Ice Castles in Dillon, Colorado

We had an opportunity to check out the ice castle in Dillon two days before opening day. The Ice Castles are an entertainment company from Utah and have castles in six different locations across the US and Canada.

This was our first time in an ice castle and it was incredible! From the intricate carvings to the icicles and the color changing ice, we had a blast running around, trying out the slides and chasing each other through the little ice caves.

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Riley entering an ice tunnel

The official website has all the details and FAQs if you’re not sure what to expect on your visit. My advice is dress warm, wear snow boots, and bring your camera! There were several parents who brought sleds for their children since strollers would be nearly impossible to push through the ice. Also, pets aren’t allowed so we had to leave Jack at home.

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On Fridays and Saturdays, the castle offers fire performances which sound pretty amazing. And all of this is offered at a great price! Prices are the following:

Monday-Thursday

Online- General Admission (12+): $15.95 Child (4-11): $10.95

Walkup- General Admission (12+): $19 Child (4-11): $13

Friday-Sunday

Online- General Admission (12+): $16.95 Child (4-11): $12.95

Walkup- General Admission (12+): $21 Child (4-11): $16

And children 0-3 are free!

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Overall, we were so impressed and fascinated by the entire castle. We plan on returning for a day time tour before it melts in late winter. And I’m currently working on a video from our time here, so stay tuned!!

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Shop Local, Colorado! Mountain Moon Tees

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One of our favorite things to do is support LOCAL businesses. Local beer, local coffee shops, local food, local clothing. I’ve had offers to work with different companies, but when Mountain Moon Tees reached out and asked me to be a brand ambassador, I was incredibly excited!!

Mountain Moon Tees is a small clothing company based out of Colorado. Their apparel is influenced by nature and the love for Colorado. Their shirts can be worn out on the town for date night or out hiking the trails! Believe me, I’ve done both! I LOVE all of their designs. The tanks I have express my love of the mountains and of course, the awesome state we call home. Ultimately, it helps me express who I am and what I love which is awesome while traveling the country.

If you’re a Colorado girl, Colorado lover, or know someone who is, check out their website mountainmoontees.com You can use my code: valiantlife for 20% off!! Have fun shopping!

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1 year road trip: Vail, CO and Dinosaur National Monument

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View from our hotel room at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek

On October 29th, we left our normal routine and headed on the biggest adventure of our lives. We pictured our departure as a day filled with nostalgia where we would give long and tearful goodbyes to our house, our city and our friends, but October 29th was not what we pictured. Here’s the background on our personal habits: My entire adult life has been consumed by procrastination. We’re always that family that is rushing to the airport barely missing our flight, we’re the family that always stands in the back of church because of a late arrival, and I’m not sure how I managed to do well in college and graduate school because when a paper was due at midnight, I was submitting it at 11:59. When it came to preparing for this roadtrip, I let procrastination get the best of me. On the morning of October 29th, we woke up at 5:00 AM, looked around the house and thought “oh shit, we need to rent a storage space.” Long story short, I’ll save this for another blog post on ways to gracefully get rid of your belongings and prepare for a long trip, we left our home in Colorado Springs at 9:30 PM, 8 hours behind schedule with our teardrop trailer filled to the ceiling. We felt and looked like traveling hoarders, but we had resevervations at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek waiting for us. Since we were using a comp night, we had to be present for the reservation or risk getting charged for the room. Now that we’re unemployed, we can’t take those kinds of risks!

The drive from Colorado Springs to the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is about 3 hours. I followed behind Clayton in our Jeep we planned on selling in California while Clayton drove the truck and the trailer. We pulled into the hotel after midnight looking like the Beverly Hillbillies. Although we were looking a little crazy, the staff was incredibly nice and even opened the cafe for us to have a late night snack. After eating, we quickly fell asleep and planned to organize everything in the morning. We woke up to find snow falling that morning and we were very impressed by how beauitful the hotel and the views were. I was a little bummed we couldn’t explore the hotel more, but we had to head to Home Depot to buy bins and get our lives together.

 

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This is what we looked like in the parking lot of Home Depot
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Riley found ways to keep busy while waiting for us

After we finished organizing, we headed towards Dinosaur National Monument which was another 3 and a half hour drive from Beaver Creek. Around 8 PM, we pulled into a rest area right off of Interstate 40 near the entrance of DMN and found another couple parked for the night in their RV. The rest area was a great stop for our first night in the trailer. The information desk was closed, but the inside was open where we found a ton of room to change and get cleaned up. It was also really clean and warm inside. We changed into our pajamas, cooked up some spaghetti and went to sleep. When we woke up, we found we were surrounded by incredible views. Riley and I ran around the rest area to take photos while Clayton made breakfast. After we were ready, we left the truck and the trailer to avoid paying 2 entrance fees and drove the jeep over to Dinosaur National Monument.

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Clayton making breakfast
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Jack enjoying the field near the rest area
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View from the rest area

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Welcome to Utah!

Some info on Dinosaur National Monument: $10 per private vehicle, but per the NPS website, the fee will be raised to $20 effective January 1, 2016. The park is on the border of Utah and Colorado. There is a shuttle that typically takes visitors from the Visitor Center to the Quarry Exhibit Hall, but on the day we went, the shuttle was not in service so we were able to drive ourselves. After obtaining some information from the Visitor Center, we decided to drive on the auto tour route to take pictures of the awesome rocky scenery. It was Halloween, so the park was a bit empty. The lack of other visitors gave us the opportunity to stop several times in the middle of the road and take pictures!

