September 18, 2016

Exploring Colorado


For our last summer vacation, my family headed to Colorado for a 9-day trip. We have "visited" Colorado before by landing on the state border for a quick picture, but this time we wanted to actually explore some of the landmarks and natural wonders.

Natural Wonders:

  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Continental Divide (Milner Pass)
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Garden of the gods
  • Cave of the Winds
  • Pike's Peak Summit

Other Landmarks:
  • Boulder County Farmer's Market
  • Four Corners Monument
  • Air Force Academy
  • Miramont Castle
  • Colorado Capital Building
  • Denver Aquarium
  • Denver Botanical Gardens

Our plane ride was about 4 hours long from the Newark airport, so I had plenty of time to take dreamy pictures of the clouds through my airplane window. (Window seat is the best seat!)


DAY ONE

On the first day, we came across a farmer's market in downtown Boulder.


I always love going to markets because of the fresh, good-quality food that is all around you. I was enticed to buy some vegan quinoa crackers with basil pesto. The basil pesto was made with ingredients like crushed walnuts, garlic and balsamic vinegar. It turned out to be very delicious and was the perfect dip for my crackers.


Two streets down was Pearl Street, so my family and I browsed through some stores for a while.


For a place to eat, we walked into this cute Italian restaurant with lights draping from the ceiling, hanging flower baskets on the walls, a balcony over the bar, and even a decently-sized fountain in the middle of the room. It almost felt like we were dining in Italy!


DAY TWO

On day two, we drove through the Rocky Mountains with amazing views the whole ride up. Every now and then, we would pull over to look at the mountains around us.


We also spotted some ground squirrels, and a kind of bird we've never seen before. Aside from deer, this was the majority of the wildlife that we saw during our trip.


At the Alpine Center's cafe, we had lunch overlooking the glaciers on the mountains. Then we proceeded to walk up the trail to the summit which was an elevation of 12,005 feet.


At the top, we were quite out of breath, but a nearby sign reassured us that our fatigue was normal for people who didn't live in Colorado.


On most of the tours we took in Colorado, there was always a tour guide who would joke, "If you're not from Colorado, you're not used to the high elevation. But if you are from Colorado, you're just plain out of shape!" (I would say it was a little bit of both for my family, if you know what I mean!)
The heavy breathing was worth it once we reached the summit and became level with all of the mountaintops.


Driving back down the mountains, we went through the Milner Pass and took a pitstop at the Continental Divide. Also known as the hydrological divide of the Americas, the Colorado River separates the waters that drain into the Pacific Ocean from the waters that drain into the Atlantic Ocean (including those that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and Arctic Ocean!)

Which way should we go? Lol...
The sight of the white clouds reflecting on the surface of the river was so pretty. We dipped our hands into the water, and let me tell you, it's cold!


DAY THREE


The next day turned out to be very sunny and in the 70s. We took a 2-hour drive to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.


We thought the only way to get to the dunes from the visitor center would be to trek across the wide open patch of desert. When we finally made it across, we saw a parking lot where many cars were parked and realized we could have drove over. Oh well, it was too late! I will say that it was a new experience - being secluded from the rest of the world for a brief 10 minutes. It almost felt like a man vs. wild adventure! Thank goodness we didn't step on any cacti or encounter any snakes...


I boldly decided to hike up the sand dunes for as long as 30 minutes would take me. My family stayed behind to relax on the sand and watch my journey. The higher I climbed up, the hotter the sand became (apparently the sand can reach up to 150 degrees F in the summer!), but I tried my best not to focus on the heat.


I actually covered more sand than I expected and was very proud that I pushed myself that far. I got to sit down for a bit and just enjoy the view from where I was.


Instead of walking, I decided to run all the way down the sand dunes. It was a lot easier going down now that gravity was on my side!


By the time we walked back to our car, we were very hungry so we decided to eat and then call it a day. On the drive to our hotel, we pulled over to admire a rainbow. (Instead of stopping to smell the roses, I guess you could say we stopped to admire the rainbow!) As we looked more closely, we noticed another slightly faded rainbow next to it.


DAY FOUR

We started our fourth day in Colorado with a quick stop at the Four Corners Monument, marking the spot where the four state borders of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico cross.

Who says you can't be in two places at once? I've been in four! (Hahaha...)
I had to rush to take some pictures of the plate because there was a long line behind us.

There were store vendors on each side of the monument, so I had to keep reminding myself that each time I crossed to another side, I was technically shopping in another state.

My sister loves dreamcatchers
This hand-made turtle necklace came from Arizona
As we drove through the Indian nations, we entered the Mesa Verde National Park to observe the remains of some Indian cliff dwellings. A video playing in the visitor center explained to us why Indians chose to reside under cliffs for protection from other tribes. Trying to imagine myself actually living under a natural rock formation, I would probably worry about the rocks collapsing in! It was definitely not the best situation for the Indians back then.


I liked observing the small models of the Indian villages and clay people as well. I wonder how much time was dedicated to replicating what the village could have looked like back then.


Traveling to Del Norte, we made a last-minute reservation at the Windsor Hotel. I'm so happy we came across this hotel because it has a lovely Victorian theme. The couches in our room were old-fashioned and elegant, and the bathroom floor tile's checkered patterns of yellow and orange reminded me of the 70s. We ended the night by watching four episodes of "Friends"! (No shame...)


DAY FIVE

In Manitou Springs, we toured the Miramont Castle. It was originally built in the late 1800s as a private home for the French-born Catholic priest, Father Jean Baptist Francolon (haha, colon... Ok, sorry.)


