Saturday, July 29, 2017

Aspen, CO

The Colorado Rocky Mountains are covered in pine and streaked with aspen trees. In late September, all the aspens change to gold. They're striking against the contrast of the dark pines. Most of the locals set aside a day to drive up and see the changing aspens. We're no different. This year, we decided to make the drive up to Aspen.

We ended up spending two nights and one full day in Aspen.  We stayed at The Little Nell on East Durant Ave. The hotel was quaint and absolutely everything you'd want on a trip to the mountains. The staff were very friendly and helpful.

Each of the rooms had:
  • Fully-stocked refreshment bar, with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and snacks refreshed daily (my favorite were the gummie peaches from Dean & Duluca)
  • Bose Bluetooth Speaker
  • Stone-clad, gas log fireplace
  • Fili D’oro down comforters and white goose-down pillows
  • Shower and separate soaking tub
  • Dual Caesar stone vanities
  • Crème de Marfil heated marble flooring and walls
  • All-natural “First Tracks” June Jacobs spa amenities

We had breakfast at Element 47 both mornings it was a buffet style meal they had made to order omelets, oatmeal, assorted pastries, variety of meats: sausage, bacon, smoked salmon, berry and yogurt bar. The buffet included coffee or juice but was alittle steep at $34 a person, but the food was really good. For dinner one night we stopped at AJAX and had a good steak dinner.  Our food was very expensive though not sure that we would go back. The next day took the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of the mountain to the Wedding Deck. To do a wedding photo shoot. The pictures turned out gorgeous all of our friends and family commented on how beautiful the pictures were and the time of year couldn't be better with the gold aspen leaves.

Residences at The Little Nell and Audi of America are pleased to offer hotel guests the complimentary opportunity to test drive the 2017 Audi Q7. We took our Audi to Maroon Bells and Independence Ghost Town.

Independence Ghost Town, the wooden skeleton remains of a Colorado mining operation of the 1880s. The remains of the town include, in various states of assemblage, a stable, a general store, two boarding houses, and Farwell Stamp Mill. Guests are welcome to tour the grounds and let their imaginations roam. Preservations do ask, however, that no souvenirs be taken from the site. For more information call (970) 925-3721 or visit

The most photographed place in Colorado is Maroon Bells, located just outside of Aspen. We drove up Maroon Creek Road to head to Maroon Bells. The drive up to Maroon Bells was picturesque. It's forever ingrained in my mind. The aspens grew tall and, at some parts, touched over the road. They created a tunnel, and we drove below the aspens.

It was absolutely majestic. When we reached the beach of Maroon Lake, it was like we stepped into a postcard. No wonder Maroon Bells is the most photographed place in Colorado.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Royal Gorge Senic train Canyon City, CO

We took a train ride on the Royal Gorge Railroad. OMG! The views are nothing short of spectacular in the same fashion as the Grand Canyon. I suggest you take the early train as the later ones can get extremely crowded. Also, it can get pretty hot after the morning and even the floor of the open-air observation car gets hot because it is metal. This is a nice train ride through the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River. The ride is 2 hours in total and you can see Royal Gorge Bridge 1000 feet above. The ride is also a one way trip so if you missed something in the beginning you can catch it on the way back. The conductor just moves from the front to the back of the train once you make it to the end of the track. They have multiple events throughout the year on the train to take part in. I think the murder mystery train ride sounds fun.

The views from the coach cars are limited to side views of the Arkansas River and walls of the gorge. If you want the best views you probably would want the Vista cars so you could also see the bridge above and possibly animal life. The dome car is the most expensive, the coach class is the least (but the windows are large).We loved the train ride and service. Don't worry too much about your seat assignment. You probably won't be spending much time in it, if any since you can stand in the open on the observation flat car.  Everybody has access to the open-air car to take those cool pictures, but it gets real cozy there as a result. Our car's host suffered from a malfunctioning microphone, so we did not hear the info about the scenery. So we spent most the time on the flat car, while our in-laws stayed in the coach area for the seating.  The menu items are a little spendy, but we were getting hungry on the way back to station so we decided to order burgers. They were ok and didn't have a table to eat from in the coach area. Served in a Styrofoam box. Next time I would probably eat lunch before the train. We also ordered a few drinks and they were good.

