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.)



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.