Although all 50 states are on my “must travel to” list, Colorado was near the top. My former boyfriend was raised there and spoke highly of it, so that planted the seed in my head long before I had the chance to go. I have always had relatives in Denver, but for some reason I had never visited, nor attended a family function there (most of our family is in California, so it always made more sense for them to come to us). That changed in July 2017 when it was decided we would have a 4-day family reunion, something we do periodically, during the 4th of July festivities. Family would fly in from California, Illinois, and New York City, as well as long-time family friends coming all the way from Germany. It was going to be quite an affair.
I’ll save you guys the mundane details of family reunion life, and stick to the parts that are more interesting: the Rocky Mountains, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Dinosaur Ridge Discover Center, and the Red Rocks Trading Post.
The Rocky Mountains
Everyone in the United States grows up learning about the famous Rocky Mountains, starting in the most elementary classes. Denver is called the ‘Mile High City’ since it sits one mile above sea level. I flew to Denver from Illinois, so I came east, which is when I learned that the eastern part of Colorado is nothing but flat plains. When the pilot announced over the intercom that we were beginning our descent into Denver, I was perplexed because there were literally no mountains. I even asked the person sitting next to me “Where are the mountains?” Turns out when you come in from the east, the mountains are directly ahead of the plane, so you don’t see them until you are basically on top of them. Apparently, I was under the impression that the entire state of Colorado was mountainous.
Luckily, I have family who has lived in the Denver area for many years, so we had our own personal tour guides. My mom’s cousin, who was in charge of the troupe, took us to Mount Falcon, about 40 minutes outside of Denver (the city doesn’t actually sit inside the Rocky Mountains; it’s more at the base – Front Range – in an area called the Front Range Urban Corridor). There are several trails around this area; combined, they come to a respectable 2.3ish miles. It’s a very easy walk, and my 88-year-old Nana was able to do it with ease (however, I think my Nana may have drank from the Fountain of Youth because she is exceptionally active and spry for her age). Up there you can get a great view of the Denver skyline, and the Walker Castle Ruins can be viewed at the end of a mild hike.
The Walker Castle Ruins were built by John Birsben Walker, a very prominent man during the 1800’s to the early 1900’s. He founded Cosmopolitan Magazine and co-founded the Locomobile Company of America. In 1909 he built his home at the top of Mount Falcon, but just 9 years later it was struck by lightning and ruined (as it appeared to be made of all stone, I’m still confused on how lightning caused such a disastrous collapse, but whatever). All that remains are these ruins, and you’re not allowed to walk through or near them, just by them (bummer). The Walker Castle Ruins is a nice destination for a brisk day hike, but if you’re expecting grandiose ruins that you can explore, think again.
Once we made our way back to the parking lot, we had hiked a good 2+ miles, so everyone was ready for some food. There is a quaint little town near Mount Falcon and the Red Rocks Amphitheater called Morrison, which has a population of only around 430 people. It’s close enough to Denver to be an easy drive, but far enough away to feel like you’re not near the big city. In fact, the official town website lists Morrison as “the nearest faraway place“, and I think that’s astute. We ate at a Mexican restaurant called The Morrison Inn (the name is rather deceiving) and it was estupendo. It was far more authentic than any Mexican food I have had in the Midwest; overall, I’d rate it a 8/10.
After lunch we decided to head up to Red Rocks because we were close, and it was still early enough in the day. Well, as luck would have it (I seriously, personally, have the worst luck) there was an event going on that night at the amphitheater and it. was. chaos. Trying to drive to the parking lots up near the top was completely nerve-wracking and anxiety inducing. There was some kind of rave-type musician performing that night, and the hordes of people descending upon this majestic natural amphitheater were, let’s say, not of the most refined crowd.
I’m not knocking anyone’s life or music choices; I used to be a “raver” back when I was 17-18 years old, I’m just sayin’. Anyway, they closed the amphitheater in preparation of this rave fest, so we were unable to see the actual amphitheater. We went to two different entrances and struck out both times. The museum was open, but it was ungodly crowded because that’s the only place visitors could go. They had some kind of display about musicians, but I wasn’t interested. It was far too crowded, hot, and annoying.
We were all extremely bummed that we were unable to see the actual amphitheater, because (for those who don’t know) it is one of only seven natural amphitheaters in the world, and one of four in the United States (the others are in Alaska, New Mexico, and Washington). It’s not exactly something a person gets the opportunity to see every day. Thus, we decided that we would come back the next day to see it.
However, we cut our losses on this day, and once we were able to finally gather every single person (seriously, it was like herding feral cats), it was off to the Red Rocks Trading Post. To put it matter-of-factly, this place is like the official “touristy building” of the Red Rocks park, but nothing fancy. It’s rather small and has a handful of collectible items and knick-knacks like T-shirts, sunglasses, magnets, and the usual tourist trap-type memorabilia. There was a display of some art geared towards the amphitheater, as well as a large backyard area. That area was very pleasant and nice, and offered a great view of the amphitheater itself. It’s an ideal place for weddings and is routinely used for them. The trading post also now houses the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
Outside the trading post is a gigantic statue of John Denver with an eagle flying majestically onto his arm. The statue is called ‘Spirit’ and if you’re a John Denver fan, oh buddy, you’ll love it. The older members of my family who knew of John Denver were all about taking pictures with the statue, but I was personally “meh” about it (point blank: I didn’t know who the heck he was. I thought he was the person they named the city after, but apparently that’s wrong! Oops!)
