Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, CO

DSC_4898The Colorado Adventure: Day 7 (The End)

(Cheryl was very happy for her new Jeep, so she had to have a couple gratuitous Jeep shots ūüėČ .)

Thanks to shifting around the schedule we were able to free up an entire day. Once we got to the hotel we snagged a bunch of tourist pamphlets to see what there was to do around town. There were a lot of attractions around town, but eventually we came to the conclusion that we were just trying to find a way to spend more money. After a week of being on the road, we were ready to head home. We had two attractions left on this adventure that we still needed to complete. So we prepared ourselves to get some sleep, hit our two stops in the morning, and be on the road by the afternoon.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the¬†trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.


Stop number 9: the other Pikes Peak. You know, the one that stole our Pikes Peak’s thunder… Pikes Peak has its own road that takes you all of the way to the summit. The “toll” to start the climb is not the cheapest fee out there, so be prepared for that. To be honest, by the time we were half way up, the fee was already gone from my mind. Pikes Peak is the tallest mountain on the front range at 14,115 ft., and best of all you get to drive to the top! You can also take a train from Manitou Springs,¬†or hike to the summit if you wish. Cheryl and I have already agreed that next time we are going to hike it, starting with the Manitou Incline! A straight up challenge where you gain 2,000 ft of elevation in 1 mile, then you have to hike another 12,000 ft to the summit! (Not really, since you already start well above sea level, but it sounds good. Really it’s only¬†another 3,500 ft or so.)

IMG_4062The road was full of switch backs as you travel higher into the clouds. Along the way they have several little shops and plenty of overlook spots. They do recommend taking your time to try to ease into the elevation gain, and many of these stops were designed to help facilitate that. Also, make sure to be drinking plenty of water, even if you aren’t feeling thirsty.¬†However, we (well I) decided that we should power up to the summit and use the stops on the way down as a way to help keep the brakes cool. There was a solid understanding that if anyone was feeling the effects of the altitude that they needed to say something. We had already had that happen during our Rocky Mountain National Park visit, so I wasn’t worried that someone wouldn’t speak up.

For the most part everyone was fine on the way up. There is a stop about halfway up where they check your brakes on the way down. We did take a little stop there to use the restroom and stretch our legs since it does take a while to¬†get¬†to the summit. Here is where we first started to notice the thinner air and that the clouds were hanging pretty low. Our fingers were crossed that by the time we made the summit they might dissipate, unfortunately that wasn’t going to happen.

It was interesting driving in the clouds. It was like driving in a super dense fog, that was relatively dry. It was chilly up on the summit for certain, and the view, well there wasn’t one that day. However, I was on top of a mountain, and that was all that mattered.

After being at the summit for a little while, the altitude finally started to get to me. There is a gift shop and eatery on the summit, so I went inside. The train was currently on the summit, so the shop was packed! It cleared out quickly once the train announced it was leaving though. The kids¬†wanted to have a couple of novelty doughnuts before we started back down, and I’m pretty sure the littlest one got more than the big kids did.


The trip down went quicker than I thought it would. I ran the Jeep in manual and used the brakes as sparingly as I could. They didn’t have the brake station active since the temps were still chilly, but we still¬†stopped at a¬†couple of places¬†to make sure they stayed cool,¬†as well as¬†to get some pictures and use the bathrooms. The sun¬†eventually came up and started to burn off the lower cloud cover, allowing for some scenic views, but the peak remained covered.

While we didn’t get the epic peak view we were looking for, we know that next time we will be in the area for several days and can watch the weather to hopefully catch a better day to make the summit. They do have live stream cameras on the peak so a person could wait and keep checking in until the peak looks clear.

Please head on over to YouTube and check out the accent video!

We were feeling hungry by the time we made it off the mountain. Since our 10th and final stop, Garden of the Gods, was only a few minutes away and had a cafe, we headed straight there.


CJP_5142Garden of the Gods is a grouping of red rock that sits basically on the border of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. Many of the outcroppings have earned nicknames from their shapes, like Kissing Camels. There are several parts to the park, but in the center is¬†the main section with a paved walkway. It’s a good-sized loop, that has most of the more scenic rocks. The rest of the trails in the park have gravel walkways.

After we got a bite to eat, we headed out to take a look around. I was super surprised to find parking a real challenge. Everywhere we looked the small little lots were full. Eventually we were able to find a place to park and get out for a walk in the rocks. It was actually challenging to try to get photographs without other visitors in them. Rock climbing is active in the park, so many tourists take this as fair play to just scramble around and hang out on the smaller ones. We did see a good number of legit climbers scattered throughout the larger climbs though.

The formations were quite neat, and I do wonder if there are points in a day where one could capture the images without people in them. The rocks just stick out of the ground in a such a way that it almost feels unnatural to be honest. I’d like to go back after a fresh snow and see what kind of clean images I could get. In all, it was a pretty neat place.

I wish we had more time to explore Garden of the Gods. First, we didn’t realize just how big it was, and weather was starting to move in pretty fast. There was lightning on the horizon, so¬†having the knowledge that¬†we’d be back, we chose to cut it short for safety.


We departed from the park and jumped on the road toward Denver to meet up with a friend of Cheryl’s for dinner. From there we said a sad¬†goodbye to Colorado, and began our drive back to Iowa. We will forever be fond of Colorado, and if for some reason we just had to move there I don’t think we’d be too sad, but for now Iowa is home.




Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, CO

CJP_4961The Colorado Adventure: Day 6, part 2

The next stop on the list was Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. We initially had the zoo on the list for the next day, but we decided to try and tack it on after the bridge and drove straight there from Royal Gorge. This did cause us to be in a slight time crunch since it was an add-on, so it was all business getting there.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the¬†trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.


Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is located on the southern outskirts of Colorado Springs, on the side of Cheyenne Mountain… (You know, the base of the Stargate Program where MacGyver went to work after he left the Phoenix Foundation ūüėČ ).


Zoo MapI was surprised to find that the zoo was basically located in a residential neighborhood. As we were driving toward it, we kept questioning Google’s directions, but eventually we rounded a corner and found a sign that told us we were going the right way.

The zoo is pretty small and compact, with limited parking. We arrived a couple hours before closing and had to park in the road. It closes at 4 pm, which was the main reason why there was a sense of a time crunch. It seemed like 4 pm was a little early for it to close, but I looked around and found that most zoos do actually close around 4 or 5 pm. Anyway, we made it with plenty of time to see everything the zoo has to offer.

Cheyenne Zoo.JPG

We chose to travel in a counter-clockwise direction starting with the African animals. First up were the giraffes, including their newest member; Rae! She was born only a few months before we visited. There were a good number of giraffes in the exhibit, and like most zoos, they had lettuce for sale so you could feed them. CJ thought it was neat, as long as she wasn’t the one doing the feeding.

As we moved along they had a large variety of your standard animals that you’d expect to see in a zoo; meerkats, zebras, lions, elephants, rhinos and a good number of other animals that I don’t know the names of! It was a warm day and most of the animals were trying to keep cool, or just simply relaxing.

At the end of the African exhibit were a couple of active animals, the elephants. There were two milling around outside, eating and spraying sand to help cool themselves off. The rhinos share the same area with them, but they were inside. I’ve seen elephants at other zoos, but it seemed like this was the closest I’ve been able to get to them. The skin was far more wrinkly than I had ever realised.

Next on the tour was the Australia exhibit. There were some wallabies, alligators, weird birds, and more unknown animals. They do have quite a large reptile exhibit with many snakes and lizards that looked pretty neat. I liked how the snakes rested on bright colored glass beads that helped you to see them. Most of the time you have to search all over their cases to try and see snakes at other zoos.

After CJ had her fill of giggles looking at all of the wriggling lizards and snakes, we moved on to the Asian Highlands and Rocky Mountain Wild sections. We were only able to see one Asian animal, a tiger chillin’ in the standard cat pose for the day. All of the other Asian animals were hiding in the rest areas unfortunately. We scored better animals in the Rocky Mountain section though. The bears were out and active, checking out the people on the other side of the glass. There were a couple bald eagles making a lot of noise, and then there was a massive moose people-watching.

We’d been walking a bit by this point and decided to take a short break. Basically we needed to use the bathrooms… I let the kids hold my camera when it was my turn.

The central section had a lot of common animals most of us know; chickens, frogs and toads, turkeys, turtles, goats, and miniature horses. There was also an insect/arachnid building near the bathrooms. This is where the food plaza is located with its very expensive snacks… oh, and the peacocks roaming around. Cheryl and the kids did get some ice cream, but first CJ got to ride another Carousel!

Our final stop in the zoo was the primate area. The orangutans had a new little addition to their group that had just woken up from its naps, there were a few other little monkeys playing in their holding areas, but it was the gorillas that stole our hearts. lol

Now the above primates were fun, and CJ liked them (even though one did posture up to the glass that spooked her). However, there was one gorilla that stole the show. He knew exactly what the people wanted. Thinking back on the zoo, the first comment anyone still makes, “that gorilla…”

We got our pictures of the star and began heading to the exit for your standard overpriced souvenirs and the next hotel so baby girl could get her pool on! (Maybe some sister beating as well.)

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a nice little zoo with an amazing view. There are far more creatures than I could possibly try to describe within this post. We’ll be back to the Colorado Springs area without a doubt in the future and make a return trip. Don’t forget to pop on over and check out the video on YouTube!


When you make your visit to the zoo just know, CJ approves of the ice cream.

Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, CO

CJP_4855The Colorado Adventure: Day 6, part 1

If you’re afraid of heights, this one could make you a little anxious. After all, the tallest pedestrian bridge in the US means that it is a long way down! None of us had heard of Royal Gorge Bridge and Park before watching a video about it, but this little place on the map was worth checking out.

If you‚Äôre new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the¬†trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.


If I’m fully honest, day 6 of being on the road was starting to be felt by everyone on this little journey. Not that we were burned out, only that it was a good idea to start with the hiking, and then end with the sightseeing. When we set out that morning we had 4 must-see stops left, and 3 days to do them in. Next up was stop 7: Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, near Ca√Īon City.

Royal Gorge MapRoyal Gorge Bridge and Park is located just south of the center of Colorado, a little over an hour southwest of Colorado Springs. It was originally constructed in 1929, spanning the flowing Arkansas River over 1,000 feet below! In 2013 there was a fire that ripped through the area and destroyed 90% of the area around the bridge. The bridge escaped without any real damage, and almost everything around it was rebuilt. The biggest loss was that the elevator that would take you to the bottom was abandoned. Even the water-clock was rebuilt to the specs of the original.

There is more to the park than the bridge, so lets take a peek.

Royal Gorge Activities2

When I first started looking into the park I found that they have a good number of attractions to check out and make the trip more active than just walking across a bridge. Which is good because tickets aren’t exactly cheap… So the first thing you notice when you pull into the parking lot¬†is one of the locomotives that used to run on the tracks the run along the Arkansas River down below.


It looked weathered and worn, which I thought added to the atmosphere that this bridge is from an age that has long since passed. From there you come to the visitor center where you get your tickets and you can get something to eat. On the back side of the restaurant/food court is the deck where you get your first glimpse down into the canyon, and just how deep it is. However, that view is nowhere near as impressive as the one you get once you are actually crossing it.

