I'm deep in the throes of summer Seasonal Affective Disorder sapping my energy, and ramping up my electricity costs and anxiety levels. Though less common than winter Seasonal Affective Disorder, I assure you summer SAD is a thing. When you've endured record-breaking drought with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for sixty plus days and counting, you start to dread ANYTHING that means you need to leave a dark room with an air conditioning vent aimed at you and a tall ice-water nearby. This sense of dread very much includes getting into a hot car with hot seat belts and a hot steering wheel to travel from air conditioned space to air conditioned space. As I watch my plants wither and roast, my grass turn crunchy, and the drought restrictions grow, my large rain barrel is nearly dry just from keeping a few selected plants alive.
Our electricity has gone out a few times this summer, and though it was only for thirty minutes or less each time, it inspired a terror in my soul. How does one stay cool when it's literally 105 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and the electricity goes out? Do I run a luke-warm bath and sit in it? Fun fact: there is no cold water coming out of our pipes this summer. I take most showers with only the "cold" water tap running, and that water runs warm. It's a depressing and desperate feeling that this awfully bright, hot, drought-plagued summer serves.
Chad and I escaped Austin for a few days in Colorado to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in a much cooler climate. For those of you thinking 25th wedding anniversary must be a typo, we got married at ages twelve and fourteen respectively. We had to have a note from our parents for the Justice of the Peace to marry us. Hahahahahahahaha. But seriously, wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water, get regular exercise, and make sleep a priority. Your future self will thank you. I know, ugh, boring, and not the quick fix you want.
I sublimate my travel anxiety by researching and planning our trips heavily. I make reservations for flights, hotels, restaurants, and attractions months in advance. I book our pet sitters as soon as I know we're traveling, usually two to four months in advance. I wish I could be more impulsive and impromptu, but that's a recipe for disappointment for me personally. Plus, I love looking forward to all the stuff I planned. I'm glad I reserved so many things well in advance for this trip, because there were crowds everywhere we went.
Our first stop after arriving at the Denver airport, and picking up our rental car, was a pre-booked entry at the immersive art experience Convergence Station, a.k.a. Meow Wolf Denver. Chad and I went to Santa Fe's original Meow Wolf a few years ago, and loved the experience. We enjoy being surrounded by art in a choose-your-own-adventure exploration. There's such a joy in finding a hidden passage, or stumbling from magical environment to fantastical landscape, all in air-conditioned comfort with a well-planned narrative that one can choose to follow, or not. Convergence Station / Meow Wolf Denver created experiences and storylines quite different from Meow Wolf Santa Fe, while keeping the bar high for imagination and execution of the art installations. If you visit any of the Meow Wolf attractions, give yourself at least three hours to explore.
After Meow Wolf in Denver, we stopped in Boulder on our way to Estes Park. We drove around gawping at the oh-so-cute and charming Boulder shops and houses. I did some research on Atlas Obscura before our trip and found Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, where I booked a dinner reservation well in advance. It is such a unique and beautiful space. According to their website, the tea house was a hand built gift from Boulder's sister city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The menu at Boulder Dushanbe Tea House offers many vegetarian options, and of course, many different tea options. I love fancy tea. I had the side salad and Indian samosas with Lady Grey's garden tea. Chad had the Persian chickpea kufteh with a refreshing iced tea cucumber mint mocktail. After our dinner, we hit the road for Estes Park with some daylight to spare.
Chad and I first went to Estes Park, Colorado about ten years ago for a friend's wedding. We stayed in the beautiful, historic Stanley Hotel in the main building. Yes, the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write his bestselling, iconic book The Shining. During that stay, we took the ghost tour around the property which gave lots of history of the hotel, and a behind the scenes look at the hotel and the grounds. We did not see a ghost on that tour, but we were startled by a prairie dog scurrying through a service hallway in the hotel basement. During this trip, we stayed down the hill from the original structure at the relatively new Aspire hotel and spa, which is still part of the Stanley Hotel Resort. Our suite at Aspire featured a separate living area and a full kitchen with a dishwasher. So fancy! (We don't even have a dishwasher at our home. Long story short, installing an automatic dishwasher in our seventy year old kitchen will require a $30,000 remodel, repipe, and rewiring job. The timeline for the project would take at least a month. I'll just wash the dishes by hand, thanks.) While the Aspire hotel didn't serve the same sense of history as the main building, or as the Lodge at Stanley Resort, Aspire did have a pool and all the modern luxuries such as air conditioning, plenty of electrical outlets, and yes, a full kitchen in our suite. The Stanley Hotel and resort is nestled in the entry to the Rocky Mountain National Park with stunning vistas in nearly every direction.
|Stanley Hotel Garden
|View from our balcony at Aspire at the Stanley Resort
On our first full day in Estes Park, we took a stroll along the well-manicured Estes Park Riverwalk. A paved path runs along a babbling brook with Disney-esque landscaping. The Riverwalk conveniently backs up to the main commercial street. It's a tourist town area with so many candy shops, t-shirt shops, beer pubs, coffee shops, restaurants, local food trucks, art galleries, wine cafes, more t-shirt shops, and oddly, an Orange Julius like from the malls of yore. (Ask a Gen X or Millennial if you are too young to know about this. They'll be so excited to tell you.) Finally I saw a store I needed to visit. Chad and I like to buy a book or two from local independent bookshops when we travel. Established in 1928, MacDonald Bookshop in Estes Park carries plenty of books in a cozy environment. I picked Happy Place by Emily Morgan, and loved reading it.
