Category Archives: Travel

Southwest Colorado Adventures, Days 5-7: Great Sand Dunes and Florissant Fossil Beds

This is the final entry in this series about our southwestern Colorado trip. To read the rest, look here, here, and here

Thursday morning, we checked out of the hotel, stopped in Mancos for breakfast (Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters is a great little local place — way cheaper and probably tastier than the National Park restaurant), and headed east again. The Lightner Fire had just started near Durango, so the drive was smoky and the views were pretty nonexistent most of the way. We stopped for leg-stretches in Alamosa and Pagosa, and I couldn’t resist dipping my toes in the river in Pagosa one last time.

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Then, it was back to driving. We arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park a little after two. We’d planned to hike to Zapata Falls, a short hike outside the park that everyone raves about, but when we saw the rocky, rutted road, we thought better of driving it, planning instead to come back the next day and just hike the road, too.

We headed on into the park and explored the Visitor Center. I went for a two-mile run (still all I was allowed to do, per my physical therapist) along a delightful sandy trail while Jordan talked to a volunteer about our plans for the next day (more on that in a minute). Then, together, we went over to the Montville Nature Trail.

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The NPS website describes the trail like this: “In summer, keep this hike as an option for afternoon as an escape from the heat of the dunes. Walk along a shady forested trail named for a late 1800s settlement, comprising 20 houses in its heydey. Rest near the trail’s highpoint, where you’ll find outstanding views of Mt. Herard, the dunes and the valley.” We, however, got about 10 feet from the car and were swarmed by mosquitos, and since we didn’t want to fight the little buggers for the whole hike, we bailed.

Instead, we went down to Medano Creek, which was still running a bit. Its peak had passed, but there was enough water for wandering and splashing and playing. It was quiet, fun, and once we were mid-creek, mosquito-free. We played for a couple of hours, then headed out to make camp. Half the campsites at the Dunes campground are reservable, and the other half are first-come, first-served. When we booked this trip, the reservable ones were taken, and we were nervous about risking the first-come sites, so we’d booked the next-closest campground available — about 45 minutes away. Since we knew we’d need an early start the next morning, we hit the hay early.

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That early night didn’t turn out too well — some strange noise kept us awake most of the night — but we were still up bright and early. We had to pack up camp, even though we planned to stay another night, because Friday is watering day at that campground and they water the tent sites. So we packed up, drove back into the park, filled our waters, and were hiking by 7:15. Our plan was to climb Star Dune, the tallest dune in North America. While I ran the day before, Jordan had asked a volunteer for directions. She told him to cross the creek and turn left, walk two miles, and then “you’ll see it.”

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Hi, I’m a nerd.

That volunteer was confused; she should have told us to go the other way. We climbed around (PSA: dunes hiking is hard. Because sand.) until we realized that a dune near us was High Dune — not as tall as Star, but the tallest you can see from the parking lot. We hiked over and stood atop High Dune, hoping to see Star Dune and reassess. Star Dune was still WAY out there, and my still-recovering hamstring was starting to complain a little, so we decided to be content with High Dune.

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High Dune Selfie

Settling for High Dune was easy: the view from the summit is stunning, with miles of rolling dunes butted up against the majestic Sangre de Cristos. We soaked in the view for a while, and then other people started arriving at the summit, and we had to share.  But that’s okay, because while hiking up dunes is fun, going down them is a blast. I’d gone to the Dunes as a kid, and running and jumping down the Dunes is just as fun as a 31-year-old as it was when I was 10. We ran, bounded, leapt, and slid, looking completely ridiculous but not caring one whit.

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Once down, we kicked off our shoes and walked in the creek a bit, then hiked out to the Sand Pit Picnic Area, where we ate a snack and admired the dunes some more. We hiked back via the Medano Primitive Road, which I would not recommend because it’s full of 4-wheel-drive vehicles out having some redneck fun. After that second little hike, we drove back to the Visitor Center, where we at our PBJs while admiring High Dune and thinking about how cool we are. Unfortunately, we also watched storm clouds rolling in.

We debated what to do. Our original plan was to return to Zapata Falls, but starting a 7-mile hike at 1 p.m. with approaching storm clouds would have just been foolhardy. We’d already hiked dunes, and the wind that came with those clouds was too cold to make more creek-playing fun. Since all our stuff was already packed, we decided to cancel our campground reservation, drive toward Buena Vista, and see if we could find a pretty place to camp. Of course, neither of us considered that it was Fourth of July weekend and campsites would be busy. We did find two gorgeous (but full) places to come back to someday, but we ended up at the Buena Vista KOA. Oh well — it was quiet, we could have a campfire, and no mysterious noise kept us awake until all hours.

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The nice part about staying in Buena Vista was that it made the trip to our final adventure spot, Florissant Fossil Beds, that much closer. We took our sweet time about having breakfast and packing up camp, and we still got to Florissant around 10:00 — just in time for a ranger talk about the history and geologic wonders of the area. Then, after watching the movie at the Visitor Center to learn the basic background of the National Monument, we were ready to explore.

We started with the Sawmill Trail, a 2ish-mile loop. It was an easy trail, broad and smooth with just a few ups and downs, and the quakies (that’s what we native Coloradoans call aspens), firs, and wildflowers made for a beautiful walk.

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Sawmill Trail

The loop ended back at the Visitor Center, so we hit the bathroom and water fountain before heading on to the one-mile Petrified Forest loop, where we saw enormous petrified stumps and read about the area — from millions of years ago when the trees were alive, to 100 years ago when tourists plundered the area, to 40 years ago when the government protected the land. Fascinating stuff, and a little sad — just think how much we could know if people hadn’t carried away little bits of history as souvenirs.

