Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pinewood Reservoir: A Cozy Campground By The Lake

Last summer, some friends and I "discovered" Pinewood Reservoir Campground.
View from my tent (site #27). Lake in the background.
 
 
 We wanted a site next to water so that we could bring our kayaks. This was the perfect spot! The campground was fairly secluded and with a nice tree canopy for most of the sites. The next best thing: water! We were able to camp and kayak whenever we wanted. It was great.

Most of the tent sites were walk-in sites. We parked in the parking lot and had to make several trips to the car but otherwise it was the perfect campsite. There were vault toilets and water spigots available. Swimming is only allowed at the swim beach area but we did see people wading (and by people, I might mean our group).

At night we heard coyotes howling from across the lake. And during the day we enjoyed the trees, water, and sunshine. A very relaxing getaway! We will definitely be back!

**I recommend sites 27, 18, and 19. But they all looked decent.


My good friend made a homemade key lime pie to enjoy around the campfire!
 
Reservations:

Strongly recommended if going on the weekend!
Click HERE for the Larimer County camping reservations.
Entrance and camping permits are required.

Directions:

Interestingly enough you will pass a few other reservoirs on your way to Pinewood Reservoir. Carter Lake was huge and had several boat and jet ski rentals. Horsetooth Reservoir is also not too far. You will eventually follow a 4 mile road with a decent grade at times (fairly narrow). Just when you start to think you may have passed it...you will find it. When we went there wasn't much of a sign...but once you pass Carter Lake and Flatiron Reservoir...it will be the next one on the left...after about 10 minutes from Flatiron Reservoir....a small, cozy campground on a secluded lake.

The directions below were quite accurate when coming from Denver.

Take I-25 to Berthoud Exit (Exit 250). Turn left (West) onto Highway 56 and continue for 9.5 miles, passing through town of Berthoud. At the foothills, the road will turn sharply to the right (north). Turn Left (west) onto County Road 8E and continue for 3 miles to the entrance station where you can purchase permits. Follow County Road 8E west to the intersection with County Road 31 and continue around the lake for 5.5 miles to the intersection and County Road 18E. Turn left (west) and continue about 4.5 miles to the lake.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sassafras: American Eatery

Sassafras: American Eatery
 
My favorite breakfast place in Denver is Sassafras American Eatery!
 My favorite location is the one located in a quaint, brick house at 2637 W. 26th Ave., near the highlands neighborhood. The ambiance, combined with the soulful, southern palate is completely satisfying.
Very few places west of the Mississippi can you expect to find shrimp-n-grits done right.
But this place nails it. And they have created a new twist on grits, in the form of grit sticks (kind of like French toast sticks but with grits--delightful).
 
This location feels like southern hospitality on a plate.
 
Make it happen. You wont regret it.
 
Eggs, sausage, grits, and biscuit


Shrimp and Grits





 
SWEET POTATO PIE: AND I SHUT MY MOUTH!!
 
MMMM.....MMMMM....MMMMM






Saturday, April 9, 2016

Glenwood Springs: Soak Up The Old West

Glenwood Hot Springs 

 About three hours directly west of Denver is a mountain town with Old West feel (yes, another one); Glenwood Springs.
 One of the most popular destinations is Glenwood Hot Springs. Located just off of Interstate 70, in the heart of Glenwood Springs.
Essentially, Glenwood Hot Springs consists of one large pool but with two slightly different sections (one end is warmer than the other). The place is popular and therefore can be quite crowded at times. However, it can be a relaxing experience especially if you go in the evening.

 
  
(View from one end of pool to the other.)
 
Pros: Convenient. Historic. Close to the highway and downtown. Lodging available.
 
Cons: Can be crowded. Slightly expensive if staying only a short time.
 
TIPS: 1) Next door is Yampah Vapor Caves. For more of a private setting you can soak in your own private tub and enjoy a sauna.
2) If you are the adventurous type...and the Colorado River is running low...you can find your own private soak on the actual bank of the river. Explore at your own risk. :) 3) There is another commercial hot spring business that just opened nearby called Iron Mountain Hot Springs. I have not been here yet so I can't say pros or cons. But if anyone checks it out feel free to leave a comment. I hope to check it out soon.