Have you done the Royal Gorge train? What was your favorite part?

Mount Princeton 14ner hike in CO

Mt. Princeton - Elevation 14,197 Feet

Basic Information / Directions: Visit for specific directions & trail information. We hiked the standard route to reach Mt. Princeton. We drove to the radio towers on Mt. Princeton Road and parked. But you can drive further up, just be advised that there are not many places past the radio towers to turn around. Mount Princeton is roughly a 7 mile up from the radio towers and is considered one of the harder 14ers. I was with a big group of people with Younglife and we had people of all shapes and sizes, in shape and not in shape. If that helps decide if you can do the hike. The hike took us roughly 8 hours and recommend going really early in the morning 5 am or so.

Also, make sure to dress in layers the weather changes so fast and it may be hot (probably not at 5am) at the bottom but at the top most the time there will be snow and it will be a big drop in temperature. Also afternoon thunderstorms usually come in the afternoon and puts you more at risk of getting struck by lighting so if a storm comes and your not to the top yet I would recommend heading back down the trail or if you can take cover somewhere and wait the storm out do that. Otherwise a few easier 14ners are:  Bierstadt, Quandary, Massive, Torreys and Grays Peak. Torreys and Grays are so close together too that you can do both in one day. 

Once on the trail, the stunning view of the upper Arkansas River Valley, including Buena Vista, Johnson Village and Nathrop, are just a turn back away.

Be prepared for lots of people on the mountain. If you are seeking peace and quiet, don't climb on a summer weekend, during the week is a better time to go if possible.

After I recommend stopping at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs and soaking in the hot springs. They have a few man made pools, but my favorite are the pods off the river. When I went a few years ago they were deeper and rocks formed around them to look like pods, but the past year we went up the river wasn't as high and didn't have the pods but with the rocks in the river you could form your own pods just weren't as deep. This varies year to year though and depends on the snow fall since the river is snow runoff.

Have you hike Mount Princeton? What did you think?

Rapid City, SD

When most tourists visit South Dakota they drive through with a quick stop at Mount Rushmore, but what they don’t realize is that there’s so much more. Growing up in Rapid City we were able to see a lot more of the state and in this post I'm going to share some of my favorite things for a weekend getaway.

South Dakota Road Trip

Rapid City to Spearfish

If you plan on flying to South Dakota you’ll fly into Rapid City Regional Airport. Since we live in Denver it was just a 6 hour drive for us to get there.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive
Make your way down HYW 385 North on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway through the Blackhills for some epic views. There are several short hikes & waterfalls not far off the road that are worthwhile. There are 3 waterfalls that are easily accessed within a 5-minute walk. We visited Roughlock Falls, Little Spearfish Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. Our favorite was Bridal Veil waterfall. There is a viewing platform right off the road. I think the best time to go up to Spearfish is in the fall. The colors are beautiful through the canyon in September and October.

Another fun thing to do while in Spearfish is go to D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery. Again really pretty to go in the fall but your family will enjoy going anytime of the year. Admission is free and open 365 days a year. The gift shop and museum is only open during the summer. You can feed the fish, so bring quarters for the feeders, all while learning the history of the area.

Other cities along the way to check out:
  • Deadwood (Old gold town, now it's home to several casinos in historic buildings)
  • Sturgis ( Sturgis Rally is a week long event usually the first week of August so keep this in mind when planning a trip to Rapid City, SD)

Mount Rushmore

A trip to South Dakota wouldn’t be complete without visiting Mount Rushmore. Head back down 385 on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. You will pass by Lake Pactola. Gorgeous reservoir and their is a campground if you wanted to stay the night after your drive down from Spearfish.

