More than 90 million Americans visited Colorado last year, according to a report from the Colorado Tourism Office and Longwoods Travel USA. If you asked a Coloradan, he might speculate that all of them were Texans. Coloradans famously love to complain about tourists and transplants from our state. This attitude is not new—in 1978, Molly Ivins summed it up as the not wholly inaccurate belief that Texans are “a bunch of no-class yahoos with more money than taste”—but it has intensified in recent years, as thousands of Texans (and other Americans) have flocked to the Centennial State, playing a role in driving realty prices sky-high, opening ritzy new developments, and making it ever harder for locals to afford to live there. In our defense, it should be noted that the top three states from which overnight travelers hailed in 2022 were Colorado itself, accounting for 26 percent of all domestic trips; California, with 12 percent; and only then Texas, with a paltry 9 percent. Okay, so that still means there were three million of us strolling the shady sidewalks of Breckenridge and Telluride, basking in the cool mountain air and sipping locally brewed IPAs—but we also spent generously, helping to inject a collective $26 billion (the sum for all domestic travelers) into Colorado’s tourism-dependent economy. You might describe our states’ relationship as a rocky one, but like it or not, we need each other.
If you’ve vacationed in Colorado, you’ve probably fantasized about moving there. Those dreams are especially alluring now, after record-setting summer heat and drought turned Texas into the gates of hell. No Colorado getaway is complete without a stroll down, let’s say, Elk Avenue in Crested Butte. You stop for a treat at Tin Cup Ice Cream & Desserts and meander in and out of the quaint shops. “Oh hey, there’s a realtor’s office.” You peruse the For Sale signs in the window and ponder that mountain dream. Then you see the prices and keep moving. But that thought lingers in the back of your mind. Vacation is over, and you drive fifteen hours back to Any City, Texas, USA. The Suburban rolls into the driveway and the whole family piles out. How in the name of Willie Nelson does anyone endure this wretched heat?! Over the next week, as your summer seasonal depression returns in full force, you begin scrolling on Zillow. Colorado Springs looks cute. Hey, what about Fort Collins? There’re a couple of breweries there. Firestone is still pretty affordable! I hear Del Norte is the next Salida.
I know this feeling well. My wife, Allison, and I moved to Salida, Colorado, in the summer of 2016. We both loved the outdoors and were tired of the Texas heat. Our time there absolutely changed our lives. In mountain towns, regular folks routinely do amazing feats, like traverse the entire Sangre de Cristo mountain range or bike a hundred miles in the backcountry. I had stopped writing in the early aughts, but in Salida anything felt possible, so I started again. I also honed my mountain biking skills to a razor’s edge. I could pedal up switchbacks like a monkey on fire. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I could ride without my heart pounding like Metallica in my ears. Allison started teaching yoga classes at a local studio and picked up some personal-training clients. I went to work for Oveja Negra, a small company that makes bikepacking bags. We were embraced by the community and achieved the highest status a Texan could hope for: that of mountain-town local.
We lasted three years before the siren song of Texas lured us back. Family, proper breakfast tacos, and a desire to write about Texas ultimately brought us home. I kept hearing outdoorsy Texans complain about our lack of public land. I wanted to come back and adventure with a Colorado mindset and explore what public land we have. I dare say there’s more than most Texans realize. Living in Colorado was the best thing this Texan ever did, and I highly recommend it.
Here are four other Texans who made the Colorado leap. What are their hopes and dreams? What do they miss about Texas? How did they find housing? And how do they navigate the infamous ire some Coloradans have for us? I first experienced this “Texism” on a ski trip in 1988. I was in a gondola, and a fellow teenager told me, “Oh, my dad hates Texans! He says they can’t drive for s—.” Other phrases that pop up are the derisive “must be a Texan” or “typical Texan.” It’s always passive-aggressive and never said to your face. Honestly, I thought the Colorado ire was behind us, but last year Texas Monthly ran a story by Pam LeBlanc on some Texans who purchased and upgraded the Springs Resort and spa in Pagosa Springs. The online comments were downright nasty. Thankfully, the Texpats I interviewed said they rarely experience this type of negativity in real life. To avoid it, just log off and go outside—which is what you come to Colorado to do anyway, right?
