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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Colorado Vacation: Royal Gorge and Rocky Mountain National Park

Ok folks, it's finally time for a recap of the last leg of our Colorado vacation! After our time in Denver and then Manitou Springs, we stopped at the Royal Gorge before heading up to Estes Park in the northern part of the state.

We thought the gorge was really cool, and was worth going a little out of our way for. It's definitely an amazing sight to see.

The bridge is one of the highest suspension bridges in North America. If you're afraid of heights, walking across it might leave you a little shaky.

We made it across the whole length of the bridge, though, and were very proud of ourselves. Those wooden boards are a little sketchy!

After crossing the bridge, we saw a magic show they put on, and then started walking up to a viewpoint area called "Point Sublime," where we had an incredible view of the whole gorge. 

While we were walking, we spotted some wild mountain goats in one large herd. They hopped over a fence, and a couple of them ran out right in front of us. It was definitely the craziest wild animal experience we had of the whole trip!

We rode the gondolas back to the main entrance of the park. Because why not travel in style?

It was pretty cool. We got to take in a 360 degree view as we glided right over the entire gorge.

After the Royal Gorge, we began our trip north. We had to backtrack a little, through the Colorado Springs and Denver area, but then went a little more northwest and drove up the Peak to Peak scenic byway. It was a really pretty drive through the mountains as we made our way closer to our destination of Estes Park.

When we got to Estes Park, we stayed at the Wildwood Inn, which was right down the road from one of the entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park. We had our own suite, which was a little lodge/cabin style place with a complete kitchen, fireplace, and our own private deck and hot tub.

We spent our last full day in Colorado at Rocky Mountain National Park. And since it was the National Park Service's 100 year anniversary when we went, it was a free weekend at the park.

We drove up Trail Ridge Road, the main road that goes through the park, all the way up the mountains and back down to the other side. When we got to the town of Grand Lake, we ate lunch at a little cafe there, then drove all the way back through the park again!

Along the way, the park was nothing short of scenic, and I think we experienced every type of weather! From sunny, to foggy, to rain, sleet, and snow.

We had sun most of the morning and in the later afternoon hours, but as we got to the higher elevations, it began to rain, which turned to sleet, which eventually became snow.

In Estes Park, it was cooler and felt like fall most of the time, even though it was still August. It was in the 60's in town, but as we got higher in the mountains, it dropped all the way down to about 36 degrees or so.

We got out of the car at several of the lookout points off of Trail Ridge Road, but didn't do very many hiking trails. We did climb onto a few rocky cliff areas to take in the view, though.

I love this photo below, because it looks like the bird is just sitting there taking in the view!

It was very cold in the tundra areas at the top of the mountains, and just walking down a few smaller trails definitely takes a lot out of you at the higher elevations. It was crazy how out of shape I felt up here!

The views were worth it, though.

Just seeing all of the different kinds of landscapes the park has to offer - it was one of the coolest places we had ever seen, and probably our favorite day of the whole trip.

Our last night there, we explored some of the shops downtown Estes Park. The town alone is such a cool little place. And before we headed back home the next day, we stopped at Lake Estes, which was gorgeous.

Our first trip to the mountains together was definitely a successful one. I wish we could have stayed longer and done even more, but I'd say that the 5 full days we spent there were not wasted! 

See ya next time, Colorado!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I'll Be Back.

Hello friends! I apologize for being absent and not getting to my final Colorado vacation post, but my computer has been down as I waited for a couple of new parts to come in. We also had a scare with our dog Saleen when she had a stroke Monday morning. Trent took her to the vet, and she's been recovering well. She's pretty much back to her normal ways! And I finally have my computer up and running again.

So just wanted to drop in quickly to give you an update. I will be back soon I hope, with a post about the last leg of our Colorado vacation! That is, if no other unexpected occurrences take place.

Here's hoping for a post by the end of the week! :)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Colorado Vacation: Manitou Springs

Happy Labor Day everyone! Time for Part 2 of our Colorado Vacation adventure. After staying in Denver, we headed south to a town outside of Colorado Springs called Manitou Springs, where we stayed the next two nights.

There are so many cool and fun things to explore in the area. The first thing we did there was visit Garden of the Gods park. It was of course, more walking, and we walked through the whole park and hiked a little further than we wanted (maybe got lost a little bit), but we saw some pretty cool stuff there!

A small deer came out to see us all and pose for photos. He was really the only bigger animal we spotted at this park, but it was cool to see so up close.

