Colorado


Drive to Taos

No matter how many times we make the nearly 300-mile drive from the Denver area to Taos, New Mexico there’s always excited anticipation. In light of mid-summer paving projects on I-25 we opt to try bypasses for both Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

 

Bob at Pass KeyHeading west on US50 we spot a Pass Key Restaurant – a Pueblo tradition. Their Italian sausage sandwich is a favorite indulgence for Bob. We normally stop at the restaurant on Abriendo Avenue (near the original site of Pass Key Drive-In circa 1952)  so the US 50 location is new to us although they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary. Bob had his first Pass Key sausage sandwich in 1963 and could hardly wait for today’s edition.

 

Reaching Taos we’re delighted to get settled into the casita we’ve rented each summer for several years. Casa de las Abuelas is a modern adobe haven on a quiet Taos Lane. The private courtyard and patio calls us for a leisurely evening. For the next ten days our Taos home away from home.

 

Casita Patio

Castle Cafe – Castle Rock, CO

Pan Fried Chicken

 

How do you want your chicken – deep fried, roasted, broasted? I long for fried chicken right out of the cast-iron skillet, crispy skin, cooked to perfection just like Sunday dinner to Grandma’s decades ago. Pan fried chicken is nearly impossible to find in all of the Denver metropolitan area. A half-hour south of town there’s a cafe where we’re welcome to sit down to a family-style dinner highlighted by a platter of pan fried chicken.

 

Castle Cafe Chicken

 

We arrived on a Saturday a few minutes after five to occupy the last available table. Castle Cafe, in downtown Castle Rock, opens Monday-Friday for lunch, however the chicken dinner is only available during dinner hours, 4:30pm-close Monday-Saturday, 11:30am-8pm Sunday.

 

The dinner menu includes a full range of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, entrées and desserts. By far, the chicken dinner stars in popularity. Served family style for two or more orders the meal starts with a choice of soup, salad or slaw. The menu notes “Chicken is Cooked to Order – Please Allow 30 Minutes). Having skipped lunch we ordered a queso dip and chips with our drinks.

 

Sooner than expected a large tray of dishes was headed our way. A platter of chicken (each order includes ½ chicken), mashed potatoes, crackling gravy, veggies and homemade Parker House rolls. Even with high expectations we were not disappointed. Of course we couldn’t finish everything so a full box of leftovers accompanied us home. Desserts were tempting but we were much too well fed to indulge.

 

We noted that many extended families gathered for the chicken dinner, reminding us again of those long ago dinners at Grandma’s. With the restaurant’s popularity unless you’re willing to wait arrive early.  On this rainy evening people even waited outside under the awning and umbrellas. They won’t be disappointed.

 

When You Go: Castle Cafe, 403 Wilcox St., Castle Rock, CO, 303-814-2233, http://castlecafe.com.

Chihuly in the Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens & Desert Botanical Gardens

Purple Blue Boat

 

As we stroll the Denver Botanic Gardens and admire the Chihuly glass installations we’re reminded of seeing some of these same extraordinary pieces in the Sonoran Desert setting of the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

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Variations between an arid dessert and a mile-high Rocky Mountain environment offers interesting contrasts. Saguaro and a plethora of other cacti, palms and palo verde create the backdrop in Phoenix. In Denver themes include Rock Alpine, Lilac, Woodland, Montane, Japanese and plains gardens.

 

AZ - Ball BoatAlthough Denver has a semi-arid climate, there are more water features in the gardens giving additional visual opportunities. Boats dry docked in the desert rest in lily pad studded ponds with striking reflections.

 

 

 

Ball Boat

 

 

We’ve been fortunate to see Chihuly permanent collections and special exhibitions in museums and gardens in a dozen cities. There may be similarities but no two shows are identical. In fact there may be changes during the course of an exhibition. Special glass pieces may appear in entirely different arrangements.

 

AZ - Green HornetsGreen Hornets in Pond

 

 

Please enjoy this slide show featuring the contrasting installations seen in earlier shows at the Desert Botanical Gardens and the current one at the Denver Botanic Garden (open until November 30, 2014).

 

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 We always see something we’ve never seen before, a new creation making every exhibition unique.

