United States of America

Rocky Mountains & Black Canyon

Rocky Mountains & Black Canyon

October 2022

We crossed Nebraska and Wyoming, pastureland accompanying us as far as the eye could see. Cows, some abandoned farmhouses, lots of westernmills, but not much else to see. At the dry lake in the Bump Sullivan Wildlife Refuge we found a nice, quiet place to spend the night. Only the next morning was the peace disturbed by a storm and the shots of some amateur hunters targeting pheasants.


In a fairly short time, we had already passed through the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. Now state number seven, Colorado, lay ahead of us. Slowly but surely, the Rocky Mountains loomed again in the distance. The mountain range that has followed us like a thread since Calgary in Canada. We had resolved to head into the mountains and visit the Rocky Mountains National Park.

At the town of Estes Park, we drove into the park. At the entrance, we asked for a map of the park and spontaneously chose the turnoff to Upper Beaver Meadows. From the car park, there was a 7.6-kilometre hike, called the Beaver Mountain Loop. Despite the sun, it was still quite cold, so 4 layers of clothing were not too much, along with hat and gloves. Pretty soon after we had started walking, we stumbled across the first mule deer. The four of them stood there along the path and didn’t really allow themselves to be disturbed while grazing. The hike continued uphill and not soon after we saw more deer, this time it was three males with antlers. They too allowed themselves to be photographed up close.

Arriving at the highest point, we had a beautiful view of the valley and the high mountains, which were admittedly partly hidden in the clouds. It was truly beautiful, this autumn day. Back at the car, we had lunch and then drove the Trail Ridge Road until it was closed due to snow. Along the way, we saw some more Wapiti along the way. We finished the loop via the Old Fall River Road and eventually arrived back in the town of Estes Park where the sun was shining brightly again. We drove another 70 kilometres through the valley to the town of Boulder, where we spent the night before heading to Denver the next day.

Denver is also called “The Mile High City” because it sits at an elevation of 5,280 feet, or exactly one mile, above sea level. It is surrounded by the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, which creates a beautiful view from almost everywhere in town. In Denver, we visited Mike’s garage where we wanted to have a part replaced. Normally, a diesel vehicle regenerates itself to burn off the soot in the particle filter. However, our car did this several times a day and there was often quite a stench as a result, we had the feeling that something was wrong. Mike specialises in Sprinters, he was the right person to help us with this problem.

The broken part had to be ordered, but we were able to come back the same afternoon so we could deal with everything immediately. We had noticed that car mechanics here are super nice people who are happy to get you back on the road without trying to con you. In the afternoon, Mike also introduced us to another car mechanic from the garage next door, Matus from Slovakia. Matus gave us some helpful tips on how to get through Central and South America. We were satisfied, the problem with the Sprinter was now hopefully solved after the oil change in Billings and the current repair.

For the next day, we had bought tickets for the Denver Nuggets – L.A. Lakers basketball game. We thought it would be fun to attend a typical American sports event. Until then, we still had a few hours to explore Downtown Denver. Denver’s compact city centre is easy to visit on foot. We walked down 16th Street, the pedestrian promenade with shops and restaurants left and right. The streets were very quiet. Denver is not a tourist city and downtown is clearly a business area. We ate a yummy burger in a typical diner and combined with the basketball game we made it a real American evening.

Denver 16th Street
Sam's No. 3 Downtown Diner

The match was scheduled to start at 20:00 and we joined a queue for the entrance at 18:30. For the first half hour, we didn’t make any progress until it turned out that the gates didn’t open until 19:00. Finally inside, we were welcomed by three young cheerleaders whom many a man was happy to have his picture taken with. Our seats were fairly upstairs. Often, the cheaper the ticket, the more stairs one has to climb. It was no different here. Of course, from that stair climbing one gets thirsty and quite by chance, right at the top of the last step, there was a pretty lady who wanted to pour us something. But seeing the prices, we preferred to dry out. Beer USD14? Bottle of water then? USD6.

