It seems like every 5 or so years, we visit our friend Tony. He's nice enough to accommodate us by moving to a new and interesting city every time. The first time, shortly before we had kids, was Washington DC; five years ago, we visited him in New York City; and this summer, we got to visit him in Denver. This was the first time any of us have been to Denver, so it was really exciting for all of us. Yay!
Because it'll be easier than trying to remember randomly, here's what we did, day by day. Which also means it'll probably be really long.
July 10th: We meant to drive the whole way straight through, and would have done so, except that in North Platte, Nebraska, our van completely refused to go one more inch. We pushed ourselves into a parking spot in a Denny's parking lot. It was late enough when we broke down that most car parts shops were closed already, and those that were open didn't have the part we needed. So the kids and i made ourselves comfortable and got some sleep while Juanito walked to Walmart to get tools and then took the alternator out of the car before he got some sleep too.
July 11th: Bright and early, we called around and learned that nobody nearby carries an alternator for our Kia, BUT! There was one shop that was willing to come to us, pick up our alternator, replace the rotor and put new brushes into it with used parts, and the drive it back to us. Cheaper AND more convenient! While we were waiting for them to come back, we took a walk (until it rained on us) and then ate some brunch at Denny's. We've been telling the kids for years about how disgusting Denny's is, and now that we've eaten there, they all think it's delicious. (It's not.) As we were eating, the guy brought the alternator back. Juanito tossed it into the car, and we were off!
We arrived in Denver around 3:00; later than we'd planned, but still with plenty of daylight left. Tony came home, and we were on our way to a concert at his church when he started getting a major migraine, so instead he and Meloni went home while we went to Casa Bonita. Apparently Casa Bonita is famous for being someplace that only tourists go, but that tourists really need to experience. It was...the most insane place i've ever eaten. The food was not very good, but i don't think people really go there for the food. Their thing is this: massive entertainment overload. There's a pool, into which people dive every 15-30 minutes. In the room we ate in, there was a magician, but in other rooms there are other forms of entertainment. There's really badly acted gunfights and a gorilla that tries to hype people up. There are a ton of little rooms, each with weird themes. There's an arcade. It's loud and crazy, and all of us were kind of stimulation overload. But the kids thought it was awesome, and it was definitely an experience. We didn't get back to Tony's house until around midnight our time, so everyone was EXHAUSTED.
July 12th: We drove all through the nearby mountains on Lariat Loop. We stopped in Red Rocks first, which is the first time we really, really noticed the high altitude. We climbed all the way to the top of the Red Rocks theater, and all of us were dying from not being able to breathe. Well, all of us except Tony and Meloni, who were used to it. We drove up into the mountains, all the way up to Lookout Mountain. There were amazing views, but the kids (and Juanito) were more interested in being able to climb all over the huge rocks. I spent most of my time hovering around, making sure that nobody climbed anywhere too horribly dangerous. The kids, meanwhile, kept climbing to places that looked dangerous, and then would ask me to take their picture so that it looked scary so they could scare Beth and Grandma. Brats. It was a day full of driving and stopping and climbing and taking pictures and then driving a little bit farther to do it all again. It was awesome. And when it was already just about the kids' bedtime, we stopped in Golden for dinner, where we ate at the Sherpa House. It was DELICIOUS.
July 13th: We started out the day at Tony's church, which was one of the most interesting churches i've ever been to. After church, we went next door for Mexican food with Tony's sister Katix and her husband, Jenny D (a friend from college), and Tony. It was quite lovely outside and quite tiny inside, so we ate outside. While we adults sat and talked, the kids scoured the sidewalk looking for bottle caps for Houston's bottle cap collection and found TONS. They were all, "I wish there were this many bottle caps on the ground by us!" To which i responded, "You wish there was more litter by our house? Really?"
In the afternoon, we headed to downtown Denver. We stopped by a couple of famous and really cool statues - the Dancing Aliens and the Blue Bear - but we spent most of our time on the Sixteenth Street Mall. We walked up it, and the kids begged to stop in every single little touristy shop. We walked all the way to the end, to the State Capital, climbed up to the 1 mile high step, and then got rained on, so we hid out under a tree for a bit. We rode the bus back up to where our cars were and drove to Little Man Ice Cream, an ice cream shop shaped like a giant cream can. Mmmm. Ice cream.
July 14th: Back on Saturday, when we were driving Lariat Loop, our van amped up its obnoxious habit of randomly turning itself off AS YOU'RE DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD. It also started stuttering more and more when you pushed the gas. For some reason, Juanito decided that this wasn't really a good thing, so he spent the morning fixing the problem. Turned out, there were several giant cracks in the intake tube, plus the throttle position sensor needed replacing. Once both things were fixed, the van ran beautifully, and Juanito was all, "I wish i'd only fixed ONE thing so i'd know which one really made the difference!"
