Southwest Vacations: An iguana bike ride, a too-late discovery and farewell (Cancun Day 4)

Just tuning in? Be sure to first read:

Southwest Vacations: When Getting There is Half the Fun (Cancun Day 1)
Southwest Vacations: The Flowrider’s Hilarity and Beach Bumming (Cancun Day 2)
Southwest Vacations: A Snorkeling Adventure Within a Misadventure (Cancun Day 3)


Biking Explorations

A three-night trip with Southwest Vacations wasn’t nearly enough time to explore the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort. But thankfully our direct Southwest Airlines flight home didn’t leave until 2 p.m. so we had an entire morning to explore. Since our previous three days had been dedicated to the beach, we opted to check-out some bikes and explore the property’s 55 acres of lush tropical foliage.

Moon Palace implements a wildlife monitoring system that has classified 29 reptile species, 112 bird species and 15 mammal species that live and breed in the resort’s natural areas. We were ecstatic when we spotted a white-nosed coati lurking in the jungle and my daughter almost ran over an iguana (chalk those up to things that never happen in Colorado.)


While at the resort, we spent every moment together but my kids were counting down the years until they’d be old enough for the state-of-the-art Wired Teens Lounge. That is, until we stumbled upon the Playroom during our bike ride, a veritable kid’s wonderland geared to potty-trained kids up to age 12.

From various game rooms, an American Ninja-warrior-style play area, outdoor playground, mini-spa, fashion runway to practice the catwalk, a movie theater, arcade, toddler area, Xbox room…the Playroom had it all. What we had intended to be a 5-minute stop turned into an hour and we had to practically drag them out.

For once in their lives, the kids were begging for us to ditch them and we were frustrated we didn’t have enough time before our flight home for them to be ditched.

That is what I call a lose-lose situation.

Our Sad Farewells

Twenty-four hours prior to departure, Lomas Travel called our room to confirm our pick-up time for the airport (usually I’m the one trying to track them down tour operators confirmation).  They were right on schedule, we easily navigated Cancun International Airport and boarded our Southwest Airlines flight to Denver. As we were taking off, I turned around to see this girl of mine.

Sun-kissed. Hair braided. Personalized bracelet. In just four days, she had turned into a Mexican Senorita as she marveled at the wonderland below she had been fortunate to experience.

And so had we all.

It’s a Wrap

Southwest Vacations Shuttle Bus Friends

We arrived in Denver to a cold, snowy night. We collected our luggage, bundled up and loaded the shuttle bus to our car in long-term parking. There were two other couples sitting near us and we started talking.

“I’m so bummed to be home.”

“Me, too. We just got back from Cancun.”

“So did we!”

“Us, three!”

Coincidentally, we had all booked our trips through Southwest Vacations and had been on the same return flight. When I asked about their experience, the younger couple replied, “We had some problems with our hotel the first night. We called Southwest Vacations and they switched us to a different resort with no problems at all.”

The other couple echoed their approval, raving what a smooth trip they’d experienced.

I chuckled. Sure, we’d had some minor bumps in the road due to our own ignorance but it was one of our least stressful vacations ever thanks to being able to pre-book our flights, excursion, resort and transportation.

And finding ourselves in the back of that shuttle bus with those couples was just a reminder of what a small world it is with Southwest Vacations, and that they truly bring the world to you.

Southwest Vacations: The Flowrider’s Hilarity and Beach Bumming (Cancun Day 2)

Just tuning in? Be sure to first read Southwest Vacations: When Getting There is Half the Fun (Cancun Day 1).

When you have only three nights in Cancun with Southwest Vacations, you can either try to cram it all in or take it easy. We took one look at at the Moon Palace Golf & Spa resort’s staggering amount of activities and decreed we needed to spend an entire day at the resort doing nothing…and everything.

One of my favorite travel traditions is to go for an early-morning run upon arrival. There’s something untainted and magnificent about watching the sun wake up your new world and I was entranced by what I saw on property. From a curious field of sunflowers overlooking the ocean,

to a tranquil beach,

to a preview of the resort’s seven outdoors pools that are among the largest lagoon-style pools in Mexico.

