In the Shadow of the Rockies

Everything is frozen. The zips on the tent are locked solid, even the toothpaste is just a white iced lump in the tube. It really is rather cold. This is the Shadow Of The Rockies Trail in October, in Colorado. However, its been seriously cold at night ever since we were in Casper, Wyoming.

Casper became an impromptu destination for us when we decided we needed to have some mail sent out to us. Its only merits (for us) were that it had a post office and was roughly a sedate weeks drive away from where we currently were in South Dakota. Our post consisted of a couple of exchange-rate-free credit cards that hadn’t reached us in the UK before we left and a tick removal kit courtesy of the wonderful Anna Tuk Tuk Rowlands (Thanks lovely!). We also had a stack of maps on their way to us, which collectively laid out the route known as The Shadow of the Rockies Trail. We debated having our post sent to us by UPS but when the estimate came in at £60.00 (±$90.00US) we thought again. We took the slower but far cheaper option of using good old Royal Mail. They estimated 7 days for delivery. That’d do us nicely at £9.80 thank you very much. We spent a slow and relaxing seven days driving across Wyoming and the remainder of South Dakota and it was very nice too. The days blended into one another with uneventful rest, camping here and there and taking the dog for a walk in pastures new.

Seven days ticked by and then became nine and our £9.80 post would be waiting for us. We planned to swing by the US Post Office, run in, pick up the maps, credit cards and tick kit and put the peddle to the metal for Colorado. The maps were there, the credit cards and tick kit wasn’t. It was mid afternoon and after a quick chat we decided we’d drive up Casper Mountain, which can be seen from space apparently, so Wiki says, and find somewhere to camp. The little Niva gasped its way up the mountain in second gear and after an hour of driving past No Trespassing signs we stepped out into the rarified and freezing air and snow at a potential camping spot. The dog hardly had time to pee by the time we were back in the Niva and considering Plan B. It was bloody freezing.

Car in snow

We found ourselves back down the mountain in no time at all and searching for official campsites around the city. Every one of them was shut and it was getting dark. For the first time in exactly a month to the day we ended up getting into a hotel. That night Casper itself was gripped by plummeting temperatures and a couple of inches of snow. Perhaps the hotel was a bit of a blessing after all. The shower certainly was. We packed the Niva again, raced around to the Post Office the next morning, ran in, asked for our mail and left disappointed. Still no mail from the UK. On to Plan C. With only summer sleeping bags, a summer tent and a few warm blankets we went in search of a campsite again. At 4:00p.m. we checked into a second hotel. Not good. Lets face it, we didn’t need a second shower already! We spent the evening grumbling, watching NCIS in a hotel that looked oddly like the inside of a swimming pool with floor to ceiling tiles on every wall, inside and out. The grumbling was added to when number three toe came into swift contact with a desk leg in the hotel room, unintentionally I hasten to add.


The second morning arrived and we once again packed up, raced around to the Post Office and were about to ask for our mail but were stopped in our tracks. “Ah, Christopher Smith!” said the postman.
“Um, yes.” I said wondering what I’d done to either be remembered or watched out for. I scanned the walls but there weren’t any Wanted Posters around. “Yes, that’s me, do you have some good news for me?”
“Nope, there’s no mail for you here.” My face dropped and I cursed the previous customer. I’d paid his $1.50 postage for him because he didn’t have any change and the card machines were out of order due to the bad weather. He thought I was doing him a good deed but there was a part of me that did it in the hope that there was some Devine power who’d see my good deed and change my fate. “Just kidding,” he said, “here ya go.”
I felt like a little kid. My £9.80 post (plus $160.00 hotel bill) was here. “Brilliant! Do you need some I.D.?” I asked.
“No, you’re ok, its all yours.”
I skipped from the Post Office waving the little packet at Liz and John in the car, grinning with the car keys hot in my hands. We sped out of Casper like we’d just robbed the bank. Next stop The Shadow of the Rockies Trail.

