Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rocky Mountain High

On our sixth day in Colorado, we woke to brilliant skies and snowy peaks. We left the hot springs and Buena Vista to begin the journey to our final destination for the week: Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Here our family stands with stunning Mt. Princeton in the background:

We arrived in Estes Park in the afternoon and checked into our lodging at the YMCA of the Rockies, a vast family resort with sprawling grounds and numerous cabins and lodges. We set out to explore Estes Park with one goal: souvenier shopping! The boys had money burning holes in their wallets. Thankfully we found a couple of excellent rock shops, so they avoided t-shirts and baseball caps for something more meaningful and lasting. We couldn't get over the elk that were roaming freely in the town. Here a herd of elk graze outside a barbecue restaurant:

On Saturday morning we began our full day in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a cool, clear morning, and after a stop at the Visitor's Center we began our time with a hike around a picture-perfect mountain lake.

We ventured off the path to a trail leading to some campsites. The boys were happy to discover these snow drifts in the woods. It's difficult to tell from the perspective of the photograph, but the snow was nearly as deep as Reed stands. Even though they weren't dressed for it, the boys couldn't resist climbing the snow and running and sliding down it.

In the afternoon we returned to the YMCA to enjoy one of their many activities - archery! This is an awesome family resort with classes, hikes, and activities planned for children of all ages. The boys spent an hour and a half in the beginning archery class.

Later in the day, we returned to the park. We drove on Trail Ridge Road as far as it was cleared from snow (11 miles in). While they aim to have the road open by Memorial Day each year, it was clear why they won't reach that goal this year. The snow stood many feet higher than Tim!

We then drove down the mountain, out of the cloud bank, to the Alluvial Fan. This waterfall and the debris surrounding it was created by a 1982 dam break and flood. It was a wonderful place to climb and play; however, an afternoon rain shower cut our time short and drove us back to our Jeep.

After a very full day in Rocky Mountain National Park, we returned to our room at the YMCA to try to repack eight days of adventure into three suitcase. Morning will come too soon, and we will leave these mountains with sleep still in our eyes. We're ready to return home with a profound sense of gratitude for our week and a full heart from feasting on this beautiful place.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Paddle, Saddle, and Soak

When I say that this Colorado trip was a "dream come true," I am not being cliche. It's true. Tim and I shared a deep mutual desire to experience this place together and with our boys. You see, we've been ten times separately, but never together. And our boys have heard tales of our Colorado trips so often that they're a kind of family legend. So, what a thrill on Wednesday to make our way to YoungLife's Frontier Ranch, where Tim and I have attended seven Ransomed Heart retreats.

Summer camps had not begun, so we were able to meander around the ranch on our own. It was fun to show the boys where we stay, eat, worship, and also tell tales of some of our adventures.

After leaving Frontier Ranch, we drove into the mountains to the ghost town of St. Elmo, population 3. This town once boasted a population of 3,000, but now the owners of the bed and breakfast and the general store are its only year-round residents.

On Wednesday afternoon we checked into the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort, just down the road from Frontier Ranch. We quickly moved into our beautiful cliff-side room, donned our bathing suits, and headed for the natural hot springs. Built into the side of hill bordering a mountain stream, these pools are fed with hot, HOT mineral water. The snow-melt feeds the stream, so this cold water mixes with the mineral water to make the steaming pools bearable (it is that hot!). Ahhh, what a way to end our day!

Thursday began bright and early as we reported to Noah's Ark Whitewater Rafting. This 10-mile rafting excursion was the boys' first ever, so we had some adrenaline pumping. The boys were great, though, managing the Class 3 rapids we encountered on this sometimes wet, chilly ride. Seth helped me paddle in the front of the raft, while Tim and our guide manuevered the middle and back. Reed sat shivering in between Seth and me up front.

After our four hour float down the Arkansas River, we headed over to Mt. Princeton Stables for a two hour horseback ride. This inexperienced group of riders (Reed's first; Seth's second; and my first in 25 years!) saddled up on our assigned horses: Reed on Jazz, Seth on Buttercup, Tim on Dawn, and me on Tequila. Yes, that's right: TEQUILA.

I'd like to say our ride started as peacefully as the above photograph indicates, but that would be a lie. Before the stables were out of sight, Tequila had already picked a fight with a horse in the corral and bucked into the air (kudos for me hanging on!). Soon into our ride, it was clear that Tequila intended to ride with his nose pressed into Buttercup's backside. This resulted in occasional kicks from Buttercup and frequent concerned glances from Seth.

In the end, the boys managed their horses beautifully, I kept Tequila from lurching off the side of the mountain, and Tim learned to keep his equestrian suggestions to himself (poor guy).

