Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Vacation - Part 2

One of the best days Erin and I had on our vacation was in Sedona.  The weather was cooperating with beautiful blue skies as we had the opportunity to see the beautiful rock formations with my family.  We enjoyed two hikes in search of the famous Sedona vortexes.  For lunch we stopped at the wonderful "Red Planet Cafe" with decorations from out of this world.  There were so many beautiful pictures taken that I decided to post them in their own section on Picasa.  Click here to see them.  My brother, Michael, and Erin took many of these pictures.

The next day it was time to say goodbye to my family as Erin and I got back on the road.  We decided to drive through northern Arizona to Moab before heading back to Denver.  On our way we crossed through Navajo territory to see fossilized dinosaur prints and Monument Valley.  It was all beautiful territory and I wish we would have had more time to spend there.  However, our timing did allow us to get some gorgeous photos of the sunset.  Everything, it seemed, was going great.

Then in Utah, as the night turned dark and desolate, just outside of Blanding we hit a deer laying in the road.  The oncoming cars tried to warn us by flashing their brights, but by the time we saw the deer it was too late to swerve.  So I gritted my teeth and drove over it.  The worst part was the that its head was facing us and the eyes were shining in our headlights (even though we confirmed at the gas station a little down the road that it had been dead for a few hours).  Fortunately it didn't do too much damage to the car, but it was tragic to view and left a horrendous smell.

The first order of business next morning in Moab was to wash the car.  While that helped we still needed an air freshener to control the smell.  Fortunately we had the glorious views of Arches National Park to distract us.  The ice was too slippery and our time too short for us to experience much of the park, but it was nice to see it and plan a return trip.

Finally, after another long day of driving we made it back to Denver in time to have dinner with Erin's parents.  We finally returned home exhausted, but content in a wonderful trip.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Vacation - Part 1

This last week has been a wonderful blur of Southwest American countryside, family, and great food.  Erin and I left Colorado a week ago Sunday on a windy drive down to Santa Fe.  It was so windy that we were stopped by a large tow truck blocking I-25 as it worked to overturn a semi which had been flipped over by the wind.

As we got into Santa Fe the snow was gently falling and provided an incredibly romantic backdrop for an evening in a private jacuzzi at Ten Thousand Waves, a traditional Japanese spa.  We finished the evening with dinner at "The Shed," a local favorite with great fish tacos and grilled shrimp.

The next morning the romantic snow from the night before became a foot-and-a-half obstacle to continuing our trip.  With some help from the hotel personnel we were able to make it to Tocate, another local favorite, for breakfast and finally onto the highway down to Albuquerque.  While there was snow along the road as we drove there was none by the time we reached Albuquerque.

Our main reason for stopping at Albuquerque was the rattlesnake museum.  While Erin normally shrieks at the sight of a snake when we walk outside she was thrilled to see all the snakes in the museum.  We both got "certificates of bravery" for our successful completion of the museum tour.

Our next stop was the New Mexico Mining Museum in Grants, NM.  While we were expecting an old, run-down, rustic mine we were greeted with a professional, high-tech view of modern mining.  After a short elevator ride down to the mine we were free to walk around and listen to pre-recorded miners talk about the different equipment and practices in the mine.  It was a nice respite from the blizzard-like driving conditions we encountered going over the continental divide.

After a long day we finally made it to my aunt and uncle's place in Prescott, AZ.  We spent the next couple of days relaxing with my family with the traditional gift-giving and turkey dinner.  Ice in the driveway and surrounding streets left little for us to do the day after Christmas other than a short walk around Willow lake at Prescott.

In the next post I'll write about the second part of our trip and the return home.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter Park Surprise

I cannot say enough wonderful things about my girlfriend.  In addition to accompanying me on my 30th birthday pub crawl last weekend, she arranged a surprise weekend up in the mountains to celebrate with me.  I love surprises, and while trying to keep a whole weekend a secret is difficult she pulled it off well as I had little idea where we were going or what we were doing until the last minute.

The first surprise on Friday was a fresh-baked apple pie, my favorite.  After a warm slice in the afternoon we were on the road up to the mountains.  Fortunately it had finished snowing on Thursday so the roads were clear.  Just as it was getting dark, we found the bed and breakfast that Erin had reserved for the weekend, the Chateau at Winter Park.

There was something about the place that seemed a little creepy to us, but we had already made the reservations.  While the owners were very friendly and helpful we had a horrible time getting to sleep with all sorts of noises (a train ran through behind the house), heating issues, and one of the most uncomfortable beds we had slept on.  We were thus feeling a little unprepared for the large, slightly-overcooked breakfast the next day.  We've concluded that bed and breakfasts just aren't for us.

Still, the days activities more than made up for the difficult night as we made our way to the tubing hill.  I had never been on an inner-tube on the snow and thought it a bit childish; reminding me of taking a saucer out to the snow when I was a kid.  After the first slide down I was hooked.  It was a lot of fun, and there was a tow rope that hooked to the tube to haul us back up the hill.  On our bellies or our backs, together or separate, it certainly got our blood pumping and ready for our next event.
I had been wanting to go snowmobiling since last winter, and Erin finally made it happen for us this weekend.  We got a guided tour up to the Continental Divide in a group of about seven snowmobiles.  While I drove and Erin hung on for dear life for most of the ride she got a chance at the top to take it for a spin herself.  There seemed at times a bit of a disconnect between the serene, snow-covered trees and our roaring, two-stroke snowmobiles.  But the ride through the hills and narrow, tree-lined trails (often up to 30mph) was very exhilarating.  I can't wait to go out again.

