I recently spent some time rediscovering Denver. And, my how things have changed in recent years! No longer a Western outpost, the Mile High City is now an internationally recognized community of arts, culture, and culinary adventure.
Here are a few family favorites:
Recently opened, this historic transportation center has been reinvented as a social gathering place that also houses bike, taxi, rail and bus lines connecting the city center to outlying areas. Stay onsite, in one of the Crawford Hotel’s rail-themed guest rooms and choose from an array of dining options and shops including the Tattered Cover, a famed indie bookstore.
The station’s Grand Hall is a vibrant scene where visitors play shuffleboard, enjoy a snack, conversation and the parade of people passing through.
The Crawford Hotel.
The trendy hotel's unbeatable downtown location within the Union Station, combines unique historic elements with up to the minute amenities and top notch service.
Indulge in Art.
From art classes and kid-focused camps to clever “create and takes”, the Denver Art Museum welcomes families into the artistic fold. Family backpacks are available for use during a visit, chock full of art making tools, games and puzzles. Kids will also enjoy the Mile High city’s extensive public art program. Don’t miss a photo op with Blue Bear, a 40-foot playful sculpture that depicts the creature peering into the Colorado Convention Center.
Introduce the kids to the world’s best street food at Linger, a trendy establishment that overlooks the city. The founders circled the globe in search of the fare that defines regions from Mumbai to Manhattan. Built in an old mortuary, the quirky interior is made up of cleverly recycled items including tables constructed from rail cars, formaldehyde bottles for water service and specials printed on toe tags.
Pair your visit to Linger with a stop at the adjacent giant milk can for a sweet treat. The original Little Man ice cream shop is a local favorite known for their quality confections and the owners' community minded spirit.
Denver’s environmental focus and commitment to reduced obesity and affordable transportation are just a few of the reasons the city supports an extensive bike share program. Residents and visitors alike can pick up a bright red bike at any B-station, and ride to their destination. When it is time to move on to the next museum, park or restaurant, grab another bike and go. The Cherry Creek bike path, a 15- mile path along the creek, provides a great way to see the sites and the city skyline while avoiding traffic.
For information check out www.VisitDenver.com.
Do you love to hike?
Taking to the trails is a great way to introduce youngsters to the benefits of fresh air and the natural world.
Here are five hikes to enjoy together:
A Scenic Driving Loop Through Northern Wyoming Takes You
Back Into The Wild West Days
At least once a year a popular travel magazine will publish what is usually referred to as the “best drives in America.” Mostly, this list includes the usual suspects such as Route 1 along the coast of California, and I can see the authors of these lists rarely stretch their imagination much, or actually get into the hinterlands of America to travel some of the great, scenic stretches of asphalt that we have created in the interior of the country.
My new, favorite ride, which covers what I call the trail of the American West, is a loop through north-central Wyoming that crosses paths with such truly American characters as Buffalo Bill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, outlaw Tom Horn, Chief Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, General Sheridan and a host of others.
If you’re more literary minded, somewhere on this journey you’ll meet the ghosts of Ernest Hemingway and Owen Mister, who wrote the first great book of Western fiction, The Virginian. Not all is in the past as you’ll definitely encounter the trail of Craig Johnson, the immensely popular local author who writes about a Wyoming sheriff in the Longmire books, which is also a television series.
Finally, on this Wyoming loop, you’ll encounter some of the most beautiful, if not diverse countryside in the country, and the wildlife there-on. On my road trip, we saw deer, mule deer, moose, antelope and on the aviary side, pheasant, grouse and turkeys.
My wife and I made this ride over the leisurely course of five days, never driving more than two to two and a half hours a day, and taking in all the sites the small, history-drenched towns had to offer.
Start in Sheridan
The loop begins in Sheridan then goes east over the Big Horn Mountains to Cody. It turns south to Thermopolis, then back east over a different section of the Big Horn Mountains to Buffalo, and finally turns north back to Sheridan. For those who have more time, there are numerous, spectacular offshoot drives in every direction from the loop: north to Little Big Horn, the site of General Custer’s demise; east to the Devil’s Tower National Monument; south to the Hole-In-The-Wall, a series of caves where Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and other outlaws once holed up; and west (actually northwest) to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
However, I’m going to stick to the loop.
