Turning Up the Heat on Murphy’s Law

This is one of the few summers I will not be returning to The Motherland a.k.a. Canada. It is no secret that I despise the heat. I blame my Canuckian roots and our glorious 70-degree summers. Anything over 85 degrees makes me combust and my body breaks out in a heat rash.

Having 10 pounds of hair doesn’t help, either.

To beat the heat, my family and I will be launching our own Tour de Colorado. For the next few months, we will be traveling all over the state and documenting the best family vacations. And our worst family moments. Here is a preview of what happened on our first Colorado “staycation” to Chautauqua in Boulder two weeks ago.

My Murphy’s Law life aside, many of our chosen destinations are in the mountains. Because high elevation = big cooldown for this overheated mama. I was recently complaining to my husband Jamie about a jump in temperature from the mid-60s to low-90s and how my body just couldn’t adjust.

“You see, Jamie. I need it to be like that frog in water.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, as the story goes: if you put a frog in boiling water, he simply jumps out because it is too hot. You should make it more gradual. You should put him in lukewarm water and gradually turn up the temperature.”

“Amber, that is not better for the frog. In the end, he dies.”


Stay tuned on Tuesday for a sneak peak of my ultimate cooldown picks on my Tour de Colorado. And then follow my family this summer as we share the Good, Bad and the Ugly of family travel!

Note: This article was originally published at Mile High Mamas on June 8, 2009.

Tour de Colorado: My Picks for Colorado’s Top Destinations for Families

From the time my children were born, we have traveled either north or south of the border every summer. But our Canadian grandparents and Mexican senoritas will have to wait until next year. Like many people, we’re watching our dollars so our foreign travels have been temporarily disbanded.

Not one to sit around licking my [non-travel-induced] wounds, I came up with a brilliant plan to visit many of the world-class destinations in our backyard. After some intensive research, I drafted up an itinerary for my family’s own Tour de Colorado this summer and we will visit the following: Colorado’s Best-kept Secret, Best Splurge, Best Mountain Festival, Best Mountain Community, Best Dude Ranch, Best Camping and Best Front-range Destination.

The best news of all? We are taking you along for the ride.

Well, not literally. You’d likely take up too much room and eat my favorite road-trip snacks.

Stay tuned for my [often] fun, [sometimes] painful, but [always] entertaining accounts of Colorado’s best staycations beginning next week. And now, a preview of our Tour de Colorado:


BEST-KEPT SECRET: Chautauqua in Boulder

One might wonder how Boulder, an outdoorsy city just 25 miles from Denver, could hold any secrets. But I stumbled upon one when I hiked Chautauqua’s Enchanted-Mesa Trail with some friends. It was then that my love affair with Chautauqua’s 48 miles of verdant trails began.

This National Historic Landmark nestled against the Flatiron Mountains is one of Colorado’s true hidden gems. It’s an area heaped in history and very few locals know about the historic and affordable cottages for rent. The Dining Hall boasts some of the best outdoor dining in Colorado with epic mountain views. Don’t miss the silent films, concerts and children’s programs at the Auditorium that will delight old and young.

Visit the Boulder Farmer’s Market on Saturdays—a veritable cornucopia of organic food, live music, eccentricities and fun. Then take a stroll along the Boulder Creek Trail and also take a foray over to famed pedestrian mall Pearl Street Mall to shop, eat, play in the spray fountain and watch the street performers.

BEST SPLURGE: The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs

Where do you take The Mother Who Has Seen Everything? The Broadmoor’s new cottages, of course! Guaranteed, these gorgeous 1- to 8-bedroom cottages are welcome additions to The Broadmoor’s already lofty 5-star pedigree and are the ultimate Colorado destination for the extended family. My parents are making a special trip from Canada for the occasion and guaranteed, these cottages will impress even my beloved high-maintenance mother.

The Broadmoor is located on 3,000 lush acres under the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain and offers two swimming pools an award-winning spa, fitness center, three outdoor hot tubs, one lap pool, 54 holes of championship golf, six tennis courts, children’s programs and an exceptional Sunday brunch.

Located 70 miles south of Denver, Colorado Springs has some of the state’s best activities for families. Take a tour through Cave of the Winds, pay Santa a visit at the North Pole’s family-themed amusement park, chug to the top of 14,110-foot Pikes Peak on the world’s highest cog railroad, hike Seven Falls, eat a high-flying meal at The Airplane Restaurant and sample chocolates at the Patsy’s Candy tour, topped off by a genuine ho-down, dinner and stage show at Flying W Ranch.


This will be our first summer trip to Crested Butte after falling in love with the ski area a few years ago. Not only is this charming hamlet renowned for its world-class mountain biking but July rules supreme. Don’t miss their 4th of July revelries and The Crested Butte Music Festival July 4 – 26, which brings symphony, chamber and jazz music to the mountains. Want to know what it would have been like to have a Beer with Beethoven? Find out during one of the symphony orchestra’s most popular concerts. Best of all, this music festival also caters to kids with the Divine Family Young People’s Concerts.