Once the car was back in working order, we headed off to Hammond's Candy Factory for a tour. Jenny D. was hanging out, so she joined us. Lots of delicious candy later, we headed back to Red Rocks. We hadn't had a lot of time to just explore on Saturday, so this time we parked and then headed off on a hike up into the hills. Turns out, hiking up into the hills when you're already way up in the mountains is exhausting. We had to stop to breathe a few times, but once we were up on the top, the view was beautiful and probably even worth it. :)
June 15th: My cousin Maria lives in Denver, so we met her and a few of her kids at Dinosaur Ridge for the day. According to the brochures, there's amazing dinosaur-y stuff to see all along the hike, and there ARE some...things that are probably dinosaur bones or footprints or whatever, but it wasn't nearly as exciting as we had hoped it would be. However, once we were up past the touristy stuff, we went off on a little path that went up into the rocks, and that's where everyone started to really have fun. (Again, my kids' favorite part of Colorado? Climbing on rocks. All of them.) We climbed and climbed and eventually got near enough to the top that we decided to go ahead and turn around. Not before Juanito and the kids climbed up onto some scary high rocks, though.
In the afternoon, i took the kids to a nearby skate park with their scooters. They thought it was the coolest thing, and are all disappointed that there aren't any skate parks near our house.
June 16th: We drove down to Colorado Springs, where we spent the day at the Garden of the Gods. This was probably my favorite part in all of Colorado. It was just breathtakingly gorgeous.
We drove into the park, parked in the first parking lot, and took off up the paths to walk around and climb and take pictures. After an hour or two of walking around, the sky suddenly turned ominous, and we started trying to find our way back to the car...except that every time we thought we were in the right spot, it turned out to be the wrong parking lot. And then it started raining. Pouring. We all huddled under a tree, trying to protect our cameras under our shirts, and Juanito ran barefooted down the road to find our van. It poured harder. A very nice family offered to let us sit in their van to wait. It started hailing. And eventually Juanito drove up. Poor guy had to run almost a mile in the pouring rain and hail. Our hero.
The upside of the rain is that everyone else left the park, so we had a lot of it all to ourselves. Our favorite spot was the Siamese Twins, which is half a mile up a little path from the parking lot. We had the place entirely to ourselves. One couple showed up and stuck around just long enough for us to take their picture and them to take our picture, and then they disappeared again. We climbed and wandered and climbed some more until it started looking like rain, and then we high-tailed it back to the car. (We learned our lesson!) The only place we did see lots of other tourists was at Balanced Rock - probably because it's kind of an iconic spot to take pictures.
And then we headed to Tony's parents' house. They live in Colorado Springs and were kind enough to let us stay the night. On the way there, it downpoured. We nearly had to pull off, because we couldn't see the road. Except! I tried taking a video of how hard it was raining on my phone and noticed that i could see the road MUCH more clearly through the phone. It was weird. And so Juanito drove by holding the phone up and watching the road through the phone so that he could see through the rain. (Meanwhile, poor Tony drove to their house through the same rain on his motorcycle. Poor guy.)
June 17th: We spent the morning with Tony's family. Katrina learned that they had horses and was never going to be happy unless she was able to ride one. Happily, Mrs. C was willing to accommodate her, and Katrina was the happiest girl in the world. I'm pretty sure she'd have ridden that horse all day if she'd been allowed. Meanwhile, Houston was allowed to drive the big, fancy lawnmower around, and he was nearly as excited as Katrina was. (Zane entertained himself by trying to woo the cats over so he could pet them.) Mr. C took us around to show us where the giant Black Forest fire had been one year ago, including right up to across the street from Tony's sister's house. We visited with her for a few minutes, while Houston and Zane played with her chickens. And then we left to go up Pikes Peak.
One thing we didn't realize about Pikes Peak was that we'd all feel completely horrible or bizarre when we got to the top. It's SO high up that our bodies just kind of rebelled. Katrina and Houston both felt sick. Juanito felt totally drugged. I felt like i was really anxious and annoyed about something, even though i totally wasn't. And Zane ran around saying, "I feel totally fine!" And honestly, the top of Pikes Peak was kind of a disappointment for us, because visibility was zero. We waited for a while and climbed around a bit, but it was cold and damp and showed no sign of clearing up, so eventually we just gave up and left.
The way down, on the other hand, was fantastic. By the time we got below the clouds again, we were all feeling much better and less insane, and the views were beautiful. We stopped lots of times, got out and said, "WOW!" and then kept driving. We all got out and climbed around on the Devil's Playground...until we saw distant lightning and decided that staying where lightning regularly struck was a bad idea. And then we stopped at a spot where all of the kids just wanted to stay in the car, so Juanito and i climbed the rocks by ourselves. It was kind of fun for me, because i didn't have to worry about the kids not falling off, so i could climb too! Yay! We eventually got kicked off the mountain because it was closing. Sad.
July 18th: Back in Denver, and Juanito decides that he really needs to change the brake pads, because on the way down Pikes Peak they started behaving very badly. The kids were all quite exhausted by this point anyhow, and were all happy to have a very low-key day. We packed up most of our stuff. We went to the skate park again. We went to Golden for a couple of hours, where i inadvertently taught my kids that gambling pays off. (There was an old nickel slot machine, and i let them each try it, except that it almost always gave the nickel back if they didn't win, and then every once in a while they'd win and get lots of nickels. Houston won a $1.20. Shoot!) We got pizza for dinner and sat outside to eat it with Tony and Meloni. (Best! Pizza! Ever!!!) We all got to bed mostly on time for a change.
July 19th: We drove back home, in a blissfully uneventful trip. Arrived home early in the morning of the 20th and all fell into bed to sleep.