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Is there a car coming?!

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We thought this rock looked like a Gorilla!

The highlight of the day was the Quarry Exhibit Hall where we were able to touch real dinosaur bones. The area where the Quarry is was once a river that flowed across the plains. A long drought killed many dinosaurs and their bodies stayed in the dry river bed. When the rain returned, the bodies of the dead dinosaurs were carried to the bottom of the river. The bones were then covered by sand and mud which eventually led to the piles of dinosaur bones we see today.

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Overall, the day was filled with lots of beauty and it was very educational for all 3 of us. Riley was pretty upset about leaving and kept saying that he wanted to go hiking and find dinosaur bones. It would have been cool to stay a bit and do some hiking, but the plan was to stay in Park City for Halloween and we had reservations at the Escala Lodge waiting for us! Next stop Park City and the beginning of our exploration through beautiful Utah…

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) covers 415 square miles in northern Colorado. The park has 2 main entrances, one in Estes Park and another in Grand Lake. We took our first trip to this famous park in mid September and our timing was amazing. The weather was warm with a tinge of coolness and the Aspen trees were in full yellow bloom. The scenery was spectacular and if we ever make another visit, we’d prefer to return in the fall.

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Some basic info if you plan a visit:

We entered the park through the Estes Park entrance. From Colorado Springs, drive time is about 2-2 1/2 hours.

There are 5 campgrounds in the park and one campground is for tents only. Make reservations ahead of time!! It fills up fast.

It’s a National Park, therefore dogs are not allowed anywhere. Although I saw many people breaking that rule, we kept our dog in the car when we went outside to take pictures. We were unaware of this rule and decided not to hike within the park because we didn’t want to leave Jack unattended.

Entrance fees are the following:

  • Automobile – $20 and valid for seven consecutive days, including the date of purchase
  • Pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles and mopeds – $10 per person, not to exceed $20 per vehicle. Valid for seven days including the date of purchase.

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We left Colorado Springs around 6:00 PM on a Friday night. Since we planned our trip last minute, per the reservation site, there was no availability in any of the campgrounds in the park. We decided to take our chances and try the Olive Ridge campground which is about 30 minutes outside of Estes Park and in the Roosevelt National Forest. Olive Ridge is located on Highway 7 along mile marker 14. Reservations are not required, so our tip is to get there early before the weekend campers get in. A camp host is available to pay the $16 fee and several vault toilets are spread out around the campground. It is bear country, so be aware of what you bring and how you are storing your food.

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When we arrived around 9 PM, we drove the loop around the campsite and found that there was no availability. This came as no surprise since it was a Friday night and campsites in Colorado tend to fill up quickly. As we exited, we did not find any signs that indicated parking along the road was prohibited. We didn’t have a tent to set up, so we parked in front of the information sign and quickly jumped inside of Bear. Falling asleep was an easy task and before we knew it, sunlight was beaming through the windows waking us up for the day.

We woke up around 7 AM and opened up the back of the trailer to make breakfast. While we grubbed on freshly made breakfast burritos and hot coffee, a camper on her way out stopped by to let us know that she was leaving for the day and that we should snag her campsite. I grabbed Riley and we quickly ran over to the vacant campsite while Clayton headed over to the camp host to pay for the spot. As soon as we arrived at the site, a car pulled up and asked if we were taking the spot. I apologized to the woman, but I was also thankful we got there a minute before her! Sprinting to the campsite sure paid off!

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Where we parked for the night.
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Breakfast burritos with “meat” and eggs in a spicy tortilla.

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Once we got settled, we met our campsite neighbor who told us there was a back entrance to RMNP that has access to several trails. We decided to head that way and found there was no entrance fee. We found a full parking lot of hikers and tourist, and a couple rangers that welcomed us into the park. When we talked to the rangers, they informed us that dogs are not allowed in the park and that we had to leave Jack in the car. That sure put a damper on our plans.

We decided we didn’t want to leave Jack, so we drove back out to the highway and found a trail just outside of RMNP. The Tahosa Valley Trail followed right along the National Park boundary and unfortunately, the National Park had the better trails and views. As beautiful as the scenery was, the trail followed right along Highway 7 which didn’t make for ideal hiking conditions. The last thing I want to hear while hiking is cars passing by.  As we hiked for about an hour, the trail eventually turned away from the road and began to incline towards the mountains. By this time, I had lost my motivation to continue on and the idea of a nap sounded better. We headed back to Olive Ridge where I immediately headed over to the hammock and fell asleep. By the time I woke up, it was time for dinner and smores by the fire. The day didn’t turn out as we had planned, but it was still a very good day.

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Since we were forced to change our hiking plans because of Jack, we decided the following day would be dedicated to sightseeing through RMNP. We woke up around 9, ran around the campsite and rode our bikes. We left the campground around 11 AM and drove to the Estes Park main entrance into RMNP.

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Some points of interest to look out for when heading towards Estes Park is Chapel on the Rock and The Stanley Hotel. Chapel on the Rock is located in Allenspark right along Highway 7. In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited and blessed the chapel. There were pictures of the Pope located inside and we found that pretty exciting. As we drove through Estes towards RMNP, we passed the famous Stanley Hotel which is known for it’s paranormal activity and inspiring Stephen King to write “The Shining”. Although everyone told us we had to visit The Stanley and do a ghost tour, there were just too many people! I asked Clayton to pull over so that I could take a quick photo of the hotel. A tour of The Stanley would have to wait for another day, preferably on a weekday!

