Typically if you have a 2,000 mile road trip ahead of you, I would recommend making it further than 150 mile on day one. Unless you have a baby with you and there happens to be a cute town 150 miles away and you were still packing up your house until three o’clock even though you’d planned on being done by 9am at the latest.

However short that first day was, it set a good precedent for the rest of our Denver-San Francisco-Seattle trip. This wasn’t my first road trip with the baby, so I headed off already armed with my own traveling-solo-with-a-baby tips:

Don’t book ahead: Normally, it’s good to plan stops ahead of time. This allows you to book the best hotels online, search for fun restaurants and activities, and ensure that don’t inadvertently leave twenty hours of driving for the last day. But if you are traveling with an infant, you need some flexibility. Go ahead and make tentative plans (five hours of driving a day worked best for us) but definitely don’t book anything ahead of time. Suppose that the baby falls asleep right before you reach your planned destination for the night – you’re not going to want to waste that precious quiet time by waking up the kid to check into a hotel. Keep your foot on the accelerator and make it to the next town before nap time is over. On the flip side, be prepared to cut the driving short if that scream from the backseat isn’t going to end anytime soon.

When traveling from Denver to San Jose, I hit my intended destination about the half the time, stopping in Steamboat Springs as planned, just outside of Heber City (instead of Salt Lake City), Battle Mountain (past the intended Elko, Nevada), Reno, and then San Jose. After a week-long stop in the Bay Area, I managed to make it to Seattle in two days instead of the planned three to four, stopping for the night in Weed, CA.

Motels, not hotels: Even if you have a limitless budget (as most single parents do, you know), it is still a way better idea to stay in motels rather that hotels. If you stay at a hotel, than getting to your parked car involves traipsing down a hallway, past an office, and maybe even (heaven forbid) up or down an elevator. The genius motel design involves parking your car RIGHT OUTSIDE the door to your room. Even if you try to pack everything you and the baby will need in one bag (see tip below), you will fail at this task and be very happy that the car is right outside. I once had to wake up Aubrey so I could go get my contact solution from my car. Terrible.

In Steamboat Springs I stayed at the lovely Rabbit Ears Motel. It was much nicer than may hotels that I’ve frequented – pricier too, this being Steamboat Springs. Rabbit Ears is perfectly located, right on the edge of downtown, across from Old Town Hot Springs (the motel has discounted tickets, if you plan on going) and next to the river.

Rabbit Ears Motel
One hotel bag: It’s impossible to pack everything you’ll need for the night in one bag. Good luck.
Swimming and Fitness clubs: Stopping at every 24hour Fitness club on route was my best road-tripping discovery. I was worried about staying in shape while traveling because my jogging stroller didn’t fit in my car and even if it had I didn’t really want to take Aubrey out of her car-seat only to strap her into a stroller. So I mapped out all the 24hour fitness clubs and stopped at all of them. Since I pay for the all-month childcare (which is good nationwide), I could pull into a club and workout for two hours while Aubrey crawled around and checked out all the new toys. This was not only my key to staying in shape, but it was a perfect car break for the baby. She’d be ready for her second nap after all that playtime. Just be sure to double check the kid’s club/daycare hours. I stopped at the Salt Lake City club only to discover the daycare was closed Sundays.

Small towns are not known for having nationwide fitness clubs, but often they still have a YMCA or rec center with babysitting available. At Steamboat Springs I spent two hours swimming at the Old Town Hot Springs. I kept Aubrey with me (she loves swimming!), but there is a daycare option there during the daytime.

Old Town Hot Springs

Picnics, not restaurants: Again, crawling time is important. When you stop to eat at a restaurant your kid is subjected to being strapped into yet another seat. Pack a lunch and bring a big blanket. Most little towns have parks that are a lot nicer than rest areas.

Picnic at Hot Sulpher Springs

 

Think twice before camping: I had thrown my tent and sleeping bag in the trunk of my car more out of habit with any real plans to use them, but in the Wasatch foothills, I thought I had the perfect time to use them. We were twenty miles outside Heber City and there was no hope of reaching town with my eardrums still intact. Aubrey was DONE. I saw a camping sign with an arrow pointing to Strawberry Reservoir and made a quick left turn.