If you travel during the summer months it will be busy no matter what time of day so no need to rush. If you happen to be visiting during the evening try and stay for the evening lighting ceremony of Mount Rushmore. There is a cafeteria, otherwise Keystone few miles down the road has a few restaurants. Mount Rushmore is nothing short of amazing and if you are lucky you might see a mountain goat.
  • Cars, Motorcycles, and RVs – $11 per vehicle
  • Evening lighting ceremony of Mount Rushmore May 26, 2017 Oct 1, 2017
Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest Mountain Carving in progress. We personally didn’t visit. I went once when I was younger and now just look from the road at the progress. 
  • $28.00 Per car – more than 2 people
  • $22.00 = 2 people in car
  • $11.00 = Per person
  • $5.00 = Per person on motorcycles, or bicycles
Custer State Park
After exploring all the things to do near Mount Rushmore make your way to Custer State Park. It’s South Dakota’s largest and oldest state park. There are several scenic drives, hikes, over 1,500 free roaming bison, fishing, and much more. One of our favorite things in the park was driving the Needles Highway. The rock formations on the drive will blow you away.

If you want to stay right on the edge of the park check out Sylvan Lake Lodge. It has some of the best views of Sylvan lakes and the perfect location for exploring Custer State Park.

We highly recommend eating dinner at the Alpine Inn. The Alpine Inn only serves two things for dinner, filet mignon or a Spaetzle Primavera. We opted for the 9-ounce bacon wrapped filet for $13.95 and we weren’t disappointed. This place is a steal, for less than $50 we each got a 9-ounce steak dinner, dessert, drinks. If you visit during the summer expect there to be a line before dinner service even starts. Their lunch menu is much larger and specializes in European cuisine. My family loves getting the Rueben sandwich every time we go back.

Another favorite place is Prairie Berry Winery. Home of the famous Red Ass Rhubarb wine. Start your visit with a complimentary wine tasting and you can pick five to sample. Most of the wines they make are sweet but they do have a few dryer and full bodied wines as well. My favorites are the Red Ass Rhubarb, Strawberry Fusion, and Calamity Jane. Within past couple years they have really transformed the place and serve food and cocktails made from the wines. Last time we were there they made the Red Ass Rhubarb into a margarita, which I would have never thought to do but was really shocked with how delicious it turned out. They also did a blueberry lemonade with the Blue Suede shoes wine and was really impressed with that drink too. Both were refreshing, treat to enjoy on the patio with a flat bread pizza. We joined the Gen 5 wine club and get shipped four bottles of wine a month. Plus 20% off wine in the store when you shop. If wine isn't your thing they have a brewery next door, we haven't had a chance to go there yet.

Badlands National Park

On your way to the park make sure to stop at Wall Drug in Wall South Dakota. You will see sign after sign along I-90. It’s a great place to stop and have lunch before heading into the park.

The Badlands look out of this world. The park is 244,000 acres and is said to contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Apparently, even rhinos and saber- toothed cats, once roamed in South Dakota. Now you will find bison, big horn sheep, and prairie dogs. You will find several hiking trails and the sunset and sunrises are phenomenal in the park.

Have you gone on a South Dakota road trip? What would you add?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

North Padre Islands, TX

After San Antonio, we went to Padre Island National Seashore on Padre Island to go camping. The island itself is known mostly for South Padre Island, a popular vacation and tourist spot on the more developed part on the island all the way at the bottom. Where we stayed was North Padre, and the National Seashore itself is over 60 miles of just seashore! You can camp anywhere you want along the seashore. Malaquite Campground has been voted one of the top campgrounds in the US and is tucked in behind the sand dunes and at the entrance before driving onto the beach, so if you don't want to be fully surrounded by sand this campground is for you. These sites are on a first come basis and from what we noticed for the week we were there they were always reserved.

The first night we picked somewhere out in the open on North Padre Beach but the high winds kept causing our tent to blow over, we ended up sleeping in the car but the next night we were able to go down the beach more and found a little opening in between a couple sand dunes so we were able to get out of the wind and it was perfect. There really is no better feeling than going to sleep and waking up to the sound of the ocean. It was so peaceful and relaxing. At night we saw things crawling all over and so we went to check it out and it was ghost crabs. They were fun to try and catch some of them were pretty good sized too.

One of the most special activities visitors can take part in on North Padre Island is a PINS (Padre Island National Seashore) Kemp's Ridley Baby Sea Turtle Hatchling Release.

The Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle is the rarest species of sea turtle and is critically endangered. The Padre Island Seashore National Parks Service has established extensive conservation efforts through the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Recovery Project.