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The Stanley

We spent the next few hours driving through the park on Trail Ridge Road (one of America’s most scenic drives) and stopping at the various pull outs to look at the view and take photos. The park was extremely packed because it was the weekend. We often found ourselves behind a long line of cars and having difficulty finding parking at the pullouts and at the gift shops. As we started to make our descent through the end of the park, we also started getting really hungry. Luckily, we found a large picnic area that was completely empty. Since we had the whole parking lot to ourselves, we parked and set up our chairs. It was so quiet, peaceful, and scenic. Just the perfect place to have lunch.  After about an hour, we packed up and continued our way out of the park. Lucky for us, just as we approached the exit, we saw elk grazing in the field. When we exited, we found ourselves in Grand Lake. We were in complete awe by the lake and the Aspens. How lucky were we to experience the “gold rush”. Fall in Colorado is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had!

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Grand Lake

Overall, a scenic and relaxing weekend. Although our plans for strenuous hikes and exploration through the forest didn’t go as planned, I actually enjoyed the change of pace. I was grateful for the beautiful views, and the opportunity for quality time and relaxation with the boys. My advice if you plan on visiting RMNP: make camping reservations, visit in the fall, and leave the dogs at home.

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Conundrum Hot Springs

Our very first hot springs experience was at Conundrum Hot Springs in Aspen. Conundrum Hot Springs is the highest elevation natural hot springs in North America sitting at an elevation of 11, 200 feet. The only way to access the hot springs is by hiking the 8.5 miles up through the Maroon Bells-Snow Mass Wilderness. With an elevation gain of about 2,700 feet over 8.5 miles, we figured what an amazing way to experience our first hot spring! A challenging hike paired with camping and relaxing hot water sounded like a dream.

We left Colorado Springs at 11:00 PM and started our 3 hour drive towards Aspen. As usual, we had no idea where we were spending the night. Our hope was to find a campground or a parking lot by a trailhead where we could park Bear (our teardrop trailer) and sleep. Around 1:30 we started to pass several campgrounds and decided to turn in to Lostman Campground in the White River National Forest. We saw a sign stating that a bear canister was required, but we weren’t planning on renting one until the next day. We pulled into a campsite and snuggled Riley in his sleeping bag while I gathered all of the food we had and did my best to hide it from any potential bears. In the pitch darkness with only one flashlight, I gathered the apples, cereal bars, apple sauce and granola, and tightly wrapped it inside a reusable grocery bag. While trying to fit the bag under the seat of the car, I decided to also throw in a little prayer and asked God for some protection. Since we came to the campground unprepared, I didn’t want us to be the reason our campground got a visit from some hungry/curious bears.

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Falling asleep was an easy task since both Clayton and I had work the day before. We must have had amazing sleep because as we struggled to wake up, we checked our phones to find that it was 8:45 in the morning. We slowly got up, changed our clothes, and packed our backpacks while Riley sat in the truck and ate a couple cereal bars. It was past 10 o’clock when we arrived in downtown Aspen and looked for a store to rent a bear canister from. We found Ute Mountaineer, rented the canister for $13, and headed towards the trailhead for the hot springs.

We left downtown, headed towards the mountains, and drove down the narrow Conundrum road. The parking lot at the trailhead was very small, so Clayton parked towards the end where the truck and Bear didn’t intrude on anyone else’s parking space. We carefully packed our bear canister with food, put on our backpacks, and headed towards the trail. This was the first time I carried around 20 pounds on my back. Typically, I rely on Clayton to carry everything while I carry a small bag with snacks and water. For this trip, I had to carry my own weight and once I put my pack on, I knew this was going to be the hardest 17 miles I’ve ever done.

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The first half of the hike started off pretty smooth. There were slight inclines here and there, then we’d reach a long stretch of flat ground in a valley filled with wildflowers. We crossed a couple bridges, crossed streams and creeks, and encountered a few animals. While we were walking through one valley, I looked to the side of the mountain and saw a black bear about 100 yards from us, lying in the grass. The only black bear experience we’ve ever had was a drive through Bearizona, so this was epic. I felt the bear was in a safe enough distance so I started yelling “bear, look it’s a bear!!” That’s when the bear perked up, looked in our direction, then started running the other way. I felt a little bad for ruining the bear’s relaxation, but boy, Riley was so excited to see him.

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As we continued on, we encountered a large boulder field that was a big pain in the ass to cross over. I found it difficult to maneuver around the rocks while carrying a large pack and holding the camera. I watched Riley cross over the boulders with no assistance and my anxiety began to rise as I pictured him falling between the rocks. As I yelled over to Riley reminding him to be careful, we looked up and saw 2 moose grazing in a field about 30 yards from us. They were amazing and so large, and they didn’t pay any attention to us. As we passed the moose, I stood on a log sitting in the creek we were attempting to cross, and tried to get a picture. I didn’t have much luck zooming in, but it was definitely exciting to see.

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Without any mile markers or signs, we started to wonder how much longer we had to go. Every person we passed had a different sense of how far they had travelled. We soon realized we couldn’t rely on the estimate of others, so we trekked on watching the hours pass and feeling like we were not making much progress. When we had about a mile to go (we didn’t know we were that close at the time), Riley started to give up. It got to a point where about every 10 minutes, he would force us to sit and he would lay on our laps and close his eyes. I welcomed the breaks since the weight on my back was starting to take a toll on me, but we nervously looked at our watches and realized we were racing daylight.

