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Trip Report 4+ days to see Colorado - Here's how we did it!

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Trip Report: 9/22/2012 - 9/29/2012
We arrived in Denver Sat. afternoon and checked into the lovely Hotel Teatro, where my conference was to be held. After freshening up a bit, we took the short walk over to Larimer Square. I enjoyed browsing through through the shops and saw some of the best-looking cowboy boots I've ever seen -- just more than I cared to spend! I settled on a simple gold necklace made by a local artist. The smell of smoked meat lured us in for an early dinner at Russell's Smoke House. The food was good, but the atmosphere was a little lacking. In retrospect, we probably should've chosen one of the restaurants that had outdoor seating along the sidewalk.

Sun. morning, we ate breakfast at Sam's No. 3, which was recommended by the front desk and was just a few blocks from the hotel. This restaurant was featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Their specialty is green chile, which I had with my breakfast burrito. Both of us had delicious meals, and we agreed that we would definitely want to eat here again! Afterwards, we drove about 1 hour to Colorado Springs and toured the US Air Force Academy. The chapel was impressive from the outside, but we were unable to go inside due to Sunday services. We then drove a few miles over to Garden of the Gods. There was a very scenic loop drive through the park, with walking trails that I would've loved to explore had I not been having problems with my foot. After grabbing a quick lunch, we headed back to Denver, as my conference started that afternoon.

Mon. night our conference group went to a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. What an impressive venue! But the ticket-takers and traffic control were rude and unhelpful to us.

My conference ended Tues. before noon, and my husband and I headed toward Boulder, which was only 30 minutes away. We had lunch at Beau Jo's Pizza (recommended by a local), and their mountain pie was yummy! They had honey on the table to eat with the leftover pizza crust edges. I wouldn't have thought to try this before, but it made a tasty dessert! We drove a few miles to the Celestial Seasonings plant and made the 1:00 tour. The guide was very informative and friendly, and we learned a lot about tea making. We both enjoyed the tour and the samples of tea. We also bought more tea at the gift shop to take home as souveniers and gifts. Boulder was beautiful -- a wide open plain situated at the base of the Rocky Mtns. I can see why people would want to live here!

We drove about 39 miles to Estes Park and checked in at the Estes Park Resort. The hotel was in a wonderful setting -- right on the lake, with snow-capped mountains in the background. We rented bikes from Estes Park Mountain Shop to ride the paved trail around the lake. The folks at the sport shop were very helpful and friendly. We biked about 4 mi. around Estes Lake, stopping lots of time to take pictures all along the way, as nearly every spot was a "Kodak spot". We heard and then saw several elk as we biked. It was their mating season, so they were "bugle-ing". It sounded a bit like someone screaming :)

We came back to the hotel and had dinner at the Waterfront Grill. The view of the lake was spectacular, and they also had gas logs going in the fireplace, which made it cozy. We went with the waiter's recommendations and had a duck salad with spinach (quite tasty). We ordered elk chops, but they were out of them, so we had filet mignon w/crab meat instead. It was good but not awesome. We enjoyed chatting with the waiter and learning more about Estes Park and CO. We moved to the comfy chairs by the fire and read awhile as I sipped my coffee. It was a nice end to a great day!

On Wed. morning, it was raining, which we didn't particularly want to see. However, we had the Waterfront Grill all to ourselves. I had the Californa omelet, and my husband had the cream cheese and strawberry stuffed french toast with almonds and applewood smoked bacon. Both meals were very good. We left there and drove to the Stanley Hotel, hoping to tour the museum. Unfortunately, they said there is no such museum! We watched an interesting video of Jay Leno explaining the Stanley Steamer car (funny, I though they made carpet cleaners). They did offer a tour of the hotel, which they claim is haunted. We passed on the tour and drove over to the shops on Elkhorn Ave. By then, the rain had lifted, so we drove into Rocky Mtn National Park, only to find that the scenic Bear Lake Rd was closed due to construction. And Trail Ridge Rd was closed due to snow! We drove as far as we could on Trail Ridge Rd (to Rainbow Curve) and then turned around. We then drove over to Fall River Rd to see if we could take that route over the mtns, but it too was closed. We stopped at Fall River Visitor Ctr and had an elk burger for lunch. We checked the maps and decided we would have to backtrack through Boulder due to the weather. I wanted to see snow, but I didn't expect it to keep me from seeing RMNP! Bummer!