The city of Sheridan, named for famed Civil War General Philip Sheridan, was founded in 1882. It boasts a ton of history in and around the city.
I got a late start at it all. Due to a mechanical failure on my plane out of Phoenix, I missed my connecting flight to Sheridan and didn’t arrive until the next day. So, I erased about a half day’s worth of touring. Nevertheless, I saw quite a bit in a short period of time.
A good place to start is the historic Sheridan Inn, which is temporarily closed. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is approachable. Peer through the windows and you can glimpse the turn-of-the- (last) century. The hotel, which was once owned by William F. Buffalo Bill Cody, has played host to Hollywood luminaries, the Queen of England and the first great American writer to spil ink upon the local soil, Ernest Hemingway, who after holding up in a mountain cabin, came to the Sheridan Inn to celebrate finishing his book, A Farewell To Arms.
Sheridan still retains the ambiance of the Old West, partly because it has the largest group of turn-of-the century buildings in region with 46 on the Historic Register.
After you get past the Sheridan Inn, saunter the few blocks to Main Street and stop in at Mint Bar, which first opened in 1907 as the Mint Saloon. Like I said, it was a warm afternoon and I decided to stop in for a cold beer. There is a picture of the old saloon and it sure looked like I was sitting at the same bar, handsomely carved from local, burly pine (the burls were kept). This is definitely Wyoming territory, because the walls were adorned with stuffed Rocky Mountain fauna of every type -- as is almost every public pace you’ll visit.
So did anyone famous drink at the old Mint Saloon? Probably, but in recent times Kenny Rogers filmed a western there (he was thrown through the front window), the rock bank ZZ Top stopped in for drinks as did the cast of the Longmire television show..
Stepping out of cool confines of the Mint Bar look across the street, there’s a nondescript store front that reads King’s Saddlery. This is clearly a case of looks can be deceiving, because somewhere behind the doors is one of the most fascinating things to see in Sheridan, if not all of Wyoming. The store is well known for selling saddles and ropes, some of which, especially for working ranchers and rodeo types, are hand woven. Although the retail shop doesn’t look much different from any other store, you need to know that this is just the front of a huge enterprise. A whole world is in the buildings beyond.
Don King began making saddles in 1946 and became quite famous for his work. His saddles were featured in PRCA World Championships for six years. His success engendered this business, which is mostly behind the store front into which you just walked. When you make it to the back, take a look at the rope section, where hundreds of different coils abound.
In fact, King’s Ropes are so well-known, the coolest thing you can do is buy yourself a baseball cap with the King’s Ropes logo. Not only has Johnny Depp been photographed with such a cap, but a character in the Longmire television show also wore a King’s Ropes cap.
Sometime over the course of Don King’s life he began acquiring western and Native American memorabilia and artifacts, including hundreds of old saddles. After he died, his boys continued collecting and all that work is housed in another building beyond the initial storefront. It’s open to the public. Ask to see the Don King Museum. This is no small collection; it grew to thousands of items and is housed in two floors of what looked like an old warehouse. What’s there? The hundreds of old saddles, rodeo memorabilia, an old horse-drawn hearse, old rifles and guns including one found on the site of Little Big Horn conflict where General Custer met his demise, and on and on.
Surprisingly, I still had my energy level on high even after the exhausting visit to the Don King Museum, so I hopped in my rental car and headed for the Trail End Historic Site, a turn-of-the century mansion, now restored, which was oddly designed in Flemish Revival style. The house was built by John B. Kendrick and after he died was home to his widow, Eula. From her bedroom, she could look out acros a thin river valley to her husband’s gravesite in the town cemetery. After visiting the Trail End house, I made my way to the cemetery, which not only has gravestones for Civil War veterans but has a couple of civil war canons as well.