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Jordan and The Big Stump

Florissant Fossil Beds was a great stop; I highly recommend visiting if you’re in the Colorado Springs area. It has 15 miles of trails, so we definitely need to go back and explore more!

After leaving Florissant, we drove to Old Colorado City (the quieter partner of Manitou Springs), where we grabbed a snack and wandered into some little shops. We planned to spend that night with Jordan’s aunt and uncle in Colorado Springs. His uncle wasn’t feeling well, though, so we met his aunt for dinner, then drove back home and back to reality.

Staying in Colorado for our vacation this year was a wonderful choice. Whether you’re a local or from out of state, visiting the southwestern corner of this great state is  well worth your time.

What’s your favorite place in Colorado? If you haven’t been here, what’s your favorite place in your state? 

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Southwest Colorado Adventures, Days 2-3: Mesa Verde

For the first part of this story, read this post

After lunch with my cousin and her boys in Bayfield and a quick stop for ice in Durango, we headed toward Mesa Verde. As we drove, green hillsides and winding roads greeted us, and then we saw the Mesa projecting above us, and we knew we’d arrived.

We started at the Visitor Center, where we bought our tour tickets for the next day and lingered a while, enjoying yet another stunning vista. Then, we drove up another winding road to Morefield Campground, the only campground in Mesa Verde National Park, where we checked in, then slowly circled, searching for an available spot with a decent bit of shade.

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Once we found a shady campsite, we set up camp, built a fire, and made dinner (this recipe — so good!). After we ate, did dishes, and drowned our fire, we headed over to the two-mile (round trip) Knife Edge trail, which the ranger at the VC had told us we had to hike at sunset. He was not wrong. All along the trail, the entire southwestern corner of Colorado — and beyond — is visible. Distant mountain ranges mark the horizon, smaller hills and mesas dot the landscape below, and unique geology lines the trail and the hills beyond. As the sun sank, its brilliant, then softening, light cast a glow over the entire valley, turning the rocks yellow, then orange, then pink.

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Knife Edge was a short and easy hike, but that view made it one of our favorites of all time. Neither my words nor my iPhone pictures can really do it justice.

We could have stayed at Knife Edge until the sun disappeared entirely, but we also wanted to catch a ranger program at the campground’s amphitheater, so we headed back down the trail as the light faded. The program was focussed on storytelling. It was just okay — the ranger was new and had some kinks to work out in her presentation — but it was fun, and stargazing as we headed back to our campsite and to bed was a perfect way to end a wonderful day.

The next morning, I was woken early by birdsong outside our tent. (Okay, I was woken by a full bladder, but then I heard the birds). When I got back from the bathroom, Jordan and I lay in bed –er, sleeping bags –and chatted until about 6:00, when I rolled out of bed and went for a 20-minute walk-run around the campground. Just down the hill from our campsite, I came upon five deer — four bucks and a doe — nonchalantly munching their breakfast beside the road. They were pretty tame, as National Park deer tend to be, and this one posed nicely for a picture before I headed on my way:

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He posed nicely, but apparently I can’t hold a camera still, so he’s all blurry.

When I returned from my little jog, we ate a quick breakfast, then headed out for another day of adventure, starting with a tour of Cliff Palace, the enormous dwelling that you probably picture when you think “Mesa Verde.” The ranger leading our tour was excellent, teaching us facts and theories about the history of Cliff Palace and its inhabitants.

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Jordan doing the Cliff Palace thing

After Cliff Palace, we drove over to Balcony House, billed as the “adventurous tour.” Of course, I can’t resist anything that claims to be adventurous, so I was really excited for this tour. We again had a delightful ranger leading the tour — he was knowledgeable, interesting, and funny. Even if he hadn’t been leading the tour, Balcony House would’ve been fascinating, sparking my imagination as I tried to picture how people had worked and lived there one thousand years ago. And the “adventurous” parts — the 32-foot ladder and narrow tunnel — were pretty fun, too.

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The remnants of what gives Balcony House its name (and a bunch of other tourists)

After Balcony House, we headed over to the Chapin Museum, where we refilled our waters and ate our usual vacation lunch of PBJs, sitting in the shade overlooking Spruce Tree House. This  was as close as we’d get to Spruce Tree this trip, since it was closed due to a rockslide. Darn.

After lunch, we headed out on the Pictograph Trail (which we learned is misnamed, because it leads to petroglyphs, not pictographs). We were quite hot, since we started the 2.4-mile hike at 1:40 p.m., but we had plenty of water, and the scenery on the hike was well worth a little sweat. The trail is steep in some places, with narrow sandstone steps, which made the crowd thin out after half a mile or so, leaving the trail mostly to us.

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Squeezing through a narrow part of Pictograph Trail

The petroglyphs were interesting, and we were glad we’d picked up a trail guide at the trailhead, as it explained some interpretations of the etchings. The ‘glyphs weren’t the only interesting part of the trail, either: remnants of walls, interesting geology, and unique plants dot the trail, too.

After the hike, we took respite in the air-conditioned museum for a bit, watching the movie and reading all the displays because learning is fun. The only thing left to do on Chapin Mesa then was to drive the Mesa Loop and look at the ruins along it. We did, of course, and while the stops were interesting, they didn’t make for very interesting pictures. Use your imagination.

We returned to the campground sweaty, dirty, and tired — the best way to end a day of vacation. Although it may not really seem “camping-ish” to have showers at a campground, we were pretty grateful for them that day. We ate dinner, showered, and collapsed into our sleeping bags, ready to get a good night’s sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

Have you been to Mesa Verde? 

What’s your favorite National Park?