Witnessing this beautiful phenomena is, for most, a once in a lifetime experience. Here are a few tips on how to increase that likelihood of getting to experience this wonderful event! While we were there the turtle schedule said we would be able to see hatchings everyday but actually we only got to see the turtle release twice. So just keep this is mind when booking you trip even though they show turtle releasing during a specific time sometime conditions stop that from happening and you may not get to see a release.
  • Plan to visit sometime between June-August
  • Call the Turtle Hatchling Hotline for exact release details call (361-949-7163)
  • Be prepared to wake up early!
​Releases usually take place at 6:45 am and last 30-45 minutes.

For more information on the baby turtles and hatchling releases, visit the PINS website. 

Has anyone else been lucky enough to catch a sea turtle release? What did you think?

San Antonio, Texas

When you do decide to make your trip to San Antonio, you’ll want to stay downtown. If you seek a more historical experience, go with The Fairmount Hotel. The Fairmount Hotel San Antonio is a historic, Victorian style hotel featuring 37 individually decorated rooms and suites, exquisite banquet, reception and meeting space, a jeweled granite and marbled courtyard and a chic, family-style Tuscan Italian restaurant. We were there for a pageant I was competing in and the room was stunning, when you first walked in was a room with an vanity to get ready and rustic Victorian couch, down the hallway was the bathroom with marble floors and vintage tub, and a large bedroom with a king size bed. We had a view of the river walk and door to a patio around back. I had salmon Caesar salad every day in the café for lunch, and I still think about the pan seared, tender, flaky salmon.

From the hotel, a walk to the famed River Walk is a breeze. You’ll see locals sitting, jogging and cycling along the three-mile downtown stretch. I would definitely recommend hoping one of the river boats to see more of the area and to get a better look at the shops and brilliant Spanish-colonial-inspired architecture. Also within walking distance of the hotel is San Antonio’s other famous landmark, the Alamo.

For dinner you have to stop by Casa Rio and try and get a table on the patio, you will be able to wave at all the people taking river cruises. One way to know you are at the right place is all the colorful umbrellas on the patio. This is some of the best Tex Mex food I've ever had. We had to go back a second night before we headed out.

For your last supper in San Antonio, reserve a spot at The Chart House located at the top of the Tower of the Americas, ride an elevator up 750 feet to the observation deck for a jaw-dropping view of the city. If the restaurant is not your thing you can also just take the elevator up and see the view. Dinner was delicious but my favorite part was the rich chocolate cake with molten center, made with  Godiva liqueur.  Served warm, topped with chocolate sauce,  Heath bar crunch and vanilla ice cream. Melts in you mouth, perfect combination of ingredients. In a way San Antonio appears to be a plain town of cowboy hats and sombreros until you come in for a better look.

Have you been to San Antonio? What would you add to our route?

Washington State

Washington Coast

First thing we did when we got off the plane was get our rental car and headed to Ocean Shores, WA. We loved Ocean Shores beautiful rocky beaches with a darker sand than we were used to seeing (i'd only been to Florida before this). When we came in the tide was going out so we could walk out really far and saw sand dollars everywhere! The water was chilly we went in November an overcast day but was worth it to see for the day.  


The next couple days we spent our time sightseeing Seattle and took in the city’s most famous sights on our short trip. There are so many things to do in Seattle make sure to see these places below. We stayed right in the heart of downtown at the Marriott hotel. The location was perfect with quick access to all of Seattle's best attractions.

The Space Needle

Nothing is more Seattle than the Space Needle. With just one picture of this iconic landmark, you know right where you are. A short walk from downtown this Seattle sight was worth it. Built in 1961 the space needle embraces the mid-century modern design with the sweeping curves and futuristic looking accents. The tower was originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, but still today the top deck gives a pretty good view of Seattle for tourists and locals.

Pike Place Market

Next on our tour of Seattle was to the iconic Pike Place Market. The market is comprised of hundreds of individual stalls selling anything from flowers to fish. The size of the market is nothing short of impressive. Allow the better half of a day to check out the market. Pike Place Market covers roughly 12 square city blocks along the water’s edge. We enjoyed lunch at the deli.

