Colorado: drive home

Tuesday, July 23, we drove home from Colorado.

Again we did all 1000+ miles in one day. Again Andrew drove the whole way while I slept and read.

But we left earlier and we made fewer stops AND we gained an hour across time zones so we actually got home around 8p.

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We stopped once in Utah. Andrew was going a little wild  – wanting to climb every rock and mountain he saw.

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But it was just a short stop because we were both ready to get home.

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Last photo: the soundtrack of our trip …. all the cds we brought and listened to

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Colorado: Bear Lake

Of course we went to Rocky Mountain National Park on our last afternoon in Colorado. And, of course, we went on a completely easy, low-key “hike” so Andrew could stay awake on the drive the next day. Bear Lake parking lot is notoriously crowded. ALWAYS full. It serves as the main parking lot for several trailheads (long and short) and we all kinds of levels of hikers there. We parked pretty far away (basically the first spot we saw).

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Still gorgeous, and we can walk. No complaining.

Bear Lake “hike” is wheelchair accessible. Which means it was EASY ….. Which means it was crowded. Not terrible. Not as bad as I expected, but still pretty busy.

Once you get to the end of the parking lot there is a shuttle terminal (in case you had to park somewhere else), drinking fountains, and a couple bathrooms.

And the path through the trees to take you to the lake ….

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The Bear Lake hike is basically just an easy loop around the lake, but in all other directions are longer hikes to other lakes and other parts of the park.

Someday I’d like to come back and do one of the longer ones.

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There were points of interest all along the path – and I grabbed the little guide brochure that told us what we were looking at. Various types of plants, a tree that lived through getting struck by lightning. That kind of thing.

It was pretty easy to get to the water from the path, and there were big stones and some boulders all around so we could easily just sit with our feet in the water if we wanted….

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Lots of bright blue dragonfly-type insects in this water grass. …

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Around this spot we ran into a ranger*

*Tangent: If I were a park ranger this is the kind of assignment I would want. Walk around Bear Lake all day and answer tourists’ questions. ALMOST like being a tour guide, except way more low-key

*so we came across one of the rangers who, you know, got our attention, talked to us and then asked if this view looked familiar. Um, no? Should it?

Turns out the back of the Colorado state quarter is a view of Bear Lake. She, of course, was carrying a quarter on her, specifically for this purpose.

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The end! Like I said, really easy. Maybe 40 minutes or so and we were deliberately taking our time.

Before we leave Bear Lake, just a quick note re: the water fountains there. All the drinking fountains we came across in Rocky Mountain National Park had a spot where you could fill up a water bottle – not tipping the water bottle at a 45 degree angle so you could wedge it under the spout. An actual for-water-bottles spout. At Bear Lake, it was lower down on the side (see photo below) and reminded me of the water we got all over Rome.

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Then we headed home …. back through the park, back through the traffic.

Andrew was exhausted after 2 days of long hikes and then getting up earlyish that morning for the Stanley Hotel. We were planning on driving about 16 hours the next day, so back to Kevin’s house to rest.

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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park

SO Monday afternoon we spent at the Stanley Hotel which is in Estes Park, CO (part 1 and part 2 here). You know what else is in Estes Park? The entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park!

Obviously we went again… ESPECIALLY because our pass was still good, so we didn’t even have to pay another entrance fee. God bless the National Park system!

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This time, instead of turning right and heading up the Trail Ridge Road, we turned left / south toward Bear Lake.

We stopped first at this visitor’s center just inside the park entrance. I don’t remember what it was called, and I can’t look it up because ‘government shutdown’ apparently means making entire websites inaccessible. Even though they are obviously still paying for the site’s hosting. Whatever.

Anyway … the visitor’s center was closed anyway. But we parked, got out, checked out the view. It is SO gorgeous there!

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Back in the car and a little bit farther down the road we could pull onto the shoulder and park, and then head down to this river/creek/stream (no idea what you would consider this one).

Shoes off. Feet in the water. It was a beautiful beautiful day.

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A ranger leading some horse-back-riding tourists walked by (between the river and the car)…. That would be so fun!

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Honestly, if I had a book I could have sat there ALL DAY.

But, we wanted to see a little bit more of the park since it was our last day…. back in the car for a little more driving.

The road to Bear Lake has construction (probably every summer), so we had to stop for awhile… You can see the line of cars behind me in the mirror.

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I kept looking up at the mountains, straining my eyes for any tiny little hint of movement and wildlife …

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Tomorrow, our “hike” around Bear Lake…

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Colorado: Stanley Hotel (part 2)

Continuing our tour of the Stanley Hotel...

(note: part 1 of the tour here …. or you can see the ghost tour we took a couple years ago in Scotland)

As I mentioned before … our tour guide Ryan couldn’t really GUIDE us from outside the guests’ rooms. But he did let us know what to expect, what we would be looking at, and would silently point out some stuff as well. (kind of like Jimmy, our tour guide for the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Italy)

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This is the front door of the CURRENT Presidential Suite. The original presidential suite started about 6-8′ closer to the camera, and took up I think 3 or 4 (now) rooms in the corridor.

