Oh August, how did you arrive so quickly? Perhaps because we literally haven't slowed down a bit since my last post, and with just two weeks left, we are cramming so much into these days! The kids are begging to sleep in but there's no way! For a couple of reasons. But I digress...
After leaving Rocky Mountain National Park, we celebrated Katie's birthday in Golden, Colorado. Since downtown Denver doesn't exactly offer RV campgrounds, staying in Golden ended up being a great option. Her plans for her birthday were simple - Lunch at Panera. Going to a movie. Shopping. And DONE! But first, her parents gave her a big surprise that left her overjoyed and speechless. We are so good!!! Back in May, I asked her extended family, school friends and dance friends to write her a birthday wish and give it to me before we left. And everyone seriously came through! We hid all the gifts and cards in the bottom of Jason's closet in Harvey and she never found them! So, on her birthday morning, we woke her up by spilling a giant envelope onto her bed. The smile on her face was one I will never forget. One of my favorite moments of the trip.
We quickly discovered that our campground was mere miles from... wait for it... A MALL! With TARGET as an anchor store. I was giddy, let's be honest. It even had a movie theater in the area. Happy accident! So, lunch at Panera followed by Maleficent at the theater, then shopping at the mall and Target. Pretty hilarious when this makes everyone jump for joy! My how our lives have changed.
The rest of our trip to Denver was kinda rained out but we made the best of it. Eight loads of laundry, shopping at the 16th Street Mall and dinner at the famous Buckhorn Exchange and I call it a good day. The Buckhorn Exchange is one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in the country. The walls are COVERED with animal heads (and full bodies), many of them shot by Teddy Roosevelt. While waiting for our table, we hung out in the upstairs saloon listening to a cowboy sing traditional songs. It reminded us of the Griswold Inn in Essex, Connecticut - one of our favorite places when we lived in New England. If someone could shoot it and fry it up, it was on their menu. Our rattlesnake appetizer was surprisingly good and gave us some pretty cool bragging rights! We weren't quite brave enough to try their specialty, Rocky Mountain Oysters. Here's a hint - there are no real oysters in them.
Since we had once again reconfigured the trip, having to cut out Sedona, Phoenix and Tucson (bummer), we had a couple of extra days. Saved that much just in driving time. We decided to hit Colorado Springs. Great decision. First stop was the U.S. Air Force Academy. Blown away by the dedication these cadets have to each other and their country. A proud and humbling experience to visit the campus and tour their chapel. After going through the Christian, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist areas, I asked why didn't they have a small Muslim mosque or prayer room. I was pleased to hear that there was a prayer room located in the basement, and it was located there simply because they needed a water supply. They didn't advertise it because it hadn't yet met the requirements for accessibility. I was satisfied.
We hustled our way next to the Olympic Training Center which is located like right in the middle of a neighborhood. Harvey didn't like it. And we, showing up in plenty of time for the 4:30 tour (last of the day), didn't like it that they had to stop tours early at 4:00 due to having so many visitors. Ummm, really??? We should have made a fuss, but didn't, and followed the signs for RV parking, figuring there would be a better exit. Yeah, well, signs lie. No such parking area. No such exit. Yet another time we had to unhook Toad, back up Harvey, hook Toad back up and get out of there. Jason loves doing this, especially when it's raining, sunny, windy or hot.
Our campground that night was near Garden of the Gods so we figured we better check it out. It was just "meh". It's getting harder to impress us. A quick drive through the loop and we were headed back to the Olympic Training Center. We finally got in. And, WOW. There are 12 residential sports there and we toured the workout facilities and gyms. Got to watch the female wrestlers do their stuff, a fencer work out in the new conditioning gym and saw many athletes going from place to place. Since residents must be invited to train there and they must be at least 16 years old, we didn't see any female gymnasts, but it was inspiring to be there. Between the Air Force Academy and seeing these athletes, it kinda makes you want to do more, be more. Don't waste time being less than you are capable of being.
No rest for us yet - we were headed to Pikes Peak in the afternoon. Bought tickets to ride to the top on the famous Cog Railway and we weren't disappointed. After leaving the bottom on a relatively warm day, we encountered a snow storm at the peak. Our planning is getting better, but not perfect, so we ran around on the top wearing shorts and sweatshirts. Not the smartest thing. Ate some of their world famous doughnuts (which weren't that great, but were hot) and it was time to jump back on the train. Only then did the clouds break and we were able to appreciate the view. Awesome! 14,000 feet of awesome!
