Saturday, August 15, 2009

Colorado 2008 Trip Report

This trip report is about our family’s quest to determine an answer to the age old family vacation question…beach or mountains???

As the summer of 2008 approached, we as a family were split on where to go for our vacation. Our final decision? Beach and mountains! In June we traveled to Vieques Island, Puerto Rico and had a fun time. Later that summer, in July, we packed our bags again and headed to Buena Vista, Colorado!

Day 1:

We wanted to get an early start on the first leg, so we had packed our van the night before. At 5:00 am we set out on, what I calculated to be, an eleven hour drive. We headed down the road to Wichita, KS where we had our first stop. Of course, everyone slept on that leg except for…Dad! We stopped in Wichita for a quick bite of breakfast and the restrooms. In typical Dad fashion, I told everyone to use the restroom again before we left because we weren’t going to be stopping in every town we went through for restroom breaks. Famous last words. Between our three teenagers and my wife we promptly stopped in Kingman, Pratt, Greensburg, Dodge City, Garden City and finally Syracuse, KS all before we got to the Colorado border! A note about Greensburg. This city was hit a couple of years ago by a massive tornado. It literally wiped the whole town off the map with the exception of what I think may have been a granite library. We stopped in at a convenience store, for yes another restroom break, and then we drove through the town. It appears that many of the homes are being rebuilt and they are trying to rebuild using “green” methods and materials. From what I understand, several celebrities have contributed time and monies to help the people along. They have a long way to go but our prayers are with them. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with western Kansas, but if you enjoy flat, treeless miles on the road this is your place! The truth is, it is an interesting and nice drive in its own special way. Now I would be remiss if I left out one important fact about our trip. Approximately one week before we left, my wife was coming down the stairs in our house and about halfway down, she missed the next step. I soon got a call from her at work. She was upset because she had fallen and her rear end landed squarely on the corner of the next step and she tumbled to the bottom of the stairs. She was okay but sore. By the time I had gotten home, she had a raw steak colored bruise the entire size of her rear end cheek! Over the next week, the bruise morphed and changed into different colors, sizes and hardness. So here we are now a week later and she’s having to sit on this bruise for hours in the van and let me tell you, those seats are not THAT comfortable!

We eventually crossed the Colorado border, and yes, with stops in Lamar and Rocky Ford (melon capital of the US I think!), La Junta, until eventually we drove down through a low lying area and as we popped up over the edge just outside of Pueblo, CO…there they were! Mountains!

I am always in awe of the mountains when I see them for the first time on each trip I have ever made. They are beautiful! After a couple more hours of driving we eventually arrived in Buena Vista, CO, our destination for this trip. The drive did not take eleven hours but more like 13-14 hours! We drove through town, and then we eventually left town, and I began to wonder if I had made a wrong turn when I saw the place where we would be staying…Arrowhead Point Campgrounds.

After registering at the main office and buying myself an Arrowhead t-shirt, we picked up our keys and pulled up to one of their “cabins”. These cabins are not the rustic sort that you picture up in the mountains, but in reality, they are mini pre-fab manufactured cabins with wood siding. That being said, we were happy to be there and unloaded all of our stuff for the week. Upon unpacking and fighting about who had to sleep where (kids that is), I opened up the window in our bedroom and the window perfectly framed a beautiful mountain! We opened the window up and a cool breeze flowed through the cabin. We ate dinner and took a walk through the campgrounds. Cool temperatures and no Oklahoma humidity! It felt wonderful!

Day 2:

We woke up and drove through town checking out the sights until we ended up at Wilderness Aware. We had reservations for a six mile raft ride down Brown’s Canyon on the Arkansas River. This particular year we were told the river was running higher than normal due to the heavy snowfalls the area had received the previous winter. The kids and I were ready to jump in the raft and go. My wife was another story. I didn’t realize that she had requested the very best, most experienced guide when she made the reservations because she was sure that we were going to die. After much coaxing and reassuring by me we all climbed in and pushed off. The river, the mountains, and the scenery were all beautiful. We constantly ooh’ed and aah’ed at the sights. My wife did enjoy herself even though she had to sit on her other rear end cheek the entire time due to her injury! As we pulled up to the shore at the end of the ride, the guide asked us if we had requested her because of the two people who had died on the river a few weeks earlier…we all looked at her, and at the same time said, “Someone died here???”. I instantly looked at the guide and thanked her for not bringing that up before we headed out on the raft trip otherwise we never would have gotten to enjoy it like we did! Lastly, I bought myself a rafting t-shirt. By the way, we got discounted pricing on the rafting tickets through our campgrounds.

