Monday, March 30, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 7: Colorado, Part 2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Junction and A Few Day Trips

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

Boulder, CO to Rocky Mountain National Park via Estes Park, CO. 41 Miles, 1 Hour 2 Minutes.

Day 22
We got to Rocky Mountain National Park just as the sun was going down. We went straight to Moraine Park Campground to grab a site before dark. We landed site number 62 - and pitched the tent with the last minutes of daylight. We decided there wasn't a whole lot we could do in the park so we headed back into Estes Park - the closest town - to walk around and maybe get some groceries. The grocery store we wound up getting McDonalds for the first time on the trip. J regretted this decision more than I did. We walked up and down the main strip a bit and then headed back to our campsite where we bundled up and tried to make a plan of action for the next day. It became immediately apparent we were going to need to stay an extra day, so we decided to Jam as much of the eastern side of the park into tomorrow, while reserving the scenic Trail Ridge Road drive for the following day. 

Day 23
When we got up,  I walked down to the ranger station and found out the site we were currently in was reserved for the night but the 'Honeymoon Suite' was open if we didn't mind the very short hike in. We drove up to the new site to check it out, and quickly went back to the ranger station to book it. We then broken down our site, packed it away half assed, and moved everything up to the Honeymoon Suite.

The Honeymoon Suite, on the right, the rest of the campground on the left.

Once the campsite was set up, we were ready to go explore. Our first stop was to Wild Basin, which is located on the south eastern part of the park. You actually have to exit the park and head south from Estes Park to reach this area. We drove in a ways, walked around a bit, and decided that as nice as it was, our time would be better spent elsewhere. 

J, somewhere in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We backtracked a bit and headed down to Bear Lake. This was a very popular spot - judging by nearly full the parking lot and crowds of tourists. We decided to do the 2.2 mile hike up to Dream Lake - which quickly shed most of the crowds. We were NOT acclimated this altitude and what would have normally been a relatively easy hike was fairly strenuous. Once we got to Dream Lake we sat on a boulder and ate some peanut butter sandwiches and applesauce while trying to shoo away the chipmunks. We set up our tripod and snapped a quick picture.

Dream Lake. So dreamy. 
We had a bit of time we drove a bit further north and through the Fall River Entrance on our way back to Estes Park, where we picked up some essentials for dinner and drinks by campfire. What seems like a relatively simple day - when you account for how scenic this driving is and how often you have to pull over to gaze or take a picture...this ate up a ton of time. As we got back to the campground a rain shower was dying off in the distance and the sun was starting to set. We took a minute to take it in. 

Surreal moments like this are a dime a dozen in Rocky Mountain National Park
We built a fire and roasted some sausages, some canned vegetables and some boxed mac & cheese. Quite a meal.

Fine Dining.

Day 24 

Above the treeline
We packed up our tents and took Trail Ridge Road out of the park. This is easily one of the most scenic drives in the United States. 11 of the 48 miles that is Trail Ridge Road is above the treeline at 11,500 feet - and its high point crests at 12,183 feet. You can gain 4000 feet in just a matter of minutes. Needless to say its a pretty incredible drive, with plenty of stops and attractions along the way. 

Self explanatory 
We crossed the continental divide (for the first time on the trip) and stopped for a quick lunch. Our goal was to get to Grand Junction, clear on the other side of the state, before dark, so we were moving at a pretty fast pace. The entire drive across Colorado was pretty stunning - even being on i70 for the majority of it. Its pretty incredible going up and down through the mountains and eventually descending into the desert as you get further west. 

We found this guy at a thrift shop in Grand Junction.
We got to Grand Junction on time and met up with my grandparents, two aunts, cousin, his wife, and their baby - almost all of whom were visiting my grandparents at the same time (which is why we rushed to get there). We went out for dinner and caught up a bit before we went back to my aunts house, where we would be staying while in Grand Junction. This was our first night sleeping in a real bed (not a futon, couch, floor, car, etc..) since we were in Pittsburgh - on day 1 of the trip. We played with her cat, Cat, for a bit before falling asleep. 

