Introduction & Planning
Our flight from Reykjavik from the preceding Iceland: Grand Circle Road Trip is round trip from Denver. We have to get home from Denver somehow, so we figured we'd take another 40 leisurely days to do that.
August 21, 2014: Our itinerary is now posted. This isn't the first draft, so there probably won't be any drastic changes to what is listed. The first route was much too long and would have kept us away from home longer. So, we cut out touring through New Mexico and stayed with mostly Colorado. Dinosaur National Monument was tacked on at the last minute just because we saw it on the map. We missed this part of Utah during the Canyonlands Road Trip, so we're covering it now. Our stops in Arizona are solely overnight rest stops since we recently toured the sights there.
August 23, 2014: We went back to our original plan to stay in Telluride rather than Ouray over the July 4th weekend. The motels in Ouray jacked up the prices so high that we felt it was unreasonable for what you get. If we have to pay over $300 per night, we want a plush suite in a nice hotel! Telluride isn't cheap by any means, but several of the highest-rated hotels have better rates for the holiday weekend than the old motels in Ouray. We'll decide on a hotel in the next few days and book it before it's too late.
August 27, 2014: We're not taking any chances on getting stuck in a standard room with no air conditioning, so we booked our stay in Mesa Verde National Park at Far View Lodge. We reserved a Kiva Room-2 Double Beds at the AAA rate of $169.06, which, as usual for a national park, includes nothing but the room and maybe free wi-fi.
October 31, 2014: Now that all of our reservations for the Iceland portion of this trip are squared away, we can turn our attention to the road trip from Denver. We booked a 2-Queen Mountain View Suite at the Embassy Suites Denver-Downtown using 50,000 HHonors points per night. The regular price for this room type is $339, which is ridiculous for an Embassy Suites. If we had to pay for the room we would stay elsewhere. All rooms at this hotel are non-smoking and include breakfast. Parking is $33 per night.
November 6, 2014: We've noticed that a few popular stops are already starting to book up, so we went ahead and reserved a King Suite at The Gonzo Inn in Moab. The price for this room type is $215 per night. Room rates include continental breakfast and internet.
November 11, 2014: After doing more research on various sites along our route, we've decided to spend an additional night in Vernal and have eliminated the overnight in Green River. This will give us more time to explore the Flaming Gorge area and Dinosaur National Monument.
December 14, 2014: We reserved an SUV for the duration of this trip from Hertz. The total cost is $3,653.97 with the AAA discount, including all taxes and insurance. We're picking up the car downtown rather than at the airport. Had we picked up at the airport the price would have been twice that amount. There is also an airport tax that adds over $500 to any rental within 24 hours of arrival. Keep that in mind if you ever rent in Denver. Never admit you just flew in. We're picking up the day after arrival, but when renting we chose the option that said we are not flying in.
January 5, 2015: To be sure we could get our preferred hotel over the July 4th weekend, we went ahead and booked a Deluxe 2-Queens room at the Camel's Garden Hotel in Telluride. This was one of only two room types available at this point with the other being a condo unit for over $500 per night. The room we booked is $325 per night and includes breakfast. The non-holiday rate is significantly less, but what choice do we have? Rooms at this hotel are large, over 500sf, and have a fireplace, so they're pretty nice.
January 6, 2015: A new year begins and hotels start to fill up! We were sort of randomly browsing for hotels in our Colorado destinations and found availability diminishing. On top of that, all of our first-choice hotels in Estes Park require a 3-night minimum. What the heck? It's the middle of the week! So, on with the frantic booking to be sure we don't have to stay at a Motel 6.
In Estes Park, we had to go way down the TripAdvisor listings to find a property that doesn't require a 3-night minimum stay. Fortunately, most hotels in this town are highly rated. We booked room #2, described as a 1940's-style king room on the second floor, at the Maxwell Inn. The rate is about $150 per night, including a continental breakfast, wi-fi and the usual amenities. This place is basically a fixed up motel, but it looks nice and gets good reviews.
For Grand Lake, the pickings are slim under the best of circumstances. All of the cabin-type places have long minimum stay requirements and the only real hotel was featured on 'Hotel Impossible'. So, we booked the Rock Room (King) at the Terrace Inn, a three-room B&B over the restaurant of the same name. This is the best room and costs $185 per night, including a cooked-to-order breakfast in the restaurant.
And finally, in Steamboat Springs, we selected the Inn at Steamboat. We originally planned to stay at one of the vintage motels in the older part of town, but decided to go for a little more comfort without breaking the bank. We chose a King Suite at the very reasonable AAA rate of $161 ($151 on Friday.) The inn is located in the newer ski village area.
January 7, 2015: We used 150,000 Hilton Honors points to book three nights at the Hampton Inn Glenwood Springs. The AAA rate for this hotel is $179 for a double queen room. Breakfast and wi-fi is free at all Hamptons.
After a bit of confusion with the hotel's web booking system, we managed to reserve a Junior Suite at the Hotel Aspen (in Aspen, obviously) for $379 per night. That's a bargain for Aspen, believe it or not. Since the suite was only $20 more per night than a regular room it made it an easy decision. Breakfast and wi-fi is included in the rate. This is an older motel/lodge-type building that has been re-done into a boutique hotel.
January 10, 2015: We refined our stops a bit by deleting an overnight in Cañon City to gain an extra day in Salida.
January 25, 2015: For our 3-night stay in Vernal, UT, we booked a 2-Queen Studio at the Springhill Suites by Marriott. The rate for Sunday is $114, the other two nights are $159. Averaged out, this "weekend rate" is a few dollars less than booking at the AAA rate. All Springhill Suites include free breakfast and internet. We were going to choose one of the two Best Western hotels in town, but there is a glitch with our account preventing us from logging in. You snooze, you lose, so our business goes to Marriott.
We're splurging a bit for our stay in Manitou Springs by booking the Henry Ford Suite at The Cliff House. Now we know why we usually don't travel in the summer months...the price is over double what it is in the off season, going for $442 per night plus a "service fee" of $9.00 per person. A full breakfast buffet is included. Most of the rooms here are themed "Celebrity Suites", so it isn't too much of a stretch that we chose one instead of a regular room. We'll use our anniversary date as the excuse for booking this place, but to be honest the real reason is that the other hotels in town are kind of old and basic.
January 28, 2015: A slight adjustment was made to our itinerary. We took a day from Gallup and tacked it onto Payson. It looks like Payson might be somewhat more interesting than Gallup.
January 30, 2015: We decided to go with the whole atmospheric Western theme for our stay in Durango rather than a chain hotel. We booked the Presidential Suite at the historic General Palmer Hotel. Don't get too excited, at $250 per night, it is the same price as a regular non-view room at the DoubleTree a few blocks away. The price includes breakfast and wi-fi.
February 24, 2015: It is time to wrap up our remaining reservations, so here we go! First, we booked the Governor's Suite at the Palace Hotel in Salida. The nightly rate is about $192.00. This is an old railway hotel that has been remodeled into a boutique property. All rooms are suites with kitchens. A small continental breakfast is delivered to the room each morning. Wi-fi is included. Unfortunately, parking is on the street or a block away in a vacant lot. We'll just have to hope for the best.
For our 2-night stay in Gunnison, we chose a 2-Queen Executive Suite at the Holiday Inn Express for $162 (AAA rate.) All HIE hotels include free breakfast and Wi-fi.
Next up is an overnight stay at the new Hilton Garden Inn in Gallup, NM. We had considered staying at the historic El Rancho Hotel, but the reviews suggest that a brief look is a better option than actually staying there. We used 30,000 Hilton Honors points for a 2-Queen room (the regular rate is $107.) We'll get the cooked-to-order breakfast free because of our Hilton Honors status. It normally costs about $12 per person at this chain.
In the small town of Payson, AZ, we booked a 2-Queen room at the Quality Inn for $89.99 AAA rate. Breakfast and Wi-fi included. This is an older motel that has changed brands several times, so we're not expecting much. It looks like a typical Best Western, which in fact it was at some point.
And last, but not least, unless you factor in the town it is in, we used our Chase free night certificate for a room at the Holiday Inn Yuma. The regular price for a 2-Queen room here is $117. We stayed here before under the same circumstances and it is a very nice hotel. Breakfast is not included, but last time they gave us a $5 coupon for a discount on breakfast which worked out to be about 50% off. In any case, there is a branch of every chain eatery known to man within a mile of this property.
Unless something changes, all of the planning and reserving for this road trip is a done deal. We can't wait to get started!
June 2, 2015: We booked a private car transfer from Denver International to our hotel with Blacklane for $72.
REMINDER: If you would like to comment or ask questions during our adventures, be sure to join our Forum HERE.
Day 1: Friday, June 5 - Fly from Reykjavik to Denver - Embassy Suites Denver-Downtown
Welcome to Denver, where 300 days of sunshine, a thriving cultural scene,
diverse neighborhoods, and natural beauty combine for the world's most
spectacular playground. A young, active city at the base of the Colorado Rocky
Mountains, Denver's stunning architecture, award-winning dining and unparalleled
views are all within walking distance from the 16th Street pedestrian mall.
Upscale shopping awaits in Cherry Creek, while Denver's seven professional
sports teams entertain year-round.
We arrived in Denver at 6:00pm, about fifteen minutes late. As soon as we had cell service again we had several messages from the car service telling us the driver is there and to text him back, which we did. Problem is, we don't know if he's on the east or west side, so we'll have to look around.
There is an automated passport check that seems pointless. We can't quite figure out what it is accomplishing. You go up to a touchscreen kiosk that scans your passport and takes your picture. You answer some yes or no questions that are the same as on a Customs Declaration, and a receipt with you picture and all of your information pops out. Then you go to the actual passport check. The line is divided into people whose information does or does not have an "X" through it. All we can figure out is that perhaps the picture taken at the kiosk doesn't match their passport. Oh, and the machine knew which flight we arrived on all by itself.
At the regular passport check it works the same as always except you hand the agent your passport and the receipt from the kiosk, both of which are handed back to you. Next is baggage claim. Our luggage was already on the carousel, so that part is easy enough. Then off to the one guy checking everyone who is obviously annoyed about how stupid people are. He takes the receipt, but says, "Keep it," regarding the Customs Declaration we got on the plane. No one ever collected it or even looked at it. So what's the point?
After more confusion about which side of the terminal to find the right door for the limo driver, we finally found him. He's very nice and helpful. He told us that it has been raining all month and that usually everything is dry by now. It looks like it might rain later.
We arrived at the Embassy Suites Downtown at 8:00pm. A very friendly doorman directed us to the fourth floor to check in. There, a perky young woman gave us our key and marked some of her favorite restaurants on a map. She assured us it is safe to walk around downtown. We did see a lot of people walking to restaurants and such as we drove in, but we also saw a rescue mission and billions of homeless people.
The package we sent to the hotel was found with no delays and we were off to our room on the 17th floor. The lobby of the hotel looks very modern and new, but this isn't a new hotel. It is the old atrium style Embassy Suites with corridors open to below. The room is huge with nice furniture, but it will probably be time for a makeover soon. We're very excited to see two queen sized beds and nice linens again. The bathroom even has a door and there is shampoo, lotion and conditioner. The living room part of the suite is large and comfortably furnished. We're not thrilled that we can hear the neighbor through the adjoining door, but at least it isn't in the bedroom.
Shortly after we arrived a lightning storm began over the mountains in the distance. It was dramatic then, but within twenty minutes it was directly over the hotel. Drenching rained poured for about fifteen minutes while lightening repeatedly struck the roof of the building next door. It is quite a scene to say the least. We're glad we aren't going out tonight.
We pulled ourselves together and went back to the lobby for dinner in the hotel's restaurant. At first it didn't look open, but the front desk woman had assured us it is open until 11:00pm. We finally asked the bartender and he said to sit anywhere. A very nice waiter served us. The most shocking thing is that the most expensive entree is $16. Dave had pot roast and Bill had trout. The bill including one cocktail was only $45. The food wasn't very good, but it was edible and served its purpose. We won't be going back for dinner though.
Our waiter asked what we are doing in Denver and we told him we just came back from Iceland. He wanted to know all about it, so we chatted with him for a few minutes.
We made it back to the room by 10:00pm. We're so disgusting from traveling all day that all we want to do is shower, burn our clothes, and go to bed. We're happy to see that it is shorts and T-shirt weather in spite of the rain. We'll gladly be shedding our layers and heavy jackets ASAP!
Day 2: Saturday, June 6 - Denver - Embassy Suites Denver-Downtown
Bill woke up very early and went back to bed a few hours later. Dave finally got up at 7:00am, although he was awake off and on since 5:00am. OMG, it is nice to sleep in big fluffy beds again! And with soft sheets and puffy pillows. Bliss. And air conditioning, too. What a marvel. We're a little freaked out by the toilet that uses about an ounce of water to flush and the shower that barely gets us wet, but we'll get back in the swing of conservation soon enough. Our side of the hotel is supposed to have a mountain view, which it probably did before the condos were built next door.
It is supposed to be partly cloudy today with a high in the low 70's, but that remains to be seen. Our waiter last night told us that strange, unpredictable weather has been the norm this year.
The free breakfast at the hotel was fantastic. It's probably not so much what is served, but that we can finally get eggs, French toast, fruit we don't have to cut up ourselves, pastries, and the like. Whatever, it was very good. We've stayed at Embassy Suites before and don't remember the selection being this good, although it was fine. A woman clearing tables was beyond friendly and helpful. Any hotel that can employ someone like that to be the first person people see in the morning is really onto something.
We're supposed to pick up our rental car from the Hertz location about a block away. However, we're suspicious of this working out because online the location says it is closed on Saturday. Dave received a confirmation email yesterday, so it should be OK, but we're not feeling good about this.
We walked over and, of course, the location is closed on Saturday. What the heck? They have to know there is someone with a reservation today. Nobody bothered to call or email. It wasn't like this reservation was made this morning. We noted the two phone numbers to call that are posted on the door and went back to the hotel. Dave is steaming at this point. He doesn't like his plans screwed up!
Dave called the first number and was put on hold/hung up on; he can't tell for sure. He tries the second number and there's no answer. Try the first one again. No answer. Grrrrrr. OK fine, he'll call Hertz corporate. He pushes all the right buttons and is connected to someone who is on the verge of being rude who tells him this is the wrong department, but he'll transfer him. The person who answers is so distracted talking to people in the background (Dave is almost certain it is a work-at-home agent talking to her unruly kids) that she can't be understood. Dave tells her he has had enough, can't understand her, and hangs up. He calls again and gets a different person who pays attention, but decides she can't fix this and he needs to speak to a specialist. He's transferred to said specialist who starts off rudely, but when she hears the story becomes very sympathetic and wants to help.
She checks other locations that are open today and says we can go to one at the Marriott, but it will cost $5,400 (our original reservation is for $3,600). He tells her that is not acceptable. She's again sympathetic and can't understand why this has happened, but she doesn't have the authority to override the price. Dave suggests changing the original reservation for a pick-up on Monday instead. You'd think that would be the best way to do it, right? Wrong! She can do that, but it will change the price to $4,500. Again, Dave tells her that isn't acceptable. She says she'll have a supervisor call back who has the power to fix this. We do not believe for one second that anyone is going to call back, but what are we supposed to do? Oh, and if we are charged the $25 no-show fee the shit is going to hit the fan!
We waited around until 12:30pm for a call-back that never came. At that point we decided to walk to a couple of attractions that are nearby and then find somewhere to have lunch. The convention center is across the street with the Blue Bear sculpture peering in through the windows facing the street. The official title is "I See What You Mean" if you really care. It is shady over there, so we started walking from there.
Then we set out toward the state capitol building where there is a big park filled with sculptures and such. It might kill some time and should be pleasant enough. Nope, there's a big event going on so the whole thing is fenced off. To get to the next place we want to see we'd have to walk all the way around the park, so we thought we'd see what the festival is about and if there is a shortcut through it.
What's going on is the annual People's Fair celebrating Denver's diversity. Nice idea, but it pretty much looks like a swap meet with vendors selling cheap jewelry and such. There is a street of booths selling food and the setting is nice, but we're not feeling it. We kept walking along the rows of booths toward the capitol hoping we'd see something fascinating. We didn't and it is getting hot. There are lots of cute dogs and people playing in a fountain, but that's the big effort. The most popular booths are the ones offering palm reading and treatments to energize your chi or something equally off the wall.
OK, we're over the festival thing. The organizers claim that 200,000 people show up, but we'd say there were less than 10,000 people there, if that. Maybe it picks up at night?
We checked our map and found a route to the Molly Brown House Museum a few blocks away. It is in the Pennsylvania Avenue Historic District, so there are lots of beautiful old houses (and ugly new ones), several old churches, and a cathedral among other things. We easily found the house and went to buy a ticket for the 1:30pm tour that starts in three minutes. No pictures are allowed inside, sorry. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and is relatively interesting. We'd recommend it with the caveat that there are a couple parts that drag on a bit too long. Our guide was way too enthusiastic, but she seemed to know what she is talking about. There's a nice gift shop in the carriage house.
While we were on the house tour a very violent thunderstorm passed over dumping torrents of rain and hail. We wonder how the festival goers survived it? It was the kind of storm that usually blows away bounce houses and things like that. By the time we came out the sky was blue with not a cloud in the sky.
We walked back toward the downtown area down another block that wasn't the best area in the world. Keep walking and don't stop. We said earlier that there are a billion homeless people on the streets. We take that back. There must be 2 billion. They don't bother anyone that we've seen, but we've never seen this many of them anywhere else. There were 30 of them in one half-block stretch (yes, we counted).
Back downtown we headed for the 16th Street Mall. This street is restricted, but it isn't completely pedestrians only. There are buses and pedi-cabs to dodge. There are also all sorts of unsavory characters wandering around (meaning mentally ill mostly) plus the usual hordes of homeless people. In this area they each have some sort of gimmick to garner attention. It is too bad because Denver is a beautiful city, but we just don't feel comfortable walking down the street even though there are lots of people doing the same thing. We'd describe it as having a bad vibe. We haven't seen any graffiti, so it has a hand up on Reykjavik in that regard.
We walked most of the length of the mall street and went two blocks past the street on which our hotel is located. At that point we were pretty much over it and just wanted to eat. So, we walked into a Chili's Restaurant. Half the tables were empty, but there was no one at the hostess desk seating anyone. Several groups were waiting to be seated. We left. Enough is enough. If they can't even seat people how good can the service be?
Eventually we ended up at the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery. Although the sullen girl at the hostess desk wasn't the most welcoming in the world she did seat us right away. This restaurant is huge and seems to be doing a booming business. Other than the attitude of the hostess, everything seems to be functioning like a well-oiled machine. Our waiter was very nice and efficient. Click for a link to their MENU. Dave ordered the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich with Onion Rings; Bill had the Avocado Chicken Sandwich with Coleslaw. Both were delicious and exactly what we wanted and expected based on the menu description. The waiter kept bringing new glasses of drinks without being asked, so we were about to float away by the time we were finished. It is nice to be back in the land of bottomless drinks again. The total bill for a wonderful lunch was just under $30 and well worth it.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a shoe store to look for new insoles for Dave's shoes. We got a seriously bad vibe and walked right back out. Right after we left some teenage boys went running by followed by the manager of the shoe store. We assume they shoplifted. When the manager caught one of them, the kid turned around and punched him in the nose. Kids these days. Aren't they precious? Nobody on the street batted an eye as though this kind of thing goes on all the time.
We went to a big Walgreens where the whole atmosphere couldn't have been more pleasant. It is bright, modern and the employees are friendly. Someone actually asked if he could help us find anything. We found what we wanted and went to pay for it. The cashier was very helpful and nice. This store even has a sushi counter where chefs are making it right in front of you. Oh boy, let's go to Walgreens for sushi!
It occurred to us to perhaps go to a Ross store we saw and buy cheap shirts we can throw away rather than trying to keep up with the laundry. OK, yes, we went into the store, but we did not buy anything. Gross. Why this store needs a security guard is anyone's guess. How low do you have to sink to shoplift from Ross? Bill claims that the Ross stores in our area aren't disgusting, but Dave isn't convinced.
We made it back to the hotel around 4:30pm. Nobody from Hertz has called, so Dave is back to shopping around for car rentals. The best he can come up with is from Avis a few blocks away, but it is more expensive and doesn't include roadside assistance or unlimited mileage. We might just show up at the original place on Monday and make a scene in person if nobody contacts us before then.
We're still full from lunch, so we decided to skip dinner and go to bed early. In the meantime, Dave has been searching for alternative car rental arrangements. Hertz is less expensive by thousands of dollars (with AAA discount), so we're kind of stuck with them. All of the other companies charge high one-way fees. So, after a bit of maneuvering to find the best deal, we're booked to pick up a car at a different Hertz location a fifteen minute walk from the hotel for $5 less than the original booking. That is only because we upgraded our car rental insurance through Amex Platinum to cover rentals over 30 days. The free coverage with most credit cards only covers up to 30 days. With the upgrade that costs $17.95 per rental (not per day, that's the total) it is for 45 days. That's a much better deal than paying Hertz $800 for the CDW. Now, we're well aware of the nightmare of making a claim through a credit card, so we're not expecting miracles if that need arises. Still, we would have felt more fulfilled if we could have said, "Screw you," to Hertz, but we're not so proud that we're willing to pay $2,000 more to make a point.
Can anyone explain to us why everyone except us feels the need to slam their door in a hotel?
Day 3: Sunday, June 7 - Denver - Embassy Suites Denver-Downtown
It is bright and sunny today, so there will probably be catastrophic rains in about an hour based on how things have been going.
First thing this morning we get an email from home saying the Hertz place called because they don't have a car for us. Yes, we gave them our cell phone number. Yes, they have our email address. Yes, they decided to call California from Denver to tell us they don't have a car we are supposed to pick up in an hour. <sigh> You can imagine Dave's reaction to this since he's already annoyed with Hertz from the debacle yesterday. Still, we're screwed because nobody else comes close to matching their price for a one-way rental.
Dave calls the guy back who left the message and instead gets a snotty woman who couldn't care less that they've screwed us over twice in two days. We're pretty sure these local offices in Denver are owned/operated by the same franchisee, so this is no big surprise (we've read the online reviews since yesterday). After she apologizes in an off-handed manner, Dave responds with, "Yeah, I'm sure you really care." She promises to call back by the end of the day (which is 2:00pm) to tell us if they will even be able to provide a car for us tomorrow.
In the meantime, we went downstairs to the included breakfast which is again fantastic. A huge line formed right after we sat down to eat, so don't wait until the last minute on a busy weekend. The variety of what is offered is way above average at this hotel. We're very pleased.
After mulling the car rental situation over, or maybe "boiling" over it is a better term to use, Dave decides to call customer service. He's still assuming we'll be charged a no-show fee for yesterday and for cancelling today's reservation too late. The person who answered is again someone working from home. Since Dave did this working for Amazon he knows how to recognize it. He asks to be transferred to specialty customer service and is promptly cut off.
He calls back and goes through the entire conversation again and is told they are closed today. After explaining the entire situation again the rep says that she can have someone call back within an hour. Then it suddenly dawns on her that she can transfer the call to Hertz corporate which she does. The "specialist" there is very rude and tries to put the blame on us for booking a car to be picked up on a day the office is closed. Dave points out that the site doesn't allow you to do that, so something obviously changed after the booking was made. He then tells her he received a confirmation the day before confirming everything including the pick-up date. She's not buying it, so he offers to forward it to her (Moral: Never delete confirmation emails). She's starting to lighten up, but she's still huffy. Dave moves on to today when the new location is saying they don't have a car for us. She asks, "You have a guaranteed reservation, so what's the problem?" She's told AGAIN that they just called and there are no cars available. Then she says that's probably because we want an SUV and, "Those are very popular." No duh, but then why did the website say it is available? Oh yeah, maybe it shouldn't say that? Ya think???
This conversation goes back and forth with the rep making excuses and Dave coming back with, "How is that my problem to solve?" We really don't care why it happened. We know there's some glitch, but that's up to Hertz to fix. We certainly didn't hack into their system and force it to accept two reservations they can't fulfill. FINALLY, Dave says something that changes this woman's entire attitude. He tells her that the return drop-off office for the original reservation no longer exists, but he was never notified. She pokes around at her computer and suddenly all sorts of lights go on in her head when she realizes the blame is all on Hertz. Now she's Miss Pleasantries and full of apologies. Geez, it is about time.
So, the boiled down version of what she can do for us is cancel both reservations and waive the cancellation/no-show fees. Gee, how kind. She can't make a new reservation for us (why not?) and suggests we do so online. Yeah, that has worked out well so far, hasn't it? So, what we're left with is nothing at all.
Back to square one to book something else. We're stuck with Hertz, so we try the airport location. It has all sorts of cars available. Well, that's how it looks, but who really knows? We do know they pre-authorized our credit card within nanoseconds of the booking because we got a notification from Amex. We didn't book from the airport originally because there is an airport fee if you arrive within 24 hours of the car rental. We didn't, so we're hoping we can have the charged waived, but even so the total is a bit lower than our original booking (because we eliminated the CDW by upgrading our Amex coverage).
Dave booked a car pickup through Blacklane again and quickly received a confirmation from the same driver we had when we arrived. It is only $10 more than taking a taxi and many times more pleasant. We're supposed to be picked up at the hotel at 12:15pm, get the car at 1:00pm, and then we'll go to the Denver Botanical Garden followed by clothes shopping at the nearby Cherry Creek Mall. That's the plan anyway; stay tuned for what actually goes down. The news is predicting thunderstorms after 2:00pm.
The driver arrived and was amused to see us again. We arrived at the Hertz location near the airport to find an efficient, modern facility. We didn't even have to talk to anyone. Our name is listed on an electronic board with the stall number for our car. We were upgraded from the cheapest SUV (a Toyota RAV4) to a brand new Chevy Traverse LTZ. OMG, it even has chilled seats! Dave showed his license to the woman at the exit of the lot and that was it. She was friendly and efficient, too. What a difference. She couldn't take the airport fee off, but we expected that. The total is still less than our original reservation (without the insurance), so we're OK with it. What went on before is ridiculous and we'll definitely shop around in the future.
We're hungry since it is now 1:30pm, so we drove to the Denver Botanic Garden about 30 minutes away. The garden wasn't in our plans, but we thought it would be something relaxing to do and we could have lunch there. The garden is located in the middle of a maze of one-way streets and fancy mansions. Some of the houses are derelict, but most of the area is very nice. We missed the parking lot because the GPS said it is on the right, so we had to drive around the block again. The parking structure is full, but we got lucky and found one empty spot when someone left.
We expected the garden to be crowded based on the parking garage, but it wasn't bad at all. There were lots of people there, but nothing unpleasant. It is nice to see young people with kids who actually seem interested in looking at plants and flowers. The ticket seller and the volunteer checking tickets were very cheerful and friendly. The woman at the entrance told us about a special bonsai exhibit and where to find it.
There is a big thundercloud approaching, so we went looking for the cafe. We found one at the far end, but it was crowded and all of the seating it outdoors. It overlooks a tranquil pond, which is quite serene. The other restaurant is a take-out place, but it has indoor seating. Click to view the Offshoots MENU. Bill had the Chicken Caesar and Dave had the Chef Salad. We each had a different iced tea. The salads are pre-packed, but they were very fresh. The teas were freshly brewed and very good.
After lunch we walked through the huge greenhouse that is attached to the restaurant and other buildings near the entrance. We've seen this kind of tropical display many times and this one is very nice. They have disguised an elevator as a huge dead tree in the center of the building. The pathway leads up and down various levels, and then exits into another two story building with a beautiful bromeliad display in the center.
We kind of wandered along the pathways through a Japanese garden, iris beds, herb garden, weird hanging planters and several sculptures. The driftwood horses are cleverly assembled. These are scattered around the various gardens and each is a different pose. There is a huge futuristic fountain outside of the Science Pavilion that is kind of interesting. The pavilion itself, however, is not.
A big mansion that was donated to the garden in the 1970's serves at the administrative offices. There is a bright orange glass sculpture in the courtyard that stands out. The Denver Botanic Gardens, along with nearby Cheesman Park and Congress Park, sit atop what used to be Mount Prospect cemetery. A view of these beautiful gardens is certainly more appealing to the neighbors residing in the enormous old mansions that abut the perimeter. There are also a couple of modern high-rise condo buildings at the other end.
After touring the gardens we drove a short distance to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center hoping to buy some warm-weather clothing. We found the multi-level parking garage completely full, so we would assume that the mall itself is equally jammed. We'll pass on shopping for today and wait until we get into the suburbs.
It only took about ten minutes to get back to the hotel from the mall. We were surprised to note the time of arrival as 4:30pm since we haven't really done much of anything today.
Nothing else happened until we decided we've had enough of wandering the streets of downtown Denver. We called room service to order pizza and get dinner other and done with. That's easier said than done. Nobody answered the phone even after we tried calling the front desk. On the fifth try someone answered and was very nice. We'll see if the food is any better than it was in person.
The thunderstorm promised for 2:00pm finally arrived over downtown at 6:30pm.
Our room service meal was fine. We wouldn't knock anyone ever to have the same thing again, but it was better than the meal we had in the restaurant. The woman who delivered it was amusing.
The thunderstorm only lasted about fifteen minutes and wasn't as dramatic as yesterday, so no extra entertainment for us tonight.
We're feeling a bit better about Denver after being in the suburbs today, but we still wouldn't stay downtown in the future.
Day 4: Monday, June 8 - Drive to Estes Park - The Maxwell Inn
Estes Park is open, beautiful, and welcoming guests to our mountain village!
Estes Park, Colorado is the base camp for amazing adventures in Rocky Mountain
National Park and your favorite mountain getaway destination. Whether you are
planning a romantic weekend getaway or the family vacation of a lifetime, Estes
Park has the events, lodging and activities to create the perfect escape from
It is warm and sunny again. Supposedly there are no more thunderstorms in the forecast for the next week or so.
Breakfast downstairs was very good. Nothing changes from day to day, but there is a lot of variety to choose from. It is one of the better complimentary breakfasts we've had in a hotel, so we're very happy with it.
We can't settle into the car the way we'd like to because of the valet parking situation here (which, by the way, costs $37 per night and is the only available parking option). We'll have to toss the bags and collected stuff in the car and arrange it properly when we get to tonight's motel.
Our final thoughts on the Embassy Suites Denver Downtown/Convention Center: The hotel is very nice with HUGE suites. We were very comfortable here. The beds are fabulous. Every staff member we have interacted with is extremely helpful and friendly. The location is great if you are going to the convention center across the street or to an event at one of the venues nearby. The rooms could use a deep cleaning, but overall we're pleased and would stay here again if we have to be in downtown Denver (which we hope is never the case).
Our final thoughts on Denver: It is a beautiful city, but we would not recommend staying downtown unless you have a specific reason to do so. It is tolerable for a day or two, but beyond that it isn't worth the hassle. There are hordes of homeless people and panhandlers everywhere. If we had to stay in the city again, we'd choose a location in the suburbs or better yet in Boulder. Driving to Boulder from the airport is about the same distance and that city has more to offer tourists.
A word of advice on renting a car here: Bite the bullet and pay the extra airport tax and get your car from one of the many large facilities there. The downtown car rental places have terrible service and the cost difference is minimal. We checked Avis and a few others; all were higher than Hertz for a one-way rental. If we had read the Yelp reviews of the city center rental offices beforehand we could have saved ourselves a lot of grief.
Our schedule for today includes several sightseeing stops, none of which are must-see destinations. But, they're on the way, sort of, to our next overnight destination, so why not at least look at them, right?
Dinosaur Ridge is only about fifteen minutes away and we arrived there with no delays. However, upon finding the parking lot completely full and the grounds teeming with toddlers, we continued on to the next attraction.
We had to back track a bit and drive up a windy road to the top of a mountain to get to the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave. There is a viewing platform where you can gaze out over all of Denver and another one with a view of the mountains. The museum is very well done and isn't at all tacky or dusty. The displays are well done and explained in just enough detail to tell the story. Buffalo Bills grave is up a walkway to the top of the hill where he requested to be buried. On the way up there is a tacky gift shop, but we didn't buy anything.
On the way up we saw a sign pointing to the Boettcher Mansion. We drove up to it, but it looks like a modern house because it has been over restored. We didn't go inside. This wasn't on our plan anyway.
From the vantage point of the museum we looked down and saw the Coors Brewery. We thought we'd drive by and see if they offer tours since it is on the way to the next stop anyway. The winding road down is very steep, but that didn't stop bike riders from hogging the narrow road.
We arrived at the brewery to find a huge line in the parking lot waiting for the shuttle bus. We don't usually travel in the peak season and this is why. We passed on the tour and continued on to the Colorado Railroad Museum that is in our original plan.
We're boys, we have to look at trains, right? The entrance is through a restored train station. These places are usually run by friendly old coots and this one is no exception. Dave got a discount for being over 60 <sigh>. We skipped the introductory video and wandered outside to look at the collection. There isn't much of a cohesive presentation of anything. The various locomotives and cars and sort of randomly arranged in the yard. There is a nice garden train setup run by a club. They have an example of a steam locomotive, a diesel engine, dining car, mail car, and a creepy rotary snow clearing machine. There are only a few cars where visitors can see in the interior which is a bit disappointing. However, overall this is a decent attraction to kill and hour or so.
It is 80 degrees today, so we're not thrilled about walking around in the sun. The train museum is the last attraction we are supposed to see. We continued driving for about thirty minutes into downtown Boulder to find a place for lunch. This would have been a much more pleasant place to stay for a few days than Denver was. There are lots of college students wandering around, no homeless people, and there are tons of nice restaurants and shops. We had lunch at Jill's Restaurant and were happy with our food.
It is another hour up into the mountains to reach our next destination, Estes Park. The elevation is over 7,000 feet, so it is in the low 70's up here. We stopped at the entry monument for the town to take a picture of the view. Dave ended up taking pictures for two different families. Once you're worked at Disneyland you are forever programmed to take pictures of families. The strange thing is that we seem to attract them because we're always asked first to take their picture.
Estes Park is much more attractive than we expected. It is certainly touristy since tourists are its sole reason to exist, but the town is pleasant and green with a river running through it. There are hundreds of hotels and motels including the historic Stanley Hotel on which 'The Shining' is based.
We kept missing turnoffs that our GPS told us to take to the Maxwell Inn, but we eventually got there. It is a small mom and pop place that has recently been upgraded. They did a great job. The stairs and decks are heavy beams and everything looks appropriate for the area. We wanted to book a different place, but it had a 3-night minimum. Strangely enough, now it has a 'Vacancy' sign out front and our hotel is sold out.
The owner greeted us and offered to help us plan activities or find restaurants. She gave us a map and pointed out her favorite places and how to get there. She told us to park around back because there are stairs that are closer to our room there.
Our room is small, but very nicely re-decorated. There are two nice leather chairs, a king sized bed flanked by stained glass lamps, and a modern bathroom. The bathroom is tiny, but it has every amenity one expects. Our view looks over the road in front to the river that appears about ready to overflow its banks.
We started falling asleep around 6:30pm, so we quickly pulled ourselves together again and walked the short distance to town. There is a pleasant paved walkway all the way from the hotel to the town. It follows the river most of the way. The river is very close to overflowing at this point. If there is more rain in the next few days there is no doubt that it will do just that.
The restaurant we chose is the Wapati Restaurant and Pub. It is in a relatively unattractive hodge podge of wooden buildings next to the river. We were seated right away. The staff is very amateurish with the exception of one waitress who seems to know what she's talking about. Our young waiter is nice enough, but has no clue what he's doing. He had to keep looking at the menu to figure out what to ask us. Dave had prime rib; Bill had a pulled pork sandwich. The food was delivered by the manager who asked Dave if he got his salad yet (he had not). Once we had all of our food it was fine. It didn't look very good, but it tasted good and was a very good value. The total bill was only $45 including one cocktail. The waiter gave us the bill and put down a pen with it even though he hadn't taken rung it up yet. The manager was amused by that mistake.
We walked back the same way we came. The hotel we wanted to stay at originally has wood burning fire pits set out along the river. That's all well and good, but we ended up having to walk through the smoke, so now our clothes smell like a fireplace. So much for wearing outfits again like we did in Iceland. At this rate we'll run out of clean clothes pretty fast.
We were back in the room by 8:30pm and done for the day.
Day 5: Tuesday, June 9 - Estes Park - The Maxwell Inn
The weather is the same as yesterday, clear and sunny. We'd prefer it was a bit cooler than the high 70's, but it is still very nice.
We started with the complimentary hotel breakfast. This is the most basic we've had so far. Everything is packaged: Muffins, granola bars, bread, yogurt, etc. It is fine, but nothing special. Dave complimented the owner of the hotel on what a great job they did with the remodel. That prompted her to bring out the "before" photos to show us how much they actually did. They did all of the work themselves since her father is a carpenter. He made all of the headboards and cabinetry in the rooms. We told her she should be very proud of what they have done with this place. Usually when there is a remodel there is some glaring oversight that stands out, but the attention to detail here is outstanding. It is much nicer than we expected.
How this woman manages to raise two little kids and run this place by herself is anyone's guess. We haven't seen her husband, so we assume he has a regular job. We know there is a housekeeper, so at least she isn't doing that, too. Her kids are very well behaved. She apologized at breakfast if they were making too much noise (their yard is right below our front door), but we honestly told her that we didn't even know they were there. We kind of wonder if the "No Vacancy" sign is to prevent walk-ins, so she always knows who is coming. Yesterday the hotel did look full, but the parking is not anywhere near full today and the sign is still lit.
Today is dedicated mostly to getting our act together for the rest of the road trip. We must get our laundry done, arrange our stuff in the car, go to the grocery store for supplies and snacks, re-arranged our luggage to eliminate the cold-weather clothing, and generally settle in for the next month. Bill found a laundry where we can drop off our clothes for them to wash, so we drove over there first. They charge $2.25 per pound which is quite a deal compared to having it done at a hotel. We could have sat there and done it ourselves, but dropping it off is easier. It ended up costing $22 for two full bags and two pairs of pants.
Next we drove a short distance to Safeway to stock up on supplies. The parking lot is full, but the inside of the store was fine. We didn't realize until later when someone told us that you can't buy wine, beer or liquor in grocery stores in Colorado. You can only buy it at liquor stores. What's the point of that law?
