April 29, 2012
Naturally Denver has no shortage of hiking trails, and I’m excited to try them all out. Much to the horror or skiers and people worried about summertime droughts there wasn’t a lot of snow this year, so trails are clearing up earlier than usual.
My mom (who was in town for the weekend) and I started out the season easy yesterday with a quick morning hike up at Mt. Falcon. Forty minutes west of Denver, this is a great hike if you want to sleep in, hike, and be back in the city for lunch.
What I like most about Mt. Falcon were the options. This well maintained, not-too-rocky and not-too-steep trail is perfect for an easy hike, a trail run, and those who prefer to tackle trails on mountain bikes or horses. There are enough people around during the weekends that I would feel comfortable hiking solo here, but the trails are easy enough to take friends of varying fitness levels.
There are also plenty of trail options.
Make your decision before you head out though (or print out this map to take with you), because the only map I saw was the one near the parking lot. We opted for the three mile Parmalee/Meadow loop. I hope to head back in a couple weeks and try running the Castle Trail, so there may be an addendum to this post soon. The loop was a nice rolling trail with great views of the Front Range foothills (although where in Denver do you NOT have great views of the Front Range foothills?) towards the west and the Mile High skyline to the east. I hear this is a gorgeous place for sunrise pictures. (Again: addendum coming up!)
The GPS on my phone pretty much got me to Mt. Falcon, but directions are as follows:
- Head west on I-70
- Go south on 470 (just past 6th Ave)
- Turn onto 285, again heading west
If you are following directions on a GPS, once you turn off highway 285 turn it off and just follow the signs. My GPS wanted me to turn down various private drives and dirt roads which was not necessary. The signs were plentiful and obvious.
April 25, 2012
Plans change. People get sick and miss vacations. Terrorist attacks ground planes. Injuries force you to bow out of races. Something cooler comes up or your bank account dips down.
Since all of the above things have happened to me (and many other travelers I assume), I try not to plan anything in advance. Sure, I might miss opportunities for cheap flights and hotels because I buy at the last minute, but such is life.
So against my better judgment, a few months ago I planned out six months of road races and travel. I didn’t buy any tickets, but I publicly posted my race plans which was bad enough. I’d just landed a semi-permanent job and I actually had an address, so I figured I was safe to start planning.
I was wrong.
In December I had a phone interview while waiting to board a plane in Las Vegas. By the time I’d reached my destination I had the job that I’d wanted for the past year and a half. A week later I flew back to Vegas, packed up my car, and was ready to head up to Denver.
But I wanted to see this guy first. We’d been dating for the past year and a half, keeping up a constant stream of communication while I was traveling. When I’d come through Vegas we’d ‘hang out.’ If ya know what I mean.
So the next morning my loaded down car, my apparently useless birth control, and I headed to Colorado. I spent two weeks blissfully unaware that I should be feeling exhausted and nauseous before taking that test.
So plans change. I didn’t run the tri-state 20 miler in New Hampshire in an effort to save money for impending day care and diaper expenses. I’m not training for the half marathon in Laramie as my body can’t seem to run further than six miles. I’ve forfeited $80 to the Grandma’s Marathon people, seeing as they have a very explicit no refund policy should you get injured or pregnant. Not that I’m complaining because feeling a baby kick just about as cool as crossing a finish line. For better or worse, plans change.
I really want to buy some airline tickets and sign up for some races in 2013, but something tells me that I’d hold off on making too many plans. Life may be a little different next year.
April 22, 2012
I was driving through North Dakota last summer, two hot months after the Minot flood. The route to Fort Stevenson State Park was waterlogged. Half sunken bales of hay and trees stuck out of unwelcome ponds along North Dakota’s Highway 83. It was relief to get to the park, where high bluffs keep Lake Sakakawea waters where they are supposed to be.
Lewis and Clark camped nearby during their 1804 expedition, and the area has become even more scenic since then with the creation of Lake Sakakawea. The lake is the largest of several reservoirs created when the upper Missouri river was dammed and developed in the 1950’s. The original Fort Stevenson was flooded during this time, and the park named after the fort now sits on the high peninsula overlooking the lake. While most of the country refers to Lewis and Clark’s famous female guide as Sacagawea, North Dakotans stick to what they consider a more authentic spelling and pronunciation of her name: Sakakawea. Hence Lake Sakakawea.
Fort Stevenson State Park has top notch facilities for families and those who like their camping a little on the cushy side. This is the not the place for backpackers like my brother who catches his own frogs for dinner and considers tents to be bourgeoisie. Fort Stevenson has fire pits and showers. Hot ones.
