Colorado’s breath of fresh air at Alderfer/Three Sisters

Today was like a breath of fresh air. After our month-long road-trip to Canada in July, I needed a break from traveling and we have become relative homebodies as we’ve fallen into our back-to-school routine with Bode’s soccer, Hadley’s volleyball, me coaching another volleyball team, church activities and poor Jamie working all the time.

Even though we had a busy morning with games, the fall weather was 70-degree perfection and I bribed the kids that they could skip chores if they came to play with me in the mountains that afternoon.

This is also known as being a bigger kid than your kids.

So, while Jamie watched the BYU football game and worked, we headed to the hills. One of our favorite areas to explore is Alderfer/Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, Colo., which is a gorgeous 30-minute drive from our house. Fall colors are beginning to emerge and my gosh if our explorations didn’t make the three of us exuberantly happy. I don’t think we realized how much we needed that adventure until we started doing it.

Though we enjoy hiking the extensive network of trails, what we love most at Alderfer/Three Sisters is bouldering on the steep granite quartz blocks that are piled all around the park.  I’d be lying if it doesn’t make me a bit nervous for safety reasons but today, we achieved summit firsts on various formations and had a blast!! Hadley, as always, was our mountain goat while Bode was initially cautiously adventurous, weighing various drops as “Hmmm, it seems a bit risky.”

And me? I rested from climbing at one point and was just content to watch the kids explore. Until, that is, Hadley accused me of “needing to be more like J.D.’s Grandma.”

Now, normally when someone accuses you of being a grandma, they’re insulting you but she was goading me on to become like J.D.’s hardcore grandma who was a butt-kicker as we climbed the Great Sand Dunes National Parks’ highest peak.

I wanna be just like her in my 70s.

Hadley’s fuzzy picture of one of many mountain bluebirds

We discovered hidden pools in the rocks.  Bode bravely role-played he was on American Ninja Warrior’s Mount Midoriyama as he leaped over crevasses. Hadley squealed at the influx of mountain bluebirds on their namesake trail. We acted out Y-M-C-A as our shadows projected onto our craggy movie screen. The afternoon sky burned blue and gold leaves whispered in the wind as we climbed our granite islands amidst a sea of Ponderosa pine and meadows.

After a couple of hours, Hadley was just getting warmed up and could have explored all day but I tempted them with ice cream and she took the bait for the second time that day (no chores and ice cream?)

Evergreen was bustling with activity and prior to getting our ice cream, we opted to stop into Seasonally Yours Evergreen Taffy Co. and Fresh Fudge for the first time. We spent an hour exploring this colorful, funky and fun shop that had everything from toys to novelty items to candy to the most gorgeous decorations.

After Hadley and Bode devoured birthday cake fudge and pumpkin ice cream, we raced down the serpentine Bear Creek Canyon with windows down, music blasting and the kids’ feet out the window.

Dare I say it was the perfect afternoon?

As we drove into Denver, we passed one of the few places we have yet to explore in Green Mountain. Hadley queried, “Mom, why haven’t we hiked there?”

My heart sang a little more because of her love for the outdoors. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, if I see a trail all I want to do is climb it.

And today we achieved some incredible summits.


Father’s Day Celebrations and Camp Chief Ouray: Colorado’s best overnight camp for kids!

I can’t say enough how blessed I feel to have a wonderful father, father-in-law and be married to an amazing man who is a fun-loving, hard-working father to my children.

Father-son matching pumpkin-colored ties

Our Father’s Day was a whirlwind. The Primary kids performed a Father’s Day medley of songs in Sacrament Meeting and yours truly was the accompanist. This would have been fine and dandy if I was able to play one of the songs but ended up faking my way through and fortunately nobody noticed.  Turns out they were too enamored with all the cute kiddos, which is a very, very good thing.

In our Ward, we have the best tradition ever: a social after church where everyone brings pies and proceed to stuff our faces with them. Well, not literally. Though a pie-throwing contest would be a pretty fun tradition, too.

We then raced home and drove 1.5 hours to drop the kiddos off at Camp Chief Ouray at YMCA of the Rockies near Granby, Colo. I’ll have much more to come on that but I’m having very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m thrilled they are spending six days at the glorious camp, which is the longest-running and one of the most reputable in Colorado that is heaped in traditions and fun.

