I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year. Much of 2008 was spent exploring my new home state of Colorado. In this two part newsletter I will share with you some of the exciting and offbeat family attractions this beautiful state has to offer, along with a report on our Thanksgiving trip to the Grand Canyon, and my December trip to Brazil. For those of you who subscribe to “Parents Magazine” published by Scholastic Inc., be on the look out for an article I wrote about Travel Tips. It should appear in a forthcoming edition.
Lastly, we have dates and space blocked for an extraordinary SPT trip to Guatemala, July 18-25, 2009. The trip will include the colonial city of Antigua , the Mayan market of Chichicastenango, the stunningly beautiful Lake Atitlan area, and mystical Tikal National Park. We have even arranged for a special community day project where our SPT families can assist the locals in planting trees and beautifying the environment around Antigua, sure to be a memorable cultural event! For details and pricing on the Guatemala trip, please contact Brenda directly at Brenda@maximtours.com
As summer approaches, some of you may be considering a trip out West by air or car. If so, here are a few destination suggestions to consider within the state of Colorado:
Tucked away in the southwest corner of the state, this western style tourist town , is the jumping off point for Mesa Verde National Park. We spent the 4th of July weekend here and thoroughly enjoyed the holiday parade – a mixture of clowns, horses, cowboys and cowgirls, history, and music. We were sitting front row curbside, when a young parade horse bolted and nearly carried away its carriage, riders and all, before the cowboys grabbed him and settled him down. The shops and restaurants can be expensive but , with a little searching, you can find some good restaurant values with dinner steak specials and hearty diner breakfasts. Just at the edge of town is a string of chain motels offering reasonable rates, even during high season. We tried an interesting Himalayan Restaurant for dinner and snacked on street food for lunch.
Mesa Verde National Park
About a one hour scenic drive from Durango is the fabulous Mesa Verde National Park. The drive alone into the park is spectacular as it winds through various canyons. As soon as you arrive, go directly to the ranger station and sign up for one or two ranged guided hikes to the mesas. These excursions sell out quickly and you cannot visit the mesas without a guide. Each excursion is different, so squeeze in what you can. You will need hiking boots or sturdy shoes to protect your feet from dirt and stones. Bring water and protect yourself from the sun, no matter what the season. The mesa excursions are awesome and the guides outstanding. You can cover the highlights of this park in a full day, but you must get an early start.
Sand Dunes National Park
Located in the barren southeastern corner of Colorado, is a unique phenomen of high rise sand dunes ringed by mountains in the middle of nowhere – literally. Created by the winds, this eerie landscape is one of great beauty and majesty and should be experienced at sunrise. You will need at least one overnight to do this and there is only one place to stay in the immediate area – the Oasis Motel which is a complex of motel/supply store/ and restaurant. The motel rooms offer a backyard patio with a smashing view of the Sand Dunes plus backyard BBQ if you are so inclined. We tried their indoor pool which was a beautiful tiled pool. We did 2 hikes, a late afternoon plus a pre-dawn. Dress in layers as the temperature rises quickly once the sun comes up. Anyone can hike the dunes but you need to be in good shape to make it all the way to the top of one of the high rise dunes. Hiking up sand is no easy matter and distances are very deceptive. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat.
About 45 minutes east of Pueblo, out on the southeast plains, is a quiet little town that is the centerpoint for experiencing life on the plains. Certainly not as exciting or as beautiful as other parts of Colorado, this area, nonetheless, played its part in Colorado history. We spent an overnight here in on a lovely cold sunny weekend. We drove past miles of feeding stations for cattle, the “cattle basket” of Colorado and drove alongside a series of trains , 100 cars long, carrying goods and supplies across the state. We dined with the locals in diners and restaurants where everyone knew everyone and greeted us with friendly smiles. We hiked the Comanche Grasslands, a vast area that truly gives you the feeling of the wide open spaces of the West.
Our favorite excursion was Bent’s Fort, just outside of town and smack in the middle of the plains. I have visited dozens of forts in my lifetime, all over the world, and this was one of my favorites. The very second I stepped through the portal, I felt like I had stepped back into history. The fort is a recreation of what life was like back in the 1800’s. The rooms are furnished as they were, re-enactors go about their daily business, and you are free to roam through every room on your own, if you wish. This fort was created to be an international trading post and, on any given day, as many as 6 to 8 languages would be spoken – English, Spanish, French plus 3 or 4 Native American languages. People traded and ate and slept together in harmony. Perhaps that is why the “vibes” were so good. It all ended at the time of Mexican-American War, as the fort was located on the north side of the Platte River and what was then Mexican Territory was located on the South Side.
Heading north we visit the second largest city in Colorado – Colorado Springs, known as “the Springs” to the locals. Two major attractions of the town include the Garden of the Gods hike and the Air Force Academy (more about those in a future newsletter). A lesser known attraction for families is a great little zoo called the Cheyenne Zoo. Located on a mountainside, it offers an array of animals indigenous to Colorado, at play in their natural habit. Many of the animals were orphans or previously sick or injured, such as the mountain lions. After exiting the zoo, you will pass right by the deluxe and very historic Broadmoor Hotel and Resort. Be sure to stop for a snack or a drink at one of their lounges overlooking a man made lake and the mountains. We visited there in the fall and enjoyed a delicious apple cider on a chilly afternoon.
Two hours scenic drive from Denver , up into the mountains, sits a town at 10,000 feet that was once a thriving silver mining center. With an early start you can cover the highlights in a day or you can spend an overnight. Be sure to visit the mining museum, the jail, and stroll the historic downtown district. Not to be missed is a tour of the Tabor Opera House. Preserved in its original state, it gives you a glimpse of what culture was like in the heart of a rough and tough mining town in the 1800’s. Some of opera’s greats appeared on stage here, despite the difficult logistics of getting here. Another major and very interesting attraction is Baby Doe Tabor’s cabin , next to the Matchless Mine, where she spent her last few years and eventually died, frozen solid in her cabin. This renowned beauty’s story is one of Rags to Fabulous Riches to Rags again.
Another mining town, also a 2 hours scenic drive from Denver, is known for its many gold mines. The major attraction is the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine where you descend several thousand feet down an authentic mine shaft, accompanied by a retired miner. This is one of the best mine tours I ever experienced. The guide walks you through an authentic labyrinth of mining stations and actually operates some of the noisy equipment. You get a true feel of the darkness and danger that these miners endured in an attempt to eke out a living in the Wild West.
In the next part of this newsletter I will talk about the Grand Canyon and my trip to Brazil. ¡Hasta luego!