Located 230 miles southwest of Denver, Crested Butte also offers a full slate of activities during their popular Wildflower Festival July 6-12 that includes horse-drawn wagon rides, guided hikes, yoga classes in mountain meadows, and photography classes.

While Mama and Papa hit the trail for a couple of hours, our daughter will be at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory’s Kid Nature Camps. Not to be overlooked is the new Adventure Park at Crested Butte Mountain Resort that has an outdoor synthetic ice rink (recycled from the American Museum of Natural History), a climbing wall and reverse bungee. The area also offers some great family hikes, while many enjoy the simple pleasure of watching the ducks at Peanut Lake.


During my only vacation to Steamboat Springs (located 170 miles northwest of Denver), I got lost hiking to the famed Rabbit Ears. This trip will be about redemption…and celebration with fabulous activities such as hiking Fish Creek Falls (allegedly easier to find than some silly bunny parts), soaking in Strawberry Park Hot Springs and soaring in the resort’s gondola with fabulous views of the Yampa Valley.

Be sure to check out the Gondola Square Adventure Zone, which features a 24-foot climbing wall, a “Mini Bounce” castle, a 2-person Gyro chair, a ropes course and a mechanical bull. Not to be forgotten is the Howler Alpine Slide that will be sure to make you, well, howl. And Steamboat’s free summer concert series at the Rusted Root is all about hooting…and hollering!

Oh, and did I mention tubing down the Yampa River and all of Routt National Forest’s wildflower-dotted trails just waiting to be explored? Redemption, here I come.

BEST DUDE RANCH: Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Maybe “Dude Ranch” is an unrefined description for this rustically upscale resort and spa located on 5,000 acres at the foot of the Continental Divide, just 75 miles from Denver. One of the greatest things about Devil’s Thumb Ranch is it caters to cowboys of all ages, not to mention their mamas who like a bit of pampering on the side.

Why it’s my choice for Best Dude Ranch: swimming in a heated outdoor pool and outdoor hot tub, the petting zoo at Cabin Creek Stables, wagon and feed rides, pony rides, hikes along easy-grade trails, nature/bird watching tours, a game room with no electronics, a candle pin bowling alley and a 37-seat movie theater for movies and sports viewing.

BEST CAMPING: YMCA of the Rockies

I love backpacking but my young children are not quite yet up to the task. That is why I looked for a camping destination that offered varied activities as well as some great services.

Enter: YMCA of the Rockies. With two locations—one at Estes Park (adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park) and the other at Snow Mountain Ranch (just minutes from famed resort Winter Park)—they are known for extremely affordable and fun family vacations. We have stayed in their rustic lodges and cabins before but for the first time, we will camp on their grounds with a group of friends.

YMCA of the Rockies’ activities are varied and include hiking, biking, fishing, camps, mini-golf, volleyball, tennis, crafts, scavenger hunts, canoeing, family programs, picnics, a high-ropes course and archery.


With the tagline “Not exactly roughing it,” Beaver Creek is synonymous with luxury and recently received the National Ski Areas Association’s Best Overall Guest Service Award for the fourth consecutive year. We will get a taste of this during our stay at a gorgeous Beaver Creek Resort Properties condo.

But the budget-conscious need not be scared off because in addition to the notorious pampering you receive, there are plenty of fabulous deals. Beaver Creek offers free daily nature walks for the family and Beaver Creek Hiking Center’s Hike-ology program, which invites kids to play at the Big Dig (an archeological dig site at Spruce Saddler). Don’t forget the free Children’s Museum, free children’s theatrical performances in the village and recreational-Mecca Nottingham Park in Avon has free outdoor movies for the family once a week.

Another fantastic freebie is Fridays at the Park Hyatt with music, activities and gondola rides for the whole family, not to mention a gourmet s’moregasbord at the open fire pit.

If this is “not exactly roughing it,” count me in.

Our Tour de Colorado will stop there. Overwhelmed by all of Colorado’s bounties? I’ll let you in on a secret: Vail Resorts has put together “Epic Summer,” an all-inclusive package with some of the best Colorado has to offer. Scenic gondola rides at Keystone and Vail. Whitewater rafting in the Rockies. Horseback riding in Beaver Creek. Panning for gold in Breckenridge.

There are four-day/three-night and seven-day/six-night packages available. All accommodations, transportation and meals are included with a mix of picnics, cowboy dinners, restaurants and BBQs. The best part is you will have a personal guide so don’t need to plan a thing.

Well, except to have a fabulous time in Colorado.

Note: This post originally ran at Mile High Mamason June 9, 2009.

Tour de Colorado’s Best-kept Secret for Families: Chautauqua

You’d think my choice for Colorado’s best-kept secret would be a far-flung destination but I have been absolutely amazed how few locals know about Chautauqua’s charms. Located at the base of the Flatirons in Boulder, this National Historic Landmark has rental cottages that are surrounded on three sides with open space that includes 48 miles of hiking trails and thousands of acres of natural lands begging to be explored.

