Monday, June 30, 2008

Vacation Day Three

This one's a doozy, folks. Seriously, I'm pretty sure the only person who'll get through this in one sitting (if anyone gets through it at all) is Jenn because she's a teacher and can kiss my butt cause she's on summer vacation. And I'm not.

Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road

For our first full day in the mountains, we decided we'd take it a little easy and let our bodies acclimate to the high altitude. Since I got pretty winded walking to the top of a parking garage in Boulder, I was all for the lazy resting up day.

Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as restful as we thought it would be... but I'll get to that later.

First, I got up to take morning photos from the rock and also my only self-portrait.

Yes, it's just a shadow, but it's MY shadow.

Chad made bacon, Jenn made eggs and Andy made some killer potatoes which we ate out on the rock. (Um, I think I made toast or contributed in some other sort of minimal effort way.)

After breakfast, we all got ready to head out while Andy got busy falling in the icy river. Moral: Don't try jumping from rock to rock in the river with 2-year-old, treadless gym shoes.

Unfortunately I didn't catch the event on film, but now you'll know why Andy is wearing inappropriate footwear in all the rest of today's photos.

We all piled in the Sebring with the top down. Poor Chad somehow folded all 8'4" of himself into the backseat. (That measurement is totally accurate.)

We headed off to Estes Park which is the most popular entrance to RMNP and pretty touristy. That's where the hotel that was used in The Shining was located.

We saw more pretty stuff along the drive.

We finally got to the park after getting gas and reveling in a few minutes of cell phone service. Once through the gates, we started on our trek up to Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved continuous road in the United States that runs across the north side of the park.

First let me give props to Andy for not killing us. There were a few moments on that twisty, mountain road when I could see the white, painted line crumbling off the edge of a cliff that could mean certain death and got a wee bit nervous. Luckily, Andy got us through it all safely. Thanks, babe! Being alive is GREAT!

(Especially with views like this...)

Not long into the park, we met this handsome fellow:

Meet Dapper Dan, the Elk Photo Whore of Rocky Mountain National Park. At the time, we thought we were just extremely lucky to get so close to a big male elk. (Yeah, we had the top down and he was right by the road, folks. We're talking almost petting distance here.) Later when we were chatting up a park ranger, we found out we'd met Dapper Dan whose favorite pastime is hanging out by the road and posing for photos from oooh-ing and awww-ing suckers tourists like us.

Jenn, the biggest wildlife lover of us all was in heaven. Then at this overlook,

we met a couple of these guys:

We didn't feed them, I promise, but it was obvious someone had since they were so tame.

More breathtaking mountain views, blah blah blah. I know it's probably boring, but trust me when I say I'm narrowing it down to the bare bones for you people. I think I took 300+ photos this day.

To our surprise and Jenny's delight, it turned out to be something of a wildlife extravaganza day as we saw a huge herd of bighorn sheep a ways up the road.

I think someone's been taking notes from Dapper Dan.

The ranger told us we were extremely lucky to have seen one sheep let alone 15, since there are people who've "lived in the area 20 years and never seen a single one."

It was pretty cold and snowy at over 2 miles above sea level, so Andy couldn't resist mercilessly firing a barrage of icy snowballs at Jenn. (Hey, as long as he wasn't throwing them at me, I had no problem with it. And okay, maybe he just sort of lobbed one in her general direction, but that doesn't read NEARLY as well.)

Andy then started playing with the color swap on my camera.

I like to call this Blood Mountain, or maybe Our Vacation: The Apocalypse. What do you think?

After too much time in the car, we decided that it was time to test our legs and lungs a bit and attempted one of the hikes by the ranger station.

Yes, that's snow we're walking through and Jenn, Chad and I were all in sandals.

Wasn't I just saying something about Andy and unpractical shoes earlier? Foot, meet mouth. Icy feet ain't no thang for this tough crew, though, and we kept on truckin'.

The trail wasn't too long, but it was deceptively steep.

Our lungs were all pretty freaked out at the idea of exercise over 12,000 feet. Wheezing at the top, I was pretty proud of how fast we'd made it up. Then I turned to Andy and found him gasping for breath with dark purple lips. He hadn't been drinking any grape kool-aid, so I was pretty freaked and we all waited for his body to become re-oxygenated before snapping some kicky photos at the top.

The thumbs up was celebrating our first mountain climb as well as Andy's incredible will to live.

I think we have a winner for Christmas Card 2008.

But just in case, here are a couple alternates.

Yes, I realize EVERYONE takes these same type of lame photos at the continental divide. I just don't care.

We saw more elk grazing on the side of the road after coming down out of the mountains. But by the end of this trip, elk had kind of become the new mountain. Sure, they're pretty and cool, but they're freakin' everywhere in Colorado so they start to blend in.

