I’ve tried not to ramble on about every detail of the trip, but give you just a few highlights and a lot of pictures (can’t help myself, sorry). I’ve also included some toddler tips in case you are planning a similar trip with the small fry in your life. 🙂
Sunday – REI Store and the 16th Street Mall
Chris wanted to explore the downtown Denver area a bit, and had heard great things about the REI store there (it is one of the company’s flagship stores) so we decide that would be a fun, fairly relaxing way to kick off our trip. The REI store was amazing. It’s housed in a refurbished warehouse, and features not only a three-story climbing wall but a system of biking and hiking trails around the building, and even a small stream! It made me feel like a bit of a poser to wander through the aisles of outdoor-wear and camping equipment, brushing shoulders with true Coloradans dressed in full-on bicycle gear who had clearly pedaled their way to the store, but was still great fun. We all managed to find some souvenirs there (Chris a t-shirt, me a fleece and Charlotte an adorable hat).
Next we headed to a walking mall not far from there called the 16th Street mall. We just strolled along and enjoyed people watching, ate lunch at Noodles and had some frozen custard before heading out. It was a fun introduction to Denver for Chris, and a reminder to me about how much the area has changed.
Toddler tip: You might want to bring a swim suit or a change of clothes for your little one if the day is warm. The 16th Street Mall features fountains scattered all along the road, and Charlotte was dying to get her splash on (since we didn’t have a suit for her and it was drizzling the whole time we opted out this time).
Monday – The Denver Children’s Museum and Casa Bonita
We met up with my dear friend Jenelle and her two girls for the children’s museum. Jenelle had found some half-price coupons that she generously shared with us, which was nice since this was one of the few places that charged admission for Charlotte (all kids one year and up have to pay). This was our first children’s museum experience, and we had high hopes. Baby Girl was indeed enthralled, first with the “ball room,” then with the “roots and nests” playground where she got to crawl around an elaborate play structure designed to look like a forest.
She also enjoyed finger painting (of course she had to sample the paint…thankfully it was non-toxic),
filling her cart at the grocery store,
and catching the scarves that floated down from an air tube.
The bubble room was a hit too,
until she rubbed her eyes and the soapy water from her hand transferred to her eyeball. High drama. We only stayed about an hour and a half before whining toddlers indicated it was clearly lunch time. After our picnic (we brought our lunch and ate at a picnic table just outside the museum) the girls played on some rocks for a bit
then splashed in the “just add water” exhibit
until C’s third meltdown convinced us it was naptime.
Toddler tip: If your kiddo is still pretty young don’t plan on spending all day at a place like this. Although C loved just about everything, she was still too little to do a lot of what was offered, which was increasingly frustrating to her. It also enhanced her independent streak…she was determined to go where she wanted, whether or not mom and dad were following, and I was terrified I’d lose her or she’d go tumbling down the stairs (it was a two-story building). She also got overstimulated easily (Jenelle said it was the most crowded she’d ever seen it, which made it worse) so breaks were very necessary. Just be prepared for lots of chaos, and be ready to call it quits when your toddler has reached their limits.
Casa Bonita is a rather indescribable experience. It’s part restaurant, part arcade, part theater, all designed to look like a Mexican village. There’s a three-story waterfall where cliff divers perform and stunt skits are acted out on the hour.
We took my childhood friend Becky and her daughter with us, and Becky and I had a great time reliving memories.
After we ate we toured around a little bit (there’s a path you can walk behind the waterfall for pictures)
until both girls were too sleepy to keep going. It was a fun experience to take my hubby to, and C liked it as well (though it was at the end of a very loooong day and she was pretty pooped).
Toddler tip: Although there is no admission price, you have to buy a meal for every adult and child over two (thankfully C slipped under that rule, but Becky’s daughter had to get a meal). The food there can be sketchy (you definitely go for the ambiance, not the meal) but we ordered the fajitas at Becky’s suggestion and didn’t suffer any ill effects. I also highly recommend the sopapilla dessert…fried tortillas that you drizzle with honey. So yummy!
Tuesday – Rafting Adventure!
We dropped C off with my parents and headed to Idaho Springs for our great whitewater rafting adventure! It was Chris’s birthday present, and it was fantastic! It really deserves its own post, so I will just leave you with a few pictures to give you a taste of the fun.