The rock formations at Garden of the Gods really were "godlike." They were huge, and walking among them can really show you how small we actually are.  

We had a nice, sunny day to explore. A little hot, especially when we were walking so much, but hiking up the different trails there was really worth it to see the spectacular views from the top of the park.

Sitting up there, it was really cool being up there so high, you felt like you were on top of the world.

Garden of the Gods was one of my favorite things we did in the Colorado Springs area. It wasn't as high up as Pike's Peak, but there were some pretty amazing views there.

And of course, you can't leave the place without seeing Balanced Rock and taking a picture there!

While in Manitou Springs, we stayed at The Cliff House, which was a nice, bed-and-breakfast-like hotel. It's a historic old building that also has a nice restaurant where you can sit out on the porch and enjoy the quiet outdoor atmosphere. We had marble tile floor in the bathroom, a steam shower,  2 sinks, a fireplace, and TV/DVD player in the room. It was a pretty comfortable place!

The next morning we explored the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, which were created by Native Americans who built their homes in the cliffs of Manitou Springs.

You could walk through them and see where they lived, in these small, cramped little spaces. It's nice and cool inside the cliffs, but it is pretty tight in there!

It's not a big place, but we were pretty impressed. There are also quite a few little shops and a museum there as well, with tons of Native American souvenirs.

And there is of course, a view. Like pretty much everywhere you go in Colorado, as we found out!

After the Cliff Dwellings, we boarded our Cog Railway Train headed to the top of Pike's Peak!

We decided this would be the best way to see the scenery and ride to the very top of America's favorite mountain. It's the highest cog railway train in the country, and it goes pretty slow to the top so you can see all the beautiful scenery on your way to the top of the mountain.

You are going uphill, and into some pretty high altitudes. Some people are facing forward, and some backward. We rode up to the top backward, but it didn't phase us too much. We still got to see all of the scenery as we rode up to the very high 14,110 ft. summit.

It was so beautiful and scenic, and every once in a while we would see some wildlife, like a deer or a mountain goat.

Once we got to the top, the view was incredible. I will probably always remember it as being very cold! In fact, it was about 34 degrees with the windchill. It's totally worth it though, for this view.

I still can't believe we were at the top of Pike's Peak. It was definitely a pretty cool experience. Trent could have stayed up there all day. I on the other hand, was a little too cold! I may have spent a few minutes at the Visitor Center to warm up and get some cappuccino. :)

This is the train we rode up to the top. Some people drive to the summit, but I've heard the drive is a little treacherous. To ride the cog railway train, it's recommended you reserve your seats ahead of time - we bought them online a couple of months ago. We just liked the idea of not having to drive and being able to enjoy the ride up and down the mountain a little more than if we drove.

It ended up being a pretty fun experience. We even saw snow on the top of the mountain. In August!

Definitely one of the best and most expansive views we experienced on our trip.

The ride down was of course more scenery, just a different view. We were facing forward this time. :)

After we got back from Pike's Peak, we also made a trip over to Seven Falls, also in Manitou Springs.

It's a string of 7 waterfalls that all cascade on top of one another, and it's pretty cool to walk the 224 steps all the way to the top of the falls and experience them up close.

There are also really cool views of the falls and surrounding landscape. 

The walk up to the top of the falls is a little long and can make you a little dizzy, especially if you look down! I don't recommend it if you're afraid of heights, but it is totally worth it once you're at the top.

Along the way, there are signs that tell about each of the waterfalls.

They light up at night, and since we were there into the evening, we got to see them pretty lit up before we left, which was cool.

We ate dinner at Restaurant 1858, at the bottom of the Falls. There's both indoor and outdoor seating, but we opted to sit outside on the patio. That's just how we roll.

After a long day at the Cliff Dwellings, Pike's Peak, and Seven Falls, it was nice to relax a little while here and have some food and drinks. It's a little on the pricier side, but I got the biggest veggie burger I had ever seen in my life! The portions are pretty big and filling.

After a busy couple of days in Manitou Springs, it was safe to say that this area has plenty of things to do! There are even tons of gift shops, arcades, restaurants, and ice cream shops in town which we got to explore a little bit. 

The waterfalls, cliff dwellings, rock formations, and mountains are all part of the natural beauty that makes this area so amazing! We wish we could have spent more time here.

I'll be sharing the last leg of our Colorado trip next, which includes the Royal Gorge, Peak to Peak byway, Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. More amazing and beautiful scenery to come!

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