The next day pushed me out of my comfort zone again. It was Whitewater Rafting day. The upside to doing this was that I had to shop at Target for water shoes, and clothing to wear that wasn't cotton. I think I dragged out that trip for a solid hour before we really had to check out. It's the little things! Anyway, after listening to the 15 minutes of nail-biting safety stuff, we were geared up and ready to go. Our guide, Spencer, was the quintessential "I studied Geology at UW, and now I teach ski lessons in the winter and guide whitewater rafting trips in the summer. Soooooo cool. My parents are wicked proud!!!" With Katie and Jason at the front of the boat, the first big splash caused Katie to squeal so high that only neighboring dogs could hear her. The Arkansas River is COLD!! Our first big rapids caused Katie and I to fall into the boat and when we gathered ourselves together again, we heard Jason yell "WE LOST SPENCER!" Are you kidding me? We turned around and there's Spencer, working like crazy to get back in the boat. Just my luck - we practically lost our guide 15 minutes into the trip. He tried to explain that he "meant" to do that, but the other guides on the river were giving him a pretty hard time, so I wasn't buying it. But, we had a ball. Jack laughed the whole way. At the tail end of the trip on the last set of rapids, Jason sat on the front of the boat like he was riding a bull. Hilarious!! Needless to say, we loved the experience and may be game for tougher rapids next time, but were thankful to get out of our wet and muddy clothes!
As we continued our way towards Mesa Verde that night, I received a wonderful text message from my dear friend, Stephanie Woods. Our families have been friends and vacationed together since she and I were very little girls. They have been on an amazing journey themselves this summer - almost a month of seeing the country with 4 adults and 5 kids in one motor home. God bless them! Anyway, turns out they were in Mesa Verde! We made plans to have drinks and dinner the following night and I started counting the minutes. But first, we had to see all that the park had to offer. Once again, we crammed a lot into that day. The three cliff dwellings we saw were Balcony House , Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree. The ranger guides gave us tons of information and the kids really enjoyed it. We managed to pack in some decent exercise, too, because the tours start on top of the cliff, then you have to take stairs, ramps or ladders to get to and from the sites. I think it gave the kids another opportunity to be grateful for what they have. The amount of work these people had to do just in order to survive was overwhelming to contemplate. Puts a dead iPod into perspective for sure.
Our evening with the Woods/Klein/VandenBout clan was a much needed respite. We had not seen anyone we knew since we left my parents in San Francisco on July 5th. The kids got to play with their friends, we got to reconnect and share stories and all of us spent a good chunk of time just saying "WE ARE SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU!" Friends are blessings and we were truly blessed to see them.
The next day was pretty much a driving day as we headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the third largest art community in the country (after NYC and LA). I had promised to do more driving once we got through the mountains, so it was most definitely my turn. During my three hours in the driver's seat (singing along to my iPod as loudly as I could to annoy my children), Jason figured out our gas mileage. Our original route would have come close to 11,000 miles so we were surprised to see that we had only driven 7800. We were also (unpleasantly) surprised at our horrible gas mileage. In the mountains, Harvey (pulling Toad) averaged a measly 2 mpg. TWO! Awful! On the regular, plain old flat highways, we were closer to 8, so our average was somewhere around 6 mpg. We are still under budget for fuel overall, but it's clearly NOT due to Harvey's sparkling performance.
But again, I digress. Santa Fe was the start of our hot weather. Yes, I know we've had very hot weather on this trip (well, and snow) but this heat had a humidity kicker thrown in. We've known all along that this was coming, but I take back my complaints about "dry heat". I'll take dry heat any day of the week! Fortunately, Santa Fe had LOTS of beautiful stores to shop at and lovely restaurants to enjoy margaritas in. I didn't buy anything!!!!! We visited the oldest church in the country (San Miguel's - built in the early 1600's), the oldest house (directly across the street) and the oldest government building (Palace of the Governor). Having lived in New England, we were pretty surprised that all this "oldest" stuff was in the southwest, but there it was. The Spanish were nation building, the missions were being developed and of course the native americans were beyond established - they were struggling to maintain their culture, their identity and their way of life. I'll talk more about that when I blog about our visit to the Missions in San Antonio and the Alamo. Very disheartening and enlightening. After those visits, I am happier than ever that we are exposing our children to the history of our country - the good, the bad and the ugly. And, I struggle with "Why didn't I know this before?" Well, I am newly committed to making sure Katie and Jack understand not just WHAT happened, but WHY also. It's the WHY that's important in my book.
So, it looks like this post has gone on long enough and you need a refresh on your coffee. The cities I am most excited about visiting are coming up quickly so until next time...