Again, this is where Stephen King stayed when he got his inspiration for The Shining.

This is also where, in the 20s I think, there was a HUGE explosion and a housekeeper was severely injured. She didn’t die, but she is still rumored to haunt these rooms. Especially crawling into bed between an unmarried couple… because, you know. The scandal!

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OK. Let’s put your ghost hunting skills to work!

The collage below is 1 image – you should be able to click (twice) on it to see it bigger.

I want you to look at these images and tell me if you see a ghost. … or anomaly of some kind. All photos from Andrew’s cell phone.

This stairwell is called ‘the vortex’ and tends to have a lot of activity.

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This photo below is up in the bell tower. Apparently a guest scratched that there and the hotel decided to leave it :)

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Another one of the haunted rooms …. it *happened* to be being cleaned when we walked by (benefit of the 11a tour time) so the door was open for us to peek in.

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the LONG hallway (there were no creepy twins at the end though)

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And then after seeing the hallways and the (doors to the) rooms, we headed down to BELOW the basement … to see where the hotel was built on quartz and limestone.

Ryan claims that no one has ever died at the hotel (ghost hunting shows find non-hotel historians who say there have been deaths), so the hotel’s theory is these quartz and limestone is the power that holds the HAPPY spirits to the property and gives them energy. This big rock behind Ryan (in the photo below) is directly under the Vortex, (not) coincidentally.

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And with that the tour was over! Bummer. I love tours.

We didn’t want to pay hotel prices for food, so we took a quick glimpse of the bar (also inspired The Shining) and headed out.

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(the back of the hotel)

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I would definitely go back for a ghost hunt :)

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Colorado: Stanley hotel tour (part 1)

You all know I love guided tours. I love them. LOVE THEM. So when we found ourselves Sunday night with no definite plans for the next day I thought, “TOUR!” The Stanley Hotel – well known from inspiring The Shining and appearing in several ghost hunting shows – is in Estes Park. The hotel offers various ghost-hunting, history, fire engine and other tour options. The Stanley Hotel tour that we were able to book was just the first one listed : The Stanley Tour. Larger group, good overview, and LOTS of availability. We went online Sunday night and booked for 11a Monday morning.

We woke up, left Kevin at home (he claimed he was going to write, but who knows), drove to Estes Park. When we pulled into the parking lot we had to give the security guard our confirmation number that we actually had tour tickets before being allowed to park. Slightly weird, considering it is a hotel with a restaurant that you would think they want guests to visit.

The Stanley Hotel is kind of amazing …. I think I love it.

Learned recently that Kristen Schaal got married there and I am so jealous. Seems like a perfect blend of outdoors and historic mansion-ish.

It opened in 1909 … so not terribly old (not like Europe, or even New England) but old enough for the West. And old enough to have ghosts and all kinds of stories …

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While I would like to use this space to recount the hotel’s history and details … you should probably just read the Wikipedia article if you care.

First step was to FIND the tour. It’s in the basement, in case you’re wondering. There’s a whole room set up with a welcome desk-area near the door (where we checked in and got our tickets printed and our we’re-on-the-tour stickers) and then the rest of the room has rows of chairs and a TV screen.

Because it’s a working hotel, our tour did not include actually entering any of the guest rooms – instead they have produced a short, 5 min video that gives you a little tour of the (haunted) guest rooms. Just so you can see the inside.

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Our tour guide was this cute actor kid named Ryan. This is why I love guided tours – the guides are inevitably former or aspiring actors. I love actors :) Ryan is apparently a college student in Chicago, but has come to work at the Stanley for the last few summers.

Our first stop was the auditorium … a building separate from the main hotel, so we had a little bit of a walk.

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This auditorium is, I believe, a one-third replica of the Boston Philharmonic’s music hall (the Stanleys were from Boston). And Mrs. Stanley loved to play the piano so her ghost is rumored to hang out around here. Of course.

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Ryan was kind of great in that he pointed out the places where ghosts are rumored to have been seen, and then suggested we take multiple photos of the same spot so we can compare images for anomalies. Brilliant – catering to that kind of tourism :)

Obviously Andrew and I did just that.

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This room is below the auditorium …. It originally had a bar and a bowling alley for the men to … I don’t know. Hang out in? I’m not totally clear on when/why this room was used.

Now, though, it’s a piano graveyard. People hear that Mrs. Stanley loved pianos so they donate their vintage, period pianos to the Stanley. But Mrs. Stanley loved HER OWN pianos …. and these strangers’ pianos don’t really have a home anywhere. They live here under the auditorium (where, btw, I think they might have wedding receptions. We definitely saw a couple getting the tour while we were there).

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Next, past the main building to the outbuildings on the other side.

