Saturday, August 26, 2017

CO & UT - Day 11 - Denver City

Now, I have to admit, I really didn't know what to expect from Denver other than possibly seeing some cowboys and rhine-stoned country singers - cliché, I know... (and possibly my country-music-loving father's influence, too).  But it proved to be a vibrant little city, eminently walk-able and tourist friendly, lots of lovely bars, restaurants and shops to explore, and lots to see and do in the relatively short time we were there.

Some Denver Fun Facts:

  • it is the capital of Colorado state, and the most populous municipality in the US - one of the fastest growing major cities in the country;
  • it is nicknamed the Mile High City, because it sits officially one mile above sea level - making it the highest city in the USA;
  • it traces its origins back to the gold rush and a group of prospectors who established a mining town there in 1858, then known as Montana City;
  • it has the dubious notoriety of being the only city ever to decline to host an Olympiad - the 1976 Winter Olympics;
  • Denver records on average over 300 days of sunshine per year - more than San Diego or Miami!
  • Denver claims to have invented the cheeseburger - trademarked by Louis P Ballast in 1935;
  • it has one of the most walkable downtown areas in the US - perfect for a city break!
After the stresses and strains of the long drive and travels yesterday, we were in need of a Big Breakfast to set us up for the day ahead, and the food at Snooze Eatery didn't disappoint.  It was located in the Union train station complex, only about a mile's walk from our hotel down 16th Street Mall; I'd read great reviews of this place, and we chose well! Breakfast was perfect - hot, fresh, and consumed ravenously outside on their patio whilst doing a little people-watching. We were off to a good start!

Now time to start our tour of the city and walk off some of those calories...

Whilst it's true the city's beginnings hailed in the goldrush era, it's always been a gathering place for diverse and creative people, and we did still see one or two bona fide cowboys, complete with cowboy hats, snakeskin boots and leather shoestring ties!  In fact, we also stopped at Rockmount Ranch Wear, an iconic cowboy-wear shop, reportedly frequented by movie stars and music legends even today.  They had some fun clothes, and I nearly came home with some beautiful leather cowgirl boots....

Since we were already there, we explored a little of the historic lower downtown (LoDo), walking through the clean and shiny (recently renovated) Denver Union station (originally built in 1914).  We also walked a little around Larimer Square, a cute little street lined with Victorian-era buildings housing restaurants, bars, coffee shops and boutiques.


Baseball is one of the sports of choice here, and Hubby was keen to visit Coors Field, where he was excited to find there was a game scheduled that evening, and promptly bought tickets for us to see the Colorado Rockies vs. St Louis Cardinals! 

Then onto the Colorado Convention Center, where I was keen to see the Big Blue Bear who peers through the building windows.

Sadly we would miss the Beard and Moustache Championships...
From there, we ambled down to Cherry Creek and enjoyed a leisurely riverside walk, past more examples of artwork (official and unofficial) and sculptures on display.  

By the time we reached Confluence Park, we were feeling a little tired, so just had time to head back to the hotel for a brief rest, before it was time to get ready for the Big Game!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

CO & UT - Days 9 and 10 - Goodbye to Utah

Day 9

For our final day in Utah, and with a big drive ahead of us, we decided to take it easy and indulge in some good ol' R&R back at Swasey's Beach.

Nice and quiet, once again, with only a couple of families enjoying the natural beach and cooling waters, and time for us to reflect on our adventures over the last week.

From there, we headed to the hotel's patio overlooking the Green River, and over a beer or two, we watched the sun set over our final night in Utah.

Day 10

Transition Day!  Time for us to leave Utah for the looooooong drive back to Denver.
Approx. 370 miles and 5-6 hours' driving...

It was interesting to watch the gradual change from the muted, barren-looking landscapes of Utah to the much more verdant-looking Colorado - even the yellow aspen leaves were more abundant since we'd been here a week earlier.

Finally, it was time to divest ourselves of our clanky hire car (now with an additional thousand miles on the clock!), and then navigate the airport rail service into downtown Denver and on to our hotel.  On to the next stage of our explorations!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

CO & UT - Day 8 - Capitol Reef & Goblin Valley

Our final park destinations in Utah would  be Capitol Reef and Goblin Valley - both proving to be beautiful for very different reasons.

First up was Capital Reef - a lengthy drive (about 1 3/4 hours) from Green River, along largely empty roads (apart from the occasion RV or tour bus).  Even from the park "entrance" it was still a way to go to the Visitor Centre and parking lot at Fruita, but we eventually joined a smattering of cars in a green field serving as the car park, and laced up our boots.

Capitol Reef is described as a "remote, hidden treasure" filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges in a fold of the earth stretching across almost 100 miles, known as the Waterpocket Fold.  It was also a settlement for Mormon pioneers in the 1880s, at the confluence of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek, and is now a preserved village and orchards in an area known as Fruita.  

We had two potential hikes in mind - Cohab Canyon and Hickman Bridge (both deemed "moderate" at 2.5 miles and 2 miles respectively), and we hoped to be able to complete both of them if our legs allowed!

We started out on a very steep hike up the cliff-face adjacent to the car park along switchback trails. It was worth stopping every so often simply to take in the views back across Fruita, the preserved village and the all-important Waterpocket Fold which defines Capitol Reef.  

Once we had our breath back, we entered into Cohab Canyon itself - a beautiful, serene, sun-rimmed canyon, so peaceful, with sandstone rock faces beautifully lit in the sunlight.  Surrounded by high walls on either side, it was easy to forget we were in a big tourist destination, and we met perhaps 2 or 3 other hikers during our entire time on the trail.

Once we reached the end of the canyon, we made our way carefully down the cliff again, crossed the main road (now filled with parked cars on either side), and joined up with the trail for Hickman Bridge.  Being a little shorter, this trail was noticeably busier, and we often had to give way to several groups and families on the narrow trails.  Hickman Bridge was another stunning natural bridge or arch feature, and proved to be the perfect spot for some much needed lunch! 

Rejuvenated by our vittles, and keen to avoid more crowds, we headed back along the trail, across the road, and back up the steep cliff face into the canyon again, before eventually emerging at the Fruita overlook.  Things had got a lot busier since we'd first arrived, with a country fair in full swing in the village.  Obviously we had to take a look!  Live country music, a few crafts and some lovely hand-baked goodies made a nice diversion from sore feet and legs!  

But the day wasn't over yet...

Next stop - the mysteriously named Goblin Valley, albeit over an hour's drive away (but at least in the direction of the hotel).  Legend has it that Goblin Valley was "discovered" by some cowboys looking for lost cattle in the 1920s.  Who knows what went through their minds when they stumbled on this view!  (Although we do know it was originally called Mushroom Valley).

Millions of years ago, this whole area would have been below sea level, gradually forming layers of sandstone, siltstone and shale.  As sea levels subsided and the sandstone became exposed to the elements, the softer layers eroded more quickly, creating the quirky "goblins" that now inhabit the park.

There was no real hiking planned here - it was already quite late in the afternoon, but we spent an enjoyable hour or so meandering through the odd-shaped sculptures in the evening light, and marvelling once again at the beauty of Mother Nature in all its forms.