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Riley was frustrated with us because we refused to carry him. As much as I wanted to relieve my child of his tiredness, it was physically impossible for us to pick him up since I had 20 pounds on my back and Clayton was carrying over 40 pounds. We continued to empathize with Riley when suddenly Clayton slipped and fell on mud covered rocks which in turn scared Riley who was holding onto Clayton’s hand. Riley burst into tears and I announced to Clayton that we had to let our little guy rest. We consoled Riley and agreed on 15 more minutes. Wherever we were in 15 minutes, we would set up camp and find the hot springs in the morning. Luckily, as we approached 15 minutes, we saw the first tent. Hallelujah! Seven hours later, we reached the first camp site.

Taking off my backpack was the most glorious feeling. We set up the tent and while Clayton organized our camp area, Riley and I quickly pulled out our sleeping bags and snuggled while eating all the snacks within reach. It was getting late and it was still a half a mile to the hot springs. Part of me didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag, but the thought of sitting in the hot springs and relaxing my aching body sounded too good to pass up. After laying for about 30 minutes, we gathered our swim suits and headed towards the hot springs. When we arrived, we found the main pool was filled with several people, most of the folks were clearly under the influence (this is Colorado), but they didn’t bother us. Honestly, we’d rather we share the pool with a bunch of relaxed stoners than rowdy drunk people. We sat in the 100 degree pool and felt our muscles relax. I tried my best to hold in my laughter as I listened to several philosophical questions get passed around from person to person. One guy was seriously asking people if they liked the sun or the moon better, and the reasons for their choices.

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After about 30 minutes, we reluctantly got out of the hot springs. The mountain air was so cold so I dressed myself first then pulled Riley out of the water to dress him as fast as I could. We headed back to our campsite in the dark which turned out to be an adventure in itself. It pretty much consisted of crossing a high narrow bridge in pure darkness, crossing an incredibly muddy creek where we lost our footing and got foul smelling mud all over our feet, we then reached a really cold stream where I bent down to wash Clayton’s feet and ended up sitting in the cold water, getting my entire backside wet. Regardless of those mishaps, we were so tired, it didn’t matter. When we got back to the tent, we found that Riley’s camelback had leaked and one end of our sleeping bags were soaked. This then led to an entire night of sleeping with wet feet.

Since we didn’t have the best night sleep, we welcomed the morning with open arms and slowly got ready, ate breakfast, and packed up camp. We decided to have everything ready to go so that after another soak in the hot springs, we’d be set to start the 8.5 miles back to the car. When we arrived at the hot springs, we found only 4 people who had been there since early morning. After about half an hour of sharing the springs, we finally had the whole place to ourselves. The mountain views were just incredible and it was surreal to be sitting in hot water at tree line in the mountains. I told Clayton I never wanted to leave and Riley shared the same feelings. As expected, we had a little difficulty convincing Riley to get out of the water.

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He finally agreed to go, so we dressed him and headed back to our camping area where we left our backpacks. The hike back wasn’t as difficult and we definitely made better time. It helped that we were hiking mostly downhill, leaving behind that 2,700 ft gain. As we made our way back, Riley announced that he wanted pizza, so it was the thought of devouring pizza that helped keep up the pace. This time, there were no tears from Riley. He hiked back like a champ with only a few reminders that he was tired. When I saw the Aspen trees that surrounded the trailhead and parking lot, it was like I had just witnessed a miracle. I felt like I had been walking in the desert and finally found a well full of water. Seeing those cars was the most glorious site. I was walking in front of Clayton and Riley when I turned around and yelled “Thank God!” I just really wanted to take off my boots and eat pizza.

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We headed back to downtown Aspen, returned the bear canister, parked the truck and Bear, and walked to the nearest pizza place. We devoured a veggie pizza, and Riley was thrilled to get his pizza and sprite, just as he requested. We talked about our exhaustion, our tired feet, and how bruised our hips felt from our backpacks. That conversation then turned into “so what should we do next?” It’s in those moments that we realize, this is what we live for. Our lives revolve around taking the opportunity to experience God’s creation, challenging our bodies physically, and immersing ourselves in nature while enjoying each other’s company. This is what makes us feel alive and helps us appreciate what life is really about. And Riley… Riley if you ever read this when you grow up, you are absolutely amazing. There was not one other kid on that trail, and even when you wanted to quit, you kept going. We are so proud of you, bubs. Sometimes I look at your little legs and wonder how you do it. You are truly an inspiration and I hope others recognize that too.

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Home Built Teardrop Trailer: Our First Camping Trip With Bear

We’d like to take the opportunity to introduce another member of our family. His name is Bear and he is our home built teardrop trailer. Clayton has been working on Bear off and on since July 2014. The initial plan was to build Bear and take him out on his first road trip through Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. In December of last year, we decided to move to Colorado which in turn halted our road trip plans and the continuation of building Bear. While making our move to Colorado in February of this year,  unfinished Bear made the trip from Arizona and his finishing touches were put on hold due to the cold Colorado winter. When the weather began to warm up, Clayton started slowly working on Bear again. This past weekend, we put Riley’s full size mattress inside, loaded it up with sleeping bags and food, and took Bear on his first camping trip.