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That little balcony in the middle of the second floor (it’s also on the far left of the photo above) … ? That’s where Stephen King stayed when he got the inspiration for The Shining. The Presidential Suite (at that time). And it must have been some hell of an inspiration – the book was written, edited and on shelves 6 months later.

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F.O. Stanley and his brother made their fortunes in the photography (tech) business … but then, later in life, they got bored? We’ll call it inspired. And they started another company – Stanley Motor Carriage Company.

The Stanley Hotel has this small Stanley Steamer ‘museum’ that was part of the tour. This is why I love guided tours. I wouldn’t have even known to LOOK for this building otherwise, and without the guide I would only have a vague idea what I was looking at.

Sidenote: also on this side of the property is the pet cemetery that began way way at the beginning of the hotel’s being open. Dating back from the days when their guests were friends from back east coming for the summer. And bringing their pets. Apparently, this pet cemetery doesn’t have anything to do with Stephen King’s Pet Sematary … but you never know.

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then back to the front, main entrance of the hotel to tour the inside …. check out that view:

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First stop INSIDE the main hotel was the music room ….

Again, the piano is said to be haunted by Mrs. Stanley’s ghost. So don’t go past that velvet rope.

We also learned a bit more about Stephen King’s stay, how the hotel inspired the book, and all about why the Stanley Kubrick film wasn’t made there. Fascinating. I had no idea any of this stuff ….

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And then, Ryan took us to the landing in the main stairwell.

This is where he told us about the rooms and the ghosts and what to look for and a bit of the history of this part of the hotel. Again, because it is a working hotel, he couldn’t really stand out in front of some poor person’s hotel room and yell to 20 people about the room, so instead he gave us the low down right here…

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tomorrow … the rest of the tour …

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Colorado: at home and a hike

So, needless to say, after the long, exhausting hike on Saturday, when I woke up Sunday morning I was so so tired.

Plus, for whatever reason, my right shoulder was especially sore – I assume from carrying my big camera all day.

(nevertheless, I was still the first one up on Sunday morning. I just can’t get away from my early morning habits)

Andrew – love him – went out and got us big coffees. Kevin has a coffee pot, but it’s really for 1 person. I could drink a whole pot full myself, so a couple of the mornings we were in Colorado, Andrew just went to a local coffeeshop and bought us some. So we didn’t have to hover over Kevin’s machine making potfull after potfull for all 4 of us.

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While he was out, Andrew also stopped by a liquor store and bought about $100 worth of beer that you can’t get in California. We have a few friends who are beer connoisseurs. Including one who is actually the beer buyer for our local Whole Foods.

Yea, we brought all of that home with us …

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Kevin and Sam got up later in the morning …. and by then THEY were all ready to go for another hike.

I was not.

So Andrew, Kevin, Sam and the 2 dogs packed up water and snacks and left around 1p to go find another hike.

I stayed home and read and rested and worked a little bit.

All alone.

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(did the dishes, even, since apparently no one else in the house was going to)

By mid-late afternoon I was ready to head out and do something, but since I was all alone I didn’t end up leaving the house.

This is what Andrew was doing while I was lolling about …

They drove out to Nederland (where I think Kevin had been camping before) and found a trail:

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They had some spotty cell service, so at about 6p Andrew texted me and said “Just got to the end of the trail. We’ll be home around 9p.”

My immediate assumption was the trail was a loop and they got back to the car but it would take them 3 hours to drive home. SO confused.

Instead, he meant they got to the END of the trail, and had to turn around and come back …

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They ended up stopping for some A&W food on the way home, walked in a little after 9p and we watched (the first half of) The Hobbit.

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We both had good days (albeit separately)…. but now the problem was that I was all rested and ready for Monday and Andrew was not.

He’s a trooper though. Wait til you see what we did Monday (after he had spent basically 2 days hiking)

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Colorado: long hike near Estes Park

Saturday … it was time to get out of the house again. Hiking in Colorado is a MUST, obviously.

Kevin had told us that he found a little semi-private trail just in the middle of a residential area, kind of on the way to Estes Park. So we all 6 piled into his car after lunch to go for a hike!

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So I’m not exactly sure how Kevin stumbled across this trail. It is literally deep in a residential neighborhood, tiny little barely marked path off the side of the road across from someone’s house. He says the first time he hiked it, he ran into someone else who said that someone in the neighborhood basically built it, and it loops around.

That’s all we knew. Kevin hadn’t hiked the whole thing, but it looked like it went into a National Forest, so how bad could it be?

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Dogs went off leash almost immediately and LOVED it. Of course.

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At one point we crossed this stream. Someone had bolted boards to the actual boulders in the middle of the stream to make a path.

Kind of amazing.

Also very clear that this was not a government-sanctioned trail :) No way would the powers-that-be allow something like this!

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Up hill, around, across the water, up more hill …. to a look out.

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This pile of boulders and lookout is where Kevin stopped and turned around the last time that he hiked this trail.