Wednesday – Not Just a Park
We spent this day at a local park, that was way more than that! In addition to picnic grounds and a play structure it had a petting zoo, a train ride, and a creek running through the middle of it that you could wade in! We met up again with Jenelle’s family (her husband Dwayne got to join us) and C and the girls had a great time splashing in the creek while the grown-ups chatted. The train ride had a long line (the park was very crowded) so by the time we had our turn it was getting late and C was practically asleep. We didn’t get to do the petting zoo this time, but we had such a great time all the same.
Toddler tip: Make sure you put your child in a swimsuit before you arrive, because I can guarantee they will want to get right in that creek! Also, don’t forget to pack lunch for yourself. We had plenty of snacks and food for Charlotte, but had neglected to include anything for us to eat besides some pretzels and Pringles.
Thursday – A trip down memory lane
I wanted to show Chris and Charlotte the home where I grew up. My parents came along, and my dad graciously drove so that Chris could actually see the sights as they were pointed out to him. The trip is about a thirty minute drive straight up into the “foothills” (a relative term, since the elevation of our old home is 8,500 feet). The final approach includes a curvy climb up a road that is carved from the side of a mountain, then a mile long private dirt road, at the end of which was our private meadow, then our driveway (now paved!), house and outbuildings (two barns, one now converted to an apartment).
The current owners are friends of my parents and were home, so they gave us a tour of the house, pointing out changes. It was a bit surreal, holding my daughter while standing in the room where I grew up. After the house tour I took Chris down to “Denver Rock,” part of the property that overlooks the city,
and Charlotte tried to climb all the rocks that she could (note to self, long pants is a much better choice of attire than a sundress if climbing is involved…hello skinned knees).
It was so fun to show my family one of my favorite places I’d lived growing up, so Chris at least has an idea of what I’m talking about when I and my family reminisce.
Friday – Garden of the gods and Focus on the Family Visitor Center (Colorado Springs)
I knew my photog hubby just had to visit Garden of the gods before we left Colorado. It’s an easy drive (other than the traffic) and absolutely spectacular.
Jenelle’s family joined us, which was so fun (except that C saw the “big girls” climbing on all the rocks and was determined that she could to, resulting in a few more bumps and scratches).
There are lots of paved paths which are very convenient for strollers,
and a few places you could get up close and personal with the rocks without having to do too much hiking. It will be fun to go back when C is bigger and we can do a few of the more strenuous trails, but the park is designed for easy access for everyone.
Toddler Tip: Go ahead and let the little one out of the stroller, but be prepared for some cuts and scrapes as the terrain is very uneven (and there are of course thousands of rocks to climb). Water and sunscreen are an absolute must. It helps too if your toddler isn’t afraid of dogs, because it is definitely a place people like to bring their furry pals (C loves dogs, so this was a bonus for her).
After we recharged at Jimmy John’s (our first option was Chickfila, but we nixed it after we saw the crowds thanks to Cow Appreciation Day) we decided to make a quick stop at the Focus on the Family Visitor Center, which has an incredible play area and a whole wing devoted to the radio program Adventures in Odyssey (Jenelle and I were both avid listeners growing up, and it is very nostalgic for us). There was a fun toddler play area that Baby Girl enjoyed (themed after Camp Whatanut)
as well as the “big kid” playground that features a two-story slide and climbing area as well as an old airplane and a replica of Whit’s End (the ice cream parlor and wonder-emporium featured in the radio program). C will enjoy this even more when she’s bigger (and has actually listened to Adventures in Odyssey) but it was still a pretty fun way to end our trip, especially for me!
Those are a few of the highlights. There were a couple low-lights too naturally, brought on by lack of schedules and spotty naps, but let’s not dwell on whiny toddlers and meltdowns shall we? On the whole it was a great trip, and I’m so glad we did it. The best part for me was renewing old friendships and getting to watch my baby girl play with the kids of my childhood friends (though that’s also a great way to make yourself feel old…). So, if you’re contemplating a long road trip with your toddler, I say do it. The fun had and memories made will far outshine any bumps in the road (and hey, those bumps sometimes make the best stories).