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  • Writer's pictureKathy Stockbridge

EmptyNest Adventures Hits the Rocks

Updated: May 28, 2018

Back in 2016 I was extremely fortunate when my day job decided to send me and a fellow co-worker out to Denver, Colorado for training. For five days we were to study during the day, however the nights were our own. So being the list maker I am...I quickly began planning our fun filled adventures. Every day we would cram in all we could see of this spectacular area! Come along as I reminisce about the exciting time we spent in Colorado!

Denver was always a location I wanted to travel to. It was up there on the bucket list, along with several destinations in the area. In my mind I pictured humungous rock formations and snow capped mountains with pine trees surrounding them. What greeted me as I arrived was a patchwork quilt of farming land. I thought, wait, where are all the mountains I keep seeing in photos?!! We would soon find to the west all that we had hoped for.

The Denver International Airport welcomed us with amazing architecture and murals depicting the area culture of the Mile High City. Picking up the car at the off site rental location wasn't difficult as shuttles were provided to get us to where we were going. Once there we quickly learned we would need a larger car suitable for driving steep altitudes. So please note, if you plan to drive around the area, make sure when reserving a car you reserve one that is at least a 6 cylinder to navigate the mountainous terrain.

Arriving at our hotel was simple with GPS to guide us, and a quick hop from the airport. It was conveniently located to where our conference was, and in an area with several restaurants and shopping. Settling in, we couldn't wait to hit the roads to find some beautiful areas. But first, dinner. Directly across the street we lucked out as we found a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Jose O'Sheas. Stepping inside was taking like a trip across the border with decor and delectable scents. A definite place to visit while in the Denver area. I give this one 5 stars out of 5. Just take a gander at that avocado in the picture below. It is the perfect indicator of how delicious it all was!

After filling up on some delicious Mexican cuisine, we quickly hit the road to find the mountains we had seen in photos. Up first was nearby mountain, Lookout Mountain. Just a quick jaunt down the street from our hotel, this site was easily found, and gave way to the spectacular mountainess territory I longed to see. This in addition to being a beautiful view, is the final resting place of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. This became a foreshadowing of what was to come for the week.

The following day was rainy, so after class we decided to head downtown and take in the Denver Aquarium. Stopping first at a local Panera for a quick soup and sandwich, we wolfed down our food and easily found our way to the acquarium. Not very expensive, this was a perfect rainy day activity, and I must boast that they had some great exhibits to see.

The following evening was an adventure I had dreamed of forever. As a photojournalist, I have always wanted to cover a show at Redrocks Ampitheater. This venue is ledgendary. Aritists via for a spot to perform each season, and as luck would have it, our favorite hometown musician, Joe Bonamasa, would be playing there that evening. After contacting his publicist, I was able to arrange coverage of the show and score two tickets to enjoy the evening with Joe.

As we arrived at Red Rocks, we parked and began the long trek up the mountin. As we neared the top, the rain and lighting began, and down we returned to wait it out in the car. As the storm passed over the mountain, we once again got our steps in as we made our way back up the mountain. For those who aren't able to hike, I would look into alternative ways to reach the gates, but for us it was a great workout, and so worth it as once you reach the top, the venue and views were spectacular. In the distance you see Denver and the most spectacular sunset as the clouds and rain dissipated. Inside, was everything I had hoped it would be. Large boulders surrounded the cutout for the stage. As I took my place, I met the other two photographers there for this show. Ironically, one was from Jersey and the other was a reporter for the Denver Post who originally hailed from Long Island!! Go figure! The show was beyond amazing, Joe was in amazing form as usual, and the acoustics were amazing as he played throughout the night. A definite highlight for my career; please feel free to check out my review of the show along with photos at .

As our week progressed we spent a portion of our time studying, as we were there for work after all, so one night we just took in a nice dinner and a few resale shops and headed back to the hotel. There were several chain restaurants and we settled on a Red Lobster, which is never a bad choice. Again, conveniently located to the hotel, there were many choices and confirmed how centrally located this hotel was to all we wanted to do.

Finally the end of the week came and after finishing early at our training we hit the road like Thelma and Louise to do some more exploring. First up, Garden of the Gods, located in the Colorado Springs area. This free park truly was magnificent. Easy to find, we made our way to the Welcome Center to learn about the area and park, and then headed straight for our hike through this breath taking region. This is definitely a must see if you head to Colorado. I was in awe of the rock formations, and their grand size. A few brave men and women, took advantage of the rock climbing allowed. So if you are into rock climbing, definitely look into doing this. I believe you need to contact the Welcome Center for the regulations and permit. You will be happy to conquer these beasts. I'll happily stayed firming on the ground taking your photos brave men and women.