Being a camping novice, I thought the place was perfect. Tent and RV sites circle large playgrounds, and clean bathrooms are nearby. Fort Stevenson also rents out cabins during the summer. Cabins come with lights and heat, but cooking must be done outside over a campfire. Firewood is available for $5 from the camp hosts (parks prefer you to buy wood locally, lest you accidentally transport foreign bugs). Despite the fact that tent sites feature manicured lawns, kindling is easy to find on the ground. As an extra bonus, the place was relatively free of mosquitoes. I’d experienced a full scale attack the previous evening in Montana and was glad to not have a repeat experience.
In addition to the obvious fishing and boating activities, Fort Stevenson has ten miles of what they call hiking trails. After strolling along a “trail” and gaining approximately three feet in elevation, I demoted the trails to simply nice pathways on which to walk or run. The walk along the bluffs overlooking Lake Sakakawea is particularly nice, reminding me of footpaths overlooking Puget Sound near where I grew up in Seattle. At several “trailheads,” you can pick up wildlife guides and read about which animals you are likely to see in the area. The list is mainly comprised of birds and fish, but foxes and deer are also common to the area. As far as fish go, the Fort Stevenson State Park is the walleye capital of North Dakota, so get your tartar sauce ready.
The park also houses a guardhouse (complete with a canon and a 37-star flag a la 1867) overlooking the water and a small art gallery/gift shop. These were all closed on the late August weekday when I was at the park, so time your visit for a weekend if you are interested in checking out the guardhouse. There are many special park events, including Frontier Military Days in late June, the Governor’s Cup fishing derby in mid July, and the CANDISM Bike Tour in early August. Seasonally, the park provides bow hunting of deer, cross-county skiing, and ice fishing on Lake Sakakawea.
The park is open to campers year round, but hot showers, electrical hookups, and RV dumping stations are only available from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Cabins are only available in the summer. Call 1-800-807-4723 to check for availability. I reserved my tent site online at the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department website (http://www.parkrec.nd.gov/), which was a mistake. The only sites you can reserve are RV sites, but the website doesn’t make that fact clear. Therefore I paid $20 for a site (plus a $3 booking fee) which would have only been $10 if I’d paid for a tent site at the park. There is also a $5 park entrance fee which is required for all vehicles, even if you’ve already paid to camp.
April 18, 2012
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If someone offered me an all-expense paid trip to the Greek Isles, I would turn it down. Not because I have anything against hillsides of white houses, gyros, or the clear Aegean Sea, but because there is no way any trip to Santorini could possibly be better than my first. I’m afraid that going back would taint my memory of that first time.
Some places are just too good to return to. Some trips are so perfect that it would be foolish to tempt fate and attempt to duplicate.
Most perfect trips are only partly about the place. The great meal you had, the unexpected sunny weather, the crazy guy you met, the friends that you were with, and your prior expectations all factor into the success of a trip. I definitely enjoyed New Orleans more when I was there with my two girlfriends compared to a later solo trip. I enjoyed my first trip to Kansas City more than my second just because the city surprised me so much – I had no idea it was such a cool place.
My family’s (family = mom, dad, brother) second favorite vacation spot is Custer State Park in South Dakota. I was ten when we stopped at the little park on a long drive between Seattle and Wisconsin. I vaguely remember swimming in a pond and admiring buffalo, but I clearly remember laughing uproariously over buffalo burgers in a Custer lodge about a silly joke that has since worked it’s way into our permanent family lingo. You never know which seemingly random experiences will stick with you, your family, and your group of friends. A mention of “Custer State Park,” at a family dinner instantly evokes laughter and nostalgia.
And for this reason I bypassed the park on a recent trip through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Much like Greece, Custer State Park is just too good to return to, and I certainly couldn’t go back without my parents and/or brother.
I’m aware that comparing the Aegean islands and a small park in South Dakota may seem a little crazy, but that’s the thing about traveling. You never know which corner of the world will resonate with you in a new and unexpected way.
April 15, 2012
I became a fan of The Kevin Whirlwind Horse Memorial Run and Walk the moment I noticed that it didn’t start until 10:30. Most races have this annoying habit of starting at 8am on Saturday mornings. I promptly signed up for this race that would allow me to sleep in.
Except Spearfish is six hours away from Denver and I couldn’t get out of work/the house until six Friday night. Not wanting to drive through unfamiliar mountain roads (okay, they are hills, not mountains, but still) at night I ended up staying the night Lusk, Wyoming. This required me to get up at 6am anyways in order to make it to the race. So much for sleeping in.