We filled up on gas for only $22. The minimum we paid in Iceland for the same amount of gas was over $60.
Dave wanted to stop by the visitor center for Rocky Mountain National Park to see if we can buy an America the Beautiful annual pass. We know we can buy one at the toll gate, but we were hoping to do it beforehand. No such luck. The ranger, who looks like a model for an example of a park ranger, said we have to buy it at the toll gate. Yes, he's knows that's stupid and it clogs up the line, but thems the rules, as they say. He was very nice though. We did manage to get our souvenir buying for the park done today, so it wasn't a total loss.
On the way to the visitor center we passed a big billboard pointing to an aerial tramway, so we figured we'd go check it out. It isn't shown on our GPS, Google or the tourist map. We finally found it by entering an address we found. It isn't exactly a classy operation, but it will kill an hour or so. Dave got a senior discount again so he only paid $11. The regular price is $12.
The trams are small and only hold eight people. There were two people already there in line, then a big family, a single woman, and us. The family wanted to ride together, so they let the woman and us go ahead of them. We heard the woman telling the ticket seller that she's afraid of heights and had chickened out yesterday.
The ride to the top only takes a few minutes, which pleased the woman afraid of heights. We ran into her again while walking around and ended up chatting with her for quite a while. She's actually very nice, so we stood there talking for quite a while. We told her that if she wants to ride back down with us that we'll be happy to wait for her and she said that would be very helpful.
We wandered around to get some photos of the view. You can see the entire town spread out below. There is a big reservoir/lake at one end of town where the two rivers end up. The one we walked along yesterday is continuing to rise, but so far hasn't overflowed its banks. A couple of hotels fronting the river have put sandbags along the edge just in case.
There are hiking trails at the top, but we only walked far enough to get a few more photos of the view before walking back to the gift shop/cafe for a snack. The woman we talked to earlier was there having a hot dog. We both had one of the smoothies of the day, which were very good. The staff in the cafe was extremely friendly. A tourist came in and asked for a first aid kit. Turns out she had almost fallen over a cliff, but instead fell onto one of her companions and that gave one of the guys with them time to grab her. Stupid is as stupid does. We saw them climbing over some very precarious rocks in an effort to get a good picture. She's very lucky all she did was scrape her foot.
The afraid of heights woman was trying to get up the nerve to go out on the deck to take some pictures. Dave offered to go with her if that would help, but she decided to try it by herself. However, she did say she would appreciate it if she could ride back down with us which, of course, we are happy to do.
On the way down we had a chance to ask the bored teenager running the thing if it snows much here. She said a lot of snow would be three feet, but not more than that. It usually doesn't snow until March. So the answer is that it doesn't snow much. We didn't think so because the town doesn't look like it is set up for lots of snow.
The woman from the tram said we should be sure to go and check out the Stanley Hotel, so we drove over there to look at it. When we drove up the guard said there is a $10 parking fee, so we didn't bother. Supposedly the hotel is so haunted that they didn't have cable TV on the third floor for years because the installers were so freaked out they wouldn't come back. OK, whatever. Obviously the hotel isn't interested in visitors wandering around since they charge admission, so screw 'em.
We went to pick up our laundry, which was folded and ready as promised, then drove back to the hotel to clean up before venturing out again. Right in front of the hotel we spotted a herd of elk wading in the river. They attracted the attention of everyone who drove by, but they didn't seem to mind everyone taking pictures. We screeched into the hotel parking lot and rushed across the street to look at them.
After briefly cleaning up we walked downtown to browse the shops and hopefully kill enough time until dinner (it is 3:30pm now). The tourist area is pleasant enough and the city has done a great job of making it look nice, but all of the shops sell exactly the same merchandise. What's the point of ten T-shirt shops in a row? There are four, count 'em FOUR, taffy shops within two blocks that all look exactly the same. There are two shops that are very nice because they sell upscale merchandise. One of the in particular sells all sorts of beautiful home decor items at very reasonable prices. We'd love to shop there if we didn't have to haul everything home in the car. The other place is a gallery selling glass and other art. We were hoping to buy something tall for a spot we need to fill, but everything was either too short or just slightly too tall. We did buy some smaller items though just because we liked them (and they weren't very expensive).
Several places were handing out discount coupons to passersby. One sells ice cream and the other is a restaurant. We came back to the restaurant after we walked the length of the street. It is kind of early, 5:00pm, but we're tired and just want to be done. So, we went back to The Wild Rose for dinner. Click to view the MENU. The decor is this place is hideous, but the staff is very nice. There is a happy hour drink special offering two for one, but Dave didn't want a drink. So, the waitress brought Bill two glasses of wine. The other offer is any appetizer for $5.00 (they're only $7.95 anyway), but we didn't order one. Dave ordered the Stuffed Chicken Breast; Bill had the Grilled Shrimp Pasta. The meals come with a trip to the salad and soup bar, but don't get too excited. The lettuce remaining would only be enough for one person and there were four topping and four dressings. There were two soups, vegetable beef and potato cheese. We both had soup. The tiny cups held maybe a whole cup, if that. The soup was OK, nothing special. Our meals were about the same, OK. Nothing wrong with them and the portions were large, but kind of a bore. It was a good value at only $45 for a lot of food.
We went to the ice cream place offering 10% off their homemade items. The staff was kind of surly, but the ice cream was very good. We ate it during the walk back to the hotel. It looks like there might be a thunderstorm later. If there is the river is bound to overflow because it is a bit higher than it was this afternoon.
We arrived back at the hotel around 7:00pm, done for today. Dave programmed tomorrow's route into the GPS, so we should be good to go after breakfast. We'll be exploring Rocky Mountain National Park on the way to Grand Lake.
Day 6: Wednesday, June 10 - Drive to Grand Lake via Rocky Mountain National Park - Terrace Inn
Rocky Mountain National Park’s 415 square miles encompass and protect
spectacular mountain environments. Enjoy Trail Ridge Road – which crests over
12,000 feet including many overlooks to experience the subalpine and alpine
worlds – along with over 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers, wildlife,
starry nights, and fun times. In a world of superlatives, Rocky is on top!
It is raining slightly this morning with more on the way according to the forecast. It isn't cold, so it isn't a big problem. We have no choice but to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park because that's the only route to the other side of the mountains.
Breakfast at the hotel was again fine. It is a bit of carb overload, but a couple days of that won't hurt. The owner continues to be delightful. How she manages to have so much energy all day is beyond us.
Our final thoughts on The Maxwell Inn: This is the best remodel we've ever seen. They haven't overlooked anything. The amenities are more than one would ever expect at a small mom and pop motel. The furniture and fixtures are high quality and very tasteful. We've already raved about the owners, but we'll do it again; they're amazing. By all means stay here if you are ever passing through Estes Park.
Our final thoughts on Estes Park: Yes, it is touristy, but the town is still charming. They've made a big effort to create a pleasant downtown area. It is crowded on the main strip, but the many motels, cabins, and lodges are off the side streets and very quiet. The view from here is beautiful and Rocky Mountain National Park is just a few miles up the road. We liked the town and would stop here again if we're passing through. It is nice enough to just stay for a weekend to relax and do nothing.
Click to view a MAP of Rocky Mountain National Park. We'll head into the park at around 11:00am. If the rain gets worse we might have to skip a few things, but we're OK with that. We'll see whatever we can see and go from there.
The rain continued as we drove to the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park. We stopped at the entrance sign for a photo and Dave ended up taking pictures for everyone again. At least it got them out of the way so he could take a photo. Someone in the family offered to take our picture as well, which is a first.
The ranger at the toll gate was very friendly and didn't mind at all that we are buying a national park pass. It really doesn't take much more time to do that than it does to pay the regular toll with a credit card. This entrance isn't as busy as the one that connects directly to the main street through town.
We turned left to the road that ends at Bear Lake. The first stop we made was at the Moraine Park Museum. This used to be a lodge before the park service took over. There were additional accommodations scattered on the meadow below. The meadow itself was a golf course. Most of the buildings have since been removed and the meadow returned to its natural state. There are no lodges in this national park.
We continued driving along the road, but most of the turnouts along this road are for trail heads, so we didn't stop. There are electronic signs set up saying that all parking is full and to return after 2:00pm. Nobody we saw turned around and neither did we. When we arrived at the parking lot for Bear Lake, rangers were out pointing at open parking spaces. While it was almost full, there were still plenty of spaces for new arrivals.
There are several trails that start here, but we only want to follow the one that circles the lake. It is raining constantly now, but it isn't a downpour. There is still a lot of snow around the lake and parts of the trail are still covered. The lake is quite shallow, but it mirrors the surrounding mountains. When it is clear it is probably even more spectacular. We walked all the way around the lake to see the view from all angles.
Driving back to the main road through the park, we stopped to look at a river gorge. The fences keep people back from the edge so far that it is hard to get a photo at all. Another turnoff is for a trail that crosses a river before continuing into the forest. A guy in the parking lot asked us if we are familiar with the trail and we laughed. The next parking area is for a large picnic spot and a nature trail that circles Sprague Lake. A pair of geese was walking along with the new chicks.
After turning onto the main road that traverses the park, we first stopped at an unmarked (although it is on the map) parking area for the Beaver Ponds. This is a wetland meadow formed by constant damming of the stream by beavers over many years. It has created a rich wetland that is unusual in Colorado.
The rain spoils the spectacular mountain views since the highest peaks are shrouded in the clouds. Still, there are beautiful views now and then when the clouds lift for a few minutes.
The road climbs to the highest elevation in the park, just over 12,000 feet. At this elevation the snow is still very deep along the road and on the ground. We felt like we were back in Iceland and kind of sorry we packed away all of our cold weather gear. At one of the major view points the pathway is still covered with slushy snow. That didn't stop people in flip-flops and shorts from walking out to the edge. Some even climbed over the wall to clamber onto the rocks. These rocks, by the way, lead to a sheer drop of at least 500' straight down into the valley below. At this elevation the vegetation is all alpine tundra as far as you can see.
It isn't as cold as it looks. The lowest the temperature got at the highest elevation was 42. Most of the time it was in the 50's. We arrived at the Alpine Visitor Center at around 3:30pm looking for food. There is a Xanterra operated store and cafe next to the visitor center. The visitor center itself is still partially covered with snow. We bought some hot dogs and other snacks to go with them and sat in the cafe to eat. The shop is very nice and all of the employees were helpful and pleasant, which is sometimes not the case with Xanterra. The food wasn't anything to rave about, but it served the purpose of getting us to our next destination.
We continued driving west until we reached the parking area for the Continental Divide. On the Atlantic side is a frozen lake that drains eastward eventually meeting the Mississippi River. In the other direction the river ends up in the Colorado River and the Gulf of Mexico.
Next up is a parking area for the Holzwarth Historic Site. First along the 1/2-mile trail is the oldest miner's cabin existing in the park from 1911. This area was the site of the Holzwarth Trout Lodge until the 1970's. It began in 1920 with an old collection of cabins and outbuildings that have been preserved at the end of the trail. The modern buildings were removed in the 1970's and the meadow returned to its natural state. There are too many elk to count grazing on the meadow and we passed a moose browsing along the river. This is where the Colorado River starts and it is possible to see the very beginning of this mighty river from here. On the walk back we had to pause to allow a herd of elk to cross the path before we could get back to the parking lot.
Right after getting back on the road we stopped again for a better view of the elk in the meadow. Driving on we saw a lone moose off to the side of the road, but we couldn't stop fast enough to get a good look. Up ahead a huge crowd had gathered along a dirt road where several moose, one with a calf, were grazing in the brush. As we were walking along the road a ranger stopped and told us about the lone moose that no one had seen yet. We thanked him and told him we had already seen it. He indicated that we shouldn't tell anyone else and we didn't.
That concludes our trip through Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, the views were limited due to the bad weather, but we saw quite a bit and we're fine with it. There's not much we could do if we weren't fine with it. We could drive back up tomorrow, but the weather is supposed to be even worse, so that probably isn't in the cards.
We turned off briefly at Grand Lake Lodge for a view over the entire lake, then drove downtown to our stop for the next two nights. We arrived at The Terrace Inn at 5:30pm. This is a small restaurant with three rooms to rent upstairs. The family lives here, too. A note on the B&B door said to call to check in, so we did. The owner said they are in the restaurant and to come in, so we did. Dave told her he was just following directions and she said that nobody ever does even though that note is always on the door. She was very nice and showed us to our room.
We are the only guests tonight, so she gave us a choice of times for breakfast, the latest being 8:30am <sigh>. That's usually when Dave wakes up, so he's not thrilled about it. We are in the best room, but the whole place has definitely gone downhill with these new owners. It looks like nothing has been done since they bought it, including vacuuming the carpet. The place isn't filthy, but it is sort of dusty and there is a lot of deferred maintenance. The floor in the bathroom is so springy that all of the tile has cracked. We're hoping we don't fall through it at some point. We can see how upscale this place was at some point, but it is just faded glory now. Again, it isn't terrible, but it needs some TLC. The bed is so high off the ground that they provide a step stool in case you can't get in or out of it. That seems like a poor choice for a B&B, doesn't it?
The main issue we have with this place is that it is WAY overpriced at $200 a night. That might have been a fair price when it was in good shape, but it is nowhere near nice enough now to warrant that price tag. Maybe that's why we are the only guests?
We went downstairs to the restaurant at 6:00pm. Click to view the MENU. There are only ten tables in this place, so we're talking TINY. Dave ordered the Bison Meatloaf with a cup of the soup which is Loaded Baked Potato. Bill ordered the Beef Stroganoff with a side salad. The woman who waited on us is very nice. Dave's food was better than Bill's, but everything had way too much pepper in it. Even the soup was too peppery. The "meatloaf" was really a ground bison steak with mushroom gravy over it. It was overcooked, but tasted good. The mashed potatoes with it were way too peppery. Bill's Stroganoff was OK, but overpowered by the pepper. We split a chocolate mousse for dessert that was very good and the highlight of the meal. We won't go back tomorrow night, although it wasn't terrible. There are many restaurants we like to try in town.
It is supposed to rain all day tomorrow, so we'll stick to our plan of wandering around town and basically doing nothing. This trip wasn't planned as an intensive sightseeing extravaganza.
Day 7: Thursday, June 11 - Grand Lake - Terrace Inn
The weather is, as predicted, looking menacing this morning. We're up early to make our 8:30am breakfast appointment downstairs. It's not ideal, but we can't pass up a meal that's included in the rate.
There is menu to choose several options from for breakfast. The restaurant isn't open to non-guests, so we're the only people there. The owner served us. Bill had the omelet of the day, which is a Spanish omelet today. Dave had plain old bacon and eggs. Both came with toast and potatoes. It is a lot of food and what you would expect if you paid for breakfast in a restaurant. Everything was very good.
We started chatting with the owner and didn't leave until two hours later. Her husband came out of the kitchen when we was finished cleaning up and joined the conversation. Mostly we were probing for information about the town, running this business and things like that. The town got a lot out of the visit by 'Hotel Impossible' a couple of years ago. They've been marketing more effectively ever since. It is nice to know the show really does do some good for the locals. The rooms they rent here are just a side business since they can't live off of three rooms. The restaurant is the primary focus (and it shows). They're doing the best they can under the circumstances, but we still think the rooms are overpriced, as is the restaurant. On the other hand, if they can rent the rooms at the current prices, why not? The Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater is directly across the street, so they cash in during the season that starts tomorrow and runs through September.
It took us a while to get motivated enough to go out and walk around the town. Of course, it started raining the moment we stepped outside, but it didn't rain hard enough to be a problem. We walked up the board walk to the shopping area. It looks like a typical old Western town with false fronts and many historic old buildings. Several large restaurants and entertainment venues are closed. There are two dilapidated miniature golf courses that look straight out of the 1960's. They're for sale, but we can't see how anyone would be able to make a go of them since they are extremely dated and rundown.
There is a nice beach along the lake about a block from downtown. Several cabin rentals front the beach. We would have booked a cabin, but the minimum stays didn't fit our schedule. There are paddle boats and other water sports available. Grand Lake is the largest natural lake in Colorado. It was formed 30,000 years ago by a retreating glacier. A sign points out that two of the shorelines are moraines. There are two other lakes adjacent to this one, so there is plenty of water-based recreation available around here.
The shops along the boardwalk aren't quite as mundane as the ones in Estes Park, but they do have their fair share of T-shirt shops and tacky souvenirs. There isn't enough business to support the multiples of the same thing we saw in Estes Park. It only took us about an hour to walk the length of the street and back. We looked in a few stores and then when to El Pacifico Mexican Restaurant for lunch. It is a bit scary when we're the only patrons in a big restaurant, but the food was quite good and the service was friendly.
We were back at the hotel by 2:30pm. With nothing else to do, we both napped off and on.
Eventually dinner time rolled around. We didn't hate the food in the hotel restaurant, but we didn't love it either, so we decided to walk around town again. There is a BBQ place we wanted to try, but when we stepped inside it was a madhouse of screaming children and other noise, so we passed. The only other restaurant open is the Mexican place we went to for lunch. We wound up back at the hotel restaurant.
It was empty when we arrived, so we chatted with the owner's husband who was behind the small bar next to our table. He said they were very lucky to get this place in a foreclosure because prices here are usually out of reach. The places right on the boardwalk are over a million dollars for a dump with ten rooms. We don't know what they paid for this place, but the location seems good to us. It is only two blocks from the shops and is right across the street from the theater. Any location downtown is going to have lots of bar noise during the season.
Click to view the MENU. Dave had the Italian Beef; Bill had the Flatiron Steak. Both were good, not great. The homemade bread was extremely salty tonight. The heavy-handed use of pepper overpowers everything else. The owners believe they have the best chef in Colorado. The food is OK, but certainly not outstanding in any way. The chocolate mousse we both had tonight is outstanding though. Probably the best we have ever had.
We were done by 8:30pm.
Day 8: Friday, June 12 - Drive to Steamboat Springs - Inn at Steamboat
Think skiers in cowboy hats and you'll have a pretty good mental picture of
Steamboat Springs in northwestern Colorado. Yes, there's world-renowned skiing
here, but with an undercurrent of cowboy culture. The wide-open Yampa Valley
brought cattle ranchers here in the 1800s, and the town's signature store still
sells Western wear. Like many of Colorado's most attractive towns, Steamboat
Springs has great hot springs. The hot springs in Steamboat are down an
adventurous drive north of town that brings you to a riverside canyon in one of
the most perfect soaking settings imaginable. In fact, the town got its name
from its famed water works. Fur trappers who visited the area in the late 1800s
heard the bubbling sound of one of the local hot springs and thought it sounded
like a steamboat coming down the Yampa River.
The weather is a little better today. It is partly cloudy and cool.
At breakfast we chatted with the owner again about her business, the town, and things like that. We sound like we're doing research to open our own hotel, but don't hold your breath. We haven't been convinced it won't suck the life out of us yet. The cooked-to-order breakfast at this place is fantastic, by the way.
We asked if there is anything we should see on the way to Steamboat Springs and we were told, "Not really, but the drive is very pretty." OK, we'll settle for that. It is a bit less than two hours from here, so we'll hang out until the 11:00am check-out time before hitting the road.
Our final thoughts on Grand Lake: It's a cute little town that's not overwhelmed with tourists. The primary focus is on fishing and boating on the lake. Pickings are slim for nice hotels. This wouldn't be a bad place to come to relax and rent a cabin for a week. During the season there are enough restaurants to choose from for a decent variety. The Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater is a big draw during the summer months.
Our final thought on The Terrace Inn: It is OK, but how long it will stay that way is debatable. The owners don't seem particularly interested in the hotel aspect of the business, so they haven't invested much in the rooms since they bought the place two years ago. The owner said they haven't done anything at all to them expect fix a water leak. Right now the rooms are at the tipping point of becoming too expensive for what they have to offer. Our room is huge and comfortable, but the bathroom needs serious repairs to the floor. We'd recommend this place for right now, but if renovations aren't done soon we wouldn't stay here again. The owners are very friendly and helpful which is a definite plus, so it is a toss up for us.
We left the hotel at 11:00am and started our drive to Steamboat Springs. The lakes in this area are very scenic and there are several interesting places to stay. Turning west the drive is through green pastures and rolling hills. There is a turn off for a water project lake that is kind of low. That's odd considering that the Colorado River is overflowing all along its banks.
As the proprietor of the hotel told us, the drive through this area is very scenic. The highway follows the Colorado River most of the way. As already mentioned, it is overflowing its banks almost everywhere, so many pastures are flooded in the area. Hopefully this will help the water supply down river.
We followed a sign pointing at Chimney Rock, but the dirt road is too bumpy to bother with. There's no place to park to really see the rock up close anyway. From the time we turned onto the highway from Grand Lake, there are yellow signs every mile or so advertising F.M. Light & Sons in Steamboat Springs. There must be hundreds of them. We'll have to go look for the store if we have time tomorrow to see if it lives up to the hype.
We arrived at Steamboat Springs around 1:30pm. We wanted to kill some time by driving through the old part of town, but the traffic was backed up for miles. Instead we turned off to the newer ski resort area where our hotel is located and found a Mexican restaurant for lunch. La Fiesta Cantina & Grill is very nice. We enjoyed our food, the service was friendly, and the price reasonable.
After lunch we figured we'd drive up to the hotel to see if we could check in early. The GPS took us on a wild goose chase, so we got to see the ski resort and the Sheraton Hotel where the ski lifts are located. There is a gondola running to the top of the mountain that we'll probably try tomorrow. We didn't know it would be running, so it isn't in the plan, but it is close to our hotel so why not?
The GPS found the hotel using the address with no problem. This area has thousands of new condominiums that appear to be very upscale. The whole resort area is very attractive. The hotel is small and looks like it was created by remodeling an older building. The outside looks nice enough and the interior is attractive. We were greeted promptly by a friendly woman who checked us in right away. She told us to park in the back so we'd only have one flight of stairs to our room on the third floor. The lobby is on the second floor with the breakfast room on the first floor. There is a pool and hot tub outdoors on one side of the property.
We drove around back and dragged our luggage in. The desk woman came out and offered to help us carry it up the stairs, but we have a system now that works for us. It was very nice of her to offer. She told us that the gondola just opened today for the summer.
Our room is a suite and is huge. It looks like a condominium unit with plush carpeting and nice furniture in the living room. The bedroom is also large with an attractively dressed king size bed. The bathroom is tiny though, so they could have used all this space much more effectively than they did. There is air conditioning that looks like it was added later, but it works. There is a beautiful view over the valley and mountains beyond. The balcony is shared with the entire floor, but we don't plan to sit out there anyway. The price for this suite is only $152 per night, which is quite a bargain for Steamboat Springs.
We both fell asleep for a couple of hours almost immediately after arrival.
Around 7:00pm we decided we should go out for dinner, but neither of us is all that hungry. We ended up going to Subway and bringing the food back to the hotel.
We're happy doing nothing and resting for the night now that we are in such a nice room.
Day 9: Saturday, June 13 - Steamboat Springs - Inn at Steamboat
Today's weather is sunny and in the low 70's this morning. There is a chance of thunderstorm later, but what else is new? After today it is supposed to warm up into the high 80's.
The hotel's free breakfast was OK. They have breakfast burritos and little vegetable quiches that are pretty good. Everything else is about what one would expect. The buffet is arranged poorly, but that seems to be the norm.
Our room here is very comfortable with the exception of the tiny bathroom. It has no exhaust fan or window, so it is always too warm and/or steamy. Isn't that a code requirement? If not, it should be. Everything else is very nice.
We have no definite plans for sightseeing today, but we'll drive to the old downtown area and whatever else is marked on the tourist map (which isn't much). Don't worry, we'll pick up the pace with some actual sights starting tomorrow. Early this morning there were several hot air balloons floating over the valley that we can see from our balcony.
It is about two miles from the newer ski area of Steamboat Springs to the old downtown. The main highway is also the street through the town, so you can't miss it when you're passing through. We drove around a bit before finding a place to park on a side street. We could see a lot of people walking around in the center of town, so we parked nearby and started following them.
We found the store that has all the signs along the highway. It is just a basic storefront along the street, nothing exciting. The downtown area is a mix of old and new buildings. The newer buildings keep the theme for the most part, so it is a charming area. There a lot of cute old houses in the neighborhood behind the shops. There are some restored neon signs, also.
The people walking along the street are going to a farmer's market down a side street along the river. It isn't too crowded to be enjoyable and most of the things for sale are locally made. We didn't buy anything, but the merchants were very friendly to everyone. Lots of people have dogs with them and it has a welcoming feel to it.
We wandered around until we found a pedestrian bridge over the river. This river is the one that is all over the news here because of flooding. It is nearly full, but doesn't appear to be in danger of overflowing in this area. A guy with a HUGE dog let him play in the water after telling him, "Don't get swept away." The dog stayed in the shallows and seemed to be having a great time.
There are railroad tracks along the river and then a sports area with a rodeo arena where a junior event is in progress. Next to that is a scary ski jump complex. After wandering around a bit more, we made our way back to the car.
The woman at the hotel had marked Fish Creek Falls on the map she gave us, so we headed off in that direction. It is about three miles up a winding road from downtown. This entire area is very pretty, lush and green. Most of the houses are in the multi-millions, but there are some affordable options, as well. This looks like a very pleasant place to live and everyone we have encountered is extremely pleasant.
We arrived at the toll gate for the falls ($5.00 per car, no passes accepted) and asked the attendant if the parking lot is full. He didn't know, but advised that it is OK to park along the road. The parking lot is full, but we got lucky and arrived just as someone pulled out. The walk from the parking along the road would have been way too far for us and we would have skipped it in that case.
The walk to the falls is about 1/4 mile along a gravel path. It is quite scenic and mostly shady, so it isn't unpleasant. The water must be very cold because it cools the air in the canyon very effectively. It is quite warm now; in the low 80's. There are a lot of people here today, but it doesn't feel particularly crowded. We spoke to a couple who have a viszla dog with them. Our new dog is half viszla, so we recognize the breed. The guy said he keeps waiting for the dog to calm down, but he's 4-1/2 and is still very hyper. They are known for that, but ours isn't hyper at all. The guy said they left him with a friend for a few days and the dog drove him insane. He howls the moment he's left alone. We're lucky we don't have that problem!
There is a bridge across the base of the falls that provides a perfect view. Fish Creek Falls rivals many of those we saw in Iceland. We're glad we made the effort to see it. With all of the rain here lately the falls are flowing at their highest at the moment.
After leaving the falls we drove back to the hotel. Our intention was to park at the hotel and walk to the gondola, but we decided we should drive over and see if we can find parking. We're very glad we did that because it is farther to walk than the woman at the hotel led us to believe. We eventually found parking after driving around a very confusing area with no signs that make any sense. There is a parking garage for "Gondola Plaza" that says there is a charge for parking in it, but there is a small sign pointing to the same garage that says, "Free Parking". There's no attendant, so apparently it is free.
Gondola Plaza is one of those big, overly complex shopping areas mixed with condos and the Sheraton Hotel. This kind of facility is almost never successful and that appears to be the case here. It took us two trips around the walkways to find the entrance to the gondola. The only ticket windows we saw are for lift tickets. Maybe it all makes more sense in the winter ski season, but there is no rhyme or reason to it now.
The confusing walk gave us a good view of the ski base and the many chair lifts that start here. There is a tiered water feature being enjoyed by kids and dogs alike. One big black lab found himself a cozy spot and parked himself in the water.
Once we found the entrance and the ticket counter for the gondola, the woman there was extremely friendly. She told us that lunch is served on the third floor after we get to the top. The price is $22.00 per person, which is a bit steep. The woman checking tickets was equally pleasant. It isn't at all crowded, so each group got their own gondola. They hold six people normally. They have special carriers for bikes that are very popular. You can downhill bike on the ski runs in the summer if you are really butch.
The gondola ride up to the top takes about fifteen minutes and is longer than we expected. The cable stopped a couple of times, but it wasn't scary or anything. Well, it might be if this sort of thing bothers you, but we didn't mind. About halfway up the gondola passes two of the terminals for the chair lifts for the lower ski runs.
There is a large terminal building at the top of the mountain. The more extreme ski runs are up the mountain behind this facility. It is obviously set up to handle huge crowds. The restrooms are enormous. They have a counter selling Starbucks coffee (closed today), a fine dining restaurant that opens at the end of the month, a small gift shop, and a gigantic third floor restaurant that is only used for events. You have to walk through this space to get to the Oasis Sundeck where lunch is served. Click to view the MENU. We went to the counter and ordered a BBQ Pork Sandwich and a Chicken Sandwich, plus some bottled drinks. The woman at the counter asked if we hiked up and we laughed. Dave asked, "You can see us, right?" The food was delivered to our table and it was fine. The fruit cup option with it was very nice with several kinds of berries in it.
It is very pleasant at this elevation, so we sat and admired the view for a while. At around 3:00pm we made our way back to the gondola for the ride down to the village. Finding the boarding area is easier said than done. Apparently they don't mind people wandering aimlessly around the loading area because there are no attendants to tell you what to do. You just get into any empty car as it goes by. That's what we did anyway.
We arrived back in our room to find all of the towels are missing. The bed was semi-made up and the trash taken out. Nothing else was done or re-stocked. Dave went down to the front desk to get towels and the woman there said it is only the maid's second day, so she must have been confused. No kidding. She was very nice, so we'll overlook it. These things happen when the season is just beginning. She said the new maid is from Croatia, so the importation of help in this area continues. We have no idea where all of these hotels and condo complexes find help that can afford to live anywhere near here unless they bring them in and provide housing.
The rest of the afternoon went down the same as yesterday; napping and doing nothing.
At 6:00pm we pulled ourselves together and drove a short distance to the Ore House Restaurant. This is one of those huge old restaurants that has probably been here since there was nothing else around it. We were greeted promptly and asked if we had called ahead. We contemplated doing that, but we decided that if this place is full we'd go somewhere else. The hostess seated us with no problem. We were in a back room that looks older than the rest of the restaurant, but it is clean and well maintained. A single man was seated after us and he had to make a scene because he wanted to sit at an empty table for four by the window. The manager eventually convinced him that she has reservations for those tables, so stay where he is or get the hell out (she didn't say that, but that's pretty much what she meant). He stayed.
Click to view the MENU. The service was very attentive and prompt. We both ordered the Prime Rib with the House Potato. The waiter described it as a big Tater-tot covered with cheese sauce. It is better than that description implies. The meat was good, but not the best we've ever had. The meal came with a trip to the salad bar that was nice. This restaurant is a throwback to steakhouses of yore, but it was pretty good. It is also the most expensive meal we've had in Colorado at $96.00 before tip. We can't say it was worth that much, but it was fine.
After dinner we drove to a Sports Authority store to buy some warm-weather clothes. It gets hotter every day and the worst is yet to come, so it is time to ditch the jeans and switch to shorts. We also need some casual shirts in case we have to look classy in Aspen and Telluride. The cashier at Sports Authority was extremely welcoming as she directed us to what we are looking for. Another worker came over to be sure we found everything we need. The service was outstanding and very friendly.
We filled the car up with gas and scraped the squished bugs off the windshield before driving back to the hotel. Back in the room there are severe storm warnings crawling across the bottom of the TV every now and then. They are for the area around Denver, but there are thunderclouds forming here, too. They made for a spectacular sunset.
Day 10: Sunday, June 14 - Drive to Vernal via Dinosaur National Monument Canyons - Springhill Suites
Dinosaurs once roamed here. Their fantastic remains are still visible embedded
in the rocks. Today, the mountains, desert and untamed rivers flowing in deep
canyons, support an array of life. Petroglyphs hint at earlier cultures. Later,
homesteaders and outlaws found refuge here. Whether your passion is science,
adventure, history or scenery,
Dinosaur National Monument offers much to
It is very bright and sunny this morning with the high expected to be 85 here. We assume it will be higher in Dinosaur.
Check-out time is an early 10:00am at this hotel, so we had breakfast earlier than we'd like. We had a brief chat with the owner of the hotel in the breakfast room. If he's stuck managing the breakfast he must be very short of staff. He was very nice. Honestly, if Dave had noticed the 10:00am check-out time before booking he wouldn't have selected this place. Too bad because this is a nice hotel.
Our final thoughts on the Inn at Steamboat: This hotel is a very good value for an expensive town like Steamboat Springs. It is a little off the beaten path in a residential area (of condos), but it is only a two-minute drive or short walk to restaurants and shops. The few staff members they have are very helpful and friendly. Our suite is huge and comfortable with nice furniture and plush (clean!) carpet. The bed was very nice, too. The lack of an exhaust fan in the bathroom is annoying, but not a deal breaker. The 10:00am check-out time is. We wouldn't book here again unless that changes.
Our final thoughts on Steamboat Springs: The area is beautiful. There are lots of restaurants in the old downtown area to choose from, plus the usual chain stores in the shopping centers in the ski area. Everyone we have interacted with is extremely welcoming and friendly. This is the nicest town we have visited so far and we'd definitely stop here again if we're in the area. The ski facilities look very nice if you are into that and it is much less expensive than Aspen, Vail and Telluride. It also doesn't have the snooty attitude those towns can have at times.
We'll hit the road toward Dinosaur National Monument at 10:00am. Here's hoping it doesn't get too hot today.
The drive from Steamboat Springs to Dinosaur takes about an hour and a half. Most of the scenery is pastureland and farms. We only stopped once when a sign indicated a "Point of Interest". It is part of an old homestead that was preserved by a member of the family by building a wrought iron and brick fence around it. We didn't even bother taking a picture of it. We referred to it as Doc Johnson's place. The Johnson part is accurate, but we added the Doc part for our own amusement. Google is if you don't get it.
The landscaping, if you can call it that, around the Dinosaur National Monument visitor center is unkempt and overgrown. The center is open though and the ranger is friendly. We bought our usual Christmas ornament souvenir and picked up a map. Click to view a MAP. We are doing the Colorado side today. There is no charge for this part of the monument. As we learned the hard way, there is a reason for that. There's not much to see.
It is over 20 miles from the visitor center to actually get to the park itself. The first stop at some layered cliffs is maybe the most scenic part of the whole place. The next most thrilling thing is that there are cattle loose right by the road. All along the 20 mile drive the park is only as wide as the roadway, so there are cattle and sheep in the fields on both sides. Yeah, we know getting excited at seeing cattle by the road is pretty simple, but we're grasping at straws to make this at all interesting.
The canyon overlook turnout has a nice view of the same scenery we've been looking at all day. The wildflowers growing next to the parking lot are somewhat more interesting. About this time we were both thinking, "There'd better be something damn fascinating at the end of this drive."
There is a turn off down a canyon onto a dirt road to Echo Park and the river in the canyon, but it takes an hour each way and we're already bored silly. The next overlook is for Iron Spring, but it is the same view as before except a little closer.
Finally, after what seemed like an endless drive, we arrived at the end of the road for the big reveal of the canyon <yawn>. Even the ranger sitting in his truck looks bored. This side of the park must not get much traffic because all of the walks at the viewpoints are overgrown and unkempt. It looks like it has been abandoned, but we saw more rangers out and about here than we usually do. Maybe they're just bored and out driving around for something to do. We only saw a handful of other cars.
On the way back the way we came we stopped at one more viewpoint that overlooks the valley below. The most exciting part of this stop is that there is a restroom.
As we were driving out of the park, we came upon the most exciting thing that happened all day. A big herd of sheep is standing in the road. A lone cowboy, yes a real cowboy, is trying to get them out of the road, but not having much luck. The ranger we talked to in the visitor center earlier was sitting in his truck on the side of the road, so we stopped to ask him what to do. He said he just found out a few minutes ago that you have to drive slowly up to the sheep and hope they part enough to drive through. He also said that the cowboy will help us get through. There is a car trapped on the other side of the sheep, too, so we just sat in the road waiting for the cowboy to herd the sheep through a gate in the fence. It took about fifteen minutes, but once he got them moving it didn't take much longer. He thanked us for being so patient. Heck, it was the most interesting thing we saw all day!
The last viewpoint is the "Escalante View". Everything we saw is pretty, but the drive is way too long and boring for little payoff. We wouldn't bother with this side of the monument again. If you're passing by you can feel free to skip it. Hopefully the dinosaur quarry on the other side is more interesting.
Back on the highway, we stopped at a viewpoint right after entering Utah. There are signs pointing out various features such as the Blue Mountain. Another sign explains the geology behind the formations in front of us.
There are thunderstorms in the direction we are headed complete with lightning bolts and thick black clouds. It didn't rain on us until we arrived at the hotel in Vernal. The town is trying hard to be attractive. The streets are lined for miles with colorful planters full of flowers. There are a couple of kitschy dinosaur statues along the way, also. We'll try to get some photos of the city tomorrow when we're not running on low energy.
We arrived at the Springhill Suites at 4:00pm. The young lady at the desk was very welcoming. Check-in only took a minute and we were in our room quickly. This hotel is the standard recent model of Springhill Suites with the separated bathroom and turquoise color scheme. The only thing we don't like is the frosted glass door on the bathroom because it lights up the entire suite if someone uses it at night. Otherwise it is comfortable and a very good value at $114 per night. Our view is of the back of some stores next door, so nothing worth looking at. They still haven't added towel bars to the shower area at Springhill Suites, so God only knows where you are supposed to put the towels after using them.
At 5:00pm we went to find someplace for dinner. The woman at the front desk said almost everything she would recommend is closed on Sunday and the only places open are Mexican restaurants. There is one in front of the hotel, so we walked over there. It is sort of like a Mexican version of Subway where you choose the basic element you want and then point out what you want on it. There is an authentic old Mexican woman making fresh tortillas (that are excellent). Click to view the MENU for Cafe Rio. We weren't expecting much, but we were very surprised that the food is outstanding. Everything is fresh with a nice flavor. Dave had the Tortilla Soup and the Taco Meal (with chicken); Bill had a Pork Taco and a Chicken Quesadilla. They also have a huge variety of drinks the likes of which we've never seen at a fast food place. We were very happy with our food and would go back to this chain if we see it again.
We picked up some ice cream bars from the hotel shop and were back in our room by 6:00pm.
It wasn't at all hot at Dinosaur NM. It was only 73 most of the time. But, when we got into Utah the temperature quickly climbed to 90 while it was raining. You can imagine how gross that is. We expect pretty much the same for the next week or so, but maybe minus the rain.
