Tourists seeking solitude expected to crowd into Colorado in record numbers

June 21, 1992|By James Coates | James Coates,Chicago Tribune

DENVER -- School's almost out. The recession's almost over. We won the Persian Gulf War. We don't have to decide among Messrs. Perot, Clinton and Bush for another five months. It's vacation time.

In what may foreshadow a trend across the country, the summer of 1992 in Colorado is shaping up as a real crowd scene, with already crowded mountains facing a record onslaught of solitude-seeking tourists.

Experts expect 9 million tourists to converge on the state's mountain resorts between now and Labor Day, up from a record of 7.5 million last summer.

And travel industry officials see upbeat trends nationwide, including increased sales of traveler's checks and more hotel and motel bookings.

The Commerce Department predicts an 8 percent increase in foreign travelers to the United States this year.

Colorado expects to host 530,000 of those foreign visitors in the next 90 days, along with an estimated 250,000 people from Illinois, 1.2 million Texans, 1 million Californians, 270,000 New Yorkers and about 4 million folks from other states.

In addition, nearly 2.3 million Coloradans will vacation in the mountains.

From crowded trails where booked-solid dude ranches turn customers loose driving cattle to raft-filled whitewater rivers like the Glenwood Canyon run on the Colorado, tourists will be able to escape just about anything -- except other tourists.

Colorado Highway Department officials say that with the new rest area and boat launching ramp on Interstate Highway 70 in Glenwood Canyon, rafts filled with tourists will be launched every 90 seconds during the high-water weeks of early summer, a pace much like trying to merge into traffic on the Kennedy

Expressway's construction zone.

On the brighter side, each visitor is expected to spend an estimated $40 per day for gas, food and lodging.

This summer advance bookings and other indicators are running 20 percent to 30 percent higher than last year, said Deborah Milo of the Colorado Tourism Board.

She said several organizations that keep national tourism data, including Longwood's International in Toronto and the National Family Opinion survey in Toledo, Ohio, use Colorado's tourist prospects to predict trends nationwide.

Wright Catlow, director of the state's dude ranchers association,said inquiries about ranch vacations were running 55 percent above last year.

"People are really ready to let go," said Mr. Catlow, who left a career as a hydraulic engineer in Chicago in 1964."And to those whose lives are in the offices of places like Chicago there is no place to let go like a high mountain meadow filled with cattle."

Mr.Catlow said many people booking ranch vacations say they haven't gotten away for several years.They also mention the movie "City Slickers,"which was made on the Focus dude Ranch near the mountain hamlet of Tabernash,Colo.

"The movie ends with Billy Crystal explaining how he had forgotten how to smile in the big city,"Mr.Catlow said,"but that he found his smile once again in Colorado."

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