This is also where you jump in line for the gondola ride to the other side, and the zip line ends from the other side. Since we got there at open, we got to watch one of the employees conducting the daily inspection of the line. Imagine if that was your job… “Hey Mitch, go see if the cable is still good enough to hold a person’s weight…”


Even though I knew I was going to be passing over it a couple of times that day (ride the gondola over and walk the bridge back), it was still impressive to actually see how high you were once you were over the center. (Of course a fisheye lens will also exaggerate it a little more as well.)


Once on the other side you have access to the bulk of the extra attractions. The Royal Rush Skycoaster is basically a giant swing that sends you out over the edge (but it¬†wasn’t running that morning), and the zip line that I just mentioned both require extra fees that we decided to skip. They do look like they would be fun, but the price was a little too steep for us.

We walked down the road to the newest attraction for little ones, Tommy Knocker Land. This is where we discovered CJ’s first passion… carousels! Holy cow does she think they are the greatest thing on earth. Luckily we were early enough that there weren’t really a whole lot of people around and the guy operating it let her stay on the ride for a few turns. I think she rode it 4 or 5 times after the near wave of complete sadness engulfed her¬†once we started to exit after the first go round. She was still quite sad after her final ride, but they had bubbles, crisis averted.


A touch further down the road we came to the Plaza Theater where they have a gift shop and the magic show. The magic show is every couple of hours and we had just missed it. We debated on hanging out and waiting for it, but we were also considering getting on the road ahead of schedule if we didn’t wait.¬†If we chose the latter, we’d be¬†able to make it to the zoo later that day, rather than just heading to our hotel and hanging out in the room. We decided to move on to the bridge and try to get ahead of schedule.


Now time for the main attraction of this destination. The bridge itself. I would start off by saying, make sure your keys are secure in you pockets, because it is a long way down and there is enough of a gap between the boards that they will drop right through on their way to the river below. It was interesting to see the construction of the bridge up close. The support cables are so massive with a more wire build than I expected.

The bridge is 1,260 feet long and a solid conclusion to your trip to the park. As you walk across, the flags from every state lines sides. Cheryl liked looking for the Iowa flag and her Idaho flag as we progressed across.

There were a couple of points on the bridge where they pointed out “fun facts.” The first was that someone had made a record-breaking¬†rappel from the center point of the bridge, and¬†the¬†second was that¬†from the bridge you can see a mountain that looks like is in the shape of JFK.

Of course, like I mentioned before, the view from the center is quite impressive.


Even though we skipped several items, it was still satisfying to conclude our day by crossing the bridge on the way back to the visitor center. Now I will say for a park where you’ll likely only spend 2-3 hours, it is a little pricey. That being said, it was definitely worth visiting once. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves during our visit, especially CJ!


If you make your way to the Colorado Springs area, see if Royal Gorge Bridge and Park can fit into your itinerary. Take an early morning trip, or maybe make a lunch excursion out of it.

Don’t forget to hop over to YouTube and Check out the video!

Happy adventures!

Four Corners and Aztec Ruins National Monuments, UT, AZ, CO, NM

CJP_4789The Colorado Adventure: Day 5

Ever stand in four states at one time? We did! (Kinda, the monument is actually 1800 feet to the east of the true mark…) Changing our schedule around during day 4 really helped make day 5 far more relaxing, and it was just the thing we needed. We made two short stops that day as we first¬†headed west from Cortez and¬†stopped at Four Corners National Monument, then circled back east toward Aztec Ruins National Monument on our way to Alamosa for the night.

If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the¬†trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.


Aztec mapFor stop number 5 we weren’t too far away from Four Corners National Monument, and since they didn’t¬†allow visitors until 8 am it allowed us to have a little bit of a relaxed morning. In fact, the sun was already up¬†by¬†the time we¬†hit the road. It was a slightly dreary morning, overcast with the remnants of rain still sitting on the ground as we approached the entrance. The surrounding terrain was pretty stark, which was a big difference from being surrounded by mountains like we had been¬†for the past several days.

Even though we had a late start for us (me mostly if I’m honest), there were only a few other early risers in line to be let into the monument when we arrived. From what I had heard of Four Corners from others, it was definitely far more built-up now than it had been previously. It isn’t grand by any means, but there has been a good amount of effort put into the structure. You have the plaque embedded in the center, surrounded by platforms to help elevate you to get a better view. Then surrounding the entire thing are quite a lot of stalls where the local Native Americans sell their trinkets and souvenirs.

CJP_4785There is a 3 photo limit to help move the crowds along, but we found that everyone was pretty accommodating. While we had issues at other places¬†with people stepping into photos, or not moving along once they got their pictures taken; at Four Corners everyone seemed to be very courteous, offered to take¬†each other’s pictures, and moved out of the way as soon as they got their shots. Now granted, it was a bunch of us early risers and the bulk of the visitors would be arriving later. Only a fraction of the vendors were even there yet. From what I understand though, that is just how it works at Four Corners.

Overall, Four Corners is kind of one of those places you just have to try to divert to if you’re going to be in the area.¬†Since it is in the area of Mesa Verde National Park, which¬†is a must-see, you should just calculate this into your trip. Even though this survey spot is off by a little under 1800 feet, Congress still recognizes it as the symbolic monument to the location of the Four Corners. Overall, other than getting your picture taken and eating a funnel cake (I think that is what the little shack was selling…), there isn’t much else to see or do there.

So we got our shots and moved on down the road toward our next stop.




Even though Four Corners was a neat place, we all had actually been to three of the four states before. Shortly after Cheryl and I had met in 2011; I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Arizona (Fran likes to comment on these posts ūüôā ) and a week prior Cheryl and the kids¬†where there¬†to visit her brother before he moved his¬†family back to Iowa. Then in 2015 we took the road trip to Idaho for Cheryl’s bi-annual family reunion (a retroactive travel series has just been thought of) and share the news with her grandma that CJ was on her way. For the return trip I designed the route to go through Utah and Colorado. Then of course we were in the middle of a Colorado vacation adventure. So that left New Mexico as the new state of the Four Corners.