Day 3:

We woke up early and headed into town so that we could go on our jeep tour. We had made arrangements for the jeep tour through Wilderness Aware as well. The jeep tour company was named High Country Jeep Tours. We arrived at their office and prepared ourselves for a fun trip when we learned that there had been a miscommunication and the tour we thought we were going to take was not available. In addition, we had intended to be the only ones in the jeep on the tour. Instead, we were told that we were going to be headed out on another jeep tour to Mt. Antero and that there would another couple with us. We were not happy about the arrangements but there really wasn’t anything else we could do and we had to go that day since it was going to be our last day in Buena Vista. So we all packed up and hopped into the back of the jeep. We got to know the other couple and they turned out to be very nice. We headed off for Mt. Antero. Mt. Antero is a member of the 58 "14-teeners". That means at 14,269 feet tall, Mt. Antero is one of 58 mountains in Colorado that surpass 14,000 feet.

After driving a few miles to get to the base of Mt. Antero, we pulled off the paved road and began our ascent up the mountain. The scenery was amazing. The jeep was equipped with 4WD and we needed it many, many times. The driver took his time driving so that we didn’t bounce out thankfully! He was very informative and gave us the history of the area and pointed out many things that we might have missed without his help. We completed the first part of the ascent just as we were coming to tree line. We passed by a few campsites that literally were out in the middle of nowhere. It looked like fun. Now came the really “fun” part of the ascent. If any of you have driven in the Rocky Mountains, at some point, you have driven up switchbacks. Well let me tell you, these were the steepest, rockiest, and by FAR the narrowest switchbacks we have ever been on! Literally one of us could reach out and touch the rocks or snow on the mountain side of the jeep and the other person could look out their side of the jeep and practically look straight down! It really wasn’t straight down but it sure felt like it! Since the driver really had to watch the road closely, he asked us to help him by looking ahead and letting him know if another jeep was coming down the mountain toward us as we were going up it. The reason why is that the road is barely wide enough for one vehicle, let alone two! We did in fact have a couple of jeeps coming down at different times and our driver had to stop at a bend in the switchbacks because the other drivers had already started down our leg of the road. We certainly did NOT want him trying to drive in reverse on a road that narrow to a bend so that other drivers could get by us. We eventually reached a high mountain meadow with a couple of small lakes. It was beautiful! We continued on until we got very near the top of Mt. Antero. We hopped out and we had an hour to wander around and investigate this beautiful area. We looked out and literally felt as if we were on top of the world! Mt. Antero is known for its vast quantities of minerals and crystals at its summit. In fact, I believe, the largest aquamarine gemstone discovered in the US was discovered there. We picked up a few pretty samples to take home. A word of caution, we Okies, being low altitude land lubbers, learned quickly just how difficult it was to run across the mountain tops and lose our breath! You would have thought we had just run the fastest mile race of our lives! In addition, even though it was mid-July, bring yourself a jacket. Its still cold at 14000 feet! My wife warned us all to wear pants and to bring a jacket. Everyone did…except for me. In my infinite wisdom, I thought that a t-shirt and shorts would be fine. I was wrong. We hopped into our jeep and began our descent. We traveled back down to the tree line where we stopped by a stream and ate our sack lunches that came with the tour. We continued on down the road until we were back to the paved roads.

Upon returning to the paved roads, our guide took us on up to a small old mining town named St. Elmo (yep, they sell St.Elmo’s t-shirts and I have one!). It is a cute little town with a few residents and definitely some touristy shops to grab your souvenirs. We enjoyed our time in St. Elmo. After leaving the mining town we headed back down the road and eventually returned to Buena Vista. Although the jeep tour did not go as we had planned, we really enjoyed ourselves very much and would recommend this company.

Later that afternoon and early evening, we pulled off the road and followed a trail down to the Arkansas River. If you’ve seen the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, you would be shocked to see it in Colorado! At points it is barely 20 feet wide! We climbed around the beautiful sandstone rock formations, hiked around, and took many pictures. In addition, there many differently colored granite stones lying around. The flakes in the granite made these stones very pretty, and yes, we brought a couple home for landscaping in the yard! In fact, I am currently using one that I found broken in half perfectly as a door stop in my office.