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After this camping test run, Clayton fitted Bear with bigger tires and a diamond plated sheet on the front area. Bear looks a bit more aggressive now, but we still have a lot of work to do. The walls need insulation and Clayton is currently working on building cabinets for the kitchen area. Even though Bear is unfinished, we had an amazing time camping and we’re incredibly excited to bring him on more adventures. Here is a look at our camping trip outside Woodland Park, our mini hike to Rampart Reservoir, and our night primitive camping outside of Deckers with Bear!

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We made our way towards Woodland Park Friday night after Clayton got off work. With no plans on where we were going to camp, I figured we’d just wing it once we pulled into town. Since Woodland Park is only 20 minutes up the road, it didn’t seem too difficult to figure out a place to park and camp in the woods nearby. Once we got into town, we turned onto highway 67, headed about 10 miles north to Rainbow Falls Rd and found ourselves among other people who were primitive camping. We maneuvered our way through the dark road and eventually found an open spot not too far away from a small RV. We settled in as quietly as we could and for the first time in our lives, we jumped out of the truck and straight into the trailer. Since we’ve become pros at setting up our tent in the dark, it was kind of cool to just jump in the trailer and go straight to bed!

Before we fell asleep, we talked about how awesome the trailer is and how there was a slight downside to not being able to see the stars like we do from our tent. As I dozed off, I thought about how impressed I was with my husband. What started out as an idea has now become reality, and we were spending the night in something that he worked so hard on. This trailer was built from the ground up and I couldn’t help but be proud of him.

We woke up that morning during golden hour. I’m not sure what time it was exactly, but I can still picture the golden light shining on the pine trees and the mountains. In a nearby field, we saw several deer walking through the grass. We stayed in our sleeping bags while staring at the pine trees and taking in the fresh air. Riley woke up smiling from ear to ear. He told us how happy he was and how much he loved the trailer. We headed back to Woodland Park to grab a quick breakfast then headed to Rampart Reservoir. Rampart Reservoir is one of our favorite places to spend the day since it’s beautiful and so close to home.

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We love bringing the hammock on hikes!

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After relaxing by the lake, we quickly rushed back to Colorado Springs since Clayton had to return to work. After dropping him off, Riley and I headed back home where we showered and grabbed some clothes and food for another night of camping. At around 11, we headed back to Clayton and made our way past Woodland Park. Once again, we had no idea where we were going. We continued to drive on the 67 until we reached the town of Deckers. It was pitch black and there was no one around this tiny town with only one store and one restaurant. We pulled over to the side of the road and looked around for any signs of a campground, but had no luck.

As we continued to drive, we saw a sign for Lone Rock Campground. Thinking we had finally found a place to rest for the night, we were quickly disappointed to find a sign that said “campground full”. Feeling completely exhausted, I suggested we keep driving up the road, and before we knew it, there was a marvelous brown sign on the side of the road with a tent on it.

We turned on a dirt road and saw a sign for Flying G Ranch and several other sites. I honestly can’t remember the names of everything because it was so dark and I started to feel a bit anxious. We slowly made our way up this bumpy dirt road and the pure darkness started to make my imagination run wild. I thought about everything from Big Foot to ghosts to a big cliff waiting to pull us down on my side of the road. My fears started to creep into nagging comments towards Clayton reminding him to drive carefully. Finally, I felt a bit of relief when I saw a campfire in the distance. We eventually reached a fork in the road where we encountered other campers enjoying the night. Once again maneuvering our way through the dark, we found a spot to camp and quickly fell asleep.

I woke up around sunrise to find that Clayton had been up since dawn taking pictures of the view. My most favorite thing about finding a campsite in the dark is not knowing what the view will be like when we wake up! As I expected, the view did not disappoint. After waking up and getting ready, we decided to make our way back to Deckers to check out the little restaurant that we passed the night before. We ended up having breakfast and beer on the patio right by the highway. It was such a cool little town, and the mountain air and scenery was perfect.

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Riley and I are still asleep.

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Breakfast and beer in Deckers.

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We were thrilled with our first camping trip with Bear. This mini camping trip reminded us of how lucky we are to be living in Colorado and how cool it is to have the wilderness so close to home. I was also reminded of how amazing Clayton is and how as a family, whenever we focus on accomplishing something, we’re always able to reach our goals. As I’m typing this right now, we are getting ready to leave for another adventure with Bear. This time we’re going a little further and we’re so excited to leave tonight! I can’t wait to share it with you all on the next post!

Mt. Elbert

Our first attempt to summit Mt. Elbert and climb our second 14’er was quite an adventure. Mt. Elbert sits at 14,440 feet claiming it’s place as the highest peak in Colorado and the second highest peak in the lower 48. We took the opportunity to climb Elbert on a Sunday morning since Clayton miraculously happened to have the day off. Since moving to Colorado, we’ve had completely opposite work schedules, making it nearly impossible to go on day trips and big hikes. On Saturday, I was in charge of packing our gear, loading up the car, and taking a nap so I could drive the 2 and a half hours to the campsite from Colorado Springs. We picked Clayton up from work and left the Springs around 11:00 PM. We made it to the campsite past 1 in the morning and found ourselves among tents and RV’s with people still awake and sitting around their campfires. We set up camp quickly, bundled Riley up in his sleeping bag, and set our clocks for 5:30 AM. The plan was to get up, eat breakfast, and leave as soon as possible. It’s common knowledge for those who hike 14’ers that you need to start early, typically around sunrise so you can start hiking down by noon to avoid thunderstorms. Well, apparently we enjoyed our sleep too much, that things didn’t quite go according to plan.

