The drive from Amarillo to Colorado Springs was an easy one. We stopped at a Burger King for lunch (to appease Kenny) and arrived in Colorado Springs early enough to check into the hotel and drive out to the Pike's Peak Cog Railray. We got on a standby list for the last train out (5:20 pm) and were the very last passengers to actually make it on to the train. We had to sit in the jumpseats, but that was actually better because we had more leg room.
It was COLD at the top of Pike's Peak! We went into the gift shop at the top so that we could buy some bottled water. We were all feeling light headed by then, and wanted to sip on some water before walking around outside. We went outside after a while and took several pictures before boarding the train to come back down.
We were tired and hungry after the 3 hours at Pike's Peak. We ate dinner at the Elephant Bar in Colorado Springs. A friend of mine who lives in Highlands Ranch recommended it, and we were not disappointed. We all loved what we ordered that night, even Kenny.
I woke up early enough this morning to visit the Fitness Center at the hotel, which just happened to be a couple of doors down from our room. I had a good workout on the treadmill (with a little extra huffing and puffing due to the high altitude).
Our first stop this morning was the Garden of the Gods, which wasn't far from the hotel. We stopped at the Visitor's Center first and bought tickets for the narrated bus tour which goes around the Juniper Loop. After the bus tour, we drove the Juniper Loop in our vehicle, and got out and walked around and took pictures. We also drove through the rest of the park, getting out a couple of times to take more pictures. This is a great place to go if you are ever near Colorado Springs. You can spend as little as 30 minutes here (driving through the park) or you could spend all day hiking on the trails and visiting all of the formations on foot.
After a quick lunch at Taco Bell, we went to Cave of the Winds. Although the cave tour was fine, I think the general consensus of the whole family is that we could have skipped this activity. Our tour guide was relentless with the corny jokes, and some of the climbing up and down stairs through narrow passageways was pretty hard on Kenny.
We still had about an hour before we needed to start driving towards Highlands Ranch to visit some friends. So, we drove over to Seven Falls just to look at some of the scenery on the way. We didn't actually see Seven Falls (turned around at the entrance) because we needed to hit the road by then.
We spent the evening with my friend Teresa (college roommate) and her family. They had us over for dinner and we were able to visit for a few hours. It was great catching up with them and seeing how much all the kids have grown. Emily and Kenny were very impressed with their basement, which included a very nice media room.
After dinner we drove to Loveland, CO to stay at the Residence Inn. We had planned to stay in Estes Park, but I waited too late to make the reservations. Loveland has a nice Residence Inn, so that was a good alternative. The Residence Inn was very nice and we were able to spread out in a 2 BR suite for a couple of nights.
We tried to get an early start this morning since we wanted to spend the whole day at Rocky Mountain National Park. We were on the road by 10 am (which is early for us). We drove from Loveland to Estes Park and stopped at an overpriced Safeway to pick up some bottled waters and some snacks for the ice chest. We bought a National Parks Pass ($80) at the park entrance since we planned to visit a couple of more National parks on this vacation, and hopefully some next summer too.
We drove down Trail Ridge Road, stopping at the various points of interest along the way. At Rainbow Curve, as we were admiring the view and watching all the chipmunks scurrying around, we were hit with heavy rain. The rain soon turned to hail, so we sat in the car watching the storm and still enjoying the view. After the storm, we drove the rest of Trail Ridge Road, stopping along the way and taking a few short hikes here and there to get some good photos. It was really cool to see how the landscape changed as we were climbing higher and higher. We stopped at the Alpine Visitor's Center, which is located near the highest point of Trail Ridge Road.
After driving Trail Ridge Road, we drove to Grand Lake, which is on the west side of RMNP. What a neat little town! We walked around for a while, went into some shops, and then ate dinner at the Sagebrush BBQ and Grill. We had to drive back through RMNP and Estes Park to get back to Loveland. We stopped a couple of times to watch some Elk grazing and also some muledeer.
Estes Park was really hopping when we drove back through that night around 7 pm. People were everywhere. We drove back to Loveland for another night at the Residence Inn before heading southwest for the rest of the trip.
Today was a looong day in the car. The drive was absolutely gorgeous though. Thank goodness for ipods and DVD players. We hardly heard a peep out of the kids. We left Loveland in the morning and drove south of Denver to catch Highway 285 S towards Salida. Outside of Salida, we then took Highway 50 to Gunnison. We stopped in Gunnison for a quick lunch at Subway, and then hurried back to the car. We were trying to get to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison before it closed (and before dark!). We made it to the Black Canyon with about an hour to spare before closing. The Black Canyon is a National Park so we were able to use our National Parks Pass here.
We had plenty of time to stop at the major overlooks and admire the Canyon. It really is something to behold, and quite different from other canyons that we have seen. We even had time to take a drive down to the bottom of the Canyon and see the Gunnison River.
After hanging out at the river for a while, we piled back in the car for our last leg of the trip to Ouray. We had to drive in the dark, which was a shame because I know it would have been a beautiful drive. We arrived in Ouray, checked into our hotel and then headed to town to see what was still open for dinner at 9 pm. Fortunately, we found the Gold Belt Bar & Grill and we were all able to enjoy a late dinner before heading back to the Hot Springs Inn for a much needed night's rest.
We woke up early this morning and had breakfast at the hotel. Then, we headed to downtown Ouray to the "Switzerland of America" office to see if we could set up some tours for the next couple of days. Because the water levels were quite low at this time, we didn't have a whole lot of choices for Whitewater Rafting trips. SOA found a 4 hour trip with RIGS going out of Ridgway on the Uncompahgre River for me & Emily. We also set up a jeep tour for all of us for the following day.
The rafting trip didn't start until 1 pm, so we had time to grab a quick lunch at Maggie's Cafe on Main Street. After lunch, we drove 15 minutes down highway 550 from Ouray to Ridgway. John & Kenny dropped us off at RIGS and then they drove back to Ouray to do the Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour.
The rafting trip was a lot of fun. The rapids were mostly Class II and III, which was fine with me. I was nervous enough as it was. The actual time in the water was only a couple of hours. The other two hours were spent transporting us to the river and getting the rafts set up, training, etc. It rained on us most of the time we were in the river, but the rain actually felt warm compared to the river water that was splashing on us!
John and Kenny picked us up at around 5 pm and we were chilled to the bone from all that cold water splashing on us. We headed straight to the Ouray Hot Springs to get warmed up. It felt great! We started off in the lukewarm pool, but it didn't take us long to "graduate" to the hottest pool (up to 106 degrees). This was the only time we visited the Hot Springs on our trip. We would have liked to come back every day, but it was pretty expensive so we talked ourselves out of it every time the subject came up.
After hanging out at the Hot Springs for a couple of hours, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. Some friends that we had met on the rafting trip told us about a restaurant (called the Bon Ton) where they had eaten the night before. They said it was the best meal they had had on their whole vacation. So, we decided to try it. We loved it too! Kenny is still talking about how much he loved the dessert he had there.