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Published: July 27th 2015
The whole Rocky Mountains were a stunning mix of meadows, streams, wildflowers, and snow covered mountains.....beautiful!
During our last posting to the US one of the great destinations in the US that we didn’t make it to was the Rocky Mountains. However, now we are living in Kansas we are next-door neighbours to the state of Colorado which is famous for being the home of the Rocky Mountains. So with John and Judy in tow we decided to once again load up the Old Girl and head across this beautiful country. However, whilst we are next-door neighbours to Colorado, Fort Leavenworth is in the far eastern edge of Kansas, so we prepped ourselves for a 10-hour drive to our destination – Colorado Springs.
We hit the road about 9 am on Saturday morning and headed west across Kansas on the I-70 interstate. The area of Kansas that we live in is quite lush and undulating, a very picturesque area of the world. However after driving west for an hour we hit the Dorothy country – the flat, featureless, and seemingly endless grass prairie. For hour after hour we ploughed along dead straight interstate with nothing to look at but grasslands and seas of cornfields. It was quite picturesque, but relentlessly boring……after punching out a
The boys loved this place and right in the middle of nowhere!
four hour shift behind the wheel I realised what the I-70 was…..driving purgatory. The driving gods had deemed that we were to spend 10 hours in purgatory, mile after mind-numbing mile of boredom, in order to earn the privilege of visiting the Rocky Mountains.
However, all was not lost – the kids were behaving themselves absolutely splendidly. They were sucking up the tedium like absolute little troopers….they were just awesome. So we decided we should reward them with the best possible thing before continuing to sit in a confined place for hours with nothing to do – sugar! In the middle of absolutely nowhere we found a classic American soda fountain. It was adorned with a spectacularly ornate hand crafted wooden bar which had lived in a New York hotel originating in 1904. We thoroughly enjoyed tucking into an old fashioned chocolate Sunday complete with whipped cream out of a can, mountains of chocolate topping and some form of cherry extract which may not have actually contained any cherry. The kids were in heaven. However with belly’s full of sugar we resigned ourselves to several more hours in the car broken with nothing but the occasional golden
Top of Pike's Peak
The Cog Railway train that took us from Manitou Springs at 6,500 feet to the top of Pike's Peak at just over 14,000 feet!
arches indicating a petrol stop, and fields and fields of wind farms. The flat plains of Kansas are a great place for generating wind energy and there were hundreds upon hundreds of wind generators dotting the featureless terrain.
Almost 13 hours later we finally arrived at Colorado Springs and found our holiday rental which was a cozy little 3-bedroom cottage. We’ve taken to renting houses rather than hotels when traveling with family as it provides the boys with much more room to spread their wings (and crap), and we can also save a few dollars by cooking a fair proportion of our meals. It was a very welcomed arrival and it didn’t take very long to unpack and find our beds.
We rose quite early the next morning to make it out to the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway about fifteen minutes from where we were staying. Pike’s Peak is the largest mountain in the Colorado Springs region, topping out at 14,110 feet, and dominating the landscape, casting a shadow over the entire town. Since the 1890’s there’s been a cog railway (uses the traditional rails and a double cog system in between the rails)
Garden of the Gods
The boys exploring Garden of the Gods which was a spectacular rocky feature filled national park.
taking tourists to the top of the peak. It grinds its way up approximately 8,000 in just over one hour. It’s a steep climb which in some places exceeds a 25% gradient, but it delivers stunning vistas for those willing to fork out the $40 odd bucks for the pleasure. After being on the train for about 30 minutes, Patrick informed us that he was bored and that this was the most boring train ride ever, however he was soon appeased by the appearance of some sort of mountain cat which looked remarkably like an otter, and a couple of horned mountain sheep. We finally made it to the top and stepped out onto the barren summit that was adorned with a sizable café and gift shop (‘Merica!). The summit was packed! In addition to the 300 odd train passengers there were hikers, drivers and cyclists all enjoying the views.