After the Red Rocks Trading Post, my stepdad insisted on going to the Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center. To be completely honest, nobody else wanted to go, but my mother, brother, daughter, and I all went. I was hoping that I’d be pleasantly surprised, and it would be worth it (at that point I was extremely hot and tired, and this is back when I was at my heaviest; not a great combo).
I regrettably report that, in my opinion, it was NOT worth it. Maybe if you’re a dinosaur fanatic it’d be worth it, but I wasn’t impressed. I could barely make out the dinosaur prints, and you must walk up this massive, very steep hill which is literally the only path you can take. At the top, the hill starts to go downhill, but you must walk back up THAT hill to get back to your car. So, you’re walking up two massive hills no matter what, and if you do it in July like we did, be prepared to roast and sweat your face off. There’s zero shade or coverage, and it’s every man for himself. (I should note: my stepdad loved this place. However, my mom, brother, and I were not impressed. So, take it for what it’s worth.)
We decided to call it day after this, and finally head back to the Airbnb (more on the Airbnb at the end. It deserves its own mention, and I’m not saying that in a good way). The next day we left out early to head back to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, because we were told had we arrived earlier the day before, we could have seen it since they closed it in the early afternoon to prepare for the weirdo concert. However, as the universe would have it, they had closed it AGAIN, all day, in preparation for yet ANOTHER concert. I guess this amphitheater gets a lot of use in the week leading up to the 4th of July, and because the universe hates me, that would be when we were there. We had no choice but to cut our losses for good.
Overall, I would say my trip to Denver was… satisfying. We got to see a few of the main hot spots, but obviously there was still a lot left for us to see and do. We couldn’t go to downtown Denver because we were out-voted. One of the downsides to a family reunion is that you usually must do things as a unit, and if the entire unit isn’t on board with something, then that something isn’t going to happen. I wouldn’t have minded breaking away from said unit and venturing off myself into downtown Denver, but alas, I had my infant and no vehicle. I would love to go back to Denver for about a week, and just explore all the things I didn’t get to see. Until next time, Mile High City!
Ok, so the Airbnb… I don’t know how many people reading this blog have ever stayed at an Airbnb, but this was my first time. My uncle was in charge of finding where we were going to stay, whether that be a house, motel, hotel, whatever. He was having a lot of trouble finding a hotel that was A) cheap enough and B) was large enough for so many people during the 4th of July weekend. He ended up finding an Airbnb house, owned by some European guy, who basically used it as a house to rent out on Airbnb and make some extra cash (oh, to be that wealthy).
The house from the outside looks out of place. It’s a two-story home in a sea of one-story homes. This house clearly wasn’t there originally, because it stuck out like a sore thumb. While it was larger, from the outside it looked like your run-of-the-mill, single-family type home. Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant. The inside was a completely different story. From the moment I stepped inside, I felt like I had been transported to a freaking IKEA store in downtown Stockholm, Sweden. It was the most modern, “artsy”-type home that I have ever been in. It was 3 stories (furnished basement), 5 bedrooms, one nook area with a bed, 3 1/2 baths, and two living rooms. There was a TV in the basement living room that looked like it was manufactured in 1992, which didn’t work. There were no other TVs in the entire house. There was a giant camera affixed in the kitchen. I’m not talking about a small little stealth camera. This thing looked like it once belonged in a Blockbuster Video, also from 1992; that’s how large and ancient it was. It was extremely unnerving to think that some dude in Europe was probably watching our every move (and I know he was, because his *bleep* kept turning up the A.C. manually).
The kitchen was made for someone living in 2050, not 2017. It was far too modern for its own good. It was pure entertainment to sit and watch people in the kitchen literally battle with the sink nozzle because it was sensor activated and did not always work properly. The microwave was in a drawer. Yes, you read that right, in a drawer. Just imagine a drawer in your kitchen, now place a microwave in it, and there you go. It was a modern microwave because the door was on the top (due to it being in a damn drawer).
The beds. Oh, the beds. For all the people reading this who own a house or room that they rent out on Airbnb, heed my words: get some nice beds, please and thank you. I ended up sleeping in a room meant for a child, and had to wrestle my 5′ 8″, 300-pound (more downsides to being heavy) butt onto this teeny, tiny twin bed. My feet hung off the end. To top it off, the bed squeaked so much under my weight (but to be fair to myself, it also squeaked in agony when my beanpole brother sat on it … probably because it’s meant for a 60-pound child), so I ended up having to remove the entire bed frame and place the mattress straight on the ground. I shared the room with my daughter who was 7-months-old at the time, and the very last thing I wanted was to allow this stupid bed to wake her up all night. I ended up getting an average of 4 hours of sleep per night because the bed was so horrendous. So yeah, everyone renting out an Airbnb or looking to rent one, just be aware of the bed sitch.
Basically, I’m adding the last part about the Airbnb because it was a major component of our trip, and I think the trip might have been a tad bit better had the Airbnb been more adequate. The basement dwellers froze because everyone on the top floor was getting burnt up, and it was the battle of the A.C. every night (whenever we could keep Europe Dude from messing with it). All the furniture was IKEA-like, and it was not a homely feel, at all. I want to warn travelers who are looking into staying at an Airbnb to seriously do your research and search ALL your options extensively. We were left with limited options because we needed a house big enough for 11 adults and a baby, but if it’s just you or a few people, be wise!