At first I thought that I had made a good decision. There were tons of families camping nearby. There was a general store selling ice cream and snacks that would work for my dinner. Aubrey loved crawling around in the tent, and nighttime temperatures for the nearby Salt Lake City were in the 60’s. However, temperatures dipped much lower in the mountains. At ten I changed Aubrey into her warmest pajamas, and at eleven I just decided to hold her for the night. Since infants aren’t supposed to sleep with blankets, camping even in slightly cold weather is tough. Also I was kind of cold but I didn’t want to go get an extra blanket in the car for fear of waking up Aubrey. To make matters worse, I felt bad when she woke up in the middle of the night crying because I’m sure all the other campers heard us. That’ll be my last camping experience for the year.

Camping

Have AAA roadside assistance: I would never survive without AAA. They’ve given me new batteries, unlocked my car (AAA guy: “What store are you in front of?” Me: “Um…the liquor store.”), and they have come especially in handy the numerous times I’ve needed a new tire. Miraculously, I haven’t needed a new tire in six months (a record!) and the last time one went out I was with two friends, one of whom (Fix-It-Tom) could actually change a tire! However, I usually travel alone, so until the baby learns how to change a tire I’ll keep my AAA membership.

Does this guy look like a hiker or WHAT?

Jay

That’s my brother. He should be the one living in Denver. My hikes so far have been limited to mile-long nature walks that could be done whilst several month pregnant: see Table Mountain and Mt. Falcon. I suspect this is why my brother waited until I was sufficiently back in shape before he came to visit.

So within three hours of his landing at DIA, we were making our way up Lookout Mountain in Golden (tip for those prone to altitude sickness: Going from Seattle to Denver to Golden to Lookout Mountain shouldn’t be attempted all in the same afternoon).
Taking the Chimney Gulch Trail up Lookout Mountain is one of those perfect quick hikes: Tons of great city views on one side and mountain/valley views on the other. A good three mile hike, but easy enough to run or bike up it if you are super in shape. People hang-glide off of it, there’s a big “M” on the side of it that lights up at night (M for the Colorado School of Mines), and I could see it from my driveway when I lived in Golden.

Lookout Mountain in the snow

To get to Lookout Mountain take Highway 58 from Denver to Golden and turn left onto 6th Ave. Then you’ve got some options. You can drive less than a mile and park right off 6th Ave in this makeshift parking lot…

Lookout Parking

…or you could keep driving for another minute and then turn right onto 19th street, which winds through a neighborhood and then becomes Lookout Mountain Rd (follow the signs) and park at the trailhead alongside the road, or you could just drive all the way to the top. It’s a switchback-y road that’s not very much fun to drive (unless you like that kind of thing), but it gets you to the top quicker.

View from Lookout

The next day we headed out to Eldorado Canyon State Park ($8 daily vehicle pass), which is just off Highway 93 between Golden and Boulder. My brother looked longingly at the rock climbers doting the canyon walls as I heaved the baby backpack on my shoulders and we started exploring.

Hiking with baby

There are numerous trail options at the State Park from the rim trail (which is stroller friendly) to technical boulder scrambles that lead to sheer rock faces. The hiking and scenery were great, but the best part of this park was definitely marveling at the rock climbers. I vividly remember my difficulties scaling the one and only (very, very small) cliff that I’ve ever faced, so I could only shake my head in amazement at the guys and gals dangling above me. How cool is must be to conquer something as imposing as a canyon wall.

Eldorado Canyon State Park

We were there Memorial Day weekend, so the trails were packed, as was the area near the visitor center where huge groups of families and friends were picnicking and barbequing alongside the South Boulder Creek (which looked like a full-blown river after all the snow we had last spring).

The next day we re-traced our route and this time made it all the way to Boulder. We parked the car at Chautaugua Park and set out towards the Flatirons. We walked along Bluebell road which was very boring at first. It starts out as a flat gravel trail between a grassy valley and a housing development. But once it hooked in with the Flatirons loop (briefly) and then the Royal Arch trail things got a lot more mountain-y. About half a mile away from the arch viewpoint there is a natural stopping place to sit on some rocks and eat lunch. I stopped here, opting not to go all the way to the arch because the trail got a little steep and I wasn’t comfortable doing it with a baby on my back.