We were possibly in the highest spot on the trail, with dark rain clouds moving in from the west. I believe Estes Park and the Rocky Mountains were to the right of us in the photo below.

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We took some time to rest and drink water and just enjoy the beautiful day…

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(and take photos of course)

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After a bit, it was back to hiking.We had gone slightly off the trail to get to the overlook, but we returned, slightly down the hill and kept going. Not far off where we joined the trail again it split off with a fork going toward another pile of boulders. We assumed it was another lookout and chose the other branch …

Which took us deeper into the forest ….

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( a short stop for snacks. Graham crackers turn out to be awesome hiking food )

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We came across this meadow (gorgeous) …. You could *barely* see the trail through all the knee-high plants.

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Eventually, near the bottom of the hill, the trail seemed to hit a road.

It looked like the trail actually just ended, with a small pathway to a dirt road – a ROAD, mind you. Not a trail.

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When Kevin did the hike before, the person he ran into had said that at one point you “lose the trail” for a little bit. So we assumed that’s what this was. We chose the direction on the road that would logically curve back toward where we started and where the car was parked. The very subtle curve we had been following the whole time.

The road was uphill though. And I was getting tired.

I won’t speak for the other 3 – but I was getting tired. We had been hiking about 2 hours by this time.

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And then we went around a little curve in the road and saw a gate blocking the road up ahead.

Um. What?

Walked all the way up to see this ….

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Yea. That says “Trail Ends. Turn Back. No Exceptions”

So that’s awesome.

What choice did we have? So, we turned around and went back the way we came. The whole time keeping our eyes peeled for where the trail may have continued off the road and we missed it.

While we were looking carefully for a trail we found ….. a kill site.

I can’t believe we didn’t take a photo.

We could see some (what we assumed to be) animal bones a little bit down the hill off the side of the road. Kind of a lot. Obviously more than 1 animal. Jokes begin about serial killers and body dumping.

So Andrew goes to investigate. The hill was pretty steep, but he hiked down in there, shouted up that he saw more bodies and walked a little bit farther. And, of course, the true crime conniseur that I am – my imagination started going wild.

Obviously the people who live up past that gate are just like the House of 1000 Corpses family, and they are going to come just appear out of nowhere since we found their body dumping site. And then we’ll never be seen again …

Finally, Andrew comes back up to the road and reports that he found 4 deer or elk legs. With the fur and muscle and hoofs all still on. Still creepy, but at least no human bodies ….

SO, on we go, hoping there are no murderous hicks behind us…. back down the road, back to where the trail (apparently) ended, back up the hill and back around and back through that same meadow and back and back and back that whole way …

…. good lord was I tired. My limbs were starting to tingle which I can only assume is from lack of oxygen and all that physical exertion at that high elevation.

I have far far fewer photos of this part of the trip because I was so tired and starting to feel ill.

Finally (finally) we came to the fork in the trail that we *thought* led to a lookout. Kevin quickly ran down to where the trail curved around those boulders and reported that it went PAST the boulders, not TO the boulders….. so we took that branch.

The whole time I’m just hoping that there’s not much farther because I am tired and out of shape. Ooops.

Around the boulders down the hill some more. Kevin and Sam stopped to take off their shoes and just hike in their socks. While we were standing, tying tennis shoes on to the backpack, the dogs ran on ahead …. and then ran back dripping wet.

They had found the stream again ….

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It was just gorgeous. Lots of smooth boulders to sit on, dip our feet into, dogs to play in.

We sat near the water for maybe 20 minutes or so…. and Andrew lost a sock.

It slipped into the water, went over one of the tiny waterfalls, and then never came back up!

Oh well….

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After leaving the stream it wasn’t that much farther – we crossed the stream and walked uphill where the trail forked several times.

We heard a dog barking nearby, followed one of the forks, and ended up practically in someone’s backyard. It must be pretty cool to live there right by a trail.

But, eventually, we found the main part of the trail and were able to follow it back to the car. 4 hours later. Andrew estimates 5 or 6 miles or so. Maybe the longest hike I’ve ever done. And in high elevation no less.

I was so so tired.

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Drove home and we all 4 took showers.

And then went out to dinner! Boulder’s best Mexican restaurant – Efrain’s II

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LONG day.

Glad I did it. But, MAN was I tired!

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Colorado: Backyard grilling and water pong

Friday night, Andrew and I got back from Avery Brewery around 6:30p or so. Kevin was ready for some backyard grilling, some water pong and just hanging out at home. Kevin has a few housemates that live in the main level of the house, and all the guys are pretty good friends and they share the backyard.

We had some chicken sausages perfect for grilling over the fire. And it was a gorgeous night to just hang out in the backyard, around the fire, playing water pong.

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“Water pong” is basically beer pong with water. And less getting drunk. Kevin and his housemates just keep a standing game going and play regularly.

