Colorado trip report
Whenever there’s a chance for someone else to pay for any portion of a vacation, I’ll jump at it. And so it was that we vacationed in Colorado in April. I had a work conference to attend in Denver, and tacked on a few days before and a day after. As always, click the photos for better pics.
We were supposed to leave Richmond around 7:30 a.m., but were delayed with a mechanical issue. We made our connection in Chicago with little time to spare, but all was well. We flew into Denver, and took a shuttle to the Enterprise car rental. (I was to become quite familiar with that shuttle.) This was the first time I had rented through Enterprise, and it was a good experience. I rented through Costco, and got a really terrific rate.
We had planned to grab something to eat in Chicago, but that didn’t work out due to the delay, so by the time we landed in Denver, we were ready to gnaw off our arms. On the way out of the area, we stopped at the Sporting News Grill. Not bad, not great – typical chain food, with pleasant service.
Then it was off to Colorado Springs. I had reserved a king room at the Lodge at the Garden of the Gods Club for three nights. This is a members-only club that happened to also have a small hotel. I had liked them on Facebook prior to booking, and got a great Facebook deal which included breakfast each morning.
The view from our room literally took our breaths away. We looked out directly onto the Garden of the Gods, from a hill across the road and above the Visitor’s Center. Seriously, it was an amazing view. We saw lots of rabbits on the hill outside our window.
The room itself was also amazing. And big. Huge, really. In addition to the comfy bed, there was a loveseat, end table, coffee table, desk and chair, and small round table in front of the gas fireplace, over which hung a good-size tv. And plenty of extra space in addition. The wall of sliding glass door had full-length shutters on tracks, and the balcony had a table and two chairs. The bath had a separate room was toilet and shower, then two separate sinks and vanities, a makeup area with mirror and stool, a walk-in closet, and a wall of cabinetry for clothing that also held the coffee supplies, safe and mini-fridge. Did I mention that the room was big? I overheard one of the sales agents later telling someone that the smallest room was over 500 square feet. One neat thing about the bathroom: it was wired with speakers for the tv, so I could hear the news while I was getting ready.
We headed to Mass at the local Catholic church, which was a pretty vibrant parish and an enjoyable service. Then began the hunt for food. For some reason, I hadn’t really done my usual planning for restaurants in Colorado Springs. We drove around a bit, stopped in nice looking Italian place, but realized it was more food than we wanted that evening. We wound up in the downtown area, and stopped at a neighborhood place called Panino’s, which was a bit better than adequate. Driving back to the hotel, I was quite taken with the beautiful homes around the Colorado College campus.
We woke up to snow! It quickly melted from most the areas around us, though Pike’s Peak remained clouded over most of the morning. We later learned that the summit of Pike’s Peak had remained closed due to high winds, so I was glad we hadn’t made our reservations for today!
We had reservations at 1 p.m. for brunch at the Broadmoor Hotel, so we spent the morning at the Garden of the Gods. The visitor’s center people were helpful, and they have a nice video there for $5 that explains how the garden was formed.
Then it was off into the Garden. It really is a beautiful place, and you can spend as little or as long as you’d like there. The road through it is about 3 ½ miles long, I think, so if you just drive it, it can be quick.
But why would you not want to get out and walk among the rock formations? It was quite a site to us Easterners, unused to red rock formations. There are trails of varying intensities throughout the park, and it doesn’t take a far walk to really be in the middle of giant formations. I saw a sign warning about staying on the trail due to the possibility of rattlesnakes, and even though it was April and the snakes were undoubtedly snug in their homes, I thereafter kept straight to the center of the paths!
On the other side of the park from the visitor’s center is the Trading Post, which is quite large and offers a good selection, including some better art and jewelry.
Next it was onto the Broadmoor. I had actually wanted to splurge and stay there, but there weren’t rooms (of the cheaper variety) available for all the nights we were in town. My brother had gotten married at the Broadmoor several years ago, and mom’s pictures were so pretty that I wanted to see it. And Charlie, of course, was in heaven with the variety of food. The Sunday brunch is pricey, but worth a splurge. Be forewarned: if you park on the property, there’s an additional parking charge.
We arrived early, but didn’t have a problem getting seated. The dining room was exquisite, the servers were extremely pleasant and attentive, the presentation was fabulous, and the food was really good, particularly for an all-you-can-eat brunch. And there was a lot of it! Meats carved to order, a seafood area, salad bar (who would eat ordinary salad in the face of such choices?!), cheese board, egg station, waffles, pancakes, sides, fruit . . . and, of course: desserts!
