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Soon after leaving Ukraine and returning to the USA, my Peace Corps colleague and good friend Paul Brunson invited me to visit him in the state of Colorado.  Since I had never visited Colorado, I was eager to make the trip and on April 25, 2014 I began a 3-week tour of the state.


map of USA


Colorado’s geography is quite interesting.  The eastern part of the state is rolling prarieland that reminds me of the Ukrainian steppe.  Western Colorado, however, is dominated by the Rocky Mountains which rise as much as 4,300 meters above sea level. Most of my trip was spent in the Rocky Mountains visiting the many national and state parks located there.

Map of Colorado



After flying into the Denver airport, I drove to Paul’s home in the town Erie, just a few miles from Boulder.  I enjoyed 2 days visiting with Paul, his partner Jodie, and dog Freckles.  Paul and I visited Pearl St Mall in Boulder then trekked at Boulder’s Chatauqua Park, and he made us a delicious steak dinner. 


Figure 1: Paul Brunson, Peace Corps-Donetsk, and Gail.

Estes Park — Rocky Mountain National Park

From Paul’s home I drove 70 kilometers to Estes Park and the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The Park consists of 1075 square kilometers of alpine tundra, pine forests, and subalpine plants and animals.  In late April, much of the park was still closed for the winter, with snow too deep for cars to travel. While my visit was limited to just a few sections of the park, I enjoyed the tranquility and the beautiful views.



Figure 2: Rocky Mountain National Park


Rifle Falls State Park

Next I drove 375 kilometers to Rifle Falls State Park, a lush area of trees and greenery kept moist by the spray of the cascading triple waterfall. Picnicking near the falls is very popular. Mysterious limestone caves beneath the falls entice curious visitors to explore their dark depths.  I climbed to the top of the falls and then enjoyed a picnic lunch along with other visitors.


Figure 3: Gail at Rifle Falls


From Rifle Falls, I drove 300 kilometers to Gunnison to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River National Park.  What an amazing sight!  The canyon contains some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America.  The Black Canyon is incredibly deep and sheer, with plunging cliffs, soaring buttresses and a thundering river.  At its highest point, the canyon rim drops 830 meters to the river.

vew of Gunnison River (2)

Figure 4:  Black Canyon of Gunnison River National Park

 vew of Gunnison River (1)

Figure 5: Black Canyon of Gunnison River National Park


San Juan Mountains

From Gunnnison I drove southeast through the San Juan Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountain range.  With elevations more than 4360 meters, the mountains provide stunning views of the mountain range and surrounding valleys.  Much of the land is protected as a National Forest, and certain areas are designated Wilderness areas where development is prohibited and human activity is limited.  This is done to preserve the beauty of the area and to protect the delicate plants and animals that live there. 

 View of San Juan Mountains


Figure 6: View of San Juan Mountains.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

My next stop was the Great Sand Dunes National Park, 232 kilometers southeast of Gunnison.  As much as 228 meters high, the dunes were formed by erosion of surrounding mountains that creates an unusual high-altitude desert environment. The sand surface can reach 65 degrees C on a summer afternoon, or drop to minus 29 degrees C on a winter night.   Park visitors enjoy hiking, sand sledding, splashing in Medano Creek

Great Sand Dunes National Park-Medano Creek

Figure 7: Great Sand Dunes National Park-Medano Creek.

 Great Sand Dunes National Park-Medano Creek.


Figure 8: Great Sand Dunes National Park-Medano Creek.

Pike’s Peak

 Towering more than 4300 meters above sea level, Pike’s Peak is one of the tallest mountains in the Rocky Mountain range.  Visitors cqn drive their cars up a steep and windy road to the top of Pike’s Peak, but I choose to ride the Pike’s Peak cog railway.  Since 1891 the railway has carried visitors to the summit.  This 3 hour and 10 minute trip spans over 8.9 miles of track through pine forests and alpine tundra.  Travelers are rewarded with stunning views at the top of Pikes Peak.

Pikes Peak Cog Railway

Figure 9:  Pike’s Peak Cog Railway.

View of Pikes Peak

Figure 10: View of Pike’s Peak


The last stop of my trip was Denver, the capital of the state of Colorado and also the state’s largest city.  Denver is nicknamed the Mile-High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile or 5,280 feet (1,609.3 m) above sea level, making it one of the highest major cities in the United States.[i]  My friend Paul Brunson led me on a nice walking tour of the city, with stops at the State Capitol building and the Denver Convention Center, home of the Big Blue Bear sculpture that peeks into the Convention Center.

 Colorado State Capitol Building

Figure 11:  Colorado State Capital Building.

Big Blue Bear, 12 meter artwork outside Denver Convention Center

Figure 5: The Big Blue Bear, 12 meter artwork outside Denver Convention Center.

The Big Blue Bear, view from inside the Denver Convention Center.

Figure 12: The Big Blue Bear, view from inside the     Denver Convention Center.

Journey’s End         

After staying for 2 days in Denver, it was time to return to the Denver airport for the flight home.  But as I boarded the plane, I was already planning my next adventure.

 [i] «Denver Facts Guide – Today». The City and County of Denver. Retrieved March 19, 2007.