Sand and Surf

Following a delicious buffet whereupon we discovered the best thing ever to happen to breakfast–sweetened condensed milk on pancakes and waffles–we hit the pools. We were among the first in line to test our surfing skills on the Flowrider where thousands of gallons of water create two lanes of endless waves. Eager beavers? More like we arrived early to avoid witnesses to our inevitable humiliation. We had a couple of options: We could bodyboard on the FlowRider or attempt the standup flow boards. As newbies, we opted for the former and after the initial fear of  dropping into the bowl,  we felt pure exhilaration as we rode the unbroken waves, carved turns and cut back and forth.

As it turns, face-plants are the norm there so we were in good company.

We settled onto the beach where we played volleyball, glided through the Caribbean waters in kayaks to watch the on-site Dolphin Discovery program, built sand castles and strolled the surf.

Conditions were cloudy yet still warm, likely scaring off the crowds. I settled back to read a book in the temperate weather while the kids played. 

I think some people call it relaxing. It was a first for me but won’t be my last.

The All-Inclusive Obsession

This was my children’s first all-inclusive resort experience and they whole-heartedly embraced it. I gave them some freedom but not as much as Hadley would have preferred. “Mom, I think you need to just let us explore. I mean, set boundaries, of course, but we’ve got it from here.”

By “here,” she meant bouncing between the pool, beach and the Sweets and Coffee shop where we downed about 20,000 calories of mini-cheesecakes (but who’s counting, we didn’t!)

We also became virgin Piña Colada and Miami Vice addicts (the drink, not the tacky 1980s show).

I knew we had a problem when we had to prematurely cut Bode off to rush to make a reservation. Our normally low-maintenance son lashed out, “This is the second time today I have been denied my pina colada.”

His reentry into the real world wasn’t pretty.


 Tune in tomorrow for “Southwest Vacations: A Snorkeling Adventure Within a Misadventure (Cancun Day 3).”




Southwest Vacations: When Getting There is Half the Fun (Cancun Day 1)

Shortly before Christmas, I was perusing through my  spam folder when I happened upon an email entitled “Southwest Vacations – Mexico Vacation Opportunity.”

I don’t know about you but I’m regularly “winning” the lottery and dream vacations so I almost automatically deleted it but I’m so glad I didn’t.  The email explained that Southwest Vacations® recently launched service to Mexico and the Caribbean and they were wondering if my entire family would consider taking a trip from Denver (one of their top departure cities) to Cancun.

View from the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort

Though I was obviously familiar with Southwest Airlines®, I had never heard of Southwest Vacations and a bit of research revealed they are directly affiliated with the affordable airline and offer complete vacation packages to Las Vegas, Disney World, Disneyland, Florida, California, New Orleans, Phoenix and other top US destinations.

Low-cost vacation packages that you do not have to plan yourself? Sign me up!

The process was embarrassingly easy, given the amount of research that usually goes into planning a trip and it was a comfort to know that all the services had already been vetted. At, I booked our direct flights, transfer information to-and-from the airport, hotel, excursions and paid my international taxes…all with a few simple clicks.

We surprised the kids with the news of our Cancun vacation on Christmas and they were thrilled. I usually spend the final weeks leading up to a major vacation stressing and planning but I literally had nothing to do because everything had already been confirmed. I started stressing over my lack of stress, which made me realize that maybe I have a problem with needing to feel stressed.

And then I got over it really quickly and decided for once, I would find out what it was like to have a stress-free Southwest Vacation.

The Flight

I checked our family into Southwest Airlines 24 hours before our flight to ensure an optimal boarding assignment. We have flown a number of times but have never had an international direct flight and it was a game-changer. Instead of wasting essentially two days to get there with our usual layovers, we gained an entire day to enjoy Cancun during our quick 3-night trip.

Say “yes” to Southwest’s direct flight from Denver to Cancun!