Cat, my aunts lovely cat.

The next few days were all spent at a relatively slow pace (hanging out with a couple 90+ year old people as well as a toddler = not a lot happens). We went out to  eat a bit, had our fair share of drinks, and cooked a few meals. Once my cousin and his family left, we decided we planned a couple day trips. Grand Junction is located in a great place for day trips - not unlike Albany. Lots of really great stuff pretty close by.

Lovely breakfast at my Aunts.
Day 27
Grand Junction, CO to Colorado National Monument. 6 miles, 12 minutes.

Exploring at Colorado National Monument
We took a short drive to Colorado National Monument. This is a nice canyon-rim-drive-style park that is just outside of Grand Junction. We spent a few hours hiking in various parts of the park. We went off trail a bit while hiking in the Devil's Kitchen area and had to do some scrambling, but all in all it was a lot of fun. 
In the Devils Kitchen at Colorado National Monument
Some other highlights were Red Canyon, Ute Canyon, Coke Ovens, and Independence Monument.

Independence Monument at Colorado National Monument

Day 28
Grand Junction, CO to Arches National Park, UT. 102 Miles, 2 Hours 1 Minute.

We got up and headed out early so we would have as much in the park as we possibly could. We took i70 to Cisco (a little ghost town just off the highway). Here we caught route 128 which we took straight to Moab (which is a few minutes south of Arches). This wound up being one of my favorite drives on the whole trip. The only reason we went this way is because my grandfather, who has been driving on every back road in this part of the country for the past 40 years, wouldn't shut up about it and how great the drive was - 'Its better than Arches' he kept saying. I'm not sure I would say its better than Arches - but it is staggeringly beautiful and I cannot recommend it enough. 
Route 128 to Moab

We got to arches and right away we were both blown away by its beauty. It had been just under a decade since I was here last, and Jillian really had never seen anything quit like it. We spent a few hours driving around to most of the look outs and quick hikes, before we got to the delicate arch lookout. We immediately realized that the lookout was a joke - as we could barely see the arch - and that we would have to make the 3 mile hike up to it. While 3 miles isn't the longest hike by any means, it was definitely difficult. It was pushing 100 F, the sun was shining, and we are definitely not used to this sort of hiking. 

Delicate Arch

From the parks web site:
"Length: 3 miles (4.8 km) round trip
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Elevation change: 480 feet (146 meters)

Take at least 1 quart (1 liter) of water per person! There is no shade. Open slickrock with some exposure to heights. The first half-mile is a wide, well-defined trail. Upon reaching the slickrock, follow the rock cairns. The trail climbs gradually and levels out toward the top of this rock face. Just before you get to Delicate Arch, the trail goes along a rock ledge for about 200 yards."

A truly incredible hike, with enormous payoff. We couldn't spot the bottom lookout from the ledge - to put it in perspective how shitty the view is from the parking lot. 
After we left Arches we spent a little time hanging out in Moab, grabbed some dinner and drinks at Moab Brewery before heading back to Grand Junction.

Day 29
This was J's birthday. Our original plan was to be in Salt Lake City visiting her aunt by her birthday, but she was still on the east coast visiting family so we were buying time in Grand Junction until she got back to Salt Lake City. We decided to spend the day touring the many vineyards and wineries in Grand Junction and Palisade. Nearly all of them were...not for us. Our favorite of the lot was Two Rivers Winery. The bartender there was very friendly, offered a lot of advice for our trip and it was overall a nice experience. This was our first stop and we wound up returning at the end of the day to buy some wine. We made some dinner and hung out at my aunts house for the rest of the night.
Day 30
Scenic drive from Grand Junction, CO to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to Grand Mesa back to Grand Junction, CO. 322 Miles, 6 Hours, 44 Minutes. 
A bit of the 'Hanging Flume' on the canyon wall to the right. The Unaweep-Tabeguache Byway was pretty beautiful, with lots of varying terrane - from red rock canyons like this to lush rolling green hills and valleys. 
We decided to check off several things this day as we were itching to leave Grand Junction and still had some stuff we wanted to see. We got up as early as possible and started our day of scenic driving by taking the Unaweep-Tabeguache Byway all the way south, looping around close to Telluride and then back up to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 