                                                         Hotel Colorado

 
 
 
There are many hotels, motels, and inn's around downtown Glenwood Springs. Some are definitely better than others. The last time I visited, my Dad and I stayed at the Hotel Colorado. It is in walking distance to the hot springs and several restaurants.
 
The front desk worker, whose name escapes me but whose spirit I will never forget, was very friendly and helpful.
The building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1893, it remains one of Colorado's oldest hotels.
Rumor has it that Theodore Roosevelt's nickname of "Teddy Bear" began during his stay here in 1905. According to the story, a hotel maid handcrafted a stuffed bear for him....Thus, the Teddy Bear was created.
 
Our friendly hotel representative posed for a photo.
 

 
Pros: Central location. Historic. Nice patio dining experience.
 
Cons: The hotel is old and they have not installed central air. So, it felt a bit stuffy when we stayed.  Also, the walls are thin and we heard kids running up and down the hall above us.
 
 

 A Short Hike Full of History


 
Just a few minutes from Glenwood Hot Springs, near Highway 82 and 12th St., is the Linwood Cemetery (also known as the Pioneer Cemetery). Because of how the Old West was spun, the fascination with violent gun slingers still persists...and I admit....as a fan of history I wanted to see some of these "famous" individuals final resting places....so I made the short hike up the hill to the Pioneer Cemetery. Here, Kid Curry and John Henry Holliday (better known as "Doc") are buried.
 
Although...there is only a marker for Doc. It is left to question whether this really is where he was finally buried. But...it is where the historical marker currently resides.


View from the Pioneer Cemetery, overlooking Glenwood Springs.
 

 Another Kind of Suds

Speaking of Doc Holliday, after my Dad and I freshened up from our hot spring soak and hike, we headed to the Doc Holliday Tavern (adjacent to the Springs Downtown Bar and Grill) on Grand Ave. This was a cool, historic saloon with a neon light atmosphere. Decent place. Memorable space.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Lucile's Creole Cafe

Freshly warmed beignets.
 

One of my favorite breakfast/brunch spots is Lucile's Creole Café.
 Mmmm..Mmmm...Mmmm...SO GOOD!!
 
Your meal usually starts out with a friendly waitress asking if you want to start with a round of freshly, warmed New Orleans styled beignets (hard to resist).
 
Growing up in the South, I value a scrumptious savory breakfast! I would say that Lucile's specializes in eggs benedict styles, shrimp and grits, and specialty French toast...among other amazing dishes!
 

An avocado and eggs benedict with shrimp and grits.
 
But my favorite signature dish is Lucille's sweet potato and crab bisque!! It is lick-the-bowl delicious!!

Sweet potato and crab bisque.


Mmmmm.....SO GOOD.

Check 'em out!!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Denver's Union Station: A Dining Destination

Photos: J. Foster, 2016.
 
    I finally made my way to the newly renovated Union Station at 17th and Wynkoop, in downtown Denver. It was a fabulous mix of travelers with luggage surrounded by locals with curious appetites. Besides operating as a central hub for Amtrak, as well as, local RTD lightrail and bus terminals this historic location is now a hot spot for local food and drink fare.   
 
   As I examined the architecture both inside and out, I was reminded of two things: 1) the importance of historic preservation and 2) the thrill of being on a journey. I felt a sense of romantic nostalgia for another time and place. But as I stood in the present moment, I realized how grateful I am to live in a city that is expanding its infrastructure to include more rail lines. Denver really is a cool place to be.  
 

The Terminal Bar was a popular place at happy hour.

 
I stood in the main lobby/terminal for several minutes staring at the large terminal windows before going off to explore the hallways, stores, and restaurants.

I found the kiosk counter where I could have bought an Amtrak ticket to the east or west coasts before arriving at the Next Door Community Pub, where I chose to drink and dine.