The Royal Arch trail was cool, but my least favorite of the three hikes. It was just your basic hike. Nice, but nothing to blog about. The trail was super crowded and everyone kept giving my brother dirty looks because I the baby on my back and everyone assumed he was Aubrey’s dad, shirking his fatherly-hiking duties. I had to keep explaining that he was only my brother, shirking his uncle-hiking duties, which is a less grievous offense.
Oh, and there was a snake. It was big.

 

Jogging StrollerYesterday, being Mother’s Day, was a day in which moms point out all the things that they do for which they receive no recognition or monetary compensation. So in the spirit of being fair, today I want to give a little shout out to my seven-month old, who also does a lot of work around here. One of her daily tasks is to turn me into a better runner. Her methods are quite sneaky, yet she prevails. Being a mother HAS made me a better runner. Here’s how:

 

Faster:

Last week I needed to get in a five mile run. I had slacked off the previous two days and it was critical that I complete the five miles THAT DAY. However I got stuck at work later than anticipated and by the time I started the run I realized that I would need to pick my daughter up from the nanny’s in 45 minutes. Cutting the run short (again) was not an option, and neither was picking up the baby late. So I had no choice but to pick up the pace. If I was childless I would have jogged at an easy 11 minute pace, what my high school coach used to call “junk miles.” But instead I ran the five miles at a (slightly) more respectable 9 minute mile pace.

Thanks kid!

Likewise, if I have Aubrey with me in her jogging stroller and she starts fussing a mile away from home, that last mile is going to be a very speedy one because I want to get home before the whining turns into a full on scream.

If you do NOT have a baby, here are some other suggestions to help you run faster:

  • Tear a hole in your running pants in your crotch area. This hole will get increasingly larger as you run and you’ll want to get home as quickly as possible to minimize time spent in public.  I discovered this trick at the oh-so-crowded New Orleans Half Marathon.
  • Zombie fitness app: I heard this NPR story about “Zombies, RUN!”  It’s a downloadable fitness app wherein you are tasked with accomplishing different necessary jobs in a post-apocalyptic world before the zombies get you.

Stronger:

Being a single mom you have less time to do things. It becomes necessary so combine chores. So last week on my run downtown I had to stop at Tattered Cover to pick up a couple magazines, Office Depot to get a box of golf pencils, and a grocery store to collect a thing of baby formula. With each stop my load got increasingly heavier. These purchases served as running weights for my last two miles. I DO realize that those specific items really don’t weigh that much, so on my next run I’ll need to pick up a gallon of milk and a box of diapers to increase my running-with-weights time. This reminds me of a cross country task wherein we were placed in teams to run to Safeway and buy a watermelon. The winning team was deduced based on some complicated calculations that rewarded you for completing the run quickly and having the heaviest watermelon.

Also: The baby isn’t that heavy yet, but her car seat, stroller, and other paraphernalia are. Lugging her stuff around on a daily basis is good for the biceps and triceps.

Cross-Training:

  • Hiking: Now done with a 20 lb. backpack.
Aubrey's first hike at Red Rocks

Aubrey’s first hike at Red Rocks

  • Squats: If Aubrey is fussy, nothing will calm her down faster than when I pick her up and do a quick set of squats. She’s even been known to start crying again when the squats are completed, thus encouraging me to do another set. She particularly likes the move wherein you squat, hold for a few seconds, and then get back up. Perhaps she has a career as a future Body Pump instructor.
  • Sit-ups. Nothing is more hilarious to Aubrey than witnessing me do a set of sit-ups. After each sit up she laughs and expectantly waits for me to do another one. It’s like the abs version of peek-a-boo.
  • Gym class productivity: I have to admit I used to cheat a little bit at Group Exercise classes at my neighborhood 24hour fitness. I would “stretch” during the planks and roll my eyes apathetically as the instructor chirped that we should triple our warm up weight for the next exercise. I am now proud to say that I cheat no longer. Because an hour long class represents an hour away from Aubrey, I need to make it worth my while. No more skipping reps or skimping on the weight.