Later that day, we left the main drag for our anniversary dinner. Dunraven restaurant has floor to ceiling windows on two long walls with beautiful views of mountains and the diminutive Lake Estes. Dunraven has a nice atmosphere, without being stuffy or exclusive. I was overdressed in my Free People maxi dress and heels, but it was our anniversary, and I wanted to feel cute. I ordered the eggplant parmesan, which was delicious. The serving size was so enormous, that I took over half of it for later. (Because, as previously bragged, our suite had a full kitchen. And yes, we totally ate the leftovers.) Chad ordered cioppino (seafood stew served over pasta), and despite being real far from a coast for fresh seafood, he loved it. A complimentary drool-worthy tiramisu magically appeared at the end of our meal. Thanks, Dunraven, for actually acknowledging that box I checked for anniversary celebration when I made the reservation online.
On our second full day in Estes Park, Chad and I hiked in Hermit Park. Initially, we thought we could hike to Kruger Rock, but it proved too challenging for flat-landers like us, unaccustomed to the high altitudes. We were both sucking wind pretty hard only a quarter of the way up the trail. A kindly hiker and her dog stopped and suggested we try Moose Meadow for a gentle, idyllic wander. Moose Meadow offered charm all along the way! We did not struggle to get enough oxygen on this gently sloped meander through a wildflower field and mountain forest.
After hiking at Hermit Park, we were sweaty, and not looking or smelling too cute. We needed a super casual place for lunch. Notchtop Diner serves satisfying, casual breakfast, brunch and lunch, no reservations needed. Lots of our fellow diners wore hiking clothes. Chad loved his garden omelette. I leaned into my comfort food craving, and had a perfect grilled cheese sandwich with tomato slices added.
|Cute feature wall next to our booth at Notchtop
Don't be too jealous. Our trip wasn't perfect. I had altitude sickness in the form of bad waves of nausea and slight dizziness during my first twelve hours in Colorado. From past experience with altitude sickness, I prepared by making sure to stay well hydrated, having ginger chews to settle my stomach, and making sure I ate so my blood sugar didn't drop too low. I still felt bad despite my efforts. While we were exploring Meow Wolf, I had to stop into the bathroom a few times for fear of vomiting. I bought an overpriced iced tea and bottled water in an attempt feel better. The iced tea was delicious, so I shouldn't complain.
While we ate dinner at Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, I had to breathe mindfully, and eat the side salad I ordered sooooo sloooooowly for fear of being sick. I didn't even try a bite of Chad's dish, because it was too pungent for my stormy stomach in the moment. He said it was really good. I drank an entire pot of hot tea, and lots of water, which offered some temporary relief from the altitude sickness.
The drive between Boulder and Estes Park serves lovely scenery on switchback curves ascending into the Rocky Mountains. I had to breathe slowly through my mouth and keep my eyes forward, only forward, to avoid vomiting in the fancy rental car. Chad commented on the scenery, and if that pretty scenery was out the side window, I just couldn't look. It's like the altitude sickness and motion sickness were trying to form a super-group in my digestive tract.
There were so many fellow tourists at shops and restaurants in Estes Park. It felt like no matter where I tried to walk, stand, or sit, I was in someone's way. I'm so glad I made an advance reservation six weeks ahead of time for our anniversary dinner at Dunraven. Dunraven seated us right on time, but the parking was in ridiculously short supply. Chad paid to park at a marina, a quarter of a mile down the hill. The restaurant was crowded and noisy. Cascades restaurant in the Stanley Hotel the next night also had hectic crowds, and even with an advance reservation we had to wait fifteen minutes for our table. Our server at Cascades was excellent, but clearly very busy, smiling through what seemed like a super stressful job. (Please be patient with the human service workers doing their best to help you. Tip generously.)
One thing that low-key gives me the ick about the Stanley resort now, versus when we visited in the past, is how far the resort leans into the whole paranormal, supernatural, cursed schtick. It feels like the mall store Hot Topic came in as the event director, which is to say, a bit tacky. I appreciate the history of the Stanley resort. I appreciate that Stephen King took inspiration from the place. I personally don't like to exploit tragedies or trauma by displaying alleged cursed objects, or by cherry-picking events and embellishing them explicitly for shock value. The current vibe of the resort felt a bit like a low budget, ghoulish, morbid, ages 21 and up, haunted mansion redux. That opinionated judgement given, Stanley resort is still a very nice place to stay.
Chad broke his front-top-center dental work on our last night in Colorado. His broken veneer made him self-conscious, but fortunately caused no pain. He was able to see our dentist for a temporary cosmetic fix the day after we arrived home.
We returned home to Austin amidst 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I'd cry about it, but I don't want to risk dehydration.