Day 11: Monday, June 15 - Vernal - Dinosaur National Monument Quarry - Springhill Suites
Dinosaur National Monument offers an array of attractions and recreational opportunities. You can see 1,500 dinosaur fossils still encased in the rock at the Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall on the Utah side of the monument. In the summer, shuttle buses leave the Quarry Visitor Center every 15 minutes for the Quarry Exhibit Hall.
Without even going outside we can tell it is going to be hot. It just has that dusty, steamy look.
The "new improved" free breakfast at the Springhill Suites would be nice, but the eggs and fruit were empty even though we arrived well before the end of service. The fruit was never re-filled. Someone brought out more scrambled eggs about five minutes before breakfast ends so the staff could have their breakfast. Maybe most people don't notice stuff like that, but we do. We got enough to eat, but it isn't the best breakfast we've had. All of the cereal was sugary, such as Froot Loops and similar choices. No wonder the kids staying here are always screaming.
We started driving back toward Dinosaur National Monument at around 10:30am. Considering that this town really isn't all that attractive, the flowers lining the streets for miles are noteworthy. There must be hundreds of planters and hanging baskets. The flowers are pink to match the dinosaur at the entrance to the town.
It is about twenty miles from the hotel to the monument. On the road off the main highway to the entrance gate, several businesses try to cash in on the dinosaur theme. Since all of them are out of business the strategy didn't quite pay off. We pulled over for a view of the Green River and the mountains where the dinosaur relics are located.
The ranger at the toll booth was very chatty. So much so that a line of cars built up behind us. He didn't seem in any hurry to get rid of us, so we let him talk. The entrance fee is $10 per car, but we used our pass.
There is a nice, new visitor center for this side of the park. The displays inside make little sense, so we didn't spend much time looking at them. Through the back door there is a shuttle that comes every fifteen minutes to take visitors to the quarry building. The ride is only four minutes, but it is the only way to accommodate everyone who wants to see it. It isn't crowded at all today and there is no one waiting at the shuttle stop. In the winter you have to wait for a ranger to lead cars in a caravan up to the quarry. We're not sure why that is necessary, but that is how it is done.
The quarry building is recently reconstructed in the same modern style as the original. The first one started to collapse due to soil conditions, so they were forced to suddenly close it and build a new version.
Visitors walk up a ramp to the second floor and come face to face with a rock wall embedded with fossil bones. At one end is a jumble of bones called the "logjam". This layer of rock was once the sandy/muddy river bottom. There was a drought and many dinosaurs died and either fell into the river or were washed downstream when a flood came. So, they ended up piled here. The bones were first discovered because some of the skeletons at the top were exposed by erosion.
In the early days, many of the fossils were excavated and sent to museums. They estimate that there are still over 1,500 bones remaining that belong to about 300 individual dinosaurs. They purposely left the remaining bones intact the way they were uncovered. Some are nearly complete skeletons while other are just a single big bone. Besides the logjam area, there are several places where various layers of stone have revealed additional specimens. The view of the entire wall seen from the upper level is certainly impressive. There are displays along the inside wall of complete skeletons and fossils of insects and such.
Back outside there is a beautiful view over the river valley. There is a Dinosaur Fossil Trail that can be seen from the walkway around the parking lot. A sign says that it is an easy trail and takes about 40 minutes to get back to the visitor center where we started. It is hot, but not unbearable, so we decided to walk to the start of the trail and give it a shot.
The first feature along the trail is a big upturned sedimentary rock wall where the slabs are coated with tiny clam fossils. Next you can walk up a narrow hillside trail to see small bone fragments embedded in the rock wall. The area is surrounded by dramatic rock formations. These are the edges of sediments that were once flat, but have been upturned over time by geologic forces. After leaving the gully where the fossil trail begins, the trail passes some petroglyphs as it winds its way back to the visitor center.
While it isn't mentioned anywhere obvious, there is an Auto Tour available by turning left out of the visitor center. We stopped to pick up a guide book ($1) for the road and started driving. The first stop is a small cave dubbed the "swelter shelter" where there are some petroglyphs. There are additional glyphs nearby.
Another stop is an overlook to view the Green River Valley. The river has cut through the solid rock of the mountain now called Split Mountain for obvious reasons. Along the road are other stops for Turtle Rock and Elephant Toes Butte. The most popular stop is for some elaborate petroglyphs high up on the rocks. One depicts a lizard in great detail. Nearby are more petroglyphs that the guide book says shows that the people had lots of free time to spend creating art.
The road passes through several miles of private farmland before re-entering the monument land. The road turns to gravel toward the end and leads to Josie's Cabin, an old homestead where a single woman lived by herself until the early 1960's. It is a beautiful setting with lots of shade trees and green fields. There is a spring on the site, also.
The homestead is the end of the road, so we turned back the way we came and started back to the hotel. We arrived in town around 3:30pm and stopped for gas. A garish dinosaur statue embellished with lights and a bunch of 'USA' paraphernalia looms over the gas station.
Shortly after we got back to our room a note was shoved under the door saying that the parking lot is being resurfaced tomorrow. We have been parking in front of the hotel, but the entire back parking lot was resurfaced today and they are doing the south end tomorrow. There are two Marriott brands sharing the parking lot, so it is very crowded with everyone crammed into the front spaces.
We went out for dinner at 6:30pm and drove to the Best Western Dinosaur Inn where the highest-rated restaurant in town is located. Yes, it is attached to the hotel, but it is a separate business called Antica Forma Pizzeria. It has excellent reviews, so we thought we'd give it a shot. By the way, the third highest rated place is Burger King.
We don't have a menu for this place, but it is mostly a pizza restaurant. They have several salads, soup, calzones and similar items, as well. The service is very friendly. The woman who seated us explained that everything is freshly made on the premises including the cheese. We both ordered a pizza and split a salad. The garlic bread that came with the salad was to die for. It is amazing! Bill had an enormous stuffed pizza called the Volcano with pretty much everything on it. Dave ordered a pizza with several kinds of cheese. A co-owner came over and apologized that they just ran out of the Smoked Mozzarella for it, but Dave said just substitute another cheese and call it good. The guy offered us a free dessert as compensation, but we didn't order dessert. However, the price of the pizza was only $11, so he had already reduced the price (pizza is generally about $15). Both pizzas were outstanding and pretty much the best we have ever had anywhere. We would definitely go back to this place if we had the chance.
It was pouring rain when we came out of the restaurant. We saw the black clouds forming when we were coming back from the park today, but didn't think anything of it. It isn't cold; in fact it is in the low 80's. This weather pattern seems to be the norm. It is clear in the morning and the clouds roll in during the late afternoon and evening. That's good timing for being out and about, so it doesn't affect us one way or the other.
We had to park in the lot by the restaurant in front of the hotel because the back lot is closed and all of the hotel spaces are taken. The carpets in the lobby were cleaned today, so they're on a roll with the maintenance around here. We're not sure they'll be able to finish the parking lot tomorrow if the rain continues, but it does show they are keeping up with maintenance.
There was a kid screaming in the room when we left for dinner and he's still screaming now. We can't hear much of anything through the wall, but if the door is open even a crack it is like the kid is in the room with us. How loud must it be in the room with him? OMG.
Day 12: Tuesday, June 16 - Vernal - Flaming Gorge/Sheep Creek Geological Loop - Springhill Suites
The Sheep Creek Geological Loop route winds through the dramatic geologic formations of the Sheep Creep National Geologic Area. The Uinta Fault, which runs for more than 100 miles along the north slope of the Uinta Mountains, is clearly visible in the extremely twisted rock layers along the upper part of the loop. But stunning scenery isn't the only reason to keep your camera ready on this backway. Expect to catch a glimpse or two of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep as you wind through Sheep Creek's awe-inspiring rock spires. This relatively small area is home to an impressive diversity of birds and other wildlife. Sharp eyes will spot the gravesite of the mysterious Cleophus Dowd along the western end of the loop.
The weather looks about the same as it did yesterday, but as we've learned that can change quickly. This morning it is sunny and warm.
Breakfast was stocked better except the fruit was never refilled. As yesterday, a last minute restock of everything was made before the maids came for their break. We have no objection to feeding the staff, but it should be done out of sight of the guests. It is extremely tacky to let the food run out for the guests and then refill it just in time for the staff to arrive.
We left the hotel around 10:30am. Today's adventures take place in and on the way to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We can't pass up anything that is labeled as "flaming" can we?
There is roughly a 40-mile drive from Vernal to reach Flaming Gorge. We stopped at a viewpoint overlooking a huge mining operation. The information panels are largely propaganda for the mining company that explain how the land is reclaimed when they are done stripping it. They're mining a layer of phosphate that sits below three other thick layers. They claim that the land is reseeded with grasses and plants that are more beneficial for big game than what was there before. Of course, there is no overlook for the huge slag lake on the other end of the mine.
The drive continues up to the 8,400 foot level and then descends on the other side of the mountains. Eventually we arrived at an overlook high above the Flaming Gorge Dam and the huge reservoir it created. A side trip to the dam wasn't originally in our plans, but we decided to drive down and at least look at it. There is a turnout for the view of a bridge arching over an inlet of the reservoir just before reaching the dam itself.
There is a small visitor center adjacent to the dam where you can get a view of the reservoir. There is certainly no shortage of water here as the reservoir is at capacity. We asked to join the next tour and were told it starts in five minutes. Dave had to put his fanny pack in the car because no bags of any kind are allowed. A sheriff came and sent everyone through a metal detector and inspected the contents of each wallet. Why? We have no idea. If we wanted to blow up the dam we'd drive a car across it where there are no security checks. In any case, he was very nice, as was the tour guide. This is all free of charge, by the way.
A thunderstorm is threatening, so the tour guide rushed us to the elevator in the center of the dam. She said that if we didn't hurry that they might call us back to the visitor center. We made it before the rain started and took the elevator to the bottom of the dam and out into the powerhouse. There is a training session going on to certify new hires in rappelling, which is required to be hired. It almost looks like something that is staged for visitors, but it is for real.
We exited outside at the river level. The walkway is mostly covered, but we were taken out onto a jetty to have the chance to throw food into the river for the fish. There are 20,000 trout per mile in the river. When a woman threw a handful of food in the water it started a frenzy that looked like a piranha attack. It started to rain just as we went outside, but a downpour began while we were on the jetty, forcing everyone back inside.
Once back up the elevator we were warned that there would probably be a bunch of people from the visitor center there to rush us to safety. They blocked the road so we could walk across the highway directly to the visitor center rather than over the bridge. The concern is that anyone exposed on the top of the dam could be hit by lightning. The weather around here certainly can be dramatic and it is no exception right now. There is constant thunder, the sky is black, and the rain is pouring in buckets. The six people on the tour (including us) didn't mind at all, so it was kind of fun.
Back on the road we turned off at a visitor center for Red Canyon Overlook. We didn't go in the visitor center, but we did walk out onto the point where there are several canyon overlooks. The view is spectacular in all directions. We're not too thrilled about the section that has a small bridge across a huge crack that looks like the entire top of the cliff could fall away at any second. The continuous thunder overhead kept us moving. It isn't raining now, but it certainly will be at any moment. Besides, we probably shouldn't be standing out on an exposed point in a lightning storm.
Our final planned destination for today is the Sheep Canyon Geological Loop. The rain is falling in buckets at this point. Then a hail storm started, so we pulled over to let it pass. We thought that it might break the windshield if we kept going. The hail relented, but it continued to rain for the rest of the drive.
For the first several miles we wondered what the heck the point of this is. There are no viewpoints or interpretive signs. Since it is a loop drive we kept going and finally arrived at a deep canyon surrounded by towering rock cliffs and jagged peaks. It is amazing to think that these layered cliff faces were once horizontal and have been uplifted by geologic forces to their nearly vertical current position.
Other stops along the drive offer a view of the mountains. There are a few interesting sandstone formations such as Tower Rock and the Park City Formation. Outside the official geologic area there is a long red formation in the middle of farmland below light colored sandstone mountains. Back on the main highway, we made one more stop at a viewpoint overlooking the entire mountain range and far into the distance beyond.
We didn't make any more stops on the drive back to Vernal. The rain continued until we reached the city itself. It doesn't appear that it rained in Vernal at all today. It is 78 in Vernal, but it was only in the 50's the rest of the day. Of course, that's to be expected at 7,000+ feet. Vernal is at around 5,000 feet.
Back at the hotel, the parking lot resurfacing continues. We were able to find one of the last parking spaces in front of the hotel, so we won't be going very far for dinner. It is already 5:00pm, so we ready to eat soon. All we did today was snack on stuff we have in the car, so we're very hungry.
Our key cards didn't work, so we had to go back to the front desk to have them reprogrammed. The woman at the desk today isn't at all friendly and she didn't apologize for the key issue. The woman behind us in line had the same problem. The hotel manager (we assume) and the front desk clerk were folding towels at the front desk. What's up with that? Are these two women the only staff on duty or what?
We cleaned up briefly and walked across the parking lot to Cafe Rio again. We liked it the first time and it is a better choice than KFC or Subway. There is a long line today, but not unreasonable. We placed our orders and easily found a place to sit in the huge dining area. The food is really outstanding for a take-out place. The only complaint we have is that it is difficult to eat with tiny plastic utensils. If this same food was served in a real restaurant it would be much more pleasant. It is so busy that there must be at least 20 people working in the kitchen and at the counter. It works like an assembly line, so it takes several people to put the meals together according to the customer's wishes. Anyway, we liked our meal and would recommend this chain.
The hotel appears to be nearly full judging by how noisy it is. The people next door have been different every day. We didn't think it was possible to be noisier than the toddler who screamed for four hours, but we were wrong. The family there now apparently never sits down because their door is constantly slamming. Same with the four guys who checked in across the hall. Luckily we can't hear anything through the walls, but whatever goes on in the hallway might as well be in our room.
We'll call it a night early again. It was a long day of driving today and we have another similar schedule tomorrow.
Day 13: Wednesday, June 17 - Drive to Moab - The Gonzo Inn
No one is going to complain of being bored in Moab, Utah. Frequently and
affectionately coined the adventure capital of the world, there are lots of
things to do and see in Moab, Utah. It is a "Natural Theme Park," and features
an endless array of adventure and activity options! The spectacular geography of
the region creates a special atmosphere and unique setting that has made this
town famous the world over! Unique rock formations and vast expanses of stunning
desert are found at area attractions like Arches National Park, Canyonlands
National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park. The parks extraordinary features
create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms and textures that are unlike
any other in the world.
It is going to be a scorcher today for sure. There is not a cloud in the sky, but we know that can change. We'll see how it goes.
Breakfast was the same as usual. Again, nothing was refilled until the very end before the maids came down for their break. That's pretty tacky in our opinion.
Our final thoughts on Vernal: The city itself is mostly a collection of motels and fast food restaurants, so it isn't a draw on its own. As a base for visiting Dinosaur National Monument and Flaming Gorge, it is the closest town with decent lodging options. We'd stay in this town again if we pass through for some reason.
Our final thoughts on the Marriott Springhill Suites-Vernal: We like this chain. The newer models are all the same layout with the weird split bathroom, but it works OK. This hotel is very clean and the upgraded breakfast is nice. The guests, on the other hand, are about as low class as you can get. That isn't the hotel's fault and it is probably the same anywhere in town. We'd be happy to stay here again.
All we have on our agenda for today is getting to Moab, which should take at least four hours without stopping. We hate that much driving, but that's how it goes sometimes. We'll depart the hotel at 11:00am.
We'll cut to the chase and say that all we did was drive for four hours. Nothing happened and we didn't stop anywhere. The first fifty miles or so we saw nothing but downtrodden small towns and derelict farms. Then, for a few miles, we drove through a nicer area with prosperous farms and nice houses. After turning into the mountains, we quickly rose to over 9,000 feet and just as quickly back down the other side to 5,000 feet. The highland valley we drove through was kind of scenic except for the oil pumps every mile or so. At the summit it is part of the Ashley National Forest and that part was the most attractive.
Once on the other side of the mountains there really wasn't anything to look at except semi-desert areas backed by some semi-scenic layered cliffs. In other words, it wasn't anything to write home about (or take pictures of). We tried to visit "The Biggest Coal Miner in the World", but the road was closed. Hey, we tried to make it interesting, so give us some credit.
The area just outside of Moab is very scenic with dark red rock cliffs towering on both sides of the road. One side is Canyonlands National Park and the other is Arches National Park. We'll visit those over the next two days.
We arrived at The Gonzo Inn at 3:30pm. It is a cute two-story hotel with a snarky attitude that we like. For example, the key packet says, "WARNING: Prolonged exposure to The Gonzo Inn may result in serious attitude adjustment." The woman who checked us in was pleasant, but not particularly informative. She did tell us where our room is and where we should park. We had to haul our luggage up the stairs. We're used to that by now. The corridors are open to the weather although they are covered. It is 100 degrees here, by the way. This place is overrun with kids, so the pool is completely off limits to us (we wouldn't be in the pool anyway, just saying).
Our room is a huge suite with a separate living room with a dining table/chairs, sofa and lounge chair. The kitchen area has a microwave and refrigerator. There are kitchen cabinets, but no utensils except a few paper plates. The bathroom [Can you spot one of Dave's pet peeves in this photo? Guess what it is in the forum discussion] is done is a colorful Southwest style and has a gigantic walk-in shower you could get lost in. The bedroom is large, too. The kind bed has fancy linens embroidered with the hotel logo and an artistic metal headboard. We have a private terrace, too, but in this heat we doubt we'll be sitting out there. We don't have any sort of view, but none of the rooms here do. The air conditioning works, which is the most important thing at the moment. So far it is very quiet in the room. We haven't heard anything from outside since we arrived.
The hotel is located just a block off the downtown strip, so there are lots of shops and restaurants nearby. The town is sort of like Sedona, but not as up market. It looks like it is geared more toward adventurous types and families because there are tons of storefront offices booking rock climbing, balloon flights, zip-lines, rafting and such. The zip-line place we passed on the way into town had a line of people waiting to check in. We'd kind of like to try zip-lining, but we're not waiting in a giant line with 50 of our closest new friends.
Dave found an ad in the magazine in the room about apps for tours of the national parks. Bill downloaded them onto the phone. They are supposed to use the GPS function to plays a commentary when we arrive at each feature in the parks. If it saves us from actually having to read, we're happy. They cost $3.99 & $5.99, but we got $2.00 off by buying the combo. They're available for Yellowstone and other places, too (GyPSy Guide). We'll let you know how they work out tomorrow.
At 6:30pm we walked a few blocks up the street to Eddie McStiff's Restaurant. Along the way we were annoyed to find out that our new dog owns a restaurant behind our back. He should be feeding us instead of the other way around. If we go there for dinner tomorrow we'll expect to get it for free. We think he spelled it with an 'x' to throw us off. He's sneaky like that.
Click to view the MENU for Eddie McStiff's. There is a patio out front, but when the hostess asked if we want to sit inside or out we immediately said "IN". Some people sitting there said that if we sit outside it will help us get acclimated, but we still declined. Those were the only people sitting out there, by the way. The inside isn't the most attractive place we've ever seen, but our waitress was nice and the food was good. Dave ordered the Steak Mojo; Bill had Eddie's McSticks (chicken with Cuban sauce and salad). Both meals were very good and a nice sized portion for the money. Bill had a brownie sundae for dessert which was OK. Dave would have ordered the Baked Apple dessert, but the waitress didn't ask him, so screw her.
OMG it is hot! It has to be in the high 90's if not 100 at 8:00pm. Most restaurants with outdoor seating have misting systems, so it is kind of like Palm Springs in that regard. We stopped into one nice shop on the way back to the hotel, but nothing called out to us so we didn't buy anything. They have those big copper spinning things out front that we like, but they're too big to haul home (not to mention too expensive).
Day 14: Thursday, June 18 - Moab - Arches National Park - The Gonzo Inn
Visit Arches, a red rock wonderland, and discover a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks. This red rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets.
You know how you can look outside and just know it is hot? Well, that's the situation here this morning.
We missed the hotel breakfast because it ends at 9:00am. 10:00am we can handle, but 9:00am, not a chance. We'll go out for breakfast. There are several breakfast places within walking distance. We walked up the block to the Peace Tree Juice Cafe. It wasn't busy, so we were seated right away. The service was haphazard, but otherwise it was fine. Click to view the breakfast MENU. Bill ordered a Veggie Omelet and a Strawberry Twist Smoothie; Dave had the Green Eggs & Ham and the Desert Nectar Smoothie. Bill also ordered a side of one wheat pancake that was delicious. All of the food was very good. The smoothies were outstanding. The price was very high for breakfast, but since everything was good we'll overlook the cost.
The internet at this hotel is very annoying. It disconnects every five minutes. When it works it is reasonably fast, but it is hard to get anything done when you're cut off constantly.
Around 11:00am we set off toward Arches National Park following the tour instructions in the GyPSy Guide app. We managed to get the phone to link with the car's sound system using Bluetooth, so we heard the commentary clearly. We were very happy with the tour. The narrator was very good and sometimes amusing. The information was more than we'd get even if we read all of the information in the brochure. When there was nothing to look at the narrator would talk about other things like the kind of animals in the park, etc. He doesn't talk constantly and it isn't at all annoying. We felt it enhanced our enjoyment quite a bit. We have no clue how it works, but the narration was precise enough to tell us exactly when to turn.
The narrator said it would take about four hours to see everything if we spent ten minutes at each stop he mentioned. We laughed since we never spend that much time looking at anything. However, we'll tell you up front that it did indeed take over four hours and we didn't do any hikes that were more than 1/4 mile. It is very hot today, so we quickly ran out of energy at the first stop that required getting out of the car, but more on that later.
Click to view a MAP of Arches National Park. The entrance fee is $10 per car; we used our annual pass. We almost skipped the visitor center because of the throngs of people coming and going, but since the parking lot wasn't full we went in anyway. We didn't buy anything in the gift shop and only spent a few minutes looking around. We're reminded by crowds like this of the reason we try to avoid traveling in the summer.
The entrance road zigzags up the face of tall sandstone cliffs that mark the entrance to the park. There is a formation that looks like three penguins if you squint and someone has planted the idea in your head. We were instructed by the app to pull over and look down at the Moab Fault. The highway below follows the fault line that caused all of these mountains to tilt upward.
The first major stop that requires getting out of the car is the short trail to the viewpoint for Park Avenue. It was named by early visitors for its resemblance to the New York skyline. OK, whatever, it is spectacular nonetheless. The tour advises that you can drop off anyone in your group who wants to hike and pick them up at a different location below. Let us remind you that it is very HOT. No way we are hiking anywhere!
The next major stop is at the parking area for the Courthouse formation. From here you can see the pillars knows as the Three Gossips and other striking features. Continuing on brings us to a huge area of petrified ancient sand dunes. The red sandstone once covered these formations, but have disappeared in this area due to erosion. One of the most popular (and crowded) locations in the park is Balanced Rock. There are more balanced rocks further along the road that aren't crowded at all.
Probably the most popular stop of all is the Windows area where there are several arches and bridges. These features are at the end of a spur road off the main route though the park. The main parking lot is full, so we had to drive a short distance to the parking lot for the Double Arch across the way. The trail to the arches passes by a formation that looks like an old Tibetan man, then on past the Three Elephants butte, and on to view two enormous caves that may eventually turn into arches themselves. The Double Arch feature is at the end of the trail. You can, if you are crazy, climb all the way up to the arches.
From the Double Arch parking lot there are stairs and a trail back to the parking lot for the Windows. We're not thrilled about this walk because there is another loop trail to view the features in this area, but the guide said it is a "must see" and he told us, "It is time to get out of the car." The trail leads to several vantage points to view the North & South Windows. It then continues to a view of Turret Arch and loops back to South Window and then to North Window. There is a primitive trail you can take around and through the windows if you are the adventurous type and it isn't 100 degrees. Did we mention there is not shade? It is about as hot and dry as it can be around here. There are several trails to hike from here if the weather is more cooperative.
Back on the main road we stopped again at the overlook for Salt Valley. This is a valley formed when the salt dome under the sandstone washed away and the overlying layers collapsed. The hills are streaked with red, yellow and green.
The most famous sight in the park is the unofficial symbol of Utah, Delicate Arch. Average visitors such as us have to settle for a distant view from afar, but it is possible to hike for several miles if you absolutely have to see this feature up close. There is a beautiful view of the desert landscape from here, as well.
If you are a serious hiker you can sign up for a ranger-led strenuous hike through the Fiery Furnace. It is so named because at sunset the light hits the sandstone in such a way that it appears to be on fire. With the heat today the name fits regardless of the time of day. Hiking along is not permitted in this area because of the danger of getting lost and the delicate ecosystem. Nearby are several similar red sandstone formations.
The last feature we visited today is Skyline Arch. The hole in the arch doubled in size overnight in 1940 when a huge chunk of rock fell from the opening. We skipped the stop at Sandbox Arch because it requires a bit of a hike to get to. At the end of the road is Devil's Garden where you can hike through various towering sandstone towers to view several more arches. We're exhausted at this point, so we passed on doing that.
It takes about 30 minutes to drive back to the entrance of the park without stopping. The guide app told us about the animals in the park, what not to do when hiking, etc. Point is, he kept us entertained off and on until we got all the way back to town. He even told us the history of Moab when we got into the city. As we said, we're very pleased with this app and would definitely recommend it.
We arrived back in town at around 3:30pm, tired and hungry. We stopped to get gas and went into the convenience store attached to it to buy something for lunch. That consisted of a sandwich, some cut fruit, and a chef's salad that we took back to the hotel to eat.
Napping and washing stuff out in the sink ensued, so nothing important happened until 7:00pm when we walked up the street to Zax Restaurant. This is the place our new dog owns behind our back. We didn't even get a free dessert out of it. Ingrate. Click to view the MENU. We started with a Quesadilla that was very good. Dave had the Beef Hobo sandwich and Bill had the Flatiron Steak. The steak meal was outstanding in every way. The sandwich was OK, but nothing special. Overall, we enjoyed the meal and would go back. It was less expensive than the place we went to last night and this time we both got a dessert. The service was much better, too.
The internet seems to be working at the hotel for the time being. Let's hope it stays that way.
By the way, it is still in the 90's at 9:00pm.
Day 15: Friday, June 19 - Moab - Canyonlands National Park - The Gonzo Inn
Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.
It is supposed to be cooler today; only 101.
Since we can't get up early enough for the hotel's free breakfast, what's the point of getting up early at all? So we didn't. Around 10:30am we walked to the Pancake Haus on the corner (about half a block away). It has mediocre reviews, so we aren't expecting much. But, how bad can it be for breakfast? The place must have been redone when the hotel next door was updated because it looks much better than it does in online photos. We were greeted right away and our waiter was very friendly. The Hotel Moab owns the restaurant. Makes sense since it is on the same corner. Anyway, we were happy with it. Bill had Eggs Benedict; Dave had a Denver Omelet. We both ordered the Fruit Plate; Bill ordered two additional eggs. The waiter was appalled by the huge order, but it really wasn't that much food. Everything was fine and we'll probably go there again tomorrow morning. It was half the cost of the Peace Tree Juice Cafe and the food wasn't at all weird.
When we arrived back at the hotel the maid was working on our room, so we wandered around the lobby, looked in the gift shop, and chatted with a woman who is either the manager or owner. Bill complemented her on the creativeness used in the hotel's decor. She said the previous owner did most of it, but they have been adding more of the metalwork elements to fit the theme. It looks very nice and is a very pleasant change from staying at a chain hotel. There's something interesting to look at around every corner.
We left for Canyonlands National Park much later than we normally do, but really, what's the rush? It doesn't get dark until 8:00pm, so we have plenty of time. Click to view a MAP of Canyonlands.
The drive from town is much longer than to Arches. The turn off from the road is only about five miles further out, but from there it is another 30 miles or so to the entrance to the park. The drive is pleasant and there are several scenic viewpoints to stop at along the way. We're using the touring app we used yesterday and we're still very pleased with it. The narrator points out things that are outside the park worth stopping at, too. The first is a view of the Monitor and Merrimack Buttes. They're supposed to resemble the doomed warships. Another stop before the park entrance is for a look at Big Mesa.
We arrived at the park entrance station ($10 per car; we used our pass) at 1:00pm or thereabouts. We went into the visitor center just because it is there, but didn't find anything of interest in the gift shop. If you are hiking (are you insane...it is 100 degrees!) you can get advice and maps from the rangers here. There are signs with dire warnings starting off with "Heat Kills" in big read letters.
This section of the park is called "Island in the Sky" because it is entirely atop a large mesa. It is connected to the "mainland" by a narrow land bridge that is only 40' wide. We weren't sure what to expect in this park, but we kind of assumed we'd be winding through canyons and looking at rock formations. Quite the contrary. Since we're on top of what is essentially a flat mesa, everything we are looking at is below us. Arches and Canyonlands are sort of like Zion and Bryce. One you are looking up at everything and the other you are looking down on the sites. The roads were originally bulldozed into the landscape in the 1950's when the government wanted to encourage uranium mining (little was found in the park). After it became a national park in the 1960's the roads were improved to what we see today. The Needles and other areas of the park are not connected, so to visit those you have to drive for several hours to another entrance.
Our app commentary says that it takes about four hours to see everything he will point out. Of course, if we want to hike to something it will take much longer. We do not hike, as you will recall. Well, maybe we'll hike for 15-20 minutes if we know there is something really special to see, but otherwise it isn't happening even when it isn't hot.
We were directed to pull over to look at Plateau Viewpoint. From here you can see all the way across the canyons to the La Sal Mountains in the distance. It is very hazy today, but we can only kind of make out the mountains in the far distance.
At the next stop there is a dramatic view of the towering cliffs and the canyons far below. This is where the only road down into the canyons is located. You need a sturdy 4-wheel drive to tackle this road. Looking at the descent we can certainly understand that!
Our guide announced the stop at Mesa Arch as a must see that requires a hike of fifteen minutes along a flat trail. We call BS on the flat part because it most certainly is not flat. "Flat" to us means wheelchair accessible. It isn't a difficult trail, but it is up many stone steps and back down again onto rough sandstone to finally reach the arch. You can see the arch from a distance without going all the way down for a close-up view, but you still have to walk up the hill to get to that point. If you want to see this you have to walk. Once down by the edge of the canyon there is a spectacular view in all directions, so it is well worth the short hike to see this.
OK people listen up. When you are at a public place like this, please don't stand in front of the site we are all there to see and poke at your cellphone. Other people want a picture, too, you know. When you are done taking your photos, get the hell out of the way! Ugh.
Moving along...the next view is the Green River Viewpoint for a panoramic vista of the power of water to erode the landscape. A strange woman came up behind us and asked if we think this looks like the Grand Canyon. At first we couldn't believe she was talking to us, but unfortunately she was. Uh, yeah, it sort of does, but don't all canyons look like, well, canyons? Anyway, it is impressive on its own.
We continued on and took a detour on spur road to the right. The app told us we could skip this if we are short on time, but the payoff is well worth the effort. First up on this road is a trailhead for the Aztec Butte. It is named that because there are cliff dwellings in some of the caves at the base of the largest butte. The trail to the cave takes over an hour, so it ain't happening. Luckily the buttes are attractive from a distance, too.
Next on this road is Whale Rock. The parking area is too close to the rock to get the whole picture, which is odd. We took a better picture by pulling off the road randomly rather than at the spot designated for it. You can, if you so choose, "scramble" up the hill to the top of the rock and walk along the spine. Supposedly, "Kids love doing this." Really? It is like a billion degrees walking across bare sandstone. Needless to say, we are satisfied looking at it from ground level.
The point of this spur road is to reach Upheaval Dome. The guide app carries on extensively about this unusual feature found nowhere else. Is it a meteor crater or is it a salt dome that dissolved and collapsed? Nobody knows for sure. It sure sounds interesting, doesn't it? We thought so until we arrived and read the sign in the parking lot. To reach the first overlook requires a one-way hike of about an hour up the side of a steep sandstone hill. Uh, nope. We'll have to settle for the picture on the information sign. There are several very nice, new picnic shelters and restrooms in the parking lot, so all is not lost.
Speaking of restrooms, if you can hold it for four hours you'll probably want to do that. There are no real bathrooms in the entire park (or in Arches either). All of them, even at the visitor center, are those God-awful pit toilets. We're glad we're men, so we don't have to touch anything. We have the ultimate in sympathy for any woman who has no other alternative. OMG they're gross!
Back to the subject at hand. We made our way back to the main road and stopped as directed at a viewing area for a freestanding spire below. There are dramatic views in all directions from here. Since it is hazy it isn't the best day to see the most dramatic distance view, but it is impressive nonetheless.
A major viewpoint is for Buck Canyon Overlook. From here you can really see the erosive forces at work in the canyons below. The dramatic cliffs along the edge show how powerful these forces are. The top layer is a hard sandstone petrified after a desert was compressed. Below that is a softer material that is more easily water permeable. This layer erodes and the top eventually collapses. It is hard to see the amazing details far below without binoculars, but a zoom lens can do wonders, too. This area would be nice to drive down into with an appropriate vehicle, but it would certainly take all day.
The big finale is the end of the road at Grand View Overlook. From here you can see in every direction what erosion and the river have done to sculpt the valley floor. There is a road along the bottom that is part of the 4-wheel drive dirt track. It would be spectacular to see close up the sandstone fins that stand at attention in the deep canyons as the road follows the rim. There are amazing vistas everywhere you look from this vantage point. It must be absolutely breathtaking on a clear day. That's not to say it isn't something special today, but when the winds aren't kicking up the dust it would be even more amazing.
This park apparently isn't as popular as Arches. There were plenty of parking spaces available and never more than a handful of people at the major sites. We had the lesser sites all to ourselves for the most part. We stopped at everything the guide app pointed out, which as far as we can tell is just about everything you can see without lengthy hiking or a 4-wheel drive. We can see why a tourist with limited time might choose Arches over Canyonlands, but they are both fascinating in their own way and both should be seen if you are passing through. Each takes about four hours to drive the length of the paved road and back, but you can easily spend a whole day in each if you do some short hikes.
The guide app entertained us on the way back to the highway with tidbits about a guy who got rich looking for uranium when everyone else had given up. He was famous in Moab and his house is now a restaurant.
We arrived back at the hotel at around 6:00pm, so we just cleaned up quickly and walked to Zax for dinner. Again, there are people waiting outside for a table, but we were seated right away by not insisting on sitting outside. It is a billion degrees. Why would anyone want to sit outside? Sure they have a mist system around the perimeter, but how much does that help? Anyway, we were again happy with the food and service. We greatly overdid it last night, but we restrained ourselves and had normal meals tonight. Dave had the Flatiron Steak meal that Bill had yesterday; Bill had the Steak Salad and and Brownie Sundae for dessert. Everything was very good.
After dinner we walked across the street to the "Trading Post" in search of tacky trinkets. We found a couple of key chains to make into Christmas ornaments, but everything else was so crappy even we wouldn't buy it. So, we walked the three blocks of the shopping street until we found a nicer tacky trinket store where we found a couple of more interesting items to buy.
We were back at the hotel by around 8:30pm.
Tomorrow is another long drive with no stops planned in advance. It is just a matter of getting from here to there unless we stumble upon something fascinating.
Day 16: Saturday, June 20 - Drive to Glenwood Springs - Hampton Inn
Take a ticket to your next Colorado Rocky Mountain adventure by exploring
"America's Most Fun Town," Glenwood Springs, Colorado! For over a century,
visitors from around the globe have added Glenwood Springs to their travel
itineraries. Our destination is family friendly, affordable, and blessed with a
remarkable mix of geological wonders including hot springs, vapor caves, two
rivers and a canyon, surrounded by the glorious Rocky Mountains. Whether you
crave hiking, biking, fishing, outdoor activities or relaxing spa time, you'll
find it all in Glenwood Springs.
It feels a little cooler today...this morning anyway. We'll have to wait and see what happens later today.
We walked to the Pancake Haus next to the hotel for breakfast again. It was fine, no complaints. The prices are very reasonable.
Our final thought on Moab: This is tourist central for the two nearby national parks, so it has all the services one expects in this kind of town. There is only one major street, so it is easy to find shops and restaurants. There are motels up the wahzoo here, plus a few upscale places. There's a Hampton Inn, a couple of Best Westerns, and a Fairfield Inn if you are determined to sleep in a chain hotel. All of the people working in the shops and restaurants were very friendly, but don't expect big city sophistication here. There are countless tour operators to arrange pretty much any outdoor adventure you can imagine.
Our final thoughts on the Gonzo Inn: This place is fantastic. The decor is fun, the rooms are huge, the staff is friendly, and the housekeeping is thorough. Who could ask for more? Oh, and the price is reasonable for what you get. We'd prefer that the breakfast didn't end at 9:00am, but most people probably want to get out and about earlier than we do. The location is about a block off the main drag which is a big advantage noise wise. It is very quiet here and we never heard anything from other guests even though the hotel appears to be nearly full. We would make a point to stay here again if we are in the vicinity.
We'll hit the road at 11:00am-ish. There are no stops planned on the way to Glenwood Springs, but if we see something interesting or kitschy, we'll check it out.
After driving for a little over an hour we crossed back into Colorado. The scenery immediately improved as though they drew state lines based on scenic attributes. Really, it went from dry scrubland to interesting rock formations and green farms right after the Colorado sign.
We saw a sign pointing to the exit for "Dinosaur Museum". Hey, how bad can it be, right? There is also a sign for the Colorado National Monument, so we can check both of them out. The outside of the "museum" is kitschy enough, but we were smart enough to check the online reviews before paying. It has a new name of "Dinosaur Journey" and looks rather kid oriented. Based on the reviews confirming that there is nothing to see here for anyone over six years old, we skipped it.
Colorado National Monument has five-star reviews, so we went there next. We have no idea how we overlooked including this in our itinerary. National parks and monuments are always nice places to stop. The entrance fee is $10 per car, but we used our pass and got in free. The ranger told us that the visitor center is four miles up the road. "Up" the road is an understatement. The road zigzags up the face of a steep mountain to the 6,000 foot level. We did stop at the visitor center and found an ornament to buy. They've finally caught on and made the key chain emblem available as an ornament. The ranger was busy enlisting a group of little kids in the Junior Ranger program. It is cute how seriously the kids take it. We've seen it at other places, too, and the rangers always go through the whole swearing in process. It is very nice and the kids enjoy it, but it takes a lot of time. The rangers we've seen doing it never rush and they appear to enjoy it as much as the kids do.
