There’s just something about road trips that bring back a slew of nostalgic feelings. Twice a year, my parents would pack our car to the brim in preparation to embark on our bi-annual family vacation. The destinations would change—one summer we’d venture down to the keys, and the next, we’d spend it nestled in a cabin atop of a mountain in Tennessee. But there was one common theme amongst all of these trips: they were all taken via automobile (with the obvious exception being the summer we spent in Norway; you can’t exactly drive there from Florida). Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of road trips.
Last Christmas, my mom and I made the 14-hour drive to Denver, Colorado from Austin, Texas for a second(!) time since I moved out west. It was my longest road trip thus far, yet one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve been blessed to have in my mere twenty-something years. Our decision to split the lengthy trip up into two days of driving made it that much more enjoyable. We explored the second largest canyon in the United States in Amarillo, gazed upon a dormant volcano in a barren New Mexico town called Capulin and even spent an afternoon meandering around Cheyenne, the small, albeit quirky capital of Wyoming. While it’d be impossible to recap my entire trip solely because of the amount of activities we somehow managed to fit within a weeklong time frame, I’ve included a few highlights from each of the places we stopped along the way.
First stop: Amarillo, TX
Amarillo is one of those Texas towns that you’ve probably heard of a time or two, but never given much thought to. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and yes, there is a not-so-pleasant cattle stench that perpetually permeates the air, but if you have the time and gumption, I highly recommend stopping here for a night (or more). West Texas’ arcane treasure, Palo Duro Canyon, is the second largest canyon in the United States and only a short 20-minute drive out of the city. The panoramic view is absolutely breathtaking, and this rugged beauty should not be missed.
If you’re pressed for time, Cadillac Ranch is located literally on the side of Highway 40. While it could be looked at as underwhelming in comparison to the majestic Palo Duro, I think it’s a fun roadside attraction that is certainly worth a stop. I bought a can of spray paint and etched a ‘happy birthday’ message to Andrew on one of the cars before taking off.
Second stop: Capulin, NM
A sleepy town home to approximately 66 people, Capulin doesn’t even have a post office. They do, however, host a dormant volcano that once upon a time spewed lava farther than eyes could see. It hasn’t erupted in some 60,000 years, but that doesn’t make it any less awe-inspiring. The volcano itself is only a few miles off the highway, and if you happen to stop by on a day that the park is open, you can even drive up to the top.
Third stop: Denver, CO
Although this was my second trip to Denver, I was feeling under-the-weather the first time around, ergo I didn’t get to do or see nearly as much as I had wanted to. This vacation, I arrived to our Airbnb prepped and ready with a list of things to do. First up was Red Rocks Amphitheatre — an outdoor concert venue tucked away in the mountains and one of the best places to watch a sunset.
If the weather is nice enough, a stroll down Larimer Square — dubbed Denver’s most historic block — is a must. Donned with holiday lights and other sundries, this unique little section of town actually spans a couple of blocks and offers up something for everyone. We grabbed lunch on the corner and stopped in a few stores before calling it a day. Be warned: the shops are on the pricey side.
Fourth stop: Boulder, CO
Located at the foothills of the Rockies (about an hour drive north of Denver), Boulder is a ritzy little town that I vehemently believe everyone should visit at least once. The downtown area boasts an array of upscale shops, local businesses and gorgeous homes that I’ll probably never be able to afford in this lifetime. Stunning mountain views can be observed from almost anywhere you look. Truly, the word ‘beautiful’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. If I ever win millions in the lottery someday, you guys know where to find me.
No trip to Boulder would be complete without seeing the infamous JonBenet Ramsey House in person. If you grew up in the 80’s or 90’s, you’re probably very familiar with the tragic story behind it. Sadly, we’ll never know what went down behind those doors on that fateful evening. But what I do know is that I got an eerie feeling when we stopped by, and — despite the home’s jaded history — a family now lives there. Strange.
Next up on the itinerary was Estes Park, Colorado, but since the weather was less-than-ideal, we opted to end our trekk in the adorable town of Lyons. There weren’t too many places open on this particular day, but it sure was pretty to admire. A true ‘Winter Wonderland’, one might call it.
Doesn’t this look like it should be on a postcard?!
Fifth stop: Cheyenne, WY
Fun fact: Cheyenne is the smallest state capital out of all 50 states. If you blink, you just might miss it! Unfortunately, the capitol building itself was closed for renovations at the time of our visit, so we didn’t get to peruse the historical landmark as we had originally planned. However, the snowy terrain and quaint downtown area filled with shops and restaurants alike more than made up for it. I failed to snap a picture of it (I blame the weather—it was 9 degrees outside!), but I bought a couple of trinkets at an eclectic, western-wear store called the The Wrangler.
At this point, you’re only about an hour and a half from Nebraska and four hours from Mount Rushmore. We debated continuing our journey, but unfortunately, a tempestuous snowstorm on the horizon hindered us from being able to do so. Our time in this charming little town was fleeting, but I was excited to cap the trip off by checking another state off of my bucket list.