Westward ho! Pennsylvania to Colo, Wyo, Mont, Alberta

Sat., June 20, cont.

Took a short detour off I-70 to visit Independence, Missouri, where all three of the major westward expansion trails began: the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe trails all began here at Courthouse Square and headed west. You can still see the ruts in some places! Our son told us all about it because he studied it last year in third grade. There's a trail museum there, too, but it closed at 5:00 and we got there at 5:10. Drat. Grabbed another BBQ meal in Independence at "The Little BBQ Joint." Amazingly good. If you are traveling along I-70 here and are interested in history, downtown Independence is only 5-10 mins off the highway.


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Old 07-01-2015, 11:15 AM   #23
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Westward ho! Pennsylvania to Colo, Wyo, Mont, Alberta

Sunday, June 21

Overnighted in Kansas at a motel since it was a late night and pretty hot. Through Kansas today and headed to Pueblo, Colorado, for overnight. Stopped at a very cool Nat'l Historic Site in Kansas called Fort Lanerd, which guarded the Santa Fe Trail in the 1860s-70s. My son got his first Junior Ranger badge of the trip. This site is well worth a detour, for both kids and adults. Very interesting. Extra pics are random Kansas driving views, including what the front of the van looks like after decimating the insect population of the state.

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Old 07-01-2015, 08:29 PM   #24
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Re: Westward ho! Pennsylvania to Colo, Wyo, Mont, Alberta

Monday, June 22

After driving through Kansas we ended up in a hotel in Pueblo, Colorado, for the night. Had an excellent Father's Day dinner at a Mexican place nearby. When driving long, transit days we often will do a motel instead of camping for convenience.

We had been hearing some noises from our rear differential, which the forum folks helped us diagnose as a limited-slip rear needing friction fluid. (See thread viewtopic.php?f=5&t=16403) So I got up early on Monday and was at the Ford dealer when they opened at 7:00 am to pick up a few bottles of the fluid. I then headed to the local Walmart lot where I crawled under the van and added the fluid. The fluid seemed to fix the issue, which was a big relief. Then a quick stop for a haircut before heading back to the hotel for breakfast with my family.

After a few other errands and provisioning, we headed out from Pueblo along the Arkansas River, which is a beautiful drive. Our destination was St Elmo, supposedly the best-preserved ghost town in Colorado. It was nice and worth a visit, and there are several NFS campgrounds in the road up to the town, including one right near the town itself. We camped at one of the lower ones and enjoyed a quiet and chilly night. Great sleeping weather!


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Old 07-01-2015, 08:43 PM   #25
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Re: Westward ho! Pennsylvania to Colo, Wyo, Mont, Alberta

Tuesday, June 23

On Tuesday our destination was the Maroon Bells area just outside Aspen. The drive included crossing over Independence Pass at 12,000 feet. A beautiful view, with plenty of snow at the top.



Friends had recommended Maroon Bells to us, and our guidebook confirmed it as a "must-see" spot in Colorado. It's definitely a beautiful area.

There are three small NFS campgrounds on the road up to the Bells area, but supposedly they are nearly impossible to get reservations at. One is tents-only, and the other two have less than 10 sites each (ours only had six). Somehow I got lucky and found two open nights in Silver Queen CG and was able to book them, which was a great score. Usually the dead-end road is closed to traffic between 9-5 and you must use a shuttle bus, but when you camp there you are allowed to drive the road at any time.

We checked into our site and drove up to the scenic area and lake, made lunch in the picnic area, and hiked around a bit.

After enjoying ourselves at the top, my son and I got on our bikes and enjoyed nine miles or so of downhill riding in the road, with my wife picking us up at the bottom. Since we were down the mountain we decided to head into Aspen and grab some pizza for dinner.


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Old 07-01-2015, 08:55 PM   #26
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Re: Westward ho! Pennsylvania to Colo, Wyo, Mont, Alberta

Wednesday, June 24

On Wednesday we decided to do a hike up to Crater Lake in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. While it's only about four miles round trip, it has 2,000 feet of elevation gain in the two miles up. Coupled with the altitude (10,000+ feet at the top), we were sucking some air when we got to the lake. A beautiful hike and well worth it though!


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After we got down we had a quick lunch of hot dogs microwaved in the van and drove into Aspen to explore a bit. We quickly concluded we are not rich, hip or thin enough to live there. It's a beautiful town, though!

Back to the campsite for a dinner of tacos and salad, but we were chased inside the van to eat as rain rolled in just as we were done cooking outside.

Another great night of cool-weather camping.


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Old 07-01-2015, 09:06 PM   #27
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Re: Westward ho! Pennsylvania to Colo, Wyo, Mont, Alberta

Thursday, June 25

We got an early start, with our destination being Rocky Mtn National Park. We drove a good bit of I-70 and marveled at the construction of the highway through the narrow gorge and over several passes. We were happy that the van's 5.4 V8 pulled us over the mountains easily.



En route we stopped in Boulder and toured the Celestial Seasonings factory. It was mainly my wife's request, but I found it really interesting as well. It's worth a visit if you are in the area.



As all the park's campgrounds were full, we stayed at the Rodeway Inn in Estes Park since we got it for free with points. Looked around Estes Park a bit, had dinner at the Bighorn Restaurant on the outskirts of town (recommended), and called it a night.
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Old 07-02-2015, 12:58 AM   #28
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Re: Westward ho! Pennsylvania to California and back June-Ju

Fantastic TR thus far! I love how inspired and engaged your son is in your travels - memories to last, and hopefully only the start to more great adventures. I certainly hope our kids have that desire and excitement to see new things at that age!

Looking forward to more along the way for sure - thanks for sharing!
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Old 07-02-2015, 10:47 AM   #29
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Re: Westward ho! Pennsylvania to California and back June-Ju

Thanks for the trip report updates. That Maroon peak must be a classic shot as it seems I've seen it before.
What a beautiful area. Enjoy the rest of your trip & keep the pics coming.
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Old 07-02-2015, 11:09 AM   #30
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Westward ho! Pennsylvania to California and back June-July

Friday, June 26

Got up early, hit the free breakfast at the hotel and checked out. We headed a mile down the road and were able to check in early at the KOA since the site was available (we had reserved it the night before). We took the bikes off the back of the van and left them at the campsite to make it a bit easier to drive the van on the park roads.

We headed up to Rocky Mtn Park, first stopping at the visitor center to get our son his Junior Ranger workbook. We stopped again for a ranger talk geared to kids, where we learned about owls and Hawks. Then took our time driving up Trail Ridge Road to Alpine Visitor Center.

At Alpine we scored one of the last parking spots, an RV spot at the edge of the lot and the end of the row with great views. We popped the top, made lunch and relaxed a bit. Then toured the visitor center and the gift shop (of course), and hiked the short path up to the viewpoint above the visitor center. Although short, it left us short of breath due to the altitude.

We turned around at Alpine and headed back to Estes. Along the way we got a good close-up look at some bighorn sheep rams along the roadside, which was cool.

Back to Estes Park and dinner again at the Bighorn Restaurant, then an hour or so checking out all the tourist shops in town.

When we got back to the KOA we spent some time chatting with another SMB'er, Tom from Utah. We toured each other's rigs and talked for a while. Being from the east coast, this was the first SMB I had seen the inside of.


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