I had been living in Colorado less than a year when I hiked Chautauqua’s Enchanted-Mesa Trail with my daughter and I was, well, enchanted. After my hike, I explored the grounds and was smitten by the Dining Hall’s throwback-to yesteryear patio and the 110-year-old Chautauqua Auditorium, which hosts films, lectures and an entire series dedicated to children. The workshops include Young People’s Concerts (ages 3-7), Family Fun Concerts (ages 4-8), Classically Kids Workshops (ages 7-11), and Masterclasses for Emerging Musicians (ages 13-18). Be sure to enter to win 15 passes to the Young People’s Concert for you and your friends.

When I saw their quaint and affordable cottages, I vowed to my 6-month-old baby, “Someday, we will stay here.”

Five years later, we finally did.

Chautauqua was my family’s first leg in our Tour de Colorado. Amidst much fanfare, we loaded up the car, buckled in the kids and started the ignition. Or at least we tried to: the car was dead. After jump-starting the battery, we drove to Boulder. The next drama occurred when the blaring car alarm decided not to turn off and so we made a grand (and loud) entrance at Chautauqua. Our ultimate resolution to silence the beast was to unplug the horn fuse and let the car battery run out.

Pity us not. There are worse things than getting stranded in Colorado’s best-kept secret.

About Chautauqua

I’m not a big history buff and have been known to fall asleep faster than a narcoleptic when watching the History Channel. But Chautauqua fascinates me. In the 1920s, almost 200 Chautauqua assemblies dotted rural America. Each summer, they brought culture in the form of concerts and classes in what became the country’s first mass experience with 30 million people in attendance. Colorado’s Chautauqua is one of the only remaining assemblies and we were thrilled when they offered to host us for one night.

This historic district has 60 cottages for rent, including their oldest that was built in 1899. The cottages are unassuming on the outside but are quaintly restored on the inside. They are perfect for families and offer studio, 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom rentals. Don’t expect modern amenities like TVs or DVDs. With Chautauqua’s many activities, we did not even have time to acknowledge their absence.

Upon arrival, the kids zoomed down the hill-side slide at the playground and played hide-and-seek in the adjacent wooded grove. We basked in the midday sun and watched the flowers dance in the breeze at the Centennial Garden. We strolled down a lane of celery-green trees to the on-site Ranger’s Station and learned about Chautauqua’s wildlife.

That evening, we dunked basketballs and played tennis at the courts behind our cottage. We ate on the Dining Hall’s outdoor patio, absorbing the dazzling views and fragrance of fine cuisine. Prior to retiring for the evening, we watched the sun dip behind the Flatirons’ dramatic uplifts as we hiked Bluebell Road. We attempted to capture the fleeting magic with a family photo in a meadow.

Chautauqua was a quick weekend getaway of beauty, bonding, amusement and appreciation.

On second thought, maybe I’ll just keep it my little secret after all….

Also visit:

The Boulder Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. This isn’t just any farmer’s market—it is an outdoor extravaganza with a cornucopia of organic food, eccentricities, live entertainment and fun. My kids loved the booths (read: tasty samples), chatting with the farmers and the face-painting tent.

Be sure to take a walk along the Boulder Creek Trail and take a short walk to Pearl Street Mall to shop, play in the spray fountains, eat and watch the street performers.

For more information about Chautauqua, go to www.chautauqua.com.

Chautauqua video journal. (And no, I am not a valley girl as my “like totally rad” commentary would infer.)

Note: This post originally ran at Mile High Mamas on June 17, 2009. Most services were complimentary or discounted.

Tour de Colorado’s Ultimate Splurge for Families: The Broadmoor’s New Cottages

I had been touring the Olympic Peninsula all week. I flew home late that night, did laundry, repacked and then jumped in the car with my family the next morning. Upon arrival at The Broadmoor’s sculpted grounds, I was frenzied and sleep-deprived.

The moment we pulled up to the security gate, all my worries were whisked away faster than the Calgon commercials of yesteryear. I gave the guard my name, received a parking pass and drove to the valet. I was greeted by Alex, a Romanian bellhop with a damsel-wooing accent: “Mrs. Johnson! How nice of you to join us again.”

I wondered how he knew I had stayed at The Broadmoor once before. Did he also know my favorite color is blue and that I have no intention to pay that unmerited parking ticket I received downtown?

In the end, I didn’t care. The Broadmoor does that to you. It doesn’t matter if you are promenading around Cheyenne Lake or pairing luxurious accommodations with gourmet dining. If You’ve Been Here, You Know.™

Cradled at the base of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, this Five-Star, Five-Diamond hotel set on 3,000 acres has added a new feature to secure its place in the annals of The Ultimate Colorado Family Vacation: cottages.

Staying here is reminiscent of a Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. Only instead of being made of gingerbread and candies, these cottages feature spacious parlors with high-beamed ceilings, natural stone fireplaces, heated bathroom floors, surround sound systems, large flat screen TVs and the latest in-room technologies that blend seamlessly into the comfortably elegant design.