The idea of doing the Shadow of the Rockies Trail began with a quiet suggestion from Liz. “I was talking to Andy & Maya and Andy P. before we left the UK and they said we should do some of the Trans America Trail. We’re going North South but we could do the Shadow of the Rockies Trail instead. It’s kind of the same thing, what do you think?”
I thought back to her last idea, to buy a tuk tuk in Peru and try to get it over the Andes from the Amazon to Nazca. That idea nearly got us and others killed and was an utterly stupid undertaking. “Shadow of the Rockies Trail? Never heard of it but why not!” I’m now shivering in the morning frost at 8000 feet with frozen toothpaste every morning.

Liz map reading

map close up

Gold and cliffsThe days are full of glorious sunshine, which takes the chill off the cold air. Everywhere we look the colours of the Rockies are super saturated, golden leaves against grey cliffs, red earth against blue skies. However, the nights are star filled and the temperature plummets to well below freezing. The three of us sleep fitfully in the tent as the cold comes in to join us. Half the hours of the night are spent lying awake, too cold to sleep, wanting the morning to come that little bit quicker. When morning does come our water and milk is frozen, and there’s no chance of a reviving cup of coffee. (Not least because the stove is knackered anyway.) But it’s all worth it. The scenery and solitude of the areas we’re finding ourselves in is breathtaking. The tiniest of dirt roads wind through the mountains. The roads don’t seem to go anywhere and then a turn off will go to an isolated ranch somewhere. We carry on our way and camp wherever and whenever we like. Sometimes we think we’re in the middle of nowhere, in a quiet spot that hasn’t been visited for years. The place is empty.

Toilet panarama

And then we discover something as unexpected as this………


Evidently the hunters of the pronghorn deer in these parts like their comforts. Pussies.

For the vast majority of the time however, we really are in the middle of nowhere. Rounding a bend on a road just wide enough for the little Niva we were greeted by an outstanding view of Rockies which demanded that we pulled off the road and camped at the spot for three nights. We even managed to find a patch of ground that was free of the tinder dry grass of Colorado which allowed us to have a warming fire in the evenings without risk of setting the world on fire.

Camp fire

Frosty windowAt 8000 feet everything froze over night as usual but all was not lost. Fortuitously we had purchased a six pack of alcopops which remained ice free. 10:30a.m. might be just a little early to break into the hard stuff but Mike’s Hard Limeade was a savior while the world thawed around us.


Coffee beansUnfortunately the stove situation didn’t improve. Not so much because of the stove itself, which leaked gas at an alarming rate but more because of the coffee. We have now made a note to check that the coffee we are buying has been ground as grinding it ourselves isn’t a great option since we don’t have a grinder. We’ve now given up on the coffee, the stove and the idea of being warm for a while but the scenery makes up for everything, whether it be mountain, forest or lake. We are in a stunning part of the world, that’s for sure.

Dawn lake


13 thoughts on “In the Shadow of the Rockies

  1. I found you a few days ago, and will be traveling the route through your eyes. You write really well, and I can picture everything you describe. I’m really looking forward to the journey ! Good luck to the 3 of you.

  2. You have the honour of being the first blog I have ever followed and have already become an avid fan! Your travels would frighten the pants off me, yet I am deeply envious… Really enjoyed the buffalo tales. Happy earth wandering!

  3. Hay, was fun crossing paths with the 4 of you somewhere outside of Rifle Co., I say 4 because the personality of a Niva is up there with that of the dog driver and map reader! Loved the Niva jokes and am enjoying your blog.

    • Hi Lynnise,
      Great to see you here. Great to have met you and had a good chat beside the falls too. We have now met a grand total of 4 people who’ve recognised the Lada Niva, but non with such passion and recollections as you. Keep in touch. Chris & Liz

  4. Again a truly captivating and entertaining blog by you two. More pics of John please! Looking forward to you warming up somewhat. I just don’t think I could cope with that level of freezingness, respect you two! Warming hugs Anna xx

    • Thanks Anna! Great to hear from you. We’re considering writing a blog-post dedicated just to John in the near future. Everyone at his Vets practice is asking after him since they put in so much hard work to get him to the wonderful fit boy that he is now, so lots of John-pics on their way quiet possibly. Thank you for the warm hugs too. Much needed. Brrrrr!

      Hope alls well with you. Send us an email to catch up on things.
      Liz & Chris

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