After stuffing ourselves to the gills, we walked around the property a little, but it was cold and windy, with more bad weather threatening, so off we went to the Air Force Academy. It’s a bit of a drive from the downtown area, and when we got there, there were still large patches of snow around. The visitor’s center had the requisite gift shop and film. We were going to walk the trail from the visitor’s center to the chapel, but when we came out, big fluffy flakes were falling, so we drove.
The chapel is quite a site to behold, with spires raising up to the sky. There’s two levels, with the bottom level being the Catholic , Muslin and Jewish chapel (though everything was very Catholic-looking to me), and the top level being the Protestant chapel. They had CDs of the Air Force choir with an honor-box, but we didn’t have more than a couple of dollars cash between us. I still wish we took one and mailed them a check later!
Given how much we ate at The Broadmoor, we skipped dinner tonight.
It was very windy that evening, and the blowing of the wind noise outside the door to our room was, by turns, spooking, disconcerting, annoying and funny. It was nice to get in the room and turn the fireplace on!
The morning brought lots of sun and a warm forecast. We took advantage of the free breakfasts at the hotel this morning. Good service, good food, and a terrific view. I was getting spoiled by the pineapple, raspberries and blackberries that accompanied every breakfast we’d had in Colorado! The breakfast was quite big, and I took leftovers back to the room before heading out.
We had some time to fill before our trip to Pike’s Peak, and decided to go to Seven Falls. I asked our breakfast server if it was worth going to, and she said yes. Liar! It was a joke. We weren’t charged the full $10 per person admission, I think because the trails at the very top were closed due to ice. Even at a reduced priced, it wasn’t worth it. You can either climb 288 steps to the viewing platform halfway or so up, or take an elevator. From the viewing platform, you could climb more steps to the very top, where there are hiking trails. I’ve seen better falls in NY and Hawaii, and didn’t have to pay to see them.
We then went to Manitou Springs to walk around the town a bit before our reservation on the cog railroad to Pike’s Peak. The town is quite pleasant to stroll around. To us, it seems like a pretty hippie-type of place, and it was quite obvious who was a local and who was a tourist on the sidewalks. We had a good pizza at Marilyn’s, an expensive but good ice cream cone, wandered around some shops, and drank from one of the public fountains fed by the springs.
The railroad car itself was a little tight, and seats faced each other, so we got quite chatty with the couple we were across from. I would much rather take the railway than drive up to Pike’s Peak, so I could relax and really take in the scenery.
Alas, all was not well on the railway. Both Charlie and I had suffered a little from altitude sickness since arriving in Colorado Springs proper. Nothing serious, just headaches upon waking up and whenever we didn’t keep well hydrated. On the ride up to Pike’s Peak, Charlie started not feeling well. By the time we reached the top, he was monosyllabic and rushed outside to leave a souvenir of his own on the summit, if you know what I mean. We decided after that it was probably more motion-sickness than altitude, though I’m sure being 14,000+ feet above sea level didn’t help.
I got him settled in the snack bar/gift shop building, and out I went to explore and take pictures. There was a lot of snow, and the temperature was about 10 degrees or so. It had been calm when we got there, but for most of the time I walked around, the wind picked up. It was quite the experience!
Charlie managed to smile for a couple of photos before we got back in the rail car. As we descended, he didn’t really improve, which is when I started thinking it was more than altitude. The car operator told us about the races that are held to the top of the peak, and it’s amazing that the winners have times that are quite respectable for a regular marathon, much less a marathon involving sparse trails, dramatic inclines, high altitudes and snow!
Charlie was down for the count, so it was back to the hotel. He went straight to bed, while I had my leftovers from breakfast and watched tv.
It was another beautiful day. We had to leave Colorado Springs today, and I was sad to leave the spectacular view that had so entranced us. Charlie was feeling back to normal, so we had breakfast in the hotel again and headed for the Olympic Training Center. We didn’t do the full tour there due to time, but did a shortened version of it, as well as the visitor’s center and gift shop before heading back to Denver.
It was back to the airport area to turn in the rental car, then we took the shuttle back to the airport proper to grab a taxi to the Westin Hotel downtown where my conference was being held.
The Westin is on the 16th Street Mall, which is pedestrian except for the free buses that run its mile-long course. Our room was nice, but lacking in that beautiful view of Garden of the Gods! I have to say, the Westin didn’t seem like the 4-star hotel it is, and the amenities seemed frankly cheap.