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I did pretty ok for my first time. Sam still beat me, though.

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One of Kevin’s housemates came out and grilled himself a burger too. I tried to get some ghost stories going as it got darker. I love ghost stories. :)

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After dinner, once it was too dark to see each other and kinda late, we went back down into Kevin’s apartment and watched… something. What did we watch that night? Maybe The Hobbit :)

Next week: Maybe the longest hike I’ve ever been on in my life!

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Colorado: touring Avery Brewery

Friday morning: We were all kinda worn out from our long day on Thursday. I woke up first (of course) and had an hour or 2 to myself again. I made coffee, and worked on my travel journal a little, and dove back into the book I was reading (Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin).

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We kind of just read all morning … .

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I didn’t want to spend ALL day reading, though. Andrew and I made plans to go out (Kevin stayed home).

Before we even started planning our trip to Colorado, a blog that I follow posted this Boulder, CO city guide. PLUS one of Andrew’s co-workers used to live here, so we got some recommendations from him too.

We left mid-afternoon and started with Salvaggio’s for lunch. It’s a deli in downtown Boulder that was recommended to us. It was pretty empty – but of course we went at about 2p. In the summer in a college town.

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Good (enormous) sandwiches. Poo signs:

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We timed our lunch for the middle of the afternoon so we would be done at about the right time for the highlight of the day: touring Avery Brewery.

Again, this was a recommendation, but when we looked into it even more I got more and more excited. This brewery offers free tours every day at 4p (you just need to get there and sign up. First come first served). We got there at about 340p or so, so we signed up on the sheet, and then settled into the tap room to try some of their beers before the tour.

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I don’t know if you can read the menu, but each of these beers is offered in a $2 “taster” size. Which is perfect for us, since I don’t drink beer and Andrew wanted to try a bunch of them.

But the “tasters” are this big:

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That is more than just a taste, to me. For $2? Deal city.

We tried 4 or 5 different kinds before the tour started. The tap room also has all these outdoor tables to sit and drink (and eat) too. Keep in mind this was a Friday afternoon. It was such a great environment!

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So our tour started (free!) and we were led around the brewery by Jordan:

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Jordan obviously loves beer and loves her job and she was a GREAT tour guide!

The brewery is in an industrial complex kind of place – they take up 3 or 4 separate units that are not actually all next to each other so there was quite a bit of walking around.

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Walking back to the tap room – next stop the bottling center and then after that the barrel room….

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The last stop was the barrel room …. where we got a (free) taster for one of their main brews!

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I learned a lot about beer – I learned a lot about Avery in particular. And even though I don’t like beer, I’m still really glad we went and that I at least tried the beer.

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After the tour ended, Andrew had another couple beers that he wanted to taste before we left so we found a little corner in the tap room and ordered a couple more drinks.

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Fun little “date” in the middle of our vacation.

Next: relaxing in Kevin’s backyard

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Colorado: drive through Colorado

On our second day in Colorado, we spent the whole morning in Rocky Mountain National Park (part 1 and part 2). We drove Trail Ridge Road all the way through the park, where it finally dropped us off on the south-west side of the park in Grand Lake, Colorado.

Just in time for lunch.

We had recommendations for a couple restaurants (thanks to the guidebooks), but couldn’t find what we were looking for. So we ended up eating at this right-on-the-main-strip, just-ok restaurant. Burgers for all of us, beer for the boys.

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Leaving Grand Lake it started to rain …. and then a little south of town it started to POUR. Full on torrential pour so that all the bugs from our 1000-mile drive were washed off the windshield.

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The first part of our drive through Colorado was just straight south, and we drove alongside Lake Granby. Right near what I’m pretty sure was Rainbow Bay there was just a small dirt turnout with a practically invisible trail down through wild flowers to the water.

With the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

And thick dark rain clouds all around.

It was gorgeous

As you can clearly see ….

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About halfway to the water, looking back up the hill to the road:

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It probably wasn’t real easy to skip rocks on such choppy water. The rain/storm/wind made it a bit chilly. But, again, it was gorgeous and I brought a jacket so who cares about a little wind.

You can see over the mountains in the distance where it was still raining …

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After leaving Lake Granby we just had a LONG drive ahead of us. … .I wish I could have taken more photos, but from the car and with the rainy weather you wouldn’t have really been able to appreciate how gorgeous it was. It got down to maybe 60 degrees or so as we wound through these mountain roads, tall pine trees on either side.

Kevin kept making note of campgrounds (Robber’s Roost) or trail heads to come back to because he had never been to that part of the state before.

34 highway south to the 40, down further south past towns called “Winter Park”, through Arapaho National Forest…. all the way to the 70. Which we then took east, and then north again on the 36 to Boulder. Totally a long big circle around, but it was really our only option other than going the exact same road back through Rocky Mountain National Park.