Bode’s counselors Andres and Kevin; Hadley was too cool for hugs and posing for pictures

On the other hand, I’m missing them terribly. Though Jamie and I have been on couple’s vacations, this is the first time we’ve been alone together at our house in 10 years. Fat Kitty is feeling it, too. He woke us up at 3 a.m.with “the meow of death” and acted like he was dying. When we saw nothing was externally wrong, we ascertained he’s lost without those two cherubs of his. As you can see, he quickly got over his angst-driven, sleepless night.

We all mourn in different ways.

That includes Jamie. As we were walking away after dropping off the kids, we followed the steady procession of parents walking to their cars.

Jamie: “Have you noticed something we all have in common?”

Me: “What?”

Jamie: “All the parents now have smiles on their faces.”

And believe me, so did the kids about spending the week in such a magical place.

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


Hiking Maxwell Falls: A Matter of Unfinished Business

I’ve had a bone to pick with Maxwell Falls. Several years ago, baby Hadley and I joined one of my friends from Colorado Mountain Mamas to hike this trail that winds into the Arapahoe National Forest along Maxwell Creek. Only we never made it there. This hike in Evergreen, Colo. was only supposed to be a couple of miles and yet we kept going and going and going. We eventually turned back without ever finding the falls.

If there’s anything I hate, it’s unfinished business.

My Thursdays have been dedicated unto hiking and mid-October, I made attempt No. 2. There are two ways to access Maxwell Falls: a 1-mile hike (perfect for families), a 3-mile loop (both accessible via the upper trailhead lot), and a 4-mile round-trip trek from the lower trailhead lot.

Or, if you’re like me, get lost, go on a couple of detours and your adventure will last about three hours.

I’ve hiked pretty much every trail along Denver’s Front Range and waterfalls are a rarity so that made Maxwell Falls that much more desirable. I parked at the Lower Trailhead Lot and was delighted that the scenic trail in the Ponderosa forest maintained a steady upward pitch. The October temperatures were brisk, the golden aspens were hanging on for dear life and there was a dusting of snow on the trail. Pretty much, my ideal hiking conditions.

I’d been hiking for about a half hour and all was going well until The Stream Crossing of Doom.

What I did: Instead of skirting across the rocks strategically placed on the creek, I kept going straight and noticed a trail that continued up the valley on the other side of the creek. I followed the sketchy trail, over logs and fallen brush from the flood for about 20 minutes before turning back.

What I should have done: Crossed the stream and taken a sharp right up the mountain. Consider yourself warned.

Once I finally made it back on the trail, all was clear sailing until I reached the falls. There wasn’t a clear view of Maxwell Falls from the trail and darnit it I’d hiked all that way and I was only going to hear them. I scrambled down the boulders, snapped a few shots of the pretty, understated waterfall’s icicles that cascaded over the tiered boulders.

Now, a smarter person would have headed back to the Lower Lot but my confidence had returned so I figured I’d make my hike even longer by doing the Cliff Loop. It took me away from my creek-side view into a beautiful forest with a stunning glimpse at Evergreen’s charms. But remember that snow? The loop is not as frequented, the signage is lacking and the snow made it tough in places to find the trail. After about 45 minutes of hiking, it cut back down near the creek and I was dismayed when it didn’t connect with the original trail to Maxwell Falls. I was lost. Again.

I called Jamie but he didn’t answer (what’s the point of downloading your lamentations if someone isn’t there to hear them?) I said a quick prayer along the lines of “Heavenly Father, I knew I was stupid by trying to do this loop but do you think you could cast me a lifeline?” Two minutes later, I spotted a bridge and the original trail. Prayers answered!

Forty-five minutes later, I was finally back at the car, exhausted but jubilant I’d finally seen Maxwell Falls. Now, all that remains on my bucket list is accessing them via the Upper Parking Lot.

Only for that one, I’ll recruit my kiddos. They should consider themselves warned.


Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 west to Exit 252 and merge onto CO-74 South/Evergreen Parkway. Drive 7.6 miles and take a slight left onto Bear Creek Road. After half a mile, turn right onto CO Road 73, continue for a mile, and turn right onto South Brook Forest Road. The lower parking lot and trailhead are 3.6 miles in, on your left. To reach the upper parking lot, continue past there for about 1.6 miles more until the road turns to Black Mountain Drive/CO Road 78; drive 1.2 more miles to the upper lot (on the left).

The mountain, the bear and the gun-toting Tennessean

Though I relish any time spent on The Broadmoor’s opulent grounds, I love escaping to North Cheyenne Cañon, a gorgeous red-rock, evergreen forest with scores of hiking trails.

Many of the trails start at the Starsmore Discovery Center, just over a mile from the resort so most of my explorations have been reserved for the gorgeous neighborhoods and Lower Columbine trail. But then, I learned The Broadmoor runs a complimentary shuttle to the discovery center, which would give me a jump-start on my desire to hike further up the canyon to the Upper Columbine Trail.

We had planned to spend an afternoon at the pool but when rain clouded our plans, I enrolled the kids in the resort’s children’s club, Bee Bunch, while Jamie booked a massage. That meant I had three glorious hours to explore!

But remember that rain? It would have deterred some but not me. I grabbed my waterproof gear and hopped on the shuttle. Within minutes, I was winding along the trail and ran into a family.

“Bear up there,” one of the woman casually commented as I hiked by.

“Umm, did she say there is a bear?”

Her traveling companion divulged there was, indeed, a brown bear directly off the trail about a half-hour ahead. “He didn’t bother us,” he assured me. Gee, swell to know.

I kept hiking and each subsequent hiker issued the same warning. By this point, I was starting to get paranoid. I was, after all, hiking by myself and I had just polished off The Broadmoor’s tasty 10,000-calorie brunch. I’d be some good eatin’ for a hungry bear in the rain. Plus, I’ve never run into a bear in Colorado’s backcountry.

As I was forging up the mountain, I was passed by a 30-something, fit tattooed hiker from Tennessee who was a bit rough around the edges but friendly. I informed him about the bear and he nonchalantly said, “I’m not worried. I’ve got a pistol in my backpack.”

Now, any other day such a confession would have steered me in another direction but it became one of Bode’s famous “would you rather” games: Would I rather hike by myself under threat of a bear OR hike with a gun-toting, tattooed Tennessean?

I opted for the latter and we quickly fell into a good clip up the mountain.

I may-or-may-not have snapped this picture as evidence in case my dead, lifeless body was found.

The trail was steep, the views stunned, the rain dripped, the sun persisted, the conversation entertained and it was one of those beloved hikes where  I felt powerful and never wanted it to end. When we reached the Upper Columbine trailer marker four miles later,  we parted ways as he continued going and I reluctantly headed back to pick up the kids.

View of The Broadmoor from the Upper Columbine Trail

The bear was long forgotten on my return trip but I had a new-found fondness for gun-toting Tennesseans. Just your average day in Colorado’s backcountry.




Our debut as professional pie contest eaters at Four Mile Historic Park

Four years ago when Jamie was in Portland visiting his buddy at a pumpkin weigh-off, the kids and I fell in love with Four Mile History Park’s annual Great Pumpkin Harvest Festival. This rustic 12-acre historic oasis and the site of Denver’s oldest house is a charming throwback to yesteryear. Scarecrow making. Caramel apples and apple cider. Pioneer games. Horse-drawn wagon rides. Museum tours. Wood-burning stove cookie baking and Native American fry bread. Mountain man encampment. Gold panning. Historic blacksmithing demonstrations.

I loved it all and have been dying to go back but last weekend was our first opportunity while Jamie was at another weigh-off.

Pumpkin ring toss

Very heated musical chairs cakewalk

New obsession: stilt walking


Apple cider doughnuts I’ve dreamed about for four years

Four Mile Historic Park had pumpkins for purchase in a cute little pumpkin patch but we couldn’t be bothered.

“We don’t need to stop there, Hadley. We’re pumpkin snobs.”

“What’s a snob?”

“Someone who thinks they’re better than someone else.”

“Why yes, yes we are pumpkin snobs.”

But there’s nothing better than pie-eating contests and darn it if Hadley and Bode didn’t hit the jackpot by being two of the lucky 15 kids who signed up.