Healthy Eating:

Baby FoodSince I’m chopping, steaming, pureeing organic vegetables for Aubrey, I figure that I might as well eat some too. Turns out I like squash. Who knew?!? Not only am I eating more vegetables as side dishes, but I am also throwing her veggie purees in my pasta sauces making them healthier.

Also, I have less time to make cookies.

 

So there you have it, having a baby will totally make you a faster, stronger, healthier runner. I’m fairly confident that Runner’s World Magazine will immediately contact me to write a feature article on this very scientific and well researched training method.

 Happy running people!

Hundreds of races were run this weekend.

When something bad happens, I hope that each of you have ways to make yourself feel better. I heard a radio station playing a Mr. Rogers clip, in which he posthumously advises people to “look for the helpers.” And of course the helpers were numerous on April 15th. My own advice is to think of all the times when things went right.

After Newtown, I thought about all those good days I’ve had in the classroom. I remember Lupe taking a deep breath and saying “okay, I’m ready to write.” I remember Davontae’s grin when he got his first “A” of the year. I remember Marisa finding a coach roach inside her map of Italy (it was funny, I swear!), and I think about how proud I feel when my students flawlessly execute speeches about African colonialism and the benefits of insourcing.

So all last week, instead of grading papers, I read about upcoming races.  I had a lot of reading material. Every Saturday and Sunday there are races in almost every corner of every state in America. Some were tiny affairs, where the mile signs blew down and even I would have had a chance of winning because there were only ten participants. Some were huge events with Kenyans and extra police and live global coverage.

I’m guess that the runners themselves were an even more diverse set. I’m willing to bet that hundreds of people completed their first 5K this weekend, something they never thought they would do last year when they were 100 pounds heavier, or smoking a pack a day, or recovering from heart surgery. I just KNOW that somewhere, there was a cocky guy in tight shorts, loudly proclaiming that this marathon was just an “easy training day,” since he’s preparing for a 500 mile race in Antarctica or something. Runners ran this weekend to raise money for cancer or lupus or their local elementary school. Runners ran this weekend to stay in shape, to have fun, to train for something bigger, to try for a new PR, or because a friend or spouse roped them into it. Runners ran this weekend to remember Boston. Runners ran this weekend because that’s just what we do.

There were some pretty successful races this weekend.

Yesterday in Tumwater, Washington, participants ran one mile BACKWARDS (9:15 was the winning time) and were treated with a cupcake feast after the “race.”

The oh-so-popular Color Run was held in Baton Rouge on Saturday. Participants are instructed to wear white and they get a “color pack” to throw at the finish. Everyone looks like a two year old that’s just found out about finger painting by the time this “happiest 5K on the planet” is over with.

Salt Lake City Marathoners began their 26.2 miles yesterday by singing Sweet Caroline. At the finish line a group of runners who’d run BOTH the Boston and SLC Marathon posed for a finishers photo in front of a “Remembering Boston” banner that had been signed by thousands.

The “Run 5K 4 CK” race was held in Tallahassee, FL yesterday. “CK” is Camp Kesem, and money was raised so kids that have a parent with cancer can go to summer camp. Runners were doused with water along the route, as race directors supplied water balloons and squirt guns to runners and fans.

Just five days after the Boston Marathon and just 20 miles north of the city, nearly 250 people ran the Colleen Kelly 5K, raising money to fund a Melrose High School scholarship in her name.

Earlier today, 35,000 London Marathoners paused for 30 reflective seconds before fearlessly running their 26.2 miles. The finish line was a happy and safe place. The London Marathon is donating £2 per finisher to a fund set up for victims of the Boston Marathon explosions.

And as I write, my friend Taryn is running up and down valleys and mountains in Eastern Washington, working on the Yakima Skyline Rim 25K today as part of her preparation for the Wasatch 100. Hopefully it’s going well for her!

Happy running everyone. May there be many, MANY more successful Boston Marathons and other races in our futures.