Our 3.5-hour flight went smoothly and upon arriving at the Cancun International Airport, we were greeted with a madhouse (apparently we weren’t the only ones who had opted for a long-weekend getaway during Martin Luther King Jr. Day). We eventually made it through Customs without a hitch…until we were randomly selected to have our bags searched. Seeing the wad of small bills for tips in my purse, the officer queried, “Ma’am, does this exceed $10,000?” I tried to stifle a laugh–it was like he totally knew me.

The instructions on our Southwest Vacations confirmation were to walk directly from Customs and not stop to talk to the multitude who was trying to sell timeshares. We quickly spotted our Lomas Travel representative and were mercifully whisked away in an air-conditioned shuttle.

The Resort

I had only been to Cancun once before on a brief stopover during a cruise and my first impression was not favorable. Though the Caribbean waters were undeniably beautiful, the hotel zone seemed like non-stop revelries and for a non-partier who craves outdoor adventure, I couldn’t figure out the allure.

When my family pulled up to the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort–a short drive from the airport but seemingly worlds away (40 minutes) from Cancun’s populous hotel zone–I caught a glimpse. A doting staff presented us with flowers, cool washcloths and we gratefully devoured a spread of snacks in the lobby during while singing, “I think I’m gonna like it here.”

Moon Palace is a sprawling all-inclusive resort, boasting 2,446 luxurious marble décor rooms and private balconies with three distinctive sections. We stayed at the more secluded and quiet Grand section, the expansive Sunrise is replete with activities and pools while the Nizuc section has exclusive concierge service with shuttles connecting them all. I love that despite the size (which seemed overwhelming at times), each area had its own personality and the cozy feel of the Grand perfectly suited us. We had one of their most basic rooms and it was anything but basic.

Our room’s private balcony overlooking the jungle

A double jacuzzi for one fully-clothed boy

A helpful concierge helped us narrow down their 13 restaurant choices and made us dinner reservations at the Brazillian steakhouse, Arrecifes. As we were walking the ocean-side path to dinner, we caught our first view of the water. My daughter begged, “The ocean is calling and I must go” (or something like unto it) but her killjoy parents’ stomachs were calling even louder so we forced dinner upon her. As she stuffed her face with delectable Bolinhos de arroz, acaraje, and empadinhas de palmito, we learned two things about the Moon Palace: 1) We were going to eat well and 2) We were going to eat a lot.

Following dinner, we hit the abandoned beach. Still in our dinner clothes, my husband and I initially cautioned them to merely walk in the sand. But of course, the kids needed to at least touch the water! And then you can’t expect them to merely wade! Before long, they were vacillating between being fully submerged and building sandcastles.

Jamie and I settled back on the beach and watched as the full moon burned down and Cancun glistened with silver lights like a galaxy of fallen stars.

Hadley looked at the horizon, that long line that cuts the world in two, and flung some sand toward it.

“Did you see that?” she squealed as she launched another handful. When it hit the dark ocean, the moon’s reflection lit up each grain of sand like a bioluminescent bay, a befitting touch of lunar magic in the hauntingly beautiful Moon Palace.

Just when we thought our trip to Southwest Vacations couldn’t get any better, it did just that.


Stay tuned for tomorrow for Southwest Vacations: The Flowrider’s Hilarity and Beach Bumming (Cancun Day 2).


A birthday to remember at The Broadmoor

If you have done something two years in a row, does that make it a tradition? If so, I’d like to officially declare staying at The Broadmoor our annual Memorial Day/Hadley birthday tradition!

We can all dream, right?

Sure, the weather didn’t cooperate but we still had a fabulous time at this iconic AAA Five-Diamond Resort in Colorado Springs. I mean, how could you not? The gourmet food is divine at The Broadmoor’s elegant restaurants. When we dined at La Taverne on our first day, they brought Hadley a birthday treat.

“But it’s not even my birthday yet,” she weakly protested.
“Yes, but it is your birthday weekend!” our waitress responded.

She never looked back.

Whoopie Pie celebration while bowling at PLAY

“Mom, my goal is to get to Round 10 of the brunch because I’m 10 years old today.”
“You’ll be sick.”
“I know.”

Birthday brunch

Side note: she made it.

