Last month we went to Colorado.
This was a family vacation a long time in the making. My husband was born in Denver and he spent several years of his childhood in Colorado Springs, so the Rocky Mountains have always felt like home to him. He’s wanted to take me and our kids there for years.
When we found the deal of a lifetime on airfare, we decided that we couldn’t afford NOT to go.
Three of our 4 kids had never flown before, and one of our favorite memories happened before we even left the ground. We stopped to grab lunch at a burrito place inside the airport, and as all six of us sat down to eat, I noticed my husband reach for a Chick-Fil-A cup to take a drink. I said, “Who went to Chick-Fil-A?” As terror dawned in his eyes, he spewed the drink from SOME RANDOM AIRPORT PERSON’s cup into a napkin and the girls and I yelled, “Eww! Gross! That was a cup someone left on the table! Arrrrgh! Blech!” As we were all spluttering and making faces, Jed sidles over from the other side of the tables where he’d been people-watching and reaches for the Chick-Fil-A cup. It was like we were all in slow motion and powerless to stop the inevitable. Like father, like son. I snatched the offending cup from his hands (and straw from his lips) and threw it away before anyone ELSE could make the same mistake. Eww. Just eww.
When we made it onto the plane, we were all a little nervous (except for the Dad – he never gets nervous). I reminded the kids of the bible verse that says if we are down in the depths of the ocean, God is there. And if we are in the highest heights of the heavens, God is there. So no matter where we go, we won’t be out of His hand. In light of this information, Jed asked a good question: “So… can we SEE God up here or what?”
When the little bell sounded for the fasten seat belts sign, Adelaide said, “What is that?” and their dad said, “Oh, someone’s at the plane door. It’s probably Thor, since he can fly.” This was followed up by many Thor jokes, ie: “I have a Thor foot” and “Is anyone else’s throat Thor?” and “You thought you were right, but you are Thor-ly mistaken.”
Once we landed and picked up our car, we drove through the outskirts of Denver – Brighton and Commerce City were regular old places – lots of haphazard buildings and old barns, storage facilities and big mausoleums. At one point, Adelaide said, “It really smells like wet dog in here!” but Josie pointed out that it was probably just her sister’s feet. I told everyone my new joke: “Two cannibals were eating a comedian. One asked the other, “’Does this taste funny to you?’” Ha! Gets me every time. Josie broke up the long drive through miles of claustrophobic, steep, rock-walled canyons-on-either-side of us by informing us that she could predict the future. “Hey Mom, in exactly 2 seconds I shall pinch you!” and then it happened. Amazing.
As we continued to drive and gain elevation, 2 things happened. Sadie and I felt sicker and sicker from the altitude and the other kids watched a movie on the rental’s built-in DVD player. To Jed’s delight, it was one of his favorites, “Oh Brother Oh Doubt There,” known to most of us as “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Suddenly, the sides of the canyons we’d been driving through parted and fell away. Without warning, the landscape opened up in front of us. I’ll never be able to explain the feeling when that panoramic view met my eyes. At our first glimpse of the majestic Rockies, our collective breath was taken away. It was a moment I will never forget. We had reached Estes Park and it was nothing short of incredible.
The next few days were filled with Rocky Mountain National Park, altitude sickness pills, boulder climbing, elk and bobcat sightings, the hotel that inspired The Shining, drinking tons of extra water, a toy store named Estes Ark, slot car racing, leaning over cliffs at 10,000 feet up, eating boar, elk, pheasant, and bison at The Hunter’s Chop House, and finding out that an oxygen bar is *not* anything like a granola bar. We met someone from Ashe County, NC (near my hometown) in our hotel breakfast room, and Jed thoroughly enjoyed his first rendezvous with a bagel toaster.
We drove through Roosevelt National Forest, saw bison in Boulder, stopped for quiche and waffles at The Happy Cooker in Historic Georgetown, then we ran through the pouring rain to visit the old-timey hardware store’s candy counter. Adelaide said the store smelled like Rudy, her Mamaw’s poodle. (What is it with this kid thinking everything smells like dogs?)