 

The standard milling around before the race startsLuckily yesterday’s Jackalope 5K race in Wyoming had a 10am start since the baby and I ended up leaving Denver Saturday morning instead of Friday night. And when we stopped between Cheyenne and Laramie the wind was so cold and biting that I kinda wanted to turn the car around and go to bed. We soldiered on. In my quest to run a race in all fifty states I intentionally chose a short one for Wyoming because I HATE running in the wind.  Luckily things weren’t so bad in down in Laramie, since the town is down between the Snowy Mountain range and the southern peaks of the Medicine Bow National Forest.

 

The High Plains Harriers (along other local groups) have been putting on the Jackalope 5K for the past twelve years. This year the Brendon Orr, a volunteer with Black Dog Animal Rescue, served as race director and participation shot through the roof with 249 participates (114 being the previous record). More importantly, $4,920 was raised for the Rescue. Dogs were invited to run also, which seemed to bring people out. One couple I spoke to were running the race with two kids in a jogging stroller and two dogs on leashes. They usually avoid races until the weather gets warmer but were enthusiastically participating today because the Black Dog Rescue is close to their heart. They’ve fostered many rescue dogs.

Racing dogs

For me personally, the race was fairly anticlimactic. I started in the back with the other strollers and slow-looking dogs, and worked my way up to the middle of the pack when things started clearing out. I was just getting in my grove when Aubrey started wailing and protesting being in her stroller. So I ended up walking across the finish line with an empty stroller and a pink bundle in my arms at just under forty minutes. It was whatever the opposite of a PR is. Oh well. The race was nice enough – all on paved trails, along a creek, under a highway, and through a park. Since it is still winter (that groundhog apparently lied to us) it wasn’t too picturesque, save for the mountains in the background.

I skipped the post-race festivities to feed Aubrey and then headed to downtown Laramie to find some food for myself. I got distracting wandering around downtown though downtown Laramie -lots of cute little shops, even if you don’t like antiquing. I was especially taken with The Second Story, an old hotel that has been converted into a book store/coffee house. Old hotel rooms have been converted into spaces for different types of books.  The children’s shop next store was pretty cute too. There were a lot of restaurants nearby, but eventually I decided on The Crowbar and Grill. All of these places are around Iverson and 1st and 2nd streets.

Book store

Toy store

The Crowbar and Grill

I really wanted to order the first three items on the appetizer menu: Pad Thai Fries, Poutine, and Fried Avocado. But in the end, I wasn’t quite brave enough for the fries and I’m a cheese curd purist so I went with the avocado. Delicious. I didn’t have one of their burgers (beef: picked up every morning at a local butcher) because I thought I’d have fabulous burger options in Cheyenne where I was staying the night.

Fried Avacado

I was incorrect. Cheyenne kinda sucked. I should have stayed in Laramie.

I’d decided to stay in Cheyenne because I got a good deal ($74 on a Saturday) on a nice hotel. And The Historic Plains Hotel was indeed nice, with a semi-historic looking lobby and large rooms. There is an attached restaurant, spa, and gift shop. A breakfast buffet is included (pancakes, sausage, eggs, fruit, etc.). As with most great hotels, the best thing about The Historic Plains Hotel was its central location.

Historic Plains Hotel

However, centrally located in Cheyenne doesn’t mean a whole lot. There’s nothing to do in this town. And I’m the kind of person that stay entertained in Victorville, Baldwin, Minot and Groom.  (Where, you ask? Exactly.)  My problem, of course, was in expectation. Sure, Cheyenne has a few museums (I visited the Wyoming State Museum – nothing to report), a capitol building, a train station, and lots of painted cowboy boots, but I was unimpressed.

Cheyenne Capitol

Train Depot, Cheyenne

Cheyenne boot...one of many

The historic downtown was the kind of place where you could walk across major cross streets without waiting for a light to change. When I asked a local where to go for dinner she enthusiastically directed me to either Chili’s or Buffalo Wild Wings out by the mall. Not that I mind either of those establishments, but I was hoping for some a bit more local. I ended up a Two Doors Down, a burger joint frequented by high-schoolers and young families. (So I fit in, having a six month old with me). It was fine, but nothing exceptional.

So Aubrey and I had a nice evening watching the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres from the comfort of our hotel room, which was actually quite fun.

