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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Practical Advice When Visiting Colorado

The annual Travel Blog Exchange conference will be held next week right here in my home state of Colorado. As such, I feel inclined to offer some practical advice for the people who are coming in from out of the state or country. I sure didn’t know these things when I moved here twelve years ago. And looking back on it, I wish someone would have been so kind to enlighten me on a few things. Instead, in some cases, I had to learn the hard way. So, without further ado, here are some times to help make your trip to Colorado a little easier…

THE AIR SURE IS THIN UP IN THEM THAR HILLS

When you’re in Denver you are a mile above sea level. Duh. It’s the Mile High City, right? But that actually means something. Being a mile above sea level means, among other things, that there is less oxygen in the air than what there would be some place at or closer to sea level. Take New York City or Los Angeles, for example. They’re right at sea level, which is great for anyone coming down from a mile up. We can do things no mortal should be allowed to do. It’s like we have Superman powers, being able to workout harder, run longer, and sleep less, since we’re used to running on less oxygen. So while it’s good to get out and explore, you need to remember to take things slower until you acclimate to the elevation. How long that will take depends on the person, since it can be different for everyone. The general rule of thumb would be 48 hours, but, as I said, it’s different for everyone. And while your level of physical fitness certainly helps, it doesn’t always guarantee you faster acclimation.

DAMN, HAVE THEY GOT SOME GOOD BEERS IN COLORADO

I spent my first weekend after moving to the Colorado praying to the porcelain god. I drank what I could handle at sea level up at elevation, and that was a BIG mistake. It happened to my brother, too, on a visit. I picked him up at the airport after he flew in from sea level. From there I drove him straight up into the mountains, not even waiting for him to have a chance to catch his breath, so to speak, in Denver. After a couple of beers, a massive migraine set in and terrorized him for the rest of the very long evening.

What I’m trying to say is that because there is less oxygen in your blood stream due to the elevation, you’ll get drunk easier this high above sea level. You may be able to knock ’em back like a champ at home, but it’s a different story up here. It’s a BIG different story. So much so that when I go back down to sea level, many times I can’t get a buzz. I’ve acclimatized too much to things at elevation. So when you come up here, you need to know you’ll get drunk easier. And it’ll happen even quicker when you’re double Denver’s elevation up in the mountains. On the plus side, you’re a cheap date. The bad news is that it can be too late by the time you realize it. As in waaay too late. Like already praying to the porcelain god too late. So be careful of how much you drink, because it will affect you differently than what it would back home.

On the flip side, you also need to drink a lot. As in a lot of water. A good rule is to drink half your body weight each day in ounces of water. So, if you weight 200 pounds, you need to drink at least 100 ounces of water each day to remain properly hydrated. And if you drink alcohol or caffeine, you’ll need to up how much water you guzzle. This is important, since it can help combat altitude sickness. It’s easy to have issues with altitutde sickness – dizziness, difficulty sleeping, headaches, etc. – if you’re not drinking enough water and if you don’t give yourself time to acclimate at lower elevations (in Denver) before moving on up to the higher ones (in the mountains)

DID OUR BRAKES JUST GIVE OUT?

I shouldn’t need to say it, but drinking and driving is a very bad thing. A 20-year-old kid ruined his life this week in Colorado when he decided to drink and drive, which ended in him allegedly hitting and killing a police officer on a traffic stop – and thus ruining the lives of a while lot of other people. And since alcohol affects people differently here than at sea level, it’s good to pick a designated driver early in the night. Many places have specials for designated drivers, too, so it’s not exactly a bad thing or punishment by any means. It’s all about safety and staying alive.

There are a few other things that are helpful to know when driving in Colorado. For instance, when you’re driving on a downslope – say, while you’re up in the mountains – you do not want to ride your brakes. They can heat up quickly and ultimately start your car on fire. That’s why you’ll see the runaway truck ramps on Interstate 70 in the mountains; if a truck driver is riding his brakes, they start on fire, he has only two options – hit the runaway truck ramp or drive off the road and possibly into a canyon. So take it slow, use your brakes intelligently, and drive close to the speed limit. While you can get a speeding ticket anywhere in the state when you’re over the limit, it’s particularly important to go slowly in the mountains. Tight turns, downslopes, and all kinds of other problems, like wildlife, can pop up that wouldn’t necessarily appear in the city.

HOLY CRAP, I WAS JUST TRAMPLED BY AN ELK!

Speaking of wildlife, Colorado is one of the best places in the country to see some. As a matter of fact, a woman saw it up close recently when she was trampled by an elk she may have surprised or gotten too close to. So while we all want to see wildlife and get great pictures, be sure to stay a respectful distance away. This is especially important when the animals have their young around. A mama bear, elk, or whatever will be much more prone to attack if she feels her calf is in danger because you’re too close. So stay back and stay safe. And splurge for a really good zoom lens.

Wildlife can be seen most anywhere in Colorado, even in the Denver area. Various parks, open spaces, and hiking trails give you your best option, but they can even be found alongside the road. So this brings me back to driving; be careful and stay alert for wildlife when you’re driving. A particularly good place to pay attention is when you’re driving through Georgetown on your way into the mountains. There is a pulloff in town where you can see big horn sheep on the side of the interstate. Don’t stop on the interstate, though, because that’s illegal; use the designated pulloff and enjoy the sights and easy photographic opportunities safely.

PLEASE, DON’T BURN DOWN MY HOME

I need to circle back around to my points on drinking for a moment. While it’s good to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, you also don’t want to waste it. Colorado is, for all intents and purposes, a desert. And despite all of the scenic shots you may see of snow-covered mountaintops or beautiful mountain lakes, we have over 300 hundred days of sunshine a year. And that means we’re continually dried out by the sun and lack of moisture. So please be sure to help us conserve water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, take shorter showers, and decline a glass of water at a restaurant if you’re really not going to drink it.

We are in drought situations each year, which not only means water conservation but also high fire danger. The simplest thing – like a cigarette flicked out of a car window – can start a massive forest fire of hundreds of thousands of acres that destroys hundreds of homes. We’ve already had some pretty bad fires this year, which is way earlier than normal. So please be careful with where you’re going, what you’re doing, and how you dispose of anything that is flamable. Fires not only destroy homes, but they destroy lives – as in yours, if you’re caught for starting one and go to jail for what could be a very long time.

Do you have other questions about visiting Colorado? Then leave me a comment! I’ll be happy to do my best at answering every and any questions you may have about staying safe and comfortable while visiting Colorado.

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3 Comments on “Practical Advice When Visiting Colorado”

  1. Eva June 7, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Thank you for the tips Jason. Was really looking forward to TBEX but since getting back from Quito last week, I am dreading the altitude! Dinner at 11,000+ feet? Can’t wait.

  2. Denise January 28, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    I’m heading to Denver from February 15-17 and I’m coming from Las Vegas. How far in advance should I start drinking tons of water to help make my weekend easier to handle?

    • Jason's Travels January 28, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

      Being that you’re coming in from Vegas, which is a high elevation city and also a desert, you should be fine with your normal intake of water. It wouldn’t hurt to up it a little more the day before, and especially while you’re here, but nothing too drastic is necessary, assuming you’re staying in Denver. If you hit the mountains, you’ll want to be drinking at least half your body weight in ounces each day, more if you have coffee (or other caffeinated drinks) and alcohol.

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