Colorado Girl’s Summer Bucket List

Do you have a bucket list? You know one of those lists of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket”. My kids and I created our own sort of bucket list. While we didn’t call it Bucket List – we called it “Colorado Kid” list. It was all the things that we thought that someone who lives in Colorado should do in their lifetime. And maybe why some people actually come here to visit (instead of just those of us who get to live here). Some of the items were winter (ski, snowboard, snowmobile, ice skate on a lake, etc) there were quite a few that were summer items. So maybe you can start your own Colorado Kids list with some of these suggestions.

In Town (Denver)

  • WaterWorld is a water park on the North side of Denver (on 88th and Pecos). They have been recognized as one of the best water parks in the country and it is right here in our back yard!  https://www.waterworldcolorado.com/
  • At Elitch Gardens your sort of get a two for one, it is a theme park and water park. There are rides for all ages and sizes and plenty of other fun happenings from free concerts to dive in movies.  https://www.elitchgardens.com/
  • Who doesn’t love a night at Red Rocks? The natural amphitheater that is famous for the amazing sound and natural setting. One of the least expensive ways to really experience the venue with the whole family is Film on the Rocks! The films are typically proceeded by an awesome local band that goes along with the theme of the movie.  http://www.redrocksonline.com/fotr/
  • Free Concerts or movies is an amazing way to enjoy a Colorado evening and some entertainment. Most are free and pretty much you can find something on your side of town (because they happen everywhere). https://www.milehighmamas.com/blog/2018/06/01/summer-2018-free-concert-and-movie-guide/
  • Cherry Creek Arts Festival (July 6-8) is a wold-class and award-winning arts festival showcasing the visual arts, performing arts, and culinary arts. So much to see for everyone. Just make sure you bring your water bottle. It is usually pretty warm out. My kids and I sat in the shade of the tent of the culinary stage. We watched the chef prepare the meal and wrote down the ingredients and steps. Then we went to Whole Foods, bought all the stuff and re-created the meal at home that night. Arts in the home. (We couldn’t exactly re-create some of the visual arts – and we certainly tried to recreate some of the performing arts). cherrycreekartsfestival.org/
  • If music is your thing, Underground Music Showplace (July) is the place to go! Let’s just call it a full two days of a free concert downtown. https://www.undergroundmusicshowcase.com/
  • Taste of Colorado (Sept – Labor Day weekend) is a staple for anyone who has lived in Colorado for any time. Civic Center park is transformed into a tasting haven, top artists perform (Leann Rhimes was just announced for this year) and tents upon tents of crafts/community exhibitors https://atasteofcolorado.com/
  • Renaissance Fair. A bit cheesy but fun. Yes, we all want to walk around eating a giant turkey leg while we watch jousting or say hello to a King and Queen. It is a great teaching opportunity to talk through history and culture of a different time and place.  https://coloradorenaissance.com/

But if you’ve had too much in town – you can always escape to the Mountains!