 

Southwest Colorado Adventures, Days 1-2: Pagosa Springs and Chimney Rock

If you’ve followed my blog for a few years (or if you know us in real life), you know that Jordan and I try to take a vacation every year. We usually try to go for about a week, someplace that we’ve never been before, and our favorite destinations are national parks. We didn’t take a trip in 2016 because we were starting new jobs and buying a house and moving. We’d talked about not taking one this year, either, since buying the house and a car and new windows for the house left us feeling less than flush. But our trips are important, so we decided on a budget-friendly, mostly camping Colorado-cation this year.

Our adventure started bright and early on a Sunday morning. We’d packed all we could the night before, so I went for a quick 2-mile walk-run (I’m still pretty restricted, thanks to this injury), and we packed the cooler, loaded up our bikes, and were on the road around 7 a.m.

Our ultimate destination was Mesa Verde, but since I’m not a good road-tripper, we’d decided to break the drive into two days, spending Sunday night in Pagosa Springs. The drive was beautiful, and we arrived in Pagosa around 12:30 p.m. We parked at the Visitor Center and ate our PBJs by the river, watching children splash and rafters and kayakers paddle past. After lunch, we  explored the town. Turns out, there’s not much to the town of Pagosa, and most of what’s there is closed on Sundays. We popped into the few shops that were open, then decided  to try out the hot springs.

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This coffee shop in Pagosa Springs gets me. 

Pagosa boasts three options for hot springs dippin’, all for different prices. We chose Overlook Hot Springs, the mid-priced choice. Overlook has three levels of pools: indoor, courtyard, and rooftop. The rooftop pools offer a view of downtown Pagosa, the riverwalk, and the mountains. The courtyard pools are one-person tubs — we joked that we felt like that weird commercial with the people in separate bathtubs — and the indoor pools are nice, but nothing spectacular. Overlook was surprisingly quiet: we shared the rooftop pools with another couple for a few minutes, but otherwise had the place to ourselves. The soak was a nice way to loosen up after a long morning of driving, and we appreciated that they had showers to (try to) wash the sulfur smell out of our bodies when we were done.

We rounded out the afternoon with beers and a snack at local brewery Riff Raff Brewing. The beer was good and the chips and salsa even better; definitely stop at Riff Raff if you’re ever in Pagosa.

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We relaxed on the patio for a bit, then headed out to our campground. Our campsite was lovely, right on the river, but a little crowded. Kids were noisily playing ball, riding bikes, and splashing in the river near us, but we didn’t mind; we were glad that they were outside and enjoying nature instead of glued to whatever screen was handy. Plus, they cleared out and quieted down early, so we had a glorious night of sleep listening to the river flowing behind our tent.

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Monday morning, we ate some riverside oatmeal, packed up camp, and headed to Chimney Rock National Monument, between Pagosa Springs and the little town of Bayfield. Chimney Rock offers two-hour guided tours, the first starting at 9:30 a.m. We were glad we’d chosen that first tour, as even at 9:30, the sun was pretty warm on those exposed trails.

Although Chimney Rock is a National Monument, it’s run by the Forest Service, not the National Park Service, which means its tours are run by volunteers, not rangers. The volunteers bussed us up from the parking area to the ruins, and our tour started with the lower loop, The Great Kiva Trail, where we saw the remains of pit houses and, of course, a Great Kiva. The view was beautiful — mesas, hills, valleys, and mountains as far as we could see.

Once we finished the lower loop, we headed up The Pueblo Trail — the part of Chimney Rock that visitors can see only on a guided tour — to a Great House atop a hill and aligned with Chimney and Companion Rocks (that alignment is important: it’s how the Ancestral Puebloans kept track of the summer and winter solstices and therefore knew when to plant).

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Chimney and Companion Rocks (and the very edge of the trail)

The climb was short but steep, narrow, and rocky in places, and some in our group had to quit halfway up and head back down. The view from the top was well worth the climb, with views of the entire valley below. At the top, we explored the enormous Great House, learning from our guide and trying to eavesdrop on the three archeologists who had passed us on the way up.

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After our tour concluded and we headed back down, we wanted to visit the little cabin/museum at the base, but since we were meeting my cousin in Bayfield for lunch, we didn’t have time. I guess that means we’ll just have to go back!

After lunch and a quick stop for ice in Durango, we headed toward Mesa Verde. Since this post is getting long, I’ll save our Mesa Verde adventures for next time. Stay tuned!

Have you been to Pagosa Springs and/or Chimney Rock? 

Your favorite vacation type: camping or hotelling?

 

Mountain Adventures Photo Dump

If you’ve read my blog long (or if you know me in real life), you know that I’m a mountain girl to the core. This summer, unfortunately, has had a serious dearth of mountain time — selling and buying houses and getting ready for new jobs is time-consuming — especially for Jordan. His new job is at a brand-new school, so his summer has been full of meetings and trainings. Finally, last week we got in some mountain time. I took a lot of pictures.

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I need more quaky trees in my life. 

I went to the Western slope for Fourth of July weekend; J couldn’t come because of the aforementioned working, but I knew that if I didn’t go, I wouldn’t see my grandparents until Thanksgiving (my parents will come see me, but my grandparents don’t travel anymore). While I was there, the weather refused to cooperate, but we hiked a little anyway.

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Super rainy, but super green!
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The wildflowers were gorgeous!
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The rain made a cute little waterfall. We were soaked by the time we finished, but it was fun! Thank goodness my mom had an extra pair of waterproof pants; all I packed were running skirts, and I would’ve been freeeeezing. 

The Thursday after the 4th, Jordan and I went camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. A few weeks prior, we had looked at the calendar and realized that if we wanted to camp at all this summer, it had to be that day. So we booked a campsite in RMNP’s Glacier Basin campground (the last site available!), and we headed up bright and early Thursday morning.

