Denver Botanic Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens

Denver has one of the top-ranked botanical gardens in the US – as our flight wasn’t until the evening, we were able to spend several happy hours there on the day we went home from last summer’s road trip.

My botanical knowledge is rudimentary to say the least, so I haven’t attempted to caption any of the photos in the next two galleries. Click on anything you like the look of to enlarge or start a slide-show.

Possibly my favourite part was the Monet Pool: water lilies galore.

While we were there, the gardens were hosting Stories in Sculpture – 13 pieces from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. If you are observant, you will count 14 sculptures below – the gardens have their own collection and I’ve included one example from it (Dale Chihuly’s Colorado, the first image). If you click on this gallery you’ll find it is, unlike the others, labelled – the sculptor as the title, and the name of the piece in the caption.

There is a bistro in the gardens, which we didn’t try, and a café which we visited for morning coffee and lunch, both good, so you could easily spend all day in there. We had a short time left before we needed to leave for the airport and popped into the neighbouring Cheesman Park.

Then we had to go home after three wonderful weeks touring Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. My first post about it was published on September 29, 2016, so it has been seven months in the writing. I’ll need to speed up, because I certainly don’t want to do any less travelling!

Next – Budapest.

Pikes Peak with Claudia and Scott

Have you met Claudia at The Bookwright? No? Pop over to have a look, I’ll wait…

Claudia and her husband, Scott, live near Denver and very kindly offered to pick us up and take us to Pikes Peak for the day. Colorado has 54 “Fourteeners” and at 14,115 feet Pikes Peak is only the 31st highest! But don’t worry, there’s a road all the way up (or a cog railway) so no climbing was involved. Not only that, you can eat donuts at the top – it’s amazing that they cook at such high altitudes.

It was, as you might expect, a tad chilly – but as you can see below, we all look very happy to be there.

Not far from Pikes Peak is Garden of the Gods, a park with magnificent red sandstone rock formations, many of which are over 300 million years old. We stopped off there on the way back to Denver.

We must have behaved ourselves, because next day Claudia and Scott offered to take us out again! This time, we visited the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The gems and minerals section was particularly impressive.

As was the Sky Terrace with its views over City Park towards the Rocky Mountains.

What an amazing two days! This was the fourth time that we have met up with fellow bloggers, and all have turned out to be lovely people. Many thanks to the wonderful Claudia and Scott for giving so generously of their time to show us around.

That’s almost it for our Summer 2016 road trip – we flew home the next day. However, we didn’t have to be at the airport until early evening so there was plenty of time for one last visit – Denver Botanic Gardens. Coming up next!

A walk around Denver

Colorado State Capitol and Civic Center Park

We found Denver to be a compact and walkable city. As our guidebook included a walking route which ended up at the State Capitol, very close to our B&B, we set off to do it in reverse.

The Capitol (1890s) wasn’t looking its very best with a bit of scaffolding round about, but we could still admire the ornate golden dome (1908) – 200 ounces of gold leaf went into that to celebrate the Colorado Gold Rush. Denver is also known as Mile High City and the 13th step up to the Capitol marks the exact point where that becomes true.

Across the road Is Civic Center Park. I liked the idea of using part of it to grow produce for food-banks.

Two Old West sculptures sit in the park, both by Alexander Phimister Proctor: Bronco Buster (1920) and On the War Trail (1922). Apparently, the model for the cowboy was arrested for murder before the statue was finished, but Proctor insisted that he should be allowed to continue posing for as long as he needed him.

To one side of the park are the public library and Denver Art Museum (DAM), both interesting buildings. The latter has one of the largest Native American art collections in the USA, which I can easily believe as we spent hours in there (including having lunch in their very fine restaurant, Palettes). Unfortunately, even though I still have the floor plan, I have not been able to caption much in the gallery below. I remember being fascinated by the video about creating the woman sitting with several infants between her legs, and could have told you its significance at the time, but now? No idea! That will teach me to leave things six months before writing them up.