Codi Clark, 24
Occupation: Raft guide
Location: Idaho Springs
Texas hometown: Honey Grove
Here’s a fun fact about the white water rafting industry. Every May, the companies offer raft-guide school. You can show up with zero rafting experience, go through the school, and be guiding tourists that summer. Obviously, you must be fit and pass the rigorous training program, but that guide you had this summer may have never touched a paddle until May.
That’s not the case with Codi Clark. The East Texas native started guiding while in college at Texas Tech University, which hosts trips through its Outdoor Pursuits Center. She loved that experience so much that soon after graduating, she applied with three raft companies and settled on Colorado Adventure Center. This is her third season taking rafters down Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. “I fell in love with taking people outside and showing them all these places I love,” she says.
Many young guides camp on the raft companies’ properties, living out of tents all summer. It’s a very communal vibe, but Clark and her boyfriend, Zach Huffstutter, prefer something a bit more private. The two share a travel trailer at an RV park in Idaho Springs. This winter they’ll take the trailer back to Honey Grove and store it at Clark’s parents’ house. Then the pair will transition to winter work with Epic Mountain Sports, in Winter Park, Colorado, working the retail area and renting ski and snowboard equipment. The store provides housing for its workers, so Clark and Huffstutter will share a three-bedroom home with other employees.
Clark always seeks Colorado destinations off the beaten path. “Roadside parks have some the coolest things I’ve seen in the state,” she says. One of her favorites is the Trail Through Time, on the western edge of Colorado, at the Rabbit Valley exit off Interstate 70. “There’s dinosaur fossils carved out in the mountainside, and there’s not a car in sight.”
When Clark speaks, there’s no denying where she’s from. Her East Texas accent is thick and exuberant. She is a proud Texan and takes no guff when folks throw some Texas shade her way. Occasionally, she says, Denver locals and residents of the glitzier ski towns have seemed upset that she’s a transplant taking a Colorado job. “It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Clark laughs. She says she’s a mountain lifer and hopes to run her own rafting operation one day.
Tanner Fowler, 24
Occupation: Freelance cinematographer
Location: Denver and the open road
Texas hometown: Lubbock
Fowler has been making money with a video camera since he was in high school. As an undergraduate at Texas Tech, he was a prolific video shooter for the basketball and football programs. After college, he took a job at a production company in Kansas City, but a longing for clear streams and mountains pulled at his soul. “I was really bummed out after working there for a year,” Fowler says. “ ‘Maybe this full-time, nine-to-five job is not for me.’ ” He loved the work but not the schedule. The wheels started to turn in his head. Fowler took a road trip with some friends and had an epiphany at Great Sand Dunes National Park. “I’m not going to work this job anymore,” he told his friend. Fowler was going freelance. “I knew I’d make a little less money, but it was worth it to have the life I wanted.”
He set his sights on Fort Collins, just north of Denver. It was centrally located and close enough to Denver International Airport that he could easily fly out for last-minute video shoots. He found a rental house, signed the lease, and was out the door for a gig in Antarctica. He was gone for two months, came home, spent twelve hours in his house, and got back on a plane for work. When he was home, he would head to the mountains and camp. After a year of paying rent for a house he rarely saw, Fowler decided to try living out of a van. He found a four-by-four Mercedes Sprinter and had it custom built to accommodate his camera and editing equipment. One of his first gigs was a road trip through Texas, shooting footage at college campuses for Kansas City–based Let It Fly Media. He got the job because his bid didn’t include flights or lodging.
When he’s not traveling in his van for work, Fowler’s home on wheels is parked on nature’s doorstep. “I love being so close to the great American outdoors,” he says. He also has a leased workspace in Denver with a gated parking area to stash his van when he’s at his girlfriend’s four-hundred-square-foot condo in Denver. But they both prefer the freedom of the van and hope to someday start an RV park for fellow vanlifers.
Fowler hasn’t experienced any extreme Colorado hate for being a Texan, but he knows it’s there. “People don’t like outsiders,” he said. “I think they should be proud of having such a beautiful state and that people want to come here.”