Dissection of a birthday girl: cute green dress from Aunt Lisa, cowboy boots for horse camp from Mom, volleyball from Dad, new purse and wallet from the family and some classic books from Aunt Sue.

And nothing says brotherly love like Bode who constructed a birthday “H” for Hadley on Minecraft.

The weekend was non-stop fun. There was Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and hiking Cheyenne Canyon. Then, we were the very first group to participate in The Broadmoor’s new summertime activity, Laser Tag, on the croquet lawn. Uncle Chris joined us for our vacation and the man will become legend in Broadmoor Laser Tag circles because, as one admiring tween stated, “That guy has to be a professional hunter.” Translation: he “killed” us all every time.

I was unsure how laser tag would work outdoors but we were outfitted with paint-balls guns that had CO2 canisters or battery-operated guns for the littles.

Laser tag with Uncle Chris

Is it just me or does Hadley look a little bit too comfortable with that gun?

Everyone had a blast except Jamie who had to leave early when an old pumpkin injury started bleeding.

I wish I was joking.

The pool was, as always, glorious!

Hadley playing the “you have to go down the slide because it’s my birthday” card with Uncle Chris

The highlight of our lives (not really exaggerating) is a poolside cabana but remember that uncooperative weather?  We weren’t able to spend very much time at the pool but still toughed it out.

If you can call anything at The Broadmoor “tough.”

We drowned our inclement-weather sorrows in a lot of food by trying their new Italian Ristorante and Bar Del Lago. With delicious family-style portions, we started with a selection of antipasti and finally stopped two hours later with Bombolini (fried pastries) and Cannoli.
Jamie is not smiling because this was taken near the end of the meal and he was literally too full to try.

Of course, we always pose for family pictures by Cheyenne Lake.

Roast s’mores.

Order room service for breakfast.

And relish every single moment at The Broadmoor as if it is our last.

Room with a view

Happy birthday, Hadley!

Adventures summiting the highest dune in North America

Visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve has been on my bucket list but if I’m being honest, it’s closer to the bottom for two reasons.

1) It is located in the middle of nowhere 4 hours southwest of Denver.
2) If you will recall, I hate sand.

So, how exactly does a sand-adverse gal fall in love with a sandbox-on-steroids that is approximately 30 square miles while chaperoning 20 squirrelly fourth graders?

Simply stated: This delicate and complex dune system is breathtakingly wild, remote and awe-inspiring. The 150,000-acre dunes rise 750 feet from the floor of the San Luis Valley on the western base of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Range. I’ve never explored anything quite like it.

Hadley’s class spent the morning at the park’s Visitor Center watching a 20-minute movie about the formation of the dunes and then testing out the interactive exhibits like the video microscope, rock/mineral table and lightning tube.

Following lunch, we began our adventure with the intention to climb to the top of High Dune, the tallest in North America. Prior to reaching the dunes, we needed to cross Medano Creek. The length and time that Medano Creek flows depends on the amount of winter snowmelt.  Typically, the creek starts to flow in late March or April, with peak flow in late May but in drought years it dries up much earlier. The water was only a few inches at its deepest but judging from the beach party, I could have sworn we landed in California.

Our creek traverse to the dunes. My favorite picture of the trip

The kids had the time of their lives running, jumping, rolling and flipping in their sandy playground. I was exhausted just watching them (sounding like the old woman that I am).

Jump! (Hadley in blue)

I’ve hiked in numerous circumstances–paved, dirt, shale, boulder fields but never steep and deep sand.  For every two steps we took, we sank and slid back one.

That’s a nice way of saying some people thought they were going to die.

But not Hadley. She went barefoot (not recommended in the summer because the sand gets hot) and I’m telling you that girl of mine was a beast climbing those peaks. She completely blew the other girls (and me) away and after an hour, she was the second person to arrive at the first peak just after J.D., the class athlete.



Steeeeep Part 2

“She’s like a gazelle,” observed Hadley’s teacher Mrs. Price who, at 7 months pregnant, was quite impressive herself.

First kids to the first ridge–Hadley, J.D., Noel and Terran

Most of the kids from the class made it to that first ridge.