It rained off and on through the whole trip, and once we got closer to the 70 we stopped for coffee which was just about the perfect treat for that point during the day.

drive through Colorado - US 40

We got back to Kevin’s apartment in Boulder around 5 or 6p or so …where I made sausage lentil soup! It’s a recipe I’ve made so many times I know it by heart. Kevin had homemade chicken stock, so I just told him the rest of the ingredients to get at the store and we had delicious homemade soup.

For a couple days, even.

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(Kevin helped chop)

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Sam came over later that night (brought Muppet back home) and we just relaxed, drank beer and watched movies all night. LONG drive during the day, relaxing night at home.

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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park

Continuing on our drive up the mountain, taking Trail Ridge Road across Rocky Mountain National Park…. We turned a curve and saw a small handful of cars stopped along the road. Usually when that happens it would be because there was wildlife of some kind – deer or elk or even just a marmot, so visitors would hang out of their car window to take photos.

But, as we turned the curve of the road, I didn’t see any reason there would be cars stopped.

Turns out I was just looking in the wrong place.

This group of elk were RIGHT by the road. As in 15′ feet away from the road. As in, the lip of the road hid them because they were so close to it.

CRAZY AWESOME!

Obviously Andrew pulled off the road a little bit ahead of where all the other cars were and we crossed the (little 2-lane) highway to get a bit of a closer look:

Rocky Mountain National Park elk

Look at that. LOOK HOW CLOSE THEY WERE.

SO gorgeous! Just calmly scratching their backs with their antlers and ignoring us (and the other 20+ people who were stopping too).

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After just a few minutes, we started walking back to the car. No need to be part of spooking any wild elk. Right as we were leaving, a ranger pulled up. We saw him make everyone else scatter. Not surprising, considering how close these elk were to the road. I can’t imagine the park wants visitors to mess with them.

Not too much farther up Trail Ridge Road was the peak elevation (12,183 feet ! ), and then just on the downhill side was the Alpine Visitor Center – where we stopped for bathroom, water and my National Parks Passport stamp!

Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Visitor Center Rocky Mountain National Park tundra

The boys were itching for a real hike, and we noticed a trailhead just across the road from the Visitor Center parking lot. Hiking!! Crossed and started walking through the tundra …

Rocky Mountain National Park tundra trail

But, first let’s stop for some photos (thanks Kevin!) …. Andrew and I need current photos of us on all our adventures. OBVIOUSLY.

Rocky Mountain National Park tundra trail

But, then, we walked a little farther and realized we didn’t want to hike THIS trail. First of all, since it’s in the tundra, you could see it for yards and yards and yards. No trees, no corners, no mystery.

But second, we were all feeling the elevation by then. Headaches galore.

Back in the car to drive back down the mountain.

Rocky Mountain National Park tundra trail

Rocky Mountain National Park is gorgeous. Period. Anywhere you look. Even the busy, crowded parts are popular for a reason.

Andrew drove us down back through the treeline, past a few overlooks, all through trees and loveliness.

About halfway down, we found another trailhead – I believe this is at Lake Irene – and got out for a proper hike.

Rocky Mountain National Park hiking

This was a super easy hike, almost all level, mostly shaded, and obviously beautiful. It’s just a small loop, and it maybe took us 30 minutes or so.

We were all still feeling a little bit of the effects of elevation, but overall this hike was fantastic.

Rocky Mountain National Park hiking

(I kind of love that the boys both wore orange shirts this day)

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Then back in the car down the mountain. …  I don’t know if we were all just hungry for lunch or just didn’t see any likely spots, but we basically drove the entire rest of Trail Ridge Road without stopping again.

We drove past this far western section of the park – Kawuneeche Valley – that was supposed to be the best place to see moose … but alas. None. It was starting to rain a little when we got there too.

(Notice all the dead trees from Mountain Pine Beetle)

Rocky Mountain National Park

And then all of a sudden we found ourselves exiting the park! That’s it. We were done. We drove through the entire park. Our choices were to drive that same road back through the park, to another section of the park or to Estes Park and home …. But between elevation headaches, car sickness, and just wanting to see something new, we decided to press on.

Lunch in Grand Lake, then using our iPhones to figure out how to get home through a part of the state Kevin had not yet had a reason to visit.

(spoiler: it was gorgeous)

Tomorrow: Our afternoon drive home through Colorado in the rain. It was actually pretty awesome

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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park

Thursday we visited Rocky Mountain National Park – Andrew’s first time ever, and my first time in at least 20 years!!

I love National Parks! Not *quite* as much as my friend Kam* does, but we definitely want to visit all of them and I’ve got the National Parks Passport and all!

Kevin’s apartment is about 45 minutes away from the Estes Park entrance, so we decided to leave early-ish so we could get in a full day at the park. Since all our plans for the week in Colorado were tentative, I wasn’t sure if we would be coming back at all.

Left Boulder ~8:45a or so and got through the gates of Rocky Mountain National Park at about 9:30a. $20 for a 7-day pass (deal) so we could easily come back later.