We rode the shuttle its whole length and back to check out the restaurants and stores, then went back to the State Capitol and took the free tour. Having skipped lunch, we then decided on an early dinner at Smashburger.
Once again, a nice day, weather-wise, was in store. In fact, the whole time we were in Colorado, the weather was great, except for the snow earlier in the trip. It was windy most days, as is evidenced by my lovely hair in most of the photos.
It was the first day of my conference, so I met Charlie for lunch. After wandering a bit looking at our options, we settled on The Mellow Mushroom for sandwiches. I then went back to work, and Charlie took a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank.
We decided to go to the Colorado Rockies game that evening. I’m not a baseball fan at all, but figured I could do with seeing a major league baseball game once before I go toes-up. Coors Field is an easy walk from the hotel, only about eight blocks or so. We lasted seven innings, but when the temperature hit 59, I decided it was time to head to someplace warm! Dinner that evening was ballpark nachos.
I was going to be tied up all day until dinner, so Charlie went to the Bronco’s stadium and took a tour. He took a light rail there, but walked back (it was a bit of a haul, he said). The tour was $10 and included the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. He gave the stadium tour a big thumbs up!
Rather than go to the conference reception at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, we went to dinner was at Sam’s #3, a diner, where we indulged in a thick milkshake. The food was good, and Charlie went back the next morning for breakfast.
My work obligations were over at noon, so we had the afternoon free. We went to the Capitol and called a taxi from there to take us to Denver Botanic Garden. With lightish traffic and back roads, it was a little over $7 for the fare.
Because we’re members of our local botanical garden and have reciprocal membership, we got in free. The garden was beautiful, and had more things blooming than I thought, given the time of year. The ponds were empty, and I could only imagine how pretty it would be in another month or so.
We had lunch in the garden café, and generally just relaxed and enjoyed the day. I even got a bit sunburned.
We took another cab back to the Capitol area, and ran smack into the crowds heading to the local 4/20 demonstration. It was kind of funny: they were heading west, and Charlie and I were trying to cross them and head north. It was a definite case of “one (or two) of these things are not like the other!” We would never be mistaken for the younger, pot-smoking, hippie crowd!
Dinner was back at The Mellow Mushroom, for pizza this time. We splurged by getting a piece of chocolate fudge cake from the Cheesecake Factory for later in the room.
I took the Super Shuttle to the airport while Charlie slept in. Once again, I rode the shuttle to Enterprise, and got a rental car, then headed back downtown to check out of the hotel and pick Charlie up.
We headed toward Estes Park, and stopped in Boulder for breakfast. We thought of going to the Farmer’s Market and wandering the downtown area, but really wanted to make the most of our limited time. So we stopped at a restaurant we saw on the main road, Turley’s. It was the only bad experience of the trip, and we later mentally added a “d” to the name in light of our meal. It was, I guess as to be expected in Boulder, a crunchy, granola, healthy place. They didn’t have white bread or English muffins, and my home fries arrive heavily seasoned, despite no mention of this on the menu. Both our eggs were cold, and service was slow and a bit more than slightly condescending. I guess I deserved it, given my temerity in asking for white toast.
Onward to Estes Park. There was a major cycling event on the road to Estes Park, and we shared the road with around 100 cyclists for many miles.
What a beautiful place! We had a lovely time walking the downtown area, meandering in and out of shops, and especially enjoying Big Thompson River. We decided to take the Peak to Peak highway back, or at least part of it. As we were heading out of Estes Park, we ran smack into a large herd of elk ambling across the street and grazing by the road. No one else seemed particularly phased by this, but we were enthralled! Yes, that was me, pulled over on the side of the road, hanging out the window with a camera. Too cool.
But the cool was just beginning. A ways down the road, we turned a corner, and there was Lily Lake, postcard perfect. It was definitely worth a stop.
Our last breathtaking moment came when we happened upon the Chapel on the Rock, St. Catherine of Siena, outside Allenspark. Just beautiful!
The vacation is almost over. We head back to the airport area, where we grab a quick dinner at McAllister’s Deli, then check into LaQuinta. This is a great budget hotel to grab a few hours’ sleep before catching a flight. I head to Enterprise to drop the car off, then shuttle to the airport, then take the hotel shuttle back to the property.
Our flight leaves at 6 a.m., which means we’re looking at a 2:30 a.m. wake-up call – ugh! Charlie does some laundry, while I consolidate all our stuff for the flight. Thank goodness I won’t need to take any more Denver airport shuttles!