Denver and Colorado Springs

Denver

We drove to Ali Baba Grill straight from the airport. It was 5 minutes away from our hotel. After fully satisfying our hunger, we drove to the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, where we stayed for my mom’s four days of conferences. I imagined the hotel as the type of hotel with a small lobby, a couple of floors, and big conference rooms. Nope. The Hyatt was a pleasant surprise. The staff checked us in quickly and gave us some general information. To the right of the hotel doors is Perks, a small café with Starbucks drinks, grab-and-go food (egg/cheese/bacon bagel sandwiches, club sandwiches, cookies), and small gifts. Towards the back of the lobby are the elevators, a lounge area with TVs, an indoor pool, and a little fitness center. Our room was nice and had a large window that let in good light during the day*.

* One thing I noticed while in Denver is that the sun is out at 5am. If you are not a morning person, be prepared for this. I usually wake up whenever the sun comes out, which is around 7:00am here in Florida. Despite this, the extra hours of daylight were great because we used that time to drive to places more than an hour away and, when we arrived to those places, it was still early.

Denver seemed mostly residential and had a few nice restaurants. I loved seeing bunnies everywhere. As for downtown Denver, I was not impressed by anything in particular. The Downtown Aquarium was average, but its Marine Biologist for a Day program is so useful and lots of fun. If I’m ever back in Denver, I would like to have an ice cream at Little Man ice cream.

Colorado Springs: Long Time No See

Since Colorado Springs is only a 50 minute drive from Denver, it was on our itinerary for this trip to Colorado. My family and I had not been to Colorado Springs in 15 years!

On the highway from Denver to Colorado Springs, we stopped at the Castle Rock outlets. What a great experience compared to the outlets here in Florida. These outlets were not packed– we saw about 10 people in total– and had lots of popular stores (Nike, Gap, the North Face, Columbia, Nine West, Guess, etc.). The outlets are small, so it doesn’t take long to walk by all the stores there. Later on in the drive to Colorado Springs, you can see the Air Force base’s football stadiums and drones. There is an exit where you can get off for a closer look, but we kept driving. The Olympic Training Center is in the same area. According to a friend of ours who lives in Denver, the center has great tours for free and cool Team USA t-shirts. If you don’t want a tour, at least drive by it (maybe on the way back to Denver).

Colorado Springs is home to several of Colorado’s main attractions, so expect to see tourists in some places. With that in mind, here is a list of places to visit when you’re in the Springs:

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: It takes a whole day to see everything at this zoo. For my family, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was well worth the time we spent there. I may have been a year old the last time I visited this zoo, but I still remember my experience with the orangutans and giraffes. Because of this, the first animals I wanted to see at the zoo were the giraffes. Pay $2 to feed them crackers; it’s awesome. The reason why it’s so worth it is that the zoo has a great selection of animals: emu, elephants, lemurs, rhinos, a moose, orangutans, and even a grizzly bear. And how many people can say they’ve pet a newborn wallaby? Not many. The zoo is great for young children, too: ice cream and popcorn are sold throughout the park and kids have a blast on the merry-go-round/at the playground.
To give you a better idea of the quality of the zoo: When we arrived, there was a longer line to buy memberships than there was to buy one day tickets.
Anyway, if you get the chance, ask a zoo employee about the Will Rogers Shrine. Last month we saw it, but we somehow got lost trying to get there.

Red Rock Canyon: This is a nice and quiet place to go for a walk. Right behind Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon is considered Garden of the Gods for locals. We had a fun time rock climbing here and also saw a deer and a fox family. If you go, try catching a show at the Red Rock Amphitheater.

Cave of the Winds: The cave itself is kind of small but Denver locals frequent it because of the great tours. Yes, I am recommending a tour. We took the Discovery Tour with a young man named Joshua. He took a great family photo of us that we ended up purchasing, and he explained the history of the cave/each of its formations in-depth. There were stalagmites and stalactites as well as ‘cave bacon’ and rocks in the shape of people praying. A couple of things you should know before deciding to visit the cave: if you’re tall, be prepared to duck; if you’re not somewhat fit, be prepared to suck it in– there are one or two tight passageways in the cave; if your child has a severe fear of the dark, consider taking them on the Cave of the Winds Bat-a-pult ride or outdoor obstacle course (at one point, Joshua turned off all of the lights in the cave so we could experience the darkness encountered by the cave’s founder– it was really neat, though). This way, no one will feel left out.

CityROCK: CityRock is a 3-story indoor climbing gym. It’s great for anyone wanting to do something fun indoors. Downstairs is where you go to top-rope and climb tall walls. A great exercise. On the main floor, there are two areas for bouldering. Bouldering is rock climbing closer to the floor, so it’s good for people who are afraid of heights. The cool thing about the bouldering areas is that when you get to the top, the only way to get down is by a slide. Yes, adults, too. Also on the main floor are two slacklines and some pull-up bars. The third floor is mainly for climbers to train. Overall, CityROCK is a fun way to get some exercise. I love that it is air conditioned and doesn’t smell like chalk or sweaty feet!

Crystal Park Cantina: I found this Mexican restaurant on Yelp after a morning of climbing outdoors. My stomach was empty and I saw that it was rated four stars, so my family and I made our way there. Hidden in a neighborhood, this family owned restaurant is wonderful. The Mexican was food was authentic but unique from others due to the high quality of the ingredients used–fresh onions and real yellow rice makes a big difference in Mexican dishes. If you have the chance to eat here, don’t leave without ordering the Bollito, homemade vanilla ice cream topped with toasted coconut. I’m not a fan of coconut, but I feel like it was yesterday that we shared this dessert, I remember it so clearly.

Commercialized Attractions of Colorado: By including the world commercialized in this section, I don’t mean to give the following attractions a negative connotation. I just want to advise you that each of the places listed below is a popular tourist destination, so it probably doesn’t look the same as it did when it first opened.

Garden of the Gods, the park of orange rock formations often seen in commercials, is nice to drive through. It is best to go early in the morning. At the Garden, you can see rock formations shaped like Giant Footprints, Kissing Camels, Siamese Twins, and more. To me, the Garden is a place packed with tourists drenched in sunscreen… which reminds me of Disney World here in Orlando. Some pros: It’s fun watching the courageous rock climbers get to the top of a rock and it is a pretty short drive. Also, you can pull over in one of the 10+ parking lots and take a short walk on a clearly marked trail.

At Pikes Peak, there are both tourists and locals. For a similar experience with better scenery, I recommend you visit Mount Evans in Idaho Springs. If you must go to Pikes Peak, though, these are my tips:

It’s not always like I’m describing it. This past June when my family was there, Europeans were filming a Range Rover commercial on the mountain and we got to see the some of the filming process. At the summit, brace yourself for the cold, step out of your car, take in the view and run inside the visitor center for donuts. On your way down, you may have to stop due to burnt out brakes. If so, use the 10 minute stop required by park rangers (for your own safety) to walk behind the visitor center and play in the snow.

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Can you tell which zoo animal was my favorite?

On a sad note: The day I left Colorado was the first day of Colorado’s Black Forest Fire, the worst fire in Colorado’s history. The fire is now contained, but help is still needed. If you would like to contribute, visit http://www.helpcoloradonow.org/ or http://www.ppcf.org/products/emergency-relief. If you would like to help animals hurt in the fire, visit https://www.hsppr.org/disasterdonation.

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