  • Hike! Pretty much it seems like you can pull your car over on the side of the road and just start walking! Hiking is easy and fun. Stop and take pictures, see if you can find animal footprints in the dirt and try to identify the animal or just let the kids get their energy out. There are several books that can guide you and your team where a good hike might be for the ages and abilities of your crew. Some of our favorites? Bear Creek, Ouzel Falls, Royal Arch Trail and Mt. Falcon. My kids love wearing the water packs – that can be picked up pretty inexpensively!
  • Want to fly over Vail Valley? Try ZipLine! We went to 4 Eagle Ranch. The ranch has the usual ranch stuff (horses, rodeo series and western Family nights) but they also do Glamping, 4×4 tours and our favorite, ZipLining. The kids and I got outfitted at the ranch then hopped in a jeep and driven over to the Zip course. The course is 7 zips each getting slightly longer with the longest being 1000’! My daughter loved it. My son went tandem with a guide. They say they can hold most weights. 4eagleranch.com/
  • Several areas around town seem to have these amazing Obstacle Courses and/or summer tubing
    • Lawson Adventure Park is easy to get to as it is just outside of Idaho Springs (Eat a pizza at Beau Jo’s on the way home!) You can stay at the park in a Yurt, cabin or tent! But you can also just go for the day and try the activities. They have a Via Ferrata (rock climbing), Mountain Zorb (our favorite), learn how to fly fish on Clear Creek, try a short zipline, challenge course or try to stand up in a water walkerz.  http://lawsonadventurepark.com/
    • I can’t decide if I like snowboarding or summer at Vail more. The summer Vail Discovery includes adventure courses, ziplines, mountain coaster, tubing hils, climbing wall and bungee Trampoline. https://www.vail.com/explore-the-resort/activities-and-events/…/epic-discovery.aspx
    • Maybe your kids aren’t ready for a full sleep away camp (or maybe like me, you can’t really afford that)> I love thatYMCA Rockies has day tickets. Try your hand at archery, canoeing, challenge courses, craft shop, bike rentals, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, disc golf, climbing, swimming, tennis, rafting, volleyball or the summer tubing hill.  https://snowmountainranch.org/activities/summer-tubing-hill/
    • Bailey has a new adventure park. I have not been to this one yet – but sounds like a lot of the same stuff from ziplining to obstacle courses.  http://treehouseadventurepark.com/
  • Rafting is such a refreshing way to enjoy the mountains and an ultimate check on the bucket list. We used River Runners several years ago with my kids. They loved it. They sat in the middle of the boat, didn’t have to paddle and enjoyed the ride. We were quite ready for lunch when the 1/2 day rafting was over. That mountain run off water feels good at first – but even in summer it’s sort of cold! https://whitewater.net/
  • Colorado is well known for our Western Roots. So, we had to add horseback riding. We like Safari Ranch outside of Fairplay – because the horses are not trained to follow another’s trail. You feel like you’re out there on your own. We did a ½ day of riding and the day ended by the grill -= where we made lunch and then headed home before the summer camping traffic started on 285. americansafariranch.com/
  • A great weekend getaway is Glenwood Springs. There is a lot to do in Glenwood. You can hike Hanging Lake, go to Glenwood Caverns, swim in the hot springs pool. https://www.glenwoodcaverns.com/
  • I grew up in Steamboat –  so for me this was a must to show my kids all the places I went as a kid. I remember fishing at Lost Dog Creek, camping at big mountain and hiking Fish Creek Falls. But there are tons of things to do in town as well. Try the mountain coaster, or get a tube and go tubing down the Yampa (right by the park/library). However, it’s a 3-hour drive so at least a night up there makes sense.
  • Colorado Springs has a ton to offer as well. You can do it as a weekend get away or a bit further of a drive for a few hours of fun. There is a lot you can see/do down there as well. Cheyenne Mtn Zoo is cool. The Cave of the Winds (and the terror-dactyl ride), 7 falls, and drive to Royal Gorge.
  • If you like sitting in a hot spring pool Mt. Princeton can’t be beat. We especially loved the part in the river where you can be literally sitting in a pool of warm water and still have your toes in the freezing cold river! When we went we did a bit of hiking up Agnes Falls then enjoyed the hot springs afterwards.

This is just a start of the fun places we know about or have discovered. We are pretty certain that the “Colorado Kid” list is something that can be changed or added to all the time. So if you know of some other great things that scream Colorado please send them our way!

Puerto Rico Birthday Weekend

I have long believed that experiences mean so much more than any material possession. I hatched up a plan to take my kids wherever they wanted to go for their 16th Birthday. I knew that I would not have enough money to buy them a car but I did work where I got hotel points and knew that I could trade some of them in to make a pretty nice trip.

My ex won’t let my kids have a passport. You need both parents to sign off on a passport until the kids turn 16 (I had previously thought it was at 18 years old). So, when I asked her where she wanted to go – and she responded, “a beach in Mexico.” I knew I  couldn’t make that happen. That is how we decided on Puerto Rico. As a U.S. Territory – U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico. But, since Spanish is the primary language it would feel like Mexico. (Coincidentially they were in the news right before we went as they have voted to try to become the 51st state).