Back on the street, we found plenty more art including this  40-foot-tall blue bear peeking through the window of the Convention Center (I See What You Mean by Lawrence Argent) and Jonathan Borofsky’s Dancers, two giant white figures prancing towards the Performing Arts Complex.

Our next stop was the Tattered Cover Book Store where we took the weight off our feet over a coffee. Friends had told us about this place: it was huge when they visited, but competition from Amazon and the like has reduced it to one floor. The little scene on the stairs commemorates Charlie Shugarts (1918-2007), Friend of Tattered Cover.

Our route then took us down Cherry Creek to the South Platte River. Here, in Commons Park, we found the sculptures below. I think, checking online, that these were temporary, part of an exhibition of nine sculptures by Jorge Marín called Wings of the City. I also realise I should have stood between the giant wings before John took the photo. Well, he knows I’m an angel anyway 😉

Just beyond Commons Park is the dramatic Millennium Bridge which marks the beginning of the walking tour – or, in our case, the end. We were tired after being on our feet all day and decided, rather than going back to the B&B to come out again for dinner, we would eat earlier than normal so that we could go home to relax.

This also meant we could re-admire by night some of the buildings we had walked past earlier in the day, such as this one – the Daniels and Fisher Tower. Modelled after St Mark’s Bell Tower in Venice, it originally formed part of a department store, long since demolished. Since the 1980s it has been residential and office space. Wow, I’d love to live there!

Our vacation was rapidly drawing to a close – but the next day was a highlight: a meeting with a fellow blogger. Who could that be? More soon!

Rocky Mountain to Denver

Lily Lake

On our way out of Rocky Mountain National Park we stopped for a walk round the delightful Lily Lake. Our stay had been all too short.

From here we drove to Nederland where we had a coffee on the balcony of Happy Trails and people-watched for a while.

Our guidebook described Nederland as a lively, ramshackle mountain-town magnet for hippies – and we had to agree, even though we were there at the wrong time of year for either Nedfest or Frozen Dead Guy Days. Yes, really. The term Ned has other connotations for us anyway – in Scotland it’s a derogatory term meaning a non-educated delinquent!

After a stroll round town and down the creek to the reservoir, we returned to our car which was parked opposite the library. That looked the best building in the place to me – how wonderful to have a reading area on a balcony over a stream! Unfortunately, it was closed or I’d have dragged John in for a visit.

Our final stop was Boulder, somewhere which would repay a much longer visit. We had a picnic lunch in Chautauqua Park near the Flatirons before stopping off in town where we particularly admired the Court House.

After that it was straight on to Denver and the beautiful Capitol Hill Mansion B&B. The Bluebell Room was gorgeous ….

…. we even had a sun-porch which gave us our own private entrance to the house ….

…. the exterior of which was equally spectacular ….

…. and to cap it all, there was a delightful garden in which to have breakfast.

So this was our luxury home for the next four nights! Only three more posts and then I will finally have finished blogging about our Summer 2016 road trip.

Deer Mountain

View from Deer Mountain
View from Deer Mountain

Rocky Mountain is a very busy park! By the time we got ourselves out in the morning, and that wasn’t very late, the signs for the car parks at the popular Bear Lake Trailhead were already indicating full. We headed for the Deer Mountain Trailhead instead.

Climbing Deer Mountain is a 6 mile round trip and you end up at over 10,000 feet. Before you get too impressed, I’ll confess that you actually start around 8,900 – but some of it is very steep, especially at the end. My knees didn’t like that section one little bit.

Here are some views from the way up.

Just before the summit we stopped to get our (well, my) breath back and I made the acquaintance of this little guy. I think he was begging, but I didn’t give him anything. Too many titbits is probably what made him so bold, and animals should not be encouraged to become dependent on humans for food. But he was cute.

On Deer Mountain On Deer Mountain On Deer Mountain On Deer Mountain

Pressing on to the summit, we could see right back down to our hotel on the edge of Estes Park.