There was some stiff competition: a lot of hungry-looking teenagers. Bode looks like he’s praying in this picture. It worked. At least it did when he figured out it’s better not to lick the berry pie…

and just jump right on it. Little dude never looked back.

Hadley, on the other hand, started strong by smashing her face in her apple pie and ingesting it. About a minute later, she came up for air.
“Mom, I can’t breathe! I have pie up my nose”

“Breathe later, eat now.”

I have a future as a competitive pie-eating coach. My first rule: do not slurp the apples like a straw.

Or look at your competition. Bode lost precious seconds here.

But  he needn’t have worried because he totally beat Hadley who ended up looking like this.

I don’t think she’ll want apple pie anytime soon.

But we had a blast and you’d better believe we’ll be training for next year.

(Drumroll) And The Great Pumpkin’s Weight Is….

After a thoroughly exhausting, fun and wet pumpkin party, the day of the weigh-off was even more chaotic as we juggled Bode’s soccer and my volleyball game (thanks to Aunt Lisa for coming to the rescue with rides!)

Jamie says he loves driving the Great Pumpkin to the weigh-off because of all the stares and cheers he receives.

And who can blame them with this cargo?

The festivities are at Jared’s Nursery in Littleton and have grown from a little podunk weigh-off to a veritable harvest festival with a haunted house, face painting, mazes, bouncy castles, games and food trucks.

But still, the highlight is always checking out the giant gourds.

It feels a bit like you’re wandering around the Land of the Lost with these 100-pound pears. And of course, all those pumpkins.

I felt really happy for Jamie because, for the first time, his pumpkin was among the largest and was the one people singled out for pictures.

Of course, we had to pose for our requisite family photo with the other woman. Though in this case, she’s a man named Stanley in honor of my dad and Jamie’s best friend. My friend Fiona called us the “Mannings of the pumpkin growing world.”

I’m sure that means we must be millionaires.

The kids’ division was first. Early in the season, Hadley lost her pumpkin so they both grew Bode’s pumpkin, which is just a nice way of saying he did most of the work but she wants part of the credit.

Regardless, they blew away the other kids and won with their biggest pumpkin ever: 429.5 pounds! It went 15 percent heavier than its measurements.

Up next was the adult division. Jamie’s pumpkin developed a small crack five weeks prior, which automatically disqualified it from competition but he still wanted to weigh it. It was measuring out to be over 1,400 pounds, which would have beat the 1,308-pound Colorado state record.

But it wasn’t to be so. Though Stanley was a beast, he went “light,” which in pumpkin terms means he wasn’t as thick on the inside so turned out to be about 200 pounds lighter than Jamie had hoped.

A man and his giant pumpkin

But 1,220 pounds is nothing to be sad about. Stanley was a few hundred pounds heavier than Jamie’s personal best and was one of the biggest grown in Colorado this year. His friend Joe ended up growing a 1,478-pound pumpkin and won the competition. Which just means there’s an even bigger goal for next year.

Congrats to my cute family on a job well grown!



My Evil (Murphy’s Law) Twin

We’re trying to navigate the road of being a one-car family since the accident. I thought it would be easy with both of us working from home but between driving kids around, meetings and errands, I’m finding how much I’d just get up and go whenever I wanted.

And confirmed I’m really really not a homebody because I’ve been stuck at home more than I’d like.

Fortunately, my neighbor Monica saved me from the house and suggested I show her the Ralston Creek Trail on our bikes today. I woke up bright and early this morning to pump my tires, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my Top Five Least Favorite Things To Do right after moving, dieting and dying.

We loaded up our bikes into her SUV and drove to the trailhead. And then,

“Uh oh.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Look,” she said, pointing to her two flat tires.

She encouraged me to go without her but I stubbornly said I’d wait while she drove back home to pump her tires (it was too much of a pain to load both bikes in the back of her vehicle again).

And so I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Eventually, she showed up…with her husband’s bike.

“What happened?”
“I couldn’t get the air compressor to work. It needs a different valve.”
“You have a road bike like mine and need a presta adapter to pump the tires.”
“I called Jamie to come help but he was busy. So I called my husband (who is out of town) and he said to just take his bike.”

In the end, we had a great ride but leading up to that point? It was hanging out with myself.

And not in a good way. :-)