Fish Tacos
 

Bacon Burger with Mashers
 I tried their "special of the day" fish tacos along with the Next Door's version of a Moscow Mule--very tasty! My date enjoyed a bacon burger with mashers. It was a fun time exploring some place new, as well as, tasting some yummy food. Also, our waiter was from London and quite fun to talk with.               
 Union Station is now home to several other popular restaurants:
 

Snooze an A.M Eatery
Stoic and Genuine
Mercantile Dining and Provision
Milkbox Ice Creamery
Next Door Community Pub
The Terminal Bar
The Cooper Lounge


 
Union Station is also home to the prestigious Crawford Hotel. The Crawford Hotel also gives tours of Union Station. Tickets must be purchased in advance. For more information on tours click here.  
 
For information regarding train and public transit, click here.

 
So, come and explore some Colorado history while enjoying the nostalgic ambiance of Denver's Union Station! Heck, maybe catch a train while you're at it!


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Friday, March 25, 2016

Excursion of the Week: Colorado Springs Highlights


[ Caveat: I have posted about Garden of the gods and Helen Hunt Falls previously but it is time for an update. Also, the info on the Colorado Mountain Brewery and Cave of the Winds is new.]

(Garden of the gods as viewed from main Visitor Center)


Hike: Garden of the gods:

One of my favorite places to visit for a fun, casual hike is Garden of the gods in Colorado Springs, CO. Situated beneath the towering backdrop of Pikes Peak, Garden of the gods is home to red sandstone formations that appear like pinnacles and shark fins amid the park trails. One of my favorite trails is the Spring Canyon Trailhead, where you can hike to the Siamese Twins formations. There is a signature photo op, where if you bend down on one knee you can get a shot of your family in the hole of the rock formation with Pikes Peak in the background. (One of my favorite Colorado photo shots.)

(views)

 

There is a visitor center just outside the main entrance (on the east side) and also a gift shop with some cool art inside the park. At the main visitor center I recommend watching the 20 minute introductory video--quite informative about the geology and cultural history. The park is made up basically of a loop that you can drive around and then park at various trails or sites. The park is relatively small and makes for a good half-day experience. One of the great things about this park is that the entrance is free. And there are a ton of beautiful picnic spots!


Site Seeing: Manitou Springs, CO

(downtown Manitou Springs)
 
Garden of the gods is located in Colorado Springs but is also adjacent to another cute mountain town named Manitou Springs. (I have mentioned this gem before as well but it bares repeating: if you go to Garden of the gods, you must drive through Manitou Springs!). Manitou Springs is a cute town with a gritty, hippie vibe. It is also where you travel through to climb the famous Incline (literally an incline made of steps that traverse the side of a mountain...healthy, aerobic types seem to find this a fun activity of choice...for some reason), and is also home to the North Pole (a holiday point of interest), and the gateway to Pikes Peak and the Cog Railway.

For lodging in Manitou: read my post on Avenue Hotel Bed and Breakfast
For local pub feel check out happy hour at The Keg.



Hike: Helen Hunt Falls

Another personal favorite hike/picnic spot of mine is Helen Hunt Falls. Toward the base of Cheyenne Mountain, along North Cheyenne Canyon Rd., is a lovely, narrow road that leads you beside a river and high canyon walls. Eventually you will come to a pullout area and a sign that says Helen Hunt Falls. There is a small waterfall that you can see from the road with a trail that ascends above and past this first waterfall. This second waterfall area was an expansive rockface with a small watershed.The hike is short but steep in areas. The area here is what I enjoy--the sound of water and surrounded by trees. Perfect for a picnic and short hike.




Eat and Drink: Colorado Mountain Brewery

 
After a full day of hiking and site-seeing, head on over to the Colorado Mountain Brewery in Colorado Springs. This place is awesome! An old train station converted into a craft brewery/restaurant. The feel is cozy-upscale but suitable for jeans and t-shirt (as is most of Colorado, thank goodness).

I enjoyed a perfectly cooked steak filet and a serving of bread pudding that made me feel as though I were in the deep south instead of out west. It is definitely a popular place so make reservations if you aren't the patient type.





             But seriously, check this place out sometime!