The road is one continuous drive from one end to the other with no detours. Of course, if you want to stop and go on an hours long hike, you can. The volunteer at the visitor center was very helpful to people who were asking about hiking in the park.
Basically, the drive takes about an hour if you stop for a few minutes at each viewpoint. Here they are in the order we saw them: Redland View, Balanced Rock, visitor center, Independence Monument, Grand View Valley, Grand View Spires, Monument Canyon, Coke Ovens, Artists Point Overlook, Egyptian Mummy, Ute Canyon, Fallen Rock, Red Canyon, and Cold Shivers Point (because it is straight down hundreds of feet on three sides).
Another entrance/exit of the monument is in Grand Junction, so that's where we ended up at around 2:30pm. The drive back to the freeway is longer from this end, so we had to go quite a ways through the town (which isn't much to look at, by the way). After filling up the car with fuel, we drove along local streets until we almost reached the interstate again. We decided we should have lunch, so we stopped at Dennys. The other choices were Burger King and KFC, so Dennys was the most upscale option believe it or not.
This Dennys is fairly new, so it is nicer than others we've been to. The service was extremely friendly and efficient. Both of the waitresses on duty were outgoing and personable. As they should in a diner (Dennys calls itself America's Diner) they call everyone "hon" and "sweetie". Our waitress asked if we are brothers. At least she did ask if Bill is Dave's dad as someone did the other day <snicker>. Poor Bill.
We each ordered a different sandwich with fresh fruit as the replacement for fries. The sandwiches were good, but the fruit was astounding for a place like Dennys. It was freshly cut apples, bananas, strawberries, grapes and melon in a large crockery bowl that took up half the plate. The total bill for the food and two soft drinks was $22 until we got to the register and saw a notice for %15 off if you show your AARP card. Dave just happened to bring his, so that brought the bill down to $18. What a deal that was!
The drive to reach Glenwood Springs is about another hour. The freeway roughly follows the Colorado River that is still very full and looking quite angry. If it was any higher it would overflow its banks. Hopefully this will help re-fill the dams downstream.
We didn't realize that Glenwood Springs is a mountain resort. For some reason we assumed it would be sort of in the foothills. However, it is in a scenic mountain valley at around 5,000 feet with a river running through the center of town. It has been a hot springs resort since way back when, so there are several historic old hotels and the hot springs are still the big draw. There is also the Glenwood Springs Adventure Park up on the mountain where there are two cave tours plus a handful of thrill rides. The gondola station to get up there is right behind our hotel.
We arrived at the Hampton Inn at 5:30pm. Dave had checked in online and selected a room at the end of the hall on the third floor. That avoids having neighbors on one side and above us and gives us sort of a mountain view. The hotel is packed with kids, but we're assuming that's because of the Father's Day weekend. It isn't a problem except several of them keep running up and down the hallway. Luckily this is an older Hampton that has been recently updated, so it doesn't have the thin walls that newer ones do. The rooms are all mini suites with a sitting area separated from the beds by a half wall. Newer Hamptons don't have these unless you upgrade to a suite. We're staying here using points, but the regular rates start at $169 depending on the day of the week. This is the first Hilton brand hotel we've been to that has reserved parking spaces for Diamond HHonors members.
There is only one guy working here, although we didn't realize that until later. There is a display of snacks to choose from at the front desk for HHonors members. Previously we've just been handed water and a bag of something or other, so it is a nice upgrade to have choices. As mentioned, the hotel has been upgraded and looks very nice. The lobby and exterior are attractive and modern. The room is nice also, but there is one glaring thing they forgot to change out; the electrical outlets and switches are old and yellow. It is such a simple thing to change, but this feature is very often overlooked when hotels are renovated. Otherwise, the room is very nice and clean. The A/C unit is extremely loud, but what else is new?
On the way out for dinner at 6:30pm we saw the guy who checked us in delivering supplies to one of the rooms. When he got in the elevator with us Dave asked if he's the only person working here and he said he is. You'd be surprised how few employees actually operate hotels in the evening. Dave worked at a 200 room DoubleTree Hotel and he was often the only person on duty after 9:00pm. Kind of scary, isn't it?
We walked up the street to a Mexican restaurant, but it had people waiting to be seated. The next closet restaurant is the Village Inn, which is like Dennys with pies. Our server was very nice and funny, but he looked like a punk version of Jim Gaffigan complete with neck tattoos and expansion piercings in his ears.
We wouldn't call the food at this place sophisticated, but it was fine for simple meals. You know when the clientele consists of 90-year-olds and little kids that you're not in for a gourmet feast. Still, it was fine. Bill had a meatloaf sandwich and Dave had grilled chicken breast topped with onions, peppers, and cheese. The fruit side was a tiny ramekin that paled in comparison to Dennys, but the meal came with a choice of soup or salad that was very nice. The whole meal only cost $27 and we admit that we did like it.
Back at the hotel, Dave picked up a free cookie while Bill bought some ice cream from the little store by the front desk. The guy who checked us in remembered our room number. Even we can't remember our room number at this point. We've stayed in too many hotels over the past six weeks to remember something like that.
By the way, it was cooler today. The warmest it got was 93.
Day 17: Sunday, June 21 - Glenwood Springs - Hampton Inn
It seems warmer today, but since we're not in the car with an actual reading you'll have to take our word for it.
The hotel breakfast is the same as at all Hampton's, so a good selection. However, the room it is served in is way too small and there isn't enough seating. We're starting to wonder if maybe this is a conversion from a different brand because all of the Hampton's we've ever stayed in have nice breakfast rooms. In any case, the food offered is fine, but getting it without bumping into someone is a chore. We had to sit at a high communal table with chairs that are too low for it. We felt like little kids sitting at the adult table. A woman who sat down across from us said the same thing after she sat down. It is an odd choice for sure.
We're not sure what we should do today. It is hot and we're not very motivated. We've checked the "Things To Do" reviews and nothing stands out that we're interested in. The caverns thing we'll do tomorrow, so we're left with nothing for today.
Around 11:00am we forced ourselves to start walking toward the old downtown. We were trying to follow the tourist map, but it is one of those ridiculous cartoony things that isn't at all to scale. We ended up at a dead end by the river, so we had to walk back and follow the signs posted along the road. It isn't very far, perhaps a half mile or so.
The walk took us past the Glenwood Hot Springs pool that has been a tourist attraction here since the 1700's. Here you can swim with 5,000 of your new friends for a mere $20 per person plus $2.50 if you need a towel. The water slides cost extra. We stood on the pedestrian bridge and watched people plop out of the end of the slides for a few minutes. If it wasn't 100 degrees this pool might be fun, but who wants to sit in hot water on a hot day? Apparently thousands of people do because it is crowded. We didn't smell sulfur by the pool, but apparently it does smell like the hot water in Iceland.
A long pedestrian bridge crosses the interstate, then the Colorado River, then the train tracks before arriving in the middle of the old downtown district. There's an Amtrak station right by the river for easy access. We have no idea which route it serves, but we don't recall passing through here on the way to Chicago from L.A.
The old downtown has some interesting storefronts remaining and a few great examples of old neon signs that are well preserved. We went into a nice clothing store where Dave bought some shorts to replace the ones that fell apart. He bought a shirt, too, because there is a Father's Day special where you get 1/2 off the shorts if you buy a shirt, too. The sales ladies were amusing. They tried every angle they could to get us to buy something. They weren't being pushy, just having fun with us. When they tried to get Dave to try on the items he's buying he said, "I'm a man. We don't try things on." He has never tried anything on in his life and he's not going to start now. Being women, they are, of course, appalled, but amused at the same time.
We walked up and down a few blocks and didn't find anything else of interest. There are lots of restaurants in this area, but it is too early for lunch (12:30), so we kept walking back to where we came from. We found Juicy Lucy's Restaurant facing the river. It has great reviews and one of Dave's friends on Facebook confirms that we should go there. Maybe tomorrow night.
Back on our side of the river, we walked up a block past the pool to the historic Colorado Hotel. It is across the street from the hot springs, so we assume that at some point this was all one big complex. The hotel looks impressive from the outside with a charming courtyard out front, but it doesn't have air conditioning, so there is no way we'd stay there this time of of year. We get that they want to preserve the historic atmosphere, but they have installed ugly fire sprinklers all over the lobby, so how would putting in air conditioning be any worse?
We walked through the lobby that quite frankly reminds us of the Tower of Terror at Disneyland. The staff is in appropriately themed uniforms from the 1800's. The hotel has several restaurants and they have done a good job of keeping it the same as it was. If you're into old hotels, this is the place for you.
We're hot and not at all in the mood to be outside, so we walked back to the hotel. The maid hasn't come yet, so we plopped ourselves down to cool off. Dave discovered that if he stands in the right spot over the air conditioner under the window it will blow cold air up his shorts. Small things, small minds, but it works!
The maid arrived and 1:30pm, so we let her in and went online to find someplace to go for lunch. We're not walking anywhere else today. The maid sure seemed happy. She was singing and whistling to herself while cleaning the bathroom. She's having more fun than we are today. By the way, she did a wonderful job, too. Everything was replaced, including the shampoo bottle and soap. She actually cleaned the bathroom floor. This is the first time that's happened anywhere in the last six weeks of hotel stays when we have stayed over.
We settled on Vic's Route 6 Grillhouse up the road away from the tourist area. It is too far to walk (for us), so we drove there. It looks like a typical diner (meaning it is a dump), but it has an interior themed to a 1950's gas station. There is all sorts of memorabilia around...old oil cans and gas pumps...but surprisingly enough none of it is dusty and everything is clean.
The service was OK as was the food. We both had a turkey sandwich with avocado and bacon. We were shocked when the turkey was actual chunks of turkey breast and not that pressed stuff. We liked the food and might go back there. When our bill came it was on a Disneyland tip tray, so Dave had to tell the waitress that we didn't even have Disneyland tip trays when we were waiters at the actual Disneyland. All we got were generic brown ones and we had to pay for them. They did eventually start making restaurant-logo specific trays, but that was after Dave was long gone. Anyway, the waitress was amused by it.
Back at the hotel, we did nothing for the rest of the day. Honestly, we needed a day of nothingness at this point. We're not big fans of hot weather, so going out when there is nothing compelling to see is quite a chore for us. We'll go to the adventure park tomorrow. It has a lot of poor reviews, but at least it will give us something to talk about.
At 6:30pm we walked up the street to Tequila's Mexican Restaurant that we skipped last night. There was no wait tonight, but it is still very busy. We sat inside because it is too hot outside. Turns out it is just as warm inside, so we didn't gain anything, but whatever. The place is chaotic. Staff is running around like chickens with their head cut off. The manager is frantic for some unknown reason. Another manager-type woman is sitting at the bar wrapping silverware in paper napkins. That's what she is pretending to do anyway. We never saw her actually finish any. She decided it would be more comfortable to move to a table, so she took fifteen minutes to move her stuff the four feet from the bar to the table. A waiter bumped her and half of the stack of paper napkins fell on the floor in the path of the kitchen (in other words, the dirtiest part of the floor). A hostess came over, picked up the napkins and put them right back on the stack. Gross!
Anyway, we'll cut to the chase. This was the more generic, bland, boring Mexican food we've ever had. Taco Bell is better. No kidding. At least the various options at Taco Bell each have a different flavor. Everything here tastes the same. Or like nothing. The carnitas were a big portion and all meat, but very wet as though it was scooped out of a steam table. The refried beans were so thin that they spread all over the plate. They and the rice had no flavor at all. The chips were stale and the salsa came directly from a jar. If they actually made that salsa from scratch they need a new recipe. And this place has great reviews! OMG, doesn't anyone ever leave the house? There is no way anyone should think this food is even average let along fantastic. We couldn't get out of there fast enough. Boy was that an epic fail.
We redeemed the night by stopping at the hotel's snack shop to buy some ice cream from the freezer.
Day 18: Monday, June 22 - Glenwood springs - Hampton Inn
It's still hot. Who knew it was this warm in the mountains?
Breakfast was less crowded this morning, so we were lucky (we thought) to get a regular table. The table was normal, but the chairs were so broken down in the center it was like sitting in a hole. Oh well, came that close. The selection of food at this Hampton is a bit lacking compared to most others, but it is adequate.
You've probably caught on by now that if it is hot outside we're not going to be in any rush to do anything. That's the case today, but we bit the bullet and walked out of the hotel at around 10:30am. The station for the gondola up to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is right behind the hotel, so it is a short walk.
The kids (and we do mean kids, not just young people) manning the ticket booths were very nice. There are two main options for admission; a FunDay pass that covers the cave tours (there are two), all of the rides, and the gondola to the park for $49. We were thinking of just doing the cave tours, so that pass would have been $26. We saw a video of one of their rides that we definitely want to do, so we asked if we can buy tickets individually. The answer to that is yes, but the major rides (all five of them) cost $12 each, so if we only do two it is cheaper to buy the day pass. So, that's what we did. We have to walk around all day with a wristband on, but such is life.
There is no line at all for the gondola ride and we got a car to ourselves. There are three cars in a bunch. We think there is a total of six of these bunches. Even though they don't stop completely for boarding, whenever they reach a station the cars already on the cable slow down to almost a complete stop. We saw this happening from the ground yesterday, so we are aware of it, but we think they should make some sort of announcement so people don't freak out when it stops. The ride takes several minutes since it goes up to the top of the mountain and the across to the station at the park itself.
Click to view a park MAP. The gondola dumps visitors onto a barren entry plaza that is dusty and unpaved. It isn't the most auspicious way to begin a visit. We really thought we were in for a totally tacky experience based on the arrival. They should improve this area because the rest of the park is rather nice and all of the walkways are paved.
There is a small Snack Shack to the left and a big wooden bear with a giant chair to sit in for a photo to the left. In the center is a mining themed kiddie Ferris wheel that we never saw anyone riding. It is open, but there's not much interest in it.
We took the pathway to the left. There is an old time photo shop on the right where you can dress up in western clothing for photos. Next to that is a tiny shooting gallery. Then there is a small rock climbing wall for kids that makes no sense at all.
The first major ride is the Alpine Coaster. We saw this in an advertising video and we both want to try it. It isn't a traditional roller coaster except in the sense that it uses gravity to ride on rails down to the bottom of the mountain. Each person sits in his own individual plastic sled that is attached securely (or so the instructional video says) to the rails. The rider uses sticks on each side to brake himself or speed up by releasing it. There are all sorts of warnings about how you are responsible if you rear end someone and kill them. Reassuring, huh? By the way, before we could buy the day passes we had to sign liability waivers.
The wait for this ride is the longest in the park, but that's only about fifteen minutes, if that. None of the rides have much capacity, so the park must never be very crowded. Everything would quickly be overwhelmed if there were more than a few hundred people in the park. We had to leave the fanny pack and hats on a ledge by the boarding area. The park has lockers, but where they are we have no idea. Everyone just tosses their stuff on the ledge and hopes for the best.
This ride is probably the most fun of all of the rides. You're on your own going down the hill in banking turns as fast as you want to. Once at the bottom the sleds are pulled back up by a cable, so the ride up takes longer than the ride down. It is long enough to be thrilling though. It isn't particularly rough, but Bill ended up with two big red marks on his shoulder blades.
Directly adjacent to the Alpine Coaster is the Soaring Eagle Zip Ride. This is another low capacity, slow loading ride, but the wait was only a few minutes. There are two-seats hanging from a zip line. We had to ride separately because the two of us together are right at the weight limit of 450 pounds. The best part of this is hanging at the top in the cool breeze. It is a nice way to cool off until they release you and you zip back down to the loading platform. The young woman loading the ride was very personable.
The zip ride is at a dead end, so we backtracked to the path up to the very top of the mountain to the Cliffhanger Roller Coaster. This one really is a roller coaster, but a very compact one. We're usually OK with coasters unless they go upside down. Even then we can handle it if we're in the mood. This one, however, is so fast and the banks so steep that it scrambled our brain. We did not like it and have no desire to ride it again. Dave's elbow kept being pinched between the two restraints and Bill really thought he was going to scrape on the concrete during the final turn. Once is enough for this one.
Also at the top of the hill is the Glenwood Canyon Flyer. This is one of those traditional swing rides with the chairs hanging from chains. In this case there are two seats per chain. When we arrived there was only a father and a little girl on the ride, so the operator put us on the other side to balance it. We had to weigh twice what they did, but we came out alive. When the ride spins the swings fly out over the edge of the cliff that is 500' straight down. Bill wouldn't look down. Dave looked and that didn't bother him, but the spinning did. This simple ride nearly sent us looking for the nearest trash can to lose our breakfast in. We decided later that it was probably the roller coaster followed immediately by the swing that did us in and not one or the other alone.
If you really want to be a daredevil there is a ride called the Giant Canyon Swing that flings riders over the edge of the cliff on a long arm. However, it is closed indefinitely with no explanation given.
We're kind of done in by the heat and all the spinning, so we decided to do the cave tour now. There is a rowdy group of teenagers waiting for the King's Row Tour, so we went back up to the Fairy Caves Tour. After all, we can't pass up something with "Fairy" in the name. We had to wait about fifteen minutes in the heat under a canopy which wasn't any fun. Once the tour began and we entered the cave it was 52 degrees, so we finally had a chance to recover. Dave was elected to be the caboose and close the doors behind him because he is tall and is wearing a hat. The guide said everyone has to be nice to him because if she sees him she'll think everyone is accounted for. So, he can do whatever he wants to you and she'll never know.
This wasn't the most interesting cave we've ever seen, but it is nice to be out of the heat for 40 minutes. It didn't seem that long and the guide was amusing and personable. At one point the cave opens to a ledge on the side of the cliff for a view of the valley. Originally this ledge was only two feet deep and didn't have a railing. The cave only opened to the public in 1999, so we find it a bit hard to believe people were allowed out on that kind of ledge. It isn't like it was the 1800's or something. Well, maybe before when it was only visited by friends of the man who owned the cave, but certainly not after it became a commercial enterprise. We don't have any pictures of this tour because there isn't anything interesting enough to bother with.
From this tour we went immediately to the King's Row Tour. This cave is deeper, but the tour covers less territory. It starts with a climb down 127 wooden steps. The guide for this tour was more joke oriented rather than talking facts about the cave. But, we think that's because in this cave there is time to waste to make it last 40 minutes. There are the usual formations you'll see in most show caves with ridiculous names like "The Cheeto" and such. It actually does look like a translucent Cheeto, by the way. At the end there is a deep cavern full of a variety of formations look like people, animals or objects. You know, the usual cave type stuff. Both of the tours are OK, but not worth a trip here specifically to see them. As an excuse to cool off they are priceless.
The coolness of the caves revived us enough to walk back to the Snack Shack for a couple of beverages. It is odd that there are no benches or other places to sit in the park. You have to go all the way back to the entrance and sit at the park benches lined up under a tent. This place could be a lot nicer than it is without investing much money in it. All of the employees are very nice and friendly. We're surprised that a few of them are literally children. We saw at least five of them who could not have been older than 14. They weren't operating rides, but they were handling money or serving food.
After we regained our strength somewhat we went to wait for the 4-D Theater. A different film plays every fifteen minutes, so in theory you could come back eight times during the day. We saw "Extreme Rat Race" that is from the viewpoint of rats riding little race cars through someone's house. It is in 4-D with the extra D being water spray and wind. The seats move sort of in sync with the film. When the attendant first started the movie the seats didn't move. Eventually she realized the movement was switched off and started it over. It worked properly after that, but it is probably the most rudimentary attraction of this type we've ever experienced.
That covers all of the rides. There are some kid-oriented activities like digging in a sand pile for dinosaur fossils and some sort of big wooden box to crawl through. We still don't know what the point of that is. There is also a fort that contains a maze. If you are so inclined, you can buy a bag of "jewels" and take them to a guy standing at what looks like one of those pan-for-gold troughs. The big thrill is to dump your bag of jewels and dirt into a sieve and rinse off the dirt to reveal your treasure. Who finds this interesting? We only saw one person actually do it.
We went back for another ride on the Alpine Coaster to see what will happen if we don't use the brake much or at all. Bill didn't use the brake at all and came out alive. Dave used his a bit when the sled made metal scraping noises on the rails. Still we're pretty sure that if you don't use the controls at all that nothing untoward will happen to you. The on-ride photos of us are so ridiculous we had to buy them, of course.
Even though this park is very small, it was 5:00pm when we went to take the gondola back down the mountain to town. The guy loading the cars was very chatty and friendly. There still aren't any lines at all. All in all, it was a pleasant day. It is pricy when you consider that it costs 50% of what admission to Disneyland is these days for 1/100th the entertainment value. We probably won't come here again even if we're in the area, but we enjoyed the afternoon.
We arrived back at the hotel at 5:30pm to find that our room wasn't cleaned today. What's up with that? It seems to happen more often these days. We're always reluctant to throw our towels on the floor as instructed to be replaced because we never know for sure if the maid will actually show up. Yesterday's cleaning was the best so far, but that is cancelled out by no service at all today. We started with towels for four people, so we have enough of everything (except Kleenex that ran out this morning), but it is very annoying.
Our intention earlier was to go to a nice restaurant for dinner, but at this point that's just too much effort. We're gross, OK? We cleaned up as much as we can under the circumstances and walked to the Village Inn for dinner at 6:30pm. Dennys is like fine dining compared to this place, but it is clean and the food is pretty decent for the price. We both had a full dinner that includes soup or salad and a choice of two sides. The meals only cost $10 each. You can't beat that. That's cheaper than breakfast at most restaurants. We both had pie and iced tea. The total bill was $32. The pie was only $3! And, it was good. The service is all over the place, but everyone is very nice. Most of the clientele tonight required oxygen and a walker, but we both liked our food. Sure, it was gross, but in a good way.
We've been trying to find places to stop to look at on the way to Aspen tomorrow, but we're not having much luck. We have to check out by 11:00am and the drive to Aspen is barely an hour. We plugged a couple of small towns into the plan, so hopefully we can kill enough time to be able to check in when we arrive.
Day 19: Tuesday, June 23 - Drive to Aspen - Hotel Aspen
Aspen is known for being the Rocky Mountain playground of the rich and famous,
but this authentic mountain town goes far beyond glitz and glam. The town is
consistently rated one of the world's top ski areas by ski and travel
publications, and ski-in, ski-out lodges are the norm. Experts slide around on
Aspen Mountain, locals gravitate towards Aspen Highlands, beginners and
freestyle park denizens end up at Buttermilk, and families love Snowmass.
It's not as hot today, but that doesn't mean it is cool.
The selection at breakfast for hot food has been different every day, so they are certainly making an effort to provide some variety. The cramped breakfast area and broken down chairs are the real problem.
Our final thoughts on Glenwood Springs: Two days is plenty of time to see everything. One if you don't do the theme park thing. The locals are nice and there are a lot of dining options in the old downtown area. Not that we ate at any of them, but they are there. The hot springs don't appeal to us at all, but apparently that's the big draw. There are tons of motels in town. The Best Western Antlers across the street from our hotel wins for the best landscaping in town. Overall, this is a pleasant town, but not a draw on its own. As a stopover, it works and we'd do it again.
Our final thoughts on the Hampton Inn: In general, we liked staying here. The room is huge, the beds are comfortable, and it is clean. All of the staff members we interacted with were very helpful and pleasant. We only chose it because we could use HHonors points, but we're happy with it and might stay here again. The second best option for us would be the Best Western Antlers across the street.
We left the hotel at 11:00am and started driving toward Aspen. It takes less than an hour to get to Aspen without any stops, so we're trying to find things to waste time until we can check in when we arrive. We tried driving through Carbondale's historic downtown, but didn't see anything that made us want to get out of the car. It is a cute little artsy town with lots of antique shops if you are into that.
With nothing to stop and explore we arrived on the outskirts of Aspen around noon. The only place we know of to kill time is a mining museum that we programmed into our GPS. The address when it said we arrived is a vacant lot, but we can see the top of an old wooden building across a field. We found a tiny sign pointing down a dirt road off the main highway and followed it. That dirt road led to a bike path. OK, so do we turn on the bike path or what? We drove over the bike path just enough to turn onto another dirt track where we parked in the weeds off to the side.
We could see a woman sitting on the porch of the building and the lights are on, so we wandered across the grass. The woman called out to welcome us in, so apparently we are in the right place. There is a sign in front of the building, but the whole affair is very vague. The woman introduced herself as Jane, a docent for the Aspen Historical Society. We are at the Holden/Marolt Mining & Museum, by the way.
We were ushered inside the only remaining original building on the site. This was originally a huge ore processing plant. This building is the sampling building. They have re-assembled a steam engine, an ore crusher, water wheels for generating electricity, etc. from parts found strewn around the grounds over time. The docent is extremely knowledgeable and friendly. She took our $6 per person admission and then offered to show us around.
Just as she started, a flamboyant woman in full costume came in trailing a trainee in costume and a tourist from Australia being led on a historical tour. Jane had us join the other tour for a demonstration of the steam engine. It took them ten years to gather the parts and reassemble them. They only got it working again a couple of years ago. With great flourish the costumed woman started it up. The steam engine turns a bunch of belts that run the ore crusher across the building. That huge thing uses 700 lb. rams to smash ore for sampling. There were bigger ones used for processing the ore directly from the mine. This one was used to extract additional silver after the main plant had taken all it could from it. Originally, there would have been six of these ore crushers in this building, so it must have been extremely noisy and dusty.
After the costumed woman left, Jane showed us a few other things and we chatted for a while about various things. She gave us passes to their other museum in town that we'll visit tomorrow. Then she told us to drive to the Ashcroft Ghost Town up Castle Creek nearby. We asked about the Independence Ghost Town we plan to visit on the way out of town and she advised that would be the time to do it because it is out of the way if we are in Aspen itself.
Outside there are more machines and equipment. Some are rusted and just look like decorations in a backyard, but they have restored a small sawmill machine and another steam engine they are hoping to get back to working order soon. Dave asked Jane where the mines are that supplied the processing plant. She said they are mostly inside of Aspen mountain stacked one on top of the other. When they closed most of them flooded from the natural hot springs at the base of the mountain. Occasionally someone will try to revive the mining, but the price of silver isn't high enough to make it economically feasible anymore. She said there is one mine operating as a tourist attraction if we have some time to spare.
Jane said that some days they have no visitors at all which isn't surprising since it is nearly impossible to find the place. Most tourists would give up before driving down an overgrown dirt road in a town like Aspen. Heck, we almost didn't bother.
We drove a mile or so back in the direction from which we came to find the turn off toward Ashcroft. It is about a 20-mile drive up to the 9,000+ foot level to the town. Jane told us to look out for some gigantic mansions owned by various famous people. One of them used to be a hotel, but a rich guy bought it and the surrounding properties to have someplace to house all of his guests for the two weeks a year he's up here. Must be nice.
After a scenic drive through lush green forests and flowering meadows, we arrived at Ashcroft Ghost Town. There is a $3 fee per person, so it doesn't cost much to see it. The intern who collected the fee was very friendly as was the other young woman on the trail who offered to give us a tour (we declined). There are only a handful of buildings remaining, some of which are not original. The silver boom only lasted a few years. All of the mines closed when silver was demonetized, so the town died almost overnight. The same fate befell the processing plant we visited earlier.
The setting for the town is beautiful, but it probably wasn't as pristine back then. The same creek that supplied the processing plant with water runs through the town. You'll find the usual ghost town buildings...a hotel, saloon, a few cabins, and a post office. It doesn't take long to see everything, but the scenery is well worth looking at.
Jane told us about a restaurant for lunch up the road, but the girls in the information cabin said it closed at 2:00pm. We drove up that way just to look at the area. The road ends at the end of a breathtakingly scenic valley. There is a paved road that continues up the mountain, but it is closed with big boulders blocking the way. We have no idea what happened to close it, but it looks permanent.
We managed to kill enough time that we felt it would be OK to try to check into our hotel. We arrived there at 3:00pm and were checked in right away. It doesn't appear that there are many people staying here, but it is hard to tell because of the arrangement of the buildings.
The Hotel Aspen is a remodeled and upgraded motel-style building. There are several two story buildings sprawled closely together on a corner directly on the main street through Aspen (Main Street, oddly enough). The Molly Gibson Lodge across the street is owned by the same people and looks about the same, only larger. Both of these properties are some of the least expensive decent hotels in Aspen. By least expensive we mean that are under $400 a night. Anywhere else this place wouldn't get more than $200 tops.
We were told to drive around the back and try to find a parking spot in the small lot behind the building our room is in. We did find a spot. If we hadn't, we'd have to get a permit from the front desk to park on the street. We had a bit of trouble finding our room in the pitch black tunnel of ski storage closets assigned to each room. Then we couldn't see well enough in the dark to operate the latch on the gate to the pool area where our front door is located.
Our room opens directly onto the pool. The pool isn't large and there's nobody out there. We doubt it will be noisy, but we can't leave our drapes open or we'll be on display. The lounges are about three feet from our sliding glass door.
We're in a sort of suite configuration that is a upgrade from a standard room. It is very apparent that the sitting area of the room used to be a covered patio for the room. The original window is still there between the sitting room and the bedroom; there is also a step up. There's a portable air conditioner in the sitting room vented through the wall with a big hose. The bedroom part is very large with two queen beds, but it is oddly arranged. There's a wetbar setup at the far end. We have no clue what it is for, but there is a microwave and a coffee maker on it. There's a refrigerator under the counter. The bathroom is microscopic and has no ventilation whatsoever. It is like an oven in there. It used to have a window, but it is covered over. We would have eliminated the wetbar area and made the bathroom bigger if this was our hotel. They obviously gutted the place, so why they didn't enlarge the bathroom is anyone's guess.
The amenities are very upscale, the towels are nice, as are the fixtures. But, there are some very weird things in the room that cancel all of that out. The bathroom is the biggest problem. It harkens back to some of the ridiculously tiny dysfunctional baths in Iceland. The air conditioner is the other one. There is a through-the-wall unit for the bedroom, but the back of it protrudes into the sitting area/porch/whatever. It is boxed in, which can't be good for it. They've stuck a box fan flat across the bottom of the box to blow air up through this chimney they've created. Why didn't they just install one of those split A/C systems? It has to be cheaper than adding a portable unit and this rigged up mess they have now. Epic fail on the design details! The wood floor is nice, we'll give them that much. Needless to say, these A/C units are not up to the 90-degree heat, so it is too warm to suit us, but better than nothing.
Because of the configuration of the room with the only window at the very front, it is like a cave. There is no light penetration to the back of the room, so we have to have all of the lamps turned on to see anything. Oh well, live and learn. We'd try the Molly Gibson across the street next time if we're trying to save money.
We sat around/napped until 6:30-ish when we went to the front desk to ask for dinner recommendations. Primarily we want to know where we can go without getting any more dressed than we are already (which is like slobs). The woman at the desk assured us we can go anywhere in town except maybe the most exclusive clubs and we'll be fine. She recommended a couple of places a few blocks up the street or, "Just turn right at the second light, walk four blocks and you'll find at least 20 restaurants in a row."
After wandering a few blocks and passing the historic Hotel Jerome, we saw the Mexican restaurant the front desk woman recommended, so we went there. Click to view the MENU for El Rincon. The owner/manager was busy doing something with his back turned to the front door, so he didn't see us for a few minutes. When he did he was very nice and said to sit inside or out on the patio and he'll bring us menus. It is nice outside, so we sat on the patio where the temperature is now very pleasant.
We shared a quesadilla starter. Dave had three pork Street Tacos; Bill had the Carnitas. Everything started off on the right foot when the chips and salsa were good. The quesadilla was very good and came with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo to put on it. Both meals were very good, also. Service was fine. The bill came to $68 before tip (with one cocktail), so this is for sure the most expensive Mexican food we've ever had. It wasn't better than any good Mexican restaurant, so we can't say it was worth that much money. It was good though. We'll probably find out fast enough that it might be the least expensive dinner we'll have in the this town.
We took a different route home to see what other restaurants there are. OMG, there must be a hundred places to eat and all of them are packed (and expensive). Every famous chef has a restaurant here. Well, maybe not every one, but a lot. Most places have outdoor patios, which is nice. We'll have to do some menu research before we go out tomorrow night. There are lots of places that are only open for breakfast and/or lunch, too.
Day 20: Wednesday, June 24 - Aspen - Hotel Aspen
It is definitely cooler today by at least ten degrees. Let's hope this trend continues through Telluride at least.
We wandered into the hotel's free breakfast at 9:30am. It is upstairs above the lobby in what looks like a space that might have been a restaurant at one time. They offer the same as most hotels, including scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes. The potatoes looked dried out, so we didn't try them. All of the bread and pastries were dry because half the door is broken off the display. They have an automatic pancake machine, but it is sitting on a table by itself with no instructions how to use it, so nobody did. There was one lone pancake sitting on the table next to it, so perhaps it does work. The breakfast overall was OK, but nothing special.
We're going to the Aspen Historical Society's Wheeler/Stollard Mansion Museum today, but online it says it doesn't open until 1:00pm. So, we decided to walk over to the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain to kill some time. This means walking to the other side of town, but the view is pretty all over the city and it only took us about 20 minutes to get there. About two blocks from our hotel is where all the shops and restaurants are located, so there is a lot to look at.
There are the fancy, expensive stores one expects in a place like this, but it isn't stuffy or at all unfriendly. People are out walking their dogs, chatting on street corners, and other small town activities. It is really very pleasant. The town is clean and easy to walk around. There are flowers everywhere and everything is well kept. During the day most of the people walking around are tourists, but that changes in the evening. Even so, it is still a pleasant friendly place where people will say hello to you as you pass on the sidewalk.
We didn't check a map in advance of looking for the gondola station, but it can be seen from all over town, so we sort of wandered in that direction until we found in in the middle of a shopping complex. The woman at the ticket window was extremely welcoming and pleasant. There are several options for tickets, but we chose the sightseeing ticket that only covers one ride up and back for $20 per person. There is a package for $30 and several rides over three days plus a $10 credit for the restaurant at the top. There are others, but you get the idea.
The ride up takes over twenty minutes. This is the longest gondola ride we've ever been on! It climbs to the top of Aspen Mountain that is above 10,000 feet. The gondolas are meant for six people, but in the summer they give each group their own, so we didn't have to share with anyone. There was no line and nobody waiting to board at either end. The last ride down is at 4:30pm, so this is only a daytime activity. The same company runs Snowmass and there are similar sightseeing options there, as well.
There isn't much to see at the top except, of course, a spectacular view of the even higher mountains behind Aspen Mountain. There is a photographer there to take your photo, but he wasn't making any effort at all to get anyone to pose. We saw the photos for sale at the bottom of the mountain later, but we never saw anyone having their picture taken.
There is a big "Sundeck" building housing a lunch restaurant, a tiny gift shop, a private club, and a defunct fancy restaurant, but little else. The weather is very nice up here and we would have liked to find a place to sit and cool off for a while, but there are no benches anywhere. The only place to sit is at uncomfortable picnic tables. There is a big construction project going on that is supposed to be providing "alpine landscaping" and an "enhanced experience". The completion date is next month, but they are far from being finished with it. There are some free, very rudimentary, games and activities such as Frisbee golf and bean bag toss that were popular with families. Well, popular meaning two families were participating. A naturalist gathered some people up for a free hike, too.
It is too early for lunch and since there's nowhere to sit up here, we boarded the gondola for the ride back down to town. The ride is certainly worth doing, but $20 is a bit pricy when there's no payoff at the top.
That activity took enough time that we can walk back toward the museum we want to visit. It is about six blocks past our hotel in the opposite direction from downtown. The blocks are short, so it isn't really very far. There are some beautiful old Victorian homes scattered around. Many have been converted into offices and apartments, but they all look very nice. Most of the modern buildings fit in well with the older ones. If you want to see the really honking huge mansions you have to go up in the foothills just outside of town.
We arrived at the Wheeler/Stollard Mansion at around 1:15pm. The sign says it opens at 10:30am, so we have no idea why the website says 1:00pm. We don't mind, but it is odd. The mansion isn't the focus of the museum. It is just a space to house a display of artifacts from Aspen's history that tell the town's story. The exhibit opened two weeks ago and is very well done. We wouldn't necessarily call it a must-see attraction, but it is interesting enough to stop in for a look. The mining museum that we saw the other day includes this place in the admission (and vice versa).
While the display was interesting enough, our chat with the docent made our day. She was absolutely delightful. She has lived here for 42 years. She didn't want to move to Aspen, but her then husband insisted. Long story short, he lost all of their money, he went back to the city to make some money again, and she stayed put without him. She said he made his money back and then some, but she got none of it. But, she loves it here so much that she lives in a 600 square foot apartment in one of the old Victorian homes on Main St. just so she can stay in Aspen.
This is the "other Jane" the first Jane told us about yesterday. We never would have guessed in a million years that she is 82. She's more spry and alert than we are. She looks amazing. We spent over two hours just chatting with her about living in Aspen, some local gossip and what the town is really like. One story she told us sums up the small town spirit that still prevails here. It is common for people to take their dogs with them wherever they go, which is what she did one day. She left the dog out front and went into a store. It took longer than she expected, but she knew the dog would be OK. It started to rain, but she didn't think anything of it knowing the dog was used to it. When she went outside to collect the dog, someone had propped a big umbrella over him. She still doesn't know who did it, but as she said, where else would someone do that? That kind of dissipates the hoity toity image that the media creates around Aspen, doesn't it?
Jane showed us a short video about the town that she says offends her somewhat. There is a statement in it that the ultra-rich people who build the 40-million dollar mansions only visit town a couple times a year and don't contribute anything to the town. Jane says that isn't true. Even though they aren't living here full time, many of them have donated huge amounts of money to various cultural events, the hospital, community parks and such. And, they often do it anonymously. The town has an enormous budget much larger than other towns its size due to the property tax revenue from all of those expensive properties. So, they can maintain the city in the beautiful state it is in.
The main problem is affordable housing for the workers needed to support the tourist infrastructure. The town has built some affordable housing in town, but there isn't nearly enough. Jane lives in the Victorian we mentioned. A man who also works there joined the conversation and he told us he was on a waiting list for ten years to get the chance to be in the lottery to buy one of the affordable condo units. Jane pointed out that not only do those big empty mansions help the economy with tax revenue, but as a place to live for the caretakers all of them employ. Those people get to live like billionaires as though the homes are their own except for maybe two weeks when the family actually shows up. Not too shabby, is it?
