Colorado Vacation, March 2004

Hey, Wassup? Brian and I just got back from a week in Colorado. His sister LaDonna, brother Aaron and nephew Christopher (he’s 6) live there. We had most of our week kinda scheduled with stuff we wanted to do, or what Brian wanted to show me.
We left home on Friday and had to spend the first night in Anchorage with friends. Then, finally, after flying through Salt Lake City, UT we got to Colorado Springs, CO – where Brian grew up (we’ll, he tried to anyway!) Right away we went out for pizza. Brian had been talking-up this pizza place where he’d gone since he was just a little kind, for months – now we got to go. It was called Roman Villa. It was alright (don’t tell him I said that, he thinks it’s the best stuff in the world). Like Brian had said, there was a photo of he, Aaron and LaDonna as kids posted on the board behind the cash register. Anyway, we had sausage and mushroom, it was alright.

Sunday LaDonna and I went shopping. There’s not much choice in Fairbanks for clothes and stuff, so I figured I deserved at least 1 day shopping. We left the boys (Brian, Aaron and Christopher) at home with their video games for a few hours. We all met up at a Chinese restaurant called P. F. Chang’s. There’s one in Boston I was at once, have you been? That was yummy! We had tons of food. I ordered duck and raw tuna, although we were supposed to be sharing, no one wanted any of mine. I got to eat tastes of their’s and all of mine! We got this fried honey banana thing with mango ice cream for dessert. Mmmmm!
On Monday Brian and I kinda lounged around. We took our time driving in the mountains. We went to a place Brian used to work (Seven Falls) in North Cheyenne Canyon near a rather huge mountain called Pike’s Peak. We then went to a tourist town called Manitou Springs were there were places natural springs with a nasty variety of metals and other minerals in the water used to flow out. We drove through a place called Old Colorado City and stopped at a rock shop. I called dad and we drove the poor rock shop owner nuts looking at things and asking if he had stuff that fluoresced for dad. We finally bough a little small pink cubic mineral specimen called rhodochrosite.It's from a local mine called the Sweethome Mine in Alma, CO. It may fluoresce, I haven’t checked it yet. Then at night we went to visit some people who lived in a suburb of Denver, called Lakewood, CO. Bill and Pat were volunteers at the park I used to work at in Alaska (Katmai) when I was a Ranger (the park with the bears and salmon). They took us to a place called Red Rocks. It’s a giant amphitheater completely in a red rock formation (duh!). The local high schools have their graduations there, and sometimes there are rock concerts there and stuff. It was pretty cool. We stayed at Bill and Pat’s in Lakewood Monday night.
A cute shot by our friend Bill while at Red Rocks.

Rhrodocrosite from the Sweethome Mine, CO on exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

While there I emailed Joel, another Ranger I knew from my years working at Katmai . He's now a permanent full-time Ranger at Colorado National Monument - about 100 mi. west of Glenwood Springs. We did get to chat, but Brian and I never made it out there to visit him.

Tuesday we went with Pat to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. There we went to an exhibit on Machu Picchu in Peru. It was called Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas and it's ..."the largest exhibition on the Inca culture, art and community assembled in the United States". Then we looked at the stuffed animal exhibits, kinda like at the Natural History Museum at Harvard. We had lunch at the Museum T-Rex Café (this will be important to note later!) and continued on to the way cooler stuff, the gems and minerals and carved gems. Coors had donated part of the rhrodocrosite seem that was found at the Sweethome Mine as an exhibit to walk through. They also displayed a fist sized rhomb of rhrodocrosite from the mine. This "find" prompted rhodochrosite to be the state mineral of Colorado! The “Carved Gems” were actually little figurines that a Russian man had carved. They were very detailed, pretty cool.

Tuesday night we made dinner for LaDonna and Christopher. Brian made grilled chicken, pepper and onion fajitas and I made a key lime pie with some of the bottled key lime juice I'd bought while shopping with LaDonna at Williams Sonoma on Monday. LaDonna's friend Charelene and her daughter Lani joined us too. It was quite yummy. Brian also made homemade mango salsa and guacamole. Charelene and LaDonna were into a reality tv series America's Next Top Model, so we sat and watched it with them. In the way of most reality tv, this was pretty much right up there with all the ridiculous things people watch. Although I will say, we don't get this at home, but I have checked to see who the winner was.