Despite our varied means of transport, the one thing we all shared was an inability to breathe! Sitting well above the vegetation line, the air was thinner than a piece of Homebrand toilet paper. Despite taking it nice and easy, we all felt a bit light headed
Paddy the Explorer
Paddy climbing up some of the features in Garden of the Gods.
and couldn’t fill our lungs regardless of how hard we breathed. I was shocked at just how much it affected me, and at one point had to take a knee to prevent an embarrassing tumble! All this, and the mountain isn’t even the largest in Colorado – in fact it comes in at a paltry 31st
highest! Boy did I feel like a pansy. It was really easy to understand how mountain climbers could get themselves into trouble – it was a really uncomfortable and mind fogging experience. But after 45 minutes of sucking in the big ones, we re-boarded the train to make the decent back down the mountain. With all of us sporting pretty decent headaches we were very happy to return to some thicker and oxygenated air. The whole experience was two much for the boys with both of them falling asleep on the journey home – all by 10:30am!
As a consequence we elected for a quiet afternoon, picking up some groceries and enjoying some water, caffeine and heavy breathing. Once we’d recovered we decided to head to one of Colorado Spring’s key attractions, Native American Cliff Dwellings. Unfortunately the weather decided to
The Siamese Twins
Nicky liking the scenery!
play its hand and it closed in pretty quickly with storm and rain clouds. Rather than brace the weather we decided to head to the picturesque town of Manitou Springs, just a short drive from our accommodation. Although not a true ‘Alpine Town ‘, Manitou Springs was bristling with character, hosting a main street of beautiful old buildings and an eclectic mix of shops. One of these shops was the Manitou Springs ‘Penny Arcade’. This was a sprawling complex full of amusements dating back as far as the 1950’s through to more recent arcade games. The great thing about the Penny Arcade was that all games still bore the same price as when it was released. As a result the kids, John and I were able to spend the entire rainy afternoon being entertained for a mere handful of quarters. I had a few flashbacks with Pac Man, Galaga, Operation Wolf and The Ninja Turtles, however the most popular game by far was Skee-Ball which dates back to 1909! We had an absolute blast belting the old wooden balls around in a vain attempt to win the coveted ‘red tickets’ which would in turn get us absolutely nothing from shop
Fi with her boys
More of the Garden of the Gods with the Rocky Mountains in the background....
front! The kids had an absolute blast though! After exhausting ourselves at the arcade we returned home for a welcomed early night.
The next morning we visited another of Colorado Springs great attractions – ‘The Garden of the Gods’. One of the US’s most popular parks, the Garden of the Gods is an amazing display of jagged redstone rocks that would look more at home in Arizona than the rocky mountains. The park had numerous loop roads and paved hiking trails which allowed us to easily visit all the parks attractions, all with Nicky on his scooter! We walked our way through mushroomed pedestal formations, and towering jagged pinnacles all against the back drop of the immense Rocky Mountains. The park was packed full of visitors, and Nicky threaded his way expertly through the crowds on his scooter. Patrick in particular had a fantastic time, climbing over the formations and exploring as far and wide as he possibly could. After a few hours of hiking he was devastated when we called it a day and once again headed for the Native Indian Dwellings.
However, luck once again was not on our side as the
Red Rock Canyon Hiking
Paddy once again enjoying climbing on any rock feature we visited!
line up to go to the attraction was ridiculously long. Once again we decided not to visit and instead headed for ‘Red Rock Canyon’ at Patrick’s request to do some more hiking. His energy and excitement was insatiable. For a further two hours we hiked amongst more stunning rock formations with Paddy climbing over every inch of every formation we’d let him climb on. He crawled into caves, climbed through rock tunnels, scaled rocks faces and raced along the hiking paths. With the adults thoroughly exhausted we headed home for a plate of Spag-Bol, and enjoyed watching Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark on the VHS system in the house. The quality was stunning!
