Last Christmas Danielle and I took a bump to get free plane tickets. Not too long after that we turned them into round trip tickets to Denver for the duration of Danielle’s spring break. Since it was spring break, we wanted to sort of stay away from the standard drunk college student destinations. We had considered visiting Jane in Michigan, but decided it’d still be too cold. Naturally we got a little nervous about the weather when, the week before spring break, we heard about Denver being hit by an enormous blizzard. Tickets are tickets though, so on Saturday March 30, 2003 we were up early for a weekend.
Gwen had agreed to drive us to the airport and showed up a little before 10:30. After packing everything into the car we headed off for the airport. When we got there there wasn’t too much of a line, and it looked like we’d picked a good time to arrive. After presenting our tickets, the lady behind the counter told us several times that we should have showed up earlier. This didn’t worry me too much, I just wished she’d finish her lecture and let the world move on. Towards the end of the lecture it became clear that we wouldn’t be getting on our flight. Security being heightened and all, apparently it was necessary to be in the boarding area some number of minutes before the plane is scheduled to leave, and that number of minutes was bigger than the number of minutes before our plane was scheduled to leave. She also said something about there being no more space on the plane because it was over-booked. Whatever the reason, the upshot was that we missed our direct flight to Denver. Instead, she booked us on a flight to San Francisco, and from there a flight to Denver. Next, luggage checking is more thorough now than before. Everybody has to drag their luggage to a security station next to the ticket counters. There, suit cases are opened (they’re not allowed to be locked), and everything is swiped down with a pad which is then sent to a machine where an “ion beam” checks it for trace elements of explosives etc.
Once we’d gotten our boarding pass, were several times told how early we had to be in the boarding area, and checked our bags we were left with about 90 minutes of free time. We walked to the Goleta pier, enjoying the beautiful weather, and sat on the pier for a while watching the gulls, pelicans, and fishermen. Upon getting to the boarding area well on time, we got to sit there for 45 minutes or so, and we didn’t get to see any gulls, pelicans, or fishermen, but we did learn that some lady found her sunglasses which cost “2 for 5 dollar.”
Our flights went fine, and we made it to Denver some time after it got dark there. (Our original arrival time would have been 2:40pm.) After collecting all but one of our bags, we had to wait for a 20-minute later flight from San Francisco for the last one. Luckily it did arrive as promised. We picked up the rental car for the week, which turned out to be a Dodge Stratus instead of the Dodge Neon we paid for. (That was a good thing, but not that good.) We finally arrived at Danielle’s friends Ken and Linda’s house at 9:45pm. Their kids Rebecca, age 6, and David, age almost 2, were already asleep. We did our best eating some of the excellent turkey Linda had prepared, but overall the dinner wasn’t quite the same as when we would have all had it together.
The next morning the family joined us for a trip to Ocean Journey. There they show the fish life as it changes down the flow of the Colorado and Kampar (Indonesia) rivers. The exhibits were all very well done, and everybody had a good time. The afternoon was spent at home, relaxing and playing games with Ken and Linda. For dinner we went to Traildust, a restaurant with a western theme. The food was good and Danielle and I got to show off our swing dancing skills when the band played a suitable song.
On Monday the kids had to go to school, and Ken and Linda had to go to work. Danielle and I decided to check out Red Rocks which is just outside Denver. Driving through Denver, it’s pretty awesome to see the Rocky Mountains on the west side of the city. Especially when they’re tastefully covered in snow. At Red Rocks we hiked the only trail the small park had to offer. The altitude made us noticeably out of breath, but the main difficulty was the heat which we hadn’t prepared for. It was 75 degrees that day, and we were both wearing jeans. We still enjoyed the views and remarkable rock formations found in the park. After Red Rocks we visited The Butterfly Pavilion. It’s a pretty small place, but they have a fun little insect exhibit. We both held Rosie the tarantula, as well as a hissing cock roach. The actual butterfly exhibit is a large greenhouse where the butterflies roam free. As we walked in they just started releasing the afternoon’s batch of newborns and something was said about every species they released. For instance, there was a large (8” wing span) moth that lives only 3 days, and cannot eat. At night Danielle and I made dinner for the family, which worked out well enough, but overall was kind of disappointing.
On Tuesday we set out for Colorado Springs, but not after stopping by the Denver REI. It’s huge. It has an indoor climbing wall, regular events (showing of movies, speakers), etc… It took a lot of restraint to just buy the white gas we needed, and nothing else. (Danielle picked up a pair of pants where the legs zip off, because she hadn’t packed any shorts.) The main attraction in Colorado Springs is the Garden of the Gods. It’s a lot like Red Rocks, but the formations are less credible. After having driven through the park, Danielle and I set out for a hike through most of it. It was fairly busy and there were a lot of climbers. That night was our first camping of the trip. We stayed at Lake of the Rockies retreat and camping resort, which had just opened for the season that day. We were warned that the ground may be wet because of the recent snow, but didn’t have a problem. We were the only ones staying at the campground that night. Unfortunately the hot tub was not yet operational, but the showers worked. Contrary to its grand name the campground wasn’t all that nice. It had a nice collection of amenities, but the sites were all right by each other, with little privacy. Of course when we were there we had all the privacy in the world.