Rocky Mountain National Park 2013 pricing

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about. From Wikipedia:

Rocky Mountain National Park is a national park located in the north-central region of the U.S. state of Colorado. It features majestic mountain views, mountain lakes, a variety of wildlife, varied climates and environments—from wooded forests to mountain tundra—and easy access to back-country trails and campsites. The park is located northwest of Boulder, Colorado, in the Rockies, and includes the Continental Divide and the headwaters of the Colorado River.

Andrew likes to drive. Which is good because this park is A) pretty big and B ) includes long stretches of drives.

We brought a bunch of CDs, but ended up listening to Earth most of the time in Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only is it instrumental music, but it has this deep bass that really makes you feel more connected to the mountain range.

Rocky Mountain National Park Rocky Mountain National Park Rocky Mountain National Park

I have a couple National Parks guide books (thanks mom!) so we had a rough idea of what we wanted to do during our day in the park. You have a ways to drive before reaching anything. We came to the first inner section, turned right, and that basically decided the rest of our day!

After a few miles we turned around a curve and found this little parking lot, and a short pathway to cross the street and have a sweet lookout over the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park

our first wildlife sighting!!

Rocky Mountain National Park Rocky Mountain National Park

heaven’s above it was gorgeous… Can you even imagine being among the first groups of white people to see this and report back?

Rocky Mountain National Park Rocky Mountain National Park - Andrew Schubert, Amy T Schubert

The park’s peaks in the distance…

Rocky Mountain National Park peaks

This little peak was right next to the parking lot. Kevin dubbed it “Bran’s Folly” … or “Fally”. Get it? SUCH nerds.

Rocky Mountain National Park Rocky Mountain National Park

We hopped back in the car and started driving farther up the mountain. Eventually, after consulting the map, I realized that we were on the one (1, single, uno) road that went all the way across the park. Trail Ridge Road – the road that would take us all the way up the the highest elevation, above the treeline, and help us truly experience the Rocky Mountains that this park was named for. Check out a map here

Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road

We stopped at another lookout partway up. Really we were looking for trails to hike, but we were in the wrong part of the park for that.

Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road

After awhile (30 or 40 minutes) we found ourselves above the treeline

trail ridge road tundra

Trail Ridge Road:

Whether they begin their journey at Estes Park or Grand Lake, Trail Ridge Road travelers climb some 4,000 feet in a matter of minutes. The changes that occur en route are fascinating to observe. A drive that may begin in montane forests of aspen and ponderosa pine soon enters thick subalpine forests of fir and spruce. At treeline, the last stunted, wind-battered trees yield to the alpine tundra.

Up on that windswept alpine world, conditions resemble those found in the Canadian or Alaskan Arctic. It’s normally windy and 20 to 30 degrees colder than Estes Park or Grand Lake. The sun beats down with high- ultraviolet intensity. The vistas, best enjoyed from one of several marked road pullovers, are extravagant, sweeping north to Wyoming, east across the Front Range cities and Great Plains, south and west into the heart of the Rockies.

But for all its harshness, the Trail Ridge tundra is a place of vibrant life and vivid colors. Pikas, marmots, ptarmigans and bighorn sheep are commonly seen. About 200 species of tiny alpine plants hug the ground. Despite a growing season that may last just 40 days, many bloom exuberantly, adorning the green summer tundra with swatches of yellow, red, pink, blue, purple and white. All are seen from the Tundra World Nature Trail, a half-hour walk beginning near the parking area at Rock Cut.

Yup – that’s snow in July.

Right about here is where we started to feel the elevation. Slight headaches, for sure. We brought snacks with us and ate grapes and granola bars and banana chips in the car while we just watched the scenery…

trail ridge road tundra mountain peak trail ridge road tundra

Second wildlife sighting! Elk in the grass off the road….

This photo is zoomed in – they were about20 or 30 yards away….

trail ridge road tundra elk

We stopped at a second tiny little trailhead in the tundra. It started right off the road and just went 100 or 150 yards into the mountain and stopped. The idea, I assume, was to allow visitors to see the tundra landscape a bit more up close … but not actually affect it very much.

It’s just as well. We were already at about 12,000 feet? (I think it’s the Tundra Communities Trail on this map)

trail ridge road tundra trail

I mean, let’s be honest. It doesn’t *look* like a whole, lot, right? Mountain peaks and scraggly ground cover. But let’s be honest – when else are you really going to get to experience the world at that elevation? Few and far between. And for most visitors, never again.

trail ridge road tundra trail ridge road tundra

Still a bit more drive to go before the highest elevation … but that post is tomorrow.

Have you ever been to Rocky Mountain National Park?

*I think I am full-on going to copy Kam’s National Parks page idea

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Colorado: dinner at home with Sam

Wednesday night – our first day in Colorado – Kevin’s girlfriend Sam invited us over for dinner at home. So sweet of her, since she hadn’t met us yet and apparently usually makes herself pasta (which Kevin told her I don’t eat). So, after we went hiking in Boulder, we drove south to Denver where Sam lives.