I’m glad I did the drive in the morning though because highways 85 and14A from Lusk to Spearfish cut through the coolest part of South Dakota – the Black Hills. It being April, the plains leading up to the hills (which can be rather ugly in the winter) were several shades of green. If I didn’t have a race to get to I could have stopped and stared at deer for awhile as they were out in full force. Once the road crosses into South Dakota the hills proved to be also more green than black, covered with Evergreen trees that reminded me of home (where I grew up in Seattle, not my Las Vegas home. Obviously.) It was also gray and rainy so maybe that contributed to the homey feeling. The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway was also so gorgeous and remote that I had that startled/blinking-in-confusion feeling when I emerged from the canyon and hit I-90, new housing developments, and the manicured golf courses of Spearfish.
I drove aimlessly around Black Hills State University until I found the telltale sign of a race about to start: A bunch of skinny, unusually dressed people stretching their calves near a cluster of porta-potties. For future reference, this is near W Quincy St and N 3rd St, just east of Black Hills State University’s Ida Henton Park.
I paid my $15, got my T-shirt, pinned on my number, and took off with the small crowd of runners. It was a pretty good out-and-back run. The course mostly followed a paved trail alongside a creek (an offshoot of the Belle Fourche River, I believe), winding through city parks and neighborhoods. 10K and 5K participants start and run the first mile and a half together, which I always like.
After the race I skipped the awards ceremony and the Lakota Omniciye powwow in favor of getting back into my car which had heat. Plus I had more of the Black Hills to explore. I headed east out of Spearfish, looking forward to taking the long way back to Denver.
The Kevin Whirlwind Horse Memorial Run is an annual event sponsored by the Black Hills State University. The following excerpt is from BHSU’s website:
The Kevin Whirlwind Horse Memorial Run/Walk is sponsored each year on the Saturday of the Lakota Omniciye spring powwow in memory of this young man, a former BHSU student who was killed in a car accident in 1984. Marla Herman, a fellow student and member of Lakota Omniciye, organized the first memorial run in the spring of 1985 and it has been held every year since.
April 11, 2012
We’ve not exactly been experiencing a financial climate that encourages the opening of new city museums, but luckily the History Colorado Center was forced to move to a new building. Taking advantage of the move, the museum completely re-thought it’s vision, audience testing all of their exhibits and pulling out all the stop necessary to make the museum as fun as possible. I recently got a chance to explore this soon-to-open museum, and I can’t wait to come back on April 28th when it’s completed and ready for the public.
This will be one cool museum. A coal mining simulation, a 4D car-ride, games to play, and even a SouthPark reference help museum patrons better understand Colorado stories and history. On the main floor of History Colorado there is a huge map of the state, made interactive by two “time machines” that can be pushed around the floor. Depending on their locations, the machines fire up mini-movies (3-5 minutes) about the spot they’ve been situated on. I learned about Leadville’s ice palace, how the Olympics never happened in Denver, and about the first African American woman to practice medicine in Colorado.
The second floor has an exhibit on ‘Colorado for Locals,’ scheduled to be very strange - featuring situations like ‘what if the big blue bear and the big blue horse got in a fight?’ (the azure animals are well known pieces of public art here). The other exhibit opening upstairs has spaces for several different groups that showcase the concept of community in Colorado. These include Steamboat Springs (home to more Olympic athletes than anywhere in the nation), a Japanese internment camp, Lincoln Hills (the go-to African American mountain retreat), and the site of the Ludlow Massacre. Museum curators have successfully gotten away from the “plaques on the wall,” method of presenting information. In the Steamboat Springs exhibit you can participate in a simulated ski jump. Step into the Ludlow Massacre exhibit and you are surrounding by the sounds of battle before conflicting primary source quotes appear on the walls, still arguing about what happened here.
The History Colorado Center opens on April 28th. It will be open Monday – Saturday from 10am – 5pm, Sundays from noon until 5. Only a few exhibits (the ones mentioned above) will open in April. Over the next five years more wings will open. Next up will be an exhibit focused on people and their environment, particularly the importance of water in the region. The museum will also have a temporary exhibit space so traveling collections will be able to enjoy a stint at History Colorado. The museum will be charging $10 for adults, with discounts for seniors, students, children, and groups of 10 or more. The museum just behind Denver Art Museum at 1200 Broadway. You can park in the parking garage on 12th. There is also plenty of metered street parking.
April 8, 2012
I’m going to add to the 100th-Anniversary-of-the Sinking-of-the-Titanic hype today by posting my review of the Molly Brown House Museum in Denver. I’d give it a B. Maybe a B-. The only other dead rich lady’s residence I’ve been to was the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. That one is a lot cooler because Sarah Winchester believed that the ghosts of all Winchester rifle victims would haunt her if she ever stopped building her home. Molly Brown had no such crazy notions, making for a less interesting residence.
