Saturday, June 25, 2016

On Top of the World: Trail Ridge Road

People and cars look as small as ants when on top of the world.

One of the most scenic drives in all of Colorado is definitely Trail Ridge Road, driving between Estes Park and Grand Lake.
 
I usually find myself singing along to the Dixie Chicks' song 'Top of the World' (chorus) as I traverse this high mountain road full of beauty and mountain views. Every which way you look as you approach the top, are myriads of mountain peaks, sky, and craggy open space.
 
 
This is probably my favorite drive in all of Colorado.



 
Facts about Trail Ridge Road:
 
  • Generally takes about 1.5 to 2 hours (depending on how often you stop for photo-ops) to drive from one end to the other.
  • 11 miles of road are above treeline in the alpine tundra.
  • 200 species of alpine plants. Very fragile ecosystem. Please stay on trails as these plants especially take much longer to grow back if trampled.
  • Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (elevation 10,120 feet).
  • The highest point on the road is 12,183 feet (east of the Alpine Visitor Center).
  • Look for wildlife such as marmots, pika, and ptarmigan who live in the arid, wintry alpine tundra environment.
  • You can often see other wildlife such as deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and moose along the way.
  • It is only open all the way through from late Spring to early Fall.
  • To check road status call: 970-586-1222.


 
Other Highlights Along the Way:
  • The Alpine Visitor Center is a nice destination once you get to the top. There is a café and snack counter if you want some refreshments, as well as, the main gift shop/souvenir center inside the park. There is a short trail just beside the parking lot if you want to stretch your legs. However, due to the altitude and wind you may prefer to chill and sip hot cocoa inside.
  • Old Fall River Road is a one-way (up only) road on the east side that will take you to the Alpine Visitor Center. It generally opens around July 4th. It is a narrow, gravel road with a 15 mph speed limit. Be advised. Check road conditions to be sure road is open.
  • Take a tour of Holzwarth Historic Site, near Grand Lake. Hike about 1.5 miles to the old cabin.
  • On the east side, just after the treeline stops, walk in the footsteps of the Ute Amerindians along the Ute Trail.
 
Be Aware:
 
Due to the high elevation be sure to stay hydrated and be aware of altitude sickness symptoms.
 
Even if the temperature is 80 degrees in Grand Lake or Estes it is always cool (if not cold) and generally windy up above treeline. Be prepared.
 
Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road are narrow, high mountain roads. Use Caution.
Be prepared for fast moving weather systems and the presence of lightning.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Enjoy the views.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pagosa Springs: Hot Springs

Looking across the San Juan toward The Springs Resort and Hot Springs


Located along the San Juan river, in the center of Pagosa Springs, Colorado is The Springs Resort (and hot springs).

Home to the Guiness Book of records for the deepest geothermal spring, this commercial hot spring is the central attraction in this beautiful mountain town. I have driven through this town on several occasions on the way to other destinations, never stopping to enjoy the hot, mineral rich pools until recently.

I would place The Springs Resort in my top five Colorado hot springs resorts. I will have to update my previous list soon.


 

I loved relaxing in the various pools and listening to the rushing river directly adjacent to the resort. I also liked that there were a variety of pools to enjoy. During my recent visit I had several conversations with others who were also soaking up the springs. Everyone was friendly and laid back on this trip. Later, I was able to find a small pool and relished some moments of peaceful solitude beneath a shimmering moon.


Pros: Located in a charming mountain town, local vibe, variety of temperatures and pools, resort feel.

Con: No discount if you arrive in the latter part of the day. Price is fairly steep, doesn't include cost of locker.

Although the immediate area around the Resort offered several places to eat, I found a cute coffee shop on the other side of town called Boulder Coffee Café. The café was rustically charming, and like most of Pagosa Springs was an independent shop.

Driving along the scenic Wolf Creek Pass
 
 
There are other attractions on the way from Denver, such as, the opportunity to drive over Wolf Creek Pass. This mountain pass is one of the more lush and scenic passes. Treasure Falls is a nice brief stop-off, with several scenic look-out points along the pass.

 
Pagosa Springs is a convenient stop if you are returning from New Mexico or if you are headed to Durango, CO.

Also nearby is Chimney Rock National Monument. Another ancestral Puebloan site where you can tour ruins and learn about the prehistory of the region. Check their website for tour times as I recently learned they close earlier than I expected. The drive and area was scenic, mountainous, and wondrously secluded.