Denver Ball Arena

The Ball Arena slowly filled up. We were excited! The L.A. Lakers is a popular team. On par with FC Barcelona or Bayern Munich in terms of popularity. The Nuggets fans were in the majority, but the yellow of the Los Angeles club was clearly visible in the stands. The entertainment programme began. The fact is that an American experiences his sports match differently from a European. After the players’ warm-up was completed, DJ Paw started his playlist to warm up the crowd. For a moment, we thought we had entered the wrong venue. The bass was flying around our ears and we were almost thrown out of our leather chairs. On the big screens, we could follow the live TV preview and shortly before the game was to start, the players of both teams were introduced, with those of the Lakers being booed. Apparently this is no different from Europe. The speaker took the floor and commanded everyone to stand. The US national anthem! A local singer put all his emotions into the song while singing and was joined by the crowd.

The only player on the court we knew was LeBron James of the L.A. Lakers, nickname “King James”, considered to be one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. We knew the rules only a little bit, but not everything was completely clear to us. After about 10 seconds, we looked at the scoreboard and saw that the Lakers were already ahead 2-0. We thought the minimum the ball has to be in the net to score and we hadn’t seen that yet? Also, it was difficult for us laymen to understand when someone makes a mistake. Fortunately, we had three referees for that.

At every break or time out, it appears that the basketball court can be quickly converted into a multi-use area. In short order, a sort of play-in game is organised where children have to run a course with a tray in their hands and then throw as many balls into the basket as possible in a minute. All made possible by a lot of sponsors.

The highlight of the evening came in the break between the second and third quarters. For 15 minutes, the field was transformed into a real circus after which a Chinese lady on a unicycle listening to the stage name Red Panda entered the arena. Merrily riding around in circles, meanwhile waving to the highly honoured audience, she deftly balanced the unicycle over the track with one leg and threw saucers on her head with the other. Eventually with as many as seven at a time! Really exceptional, but what on earth is that supposed to do at halftime of an NBA game? While the crowd applauded loudly, we waited for the lions to appear but it didn’t come to that. 

The crowd was asked to make a lot of ‘noise’ especially to welcome the players back. That was true too…basketball players. There was also basketball. With a ferocious final spurt, it began to look like the Denver Nuggets were going to win the game. With four minutes left on the clock, the Lakers coach decided to take another time out and that was just as well. There was one more war hero waiting in the wings to be honoured for some medals of honour he had earned. The Nuggets won the game 107-93, but that was beside the point.

The next day it snowed. Due to an accident, the Interstate to the west was closed and so we had no choice but to drive south. Our destination was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and for that we had to cross the mountains again today. We also urgently needed new water, but unfortunately many taps and various refilling possibilities were turned off in winter. We tried a truck stop without success. At another petrol station we asked in the shop and were allowed to fill our canister in the kitchen, which was very friendly. It was slowly getting drier and clearing up. Heading west on Highway 50, a pass of 3400 metres awaited us, but so far everything looked relatively relaxed. 

The drive took us through a beautiful canyon and then further and further up into the mountains, which at first looked like they were sprinkled with icing sugar, but the higher we got, the thicker the snow lay to the right and left of the road. But the drive over the pass went smoothly and we were able to enjoy the scenery. Back at 2100 metres on the other side, a kind of plateau opened up with countless cows, many horses and ranges of hills to the right and left, it was beautiful. Every now and then there were wisps of blue in the sky and the sun made an appearance. We had to cross two more passes, 2700 and 2600 metres high, until we reached the turn-off to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Here we parked our car for the night at a picnic area. The auxiliary heating was switched on immediately and all the windows were sealed, because sub-zero temperatures awaited us tonight.


The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a lesser-known park, but no less beautiful or interesting than its neighbours in Utah and Arizona. Arriving at the car park, immediatly we were able to into the depths. As always, we walked first to the visitor centre in search of information about the area and hikes we could take. There had been quite a bit of snow in the past week, which meant that not everything could be visited.

We found a short 4 kilometer lomg hike along the rim of the canyon that was open. The new tread under our new shoes came in handy in the snow on the narrow path where you sometimes looked hundreds of metres into the abyss. The black rocks stood out nicely against the white of the snow and gave the picture a little more ‘colour’. It is unbelievable how this all came to be and that the small amount of water of the Gunnison River far below had been responsible for this.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, infected.nl. All Rights Reserved.

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