We started our day at Lumpy Ridge. It was really ugly.

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Hello down there, Estes Park!

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This is Gem Lake, not quite 2 miles up the trail. So pretty. So filled with tourists. We didn’t get a very early start on our hike, since we had to drive from Fort Morgan, so we got to hike with all the tourists who do things like sit in the middle of the trail to take breaks and feed the ground squirrels. Too bad there are no “Don’t feed the wildlife” signs in Rocky. Oh wait, yes there are. EVERYWHERE. 
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Around 3 miles in, the tourists tend to disappear. Ah, peace!

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We didn’t do the whole Lumpy Ridge loop because of our late start, but we loved the part we did. I’d like to run the whole loop (about 8.5 miles) sometime. (I didn’t do any trail running this trip, because I’ve been fighting piriformis syndrome, which is stupid. But at least I  could hike!)

After our hike, we headed down into town, ate the lunches we had packed, and did the tourist thing for a while — wandering into shops, stopping at a new-to-us brewery, etc.– before we headed back into the park to set up camp.

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This pretty lady was our dinner entertainment. She obviously had a fawn somewhere, but the baby didn’t make an appearance. 

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Not a bad view from the campground, right?

The next morning, we were able to start our hike earlier, of course, so it was quiet and peaceful most of the way. Our campground was just across the road from the first big park ‘n ride in the park, and a trail to Bierstadt Lake starts from that lot, so that’s where we began our day.

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Beirstadt Lake. No, I’m not wearing white knee socks. That’s my natural skin tone. 
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Mill Creek

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We were walking along and heard a noise behind us on the trail, and here came this fat bird (grouse?) waddling down the trail, clucking softly. Pretty sure he was saying “Pardon me, humans. Just passing by.”

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We went up to Bierstadt, along Mill Creek, and back down through Hollowell Park, where we caught the shuttle back up to the campground. We had originally planned to go up to Cub Lake, but were afraid that we wouldn’t make it back in time to break down camp before we had to be checked out of the campground. Sometime, when my butt is completely better, I’d like to start at Hollowell Park, run up to Cub Lake, and catch the shuttle back from Moraine Park. Any of my trail running friends want to come along?

Once we were back at camp, we cleaned up a bit (another baby-wipe bath. This seems to be a theme on my blog lately…), broke down camp, and headed back into town — just in time, as a typical Colorado afternoon thunderstorm rumbled through not long after we got to town. Before we knew it, our mini-vacation was over and we were driving back to the plains (and getting excited that soon, our drive will be less than half as long).

What’s your favorite hike/trail run? Bonus points if it’s close-ish to my new home.

When was your last mini-vacation?

 

Estes Park Weekend Getaway

Jordan and I love Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Sure, Estes is a tourist town, but it’s a fun little spot, and we try to get up there several times a year. We like to go in the summer, of course… but so does everyone else. For the last few years, we’ve ventured there in November or December, and the town is almost a completely different place. No traffic. No reservations needed at restaurants. No rude tourists. Just the locals and a few straggling tourists like us.

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A few weeks ago, we talked about how disappointed we were that we hadn’t made it to Rocky this fall, and how we probably weren’t going to have time. But then we decided that if we wanted to go, we had to make the time. We blocked out this weekend and made a hotel reservation, and last Friday after work, we headed up into the hills. A light snowstorm came along with us, so the drive up the canyon was slow, but we eventually made it up, checked into our hotel (Murphy’s Resort: highly recommend) and grabbed some dinner (Estes Park Brewery: meh) before heading back to our room and crashing for the night.

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Dinner at Estes Park Brewery with a festive tree. 
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of wind howling outside the window …  but we also woke up to this:
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After checking the forecast for Bear Lake (one of the most popular spots in the park) and seeing that it would have a wind chill of -17, we opted out of our hike/snowshoe plan, as we didn’t have appropriate gear for those temps. I headed out for a quick, cold, and beautiful 4-mile run around Lake Estes, during which I kicked myself several times for leaving my buff neatly folded in the drawer at home.

After a hot shower and a hotel breakfast, we headed to the Holiday Market that just happened to be going on this weekend. We found some treasures (mostly tea… we have a tea addiction), then wandered around town for a while, were we bought some more tea at Dragonleaf Tea, where we also found a sign that made us feel better about the aforementioned addiction:

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I bought that ear warmer at the Holiday Market. It’s alpaca. I’m a hipster and sheep’s wool is too cliche for me. 
After we’d wandered a bit, we decided that it was warm enough now to drive up into the park and see if we could find some snow to tromp.

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We stopped at Sprague Lake to eat our PBJs (in the car, because brr), then layered up and braved a very short walk around the lake. The wind was whipping, but the lake was beautiful.
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Even though we were cold, we had fun stomping through the snow. We really felt like wimps when we saw a couple getting wedding pictures taken. Yes, in her wedding dress. BRRR.

We finished our little snow tromp and chose to drive around in the warm car for a bit, stopping several times for photos of the beautiful scenery, even though we knew our iPhones could never do justice to the glory of the mountains.

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After a few more pictures, we cruised back into town to check out the tree-lighting ceremony. The actual lighting wasn’t set to start for over an hour, and the festivities were mostly kid-related, so we went wine tasting instead. Well, Jordan tasted.  I drank wassail because it’s okay to feel festive before Thanksgiving when you’re in the mountains (at least that’s my rule).

After wine tasting, we went back to the hotel to relax and clean up for dinner at the Rock Inn Mountain Tavern. It’s one of our favorite places in Estes: good food, live music, and great atmosphere. We had a lovely little date night and were back to the room, in bed with our books, by nine. Wild party animals, we are.