Wyoming is steak country, so don’t look for epicurean delights on this loop unless you consider Rocky Mountain oysters high cuisine. So, for your last interesting meal on this loop stop at Sheridan’s Warehouse 201, a restaurant in a converted warehouse.
Since I missed my first night in Sheridan, I headed for accommodations that originally were designed to be for my second night, a lodge in the Big Horn Mountains. With daylight waning, we hopped in the car and drove what was essentially State Road 14 west into the Big Horns, where some peaks rise over 13,000 feet.
I’m not going to say too much about the Bear Lodge Resort, other than it nightly houses more than its fair share of unusual characters, mostly hunters, fisherman and four-wheelers. However, when I awoke early the next morning I peered out my window to see a small herd of mule deer chomping on the grasses behind my cabin.
Fifteen minutes out of the lodge, heading west through the Big Horn National Forest, we passed a moose walking through a swampy area of forest.
After coming through the forestlands and a peak pass at over 9,000 feet, you descend rapidly into rolling, arid hills. This geography lasts all the way to Cody, which, as you might guess, was named for William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who seemed to have been everywhere in Northern Wyoming.
Travelers often say Cody boasts one of the best museums in small town America. I would report that statement condescends. Indeed, Cody boasts one of the best museums in America, whether in a big city or anywhere else and it is one highlight of the Wyoming loop.
Plan to spend hours at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, because it is actually five museums in one, the most recent addition being anextensive natural history wing. The other “museums” within the museum are dedicated to Buffalo Bill, his life and times; firearms; western art; and saving the best for last, the superlative Plains Indian Museum.
I would recommend saving some time for one other museum in the area. That is the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, which was constructed on the site of one of the country’s largest relocation camps for Japanese-Americans, who were displaced from their homes and shipped to remote locations during the World War II years. The site is about 14 miles outside of Cody, and well worth the visit.
A lot of tourists wash through Cody, especially during the summer months, so to keep them entertained into the evening, the city boasts a nightly rodeo. It’s not the professional loop, but it was a first class competition and entertaining even for my wife and I, who consider ourselves city slickers.
After overnighting in Cody, at the historic Buffalo Bill Village, where my wife and I stayed in our own little log cabin, we headed south to Thermopolis, which isn’t really an Old West experience, but is a unique part of the loop because of its famed hot springs.
Hot Springs And More
There is quite a bit to do at Hot Springs Park so save yourself some time for walking and riding about. If you hadn’t yet seen any buffalo on your trip, included in the park grounds are hundreds of acres of rangeland reserved for roaming buffalo. Visitors are allowed to drive through the buffalo preserve.
The Thermopolis Days Inn, a bit of wild animal museum on its own, sits on the edge of the park and if you don’t feel like taking the thermal baths at the park, the hotel offers an outdoor spa that uses the thermal heated water emitted by the hot springs
Thermopolis is not just the hot springs.
The small city proudly brags that it has one of the finest dinosaur museums in the country. I checked it out just to be sure. It’s not the biggest dinosaur museum you’ll ever visit, but it is as good as it gets: great exhibits, great design and great dinosaurs. Well worth the visit.
After a night in Thermopolis, I traveled east on State Road 16 to the Big Horn Mountains and entered the high, forested lands on a road further to the south than the one I took west a few days earlier. Another high mountain pass at over 9,000 feet and another bucolic ride through thick mountain forests. Eventually the road, descended into Buffalo, a small town with a great history.
Collecting Western arcana must have been a big deal in the 20th century because the 1,500-item collection of Buffalo, Wyo., pharmacist Jim Gatchell laid the basis for the town’s robust history museum.
Buffalo is the venue of the Longmire Days festival, because Longmire book writer Craig Johnson lives a few miles outside the town. If one reads the books or watches the television series, someone is always referring to Sheriff Longmire being at the Busy Bee Café. Look for the real Busy Bee on Main Street.
Johnson is not the most famous writer to spend time in Buffalo. The renovated and handsomely revived Occidental Hotel has been around for over 100 years hosting many well-known personages including presidents Herbert Hoover and Theodore Roosevelt, Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, the outlaw Tom Horn and the writers Ernest Hemingway and Owen Wister, the latter of which holed up at the Occidental to write the first great novel of the American West, The Virginian.