When Jane found out where we are staying, she told us that the brothers who own Hotel Aspen and the Molly Gibson Lodge across the street have "lots of money". They want to demolish the two hotels and build modern replacements, but the town politics are such that the height limits make it economically unfeasible at the moment. She said they just have to wait until the city council or the wind changes and then they'll get the plan approved. They certainly aren't neglecting either property in anticipation of closing them, so apparently it will be years before anything actually happens. Although we don't like some things about our hotel, it isn't run down at all. In fact the maintenance is outstanding.
You know, we have to make more of an effort to talk to local people. Every time we do it we are rewarded with entertaining and informative conversations that totally outweigh any actual attractions we may visit. We can tell our readers that Aspen is more than media reports of the uber rich. It is a charming city with culture up the wahzoo; much of it free of charge. That's not to say there aren't Mexican meals for $68, but if you dig deep enough you'll find enough small town charm make a trip here very worthwhile.
Jane needed to go home to let her dog out, so she offered to walk with us since it is in the direction of our hotel. Along the way she regaled us with more fascinating information about various people in town as we passed old houses. One family donated a portion of their lot for a public park, another woman just donated thousands of dollars to upgrade it, someone else donated an old Victorian for a music school or something-or-other. You get the picture. We got the $15 walking tour for free just for being chatty. Jane arrived at her place and pointed us in the direction of our hotel. Then she barged out into the traffic on Main Street without a thought and stopped all the cars so she could cross. If we're half that energetic when we're 82, we'll be very shocked!
We arrived back at the room at 4:00pm. Yes, we spent three hours overall talking to Jane, another man at the museum, and a couple of others who wandered through. All of that social interaction wore us out, so it is time for a snack and a nap.
We both napped off and on, but eventually around 6:30pm decided we should venture out for dinner. Unfortunately it is pouring rain. Where did that come from? It was sunny this afternoon. The good thing about it is that it is much cooler outside, so we pulled ourselves together with enough rain gear to make it to a restaurant and started walking.
Most of the restaurants in town have very few indoor tables, but huge patios. With the rain, everything is forced indoors. We ended up at Jimmy's Bar and Restaurant on the third floor of a shopping complex. Most of its outdoor tables are on a covered deck, so they don't have people waiting to be seated. The view is fantastic. We got to look down on the passersby, which is the best free entertainment you can get around here. Everyone looks like a model. Well, that's maybe an exaggeration. Let's just say there are a lot of attractive people to look at, cute dogs out for a walk, and cartoonish rich men with the trophy wife half the age of his grown sons on the way to dinner.
Click to view the MENU for Jimmy's. We were seated on the outside deck, which was perfect. The service was friendly and not at all stuffy. We're finding that to be the case everywhere in town so far. Dave had the Roasted Corn Soup and the Pork Loin; Bill had a Caesar Salad and the Filet Mignon. We were given soft breadsticks with mustard to dip them in. We're not sure what is up with that choice, but the bread was good. The corn soup was to die for. OMG, it was delicious. Both entrees were outstanding and very creative without being so weird it is off putting. The portions are very generous and not those two-bite meals you get at a lot of fancy restaurants. We were both very pleased with our meals.
A sunset ensued that caused everyone among the staff to come out at some point and take a picture with a cellphone. It was pretty, but we see this kind of thing almost every night at home. Maybe it is usually clear here and they don't get spectacular sunsets or something?
Since the meal was very leisurely, meaning it took a long time between courses, we're not full yet. Time for dessert! Click to view the dessert MENU. Bill had Jimmy's Hot Fudge Sundae which was exactly what it sounds like. Dave the the Colorado Cheesecake that wasn't at all like a normal cheesecake. The ingredients were all there, but the cheesecake part was a round ball the size of a baseball set on top of white chocolate covered mini-marshmallows, surrounded by crushed graham crackers, raspberries, and raspberry sauce. It was delicious.
This is one of the most expensive meals we've had since we left home May 1st, but it was worth every penny. We'd go back here and heartily recommend it. By the way, we checked the menus for several of the restaurants we can see from our table here and the prices are astronomical. Even though Jimmy's is expensive it isn't nearly as high as a lot of places in town. Actually, it is probably on a par with the nicer places where we ate in Iceland and the food is much better.
The rain stopped by the time we had to walk back to the hotel at 9:00pm. It is cooler tonight, but it is still pleasant to be outside. Most people are in shorts and flip flops. The dress code here is very casual. Most people are in shorts and T-shirts during the day. Some of them might put on a shirt over the T-shirt to go to dinner, but we saw nobody wearing a tie even at the expensive places.
Day 21: Thursday, June 25 - Aspen - Hotel Aspen
The cooling trend continues. It is in the low 70's today. Keep your fingers crossed that it stays that way for another week or so.
Breakfast at the hotel was adequate, nothing more. They didn't refill the scrambled eggs and started picking everything up at 9:45am (breakfast is supposed to end at 10:00am). We got there at 9:30am and the eggs were already empty. They're terrible anyway, but it is the principle of the thing.
We have no major plans today, so we're just going to wander to a few things we either skipped before or were rained out yesterday. We started walking from the hotel around 11:30am toward town, turning left after the Hotel Jerome. It is about two blocks downhill from there to the John Denver Sanctuary.
The sanctuary is a water garden along the river. There are granite boulders inscribed with lyrics from John's song, quotes from famous people, and things like that. The point is that you are supposed to relax and enjoy the solitude. There were only a few other people there, so it was easy to avoid them. There is a big pond, several waterfalls, a feature called "Nature's Filter" where the water feeds into the pond and lots of flowers. There is a pathway along the river that is pleasant to wander along. As per usual in this town, lots of people are out with their dogs.
The river is very full, but this one doesn't appear to be near flood stage and the water is crystal clear. There is a good view of the river from an old trestle-type footbridge that crosses it. If you fell into the water you probably would be swept away to God-only-knows where downstream.
There are many sculptures scattered around town. There is a big, life-size buffalo made of car parts entitled "Chrome on the Range" at the edge of the sanctuary. Later we saw several other animals portrayed in chrome around town.
We walked back up the hill to the downtown shopping area to see if we missed anything (we didn't). The shopping opportunities for "normal" tourists are very limited. There are several sports outfitters and one or two T-shirt shops, but the majority of the stores are boutiques and art galleries. You know, the type with three purses and a knit sweater showcased in 2,000 square feet by saleswomen in stiletto heels who would rather kill you than serve you. To be honest, we didn't actually see any salespeople in those stores, so maybe you are supposed to help yourself and ring it up, too. There weren't any customers in them either.
As we mentioned, there are sculptures and art of various kinds all over the place. We saw the "See No Evil" monkeys twice today. Apparently some donor really likes this sculpture. The benches along the tree-shaded shopping street are all dedicated to someone or other. If you want to eat there are 20 billion places to do that. It is still too early for lunch, so all we did was look at them. If you want to eat fois gras and escargot while sitting in a sidewalk cafe, this is the place for you. There are regular restaurants, too, of course, but you have to look carefully to find them.
There is a narrow trough of water running along the shady mall area. A very cute golden retriever pulled his owner over to the water and squeezed himself into the trough to play with the water. The poor woman had no choice but to let him get wet since he was having such a good time.
Yesterday, Jane told us to check out the Hotel Jerome, so we wandered back in that direction. It is on the way back to our hotel anyway, so why not? It has been the hub of Aspen society since 1889. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but the young doormen in cowboy hats out front are always very pleasant. Bill started to open the front door himself and the doorman almost had a stroke. The lobby is enclosed by a glass skylight ceiling and looks like it was opened yesterday. It is nothing like the dark and dusty lobby you'll find in most historic hotels. There are several restaurants in the hotel including the famous J-Bar that supposedly makes the best cheeseburger in Colorado. Like everything in Aspen, the hotel is in pristine condition.
It is only a couple of blocks back to our hotel, so that's where we went. It is around 1:30pm at this point. We're happy to find that our room has been cleaned, so we won't have to be bothered later on. Nothing else happened of note for the rest of the afternoon. We're both kind of worn out, so a lot of napping took place. Probably so much that we'll lay awake all night, but such is life.
At 5:00pm we forced ourselves to leave the hotel for an excursion. Probably the most famous place to see in Aspen is the Maroon Bells area. In order to see the scenic area between 8:00am and 5:00pm you have to take a bus to the parking area. We loath that kind of arrangement, so we waited until after 5:00pm when you can drive your own car in. There is a $10 entrance fee (we got in free with our pass), but if you take the bus it is only $6.00.
It takes about twenty minutes to drive from downtown Aspen to the end of the winding road to Maroon Lake. The ranger at the toll booth asked if we want a hiking trail map. We almost laughed, but we took one anyway. The drive up to the lake is very scenic as the roads ascends to above 9,000 feet through lush green forests and meadows. The bike riders in the road are annoying, but since there isn't any traffic at this time of day it is easy to pass them. These are definitely die hard bikers. The road is entirely uphill from 6,000 to 9,000 feet in just a few miles.
We easily found a spot in the parking lot, but we are definitely not alone here. However, it is a far cry from the hordes of people you'd find in the middle of the afternoon. Our advice is to arrive before 8:00am or after 5:00pm. It doesn't get dark in the summer until 8:30 or 9:00pm, so you'll still have plenty of time to walk around.
The walkway leads past a beaver dammed outlet stream and to the lake itself. The lake is as full as it can get with all of the recent rains. The iconic view everyone comes here to see is revealed at the very beginning of the trail. Most people don't venture beyond this vantage point, so if you continue on the scenic loop trail you'll leave most of them behind.
There is so much of scenic interest here that it is hard to pick only a few highlights. We walked along the lake's edge where we could see several huge rock slides that cascade down the mountain. We've seen this kind of rock before, but this looks like tailings from old mining operations because they originate from a flat hilltop and not from a steep rocky mountainside.
Continuing around the lake reveals more breathtaking views of the Maroon Bells, a beaver hutch (is that what they are called?), and a view of Maroon Lake back toward the parking area. At the far end of the lake the trail continues through flowering meadows where you can get a different view of the Bells ahead.
The many small and large rivers that feed into the lake are quite full. The wooden footbridge to get to the trail is nearly swamped. You have to wade or jump across the flooded ends of it. The Bells aren't the only spectacular peaks surrounding the area. There are double peaks towering to the left and a series of craggy red peaks to the right.
Following the trail up through the forest toward the mountains eventually leads to a crystal clear, but very fast flowing river. The water is so cold that it feels air conditioned when you get close to it. The view back toward the lake from this vantage point is so perfect it looks fake. The trail starts to loop back when it reaches a series of low waterfalls that seem to cascade directly from the lush greenery in the valley.
The trail back on the other side of the river (there is a wooden bridge to get across) is very narrow and often flooded. However, the hike is mostly flat and very easy, so well worth the extra time. The different angles you'll be able to view the lake from this trail are a worthwhile payoff. Only a handful of people walk the entire scenic loop, so it is very serene.
Back at the lakes near the parking area it gets noisy again with kids screaming and the usual hubbub that goes along with popular destinations. Still, at this time of day (it is 7:00pm now), most people are settling down for a dinner by the lake, not running around. We shudder to think what it must be like during the day when people arrive by the busload every 20 minutes.
We drove back to town where the traffic we encountered on the way out has evaporated. The main highway turns into Main Street through Aspen, so it is very slow going during the morning and evening rush hours.
On the way out of town we saw a BBQ restaurant that looks about as cheap as Aspen is going to get. It is about a half-mile walk from our hotel in the opposite direction of downtown. It only takes about ten minutes and the walk it pleasant. There are so many interesting houses to look at in Aspen that any route one chooses to walk is bound to be fascinating in some regard.
We arrived at Hickory House at about 7:45pm. Click to view the MENU. We were seated outside. The place is nearly empty, but it was full when we were driving out of town earlier. This place is the antithesis of the hoity toity downtown eateries. We both ordered the Beef Brisket Dinner that comes with enough food to feed four people and costs only $17.95. That's more like it! OK, maybe it wouldn't feed four people, but the point is that there is a lot of food for that price. It isn't an overabundance of food particularly, but there is plenty of it. The brisket was nice and tender. It could have had more flavor cooked into it, but the sauce was nice. The sides included with the meal weren't anything special, but overall it was a good meal that only added up to $42. We challenge you to find this much food for that little money anywhere else in Aspen. At least we know that you can find a decent meal for less than $50 if you go looking for it.
It was nice to walk back to the hotel after a big meal like that. It is cool, but still shirtsleeves weather. It looked like it might rain earlier, but that has dissipated.
Tomorrow we move on to a less sophisticated destination, but we're ready for it. Aspen is well worth visiting, but two days is enough to see the sights. If you want to hang out at a luxurious resort or do some hiking then you should allow another day or two.
Day 22: Friday, June 26 - Drive to Manitou Springs - The Cliff House
Hidden between Garden of the Gods and America’s most famous mountain, Pikes
Peak, lies the magical town of Manitou Springs. “Manitou”, a Native American
word for “spirit”, describes this beautiful mountain community. Eleven naturally
carbonated mineral spring fountains, located throughout this Historic town, run
free for all who wish to enjoy the healing benefits. The Ute, Cheyenne and other
Native Americans considered this area sacred for the healing springs and clean
The weather remains very mild, so it should be a pleasant day for traveling to our next destination.
Breakfast is the same every morning and nothing is ever re-stocked. We arrived at 9:00am and there were enough eggs for us, but beyond that you're out of luck.
Our final thoughts on Aspen: Yes, it is the expensive town you see portrayed in the media, but it is also a small town with lots of charm. It is easy to avoid the fancy stuff, but it is fun to look at it when you're in the mood. Everyone we met, especially the docents at the Aspen Historical Society sites, were delightful. The service staff in restaurants, even expensive ones, were friendly and low key. We didn't experience any snooty attitudes or haughty behavior. Quite the contrary, everyone was very friendly. Two day is more than enough to see the sights, but if you want to hang out and eat some very expensive food, then by all means spend as much time as you want. You'll never run out of places to dine, that's for sure. You'll probably run out of money long before you run out of dining options.
Our final thoughts on the Hotel Aspen: It is a nice, less expensive place to stay, but it has some issues. Overall it is very nice and we can see that they are really trying to make it a nice hotel. The amenities are good, the furniture is high quality, the rooms have beautiful wood floors, the free internet is very fast, breakfast is OK, and the staff (what there is of it) is helpful. On the downside, the bathrooms are microscopic and poorly designed. Our suite is awkwardly arranged and the air conditioning is a joke. We can't figure out how they got it past the code inspectors and it sure doesn't work properly. Would we stay here again? Probably not. We liked it alright, but not enough to stay here again. There are other mid-range motels and hotels in town that we'd try first before staying here again.
We'll hit the road around 11:00am, as usual. There is a sightseeing stop planned at Independence Ghost Town just outside of Aspen, but other than that it should just be three hours of driving. However, we've said that before and found something fascinating along the way, so you never know.
Needless to say, the drive up into the mountains is stunningly beautiful. The road is narrow and winding, but it is worth the effort to travel the route from Aspen, through Independence Pass and back down again on the other side.
Our GPS told us we arrived at Independence Ghost Town way before we actually arrived there. Since this is the only road out of town we know it is along here somewhere. We saw a ruined ore crusher building right by the road, so we know we're on the right track.
There are several HUGE signs at the start of the uphill climb saying that if you have a vehicle or trailer over 35' long to "Turn back NOW". That didn't stop a tanker truck from blocking traffic by coming up the other way. The road is barely wide enough for two-way traffic in a regular car, so a tanker truck totally blocks traffic at every turn.
When we finally did arrive at the ghost town, we were greeted by the same guy we saw the first day at the mill. He's an intern for the summer. Today he's sitting in the parking area in a covered beach chair keeping a count of how many visitors there are. He has seen us every day we've been in Aspen. Just luck of the draw that he has been at every Historical Society site we've been to. He was very chatty, so we talked to him for quite a while. He told us to say hello to his dog, Gunner, in the General Store. He's there with another intern today rather than out by the highway.
We wandered down the trail into the breathtaking valley where the town is located. The miners probably didn't find it quite as appealing as it is now, but there certainly are worse places to be working. All that's left of the town are ruins of log cabins and other buildings. Independence was a gold mining town rather than silver like the others we visited. It was never successful, so it only lasted a few years before the major landholder pulled out and left everyone stranded. There are many towns like this all over the mountains, but they are too difficult to get to even today.
The young woman in the General Store is the same one who was at Ashcroft when we went there, so she is happy to see someone she recognizes. Bill went right up to Gunner and called him by name. The dog dissolved into a happy dance and was beyond thrilled to see us. The intern said we are the first people he hasn't barked at. He's a similar breed to our viszla, so all he wants is someone to pet him and talk to him. We spent quite a while talking to the intern and playing with Gunner. The dog is the most exciting part of our week.
There couldn't be a more scenic setting for a ghost town if you set it all up as a movie location. The valley floor is blooming with wildflowers, there is a waterfall that tumbles all the way down the mountain behind the town, and a river runs through the valley.
We chatted with a guy and his wife who were ahead of us on the highway when the tanker truck came up. He's towing a trailer, so they had to move a few feet at a time to squeeze past. He talked to the trucker who is aware it is illegal for him to use this route and the fine is $200 if he is caught (which he is about once a week), but the cost to go all the way around the mountain is $300, so he keeps going this way. Someday he's going to cause someone to careen off the road.
On the way back up the trail to the parking lot, the intern who greeted us was on his way down. He said, "Wow, you guys stayed here a long time," so we informed him that we spent most of the time with his dog.
Back on the road up through Independence Pass we passed so many scenic vistas we lost count. At the Top of the Rockies viewpoint (above 11,000 feet) we reached the same type of tundra landscape we crossed during the snowstorm in Rocky Mountain National Park. Today the weather is clear and sunny, so we get the full benefit of the spectacular view. Even at this elevation, the tundra is carpeted with tiny wildflowers even though there is still snow on the ground.
On the way back to the parking lot a group being led by a ranger was blocking the entire pathway. There are signs admonishing visitors to stay on the paved pathway because it takes forever for the tundra to recover from trampling. The ranger made no effort at all to move her group to one side until Bill suggested she might want to keep everyone in a single file line so the rest of us can go by. Duh. Apparently that never occurred to her.
Starting the steep descent on the other side of the pass affords even more striking views. There is a long river valley far below with the highway snaking through it. Beaver ponds are abundant, so the river valley is very green and lush. We pulled off the road to look at the ponds and streams up close. There was a guy sitting in the back of a truck who had been fishing. He said he's just chilling out until his buddy comes back, but he doesn't mind because it is so beautiful here. Dave asked him if the beavers help the fishing or detract from it by eating the fish, but he figured it is a wash and doesn't matter one way or the other.
We kept driving down the pass through lush forests, then green pastures, and other scenic areas. We've decided that the drive from Aspen to Manitou Springs is overall the most spectacularly scenic route so far. It truly is breathtaking and shouldn't be missed.
Other than a quirky B&B by the highway, we didn't see anything else worth looking at once we left the forested area. That's not to say the scenery isn't beautiful, but it isn't anything extraordinary at this point. We did pull over to read some informational signage we immediately forgot about, but there aren't any more stops until reaching Manitou Springs. The last hour of the drive was kind of a bore because we're hungry and it is late (4:30pm).
We arrived at The Cliff House in Manitou Springs at around 4:45pm. We thought we were going the wrong way because the streets are narrow and residential, but we did arrive at the entrance eventually. The hotel was built in the late 1800's, but it wasn't always used as a hotel. Long story short, it fell on hard times and was closed for seventeen years in the 1980's and didn't reopen until 1999. It was refurbished in 2009, so it is in very good shape. There was a huge fire that shut it down in the 80's, so we're not sure how much is authentic, but it looks nice.
Because the hotel is sandwiched into a residential area there is valet parking only. The valet was very pleasant, but we weren't offered help with our luggage. We don't need it, but someone should have asked. This place is supposed to be a 5-star establishment and it is by far the most expensive place we have stayed so far.
The two guys at the front desk were very nice and informative. We're in the Henry Ford Suite on the fourth (top) floor. The regular rooms are very nice, too, but we figured for an extra $50 a night why not go all out. The front desk guy said to be sure to eat in their dining room at least once and to make a reservation because it is very popular.
We easily found our room. The door hardware must be original because they have built in an electric opener that works with the keycard, but it is separate from the door hardware. It is weird, but it works.
Our room is large, not huge, but fine. There is sitting area with a gas fireplace with a big LCD TV mounted over it. We also have a wet bar, sofa, two fancy chairs, a king sized bed and all sorts of lighting options with dimmer switches. It is very nice and new looking except for the terribly filthy carpeting. Everything else is clean, but the carpet is disgraceful for a hotel of this caliber. We almost don't want to walk on it without shoes on. At least the air conditioning works and the wi-fi is very fast.
Our view is over the rooftops of town and the other wing of the hotel. The bathroom is huge with a steam shower and a jetted tub big enough for two people. The hotel advertises a heated toilet seat, which we do have, but those gross the heck of out us for some reason. The decor is dated with lots of brass fixtures, but the amenities are nice and it is well maintained. Of course, for almost $450 per night it damn well better be!
We were hungry when we arrived, so we decided to put some nicer clothes on and go down to the dining room without a reservation and see what happens. The hotel restaurants are the only upscale dining available in town. You'd have to drive to Colorado Springs for anything at all "nice". Everything along the main street below the hotel is pizza or fast food.
We arrived to find a nearly empty dining room. The maitre 'd made a big deal about looking in his empty reservation book to "find" us a table. Puhleeezz. The display was totally unnecessary. Either he has a table or he doesn't. The spectacle he made by doing us this big favor was uncalled for. Anyway, we were seated right away. By the way, the dining room never did fill up.
A smarmy waiter with a trainee in tow (who looked pleasant enough) gave us menus and explained something about having another waiter serve us, but he would be around, too. What do we care? There was way too much talk and not enough action as far as we're concerned. Give us the menus and get out of our face for a few minutes.
The second waiter, Herb, came over. He explained way too much about the items on the menu, but apparently everything is to die for. Actually, we like Herb. He's like a real person, not a put on. He's ditzy, yes, but at least he's not pretentious. He tells us that the menu has recently changed much to the horror of the 90-year-old regular clientele, but since we've never been here we won't know the difference. The new chef came over from the Broadmoor last month and now everything is absolutely fabulous. We'll be the judge of that.
The smarmy original waiter brought over an amuse bouche (we would never be able to say that with a straight face!) that consists of a tiny square of lamb bacon topped with an even tinier speck of devilled egg. He referred to it as "Bacon and Eggs". It tasted like bacon, period.
Herb came to take our order. Click to view the MENU. The prices are surprisingly reasonable for the kind of place this is. Even if the food is terrible, we'd expect to pay upwards of $50 per entree at a 5-star hotel. Dave ordered the Lobster Spring Roll, Cliff House Salad, and the Halibut. Bill ordered the Lobster Bisque and the Trout Almandine. The pretentious waiter delivered a basket of rosemary sourdough bread and some flatbread things that were more like chips than bread. Neither were anything special. This came with blueberry whipped butter for no apparent reason. However, that didn't stop him from explaining every detail about the bread and butter with much flourish.
After a lengthy wait, the spring roll was delivered by the same guy who assumed, incorrectly, that we are sharing it. Since it is not a spring roll, but two full-sized egg rolls, Dave did give half of it to Bill. Well, he forced him to eat half of it. It wasn't very good. It was edible, but that's about it. And, it was way to big for an appetizer. We could discern no lobster in it at all unless maybe it was diced into invisibility.
Eventually, Herb brought the salad and soup. Neither were anything worth talking about, but we will anyway. The portions are good, but the salad needed more dressing/flavor and the soup wasn't nearly as good as other renditions we've had during this trip. Again, edible, but that's about it.
An hour, at least, passed before our entrees arrived. No kidding, it was an hour. The dining room is about half full, so what happens when it is actually busy? No one apologized for the wait or acted as though it is anything unusual. Dave's halibut is presented atop a pile of quinoa surrounded by sautéed spinach. Bill's trout is a way too large portion with some sort of stuffing sandwiched between the pieces of fish. He has a few roasted root vegetables on his plate. Dave's halibut has a wonderful flavor, but it is extremely overcooked. The quinoa part is pretty good, but the spinach is so salty he almost involuntarily spit it out. When Herb asked how everything is, Dave told him he should tell the chef about the salty spinach before it is served to anyone else, which he did. Of course, he brought out another plate of it after Dave had finished eating to make up for it. This version has NO salt or other seasonings at all. Nice try. Bill got tired of eating the trout because there was just too much of it and it was also too salty. Not as bad as the spinach, but salty nonetheless.
We were reluctant to order dessert fearing we'd be there another hour, but we did anyway. Click to view the dessert MENU. Dave ordered the Fresh Fruit Napoleon; Bill had the Homemade Sorbet that Herb swore is "packed full of raspberries". Both desserts were good, but nothing special. We would not go back here for dinner. The prices aren't bad, but it isn't good enough. The service is way too pretentious and it took way too long to get our food. The dining room is attractive and Herb was very pleasant, but we didn't like anything else about it. We didn't get out of there until 8:30pm. Remember, we arrived at 6:00pm.
There is a notice on the highway announcing traffic delays on Sunday due to an annual motorcycle race (or something like that). We asked at the front desk if this will cause us to be trapped at the hotel on Sunday, but we were told it should all be over by noon. We have some sightseeing stops planned for Colorado Springs where the race is held, so we might have to juggle some of them to make it work.
It looks like it might rain overnight. The valet guy said it rains here almost every day in the late afternoon/evening, but it usually ends by morning. It is supposed to be around 80 tomorrow and stay that way for at least a couple of days.
While we were at dinner our room was prepared for the evening. The lights were dimmed, chocolates on a plate on the bed, and a newsletter with hotel information, weather, etc., delivered. They're certainly trying to live up to the 5-star rating, but we'd rather they spent the time cleaning the carpets.
Day 23: Saturday, June 27 - Manitou Springs - The Cliff House
It will be hot today...probably up to around 90. Bummer.
We went to the dining room for the included breakfast buffet and found the same snooty service as at dinner. The host barely turned around to tell us to help ourselves after asking if we are staying here or not. He never asked for a room number or anything else, so if you want a free breakfast just walk in and say you are a guest in the hotel. If you are not a guest there is a MENU to order from. We don't know if guests can order from it or not because it was never offered to anyone. Since the price of the buffet is $12 you'd think that one may order anything up to that price, but apparently not. The food was OK, but nothing different from any hotel buffet. There were some house made pastries that were gummy and undercooked. Everything else was OK...scrambled eggs, bacon and the like.
The service during breakfast was appalling. A waitress asked us if we are twins the moment we walked in. We assured her we are not. Brothers? Nope. You'd think she would drop it after that, but noooooooooo. She asked Bill again if we are related. Answer: No. She persisted. "You're not even related? I can't believe it!" Yeah, OK, give it a rest. We already told her we aren't related. Does she think we're lying about it? But, that's not the appalling thing.
Another waitress started setting tables for lunch about fifteen minutes before the end of breakfast (10:30am). Rather than making the huge effort to walk around each table to put a bread plate at each setting, she threw the plates across the table like she was dealing cards. As you can imagine that was quite noisy. The host, or manager/whatever, started picking up the breakfast items before the deadline. A sort of rush ensued with several guests arriving about fifteen minutes before the end. He told them how annoying it is when people arrive at the last minute and expect to be served. OMG! Sure, we know it is annoying, but you sure don't announce it to your paying customers. The dining room in this hotel has serious issues. Everyone else is very nice and helpful, so we have no idea what has gone off the rails in the restaurant.
We have a few things planned for today, but since it is hot we might not make it to all of them. None are must-see attractions except perhaps the Garden of the Gods where we headed first at noon.
Our GPS has a different route in mind than where the signs are pointing, but we followed her instructions anyway. Well, sort of. We made a wrong turn, but got back on track and arrived with no further issues. It is only about ten minutes from the hotel and is on the outskirts of Colorado Springs.
The "garden" is a park area with walking paths around a collection of enormous upturned sandstone layers. The land was donated to the city by the landowner with the stipulation that it be open free of charge to the public forever. Hence, there is no admission fee. There is a big, modern visitor center adjacent to the turn into the park, but we skipped it for now.
Of course, being Saturday and a free attraction it is very crowded. However, we found a parking spot when someone pulled out as we arrived. The biggest formation is right by the main parking lot. The sandstone juts straight up from the ground. These are upturned layers that once were flat, but have been turned on edge by geological forces over time.
A loop path winds around through the various formations. All except one misfit stone wall are red, but there is one small section that is chalky white. The path leads through a gap between two of the tallest cliffs. If you have a permit you are allowed to climb some of the rocks. Even little kids were doing this with supervision. We're not 100% sure, but it appears that you have to have an experienced guide with you, as well, but the signs only say that you need a permit and the appropriate skills.
On the other side of the gap are smaller, but very spectacular thin spires scattered about the landscape. These spires look substantial until you walk around and see that they are really very thin fins.
The backside of the main formation is no less impressive than the front. The gap between the cliffs perfectly frames the white rocks behind them. The last part of the loop has views across a meadow of tall grasses and wildflowers with the rocks beyond.
We did mention that it it hot, right? Well, it is in case you missed that point. It is 1:00pm-ish now and we're already just about fried. On the way in we noticed a sign pointing to the Historic Rock Ledge Ranch Historical Site. Hey, when in Rome, right? We turned down the dirt road leading to the parking area to check it out.
There is a guy in a western costume standing out front, so we went in. There is a fee of $8.00 for adults, $5.00 for seniors over 55, so Dave got another discount for being an official geezer. The ticket seller told us it is about .9 mile to follow the loop through the ranch displays.
We had no clue what this is all about, but we quickly found out that it is one of those recreations where volunteers dress in period costumes to show visitors how they lived way back when. We're not normally fans of this kind of thing, but we're here already, so we're screwed.
If you follow the trail in the correct order the displays go from an American Indian village, to an 1800's homestead, to a 1900's farm and boarding house, etc. We arrived at the Indian encampment and were surprised to find two authentic Native American women sitting under a traditional shade structure. One of them is making a stew of some sort with vegetables and roasting corn over the fire. The other woman is making beaded garments. Dave commented on how they have the coolest place to sit, so they invited us to sit on the log with them in the shade. We chatted with them about life back in the day and the present state of their tribe. They were both very kind and forthcoming with information.
The Indian women directed us to the next stop which is out of site across a meadow. It is an 1800's rustic homestead. There is a corral out front with a very shy cow hiding behind a tree and other accoutrements of the era. Dave is still calling every animal "kitty" except horses (because he knows a horse when he sees one). The cow was not amused. The "farmer" in attendance told us the history this represents, then invited us into the cabin where a young man of about 14 told us how people lived back then. By the way, this isn't one of those ridiculous places where the people pretend they are really from 1800. They sort of vaguely pretend they are, but they carry on a normal conversation with visitors.
We followed the path past a working garden being irrigated from the creek nearby and onward to an early 1900's farm with a big barn. One of the horses was pawing the ground which is a move that precedes a horse rolling in the dirt. Now completely filthy, the horse proudly came over to the fence to show himself off to us.
In an adjacent pen a very cute piglet wandered over to a pit of mud and began wallowing in it. He was having the time of his life. We've never actually witnessed a pig in the mud, so this is a first. A man standing there said he used to raise pigs and he'd estimate the ones here are only a few weeks old. We ended up chatting with him for quite a while about various things. We have to stop randomly chatting with people no matter how interesting they may be because the time goes by too quickly.
We looked in the barn <yawn>, and then bypassed the guy showing people how to use farm implements. Farther along the path is a fancy house with three young women in period costumes sitting on the porch knitting. When we walked up they greeted us and one of them took us inside for a tour. The house was a family home, but it was also used as a boarding house in the summer. They had ingeniously designed it so they could close off the family side and not disturb their guests. The house has been restored to its original look. The young lady giving the tour was charming. She played a short melody on the old organ in the living room. She prefaced it by describing the sound it makes as, "Kind of disturbing." It did sound like something the Munsters might enjoy (if you are too young to know who they are, Google it).
All of the farms/houses/villages have real fires burning. In this case it is the big cast iron stove in the kitchen, so it is very hot in that room. We will smell like the campfire at the Indian village for the rest of the day.
We stopped into the General Store and bought our usual Christmas ornament. Most of the items in the store are handmade and typical of the era, but the ornament is a regular glass one with the site logo on it. The prices are very reasonable; the ornament only cost $7.00.
Across a field is a Blacksmith shop standing by itself in a field. When we walked in we were the only people there, but the blacksmith guy was very friendly and said he's going to made a bottle opener because the shop keeps selling out of them. He has made several today, but someone buys it before it makes it into the shop. He makes them in the shape of a wizard with a long pointy hat and a very detailed face. A few other people arrived after he started. To make a long story short, his demonstration was the best of its kind we have ever seen. We watched him make the bottle opener from start to finish and what he did with a plain old rod of iron is nothing short of amazing. A couple who arrived with an unopened bottle bought the opener when he was done, so this one didn't make it to the shop either.
As you may recall, it is very hot. We're hot, the dust is hot, it is HOT. There is one more big 1907 house on the property, but we just aren't up for another tour no matter how fascinating it may be. It is 3:00pm now, by the way, so we spent quite a long time watching the blacksmith. We saw another building with an "Open, Please Come In" sign out front, so we wandered over to it. It houses a display of Native American artifacts and examples of art. A Native American woman sitting at a table making something with beads welcomed us and was very pleasant. We chatted with her briefly and then made our way back to the car.
We noticed that the Garden of the Gods visitor center has cafe, so we turned into the parking lot. And we continued right on through to the other side without stopping. There were eight busloads of kids being disgorged into the building. No thanks.
Our next stop was supposed to be the Colorado Pioneer Museum, but we decided that if we have any more education today our brain might explode. After that we were supposed to check out the Old Colorado City Historic District, but we passed on that when we saw a Taco Bell calling to us. However, we missed the turn and had to go out of our way to get back to it. The route happened to lead right through the middle of the historic area. While it would have served its purpose of finding a place for lunch, it wasn't otherwise of any interest to us. However, if you like to shop for antiques this is the place to come. It does look pleasant with a tree-lined street to wander and abundant free parking lots.
We made it to Taco Bell and we can confirm absolutely that the food there is better than the Mexican restaurant in Glenwood Springs. We each had a couple of tacos to get us through until dinner time.
We arrived back at the hotel around 4:30pm where we stayed until time to go out again for dinner at 7:00pm.
There is an access walkway across the street from the hotel that leads directly onto the main street of Manitou Springs. We had no idea that this town is one gigantic carnival. The oldest Penny Arcade in the country is across from the hotel and the first shop we came to is a Skeeball parlor. Next to that is a place selling funnel cakes, cotton candy and such. If you want to know where all the hippies went, here they are. They're sitting in groups on the planters smoking weed and playing guitars. We thought we fell through a time warp back to the 1970's for a minute.
We walked along the length of the street which is lined with buildings and shops from the late 1800's. There's a historic old inn on one corner that is probably older than our hotel. If you want to try the healing spring water you may do so at any number of public fountains burbling along the sidewalks. Most are elaborate old displays in wrought iron or colorful tiles, but a few are modern interpretations topped with a sculpture or two.
We stopped into a Christmas shop and found three hand painted wooden ornaments for only $15.00 total. The sales clerk offered to personalize them with the date. While she was doing that we chatted about various things and where we are going on our road trip from here. She's from San Diego and used to go to the Colorado River on her motorcycle. She described Yuma as, "The armpit of the world." Someone else we know used those exact words to describe it and she lives there (although she's trying desperately to get out of there at the moment). We didn't think it was all that bad, but we stayed in a new hotel on the good side of the freeway, so what do we know? But c'mon, if a biker chick describes a place as an armpit, it must be bad.
None of the restaurants struck our fancy, so we walked back to the end of town by the hotel to find a highly rated pizza place. It was full, so we defaulted to the Mexican place next door. We haven't had much luck with Mexican food so far, but we thought we might get lucky because this place is packed.
Click to view the MENU for The Loop. We had to wait a few minutes on the sidewalk for a table, but we didn't mind. It isn't hot anymore. We were seated within a few minutes. This place is the definition of dump, but it is jam packed. Dave ordered a House Salad and the Tacos El Carbon. Bill ordered a Chicken Chimichanga. The free chips were fresh, so we're off to a decent start. Bill's Mai Tai was also very good. The salad, that only cost $4.25, was huge. Nothing in it was anything special, but it was fresh and was what Dave had in mind when he ordered it. Both entrees were outstanding and have redeemed Mexican food in Colorado. This is one of the cheapest meals we've had so far and also one of the best. We might have to stick to cheap dives from now on because we're sure not scoring big with the fancy places.
Back at the hotel a wedding reception is in full swing in the ballroom off the lobby. The smarmy host from the dining room wandered by looking as condescending as he did last night. We have no idea how the restaurant staff can be so snooty when everyone else is the epitome of charm. The people at the front desk say hello when we walk by, the valet parking guys offer directions on the way out, and they thanked us for the tip we gave them when we left. So what's up with the restaurant?
We were hoping to have laundry done while we are here, but guess what? No laundry service on Saturday or Sunday. Uh, don't most people stay in hotels on the weekend? Why bother offering the service at all? We both slobbered part of our dinner on our clothes tonight, so Dave got busy rinsing out his shorts when we got back. He's going to have to start buying cheap T-shirts pretty soon because he's running out of shirts. And, as you know, he brings quite a supply to begin with.
The hotel newsletter that comes with the turndown service says the high temperature for tomorrow will only be 80 degrees. Keep your fingers crossed that it is correct.
Day 24: Sunday, June 28 - Manitou Springs - The Cliff House
They lied, it's still hot...up to 90.
Breakfast at the hotel was exactly the same selection as yesterday. It's fine, but people do tend to stay in hotels like this for more than one night. There's a waiter this morning who literally has his nose in the air. That's how snooty he is. Nobody actually waited on us until we were almost finished and someone offered us coffee. Service, what?
We left the hotel at around 11:00am. There is a race that is blocking traffic going toward Colorado Springs (which is maybe a mile down the road), so we're staying in Manitou Springs today.