The next morning we checked out of our hotel and tried for a third time to visit the Indian Cliff Dwellings. Fortunately this time the weather was on our side and we were up early enough to beat the crowds. The Cliff Dwellings were once the home of the Anasazi Indians who roamed the South West of the United States between 1200 BC and 1300 AD. They built basic dwellings from bricks amongst the cliffs to provide protection from both
the elements and potential enemies. Unlike most ancient structures and attractions, we were actually openly encouraged to climb through and amongst the ruins to explore the manner in which this ancient Indian culture lived. As we explored the structures, we felt a little uneasy as to why the structures were in such good condition and they would allow us to climb all over them. With a quick Google search we discovered that these dwellings were indeed a reconstruction (from 1904) of the ancient dwellings that lie several hundred miles to the southwest. However, they had been recreated from the ruins of an original settlement. One couldn’t help but feel a little ripped off. At no point was it ever highlighted that the dwellings were reconstructions, and in fact it was obvious that there were attempts to deliberately mislead tourists as to the origin of the structures. Descriptions of the dwellings explains how walls had ‘collapsed’ to expose ‘rock art’, all of which were a complete fabrication. I was bloody dirty on the whole place for this – it was criminal they were explicit that the dwellings were reconstructions. I still would have visited the dwellings and paid the same price
The Collegiate Mountains
Stopped to enjoy the view on our drive to Breckenridge. The background is the Collegiate Mountain Range and the town of Buena Vista.
knowing that they were reconstructions, but was bloody annoyed that we’d been deliberately misled – worst tourist attraction I’ve been to (despite it being really interesting and educational).
Following my tirade (which everyone had to endure) we grabbed a coffee and left Colorado Springs heading for Breckenridge deep in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. The road steadily climbed through a series of small towns until we hit about 9,500 feet where the Rockies seemed to hit almost a plateau. The roads dropped into what could probably be described a huge meadow fringed by rocky peaks rising 14,000 into the air. The land was quite fertile with thickly grassed meadows and wildflowers were set against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks - it was really quite beautiful. We made an impulse decision to take the ‘scenic’ route and headed towards the township of Buena Vista. Nestled against the Collegiate Mountains, Buena Vista is a town renown for its white water rafting which seemed to be the lifeblood of the place. However with Paddy and Nick in tow this was never going to be an option. Instead, we drove our way through deep ravines surrounded by crumbling rocky hills
The boys enjoying swimming in the hot springs.
to a natural hot spring. With four pools of varying temperatures from 43 – 34 degrees, it was a fantastic place to spend a cool alpine afternoon. The kids had an absolute blast treating it like a swimming pool rather than a relaxing thermal spa, although the other adults in the spa weren’t as appreciative!
After a couple of hours floating around in the alpine host springs (of which the most significant element was arsenic!) we finished the drive up to the beautiful village of Breckenridge. From the first moment of driving into the town we were struck with how beautiful the place was. Established in the 1850’s, the township is full of beautifully maintained cedar and stone buildings at the foot of towering snow covered mountains. More wildflowers covered the sides of the roads and were hung in baskets on the corner of every street – it was really postcard stuff. We checked into our unit and ducked to two blocks down to the main street for dinner. We crossed over a crystal clear stream bubbling through town to have dinner in a lovely reconstructed floating dredge in the middle of town – the kids thought
This photo was taken on the side of the road on our way up to Breckenridge....not a scenic lookout or anything, just an amazing place.
it was pretty spectacular.
The next morning we strolled down the road and enjoyed a free ride up the Breckenridge slopes on the town’s gondola. The gondola is one of the best public transport systems I’ve had the pleasure to ride, and it is a great piece of town planning. The gondola provides a free form of transport for the snow heads to get from the town up to the base of the ski runs to jump the chair lift to the top of the slopes – bloody fantastic idea! We arrived at the base of the slopes to find a temporary amusement park set up as family entertainment for the summer…needless to say, things did not go well with the kids when we elected not to partake in the viciously overpriced tourist trap. After narrowly avoiding a short-lived tantrum turning into an epic meltdown we ‘gondoliered’ back down to the town and wandered the shops for the afternoon. With rain threatening we retired to the hotel and kicked the footy with the boys for the afternoon while waiting for the rain which never eventuated. When the rain decided not to show up Fiona and I took
The Breckenridge Gondola
The kids really enjoyed the ride on the Gondola, and it was free!
the boys on a short hike. One of the amazing things about Breckenridge is we were able to walk a block from the house and find a stunning hiking trail which tracked along a beautiful mountain stream through a thick pine forest – it was just amazing. The kids had a great time walking through the forest and throwing rocks in the stream – it was lovely to see the boys developing a love of the outdoors and enjoying the plants and animals in this stunning place.
