Originally curated to connect our global community, the Travelling Bag is passed from traveller to traveller, encouraging each new owner to delve deeper into the place they're exploring, to focus on travelling against the norm and creating meaningful connections with the places they visit.
For its next journey, the Travelling Bag joins outdoor-lifestyle and landscape photographer, Emily Boe-Lee. With curiosity as her compass, she embarks on a un-mapped road-trip through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Along the way, she discovers a sense of freedom that only the open road can offer.
Words & Photography by Emily Boe-Lee | @emilyboelee
With August coming to a close, I found myself itching for one more epic summer adventure. We didn’t have a plan, but we knew we wanted to head west, so my closest family and I booked a flight to Denver, Colorado.
Saturday morning, we woke early in our hotel in Denver, the Mile-High City. The haze of the previous night’s long flight across the country has been replaced with a swelling sense of adventure. In the dimly lit hotel room, I scarfed down some oatmeal with raisins (adventure food at its finest) and set out towards my first destination: the famed Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Just as we set off on the scenic “Trading Post Trail,” which snakes through a maze of red rock formations, it began to downpour. The sudden rain had us racing back to the car, covering our eyes and camera lenses. Our hiking boots splashed down in puddles of rust-coloured mud, staining the bottoms of our pants. As soon as we found protection in the safety of our car, my sister, Abby, and I glanced at one another and burst in a fit of laughter - giggling about our drenched clothes and the unpredictability of the weather. There hadn’t been any mention of rain in the forecast all week. It was clear that this was going to a wild and beautiful adventure.
On the first evening, we drove up to the top of Pike’s Peak. Pike’s Peak stands at an impressive 14,115 feet (4,302 meters) and is the highest summit in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Looking down from the peak was a view I can only describe as an unbelievable mosaic of wispy clouds, colourful mountains, and whimsical lakes in the distance. Since we had just arrived in Colorado and weren’t used to the altitude yet, we were met with a slight light-headedness. The strange sensation only added to the feeling that this was all a beautiful dream.
The night before we leave Denver behind, we spend the evening eating little bites all around the city. After a few hours of walking the streets, we end up at an outdoor eatery called the Milk Market. Outside, they have a cornhole set up. We spend the night playing games and laughing under the twinkling string lights.
We are always on the move, searching for nothing in particular. We had resolved to go wherever the road decided to take us. Breakfast was usually a variety of fresh fruit, purchased at a nearby Sprouts, and brought along to be eaten in the car.
At one point, we found ourselves cruising down the “Cosmic Highway,” nicknamed as such for its dreamy, rollercoaster-like curves. The stretch of road, leading from Denver to Salida is something like a pathway to a parallel universe, a different reality - especially during the silent, lonely hours of the night.
After exiting the Cosmic Highway, we decided to do something we’ve always wanted to do: white-water rafting. With the help of two amazing tour guides, Dan and Kyle, we made our way down to the Arkansas River. Since it was the end of the summer, and the water was low, the river wasn’t as wild as usual. Even so, the ride is exhilarating. Staring up from the valley at the massive mountains on either side was incredible. I felt tiny. I love moments like this - the ones that show you just how wide and wild this world truly is.
There’s a point along the route where the river suddenly widens and forms a natural pool. The water is a gorgeous clear blue. “Wanna go for a swim?” Kyle asks us. Without hesitation, Abby and I launch ourselves out of the boat and into the water. A chill shoots up my spine, refreshing my whole body. We joke around and take turns splashing one another before climbing back into the boat and continuing down the Arkansas.
During the more peaceful stretches of the river, I have long conversations with Dan and Kyle, who turn out to be some of the warmest souls I’ve ever met. Their spirits are teeming with adventure and kindness. It made me so happy to see people doing what they genuinely love: helping others experience nature in a unique way.
The next day we grab a quick lunch at a place called True Foods Kitchen before embarking deeper into the Rockies. Everything is fresh and organic. I get a delectable pea tendril, broccolini, and lemon vinaigrette salad.
After lunch, we make our way to Boulder. It’s a bustling and vibrant town nestled at the base of a looming mountain range. In a way that I can’t quite put into words, everyone we meet feels like family. From store owners to fellow travellers, everyone was welcoming and kind, as if we’d met before in a past life.
We decide to scale the Flatirons, a collection of rock formations in the shape of gigantic spires. The Flatirons pierce up into the sky like the towers of a massive stone castle. It’s hot out, but the view from the top is well worth the hike. It’s the perfect spot to sit for a while, journaling, talking, and just taking in the beauty.
On Wednesday, we rub our sleepy eyes and climb out of bed before the sun has risen. Today was the day of our longest hike, 10-mile trek to a place called Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. We started out on the trail, ready to take it on.
We wander through the rustling pine trees - past Alberta Falls, the “Crossroads,” the Loch… Finally, we arrive at a breathtaking pool in the clouds. A ribboning waterfall cascades in Sky Pond: it’s paradise. I pull my wool sweater tighter around my frame as a cool breeze blows through. I release a long breath and smile.
Upon hearing about a special temple in the mountains, our adventurous souls are ignited. We know that we have to find it! With a little bit of research, we discover that the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is a piece of beautiful Buddhist architecture tucked deep in the Rocky Mountains. The Stupa is on the grounds of a place called Shambhala Mountain Center. We punch the location into our GPS and take off. We didn’t account for the fact that we would certainly lose cell phone connection in the mountains, and of course, we lost our way. Following road signs as best as we could, we ended up on a winding scenic route through the mountains. We weren’t quite sure where we were headed, but we didn’t particularly care. We were having the best day ever singing (badly) to the radio and letting the wind whip through our hair. At one point, we even accidentally crossed over into Wyoming. Oops.
Hours later, we did find our way to the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. During our short ascent to the temple entrance, we were overtaken by a powerful and natural silence. Abby and I walked side by side, under an almost magical feeling of peace. The pathway is decorated with hundreds of colourful Tibetan prayer flags, softly billowing in the breeze.
Just outside of the Stupa is a large, stone, fountain-esque structure. It was covered in a mosaic of jewellery, photographs, coins, and other small mementoes. It was a place of offering. I left my favourite green bracelet on one of the structures arms.
Before entering the Stupa, we remove our shoes and leave them at the door. We sit inside the Stupa for half an hour, maybe more, meditating quietly, simply soaking in the magic of the mountains. It was an experience of pure calm.
Finally, our week living as untethered souls came to an end. As we reluctantly climbed into the car to make the final trek back to the airport, Colorado treated us to one last show. The sky seemed to filled with fire; it was one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. We were mesmerized by the strokes of pink and purple that painted the universe above us.
Road-tripping and hiking my way through Colorado was an adventure I’ll never forget. There is nothing more special than exploring a new place with the people you love, and the open road provides a freedom unlike anything else in the world. The Rocky Mountains have my heart - I’ll definitely be back soon. But no matter where we roamed, the travelling Millican bag proved to be a trusty travel companion.