Looking up at Chimney Rock and adjacent ruin


So, whether  Pagosa Springs is your main destination or if you are just passing through....there is plenty to see and do. But especially make a point to check out The Springs Resort and soak in the refreshing hot springs.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

New Mexico: Indeed the Land of Enchantment

On the road to Santa Fe.
All photos property of J. Foster


Lately, I have been exploring places outside of Colorado but relatively close to Denver. Last year I gallivanted around the Four Corners area and also Santa Fe, NM. I fell in love with the dusty, artsy, wide-open feel of the southwest.

Just recently I went back to New Mexico to explore some more places on my list. The recent swelling of  Colorado traffic made me appreciate the empty back roads meandering near the Rio Grande. Nothing but land and sky for as far as the eyes could see. I think I understand more of the allure that artists such as Georgia O'keefe enjoyed about the high desert mesas and tumbleweed landscapes. New Mexico is a place full of history, art, and a sense of mystical intrigue. It is a place for romance, adventure, and reflection.

Below are some places I have enjoyed visiting over the past year. Perhaps you will enjoy them as well.


Fort Union
Old Spanish Trail

Ft. Union operated as a military outpost from 1851-1891 for those traveling along the Santa Fe Trail.
Still visible today are several deep and wide wagon ruts (pictured below) along former frontier trails. Remnants of the second of three forts are what visitors can see and explore. While onsite you can vaguely see where the original fort was situated closer to the mountains. This was a fun, off the beaten path excursion that allows you to feel, if only slightly, what it was like to live out west in the mid-1800s. Personally, I loved seeing the old wagon ruts.











Santa Fe, NM

I got a good deal on a hotel room near the downtown plaza. It was perfect being able to walk to the galleries, restaurants, and historic sites nearby. Plenty of art and history at my hotel doorstep.
I enjoyed visiting what many call the oldest house in the United States (Barrio de Analco), as well as, oldest church (San Miguel Chapel).

Just a few blocks from these sites is the Loretto Chapel, home of the beautiful yet mysterious staircase (pictured below).


Also located off the main plaza is the Georgia O'keefe Museum. I watched a video about her life and viewed several of her original works. While she seems to be mostly known for her flower paintings, I have always been fond of her landscapes. On my recent trip I stopped in Abiquiu, NM where Ghost Ranch is located (Okeefe's former residence). I was excited to view the pedernal that is pictured in several of her famous paintings. If you stop by the Abiquiu Inn you can get a tour of one of her residences and office. Tickets can also be purchased in Santa Fe at the museum.


Cerro Pedernal as viewed from Abiquiu Lake. One of Georgia O'keefe's favorite subjects.


Bandelier National Monument


The second ladder leading to the Alcove House at Bandelier
Bandelier National Monument is about an hour south of Santa Fe.
An incredible historic site showcasing various cliff dwellings that were once inhabited by ancestral Puebloans. Several ladders let you see or climb inside various rooms or shelters. The farthest site on the trail leads to the Alcove House which consists of two high ladders. This particular site is not for the faint of heart.

Many petroglyphs decorate the canyon walls if you pay attention closely. This was a really cool park to explore. The trail meandered along the rock wall and through open space. A lot of accessibility to the sites.




Taos, NM

I did not spend much time in Taos but I really wanted to visit Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the oldest, continuously inhabited pueblos in America. For $16 you can walk through the area. Guided tours are also available. There are specific rules for photography to be aware of while visiting since you are essentially touring people's residence.





A small section of Taos Pueblo



Ojo Caliente, NM

One of the best hot springs I have ever visited is the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa. Practically in the middle of nowhere, this place was so relaxing and nice. The pools were organized by mineral and temperature. For instance, there was an arsenic pool (good for skin conditions and arthritis), iron pool, mud pool, etc. Definitely one of the more relaxing and health-focused commercial springs I've seen. Will definitely go back one day!






Aztec Ruins National Monument



Located in Aztec, NM near the Colorado/NM border is Aztec Ruins National Monument.

This place allows for easy access inside the  world of the ancestral Puebloans. On a much smaller scale than Chaco and in a residential neighborhood this park was quite different than other National Monuments/Parks that I have visited. This place seems like a good place for field trips since it provides such easy access to the ruins.



Chaco Culture National Historic Park


The main attraction for me on the most recent NM trip was to see Pueblo Bonito located at Chaco Culture National Historic Park. On the NPS website they refer to Chaco as the "center of an ancient world." That statement is bountifully accurate. Located in one of the most isolated sections of New Mexico, away from modern conveniences except for a tiny gas station about 30 minutes away in the town of Nageezi...