Try to get the owner of the Occidental Hotel, Dawn Dawson Wexo to show you around. It’s like visiting a museum of the Old West and early 20th century.
There is so much Old West history around Buffalo you might want to spend a few days here. I only had one day, so I chose to visit just one site, the TA Ranch about 20 minutes outside of town.
For anyone who follows the history of the West, one of great cattle conflicts occurred here and is known as the Johnson County War. It all started when a group of cattle barons hired a small army of hired guns to eliminate homesteaders. The homesteaders got wind of the invaders and surrounded them at the TA Ranch. The barn where most of the invaders held up for three days surrounded by a bigger army of homesteaders still stands, but riddled with bullet holes from the “war.”
The barn is on private land so you need to inquire if you want to make the visit.
The land around the TA Ranch consists of rolling hills settled by farmers and ranchers, but in the fading evening light as I drove back into Buffalo, the wildlife had come back around and when you peered at the fields what you saw was not cattle and horses but deer and antelope.
To complete the loop, I drove the next day from Buffalo to Sheridan. If you get off the interstate there’s plenty more history to see, but I had a plane to catch, skipping such sites as the location of the Fetterman Massacre of 1866 or the more civilized Brinton Museum with a surprisingly strong collection of American art.
I guess I’ll just have to come back.
If You Go:
In Sheridan, try the Sheridan Mill Inn (www.sheridanmillinn.com). But, if you want to get a head start on the loop, you might head for the Bear Lodge Resort (www.bearlodgeresort.com) in the Big Horn Mountains. In Cody, I stayed at the historic Buffalo Bill Village with its individual log cabins (www.blairhotels.com). When in Thermopolis, the Thermopolis Days Inn boasts a uniquely natural history-like décor (www.daysinn.com/thermopolis). Finally, when in Buffalo head to another historic building, the Mansion House Inn (www.mansionhouseinn.com), where your hosts make a great breakfast.
In her book Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, writer Patricia Ellis Herr relates the adventures and lessons learned as she and her young daughter summited 48 of New Hampshire’s highest peaks. Your goals might be a little less lofty, but here are five ways you and your family can enjoy peak experiences:
Today I was reminded why they call one of my favorite sports “fishing”.
And not “catching”.
It was a beautiful day in the Vail Valley and my son Alex and I headed out for a morning of “Walk and Wade” fly-fishing with a guide from Gore Creek Fly Fishermen.
Whether you're seeking the ultimate fly fishing experience, the most authentic cattle drive, or a haven for your children and family to run free, a dude ranch vacation may be your best connection to the great outdoors. Browse through these ten ranches to find your perfect dude ranch.
A Colorado clan takes time ( too little as it turns out ) to explore
Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National
Park from their base camp -- YMCA of the Rockies.
"Man, this place has everything!"
Our 8-year-old, Piper, was agog only halfway through our two-day experience at YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park Center. My marketeer wife wondered aloud why, with so much free stuff, they don't bill it as all-inclusive. "Hmm, I will have to inquire," she answered herself.
This Y's Estes Park Center has been connecting youth and families with nature for over 100 years, longer than the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park has been a national park. And though it borders both the park and it's gateway tourist town, Estes Park, it is easy enough to overdose on activity without ever leaving the 800-plus acre grounds of the Y. Of course I don't recommend missing the incomparable majesty of Rocky Mountain National Park (thankfully, many Y activities are actually forays into the park), and even the most trap-shy tourist would find something worth seeing in Estes Park. So the solution is obvious. Give yourself more than the two and a half days we allotted for this adventure.
Of Dog Pulls and Choo Choos
As check in at the Y wasn't till the afternoon, we spent part of our first day exploring events in town. The parking lot of the Visitor's Center was host to the 25th (yes, 25th!) annual Dog Weight Pull. It's just like it sounds, like a tractor pull, but for dogs. Genuine canine competition.