The wind was howling, sand was whipping and we were about to turn back when we had a momentary reprieve from the conditions–just long enough for a handful of the crazies to keep hiking another half-hour and summit High Dune, the tallest in North America.

High Dune Summit Group with Mrs. Price

Dunes for miles

My favorite part of the day was watching Hadley kick butt. My second favorite was going down. On our ascent, we never hiked straight up but instead took indirect zig-zag routes along the ridge lines. Our descent was a straight shot down steep slopes and I’ll be darned if it didn’t feel like I was a kid again as I barreled down a powder playground.

I got a kick out of how competitive the kids were. After we separated from the main group to climb High Dune I surged ahead, knowing full well the kids would be passing me up on the steeps. I overheard J.D. telling everyone, “OK, if Hadley’s mom is first, she won’t count. Does everyone agree?”


For the record, I came in fourth.

Not that I was counting.

Colorado Family Travel: Breckenridge’s Ice Castles, Skiing and Dog Sledding are an Adventure of a Lifetime!

My husband and I dream of owning a cabin someday and Breckenridge has long been at the top of our list.  Only a 1.5-hour drive from Denver (I-70 traffic snares notwithstanding) this authentic mining town has everything I love: a world-class ski resort, the Blue River (a tributary of the raging Colorado River), an idyllic Main Street, gourmet dining, glittering boutiques, endless hiking possibilities and it is part of an 80-mile network of paved, motorized bike paths that connect other Summit County resorts like Dillon, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Vail.

We have spent long, languid summer and fall days in Breck but here’s my confession: we have never been there once the snow flies. And if you love winter like I do, you know that Breckenridge is one of Colorado’s best family vacations.

When you have young kids, no vacation is perfect but we were fortunate to have a nearly perfect trip with huge winds (the downside), huge snow totals (the upside) and knocking off an activity has been on my bucket list since I was born. Maybe I started dreaming about it in the

Dog sledding in Breckenridge, Colorado

womb because this trip was what dreams are made of.

If you’re looking for a fantastic getaway in Colorado’s mountains, these are my top recommended activities.

Click to keep reading about our fabulous adventures dog sledding, Ice Castle-ing, shopping and skiing!

The Ice Castles in Breckenridge: An Overload of Frozen Magic

I love to surprise my kids and they love being surprised, which is a win-win for everyone.

A couple of weeks ago, we had one of our favorite winter vacations ever in Breckenridge, Colo., a charming resort that is the very definition of Ski Town USA. I’ll have many more details to come on our adventures dog sledding and skiing but it was our first day that was my favorite.

Now, keep in mind we’d just spent a very exhilarating afternoon dog sledding but Jamie and I had one more surprise up our sleeves. The kids were tired and it’s tough to compete with mushing.

“Mom, so where are we going for our surprise?”
“I’m not telling. Be here’s a hint: the movie, Frozen.”
“Ice castles? Are we going to see ICE CASTLES?”

My kids nailed it on the first guess. And much to our delight, the giant Ice Castles in Breck are a cut right out of Disney’s musical fantasy where you’ll swear you’ve been swept away in an eternal winter with magic at every turn. Disclaimer: mangy reindeer named Sven not included.

This is Brent Christensen’s fifth year building Ice Castles and his third go-around in Colorado (previous years were in Silverthorne and Steamboat). Conveniently located at 150 W Adams Ave. in downtown Breck adjacent to Blue River Plaza, the 1-acre frozen kingdom gives you yet another reason to visit this world-class resort town.

So, how do they do it? According to Christensen, each ice castle takes thousands of man-hours to make. More than 5,000 icicles are “grown” each day to be harvested and sculpted together. Newly placed icicles are then drenched in freezing water once or twice each day. The blend of icicle placement, changing temperatures, water volume and wind result in an astonishing and ever-changing variety of ice formations. Each ice castle uses about three million gallons of water to build and maintain. Wasteful? The Ice Castle is located next to a natural water source (the Blue River) and so all of the water returns directly into the environment to be used again by wildlife, people and plants.