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Phoenix 2014

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Denver 2014

Historic Baldpate Inn

Estes Park, Colorado

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At least once each summer or fall we head south of Estes Park for lunch at the Historic Baldpate Inn. The rustic log lodge was first established just two years after Rocky Mountain National Park was designated. Since them vacationers and locals have found rest and repast after a park hike or visit.Baldpate 1917

 

The glassed-in porch dining room lures us for the inn’s soup and salad bar – or, shouldn’t I say tub – accompanied by homemade breads and desserts. Each day two different soups are featured, generally one hearty meat soup and a vegetarian selection. Yesterday, when we visited, beef stew and pumpkin curry soup were the daily choices. We all gave double thumbs up to the pumpkin curry and the two guys also enjoyed the beef stew.

 

Baldpate Salad Tub

 

An antique clan-footed bath tub filled with ice holds an array of glass jars and bowls of salad choices. Starting with either a leafy greens mix or fresh spinach (or some of both) we then select from traditional add-ons such as cucumbers, red radiates, black olives, carrots, jicama,  bacon-bits, croutons, raisins. Homemade salad dressings top our custom salads. We also find three specialty salads each day. Yesterday we tried all three – fresh fruit in a lime/poppyseed dressing, a crisp corn/carrot/pepper salad and fruit in a light, creamy creation. Yum!

 

Baldpate Cornbread

Hearty wheat bread is a daily staple and almost always their ever popular cornbread. My son Michael had one bite yesterday and said, “Taste just like yours Mom.” That’s because when I make cornbread it’s right out of the Baldpate Inn Cookbook. Moist with cream-style corn and shredded cheese this recipe can’t be beat. Usually we find two kinds of muffins or hot rolls. The lemon blueberry muffins were yummy yesterday but my all-time favorites are the butterscotch banana muffins.

 

Baldpate Inn DessertThen it’s time for the very serious business of making one’s dessert selection. A silver tray holds slices of the available choices. Pies with flaky crusts are highlighted – rhubarb, cherry, blueberry, peach, apple, pecan, chocolate creme, key lime. Want it warm with a scoop of ice cream?

 

Walls of the dining room are covered with a historical collection of autographed photo portraits. Throughout our leisurely meal our eyes are drawn to the view across the pine forested treetops and the dozens of hummingbirds feeding just outside the windows. How could be ask for a better ambiance?

 

Baldpate Hummingbirds

 

Baldpate Inn Key RoomWe never leave without revisiting the key room. A mystery novel, Seven Keys to Baldpate, inspired the inn’s name. When the author visited the inn and stated it was so similar to his imaginary Baldpate Inn.

 

Contributed by loyal guests today’s key collection is thought to be the world’s largest and includes ones for the Pentagon, Westminster Abbey, and Frankenstein’s castle. Keys hang from the ceiling, cover the walls and fill glass display cases. Attached tags tell interesting histories Each visit reveals a new story; such as, Key No. 7 that seven-year-old Timmy stole in 1952 and returned sixty years later. We watch children of guests who’ve left keys in the past search for that one special family key.

 

Baldpate Key #7

 

Baldpate PorchThe porch calls guest to relax in one of the log rockers or the swing, enjoying deep breaths of pine-scented fresh air and conversation with family or friends. When the need to stir arises there’s a trail around nearby Lily Lake or longer hikes into Rocky Mountain National Park.

 

Baldpate lodging includes four cabins and twelve guest rooms in the inn – most of the lodge rooms share baths, all rooms have sinks, colorful quilts adorn each bed. Cabins range from one room to three bedrooms plus family room. All of the cabins have fireplaces and baths, two with whirlpools in addition to showers. Room rates include a three-course breakfast and late-evening snack. The Inn is open from Memorial Day weekend until mid-October. Perhaps we’ll return when golden aspen color the mountainsides.

 

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When You Go: Baldpate Inn, 4900 S. Highway 7 (7 miles south of Estes Park), 970-586-6151, www.BaldpateInn.com.

 

Baldpate Wagon

Chihuly in the Denver Botanic Gardens

 

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Denver Botanic Gardens hosts Dale Chihuly’s glass creations from June thru November 2014. Thousands of glass pieces placed among the garden’s plantings draw large daily attendance. We joined the admirers yesterday, spending four hours appreciating not just the Chihuly exhibits but also the lush gardens which are looking exceptional. We noted the large crew of volunteers working meticulously to keep everything looking its best.

 

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DBG 31Pools and waterways provide marvelous mirrors for many of the glass works. We had the fortunate opportunity to see some of these same installations this spring at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. Watery reflections create entirely different views.

