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!
After leaving Sante Fe we headed north to Los Alamos to visit my cousin David and his family. We arrived and were immediately struck by the roving mob of kids that were playing on their street. We parked and introduced ourselves to David’s wife, Jessie and their three children, Maren, Charlie, and Ollie. Within minutes, Liam and CJ had joined the gaggle of kids while we went inside for a drink.
Los Alamos is largely composed of scientists who work at the National Laboratory and is the kind of place where people don’t lock their doors. Accordingly, its citizens appear, in a throwback to an earlier time, to be more comfortable giving their children much more freedom than most modern parents. During our stay with David, our kids spent the majority of the time on their own playing at the neighboring park or at a neighbor’s house. After 3 months in close proximity, the separation was good for all of us.
After spending a couple of days with David and Jessie at their home, we all decided to go camping in nearby Bandalier National Monument which was established in 1916 to preserve the ancient cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pubelo people. Liam and CJ really enjoyed exploring Bandalier with Maren and Charlie and we enjoyed sharing our lifestyle with David and Jessie who had recently purchased a camper van of their own.
Liam and Maren regularly disappeared from the campsite, exploring the woods or playing games on their own, while CJ and Charlie enjoyed listening to CJ’s library of audio books snuggled in bed together. Maggie thoroughly enjoyed bedtime when the four older kids piled into bed with her for storybook time.
Charlie and CJ listening to some stories
View from the Falls Hike
Practicing to be lumberjacks
Waterfall in Bandelier NM
Lots of ladders! The kids loved these hikes
Our last hike was particularly special, ancient pottery shards were EVERYwhere
On our final day in Bandalier we did one last hike and began the four hour drive to Durango, CO. About an hour or so into the drive we came across a random, but idyllic picnic table on the side of Hwy 84 and decided to pull over for a rest. The kids were asleep so Maggie and I decided to enjoy a glass of wine and rare quiet moment. A bottle of wine later, we decided to spend the night. On a totally unrelated note, I woke up at 6am with a pounding headache. Unable to sleep, I decided to clean up the area surrounding the pull off which was littered with an obscene amount of trash. I was able to get everything picked up except the big screen TV that was lying in the pastureland (Maggie refused to help me lift it over the barbed wire).
My Aunt Cindy and Uncle John left Atlanta for League City, Texas a quarter century ago and, shamefully, my mom and I had never made the trip to see them. To make up for our indefensible absence, we decided to descend upon their home like a swarm of locusts. My mom’s sister-in-law, Aunt Pat, was kind enough to accompany my mom and brother on the 12+ hour drive from Atlanta. While we didn’t plan it, my crew pulled up to Cindy and John’s at the same time as my mom, Pat, and Russ, ensuring that the seven of us did our best to overwhelm our hosts right from the start.
My Aunt Cindy raised four children and runs a tight ship, so if our crew did overwhelm her during our five day invasion, she didn’t show it. She warmly opened her home and provided us with several delicious meals. Similarly, my Uncle John was nice enough to let us raid his liquor cabinet. Everything from his top shelf scotch to his homemade wine was on offer.
During our visit, we were also able to spend time with my cousin Tommy, his wife Lara, and their two boys, Jake and Gabe. Liam really took a shine to Jake and Gabe and is now ready to relocate to Texas to be closer to them.
The League City area had plenty to keep the kids occupied and we enjoyed visiting various parks (including Rocket Park which houses one of the Saturn V rockets that NASA used to send America’s astronauts to the moon in the 1960’s), nature trials, and the Galveston Children’s museum. Most importantly though, we spent plenty of quality time with family, catching up and reliving fond memories.
Many thanks to my Aunt Cindy and Uncle John for hosting us, my cousin Tommy and his wife for being our tour guides, and a special thanks to my Aunt Pat for ensuring that Liam and CJ got to spend time with Grammy Sue and Big Russ.
Pretending to be hawks and turkey vultures
Everything at the Space Center was gigantic!
Cindy and John posing with the kids at Kemah Boardwalk
The kids were so excited to see their Uncle Russ
Liam and his cousins looking for tadpoles
The simple things in life!
Liam, Gabe, CJ, and Jake taking a break on our nature walk
While in League City, Liam took his training wheels off and hasn’t looked back.