Aztec mapWell I didn’t like the idea of using Four Corners as a way to count New Mexico as a¬†state we have visited. So I searched for a way to visit something in New Mexico, and found stop number 6, Aztec Ruins National Monument, that was sort of on the way back toward Alamosa from the Four Corners… It would have been quite a bit quicker to have just turned around and stayed in Colorado, but meh, we were close and needed to check off New Mexico so I worked it in.

There isn’t much in between the two locations, so plan accordingly if you also desire to stack the visits. Aztec Ruins is on the outskirts of Aztec, NM¬†where New Mexico State University is located, with Farmington just down the road. So once you get there, there¬†are plenty of places to stop for food, drink, and fuel.


I had never heard of Aztec Ruins prior to trying to find some reason to go into New Mexico. Turns out it is actually historically¬†connected to Mesa Verde. Originally discovered¬†in 1859, it consists of the ruins of what I would call a small compound that was almost¬†completely buried.¬†It took until 1916 before restoration truly began, and almost two decades after that before they called their work complete. There are more ruins under the sand surrounding Aztec Ruins, but there aren’t plans to uncover those.

The Monument has a small gift shop where artifacts are displayed before you watch a short movie about the history of the site. Apparently, it was once theorized that the Aztec people of Mexico migrated north after their civilization began to decline. After the discovery, this was one of the places they were thought to have landed, and therefore the name Aztec Ruins. It has since been revealed that this was¬†a home of the Hopi people¬†after they departed from Mesa Verde. They have a narrative that¬†prophesied Mesa Verde and Aztec Ruins as stages of the Hopi civilization’s life-cycle (as far as I understood it anyhow). I think they currently believe they are in the third of the four stages??

Once you complete the movie, the exit leads right to the path that wanders through the ruins. It starts with the restored great Kiva, before moving on to the living quarters. It is still neat to me to see how historical people lived, especially the nomad civilizations. Maybe it’s just the part of me that desires to have the freedom to roam and experience the outside that gets drawn to it, or maybe it’s my inner nerd craving to absorb more knowledge. Either way, I’ll keep doing it.¬†Both Mesa Verde and Aztec were interesting in that the Hopi¬†lived in a settlement, but everything was compact. Almost like they developed the first apartment complexes where you might have to walk through someone else’s home to get to yours. lol.

In the end, Aztec Ruins was a neat place to check out at least once. Similar to Four Corners, if you can divert the time, it is close enough to Mesa Verde that you should try to. In total we walked roughly 3 miles around the grounds, got some pictures, watched CJ have a blast, and moved on down the road.

IMG_3964Up next, a huge bridge and animals!

Ouray Perimeter Trail, CO

CJP_4638The Colorado Adventure: Day 4, part 1

The fourth day of our adventure was a hike around the Ouray Perimeter which turned out bittersweet for me. The hike was awesome, but I screwed up and didn’t pay attention to my camera settings before we set out. Every shot I had was completely underexposed to the point that everything was unusable. Luckily, I got a couple shots the day before when we arrived in town, I did take some pictures with my phone for Instagram, and my wife was my second shooter to help enhance the story and her shots turned out. So there are pictures!¬†Let‚Äôs start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation.

If you‚Äôre new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the¬†trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.


Ouray GoogleOur third stop on our adventure was to the tiny town of Ouray in the southwestern corner of the state. I had heard of the town before, but vaguely knew anything about it. When the Less Junk, More Journey channel featured a hike there, I knew it had to go on the list. The town is nestled in the mountains at around 8,000 feet of elevation, which allows you to look in any direction and be rewarded with an amazing view. The above shot was from the front door of our hotel room, the shots below were from the back balcony (the bridge is part of the trail).CJP_4633

CJP_4629For its size, the town was intensely busy. The main street was packed with people checking out the shops, mostly tourist trap souvenir stores and a couple candy shops. There were a few places to eat, although I’ll add that they know what they are, where they are, and charge accordingly… There was one grocery store in town that was more of your traditional country store with a limited inventory. It was quite warm the day we got there and I went to get some water for us only to find that they were sold out of pretty much everything liquid and they had no ice. So we rationed what water we had in our Camelbaks as we were intending on refilling in town and the hotel water… didn’t feel right. However, the humming birds thought the water was pretty sweet…


The perimeter hike was harder to research than I anticipated. There were tons of sources quoting that it was a 5 mile loop. However, no one had any maps to back that up. There was a lot of that, 5 miles, no proof. Even once we got to town and looked around all I found was a map on a pamphlet from the visitor center that revealed the trail wasn’t completely finished, but there were plans. What we found was a trail that was 75% complete, but still worth every ounce of sweat to experience it.

Ouray RouteOne thing I like about the trail is that you can start it at pretty much any point you want. There are access points all around the circumference of the town. We decided to start our hike from the visitor center at the northern edge of town. We parked the Jeep in the parking lot for the hot spring fed pool, strapped on our packs and headed across the street to the trailhead where we were greeted with an immediate steep switchback climb to the trail overlooking the town.



I think the reason you jump straight into a climb is so that when you take a moment to catch your breath… you get to soak in the view of the sleeping town below. The trail itself is what I envisioned a trail would be like in the Colorado mountains, worn and rough and potentially dangerous. At certain points the trail is only a couple feet wide and the edge of it is a sheer drop-off into a scree field that would tear you up.