On our way to Steamboat Springs, the kids grew desperate for a game to play, so they made one up. It was called “Guess What’s in the Sock?” You can probably figure out the gist of the game. Someone took off their sock and hid tiny things in it and the players had to guess what was in there. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
We ate at a place called Dude-n-Dan’s (we had lots of fun with that name) where Josie actually drank the BBQ sauce. We bought Adelaide a rabbit skin at a fur-trader store, and we drove up to the hot springs at the end of a washboard-y dirt road tucked way back at the top of a mountain. Since we got there late in the evening, we were informed that it was “clothing optional after dark” so the kids weren’t allowed in. As we turned to leave, the kids’ eyes were darting all around and they stage-whispered: “Does anyone see any naked people!?” Jed was concerned that if people got in naked, “Dey will burn dere penises right off!”
As we continued our tour, we saw statues of Sasquatches, clouds shaped like cobras, trains, gold mines, and amazing rock formations. We stopped in Eagle and climbed in an old train car. In Glenwood Canyon, we built stacks of stones and we almost stepped on a snake. Later we stopped for lunch, where the kids had a noodle duel with their spaghetti and I almost flipped out because I was starving and the place didn’t want to sell me a meatball for some unknown reason. We’re calling that “The Great Meatball Flip Out of 2016.”
Glenwood Springs was also home to Glenwood Adventure Park which was at the tip top of a very high mountain that could only be reached by TERRIFYING CABLE CARS GOING STRAIGHT UP. The kids loved it. I was petrified. Especially once we got to the summit and a big dark storm rolled in… and they closed down the cable cars. Yeah. No joke. Luckily, there was a lot to keep us occupied up there – including a tour of the caverns down inside the mountain and a little playground where the kids could go spelunking through a tiny little fake cave called “Jam Crack.”
We lived through the trip back down (my eyes were closed the whole time) and we drove through Aspen and Vail. We continually gazed, googly-eyed, at the amazing mountains all around us. The line from The Grinch kept coming back to me “10,000 feet up, up the side of Mount Crumpet, he rode with his load to the tip top to dump it!” The kids played with their Shopkins in the car and took turns drawing crazy-looking pro-wrestlers. Then we stopped in Redstone, a tiny little town close to rows and rows of weird coal “coke ovens” left over from the glory days of the booming coal industry. We visited a beautiful little church full of stained glass windows and we fantasized about buying one of the houses by the banks of the river there and turning it into a bed and breakfast.
We visited Paonia, where we ate lunch at a tiny “small town America” diner on Main Street. The kids ate outside (Adelaide bemoaned the lack of cheese dip) and pointed at cloud formations “Dere’s a giant in da sky!” Jed got a haircut at the ONLY barber in town and Sadie searched for a bathroom and a new book at a weird little thrift store. Josie found some beaded Native American earrings to go with her fabulous red cowgirl boots.
We went to beautiful Ouray, enjoyed the hot tubs outside our cabin, climbed up to an amazing waterfall (“Dat was da best expewience I ever had!”) and we found out that I had been unknowingly stalked by a bear while doing laundry late at night. Josie slammed her finger in our cabin door and we saw a giant fish skeleton in the bed of a dried-up river. We saw mule deer and a wolverine (also known as a skunk bear) and we crossed the Continental Divide. Jed sang “I Won’t Back Down” over and over and Sadie spotted a bobcat hunting at his very own fast-food restaurant, the prairie dog village in the field next to the road.
We went through Telluride and saw beautiful Swiss clothing in a boutique, along with some yodeling toy prairie dogs. Adelaide was starving so she asked, “I don’t like fish… do you think you can you go catch us a hot dog in the river?” We all laughed and Sadie replied, “Don’t worry, Adelaide. We as a family will get you the help you so desperately need.”
We stopped in Rico for hot dogs and to buy some organic homemade lip balm and cupcake soap. Then we met up with Jesse’s cousins at his long-lost Aunt June’s house in Cortez. Jed gave out candy to his little boy cousins (he was happy to have some guys to play with) and said, “Want some candy? It’s for free!” since usually his candy does not come without a price. They spent a nice afternoon climbing hills and digging tunnels in Aunt June’s yard. There must’ve been some war play involved because later Jed informed us that “George Washington always wins” and “dat is why I want to be George Washington!”