For inside fun we let loose our inner dorks at the Estes Park Conference Center, joining enthusiasts at the Rails of the Rockies model train show. Train fans are serious about their choo choos.
Y Wouldn't You?
Finally leaving the hustle and bustle of the tourist town, we drove 10 minutes out of Estes Park to the vast and peaceful grounds of the Estes Park Center of YMCA of the Rockies.
Dropping our bags in our cozy cabin felt like coming home again. I suppose I expected "rustic" in all the sense those quotation marks imply, but with a kitchen you could actually cook and store food in, cushy furniture, wrap-around deck with a killer view, and…wait for it…wifi!, I would upgrade the description to "rustic chic". Some units also have fireplaces (we would have loved one) and TVs (we loved not having one).
After touring the grounds to see the mind-boggling array of activities available (many only in the high summer season), we stopped for dinner in the cafeteria with 1,400 thronging teens, pre-teens, and a few bedraggled handlers. The air, thick with hormones, and bad perfume, brought back a flood of summer-camp memories. Unfortunately, so did the all-you-can-eat buffet food. But hey, it's camp, and if you get desperate, you're just 5-10 minutes from dozens of restaurants in town.
We started taking bites of the activities elephant with our remaining time that first night with a visit to the indoor pool, which was perfect for sapping the last of our day's energy.
So Much To Do, So Little Time
Day 2 was a whirlwind of activity. Here is our list from that epic day:
Breakfast in the cafeteria
Wildlife Detectives: an hour program learning about the nature of and inter-relationship of the area's wildlife. Half inside, half outside.
Broom ball: poor man's (and uncoordinated man's) hockey on the camp's frozen pond.
Ice skating: on the pond with free skate rentals.
Lunch in the cafeteria (maybe we'll eat dinner in town)
Putt putt golf: "Elk Duds" are a natural hazard here. Play on.
Hike: One of many at the edge of the grounds. Tons more outside the grounds.
A Spot of Grownup Time
As we'd decided to grab dinner in town, we took advantage of a bit of extra time beforehand to visit, get this, the "family friendly" Snowy Peaks Winery. Grownups belly up to a $3 wine tasting flight while enjoying grownup talk with the proprietors. This is unusually possible because of their "No Wine-ing Zone" for the kids, who are welcome to free tastings of cider (non-alcoholic, naturally).
Since the kids were such champs at the winery, and we had an oven back at the cabin, we ran by Village Pizza for some take 'n' bake. After devouring that manna from Heaven, we were fortunate that the kids (who had napped in the car) dragged our old bones out again to the camp's indoor rollerskating rink. They were playing Abba.
After crashing hard that night and sleeping in the next morning, we were able to finish our stay strong with more roller skating, a course in proper hiking preparedness, and a visit to the amazing Crafts Center. So, with mementos of their own making in hand, we were able to persuade the kids to hop in the car and depart the Y.
"I wish we could stay longer here," Piper said.
Success is when you leave with them wanting more.
IF YOU GO
YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center is open and quite busy year-round.* But it's peak season of activities, pleasant weather, and guests is summer. Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park also peak at this time. Given this trio, you would not find yourself getting bored in the summer with a weeklong stay. Lodging is discounted in the off season, when there is still tons to do in and out of the camp. We think, with the countless free and cheap activities, that the lodging prices are a great deal. The great range of lodging and programs also makes the Y great for youth and corporate retreats, family reunions, and multi-family vacations.
At 8,000 feet at the foot of the Continental Divide, temperatures can be very warm during the day and frigid at night. Sun in the day can also quickly turn to rain or even snow (even in summer!), so bring layers and a pack to carry them. Always have hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and other sunblock; it takes just 15 minutes to burn in the thin Rocky Mountain air.
Drink more water than you think you need and slow your pace or the low oxygen air will unpleasantly slow it for you. Bring your camera and binoculars to catch the breathtaking views and abundant wildlife.
*Note: YMCA of the Rockies has another, much larger camp on the other side of Rocky Mountain National Park called Snow Mountain Ranch, which is more winter-centric than Estes Park Center.