If you have a chance to hang out in southeastern Wyoming, I definitely recommend Laramie over Cheyenne. Or better yet, go in the summer when all the ranches are open and you can stay in the mountains while learning how to rope and ride. Or if that’s not your thing, camping at the Vedauwoo Recreation Area also seems like it would be fun during the summer. This site between Laramie and Cheyenne (exit 329 off I-80) has tons of exposed rocks good for rock climbing and hiking.

Vedauwoo

Also in this area in Ames Monument, a pyramid built by the Union Pacific Railroad Company to honor the Ames brothers (they were railroad guys). I was going to check out until I realized that I’ve have to drive down nearly two miles of dirt road. I go through tires at alarming rates in the smoothest of road conditions, so I just took a picture of the sign and turned around.

Too far

First race with babyI can finally run again!!! My daughter turned six months today, which means I can officially run with her in a jogging stroller without worrying about giving her shaken baby syndrome. Likewise, I can resume going to the gym as childcare is available for those exactly half a year old (and not a day sooner, as I discovered when I tried to sign her up yesterday).

Aubrey and I celebrated her half birthday by participating in the Hippity Hop Easter Trot 5k. As you can probably guess from the name of the race, this was a family friendly event. There were tons of kids running around on a search for Easter eggs prior to the race. The race itself featured a small army of oversized jogging strollers.

It wasn’t the most competitive run I’ve ever participated in. I spend the first mile cautiously jogging along, worrying simultaneously that my kid was too hot and that I’d accidently run into someone’s heel. Luckily Aubrey babbled happily for the 3.1 miles and I was fully enjoying my runners high by the end of the race, despite an embarrassing finish time that I’m not going to admit to on this blog.

The race was well organized. To me this means that there was a loudspeaker with music at the start/finish, ample parking (on the street), mile markers were obvious, results (via timing chip) were posted immediately, and there was good food at the finish. Yay breakfast burritos! It was not the most gorgeous run I’ve done in my life, but Denver’s Central Park was a nice enough venue.

Central Park, Denver

Central Park is in Stapleton, the area of Denver with a lot of new fancy sub-division houses (oh, that area). It is northeast of downtown, off of Martin Luther King Blvd and Central Park Blvd. Take the Quebec exit south off of I-70 and head east on MLK for a couple of miles. The park has a huge play area for kids including a big climbing rock that my brother would have loved when he was five. There are lots of good sledding hills too.

Subdivision heaven

Playground

Upon returning home I went on a shopping spree. My website of choice was my beloved www.runningintheusa.com. I am excited for the next few months!

April 6th: Jackalope 5K race in Laramie, WY. I emailed the race director who quickly responded in the affirmative that I could indeed run with a jogging stroller. Get ready Aubrey!

April 20th: 4-H Fun Run in Holdredge, NE. This is still a maybe, dependent on their stroller rules because I doubt I can convince anyone to travel to Holdredge with me. My affection for small town races is n0t shared by many.

May 27th: BoulderBOULDER 10K in Boulder, CO. I need to find a babysitter for this one because the huge race (50,000 participants, 90+ waves) doesn’t allow strollers. Family members: this would be an excellent weekend to visit.

June 17th: San Francisco Half Marathon. A fabulous coincidence: Aubrey’s Las Vegas dwelling father is originally from Oakland, and he’s anxious for her to meet his family that still lives there. He is a HUGE Oakland A’s fan, whereas I live and die for the Mariners. Naturally we made sure that Aubrey’s first trip to The Bay would be when the M’s are in town. (Bonus: this is also father’s day weekend) Last week I discovered that the SF Marathon would be held that same weekend. YAY!!! My best friend Denise is coming up for the weekend to and we’re doing the first half of the marathon. (She’d be in shape for the full…but I will most definitely NOT be).

June 29th: Ellsworth Wisconsin Cheese Curd run (10K? 8M?) This is another happy coincidence. My family will be celebrating my grandma’s 90th birthday the EXACT SAME weekend as the cheese curd festival. And man, do I love my cheese curds.

