This is a story about a white Xmas in the Rocky Mountains USA.
However it starts with my having a molar tooth extracted on the Wednesday, guests staying overnight and entertaining in our house Thursday night, hosting our Rotary Club’s Xmas party on Friday night, hosting a Xmas party for family and friends at our house on Saturday night, hosting an afternoon tea for family on Sunday afternoon, meeting the new neighbours drinks Sunday night before we depart for the airport at 7.30am Monday morning. Believe it or not it all went off without a hitch until we got to the airport and tried to claim the GST on purchases we had made for our trip.
We arrived at the airport 4 hours ahead of departure time, had breakfast waited in the longest queue to check in, then an even longer queue to go through immigration, and then the longest queue to claim back the GST. We gave up on the refund of the GST as we decided we were never going to make our claim and make the flight – so we chose the flight. It was the correct choice as I am certain the government pays people to stand in that queue to frustrate citizens like us leaving our shopping till we want to fly overseas and claim a refund on the GST we paid.
Despite the frustration around the GST refund, the flight was without a hitch or any sleep for both of us. Even the transit from LAX international to the United Airlines terminal was trouble and stress free (LAX is far too familiar). Landing at Denver International was also trouble free, and after picking up our luggage, we made our way to the train into Denver.
The 1/2 hour train trip even went smoothly. We sat relaxed in the train car watching some of the most boring scenery of the Great Basin go past – undulating prairie with a dried grass covering and not a tree to be seen and the few skeletons of trees that we did see were completely naked. As we closed in on the urban fringes of Denver, some pretty ugly industrial precincts mustered around the train line.
We arrived at our destination Union Station Denver in just under 1/2 an hour just as the Internet had predicted passed through the impressively renovated station building and hollered for an Uber to take us to our hotel. Well I thought we had been rustled – our Uber driver was heading for Lakewood but an alert Kerry questioned where he was taking us and after blaming his GPS he drove us through parts of Denver he had never seen (his confession) and took us to the wrong hotel (although our hotel was on the opposite corner – close enough is good enough?).
We grabbed our luggage apologised to the concierge of the Hyatt Regency and scrambled across the road to the Homewood Suites by Hilton whilst our Uber driver hum bugged looking for his tip (don’t try and rip off these little black ducks). Homewood Suites suited us just fine – spacious with a kitchenette and one street from the city mall. Checked in by 2.30pm. Back on the street looking for an early dinner we patrolled the 16th St mall with the sun starting to wane at 5.00pm.
We found a cafe (Cafe Rialto) and it was happy hour – they were happy we arrived – so we ordered a drink and some bar snacks which became dinner due to the size of the portions. Kerry struck up a conversation with a younger lady/business woman anxiously tapping out her report on her laptop. She is Canadian but has traveled to Denver extensively, said that no one speaks of Trump any more through embarrassment, and told us about a Xmas village just behind the cafe.
We needed a walk so off the village we go, and we end up in the Beer hall/tent where we are given two free tickets in a raffle to be drawn at 6.00pm. So there we were in the Xmas village checking out German sausages, pretzels, Xmas decorations and a host of other things we did not need just so we could go bag a prize in the raffle and we were only 1 number off – we had ……29 and the winning number was …….28.
Good thing too, the prize was some enormous lolly treat and we were still digesting dinner. However I took some great shots of the lights in the mall and at the Xmas village and here they are.
There are free buses running up and down 16th Ave well into the night however we walked back to the hotel retiring for the night but both of us went from unable to stay awake to we each had a broken nights sleep. Kerry was unable to get out of bed the following morning and she sent me to play on the street all by myself. So after checking out the vista from our room, I wandered down to the mall past the Tourist Information Centre outside of which I was surprised by a large mural covering a wall of the building across the street.
