COLORADO - PART II
03/31/2011 65 °F
When I pictured heading into Denver, I envisioned driving up monstrous mountains, ice and snow covering the roads, streams of Coors flowing down the valleys, and trouble catching my breath in the mile-high thin air. I guess I was brainwashed by all the Coors ads showing the Rocky Mountains and watching snow fall during a Monday Night Football game in Denver. The mountains were certainly getting larger, but they weren't the titans I had imagined, and I certainly wasn't driving through them. The road leading to Denver was flat, mountains on the left while the plains stretched out as far as I could see to the right.
Part of the problem may have been my view was slightly blocked. Having stopped to fill the car with gas, I began to clean up the car. Megan still had water in her water bottle, but I saw her carrying a fresh one out to the car. I threw the half filled one in the glove compartment to make room in the cup holder. About twenty minutes after leaving the gas station, Megan opened the glove compartment to find it filled with water. Apparently Megan puts the cap back on the water after taking a drink so she "doesn't lose it", but only tightens the cap down once she has finished drinking it. I told her that defeats the purpose of the cap if the cap is only sealed before you start drinking and after you are finished. I asked her, "why don't you take the extra .3 seconds of time and tighten the cap?" She replied, "It hurts my hand if I have to continually screw and unscrew it." So, as a result, this was my view for the 9 hour drive to Denver.
Like I have mentioned before, distance is deceptive out west. Looking along the line of mountains, I could see one clearly standing higher than the rest. I asked Megan if it was Pike's Peak. She checked the map, and said we were still 120 miles from Colorado Springs, so I thought that it must be another mountain that was closer. 2 hours later, I found it was Pike's Peak. You can see it behind Megan in the picture below.
Upon arriving in Colorado Springs, we wound through the town to head to Garden of the Gods. Here a park had been set up around a series of gigantic and unusual rock formations. Apparently it got its name when a brewmaster was looking for a place to setup his brewery came across the area and proclaimed it was fit for a god, therefore "Garden of the Gods" was derived from "beer garden for a god". I think the story is a tall tale, and the more obvious reason is the correct origin of the name, that the rocks are so big that they could have only been placed there by a god.
The warm, sunny day had brought people out in droves to run the pathways between the rocks. A man was scaling up the side of one of the larger rocks, while the other rocks just looked cool.
All the rocks had little signs in front of them with information and creative names for each rock (names like Sentinel Rock and Cathedral Spires). But there was one rock that Megan felt got left out, "the most interesting rock in the park" according to Megan. What do you think she named this one?
This is "Gorilla Rock". Supposedly it is the profile of a gorilla turned to the left, with his brow, nose, and mouth on the left side. He is reclining with his belly going down to the left.
The last rock we wanted to see was a short drive away. A Colorado Springs man had bought the land directly beneath the rock and made his living taking touristy pictures next to the "Balanced Rock". He even had mules that people could sit on, and hats to wear. Eventually people started to own their own cameras, and he built a fence around the rock to protect his business interest. He eventually donated the rock to the park so that everyone could enjoy it.
The sun was starting to set, so we left the park and continued driving to Denver. We were staying with my friend Ryan's brother in Conifer, which is up in the mountains overlooking Denver. We arrived and chit-chatted for a little while, and then hit the hay after a long day of driving.
Megan and I were told that we had to start our morning with a breakfast burrito at TNT Country Kitchen. Megan's was filled with egg, potato, cheese, and bacon while I got one filled with chorizo. They were huge, and very tasty. They came with green chile sauce on top too.
From TNT Country Kitchen, it was only a 15 minute drive to Red Rocks Amphitheater. A concert arena was built into the natural red rock formations, creating a scenic and unique place for bands to play.
We parked in the parking lot, and then walked up into the amphitheater. A lot of people were running across the wide rows of the amphitheater. We walked out of the amphitheater and back down to a trail that goes around the various rock formations in the park. The warning sign caught my attention.
If you encounter a rattlesnake, just walk away. Walk around the poison ivy to avoid it. However, if you encounter a mountain lion, FIGHT BACK! It was funny to think about Megan fighting off a mountain lion (although the warning did send the tiniest bit of worry through my mind, especially since Ryan's brother had just told a story of a mountain lion that had been seen in their neighborhood last night). The rock formations were similar to the ones we saw in the Garden of the Gods, just a little smaller.
At one point along the trail, you could get a good view of downtown Denver.
We finished the trail, got back in the car, and left the amphitheater. I had anxiously been awaiting our next stop, the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado.
It was a self guided tour that took you through the brewing rooms, the bottling factory, and the shipment area. It was pretty similar to the Miller tour we had gone on in Milwaukee, minus the tour guide. We did get to stop half way through the tour to sample beer that had finished brewing that day (the sample cup didn't really give you chance to taste a big difference).
We finally made our way to the tasting room, where we were able to sample 3 beers. Megan and I coordinated so that we could try some of the experimental new beers and some of the local ones we couldn't get back home. I also made sure to get the Banquet Beer, Coors original.
After two of the beers, Megan said she desperately needed something to snack on. I gave her 3 dollars to go to the vending machine, and she came back with a single bag of pretzels. I realized now how the free beer tour could actually turn a profit. Megan began talking in a British accent and using one of the pretzels as a monocle. Apparently the experimental beers were stronger than the regular beers.
We stopped by the gift shop on the way out to see if anything caught our eye. We laughed at some of the funny t-shirts, and I took my picture with a Broncos helmet.
We left Golden and headed back into Denver. Our next stop was Elway's Colorado Steakhouse. The $40 steak was a tad expensive for lunch, but the $8 chili was supposed to be excellent. We each ordered a bowl, and surprisingly enough, it was actually really good. It was also burning hot, even I required a couple glasses of water to put out the fire in my mouth.
I had also wanted to tour the New Belgium Brewery (they make Fat Tire), but it was an hour away. We instead decided to head downtown to take a look at Coors Field, and then sample a smaller, local brewery.
After seeing the outside of Coors Field, we made our way to Breckenridge Brewery. The beer was delicious, and it was nice to just sit and relax. It was opening weekend of baseball, so we watched whatever game happened to be on TV. Ryan's brother and sister had invited us to dinner, so we left to make it back in time for dinner in Conifer.
Now let me tell you something about the car I was driving. It was a tiny Hyundai Accent. This thing barely had enough power to get up to the speed limit of 75 on flat roads, much less going up a mountain. The Rockies proved to be quite a challenge for the little car. The engine screamed as it tried to find enough power to make it up, and sometimes even down the mountains. We left at 5am the next morning to get an early start on the 10 hour drive to Utah. To get to the interstate heading west from Conifer, it was quickest to cut through the mountains. I was the only car on the road, and even standing on the gas petal, I couldn't get up to the speed limit. So ironically enough, just as I turned off the mountain highway to travel the .3 mile side road down to the interstate, a deputy turned on his lights and pulled me over. We had only gone a couple hundred feet, so there was no way for me to even know what the speed limit was, but the cop had clocked me doing 45 in a 25. He gave me a story about how elk were causing a lot of issues in the area, so they had to enforce the slow speed limit. His suspicions were further aroused when he saw two NC licensed drivers riding in a Nevada car at 5:30 in the morning with a destroyed registration document. Thankfully Megan produced some fake tears and got us off with a warning.