Head pounding. Heart smashing the inside of my chest like a drum. Wind screaming past my ears and grappling at my fingers. Chest getting tighter. And tighter. It is getting harder to breathe. Where has the oxygen gone?…..

Yesterday morning began trying to locate a Taco Bell for breakfast. We have fallen in love with their crunchwraps and treat ourselves once a week as a change from the cereal bars from Walmart! The first once we went to was closed and we nearly entered a fight with some dude behind us who didn’t want to move out our way as we reversed back out the drive thru. Thankfully we located another one a few miles down the road, but this time missed the turning due to the roadworks happening. Eventually we pulled in and decided to be pigs and ordered two crunchwraps each.

Their the sort of thing that one isn’t quite enough but two is too much. Still, we wolfed them down and headed to Rocky Mountain National Park, about an hour away. We probably should have filled up with fuel. The drive into the park was beautiful. The roads wound through the mountains and along side us, the river flowed with cute cabin-like houses lining the banks.We pulled into the visitors centre located 1.2 miles outside the actual entrance gate. Here we purchased a couple of souvenirs and I indulged in a book about the national parks here in America.A very worthwhile purchase if you plan on visiting a lot of the national parks as we have. It includes maps, photos, guides, and information about the parks. It was my bedtime read last night!

You know the other day when I said there was a queue probably two miles long waiting to get into Great Sand Dunes National Park? Well we were one of the people in the queue yesterday. Thankfully it didn’t take too long as we had arrived relatively early. As we drove up to the gate we flashed our America the Beautiful Pass, collected our map and were on our way. First stop was Bear Lake. Another queue. This time, we weren’t able to actually go and visit the creek because the parking was full. They had a ranger at the entrance telling everyone to u-turn. It was a good job I bought the book as it turns out the drive through the park is 48 miles long but similar to Pikes Peak where it will use more fuel. We had 139 miles in the tank. The winding roads of the Trail Ridge Roadway were stunning. There were viewpoints all along the road as we twisted and turned up the mountains.Hidden Valley

This park was incredible for spotting wildlife. Here we admired the view with our new friend, Alvin the Chipmunk. They were so little, quick and agile too! It really bugs me when people don’t adhere to the signage in this magical place. “Don’t feed the animals,” were plastered everywhere yet some punk decided it would be a good idea to feed the chipmunk popcorn!

We got back into the car and continued. The views got better and better the higher we climbed. The usual chatter of “could you take a photo of me/us please?” Or “would you like me to take a photo for you?” Was heard at each stop. Everyone was so friendly! The higher we climbed the more snow there was. At one viewpoint I got out and a couple asked me to take their picture as they sat on a rock. He said “focus in close,” to which I nodded when really I had no clue how to zoom in on them. Instead I chose to be artistic and capture them with the beautiful background of the snowy mountains. Admittedly he looked bewildered when I handed the camera back for them to look at, but thankfully they liked the photos. The next section, Forest Canyon, was a bit more difficult to get to. We had to traverse along slippery ice/snow in order to reach the viewpoint. Several times my backside or face nearly met the snow. It seems to be true that Skechers are not considered the best footwear to wear in the mountains! Who’d have thought ey?! More people were ignorant of the signs as the Tundra is a protected area yet they would happily stomp across it just to get a picture. It is frustrating!

The park was incredibly busy as parking at some of these viewpoints was challenging and took a lot of patience. Something Nathan wasn’t very good at! At the next viewpoint,  Rock Canyon, we encountered yellow-bellied marmots!We were at an elevation of about 11,000ft and we continued to climb another 796ft until we reached the Alline Visitor Centre. This is situated at the highest point on the road at 11,796ft. It was incredibly busy here but after a couple of attempts we were able to park. There is a gift shop, visitor centre and a cafe up there as well as the Alpine Ridge Trail.

The car park was wet and as we began to walk the trail, wet became snow. The trail was up a lot of steps but not before walking carefully over two rather large patches of snow. It was bitterly cold too. The temperature was about 50 degrees but add in the wind chill factor and I swear it felt like minus fifty! It’s ok though as we were dressed appropriately:- shorts, t-shirt, hoody and our ever trusty Skechers. Definitely not the best shoes for this. Our feet were sodden after about three steps!It was very slippery. It might not look like it but it was quite steep too! The trail is quite wide as to allow for people going up and down, as well as those needing to take a break! The higher we climbed the harder it became.