I caught one of the free buses to the terminus outside some civic building and across the road from Capitol Hill -the State House. I circumnavigated the building before finding the visitors’ entrance. The building is beautifully restored and still operates as the meeting place for the general assembly of Colorado (House of Representatives and Senators). It was once the Supreme Court Chambers as well but they have now been given separate premises in 14th Ave. There is a museum in the roof which I visited and found the man who loved the city so much he took its name. I took some pictures and have shared them below. I was amused to see the space for the 45th President remained blank in the Gallery of Presidents.
Returning home to check on Kerry I found her just crawling out of bed (near midday) and reported to her on my morning. A desire to eat and a quest for information dragged us out again first to the Information Centre and then to WalGreen for some supplies. We made our plans for the next few days ate lunch then went to catch the #20 bus to the natural History Museum. It was quite some trip on the bus. The bus took us out into the suburbs of Denver; we rubbed shoulders with Denverites for about 1/2hour before getting off at the nominated stop. We then walked for 300metres to the next bus stop and the Natural History Museum across the road.
The Museum appeared very modern with a pack of wolves preserved in metal outside the front door. Colorado is a hot spot for dinosaur bones so a large display of dinosaurs was to be found. They also have a a space department which was showing a movie on our solar system and displays of native flora and fauna. We only had a few hours before it closed but what we saw was very interesting and informative. A few photos follow.
As we were chased out the door we saw our #20 bus pulling into the stop. Great timing and an easy trip home, dinner at the hotel and back to our room for a big day tomorrow.
Wednesday- We try our free breakfast and that is what it was worth then catch the free mall bus to Union Station to meet Austin our guide to visit the Rocky Mountains National Park. Founded in 1915 the park is some 400+ acres of “pristine forest”. Well not actually pristine as for years before (from 1859 when Colorado experienced a gold rush) people had settled in the park area such that once declared a park all those structures built by man had to be removed and the affected areas rehabilitated.
So Austin took us and two other couples from Huston through the park. The trip took at least an hour before we arrived at Lyons a small town at the foot of the First Range. We had a rest break and a walk through the town where I found a bamboo rod maker (the cut throat trout is both the State fish emblem and a much favoured fish for anglers). Here in Lyons we could see the result of two tectonic plates crashing millions of years ago thus forming the Rockies. Some pictures of the town and the tilted rock strata.
Leaving Lyons we drove up Trail Ridge Road passing a little chapel which had received a papal blessing so we had to stop.
Our journey continued until we reached a T intersection where we stopped so that Austin could purchase lunch for everyone then we proceeded into the national park turning off into Bear Lake Road passing a moraine park from a past glacier going onto Sprague lake where we stop for lunch and a walk around the lake. The wind is chilling and promises snow later in the day but with our ski jackets on we head around the lake which is largely frozen over. The edges of the lake are crowded with the naked Aspens, Ponderosa pines and the tent pole pines used by native Americans for their tepees. We eat our sandwich provided for lunch (turkey of course) circumnavigate the lake and return to the bus quickly to get out of the wind.
Everyone has the same idea and soon we are under way up the Trail Ridge Road again this time heading for Many Parks Curve where the road is closed until the spring. From here at just under 12,000 feet we have spectacular views of the canyons below.
Then we head down to Alluvial Fan the site of a disaster in 1970s but on the way we encounter some local fauna. Early settlers had built a dam on Lawn Lake which collapsed in a heavy rain event sending a tsunami of water down the mountain stripping trees soil and rocks and carrying it all into the canyon. The alluvial fan that was created remains today. Here are a few photos.
We are heading home now and we stop at the mandatory souvenir shop at Falls River Visitor Centre and Kerry makes some new friends. From there we visit the Stanley hotel which is a 19th century hotel now famous for giving Stephen King the inspiration to write the “Shining”. The hotel is well maintained and impressive. We noticed the storm brewing on the mountains and the haze of snow falling and Austin hints he wants to beat the storm back to Denver, so we have a quick look and then had an ice cream which we finished in the car. We encounter the evening rush hour on the way back but even so we make it back to Union Station by 6.00pm but you would swear it is 8.00pm as it is so dark and cold.