31 October, 2010

Vacation - There to There

We departed Longmont later than we anticipated.  It's so hard to leave when you're having a good time.  It seems I'm running into this dilemma for every segment of our trip.  Anyhow.  We said our goodbyes and headed West.  Vacation's almost over, and now it's time to start making our way back home.  Jay told us about a couple sights to check out on our journey.  If you ever get the chance, you should definitely stop in at Red Rocks.  It's a natural amphitheater, and I've heard the acoustics are phenomenal.  Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to attend a concert there.  Empty, it's absolutely amazing.  I can only imagine what it'd be like to listen to Blues Traveler, Norah Jones, John Mayer, or even the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
 By the time we left there, the sun was getting low.  No big deal, except we wanted to make it through the pass while there was still daylight.  Not going to happen - but we were lucky in that we didn't encounter any snow at Vail and just had to drive through some rain. The goal for tonight was Grand Junction.  We're stopping (a layover, really - since we have to hit the road tomorrow) to see some friends: Autum and Jason.
 We visited for the evening, and went to breakfast the next morning - where we learned about Colorado National Monument.  The name is deceiving, since "monument" implies a singular building, pillar, or statue.  Instead, it's a national park full of spectacular vistas.  (Note: I just looked up the definition of "monument".  The first application is what I described above.  Definition #2 - any building, megalith, etc., surviving from a past age, and regarded as of historical or archaeological importance - definitely fits the bill...)
 We were only going to stop at key places, but it turns out we stopped at almost every pullout.  (Of course, almost all of these pictures are courtesy of Greg and his fancy-pants camera.)  The trip through the park was especially enjoyable because Autum, Jason and company decided to accompany the tourists.  In case you wondered, Juniper berries can get caught in a person's hair...
And yet again, we're leaving later than intended.  Special thanks to Autum and Jason for opening their home to us, tour guiding and general hospitality that made us feel like family.

30 October, 2010

Vacation - Cousin Krystal in Colorado

I haven't seen my cousin Krystal for *ages* - at least not to really spend time with, since we've been to family gatherings together over the years.  When Greg & I were planning this vacation, I decided that I really wanted to see her.  Since Colorado isn't that far from New Mexico, it worked into our trip nicely.  If you ask almost anyone what they like about Krystal, they'll always come back with something about her smile, or her laugh, or her positive outlook on life.  I love ALL those things about her.  And I just love being with her.  Somehow, it feels like I'm more complete, more at peace, more... me (in all ways that are good) when we're together.  I don't know that it makes any sense, but that's how I feel.
We arrived in Longmont late Wednesday night, so spent the night at some seedy motel.  That wasn't the intention (the seedy part), we just wanted a bed to sleep in since we'd be in late.  Not much rest happening when Greg's checking the covers for bed bugs and under the bed for bodies.  I don't think it was quite that bad - definitely outdated fixtures and decor, a cinderblock mattress, paper-thin walls and questionable clientele, but clean overall and a place to rest after driving all day.  For some reason, we were up and ready to go early.  Before we were even checked out, I got a message from Krystal: Are you up yet?  Breakfast's ready, come hungry!  YAY!
(For the remainder of our stay, Jay kindly opened his home to us so we didn't have to endure more of the seedy motel scene.  Thanks again, Jay!!!)  We had breakfast together, then sent Greg on his way.  He was heading south again to visit Garden of the Gods, while I spent the day with Krystal and her family.  Turns out, there's yet another place we need to go back and visit.  While I wouldn't trade my visiting for anything, I would like to see the Garden in person.  Greg's pictures are beautiful, and I can only imagine it would be more spectacular in person.  Side note: I really like the geography and climate of the southwest.  I could totally live here!
Krystal and I spent the day just catching up on the intervening years and running errands.  Nothing overly exciting, but deeply satisfying.  Friday, being Greg's birthday, had to be special!  We started the day by attending the honor roll award ceremony for Topher - way to go!! - then headed to Boulder for some shopping.  Did I mention that this area is bee-yoooh-teeee-fulll?  The weather was gorgeously sunny and warm; it couldn't've been a better day!  We had the best breakfast burrito EVER at Illegal Pete's, then spent some time in the cool (as in nifty or neat-o) stores shopping.  I think this is the first actual souvenir shopping we've done on this vacation - and it was very fruitful!
From there, we stopped in for lunch at brewery #5: Mountain Sun Brewery.  Got some free fries (a house mistake that we benefited from), and Greg had the sampler.  I must say, they make some mighty tasty beer in Colorado!
By then, Jay was done working for a bit, so we headed back to the house to collect him and continue our tour of breweries.  Brewery #6: Lefthand Brewery.  Greg and I were both interested in this stop - me, because my work briefly investigated using a product offered by Lefthand SAN, who supposedly got their name because they had lots of business meetings at the brewery.  Another sampler for Greg and I had the Haystack Wheat, which I really like!  It's got hints of banana, clove, and nutmeg - my favorite so far! - although I also tried the Milk Stout.  For a dark beer, it wasn't half bad...