Wednesday we drove from Colorado Springs to Rocky Mountain National Park, the scenic way. We were planning to do some hiking around Pike’s Peak, but the entry fee was around \$15 which seemed ridiculously high just to do some hiking. We did stop off at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument where we hiked around and examined the large petrified tree stumps. While they are only stumps, they are far larger in diameter than the petrified trees in Petrified Forest National Park. The rest of the day was spent driving through the Rockies. Not a bad way to spend the day at all. Lots of grand views, streams, and the occasional small town. As we went north it was getting colder though. Also, many of the towns’ stores were closed down. We got quite worried that we’d get to the entries of the National Park without having found a grocery store. Luckily we met two people at a roadside laundromat who told us that Estes had a Safeway (the official grocery store of this trip). As it turns out Estes is 30 times bigger than any of the other towns we’d passed through, and had all kinds of amenities, including a very helpful information center. In Estes we stocked up on food an water (because the information people had told us there wouldn’t be any at the campsite), and rented snow shoes. Having gotten everything we needed, we drove to Moraine campground. There was snow almost everywhere, except near some of the trees and on the road which was cleared. With only 3 other parties at the camp site, we basically had our pick of sites. We settled on one with a large dry patch with a gorgeous view of the valley below. We quickly set up the tent and made dinner. After dinner it was pretty dark, and getting colder quickly. We headed to our tent for an early night.
Thursday we woke up early, and had a breakfast of sausage and scrambled eggs. We liked our camp site so much that we decided we’d stay for another night. This meant going back to town to buy more food. While we were there, we also stopped at the outdoor gear store so Danielle could buy some gloves. Then we were off to the park to do some snow shoeing. It was Danielle’s first, and only my second time snow-shoeing. I was pleasantly surprised by how light the MSR snow shoes were that we rented. At about 9:45 we set out for the summit of Deer Mountain. After our first significant climb we stopped to grab some water. Without thinking I dropped a nalgene on the ground, which then started sliding down the mountain. I chased after it for a little bit, but it got away from me, disappearing from sight several hundred feet lower. Danielle convinced me to leave it alone for the time being, and we continued up. This mountain has a fairly flat top, with 2 small peaks on it. The map showed the real peak to be about two thirds of the way across the flat top. The trail we were following didn’t give that impression though. At one point it split into 3 smaller trails, so we picked the one that seemed most likely. Following that to the end did not result in us finding the top. We backtracked and tried the other trails in succession with similar results. Still determined we used map and compass to guess which way we should head to find the peak. After some wandering we found what seemed to be the peak. We climbed it most of the way until Danielle decided it was too treacherous. I went up the remaining 20 feet, and decided it wasn’t the peak since there was something taller looking to the west where we’d already been. After taking some quick pictures I went back down to Danielle and out of the wind. We decided to take one last stab at finding the peak, by heading towards what I’d seen. This just resulted in meeting up with one of our earlier trails. We decided we’d given it enough of a go, so headed down. At the point that I’d dropped the nalgene, we followed my trail until where I’d given up, and then tried to take the straightest way down. At some point I started noticing small marks in the snow, where the nalgene had bounced, or the loop had caught. Following these, Danielle spotted it somewhere in the distance. We celebrated by drinking some very cold water. It was just a small distance back to the car, and we drove back to our campground. To our great enjoyment we found some elk roaming our campground. After checking them out a bit, we built a fire in the snow-covered fire circle at our campsite. It turns out that white gas makes an excellent fire starter. As the sun disappeared behind the mountains we began dinner. This took a lot longer than the previous night, probably because it was colder and windier. With content stomachs we went to bed.
Friday morning we woke up to find the world a lot more frozen than it had been in our trip so far. Later we learned that the night’s temperature had dropped into the teens. After breakfast and breaking up camp, we decided to take a drive around the park to properly warm up. An hour or so later we stopped at a lake which we decided to snow shoe around. It was cold and windy, but fun. We decided it was too cold to do more snow shoeing, so we went back to Estes, dropped off our rentals, and drove to Denver. We got to Denver early enough so I could attend an orienteering class at the REI there. I was not impressed by the instructors, but I did learn some things. The rest of the afternoon was spent putting the mess in the car into our bags so we could take it on the plane again. I put the tent out in Ken and Linda’s back yard to air out, and the wind actually picked it up and it cleared the 6’-high fence without touching it to land in the neighbors yard. After that I staked it down to prevent that from happening again. That night was game night, where Rebecca got to pick 3 games we all played together. After Rebecca went to bed we played a couple of rounds of Hoopla which we had gotten Ken and Linda as a thank-you gift. It’s a very fun game, and it was lucky that the children were sound sleepers or else they would definitely have been woken up by our ruckus.
Saturday we traveled back to Santa Barbara without any real problems. They did make me mail my empty white gas bottle back using USPS ground service though. I guess there must be a much more efficient way to use white gas if the milliliter or 2 left in the bottle are enough to harm a commercial airplane. Shane picked us up in Santa Barbara and brought us home, where we relaxed with some excellent food Danielle made and a movie.