DSC_4618The northeast portion of the trail is the most attractive and pleasing in my opinion. On one side you have the view overlooking the town, with a gray rock of the mountain climbing above you on the other. All smiles the whole way. Then at the northeastern “corner” you come across a waterfall (green star) that we noticed from town. This was a bit sketchy as finding the route to base in order to pick up the next section of trail took a few minutes. We eventually got to the bottom and found the older kids who had disappeared down the trail on their own.

What we thought was Titan and Odessa waiting for us to catch up, turned out to be them just not knowing where to go from there. At the base of the waterfall is an access point to the trail. I went over the route with everyone the night before and they remembered there was a road walk near the fall. So using their smart goat-thinkers, they waited to verify if that was the road walk or not, it was not.

DSC_4646The next section from the falls to the southeast “corner” was a nice wooded section through pines. This is one of the sections that has a road walk. It once again starts out with a switchback climb to get back up to the trail level. After a little bit it comes to a road and the sign is kind of confusing. It appears to point northeast, so we started to walk the road uphill, but it didn’t feel right. So I broke out the¬†pamphlet and compass and turned us around. We should have been heading the other way downhill. Luckily I didn’t let us get too far and we got back on track.

DSC_4652The temps started to feel a bit chilly and CJ was getting a little crabby. So Momma came up with the idea to put her jacket on and then¬†take my rain jacket¬†to wrap her legs up with it. It was just enough to get the wind off of her and let her body heat increase enough to bring out the gabby baby-girl I know and love. It was some good Momma goat-thinkin’. Once again the older kids pushed on ahead further, at least this time we got to catch glances of them now and then.

This section wound through a couple campsites and ultimately came to a conclusion with a steep uphill hike on a service road (red star). Momma and I had to take a break after that climb, so glad for the trekking poles.

CJP_4718After we recovered from the climb and snacked on Clif Bars, we continued on our way. The next portion brought back those views we were first presented with. It was pretty open, rocky, and full of scrub brush. Here is where the trail gives you an option to take the shortcut straight toward the bridge from earlier, or you can wind a little further south. We chose to take the shortcut route, which was a rugged, rocky decent that taxed the knees a bit. It eventually terminated at a road (blue star) that headed back up towards the trail to the bridge and tunnel.

DSC_4704There was a short road walk that crossed a bridge and gave us a view of another waterfall that fed into a small river. Unfortunately the pictures of the actual river didn’t turn out. It had some pretty violent rapids in it though. It wasn’t long before we reached the bridge crossing the gap over that fast flowing river.CJP_4763

DSC_4722The neat part about the bridge (purple star) is that you cross over into a tunnel through the mountain. The ceiling is pretty low, so we put the sunshade up that comes with the Osprey Poco Plus child carrier to help inform me when the ceiling was getting too low and could bonk CJ in the melon. Definitely, wanted to protect her from that.

We passed through the tunnel without incident and emerged into the daylight on the other side. It was only a hundred yards or so until the trail met up with¬†a dirt¬†road (orange star) and our off road journey was done. From that point on the dirt turned into pavement and it was a road walk back to the car. This is one of the areas they said they had plans to expand in the future, funds just weren’t there yet.

DSC_4710In the end the hike came out to 6 miles after taking the shortcut. We all super enjoyed the experience, and after looking through the brochure we discovered there is a pretty good sized network of trails surrounding the town. So we may have to return for an extended period of time to do some more exploring!

DSC_4602From there we drove straight to Mesa Verde National Park. So until next time, get out there and go for a walk!

Please click the link and head on over to YouTube and watch the video of the Ouray Perimeter Trail!

Hanging Lake Park, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 3

DSC_4452In 2015 we were traveling back to Iowa from my wife’s family reunion in Idaho, on a route through Colorado, because I made the route and wanted to see Colorado. Along the way she saw the road sign for Hanging Lake, looked it up on her phone, and said she wanted to come back and check it out. Then a little over a year later we start watching a YouTube channel that visited the park, and she excitedly remembered¬†it and said that it had to go on the list. Even though that is the true beginning to this hike, let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the¬†trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

DSC_4483Hanging Lake GoogleOur second stop on our journey was at Hanging Lake Park, just off the interstate in northwesterly Colorado. Hanging Lake is this not-so hidden little gem that is challenging and in-demand. The parking lot is small, only holding roughly a couple dozen vehicles. I read up and learned that it fills up quick and doesn’t take long to form a line all the way out to the off-ramp. If you get there at a bad time the rangers will actually turn you away. As we were leaving there was a ranger at the entrance holding everyone up, and as he saw us exiting he pointed to the next car to let them in. The line went on for quite a while, but there was room for a good number more that day. Shortly after our visit I read somewhere that the park service is considering requiring permits to limit the number of visitors per day and help the parking situation starting as early as next year (2018).

(This is all they have for parking.)Hanging Lake parking

Being forewarned of the parking situation we once again left the hotel just before dawn. When we arrived our preparedness worked again. We were one of the first visitors of the day, but there were only a few parking spots left already! The sun was barely cresting the horizon and this place was almost full.

DSC_4467The hike itself is pretty short overall, only about 1.2 miles from the parking lot to the lake. That’s the length… the vertical gain is a around 2,000 feet in that 1.2 miles! It’s a butt-kicker for sure. The state of Iowa only has roughly 1,200 of gain from the lowest point in Keokuk to the highest point at Hawkeye Point. In fact I just did a 20 mile hike up at Yellow River State Forest in the northeast corner and only had a total of 2,200 feet over that 20 miles. This was a climb, with a toddler on my back no less, but totally worth it!

DSC_4455The trail starts off as this nicely paved path that traces along the river. The kids were in a brighter mood and started farting around with the trekking poles. Like the great parents that we are… we decided it was a good idea to take pictures instead of the, ya know, safer alternative of telling them to stop.