Nothing like living your own modern-day fairy tale.

The Broadmoor’s one- to eight-bedroom cottages are perfect for family gatherings and so when the Broadmoor offered to host us, my parents made a special trip from Canada for the occasion. Set along the legendary East Course, only a pristine creek separated us from the 18th fairway. I knew this would even impress The Mother Who is Impressed by Nothing.

We kept most of our activities simple. We lazed around the zero-entry infinity swimming pool, water slide and whirlpools, soaking in the turquoise water and golden sun. We watched a fawn skirt across the grounds as we lawn bowled behind our cottage. We strolled 0.8 mile to nature’s Nirvana–North Cheyenne Canyon Park–and admired Starr Kempf’s graceful steel wind kinetic sculptures, an unexpected residential treasure en route. We went to Sunday brunch, a gastronomic feast that features Eggs Benedict, crepe and smoothie stations.

Sound idyllic? Not quite. Our travel drama occurred when my parent’s Explorer died in the valet parking garage. To The Broadmoor’s credit, they immediately sent a technician to ascertain the problem and gave my parents one of the resort’s vehicles to use for the day while they had the car towed to the nearest dealership.

For those keeping track: this is our second glorious destination on our Tour de Colorado. And this is the second time a vehicle has died, leaving us stranded at Said Glorious Destination.

The good Lord loves me.


Psttttt: good news! Don’t have enough money to spring for the cottages? Check out The Broadmoor’s summer lodging deal: $125/per person, double occupancy. Kids (10 and under) stay and eat free. Go to broadmoor.com for more information.

Don’t miss:

Colorado Springs has some of the state’s best activities for families that include a cog ride to the top of 14,110-foot Pikes Peak. Manitou Springs’ Arcade Amusements Inc. boasts one of the West’s oldest and largest amusement arcades and Acacia Park’s comical Uncle Wilbur Fountain is the perfect cool down for the kids.

I was absolutely ecstatic to explore Garden of the God’s 25,000 square-foot Trading Post. Try their delicious fudge, check out the large collection of Colorado artists and dine on the Balanced Rock Café’s expansive outdoor patio while watching the children pan for gold.

A few more of my family’s favorites: the Cave of the Winds’ 45-minute Discovery Tour and the North Pole’s family-themed amusement park. Top your evening off with a touristy ho-down at Flying W Ranch’s Western village, complete with a chuck-wagon dinner and stage show. Get there early to try their to-die-for Dutch oven buttermilk biscuits dripping in honey. Tell ‘em I sent you. I promise they won’t disappoint.

Visit http://www.experiencecoloradosprings.com for additional information.

Note: This article was originally posted at Mile High Mamas on June 29, 2009. Most services were complimentary or discounted.

Tour de Colorado’s Best Mountain Community for Families: Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs was the third stop on my family’s Tour de Colorado and my pick for the state’s best mountain community. Our visit to this western resort town was also The Good, the Bad and the Ugly incarnate. When it was good (such as when my daughter Hadley won the ram scramble at the rodeo) it was very, very good. When it was bad, it was very bad with vomit and rain. But when we locked ourselves out of the car while it was still running? Think very, very ugly.

The Good

Steamboat Springs is home to two ski areas, four Colorado State Parks, hot springs, lakes and rivers–a full palette of activities that will have you painting the Yampa Valley red.

Or rather, dazzingly green.

Hiking—I’m not generally one to cough up money to hike but watching my kids squeal with glee as our Steamboat Springs gondola took flight was worth it. Even better was what unfolded at the summit: a myriad of 19 trails covering over 50 miles and a verdant meadow populated with Frisbee-playing families. We opted for the Vista Nature Trail, an easy 0.86-mile loop that starts and ends at the top of the gondola. This hike is ideal for young children and mine raced to each interpretive sign, ecstatic about their outdoor classroom.

Other hikes: A local rite of passage is the easy 6-mile round-trip hike to the famed Rabbit Ears located off stunning Rabbit Ears Pass. Tourist’s favorite 283-foot Fish Creek Falls has a popular picnic area but expect to pay $5 for parking. For views of the ‘Boat, trek Emerald Mountain’s steep network of trails through perfectly calibrated aspen paradise.

Coca-Cola Gondola Square Adventure Zone—Located at the base of the gondola, this zone has an adventure for everyone in the family. My kids became human catapults in the western-themed “Mini Bounce” and Jamie tried his luck on the Mechanical Bull (think: unlucky). Don’t miss out on the 2-person Gyro Chair (similar to those used by NASA) the “East Face” Climbing Wall and a new ropes course.

Yampa River Core Trail—With 7 miles of multi-use paved trails that wind through downtown along the roaring Yampa River, we felt like we were the only ones not riding a bike. We covered what we could on foot, admiring sculptures and natural springs, cheering the onslaught of tubers floating the river and playing at Stockbridge playground’s mini-western town. Rest assured during my next visit, I will trade in my flat feet for two wheels.