Day 4:

We woke up early and packed. We enjoyed our visit to Buena Vista, Arrowhead Point Campground, and all of the surrounding area. We headed down the road to Colorado Springs, CO.

After a nice drive, we pulled in Colorado Springs and got our room. Once we rested, we headed out to Manitou Springs. This is a neat little Victorian style village with lots of shops and eateries to enjoy. We walked all over the town and enjoyed our lunch at a small bistro.

We then went to the American Numismatic Association. Yes, a coin museum! I am a little bit of a collector of coins and one of my sons has some interest so we wanted to stop in and take a tour of their museum. It was laid out very well and we enjoyed our visit! Once again, I bought myself an ANA t-shirt!

We headed back to our hotel room and later that evening we enjoyed eating dinner at a nice restaurant.

Day 5:

The next morning we woke up and started out on our adventure for the day!

First up, Garden of the Gods! We first visited their main building. It houses a souvenir shop, small restaurant I believe, and a cinema room that shows a short movie about the grounds. We hopped into our van and headed out for the driving tour of the park. There were many interesting sights to see. If you’re adventurous, they even have a hiking trail that you can take and it probably is even more scenic if you have the energy to take it. And nope, I couldn’t leave without a Garden of the Gods t-shirt could I?

After stopping to eat lunch, we headed to the Cave of the Winds. We pulled into their driveway…which I am not kidding when I say, it literally seemed to go straight up the side of the mountain. Our van was loaded with five adults and I wondered if I was going to have to kick it into a low gear just to make it up! We in fact finally make it. The views from up on the hill were very pretty. They have a nice souvenir shop as well. We bought tickets for the tour and lined up when they called our tour number. We were with about 20 others and a high school aged guide. They gave each of us a small “lantern” to carry. You know…in case the lights go out! *wink wink* The guide did a good job telling the history of the cave and she even tried to spice it up for the tourist. It was interesting…but to be honest, its overhyped. Nice t-shirt though!

Next we spent some time checking out the rest of Colorado Springs. Eventually, we drove out to Seven Falls. Why did we decide to go to Seven Falls?…well…for the t-shirt…what else is there??? We pulled up and paid our entry fee and at that time we were given a ticket with our numbered parking spot listed on it. I drove the family on up into the park and eventually found our spot. And to our surprise? There is another car parked in our spot. I am a believer that if someone tells me to park in a certain spot…I do it. We had gotten lucky enough to get a spot that was very close to the entrance and there were no other spots around. Now bear in mind, it had been a long day by this time and I was tired. I pulled up and the family who had parked in our spot was just getting out of their car. I leaned out my window and pointed out that they were in my spot. I was now on a mission. That parking spot was MINE! They looked up at me and said it didn’t matter who parked there. I reminded them that we all got assigned parking spots and that spot was mine. They told me that I should find another spot. I told them that I wasn’t interested in another spot and that they needed to move. They disgustedly got back into their car and pulled out but not before they felt it was necessary to holler a few unmentionable comments to us. You know what? I don’t care…that spot was mine and we didn’t want to walk any further than they did. So after slowly pulling their car away, I pulled our van into the spot and we marched off to the falls thrilled at our victory! The falls are very pretty and they have lit them up in different colors. In addition, you can take an elevator up to the top of falls and see the falls from above. We took lots of pictures and had many ooh's and aah's. As we were leaving, guess what? Nope…the family was gone. We passed a souvenir shop and I got myself ANOTHER t-shirt! I’m going to be set for years in t-shirts!

We drove on back to our hotel and packed up knowing that the next day was going to be a long trip home.

Day 6:

We drove and we drove and we drove until we got home…and in the famous last words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I can say about that now.”

We truly enjoyed our trip to Colorado and in the days that followed at home, the question came up several times…beach or mountains? Much to my wife’s chagrin, I think I have won the kids over to the mountains! Beaches are fun too…but there is just something about those mountains!

I hope you enjoyed our trip report, my wife usually writes these but I wanted to give it a try myself. Hopefully it wasn’t too wordy or dragged out but then again…hey…its my trip report! Have fun everyone!

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