Then it was time to retrace our steps, stopping for a quick picnic on the way.

In the afternoon, we took the one-way gravel Old Fall River Road which winds uphill for 11 miles and 3000 feet to Fall River Pass. The short trail at Chasm Falls made a pleasant stop on the way.

At the pass, we had a very welcome hot coffee at the Alpine Visitor Centre – it was cold up there and still had pockets of snow. Information boards told us more about the road which opened in 1920, and until 1932 was the only motor route across the park. Then it was replaced by Trail Ridge Road, our route back down.

The views from Trail Ridge were stunning.

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road

We were really sorry to have only one full day in Rocky Mountain, but the next day we were off to Denver  – and we were really excited about that.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks where this week she takes us on a stroll around Lucca.

Red Lodge to Estes Park

Smith Mine Disaster, Montana

Smith Mine
Smith Mine
Not long after leaving Red Lodge, we spotted a ghost mine on a hillside. The Smith Mine is the site of the worst underground coal mine disaster in Montana where 74 men were lost in February 1943. Some died as a result of a violent explosion, but most fell victim to the methane released by the blast. It’s a very poignant site. The information board quotes a note left by Walter and Johnny as they waited for the gas to catch up with them: “Good-bye wives and daughters. We died an easy death. Love from us both. Be good.” The mine finally closed in 1953 and has been left as a memorial.

Cody, Wyoming

Our next stop was back over the border in Wyoming: Cody, founded in 1895 by William F “Buffalo Bill” Cody. I must admit to being rather disappointed – it didn’t look that different to many of the other western towns we passed through, just more touristy. We admired the Irma Hotel (opened and named after Bill’s daughter in 1902), had a quick coffee and left.

Thermopolis, Wyoming

After coffee, we pressed on to Thermopolis. The statue is From this soil come the riches of the world by Carl Jensen (1999) and depicts a cowboy sifting dirt through his hands in 1897 when Thermopolis was founded. The Black Bear Café provided a good lunch, then it was back on the road again.

Hell’s Half Acre, Wyoming

Hell's Half Acre
Hell’s Half Acre
Our last stop of the day was Hell’s Half Acre, a sort of mini Bryce Canyon which, despite the name, covered about 320 acres. It was fenced off, so you couldn’t get down amongst the hoodoos, but there was a good view from above.

This was close to Casper, our overnight stop. It looked an interesting place to stay with lots of pioneer history to explore. I wish I could tell you about it – but we’d been on the road for two weeks and still had another week to go. Reader, rather than sight-see I’m afraid we took advantage of a hotel with a laundry to wash out our smalls.

Estes Park, Colorado

Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
The next day was all about reaching Rocky Mountain National Park. We only made one stop, in Laramie, the very first destination on our road trip which I’ve already written about (here) way back in October. Estes Park is the main town on the edge of Rocky Mountain and we agreed with our Lonely Planet Guide that “there’s no small irony in the fact that the proximity to one of the most pristine outdoor escapes in the USA has made Estes Park the kind of place you’ll need to escape from”. As we crawled through it bumper-to-bumper our hearts sank. Fortunately, however, my planning had been good. Our hotel, the excellent Alpine Trail Ridge Inn, was on the far side of town near the park entrance and had its own restaurant next door.  When we left in two days time we could take a different road which meant we would never need to go back into Estes Park. Not only that, we had something of a room with a view (see above). Result!

Next time: we climb Deer Mountain.

Destination Red Lodge

Red Lodge, MT
Red Lodge, Montana

At the Montana end of the Beartooth Highway is the charming historic mining town of Red Lodge. We stayed two nights at the Red Lodge Inn, a simple but comfortable motel, and enjoyed wandering the main street, Broadway, with its many attractive buildings.

