Two years ago, I had undertaken a three day, two-drive journey with MINI Takes the States. MINI let me tag along from Charlotte, North Carolina to Richmond, Virginia to Baltimore Maryland. It was a fun, albeit exhausting experience that I actually had thought was enough for me. I thought it was fun but decided it would be my last. Until I did it again.

Just a couple of weeks ago, MINI Takes the States 2018 concluded in Keystone Colorado. This time, MTTS was different. Rather than have the same group of people drive from one end of the country to another, two groups started out on either side of the country and met in the middle. So there was a western route and an eastern route.

Thankfully, I was given the choice of which route I wanted to take, which cities I wanted to drive to and from and how long I wanted to stay. Being that I’m from the east coast and have seen much of it, plus there weren’t a ton of scenic areas on the eastern route, I decided to do the western route. Now, I’m not very experienced with the west coast, so I turned to someone who is.

My father-in-law had actually road-tripped a lot of the country in his younger years, so he was familiar with a lot of the places the western route snaked through. So he gave me some advice — drive from Durango to Keystone, the very last leg of MTTS. And so I did.

Durango is located quite south of Colorado and Keystone is quite north. Not only are they far apart, geographically, they’re polar opposites when it comes to scenery, style and culture. When I finally landed in Durango, it was the smallest airport I’d ever seen. There were two gates that I could see, ‘1’ and ‘2’. Coming from Newark International, where there are about a billion gates, this seemed like madness. That’s the gist of Durango, though. Small town, small neighborhoods and remnants of a bygone era.

On the drive out of Durango, we passed by abandoned mines, farms and grain silos. It felt like driving through a scene from Westworld at some points. Just, without all of the naked robots killing each other, of course. Shame. But, about two hours into the drive, those old mining towns disappeared and some sensational roads appeared.

The car I was assigned for my trip was a Starlight Blue MINI Cooper S 4-Door with a six-speed manual. Would I have like a regular 2-Door Cooper S or even a JCW? Yes. But I had the option for several different cars and that was the only manual available, so that’s what I took. Thankfully, it turned out to be a fantastic little companion. With the rear seats folded down, I had tons of space for my luggage, snacks and water in the back and the little 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder, making just 189 hp, was excellent when paired with the six-speed.

Slicing through some of the most fun and beautiful roads I’d ever seen, I was having a blast in the little MINI. It was so beautiful it was almost dangerous because it was hard to focus on the twisty road ahead, with no guard rails and thousand-foot sheer cliff drops, thanks to the absolutely breathtaking scenery we were driving through. It wasn’t beautiful scenery in the background, it was right in our face. We were in the stunning scenery. Genuinely breathtaking stuff.

It created an interesting dilemma, too, as I was torn between whether I wanted to keep snaking fantastic corners together or pull over and take pictures and take in the scenery. Unfortunately, I selfishly chose the former rather than latter, as the drive was so addictive, but the few times I did stop off to take pictures, it was well worth it. Being in the Rocky Mountains, seeing the beautiful and perfectly-preserved wilderness and smelling the clean air (even if the 9,000 – 11,000 ft altitude was getting to a lot of us) was a truly memorable experience and one the reminded me just how beautiful our country can be.

Stopping off also gave me the chance to remember just how warm and welcoming the MINI enthusiast community is. Wherever any MINI was stopped, three or four more would immediately stop as well, asking if anyone needed help and then, if not, just talk to each other. It was like taking a road trip with 1,000 family members.

At one point during the trip, while driving through truly some of the world’s best mountain roads, I passed a sign that read “Switzerland of the United States”. I thought “that’s a bit optimistic”, until I saw what lied ahead. The small little ski-towns, the old-world charm and awe-inspiring views reminded me of something I’d see Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond driving three supercars through on an old episode of Top Gear. I have been watching stuff like that for years, hoping to one day experience it for myself. Yet, there I was, doing just that. That realization sent chills down my spine and put a huge grin on my face.

As I approached the hotel in Keystone, both the roads and the scenery only got better, the towns got prettier and my eyes grew more tired. By about the sixth hour of driving, both the car and I had seen better days. It was covered in dead bugs and dirt, its brakes were probably in dire need of some cooling and it just felt tired. So was I and I didn’t smell great, either.

Finally, though, I arrived in Keystone and checked into the lovely hotel at over 9,100 ft elevation. So did hundreds of MINI owners, with their families, friends and even dogs, the latter of which were happily running around on the grassy ski slopes, as our hotel was dog-friendly.

That night, MINI hosted an event, as they did at every stop, which featured a ton of great food, drinks (thankfully) and some entertainment. It was a great way to wind down from the long day but, eventually, it was time for bed.

The next morning, MINI had another event underway throughout the massive grounds of the hotel. There were several tents setup serving food, selling MINI goodies and showing off aftermarket MINI parts, a stage with live bands and, thankfully, some breakfast for us journalists.

Our day was pretty loosely structured, so us journos could really do whatever we wanted. Though, there was an autocross event going on, where we had the chance to sample some MINI JCWs on a little course setup in a big parking lot. There, I had the chance to drive the MINI Cooper S Hardtop JCW and the MINI Clubman ALL4 JCW. I unfortunately didn’t do as well as I had hoped, being one of the slower journalists around the track. My pride will chalk it up to altitude sickness.

After that, I also had the unique opportunity to interview Charlie Cooper, currently the youngest member of the Cooper family. He was cool, kind and patient, as he didn’t show an ounce of fatigue as journalists and MINI enthusiasts alike lined up to ask him the same questions over and over, make him pose for pictures and tell him stories about their MINIS. He always had a smile on his face, even for my annoying questions and I was the last one to interview him. You can read about that interview here.

Once the interview was over, so was the event for me. We all had the typical lunch and dinner with MINI, as most press trips go, and then off to sleep to get ready for the long day of travel to follow.

Two years ago, I said I wouldn’t do it again and I was wrong. However, I’m glad because I had a lot more fun this time around and it was an experience I won’t soon forget. I always tell MINI owners that they should take part in MTTS if they haven’t already. It really is a unique experience and it envelopes you in a car culture that’s like no other int he best way possible. As a journalist, it’s fun. But as a MINI owner, it must be an absolute blast.