Driving Up Lookout Mountain

I went to Golden this past weekend for a quick trip because it had been far too long since I had seen my little munchkin nieces and nephew. I got in late on Friday night and Peter woke me up bright and early on Saturday morning. I wish I could say it’s because he was so excited to see me, but the first thing he asked was if I brought my phone. This was early enough that we could watch the sunrise as we ate cereal in the dining room.

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And yes, that photo was taken just outside their front door. They have a pretty amazing view. Mike and Peter had other plans that morning, but Amanda took me and the girls for a drive up Lookout Mountain.

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We stopped part way up for views of Golden, including the Coors Brewery.

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And even further up, we stopped at a scenic overlook.

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Do you see a little glimpse of Denver just behind that mountain?

As we crested the mountain, we saw a deer on the side of the road.

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It was a short drive, but a beautiful one. I had hoped for better weather on my trip. Unfortunately, it was kind of grey and cold and windy the whole time. Good thing I had such cheery company.

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A Quick Trip to Golden

I love that my sister now lives just a short hour-and-a half-flight away. It makes it so easy to pop over the mountains whenever I can find a good deal on airfare. Even if it’s just for a short weekend. We didn’t do anything too special. Just played with some legos and spent the afternoon at the park. Did I mention it was the first of December and we were in short sleeves? It was the best.

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We also had a picnic on campus and enjoyed some pizza from Golden landmark, Woody’s, courtesy of Mike winning the best beard at the School of Mines. This gave the kids the perfect opportunity to draw on a huge chalkboard.

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Later that night, we bundled up to take a stroll through the lights in downtown Golden.

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I had to leave Sunday evening, so after church on Sunday we just relaxed and watched Dumbo. I was curious to know how a child viewed the crazy pink elephant scene. In Peter’s words, “This is weird!” The kids took advantage of my phone and spent time playing Star Wars Angry Birds and Bad Piggies. I love how they look all huddled together.

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Aww… I just love those kiddos. It’s always hard to leave.

red light, green light

On Labor Day, I got into a pretty competitive game of Red Light, Green Light with the kids. It started off with just Peter and Lucy.

That Peter… he’s so speedy. Let’s try another round. This time, Penny Lane joined us.

He won again. Later that afternoon, we all went out for some ice cream. I think Penny and Lucy got more on their face than in their mouths.

Aww… I already miss these kids. I’m so happy they moved back west because I can’t wait to see them again. After Europe.

Lovely Golden

Since my last visit with Amanda and family, they moved across the country to lovely Golden, Colorado. I am thrilled to have them so much closer! And I was so excited about my 90 minute flight on Friday. I forgot that you have to add on waiting at the airport and then delays due to rain and then a really delayed baggage claim (40 minutes!) and it turns out that the Denver International Airport is really far away from Denver, so my short flight ended up being at least 5 hours of travel, but hey, it was still pretty easy. And totally worth it!

Because Mike and Amanda couldn’t move into their rental until the day after I arrived, they had been staying in an Extended Stay. On Saturday, Mike and some movers unloaded the moving van while Amanda and I got to take the kids to the park.

Golden has lots of great parks, but the best part about them is that each one has views like this:

But for me, my favorite part was getting to spend time with these guys.

mesa verde

I was cleaning out our storage unit yesterday and came across a few old photo albums. One of them had this picture from my last visit to Mesa Verde National Park all the way back in 2003.

Awww… we were such kids back then. And yet, Mesa Verde was exactly the same eight years later. It’s probably been exactly the same for at least 800 years or more. I’m guessing there was a period of time when it wasn’t ruins and was actually the thriving population all of the signage said it was. Also, according to the signage, there were lots of dogs around. Sometimes they were snapping at the meat.

And sometimes just resting peacefully.

What I want to know, though, is how did the dogs climb up the ladders? Can dogs do that? Anyway, last time I went to Mesa Verde, we actually did take a tour of one of the cliff dwellings. I had to make it back to Durango later that day to catch my flight, so I didn’t have much time. I decided just to drive the Mesa Top Loop and check out some sites. But there’s a lot of driving to do once you get into the park. Here’s the mesa from the entrance.

As I wound around up to the top, I saw a pullover for the highest point of the mountain, so of course I took it. You have to hike up a little bit following this path lined with leafless branches. (I wish I knew more about the names of flora and fauna, but not enough to actually look it up.)

And then you can see a panorama of the whole valley. It’s strange to think that I was in those mountains just a few hours before.

At first, the Mesa Top Loop was mostly just a lot of scorched trees, pit houses, and adobes.

But there was also plenty of stops where you could view the cliff dwellings. Sometimes it felt like playing “where’s waldo” as you searched the cliffs in front of you because they were so well camouflaged.

Can you see them? At one overlook, I was next to a French couple who kept trying to spot some. Finally, we saw the Square House on our side of the canyon.

I liked seeing the tiny people on the other side of the canyon, too, and wondered if they were looking at me.