However, this path is not specifically for Hanging Lake. This path is an exercise path that just happens to go past the trailhead for Hanging Lake. You only get the bliss of this smooth path for the first .2 miles of your 1.2 mile hike. Once you exit the path you are immediately set upon by this jagged slope of rock that informs you this climb is for real.

While the steepness of the climb doesn’t relent often, the surface of the trail does smooth out so you can enjoy your surroundings more easily. The majority of the trail runs alongside the fast flowing creek created by the overflowing waters from Hanging Lake. This little steady stream of water has mini waterfalls of its own that creates this rushing sound your entire journey.

CJP_4522Cheryl being your standard waterfall enthusiast, had to stop and get pictures every time we came across any white water. While it slowed her and me down a bit, I didn’t mind since I was carrying some extra weight and appreciated the breather (Titan and Odessa just kept charging forward). I got several “good job dad,” and once I crossed paths with another toddler carrying dad, we gave each other a knowing smile and nod. lol.

The scenery during the entire hike was simply amazing and helped to detract from the strain of the effort. Here are a few shots to help you see just how much the trails crams into only 1 mile:

After all of that, you make it to the top and are greeted with an open view of the valley you just hiked up.CJP_4565



In truth you only have one spot to see this view before you are back in the trees. Unfortunately, this little spot is part of the last few feet of the trail as well. So you do need to be quick with your camera as people do want to pass by. Everyone we encounter were very nice and and even offered to take our “selfie” for us.

Part of that could also be that at this point in the trail more often than not the people we encountered pulled their little groups off to the side to make way for the huffing and puffing dad, and smile at the cute baby enjoying the ride.

Finally we get to see what all of the effort was for, Hanging Lake!DSC_4525


The lake is surrounded by a nice walkway made of deck boards with warnings not to stray from the path. Not only that, but there were plenty of benches! Oh yeah, and we caught up to Titan and Odessa who had been chillin’ at the top for a bit. They have a somewhat large platform that puts you right in the center of the lake to make room for all of us that want to get our photos. There were a good number of people trying to get photos, but for the most part everyone was very courteous. They snuck up to the railing, took their photo, and stepped back to make room for the next person. Ahem, I was actually the one taking my time.. but I only felt a little bad about it. My whole plan once we got to the top was to take a long exposure of the falls to get the smoothed out surface look with the white streams of water from the falls. I set my tripod up and proceeded to take several exposures; one to make sure I got it right, and two… remember I said the platform was made of deck boards. Well deck boards vibrate when people walk on them and it was just enough to cause camera shake during the long exposure to ruin the image. Eventually I did get what I was after though:CJP_4555

DSC_4540After we figured we spent enough time at the lake we went back to the entrance of the platform where another steep trail heads up and behind the lake so you can check out the source of the water; Spouting Rock.

IMG_3888Spouting Rock is a large¬† waterfall that is spewing tons of water with some powerful force. It doesn’t just trickle over the edge, but projects the water like someone turned on a hose at full force. CJ didn’t quite know what to think of this loud shower.CJP_4560

Eventually we had to start making our way back down the trail and move on. Even on the way down new sights crossed our camera lenses that had a smiling and praising this little hike. Once the sun was above the mountains the trail seemed to brighten up (both literally and figuratively).

As we neared the bottom of the hike and the paved trail back to the car we were given one last scenic shot with trail disappearing into the trees and sun shining on the river and mountains:DSC_4577

Of course when you’re in Colorado with your family, it isn’t hard to find a scenic view around any corner.

Here are the rest of the photos from the hike and I hope you have a great walk!

Please head on over and watch the video on my Youtube channel!

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 2

CJP_4324The most amazing place I have encountered to date is Rocky Mountain National Park! That place will forever be my spirit animal (as they say)… Let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation. If you’re new to this string, keep reading.

Check out the YouTube video here!

If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the¬†trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

CJP_4460First stop on the list was Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I always knew that RMNP was one of the most popular parks of our national park system, but I didn’t understand exactly what that meant in terms of visiting it. Thanks to the YouTube channel describing it as being similar to Disneyland, I was far more prepared. We were going to be visiting in mid-July, the height of the tourist season for Colorado, hence why we were there.

RMNP.JPGOur plans were to hike from the Bear Lake trail-head to Emerald Lake and back. There is a small parking lot at the Bear Lake trail-head, but it fills up quickly according to many sources. So the other option is to park a little further back and hitch a ride with the free shuttle service. It is only about a 10-15 min drive by car between the parking lots, but the shuttle makes multiple stops, so expect about an hour once you get on from what people are saying.RMNP Shuttle

DSC_4407Being someone who is willing to sacrifice a little sleep in order to get on the trail at sunrise, I¬†informed the family that they were going¬†to be¬†sacrificing their sleep as well. There¬†might have been¬†a couple unamused faces after gaining this information… The dark of night was just fading as we pulled out of the hotel¬†parking lot in Loveland on our way to Bear Lake. My intent was to beat the crowds and get one of those coveted parking spots at the trail-head. As we pulled up to the entrance there was only one other car driving in, things were looking good. We proceeded to weave through the park and found that the elevation change for these Iowa lowlanders was starting to affect Titan,¬†so we had to pull over for a couple of minutes. We got back on the road once he felt better and hit the parking lot a few minutes later. The sun hadn’t crested the mountains yet and the Bear Lake trail-head parking lot¬†was already 1/4 full. There were a few hammocks hanging around the lot, so some had been there overnight. At any rate, success! We got a spot!

We stretched our legs a bit and got ready to hit the trail, even though Titan and Odessa were a little grumpy still at the early rising, you could sense the excitement of hiking in the mountain for the first time. We stepped into the trees and started down¬†the well-worn path. The trail was extremely well maintained, which was to be expected, it is a national park and this is one of the most popular hikes in the park.¬†It didn’t take long to confirm the efforts put into planning were well worth it, the¬†views were breathtaking as I… I mean we…¬†finally got to officially be in the mountains!