We also saw a female moose, but she kind of looked like an elk, just bigger, so I won't take up space with a photo. Just trust me, we saw her. If you don't believe me, I can send you the photo, but it's really nothing to get too excited about. She's no Dapper Dan.

We celebrated getting to the other side of the park at Grand Pizza.

Home of the delicious Moose Juice.

I'm pretty sure this was just Chipotle Tabasco sauce with a label plastered on top, but I'm a sucker for food products with moose on them. (Brian, I totally wanted to get you some moose juice, but Andy vetoed the idea. If this makes you weep with despair, blame him.)

Mmmm, pizza.

One interesting pizza-eating phenomenon we discovered in Grand Lake is the practice of putting honey on the crust. I'm glad we found this out while ordering, or I would have been terribly confused when the honey bear condiment bottle landed on our table with the pizza. Bad things could have happened to good pizza there.

Honey on the leftover crust is actually awesome. It's like a little dessert after your slice.

We drove back over the mountains, we drove back over the mountains, we drove back over the MOUNTAAAAAAAAINS, to see what we could see.

Or just to go home, really. (Can you tell it's getting late? The length of this post is really getting to me.)

At home we had a champagne toast to celebrate not careening off the side of a mountain to our deaths.

Oh, and the eternal love, happiness, bliss, diamond ring blah blah blah of these two kiddos.


Around the fire, we formed an amazingly perfect storm for the ultimate s'more. I roasted the most deliciously brown (not burned!), gooey-all-the-way-through marshmallow. Jenny had the best idea ever to make them with Mr. Goodbars instead of nasty plain Hershey bars. Andy took the assembled s'more and placed it on an aluminum covered fireplace ash shovel over the fire to melt the chocolate a bit more.

You may hire us for campfires, bonfires, grill outs or silly bourgeoisie city parties. We also know how to start a kickass game of charades.


You get no spoiler for the next day since I'm pretty sure I've now alienated my only 3 readers by rambling on so long. I'm sort of thinking of throwing in the towel myself since this is pretty much my vacation blogging opus.

Middle Eastern Arts Weekend

Saw this play on Friday night. It was a one-woman, 90-minute show that told the story of Golda Meir's life and her role as first and only female Prime Minister of Israel. We got our tickets through Gold Star Events, so the fact that we paid half price made the evening even better.

We also had a viewing of Persepolis last night over a dinner of stuffed grape leaves (delicious!) and strawberry rhubarb crumble (meh, but mostly cause I'm apparently not a lover of fruity desserts). I was amazed at how much I laughed through Marjane Satrapi's tales of her childhood and teen years in Tehran against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. The graphic novel-style animation was also very cool.

I highly recommend both if you live in Chicago, but go rent Persepolis right now, wherever you are. A little mind expansion never hurt anyone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vacation Day 2

Just a quick aside before I dive into more photo-heavy blogging of our vacation. I realize that these posts are may be not quite up to my normal, snappy dialogue, but I'm mostly blogging the vacation for me. Not you. So tough it out. If you don't like it, just take a hiatus for a week or so and I'll get back to posting about Milo, cooking adventures, our crazy-fast growing garden and other inane details of daily life.

If you enjoy vacations seen through the eyes of others, please continue...

Day 2: Boulder and Peaceful Valley/Cabin

Yeah, remember all that celebrating? It sort of caught up to us the next morning.

Thank you Quality Inn and Suites for your outstanding continental breakfast that included sausage and egg muffins and Belgian waffle makers.

And I totally realize how unfair it is that I only posted early morning photos of Jenn and Chad here, but A) These are photos from my camera, hence Jenn and Chad are quite often the subjects, and B) Um, this is my blog, so I can do whatever the hell I want. (Yes, I realize I'm asking for retribution from Jenn here, but I'm pretty sure she's a nicer sister than I am.)

After showering and lazing around for a bit, we went to lunch at Centro.

This feast included coconut fried bananas with vanilla anglaise and a free cucumber mint limeade from our waitress. (I think she took pity on our sorry-lookin' selves.) Seriously, behind that smile is a world o' hurt. Damn you, local breweries and your irresistable fare!

We walked around Boulder a bit more and tried the aforementioned unsuccessful bid for scones and tea before hitting the road to Peaceful Valley, our home for the next 5 days. Being in the convertible had some photo-taking advantages.

The drive's scenery was breathtaking and distracted me from my churning stomach.

We stopped in Nederland, a mountain town not far from the cabin since we heard it was the closest grocery store and wanted to check it out. Plus, we definitely needed a break.

We explored the town which took all of 20 minutes since it was basically the grocery store, a little covered bridge, one main street for the tourists and a kwik-e mart that sold us booze on a Sunday. (Woohoo!)

From there, it was on to the cabin!

Again, we had more beautiful driving scenery and incredibly big skies.

At first glance, the cabin didn't seem like anything too extraordinary, but oooooooh, buddy, it got better and better the more we looked around.