Fresh cheese curds

Sometime in August or September: A FULL MARATHON. I’m not sure where I’ll be living/working so I can’t commit to a specific one yet. Stay tuned

I was expecting Denver to be a lot prettier in the winter. It’s gorgeous here in the spring and fall, with tree leaves respectively budding white and pink and changing red and orange. But in the winter everything is just dead. I think I was expecting to live in a Thomas Kinkade winter scene: pine trees heavy with snow, kids skating on frozen ponds, white-capped mountains in the background… Nope. The weather here has a severe bi-polar personality disorder, which means it will be snowy and gorgeous for five minutes and then everything will melt and it will be fifty degrees the next day. Trees and parks will remain dead-looking until April.

Denver winter

Luckily there are antidotes to this excessive brownness. You can either

  • Head up to the mountains where it’s so cold that you eyeballs freeze, but the snow doesn’t melt. OR…
  • Find something tropic in Denver. And no, I’m not taking about fruity drinks with umbrellas. I hate Margaritaville. Thank goodness there isn’t one in Denver. I’m talking about the greenhouse at Denver Botanic Gardens and the indoor rainforest at Denver Zoo.The only picture I took at the zoo
  • Since only part of the zoo and gardens are tropical, I recommend not paying for your admission to these attractions, particularly if you go during the winter. Free 2013 zoo days this winter have already passed, but if you are into planning waaaay ahead, the zoo will be free again on November 4th, 15th, and 21st  The Botanic Gardens will again be free March 27th, April 22nd, July 9th, August 27th, and October 7th.

At the zoo last month I skipped the elephants, zebras and cheetahs and met my friends somewhere around Bird World and Lorikeet Adventure, where it was nice and warm. The Emerald Forest and Primate Panorama also feature inside viewing areas.

On the other side of the park is Tropical Discovery, an indoor rainforest. There are no dead looking brown trees here. Everything looks very lush….except the “temple ruin in the heart of the jungle.” It looks rather cheesy. But while in my fake rainforest, I enjoyed gazing at the fish and turtles, and my baby girl craned her neck to look at an exciting light coming through the water.

The zoo is located inside downtown Denver’s City Park (also very brown and dead looking this month). Being free day, the parking lot and garage was very crowded, and the line of cars piled up to get into the park was long. However the zoo itself didn’t feel very crowded. Maybe that’s because everyone was checking out the elephants and cooler outdoor animals.

Adult admission to the zoo is $12 during the winter and $15 in the summer. Winter hours are 10-4, summer hours are 9-5. Check out the zoo’s website here for more information.

Last week when my parents came to visit I suggested that we visit Denver’s Botanic Gardens, which shocked them because I hate botany. Botany 101/plant identification was the only class I failed in college, and I failed it twice. The first time with a 10%. And I was actually TRYING to pass. I’m sorry, it is just impossible to tell if a leaf is separated (in which you should turn to page 652 in your dichotomous key) or merely serrated (page 152 – an get ready for another equally impossible task). But my farmer father was an ag major, my mom loves gardening, it was free, and I had a baby to entertain me so off to the Botanic Gardens we went.

A flowerIt wasn’t so bad – mostly because I skipped the pools, outside gardens, and ornamental grasses. They didn’t look too interesting from afar (dead, brown, etc.). The greenhouse was kinda nice though. I stepped inside the garden, stepped back out, stripped my daughter of her pink fuzzy snowsuit, and re-entered. It was VERY hot and humid in there. The greenhouse is several stories (there is an elevator) of lush greenness. In addition to various plants that I don’t know the Latin names of (I left my dichotomous key at home, dang it!), the greenhouse has a water feature complete with ducks. I especially liked watching little kids run around with petri dishes, collecting various stuff. I don’t know if they were supposed to be doing this, but they looked very cute and earnest. I’m sure they’ll make good botany students in the future.

I conveniently got hungry an hour after our arrival at the gardens. (My dad said he could have spent NINE HOURS there. Oh, the horror.) If you, like me, don’t want to dine at a place called Offshoots at the Gardens, Three Lions, a soccer (football?) pub around the corner has great bar food. Denver Botanic Gardens are open from 9 -5, and if you don’t go on a free day, it’ll cost you $12.50 (more than the zoo? That’s absurd!) The gardens are downtown at 1007 York Street. Check them out here.  

Less than five weeks ‘til spring!

Spring!

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