We pushed on. My head was pounding. My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. It was thudding hard and fast. The wind was piercing through my ears. I was determined not to stop until we reached the top. My chest was getting tighter and tighter and it was getting harder to breathe. As we continued up the hill, men were helping theirs friends/partners up the hill as the altitude began to hit them. A few younger people were clutching their chests and those older going slowly. We weren’t going slow, we just wanted to reach the top!

And when we did we sat on a rock to catch our breaths. Whilst we had only climbed about 250 feet, it felt a lot more! Still we made it and after a few coughs and deep breaths we continued along the trail to the highest point of 12,005 feet above sea level!Another beautiful view greeted us as well as even colder stronger wind! I turned to Nathan to ask if his head and ears were ok only to see he had put his hoody up. Great idea! I copied and we began our descent.Going down was much easier than getting up and we passed a few people going a bit slow. Carefully back over the snow…straight into a puddle. Now my foot was soaked. We have agreed that in any parks requiring walking, we shall ensure we have our boots on to avoid such mishaps! As we reached the bottom we entered the gift shop and visitor centre to collect our stamp!

Clouds started to roll in as we made our way back down the mountain, round the tight Medicine Bow Curve down to the Milner Pass and Lake Poudre. Here is where the continental divide occurs. The continental divide serparates the drainage to the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. There were people stood having their photo taken with the sign and friendly strangers snapping away for them. I unknowingly joined the queue and went to take the above picture. An American couple told me I have to have a photo with the sign. I obliged and let them snap one of me. They even told me what to do with my arms. It was quite a comical moment. A photoshoot in the middle of the Rocky Mountains by the continental divide! Back in the car we rounded some tight bends heading down to Timber Creek where we saw elk grazing!There were quite a lot of them grazing in the field. I took a few photos from a distance as others were beginning to approach them for an elk selfie! The last part of our trip took us down to Grand Lake and not long after we saw the elk, Nathan slams the brakes on and cries “MOOSE!” There was actually a moose crossing the road!!We think it’s a moose anyway! He didn’t stop long enough for us to take any decent photos and trotted off into the wilderness! A very exciting sighting that was! Continuing down to a Grand Lake, we pass through the town of Grand Lake. It was lovely! Situated right on the picturesque lake with cafes, lodges, shops selling all sorts, I felt I could live here! It was beautiful! The lake was huge and featured boaters, people floating on inflatable devices as well as what looked like wind surfers. The houses/lodges were set back in amongst the trees. It truly was a beautiful place!We stopped at Dairy King for a cheeky ice cream but sadly they had no mint choc chip. Nathan went in and got them as I continued to admire the scenery. Last time that happens! I get a small vanilla half cone whippy, with no flake as they had none!!!! He comes back with an M&M blast! A cup of ice cream and M&Ms!! Last time he does the ice cream run I can tell you! I definitely got the short straw there. Needless to say, mine was demolished in about two seconds but we had to wait for Nathan to finish his before we set back off.

Probably about half an hour later because it was SO huge, (more like ten minutes but I was sulking), we finished the Trail Ridge Roadway and headed out the park. Straight into a gas station. Good job too as we only had about twenty miles left in the tank! There was unfortunately a trailer in the gas station selling elk antler chandeliers 😔 as well as animal pelts. I didn’t like that even though I know hunting is rife across America.
We were headed to Denver and I managed to eventually book us a motel once I had had a little nap to try and rid my altitude headache. The tiredness hit me like a tonne of bricks! Still I woke up feeling better and booked us into the Extended Stay America in Aurora, ten miles south of Denver.

We checked in the struggled to find our room whilst getting nagged by young kids about a five dollar car wash. No thank you! The area seemed a little rough and when we got back from Five Guys, we think we saw an old guy picking up/dropping off a hooker outside our motel room. We had a studio so had a kitchen too and the room was spacious enough for two of us bu did smell of musty old cigarettes. Still, all we need is a bed and shower!

We watched Strangest Weather On Earth and fell asleep. This morning consisted of getting up early (8am) and heading to Denver International Airpott, to swap out car for the fourth time. We put five dollars of gas in and headed to the enterprise section. It was as easy as Phoenix. We pulled in, explained that the light keeps coming on and it needs an inspection but that we won’t be near an airport when we reach the 13,123 mileage tolerance. The guy radioed ahead and we pulled through to a booth and were met by Jana who sorted out our swap.

This time we have a black Ford Focus. Sadly it is smaller than Tony the Toyota and it was a struggle getting everything in the boot. It’s either smaller or we have just accumulated more junk to take round with us! Still, I’m happy because my legs fit on the dashboard in this car so I can top my tan up 😂…

Until later….