Although Phil billed me as the blogger who drove all the way from Shreveport, Louisiana to attend the Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash, I actually did a few other things while in the area. It had been awhile since my family and I had been to Denver, so we made the most of our short stay.
Fortunately, I didn't have to drive the whole way myself. My wife and I drove with our three sons over to Dallas Thursday afternoon where we picked up two of her brothers. One brother, Mark, was a big help driving, while the other brother Lonnie helped out with the kids.
Seven people is a crowd, even for a full-sized van. We managed the cramped quarters by encouraging the kids to sleep as we drove through the night. We three drivers kept each other company, catnapped, and traded out every two or three hours.
We took I-35 north out of Dallas through Oklahoma to Salina Kansas. In Salina, we turned west on I-70 and drove all the way to Denver.
This is empty country. The West is limited by water, not space. There are places in Kansas so remote that I could look 360 degrees around and out toward the horizon and see maybe one or two building lights - and most of those were probably just lonely farm houses.
With gas stations popping up at 60-mile intervals...maybe, we were careful to watch the gauge. After a close call we decided to never let our gas fall below a quarter-tank.
We arrived in Denver around 9:30 Friday morning. After a McDonald's breakfast, we found our hotel and asked to check in early. The front desk was fine with that.
Our hotel, the Englewood, Colorado Sleep Inn
, was a great deal
at $45 per room per night. Hard to beat - it even came with continental breakfast and a heated indoor pool. We crashed for a couple of hours, and then the kids and I went down to the pool for a swim.
That night we met Phil
and his wife at the Trail Dust Steak House
This place is famous for it's "no neck-tie" policy. Offenders have their ties cut off in an elaborate ceremony and get a free drink as a trade. There's a live band, dancing, a balloon guy, and - this is what my kids loved the best - an incredible two-story slide.
With all those distractions, the place might be able to get away with substandard food. But it was really good. The mesquite-grilled sirloin was awesome. If you go, make sure to order the sweet potato. My wife gave me a bite and then tortured me as I made do with a regular baked potato.
After a great visit with the Bowermaster's (and tearing my kids away from that big slide) we called it a day.
The next morning we got up and drove out to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
in Colorado Springs. This zoo is the United States' only mountain zoo. It's arranged on about five terraces snaking upward from the entrance. What a workout! The view of Colorado Springs down in the valley was spectacular from almost any point in the zoo.
The animals were obviously well taken care of and were in spacious enclosures. My kids' favorites were the giraffes and the gorillas.
The gorillas were separated from visitors by only a sheet of glass. These old guys would meander over to the glass and make faces at the kids. My one-year-old had a laughing fit over that.
About 2:00 that afternoon we left the zoo and drove the three or four miles over to Seven Falls
We approached the falls through an amazing mile-long box canyon. I regretted we were stuck inside our vehicle for that mile. With cliffs within arm's reach of the road rising 900 feet, I wished for a glass-topped van.
This photograph of the falls is okay, but it doesn't really do justice to the experience of being there. At the base of the falls, the rock formation fills your world. Looking up, you will almost fall over to see to the top of the cliffs. 224 steps rise from the base of the falls to the top.
Thinking of the zoo workout and the skiing I had planned for the next morning, I passed on the stair climbing. My brother-in-laws didn't hesitate. They climbed to the top and ragged me for missing out.
At about 4:00 p.m. we hurried back to Denver for another dinner with Phil and Suraya and the blogger bash
The next morning we checked out of the hotel and drove an hour and a half to Loveland Pass
for some pre-season skiing. This ski area is on I-70 at the Eisenhower tunnel.
We had a little trouble starting out. We had checked our one-year-old in day-care at the base of the mountain and tried to get our 7-year-old and 5-year-old to ski with us. The bunny slope was closed and they weren't offering lessons for the little guys. We tried to take them up and teach them ourselves, but that just didn't work. The boys were relieved when we let them join their baby brother in day care.
We adults had a great time! Lonnie, who was also a first-time skier, took to the mountain with little difficulty. In this early season the mountain is limited to just a few runs. But the slopes that were open had plenty of coverage and were well groomed. At the end of the day some small icy patches were beginning to show on the last slope above the chair lift. Otherwise, conditions were perfect.
Loveland had some of the friendliest service I've experienced on a ski slope. In the past I've dealt with a lot of surly, impatient ski-bum types who are only interested in earning their way back onto the mountain. The folks at Loveland seemed to actually enjoy their jobs.
We left the mountain tired and hungry. Our last stop in Colorado before heading back home was The Buffalo Restaurant
in Idaho Springs. The Buffalo steaks were good (not as good as the cow at Trail Dust), but pricey. Since none of us had ever had Buffalo before, it was worth it for the experience.
After that we gassed up and hit the highway for home.