Shopping—Lincoln Avenue may be the hub for Everything Shopping but be sure to venture over to Yampa Street and have Sweet Pea Market’s Pink Panther smoothie (made of rare Soup Sop fruit) or watch twilight’s last yawn as you dine at the Boathouse Pub overlooking the glistening river. A couple miles away, Freshies serves up the best breakfast and lunch in town (must-haves include their Asian BBQ turkey sandwich and lemon coconut cookies). The Ski Haus sells a lot more than skis and is the hub for great gear, rentals and insider information.

Hot Springs—Steamboat isn’t Steamboat without the “Springs” so you must soak in one of their two natural springs. Old Town Hot Springs is the more family-friendly of the two with 230-foot water slides, a climbing wall, two spa pools and a kiddie pool. But we wanted The Full Monty Experience of Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Full Monty is what happens after dark so be warned.

Located about 7 miles out of town (including the last few miles on a dirt road), Strawberry Park Hot Springs is nestled between two peaks just outside the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. When we arrived a large number of people were sitting on the walls of the natural stone enclaves of varying sizes and temperatures. We quickly discovered why: the water was way too hot for my 3-year-old son who instead played in the waterfall-created puddles. Five-year-old Hadley transitioned easily between the hot springs and a polar bear swim in the adjacent river. Me? I was a wall-sitter, liking it neither too hot nor too cold but preferring it “just right.”

You may call me Goldilocks.

The Bad

It was raining cats, dogs and a few horses upon arrival in Steamboat. We stopped at the Steamboat Springs visitor’s center where car-sick-prone Hadley stumbled out of the car…and proceeded to throw up on their front sidewalk.

Because nothing says “Welcome to Steamboat” like regurgitated road-trip snacks.

The Ugly

It didn’t start ugly. Actually, it started out as one of our favorite activities: the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo. For 10 weeks in the summertime, professional riders come from all over the region to compete on Friday and Saturday nights.

I grew up attending the Calgary Stampede (dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”) and had never been to a small-town rodeo. My expectations were met—and exceeded. We arrived early and ate bricket, ribs and chicken at their BBQ dinner. Hadley and Bode played on the horse and carriage structures and we watched the mechanical bull and bouncy house in action.

It was my children’s first rodeo and they were elated to stomp their feet (christened the “Yampa Valley Thunder”) with each triumph. When it came time for the ram scramble, Hadley and Bode were first in line. If you’ve never seen this event, picture a herd of kids ages 5 and under racing around in the mud trying to pull a flag off a sheep’s rear end.

And yes, I fully supported this endeavor.

From the first moment they set foot in the arena, Hadley and Bode entertained the crowd when they tripped over each other and fell in the muck. What unfolded next shocked even me: Hadley won the ram scramble. The same child who was a ski school dropout, hated ballet and barely survived soccer.

She has finally found her calling as a shepherd.

Euphoric from her victory and proudly displaying her belt-buckle award and gift card from western store F.M. Light and Sons, we walked to our vehicle and were confronted with the worst-case scenario: we could not find the keys. We soon discovered them in the ignition, with the car still running and the doors locked. We had been gone for three hours.

I will spare you the sordid details. Just know they involved exhausted kids and a locksmith trying to break into our unbreakable car. Between Jamie leaving the keys running in the ignition and me locking the car, maybe The Good, the Bad and the Ugly designation is not the correct.

Think: Dumb and Dumber.


Note: This post was originally published at Mile High Mamas on July 6, 2009. Most services were discounted or complimentary.

Tour de Colorado’s Best Mountain Festivals for Families: Crested Butte

During my family’s Tour de Colorado, we have visited many perfect places but have never had the perfect day.

You parents know what I’m talking about: when the destination’s private universe comes to life and the children do not beat each other to a pulp.

I had the perfect day in Crested Butte, my choice for Colorado’s best mountain festivals for families. It had the potential to be a nightmare. My husband could not join us until partway through the trip, leaving me to endure a 4.5-hour drive from Denver with two young children but all went smoothly.

When we arrived at the idyllic mountain resort, we checked into our perfect accommodations: The Lodge at Mountaineer Square. The perfection was not just the beautiful rooms and rooftop pool but also location, location, location. Situated at the base of Mt. Crested Butte, we were in the very pulse of the resort with their free Wednesday evening concert series. After grabbing some burgers off the grill, the kids joined the masses of rugrats rolling down the hill while this mama sat back and relished the hallucinatory montage of wildflowers, mountains and melodies.

It was there that I coined their new tagline: Crested Butte—It is Not Ugly Here.

I just know I have a lucrative future in marketing.

A Festival-Loving Town

The Crested Butte Music Festival (CBMF)

Most mountain towns have music festivals but I love the Crested Butte Music Festival because it brings world-class musicians, singers and dancers to one of the nation’s most stunning mountain hamlets. Celebrating its 12th season, the CBMF’s children and adult programs are geared to music and movement under the careful guidance of renowned Artistic Director Alexander Scheirle.