Site-Seeing: Cave of the Winds

 About ten minutes northwest of Garden of the gods is Cave of the Winds. It seemed a bit touristy at first with all of the gift items shoved in my face but I really enjoyed the tour! Cave of the Winds is a large underground cave full of stalactites and stalagmites. There are varying "types" of tours and it seems the lantern tour would be quite fun! (I did the regular tour due to time schedule). If you can handle being underground and in often close confinements, I would definitely recommend booking a tour! Very fun and educational!
(Inside the cave, a group of stalagmites in the background. One of the longest recorded stalactites in the foreground).


(No, we didn't get to swing down into the cave! But I guess this used to be an old entrance)





Lodging: Cheyenne Mountain Resort

 
Cheyenne Mountain Resort: Nestled at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, with mountain views and decent rooms!





Also, because I am a huge National Park enthusiast....I can't mention this region without also mentioning (again) that Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is just about 46 minutes northwest of Colorado Springs...another really cool place to visit. It often gets overlooked by Colorado's other National Parks/Monuments.  Check out my post: here.








Saturday, February 6, 2016

Lessons I Learned While Hiking Through The Narrows




Hiking the Narrows: A Refresher Course on Life 
By: J. Foster 
As a recreational hiker and nature-enthusiast I frequently read outdoorsy magazines and enjoy researching cool, earthy places. For the past several years I have had Zion National Park’s hike, the Narrows, at the top of my to-do list. After seeing a picture of two hikers trekking through the high-walled canyon, I was immediately compelled to follow in their soaking, wet footsteps.  
Several months ago, my hiking buddy and I began planning an epic road trip from Denver, CO to Mt. Carmel, UT with the Narrows as the ultimate goal. We took the southern route going down through southwest Colorado and up through southeastern Utah. We saw many attractions along the way but my spirit was most fulfilled accomplishing this bottom-up, half-day hike.   
After preparing our dry bags and finalizing our footwear choices for the hike, we entered Zion National Park. We parked at the Visitor Center and waited for the park shuttle to transport us to the Temple of Sinawava, the last stop on the line. This stop is where the Riverwalk Trail begins, a paved trail shrouded in lush habitation that follows the Virgin River and eventually leads into a deep, narrow canyon; thus the Narrows hike begins.  
We arrived at the trailhead at 10:30a.m, an hour and a half later than we intended but it did not deter us. Eight hours later, at 6:30pm, we arrived back where we started. Those eight hours of hiking over rocks and small boulders through a steady river flow taught me a lot about myself. It also reaffirmed several key lessons about life. Here are some reflections from our trip. 
 
*The processes of life are all around us.  
At the very start of our hike, just after the first bend in the river, we started to smell an alarmingly foul smell. I started having conversations with myself about how over-used such trails and parks have become, chalking up the odor to people not packing out their human waste. However, as I looked down and to the left, inside one of the first carved out openings that set back from the water there were maggots on the bottom of the rock wall. As we all know, maggots symbolize death so as Rebekah and I looked to see what was decaying, we quickly saw the remains of a dead, rotting deer.  I imagine that the poor thing must have wandered into the canyon and got swept away by a flash flood, coming to rest where we now stood. Of course, this was not the most pleasant way to start out our adventure but later on in the day this experience took on new meaning; almost as clear as an Aesop fable.  
Throughout the hike we were surrounded constantly by three elements: rock, sand, and water. The entire canyon was a visual reminder of process, change, and the power of water: the way the canyon walls curved and were carved, the way some rocks were smooth and others porous (Rebekah’s favorite word) from water’s presence. What is life but time and pressure? What is life but the processes of  burgeoning and decaying?  
At the very end of our awesome journey, as we walked with sore hips and tight quads back to the shuttle we came across a large deer, feeding on the bushes about six feet away from us. This lone deer noticed us and continued to feed on leaves, letting us watch. It was a striking end to the day…beginning the trek with death at our feet and ending the day with life and nourishment. The cycles of life are all around us.  
As we rode the shuttle 40 minutes back to the Visitor Center, I couldn’t help but overhear the people next to us on the bus chatting. A lady who looked in her early forties, who was from Michigan, was talking with a woman in her sixties about all of the National Parks they have seen and hikes they still want to do. When the subject of retirement came up, the younger woman stated, “I think you just have to do it now. We aren’t promised retirement. You never know how much time you have.” 
 