The next day jumped in the car to explore a number of the alpine towns in the area. Nearly all the villages are clustered around ski locations and are supported almost exclusively by the tourism industry in both summer and winter. The winter sports speak for themselves, but the resort towns are still quite popular in summer due to outstanding mountain biking, cycling and hiking. Nearly all the towns were linked by a dedicated cycle path which snaked its way along the mountain streams and roads throughout the area. Hundreds of cyclists were enjoying the spectacular environment and challenges of high altitude training….whilst it was great to see, there was
The family taking a hike just beyond where our accommodation was.....pretty nice!
way too much lycra and not a single pair of courtesy shorts in sight!
The first of the villages we visited was the rather lavish town of Vail. Like all towns in the region, Vail enjoys beautiful mountain vistas, but what differentiates Vail is that it has been modeled on European alpine times and is accordingly beautiful. Everywhere we looked in this town it was like a postcard – I could barely stop taking photos as we wandered through the narrow streets and along the river front walk. We found a fantastic little playground in the middle of town for the boys to vent a bit of energy while we took turns to wander the boutiques or just enjoy the stunning views. We then ambled down to the chairlifts and followed the mountain stream along the front of the town. We found a beautiful picnic table in the shade of a number of alpine pine trees nestled against the stream. The boys had a fantastic time playing on the edge of the stream and then decided to join a couple of other boys by taking their shoes off and walking around in the shallows of the frigid
Was like walking around a European Alpine town....everything looked like a bloody postcard!
river. After about ten minutes their poor little feet and hands were absolutely freezing so we pulled them out of the water to thaw out before heading further into town.
One of the more interesting finds along our walk was the indoor ice skating arena where the local youth team was having a training session. The boys were fascinated to see the kids skimming along the ice and coming seemingly dangerously close to the glass wall which we were standing behind. Was a great genuine North American experience. We then stopped for a coffee and let the boys run wild in a small area covered in artificial turf which would normally be an ice skating rink in winter. A number of the local shops had provided soccer balls so the kids ran around and blew off a bit more steam while the adults enjoyed some caffeine and people-watched. The remarkable thing about Vail was how ‘un-American’ it felt. Everyone there seemed to be speaking another language or have accents; it was truly a worldly little town. In fact when we saw the American flag hanging in front of a shop, it looked oddly out of place!
This is a kid's playground Vail Style!
For the rest of the day we visited Avon, Beaver Creek, Copper Mountain, and Frisco before heading back to Breckenridge. We spent a good half an hour driving aimlessly around Avon searching for a whitewater course which John was interested in seeing from his Olympic Kayaking days. We then found a similar course in Frisco, but the summer streams weren’t flowing hard enough for them to be used.
The following day was our last in Breckenridge, so we packed up the car and decided to do some more exploring on the way to Denver. Unfortunately we let Nicholas’ bananas handing in the kitchen of the apartment, so hopefully they clean it soon! The scenic route we followed wound it’s way up the mountains affording commanding views of Frisco and it’s surrounding lake. We then headed through Keystone, a family friendly ski resort area before continuing to climb and climb. We’d been expecting to be gradually descending as we were making our way out of the Rockies, so we were quite surprised to climb through 10,000 feet and keep going! We eventually topped out right on 12,000 feet as we hit Lovelock pass, only about 150 feet short
Just on 12,000 feet above sea level...views were awesome!
of the highest pass in the US. The views from the pass were spectacular – the cars traversing the I70 interstate thousands of feet below looked like ants crawling across the country. However, apparently the views weren’t good enough for Paddy who insisted we hike further up one of the high features next to the pass. The air was pretty thin at 12,000 feet, so we were sucking in the big ones as we clambered up the hillside. Fiona did a great job as she hadn’t considered the prospect of an impromptu hike and was wearing thongs. However, we were rewarded for the climb by even more amazing views of the towering mountains and deep valleys that make up the US Continental Divide. However, with the prospect of ensuing headaches from the altitude we ventured back to the car and started the descent to Denver.