Touring a castle was something new for us since we have only toured small Victorian homes in the past! For example, we were able to walk past the second floor when most Victorian tours don't allow you to! Unfortunately, the interior design wasn't much to fawn over since most of the rooms mainly served to display artifacts similar to a museum, rather than depict what the rooms could have actually looked like. But I will say that I adored the architecture! The high ceilings and wide array of windows among the four floors were definitely fit for a castle.

A little blurry, but that's okay.

Our next destination was the Garden of the Gods, full of some incredible rock formations.

Believe it or not, several people thought it was okay to crouch under that rock for a picture... (I know, right? That's crazy! At least, I think so...)

DAY SIX

The next day's itinerary started with the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The short film that played inside the visitor center was very patriotic and eye-opening. We watched how the cadets went through basic training and learned integrity. The video reminded me of how lucky I am to live in a country full of people who are still willing to risk their lives for my safety and peace of mind. God bless America!

Outside the visitor center was this huge church designed to resemble the wings of airplane (since it relates to the Air Force).


The outside architecture of the church was so unique, but what was even more stunning was the interior with its copious stain glass windows arching over the ceiling and walls.


There were so many colored windows throwing different shades of sunlight back into the church. I tried as many angles as I could with my camera to best capture the light.


As we walked back to the visitor center, we could see the cadets walking in the courtyard, probably returning from lunch. From the video in the visitor center, we learned how the fourth-class "freshmen" cadets are required to run only on the marble strips of the courtyard, and cannot speak to the fifth-class cadets unless spoken to first. It's interesting to see how the academy establishes respect through their certain rules.


Our next destination was the Cave of the Winds. We found that the tours were closed past five, so we made sure to come back in the morning.

Professional filming!
If you've toured incredibly ginormous caves, you probably wouldn't be impressed with the Cave of Winds since it's rather small and confined in space. Nonetheless, any cave by itself is fascinating!

Popcorn!
Our tour guide called this "cave bacon"
Returning to the surface, we decided that our last venture of the day would be to Pike Peak's Summit, which is 14,100 feat above sea level. Instead of traveling by car, we chose to take the Pike's Peak Cog Railway for an hour-long ride.


It was cool (literally) to see how the weather changed from sunny to rainy to snowy, the higher up we went. Sort of strange to see snow in the summertime, but that's what happens when you go so high up!


I remember the temperature being below 32 degrees F on the summit, so we could only bare the cold for less than five minutes before seeking warm refuge in the visitor center. Even with five layers on, the majority being thick sweaters, I was still cold, so make sure to come prepared for the icy winds!

On one side of the visitor center, there was a cafe selling warm food/drinks like hot chocolate while on the opposite end, there was a gift shop selling warm materials like thick blankets, so that anyone who wanted extra warmth could access it!

My mom and I went back outside with our cameras and waited for the clouds to eventually clear. Once we could get a decent view of the mountains around us, we took some pictures and enjoyed the view before scurrying back inside with numb hands. (Unfortunately, my mom and I have Raynaud's syndrome where all of our fingers can turn white within minutes of exposure to the harsh cold weather. Next time, I should remember to wear gloves!)


Taking the railway all the way up to the peak turned out to be a smart decision since others were describing to us how scary it was to drive up the icy roads near the edges of the mountains. Even though the railway is a long hour ride, my family was happy that we decided to take the safer option and not take any risks to get a wonderful view.

DAY SEVEN

In Denver, Colorado, we took a guided tour of the Colorado State Capital building.


I love the golden intricate architecture. From the first floor, one can look up through the wide opening of the lobby and see the ceiling dome many floors above.


As we were guided through every floor, we learned what rooms the senators meet in, and how some of the people in the hallway paintings have greatly contributed to Coloradan and American history.

Martin Luther King
After many flights of stairs, we made it all the way up to the dome and walked around the outside of the balcony, enjoying the view of Denver.


Before heading to our last hotel, we stopped at the Denver Aquarium to see what sea creatures were inside.


As many aquariums do allow, we were able to touch the backs of sting rays in an open tank, as well as walk into a room featuring up-close sharks and sawfish.

Can you spot Dora and Marlin?
And there's me trying to impersonate a fish...
There was one room inside the aquarium that looked like a dark cave. Out of two large water tanks, flash floods would occasionally pour out onto the floors and splash people (including me) if they weren't careful. Long story short, I ended up getting soaked... If you'd like to hear the full story, you can head over to my Youtube channel and watch my 12-minute video where I rambled all about my silly experience!

As we walked out of the aquarium, we came upon an outside animal show featuring a strange-looking cat. This animal is called a binturong, otherwise known as a "bearcat" that comes from Southeast Asia. I thought the bearcat looked kind of peculiar (and if I'm honest, slightly creepy) in appearance, but I suppose that is because I don't live in Asia and have never seen them before!


DAY EIGHT

For our last full day in Colorado, my mom wanted us to visit the Denver Botanical Gardens, due to her love for flowers and the rave reviews she read on tripadvisor.com. It is the number-one recommended tourist destination in Denver!


Out of all the places we visited in Colorado, the botanical gardens in Denver were definitely one of the highlights. Because of my love for flowers and plants, I took way too many pictures to fit into this already-lengthy blog post, so I will be dedicating another post to the last day of our trip. Stay tuned for several different kinds of flowers and garden arrangements!

DAY NINE


After spending more than a week on vacation, my family was ready to fly back home. Exploring Colorado was such an adventure. We had a good balance of scenic views, nature exhibitions, shopping and town experiences that I think was the perfect way to end our summer vacation.

I hope you enjoyed getting to see the places we visited along our trip, and I also hope that this post wasn't too long for your preference. Sometimes, I can't help my love for writing and photography, so I get a little carried away every time I want to document our vacations!

So how did all of you spend your 2016 summer vacation? Did you go on any big trips as well? Let me know if you've also travelled to Colorado, and what you remember or recommend visiting from your trip!



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