Every year, I leave the mild California winder and head out to see my sister in Colorado for the holidays. Aside from the obvious excitement of seeing family, nothing beats a white Christmas.  And every year, my stamina for the holiday travel crowds and stress gets lower and lower. As a seasoned traveler, being in airports and paying for flights this time of year literally goes against everything I know. It’s priced the highest, delays are most likely, and people are the grumpiest… no thank you! That’s why Colorado travel seems like such an attractive prospect.

I was super close to skipping holidays with them this year until it dawned on me: ROAD TRIP!!! As an avid snowboarder and hot springs chaser, I realized this route goes right through some of the best spots in the West.

colorado travel outdoors

Wyoming: The open road beckons

No plans, no problem

Seeing as though I hate planning travel and love to fly by the seat of my pants, road trips work really well for me!  I can load up my SUV with as much crap as I want, travel as much or as little in one day, and let that open road take me wherever I choose. It’s about 17 hours of drive time total from the Bay Area in California to Fort Collins Colorado.

The Colorado Rockies outdoors

The Colorado Rockies

My lack of planning meant I had no reservations, and thank goodness David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort was so accommodating!  With less than 3 hours notice of my arrival they had a gorgeous one bedroom apartment waiting for me, and the view I woke up to literally took my breath away.

They have 5 hot springs pools on their property, all with different temperatures and mineral content.  Situated in the town of Genoa which is one of the oldest in Nevada, the resort dates back to the 1800s. This gem of an escape is the epitome of the wild west, and living only 3 hours away my whole life I couldn’t believe I’d never visited before.  I can’t wait to go back for more than a stop on a longer trip, and I can only imagine its magic with snow on the ground!

 David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort outdoors

The hot springs are incredibly inviting!

After sufficient soaking and rejuvenating in all of their pools all afternoon, I headed east on Interstate 80 . I’ve done this drive before in the summertime and don’t remember much, but this time was completely taken aback at how the snow dusted landscape layered the scene.  

Listening to Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair: and Other Things I Have to Explain, I hardly noticed the 8-hour drive that landed me in Wendover, NV for the night. It’s an old gambling town that has some serious charm even though it definitely feels like the 1950’s Frank Sinatra vibe came here to rot away or something.  

Elko Nevada

A town with a unique character

The road to Vail

Day 3 of driving was broken up by a couple hours to Park City, Utah where I attempted to snowboard with really crappy snow conditions (dry winter so far) and then headed back in the car to get as close to Vail where I’d chase the slopes the following day.  Since my local mountains in Tahoe had bad snow, the snowboarding was a major draw for this road trip option.  Unfortunately our global warming winter was hitting these mountains too, so my grand plan for snowboarding kinda fell through.   

The fun of passing through these mountain towns though, is seeing how quaint they are with old wild west architecture. You might even see a celebrity or two, as it’s a common destination for the most rich and famous. When I finished my 2nd failed attempt at bad-snow snowboarding at Vail, I was walking around the village and saw that they’ve only been there since the 1960’s! Vail is a world-class ski resort that attracts folks from all over the world; walking around I heard at least 10 different languages. In the mid-west this is NOT normal.  To think that this was only created 60 years ago boggles my mind.  

Colorful Park City Utah

Colorful Park City

After Vail the plan was to make it to my sister’s in Fort Collins, Colorado by nighttime to then wake up on Christmas Eve with the family. After snowboarding for a bit, losing my car in one of the garages because no cars are allowed in the town center, getting a sandwich for the 3 hr remainder of the journey, and hopping on Interstate 70 to head east; local Highway Patrol officers directed me off the highway as all eastbound traffic was closed. A storm was coming through and roads would be closed “indefinitely.”  

So much for easy holiday travel, haha!

There wasn’t much to do other than head to the bar and get a cup of mulled wine and weigh the options.  Employing my full-proof best kept secret of travel, I had great conversation with all of the staff at a local bar in Vail village and decided there was no safe way off the mountain that night.  I arrived to my sister and my cutie niece and nephew the next day no problem.  Adventure is the name of the game!

Driving through Nevada road trip adventure

Driving through Nevada

The winding road home

After a few amazing days with the family that included a Santa visit and lots of great Fort Collins local micro-brews; I had to pack up and head back.  I planned a different route and wanted to take fewer days of travel time, so I took Interstate 80 bypassing the Rockies which goes through Wyoming.

High country, as it’s called, was full of steep boulders, gusty winds and big blue skies. There was absolutely no cell service and there were fewer towns and services than any other leg of the trip.  The beauty was epic, and I couldn’t believe I lucked out to find these windmills at sunset– what a magnificent moment of how nature and technology have come together across this windy landscape.  

windmills outdoors

Windmills at sunset

I arrived to Elko, Nevada by about 10pm that night, and I was on the edge of my seat with the scenery virtually the whole time. Elko was a surprise hit with its old school Nevada charm. Yes, everything kind of smelled like stale cigarettes and the faint sounds of slot machines had a hint of addiction and loss; but there was also these amazingly classic neon signs and a palpable energy of “anything can happen at any minute” excitement.  It felt like maybe a cowboy will ride through and have a shootout at the bar next door or maybe I’ll hit the jackpot? Neither happened, but I’m certain it could’ve!

Wendover, NV

Native American monument

The next day I woke up early for the long haul to Oakland, and took my time through the winding mountain scenes.  I was pleasantly surprised to pass by a Native American monument made entirely of “white man’s trash” and felt the energy of how this wild west land was taken by American colonizers.  It was a powerful site to visit, something that I’ve never heard of before, and the result of an adventure only the open road can provide.

Wyoming river outdoors

The raw beauty of the West

When I got home right before New Years, I felt relaxed and full of love. I got to taste adventure and explore, spend holidays with family, and learn about places I didn’t even know I wanted to learn about.  When it comes to holiday travel, I’d say that’s as good as it gets, and I highly recommend thinking beyond air travel when it comes to this time of year. 

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