By the time we were done at Lefthand, school was out so we headed back to pick up Topher.  For some reason, Greg decided that he wanted to run home.  Now, it's only about three miles back to Jay's house, so one would think this endeavor would go smoothly.  We passed Greg on the way home and pulled over to offer a ride - instead Topher hopped out to run with him.  We got home, and then we waited... and waited... and waited some more.  Just as I was considering what I should do if they didn't get home soon, the boys came bounding in the door... in need of medical supplies for Greg.
According to Topher: It was *obvious* to anyone you shouldn't run through those leaves!  So now we know that piles of leaves in Colorado can be lethal.  We also know that Greg should not imbibe and then try ANY type of running.  Backwards (last year at our Halloween party) or forwards, it seems that this is not a good idea.  And he ruined his good pair of jeans.  Oh well.  Some lessons are learned the hard way.  =)
To finish the day, we picked up Dal from his field trip and the whole clan headed to brewery #7: Oskar Blues in Lyons, CO for dinner and dessert.  In addition to their own beer, they had some items that Greg just couldn't pass up.  Hot sauce.  One of them is made with ghost chilies, which is one of the hottest peppers in the world.  Apparently to work with the stuff you have to wear protective clothing and a face mask, otherwise you could do serious bodily injury.  Who would eat something like that?!?  Oh, right.  Greg.  Now we own a bottle of TenFidy Imperial Stout Beer Infused Ghost Chile Hot Sauce.  You can bet that's ALL for Greg.  Not gonna even touch that bottle once it's opened...
And then it's suddenly Saturday, and we have to hit the road soon so we can make it back to Utah to catch our flight.  For lunch, we stopped at one more brewery (#8): the Pumphouse.  I actually ate here with Krystal and Jay on Thursday night, but Greg was still sightseeing in Colorado Springs, so he missed out.  A sampler for Greg (I'm driving) and because of another fortuitous house mistake, he gets two for the price of one.  Yay!  It was here I found my all-time favorite beer of the trip.  I don't remember the name - it's a seasonal one - but it was infused with chai flavors.  OhMyGoodnessYummy!!!!  (We did clarify with Krystal and Jay that we're not normally lushes or sots.  We just don't have these types of opportunities - or beers - back home, so we have to take advantage when we can...)
Once again, time to say our goodbyes.  This was such a lovely visit!!  I'm so glad we were able to spend time with Krystal, to get to know Topher and Dal again, and to meet and spend time with Jay.  (Jay won second place in the chili contest on Saturday evening - way to go, Jay!!)  They're wonderful, wonderful people.