The storm passed over Pikes Peak as seen from the Reservoir.

Finishing our trek at the Gardens we then headed straight toward Pikes Peak which was not far from there. There are a few ways to reach the summit of the Peak. The shuttle system, by car, or by the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. If you wish to take the railway, I highly recommend securing tickets online early as they sell out quickly. Because we didn't know this ahead of time, we were left with the car option. A very steep and windy road, we learned this two lane roadway was only recently completely paved to the top. So off we went to scale a mountain. As we embarked, the rain began. Because the roads were getting a little slick, we decided not to trek to the top this time, but to go as far as the reservoir area to capture a few shots, and then head back to the hotel. Sad I didn't get to the summit, this will definitely remain on the list of things I want to do in Colorado. After all, we needed to have one of those doughnuts they hyped at the Visitor Center. Do they really turn to rock if you bring them back down to the lower altitude? Inquiring minds need to know. Another piece of advice I wish to pass along is wait a few days prior to taking the jaunt up to Pikes Peak. Allow your body to get acclimated to the altitudes for maximum fun. Although it didn't bother me, I would not want you to get sickly when making your way up the mountain. Also the weather up there is very different that at the lower levels of the mountain. For best results, check the Pikes Peak webpage for weather, tips, vehicle restrictions, etc. It's a plethora of information, and should answer all your questions.

For our final night we got to try some authentic Colorado food at a great restaurant downtown called Ted's Montana Grill. Okay, so Ted's is a chain but hey it's a northwest chain and they served bison, so I was in for it. We scored with the most friendly waiter ever who began our meal with the best dill pickles ever, and the amazing food didn't stop there. I had the bison meatloaf, and it was delicious. I highly recommend it. Another must visit place while in the area. I give this one 5 stars out of 5 too.

The final day had come and our flight was later in the afternoon so after checking out of the hotel, which I must say was clean, friendly, and very accommodating, we headed downtown to visit the Denver Botanic Gardens. Over the course of the week we noticed that the vegetation here was so different to the northeast area. We also notice there were no flies, bees, etc. anywhere until we made our way to this garden area. The expansive gardens included several themed areas, an amphitheater for shows, and conservatory with dining, etc. on site. Extremely beautiful, I always love taking in many facets to an area. I highly recommend checking out any city's websites to see what else is offered in the area. Prior planning gives you so many options of things to do and allows you to make the most of your time in all weather conditions.

After the beautiful gardens we made our way to our final destination, a tour of Molly Brown's home. Most of you remember the "unsinkable Molly Brown" as one of the main characters in Titanic as portrayed by Kathy Bates. This amazing woman was a self made socialite and philanthropist. She and her husband resided in Denver and the home, like Molly, was larger than life and spectacular. Because tickets are sold ahead for specific times, we were unable to tour due to time constraints. We didn't want to miss our flight. This too now has been added to the list of things to do next time we're in Denver.

As I left Denver that day, I felt as though I checked so many items off my 'bucket list'; always wanting to cover a show at Redrocks, to see Pike's Peak (even if it was only half way up), the Garden of the Gods, and taking in the flavors of the area, I truly felt though I used my time best. As far as costs associated with the trip I was very fortunate as I had this adventure in conjunction with a work trip. If you want to travel to Denver, I found that the attractions and food were very affordable, however felt that the price of the rental car was a little steep. It was as much as the air fare. So allow some extra money for the larger engined vehicle. You will need it to travel around. The hotel price was about average for a trip such as this, however I think if I had more time to explore I could have found something a bit more economical. We didn't as this was the hotel reserved for the training so we just went with it. If I were to rate the over all affordability of my trip, it's not a cheap vacation however you definitely get your money's worth if you wish to invest in this one. I give it a 4 out of 5 stars overall on my EmptyNest survey. I felt that if you were to shop around for rental vehicles and hotels you could reduce the price.

Overall it was a wonderful work vacation, and one I know you and your family and/or friends will enjoy. If you have been there or plan to go, please feel free to share photos and stories down below. I would love to hear from you all!!!

Till our next adventure empty nesters!!

Slainte' ... Kathy

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