Wyoming. Earlier in June, the Yawp Company went there to see if what they say about Curt Gowdy State Park is true. What do they say about Curt Gowdy? Usually "I've never ridden there," or "Where is Wyoming? or "Is that a car dealership?"
Being there was better than getting there.
If you haven't been to Curt Gowdy, it's about two and a half hours from Denver by car, unless it's four or five. As you (finally) cross the border into Wyoming, almost everyone will exit the interstate to go to the fireworks warehouse that's just past the state line. You alone will continue on to Cheyenne, the bustling hub of the Union's least populous state. There's supposedly gasoline for sale there. Get some if you can, and then turn west into big wind country.
The campground at Curt Gowdy State Park was full, though there are more sites at the park than residents in Wyoming. Instead of camping near thousands of people with generators, car alarms, and inflatable mattress pumps, we ended up about two miles west in an empty field with nothing but flowers, clouds, and rocks. Every thirty minutes we made Nate hide behind a rock and pretend he was a generator so we could feel at ease.
In the morning, Darin surprised us with breakfast. While one part of me really enjoys good food, another part of me is very lazy. When I'm camping I convince myself that it's impossible to prepare good food in the woods and therefore give myself permission to eat cold canned brussels sprouts and Hershey's syrup on crackers. A few folks now have cooked meals for everyone on our camping trips (in fact, Ryan and Gray made dinner for us that same day), and it's tricking me into raising my standards. Also, some people are better cooks on the ground than I'll ever be in a kitchen.
We rode as many of the trails on the park's west side as we could. While the signage left something to be desired, it was easy to navigate the park with a map. Distances are short, and one never ventures too far from the parking lot. There are several "play areas" that offer remarkably fun technical challenges that are easy to session. Heckling (or I suppose encouraging) your friends has never been easier.
The easier trails had enough technical challenges to keep our resident Trail Snob happy without being too difficult for beginner riders. The aptly named Pinball trail is great (mind your ankles and derailleurs). Mo' Rocka is also great (not to mention brilliantly named). If you ride El Alto, don't wait until your legs are already blown--there are many step ups, steep switchbacks, and drops. It's good, but difficult.
Trail systems like this are great for large groups or for riders of varying skill levels. It's easy to split up for a little bit, easy to opt into--our out of--gnarly lines, easy to drink a beer by the lake and then head out for another loop. It's pretty and pleasant and fun, and though the park doesn't offer a ton of mileage, it's easy to link up trails in different directions and the technical challenges would keep you entertained for multiple laps.
On Sunday we made the mistake of riding the trails on the park's east side. Middle Kingdom was fun, but the trails beyond that were not. It didn't help that we spent some time waiting out a lightning storm and fixing flats, but the trails were a mix of (according to our Trail Snob) boring, flowy bologna and hike-a-bike.
After the ride we spent some time drinking beer by the lake. Doing nothing with a bunch of good people in a scenic place isn't something I schedule time for, but every time it happens it's obvious that I should do it more often. Had it not hailed, we might still be sitting there.
There are countless trails and campsites within two and a half hours of Denver, and there are other destinations I might choose first. However, there are plenty of times when there's snow or lightning in the high country and Wyoming is clear. On those days I'll gladly head north. After I read a traffic report.