Our first stop is minutes away, as in less than five. It is across the highway from where the hotel is located. Our GPS took us up the highway so we don't have to try to get across four lanes. We do have to turn left, which is doable with patience, but the people turning left out of the attraction are screwed. There should be a traffic signal at the intersection.
In any case, we arrived at the Manitou Cliff Dwelling Museum in one piece. We should know this place is going to be a tourist trap when they make you pay in advance at a booth in the middle of the entrance road. This backs up traffic almost onto the highway. The entrance area looks very nice, but it is plainly clear this is a tourist attraction and not real cave dwellings. The prices are ridiculous, but we didn't know that going in. It is $9.50 for an adult; $8.50 for seniors 60+.
The moment we drove into the parking lot we knew this place is a total scam. There is no way in hell you'd be parking right in front of authentic cave dwellings. And you certainly wouldn't be allowed to climb around in and on them. If anyone could see this before paying there wouldn't be anyone here. As it is it is crowded with kids and people who obviously believe they are seeing actual ancient dwellings. There is no indication that this is a recreation, so the owners are definitely deceiving the public purposely. They've been doing this since the early 1900's and getting away with it, so why stop now? Bill prompted cracked his head on a low beam right after reading the warning not to do that very thing. That put him in a bad mood.
We did a little research after we left and found out this was indeed built as a tourist attraction. There were never any cliff dwellers in this area. The "ruins" are built from actual ancient bricks collected elsewhere. When they were rebuilt here they were not put back as they were found, but rather they are copies of ruins found at Mesa Verde National Park. Back in the day there were two women who were trying to push through preservation of Mesa Verde. They had some sort of hair pulling bitch fight and the loser decided to build her own "park" here. She spent a lot of time trying to convince the authorities that she didn't steal the buildings from within the national park boundaries. The point is this whole place is fake.
There is a supposedly real pueblo incorporated into a giant gift shop. There's a museum, but you literally have to push past the T-shirts to find the stairs into it. We didn't even bother with the rest of the "museum" after seeing the first two rooms. The "artifacts" are too perfect to be real, although they are portrayed as such. As you can see, we were not happy with this attraction at all and urge you to spend your money elsewhere if you are ever in town.
Well, that took all of twenty minutes and we're off to the next stop which is less than a mile up the highway. We arrived at Cave of the Winds quickly. It is also nicely done with bronze deer sculptures along the entrance road and nice streetlights. There are parking attendants directing each new arrival to a parking spot. It is well organized anyway.
As with the caverns at Glenwood Springs, there are rides here, too. There are two zip-line-type things, one of which costs $50 PER PERSON. Another "ride" is a sort of rope course you can climb on for a hefty $20 per person. There's a zip-line similar to the one at the Glenwood Springs park except it goes out over the canyon. The prices for all of these attractions are outrageous, but we saw people buying tickets for them.
We bought tickets for the Discovery Tour of the cave for $20 per person. The ticket seller was very nice and got us on an earlier tour that is only 40 minutes away. There is usually a longer tour offered called the Lantern Tour, but the cave is partially flooded from all of the recent rain, so it is closed until August at least.
There is a big restaurant/gift shop/waiting area that looks nice enough. The viewing deck affords a great view over Manitou Springs. By the way, this cave is at the top of a mountain and descends into it. The highest part is only twenty feet below the top of the mountain.
We stood around until our tour was called at 1:00pm. Tours leave every five minutes, so this is a busy place. There were only about fifteen people in our group, but all of the others we saw were much larger. Our guide was pleasant and did a good job. The tour lasts 45 minutes or so and is very easy to walk. There are some slippery areas because of the wet conditions and a few places where we had to duck, but it is an easy tour. This cave is more worthwhile than the short tours at Glenwood Caverns, but still it isn't anything spectacular. There are the usual formations like cave bacon and a grotto of stalagmites. This cave has been a tourist attraction since the 1700's, so it isn't in pristine condition. However, if you've never seen a show cave before it is worthwhile.
Our tour was kind of annoying because of the two toddlers who kept throwing their hardhats (toys) on the ground. At one point one of them dropped with such force that it scared the crap out of the tour guide and everyone else. We have no clue why anyone would bring children that small in the first place, but why keep giving the hats back to them so they can drop them again two minutes later?
At the beginning of the tour the guide took each group's picture and we were given the chance to buy it at the end. There is no pressure to buy them, although we did buy ours. When we were coming out of the cave there was a huge clap of thunder. It is now pouring rain, but the exit is completely covered back to the building. We found a couple things to buy in the gift shop. All of the employees we encountered here were very friendly and polite.
It is 2:00pm now, so we decided to risk it and have a hot dog from the snack bar. They were fine and a bit better than we expected under the circumstances. The rain cleared up while we were eating and we were on our way again. While this wasn't our favorite attraction during this trip so far, it wasn't the total rip-off that the cave dwellings are. We wouldn't stop here again, but if you're passing through anyway it is a decent way to kill a couple of hours.
We intended to do a tour of some old Victorian "castle" in town, but we're so over the phony tourist traps here that we went back to the hotel instead. We came in a different way and ended up going into the driveway at the wrong end. Not that there's any way to know that because the signs make no sense at all. The driveway isn't wide enough for two-way traffic, but arriving guests come in one end and the valet parkers return the cars from the other end. You can imagine how coherent that situation is. We backed up into the street and made the guy come out there to get the car. This hotel is almost nice, but it borders on being Fawlty Towers sometimes.
After resting and cooling off for a few minutes, we wandered to the carnival, er, main street to browse the shops. There are some nice shops among the tacky trinkets and fake art, but we didn't buy anything. We have noticed that there are sandbags piled against many of the shop fronts. Some of them even have permanent tracks for flood gates that can be added at the doorway if needed. We went back to the hotel at around 4:30pm after checking out a couple of restaurants for dinner later.
At 6:30pm we walked back downtown to Boodad's Louisiana Cafe for dinner. Click to view the MENU. This place is even more of a dump than the Mexican place last night, so it is probably pretty good. Our waitress was very nice in a teeny bopper kind of way. Dave ordered the Blackened Chicken Etouffee after the waitress assured him that it isn't too spicy. Bill had a Fried Shrimp Wrap. Both of the meals were very good, but the wrap was the best of the two. The etoufee was in fact EXTREMELY spicy, but still edible. Actually, it was pretty good considering that it still had a flavor in spite of being spicy. Sometimes the spice overwhelms everything else, but this was good.
There was a loud clap of thunder and the sky opened up with a torrential downpour that lasted about ten minutes. We asked the waitress if it is common for the city to flood. She said it happens all the time. The city often has to be evacuated and/or the main highway is closed. She often can't get to the city for work because the roads are flooded. That must be a drag. She said it hasn't been quite as bad this year, but it is normal to have flooding. In a town this old you'd think they would have come up with a solution by now. The problem is that there is a river that flows through the middle of the town which is itself at the bottom of a steeply-sided valley.
When the rain stopped we started walking back to the hotel. We stopped at the snack stand on the corner and bought two smoothies hoping to calm the spiciness of the dinner. The sky is still black and threatening.
After we were back in the hotel there was more thunder. Our room had been turned down, so the drapes are closed and we can't see if it is raining. Now and then there is more thunder and after about 8:30pm the lights started flickering slightly. Tonight might be kind of interesting!
Day 25: Monday, June 29 - Drive to Salida - Palace Hotel
This beautiful valley is flanked on the west side by the mighty Collegiate Peaks
and Arkansas River makes up the eastern boundary. In between are beautiful
valleys, filled with rich ranch land, ghost towns, mountain lakes and streams,
abundant wildlife and quaint Historic Towns. Chaffee County stars the small
towns of Salida, Buena Vista, Poncha Springs and Monarch. Folks drawn here enjoy
the welcome contrasts to the state's more glamorous destination resorts. You
don't need the trendiest clothes or newest equipment to fit in with the locals.
However, if you do have a thirst for adventure we have more than 100 miles of
Arkansas River and her tributaries, to raft, fish, float or kayak in. A dozen of
the states 53, 14,000 ft peaks touch the sky here in the Sawatch Range.
It should be hot later today, but this morning it is partly cloudy and quite pleasant outside.
Breakfast in the dining room was exactly the same as the previous two days except the staff was pleasant. Now that the wedding groups from the weekend are gone, the staff appears to be making more of an effort to be nice. Shouldn't they always be nice no matter what?
Our final thoughts on Manitou Springs: It is pretty much a touristy, tacky carnival town. That's not necessarily a bad thing if you are in the mood for it. The worst part is trying to drive anywhere. The streets are narrow and/or one-way, so getting around is a nightmare. If you stay in town you can walk to the local attractions, such as they are. There is no fine dining here at all. You are pretty much limited to Mexican food and pizza. Again, not a bad thing since the places we ate were good. Well, with the exception of the hotel, of course.
Our final thoughts on The Cliff House: Overall this is a very nice property with some big issues. Some of the service is very friendly and helpful, particularly the valet parking guys and the front desk. Housekeeping is very thorough about replacing supplies, but they never vacuumed the carpet. Unfortunately, the one thing that we will remember most about our room is the beyond filthy carpet. How can a hotel that charges upward of $450 a night have such disgusting carpeting? It is like a frat house after an all-night drunken brawl. No kidding. Fortunately, everything else in the room is clean and comfortable. The suite is spacious with great lighting and the wi-fi is fast and always connects. Would we stay here again? It's a toss up. If we got a better deal on the rate we might, but no way would we pay $450 a night to stay here again.
Check-out time is 11:00am which was emphasized in a note put under the door with the bill. This same note says to sign one copy of the bill and keep the other one. It doesn't say what to do with the part we sign, but that kind of oversight is typical at this place. Dave wants to stop at the front desk on the way out anyway to see if they ask how the stay was. If they do (or maybe even if they don't) he'll bring up the carpet and see what their excuse is for that.
When the manager at the front desk asked how our stay was, Dave asked him if management is aware of how filthy the carpet is in our suite. He immediately acted surprised and said that it was just cleaned. He should have just apologized, but Dave's common tactic of "state the complaint and stop talking" worked wonders as this guy dug himself in deeper and deeper. We advised him to go look for himself because it is far worse that any carpet we have ever seen in any hotel (we're not exaggerating). Although Dave didn't ask for anything, the manager gave us $100 off. If it was our hotel, we would have comped an entire night, but whatever. At least he tried. Of course, it is was our hotel, the carpet wouldn't have been dirty in the first place!
We drove through lush green countryside and canyons for about an hour before reaching the turn for Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. This park was completely destroyed in a wildfire two years ago. The only thing left standing was the bridge itself. The reviews we read before planning this trip complained that there is nothing there and yet they are still charging admission. So, we assumed there wouldn't be much to look at. At the turnoff there are several very tacky tourist-oriented businesses, several of which are closed.
Our next business venture will be resurrecting the Royal Gorge Scenic Railway that is closed and for sale for a mere $1,950,000, not including the train itself (so what's the point?). Just kidding, even we aren't that stupid.
We arrived to find the parking lot nearly full, but we managed to grab a spot when a car pulled out. It is amazing how quickly they rebuilt this place. The visitor center is brand new and looks very nice. They constructed a new gondola to cross the gorge. The old one was destroyed in the fire along with everything else. The admission charge is $23 for adults; $20 for seniors. That's kind of pricy for what you get, but maybe it will help them finish the rebuilding effort.
The visitor center is very attractive. There's a gift shop and counter service restaurant. The people selling tickers were extremely pleasant and welcoming. We skipped the photo op outside the back door on the way to the bridge. We checked out the view to the "attractions" on the other side of the gorge and peered down to the river. The tracks running along the river are for the defunct scenic railway that is not part of this city-owned park.
You can either walk across the suspension bridge that was built in 1929 or take the gondola. We walked. It is quite a distance across this bridge. When it was built it was the highest bridge of its type in the world. We're not sure how wide the gorge is, but it is at least a mile. Some of the amenities near the bridge have been rebuilt (an ice cream shop and picnic area), but the 1930's era incline railway station and the original gondola stations were destroyed. All that remains is the pink quartz outer wall. The tracks for the incline railway are intact, but parts were warped by the heat. One of the cars and the riverside station are fine. It appears they are getting ready to rebuilt the upper station, but work hasn't started yet.
We started ambling across the bridge. It might seem to be a simple task, but it sways and bounces in the wind like the rope bridge at Disneyland, but on a bigger scale. We heard several people say that it used to sway even more until they modified and strengthened it. What's really scary is when the shuttle tram drives across while you're walking! The roadbed is wooden planks with gaps between them.
There is a sign part way across the bridge pointing out "JFK Mountain" in the distance. From the center of the bridge there is a spectacular (or scary depending on your viewpoint) view both upriver and downriver. The gondolas crossing the gorge look like toys compared to the size of the canyon. The zipline riders look even smaller! We might have done that ride (you sit in a chair sort of thing, not hang like a regular zipline), but the price is ridiculous and the landing is too hard for us. That's our excuse and we're sticking with it.
All of the attractions and buildings on the other side of the gorge were destroyed also. They have replaced some of them. There is a new BBQ restaurant that smelled good and a theater right at the end of the bridge. We looked in the theater, but we aren't interested in magic shows, so we skipped it. They have also rebuilt a kiddie play area with a small carousel. They had a historic one that was destroyed. The replacement is much smaller. We're not sure how much was here before the fire, but now it is a long tiring walk between "attractions". The start of the zipline ride is on this side and there is a giant swing ride that catapults riders out over the canyon. It is an extra charge also.
Adjacent to the giant swing and up a hill is a viewpoint to look across the canyon to the visitor center way in the distance. From here it is a fairly long, uphill walk to the station for the gondola ride back to the visitor center. We saw a mountain goat on the way, so it wasn't a total waste. We're not quite sure what they were thinking moving the gondola station way over here because it is inaccessible to handicapped people and anyone else who can't walk up a steep hillside. The ride back takes about five minutes. We just made it before a lightening storm started and they stopped the rides for a few minutes.
Back at the visitor center we stopped by the restaurant for some lunch. We had a fried chicken sandwich and some pizza. Both were large portions and very good. The French fries that came with the sandwich were freshly made, not from frozen. The pizza was surprisingly tasty. We only bought one slice, but it was 1/4 of a whole pie. The drinks came in huge souvenir cups we could have lived without, but now we have them anyway.
After lunch Dave found the usual Christmas ornament to buy in the gift shop. This one is hand made from recycled wool (or something like that). It's pretty ugly, but it serves its purpose.
Back on the road, we drove for another hour following the course of the Arkansas River. It is as full as every river in Colorado we've seen. There are countless companies offering rafting trips. We must have seen over a hundred people go by in the rafts as we were driving along.
We arrived in Salida at 3:30pm. The drive from the highway to the historic downtown area isn't very scenic, but once in downtown it is beautiful. The streets are lined with historic buildings from the 1800's that are well preserved. We weren't quite sure what to expect here, but we are pleasantly surprised to find lots of nice shops and many interesting restaurants to choose from.
Our hotel is the Salida Palace Hotel. It was a railroad hotel back in the 1800's that has recently been converted from a 40-room hotel into a 14-room all-suite hotel by the new owners. They built the rooms to be condominiums units, but they were finished in 2008 during the real estate crash, so they went to Plan B and opened it as a hotel. They have kept the historic character of the interior, but everything has been refinished and is in good shape.
We had a bit of a misunderstanding while checking in. Our confirmation shows that we were already charged for one night, but the guy at the desk charged us the total amount. He had to get a manager to come out and explain that they really don't charge us. Dave was pretty sure they had, so the manager let him check his account online to be sure. They hadn't charged him, so all is well. She said this is not the first time someone has questioned this and they are trying to fix the website so it isn't so confusing. We're not sure how hard that can be though. Dave writes more HTML every day for the blog than they'd ever need in a year to update their site.
Our suite is on the third floor and there is no elevator. Bummer, but we're used to that by now. The stairways are original because the wood was never painted. The carpet is clean, which is a definite plus after the last place. All too often these old hotels take preservation a bit too seriously and they can be dark and dreary. This place is very pleasant with good air conditioning and great lighting in the hallways.
Our suite is huge and has a full kitchen courtesy of the original condominium plan. It is fully equipped with dishes and cooking utensils. The sitting area is attractive, but not particularly comfortable. There is a table for two. A simple breakfast will be delivered tomorrow morning at a time we chose when checking in. We have a king-sized bed, which is why we selected this particular suite. The bathroom is tiny, but all new. We are on the corner of the building, so we have a view of an old ad on the side of a brick building in one direction and the park across the street in the other.
After dragging our luggage up the stairs, we went back down to move the car to the parking lot about a block away. There are three possible places to park, none of which are directly adjacent to the hotel. A block isn't too bad, but the town doesn't look particularly safe for leaving things in cars. Maybe it is just old, but who really knows?
At 6:30pm we walked up the block to one of the restaurants recommended by the manager when we checked in. Click to view the MENU for Currents. The people working at this place are beyond friendly. Every one of them went out of their way to be nice to us. We were seated right away and although it is busy it isn't full to capacity. We ordered a Spinach Salad and the French Onion Soup to start. They were both outstanding. We both had Beef Stroganoff (not of the menu) for our entree and were pleased with the choice. For dessert Dave had Strawberry Shortcake and Bill had the Cheesecake of the Day that was coffee infused cherries. He liked it, but Dave didn't. The shortcake was fine, but nothing extraordinary. We were stuffed when we left, but very happy with the whole experience.
There are a lot of bars in the downtown area, but there don't seem to be any unsavory characters hanging around. There are some groups of bored teenagers now and then, but they aren't sinister in any way. Here's hoping for the best with the car in the remote parking lot. We haven't seen any graffiti, so we're probably worrying about nothing.
Back at the hotel, Dave received an email from the manager of the Hotel Aspen in response to a questionnaire he answered after we left. In it he mentioned the A/C issues and the non-ventilated bathroom. The manager was very nice, but mostly made excuses. He claimed that the window in the bathroom opens onto a screened in area, but that isn't the case. It was clearly painted shut and had no mechanism to open it. Dave wrote back and nicely pointed out that unless there is some trick to it, that window does NOT open. It was nice of the manager to make the effort to contact us, so kudos for that.
This hotel does not have daily housekeeping, "to respect your privacy", unless it is requested. That's fine with us. We prefer not to have to put everything away or get out of the room when we really don't want to. We have no plans to do anything in this town. Originally we thought we might go to a zipline place up the road, but we've thought better of that idea. It is too commercial to suit us and we're not in the mood to sweat in the blazing sun and pay $89 per person for the privilege. We will probably avail ourselves of the complimentary laundry facilities and check out the shops downtown tomorrow.
By the way, the warmest it got today was 80-something, so much improved. There was a brief thunderstorm and lots of rain for about ten minutes tonight, but that's about it weather wise.
Day 26: Tuesday, June 30 - Drive to Salida - Palace Hotel
Dave received this email from the manager off the Hotel Aspen in response to his response about the air conditioning and the non-opening bathroom window: "I stand corrected. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention and I am having a ventilation fan installed in this room immediately. Thanks for taking the time to advise me of the situation as it’s not an item that is ordinarily inspected." We really believe he's going to have a fan installed <wink wink>.
It is hot today, but we're not doing anything intense anyway.
Breakfast was delivered right on time. It consists of a yogurt parfait with granola and fruit with a carrot cake muffin. It's simple, but good enough to get us started.
We're taking it easy today, so we didn't leave the hotel until around 12:30pm. We wandered around the downtown area of Salida which is really the only draw for tourists besides the river. The area is well preserved and doesn't have any incongruous modern buildings interspersed with the old ones. Most blocks are cohesive stretches of late 1800's storefronts. Many of the buildings still have faded ads painted on the side.
We had a nice conversation with a woman working in the housewares shop. She told us how nice it is to live in Salida and that it has a perfect blend of small town friendliness and artsy edginess. There are several festivals coming up that has everyone excited. The shop is very nice and something one would expect to see in a big city. We were told that the purpose is to give employment to special needs adults. They rotate through every hour to give them job training. The young woman who checked us out was very nice and seemed to be thrilled to be working there.
We enjoy seeing so many people out and about with their dogs. Many stores and restaurants have "Dogs Welcome" signs out front and water bowls by the door. We went into a shop specifically for dogs and chatted with the sales lady. We won her over by telling her our story of how we adopted Zak even though he was very ill and not a youngster.
The area of interest to tourists is probably about ten blocks combined. We walked up and down the side streets until the shops ended, and then walked back on the other side of the street. That way we covered everything. There are tons of antique shops, art galleries, consignment stores, and such. We browsed through one called the "Junque Shop". We didn't buy anything, but the merchandise was displayed very effectively. It wasn't dusty or dirty like so many places like this can be. We're not really interested in antiques per se, but we enjoyed looking through this shop.
Another big store we wandered through is full of custom made wood furniture and related items. The owner came up and said he's surprised to see two guys in the store because usually men have to be dragged into furniture stores by their wife. Nothing like being blind to reality, but he was very nice in his own way. If we ever need lodge-type furniture again we'll come shop here. He had a lot of beautiful things and the prices were reasonable.
We got our dirty laundry out of the car and dropped it off in our hotel room. Time for lunch, so we walked across the street about a block to The Fritz. It looks like a dive bar, but it is primarily a restaurant. Click to view the MENU. There weren't many people in the place, but it is 2:30pm. At noon when we walked by restaurants they were full. We both ordered the Chicken & Brie Sandwich. It was both creative and very tasty. For $10 it was quite a bargain for what we got.
After lunch we walked down to the bridge in front of the hotel to look at the river. As we keep pointing out, it is very full. It is amazing how much cooler it is next to the river. It must be at least ten degrees lower by the water, so the water must be very cold. That isn't stopping people from rafting and kayaking in it. There is a paved walkway along the edge that dips below the bridge, but the under-bridge part is flooded by the swollen river.
Across the bridge is where the train station was for the Rio Grande line. Salida was a major stop which is why our hotel was built here in the 1800's. Now all there is to remind us of that history is a red caboose that was donated to the city. The road across the 1908 bridge leads from here straight through the historic downtown. Most of the ordinary businesses and chain hotels are along the highway, but if you are going to visit Salida be sure to stay at the Palace Hotel or one of the B&B's in town to get the full effect. By the way, the locals pronounce Salida as "Sah lye dah".
We arrived back at the hotel around 3:00pm where we stayed for the rest of the afternoon. We were finally able to get our laundry done using the free machines down the hall. The hotel even provides laundry detergent.
At 6:30pm we started to pull ourselves together to go out for dinner. We went next door to the Boat House Cantina. It is directly on the river, so the view is interesting. Click to view the MENU. It was fun watching the kayakers shooting the narrows right outside the window. A raft floated in and the occupants scrambled to get it to shore before going under the bridge. We're not sure why all of the boats and rafts stop before the bridge because there is enough clearance to make it through. Anyway, Dave ordered a Carne Asada Quesadilla and the Gringo Tacos; Bill had the Aloha Burger and shared the quesadilla. All of the food was good, but not outstanding. Still, it was a fun place to eat and we'd probably go there again. We certainly got our money's worth.
The sky is black, so we assume there will be a thunderstorm at some point tonight. It seems to be the normal pattern in these parts. No wonder the rivers are so full.
Day 27: Wednesday, July 1 - Drive to Gunnison - Holiday Inn Express
Gunnison is the destination for countless number of visitors lured by its
beautiful setting and recreational opportunities. Gunnison's activities appeal
to the entire family. Historical tours, museums, children's attractions, golf,
star parties and more. As the home of Western State Colorado University, it is
also a center of learning. The school's influence on the town is signified by
the huge "W" – the largest collegiate symbol in the world- that overlooks the
town from Tenderfoot Mountain. In summer, abundant sunshine and a mild, dry
climate bring people out for a variety of celebrations, including concerts, art
shows, theater performances, rodeos, classic car show and more!
There was a juicy thunder/lightning storm last night that was kind of fun. Other than that, the weather remains the same. Hot.
Breakfast was again delivered as scheduled. It is certainly minimal, but at least it gets us out the door.
Our final thoughts on Salida: This is a quirky, artsy community that has more to offer than one would think. If you only see it from the highway you're missing the best part. Be sure to drive to the historic downtown area where you'll find several square blocks of shops, galleries and restaurants. We'd stop here again and would recommend it for a night or two. There are enough interesting restaurants to fill several nights.
Our final thoughts on the Salida Palace Hotel: We loved it. This is one of the few places where there's nothing major to complain about. The free wi-fi is terrible, but everything else is high quality. Our suite is huge and it pristine condition. It is a wonderful value, too. There's no service to speak of, but the simple breakfast was delivered to our door on time both mornings. We'd stay here again without hesitation. It is fun and comfortable. Staying downtown completes the theme of the historic town, too.
Check out time is 11:00am, so we'll pack up and hit the road at that time. We have to kill some time on the way to Gunnison. If we don't stop it is only a 90-minute drive. Hopefully we'll find something interesting to look at along the way.
The drive up through the mountains quickly rises to 11,000 feet, but we barely noticed the increase in elevation. There is a lot of road construction going on along this stretch of highway, so we were delayed several times. We're kind of glad because it kills about fifteen minutes every time we have to wait to pass a one-lane section. The scenery is beautiful, so no worries.
We stopped at the Monarch Scenic Tramway at the Continental Divide. This is a very old-school tourist attraction that has been operating since the 1950's. It probably hasn't been updated since then. There is a gondola ride to the summit and a large gift shop. The lower station for the tramway needs a lot of maintenance. The paint is peeling and the wooden stairs are coming apart, but the actual mechanism for the gondola system looks OK. The price is $10 for adults; $8 for seniors 55+. The guy selling tickets and loading the cars was extremely friendly and welcoming.
There are only perhaps six cars on the cable. Each car holds six people, but they don't make you share with strangers. The system has to stop completely to let people on and off, so we stopped twice on the way up. It doesn't take more than about seven minutes to get to the top.
The station at the top is worse than the one at the bottom, but the guy working there is equally as friendly as the one at the bottom. He points out to every new arrival that there is an observation deck up the stairs and says something pleasant each time. What he doesn't point out is that there are some sort of critters living behind some plywood at the top and the liquid dripping onto the handrail is pee.
Needless to say, the view from up here is spectacular. You can go outside and walk a short distance to a concrete platform. It looks like there used to be a structure atop the platform, but now it is just a cracked concrete hexagon. Off to one side are several microwave and cell towers. There are still some large snow banks at this elevation (12,000 feet). It is pleasantly cool up here; around 65 degrees. They could be doing a lot more with this place than they are.
The tickets for the tramway include a bag of free fresh popcorn in the gift shop across the parking lot. Of course, the point is to get everyone to visit the gift shop, but there is no pressure to buy anything and all of the employees are very nice. The gift shop is large, but there isn't anything for sale here that we haven't seen in every gift shop in Colorado. The prices are reasonable though.
That little stop killed about an hour, if that, but there were several more delays along the road. We arrived in Gunnison around 1:30pm and drove past the hotel looking for lunch. The old downtown area isn't as nice as Salida's and we didn't see anywhere worth the trouble of parallel parking on a busy street. We ended up at the McDonald's next door to the hotel. We know what we're going to get at McDonald's. It was fine, so no complaints.
We drove around the block to get the to the hotel rather than trying to turn left onto the highway. Western State Colorado University is up the street which we assume is the reason there is a big Holiday Inn Express at this location.
The woman at the front desk was very welcoming and pleasant. She offered us 500 points or a "goodie bag" for being IHG Platinum members. She suggested that the points are the best deal, so that's what we took. We were checked in right away. Our room is at the end of the corridor on the second floor (of three). We're in an Executive Suite, so we have a sitting alcove off of the room. The room is very spacious with a wet bar containing a microwave and refrigerator. There are dishes and large glasses in the cabinet. The bathroom is typical of this chain with nice amenities. Everything is clean and the beds have a variety of soft and firm pillows. The walls are paper thin though. We can here the phone conversation next door as though the guy is in the room with us and he's not talking loudly. If we could keep the fan running on the air conditioner it would help, but it shuts off between cycles.
The hotel is surrounded by nothing but countryside. There is a Pioneer Museum across the highway which is the only attraction we'll be visiting here. The main reason we stopped is because Dave's father used to talk about driving cattle from the ranch in Texas to pastures in Gunnison. That's all Dave knows about it, but since he's heard the name, we're here. It seems like a long way to drive cattle to pasture, but that's the story. Maybe it wasn't so outlandish back in the 1930's? Or do they still do that kind of thing?
Napping ensued. Aren't we exciting?
At 7:00pm-ish we drove up the road to the Blue Mesa Grill. Click to view the MENU. The restaurant is part of the Inn at Tomichi, by the way. We almost stayed there, but the rooms at the Holiday Inn are larger. There is a patio, but we asked to be seated in the dining room. There is only one other party in there who carried on a extremely religious conversation the entire time. We could have lived a long time without hearing their drivel, but otherwise it was fine. We both had the Potato Soup which was very good. Dave ordered the Braised Buffalo Short Ribs; Bill had the Stuffed Porkchop. Both of the entrees were large portions and were very good. Our waitress was quite nice, so overall we really enjoyed it. The prices are very reasonable for the quality of the food. It's a good thing we liked it because there aren't many other choices for dinner around here.
Back at the hotel we bought some cookies in the "Suite Shop" for $4 total and called it a night.
Day 28: Thursday, July 2 - Gunnison - Holiday Inn Express
We're still having problems with the internet at this hotel, so please be patient if the updates aren't complete.
The weather is trending toward cooler, which is good news for us. It is partly cloudy today.
The hotel's free breakfast was OK, but not presented very well. The woman keeping everything stocked was very friendly, but her apron was so filthy it was a bit shocking. We found enough to eat, but it wasn't particularly pleasant.
We drove to the Pioneer Museum at around 11:00am. Yeah, it's across the street from the hotel and we drove, OK? We didn't think it was a good idea to try to run across a four lane highway to get there. We aren't expecting anything from this place except to kill an hour.
The two volunteers at the entrance were very welcoming. When one of them asked what brought us here, Dave told her about his family history with a cattle ranch in Gunnison. His dad would tell him about driving the cattle from the ranch in Texas to Gunnison to fatten them up in the summer. When he mentioned the name of the ranch to the volunteer, she lit up and said she has heard that name all of her life. She said she'd do some research while we are looking around and let us know what she finds.
This museum is a very eclectic collection of stuff including old farm implements, an entire train and station, an old school house, old telephone equipment, a car collection, you name it they probably have it here. We were given a binder of information to take with us, but we didn't look at it. We were entertained finding things we grew up with. Yes, that means we are officially old. When you still have stuff stashed away that is on display in a museum you know you're a geezer! All of this stuff is scattered across several acres in a variety of buildings. We enjoyed poking around and reminiscing more than we could ever anticipate.
When we walked back into the entrance building several hours later, the volunteer who talked to us rushed up with all sorts of information about the ranch Dave asked about. She had found where it was and what it is now, which is an estate development with 2,000 acres of shared ranch land. She urged us to drive out to look at it before it is completely developed. Dave would have had no clue who to begin finding all of this information on his own. We thanked the volunteer profusely. She asked for Dave's name and address so she could send him any other information she finds. Someone is writing the history of the ranch area and she said she'd get his information and send it along also. How nice is that?
By the way, Dave is having problems with his jaw/teeth again (same as in Japan except not as severe). He's not sure if he'll have to do anything about it or not, but he's not happy. With the 4th of July weekend coming up there's not much to be done about it anyway, so we'll see how it goes.
We decided to take the volunteer's advice and drove about twelve miles outside of town to look for the ranch. We were about to give up, but decided we'd go around one more curve. Voila! There it is in all its glory. Dave has never been here, although he did see the Texas ranch when we was a little kid. He only heard stories about this part of the ranch holdings. It is being developed as estates, but most of it is set aside to preserve the ranching history. The original homestead cabin is still there. The setting is beautiful to say the least. This location is way more attractive than the bone dry, desolate Texas part of the cattle company. Maybe he can get a discount on an estate property here? Yeah, sure. Here's the link to the development's website: www.wildercolorado.com.
On the way back to town we stopped at a diner-type restaurant we saw on the way out called Palisades. We weren't terribly optimistic about the food when we saw customers coming out with oxygen tanks and walkers, but how bad can it be? Luckily it wasn't bad at all. That's not to say it is a gourmet experience, but for lunch it was fine. Click to view the MENU. Bill ordered a Patty Melt; Dave had the Adult Grilled Cheese because it sounded like it wouldn't need much chewing. The lettuce in the side salad was brown, but otherwise we liked the food. The waiter was very friendly and attentive.
We were back at the hotel by 3:30pm. The sky is black and we can see rain falling in the distance. It stayed this way for the rest of the day, but didn't rain at the hotel.
At 6:30pm we drove next door (yes, drove...there's no way to walk there from the hotel) to McDonald's to pick up dinner to bring back to the hotel. Bill gave Dave one of the pain pills he got when his shoulder was painful and it kind of knocked Dave out. Too bad it didn't do much for the pain, but whatever. He'll survive. One thing you can say for McDonald's is that it is consistent and you always know what you're going to get. We liked it, so sue us!
All we did for the rest of the evening was watch TV. We have a semi-long day tomorrow, so we need to rest up. It is actually chilly outside tonight. Checking the weather report it appears that it will be pleasantly cool in Telluride, so we're hoping the lack of air conditioning won't be an issue after all. Keep your fingers crossed for us!
Day 29: Friday, July 3 - Drive to Telluride - Camel's Garden Hotel
Celebrated for its culture, heritage and spectacular scenic beauty, Telluride,
Colorado, is recognized for its unrivaled recreational opportunities. In the
winter, world-class Telluride Ski Resort boasts powder-filled bowls in which to
ski, snowboard and enjoy awe-inspiring mountain views. Come summer, the resort
transforms into a North American icon of music and events—home to world-famous
festivals, including the Mountainfilm in
Telluride, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride Jazz Celebration and
Telluride Film Festival. In addition to the summer festival calendar,
camping, hiking, biking, fly fishing, rafting, Jeeping and other outdoor
activities are popular. A free gondola provides easy year-round travel in the
It is much cooler today which makes us very happy.
The hotel's breakfast had a different type of egg dish (pre-made veggie omelets), but was otherwise the same.
Our final thoughts on Gunnison: The Pioneer Museum is interesting, but there isn't anything of major interest here. It is fine for a stopover, but it isn't a must-see by any means. Everyone we met was very friendly.
Our final thoughts on the Holiday Inn Express Gunnison: It was very nice, especially in the executive suite. The walls are thin, but that didn't bother us. Breakfast was OK. The staff is very helpful. We'd stay here again.
We started driving at 10:30am. The drive took us by the Blue Mesa Lake the housekeeper at the hotel told us we should see. It is a nice lake and it is full to overflowing. It would be a good place to go fishing if you're into that.
The first part of our drive takes about an hour to the entrance to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The entrance fee is $10 (we used our pass). The ranger told us to be sure to stop at the visitor center a mile up the road. Before that there is a viewpoint overlooking part of the canyon. There are a lot of people here, but there were always plenty of parking spaces at each stop.
The visitor center had the most people we saw all day. From the viewing area out on the edge of the cliff there is a spectacular view of the canyon. That's just shades of things to come. Click to view a MAP of the park.
From the various turnouts and viewpoints you can see fantastic views of the river far below. The canyon is thousands of feet deep with dark red sheer stone walls veined with a lighter colored stone. It is amazing to think that a river could carve this incredible canyon through solid rock.
There are many places to stop and gaze at the view. Some offer a dizzying view straight down to the river thousands of feet below. After about an hour we reached the end of the road for the long view to the end of the canyon. If you are so inclined, there is a 1750 yard hike out to the very end of the edge, but we're not quite that ambitious.
From here it is about two more hours to Telluride. The canyon rim is almost 8,000 feet and the lowest we went during the drive to Telluride is 6,000. Then back up into the mountains again to reach the ski resort. The approach and overall location of Telluride is much more dramatic than Aspen's. The drive out of Aspen is breathtaking, but in Telluride everywhere you look is incredible. The town is smaller and easier to get around than Aspen, so for a quick assessment we'd choose Telluride over Aspen if we could only visit one of them.
We arrived at Camel's Garden Hotel around 4:00pm. The city is gearing up for tomorrow's Fourth of July festivities, so parking is at a premium. The main drag will be closed for a parade and other events in the early afternoon. The hotel is a couple blocks off of the main shopping street next door to the free Gondola to Mountain Village.
We pulled into the underground parking at the hotel and found all of the spaces filled except for the ones designated for the condominiums that are also part of the building. Bill stayed with the car while Dave went to check in and see what to do about parking. The guy at the front desk said he's go "sort it out", which he did. He told Bill to park in one of the reserved spaces.
Our reservation is for a Deluxe 2 Queen room. The room number on our confirmation is #103, but we are assigned to room #302 on the top floor. As you recall, we aren't thrilled about this place because it doesn't have air conditioning. Well, they must have received our vibes because we were upgraded to a two bedroom, 2-1/2 bath condominium that must be at least 1,500 square feet. It has a gas fireplace in the living room, a dining table for six people, a full kitchen with very upscale appliances, a master bedroom with a king bed, a second bedroom with twin beds. Each bedroom has a full bath with the master having a jetted tub in addition to a shower. There's a powder room off the foyer and a laundry room with a stacked washer/dryer. The deck in back is huge. too bad we don't know anyone here because this place is fully equipped for a party. There is a huge waterfall at the end of town that falls from the highest peak and we have a perfect view of it from our room.
The windows were open when we arrived, but a violent thunderstorm rolled in and we had to close most of them. So, it is too warm to suit us. They do provide several fans, so we broke those out hoping to cool things down before dinner.
We went to the restaurant downstairs off the lobby at 6:00pm. It is a BBQ place where you order at the counter and a waitress delivers it to your table. We read the reviews about the BBQ items and they're pretty bad, so we ordered other things. Click to view the MENU for Oak. Bill ordered the Grilled Chicken Sandwich with a side salad; Dave had the Mac & Cheese with Bacon. Both were generous portions and were pretty good. We probably won't eat here again because there are so many places to choose from in town, but it served the purpose for tonight.
We wandered around a few blocks near the hotel just to check things out. The park where the fireworks are tomorrow night is near the hotel, so we can see them from our deck. There is a parade at 11:00am we'll probably check out.
