Friday, July 27, 2012

Rocky mountain high.

We went to Colorado last week. It was a really spectacular trip. On Saturday, just before we arrived in Denver, we witnessed a car chase and the unfortunate aftereffects - the driver of a stolen pickup smashed into two cars, injuring their drivers, before being stopped by road spikes.

On Sunday, we spent the day hiking around the Rocky Mountain National Park. We visited four lakes (Nymph, Dream, Emerald and Hiayaha) and hiked over 13 miles of some of the most beautiful country anyone can experience.

 After our RMNP hike, we headed to Boulder for dinner at Aji, where we ordered the entire Happy Hour menu.

Monday, we headed towards Glenwood Springs, Colorado. We stopped just outside of town for a hike Hanging Lake. This trail was pretty difficult - about 1 mile straight up the side of a mountain - but the rewarding view is truly incredible.

It's like something out of a movie. Paradise just off the interstate. After leaving Hanging Lake, we headed towards our hotel. About three miles from our exit, we found the interstate closed due to a hazardous waste spill in a tunnel. We were informed that the road would be closed for about 4 more hours, and the only alternate route to our exit was a six-hour detour. Disappointed, but not discouraged, we headed back to the last town we had passed, Eagle, Colorado, and found Luigi's Pasta House for dinner. We feasted on sangria, spaghetti and meatballs, and chocolate cake. It was really excellent. Three hours later, the road opened (earlier than expected - yay!) and we made our way to the hotel for some sleep.

Tuesday we started out for the Thomas Lakes Trail, but found that in Colorado, "accessible by car" means "accessible by high-set 4-wheel drive vehicle." After the road turned into what was essentially a dry, rock-filled creek bed, we turned back and approached the trailhead from another route, about 10 miles out of the way. Our 4-mile hike was terrific, moving from desert-like scrub landscape into aspens and pines over the course of the trail.

Dinner on Tuesday was at Six89 in Carbondale, the restaurant of 2011 James Beard award nominated Best Chef-Southwest, Mark Fischer. Our meal was incredible, and incredibly affordable - a three-course prix fixe dinner runs $26.89. We had halibut ceviche, vegetarian tamales, seared halibut with hominy, white chocolate bread pudding and butterscotch mousse. Even the drinks were outstanding - I had a Moscow Mule made with house-infused vanilla bean vodka, lime juice, angostura bitters and ginger beer on the rocks. Divine.

We headed to Breckenridge on Wednesday for a mountain hike. But first, we had to eat a mountain cannoli!

That gave us the fuel we needed head up Peak 8 on a chair lift in the rain towards for our guided hike on the mountain. The rain persisted for about an hour, during which we waited in a restaurant that's closed during the summer, but open for shelter from storms. Once the rain passed, we headed out for a 1.5 mile hike on top of the peak, and because it had just stopped raining, we were alone with our guide and a whole bunch of marmots, pika, and even a fox!

He watched us for about 3 minutes before trotting up the mountain and into some brush cover. After the hike we had a so-so dinner at a Breckenridge restaurant before heading back to our hotel for some sleep.

Up bright and early on Thursday but, as it turned out, not early enough. We left the hotel at 7am and headed to the Mt. Bierstadt trailhead in Georgetown, Colorado. Mt. Bierstadt is a 14r (pronounced "fourteener"), meaning it's one of the fifty-three 14,000+ foot tall mountains in Colorado. Our intention was to climb to the top of Mt. Bierstadt, and for a while, things looked good. We started out at 8:30, and headed out through the willows. Easy peasy. Then the climb got steeper, and steeper, and eventually we had to stop for frequent breaks, offering beautiful views.

We climbed up and up and up for 2.5 hours (and over 3 miles) before the storms started to move in. We'd been warned to stay off the high peaks when lightening is around, so with much disappointment, we abandoned our quest to reach the summit of our first 14r about 1/2 mile from the top and turned back for the 2-hour descent. It was a bummer not to complete the hike, but we got really far and learned a whole lot about our skills and climbing in general. First rule: start earlier than you think. Those storms come in every day and it's best to beat them down the mountain. We're going to keep building strength and endurance so we can tackle Mt. Bierstadt next year!

After our climb, we headed to Denver and ate dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant, Sushi Den. We ate there last October and couldn't wait to go back. It was so worth the wait. In addition to some incredibly fresh and flavorful sushi, I had some yellow tomato "gazpacho" with lemongrass and crab. It was really more like a cold soup than a gazpacho, and I'm trying to figure out how to recreate it at home. Especially with the amazing tomatoes available at farmer's markets this time of year.

A good night's rest at a hotel in Aurora, Colorado was sadly followed by the morning's news of the theater shooting, which occurred about a mile from where we were staying during the night. It was a surreal way to wake up, in a place so beautiful, after days filled with sun and nature and blue sky and great memories, to find such shock and horror just down the road. Fifteen years ago, we might have been in that theater, but we're not really movie theater people anymore, so we were never in any danger. But sadness and madness and chaos can occur anywhere at any time, which makes it all the more important to appreciate the great moments - like a week in Colorado, or a kiss goodnight, or a joke or a special event or an everyday occurrence - with everything you have and are.

Our drive home was made bearable - nay, I'll go so far as to say enjoyable - thanks to our discovery of the best podcast in the known universe, Mike and Tom Eat Snacks.   Such a simple premise - two funny friends pick, eat and rate a snack - made into something hilarious, interesting and brilliant. I can't recommend this one highly enough. I'm a viewer (I know I'm not a viewer) and you should be, too.

We're glad to be back, but miss the mountains already.

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