28 October, 2010

Vacation - Here to There

After visiting with M for a bit on Wednesday morning, we hit the road headed north.  Our end destination was Longmont (where my cousin Krystal lives), but there were plenty of things to stop and see along the way.  We stopped at Pagosa Springs to get an earth cache (yes, we did some geocaching on this trip too...) and stretch our legs.  That's a cool little town, and someplace we're both interested in going back to visit!
From there, we stopped at the Continental Divide to get a picture.  I think this is the third time during this trip that we've crossed the Divide.  Of course, the other two times were in New Mexico, and there wasn't quite this much snow.  Apparently we'd been gaining quite a bit of elevation in our drive...
We also wanted to stop at Royal Gorge.  According to the literature, it sounded almost like an amusement park or some form of Pleasure Island (the one in Pinnochio, not Fantasy Island) - including a tram, bungee jumping, and other food and entertainments.  Unfortunately for us, we were too late to enter the park, in part because we went to the wrong entrance first (the south side is closed this time of year).  But Greg was able to get pictures of the bridge from just outside, and he got some nice scenery shots from our jaunt to the south side.
And then it was decision time.  Greg really wanted to see Garden of the Gods, which is on the way, but it's dusk now so there'll be nothing to see until daylight.  Do we continue on, so I can see Krystal?  Or do we stop and see some magnificent scenery?  We opted to do both, in a way.  Travel on to Longmont, that night and I'll visit with Krystal the following day while Greg retraces part of our route to visit the park.  A win-win for everyone!
We stopped in Colorado Springs to get dinner.  As luck would have it, there was a brewery - so we stopped at brewery #4: Brewer's Republic.  Not sure if this one really counts since they don't brew their own beer, but they do get the beer from a local brewer.  I had a mighty tasty lemon-grass brew (and am a bit disappointed that I didn't get to try the curry beer they had a while ago) and the pizza was very tasty!  Interestingly enough, we met some people who currently live in Colorado Springs but are from Alaska and are getting ready to move back. Shout out to Erin and Klark - look us up when you get to town and we'll go do something fun...  =)

27 October, 2010

Vacation - Farmington, Part II

We spent Tuesday doing more sightseeing, while M was at work.  There are several sites for ruins that are really close to Farmington.  We started in Aztec Ruins National Monument, looking at the 800+ year old structures created by the ancient Puebloans.  It's fascinating to see the workmanship and know that the people creating these structures did everything by hand.  No power tools there - no nail guns, cordless drills, table saws (a lot of what we just used to complete the work on my mom's house).  In some cases they had to go miles and miles from home for the supplies necessary (wood, stone, etc.) to build the 500-room, multi-level compound.  And then there's the speculation on who was occupying it for various time periods.  It was particularly interesting to see the change in masonry styles (obvious - when pointed out - even to an untrained observer like me), indicating occupation by different peoples.
We actually went to two different ruin sites on Tuesday: the ruins in Aztec and the Salmon Ruins in Bloomfield.  They both have similar histories, but one (Salmon Ruins) was discovered by the original homesteader, who provided protection for the ruins.  This site is smaller (the compound is approximately 150 rooms, multi-level), but has a Great Kiva (purportedly a social gathering area for the people in residence) similar to the one at Aztec.  A BIG difference is that the Great Kiva at Aztec was reconstructed in the early 1900s, so we have a visual idea of what they might have been like.
It's intriguing to try to imagine how things were for the people back then.  The rooms are small; there are no hallways connecting anything.  In order to get from one place to the next, you'd have to walk through the living or working space of anyone in between.  My bedroom is bigger than most of those rooms.  In fact, the space my bedroom has could probably be split to make two of those rooms (with lower ceilings and small doors at both ends).  These people were short and small, and didn't seem to have much need of privacy.  More communal: less worry about mine and yours (did they not have to worry about stealing?); more interdependent as a community, but still independent as a people (as evidenced by apparent trade routes and such).
There are still plenty of sites left for us to explore.  The next time we go, we'll have to make sure to visit Chaco Canyon - the ruins there are even more elaborate, and indications are that some of the people that inhabited the Aztec and Salmon ruins were related to the Chacoan people.  Anyhow.  Enough of the ancient culture and ruins stuff - mesmerizing in person, but hard to keep interesting when you're writing about it.
Back in Farmington, we were killing time while waiting for M to finish at work when we came across the store front pictured above.  I just had to get a picture (thanks to Greg - in fact a lot of the pictures I've been using are thanks to Greg and his fancy-pants camera).  As we were wandering Main Street, window shopping and taking in the sights, it was interesting to see how many stores were actually closed.  Seems like the downturn in the economy may have hit Farmington pretty hard.  Hope things get better there.
Once M was done at work, instead of doing any hikes, we opted to get dinner and then spend the evening at home prepping for travel.  M and I made some of the yummiest caramel corn I've had in ages (discounting the fact that I haven't had caramel corn for ages...), and she burned some music CDs for us to listen to (we didn't bring any suitable music, and I intended to get an audio book but never did).  I wake up some mornings with the songs from our road trip running through my head - thanks, M!  =)
And then it's Wednesday - time to head north to Colorado.  We stopped by the hospital to visit with M one more time before heading out.  The facilities are beautiful.  I love the architecture of the building, the water features incorporated inside, and the calming, serene garden-scape alcove.  I'm glad M has such lovely surroundings.  I hope it brings her peace and contentment while she's there.
More endings and beginnings.  I'm sad to leave my sister, but I temper that sadness with the idea that there's still plenty of things we didn't do or see, so we'll be back.  And so we head north on the next leg of our adventure.