Dave received an email from Chase Bank with a fraud warning on the credit card he only uses for restaurants while we're traveling. This happens EVERY time we leave the house. It isn't anything other than a bit of a hassle, but it is very annoying. Luckily the charge from the Holiday Inn went through because the card is the reward card for that chain.
There is all kinds of noise in the streets going on tonight. First there were high school band sounds, a few big firecracker explosions, cheering, etc. Apparently the celebration has started early.
Day 30: Saturday, July 4 - Telluride - Camel's Garden Hotel
It looks like it might rain later, but it is pleasant this morning.
The free hotel breakfast really is "Continental" with no hot food at all. There are donuts, bread for toast, cereal, yogurt and that's it. No fruit or anything else. The woman working the room was extremely chatty and had lots of helpful information about the 4th of July activities today. She told us to just walk up to the main street for the parade at 11:00am and that we can sit on our deck to see the fireworks tonight. We didn't know if the fireworks would be aerial or displays on the ground, but she told us they are shot from a hill and we will be able to see them. Apparently they spent an extra amount of money this year, so they should be good.
At 10:30am we walked up to the parade route. It is crowded, but in a fun, convivial kind of way. Everyone seems in the mood to have fun and watch the parade. Many people have their dog(s) with them, so it is extra fun. The little black and white dog in front of us was very friendly. He escaped from his collar one time and was so horrified that he froze in his tracks. Another dog nearby has a better haircut than either of us.
Just before the parade began there were two flyovers by Air Force fighter jets that was very impressive. They took off straight up the street and followed the mountains up at the end. It certainly was a crowd pleaser!
As usual with these hometown parades, it starts with a fire truck. Well, the true first thing in the parade was a middle-aged woman dressed as a sparkly Statue of Liberty waving a twirling glitter wand. A group of people on the roof of the building across the street started throwing beach balls into the crowd. The crowd loved it, but the guy trying to keep the parade running wasn't amused. He tried to stop them, so they dumped a huge bag of them all at once.
Most of the parade was random groups of dressed up dogs or little kids in wagons with no particular point. It got better as it went along though. A swim team on the back of a truck sprayed the crowd with water, but the crowd fought back with water guns of their own. This kind of thing went on for most of the parade, but we were far enough back that we didn't get wet. We found the only shady spot along the route, so we were comfortable.
The woman at the hotel told us to be sure to watch for the "Men Without Rhythm" group. This consisted of a crowd of men in hospital gowns with walkers being herded along by "nurses" in white fishnet stockings. The Tellu-Pride float was well received. A particularly creative float was by the Telluride Fire Festival (sort of like Burning Man). The roof of the float was actually afire.
The parade lasted over an hour. The best part is the people and dog watching, but the whole atmosphere was patriotic and fun. You sure can't beat the backdrop of towering mountains. The crowd cleared our fairly quickly, so we walked up the street to look at some of the historic buildings. The New Sheridan is an old saloon that has been in operation forever. The courthouse is where the parade began. The whole street is very well preserved and lined with buildings from the 1800's.
We kind of looked for a place to have lunch, but everyplace is way too crowded. The line for the free gondola to Mountain Village is four blocks long, so that's not happening today either. After wandering around a bit just to see what's going on, we went back to the hotel. Dave went to the front desk to report that none of the electrical outlets in any of our three bathrooms works. The woman at the desk acted appalled and got on the radio to call someone to fix it, but it never was.
A dramatic thunderstorm arrived around 2:00pm and it poured buckets of rain for about half an hour. This happens every day, so apparently it is normal. We can see the gondola line from our window and everyone in it was soaked. It isn't cold, so nobody seems to mind getting wet.
We didn't go out again until around 5:00pm when we walked up the street to Smuggler's Brew Pub for dinner. Had we arrived any later the wait would have been an hour, but we were seated within about five minutes. We'll cut to the chase and say right up front that we hate places like this. We had a lovely view of buttcracks seated at the bar directly in front of us, it is extremely noisy, and the service is terrible. Our waiter was nice enough, but clearly overwhelmed. He told us three times he's be right with us. After about fifteen minutes he took our drink order that someone else had to deliver. After we finally ordered food it took 45 minutes to get it. Luckily all of it was outstanding. Bill had a steak and Dave had a grilled chicken sandwich. Both were great and could not have been better. The sandwich had avocado and some sort of interesting sauce on it. We didn't have dessert because we wanted to get the heck out of there.
We wandered toward the Town Park where the fireworks are tonight just to check out the remaining shops and to see if there are any ice cream places (there are not). We were back at the hotel around 7:30pm. We set up our patio chairs for the fireworks viewing later on.
At 8:30pm we set ourselves up outside on the deck. There was a pre-show of sorts with private parties setting off fairly elaborate (and probably illegal) fireworks from the hillsides. After sitting out there for over an hour we began to wonder if maybe that was the show. Finally, Dave decided that if he went in for a bathroom break it would make the show start...which, in fact, it did.
The fireworks started at 9:33pm and didn't stop until after 10:00pm. It was literally non-stop HUGE fireworks for the entire time. We could not have had better seats if we had planned it. It was like the show was staged just for us. We've never seen fireworks almost right in our face before. For a small town, even one with money, this was a very impressive show. It is made all the more dramatic by the towering mountains that form a gigantic natural amphitheater that echoes the blasts. Wow! Here a VIDEO of just three minutes of the show.
At the end, a cheer erupted from the entire valley that is impossible to describe. We were very impressed and you know it is hard to do that. Once the show ended...with fireworks that spelled out U-S-A in the sky...the amateurs kept going. This town sure does know how to put on a celebration!
Of course, then the smoke filled the valley and killed us all, but you can read about that in the paper tomorrow.
Day 31: Sunday, July 5 - Telluride - Camel's Garden Hotel
It is cloudy and cool today, only in the 60's.
The hotel's breakfast this morning is very minimal. They don't even have bread today ("We didn't get any this morning.") So, here's the rundown on what this hotel calls breakfast: Coffee, tea, sugary pastries/donuts, bagels, Cheerios, granola, orange juice, cranberry juice, yogurt, milk. That's it. The woman working the room this morning was very surly. We assume she's hung over from partying too hard last night. That's how she looks anyway.
At 11:00am we walked the short distance to the free gondola to Mountain Village. A woman at the information counter out front (with her dog) gave us a map and told us to go all the way to the top for the view. This gondola system is the most up-to-date so far. It runs at 11MPH, so is very fast. The cars hold eight people, but we were never in one with more than six. It wasn't at all busy, but they still filled the cabins.
The first station is only for the ski season or to visit the attached restaurant, so we didn't disembark there. Next is the Mountain Village station where you have to change to another gondola up to the top which is the Mountain Village Town Hall & Market. There is also a big parking garage there. We're not sure why the info woman told us to go up there because there's no view at all. Mountain Village is in a valley, not at the top of a mountain. Anyway, we needed some things from the grocery store. After finding what we need we took the gondola back down to the Mountain Village Station.
Gondola Plaza overlooks the base of the ski area. In the summer there are various activities set up. Today there is a shallow pool with kids inside giant beach balls bouncing around while others are doing a rope course overhead. There is a mountain view from the plaza, but it isn't as spectacular as from Telluride itself.
Mountain Village is all new. There are several hotels and inns mixed among the upscale condominiums. There are several real estate offices and sales offices for the condo projects. It is all very attractive, but who is buying all of these expensive properties? Between this area and the upper one where the market is there are lots and houses for sale. Telluride is a VERY expensive real estate market, but judging by the quantity of homes on the market most of the sellers are dreaming if they expect to get the prices they're asking. As an aside, we heard an owner of our hotel/condo telling someone that the condos sell for over $2,000,000. That's outlandish. In no way is the condo unit we are in worth that much. There are houses in Mountain Village that are 5,000 square feet that are less than that. However, there is a bungalow for sale near the hotel for a bargain price of $5,499,000 if you are in the market.
This area is attractive and they have many activities scattered around. We sat and watched people jumping on the Anti Gravity apparatus. Even little kids were doing it, but we got bored with the tiny kids since they didn't do anything except bounce around. The teenagers did flips and were more entertaining to watch. As in Telluride, it seems like everyone has a dog or two with them.
We followed a sign toward a pond at the back of the shopping area. The buildings house a Fairmont Hotel, but we're not sure where the hotel ends and the condos begin. It all looks pretty much the same. Nothing wrong with that, but there's nothing particularly unique about it either. Back in the middle of the shopping area, we passed through a kiddie area where a woman dressed as a clown tried to convince us to dress up and take a picture in the photo booth. That is not happening!
Through a breezeway is a restaurant with flaming tables. It might be nice in the middle of winter, but no way we'd want to sit there today.
We took a break for lunch at the Tomboy Tavern because it seems to be doing the most business. The patio was full, but we don't mind sitting inside. It looks like it might rain at any moment, by the way. Click to view the MENU. The service was fine, but the food was hit and miss. The hit was Bill's Chicken Pot Pie that he liked a lot. The miss was Dave's Brisket that was mostly fat and had the consistency of half-cooked bacon drenched in BBQ sauce. The cole slaw with it was cut at the wrong angle and was impossible to eat, so he didn't bother. We wouldn't go to this place again. Apparently the crowd is due to the location right at the bottom of the gondola exit and has nothing to do with the food.
We wandered around the area a bit more enjoying all of the dogs out and about. It is nice to see so many dogs that are socialized to the point of being well behaved in public. The base of the ski area is a big grassy meadow that the dogs love. Whether their owners are thrilled picking up after them in this grass is another story. The ski runs and lifts here are much newer than the other places we've been. Too bad they don't run the chair lifts as tourist attractions in the summer because it looks like it would be fun to ride them up and back.
We took the gondola back down to Telluride and arrived at 2:30pm. It started to rain and then pour when we got back to the hotel. It rained off and on for the rest of the day. We took advantage of the washer/dryer in our unit and caught up on our napping skills. It is actually slightly chilly this afternoon, but not enough to close the windows yet. We do have to close some of them when it rains or the wood blinds get wet. Seems odd that the hotel leaves them open when nobody is in the unit because it seems to rain every afternoon.
At 6:30pm we started thinking about where to go for dinner. There is a highly rated place just up the street, so we walked over there. The rain has cleared out leaving some mysterious clouds decorating the mountain behind the town. The town is empty tonight compared to yesterday, so we didn't think it would be necessary to make a reservation. Apparently we were wrong because the friendly woman at the podium said she doesn't have anything in the dining room until 8:30pm, but we can sit in the bar if we want to. That didn't appeal to us at all, so Bill suggested the patio out front. She had forgotten about it because of the rain, but she said that would be fine. It was slightly chilly, but not unpleasant. It is fun to people/dog watch outside seated literally inches from the sidewalk.
Click to view the MENU for La Marmotte. A waiter brought us bread and olive oil to dip it in. Do people really like this? We don't get it. Anyway, he came back later and asked if we had a reservation. Then he asked if we seated ourselves. We explained that we know better than to do that and what's the point of this? (He was nice about it, not rude at all.) He told us that whoever seated us did not write it down and they are missing some of their reservations, so he just wanted to know if we are one of them so he could mark it off the list. It was weird, but not offensive.
Dave ordered the "Rocket" Salad that isn't on the menu above, and the Hangar Steak. Bill ordered the Lamb Shank. The salad was much better than expected. It was simple, but had several subtle flavors that were perfect. Both entrees were also outstanding, but we'll give the edge to the lamb. The steak was good, but not as tender as it should be. Still, we both enjoyed our entire meal. We had a Mixed Berry Crumble for dessert that was OK, but nothing special.
All in all this was a nice place to eat. There were several lulls between courses that were way too long, but it wasn't terrible since it was pleasant and quiet on the patio. We'd go to this restaurant again. We both agree that Telluride is a very agreeable town. It isn't in-your-face wealthy like Aspen and is easier to get around. There isn't any traffic to speak of, so walking around is pleasant. The scenery is way more dramatic here, too.
We weren't out of the restaurant until after 8:30pm, so everything in town is closed. We walked directly back to the hotel which is less than a block away.
Day 32: Monday, July 6 - Drive to Durango - General Palmer Hotel
Located in southwestern Colorado, Durango features numerous lodging and
entertainment opportunities that feature something for the even the most
discerning tastes. You'll find that Durango is the ideal destination for your
next family vacation, business trip, or group outing. Durango offers a variety
of outdoor activities and sightseeing opportunities. Climb aboard the historic
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for a leisurely trip through the
canyons of southwest Colorado’s San Juan National Forest, or visit one of the
area's outdoor playgrounds and enjoy miles of world-class skiing, hiking, and
mountain biking trails. Check out southwestern Colorado’s cosmopolitan side when
you experience all of the comforts and attractions that downtown Durango has to
offer. Immerse yourself in our town’s vibrant heritage on a walking tour through
historic downtown, and savor a gourmet meal at one of the area’s many cafés or
restaurants. Take in a show at a Durango theater or music venue, or feed your
creative side at one of Durango’s museums or art galleries.
It is sunny, but only in the 60's this morning.
The hotel's breakfast was the same as yesterday. So, no bread at all. The bagels were picked over, as well. Why do they even bother to serve something so poor? The same surly attendant was there, so no excuses of being hung over.
Our final thoughts on Telluride: This is one of the most overall pleasant towns we've stayed in so far. The scenery is spectacular, the town is pretty, there are lots of restaurants and shops to browse, and the people are nice. There's no traffic because there isn't a major highway running through town. The road to get here dead ends at the mountain. The free gondola to Mountain Village adds additional dining options, although we think the ones in Telluride proper are better. We'd make it a point to come back here someday and recommend it to everyone.
Our final thoughts on the Camel's Garden Hotel: Our opinion might be different had we not been upgraded to the fabulous condo unit. Based on that we loved it here. The view we had of the fireworks show has to be the best in town. It was worth it just for that. However, setting aside the generous upgrade, we're not sure we'd stay here again. There are a few minor reasons, but the main one is no air conditioning. That's fine in winter, but it gets hot here in the summer. In the condo we have windows on three sides so the air moves through, but in a regular room that wouldn't be the case. Still, this is a nice place and the prices are reasonable (for Telluride). The location is ideal. However, we're up in the air whether we'd stay here again.
We checked out at 11:00am and hauled our stuff down to the parking garage/cave. It is very wet down there with water dripping everywhere. That can't be good, can it? Dave went up to turn in the keys and told the desk clerk that the electrical outlets in the bathroom still don't work and that there is a leak by the skylight in the bathroom. We don't care about either of these things, but we want to let them know they need to be fixed. Dave thought he had already been charged for the entire stay, so the manager came out to convince him he hadn't. She said they no longer charge in full 45 days in advance. That's a good thing if it is true. She was appalled to find out that the electrical problem wasn't attended to. She demanded to know (from the desk clerk) who went up to check it. It was the owner, by the way. She insisted on refunding us $50+tax per night! We were already upgraded to a condo and now she's giving us back $168? OMG! Dave did give her the opportunity to back out because we really weren't inconvenienced at all, but she gave us the refund anyway. So, we ended up paying only $225 per night for a 2-bedroom, 2.5 bathroom fully equipped condo with the best view of the fireworks you can get. Not too shabby!
On the way out of Telluride, we detoured into the Mountain Village residential area. It is a beautiful area, but very artificial. The houses are big, but not outrageous. The HOA fees must be very high to support such lovely landscaping.
It takes about two hours to drive from Telluride to Durango. The drive is beyond scenic. That's probably why this route is called a Scenic Skyway. The road climbs up through a high mountain pass with a few viewpoints along the way. There are a couple of old mining towns, but they aren't particularly interesting and look very run down. One has a preserved silver mine elevator right next to the road.
After passing through the mountains the road descends a bit and the scenery becomes farmland and pastures. The sky became black and then big bolts of lightening started striking the hills. Just a few miles from Durango it started to pour rain in gigantic drops. The rain continued until we arrived a the hotel. We intended to find someplace for lunch since it is too early to check in (1:30pm), but we couldn't find anywhere to park. So, we circled back around and turned into the hotel's parking lot. Dave went inside and although the room isn't ready he was given a parking pass. The woman at the desk took our cellphone number and said she'd call us when the room is ready. She recommended a couple of nearby restaurants for lunch.
It started pouring in buckets again, so we stood under the covered entrance at the back of the hotel and chatted with the bellman for a few minutes. He suggested a few more restaurants.
We ended up walking to The Palace Restaurant across the parking lot. It is adjacent to the Durango-Silverton Train Depot that is the biggest tourist attraction in town. We were seated in the bar area, but they have a huge outdoor patio and a dining room, as well. The food was outstanding. The grilled chicken sandwich Dave had was perhaps the best sandwich he's had during the entire trip. Bill's grilled chicken Caesar salad was fine, but nothing special. The service was friendly. While we were eating the woman from the hotel called and said we can come pick up our keys.
The call about our room being ready is the first time ever that a hotel has actually called us as promised. Dave praised the woman at the desk and told her she's starting off on the right foot by actually following through.
The General Palmer Hotel is historic, from the 1800's, but is in very good condition. They have modernized what it absolutely necessary, but have kept an old fashioned elevator. The lobby is appropriately old time western, but it is clean and not at all dusty or musty. It is located on a corner near the train station end of town, so everything is in walking distance.
We booked the Presidential Suite. Don't get excited. It is only $250 per night and isn't all that elaborate. The decor is what Dave refers to as "Hussy Whore", but it is clean. Two of the lights in the room don't work and some of the wallpaper is peeling, but it is fine. We have a 1980's wet bar if we want to have a party. The bathroom is straight out of the 80's, too. Who thinks that showering in a huge jetted tub is a good design choice? The room is large with a very high king sized bed with a teddy bear sitting on it. The sitting area has a leather sofa and rocking chair that are very dated. The view is of the downtown intersection in front of the hotel.
We're meeting one of Dave's Disneyland friends for dinner tonight, so we just rested and waited to find out where and when. We met him and his wife, plus two of their friends, in the lobby at 6:30pm. Dave worked with his wife's sister, so we're all connected in one way or another. When Disneyland people get together it is like old geezers telling WWII stories, which is pretty much what it was like for the rest of the night. Everyone got along and had a great time.
We all wandered the streets chatting and looking for a place to eat where we could talk, too. Eventually we found a table in the back of the Irish Embassy Pub. The waitress was a good sport and put up with our lengthy decision-making process. We were too busy talking to look at the menu, but that's what happens when you haven't seen someone for 35 years. She didn't seem to mind at all.
Click to view the MENU. Dave ordered the Pot Roast; Bill had Shepherd's Pie. The food was very good and enormous portions. Of course, when so much talking is going on one hardly notices the food, but we do remember it being excellent. We talked for several hours about Disneyland and caught up on our lives and such. You know, the usual things when you haven't seen someone in forever. We're hoping to get together again before we leave town.
There are countless historic saloons and other buildings along the main street in town. We'll do some exploring over the next couple of days. Tonight was all about the conversation.
Day 33: Tuesday, July 7 - Durango - General Palmer Hotel
It is significantly cooler today and overcast.
The hotel's free breakfast is served in a tiny room off the lobby. It isn't crowded this morning, but there are only three tables in the room. The food is fine. It is about the same as any complimentary breakfast. The hotel items are prefab fried eggs, sausage, biscuits and muffins. All in all, it is OK, but nothing special.
We dawdled around this morning and didn't set out for Silverton until around noon. It is starting to rain lightly, but since we're not doing anything major outdoors today it shouldn't make any difference. These old towns are very annoying to drive around in. We wanted to get to a gas station less than two blocks away, but the traffic is so ridiculous at the exit to the hotel's parking lot that we had to go way around several blocks to get pointed in the right direction.
The drive to Silverton takes about an hour along the extremely scenic San Juan Skyway. The route climbs about 10,000 at Silverton. The Durango-Silverton Railroad follows this same route, but it takes three and a half hours one way. If you are into forced camaraderie have at it. Most people seem to enjoy it, but that's too long for us to sit on a train. We can see the beautiful mountain scenery just fine from the turnouts along the highway.
Our first destination today is the Old Hundred Mine Tour about six miles beyond Silverton. We stopped at an interpretive site for the Mayflower Mill first. There are several mines visible on the hillside across the river plus some ruins, but it is very scenic nonetheless. From the mill there is an old tramway that crosses the river and disappears into the valley. This was built in 1929 and looks like it could start up again tomorrow. The ore cars are still hanging on the cable right where they stopped in 1963. We passed a sign advertising a tour of the mill, so we'll stop there on the way back to town.
We arrived at the mine tour just before 2:00pm. This was perfect timing because the next tour is getting ready to leave. A very nice woman at the counter took our admission (Dave got a discount again) and told us to put on a rain slicker and hard hat, then to wait outside. The jackets are wet and disgusting, but the hats are OK.
Almost immediately we were herded into an authentic mine train. One question. Why do people bring newborns and toddlers on tours like this? It is a real mine, so it is wet, cold and noisy. The train we are in is the one they actually used to take miners to work, so it isn't at all luxurious. They do have a towel in each of the two cars to wipe off the wet seats. An authentic old miner came out and gave us safety instructions. He's quite a character and very entertaining.
Soon we were riding into the mine. It takes a few minutes to get into the tunnel. There is water dripping and/or cascading from the ceiling, hence the yellow rain jackets and hard hats. We'd have been soaked without them and it is very cold. In the mine it is always less than 50 degrees. The tunnel goes one mile into the base of the mountain, but we only went about 3/4 of a mile before getting off the train in the mine.
The tour takes about an hour along very wet walkways. They have paved the floor, so it is fairly smooth, but there is a trench along the side of each tunnel that constantly flows with water from natural springs. The water is clear now, but when the mine was operating it was anything but that. The miner demonstrated a compressed air drill which was extremely loud. The entire place shook and reverberated with what resembles thunder when he activated it.
The level we are on was the last one built in the 1970's before the mine was closed. The walls are solid granite, so it doesn't need the wood timbers the upper levels do. There are five more levels going up to the top of the mountain that is at 12,000 feet. The next level up is 60 stories above this one. This mine never made any money, but a new owner used it to transport ore from a mine a mile away by digging a tunnel and dropping the ore down to the tunnel where we came in to be taken out of the mountain. The upper levels are no longer safe to enter. Some have collapsed and others are unstable.
We also saw a demonstration of an ore transfer cart that was very noisy, but it saved a lot of time and effort getting the ore off the floor and into an ore cart. Then we were ushered back into the train for the trip back out of the mine. We very much enjoyed the tour and would recommend it if you are in the area. It isn't advertised very well, so you have to know it is there. We found it in a Google search and our GPS has it listed as an attraction.
Outside there are ruins down by the river. The miner told us to walk a bit up the road and we could see a three story bunkhouse WAY up on the mountain. It was built to house the miners so they didn't have to make the trek back down the mountain every day. It was used for only a few years, but it remains intact near the 12,000 foot summit. A distance below it is the entrance to the next level up from where we were.
We drove a few miles back toward Silverton and turned off at the entrance to the Mayflower Mill. This is where the ore from the local mines was taken to be processed. It operated until the 1970's when it was abruptly shut down. The workers had no warning that it was to shut down, so everything was left exactly as it was when it closed. One of the workers left his kid's sports trophies behind in the machine shop. The mill owners assumed they would reopen when conditions improved, so they didn't dismantle the machinery. When the historic society heard that they had given up and were going to sell the equipment they made a bid to preserve it as a historical monument. It remains to this day exactly as it was the day it shut down.
The guy at the admission desk was extremely friendly and gave us a fantastic orientation talk. The tour is self guided, so you can take as much time as you want to look at things. His explanation brought everything to life for us. Otherwise it would just be a jumble of machinery. There are explanatory plaques at each major thing, but listening to him was much more informative.
After walking through the machine shop, we walked back outside. The view is incredible from up there, but the workers probably never noticed it. The first stop is in the tramway terminal. It looks like you could flip a switch and start it up, except for part of the track that is missing. When the plant was upgraded they needed some extra space, so they had to cut off the turnaround at the end of the track. However, they left the ore cars hanging right where they were on the last day of operation. The weight of the ore in the cars operated the tramway by gravity, so they only needed a small motor to get it started. After the plant was upgraded the ore arrived by truck, so they didn't need the trams anymore and they stopped using it in 1963.
The tour continues past the newer ore crushers and the conveyer belts that fed them that are still full of ore. Since the workers expected to come in the next day, nothing was emptied out. It is like the workers simply vanished and left the plant as it was and still is.
Some of the machinery can still be operated by pushing a button. One of these is a giant auger that moved the ore up from the chutes to the crushers. Dave loves this kind of thing. Bill is a big baby and won't push buttons because it might make noise. You can imagine how fun it was for Dave to push the button to demonstrate the alarm that sounded when something clogged.
The foreman's office is creepy. As with everything else, it was left as though he was coming back the next day. There are still calendars from 1991 on the wall which is the last year the plant operated. The mill was so efficient that the entire thing could be operated by three men on the night shift. It ran 24/7.
There is huge section where big vats of water with various surfactants separated the base metals from the slurry made from all of the crushing. Lead went one way, zinc another. Gold went to its own section that was highly secured. It was processed into bars on the premises. One of the machines that still works is the little water wheel type thing that added measured amounts of chemicals to the water to extract the different metals. There is much more to it than we can cover here, but be assured that it is a very worthwhile excursion if you are in Silverton. The mill isn't advertised at all, but it is on the way to and from the mine tour, so you can't miss it. This was the highlight of our day mostly because of the wonderful explanation by the volunteer on duty.
There are all sorts of structures to look out outside, too. Of course, you can't miss the view of the mountains all around.
By the time we finished with both tours it was nearly 5:30pm, so we hightailed it back to Silverton to check it out before it starts to pour rain. There is an old courthouse that is very fancy for the time. The firehouse is equally ornate. All of this would have become a ghost town very quickly if one man hadn't seen the potential in mining a different mountain and keeping the mill going as well as the train. That train line still brings in the lifeblood of the town which is, of course, tourists. There aren't any left at this time of day, so it is very quiet.
We wandered the three blocks of shops and restaurants, but this is the epitome of tacky tourist destinations. The buildings are certainly worth looking at and there are a couple of nice shops, but for the most part you'll find T-shirts and trinkets. That's not to say it isn't worthwhile coming here, but don't set your expectations too high. The scenery is well worth the drive or train ride to get here and shouldn't be missed.
After checking out all of the shops and buying just one inexpensive ornament, we went into The Picket Barrel Restaurant for dinner. Click to view the MENU. The town dies after the last train leaves at 3:00pm, so there were only a few tables occupied. The young man who seated and served us was very polite. Dave ordered Chicken Parmesan (not on the downloaded menu) and Bill had the Walnut Crusted Chicken. Entrees come with a choice of soup or salad. The soup was Cajun Crab and Corn. It was very watery, but had a nice flavor. The salad was pretty basic, but fine. Both meals were good and generous portions. The food wasn't particularly anything amazing, but we were satisfied with them. For dessert we had apple pie and a sundae cheesecake. The apple pie was terrible, but edible (barely). The cheesecake was OK, but way to big a portion. It was plain cheesecake with a chocolate fudge topping.
We started driving back toward Durango at around 6:45pm, so we didn't arrive back at the hotel until almost 8:00pm. We saw numerous deer along the highway. We saw a mother and her fawn crossing an intersection in Durango on the way out of town. They were headed to a park across the street. Maybe the grass is greener there or something? A huge buck narrowly avoided being hit by traffic on the way back into town. He changed his mind and ran back into the forest in the nick of time.
Nothing we saw today was planned other than Silverton. The mine and the mill tours were totally unexpected, but pleasant surprises. We'd recommend both of them if you are in town or nearby.
Day 34: Wednesday, July 8 - Durango - General Palmer Hotel
The weather remains about the same...partly cloudy and pleasantly cool.
Breakfast at the hotel was the same as yesterday. We arrived just fifteen minutes before it ends at 10:00am and were the only guests there. Even so, everything was fully stocked and the woman working there didn't seem to mind at all that we arrived at the last minute. Most places slam the door and pick up the food at the stroke of closing time, but so far they haven't been in any hurry to close at this hotel. Kudos for that.
All we plan to do this afternoon is walk around downtown for a few hours. We are going to drive to Dave's Disneyland friend's house later today. There won't be much reporting about a personal event like that, but we'll give you some basics.
We started walking toward the train depot around 11:30am. It is less than a block away behind the hotel. The gift shop didn't interest us, so we looked for the free museum. We never would have found it on our own because it is outside and across the tracks. We overheard someone getting directions and followed them out the back door.
The museum is located in the old brick roundhouse across the tracks. As you know, we quickly glaze over at the mention of "museum", but this one is full of artifacts and models, so it holds enough of our attention to make it worthwhile. Plus, it is free, so we're not out anything if we get bored. We didn't spend a whole lot of time here, but it didn't bore us either. They still use half of the building for maintaining the trains to Silverton. The back of the roundhouse has a working turntable to direct the locomotives into whichever bay they want to use.
Back out on the street, we wandered back toward our hotel, but on the opposite side of the street. There is a very cute crepe cart on the corner with a flower bedecked seating area that is popular all day. Occasionally there will be some sort of performance here. Yesterday there was an group singing out there.
There is another historic hotel up the street about a block. It is larger and perhaps somewhat fancier than the General Palmer, but we're happy where we are. The prices at the Palmer are much more reasonable, as well. There are several blocks of historic buildings that house shops and restaurants. We checked out a few souvenir shops and had a nice, amusing conversation with a shopkeeper in a jewelry store. All of that dynamic activity used up a couple of hours, so it is now time for lunch.
We ended up at The Balcony Bar & Grill up a flight of stairs to what looks like a converted rooftop. Seating is at square picnic tables, so it is very casual. They have a band shell in one corner. Dave had the lunch special which is a smoked turkey sandwich with avocado and provolone. Bill had a grilled cheese with tomatoes. We both chose cole slaw as our side dish, but we only did that because we don't want potatoes. The sandwiches were very good and only cost about $7. This is the cheapest lunch we've had to far at $20.
We got back to the hotel around 2:30pm giving us just enough to pull ourselves together to drive to our afternoon appointment with Dave's friend. The drive is roughly in the direction of Silverton with a slight detour to the other side of a ridge. We won't say we live in the sticks anymore because at least our streets are paved. But, they have a huge advantage with a gorgeous view we could only dream of in California. They sure do know how to pick a location, that is for sure!
Much reminiscing and chatting about various subjects of interest only to us took up the rest of the afternoon. To reinforce the pastoral setting, a deer wandered through the yard while we were sitting outside. Eventually we all managed to shut up long enough to drive back to town for dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Tacos Nayarit. We haven't had much luck with Mexican food so far, but the food at this place was great. On the other hand, since we were talking the entire time the food wasn't really the focus, so even if it had sucked we probably wouldn't have noticed. When you put a bunch of old Disneyland cohorts together all we're going to do is retell our war stories and lament the fact that "those were the days".
As they say, "Time flies when you're having fun," so it was 10:00pm before we knew it and time to break up the party.
We're having problems connecting to the internet at this hotel, but what else is new? We're surprised in this day and age that most hotels can't manage to provide a reliable wi-fi connection. Heck, we'll be happy with a wired connection that works. When we can connect at all the speed is slower than dial-up. Dave has been connecting to a wi-fi signal from outside the hotel that is also slow, but at least it works most of the time.
Day 35: Thursday, July 9 - Drive to Mesa Verde National Park - Far View Lodge
Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of
the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D.
600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites,
including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best
preserved in the United States.
It is nice and cool today, in the high 60's and overcast.
Breakfast was the same as it has been every day. Nothing wrong with it, but kind of tedious. We've never seen more than four other people at breakfast, so maybe three tables is enough. There were a few people sitting out in the lounge/hallway though.
Our final thoughts on Durango: We enjoyed our stay in this town. There are lots of nice restaurants, so we'll need to come back to try more of them. Our focus was on visiting friends and the visit did not disappoint in that regard. We liked our day trip to Silverton and both of the mine related tours there. We'd definitely come back and would recommend a visit to anyone.
Our final thoughts on the General Palmer Hotel: It is a bit quirky and the rooms could use some sprucing up, but overall it is very nice. Our room was comfortable and very clean. The amenities in the bathroom are very generous and of good quality. Housekeeping is outstanding. The room was thoroughly cleaned very day, not just tidied up. All of the staff is very attentive and helpful. They're actually proactive at asking questions to be sure their guests are happy. With that said, the two lights we reported that don't work in our room were never repaired. But, that wouldn't stop us from staying here again. The location is fantastic and the rates are very reasonable for what you get. We'd stay here again, no question. If you want to book here be sure you check the website carefully because all of the rooms are different. Some of them are inside and do not have any windows, so be sure you know what you are reserving.
We left the hotel a little after 11:00am. The drive to Mesa Verde National Park only takes about forty minutes, so we'll try to find something on the way in to kill time. The only stop we made on the way to the park was for a photo of a kitschy roadside trading post.
We arrived at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center around 12:30pm. After looking at the displays for a few minutes, we noticed that the ranger at the information counter wasn't busy anymore. Dave asked her what we should do with two full days in the park. She recommended that we do all of Chapin Mesa today before checking in at the hotel and then book at tour for tomorrow to Long House in the Wetherill Mesa section. There are two other very popular tours of Balcony House and the Cliff Palace, but she referred to them as being in the "Disneyand zone". In other words, they are very crowded. We decided to only book the Long House tour ($4 per person) and we'll wait to see what we think about the others after driving by them later today.
Getting the tickets for the tour was no problem. We chose the 2:00pm tour on the advice of the ranger selling them because if there is lightning they cancel tours. If we're on the last tour at 4:00pm we're out of luck, but if the 2:00pm one is cancelled we are automatically moved to 4:00pm. OK fine. She told us to start driving no later than 1:15pm to get there on time.
Click to view a park MAP. We started following the entrance road into the park, stopping first at the Mancos Valley Overlook. The next stop is for an old road that was so narrow it was called the Knife Road. It was built in 1930 and abandoned when a better road was built. The cliffs in this area are striking.
Another stop is for the Geologic Overlook. This has something to do with being able to see 50 billion years back in time (or something like that). It is nice too look at, but we really didn't understand the point. We get that each layer in the stone represents a certain period of time and all that, but what else is new?
After passing Far View Lodge where we will be staying, we continued to the turnoff for the Chapin Mesa section. This part of the park is open year round and is the most popular. There are many stops along the route for various sites. The first is for a group of pit houses that are protected in hideous 1980's-style pavilions. Another pit house is a double circle. The first house burned down, which was common, so they built another one right next to the ruins.
The first cliff dwelling we get to see is the overlook for the Square Tower House. It is located off to the side of a small canyon. There is scaffolding erected in the center of it. Every ten years or so they have to go in a stabilize the structures again. The sign says that even with all of the constant restoration, 90% of what we see is original.
At Sun Point there is a tower with an attached kiva. Near here is a vantage point for a view of the famous Balcony House. There is a ranger-led tour available for this dwelling, but it is the most strenuous of all, so there's no chance we'll do this one. There are several ruins in this canyon. About every hundred feet or so there is another cliff dwelling such as Oak Tree House, Fire Temple, and New Fire House.
Another viewpoint provides a good view of the Cliff Palace. This is probably the most famous of the structures in the park. The ranger tours for this one are a little easier, but there are still ladders to climb and steep stone stairs.
A little further along the road there is a view of a canyon wall featuring Many Window House. Dwellings are crammed into every nook and crevice along the upper part of the canyon cliffs. There is a kiva perched on a ledge right below the viewpoint. Hemeway House is the last of the cliff dwellings we will see today and it is a distance away across a wide canyon.
We drove past the parking lots and meeting areas for the ranger tours of Cliff Palace and Balcony House and we are very glad we didn't book those. It is chaotic. We're happy with the view we had from across the canyon. We don't feel any need to climb down to see them up close and personal especially with fifty screaming children.
Out kind of by itself is the Sun Tower. Nearby are the ruins of several pueblos and the start of a 3/4-mile trail passing a few other ruins. Since these are a bit off the beaten path you can walk around the top of the structure and look at some of the details up close. Farther along the trail is a reservoir that must have taken forever to construct. There are more house ruins and a pueblo with several kivas in a row.
At this point we have completed the drive of all of the Chapin Mesa sites, so we're headed to Far View Lodge. It is well after the 3:00pm check-in time, so we're good to go. The girls at the reception desk were occupied with a man who needed to change rooms because his is defective in some way. He didn't ask to change rooms, but was just reporting the issue. They suggested the room change. Apparently the lodge is not as busy as we expected.
By the way, it wasn't hot in the slightest today, so we were very lucky. It is usually in the 90's this time of year, but today it was barely over 70. It is windy, too, so that helps when we're out walking. We won't be so bold as to suggest that we hiked except maybe the 3/4 mile loop to several ruins.
The lodge is a typical rundown motel-esque construction from the 1970's. Aramark runs all of the concessions in this park and they have done the best they can to update things, but there's only so much they can do. We have no clue why all national park hotels have to be so ramshackle. We booked a Kiva room which means we have air conditioning. All of the buildings look pretty much the same, so we're not sure what the difference is with the standard rooms besides no A/C. It is VERY hot here in the summer, so why don't they add air to all of the rooms so they could charge more? From the look of the parking lots (you park right in front of your door like at a motel), the standard buildings are not very popular.
We were told that if we want to eat in the Metate Room restaurant that reservations are required. That is in direct conflict with the website that says, "Reservations are not accepted." Whatever, we made a reservation for 6:15pm tonight. That gives up over an hour to settle in.
We drove a short distance to our building. Our room is at the end which is nice because we'll only have one neighbor. These old park hotels have almost no sound insulation. These buildings are single story, which is another plus. We parked in front of our door and had to force it open, literally. We're hoping we don't get trapped inside at some point.
The first thing you see is the room with the toilet and bathtub/shower combination to the right and a sink, small counter with a coffee maker, and a refrigerator below to the left. Whoever decided to mount the soap and lotion dispensers on the wall over the coffee maker should be fired. As usual, there is no place to put your toiletries, so the next two days will be a balancing act ala Icelandic bathrooms. At least everything is clean. There is a sign begging us to save water yet the faucet and bathtub constantly drip.
The room has two double (not queen) beds and the decor is relatively nice. There is a door to a rickety balcony. It doesn't quite fit the frame, so the wind whistles around it. There is a vent thing at the bottom that doesn't close completely, so it whistles also. The windows fit so poorly that the shade flaps out in the breeze even when they are closed and locked. It must be freezing in the fall. The lodge isn't open in the winter at all.