At this point, I'll briefly explain why I stayed in bed or on the couch all day Wednesday! Early Wednesday morning, (2:33am to be exact), I began an antagonistic relationship with my belly. It lasted for many hours, and included four trips to the facilities. I finally overcame and won the fight - after 9am! No one else who I ate dinner with got sick, so Brian dutifully called the Denver Museum of Nature and Science Museum T-Rex Café to report the possibility of some bad food going around the previous day. Luckily I hadn't finished reading the mystery novel I'd brought for the plane ride. It's the latest out in paperback, Flashback, from my favorite mystery author, Nevada Barr. (High Country isn't out in paperback yet). These are terrific mysteries set in National Parks with the heroine Park Ranger Anna Pigeon sleuthing - very good, especially humorous if you've ever been a Ranger. So this was my chance to lounge around, recuperate, sleep and read. I nibbled on some toast and minestrone soup and can't imagine when I'll be able to eat guacamole again!

Wednesday night Brian went to visit some of his old college roommates, both of whom are married, one of which has a 2-year-old son, the other of which is very pregnant. Although they were very excited to meet me, I was unable to go. Brian had fun though. Issiah, the two-year old, apparently had his room blue and orange (duh, obviously he's a Broncos fan!).

Thursday we took off, as planned, for Glenwood Springs, in western CO. Almost a decade ago Brian had spent a year there working 3 jobs and skiing. He worked at the Italian Underground as a bus boy (The Italian restaurant in town), The Ramada Inn as a cook and at Sunlight Mountain Resort as a ski lift operator. We took our time driving first north and then hanging a sharp louie just south of Denver. We cruised past Red Rocks and Lakewood again, on to new territory. We took I-25 to I-70 and then I-70 all the way, and instead of going through the Eisenhower Tunnel (the highest vehicular tunnel in the world), we drove Loveland and Vail Passes. It's a very pretty drive. We pulled off in Vail, but couldn't find a parking space to save our lives, so we continued on. Glenwood Canyon is one amazing stretch of road! Not a coincidence, Glenwood Canyon is right before Glenwood Springs. We pulled into town, parked the car and just walked around for an hour or so. Brian said in order to not be stuck in a line waiting to get into The Italian place, we'd better be there when they open (they're only open 5-10pm). Anyway, we couldn't check in at the AYH Glenwood Springs (The Hostel) until 4pm.

Getting a tan at Vail Pass.

An amazing stretch of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon.
Image from
Matthew E. Salek

So we looked at the shops and a good bookstore (where we asked about good places for breakfast for tomorrow), and finally decided to have a beer at the new-to-Brian Colorado Brew Pub at The Hotel Denver. We got a sampler of beers, 8 in all I think, and had ourselves a fun time chatting with the locals (even got a little gitty, 1 of the "beers" was barley win!). The it was off to the Italian Underground for dinner. Now, my tummy was still rather upset at the events of early Wednesday but I managed to scarf down bread with garlic butter, a dinner salad, our appetizer of sausages and peppers rolled in dough and baked served with meaty marinara sauce, which was then followed by 1/2 a roasted chicken with pasta and marinara sauce. Brian had the lasagna Of course we managed to squeeze in dessert (our first of two for the night) of spumoni. Mmmmmm. And sure enough, there was a line out the door when we left. There was a waitress and a bar tender still working there who Brian worked with a decade ago - spooky!

We walked back to the Hostel and napped off dinner before heading to The pool. Now you may not know it, but Glenwood Springs is home of the largest hot-springs-fed pool in the world! No, I am not kidding.

Glenwood Springs Lodge and Pool
It is gy-normous! Just look at this photo from the homepage of the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool. About 3/4 of the pool is 405 feet long and 100 feet wide at the widest point and is kept at ~90 degrees F (32 degrees C). The hot section (remaining 1/4) is 100 feet long and it's ~104 degrees F (40 degrees C). They mix cold water into the unadulterated "hot-springs" to get it down to ~104 degrees F.

For $13 each we could use the locker rooms and the pool until close, 10pm. I don't remember what time we actually left, we spent at least an hour, maybe two in the pool. We decided to go back to the Hotel Denver's Colorado Brew Pub for dessert (# two) I believe we got tirimisu. We also had ~2-3 pitchers of water - all that soaking makes one thirsty! Brian got a t-shirt from the pub, and we slowly started our way back to the Hostel. We formulated a plan for tomorrow (which was our 2-year anniversary)!