26 October, 2010

Vacation - Farmington, Part I

We arrived in Farmington on Sunday evening, just in time to get dinner at Olive Garden (thanks, Sheri!!).  As usual, it was delicious!  I hear that someday we're actually going to have one here in Anchorage, but I'm not holding my breath.  For years now, each new construction site is first rumored to be an Olive Garden.  Instead it becomes Arby's or TGIF (and I really hoped the IHOP by our house was going to be an OG, but that was just wishful thinking (not even rumors)).  Not that I'm complaining, just feeling a little let down.  So now we have a new shopping center on the other side of town, and supposedly one of the buildings is going to house an Olive Garden. *fingers crossed!*

But I digress.  M still had to work (bummer!!), so on Monday, Greg and I headed out to the Bisti (pronounced Bis-tie or Bis-tea, but I call it Beastie) Wilderness (aka Bisti Badlands).  The area is about 30 miles south of Farmington.  Since M couldn't come with us, I took her Sing-a-ma-Jig doll (we each got one from mom) and took pictures with it instead.  (Side note: I'm going to start a new segment on my blog called Adventures with Amy - the accompanying pictures will have M's Sing-a-ma-Jig doll representing her.  I left mine with M - she said she'd take pictures and post them too.)
We walked in (no motorized or mechanical vehicles allowed, including mountain bikes - not that we brought bikes with us...) about 1.5 miles, taking pictures along the way.  We didn't even get to the really cool stuff.  According to some information Greg found, approximately 2 miles in the formations get particularly interesting.  Even so, it was somewhat eerie in a cool way.  A combination of hard and soft rocks with some petrified forest thrown in on top makes for some interesting formations.  Almost as if we were on an alien planet - which was really easy to imagine since there was nothing man-made that we could see in any direction.
Because it was cloudy and threatening rain, the farther we got from the car, the more I started imagining a torrential downpour that created a flash flood and swept us away.  I countered it by telling myself we'd just climb up on some of the higher surfaces, but with no cell service then I worried that I wouldn't be able to let M know what was happening.  Shortly thereafter the winds kicked up something fierce and I just about panicked.  So Greg led us back to the car through the wind storm (talk about alien landscape!) - I had my sunglasses on, looking at the ground, squinting so I didn't get dirt and debris in my eyes (contacts sometimes are a pain, and mostly when something else gets in my eyes (cat hair, lint, dust, desert sand...)).  We were just about 5 minutes from the car when it started raining sideways...  Greg has pictures of our dirty, dirty faces - I had sand in my teeth and the loveliest dirt mustache you've ever seen.  I never thought about how abrasive towelettes can be until I was cleaning up the mess.
After all the fun and excitement in the Badlands, we decided lunch was in order.  Back in Farmington, we found brewery #3: Three Rivers Eatery and Brewhouse.  Good food, and some tasty beer.  It was nice to have a cozy place to sit and eat while we were warming up.  I found that I'd missed a bunch of dirt - particularly in my ears.
 From there, we picked up M from work to go on the River Walk.  Since this is a new town for her too, we wanted to see some of the places that are part of her natural habitat.  We spent a lovely evening wandering by the riverside, watching the sun set and chatting.  They have an amazing veteran's memorial, which we saw as it was getting dark.  I love the color of the leaves, the scenery, and the peacefulness of the area.  Of course, a lot of that may have to do with being able to spend time with M...
It's been fabulous spending time with M for a while.  We missed having her with us at the Family Project, and I know she missed being there with us.  It's also been nice to see her new home.  Her new digs are nice, and Farmington is beautiful - at least what we've seen thus far.  I wish she had had more time to spend with us; I wish we lived closer together; I wish it didn't cost so much to visit. I wish...  Love you, M!