At 6:05pm we started walking back toward the reception building for dinner. It isn't very far, but it is threatening to rain at any moment. We walked up to the hostess at the Metate Room who was busy telling some guests what the desserts are. Someone else wanted to order take-out. There is a separate cafeteria nearby for that kind of thing, but both of them were obliged. When we finally did get to talk to someone we were seated right away.
Click to view the MENU. The restaurant is attractive-ish with a wall of curved windows overlooking the valley below. Our server is very nice, but she has a strange personality we can't quite put our finger on. She's very pleasant, but sort of like a Stepford Wife. We both ordered the Chicken Tortilla Soup which was not at all what we expected. It was sort of a very thick tomato chunky stew with black beans and chunks of chicken. It sounds gross, but we both liked it. We also got a basket of three kinds of bread. One was a chipotle flatbread, a regular flatbread, and a garlic herb bread. The herb bread was outstanding. The others weren't anything special.
Bill ordered the Beef Tenderloin and Dave had the Cowboy New York Strip Steak. Both entrees were outstanding and couldn't be improved upon. To say we were pleasantly surprised is an understatement. We're used to over priced, poorly executed food in park hotels, but this meal could stand on its own anywhere. It was really that good. The meat was very tasty and of high quality. We loved everything on the plate. Dave had a weird fried tortilla thing stuffed with mascarpone and chocolate chips. It was a good idea, but it didn't quite work. It tasted great, but it was a mess to eat. The price for the meal was $95 before tip, which we think is very reasonable under the circumstances especially for the quality of the food we received. We'll try to come back tomorrow. The service was better than most park hotels, too, but it is apparent that they hire pretty much anyone they can get.
On the lodge's website it says that breakfast is only served at the cafeteria restaurant across the parking lot. However, there is a small sign advertising a buffet in the Metate Room for $13.95, so we asked our server about it. She said there is indeed breakfast service in the restaurant from 7:30-10:00am. That sounds better than a cafeteria, doesn't it? It sure would help if the information on their website matched reality in some way.
It poured rain for about 30 minutes during dinner, but had stopped by the time we were finished. We found a couple things to buy in the gift shop and walked back to our room. It is quite chilly tonight, but not so much that we needed a jacket for the short walk.
It is noisy in the room because of the neighbors. They're not doing anything untoward, but there is virtually no sound insulation. It is also very windy, so every crack around every door and window is whistling.
While the room has been updated, they did a very poor job at finishing it. The paint looks like a first coat that wasn't quite finished. Nothing appears to be fitted properly either (like the doors and windows). It is a pity that the park service can't force their concessionaires to keep up these valuable assets properly.
Day 36: Friday, July 10 - Mesa Verde National Park - Far View Lodge
The weather is pleasant again, in the low 70's.
We walked to the Metate Room for breakfast. It isn't free, but $13.95 for a decent buffet isn't ridiculous under the circumstances. There were only three tables occupied at 9:15am. A server brings drinks and she was very friendly, as was everyone else working there. The buffet wasn't anything spectacular, but they have everything one would expect for a breakfast buffet. The ad out front says there are cooked-to-order omelets, but we saw no evidence of that.
After breakfast we drove over to the nearby gift shop and cafeteria-style restaurant. We found some stuff to buy in the shop and then went to the restaurant to pick up some sandwiches to eat before the tour. All of the food appears to be made to order with nothing prepackaged. Bill asked the cashier (we were the only customers) if they have food to go and she offered to have the kitchen make sandwiches for us. Then she listed all of the choices and went to order them. The service we have encountered everywhere in the this park is exemplary. Everyone goes out of their way to be helpful. Maybe it is the concessionaire Aramark? We have no idea, but we sure can tell it isn't run by Xanterra!
Around noon we started driving toward Wetherill Mesa where the tour starts. This park of the park is only open in the summer and it looks it. There are a few overlooks, but none of them are marked. We just sort of drove off whenever we saw a paved road and found some sort of view. None are very exciting since we've seen the valley view already, but it is odd they bothered to build the viewpoints and not label them. The signs were removed at some point because the foundations are still there. Everything is unkempt, too. It isn't as bad as the canyons section of Dinosaur N.M., but it is a close second.
It takes about 40 minutes to complete the drive, but since we stopped a couple of time we didn't arrive until just before 1:00pm. The entire mesa burned a few years ago, so the vegetation is mostly grasses and wildflowers. The trees are all dead skeletons. We wandered over to the information kiosk where the rangers are stationed to be sure we know where we are supposed to meet. Basically all the kiosk consists of is a small snack shop with a long aluminum room extending from it. The rangers are standing behind a wooden podium, so it isn't anything elaborate. However, there are actual restrooms with running water nearby, which is a plus.
The parking lot is huge, but mostly empty. We heard a ranger telling someone that since they discontinued the shuttle to the sites beyond this point that people have stopped coming. There are only four Long House tours per day with 30 people per tour. Apparently the area was becoming overcrowded and stopping the shuttle was the solution. Or they ran out of funding perhaps. There is one ruin you are allowed to tour on your own, an overlook for a cliff dwelling, and a five-mile paved loop (formerly the shuttle route) you can hike to some other sites.
We ate our sandwiches under one of the new shade structures. The original ones were destroyed in the fire, so everything here is new or refurbished. Well, except the semi-overgrown parking lot and walkways. The sandwiches were delicious, by the way. We both had roast beef, but they had several other choices.
At the appointed hour, we walked over to the ranger area and stood around waiting. The ranger, a feisty woman who is 80 if she's a day, went around asking each group where they are from. Her main goal was to be sure everyone is used to the altitude and has brought water with them. Apparently you can just show up and beg the ranger to let you join the tour if there is room. There is a metal post you have to shove your money into if you don't have a ticket.
The ranger gave an amusing introduction to explain what we're in for. As you will recall, we do NOT like to hike. If it is over a mile we are not interested AT ALL. This hike is over two miles round trip not counting the descent to the ruins and back up again. We knew this, so we're not surprised, but we're pointing out that this is not the type of activity we usually do. We'll tell you in advance that we are now 200% certain that we do NOT like to hike. We will NOT do it again and don't harass us about it! You can hike to your heart's content as long as you don't make us go with you.
With that said, the hike started along the paved former shuttle road. This part is over a mile and is slightly downhill, so not too bad. It isn't at all hot today, but if it was in the 90's like it usually is in summer around here, there is no way we'd be doing this.
At the turn-off for the trail to Long House, there is a locked gate that is only accessible if you have a ranger with you. It looks like it might have been open before, but not anymore. You cannot enter any of the sites without being on a ranger-led tour. That's for good reason obviously. People are assholes and can't be trusted, so having a ranger present is the only option.
The trail is paved, which is certainly a plus. Everyone stopped to gawk at a turquoise lizard until it got pissed with everyone snapping pictures and ran off. The trail down to the ruins is very steep and starts with several flights of concrete stairs that lead to a narrow switch back to the bottom. Going down isn't bad at all, but you have to come back up the same way. It takes about 45 minutes to get from the starting point to the ruins. We were amused by a foursome who have all sorts of hiking gear with them. They looked and acted like they were the leaders of the pack, but they quickly fell behind and had trouble keeping up. At least they shut up after that. The same can't be said for the French family who never shut the hell up the entire two hours! OMG people, can't you stop talking for five minutes and pay attention? Ugh.
The ruins become visible all at once after rounding a bend. Getting to the edge of them is easy and there are paved stairs down onto the large plaza. This arrangement with a central grand kiva and a plaza is unusual. After some information from the ranger we were told to gather on the plaza level where we would climb two ladders to get into the ruin. Climbing the ladders is easier than we expected. In fact, it isn't any problem at all.
We were directed to sit at the back of the cave so the ranger could explain several things. The "experienced" hiker people looked like they were about to faint <snicker>. The ranger became annoyed because people kept wandering where they don't belong and touching things they shouldn't (which is pretty much everything). She said she isn't a patient person by nature, so she has to restrain herself from not saying what she really wants to say to people. We like her.
We have no clue at this point what she told us other than she doesn't think people actually lived here long term and it was only for ceremonial use. That theory comes from the fact that there are seven kivas on each side of the ruin separated by the grand kiva in the center. Of course, this is assuming that these are kivas and not houses, but that's beside the point. Anyway, who cares really? It is interesting to be up inside the cave behind the ancient walls.
There is a seep spring with lush moss and greenery all along the back wall. In the floor are small channels etched into the sandstone to direct the water into small basins. Pretty convenient, huh? At the far end there is actually a small pool of water that has collected. There is quite a view of the entire canyon from here, so it is assumed this place was used as a defensive facility in some regard although warfare wasn't common in this area.
We had to climb down a four-foot ladder to get back to the plaza level. There is a great view of the overall ruins from this end. Inside the grand kiva there were more explanations of how people functioned here. The seep springs has started to move down a level, so there is a green area in the kiva now that wasn't there when it was built. Unfortunately this will eventually destroy part of the building as it erodes the stone foundation.
The ranger brings up the rear of the tour, so we were all on our own to make our way back up the way we came. This part is not fun at all and we absolutely hated every second of it. We liked it better at the beginning when it was sort of raining and overcast. Now it is sunny and warm, but not terrible. Even if it was freezing we wouldn't enjoy climbing back up. We did make it ahead of most of the group though.
Back on the paved roadway we passed a group of wild horses. There is a clear warning sign at the beginning explaining that these are wild feral horses and should not be approached. Do you think that prevented a group of people from stopping right in front of them? We didn't stay to see if they were stomped to death.
We could not get out of there fast enough. Was it worth it? No. We would not do it again and shouldn't have done it the first time. It just wasn't all that informative. There is no way in hell we'd ever consider doing the more popular tours. Hey, if you're into it, have at it. You can have our space.
After recovering in the car for a while, we drove back to the hotel without stopping. We arrived at around 5:00pm.
Just before 7:00pm we wandered to the Metate Room for our dinner reservation. We were seated at the same table we had last night, but with a different server. Everyone working here is very nice, but very strange. This woman spoke to everyone in a sort of singsong voice that's hard to describe. We do think she is genuinely friendly, but something is weird about her, too. That's immaterial since the service was still good.
Click to view the MENU. Dave tried to order the Pork Green Chili Stew, but they are out of it. Why don't the servers tell people what they are out of the same way they recite the specials? Anyway, he switched to the Apple-Walnut Salad that Bill had also. Dave had the Tortilla Crusted Chicken; Bill had the Pasta with Chicken. Dave didn't like the chicken at first because it was kind of dry, but then he realized that there was a sauce around the edge of the plate, which saved it. He ended up liking it. The pasta was good, but nothing memorable. We wouldn't rave about anything we had tonight, but only because it was a different choice. We just hit the jackpot last night, but there was nothing wrong with tonight's meal.
While we were eating a huge storm moved in. It started raining lightly as we were walking back to the room. We got somewhat wet, but it isn't cold so we didn't mind. We arrived back at the room around 8:30pm.
It rained for a while and there was some lightning, but nothing too dramatic. Later, starting around 10:00pm, huge hail stones started hitting the roof, so we opened the shade to check it out. The hail on the deck was more the 1/2" in diameter. That lasted a few minutes until the rain started pelting the windows in sheets. Mind you, the windows are three feet from the edge of the deck that is covered by a solid roof. Watching the glass bow in and out was a bit disconcerting. Bolts of lightning lit up the hills in the distance. The lightning continued for hours, but the rain wasn't nearly as dramatic after the first bout.
Day 37: Saturday, July 11 - Drive to Gallup - Hilton Garden Inn
Gallup is a fantastic place to begin your New Mexico adventure. Whether your
interests lie in culture, history, sports and outdoor activities, shopping, or
exploring the beauty of the Southwest, Gallup has it all! Amid the 200 million
year-old cliffs at the city’s Red Rock Park and Museum, you’ll discover
archeological sites that record the presence of the Anasazi culture, which
inhabited the area from approximately 300-1200 CE. The Red Rock Museum has
interpretive displays featuring the ancient past alongside more recent
contributions from the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi tribes.
There was a dramatic rain storm at around 7:00am, but it is bright and sunny at breakfast time this morning.
We walked down to the Metate Room at 9:00am for breakfast. There is only one other table occupied this morning, but the buffet is fully stocked and the staff is as pleasant as ever. We were served by an older white woman in dreadlocks complete with beads. It is not a good look for her, but she's extremely nice so we'll overlook the hairdo. The food is fine.
Our final thoughts on Mesa Verde National Park: It is definitely worth a visit, but be sure to allow enough time if you want to hike or take any of the tours to ruins. There is no way to do more than one of those in a day unless you are extremely fit and acclimated to the altitude. The drive to the various viewpoints can be done in half a day. The only areas that are crowded are the meeting points for the two most popular tours and the parking lot for the museum, restaurant, and self-guided ruins hike. We had to skip it because there were no parking places and the park was not crowded. If you do want to hike go to the less crowded Wetherill Mesa and you'll find a day's worth and more of things to see IF you hike. There's nothing there to see if you don't walk at least a mile.
Our final thoughts on the Far View Lodge: It is a typically average national park hotel built on the cheap. Aramark is doing a good job of managing it. The staff is fantastic, the food is good, and the prices are reasonable. We saw maintenance people all over the property, so they are trying to keep up with it, but there's only so much they can do with crappy construction. Our room was fine and we slept well. The price wasn't too out of line and we had a spectacular view. We'd stay here again. It wastes too much time commuting if you stay outside the park in Cortez, which is the nearest city with lots of motels.
We checked out at 11:00am and started driving toward Gallup. After turning south at Cortez that landscape quickly dries out and turns to mostly scrub land. It isn't too hot today; it was around 80 most of the day. We didn't make any stops during the three-hour drive to Gallup.
After about an hour we crossed into New Mexico. Most of the time we were traveling through the Navajo Nation. There are several towering rock formations including Shiprock that can be seen from Mesa Verde. Otherwise, the scenery consists of scrub, trailer homes, and graffiti covered signs. It isn't very pretty.
The same can be said for Gallup, but the Hilton Garden Inn is off the freeway in a new section. There is a new Home Depot and Walmart adjacent to it, plus several other chain hotels. The Hilton is the newest of the hotels here, so it is very nice. We usually like Hilton Garden Inns and since we can stay here using points it is even more appealing.
We arrived at the hotel at 2:00pm. The woman at the front desk apologized that our room wouldn't be ready for five minutes. We know we're early, so no big deal. The parking lot in front is full, but we found a spot right by the back entrance. We were given keys and told we can go up in a few minutes.
There is an Applebee's and a Carl's Jr. next to the hotel, so we walked over to Carl's for some lunch. Everyone who cringed when we told them we are staying in Gallup is pretty much on target. The clientele at Carl's left a lot to be desired, but the food was OK.
Back at the hotel, we went up to our room on the fourth floor. Most Hilton brand hotels allow you to check in online and select a room. We like this feature mostly because we can choose a room on the top floor, so we don't have listen to people stomp over our head all night. In this case, we did that and are very glad we did. The hotel is overrun with some sort of boys' sports teams. The kids are maybe 12-14 or less. We'd go nuts if they were above us running around, but they aren't a bother in this case.
The room is typical standard issue Hilton Garden Inn, so it is very nice. There's nothing special about it, but nothing wrong either. Their rooms are well thought out and the bathrooms are spacious with nice amenities. The window doesn't open which is a drag because there is some sort of strong citrus scent that is too strong. We're happy to see that this chain has abandoned the annoying adjustable beds they used to have. They never worked and were usually too hard and bulged up in the center. Everything looks fine in this room. It is clean, too.
Just as we were thinking about going out for dinner at around 7:00pm it began to pour rain. We noticed that the hotel's restaurant serves dinner, so we went down to check it out. Most HGI's have a restaurant, but some don't serve dinner. Dave stopped by the front desk to ask for breakfast vouchers. We get free breakfast here because of our HHonors status, but didn't get vouchers at check in. The desk clerk handed them over without a problem.
If it wasn't for the large party in the center of the room with four unruly boys, the dinner would have been relatively pleasant. The parents of these boys were not the slightest bit concerned that these brats were disrupting the entire room with their antics. Typical unfortunately. The service was fine, but it took way to long to get our food. We've had this problem at HGI's before. Our food was OK, but nothing at all worth talking about, so we won't. The brownie and molten chocolate cake desserts were the best part of the meal. At least we didn't have to go outside and get wet. Gallup is probably best avoided anyway, to be perfectly honest.
We were back in our room by 8:30pm and done for the day.
Day 38: Sunday, July 12 - Drive to Payson - Quality Inn
Now is the best time to visit Payson, Arizona’s Cool Mountain Town! Experience
the beauty of dramatic mountain vistas, wide open spaces, and a rich western
rodeo heritage. Payson hosts a variety of events and activities including the
“August Doins” (World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo), the Beeline Cruise-In Car
Show, Aero Fair, the Payson AZ Mountain High Games and the Old Time Fiddlers
Contest. Outdoor opportunities abound in Payson and the Rim Country. Enjoy
camping, fishing, hiking & biking trails, hunting and local attractions like the
Tonto Natural Bridge. Fun awaits in Payson, AZ!
It is in the 70's this morning, so not too bad. No more rain since last night.
Hilton Garden Inns charge $10.95 for breakfast, but we get it free for being Diamond HHonors members (Gold gets it free also). We're not sure if it is just this hotel or all of them in the chain, but what they offer on the buffet is significantly less than before. They still have made-to-order things like omelets and pancakes, but you sort of just have to know that because there are no menus or signs. Well, there is a sign saying you can get eggs and omelets, but that's all. The buffet part is very skimpy. There is a big bowl of canned mandarin orange segments, a nearly empty bowl of cut up melon, and three kinds of juice in the ice section. There is no yogurt and no bowls to put the fruit in. The pastries consist of sliced bread, a couple kinds of muffins (that are very good), and a few very sugary miniature fruit Danish. Cereal is in packets. There is only one cup of the make-your-own waffle batter left. This is at 9:00am, by the way. Breakfast lasts until 11:00am. No attempt was made to restock anything while we were there, so we assume they aren't going to. We ordered an omelet and some fried eggs and they were fine. The same waitress (and every other staff member) from last night is here this morning.
This chain is really falling on its face with the breakfast setup. There is no explanation of how it works, so people are constantly wandering around wondering what to do. Most people have no clue there is a charge for it because it isn't any better than you'd find at a free breakfast.
Back at the room we finished packing up and went down to check out at 11:30am.
Our final thoughts on Gallup: Gross. Skip it if you can. There is nothing here except a group of chain hotels, chain restaurants, fast food places and a Walmart. The older part of town is mostly made up of boarded up stores. If you need a place to rest from the road the chain hotels are fine, but if you can keep going, we recommend you do so.
Our final thoughts on the Hilton Garden Inn-Gallup: HGI's used to be one of our favorite chains until they introduce their ridiculous adjustable firmness beds (that didn't ever work). We gave up on them after the bed fiasco. We only tried this one because it is less than a year old and we figured they'd have worked the bed issue out by now. They have, sort of. They are no longer adjustable, but they are terribly uncomfortable. We didn't sleep well at all. The breakfast is no longer worth paying for, although we didn't have to. We'll go back to Hampton Inn when we want to use Hilton points from now on. We do not recommend the HGI.
We hit the road at 11:30am. Most of the first hour or so of the drive is on I-40 which is full of huge trucks. There isn't much to look at along the way except ramshackle dwellings and closed businesses. There are a few extremely tacky "Indian Trading Posts", half of which are out of business in spite of have a huge billboard every mile along the way. This general area is very unattractive and we advise driving straight through it.
Once we crossed the border into Arizona things started to improve. We decided to take a detour and drive through Petrified Forest National Park since it still takes us in the general direction we are going today. You may recall that we visited this park a few years ago, but we're going in the opposite direction this time, so we'll pretend we haven't done it before. We didn't stop at the visitor center on the way in.
There is a per-car fee of $10 (we used our pass) and they weigh cars at each entrance to determine if you have pilfered any petrified wood. The ranger amused us when he said, "Don't take any rocks because it will bring bad karma!" Click to view the park BROCHURE.
We have seen most of the sites in the park fairly recently, so we aren't stopping at every turnout as we normally would. The first view to look at from the north entrance is of the Painted Desert. Next up we stopped at the Painted Desert Inn. Click to view the BROCHURE. We arrived too late to see the inside last time, so we wandered in to take a look. This used to be an actual inn with accommodations, a restaurant, curio shop, and Native American craftsmen on hand. There are still Native Americans selling stuff at card tables, but other than that everything is a museum display. They have restored everything to the way it was including the furniture.
On the other side of the interstate is where you'll find the petrified wood stuff. There is a thunderstorm threatening with bolts of lightning hitting the ground, so we didn't get out of the car at the Crystal Forest trail area. That's just a bit too exposed at the moment. We made a brief stop at the Jasper Forest overlook. This is where the logs are eroding out of the sedimentary bluffs. The pieces roll down the bluff and pile up on the flats below. There is petrified wood strewn as far as the eye can see.
We skipped everything else because we've explored it before and we don't want to be out in the open at the moment. The south entrance area is where you'll find the Rainbow Forest trail where there are many huge petrified logs. It is amazing how detailed these specimens still are. After a brief exploration, we went into the Fred Harvey Curios & Fountain building to look for some things to send to Dave's solder pen pals and to use the rest room. We were hoping to find something for lunch at the "fountain", but all they have is hot dogs and ice cream, neither of which look very appetizing.
When we came out it had just begun to pour rain. Soon it was dumping in buckets with bolts of lightning and claps of thunder all around. It was quite a show that was enhanced by watching a hunky ranger go in and out of the shop twice while getting more and more drenched. Too bad he didn't feel the need to take off his shirt or anything interesting. We're not tacky enough to take pictures, so you'll have to take our word for it.
The National Park Service must rue the day they didn't buy all of the land up the the road leading into the park. There is a small parcel on each corner that has rundown dinosaur statues and billboards for gift shops masquerading as museums.
By the way, we still haven't dipped below the 6,000 foot elevation. We continued driving to Holbrook and took a left onto a two-lane road that gradually rose to over 7,000 feet. The higher elevation is forested and lush. The rain didn't follow us this far, so driving isn't a problem. There are several tiny mountain "resorts" on the way, but nothing worth stopping to explore. When we crossed into Arizona we moved back an hour on the clock.
We arrived in Payson around 3:00pm Arizona time or 4:00pm our time. Now it is very hot, in the 90's, even though we are still above 5,000 feet and in a mountain community. The town looks a lot better than Gallup by a long shot. There are lots of chain restaurants, the usual Walmart and other shops. Most of the businesses and hotels are very old, but reasonably well kept up.
We are staying at the Quality Inn. We're hoping for the best with this place because it has changed brands several times in the past few years. When we first looked at it it was a Best Western, then independent and now a Quality Inn. So, it is kind of working its way down the food chain. It is a very large two-story motel surrounding a pool and a restaurant building that is only used for the free breakfast these days.
The check-in process was fine and the guy at the desk was very nice. He looks and sounds like one of Dave's cousins only younger. We drove around to where he told us to park and hauled our luggage up the stairs to the second floor (this was our choice because we don't want to listen to people stomping around over us). The keys don't work <sigh>. Dave went back to the lobby and had to wait behind an old lady inquiring about a room for two nights. She insisted she is a Choice Hotels Rewards member, but the guy couldn't find her. She probably doesn't even know what chain she's checking into anyway, but he was nice to her. We're only paying $89 a night for this place, but she was quoted a price of $95 for the same kind of room. He told her that there is a group of soccer kids staying here tonight. Oh joy, a repeat of last night!
The front desk guy insinuated, nicely, that we just don't know how to work the keys. Yeah, that's it, we haven't stayed in very many hotels, have we? He reprogrammed them and they worked fine after that, so obviously it wasn't us.
Our room is huge. There must have been a kitchenette at some point because there is a lot of wasted space in the corner. There's mostly a lot of floor space and not enough furniture, but everything is clean and looks nice enough. The carpet is new. All of the rooms overlook the pool in the center of the complex and next to that is the aforementioned restaurant building. We were told that breakfast ends at 10:30am, but a sign at the front desk says 9:30am M-F, so we're going with that. It is until 10:30am on Saturday and Sunday, so the guy misspoke.
The room smells sort of like stale smoke, but the entire hotel is non-smoking. It is probably so old that it is engrained in every nook and cranny of the building at this point. The light fixture in the closet is straight out of the 1950's if not the 1940's, but everything else is updated more or less. Overall it is very nice for the price we're paying.
We snacked on chips we have with us and hung out until time to go find something for dinner. There are a couple of decently rated places across the street from the hotel we can walk to. We settled on Gerardo's Woodfire Cafe about two blocks up the road. It has mostly five-star reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor, so we're fairly confident it will be good.
There was some commotion about finding us a table for some unknown reason. The place isn't anywhere near being full. Apparently the hostess couldn't figure out how to straighten out a couple of tables because someone had to help her. We're talking a small table for two, not a banquet table. Anyway, once we were seated the service improved. Our waitress was very pleasant and we had no further service issues. Click to view the MENU. Bill ordered a Hawaiian pizza with a few topping added to it. Dave ordered the Chicken Paradiso with the House Salad. The waitress kept apologizing for the delay in our order coming out, but we wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't pointed it out twice. We were very disappointed with all of the food. The fresh ingredients were there and both items were properly cooked, but they used no seasoning whatsoever. Nothing had any flavor. It was a total bore. The chocolate chip "gelato" was the best part of the meal and it was directly from a carton. At least the price was reasonable. It was a lot of food, but we would not go back to this place.
We forgot that we are an hour ahead of time, so it gets dark earlier. Arizona doesn't do Daylight Saving Time, so by the time we were walking back to the hotel at 8:30pm it was completely dark. The street is lighted, so it isn't scary or anything, but this is the first time we've been out so late that it is dark except for the night out with Dave's friends in Durango.
Back at the hotel the kids are still screaming in the pool. It closes at 10:00pm, so it isn't a problem. Even if they kept screaming it isn't loud enough to bother us. Either we don't have any neighbors or they are very quiet because we don't hear anyone at all.
It is still over 80 degrees tonight and we expect it to be very hot tomorrow.
Day 39: Monday, July 13 - Payson - Quality Inn
It is supposed to be up to 90 degrees today and we don't doubt that. It is nearly 80 this morning already.
The hotel's free breakfast is served in what used to be a huge restaurant and lounge in the center of the complex. This place must be from the 1950's by the look of it. The coffee shop section is where the breakfast buffet is set up. We're always amazed at how poorly these buffets are set up. At this one, you walk down a few steps and have to squeeze past everyone coming toward you in the buffet because the plates are at the far end. Nothing is arranged in any particular order, so all of the guests are jumbled up trying to find everything. The selection of food is OK for a free breakfast, but nothing special.
We left for Tonto Natural Bridge State Park at 10:30am hoping to beat the heat. The drive is less than fifteen minutes, so we arrived quickly. There is a note on the toll booth saying to park and go into the gift shop to pay. It is in a historic building that used to be a lodge. There is a $5.00 per person admission fee. The woman at the counter was very nice and pointed out the trails on the map she gave us. Click to view the MAP. We parked in the lot at the far end as advised.
There is just a short walk on a paved path to the overlook at the top of the bridge. It is huge, so we'd call it more of a cave than a bridge, but whatever. There is a mossy section hanging from the top with a small waterfall cascading to the bottom. There is a wooden bridge at the bottom of the canyon that leads to a viewing area at the bottom. The next overlook gives a bit of a better view of the opening.
The walkway leads over the top of the bridge where there are several holes in the top to look straight down to the bottom. You really can't tell you are on top of the bridge because it is very wide. From the top it looks like a grassy park and nothing more.
On the other side there is a trail down to the bottom. There is a scary warning sign about reconsidering it if you aren't in perfect health. We figured we could do it since the round trip is only 1/2 mile. The hike to the ruins in Mesa Verde was 3/4 mile one way, so this is a cake walk.
The trail down isn't paved, but it isn't terribly difficult...going down. It isn't clear from the map that you can't go all the way through the cave to the other side. We didn't find out that we have to come back up the same way until we got down there. On the way we passed a pine tree with unusual scale-like bark. There is a pool at the bottom and a series of wooden bridges to get to the main viewing area. The waterfall from the top creates a lush green microclimate on the boulders where it lands.
At the bottom looking up you get the scale of the opening. It is the largest travertine cave in the world. It is sort of possible to climb through the cave to the other side, but that requires clamoring over slippery rocks, so we passed. On the way back up a woman told us she tried doing that and fell into the water, so perhaps we're better off. The climb up wasn't too bad. There are several places to sit and rest on benches if need be.
It is a short walk on a paved walkway to the other side of the opening. This side is smaller, but has travertine formations that are referred to as an "outdoor cave". You can walk down a steep switchback trail to the bottom on this side, also. There are some pools at the bottom inside the cave that look cooling. From this end you can see that this is a bridge formation and not just a cave.
We walked to the other end of the park (it isn't very far) to the waterfall trail, but skipped it when we saw another warning sign about how strenuous it is. Can you tell we're kind of over the sightseeing? Actually, if it wasn't hot we might have done it, but under the circumstances we're not up for it.
We were done with all of our sightseeing for today earlier than we usually leave a hotel. We drove back to the hotel to cool off and sort of pull ourselves together, and then drove a mile or so to Tiny's Family Restaurant for lunch. This place is a throwback if ever there was one. We haven't seen a fruit salad with cottage cheese on a menu in twenty years. We have no clue what this building was before, but it has jousting knights embedded in the concrete out front and an entrance that resembles a drawbridge. The building sort of looks like a castle to complete the theme.
The young man seating people obviously wanted to be anywhere but here, but our waitress was nice. This place is huge. One side is a gigantic dining room and the other has more tables with a "lounge" feeling including a pool table. We have no idea where the aquarium fits in, but at least it is clean. Well, the carpet isn't, but everything else looks fine.
Bill ordered a meatball sub and Dave had a chili size. How 1950's is that? The food was disgusting, but in a good way. We loved it and the bill was less than $20.
At 7:00pm we walked across the street to La Sierra Mexican Restaurant. Click to view the MENU. Dave had Carne Asada; Bill had Steak La Sierra. Dave liked his meal, but Bill wasn't in love with his. Now we're even. The service was friendly and it was inexpensive, so we'd probably go there again if we're passing through.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the gas station mini mart across the street for some snacks. Dave didn't find anything, but Bill bought a big cookie and some lemonade. That should hold him until tomorrow morning.
We're officially finished with all of the sightseeing we had planned. We've been through Phoenix fairly recently, so we have no plans to stop on the way to Yuma unless something jumps out at us.
Day 40: Tuesday, July 14 - Drive to Yuma - Holiday Inn
Yuma's geography shaped the Southwest. Because this was the safest spot to cross
the Colorado River, all roads led to Yuma for travelers from Spanish explorers
to Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl. Today Yuma is a vibrant multicultural community
that celebrates its rich heritage, surrounded by wide-open spaces and pristine
desert scenery - all with a river running through it.
It is warm this morning, but we'll probably consider it freezing compared to what is to come later today.
The hotel's breakfast was the same as yesterday, so pretty chaotic. It is amazing that it hasn't occurred to anyone working here that the arrangement isn't working. The food is OK for what it is if you can get to it.
Our final thoughts on Payson: It is a nice little mountain town. We wouldn't push anyone out of the way in our rush to come back here, but it is OK. If we needed a place to stop for a night while passing through we'd stop here again.
Our final thoughts on the Quality Inn Payson: We liked it. Our room is huge and the price can't be beat. Everything is in good repair, the staff is friendly, and we were comfortable here. We'd stay here again. It isn't fancy, but nothing in this town is.
We checked out at 10:30am and started our long drive to Yuma. We expect it to take about four hours which is an hour longer than we prefer to drive in one day.
Today is the first time in a month that we aren't high anymore. That is to say that we dipped below the 5,000 foot level for the first time. After about 90 minutes we were back below 1,000 feet. Of course, that means the temperature has risen as the elevation has dropped. The warmest it got during the drive was 114.
We only made one stop which was for lunch in Gila Bend. Wow, has this town declined or what? There are two gas stations, a motel, and a McDonalds still in business. The grocery store has closed as has almost everything else. It is very pathetic. The city seems to be trying to gussy things up by placing planters of flowers at major intersections, but this town is severely depressed.
We've driven through here several times and we wanted to stop at the Best Western Space Age Lodge for lunch. The Space Age Restaurant is attached to the motel. Overall it is very well maintained. We'd still like to stay here overnight just for kicks, but for now we'll just have some lunch and move on. The outside of the restaurant is themed well, but the inside looks like a school cafeteria with some space posters plastered on the walls. There is a big mural on one wall that is nice, but that's about it.
Gourmet food this is not. It is slightly below a roadside diner, in fact. They're out of a lot of things on the menu, but you don't find that out until you try to order one of them. Dave ordered a Jupiter Burger. You get to choose side with it, so he asked for onion rings, but, "We don't got no onion rings." We kid you not, that's exactly what she said word for word. OK fine, what are the options other than fries? Cottage cheese with a pineapple ring. OK, we'll admit we do like that, but in a restaurant? Whatever, we both had that as our side. Bill had a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. The sandwiches were actually pretty good under the circumstances and not very expensive at $8.00.
The women behind us tried to order pie to go after their meal, but, "We don't got no apple, cherry or lemon meringue." Hey, if we don't get sick we'll call it good.
After driving for another two hours we arrived at the Holiday Inn Yuma for the night at 4:00pm. We are meeting a friend for dinner who is working (stuck) here for the moment. We'll probably be a sight for sore eyes for her.
We are using a certificate for a free night's stay which is the reason we stayed here a few years ago, too. It is a very nice hotel and still looks brand new. The employees are very friendly. The guys at the front desk asked if we wanted a free drink coupon a "goodie bag" with water and trail mix, or both. We took the bag. We also got bonus rewards points for signing up online for a promotional deal. This hotel isn't very expensive anyway, but we had to use up the free night or lose it.
Our room is very nice, but on the small side. However, there is nothing wrong with it and it is well thought out. It looks brand new, so they're definitely maintaining this place properly. It even smells nice and clean. Last time we stayed here we were surprised that the lamps in the room still use 100-watt incandescent bulbs and that hasn't changed.
Yuma has every chain hotel known to man with a few square blocks by the mall. We have no idea why, but they're here. There are three Holiday Inns (two are Express) in town. There is a cluster of older motels on the other side of the freeway.
We napped/rested until 7:00pm and then went down to meet our friend for dinner. She suggested that the hotel's restaurant is probably the best place to eat, so that's where we are going. Last time we were here we had dinner at the restaurant and it was pretty good. It was fine this time, too, but not quite as good. Our waiter was very nice and attentive. We were busy talking, so the food really wasn't the focus anyway.
It seems that the glut of chain restaurants finally ran its course and several have gone out of business this year. We have no idea why there are so many hotels and restaurants concentrated here. Sure it is a decent place to break up a long drive, but other than that there isn't anything here. Our friend lives here and she can't figure it out either. It isn't like other towns were tons of contract workers fill the hotels because the rates here are very low. In towns will full hotels even a Hampton Inn can get $300 a night. Our room at the Holiday Inn, which is one of the most upscale of the chains in town, only goes for $119.
After dinner, which was around 8:30pm, we walked outside briefly. When the doors open it is like walking into a blast furnace. It was 95 degrees! OMG, how does anyone live here? At least Phoenix is attractive, but that can't be said for Yuma.
Day 41: Wednesday, July 15 - Drive Home
It is only 100 degrees and beyond windy this morning. We're a bit concerned that the visibility will continue to decline, so we're on a fast track to get out of here.
We had breakfast in the restaurant. It isn't free at a regular Holiday Inn, but the prices are very reasonable. Most full breakfast entrees, including Eggs Benedict, are about $8.00. We were given a coupon for $5 off when we checked in. Bill ordered a 2-2-2 breakfast and chose cinnamon French toast as one of the "2's", the others were eggs and bacon. Dave had a Western omelet with fruit instead of potatoes. We were very happy with the quality and quantity of what we received. The bill was only $16.00 and we felt we got what we paid for.
Our final thoughts on Yuma: We've been here before and it is gross. There's no reason to stop here except as a pitstop to break up a long drive. Other people have described it as "the armpit of the world", but we wouldn't go quite that far. The newer section by the mall is fine. We wouldn't go to this town as a destination, but for our purpose it is OK.
Our final thoughts on the Holiday Inn Yuma: We stayed here a few years ago when it was new and it still looks that way. The staff is friendly and the entire place is spotlessly clean. Our room was on the small side, but nicely furnished and comfortable. We used a free night certificate to stay here (as we did last time), but the price is very reasonable anyway. We'd stay here again. It has a good vibe about it.
We left the hotel at 10:30am, but we had to stop for gas before getting on the freeway. That is easier said than done, but we managed to find one. They all seem to be on the wrong side of the street.
In Yuma and for about 30 minutes out of town it is extremely windy and dusty. Once we got into California and past the sand dune area it wasn't windy at all. The temperature dropped to 90, then the low 80's. We didn't make any stops since we've been this route many times (and there isn't much to look at anyway). We had to stop at two border patrol checkpoints. It would have been three, but one was closed today. The second one had drug sniffing dogs and the whole shebang. We're always waved through these things and today was no exception.
We arrived home at 2:00pm-ish to find everything in better shape than we left it. Our wonderful housesitters even trained our new dog not to push through the sliding door before the other dog goes in. Now he waits patiently for a treat while the other dog eats his first (because he will steal anything that drops). Next time maybe they can train him to lay down and stay on command. Both dogs fall right back into our pattern which is always semi-amazing.
We're really not sure why we ever leave the house because we've set it up like a resort. However, it always does look really good when we come home, so we probably should keep going away now and then.
All photos from this road trip can be found in the Photo Gallery.
Overall, we really enjoyed our grand tour of Colorado. The trip was maybe about a week too long, but we're still glad we saw everything we did. Well, maybe we could have skipped Gallup, but everywhere else was worth a look at least once.
The top five stops in no particular order:
The bottom five stops in no particular order:
The only place we would actively avoid is Gallup, NM. It is a hole and that's all we have to say about it.
We'll start planning our next adventure soon, so stay tuned.
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