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!


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.


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:

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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!

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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 …

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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)

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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


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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So lovely. God bless America.

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


So now you know we went to Wisconsin for the weekend. For this L.A. girl, it was an awful lot of farmland. Everywhere.

And by everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE.

Dave and Liz’s house was the next-to-last one at the end of a street. At the very end of the street was this … fence? Guard rail? Slight obstacle? And then just fields. A field of wildflowers first ….

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Andrew, Daniel, Sophi and I took a little suburban hike through this neighboring field. It was a gorgeous gorgeous day. I was wearing the absolute WRONG shoes for walking around in dirt and rocks, but I lived through it.

Looking back toward the houses – we stayed in that yellow one. You can just see the garage behind the red house.

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Daniel and Sophie had explored a little bit already, and were taking us to the corn field just past the edge of the wildflower field.

Andrew waited for me – since I was having trouble finding the non-existent path in my not-for-walking shoes.

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And then we got to the corn field and Daniel and Sophie were nowhere to be found? Daniel’s beer was on the side of the field, but they were missing?

I don’t remember how long they let us wonder, but suddenly D&S just popped up out of the middle of the field!

There’s a saying – knee-high by the Fourth of July? This corn was almost waist high the week before the 4th.

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It was just lovely….

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By the time we got back to the house, it was full of people. Family and friends and wedding party and nieces and nephews and all.

Liz is from a big Catholic family – I could barely keep half of her siblings straight let alone everyone else.

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We went out to eat on the lawn – SO gorgeous out there!

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Andrew discovered this family recipe of Liz’s – fruit dip (cream cheese, marshmallow creme and vanilla) …. but he used it for cookies. And had about a million.

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Later in the evening, once most of the guests had left, Sophie taught us how to play Yahtzee!

It’s such an iconic American family game, isn’t it? I can’t believe we hadn’t played it before.

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Kind of a LONG day, but so nice to see both Liz and Daniel!

Next: WEDDING! and getting caught in the rain

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Scotland: Pitlochry, Whisky Walk

As I mentioned, Rick Steves described a ‘Whisky Walk’ in Pitlochry in his guidebook….

If you’ve ever suspected you were a Hobbit in a previous life, spend an afternoon hill walking from downtown Pitlochry to a pair of distilleries. The entire loop trip takes two to three hours, depending on how long you linger in the distilleries. It’s a good way to see some green rolling hills, especially if you’ve only experienced urban Scotland. The walk is largely uphill on the way to the Edradour Distillery; wear good shoes, bring a rain jacket just in case and be happy that you’ll stroll easily downhill after you’ve had your whisky samples.

The following words and photos are ALL from Andrew!

As Amy and Nancy headed back towards town from the Tourist and Information shop we visited, Kevin, Chelsea, terry and I headed east to find the beginning of Rick Steves’ ‘Whisky Walk’…

The young girl at the T.I. counter had instructed us to walk over the bridge and we’d come to a sign that read “Black Spout Trail” and that would lead us towards our first distillery destination which was Edradour Distillery.

We did as instructed, walked east over the bridge and came to a sign post with two signs. The one pointing up towards the woods and what looked like a very long dirt driveway read “Moulin and Edradour Paths. Black Spout Woods.” The sign pointing southeast and continuing on what seemed like a more traveled road, the main road, read “Edradour Walk”

Hmmmm …. Both signs point to Edradour in opposite directions.

The TI girl told us to look for Black Spout Trail and Black Spout Woods seemed like the most likely way to go … so that’s what we did …

… Turned left and walked up the dirt driveway, private-looking path and into the woods.

Shortly, we came to a fork in the road with a wooden sign, with an arrow …

<– It pointed the way to Black Spout (we had no idea what Black Spout was) and two stick figures pointing to Pitlochry.

The arrow <– written in heavy black, the two figures seeming to cheerfully be pointing the way to town. Or safety. We hadn’t been walking very far and were not sure we were going the correct way

<– towards possible doom … or –> towards safety.

We chose doom.

We continued along the wooded path. It was a beautiful day for such a stroll, a cool breeze gently blowing, some sunlight barely poking through the canopy of trees. Some light sprinkling made the path slightly muddy, but that was nothing too bad. the path was plenty green, with some berries for picking and munching on.

We crossed over an old wooden bridge and eventually another wooden sign. Again <– Black Spout and this time just one figure pointing -> towards Pitlochry. Seems his friend had been eaten or lost. We definitely chose doom.

We plunged ahead with no idea where Black Spout was leading us.

Eventually we came to the crest of the hill and an old wooden lookout, gazing on a large waterfall.

Aha! We must have come upon Black Spout. The water was a yellowish white and we guessed maybe it was part run-off from the (hopefully) up ahead distilleries.

We continued up the trail and passed a large open field (wheat or barley?) on our left. this narrow path came out on a regular street  and directly in front of us was the Edradour Distillery – Scotland’s smallest distillery.

Edradour Distillery is made up of just a few whitewashed brick buildings with grey roofs and red doors. The Mash and Stillhouse, the warehouse and the Old Malt Barn make up the original property with a store and a tasting room added on for tours.

From their website:

The Edradour Distillery has remained virtually unchanged since it was founded in 1825, nestled in a beautiful pocket of greenery on the banks of the Edradour Burn. The stream is so ancient that its name is thought to be derived from the Gaelic Edred dodhar, ‘the stream of King Edred.’

The four of us entered the store and purchased tickets for the last tour of the day which was starting in 5 minutes. The tour began in a small building with wooden benches, shots of whisky and a flatscreen TV. We watched a short video on the history of the Distillery and toasted with our small shots of Edradour. Then our guide – a young man with a limp and a cane – told us that the video had been made 20 or so years ago and that things hand changed just a bit in that time. Not drastically though. The basics of what make Edradour stand apart from the rest are still in tact.

Edradour is handmade still to this day, producing in a year what most of the large distilleries produce in a week. All whiskys produced here are single-malt Highland Scotch whisky.

From their website:

Like all malt whiskies, Edradour is made from malted barley, yeast and water. In the case of Edradour, there is a perennial source of pure spring water from the moorlands which rise a little way above the distillery. The nearby Edradour Burn is also important to the distillery, and is used as it has been for generations, gushing down over rocks and into the heart of the distillery to cool the wort.

The tour group left the viewing area and headed outdoors to start the tour proper. Our guide spoke very slowly, comically slowly and throughout the tour he would stand us beside a piece of machinery or hardware, tell us maybe what it was called and then slowly started “But …. we’ll…. come….back….to….that…..later” Usually we didn’t comeback to it. The first and only building we wntered was the Mash and Stillhouse. Here we were shown the Mornton Refrigerator (which is the only one of its kind still used in the industry), the copper stills (there are 2 of them)and the Wooden Mash Tun.

Our guide briefed us on the basics of these tools and how whisky is made and then casked for at least 10 years. The type of cask, or what had previously been stored in it, is what will give a particular whisky its unique flavor and characteristics. After visiting the Mash and Still house I thought we might visit the warehouse where the whisky is casked and stored. However we were led to the store where our guide pointed out particular whiskys for purchase.

The four of us figured that most of the other distilleries were also closing up at 5p so we hit the tasting room and sampled a handful of different Edradour varieties. All delicious and some smokier and/or more intense than others. We left the tasting room about 10 after 5 and confidently this time headed down the Black Spout wooded trail to town.

We met up with a sleepy Amy and cheesy Nancy at the car…

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