Sunday morning, I went for another little jaunt around Lake Estes (Sundays are usually my rest day, but I couldn’t resist one last run in one of my favorite places). Then we packed up, had breakfast, and went to Kind Coffee (another great little place) for some coffee-drinking and river-watching before heading back down the canyon toward home.

This was one of the best weekends we’ve had in a long time: no stress, no crowds, no to-do lists, just some much-needed quality time together and stunning scenery. Now it’s back to work for all of two days, then back (the other direction) over the mountains for Thanksgiving.

What’s your favorite local (to you) getaway spot? 

What are your Thanksgiving plans? My whole family will be together for the first time in… I can’t even remember how long. I cannot wait.

Caribbean Cruise Recap

Jordan and I make taking an annual vacation a priority. Instead of exchanging birthday/anniversary/Christmas gifts, we stow away money for a trip each year. Usually, we try to see at least one national park on our trip, but this year, we decided to mix things up and try a cruise. We joined a travel club a few years ago, and they ran a special on cruises this year, so we figured, why not? Here’s a recap of our latest adventure, complete with lots of pictures! The camera on my phone broke just a few hours before we left (and it’s still not fixed, so you might be in for some pictureless posts in the near future), so all the pictures are thanks to Jordan. 

We booked a red-eye flight because it was significantly cheaper than more pleasantly-timed flights, and we decided we’d deal with being tired and spend our money on excursions. We flew out of Denver at 11:30 on Friday night, landing in Miami at 5:00 a.m. I’d hoped we could sleep a bit on the plane, but the screaming twin babies behind us had other plans. Ah well; we made it to Miami in one piece, got our luggage, and spent most of Saturday morning waiting: waiting at the airport for the transfer to the ship, waiting at the port to be allowed to board, waiting in line to get on the boat. By lunchtime, though, we were on the boat, eating boat food and ready to start our adventure!

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We explored the boat for a bit, and once we were allowed in our cabins, we napped while we waited for our luggage to be delivered, then took some much-needed showers and headed to the dining room for dinner.

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The next morning, the boat docked at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, and we set off on our first excursion: snorkeling. We got on a little boat, got fitted with snorkel gear, and were taken out away from shore, where the water was deep and clear, and the coral and fish were gorgeous.

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Boat selfie!

We went snorkeling in Hawaii on our honeymoon, and this was so much better. The water was crystal-clear, and the variety of fish was incredible.

Before we knew it, our time was up and we had to head back to the island. We grabbed some lunch, and then went on excursion #2: a bike-and-hike tour of the island.

Jordan rides super-fast.
Jordan rides super-fast.

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We had a good time cruising around the island, but when we booked the tour, we were expecting to learn about local culture. What we didn’t know was that Carnival owns this island, and the only people who live on it are a few maintenance staff. Everyone else comes in the day that the cruise ships arrive. The “tour” was basically, “here are some excursions that you could have done if you paid for them.” That was a little disappointing. But the beach was pretty. photo 5 (11)

On the hike portion, our guide told us about the types of plants and animals on the island, and she showed us some ruins from the island’s first settlers. That part was interesting, and we hiked to the island’s high point: a whopping 60 feet!

At the 60-foot "summit"
At the 60-foot “summit”
Jordan and some ruins from the island's original inhabitants
Jordan and some ruins from the island’s original inhabitants

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When we got back from our tour, we had just enough time to dip our toes in the water one more time, and then we had to get back on the boat.

The next day, Monday, was a day at sea, so we spent the day reading and playing in the pool. Those are not very photo-worthy activities, so the only picture I have from Monday is from that evening, which was one of the ship’s “formal” nights.

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I’m mostly sharing this picture to prove that I do occasionally wear something besides running clothes.

On Tuesday, we docked in Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. I ran on the ship’s (tiny) track that morning, so I got to watch this as we approached:

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Not a bad view, right? We had an early-afternoon excursion booked but the morning was free, so we walked around the shops in St. Thomas, which is famous for its jewelry deals. I’m not a big shopper, but my watch died a few months ago, so I hoped we’d find a new one here. We did. Yay!  After shopping, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed back to the ship, where we met our guides for the next excursion. They took us to Sapphire Beach, which was billed as a secluded, quiet beach with great snorkeling.

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The beach was beautiful, but it certainly wasn’t secluded: a resort backed up to it. The snorkeling was mediocre at best — the coral was really close to the surface (we both banged ourselves up on it) and the water was murky — nothing like the experience we had in the Bahamas. We got frustrated trying to snorkel, so we spent most of the afternoon just chilling on the beach — not a bad thing, but disappointing since we’d paid for what was supposed to be a snorkeling trip. Not cool, Carnival.

On the way back from the beach, the bus made a quick photo stop at one of the high points on the island. Beautiful.

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The next day, Wednesday, was by far my favorite day of the trip. We docked in Puerto Rico, and our first activity was a zip-lining excursion. I was a little nervous about it, since the St. Thomas excursion had been a letdown, but this one did not disappoint. We loaded onto a bus that took us out to a former plantation just outside the city of San Juan. As he drove, the bus driver also acted as a tour guide, and he was knowledgeable, funny, and interesting.

EcoTours, the zipline company, also impressed me. The staffers, all college-aged guys, were personable and knowledgeable, and safety was clearly a priority. I also loved the zipline course: it was beautiful, and it was fun, requiring hiking and crossing suspension bridges between lines. The longest line was 1,000 feet, so we really got to enjoy the views. If you go to Puerto Rico, check out this company! Here’s a zipline photo dump for your viewing pleasure.

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After ziplining, our bus driver/tour guide dropped us off in downtown San Juan. We didn’t really have enough time to take a taxi to the “real” beach, so J and I walked down off a pier, just enough that I could say I’d been to the beach in Puerto Rico.