The cabin was at the end of a gravel road that housed cabins for the Peaceful Valley Ranch. (Yeah, we saw square dancing and lots of horse poop.)

We were surprisingly isolated for being so close to the ranch and right next to the St. Vrain River. Here was the view from the back of our wrap-around porch.

There was plenty of room.

And rustic decor. Wood-burning fireplace included!

The best part of the cabin had to be "The Big Rock", though. It was a giant boulder in the middle of the river with a fairly wobbly and possibly dangerous bridge leading across the water to it.

We had lots of breakfast, coffee and beer on that rock. Good times.

After exploring our new digs, we headed back to Nederland for some groceries and booze. We used our complimentary grill and charcoal (but no lighter fluid, DOH!) to grill Hebrew National hot dogs and burgers for our first cabin meal.

We also introduced Chad to Smartfood popcorn that night and I think a true love connection was made.

After dinner we retired to the river bank to listen to the dulcet tones of the rushing river... and this guy.

The river is fed by snowmelt from the mountains, so its 40 degree temperatures kept our beer amazingly chilled.

The water for our cabin also came directly from the river, though filtered, UV-rayed and all that germ/microbe killing stuff. It was painfully cold out of the faucet and we never needed an ice cube. Drinking river water did weird me out at first since I've had some bad experiences with well water, and this kind of reminded me of that. I came around pretty fast. Once in my camelback on top of a mountain, it was ice-cold, thirst-quenching deliciousness.

We retired to the big rock to watch the sun set on our first very peaceful day in Peaceful Valley.

And I took weird pictures of our feet.

(Hey, it was our only group shot on the big rock!)

Tune in next time to find out whose lips turned purple from the inability to breathe at high altitudes!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vacation Day 1

Our vacation started last Saturday with an early morning trip to the airport and a direct Southwest flight to Denver. I was a teeny bit obsessed with the idea of seeing mountains, so Andy graciously let me sit by the window after I elbowed and shoved past him to be first into the row.

Muscling my way to the window seat was worth it, though. I saw my first glimpse of mountains from the runway.

I knew Colorado and I would be a good match when I heard the airport tram playing fun, cowboy-up music before pulling into each terminal. Yes, I danced. I was still coming down from my mountain-viewing high.

Things only got better from there. We got to the rental car counter and after the agent tried unsuccessfully into selling us an upgrade from our compact car rental rate, we walked out to the lot to find this beauty sitting in our allotted space.

Andy traded Michael Scott jokes with his brother while I marveled at the odometer which plainly stated "2". Brand freakin' new! The vacation gods were smiling on us.

I really liked that the Denver area, Boulder especially, seemed to be very green (recycle green, not kermit green... though there was plenty of green all around). We saw a smart car and a hybrid taxi on the highway along with many compact cars and smaller, sport SUVs.

We got to Boulder pretty quickly and since we couldn't check into the hotel yet. We grabbed some free parking and walked around the incredible farmer's market downtown. After buying some incredibly delicious mole and spicy pork tamales from a local vendor, we went to find some shade and listen to some kids from the Kutandara Center bang on big ol' xylophone things to make fun music from Zimbabwe.

After feeling sufficiently untalented after watching these guys, we decided to head to the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse so I could check that off my list of "must do's".

There were incredibly fragrant rose bushes lining the walkway to the entrance and seating outside by the river. The inside still felt like you were dining outdoors with the abundance of greenery, skylights and open doors but with the added benefit of beautiful decor.

The teahouse was handcarved and built in Tajikistan, then brought over, piece by piece and assembled in Boulder.

We ordered a round of tea and the homemade gingerbread cake that was topped with whipped cream and drizzled with fresh honey.

Yeah, my mouth is watering now, too. Sorry 'bout that.

With your tea, they bring little hourglass timers to let you know how long you should steep for optimal taste.

Yeah, I had two rounds of tea, so what?

Nothing compared to what came next though.

I'm still dreaming about this lemon scone with the tart lemon curd and sinfully rich Devonshire cream.

My awesome friend, JennKenn used to try and extoll the virtues of scones and cream to me, and now I must admit that she is supremely correct on all things delicious.

We tried to go back the next day to get scones with Jenn and Chad, but unfairly, they had sold out. We failed.

Speaking of Jenn and Chad, they finaly arrived after some flight delays, and we quickly got on with the celebrating of their engagement at Boulder's West End Tavern.

You can't see "Sparkles" in that photo, but you definitely can in this one.

Check out that bling!

Umm... Perhaps we celebrated a bit too much?

We enjoyed quite a few good local brews and WAY too many PBRs at the Attic before attempting some serious fooseball and touchscreen gaming. Sometime later, we all stumbled back to the good ol' Boulder Quality Inn & Suites. (With complimentary slippers!)

What incredible adventures awaited us the next day? I'll give you a hint. It involved four hungover people and incredibly twisty, windy mountain roads.