Ultimate Colorado road trip

Big mountains. Wild rivers. Unforgettable beauty. Three fast friends test themselves on a 10-day drive through the Rockies

Three women
Photo: Rob Thomas

Thirty feet above the ground, my friend Samantha clings to a granite cliff, her face a mix of determination and desperation. A rope at her hips connects her to the rock and, ultimately, to climbing instructor Ashley Woods, standing on solid ground below.

"So," Sam asks plaintively, "am I up enough?"

This is hardly the brazen attitude we took in planning our 10-day Girls-Take-Colorado outdoor adventure. But here at the start of our journey in a canyon west of Boulder, Sam has a demon to slay. Last time she went rock climbing, in a beginner class, she was labeled "Noodle Arms."

"You can stop now if you want," Ashley advises. Diplomacy is as much a part of her work as teaching fingerholds. "But I bet you can make it to the top."

Our friend Kate has already bounded up the cliff face in about three moves. She watches with an experienced climber's confidence: "You can do it," she calls.

Sam reaches out and, in a burst of strength, pulls herself to the cliff's upper edge. Noodle arms begone; Ashley was right all along.

Boulder to Rocky Mountain National Park

Sam, Kate, and I have come from the West Coast to Colorado to, in effect, prove ourselves. Our 690-mile road trip tackles a sporty smorgasbord of this most rugged Western state, from horseback riding to mountaineering, biking to river rafting. We're cutting a long fishhook from the Plains to the Rockies, Boulder to Durango to Buena Vista. With no husbands, in territory unfamiliar to all, we are on a quest to find the great adventure of the West.

The first night, fresh from our triumph on the cliff face, we strut through Boulder's pedestrian mall. But my victory glow doesn't last. Sure, I had mastered that cliff ― or, if mastered is too strong a word, at least I'd made it to the top, shakily. But Boulder's cafe tables are full of fit, beautiful college students ― sports hounds who, I realize, would scoff at our beginner climb.

Perhaps we aren't exactly going to take this place by storm. I don't mention to the other two my concern that the Rocky Mountains are possibly far bigger and badder than we are.

Northwest of Boulder, at what would become 415-square-mile Rocky Mountain National Park, intrepid Englishwoman Isabella Bird wrote, "This is no region for tourists and women." At the time, 1873, the world traveler was, in fact, both things, and she went on to climb the park's crown, 14,255-foot Longs Peak ― in a skirt. She was also awed: "Never, nowhere, have I seen anything to equal the view ..."



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