Since I was following a loop with several stops, I kept running into the same people who were also following the loop. One of them was what appeared to be a college group on a field trip. I was a little jealous, but mostly I was jealous of the cute orange field books they all carried and would write notes in and draw sketches.

Even though exploring the cliff dwellings on my last visit was fascinating, and I would definitely recommend it for those visiting the park for the first time, I didn’t really miss it on this trip. I think the most fascinating thing about the cliff dwellings is actually seeing them as part of the entire cliff. On the tour, you’re a little too close to it to get the full picture that you can see from across the canyon.

Ouray to Cortez

When I woke up in Ouray last Saturday morning, the town was blanketed in snow. I walked up the street to a bakery and picked up the most delicious breakfast croissant I have ever had (if you’re ever in the area, it was from Artisan Bakery).

And then I was on the road again.

You know, I have not really been looking forward to the approaching winter. I caught the tail end of it last year after moving back from New Orleans and it mostly felt long and dreary. But seeing the first snow settled atop the fields and mountains actually made me a little excited. It all looked like a Christmas card. I’ll probably hate it again in February and March (and probably April), but right then, it was simply beautiful.

The benefit of driving by myself was that I could pull off whenever and wherever I wanted. Whenever I saw a forest access road, I’d take it and go exploring.

The downside is that there’s no one to take a picture of you, so I tried to take one of myself.

I had a hard time holding the camera far enough away, so I tried another approach.

Yeah, that didn’t work out so well either. I guess I could have set the self-timer, but I was a little nervous about putting it on top of the car. I just kept imagining it falling off. Anyway, one of my little detours took me past Trout Lake (if I remember correctly).

Apparently, I never met a scenic overlook that I didn’t want to stop at.

Driving the Skyway (as we byways enthusiasts call it) took me up over the San Juan Mountains and back down to the plateaus near Cortez where I settled in for the night.

Durango to Ouray

I think I mentioned in my last post that I was going to Colorado. It was officially for work, but I tagged a few extra days on so I could explore the area. I have actually been there before… kind of. I drove through that southwest corner of Colorado on my drive from New Orleans to SLC. And about 8 years ago, I traveled the roads in an RV with some of my byways colleagues on our way to the National Scenic Byways Conference in Albuquerque. But neither opportunity really allowed me time to experience the area. I went to Durango for a training class for one of our products at work. The day of training was terrible! It was snowing and cold and blustery and grey. And when I checked the weather for the weekend, it didn’t look promising. But on Friday morning, the sun came out and it stayed out the rest of the time. Hooray! So let me share with you the first leg of my trip. I started out in Durango.

At first I thought it was such a little town, but I soon realized that it’s the biggest one around. It’s a touristy little town with cute shops, diners, and breweries. I believe it’s most famous for its steam-powered train from Durango to Silverton. I remember reading about it when I was researching America’s Byways for a story about trains. (Wow, I can’t believe that was all the way back in 2004.) I really wanted to ride the train. It looks awesome! It has a vintage Pullman and you know how I love historic things. But it’s a little pricey, and I knew I didn’t want to just take lots of blurry photos from the window of the train. I found out a little too late that Durango also has a melodrama theater. That probably would have been more fun than watching cable in my hotel room. But I did eat a huge blueberry pancake and some thick-sliced bacon at the Durango Diner. My favorite part of Durango was actually Third Avenue, a few streets up from Main. It has historic houses and churches and a median with tall trees.

Durango is also the home of a liberal arts college, Fort Lewis College, so clearly, I had to check it out because I’m a sucker for a college campus. Turns out, the campus didn’t seem to be much to write home about, but it has an amazing view!

And just so you know what I was cruising in… here’s the Hyundai Sonata I picked up at the airport. It had a really flashy dashboard and was so quiet that I sometimes couldn’t tell if it was turned on.

And then it was time to say good-bye to Durango and experience the San Juan Skyway, an All-American Road. I hope you like photos of gorgeous scenery because there may be just a few of those coming up. Oh, like this one.

And hey, maybe this one.

Okay, a few more.

And then I arrived at Silverton. It started snowing quite a bit, and I almost decided to press on, but I parked for a minute and emailed my sister, took my turn at chess, and checked my twitter and facebook updates and the snow had stopped. I seriously had good luck on this journey. Silverton is a little mining town nestled in the mountains. It seems to mostly exist because it’s the end point of the Durango to Silverton railroad. When I arrived, there were lots of other people wandering around with cameras. But when the train left, the town was empty.

You know, I really wish that I had looked at the Must-See Tour itinerary on the byways site before I went on the trip because apparently there are some ghost towns nearby that I missed out on. Lame. Instead, I just continued on my way to Ouray, the Switzerland of America.

(You have to go through a tunnel to get there… pretty fancy.)

The hardest part about traveling alone is figuring out where to eat. I discovered this in Seattle and it just doesn’t get any easier. I struggled with it the whole trip. I find that breakfast and lunch are pretty easy, but dinner? It’s tricky to find just the right spot. I think I ended up eating beef jerky and granola bars for dinner while I watched Aliens on TV. Oh well… it was snowing, and I didn’t feel like going out.