After our two-hour ride, this cowgirl was happy to return to the hot springs for a long soak in the steaming mineral waters. Just what her sore saddlebag needed and the perfect ending to an adventure-filled day in Buena Vista.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Less Is More

We learned an important lesson on our first full day in Colorado: oftentimes less is more. Let me explain...we woke to a beautiful morning and were still grappling with how to spend our next few hours. We had rock climbing scheduled with a local friend at 2 p.m., so we had six hours. Since this was Tim and the boys' first visit to Colorado Springs, we felt compelled to visit the iconic Pikes Peak. I don't think any of us really cared about going (given our indecision about whether to drive to the top or ride the Cog Railroad), but we were in Colorado Springs, so it felt like a must.

We rushed to the railroad and barely made the train before departure, even bantering back and forth as we bought the tickets whether this was something we really wanted to do. We got aboard, though, and within minutes of the climb, I think Tim and I both realized we had made a mistake. Seth looked utterly bored, and Reed looked sleepy. Once you're on your way to the top, however, you're committed.

We reached Pikes Peak to discover the incredible views but also to find that the altitude did not agree with the boys. We found a table inside the snack bar/souvenir shop where they could rest while Tim trudge through snow and ice to enjoy the sight. As our twenty minute stop ticked by every so slowly, the boys felt increasingly worse and...let's just say, Seth's souvenir t-shirt would read, "I puked on Pikes Peak."

Poor guy. We returned to the train to wait it out, and once we began our descent, both boys fell asleep in our laps and earned the compassionate looks of our fellow passengers.

Thankfully we walked away from Pikes Peak with a valuable takeaway for the rest of our vacation (and for vacations to come): Less Is More. Sure, we came to Colorado to explore and adventure together. But we also came in need of rest, restoration, peace, and quiet. We needed to allow room for "Ahhhh..." in all of the adventure. So, we loosened the reins for the rest of the week. We moved out of desire instead of duty and curiosity rather than compulsion. I believe this change made all of the difference in the week that we enjoyed.

While we still saw a lot and did a lot on our trip, something in our spirits settled and we experienced the trip as a gift rather than something of our own making. And what an extraordinary gift it was!

On Monday afternoon the boys had fully recovered from their Pikes Peak trauma and were ready to climb some lesser heights. Our friend Alex took us to CityRock, an indoor climbing center in Colorado Springs, where we each scaled some of the highest indoor climbing walls in the state. Here you can see Tim belay Seth (orange shirt on the wall) while Reed (green shirt) watches.

On Tuesday we spent our morning at the Garden of the Gods. These stunning rock formations are situated in a rich landscape that are a feast for the eyes. We meandered along the pathways, explored the rocks, and enjoyed the coolness of the mountain air on an overcast day. After we left Garden of the Gods, we drove south out of Colorado Springs headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

We reached the dunes that afternoon and were awestruck by their beauty nestled in front of the stunning Sangre de Christo mountain range. This 30-square-mile stretch of sand boasts the largest dunes in North America. Once you park your vehicle, you set off across a stretch of sand and keep walking. Of course, there are no trails, so in the distance you can see tiny specks on the dunes...hikers further on their journey.

Reed and I quickly shed our shoes to help us trudge through the sand, and the boys were the first to resort to their hands and knees climbing higher and higher on the dunes. We never made it to the top of the highest (it's about a 2-3 hour climb), but we made it high enough for the boys to run, roll, slip, and slide. It's safe to say we had sand in every pocket, fold, crack, and crevice, but it was a great time.

Tuesday night we ended our day in the small town of Alamosa, where the boys enjoyed an indoor pool at our hotel. I'm sure they left more than their share of sand behind! By the time we tucked in that night, any thoughts of Pikes Peak felt like a distant memory.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


After a long spell of dreaming and many months of planning, we are Colorado-bound! Tim flew out five days prior to enjoy some time with a few buddies in the Rockies and attend the U2 concert in Denver. The boys and I flew from Nashville on Sunday, May 22. This was the boys' first-ever flight, and they had the expected butterflies in their bellies.

Thankfully we had a smooth flight and arrived in Denver before we knew it! Tim was waiting for us with our rental car...or I should say Jeep. This is what happens when you send a guy to choose the rental car! Not exactly what I would have chosen, but Tim hit a home run with the boys. In the end, it was perfect for our adventuring through Colorado.

We immediately left Denver bound for Colorado Springs, where we spent our first two nights at Glen Eyrie. This facility, home of The Navigators ministry, boasts a stunning Castle, breathtaking landscape, and comfortable lodges. It also offers great hiking (we quickly realized we weren't hiking in the Smokies on the rocky terrain).

It was a dream-come-true to be in Colorado together and begin this memorable adventure with our boys.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hikes #8 & #9

Our Colorado trip is only days away, so it's time to tally our hikes. No, we didn't accomplish our goal of 12 hikes before leaving, but we did manage to enjoy nine! Tim and the boy completed the final two during a Scout camping trip to Cades Cove. Thank you to Reed's awesome Scout leader for these pictures of my devoted hikers exploring the Smokies:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

We celebrated this Mother's Day with 76 trombones. My parents treated us with front-row seats to see "The Music Man" at UT's Clarence Brown Theatre. It was a delight to see this show with them and share the experience with the boys. Here are the happy moms with some musical men of our own...