*New Adventures Create Opportunities to Conquer Self-doubt 
As eager and excited as I was to participate in this uniquely beautiful and slightly challenging hike, I had moments of wondering if I was overestimating my abilities. Of course, taking a self-assessment is wise when undertaking such adventures but sometimes our inner critic can often judge too harshly.  
During the hike there were moments when my anxiety reared its head. Moments when a three feet width of river suddenly started to cause me panic (even hours into the hike, after already trekking through rushing portions of the same current). At times the dialogue in my head began asking such questions as: Am I going to fall? Can I make it? But I reminded myself that not only can I do this but, in fact, have been doing it for a few hours now.  
I remember reading some of the writings of Chris McCandless in my favorite book Into The Wild where he says, 
”…And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head.” 
I took a deep breath and cautiously but with determination put one foot in front of the other, giving a silent middle finger to the voices of self-doubt. The feeling of accomplishment I felt as we walked out of the Narrows will stick with me the rest of my life.  
 
 
*Adventures Are Better When Shared 
Continuing the theme of Chris McCandless writings, he wrote in his journal toward the end of his life: “happiness is only real when shared.” And I must concur. 
I’ve always been an independent person (mostly) and I have done solo hikes and solo trips before. But there is something about having a friend or fellow traveler along that makes the moments richer and altogether more fun. I mean, every few minutes while hiking the Narrrows we had to stop and just say out loud, “Whoa! Look at the beauty” or some variation thereof. I imagine if either of us had been hiking solo people would of thought us mad, as we stopped to proclaim the beauty so exuberantly before us.  
But seriously, the laughs, the talks, and the shared experiences add to the enjoyment of the journey. And such is life….But even more, there will always be another soul with flesh on somewhere on this spinning globe that will know exactly what I mean when I say: remember when?  
 
 
*One Hike: Two Different Experiences 
The half-day, bottom up hike is one where you can only hike so far before you have to turn around and head back the same way you came (unless you have a special permit). On the way up the Narrows the sun was shining mostly directly down upon us. The canyon was bright and sunbeams danced all around us. On the return hike, the sun was less direct and the canyon became less illuminated. Thus, the canyons own natural colors became more visible. The river became more greenish-blue. Instead of sunbeams dancing it was now shadows that danced before us. Both directions were beautiful. Both directions offered different experiences; something I wasn’t expecting.  
I am reminded that sometimes I miss things the first time around.  
Sometimes I misjudge people. Sometimes I turn off my mind before the ride is over. Or I close my eyes before the real performance begins. If I had kept my eyes down on the return hike, thinking that I had seen it all before, I would have missed out on the canyons true beauty. 
 I must remember to keep my eyes open. And to remember that the elements of surprise and wonder may just be around the corner…even if it is a path I have already journeyed.  
 
*Sometimes it is helpful to plan your steps. Sometimes it is helpful to go with the flow.  
The river showed me things about myself.  
Besides bringing to the surface bits of self-doubt it also showed me parts of my personality and that of my hiking buddy.  
There were numerous times when we had to criss-cross the river due to boulders or one side being more or less rushing than the other. About twenty minutes into the hike I began to develop my own system of navigating the hike for myself. I would look upstream and see what was coming and where the white water was so that I could go around (if possible) the more powerful currents. The river became like a chess board as I tried to think two steps ahead. My hiking buddy was fearless. I noticed her several times taking on the river in sections where I chose to go to the left but she was chill with going to the right side. She was spontaneous and fierce; taking the river as it came to her.  
I believe life is best lived when balanced between these two approaches: planning and spontaneity. I must be mindful of how I tread and yet if I try to plan out every step I will certainly take all of the joy out of life (not to mention be very frustrated when unforeseen events occur). I must also learn to go with the flow.  
Like the river, I must remember that I am strong. But I must learn to bend. It is okay to have both deep and shallow moments. And it is okay to let people in.