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The alarm went off at 5:30, I slept another 30 minutes and climbed out of the tent, then Clayton followed. We peaked our heads in the tent every few minutes and gently called Riley’s name. He didn’t budge. After several attempts to wake him, nothing seemed to work. The kid loves camping and he looked incredibly comfortable snuggled in his sleeping bag. Fast forward an hour, we have Riley up and we’re packing away the tent. We drove a couple miles up a dirt road from our campsite and parked about a quarter mile from the upper trailhead to the South Mt. Elbert trail. At 8:15 we finally started our hike, over 2 hours behind schedule.

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Aspen trees.

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Roundtrip from the upper trailhead is 7.6 miles. The trailhead sits at 10,440 feet with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet to the summit. The first few minutes of the trail began with a slight climb then a very steep hill welcomed us several minutes into the hike. The trail doesn’t level out until after tree line which contributed to a very intense, heart pumping experience for the first half.

In the beginning, we were engulfed in a forest of aspen trees. The colors, the smell, the beauty surrounding us was overwhelming. As we climbed higher, the aspen became shorter until they disappeared. We soon found ourselves amongst a few pine trees before we reached tree line. As the trail slightly leveled and we were no longer surrounded by trees, the sight of the wildflowers was a treat in itself. Bright colors of yellow, purple, pink, and white covered the side of the mountain. I mentioned to Clayton how I felt like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. I just wanted to prance around the side of the mountain while singing about my favorite things.

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These are a few of my favorite things.

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Riley enjoyed the sights and started the hike with a ton of enthusiasm, but after we reached tree line, he started to lose motivation. He complained that his feet hurt and that he was hungry, yet he didn’t want to eat. He asked to stop for water breaks several times, sat on every rock he encountered, and stopped about 5 times to pee along the side of the trail. He also became very obsessed with his heartbeat, asking us to stop and feel his chest everytime he felt it work a little harder. The frequent stops along with the late start caused a bit of anxiety for me and Clayton. We knew that time and weather was not on our side.

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Riley decided this was a good place to rest.

As we began to approach the summit, dark clouds began to hover over us and the wind suddenly turned bitterly cold. We put our jackets on as unexpected snow flurries fell over our heads. We spoke to a nice man hiking down in the opposite direction and asked how long it took him to get to the summit from where we were standing. He answered, “about 40 minutes, but I was moving pretty slow.” We continued to climb for another 15 minutes until the flurries became worse. Heavy rain could be seen in the distance and the entire summit was engulfed in a big cloud. We stopped about 30 minutes from the summit, realizing that we couldn’t go on. We tossed around the idea of carrying Riley to the top so we could make it up faster and be able to say that we bagged another peak.

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Cairns
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Riley finally agreed to eat an apple.

It was past noon and we had been hiking for almost 4 hours. A part of me wanted to continue because we were so close, but the other part of me was terrified of becoming a lightning rod and it wasn’t worth the risk of putting ourselves and Riley in danger. We decided that instead of hiking up another 30 minutes, we would sit and rest before making our descent. The flurries turned into a hard downpour of rain and we knew we had to move fast down the mountain. Clayton carried Riley as we quickly made our way back to tree line. Riley, exhausted and bundled up in his warm jacket, fell asleep in Clayton’s arms for a few minutes. When we reached the pines, we sat under a tree and waited for the rain the lighten up. As soon as we saw a small break in the sky, we quickly made our way back to the aspen trees.

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Rainfall in the background.

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A very exhausted Riley and mom in front of the beautiful view.
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We hoped for a family photo at the summit, but this was okay too!

By this time, Riley showed us that his motivation was back as he jumped down rocks and asked to take pictures. I was relieved to see some spark in Riley again. Over 6 hours after the start of our hike, we found ourselves back at our car. We were tired, but not completely exhausted. Although we were unable to reach the summit, there was a feeling of content since the hike was not only challenging, but incredibly beautiful. It was also gratifying to know that it was the weather, a circumstance out of our control, that contributed to our inability to reach the summit, and not a lack of motivation.

We were also so proud of Riley. Despite the complaints he had when we reached tree line, he showed determination and strength as his little legs climbed up that mountain. We continue to remind ourselves that with hikes this difficult, any person of any age (including myself) will show a variety of emotions while accomplishing something this challenging. Our 4 year old’s emotions during these physical challenges are completely normal. Riley continues to amaze us and other hikers especially since he was, once again, the youngest hiker on the trail.

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Riley got his energy back for pictures.
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First order of business: take off hiking boots.
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Peanut butter straight from the jar for a protein packed after hike snack.

Our plan for our next attempt at Elbert is to hike until tree line and camp, then continue to the summit on the next day. We saw tents around this area and thought it was a great idea especially with Riley who has a hard time waking up early. Overall, Mt. Elbert is a 14’er we’ll definitely find ourselves climbing again. Even though we didn’t make it to the peak, I’d say it was a successful hike and an experience we’ll always remember.