But it was interesting to learn about Molly (or Margaret, as they call her here. Apparently she was dubbed Molly only after her death) and her life in Colorado. She followed her brother to Leadville where she met her husband who later struck gold. The family and all their riches moved to Denver. Her home is right downtown, with a second story porch overlooking the capitol – still a prime real estate location. Most of the pieces in the home where purchased by Historic Denver when they bought and refurbished the home. The original furnishing where auctioned off in 1932 when Molly died in New York. There is a bit of Titanic memorabilia in the home, mostly pictures of the ship and her unfulfilled insurance claim to White Star Lines. Her extravagant trucks apparently held a $700 sealskin coat, 300 dollars of lingerie and a $20,000 necklace.
The twenty minute documentary of the unsinkable lady that I watched in the gift shop prior to my tour painted a much more “humanitarian” picture of Molly Brown. When she wasn’t traveling to Europe, Asia and Africa, she was using her influence to better Denver’s public spaces, build a juvenile justice system (which would become the model for the rest of the country), and champion the rights of minorities and women. She ran for Senate a few times before women had the right to vote. She was actively involved with other Titanic survivors, putting her language skills to use helping immigrants navigate life United States following (often) the loss of their husbands. In the days after the Titanic sunk Molly was already cajoling rich ladies to donate money to those less fortunate by publishing lists of who had given how much money to her survivors fund.
If you are in Denver for a few days, a trip to the Molly Brown House Museum is worth the $8. A $10 Titanic tour is also available through August of 2012. The museum is located on 13th and Pennsylvania. They are open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am until 4:30, with the last tour leaving at 3:30. Sunday hours are noon – 4:30. You must sign up for a tour to see the interior of the home. Tours are about 45 minutes. I showed up on a Saturday at 1:30 and got into the 3:00 tour, so be ready to kill some time. There are a couple casual restaurants right next to the museum if you are hungry.
Oh, and there was NO Celine Dion music piped into the gift shop or house – just so ya know. Although you can buy a fake version of that blue diamond necklace Kate Winslet wore in the film.
April 4, 2012
The Mad Greek Cafe is a popular stop along the well traveled stretch of highway between Southern California and Las Vegas. It’s THE pit stop for families, truckers, and those heading home from Vegas seeking hangover cures in the form of tzatziki sauce. Although it’s the not tallest building in the 600 person town of Baker, California (that would be the world’s tallest thermometer, across the street), it’s definitely the most popular. Wall Drug type billboards advise travelers of how many miles are between them and the Mad Greek.
The exterior of Parthenon pillars and white Greek God statues standing between trash cans and handicapped parking spaces cue you in to the fact that the décor is slightly on the tacky side. Inside are huge, ugly pictures of Athens and the Greek Isles. I didn’t even KNOW it was possible to take an ugly picture of Santorini. Just typing the name of the island brings me back to the most gorgeous place I’ve ever visited. I think I spent most of the Grecian part of my honeymoon exclaiming that Greece “looks just like the pictures!” Luckily I was referring to the gorgeous shots in my Greece Isles calendar that my future (and now ex) in-laws had bought me. The Mad Greek’s gray dingy shots bear no resemblance to that calendar. Or the Aegean islands. Thank God.
Anyways, the food is great. Lamb kabobs, gyros, pita bread, rice, and baklava are the things to get, but regular breakfast and diner fare (eggs, hamburgers, etc) are also on the menu. Their milkshakes are good too. They are open 24 hours. Give them a ring at (760) 733-4354 or stop by. They are in the middle of town at 7211 Baker Blvd, not like you need the address. You can’t miss it.
Where the Mad Greek tends to attract gluttons, vacationers, partiers, and ON-the-beaten-path-road-trippers, my other favorite drive in is quite the opposite.
Zeke’s Drive-In (44006 State Route 2, Gold Bar, WA 98251. 360-793-2287) is in Gold Bar. All the greenery and gray sky is a good clue that the town of Gold Bar is somewhere near Seattle. And indeed, it is - about and hour and a half northeast of the Emerald City. There are no long lines, no statues, and no parking lots at Zeke’s. This place attracts hikers, skiers, snowshoers, and fishers.
Although a drive-in, Zeke’s does have a little indoor place to eat, with picnic tables, trail maps on the walls, and no heat. If you are freezing cold because you just hiked six miles in the pouring down rain (and you probably did), it’s best to stay in your car with the heat cranked up.
I don’t know if Zeke’s food is particularly good or if it’s just that ANY hamburger is good after a long day hiking or skiing. Whatever the case, Zeke’s burgers, shakes and fries always bring happy thoughts and memories.