I’m Canadian so I know snow and ice but there is something awe-inspiring about seeing the castle all lit up with the lighting actually frozen inside of the ice. My family visited late in the day when the ice takes on glacial tones of deep blue.

Blue Smurf Family


With the Ice Castles’ winding passageways, it was the perfect place to play hide-and-seek or, even more fun, Ditch the Mom.

I rounded the corner to see these three devious faces grinning back at me.

We bundled up in our ski clothes and returned later that night (your ticket is valid all day) to a luminous crystalline display.  I pointed my iPhone up and snapped back-to-back photos of the ever-changing play of light.

Ice Castle Rainbow

Ice Castle Pretty in Pink

We loved “warming” ourselves by the fire.
If it is possible to do that through a wall of icicles.
The Ice Castles are  an ephemeral work-in-progress and will continue to be expanded upon throughout the season. At the time of our visit, the “artists” were working on a ramp that would lead to the top of the castle with a slide for a quick and thrilling way down.
My kids’ favorite part was a tunnel that cut through a wall of ice.  I’m not really claustrophobic but when I saw them shimmying through the tiny space, visions of Pooh Bear danced in my head. Getting stuck in ice was not my idea of a good time but I ultimately sucked it up because I didn’t want to be that mom who wouldn’t try new things.
My fears were unfounded–though the tunnel’s quarters were narrow, I slithered through just fine. Initially starting out on my stomach I flipped to my back which I later regretted when I started the slow downhill slide and was ejected onto the snowy floor.  I reassured myself that if I did get stuck, surely a blowtorch would help me out.
Though I’m unsure if that is a good or bad thing.


General Admission, age 12 and up:    $10. Children 4 to 11: $8. Young Children under 4 years old:  Free. Military / Seniors: $8 (must show ID). Season pass: $30


The Glorious Broadmoor: In Pictures

Sometimes I’m way too verbose for my own good so here’s a pictorial glimpse at our Labor Day weekend at The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs’ AAA Five-Diamond resort.  I was on-assignment to write about their new Ranch at Emerald Valley through a child’s eyes (read about it here). It was one trip that would’ve made me wish I could be a kid again…if I wasn’t having the time of my life.

Hands down, our favorite activity at The Broadmoor is hanging out at the glorious infinity pool.

Usually we paddleboat around pristine Cheyenne Lake but this time we took the electric boats for a spin.
Apparently it was a very serious matter for the Boy Captains.

Sometimes you just need a break from the water for some Magic Treehouse moments.

We usually spend at least an hour in The Broadmoor Children’s Shop.

Everything is bigger and better there.

We also did some very serious gaming.

And we just had a wonderful time hanging out together.

Did I mention The Broadmoor’s coffee shop Expresso’s has wisely replicated the cronut craze (think: half-donut, half-croissant) that is sweeping New York City? This was their basic cinnamon-sugar Broadmoor Donut, which was melt-in-your-mouth amazing. I may-or-may-not have almost started weeping when, on the drive home, they announced their new flavors for fall: Pumpkin Spice & Apple Broadmoor Donuts.

We first took the kids to The Broadmoor when they were 3 and 1 and one of their favorite things to do is play on the elevators.

I love this shot. Doesn’t it look like it could have been taken out of their archives?

One afternoon while Jamie got a massage and I hiked the Upper Columbine Trail (details on that tomorrow), the kiddos went to the resort’s Bee Bunch kid’s club.

They had a great time. I think. This picture could go either way.

We can’t go to The Broadmoor without partaking in their legendary brunch.

Bonus: no children threw tantrums during this photo shoot (unlike last time in Tearing Families Apart and Bringing Them Back Together).

And why would they freak out when they have a spread like this?

Lest you think our trip to The Broadmoor is all about food, you would be correct. Cases in point: room service.

And we instituted a new family tradition at PLAY, The Broadmoor’s luxury retro six-lane bowling alley, game room and eatery: we started with desserts first, followed by the main course topped off by appetizers.
Upon returning home, I spent hours and hours writing about our experiences and was relieved when their magazine editor loved it. As payment for their writers, they give us a return trip so we can stay and play at our leisure.