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Then, we went to Castillo San Cristobal, a fort at the San Juan National Historic Site. We’re both kind of history nerds, so touring the old fort (originally built in the 1600s) was interesting and a lot of fun.

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We spent only a few hours in Puerto Rico, so I would love to go back someday. There’s a ton that I’d like to see and do!

Our final port was at Grand Turk. None of the ship’s excursions appealed to us (at least not enough to pay for them), so this was a beach day — not a bad choice, since the beach was beautiful.

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Friday, the final cruise day, was another day at sea. Honestly, it was a boring day. We could never get in the pool because it was so crowded, so we’d read for a while, walk around in the air conditioning for a while, repeat.

On Saturday, the cruise was over and we were back in Miami. Our flight didn’t leave until 9:15 that night, so we rented a car and explored Miami for a few hours. We visited the Botanical Gardens (where I made a new friend),photo 5 (15)

spent a few hours wandering the Lincoln Road Mall, where we had an amazing lunch (if you’re ever in Miami, eat at Spris. It was honestly the best meal we had the whole trip), and took a stroll at Oleta River Park. Before we knew it, we were back at the airport, back on a plane, and eventually, back home.

We certainly had a lot of fun on this trip, but I don’t think we’ll do another cruise. I like to get away from people on a vacation, and that’s pretty much impossible on a ship. I also like to do things on our own timetable and not be subject to someone else’s schedule. But we had a great time, and the towel animals were fun.

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I thought this frog looked good in my glasses. Intellectual frog wants to discuss books with you.
I thought this frog looked good in my glasses. Intellectual frog wants to discuss books with you.
What is this?!
What is this?!

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Since this is a running blog and all, I should probably briefly discuss my training on the trip. In short: training on a boat kind of sucks. My options were to run on a treadmill in the well-equipped but very hot and crowded gym, or run on the nine-laps-per-mile track, which was also crowded and hot but at least had an ocean view and an occasional breeze. I chose the track on all but hill-training days, but the longest I ran on the trip was 7 miles (that’s 63 circles. My sanity could take only so much). I still got in all my scheduled runs (this week didn’t have  a long run on the schedule, which was kind of weird but also perfect), so I was satisfied.

As always, vacation was a ton of fun, but it’s also good to be home. Now it’s time to start planning for next year’s trip! We’re thinking the Smoky Mountains, but no decisions have been made yet. Any suggestions?

Have you ever been on a cruise? 

Tell me about your favorite vacation ever (and maybe we’ll steal your spot)!

Exploring Our Own State: Camping in Leadville

If you know me at all, you know that I’m a mountain lover at heart. Sure, I live on the plains now, but if I don’t get my mountain fix, I get antsy. Ever since we moved here, my mountain fixes haven’t come often enough. After all, we’re busy (like everyone else), and going to the mountains meant spending money (that we didn’t have) on hotel rooms. Last summer, though, I had a little breakdown, during which I told J that I desperately needed more mountains in my life.photo 2 (23)Who doesn’t need more of this?

The solution was a simple one: start camping. As a kid, I camped with my family, but I hadn’t camped since college. Jordan hadn’t camped much at all, so we knew this new experiment would be an adventure. Our Christmas lists consisted exclusively of camping gear, and all winter and spring, we kept a sharp lookout for good deals. Our biggest purchase was a tent and sleeping bags. A few months ago, Cabela’s ran an amazing deal: a tent and two sleeping bags for $200. We couldn’t pass that up… even though the tent was a 6-person and WAY bigger than we needed.

Our giant tent. My six-foot-tall husband can stand upright in it.
Our giant tent. My six-foot-tall husband can stand upright in it.

Finally, last weekend, we were ready to test out what we’d acquired. It was also our seventh wedding anniversary — perfect timing for a weekend escape. We chose Leadville as our destination, mainly because neither of us had ever been up there. This was a good choice.

We left late Friday morning, stopped and had a quick picnic lunch at the visitor center in Georgetown, and enjoyed a gorgeous drive up to Leadville, arriving mid-afternoon. We checked into Sugar Loafin’ campground (we figured a commercial campground would be a gentle intro to camping), set up our tent, and then spent a few hours wandering around Leadville. Unbeknownst to us beforehand, Leadville was hosting a BBQ and beer festival/competition, so we snagged what Jordan calls a “walkin’ around beer,” then explored the stores. We stopped at the Leadville Race Series store and asked them to recommend a good hiking/running trail (more on that in a second). Then, we headed back to the campground, built a fire and cooked some dinner on the camp stove, and spent the evening just relaxing.

Yeah. Campfire.
Yeah. Campfire.

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The next morning, we woke up early, ate some eggs and tortillas, and drove a couple of miles up the road to Turquoise Lake. Since I wanted to trail run  for a bit (because #operationbecomeatrailrunner) and J wanted a shorter hike, the Leadville Race Series store folks suggested that he drop me at one end of Turquoise Lake, where I’d run a six-mile trail, then meet him at the trailhead to Timberline Lake. So that’s what we did, and I’m so grateful to them for that suggestion. This was one of my top-three runs of all time. See if you can guess why. photo 2 (25) photo 3 (19) photo 4 (11) photo 3 (20)

Yeah. Beautiful. Plus it was completely runnable, even for my trail-newbie legs. It’s also part of the Leadville 100 course (probably the flattest, least technical part), so it was kinda cool to see part of the storied race course.