Largest Dinosaur track site in North America

I first heard about the dinosaur track site from a co-worker who mentioned that it would be something Riley would enjoy. As she described her experience at the site, it consisted of a guided tour and 4×4 vehicles. I thought it was a cool idea, but had my hesitations about the tour guide. Tours tend to be expensive and I don’t like depending on others to guide my adventure. Regardless of my hesitations, I knew it would be something Riley would love, so I quickly did a google search and found out something we would all love. There was a hiking trail! The Picketwire Canyon trail could take us straight to the dinosaur tracks and I immediately knew that this hike was going to be awesome.

The drive from Colorado Springs to La Junta is around 1 hour and 45 minutes. Once we reached the town, it was still a bit of a drive to get to the trail head. It was also a little confusing because there weren’t any signs that said something like “trail to dinosaur tracks.” Some info would have been helpful!

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Finding our way was a bit confusing, but the biggest mistake we made was taking our sweet time to get there. I must have not been paying attention to the details of the trail, or maybe I was just really excited, but the entire time I kept thinking it was only a 2-3 mile hike from the trailhead to the site. When we reach the trailhead, the sign stated over 5 miles to the track site, and it was already after 2 PM. We stood there for a few minutes discussing whether or not we should go. I was pretty upset with myself for not leaving earlier, but we were already there, so we decided to just go for it and if we didn’t make it, we could always come back!

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Along the way, there are other points of interest on the trail such as the petroglyphs on the rocks, an old cemetery, and the Dolores Mission. We were pretty much hauling ass at the beginning of the hike. I was so concerned about the time, I kept picturing ourselves hiking out there in the dark, and it was not a comforting thought. We kept reminding Riley that we might not make it to the dinosaurs and that reminder was not welcomed. He insisted that we keep going because he wasn’t leaving without seeing what we promised him. My heart ached a little thinking of the possibility of breaking a promise. So we continued… and we continued at a very fast pace.

Before we knew it, we had passed the cemetery and the Mission, so we had no choice but to keep pushing forward. The weather was constantly changing. We started the hike with rainfall in the distance, then the beating sun came out, then the clouds returned and gusts of wind were pushing us off our path. I recommend bringing warm clothes, rain gear and a backpack to hold all those clothes to anyone who hikes this trail. I’ve never seen such inconsistency in weather in such a short amount of time.

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It’s easier for Riley to keep up when we he follows with a stick.

The last 2 miles felt terrible. I think it may have been because we were moving so fast. We didn’t take any time to stop and take in the sights because we were so focused on our goal and the time constraint. But at last, we made it! And it was glorious! We had the entire place to ourselves, so we quickly sat down and pulled out the camera and food. As we sat and ate, the wind became stronger and colder, and we could see intense rain fall coming in our direction. As happy as we were to make it, we were a little bummed that we couldn’t spend more time to enjoy and explore the entire track site. After resting for 30 minutes, we quickly packed up and headed out to avoid getting rained on.

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The hike back was hard. We moved at a much slower pace, but still didn’t have time for breaks since we had to make it before dark. Out of the 11 miles, Riley rode on Clayton’s shoulders for around 3 miles. He did amazing, but he was exhausted. Towards the end, he just couldn’t walk anymore and asked to take off his boots. My poor guy had some intense blisters on his feet which was a bit surprising because he didn’t complain much.

We made it back to the car past 7 PM. We were wiped out and relieved that we had made it back before dark. We were greeted at the car with a beautiful sunset which helped keep our minds off of our aching feet. When we got back to La Junta city limits, we hit up the taco bell drive thru and ordered every vegetarian item they had. We’re not usually big on fast food, but in that moment, it was the most delicious meal!

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Handlebars and Hiking

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Overall, a great and tiring adventure. If we decide to make another trip out there, we’ll probably stay at the camp site right before the trailhead. I’d like another chance to take in the sights and explore all 1300 dinosaur prints. Maybe next time we could reenact some parts from Jurassic World. I think Riley would like that.

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Pre Taco Bell sunset

Great Sand Dunes National Park

I’ve heard many awesome things about the sand dunes here in Colorado. After Riley got his hands on a free map of our state and repeatedly asked to go to the dunes while pointing at it on the map, we realized we needed to go. The Great Sand Dune National Park and Preserve is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo range. Spending a day at the dunes is definitely worth the almost 3 hour drive from Colorado Springs.

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We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at the park. We paid the small $7 entrance fee and once I saw those dunes, I immediately regretted the decision of not camping. We brought our hiking books, a change of clothes, a beach towel and our swim suits, but we didn’t bring our tent. Terrible decision!

After we parked, we headed towards the dunes and saw several people dressed in their bathing suits. We had to cross Medano Creek which had some areas of really fast moving water. I was surprised at how I had to focus on keeping my balance in the fast moving creek. Riley, on the other hand, was incredibly excited and welcomed the fast currents with laughter and smiles.

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After we passed the creek, we hiked towards one of the highest peaks of the dunes. At that moment, I completely forgot how hard it is to walk through sand. As we walked along the sand and climbed up the hill, my heart was pounding and my back was soon drenched in sweat. I had to take several breaks because I thought my heart would explode. Luckily, I had the excuse to take pictures along the way, so it made for productive breaks.

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When we got to the top, we were drained and exhausted, but the view was worth it. What an amazing sight being on top of a giant sand dune while looking at beautiful snow capped mountains. The view was stunning and bewildering at the same time. I kept asking, “how is this possible?” Standing there and taking in the sights makes one realize how absolutely amazing nature is. Our world has an assortment of amazing things to see and how lucky were we to witness this!