My kids attended the free Divine Family Young People’s Concert that is held on Saturdays in July. Designed for ages 4-12, this is a fun chance for the younger set to experience dance, music and fun in a fast-paced hour of music, opera or dance.

That evening, my husband and I attended Bluegrass in the Barn with musical jammers, The Infamous Stringdusters. It was not pretentious in the least—the concert was, indeed, in a barn. The rain started pounding, mist penetrated our mountain milieu and the ambiance was electric. My husband—though not a fan of bluegrass—declared that “If the Grateful Dead played bluegrass, they’d be called The Infamous Stringdusters.”

This is his way of saying he had a really, really great time.

The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival

It is only befitting that “The Wildflower Capital of Colorado” has a festival dedicated unto its glories. With the fuchsia pinks, sunny yellows and majestic purples of the lupines, Aspen sunflowers and mule’s ears, you will think you crawled onto a Monet canvas of mad, extravagant colors.

The Wildflower Festival serves up a huge array of clinics for adults and children that range from walks with a knowledgeable local guide through the low open meadows of Rustler’s Pass to photography workshops, horseback rides, yoga classes in a meadow, garden tours and even an ice cream party.

My children and I opted for a wagon ride to Peanut Lake with horse friends Billy Bob Bill and Bob. We made our way past the Wood Walk, a portion of an extensive network of trails perfect for little hikers. Our guide pointed out Mount Emmons a.k.a. Red Lady, a much-heralded mountain whose development is at the center of a heated molybdenum mine dispute.

We loped past Crested Butte’s famous landmark, the Gronk, which is nothing more than a mysterious hunk of concrete. Our reward was cobalt-blue Peanut Lake and the glorious Paradise Divide mountain range as the backdrop.

Oh, and there may have been a few [thousand] wildflowers along the way.

Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory’s Nature Camp

Sure, there are oodles of children’s camps out there but how many are conjoined with the nation’s most renowned high-altitude field station with the top students and researchers from around the world?

The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory is located in Gothic, a 4-mile drive from Crested Butte and a stone’s throw away from paradise a.k.a. the Gunnison National Forest and Continental Divide. While Hadley was at camp, my son Bode and I hiked to Judd Falls, one of many epic hikes in the area with commanding views of Mount Gothic.

My daughter Hadley’s Nature Camp experience was the highlight of her trip because these aren’t your average camp counselors. They are dedicated professionals who—in just two hours—gave her an in-depth look at our fascinating natural world through games, hikes, crafts and scavenger hunts.

The Nature Camps sell out fast and rest assured, we will be first in line next year.

Other Family Fun

Adventure Park—Be sure to check out the Adventure Park at the base of Mt. Crested Butte that includes a 28-foot Climbing Pinnacle, bungee trampolines and a state-of-the-art skating rink made from Super-Glide® synthetic ice. I was a bit wary of the latter (being a purist who grew up skating on Canada’s frozen tundra) but was delighted that the slower synthetic ice proved to be a better teaching ground for my novice Canadian/American half-breeds.

Playgrounds—My kids fell in love with the Crested Butte Town Park, centrally located in town with tennis, baseball, volleyball, pavilion, Center for the Arts, a fort and giant sandbox.

My love affair was with the Ted Scheske Park on Gothic Road. This park offers such amenities as a Total Fitness Trail, tennis courts, volleyball and The Mountain Garden, venue for a large number of weddings. When you witness the unparalleled vistas of Snodgrass Mountain and the Continental Divide you will understand why.

Also, be sure to bike or stroll along the recreation path that extends three miles from Crested Butte to Mountain Crested Butte. Not to be missed will be The Trailhead, a 5,000-square foot Children’s Discovery Museum and Arts Center that will be opening in 2010.

No “Buts” About Checking out “The Butte”

Take time to stroll around Crested Butte. This quirky, multi-hued town is a National Historic District, played host to outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and has a two-story outhouse.

It doesn’t get any cooler than that.

Toy store Pooh’s Corner delighted my kids for an hour, while the bevy of shops kept me entertained for an afternoon. For breakfast, you must have Izzy’s breakfast burrito with Indian spices. Dine creek-side but expect a long wait on the weekends. The Secret Stash pizzeria redefines eclectic with decor showcasing the owner’s world travels. Service is friendly, the kitchen is slow but Asher’s Pie (with a BBQ sauce and chipotle base, Canadian bacon, and grilled chicken) made it worth it.

Our favorite dining experience was at django’s restaurant & wine bar in Mountaineer Square, currently rated Crested Butte’s No. 1 restaurant on TripAdvisor. We enjoyed live music on the outdoor patio as we devoured small plates of artistic food such as the gnocchi in a light lemon cream sauce and my favorite (that will surely shock my mother): crispy Brussels Sprouts with apples, crème fraîche, apple cider reduction, pistachios and a dash of heaven.