We chose to stay at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. One of the primary factors that went into that decision was they are right on Condado beach and family friendly.  It is also in a safe neighborhood that has a lot of great restaurants and other activities nearby. We let the hotel know that it was her birthday. We were upgraded to a suite that had two balconies – one facing the ocean and the other facing the pool and up into Old San Juan (along the beach). When we arrived at the room there was an amazing “Happy Birthday” sign on the headboard of the bed and they sent a birthday cake to the room! Wow. What a welcome! (They also gave me vouchers for free drinks and casino matching money to play). That first night – we ran down to the beach and spent about an hour there. Then decided we were hungry.

We asked the front desk what is something uniquely Puerto Rican that we should have to eat and where to get it. They suggested mofongo (it is mashed plantains, grilled with garlic and oil, turned upside down and smothered with a soupy gravy and beef) at Orozco’s just down the street.

Photo of Orozco's Restaurant - San Juan, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico. Realllllly. GoodIMG_4667

It was delicious. The girls (my daughter brought a friend) enjoyed the food (we also got empanadas and beans and rice) and the waiter was fairly young. He was super patient at letting them try out their Spanish (while he tried out his English). I also had a rum punch drink that was delicious (Hello! Bacardi is made there).

The next morning was early to rise. We headed out on a tour a the El Yunque Rain Forest Hiking Tour. The tour was arranged by my friends with the Puerto Rico Convention and Visitors Bureau via Destination Puerto Rico. They were really easy to work with and did a fantastic job of explaining everything to us. Our tour guide, George of the Jungle was friendly and knowledgable.

IMG_4702

He seemed very excited to share his island with us. He gave us a brief history as we rode in the shuttle bus with about 20 other people. The first stop was the visitors center. He explained many of the plants and a bit about the Rainforest itself (it is the only one in the U.S. National Forest Service). Then we stopped at a small rainfall “la Coca Falls”, next was an observation tower. Again, the knowledge of the tour guide was amazing – not only did he tell stories but he also pointed out what the islands in the distance were. We did have to hike up several stairs to get to the top (so if you’re not of a mind to walk much this might be a part you skip) the last stop was an upper hill above La Mina falls. We hiked down on a fairly steep path. It took about 30 minutes to walk down. Then we were allowed to swim at the base of the falls. It was so beautiful. The water was a bit chilly (but felt good for the warm day). There were several tour busses there and it appeared that some locals were there as well. Then after swimming for about an hour – we headed back up the hill (the other way) and came out near a parking lot where George was waiting for us. We did hear some other people talking about how steep it was (it wasn’t a big deal for us Colorado gals). Indeed it does rain in the rainforest. The rain was not cold at all. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a road-side cafe (more traditional Puerto Rican food) and souvenier shop. Then the best part, is my daughter had mentioned her love of mangos – George took us to his “friends house” and let everyone get off the bus quickly and pick mangos! (We ate those for breakfast for the next couple days).

 

When we got back to the hotel we had about two hours to chill – then we were headed out (this time in our rental car*) for the BioBay Tour. The BioBay tour started at the beach in Fajardo, a town pretty much on the other side of the island. Once we arrived at the beach area of Fajardo, there were several tents set up. We easily found the one we needed to check in for our tour. There are two tours. We took the earlier one. They told us to use lots of bug spray and then wait. When everyone had checked in we were issued our lifevest and told that the kayak trip would be a 2.4 mile round trip tour. Across the bay, through the jungle (covered – and btw it was VERY cool but hard to photograph), to an open lake where the only way to this lake is via boat. That is where the plankton who when moved create a glow. The glow was not what we really expected – we really could see the blue sparkes of the light up plankton. Then we followed the lights on kayas ahead of us back through the covered part and across the bay.

Sunday was a beach day. I could not have been happier that we planned it this way. People in Puerto Rico either take their Sundays very seriously or Father’s Day seriously. But we were told that there would not be much open. We planned the day at the beach and pool right at the hotel. We did make it down the street for a brunch – and a short detour to a couple touristy shops (had to get a t-shirt and a snowglobe) and the Walgreens there (Icee). We explored the game room at the hotel and the pool. We later ate dinner right at the hotel as well.

