Western US travel in pandemic times

Traveling safely the western US in COVID19 times

Months ago, as coronavirus pandemic unfolded and worldwide deaths mounted, we realized that our planned timeshare trips to Maui and Newport Beach, CA were not well-timed, so we joined and deposited our weeks in Interval international. As both our cabin fever mounted and California was enveloped by the catastrophic wildfires, Interval International’s hundreds of “last minute getaways” for greatly discounted prices struck us a nice escape.

So, we took a look at Colorado, with idea of both eyeing future skiing destinations and more of the state’s grand scenery, and found a week’s stay at Grand Colorado Resort at Peak 8, Breckenridge, for well less than $400 for the week. We added a week following, at Snowbird Resort in Utah at similar huge discount, and prepared to travel in the pandemic age.

Bull moose watches over his charges two blocks from our lovely Breckenridge hotel.

Our first measure was to check the Center for Disease Control’s travel guidelines, which are very detailed. One of their recommendations includes checking with state, county and city pandemic requirements, and for Colorado, it was quickly apparent that all these governments took Covid19 seriously.

Following those recommendations for food and drink, we packed enough soft drinks and water for the better part of two weeks, and a sizable supply of bulk walnuts and dried cranberries for travel snacks. For dining along the way, fast food drive through was our only option. In addition to ensuring our SUV had recent oil and filter change and normal travel emergency items, we focused on the pandemic personal protection items. Those included plenty of facemasks, hand sanitizer (with an extra large bottle to replenish smaller personal size containers), and plenty of infectious wipes as well, to wipe down motel/hotel key areas such as door knobs, kitchen or bathroom countertops.

We discussed in advance on our shopping guidelines. For groceries, we agreed on early morning arrival, with few customers. What few retailer visits we experienced were to outside-only displays, as Breckenridge merchants offer along a six-block closed stretch of their old Main Street, allowing lots of outdoor dining and merchandise viewing. Indoor shopping was not a part of our vacation plan! Aspen also featured plenty of outdoor dining and outside retailer merchandise displays.

Breckenridge offered plenty of open air dining and noshing on a closed Main Street.

Since we had the time, we took the scenic Highway 50 route most of the way, taking us across the “Loneliest Highway in America”, as the highway is deemed in Nevada, across Utah and into Colorado. It is a route with fewer travelers than Interstate 80, and rich in Native American, Pony Express and pioneer history, as well as scenic vistas. The route also offered easy detours to such national parks as Great Basin in eastern Nevada and Arches in Utah (our visit to Arches in Utah allowed plenty of social distancing between the parks hundreds of arches and other-worldly rock formations).

On a state by state basis, Nevada retailers seemed lackadaisical in posting and requiring facemasks; about a half of visitors, particularly younger in age, seemed unable to utilize facemasks nor worry about distancing themselves.

Utah showed more attention to that detail, though about half the tourists we passed in Arches National Park had no masks. Fortunately, in that wonderful outdoor temple, plenty of room to give them a wide berth.

Landscape Arch, spanning more than length of a football field, Arches NP.

In Colorado, retailers, gas and convenience stops uniformly post “no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service”, (or signs to that effect). For those few that don’t, we bypass them!

Only in Nevada, and Utah’s Arches National Park, have we witnessed large groups of people with little regard to Covid19 precautions (all too frequently, scofflaws appear to be in the “under-35 group”.

We chose one or two story motels in both Ely, NV, and Grand Junction, CO, so we could avoid elevators to higher floors, and in each case hotel staff exercised high pandemic precautions. In Ely, after reserving a room, the motel emailed us to tell us that if we went to room 11, the door would be unlocked and we could find the key inside the room. Hence, no personal contact whatever in that motel.

In Colorado, we’re staying at the Grand Colorado Lodge on Peak 8, where they offer “people-free check-in”, have extensively equipped lobbies and concierge desks with plastic shields to keep airborne spread to a minimum, and offer free masks, latex gloves and hand sanitizer. Their website offers extensive information as to how they’re sanitizing rooms and common areas, as we witnessed throughout the week. Here we feel almost as safe as if we were sheltering in place at home.

Our primary activities here included 5 to 7 mile morning hikes in the Breckenridge area, where trails allowed lots of room to pass occasional fellow hikers or mountain bikers, and several day tours to destinations such as Aspen, about three hours away. The town appeared to take equally seriously pandemic facts of life, with banners along the streets and signs in the restaurants noting pandemic precautions required. Touring the old ghost town of Independence, we saw only two other people, a quarter of a mile away.

Spouse Susan hiking the Baker’s Tank hiking trail to almost 11,000 feet,
just outside Breckenridge.

One footnote: In such a lovely place as Colorado, it’s easy to forget that the pandemic is prevalent here, as it is elsewhere in the US. So, remembering to wash hands, use hand sanitizer and automatically mask up when outside your vehicle or hotel room can be easily forgotten.

For more information: Breckenridge, Gobreck.com; Center for Disease Control, cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html; Colorado, Colorado.com.

Contact Tim, tviall@msn.com, or follow him: blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valleytravel.  Happy travels in the west!

Aspens, maples changing color above Utah’s Olympic bobsled run near Park City.

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