 

While photographing the White Tower a lady commented that she thought the best view was from the east, down a long green grassy stretch. I prefer the mirror image the pond provides. To each their own.

 

I also recommend taking time to observe individual components of the installations. It’s easy to admire the overall visual effect but looking at a single element or small groupings proves worthwhile. Does that single blue piece in the Monet Pool remind you of a waterfowl bending to feed?

 

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Frog Feet 2I loved listening to children’s reactions and views of the glass and gardens. At a viewpoint for the Blue and Purple Boat a five-year-old thought the purple pieces looked like frog feet reaching for the water. I’ve seen those same pieces several times, frog feet never entered my mind but upon consideration I thought, he’s right.

 

Bob labeled the blue pieces floating nearby Hershey Kisses; Chihuly calls them Walla Wallas after the famous Washington onions. It’s all in one’s perception.

 

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We were so taken with the gardens we almost forgot to visit Boettcher Memorial Center and Tropical Conservatory. Of course there’s Chihuly works incorporated among the plantings plus a small viewing area for a video – worth seeing but unfortunately the facility chosen is only one-tenth the size needed.

 

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We found it interesting that a month into the exhibit the Chihuly team had arrived with another semi-truck of glass and were placing additional installations along the O’Fallon Perennial Walk and The Eclipse. Apparently when Dale Chihuly visited the opening he felt these areas were a little spare and, always the perfectionist, wanted to make some additions.

 

All the more reason to return plus the fact that seeing the show at different times of day, under varying lighting conditions and through the summer and fall seasons will always offer something new.

 

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When You Go: Denver Botanic Gardens, 10th & York Street, Denver, CO, www.ChihulyInDenver.com and www.botanicgardens.org.

 

Lilies in Bloom

Denver Botanic Gardens

Bob Lilies 

A visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens today brought many pleasures including a large variety of lilies in the peak of their bloom. Temporary Dale Chihuly glass installations throughout the gardens (through November) draws large admiring crowds. I’ve never seen the gardens looking so good. We found we took as many flower pictures as we did of the glass. As much as we admire Chihuly’s creativity, Mother Nature is up to the challenge and holding her own.

 

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When You Go: Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St., Denver, CO, 720-865-3501, http://www.botanicgardens.org/.

Destination – Crested Butte, Colorado

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Inspired by wildflower photos posted earlier this week by our son Eric we decided to head to Crested Butte for the Father’s Day weekend. We left the Denver area via Deer Creek Canyon. The route is popular with weekend cyclists requiring extra diligence in safely sharing the road. We join US285 near Conifer, heading towards Kenosha Pass. From the west side of the pass to Fairplay drainages in South Park bloom purple with wild irises – a late-spring treat. This year’s display seems especially lush. Along the way I make note of several potential day adventures such as the Shawnee Tea Room and the new Staunton State Park.

DSC01043 - Version 2After lunch at Quincy’s in Buena Vista we head west to Cottonwood Pass, one of our favorite routes across the Continental Divide. The paved approach on the east side climbs through aspen and pine forest, trees and grasses shimmering green today. (Note – A colorful drive in September.)  Switchbacks along the 19-mile CR306 climb more than 4,300 feet to the 12, 126-foot summit. Although the road was completely dry, snow banks deepened along the roadside. Vistas of mountain ranges to the east and the west entices travelers to stop for photographs.

DSC01046 - Version 2Gunnison CR209 is hard packed dirt the first 12 miles down the west side of Cottonwood Pass. Closed in winter, the road is car drivable from late May until the first heavy snowfall (usually sometime in November). Early in the season and after heavy rains drivers may experience some mud and standing puddles as well as periodic washboard sections. But the scenery makes the trip worthwhile as you descend to Taylor Reservoir, where you once again connect to pavement. Just below the dam fishermen line the Taylor River fly casting into the cascading waters.DSC01047 - Version 2

Known as the Wildflower Capitol, Crested Butte doesn’t disappoint this June weekend. The annual Wildflower Festival isn’t until July 8-14, 2013 but the hills are already alive with blooming glory. At elevations just above town blossoming lupines tint entire hillsides blue. Observant eyes spot fireweed, larkspur, and Colorado’s state flower – blue columbine. All with promises of richer floral displays to come.

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Elk Avenue, the Butte’s main street, hums with energetic outdoor enthusiasts and those seeking a high-altitude summer respite. We’ve reached our weekend destination – Crested Butte.

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