We picked Smarty from her camp and drove back down to Manitou Springs and to our hotel. After a hot meal of pancakes, a shower, and a nap for adults while we were waiting out a pouring rain, we were ready to go exploring.
We spent our Saturday afternoon exploring Garden of the Gods, a beautiful natural red rocks park, conveniently free and located very close to our hotel. It was still gloomy and wet when we drove in, but the weather magically cleared up and we enjoyed a reasonably not crowded (but by far not empty!) hike.
We made one more stop in Garden of the Gods in the morning to see another highlight of the park, a Balanced Rock and then drove to Cave of the Winds. Unfortunately, our lantern tour was quite disappointing, since it included too many ghost stories and not enough information about how this cave was formed. Smarty passionately hates ghost stories, so this was definitely a lowlight of our entire trip. She was sulking all the way back, but recovered as we explored downtown Manitou Springs where one can actually taste mineral water from several natural springs.
Initially, we planned to drive up to the Pikes Peak in the afternoon, but a big storm was brewing, so we opted out of this trip and went to "Old Colorado Springs" instead. It was very quiet on Sunday evening with most shops and restaurants closed, so we could cross this item from our list rather quickly.
On Monday morning, we started driving from Manitou Springs to Boulder. On the way, we made a stop at Dinosaur Ridge, a National Natural Landmark. We went on about 2 miles hike (partially in rain) and were rewarded with dinosaur tracks and fossils. Smarty was super excited to see dinosaur fossils not in a museum but in nature. Then we continued our trek to Boulder driving through one of the most humongous thunderstorms I've ever experienced in my life. I was glad that my husband was driving the car through an absolutely pouring rain. This is one thing we learned quickly about Colorado - the weather is changing every 30 minutes.
In the afternoon, we booked a table at a French restaurant Ten Ten Brasserie to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary and then took a stroll along Pearl Mall street in downtown Boulder. Then we headed back to our hotel that was in the foothills of the Flatirons and went on a short hike just before sunset (yes, the storm blew over, and the sun was back!)
When Smarty researched Colorado prior to her trip, she picked a few museums that she would have really liked to see. One of them was National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. Since Tuesday morning was rainy (again!), we decided to visit this museum. It has a lot of interesting materials on climate change and its another claim to fame is that it is designed by a famous architect L. M. Pei (he of the Louvre Pyramid). We spent about two hours in the center, but we could not wait out the rain. So we decided to bite the bullet and drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park, which is just about an hour up from Boulder.
The drive through the Rocky Mountains started with my husband complaining that they look just like Sierra Nevada and that he expected something somewhat wilder.
His opinion changed quite a bit when we reached tundra zone and were suddenly in a full blown snowstorm with crazy winds. The temperature plummeted to 32 degrees and we were driving in a whiteout.
We fortified ourselves with hot chocolate at Alpine Visitor Center, the highest National Park visitor center in US (elevation 11,796 feet) and then continued on a little further to Continental Divide.
Honestly, we were not at all dressed for hiking in the snow, but we could not pass on an opportunity to make some pictures :)
In the evening, we stopped in Estes for dinner and then returned happily to our hotel. Boulder elevation of 5,328 seemed almost "sea-level" in comparison to the peaks of the Rockies. We were so happy that we went despite rain and snow - we had a magical day.
On Wednesday, our last day, the weather "flipped" and we woke up to a gorgeous and warm day. In fact, we started to appreciate how lucky we were to get some rainy and cloudy days, because our morning hike in Flatirons was super hot.
Our last stop in Colorado was the one that Smarty really wanted - Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Both my husband and I saw a lot of science museums, but we were very pleasantly surprised and impressed with Denver museum, especially with their paleontology exhibition. I thought that we would have time to kill, but we easily spent 4 hours and could have stayed longer if we did not have to drive to the airport, return our car, and prepare for our 2+ hour flight back home.
Overall, we really enjoyed this trip. Maybe next year we come again to cross that one item off our "to do list" and we will drive up Pikes Peak. In the meantime, it's SO good to be home :)
Are you planning any trips this summer?