Thriller writer Erik Storey on hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, his favourite restaurant, riding horses in the wilderness, and drinking local beer
My parents moved to Colorado when I was four and I was raised in an oilfield town of 1200 people in the high desert. In the summers, we spent our time in a cabin in the Flattops Wilderness, or on my great-grandfather’s homestead, without electricity or running water.
I worked on a cattle ranch during summer vacations in high school, in the Brown’s Park area, which is one of the most remote in the state. When I got married, my wife and I tried to live in Denver, but the pace and the crowds and the traffic drove us mad. We moved back to the Western Slope and have lived on the less-populated side of the state ever since.
Cattle grazing in Colorado (Dreamstime)
Colorado is abundant in natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor adventure. Whether you want to ski in the world famous Rocky Mountains, hike in one of our four National Parks or eight National Monuments, or simply drive and experience the splendour of high-alpine meadows, desert cliffs and canyons, roaring rivers, and vast grass prairies, you will not run out of options for a unique and gorgeous adventure.
We have over 300 days of sunshine and a rich cultural heritage in the art of American Indians and ancient cliff dwellings, old frontier forts and towns, narrow-gauge railways, mining districts, dinosaur fossils and museums.
The other reason I love Colorado is the beer. We have almost 300 different breweries here and four of them are in the top 50 biggest brewers in the USA.
My favorite place in Colorado is where I live: the Grand Valley. It is situated on the Western Slope, between the looming Grand Mesa, the Uncompahgre Plateau, the steep Bookcliffs and the Colorado National Monument. Two rivers meet in this valley, which is full of orchards, farms, vineyards and towns. Here, I have access to local beer and wine, fresh local fruit and vegetables, and the amenities of civilization, without crowds. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails around me, two National Monuments, wilderness areas, rafting opportunities, fishing ponds, archeological sites and rock art. I never get bored here and I love the variety of options I have for recreation.
Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountains National Park (Dreamstime)
There are so many great places for hiking, but I would recommend starting in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a hiker’s paradise, with over 300 miles of trails that cut through forested valleys, wind around alpine lakes, and lead through the windswept tundra above the treeline to top out on some of the highest mountains in the continental states. The park is overflowing with wildlife, with elk, deer, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, coyotes, black bear and moose all likely to be spotted if you trek in the park long enough.
My absolute favorite place to ride horses is the Flattops Wilderness in north-central Colorado. It’s a beautiful, designated wilderness, meaning no vehicles or bicycles are allowed. You must hike or ride a horse to travel its roughly 500 square miles of forests, meadows and rivers. With over 100 lakes and ponds and 100 miles of fishable streams, it’s best to take a fishing pole with you as you follow the trails. I’ve been riding there since I was little.
When I was nine, two childhood friends and I rode up above the treeline and were hit with a massive thunderstorm. Lightning hit 20 metres from the horses, thunder boomed, and we raced back down off the mountain at a Kentucky Derby pace.
The landscape and character of Colorado affect everything I write, but never more so than in my novel Nothing Short Of Dying. This book takes place on the Western Slope and is essentially a tour guide of many of my favourite towns and places in the state. The main character, Clyde Barr, roams through these places on his quest to save his sister, and it was fun to describe the beautiful landscape and townships as he passes through. I also had the chance to write about some of the more sinister things in the State.
Elk roaming in Colorado (Dreamstime)
We have four very distinct seasons here: distinct in their respective weather, but also distinct in the activities available. Summer is the busiest of seasons, with people moving about to hike, camp, fish, sight-see, and nature-watch. Temperatures soar to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The Fall is hunting season, with hunters reaching for bows and rifles to track and harvest deer, elk and moose. Leaves turn orange and red, drifting to the ground as the first snowflakes flutter. In the winter, skis and snowmobiles are pulled from garages and taken into the high mountain ranges to enjoy the snowy slopes.
Temperatures drop below zero, and blizzards and whiteouts abound. Spring is the off-season, the time that people rest and set up for the busy summer, while watching the wildflowers burst out of the mud and bloom.
My favorite restaurant in Colorado, and one I highly recommend, is Quincy’s Steak and Spirits in historic Leadville. The restaurant is in a building originally built in 1879 and still sports the Victorian modelling and décor. The menu proves that sometimes simple is best and follows the model of “Do one thing, and do it well.” They offer filet mignon Sunday through Thursday, prime rib or slow-cooked sirloin on Friday and Saturday, and that is it. You can choose your size of steak, but there are no other options other than the veggie lasagna for those that don’t eat meat. You can enjoy a beer or margarita with your meal, but be careful, because Leadville sits at 10,152 feet above sea level and drinking alcohol before you're acclimatized to the altitude could lead to mountain sickness.