The trail ended at a campground at the other side of the lake. I misunderstood the guy at the store (and the map…) and thought that the Timberline Lake trailhead was at that campground, so I ran to the far end of it. No trailhead. I thought I was just dumb and missed it, so I turned around and ran back. Nope. Finally, on my way back to the far end, I saw a guy running who looked like he knew what was up. I asked where the trailhead was, and he told me I actually had to run up the road a little way. I felt silly, but at least now I knew where I was going.

I easily found the trailhead (after adding 1.5 miles of back-and-forth at the campground…) and started running up. Not far up the trail, I saw some cute guy.
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Wheet whew. (That’s a catcall whistle). I ran just enough farther to make my watch say 8.5 miles (because heaven forbid I stop at 8.4), then came back to hike with J.

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We intended to hike up to Timberline Lake (obviously), but about 1.5 miles in, the trail was covered by the river. We didn’t really want to wade and get our feet wet and cold, since we’d barely started hiking, so we headed back down to where the Timberline Lake Trail intersected the Colorado Trail, and instead hiked on the Colorado Trail for a while. There was no lake, but it was still gorgeous!photo 5 (9)

We hiked the Colorado Trail until we got hungry (we’re really serious hikers), and then we headed back down to Turquoise Lake, where we ate our PBJs and dipped our sweaty toes in the chilly mountain water. photo 1 (27)

We dallied at the lake for quite some time, then eventually cruised back down to town, because ice cream. By then, it was too late to start another hike, but too early to just go hang out at camp. We decided to drive over to Twin Lakes (about 20 minutes away). We’d talked about camping there, so since we were so close, we figured we’d go check it out. It was pretty, but we were glad we’d chosen Leadville.

We spent another delightful evening chilling by the fire, and the next morning, took our time about making breakfast and packing up camp. photo 1 (28) photo 3 (21)

We still left reasonably early, because we wanted to beat the nightmare that is Sunday afternoon on I-70. So we said goodbye to this view and headed back down to where it was 95 degrees. Lame. photo 4 (12)

To best sum up this weekend, I’d have to say (in my best Joey from Friends voice), “Camping? Good. Marriage? Good. Trail running? Good.” I can’t wait to go back!

This bear perfectly sums up my feelings.
This bear perfectly sums up my feelings.

Have you ever been to Leadville? 

Where do you camp: commercial campground, rustic campground, dispersed, or backcountry? (Or in a hotel. Ha.) 

Six Places

The next prompt of Kristin’s Ten Day You Challenge makes me happy. I love to travel, though I haven’t done enough of it in my lifetime. These are six (of the many) places I would love to go — the sooner the better!
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1. Ireland.  Because… Ireland.

Need I say more? (image source)

2. England. I’m an English teacher. Of course I want to go to England and see where Shakespeare and Dickens and some of the other greatest writers lived.

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3. Italy. Food, history, boats, wine, sights. I like all these things.

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4. Costa Rica. Beaches and lots of adventures? Sign me up.

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5. Pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean. I don’t care where. You recommend an island for me, okay?
Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
St. John looks nice. (image source)

6. Maine. Because I needed on U.S. place on the list and there are many places in the States I still need to see. I’ve never been to the northeast corner of the country, and it looks like there are lots of fun things to see and do in Maine.

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It’s hard to stop at six! I want to go to ALL THE PLACES.

What’s near the top of your “Places I Must Go” list?

Have you been to any of these six places? Tell me about them!

Fall Classic Marathon Training: Week 7 and Western Colorado Adventures

I got an e-mail today explaining that the Colorado Fall Classic Marathon had to change its name because the Colorado Marathon folks got all worked up about it. (The e-mail was worded more professionally than that, don’t worry.) I think that’s a little petty on the Colorado Marathon’s part, but whatever. Either way, I’m still training for the same race, and Week 7 of training was a much-needed recovery week. Here’s how things went:

Monday:
AM: 6.1 easy miles

PM: An hour-ish of full-body strength training

Tuesday: 
AM: 7 easy miles

PM: Core, stretching, and foam rolling. My right hip is finally loosening up, so I guess all this foam rolling is paying off.

Wednesday:
AM: Tempo intervals for the week’s only real workout (besides a long run). I did 5 x 2000 meters with 400m recoveries. It was unusually humid for Colorado (96%…ew), so I was a sweaty mess when I finished. 10.5 miles total, including warm-up and cool-down.
photoPM: Core, etc.

Thursday:
AM: 6 recovery miles

Later AM: An hour of strength training. We were heading out of town to visit my family, so I did my strength work right after my class ended at 10 instead of waiting until later in the day. I had no idea the gym would be so busy at 10 a.m.!

Friday:
I started the day with an easy 4.3-mile run, enjoying the sunrise over the mountains.
photo 1After breakfast, we took off for Telluride. It’s not quite two hours from my parents’ house, and Jordan had never been there, so we thought it’d be a fun adventure. We took the Last Dollar Road on the way there. It was really ugly.
photo 2We had to look at horrible scenery like that for the entire drive. It was really hard on us.

When we got to Telluride, we planned to hike to Bridal Veil Falls. Turns out, it’s not a great hike — the “trail” is a road, so hikers have to dodge (and get dusted by) four-wheel-drive vehicles. But the views on the hike more than made up for that:
photo 4And the fall itself was well worth it.
photo 5After the waterfall hike, we had a picnic in the town park, rode the gondola, and went into several shops whose merchandise cost more than my monthly paycheck.

Saturday:
I had mentioned to my folks that I was hoping to get in a 20-mile downhill run while I was there, and Dad had determined which route would be best for me. He offered to drive me up to the start, and Mom and J tagged along because they love me. (As Dad put it, though, spending an early morning in the mountains is really no sacrifice).