After so much excitement it was time to relax.  We had some margaritas in Winter Park and then drove out to Hot Sulphur Springs (the actual name of the town) to soak in some hot pools.  The springs were a nice way to relax as we sat and soaked up the minerals under a clearing sky and shining moon.  After a brief stop in "The Pub" in Winter Park (apparently where all the locals go on Saturday night) for dinner we went on back to brave another night at the B&B.

While we had tried some strategies for sleep we were again unsuccessful and were happy to leave the B&B the next morning with a light breakfast on our way out the door.  Still, with a stop at Starbucks on our way back we were up for a hike in Red Rocks as the weather turned warm.  After a nice long nap we finished the weekend by picking out a small Christmas tree and decorating it.  So ended a wonderful weekend with my exceptional girlfriend.  I can hardly wait until Christmas when we take a week-long road trip down to Prescott, AZ to explore and celebrate.

Monday, December 1, 2008

30th Birthday Pub Crawl

I had a hard time thinking about how to celebrate my 30th birthday party this year.  I haven't done much to celebrate my birthday the past couple of years, but turning 30 seems to have a certain importance to it that can't be ignored.  I also wanted to do something that was accessible to a lot of people and above-all would be fun.  Finally, after discussing it at length with Erin, I came up with the idea of having a pub crawl that would use Denver's light rail system.  The resulting night was one of the best birthday celebrations that I can remember.  Click here to see pictures from the night.

We started our adventure at Dave & Buster's on Colorado at 4pm.  This gave us a chance to play some games and have some snacks while everybody gathered.  After about two hours we moved on to our next stop, Hanson's on the corner of Louisiana and Pearl.  Upstairs they have a smaller bar which we had all to ourselves.  As more people arrived the night started to get into gear.

Our next stop was for dinner at the Blue Bonnet a short walk from the Alameda stop.  They have some great Tex-Mex food and margaritas.  I was also glad that they were able to accommodate our group of eight people even though we arrived an hour after the time for which I'd made our reservations.  The only downside was that they had a policy against splitting up the check so we each had to mark on a copy of the check what we had ordered and hope the waitress added it up correctly.  The difficulties were soon forgotten though as we were back on the light rail to our next stop.

Just outside the stop at 10th and Osage is a Denver landmark called The Buckhorn Exchange.  It is the oldest restaurant in Denver and feels like your stepping back in time.  As a pair of mustachioed gentleman played cowboy songs and sing-alongs in the upstairs bar the eyes of countless mounted animals looked on.  By itself the place would have been an experience, but we had more places to get to so we went back to catch the next train.

While I had initially planned on catching a train to Union Station and walking to Fado, an irish pub, we grabbed a train heading to 16th street instead.  Getting off, we took a long walk down 16th street to the Red Square, our favorite vodka bar.  The Red Square specializes in vodka infused with different flavors including pepper, pickle, and my favorite, pineapple.  After a round there someone mentioned Nallin's just a short walk away.  We walked in and almost immediately walked out again as it was more of a country bar than an Irish pub (at least based on the music).

After several more blocks of walking we finally made it to Fado for Irish coffees.  One could tell that the nights activities were getting to us when a breakdown in communication brought us about twice as many Irish coffees as we wanted.  Still, they were delicious and I, being the birthday boy, had no qualms about drinking extras. 

The rest of the night is a little hazy for me.  Our friend Neil recently got a condo in the glass house not far from Fado, so we made our way over there.  I think some of us were actually doing some crawling by this time.  Up in Neil's condo, overlooking the city, we had our last drinks of the night.  Around 2am someone called a cab and Erin and I made it home safely.  She tells me that I stayed up chatting with her for another two hours though I can't remember any of it.

The next day we woke up late and spent the rest of the day recovering.  It was quite a wild experience and I think everyone had a great time, especially me.  However, I don't think we'll be doing anything like that anytime soon.  I'm incredibly thankful for everyone that came out and that all made it through the night safely.

Thanksgiving in Buena Vista

This last week has been very much about celebrating with new and dear friends.  On Wednesday I left with Erin and her parents up to Buena Vista after a few delays.  We found a reasonably priced bed and breakfast up there called the Liar's Lodge.  As we got in we saw how beautiful the lodge was with a large, high-ceiling in the main room.  Driving around town brought us to a nice place for dinner called the Global Cafe.

The next day we woke to beautiful views of the surrounding collegiate mountains.  Though Erin and I hadn't slept well due to the heating in our room not working we were ready to get the day started.  After some geocaching, we drove over to Erin's brother-in-law's (Kevin) family's lodge nearby.  There we were greeted by the Butler family as we struggled to remember everyone's name.  The rest of the day was a mix of great food, wonderful conversations, walks in the country to see bighorn sheep, all types of games, and even a guitar recital that me and Kevin's dad put on.  It was all very fun though sometimes a bit overwhelming with all the people.

On Friday morning we had a chance to do a little more geocaching and hiking with some of the younger members of the Butler family.  It was fun watching them get excited about finding the little treasures.  That night, back in Denver, we went to watch "Four Christmases" with our friends, Brian and Cassie, who had just gotten back from Mexico.  It was a very funny movie that I would definitely recommend.