Our Colorado vacation was a road trip. Renting a fuel efficient car we traveled from Tennessee through Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas reaching our destination in Fort Collins.
Our first stop was in New Baden, Illinois for lunch at a downtown restaurant called Good Ol’ Days. We don’t do much unless TripAdvisor advises us with at least the possibility we will enjoy the fare. We did and after eating made a quick spin through the village. It’s a lovely town and a nice piece of Americana pie.
Kansas is an Amazing Place to Visit
Approximately 12 hours later we arrived just inside Kansas in a little town called Ottawa at our first AirBnB stop. We were staying basically a block from the town square. I noticed that literally out of our front door was their bike path. I unloaded the car and hopped on my bike for a quick ride before the sun ran out on me. Ottawa is the start of a bike path that runs out into the prairie connecting with local towns.
I didn’t get too far but I enjoyed riding the path and unwinding from the long drive. I hopped off the path and rode into the mostly empty (Sunday night) town square. It was fun exploring.
We had decided that driving through Kansas would be a drag. We were definitely wrong. Leaving Ottawa, we were greatly surprised at how much we enjoyed it. The rolling hills, wind farms and vistas as far as the eye could see were quite amazing.
We Love to Visit Churches
Churches, cathedrals and basilicas are always on our list to visit whenever we find one. Obviously when you are cruising though, say, Quebec you don’t have to drive far to visit one of many amazing historical places of worship.
Imagine our surprise to see St. Fidelis church dubbed the “Cathedral of the Plains” along our travels through Kansas. It is considered a minor basilica built in the early 1900s. Yes we stopped and toured the interior. It was gorgeous.
As much as we enjoyed Kansas our enthusiasm waned once we entered Eastern Colorado. We ventured off the Intestate to avoid Denver and traveled a back road highway up to Fort Collins. The farms and land wasn’t as orderly as it appeared in Kansas.
Arriving in Fort Collins on Monday afternoon was exhausting. My only experience of Colorado had been ski resorts off I-70. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting Fort Collins to be but a worship center for consumerism wasn’t it. I expected history and got the typical suburban shopping arenas. It was unappealing except for one key difference: bike lanes.
Seemingly every street was equipped with bike lanes. Seeing the respect cyclists receive from this town after living in the South in Nashville and Atlanta areas with virtually no safe cycling options on most streets is impressive.
Horsetooth Mountain Open Space
My time in Fort Collins consisted of visiting Horsetooth Mountain Open Space which was quite fabulous. Tons of hiking and mountain bike trails lace through the Rocky Mountain foothills.
My first outdoor adventure was to hike to the Horsetooth Mountain Falls. The scenery is amazing and the waterfall had plenty of flow. The next day I attempted to ride my mountain bike into the upper trails but the elevation left me gasping and the tight single track, which we don’t ride in the South, made me feel like I was riding a balance beam.
I dropped down and rode the (easier) trails around the reservoir. I spent each day we were there exploring the trails by foot or bike and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
We drove down to Boulder. Unfortunately we didn’t care for the crowded college town but driving up and seeing the views atop Flagstaff Mountain made the trip well worth it. We stopped at an exposed rock outcrop and took in the scenery of the Rocky Mountains in the distance to the west and Boulder to the east. There was still snow alongside the steep mountain drive.
Day Trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming
One of the activities we knew we wanted to do was drive up to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’d never been to Wyoming before so obviously I wanted to cross that off the list. Opening up the trusty Trip Advisor we saw that one of the top attractions was the Southeast Welcome Center. Seriously? Yep, seriously. It was like a small museum with plenty of helpful information and friendly staff.
Cheyenne was pleasant surprise. Unhurried, it was a marked difference than Boulder/Ft. Collins. Unfortunately the state capital building was closed for remodeling but that gave us more time to explore the State Museum.
We love to explore history and their museum offered plenty. We learned about the Indians, mining, settlers and fossils. The culture and history is rich and they did a great job of presenting it to visitors.
Of course St. Mary’s Cathedral beckoned just around the corner so we popped over to take in its beauty.
Trip Advisor led us to lunch at 2 Doors Down. We enjoyed it as it was casual and quick.
Driving Back to Tennessee
After a few days exploring northern Colorado and Cheyenne, WY it was time to head back to Tennessee. We had thought about driving through Nebraska but were convinced that the extra hour was not worth it particularly after talking to a lady in Boulder about how boring her drive through the state was. Plus we really liked Kansas and looked forward to going back through.
We were glad we did.
Driving out we wished we had stopped at the Eisenhower library but we were just bent on getting to Colorado. Coming home we detoured into Abilene, Kansas and went to see what the Presidential library was about.
It was 4:30 and unfortunately everything was about to close. The gentleman in the museum said if we hurried we would have time to check out a WWI display on the second floor of the library. It was historical and interesting if not grand. We were bummed not to have been able to go in the museum or his home. We were able to walk the grounds between the buildings and see the monument to the General/President.
Leaving we noticed the Catholic Church across the street and folks piling in for Saturday mass. We decided to join them. Surprised at the crowd we were amused to see generations of families sitting in the pews.
Abilene is well worth a visit, especially if passing through. If there is another town that is as Americana as that place I’d like to see it. I felt like I’d stepped into a 1950’s Frank Capra movie.
I won’t be visiting Colorado again anytime soon unless it’s to strap a board or two to my feet. Even then I’m more likely to want to explore Wyoming. Kansas was a delight.
Click here to check out our photos and videos from our road trip to Fort Collins. It was a special Colorado vacation.