We spent lots of time with Emily, Micah, Eli, and Brenna over the next couple of days and Jed had a great discussion on dinosaurs with his buddy in the back seat of our car on our way to Durango. This was overheard as we drove to Mesa Verde National Park: “Look at all those dead trees. Don’t come here on Halloween!” And “Why did the banana cross the road? To get to the banana shop. To go get an eyeball for his BRAINS! HAHAHAHA!” Boys come up with the goofiest jokes.
The girls enjoyed time with their newfound best friends/cousins and their new little shadow, 3-year-old Brenna. We had a great evening playing outside at a local brewery with live music and delicious fries. The next day at a restaurant in Mesa Verde, they gave our order the name Chevy Chase (each order got its own Hollywood name) and Josie ate an entire Navajo Taco, which was a gigantic open face taco on some kind of flatbread. Adelaide tried some weird candy and remarked, “Those taste like those grape vitamins that take away your pain!” We saw eagles in the wild and climbed around near the cliff dwellings. The views were astonishing and it was humbling to think of the generations and generations of people who had lived and walked there on the very same ancient ground.
Then we went to a fantastic, veteran-owned tourist trap called “The Hogan” with a giant teepee and giant arrows out front designed to attract your attention. Boy, did it work! They had tons of jewelry and ornaments made from rocks and local gemstones, arrowheads, furs, slingshots, you name it. It was probably my favorite stop. I love tourist traps!
In Pagosa Springs, we finally made it into the hot springs and let me tell you, they don’t call them hot springs for nothing. They are HOT. There was one pool called “The Lobster Pot” that was 120 degrees! Each pool had its own name and its own temperature. It was so amazing to be out under the big Colorado moon next to a raging river in a burning hot pool. We stayed in until closing time – even when another storm blew in and we could see lightning out over the mountains.
We also stayed at an absolutely wonderful Bed and Breakfast called Elk Trace. I wish we could’ve rearranged our trip and stayed there much longer. The kids loved touring the stables and feeding the horses. I loved the barbell in the workout area and the sauna. We all loved the luxurious log cabin with a huge wraparound porch and amazing views. None of us could believe it when dozens of teeny little hummingbirds flew up to the feeders and several landed right on the kids’ outstretched fingers!
We went on a family horseback riding adventure – my first time on a horse IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. It was fun. But I’m not planning on competing in a rodeo anytime soon. Horses are way taller than I thought they were.
We drove up the terrifying, exhilarating, beautiful, (did I mention terrifying?) Pike’s Peak. It was hot at the bottom and freezing cold at the top. We all felt sorry for the people on motorcycles, since we could barely stand it inside our car! Jed chose a stuffed bighorn sheep as his souvenir and promptly named it “Horny.” Then he proceeded to scare Sadie to death when he escaped her at the summit and she thought he was going to blow over the edge. 14,000 feet is a long way down. The national park service in Colorado should seriously consider their guardrail situation. That’s all I will say about that.
Sadie and I went into a rock shop at the base of the mountain and got some very cool jewelry made of out gemstones. Then we stopped at a Sinclair gas station with dinosaurs you could climb on. Jed was suitably impressed.
Garden of the Gods was fun for the kids and Jesse. They liked scampering over the rocks like mountain goats. I liked the scenery. And the weather. Slippery rocks and loose gravel = not an ideal situation for a clumsy person such as myself. I held it together though. I only slid down once. Okay, twice.
I must admit that I had my doubts about this trip when Jesse planned the whole thing out. Keeping everyone together in the airport? All that luggage? 4 hour flights? All of those hours in a car with all the kids? I could do it… but could he? He surprised me, though. One of my favorite memories is climbing onto an elevator with the kids as I took them down to the pool so Jesse could get some work done after a LONG stretch in the car. Adelaide said, nonchalantly, “Welp, Dad’s doing pretty good so far. I’m proud of him. He hasn’t even freaked out at all yet.”
And honestly, it was a great trip. Lots of family togetherness. Lots of Mexican food. Lots of “ooh-ahh” moments. Shared memories. Shared experiences. Shared Chick-Fil-A cups. Breathtaking scenery. Little hands holding mine. My husband taking a bajillion pictures of his “homeland.” Bedtime prayers in hotel rooms and fresh waffles for breakfast. Roadside waterfalls and wildlife spotting. The presence of God in His amazing creation.
I can’t wait to go back.