After you drive for about 20 miles on a rugged, dirt road you come upon the Gallo Campground and then the Visitor Center. Once you pass the Visitor Center you will see many remnants of a civilization that lived in this canyon over 1,000 years ago. The people who once lived in Chaco canyon are the same people who also built Mesa Verde. But Chaco, according to recent scholars, was built earlier than Mesa Verde. Pueblo Bonito (photo glimpse below) was the main hub for community life, ceremonies, and trade. Several other sites consisting of many ruins, petroglyphs, and high mesa stairways exist in this vast historical graveyard of sorts.

And the night sky.......the only other time I have witnessed such an intense, vastly populated blanket of stars was the summer I camped on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona (circa 1996). The sky at Chaco was incredible. In fact, I didn't even have a campfire the first night because I just wanted to see the stars in all of their glory. Chaco is in the top 12 worldwide night sky programs of the NPS.




There is so much more to see in the lovely State of New Mexico.
I still would like to explore Carlsbad Caverns, Gila National Forest, Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, Acoma Pueblo, and Bisti Badlands to name a few.


Just a half-day drive from Denver; come visit the Land of Enchantment. 










Friday, May 20, 2016

Colorado Adventure Ideas--Summer 2016





I thought I would share some of the items remaining on my Colorado bucket list. Perhaps others might also be interested in some of these adventures.

(Click on the highlighted portions for links)

Ride the Rails
Several Railroad lines offer tours or rides. Here are four options in or near Denver:

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad

Amtrak train from Denver to Glenwood Springs (Roundtrip)

Cog Railroad


Gold Mine Tours

Everett and Lebanon Mines- The Georgetown Loop Railroad can drop you off.

Molly Kathleen Mine- Located in Cripple Creek, Colorado. $20/adult. $12/kids.

Argo Gold Mine--Located in Idaho Springs, Colorado. $16/adult and $8/kids.



Hike a 14er

For beginners:

Mt. Sherman-This is the one I hope to summit sometime soon. Two reasons: 1) There is an old mine at the base 2) One of the "easier" ones to start with.

Mt. Bierstadt- Located in a popular area and also noted as a good "starter" climb.


Hike Parts of the Colorado Trail

There are 28 segments that make up the Colorado Trail. If you can't hike the whole thing...maybe try section by section. I've only casually hiked along 3 sections. Hoping to add more as time goes by.

Explore More Colorado History

Daniel-Fisher Tower Tour-At one point this clock tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Tours offered on Saturdays. Cool historical/architectural tour.
Holzwarth historic site located on the Grand Lake side of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Bent's Old Fort- Travel back in time to the mid-1800s during the fur trade along the Sante Fe Trail.
Sand Creek Massacre Site-(Located near Bent's Old Fort site) Remember and honor a tragic event in American history...site where a group of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Amerindians were killed.
Dinosaur National Monument- One of Colorado's National Park Monument sites. Come and see dinosaur fossils and bone quarries.

Go Off-Roading!
A sample of jeep outfitters:

Colorado Jeep Tours

Backbone Adventures

Mountain High Rentals


Rent a Pontoon Boat for an afternoon

I've been wanting to do this for a long time. Maybe this summer it will happen!
Boat rentals for Lake Dillon: see Lake Dillon Boathouse


Get out and explore, y'all!! Happy summering!!






Thursday, May 19, 2016

Humboldt Burger VS Meadowlark Burger

I have been waiting to partake of the Meadowlark Burger so that I could compare it with my top pick, the Humboldt Burger.
 
The results are in:
#1 in Taste Satisfaction: The Humboldt Burger
 
#1 in Visual Appeal and Creativity: The Meadowlark Burger
 
 
 
Meadowlark Burger, visually stunning
The Humboldt Burger, tastes absolutely amazing!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Meadowlark Kitchen


 
A friend and I accidentally found ourselves in Hipsterville, also known as the Rino district of Denver. Due to Sunday afternoon baseball game traffic we were delightfully rerouted to the Meadowlark Kitchen
 
This place has been on my list of places to check out, especially to try the Meadowlark burger. And I will say it did not disappoint. For visual appeal I'd say it wins top place among Denver burger joints. Towering high with features such as poached egg, bacon, jalapeno sauce, and yummy cheese this burger tasted pretty darn great.
 In all honesty, it was the first time I have tried a burger with poached egg even though I've seen several places around town adding this feature. It was quite messy and eventually I ended up eating it with a fork.

 
The menu was small yet varied. My friend had the catfish (featured below).
 
 
The venue is fairly small in the front but has a large patio in the back.
It was pretty hoppin' when we were there.
If you find yourself in the Rino district, check out this cute artsy restaurant.
 




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!