Video Journal:

For additional information, go to The Crested Butte Music Festival, The Wildflower Festival and Gunnison-Crested Butte Chamber.

Note: This article was originally published at Mile High Mamas on July 20, 2009. Most services were complimentary or discounted.

Tour de Colorado’s Best Dude Ranch: Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Confession: I’m not a horse lover but there is something almost enchanting about a dude ranch. It’s the fabled Western experience come to life with unsullied ranchland, campfire sing-alongs, yer very own fishing hole and, of course, cowboys in chaps.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch has it all and was my choice for Best Dude Ranch for families on our Tour de Colorado. Located 65 miles west of Denver just outside of Winter Park, this award-winning, environmentally-friendly resort and spa has a rustically upscale 52-room main lodge and 16 luxury rental cabins with a full roster of activities for cowfolk both old and young.

My husband Jamie stayed behind for work, during which time he witnessed a tornado uproot our yard in Denver. My children and I had a very different view: 5,000 acres of jade-green horse-dotted meadows flanked by the Continental Divide.

I won.

Home Away From Home on the Range

From Pack-and-Plays in the rooms to Cabin Creek Stables’ popular pony rides, Devil’s Thumb Ranch caters to kids. My little city slickers were anxious to rendezvous with the animals so we ventured out early. We were greeted with a scene out of a Western movie: a fully-loaded barn, twanging country music, a small petting zoo of farm animals and a cowboy named “Garth.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Garth gave us an entertaining commentary on the area as we loped around the property on our wagon ride. According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil’s Thumb – a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

This was the extent of our Cabin Creek Stables experience but we could have stayed entertained for a week…and many families do. The stable offers half-day and full-day horseback rides, sunrise or sunset rides, cattle rides, a meadow lunch in the wagon, dinner wagon rides, a Little Cowpokes Day at the Ranch and a Kids Barn BBQ.

Activities Abound

As the storm raged back home, my children and I splashed around in Rachel’s Pool, a heated indoor entry/outdoor pool with killer views of the Divide. We played air hockey, foosball and pin bowling in the non-electronic game room in the main lodge. We watched Mulan II in the 37-seat theater, played a variety of board games in the cozy library and even worked out in the state-of-the-art Fitness Center.

The main thing Devil’s Thumb Ranch is really lacking is on-site childcare services. Since I was a single mom for the weekend, I was remiss I was not able to enjoy the 12,000-square-foot Ranch Creek Spa.

By 8 p.m., we were famished so stumbled into Heck’s Tavern, the more family-friendly of the two on-site restaurants. My body screamed for red meat. I quickly scanned the menu, saw only one such offering and ordered it. Now, I’ve had many reactions from waiters over the years but never one like this: he high-fived me.

“Did I miss something?” I queried.

“You ordered our signature 32-oz rib-eye steak. I’m impressed.”

“32 ounces? How big is that?”

He gestured something approximately the broad side of a barn.

I hesitated. Then my stomach growled. “I’ll take it.”

When in Rome on the Ranch, do as the ranchers do.

Spellbound by the Devil

Our final night, we dined on Heck Tavern’s outdoor patio adjacent to the crackling fire pit. While the kids raced around the pasture, I watched the sun slip behind the Divide, briefly setting Devil’s Thumb aflame. We took a small chunk out of the 20 miles of trails at dusk, meandering through the meadow to Upper and Lower Ponds. We launched rocks into Ranch Creek, identified wildflowers, stalked horses and, upon reaching them, Hadley professed to know how to “Speak Horse.”

Such a comfort to know I gave birth to The Horse Whisperer.

I couldn’t tell you what she divulged to her foal friends but I strongly suspect it was along the lines of “Psssssst. We’ll be back.”

I couldn’t agree with her more.

Note: This article was originally published at Mile High Mamas on August 9, 2009. Most services were complimentary or discounted.

Beaver Creek: Tour de Colorado’s Best Front-Range Destination for Families

I chose my family’s final Tour de Colorado destination carefully. We had spent the summer visiting the very best that Colorado has to offer and I wanted to go out with a bang.

Rest assured we had a bang-up vacation at Beaver Creek, my choice for best front-range destination for families. Competition in this category is steep with worthy competitors like Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. In the end, Beaver Creek’s intimate alpine village tucked away near Vail prevailed because it offered ice skating, miniature golf, a climbing wall and a bungee trampoline, not to mention some fantastic freebies.

And with a tagline like “Not exactly roughing it” there were more than a few indulgences along the way.

Beaver Creek Hiking Center

I grew up hiking the Canadian Rockies and never once did I go on a guided hike.

Well, with the exception of trailing my bird-loving, binocular-toting father with his black dress socks and shorts.

Beaver Creek’s hiking guide Alex was a breath of fresh air…and information. Our family met him at the Beaver Creek Hiking Center where he loaded us up with Hike-ology notebooks, hike descriptions and maps. We got the lowdown on their many hiking programs that vary from guided nature hikes for all ages and abilities, to private hikes that cover an 80-mile radius. The free Spruce Saddle Loop is one of their most popular and meets daily at the top of the Centennial Express lift.