The first night, we popped into the Red Lodge Pizza Co. I can’t remember now if the building used to be a post office, but I do remember all the pizzas had names like First Class or Parcel Post, so I suspect it must have been. Mind you, who cares what they were called? They were delicious! That’s it on the left below. To the right is Ox Pasture, just a few doors down. As we inspected the menu, a friendly staff member came out to encourage us in. Sorry, too full of pizza – but she was so enthusiastic that we booked for the next evening. This was a real find – a gourmet restaurant, using local produce, that would not be out of place in the grandest of cities. Easily the most spectacular meal in the whole of our three-week vacation.

Well, we had to work all that food off somehow so we took the Basin Lake Trail, a pretty walk although some of it was still scarred from wildfires in 2008.

On the way back, we stopped at the Red Box Car, a century old railroad car which allegedly serves the best fast food in the whole of the Yellowstone Region. This was just before our gourmet dinner, so we made do with coffee. The location doesn’t look much below, but it was right next to the creek which runs through town so it was relaxing to sit on the deck and listen to the water flowing.

The next day it was Goodbye Montana – our visit was short but sweet – as we set off to recross Wyoming on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Highway panorama
Beartooth Highway panorama

A candidate for the most scenic highway in America? I think so. When planning our 2016 Yellowstone vacation we hadn’t originally intended to continue north into Montana, but when I read this claim in Lonely Planet I knew we had to travel the Beartooth Highway. 64 miles of mountain pass from Cooke City to Red Lodge – what’s not to love?

Cooke City

Northeast Yellowstone
Northeast Yellowstone

We still had a large and beautiful chunk of Yellowstone to drive through before reaching the Northeast Entrance Gate, so by the time we got to Cooke City we were ready for an early lunch and a wander. It’s not exactly what I would call a city, but just look at those vistas!

We discovered that the town had a lovely little museum dedicated to the early miners in the area, Cooke City being the major camp for prospectors from 1869, so we looked at that too before heading back onto the highway to continue the adventure.

Clay Butte

Pilot and Index Peaks
Pilot and Index Peaks

After Cooke City, the road dipped back into Wyoming. These two peaks beguiled us all the way and we paused in several places to photograph them. Our next major stop was Clay Butte Tower which involved a three-mile drive on a gravel road. The tower used to be a fire lookout but now functions as a visitor centre.

Top of the World

Back on the main highway, we made slow progress because there were just so many beautiful places to stop, for example Beartooth Lake followed by a welcome visit to Top of the World Store for coffee.

After this, the road began a serious climb, until we reached Beartooth Pass, the highest point on the road at 10947 feet. It was blowy!

Summit to Red Lodge

Then it was all downhill with another couple of stops at Gardner Lake and our second Montana State Line of the day. This one claims to be the highest state welcome sign in the US.

At the end of the day we arrived in Red Lodge, another charming old town, which was to be our base for the next couple of nights. More about it next time!

Yellowstone’s Geyser Country Day 2 – Grand Prismatic Spring

Traffic jam Yellowstone style
Traffic jam Yellowstone style

On the last day of our week in Yellowstone, we headed back to Geyser Country. The two guys above (there’s a second bison just going out of sight behind the trees) held us up for a short while. Most people were back in their cars by the time John risked this snap – some of them had been standing way too close.

The best thing we saw in our whole week in Yellowstone came right at the end of the day, but there was plenty to do before that. Just south of Madison we turned off onto Firehole Canyon Drive, a short detour leading to some pretty falls.

A few miles further on we reached Lower Geyser Basin. On one side of the road is Firehole Lake Drive. The main attraction here is Great Fountain Geyser (second picture below) but it wasn’t due to erupt till the afternoon and we didn’t have time to hang about. Plenty other things to appreciate, though.

Across the road is the Fountain Paint Pot trail. The Pot is full of thick, bubbling mud.

Red Spouter, below, has existed since an earthquake in 1959 which altered much of this landscape. It’s unusual in that it behaves like all four thermal features at different times of year. In spring and early summer it’s a muddy hot spring that might seem like a geyser at times as it splashes water several feet high. By summer and autumn, as the water table lowers, it becomes first a mudpot then a fumarole venting steam, as here.