Because we didn’t do enough of that during our latest visit.

Hiking to non-existent reservoirs is still a day of Colorado bliss

Remember our adventures atop 14,265-foot Mt. Evans and how I vowed to go back to the eccentrically charming Echo Mountain Lodge’s gift shop and restaurant? Two days later, it happened.

Upon returning home, I checked my email. My friend Dawn organized a summer hiking group with gals from church and I was shocked to see that Tuesday’s hike was to Idaho Springs Reservoir and the trailhead was right at Echo Lake. We skipped swim lessons that day and I declared yet another mountain adventure was in order. On previous hikes, there were plenty of kids but no one Hadley’s age so we invited her bestie Alex along for the ride.

Besties at Echo Lake

Idaho Springs Reservoir

Though I’ve hiked 90 percent of the trails on the Front Range, the Chicago Lakes Trail to Idaho Springs Reservoir is over an hour from my house and deep in the backcountry so I was not familiar with it. As we started hiking, a mom whipped out her guidebook for directions and lo-and-behind it was Best Hikes with Kids, the book I was contacted about revising a few years ago!

The publisher shipped me a copy when it came out last year and I was mostly relieved I turned down the project and pleased that the author did such a nice job with it. Mind you, if I was contacted about doing something similar now, my kiddos are of a more suitable age for me to take it on.

The guidebook is thorough but here’s one thing the author neglected to mention: this hike is not great for young kiddos. For about 12 minutes, we skirted along a narrowish ledge with a steep drop. We had a few preschoolers, which made for an ulcer-inducing time. Even more stressful was I was up front with the older kids while the other moms helped the youngin’s at the back. My friend Dawn has two darling twin boys who are Bode’s age and let me tell you, those boys are mischievous. One of them tried climbing DOWN the steep cliff while the other tried to race past us while still on that ledge.

We eventually sent them back to hike with their mom and everyone was much happier. Well, except for them.

The guidebook suggested we start at the Echo Lake Campground but the host said it was quicker to commence from the north side of Echo Lake. There was a simple map in the guidebook but we had no idea how far our altered route was. We stopped a lady on the trail who had a topographical map and lo-and-behind, the Idaho Springs Reservoir wasn’t even on it. You know, OUR DESTINATION.

Echo Lake, the group at the creek and that lovely ledge.

We kept blindly hiking for another 15 minutes with glorious views of Mount Evans looming in the background. Upon reaching a creek, we opted to turn back. Who knew if we were even going the right way and we had already been hiking an hour.

If there’s anything I hate, it’s unfinished business and that is particularly prevalent with hiking. If I don’t summit, I have to go back or I obsess about it. Upon turning around, we were a few minutes from the trailhead when we ran into a hiker. I started talking to him and mentioned our turnaround point. “Oh really? You should have kept going. Idaho Springs Reservoir is only 1/4-mile from that creek.”

I guess the only positive side to that is I’ll be back.

The Scenic Route

As promised, I let the kids each pick out a souvenir at Echo Lake Lodge but opted to hold out to try the restaurant until we could return with Jamie (he was only a little bit bitter about being left behind). Then, instead of heading back on I-70, I announced we were going the scenic route via new-to-me Squaw Pass Road to Evergreen, one of my favorite mountain hamlets. My bribery? I’d buy them ice cream.

Of course, with views like this, it doesn’t take too much arm-bending. The great thing about traveling with kids is they have a radar for anything fun. We stopped at Baskin-Robbins in Evergreen and upon sitting on the creekside benches, they noticed a charming area to climb trees and play in Bear Creek so that is exactly what we did for the next hour.

Bear Creek, Evergreen

Oh, to be a kid again. But living vicariously through them is the next best thing.

96-mile journey

The Johnson Family’s Shortest (and worst) Camping Trip Ever

I have tried to instill a love of nature in my kids–just last week we went hiking four times, my daughter recently returned from YMCA of the Rockies’ traditional overnight Camp Chief Ouray and at the end of July they’re both enrolled in Avid4Adventure’s Survival Skills Camp. We are an outdoor-loving family!