This was my favorite run in a long, long time. For reasons that the pictures make obvious, this is one of my favorite places in the whole world. We spent a lot of time here growing up, so this run was full of memories and overall nature-loving. We saw several deer on the way up, as well as an elk who was too swift for me to get her picture.
photo 2 (1)This is where my run started:
photo 4 (1)This was on the way down:
photo 3 photo 5 (1)And this was where I finished:
photo 1 (1)Not too shabby, right? And my family was leap-frogging me along the road, so I had my own mobile aid station. That was awesome, because I only had to carry my handheld bottle instead of a big Camelbak.

This run was not only beautiful, but  also terrific downhill training. Check out this elevation chart:
elevationI was still sore today (I’m sure the seven-hour car ride yesterday wasn’t helpful), so I take that as a good sign that I’m getting prepared for the race.

Sunday:
Rest. I stretched a bit when we finally got home (I-70 traffic is the worst), but that was it.

Totals: 54 miles running, 3ish hours strength, a couple of hours hiking, and a whole lot of family time and outdoors enjoyment.

How was your weekend?

Ever been to Telluride?

 

Colorado Fall Classic Marathon Training, Week 4

I can’t believe I’m already four weeks into this training cycle.  This was an interesting week of training, seriously lacking in strength training, stretching and foam rolling. J and I sanded and re-stained our deck, which turned out to be one of those jobs that you think will take a day or two and takes an entire week, so most of my afternoons were filled with deck work and not strength training. By the time we finished each evening, we were hot, tired, and filthy, and I just wanted a shower, not another workout. Oh well. I got all my running in, at least.

Monday:

AM: 11 miles. My schedule said 80-90 minutes with the last 20 minutes getting progressively faster. I was cruising a little quicker than 5k pace, 30 seconds from being done with the fast part… and my foot slipped on some mud (or probably on nothing, but mud at least sounds like an excuse) and I fell. Sidewalks are evil.
photo (10)I gimped through enough of a cool-down to make it 11 miles and called it good. I was thankful that my only wound was a knee scab and not any real injury.

PM: 45 minutes of strength training. And thus ended my only double day this week.

Tuesday:
9.1 miles easy and a quick core workout

Wednesday: 
16 x 400m repeats with equal recoveries, 11 miles total with warm-up and cool-down. I did half the repeats on a downhill slope, but I got sick of running up and down the same street, so I moved to the flat. Not the best training decision, probably, but a better sanity decision.

Thursday: 
9 miles “easy” that didn’t feel easy at all, quick core work.

Friday: 7 miles slow and easy, then some core work

Saturday:
This was our anniversary (6 years! Hooray!). We wanted to get away for the weekend but didn’t want to spend a bunch of money, so we spent it in Colorado Springs. J’s aunt and uncle live there and are always happy to have us stay, and we hadn’t seen them in quite a while, so visiting them on our anniversary weekend was perfect.

I’d asked Aimee, who lives in Springs, to recommend a downhill run for me so I could start prepping for this marathon. She recommended the Santa Fe Trail, a rail trail that runs parallel to the mountains. It was a fantastic recommendation, as the trail was beautiful and the elevation profile was very similar to the marathon’s. I started way too fast for a long run, so the last few miles were a slog. I know I’m at risk of doing that in the race, too, so I’m hoping I learned my lesson here and will pace myself better next time.My iPhone doesn't come close to doing justice to the beauty of these mountains.

My iPhone doesn’t come close to doing justice to the beauty of these mountains.

J is an awesome husband; he got up super early, drove me to the trailhead at Palmer Lake, killed a couple of hours, and picked up my gross sweatiness 17.3 miles later. That is love, folks.

After my run, I cleaned up in a Panera bathroom (classy, right?), ate some food, and rehydrated, and then we headed to Garden of the Gods. I hadn’t been since I was a kid, and J hadn’t ever been, so it was a new experience for both of us. We had a great time. Garden of the Gods is stunning.

No filter needed for that Colorado sky.
No filter needed for that Colorado sky.

We didn’t want to fight the crowds in the main part of the park for very long, so we ventured off on some side trails — fantastic choice. We saw just a handful of other people but plenty of scenery on our 4.5-mile hike.
photo 3 (5) photo 4 (2) After Garden of the Gods, we grabbed some lunch and spent the afternoon wandering around Old Colorado City (a fun little tourist trap near Garden of the Gods) before heading back to clean up for real (as opposed to Panera-bathroom style) and go out for a nice dinner. And then we went to bed early because I was friggin’ tired. Not a bad way to spend an anniversary!

Sunday:
J’s aunt and I have talked about doing the infamous Manitou Incline together for years, but we had never done it. We decided Sunday was the day, and since J is a good sport, he agreed to do it, too. And then he saw this, and questioned his sanity (and his love for us):
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The Incline is that little line going up that mountain: a trail that climbs 2050 feet in .92 miles. The whole trail is made of steps like these:Aunt Jan reaching the summit!

Aunt Jan reaching the summit!

It was definitely a challenge. Some people run the thing, which is insane to me. Today was supposed to be my rest day, so I didn’t even try to run. The view from the top is definitely worth the hike… it’s gorgeous! You can see the entire city.
photo 1 (5)The trail back down is longer but considerably less steep (and less treacherous), but I still didn’t run because of the whole “rest day” thing. The whole hike made for another fun morning in the great outdoors. If I lived in Colorado Springs, I’d definitely be a regular up here… it’s a great challenge, and I’d want to see how fast I could eventually do it.

So the week ended up with 64.4 miles of running, minimal strength training, and a whole lot of outdoor fun. Overall, I’m okay with that, but I definitely need to get my strength training, foam rolling, etc., back on track this week.

Ever fallen like an idiot on a run? Please tell me about it so I know I’m not the only one.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve cleaned up post-workout?

Have you ever (or would you ever) done the Incline?