The next day was July 4th and we awoke to a birdseye view of downtown Denver.
“Where are all the people?” my daughter asked, having gone to sleep with a view like this:
Since it was a holiday, the city remained quiet this morning. We had a lot of miles to cover today so we got started early.
This part of the journey picked up the theme of natural disasters that began our journey. Much of Colorado and Utah was on fire! Concerned family had been emailing us tips and encouraging us to be careful. It was hard to tell exactly which areas were on fire and as we were driving through the entirety of nearly both states the chance we would encounter something seemed quite high. We checked the Colorado Office of Emergency Management before heading out. Their website provided a great Google map with the fire locations marked. We were able to overlay our driving route on it and fortunately just missed all the fires.
|Utah was not faring much better with new fires sprouting daily. We wondered if we would see smoke or encounter flames along our route. It was frightening to think of trying to out-drive a fire! Fortunately, we were far enough from the fires that we never encountered a single problem and saw no signs of fire other than warnings not to light fireworks.|
We hit the road and drove through some gorgeous Colorado country. The view changed about every 5 minutes. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the country to drive through. There are mountains, and tunnels and ski towns and desert environments and all kinds of terrain. Even my “bad” pictures are pretty good from this section of our drive. Here is a sampling:
At one point, the highway was under construction and it looked like we were off-roading. The people in front of us certainly were!
After a while, we entered eastern Utah, a.k.a. dinosaur country.
We stopped for lunch at Café Rio, which we have heard wonderful things about. Their barbacoa is more sweet than spicy but everything was delicious. They had a selection of interesting lemonades, with strawberry, mint and even hibiscus flower! They also had vanilla Coke on tap, which was an unusual find.
Next, it was on to Dinosaur National Monument, which was recently renovated.
My children loved the “dinosaur train,” a.k.a. the open air shuttle that takes you from the visitor center to the fossil quarry.
When you see the fossils in the rock wall, you appreciate how much thought and effort must have gone into figuring out that a pile of bones like this:
Might be a dinosaur like this:
We paused in the gift shop to admire treasures like a giant Allosaurus foot, which would make an interesting and masculine conversation piece in a corporate office.
We hiked through the dry and beautiful country along sandy paths. We wanted to continue hiking but there were more miles to cover and we had a rodeo to get to!
Reluctantly, we got back in the car and headed through more beautiful country, which became more green, lush and ranch-like as we headed through the mountains.
We arrived just in time to our destination, Oakley, Utah.
While my parents tell me that I went to a rodeo once when I was little, I don’t remember it. This was the first rodeo I recall watching. It was an absolute blast! Many of the audience members were perfectly dressed in country attire, from cowboy hats to chic jeans and boots. It made for some fascinating people and fashion watching.
The rodeo itself was a supremely masculine event, with men saddling up on powerful horses that were “bred to buck.” They piped in rock and country music as each cowboy competed and it was really fun to watch. We saw saddle-bronc and calf-roping. Apparently this is the busiest time of year for rodeo professionals, with back-to-back rodeo events. Many of the cowboys were saddling up despite elbows and knees in enormous bandages and braces.
My youngest daughter kept insisting that she wanted to ride a horse and even began crying as we told her that this was not an event for little girls. After her dad told her that she would have to practice really hard to ride a horse in a rodeo, she kept yelling out, “I’ll practice! I’ll practice!”
Meanwhile, my son had this intense look of fascination on his face, staring at something behind us in the stands. When I turned around to see what it was he was looking at, I found only two beautiful cowgirls!
This was also our second encounter with Australians and horses (the first being in Kentucky). There were Aussies seated behind us in the stands who generously shared an extra program with us. There was also at least one Australian cowboy competing in the rodeo.
When the children could not sit still about halfway through the program, we headed to the playground in front of the rodeo grounds. While my children tested out the swings and the slide, my husband watched barrel racing and bull riding. I could hear the loudspeaker from the playground and had to laugh when not one but two rodeo professionals shared my son’s first name. I had no idea I had a cowboy on my hands.
We had hoped to see fireworks for the 4th but they were canceled due to the fire risk. So, we drove on in to Salt Lake City. We arrived late and hungry since we had not had dinner just yet. The only restaurant open was a local McDonalds. When the car in front of us had some problems with their order, a clean-cut college-aged man came to the window to complain:
“I don’t know what the freak you guys are doing back there! I need a small fries and an orange soda.”
We had to keep ourselves from laughing at the uniquely Utah phrase, “what the freak”! We were now in the land of Zion. After our gourmet dinner and a shower at the hotel, we rested up to meet our families the next day.
Continue reading: Days 6-13, One Week in Utah