Below Red Spouter is an area with several geysers. This is Fountain Geyser.

The colours in the basin are beautiful. We’d seen many trees such as the ones below on our travels, but learnt something new about them from the trail guide here. They are lodgepole pine trees which drowned in the super-hot water of shifting thermal activity. Silica penetrated and hardened the bases of the trunks leaving a white appearance, so they are nicknamed “Bobby Socks” trees.

Finally, we arrived at Midway Geyser Basin.

There are two major features here. Excelsior Geyser Crater was formed when a huge geyser blew itself out of existence in the 1880s. The last eruption was a hundred years later in 1985, but it still discharges 4000 gallons of hot water per minute into the Firehole River. It may not look as spectacular, but it expels more in a day than Old Faithful does in two months.

And now for the pièce de résistance – Grand Prismatic Spring. At 370ft wide and 121ft deep, it’s Yellowstone’s largest, deepest hot spring and probably its most beautiful. I’ve never seen anything to rival it anyway. The water at 70C / 160F ensures it is usually cloaked in steam and the brilliant colours around it are caused by the microorganisms which live there.

Could we top that? Not really. We made a quick stop at Gibbon Falls which we’d passed several times already without viewing, then it was back to Canyon Lodge for our last night.

We left Yellowstone the next morning with over a week of vacation still left. However, this seems like a good time to take a break and blog about something else for a while. I’ll come back to our US road trip after the New Year.

Yellowstone’s Geyser Country Day 1 – Old Faithful and friends

Approaching Geyser Country
Approaching Geyser Country
Our last two days in Yellowstone were spent exploring Geyser Country, the area south of Madison Junction to Old Faithful. If you thought the sights I have already shown you were spectacular – well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

On the first day, we drove to the southern end – Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful and about 180 other geysers, plus a variety of hot springs. The first port of call should always be the Visitor Centre where you can pick up predicted times of eruption. Although not the biggest (up to 180 feet) or the most predictable geyser in the park, Old Faithful is the most frequent – every 90 minutes or so. We observed it twice – the first time, just after we arrived, from the boardwalk.

The second time, we climbed Observation Hill behind the geyser to look down on it and I think this was better. The first picture below shows the crowds patiently waiting, and how nondescript Old Faithful looks before spouting.

However, Upper Geyser Basin has so much more to it than Old Faithful. We watched our first eruption at 1030 and didn’t leave till 1600. There’s the park architecture to start with – lots of modern stuff which you can see above, but also Old Faithful Inn (1903) and Old Faithful Lodge (1928) which are still in service.

Most of the geysers and springs, such as this one, the name of which I can’t remember, line the Firehole River:

Firehole River at Upper Geyser Basin
Firehole River at Upper Geyser Basin
And there were so many! Once again, I’m struggling to cut down to a reasonable number of pictures.

Giant Geyser
Giant Geyser

Blue Star Spring
Blue Star Spring

Anemone Geyser
Anemone Geyser

Crested Pool
Crested Pool

Belgian Pool
Belgian Pool

Chromatic Pool
Chromatic Pool

Morning Glory Pool
Morning Glory Pool

Daisy Geyser
Daisy Geyser
Daisy Geyser (above) wasn’t as big as Old Faithful but it was a bit off the main path and very few other people were there when it erupted so we probably enjoyed it more. The gallery below shows Grotto Geyser, another favourite, in various stages of agitation. It teased by spouting water from different orifices in turn followed by a finale of spurting everywhere! We thought that was more entertaining than Old Faithful shooting straight up in the air.

Do we look exhausted?

Maybe not yet, but after 5 and a half hours we were certainly footsore. However, we stopped off at two smaller basins on the way back. First, Black Sand Basin.

Then Biscuit Basin.

By this time, we really were exhausted. However, the next day we were back to complete our tour of Geyser Country – and saw what I think was the most beautiful sight of our whole trip.