Monday morning – the girls slept in just a bit (I woke up my normal early and walked along the beach).  We headed across the street for a quick starbucks breakfast and headed out to the airport in our rented car. We had to return the car right at the airport and then check in to our flight (SJU>MCO>DEN). The trip was short in time – but hopefully long in memories. I think this may just be a birthday gift she remembers for a long time.

*We rented a car as we were told that the bio bay tour that we booked was filled but we were the only three that were asking for transportation from the hotel to Fajardo where the tour would take place. We were offered to “buy out” the bus at $20 per person (even though there were only three of us) which would have amounted to something like $200. So I started looking at cab rides or uber. Everything that I could see and those that I talked to told me that a cab ride would be something like $80 each way. And since Uber is not a real presence there that it would likely be not much less. So I started looking into renting a car – which would get us to/from airport as well as this excursion to the tour. The car rental from the airport was around $125 (it would have been less expensive but I sort of decided to do it last minute and prices had gone up). They are crazy drivers – speed limits and signs mean nothing to them. They swerve and go all different speeds. Also our GPS/Siri didn’t work well on one of the carriers (we had two one of us was on ATT the other two on Verizon). Streets don’t seem to be well marked. They also like to ride on bumpers pretty tightly in traffic areas and we were in a small Kia that just making a turn felt like it was going to fall apart. We were supposed to have paid for parking at $10 per day at the hotel – but somehow the guy who marked our ticket didn’t charge us at all! I thought this was just us and our timing until I heard a lady on the beach on Sunday talking to someone on the phone and her plight sounded eerily similar. (There is a car rental desk at the hotel – but they were out of cars when I wanted to rent).

 

Bored On A Budget

I am a product of parents who didn’t always have much money and I am almost always living paycheck to paycheck (I get paid commission – so I have to manage my money). We were never at a loss for things to do. I am not certain if it is because of where we live or just how my parents are. We live in Colorado so there is always a hike to take which is free or we could go fishing – which could take all day but cost nothing more than the pole and bait or just go on a four-wheel drive costing only the gas.

So it sort of irritates me when I’m hanging out with friends and someone implies that he is bored because he is on a budget. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of things to do in Denver that cost money. And don’t think that snowboarding is cheap. (although I have figured out how to make it less expensive – I’ll tell you in another post). I’ve created a little list of things that you could do that don’t cost [much].

  1. Go on a hike. There are tons of great trails all around our city and state.
  2. Go to a free outdoor concert. Almost every corner of Denver has a free concert with great local bands through the summer.
  3. Go to a free outdoor movie. The same thing as with the concerts – there are great movies that are free around town.
  4. Go to the Denver Bronco’s Training Camp (it’s like watching a free pro football game).
  5. Go to a Factory Tour. We’ve got Celestial Seasonings, Hammond’s and Coors right here!
  6. Go to one of the Many Free Museums. Check out SCFD.org to get some ideas. Here are some of our favorites: U.S. Mint, University of Colorado Museum, Aurora History Museum, School of Mines Geology Museum and now the Denver Art Museum let’s kids under 18 go free everyday (adults are free on the 1st Saturday of every month).
  7. Attend a Free Cooking Class. Whole Foods often has free classes. My kids and I went to the Cheese-making class and made our own mozzarella. It was delicious, fun and Free!
  8. Go to the Library. Yes, libraries are still relevant (in fact I love love love mine). There are lectures, classes, movies, story-time and more. Plus the plethora of books, movies, cd’s and more on loan.

So don’t say you’re bored because you are on a budget. All that means is you need to find something to do!

A Night In India via Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

I have been trying to find a time to attend the special Moonlight Dining series at Arapahoe Basin for several years now. Ever since I heard about it. The ski area hosts a monthly special Moonlight meal at the Black Mountain Lodge at mid-mountain. Most skiers know that the last lift of the day happens at 4 p.m. Then everyone is in some sort of race to clog up I-70 with loads of traffic. I wasn’t really sure what to expect – but open for anything.

