Our trip through Colorado marked the end of our Western journey as we began to head back east to Atlanta for two dear friends’ wedding. Luckily the timing was just right, we pulled into Rocky Mountain National Park three days before the campgrounds closed for the season. We camped at Timber Creek where we were serenaded all night, every night by the resident elk population bugling to their mates. Liam and I explored the campground and got a front row seat to watch one particularly large male elk calling to his ladies, it was quite the sight.
We spent our days hiking around the park and keeping warm. The first day we enjoyed a quiet 7.4 mile hike to the headwaters of the Colorado River – the same river we paddled in Moab that nearly swamped the boat. We enjoyed a pleasant picnic along these calmer banks, watching minnows dart among the rocks and even stumbled upon a mother moose and her baby.
Later in the day we explored the Alpine Visitor Center and hiked up to an alpine overlook that offered stunning views of the Rocky Mountain peaks and lakes far below. In case you’re curious alpine environments are designated to anything above 11,400ft. Few species, both plant and animal, can survive up here and those that do, are extremely susceptible to the effects of climate change which threaten to destroy their delicate ecosystem.
The next day Rick and I traded off parenting duties and each of us got to do our own solo hike while the other minded the kids. During my turn entertaining the kids we stumbled on a herd of elk moving through a thicket. As we tried to back away so as not to upset them a mother moose and her baby came charging through the trees. It was the equivalent of a traffic jam in nature. Luckily the kids and I were far enough out of the way that the animals ignored us and quickly went their own separate ways. Meanwhile, Rick thoroughly enjoyed his hike to the top of Deer Mountain where he stood above the clouds and got to watch them sail gently by beneath him.
Despite the short stay, we felt like we got to see much of the park. After a short stint boondocking in Fort Collins and exploring their local farmers market, we made our way to Denver to visit my Uncle Paul’s family.
Liam and Cora Jean were excited to meet another cousin and had fun learning to golf with Sylas and playing with the neighborhood kids. Rick and I were well fed by my Uncle Paul and cousin Shaina, and enjoyed hearing colorful family stories each night over delicious meals. My aunt and uncle have been living in Denver for well over 30 years and as a painter my uncle knows the city and it’s neighborhoods like the back of his hand. He took us on several tours of the city and surrounding towns giving us the history and fun backstories on the various properties he’s worked on in the past.
I hadn’t seen that side of the family since our wedding, so it was a long overdue visit. I enjoyed a chance to catch up, meet our newest cousin and sincerely appreciate my aunt and uncle opening their home to us!
Having fond memories of my mom throwing a banana peel at the mule deer who muscled its way into our campsite back in the 1990’s – I was excited to bring my own family to Mesa Verde. We found the deer to be much more timid than my last visit, but the park equally magically.
Mesa Verde is both a National Park and a World Heritage Site. It’s home to 4,000 archeological sites built by the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the region from 550 A.D to 1300 A.D. In addition to beautiful hiking trails with striking vistas of the mesas and nearby mountain ranges, you are also able to tour a handful of amazingly well-preserved cliff dwellings. Climbing up steep ladders, crawling through stone passage ways and standing on cliff edges transports you back to the stone age to imagine what life might have been like.
We signed up for one of these ranger-led hikes which took us through Balcony House. Our guide, David Night Eagle (a member of the Sioux Lakota tribe), had a great sense of humor and even treated us to some traditional flute music at the end of the tour. Standing in the home of people who had lived here over 700 years ago and listening to his music was a special experience.
Balcony House, built over 700 years ago
Getting to and from was not for the faint of heart
Racking up the ranger badges
Another of the many cliff dwellings
Some of the mule deer near camp
This park was a great mix of history and nature and I feel like I have a better understanding of the daily lives of early native people. Although at times it felt like the kids weren’t interested in the archeological sites, we’ve found them building “adobe houses” out of rocks at the subsequent campsites we’ve stayed at so something must have sunk in!
After spending two weeks in New Mexico, we were excited to get to another state. From Los Alamos we headed to Durango, Colorado which we had heard much fan fare about. Durango didn’t disappoint. Cute shops, great eateries, and several breweries supplemented the large number of outdoor activities located just minutes from the downtown area. Additionally, Durango had the best community center of any of the western towns we’ve visited (if you haven’t picked up on a theme yet, we like to seek out libraries and community centers for low cost entertainment for the kids, and something different from the endless hikes).
Durango’s indoor pool included a massive lazy river, aerobics pool, lap pool, spacious hot tub and the largest water slide I’ve ever been down. After Rick’s fifth ride down he said, “I’m just grinning ear to ear the whole way down.” Which I felt pretty much summed it up. All four of us enjoyed endless slides down the twisting tube – especially the Ceej.
Giddy Up! Downtown Durango
CJ pretending to be a lion on Pride Rock
More views of the river
The train stopped at the top of the mountain where we were able to go exlporing
The river looked stunning from our train car window
Enjoying the view on our hike
Post paddle, Liam enjoyed playing on the beach
Comin’ round the tracks
The kids were excited to see a working steam engine – like Thomas!
In addition to the pool, we enjoyed a local hike where the kids had plenty of fun clambering over all the boulders. CJ now repeatedly requests to climb “Pride Rock” – the name she assigns to every large boulder we see on hikes. They spent about 20 minutes having a pretend hyena hunt after we found a large fort some kids had built just off the trail – as you can tell CJ is a big fan of “The Lion King.”
We also enjoyed the Animus river which runs through town. The kids biked along the path that follows the river one evening and the next day we did a short paddle through town ending at a beach where the kids were able to play in the sand and on the rocks.
The big highlight of the trip for the kids was getting to ride the historic Durango-Silverton steam train. We rode the completely refurbished train up through tall pine forests with heart stopping sections that looked straight down into whitewater portions of the Animus. While on the train we met an incredibly nice couple who invited us back to their winery afterward where the woman, Michelle, regaled Liam with stories of her time working on a whale watching boat – needless to say, we will be taking a whale tour when we get to California.
Overall, we were impressed with all that Durango had to offer and could easily have spent another week exploring.