Once we reached the top, a photo shoot was obviously due. Storm clouds began to approach and in the distance we could see rain pouring on the plains. In addition to the rain, thunder began to rumble and bolts of lightning became apparent. Other visitors began making their way down, so it was also our cue to get the heck out of there and avoid becoming a lightning rod. We took pictures quickly and ran down the dunes a hundred times quicker than it took us to go up.

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Look at the rain!
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I spy Clayton (on the left) and Riley (on the right) .

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As we made our way down, we still planned on taking a swim through Medano Creek. Unfortunately, as the storm rolled through, the wind became unbearably cold and the creek water suddenly turned very chilly. Riley was bummed about our change of plans, but we promised we would be back, and we definitely will.

Next time we’ll plan on camping. I read the stars are pretty amazing at night. We’ll also plan on hiking the highest dune at an early time so we can spend the rest of the afternoon swimming in the creek before the thunderstorms roll through. Overall, an extremely cool place that I could visit again and again. Riley is already asking to go back!

Our first 14’er, Mt. Democrat.

We hiked our first 14’er, Mt. Democrat, this past weekend. I could fast forward to the end of the hike where we rejoiced and took pictures with delighted smiles on our faces… or I could just be honest and tell the story from the very beginning. When I imagined this hike, I imagined something less strenuous. I think I heard 2 and a half miles up and ran with the idea. Less than 3 miles can’t be that hard?! But it was.

Maybe if the circumstances were different, we may have had a smoother start. My husband never gets weekends off, so when he found out his weekend schedule was the following: off at 11:00 pm Friday night and back to work at 4:30 pm Saturday, he thought it was a glorious plan to hike our first 14’er between those hours.

We left Colorado Springs at 11:30 and made the almost 2 hour drive to Kite Lake. We did our best to set up our tent in the darkness and picked a spot on a slope on top of some sharp scattered rocks. Little did we know we were only a few feet away from soft, muddy grass which would have made for a better night sleep… but in that moment, we were tired and I had no motivation to look for a better spot in the dark.

When daylight hit, all the campers awakened and started up the mountain. I barely slept during the night, but of course, once the sun came up, I finally fell into a deep deep sleep. I woke up to my husband yelling at me to “PLEASE, get up”. Unwillingly, I grabbed my stuff and started the car to crank the heater up while I got dressed. I really hate the cold.

Waking up was hard for me, but it was even harder for Riley. He pretty much woke up on the wrong side of the tent. I dressed him in the warm car and did my best to get him pumped at 6:30 in the morning, but he was not having it. I should have known that waking up a grumpy four year old and making him climb a mountain over 14,ooo feet would not be a good start to the morning.

Fast forward 45 minutes, we’re stopped on the trail because Riley is crying his little eyes out. The sun has barely hit the top of the mountains, so the beginning of the trail is windy and cold. I admit, I was frustrated. Riley is an amazing hiker and can handle the cold better than me, so watching him cry and complain slightly hit a nerve. I was caught between frustrated and guilty which made me realize that we need to suck it up and go back to the car; this hike was not happening. As Riley sat on a rock with red cheeks and a stuffy nose, I asked him if he wanted to stop hiking and go back to the car. Surprisingly, in between sobs he said “no, I want to go up the mountain.” What in the hell?! My frustration and guilt suddenly turned into pride. My kid is a flippin bad ass.

I decided it was best to stay behind with Riley and let my husband and the dog hike ahead. Riley snapped out of his bad mood, and once we felt the warmth of the sun, our motivation to continue the hike grew. Along the way, we had to make a couple pit stops. We hiked off to the side behind the biggest rock we could find so Riley could pee, then 20 minutes later it was an urgent request to take a poop. Yup, a few hikers saw my kid taking a dump along the trail. I guess when nature calls you gotta answer, especially if you’re 4!

The hike itself really isn’t bad until you start approaching the saddle. Occasionally, there were big gusts of wind where I slightly feared I’d get blown off the side of the mountain. We had to maneuver through these giant rocks while several people are hiking down and around us. I kept my eyes on the ground to make sure I was stepping on rocks that wouldn’t slide and making sure I had a good hold on Riley. As people hiked down, I had to be aware of people and sliding rocks coming towards us. I’m really surprised we didn’t see any injuries in that area.

When we got to the false summit, I had a mini tantrum of my own. I think I threw a couple F bombs at the actual peak and also announced that I didn’t care to reach the top because I was probably at 14,000 feet already anyways! Well, fortunately, I did care. I was tired and I wasn’t leaving until I got to the top. We began to approach the summit and Riley was delighted to walk in the snow. At this point, I felt exhausted and defeated, but Riley ran ahead of me and was incredibly excited to get to the top of the mountain.

The views and my son’s enthusiasm is what made this whole thing worth it. When we got to the top, several people congratulated Riley with high fives and fist bumps. Many couldn’t believe that he hiked the entire thing. Yeah, my kid is definitely a bad ass.

And those views… pretty amazing. It’s incredible seeing those mountains and not seeing a soul, a city, anything for miles and miles. Just pure wilderness. It was in that moment that I felt so free, so alive, and so close to God. We live in a beautiful world, and I got to see it at 14,148 feet with my 2 favorite people.

And that folks, was our first 14’er. I can’t wait for the next one!!

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Handmade signs left by other hikers to help capture the moment!

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Clayton and Jack made it to the summit way before us!