CJP_4292Another perk to getting out on the trails early, there weren’t many other travelers to jockey around for position amongst the congestion. We didn’t have to wait in line to take the shot we wanted,¬†or have to worry about the discourteous visitor¬†jumping into your shot because they only cared about getting theirs. By¬†10¬†AM the trails were already starting to see a large influx of people on the trail as we were heading back to the parking lot. You could actually begin to time the buses as we would encounter¬†very large groups of¬†people¬†every 15-20 minutes.

CJP_4305The hike from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is 2.3 miles (4.6 round trip), but there are two other lakes along the way. The first one you come to is Nymph Lake after about¬†a 1/2 mile of steady¬†climbing from the trail-head, which¬†produced some initial huffing until we got our legs under us a bit.¬†On the way down more than one person asked how the rest of the hike was, because the first section was obviously working them. After Nymph Lake it was a lot easier.¬†It is the smallest of the four we visited that day, and completely shrouded by the mountains. The light was trying to creep in, but the mountains blocked any hope it might¬†have had of reaching the surface of the lake until late in the day. As a consequence, the mosquitoes were quite thick along the shore. Fortunately this was the only place we encountered any mosquitoes¬†during our visit¬†through the entire state. Nymph Lake had all of Colorado’s mosquitoes in one place!

We stuck around for only a little bit to try to capture some images, but the low light and mosquitoes won out, and we decided to try later on the way back. By the time we returned both were far better. As we moved on to our next stop, Dream Lake, the trail continued to climb, but with far less grade to it. This section of the trail provided the most spectacular views along the hike. There are two specific locations that really lend themselves to photographs, the first was the rock introducing this post. It is directly above Nymph Lake, so you can look down into it, and the forest surrounding it.

CJP_4447-PanoThe second is several yards down the trail where you get an open view of everything you think of when imagining a national park in Colorado. Both of these locations were spots I watched visitors trying to “fight” for position to get pictures (notice us early risers don’t have any other people in our shots…).

CJP_4341After about another¬†1 mile we arrived at Dream Lake. Dream Lake was filled with such crystal clear water¬†that you could see the trout swimming around logs and rocks resting on the bottom. There were a good number of fisherman spending their morning with rod and reel here. We didn’t see any of them catch anything, but that’s not the purpose of fishing right?

CJP_4350Dream Lake is long and narrow so there was really only one shot of note for most people, a large rock outcropping at one end with the length of the lake stretching out and leading to the base of a mountain peak.


Of course we joined in and took our family photo! All four of us had a camera of some sort, so after we all were satisfied with our photos we began our trek to Emerald Lake.

DSC_4352We started to run into the remnants of that winter’s snow along the way which surprised the kids since they didn’t comprehend that snow can stick around well into July due to the elevation and low sunlight, etc. Heck, as some readers may remember, I was praying for snow in Iowa this year and didn’t get a chance to test out my new snowshoes until late January or February, and that snow only lasted a couple of days!


There were a couple climbs along the way, but overall the elevation gain felt relatively mild. It was roughly 3/4 of a mile from Dream Lake to Emerald lake. Aside from the fact that Emerald Lake was beautiful, I noticed that it felt more secluded than the others. The trail did terminate there, forcing you to turnaround and head back to the trail-head, so that could have been part of it. The other lakes had open areas around the lake with wide trails where one could easily move around. At Emerald it felt like the mountains shot straight up from the shoreline, and visitors only had a small 30 foot circle to gather and enjoy the sight.


Even though it was still quite early and the main traffic hadn’t started yet, there were a good number of people hanging out in the small area. Like Dream Lake, there was really only one point of view that was attractively photogenic, and everyone that arrived wanted their shot from it. Yes, including me. The annoying part, the majority of us that stopped for a breather and a snack, stuck to the outer areas of the circle, back from the edge of the lake. Except one lady. She decided she wanted to sit on¬†a rock protruding out into the lake a touch that was the only good spot for pictures, and refused to move. Of course she was European, possibly only spoke¬†German it sounded like, and didn’t understand a group of us would like pictures of the lake without her in it. Eventually, after multiple people started to stand around her in awkward ways to try to get photos without her, she caught the hint and left. Then we all took our turns, got our photos, and moved away for the next person.

That lady was the only negative encounter we had though, but remember, the crowds hadn’t started to arrive yet. I started to feel a little bit of the elevation once we got to Emerald Lake; probably due to the combination of elevation, carrying CJ, and failing to drink enough water on the way up. (Elevation reduces the amount of oxygen in the air, water¬†is partly made up of oxygen, drinking it helps add oxygen into your body.)¬†I downed a good bit¬†of water during the break and felt better¬†for the return. I made sure that I continued to drink water regularly for the rest of our adventure in Colorado, and didn’t have an issue again. Once everyone felt rested and finished their snacks we put our packs back on and started back to the trail-head.

The little over 2 mile journey back was one of mixed sadness. I was loving every minute I got to spend on the trails within the mountains, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad that I knew we were heading back to the car so we could leave and continue on down the road (Cheryl is still suffering from the loss…). Along the way we kept running into large bus load after bus load of people on their way to Emerald Lake. We got some more photos as we could, stopped at Nymph Lake to try to get some better ones (which we did), and eventually made it back to the trail-head.

CJP_4480DSC_4292We were ahead of schedule, so we decided to sneak over to Bear Lake since it is only a 1/2 mile trail around it. Well, on paper it looked and sounded bigger than it was. The lake is only about 50 yards from the trail-head, and once we got to the shore we saw that you could see every bit of the lake from that one spot and to hike around it would just be for exercise as the views weren’t going to change. So we decided that was good enough.

