We got up early and continued on, stopping for breakfast after we crossed into Colorado. Eastern Colorado looks suspiciously like Western Kansas. Still flat and barren and no mountains. I stayed awake in the back seat hoping to see mountains but they just didn't show up so I fell asleep, and when I woke up a few hours later there were suddenly mountains on the horizon. booyah! Onward we drove.
We got to Canon city and Mike, the one who'd been to colorado the most, suggested maybe checking out raft trips at Royal Gorge. As luck would have it, it was just about noon and they had rafts going out in a few minutes. We rented wetsuits and splash jackets and got on a bus to a point on the gorge. The weather was perfect... a little over 70° and sunny with not too much wind. The water was freezing. Good thing we had wetsuits on. It was fun though. When I hear "eight miles" with respect to water I always think of a good long day's float trip, since I've just done canoeing. Eight miles is nothing when you talk about white water rafting. The water was pretty mild, according to our guide, but it only took us a couple hours to do the whole thing. It was easier than I expected. There's all sorts of water spashing up in your face but we never came close to tipping over or getting sucked into a spot we couldn't get out of. It's nice to have a guide - he told us exactly when to row and how much. He'd yell "forward two" and we'd paddle forward, twice (except when the going was tough, I'd sometimes accidently throw in some extra strokes just because it's hard to stop).
After the gorge we drove to the red canyon state park and took some pictures and drove up and down the trails. We were in a Jeep Liberty with four-wheel drive so we could go pretty much anywhere. We found a campsite at the top of this huge hill in the middle of nowhere. Nobody was around us. There was a fire pit, so someone had been there, but it was all quiet. There were cactus around that we had to be careful of but otherwise it was a perfect campsite. There aren't mosquitoes; the air is too dry and thin. We'd hear one bird sometimes but that was it. We cooked brats and hot dogs and marshmellows and baked beans over the fire and went to bed when it got dark, because it was really cold outside.
In the morning we woke up slowly and made another fire and cooked a huge breakfast and packed up camp by 11:00 or so. Nice. We drove backroads up to the area where Pike's peak is but didn't go to Pike's peak, since that's crazy. There was plenty of it to see even if we didn't go to the top. We went to this place called Garden of the Gods and walked around a lot in there. Then we drove around some more, through the trails and backroads, up mountains and down mountains. Mike knew about hiking trails but when he finally suggested some it was like 5:00, we hadn't eaten since breakfast, we were at 8,000 ft and it was 20° outside, they were four hour trails and we were still two hours away from where we'd planned to camp. So, no hiking. Looking back I wish I'd taken more part in the planning - we sort of let Mike do most of it since it was his car and he knew colorado better, but we ended up driving pretty much everything. The trails are amazing but we didn't get much exercize.
We stopped somewhere in Pike's national park. Our campsite had a great view of the mountains but it was impossible to find a secluded place with no people - some guys decided to camp about 500 ft away from us and started shooting guns off at like 7:00 for no apparent reason. That was annoying. I think my support for the second amendment was just chipped away with every shot. There were all these signs that said "NO SHOOTING" but they all had bullet holes in them, so obviously gun-toting rednecks don't have a whole lot of respect for the rules or concern for safety of others. Go NRA.
We still had fun. We were on the side of a hill that provided really good shelter from the wind. When the sun went down it got freezing cold again. Gary let me borrow his 0° sleeping bag. Normally I would have dealt with my own gear but when I'm cold, my nobility starts to suffer. I was toasty warm, he was probably freezing, I didn't feel bad about it until morning.
It was still really cold Monday morning. We had s'mores for breakfast and then headed north towards Denver to take I-70 through Kansas and back home. The mountains faded in the distance and we were in our own land again. It was nice to be able to see the whole sky, not just the part right above you because the rest is blocked by mountains.