Aaron Gonzalez, 38
Location: Idaho Springs
Texas hometown: Round Rock
Aaron Gonzalez owned a successful auto-detailing business, but the photographers he hired were never able to capture the essences of the machines he cleaned. So he started doing it himself—and stumbled onto a new hobby and eventual career. In 2019, after one of his Dobermans passed away and he went through a rough breakup, Gonzalez did a life reset and closed his detailing business. “I just kind of lost my mind,” he said. “I went traveling for two and a half years.” He immediately wrote out the hundred things he wanted to do before he died. One of those was to visit all the national parks. He’s since knocked out 38 and, in the process, become enamored with wildlife photography, specifically the challenge of capturing big predators. “I love wolves, grizzly bears, and black bears,” Gonzalez says.
Those big predators reside primarily in the backcountry of Wyoming and Montana. To get closer, Gonzalez applied for photography jobs across the Rocky Mountains. He landed a gig with Rapid Image Photography, based in Idaho Springs, and began taking photos of tourists on raft trips in the summer and on snowmobile tours in the winter. Gonzalez moved to Colorado this past January and lived in a rooftop tent mounted on a utility trailer for four months. “The first week I got up here it was like minus-ten degrees at night. I loved sleeping in the tent. I could not be happier,” he says. He’s since moved into a space-age Shiftpod tent on a raft-trip company’s property. Insulated and spacious, the structure looks like a lunar module from NASA’s Apollo missions.
Gonzalez is gregarious and has found Coloradans to be nothing but friendly. In fact, getting to know open-minded locals is his favorite part of living in the state. “I love how welcoming people are when you extend your dreams and goals,” he says. Ultimately, he wants to become a certified Alaskan grizzly bear guide.
His favorite Colorado moment happened on a recent drive up Mount Blue Sky (formerly Mount Evans), not far from his new home in Idaho Springs. It was late in the day, and he happened to catch a glimpse of a rare black fox. He jumped out of his Subaru and started snapping away. “I must have shot twelve hundred photos in less than thirty seconds,” he said. “It was totally spectacular and unplanned.”
Michelle Stocker, 58
Occupation: Construction operations
Texas hometown: Austin
Michelle Stocker found her third act by moving to Colorado, where she’s closer to her daughter. “I mistakenly moved to California, and that didn’t go so well. And then my daughter was like, ‘Mom, come here to Denver.’ ”
Stocker’s daughter teaches art at a Denver elementary school. The younger Stocker came to Colorado because she loved the mountains and skiing. She knew it was just what her mom needed. “I just hit this identity crisis that a lot of women do when they find themselves divorced,” Stocker says. She had stalled her career to raise her kids. “I had to re-create myself, reinvent myself.” Denver just feels like a fit to her now, in a somewhat ineffable way. “The energy is so right for me here. And it’s so Texas-friendly,” Stocker says. “Positive things have been happening for me since I got here.”
Through a friend of a friend, Stocker landed a job with Mendel & Co. Construction, where she’s now director of operations. Stocker and her ex-husband owned a solar fan manufacturing company, so she had experience in the construction industry. Mendel & Co. does tenant finish for retail spaces. The work is fast-paced, with projects typically lasting ten weeks, and Stocker loves the logistical challenge of juggling all the subcontractors.
Unlike the rest of the folks in this story, Stocker lives in a structure that can’t be moved. She currently resides in a condo and plans to buy a house in the spring. “I try to get into the mountains every weekend,” she says. “Even if I’m just putting my feet into a river, it’s so beautiful, and you have your choice of anything, from riding motorcycles to of course hiking and skiing.” One of her favorite getaways is the Surf Hotel along the Arkansas River in Buena Vista, Colorado: “Something about the architecture and small-town feel. I just love it there.”
Stocker was nervous about making the leap away from the friends, professional network, and community she’d built over 27 years in Austin, but now she’s glad she went for it. “I didn’t know I had this kind of value out there in the market. I’m finding out now, and that’s exciting. You can reinvent yourself. You just have to have a little courage.”
When I asked every Texpat what they missed about home, the consensus was food. Clark and Fowler felt Colorado barbecue wasn’t up to Texas standards, and Stocker missed Austin’s queso game. Luckily Chuy’s has infiltrated Denver and Colorado Springs, so Gonzalez is able to get his Tex-Mex fix—though Stocker doesn’t think the Colorado locations are as good as the ones in Texas. They also miss the unabashed friendliness of Texans. Stocker sums it up best. “I don’t want to say Coloradans are not friendly,” she says. “It’s that Texas people are just so down-to-earth and so friendly. They go out of their way for you, and I really do miss that.”