We drove through some heavy rain and finally pulled off in Dillon, checking in at the Comfort Suites. The hotel was convenient and clean, and we had a nice room with a jacuzzi tub. Justin from the front desk called up to our room after we'd been there awhile to see if everything was to our satisfaction. Nice touch! We ate dinner at the Dam Brewery. It was typical "bar" foot but tasted good, and the service was good. Alas, the day was not a total loss because there were outlet shops just down the road, where we ended our day!

Thurs. morning, we slept in because neither of us were feeling very good (altitude sickness, possibly?). We had a late breakfast at a local diner called Mountain Lyons. The food was good but not as great as the raves I'd read on some other travel sites. Since it was still raining, we killed some more time at the outlet stores before heading toward Glenwood Springs. We checked into Hotel Denver and asked the very friendly front desk clerk for suggestions on what to do for the afternoon. She gave us a list of the Top 10 things to do in the area. We decided on hiking to Hanging Lake. The signs warned that the 1.7 mi. trail is steep and rocky, and they weren't exaggerating! I had to stop many times before reaching the scenic destination, but it was worth it. There were waterfalls dropping into the small lake, and the water was a crystal-clear, blue-green. We sat and enjoyed a snack and some water while taking in the lush environment. My husband hiked further up and saw another waterfall that feeds into the lake. The trip down went much faster than the one going up, but by the end, my legs felt like jelly! We drove back to hotel and walked to the Italian Underground Restaurant, recommended by Anna at the front desk. We started with a meatball appetizer and then shared a combination plate. The food was good but not exceptional.

Fri. morning, we snacked on a piece of fruit and granola bars provided by the hotel, before walking over to the Glenwood Hot Springs via the pedestrian bridge. We also strolled around the Colorado Hotel, which has a lot of historical charm. We then crossed back over the bridge and enjoyed brunch at Our Daily Bread, a quaint restaurant located on Grand Ave. The highlight of the meal was a warm croissant served with butter and homemade peach jam. I told my husband that the croissant rivaled a hot Krispy Kreme doughnut, which is a very high compliment to any pastry!

We checked out of the hotel and drove on Hwy 82 toward Aspen, with our destination being the famed Maroon Bells. On Fri-Sun at that time of year, you can only reach the park by taking a shuttle bus from the Aspen Highlands. The 9 mi drive took about 30 min, and I'm sure the bus driver pointed out a lot of interesting spots along the way, but we could barely hear him above the chatty ladies seated behing us. Once the bus parked, we walked the short path to a spectacular view of the Bells with Maroon Lake and yellow aspens in the foreground. We hiked down to the lake and continued on the loop trail that took us a little closer to the Bells. The path was easy but a little rocky at times, and it meandered through some beautiful aspen groves. I kept staring up at the white bark and yellow leaves, standing in sharp contrast to the amazingly-blue sky. There were so many "Kodak spots" along this trail that it took us a couple of hours to complete the short hike because we kept stopping for pictures! This area was definitely the highlight of the trip!

Back at Aspen HIghlands, we browsed the gift shop and then got back on the road at 2:00. We headed out Hwy 82 toward Independence Pass. In a few places, the road was so narrow that we had to wait for other vehicles to pass. That was a little exciting :) There were also spots where I had to look away from the edge of the road because there wasn't much between us and a steep drop-off. At the Continental Divide, we pulled off and hiked a short, paved trail at the top of a mountain, with views of several snow-capped 14-er's. The view here and all along the way was more than worth the somewhat harrowing drive. I'm so glad we took this route rather than driving back on the interstate all the way! We stopped for gas in Leadville, reputed to be the highest town in the US. The road also lead through Twin Lakes, which was a very picturesque area. At Frisco, we got on I-70 for the remainder of the drive into Denver. The entire trip took 4 hrs from Maroon Bells to our hotel by the Denver airport.

Even though we had a limited amout of time, this was a fabulous trip, and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the sites of Colorado!

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