DSC_4364So with big smiles, but slightly sad hearts, we walked back to the car. Here is where the “circus” began. The parking lot was full and there were a couple of cars circling like buzzards waiting for something to open up. Once¬†they realized we were heading to our car the race that wasn’t a race was on! the First one there proceeded to block everyone else (one lane loop) while they waited for us to drop our gear, pack up the cameras, get CJ and the packs loaded into the Jeep, film the talking head part I do about the conclusion of the trail, and finally back out and leave. On the way out Cheryl wanted to stop at the gift shop so another encounter was incoming. heh. We got lucky and we got the last available parking spot immediately upon pulling in. However, the discourtesy among the majority of the people at the gift shop was amazing. People were¬†walking out in front of moving vehicles with total disregard, or just simply standing in the middle of the roadway talking as cars are trying to leave. Others sending their young children to run ahead of other cars and stand in and block open parking spots, with vehicles basically informing the child move or get run over. The ugly selfishness of the human race showed its face for certain. It was only¬†a little after noon!

CJP_4323In closing, even though the gift shop soured the experience a little, Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely¬†amazing! Just make sure you arrive just before dawn to beat the crazies. We’ve agreed that we’ll be returning for an extended trip with the goal of hiking as many of the trails as we can in the years to come. If you’re wanting to visit RMNP and don’t know what to do, the Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is very popular because it is so accessible. We saw a multitude of walks of life¬†with¬†varying¬†physical conditioning along the trail. Just remember to take your time if you need to, and plan for a longer day. Make sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks to help keep you going. Even if you don’t take a lot of pictures, the experience would be good for your mind and body!

DSC_4340Now get out there and go for a walk!

Bensen Sculpture Garden, Loveland, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 1

Colorado Trip

In July of 2017 we packed up my wife’s¬†new Jeep, and headed for a week of traveling to the mountains of Colorado with the kids. Our first stop on the trip was going to be Rocky Mountain National Park, but we wanted to hit the park at sunrise to beat the majority of the crowds (which was an excellent plan!) so we needed to stay over in Loveland just outside of the park. Well this gave us a long afternoon of sitting in the hotel, so the wife and I scoured the Google looking for things to do and we found Bensen Sculpture Garden in the center of town.Bensen LargeDSC_4051

DSC_4075The park is made up of over 150 large sculptures on a paved loop that circles a pond and¬†covers 1.5-2 miles. The majority of the sculptures were pretty neat. At first the older kids had that “oh yay… look at the rock” attitude that a tween and teen have on family outings, but eventually they¬†forgot they were supposed to be acting too cool and began¬†having showdowns with the gunslinger and practicing their yoga poses. DSC_4166

Baby girl of course thought pretty much every one of them was neat and kept trying to go back to the ones with balls and puppies.DSC_4229

It was a pretty popular place with some¬†steady traffic. There was even a wedding going on in the central gazebo that CJ tried to check out. As we neared the car we noticed it appeared that there seemed to be more on the other side of the road. Unbeknownst to us, there was a new section that was built to expand the park, to include a little mini train that went around that section! They don’t have an official website from what we found, so nothing really talked about the addition. I wish we had known so we could have planned a little more time¬†to take CJ on a train ride. Either way, weather eventually started to move in and we were getting hungry as we completed the loop, so we decided to¬†head back to the hotel.


A fun little place to check out if you find yourself in the Rocky Mountain National Park/ Fort Collins/ Loveland area with a couple hours to kill. Once again, I really wish I’d known more about the train. For me at least, I know I’m going back to RMNP for a few days next time, so CJ will get her train ride!DSC_4123

Here are a handful of the neater sculptures:


Quechee Gorge, VT

dsc04230That’s right, Vermont! Work sent me and a partner to New Hampshire for a couple weeks back in 2014. We had the weekend off so we did a whirlwind tour of all the northeastern state, and the Quechee Gorge was our stop in Vermont.

quecheeThe gorge is centrally located on the eastern border of Vermont.¬†¬†Now Quechee Gorge is¬†not a backwoods hike, but rather a pretty popular tourist and kayak destination just outside Quechee, VT and Quechee State Park. The location is built up with touristy “corner stores”¬†selling plenty of snacks and souveniors, antique shops and hotels all along the main road that bisecs the gorge.

quechee-3In total¬†we hiked about 3 miles in down and back fashion starting from the visitor area.¬†There is one trail that travels along the flowing Ottauquechee River. We first hiked north from the road (red trail)¬†on a¬†nicely groomed path toward Dewey’s Pond. dsc04280North of an interesting dam (#1), the trail seperated the river and the pond, appearing to terminate at a parking area. This strip of land had a good variety of flowers helping to increase the pleasure of the stroll. The river was interesting in that at this point it was glass smooth, but it didn’t remain that way.

dsc04264As we returned south the river takes on a drastic change as it crosses the dam (#1) and enters the gorge. I wonder if the kayakers start their run around here? The waters here were rough with what looked to be a good amount of white water.

dsc04231There is a nice bridge (#2) that offers a great view that really lets you see just how deep the gorge is. Pretty impressive I will admit. From there we continued along the very well groomed trail to where the river empties out of the gorge, and the presumed finish to the kayak run (#3). Here the waters were super clear and calm before turning back into turbulent waters. There were quite a few people hanging out in the shallow rapids to include a handfull of kayaykers that may have been hanging out in the slow moving water after a run. dsc04253From there we returned back to the visitor area for a couple snacks and to browse the souveniers.

A very easy little walk for just about anyone. If for whatever reason you are in the northeastern US and looking for a simple distraction, or were on a multi-state tour like we were, Quechee Gorge is definitely worth squeezing in. It only take a couple hours of casual walking, and if it is a beautiful day like the one we got, you’ll wish it was longer.