We opted for the Family Fun Hike, a 2-hour guided hike around the Spruce Saddle Loop. I was a little bit wary of the 2-hour duration with my young children but that time span took into account the chairlift ride, hike, delicious BBQ lunch atop the mountain, the Big Dig archeological site (a sandbox with fossils), free field games for rent and a few tantrums along the way.

The views of the Gore Range and profusion of wildflowers stun. We saw marmots sunning themselves on granite boulders and a buck with glistening velvet on his horns. We heard pine squirrels (or chickerees), read Hike-ology interpretive signs, identified trees and ecosystems, and played in the ski school’s wooden villages. I don’t know how Beaver Creek did it but we even had our very own mule deer shadow us the entire time.

Talk about the ultimate guided hike.

Beano’s Cabin

Mention that you went to Beano’s Cabin and you’re sure to impress. The recipient of DiRoNa Awards and consistently top-ranked in the Zagat Survey, Beano’s is the most memorable and expensive culinary experience I have ever had (our tab came to $421 for five people, something I won’t forget anytime soon). This hand-hewn log cabin nestled against Grouse Mountain is only accessible via a tractor-pulled wagon or shuttle and a sleigh ride in the winter.

In preparation, we schooled our children on how to “eat like a little prince and princess,” after which 3-year-old Bode dubiously looked at us before proclaiming, “I don’t tink so.”

My fears of a non-kid-friendly atmosphere were put to rest in the shuttle—there were an equal number of children and adults. Once at the cabin, we settled in beside the crackling fire and live music. The adults ordered off a five-course prix-fixe menu while the kids gorged on their own fresh and healthy three-course menu.

Between courses, we played in the adjacent wildflower-laced meadow, watched the dancing clouds, spotted a black bear and deer on the mountain, posed for pictures and twirled to the reverberating melodies.

A porcupine personally escorted (OK, rushed us) out the door to the shuttle at the end of the evening. My 5-year-old daughter, completely entranced by this whimsical world of animals, food, and stars, sighed: “I was totally underdressed for that.”

Next time: tiaras.

Sleeping in the Clouds

Here’s a little hint: if The Ritz-Calton is your neighbor, you are in very good company. We stayed in a 3-bedroom condo at adjacent Snow Cloud Lodge, which occupies the premier Bachelor Gulch location. This exclusive community is just a stone’s throw away from the Bachelor Gulch Express lift and you can literally walk out your door to conquer a network of hiking trails during the summer months.

While the kids were perfectly delighted with their simple bunk bed, I declared our condo the most gorgeous I have ever seen with granite slab countertops, jetted tubs, French limestone floors, a Moss rock and stone fireplace, and handcrafted everything. As an added bonus, guests are given free access to the The Ritz-Carlton’s pool and their fitness center for an additional fee.

For less expensive lodging options, checkout the Comfort Inn in nearby Avon.

Fantastic Freebies

Sure, Beaver Creek’s prices may not be for the faint of heart (or for the cheapskates) but there are plenty of freebies to go around. Our first evening, we attended Fridays at the Park (Hyatt), a lively evening with music, pony rides and gondola rides for the whole family, not to mention a gourmet s’moregasbord at the open fire pit.

We also played to our heart’s content at the free Children’s Museum located next to the Beaver Creek Hiking Center in the village. The Children’s Theater Company in Beaver Creek Village holds impromptu performance and recreational-Mecca Nottingham Park in nearby Avon has free outdoor movies for the family once a week during the summer months.

Sad you missed this fantastic line-up of activities? Mark your calendars for 2010 but don’t forget Beaver Creek in the fall. There is a good reason they call their aspen-laced splendor “The Gold Rush.”


Additional food for thought:

8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill—Located slopeside in the Park Hyatt at (you guessed it) an elevation of 8100 feet, this live action bar and grill specializes in local, natural and organic dishes featuring Colorado’s best microbrews, wines and spirits. 8100 has an extensive kid menu but if you want to ditch the kids like we did (thanks to babysitter Aunt Lisa), you will be promised a romantic evening with such delights as their Filet Mignon with to-die-for Béarnaise Sauce, Creamed Corn with local-aged Goat Cheese and Warm Beignets with a Trio of Sauces for dessert.

The Osprey—Our very first experience at Beaver Creek (with the exception of when I got us lost) was lunch at the The Osprey. This boutique hotel just underwent a $7 million transformation and has the distinction of being the closest hotel to a chairlift in North America. It features an ever-evolving tapas-style menu with signature dishes and a hand-picked wine list in a casually elegant atmosphere. The food was divine and the children’s platter was among the tastiest I’ve ever had. Nevermind they were the ones who were supposed to be eating it.

At Beaver Creek, even the children’s meals taste good.

Note: This article was originally published at Mile High Mamas on August 31, 2009. Most services were complimentary or discounted.