But my favorite childhood memories are of camping and that is one area in which we’ve fallen short with my own family.  There is nothing like the sense of community at campgrounds, playing with new BFFs, eating tin foil dinners and s’mores, exploring and exploring some more, and telling stories around the campfire.

Here’s a recap of our camping trips since having kids.

Trip 1: Hadley had just turned 1 and was a horrible sleeper so she wailed all night long two nights in a row. Our campsite at Golden Gate Canyon State Park was on a slope. Hadley had just learned to walk so was falling over every few feet and when she wasn’t face-planting, she was trying to crawl into the fire pit. Our three-day weekend was cut a day short.

Trip 2: We took a few years off from camping to get pregnant and have our son Bode. When he was 2, we joined our good friends at Eleven Mile State Park. Never been? Keep it that way. I’d read about it in FamilyFun magazine and it was a huge, barren disappointment. In addition to camping, capsizing and crying, my baby had the most disgusting, explosive case of diarrhea and I spent hours at the camp laundromat cleaning out his car seat and clothes. (Ugly details here).

Trip 3: Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada. This is my favorite place on earth and I was ecstatic to introduce my kids to this wonderland that borders Glacier National Park. Sure there were minor hiccups (such as near-hurricane-strength winds) but it was our best camping trip to date.

Trip 4: Bear Lake State Park. Last year, Mile High Mamas partnered with Coleman for the Great American Campout. It had all the fixins for an amazing weekend with horseback riding, games, gourmet camp meals and kayaking. But do you remember that record-breaking 105-degree day last June? ‘Nuff said.

Trip 5: Camp Dick last weekend. This was going to be our year. The kids are 7 and 9 and the perfect ages for camping. Check-in wasn’t until 2 p.m. so we had a few hours to kill when we arrived at this campground set in a glacial valley just off the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.

The kids caught butterflies and threw rocks in the adjacent Middle Saint Vrain Creek and we hiked a portion of the Buchanan Pass Trail.

We have been united with our fellow Coloradoans in praying for rain to defray the horrible wildfires…we just didn’t want the drought to end right then. All was going shockingly well until we felt our first raindrop. We’d waded through near hurricanes and diarrhea; a bit of rain wasn’t going to deter us.

Then it started down-pouring so we raced back to the car and ate lunch. Earlier, we’d spotted the remains of the previous night’s hail storm but miracles–the weather broke a half-hour later and we still had plenty of time to explore before we could set-up our tent.

Adventurous Hadley (who no longer falls every few feet and cries all night), discovered a faint trail on the other side of the creek so we bush-whacked our way to my children’s version of wonderland: a massive boulder field. We spent the next hour free-climbing these rock monsters and Hadley and my husband braved a steep slope to a cossetted cave. I hung back with my more-cautious Bode who called out encouragements such as “you know you can crack your head open and slide all the way down.”

Kid needs a lesson or two on pep talks.

Then all hell (or rather, hail) broke loose and it could not have come at a worse time. We were forging back through the forest when Bode slipped and hurt himself. Not even 5 seconds later, hail started pounding us and blinded, we lost the trail that was already barely there, forcing us to wade over a swamp land and practically toss now-hysterical Bode across the creek.

When we arrived at the road, we still had over a mile to where we’d parked our car at the trailhead but our soon-to-be acquired campsite was right around the corner. “I’ll run and get the car and you go to camp,” I bravely volunteered. Come hail or high-water, I would lead my family to safety!

I raced through the campground, hail pelting and drenching every inch of my body. It seemed like an eternity before I reached the car but I raced back to our campsite and saw my poor little family hunkered down under a tree trying to shield themselves from the frozen sheets of ice.

“We’ve taken a vote,” my husband announced.
“What is it?” I already knew the answer.
“We’re ready to go home.”

I looked at our campsite, the mud puddles thick from the previous night’s storm were now filled with snow. We could have toughed it out if we were staying in a camper but there was nowhere to setup our tent.  And most importantly, the sky ‘s furry was just getting started.

We called it a day at 1:30 p.m., just 4.5 hours from the time we left our house.

Better luck next year.