But first a stop at the grocery and liquor stores (ice cream and beer) where I noticed the back of Kevin’s car:

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Sam is living in this house in Denver that she is helping fix up in exchange for rent/space. But her roommate/landlord/boss was out of town so we had the house to ourselves. It’s in this cute old neighborhood in Denver ….

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Just us and NINE animals : 3 chickens, Kevin’s dog Muppet, Sam’s dog ‘Mo (Guillerrmo), 2 birds (parakeets?) and her roommates 2 dogs.CO4  003

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We like Sam. She’s super cute and sweet and really interesting :)

Although I felt ENORMOUS the entire week we were hanging out ….. she’s about HALF my size.

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For our dinner at home Sam made:

  • roasted chicken
  • steamed asparagus
  • roasted potatoes
  • green salad

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We tried to eat outside, but there were WAY too many flies (probably attracted there by the chicken coop).

Too bad, because it was gorgeous there.

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After dinner – right around sunset – we walked a mile or so over to a local dog park with Muppet and Mo. Gorgeous night, those dogs are both so sweet.

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Fun night in – it was really nice getting to meet Sam in such a low-key way.

Tomorrow: Andrew’s first time at Rocky Mountain National Park

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Colorado: hiking in Boulder

Wednesday afternoon in Colorado, Kevin drove us around Boulder, showed us his school and we went up into the mountains to the west of the city.

Our first longer stop was at (I think) Walker Ranch where we hiked a short loop. Maybe a mile?

But it was lovely …

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There were a TON of dead trees.

Everywhere we look were trees felled by beetle kill. SO so sad. Mountain pine beetles are destroying millions of acres.

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You can see in the photo above a little … straight ahead of the boys was the road. The actual trail crossed the road and went around a MUCH bigger loop (7 miles, I think), but we were running out of time and it was hot so we just turned left at the road and walked up hill (steep, hot) back to the parking lot where we started.

Next, Kevin wanted to show us more around that neighborhood on the top of the hill. There are little pockets of residential streets. It reminded me a little of where my grandmother used to live in Prescott, right up against a national forest.

Finally, we drove all the way around to the far side of (I think) the Gross Resevoir…. Turns out Andrew LOVES dams. I had no idea…

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It’s pretty gorgeous there. We saw a couple guys fishing and there’s this little picnic area.

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Muppet had fun too :)

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Finally it was time to go … . we drove all the way back around the lake/reservoir, down back the mountain and toward Denver where Kevin’s girlfriend lives.

That post next week!

Do you love dams as much as Andrew? Any to recommend we visit?

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Colorado: introduction to Boulder

Wednesday morning we woke up in my brother’s guest room.

His apartment is actually a converted basement. The house he lives in has 1 rental unit as the main level of the house, and then Kevin’s rental unit is below. It’s 2 bedrooms, with his own private access through the 2-car garage down stairs to his living room.

So because it’s the basement, all the windows are kind of small and high up, so we were able to sleep in without a ton of morning light. Kind of the best set up for a guest room.

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Since I quit my day job, I’ve been waking up early early early and having a couple hours to myself to work, and our trip to Colorado was no different. This first morning I woke up around 8a and no one else showed their face for hours.

But since it was vacation, I just read a novel instead of work :)

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Figured out Kevin’s coffee pot by myself :)

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Kevin got up around 10a or so …

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Because Kevin’s apartment is built in the basement, the dimensions of all the rooms are a *little* awkward. The kitchen and the living room are both really long and narrow. The bathroom is ENORMOUS. Bigger than the bedrooms, I think.

But he has a washer and dryer, which I’m sure is nice for him.

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But, for whatever reason, the shower and toilet are on this ….. stage? Platform? What would you call it?

You all should go visit Kevin just to experience sitting on a throne-like toilet. Bizarre!

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….and I finally went to wake up Andrew around noon. I’m telling you, it was DARK in that room!

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lunch, watching a show, letting Andrew wake up.

It’s nice to ease into your vacation. I love spending trips GOING, with lots of plans and seeing all the things and all. But Andrew likes downtime.

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The only definite plans we had were to go over to Kevin’s girlfriend’s house for dinner, but until then … you know. Whatever.

So Kevin showed us Boulder! We drove by his school and he told us about going to school there and the town a little bit.

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We drove up Flagstaff road, which took us up into the mountains above Boulder.

Boulder is on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, so looking over the city you can just see straight east to the Great Plains and the middle of the country with little to no obstruction.

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Kevin goes hiking all the time – you can’t NOT if you live in Boulder – so he showed us a couple spots.

Muppet is a sweet dog and pretty good off the leash, so it was fun to go with her ….

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This was really just a short little walk off the road!CO2  016

So lovely. God bless America.

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Next: We went on a longer hike in these mountains that you’ll love.

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