We headed to Arapahoe Basin around 4:30 p.m. Check in time is at 5 p.m. This particular dinner was lift served (not all of them are) so we had a choice, we could either take the lift up to mid-mountain, hike up, snowshoe up, or skin up. We chose to hike. It was a beautiful night with the full moon up and the sun just setting. I do want to warn you that hiking in Uggs (which I did) is not the best choice of footwear (I did have hiking boots – but chose to leave them in the car – not so smart). It is a winter hike. By that I mean, wear all the winter wear you would when you are going skiing. You will need to have those ski pants on, jacket, gloves and a hat. It is a hike! So be prepared with a bit of water too. (I downed a gallon of water when we got to the top because I forgot that detail).

When we arrived at mid-mountain the stars were beautiful and the Black Mountain Lodge had been transformed from some cafeteria style utilitarian feeling hut to an elegant lodge complete with real linens and silverwear. There was lovely atmosphere including a local musician who played guitar and sang songs. It was a little bit of older rock and roll – but certainly set the entertainment mood. The bar was open (lots of people drinking a bit of wine). Chef Rybak came out of the kitchen and addressed the group (of almost 100 people) what they had prepared. He also said that this was the first time they had done Indian food so he felt that he really pushed his staff.

Black Mountain Lodge all set for Moonlight Dinner Series.

Black Mountain Lodge all set for Moonlight Dinner Series.

Chef Rybek

 

The meal was four courses including Hors d’Oeuvers; Soup & Salad; Entrees and Desserts. Each of these were delicious in their own right. I liked the idea that they didn’t go overboard when it came to spices (and I know that a lot of Indian food is very spicy). We had made a decision to try a little bit of everything. This also meant that we would have a LOT of eating to do! (Give me a challenge…)

Hors d’oeuvres included: Freshly made Paneer with dried fruits & nuts; Onion Bjajias; Fresh Coconut Chutney; Vegetable Samosas; Onion, Mango & Peanut Chaat; Spiced Potato and Chickpea cakes; Skewered Chicken Tikka; Cucumber & Yogurt; Goan-style Mussels.

My favorite was the Paneer (the mounds at the bottom of this picture). Paneer is like a soft home-made cheese that is served with naan bread, dried fruits and nuts).

Hors d'Oeuvres at Moonlight dining at Arapahoe Basin

Hors d’Oeuvres at Moonlight dining at Arapahoe Basin

Soup & Salad: Spiced Cauliflower Soup; Mango, Tomato and Red Onion Salad; Spinach and Mushroom Salad; Naan bread

This must have been my favorite course. I honestly loved every one of the things on this course. I hear that Cauliflower is the vegetable of the year (like Brussel Sprouts have been for the past couple years).

Entrees: Tandoori Masala Lamb Chops; Fresh Tomato and Onion Chutney; Pea and Mushroom Pulao; Sweet and Sour Pineapple; Balti Chicken Vindaloo; Masal Chana; Dhal with Roasted Garlic; Mango Chutney; Monkfish and Okra Curry; Hot Lime Pickle; Vegetables with Almonds.

All of this was good for different reasons. I would say my favorite was the lamb. It seemed to have a perfect flavor crust and was cooked perfectly. If I was going to go back for more or wish I could order one item on it’s own, it would be the lamb.

Entrees plate at Arapahoe Basin Moonlight dining

Entrees plate at Arapahoe Basin Moonlight dining

Dessert :Creamy Rice Pudding; Carrot Halva; and Drunken Oranges – which also had a ginger cookie. (I totally forgot to take a photo of this because I was so darn full and was complaining about how my pants don’t fit anymore).

I was sort of disappointed in the desserts. But I was also sort of glad I was. I was so full of all the other meal. The fact that the desserts weren’t my favorite – I didn’t have to feel bad not cleaning my plate.

We had left it up for discussion if we would hike back down or ride the lift. We opted to “slide” back down. We didn’t have sleds (and we didn’t steal any trays – despite someone suggesting that). So we slid down the mountain on our butts. It was totally fun. There were parts when we got going pretty quickly others we had to stand and get to the next steeper part of the mountain.

I will go back for certain next year. I will try another theme (they also have Italian, Bavaria, New Year’s Eve, Spain and Randonee). http://www.arapahoebasin.com/ABasin/mountain/bml-dinners.aspx They sell out quickly so I better check my calendar now! Who wants to go with me?