As you may know, life in a Hostel generally goes late, and gets up early. We were up and out by 8 or 9am! Remember the bookstore we went to yesterday, we took their advice and had a great breakfast at The Daily Bread. Bakery and Cafe (not affiliated with the mid-west chain). It was so good! We got a pound of their specially roasted coffee (roasted along the Roaring Fork Valley) for our friends we left JR (our dog) with. Brian also partook in their homemade tabasco sauce on his huge egg, potatoes, sausage and veggie scramble.

Thursday, while shopping around like tourists, we noticed a tram head up the mountain behind the Hotel Colorado. After some questioning of the locals at the bar, and confirmation by a local rock shop employee, we were convinced that not only could anyone ride the tram, the destination were the local limestone caves which could be toured. All for a price of course. We decided to begin the dad (post food and coffee of course) with this opportunity for a good view of the town, and a chance to explore the caves. The entirely privately owned and operated tour operation, Glenwood Caverns, was alright as far as these types of things go. For a mere $17 each we got to ride the tram up to the caves and peruse the grounds and gift shop while waiting for our tour to begin. We went on the 1.5 hour Cave Tour. This was amusing for me. The difficulty was in the abysmal geologic information presented by our tour guide. There wasn't any information on how caves form, or why, and then it go really scary when he said that the high, divided ceiling of an area of the cave was from plate tectonics. Needless to say, Brian and I quickly hung at the back of the group, realizing that were weren't going to get much out of the guide, so we just explored on our own (sort of, we still had to be with the group). The terminology was humorous, they had stalactites which were called bacon fat, and stalagmites that looked like Emmy or Academy Award trophies (can't remember which one). Look below! There was also a pretty cool quartz vein in the entry/exit cave hall!

Glenwood Springs as viewed from Exclamation Point, a landing who's access was blasted from the caves by a previous land owner and tour operator.

Glenwood Springs from the top of the tram at the Exclaimation Point Resturant. Grand Mesa in the back (the flat, butte looking one)
on the right is Red Mountain and the far left is Storm King Mountain. Flowing between them all is the Colorado River.

Bacon fat Stalactite

Quartz vein in limestone cave


Trophy Stalagmite

We then took off en route to Aspen along the Roaring Fork River Valley, Historic Highway 82. We passed towns with the names Basalt and Marble. The two lane in each direction road was pretty smooth going (i.e. no traffic) and took ~1 hour to reach Aspen. We did get to park and walk around here for a while. They had a fancy-smancy McDonald's which did not have giant arches, or a tall sign towering over the venue. According to an Aspen Daily News arcticle it's pretty posh inside too. We visited a cafe/record/music store and toured some of the more enormous houses (not the houses, just drove around the neighborhood). In the winter, there's only 1 road in and out of Aspen, and it's the same road - so back to Glenwood Springs we went.

Food, per usual, was on our minds.... but where to go? We found another great cafe and got bagel sandwiches and I got a still-warm brownie for the road. We took Route 24, essentially a country road with a speed limit of 75mph in places and reaching elevations above 14,000 feet. It's an impressive road, on upon which people keep journals when they drive it. Check out Notes along Route 24, Tennessee Pass photo by T. Thomas Cheng, and's Route 24. It was very pretty. We even saw a group dog mushing, drove through minning towns, where they still mine, and upon leaving CO, we could see the road from the plane. It looks like we drove on and on for hours (well, we did actually).

Tennessee Pass by T. Thomas Cheng

Conway's Red Top ad.
Saturday, day of departure, we got up and had pancake breakfast, packed, read, watched tv, did laundry.... and then had lunch at Conway's Red Top, The burger place in Colorado! These things are the size of dinner plates - humongous! I actually had beef stew and salad, not bad. LaDonna and Brian each gobbled a burger, and Christopher dined on french fries (which happen to come with his cheezy macaroni tenders). We dropped by a books store to re-stock our traveling literature supply (I wound up with a book I'd read before, but didn't remember it until I was reading it at the airport, Girl in Hyacinth Blue) and then we were off! It was a great vacation, and thanks to those of you who gave us great suggestions and trip ideas and a warm dry place to stay complete with running water! What a treat!


Updated 03/08/13
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