Whale watching tour

On our last day we took a drive up to Everett to do a whale watching tour with Island Adventures. We thought because they guarantee that you will see whales or they will take you out another time we would use them. Unfortunately we did not see whales on our trip but they did give us passes to come back for another complimentary ride and hopefully will have better luck next time. Nonetheless the boat ride was gorgeous going out from Everett through the straights and seeing all the islands and marine life we saw sea lions and birds. We still haven't been back to use our passes but hoping to go back soon Washington State is beautiful and has a lot of to see.

Have you been to Washington? What would you add to our route?
 As always all of our opinions are our own.

Four Corners Monument (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah)

An interesting roadside attraction to visit if you find yourself driving through Southwestern Colorado, Northwestern New Mexico, Southeastern Utah, or Northeastern Arizona is Four Corners Monument, a sight to behold, as it is the only place in the country where 4 states intersect. When visiting the Four Corners monument, you will have the opportunity to stand in all 4 states at the same time. Although there is not much to actually do in the area besides photographing the monument and browsing through Native American crafts, it’s one of those unique things to do just to say that you did it.
You can stand in each state separately or in the middle of the marker, which is the technical spot where all 4 states meet. During your visit, you are bound to see people doing all sorts of crazy poses to get their hands and feet within all 4 states at the same time (back handstands, down on their hands and knees, etc.). One of the best photos is a group of 4 each standing in a different state or a couple each planting their feet in 2 different states. Regardless, while standing in line waiting your turn, it is quite entertaining to watch the creative ways everyone is taking their photos. The line is long too we ended up waiting 45 minutes and in the desert make sure to bring an umbrella help get you out of the sun. Sign posted also says limit of 3 photos only to keep the line moving faster so think of those poses while in line.

While I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit Four  Corners, it’s a cool thing to say you’ve done. I'm always saying I wish I could be in more than one place at once and since seeing "A Walk to Remember" when Landon takes Jamie to the state line, I thought it was the sweetest thing ever! I've wanted to go and say I've been in four places at once!!

*Fill up your tank well ahead of reaching the monument as there are no gas stations around and the next is at least a 30 minute drive. Also use the restroom at this time if needed.
*Bring with a water bottle and snacks. Driving in this desolate area of the country, restaurants are few and far between.

*Be aware that the National Parks Pass is not valid at this attraction.

*Bring with a camera in order to take your photograph by the monument.

*Bring sunscreen and an umbrella.
*Bring with plenty of cash if you plan on buying Native American crafts. Prices can add up quickly and most vendors do not accept credit/debit cards.
Address, Pricing, and Hours
Location: 597 NM-597, Teec Nos Pos, NM 86514
Pricing: $5 per person they say cash not accepted on the website but we paid with VISA, I think it speeds the line up to pay cash so that's why they prefer it.
Hours: Friday of Memorial Weekend – Sept. 15: 8:00am – 8:00pm
September 16 – October 31: 8:00am – 6:00pm
November 01- March 31: 8:00am – 5:00pm
April 1 – May – Thursday before Memorial Weekend: 8:00am – 7:00pm
*Park is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, & New Year’s

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Zapata Falls, CO

Zapata Falls it's about 12 miles from the sand dunes.  Make sure if you make the trek up there you have a vehicle with four wheel drive, the road up is about 3-4 miles dirt road. Very rocky and a lot of the cars we saw going up kept bottoming out. Once we got to the top we did the half mile hike to the falls since we still wanted to see the sand dunes before heading home.

The hike in is a gradual uphill hike took us half a hour to get to the top and down. Be prepared to get wet once you get to the top you have to cross the river and the water is ice cold! Few times I didn't know if I was going to make it but continued on and once we got to the cave entrance and saw the waterfall.

I was so thankful that I continued on. It was the coolest waterfall I have ever seen. Once you enter the cave you see the little falls and than when you go back alittle further you see the bigger falls. I wish I would have brought my go pro to climb further up into the bigger falls, I didn't trust going in with my iPhone.  I think coming back in the winter would be really pretty to see the waterfall frozen and the river may be froze over so you might not have to get wet to see it.

At the top they also had a campground we had no idea was up there and the sites seemed pretty nice and had nice views. Once you get in though on that road you may not want to leave again, just in case you forget the eggs and have to run into town.

Has anyone else been to Zapata Falls? What did you think?