Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Colorado Day 1: In Which Our Intrepid Explorers Encounter Harsh Elements, Crazy Insects, And Dinosaurs!

We touched down in Denver in the early evening after a somewhat bumpy flight. After picking up our rental, we headed south to Colorado Springs. As we left the airport, the kids kept remarking on how the airport was "in the middle of nowhere." They talked about how big the sky looked, how there were no trees, how the land rolled.

"You're looking at the start of the plains," I said. "You think this airport is the middle of nowhere? Not really. You'll see Denver in a few minutes. If you drive the other way? Now that's the middle of nowhere!" (My apologies to anyone reading from Eastern Colorado or Western Kansas. I know there are people and towns there. But from what I can remember driving through almost 35 years ago, they were few and far between.)

I offered a buck to the first person to spot a mountain. After driving a bit, we saw some hills. Impressive hills--especially when you are coming from Indiana--but hills nonetheless. The kids all began squawking over each other, 'Mountains! I see mountains!'

I explained that, yes, those would probably be considered mountains where we live, but in Colorado, mountains didn't have trees on top. In Colorado, I explained, mountains were rocky at the top and had a treeline where the trees stopped growing. They were disappointed, but settled down and kept looking. After a bit more driving, Maggie and James both spotted an actual mountain and were very excited to tell me. Then they began arguing over who said it first. I told them they could both have a dollar and then distracted them by mentioning the snow that capped the mountains.

"Dude! Look! It's June and there's snow!!" they exclaimed.

"And in a few days, you'll be in that snow," I said. "We'll be driving up a mountain and I'm pretty sure that you'll find some snow there."

As we neared Colorado Springs, the sun set and the rain started. We followed our directions and I called out names of places I'd been as a child, places we were going to see on this trip. We were all very excited. And then.

And then we had to start making our way up. In the dark. In a driving rain. On unfamiliar roads. On unfamiliar winding roads. On unfamiliar winding roads with big rock walls just waiting to smash us to bits.

I know that I am given to exaggeration, but you need to know that I am not exaggerating when I say that I was praying without ceasing as we drove to our cabin. Also, I had a hand cramp from gripping my door handle so tightly. I might have also worn out a hole in the floorboard from stomping on an imaginary brake. This is not a commentary on my husband's driving skills. In fact, I squeaked at him several times that I was glad he was behind the wheel, because if it had been me, we would have slept in the car on the side of the road and waited for daylight.

As we pulled off the main road to the road leading us to our house, we were all thankful that we had rented an SUV, because dude, the roads were dirt. And not the smooth dirt roads that you sometimes find out in the country. These roads had ruts worn into them and were seriously bumpy. But after bumping around for a few minutes, we arrived at our house. Patrick found the key, turned on the lights and we all came in. And then the screaming started.

It seems that my family is a bit citified. Here we were, in the middle of the piney woods and my husband and children were, um, surprised to find that there were a few moths that found their way inside our house. Okay. Maybe more than a few. A lot. But what do you expect when you are up on a mountain in the middle of the dark, dark woods and you turn on a light? Moths are gonna find you. Still, I couldn't help but laugh at my screaming children and my grossed out husband.

"They're just moths," I said. "If they were bees or wood roaches, I could see getting all worked up. If we shut off the lights and go to sleep, they'll settle down."

Nobody listened to me. (Surprise!!) Instead, while I did a once-over of the cabin, my husband and offspring declared all-out war on the moths and used their footwear to begin the extermination. Soon, we ushered our tired children to bed and got to bed ourselves, deciding that in the morning we'd head into Woodland Park (the nearest town) to find breakfast and buy groceries before doing anything else.

After spending most of the night tossing and turning and waking up often with my heart racing, trying to catch my breath, I finally managed to fall asleep about the time the light was turning a soft gray. I mentioned my crazy night to Patrick and he said he had experienced the same thing. I'm guessing it had something to do with the altitude and the air being thinner and considerably less humid than what we were used to breathing. We roused the kids, who were anxious to see where we were in broad daylight, and headed into town to breakfast.

Our first treat was that once you got off of our crazy dirt lane and pulled onto the highway, we were met with a stunning view of Pike's Peak. We had completely missed it in the dark and rain as we drove the night before. This is what we got to see each day as we made our way into town:

I am still amazed at how blue the sky was. Taking pictures here was wonderful. The light was amazing!

We found a restaurant that looked promising, called The Hungry Bear. It was perfect. Pancakes as big as your head, crispy bacon, Diet Coke(!!!), and for the kids, hot chocolate with a veritable mountain of whipped cream drizzled with chocolate. (Did I mention that it was about 54 degrees? Well, it was. It was nippy. But in a good way, because it was the complete opposite of the humid Indiana air.) James discovered crepes. James also discovered that crepes are very, very good. In fact, I believe the word "love" might have been used.

After getting groceries and taking them back to the house, the kids just wanted to stay out of the cold and rain and play air hockey. We let them do this for awhile, but then my control freak gene enthusiasm kicked in and I told them it was time to find something else to do. Something vacation-y. We had seen a dinosaur center in town and decided that that sounded like a good thing to do on a cold rainy day.We headed to the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park. It was impressive. After wandering around and looking at all the dinosaur exhibits, a guide mentioned that she would be giving a free tour, so we joined in. Our guide was knowledgeable and terrifyingly overenthusiastic goofy straight-up geeked out friendly. The tour was a little long for some of us, but it contained a lot of information and we all learned some cool stuff that we didn't know going in. Then I blew a million billion dollars in the gift shop for the kids souvenirs.

See this big sea turtle? He was found in Texas. Every time we saw him we'd do our best DudeCrush impersonation from "Finding Nemo" and say 'Fin! Noggin! DUUUUDE!!'

Mary is seeing how far she can jump. I believe she was solidly in the ova raptor range. The rest of us landed somewhere between raptor and bison. Nobody could make it to T. Rex.

We thanked our guide, said goodbye to the dinosaurs and headed home for dinner. After cooking, eating, and cleaning up, we decided that we were up for one more thing. I remembered seeing that Cave of the Winds was open until 9p.m. I remembered going there as a kid and really liking it, so I was excited for my kids to see it.

We piled in the truck and wound our way down the mountains. We marveled at the scenery that had been hidden from us the night before and found the right exit for the cave. Then we began the terrifying** winding road up to the cave. After going into the gift shop and inquiring, we discovered that the only tour left that day was a flashlight tour. Apparently at 5:30p.m., the cave's lights get turned off and they only do "eco tours" by flashlight. We decided that since at least two of our children still like sleeping with lights on, that perhaps we'd wait for a regular energy guzzling lighted tour the next day. As we made our way back the parking lot, the sky began to clear.
So we took the opportunity to pose for goofy pictures.
Let me just say that we weren't at that moment considering throwing Mary over, but she did make us think about it a few times later in the trip.

My boys. So funny.

Poor Maggie. She has to put up with all of us and our goofy humor.

Oh well. At least she wasn't rolling her eyes at us in teenage disgust.

Tired and cold, we headed back to the house for a soak in the hot tub and adult beverages. We sat in the hot tub watching the hummingbirds until we were well and truly pruny and the stars began to come out. Then we settled in for another night, hoping to get up in the morning and make the drive up Pike's Peak.

**After driving up the Pike's Peak Highway, the drive up to the cave wasn't so terrifying. Everything's relative, my friends, everything's relative.

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