We dropped about 7,000 feet in 40 miles and drove into ‘The Mile High’ City. We’d decided to fork out a bit of extra dough for a fancy pants hotel and were staying in the heart of Denver. We’d managed to jag a fantastic location, right on the 16th
Street Mall, which
16th Street Mall
The boys banging away on one of the free Pianos along the mall.
is a 1.6 mile pedestrian street lined with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. We checked into the hotel and set about exploring the Denver downtown. One of the first things we noticed is that the people seemed much fitter in Denver than any other area of the US. The outdoor lifestyle created by the environment clearly attracted more health conscious people which was confirmed by a quick Google search with Denver being the ‘skinniest’ city in the US. The second thing we noticed was the erratic piano playing and a seemingly high and shirtless man sitting at an upright piano on the side of the street outside Starbucks. The city of Denver has installed a number of brightly coloured pianos along the length of the mall for people to play and enjoy as they desire. Great idea in theory, but at the hands of our stoned pianist, it sounded like a drunken monkey mashing the ivory!
We walked past the very impressive State Capital and Courthouse buildings to the modern and interestingly designed Denver Art Museum. Typically, visiting an art museum with a 6 and 3 year old would be nothing but a recipe for disaster, however
Here's John and Judy in front of the Colorado State Court which faced the equally impressive Colorado State Capital Building and was surrounding by beautiful gardens.
the Denver Art Museum had cleverly considered this and developed a very family friendly approach to viewing art. The museum was spread across seven floors and two buildings, and included multiple ‘create and take’ spaces in little alcoves on every floor. These stations were based upon similar themes of the art on each floor – in the Native American exhibit the boys ‘beaded by numbers’, while in the Colombian Art section the boys made and decorated cardboard treasure chests. The way the museum had provided entertainment on each floor allowed Fiona and I to tag team and still enjoy the art on display while entertaining the kids and ensuring they had a great time. The museum also had an excellent display of uniquely native and contemporary American art along with European renaissance art work – it was an outstanding museum. After spending close on four hours (which must be a record for the boys) we braved the inclement weather and headed back to 16th
Street to find some dinner. We had a fantastic time wandering the mall looking for some chow – the place had a very friendly and lively feel. The free hybrid ‘mall buses’ took people down to
Denver Art Museum
Nicky sitting proudly with his treasure chest having completed his Native American themed 'beading by numbers'.
Coors Stadium to watch the ‘Colorado Rockies’ baseball team play, while rickshaw riders and horse and cart owners drummed up business from those of foot. The tee-lined mall was brilliantly lit and with several buskers and live bands belting out tunes and creating a real party atmosphere. We found a pizza joint and sat outside, enjoying watching the variety of people wandering the streets. I actually enjoyed a gluten free pizza that I shared with Fiona (amazing, I know) and tucked into a beer float of some excellent local brews. John and Judy then volunteered to host the boys in the ‘sleep over’ in their room to let Fiona and I head for a drink. It had been so long since we’d had adult time that we almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves! We decided on a bit of a pub-crawl up the strip enjoying a cocktail or two in a couple of different places. The highlight was the jalapeño cocktail which Fiona ordered – it was lip burningly hot! All good things come to an end, and the party animals called it a night and still managed to make it in bed by 11pm……how things have changed!
A storm rolls in across the great plains, with one of the numerous wind farms which dot the flat prairie in the foreground.
The next day we decided to head home a little earlier than planned to try to get home for Nicholas’ fourth birthday. We originally planned on postponing it a few days and celebrating it a few days late, but after travelling for a week we though getting home with spare day to have Nicky’s birthday and to relax before work was a good idea. Unfortunately the gluten free pizza decided that it would pay us another visit and Fiona and I spent the morning running for the toilet – not the ideal circumstances for 9 hours of I70 purgatory on the way home!!
One of the more interesting things about Colorado is that the state has legalized the sale of marijuana. As a result ‘dispensaries’ sporting the solid green cross symbol have popped up everywhere. It didn’t seem to matter where we were, we could always have easy access to some weed if we needed it – gives new meaning to ‘Rocky Mountain High’, but I can assure you that our experience was ‘au naturel’. We really enjoyed our time in Colorado – whilst the mountains were both colourful and ruggedly beautiful, they also created a very outdoor and healthy culture in those people who lived amongst them. The food and drink was both local and fresh, and the people were fit and friendly. It provided a great atmosphere for traveling and exploring the region and we felt that of all the places in the US we have explored, Colorado was certainly the most livable place we’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
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