The first lookout at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
This is a pretty quick park to see - another canyon rim style but its more than worth checking out as it is really unlike any other canyon Ive seen. 
J at Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
The pictures do not do it justice. Very steep, jagged, sharp black rock. Very dramatic and beautiful. 

J and some Random perched at a lookout at Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
 Once we left Black Canyon we headed back to Grand Junction by way of Grand Mesa. This wasn't our favorite part of the drive, but mostly because it reminded us a lot of driving around back east. J mentioned how much the actual town reminded her of New Paltz.

Sun setting as we came off the Mesa.

Day 31
We planned on leaving Grand Junction this day but a very large storm system was developing over the majority of the Western United States - and because our plans for the next few days were all out doors - we decided to hole up in Grand Junction until the weather passed. This took a few days. 

Day 34
The weather was finally starting to normalize, but not completely. In order to avoid weather in Wyoming, as well as catch J's Aunt in Salt Lake City - we had to drive from Grand Junction, CO to Glacier National Park, then return south through Yellowstone, the Tetons, and then over to Salt Lake City. Not the most convenient itinerary - but the one that made the most sense. It also allowed us to see Boise, which we originally wanted to but had to take off the list because we were going to head west from Glacier National Park into Washington State. 

Next up:
Butte, Bozeman, Glacier & Yellowstone. 

From our book:
Rocky Mt National Park (Enter @ Estes Park) open 24/7. check road status online. 
  1. o campground closing dates/full price: aspenglen 9/28 $20, Glacier Basin 9/7 $20, Longs Peak 11/3 $20, Moraine Park 9/28 $20/$14 water off,Timber Creek 11/3 $20/$14 water off. Reservations online ( or call 877-444-6777
    Trail Ridge Road (Main road) closes Mid October
    Old Fall River Road - Closed, Endovalley Road - Closed

Free to do:
  • Colorado National Monument – 9-5
    o 1750 Rim Rock Dr/Fruita CO/81521
  • Farmers Market – Til 9/25 – Thursdays 5:30-8:30p
  • Walk along main street – over 100 sculptures.
  • Scenic Byways: ‘two of the most beautiful drives in the western US’
o Grand Mesa (hwy 65)* climbs canyon of plateau creek to evergreen forests, to grand mesa (worlds largest flat top mountain) – see view from lands end overlook. Over 300 lakes and ponds.
o Unaweep/Tabeguache – (hwy 141 & 145)
o Could do the two in a loop & add in black canyon of the Gunnison
national park (2 hour loop including stopping at overlooks) This would be a leave early return late kind of drive (7 hours or so/336miles) – route: 141S>145S>62E>550N>50E>347N>BCGNP LOOP>(return)347S>50W>50W/N>92E>65S>i70W>Grand Junction
  • Not too far from Glenwood Springs – Pool open daily 9-10, $15.25pp, 10.25
    from 9pm to 10pm
    o 415 E 6th St/Glenwood Springs CO/81602
  • Dinosaur Journey Museum – 9-5, $8.50 pp o 550 Jurassic Ct/Fruita CO/81521 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why I Didn't Debut A Spring Menu This Past Week and A Day In The Life Of A Pastry Chef

Why I didn't debut a Spring Menu this past week.

1 - It was snowing on the first day of Spring
2 - The ground is still frozen
3 - I live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5b, and our area farms are located mostly in  Zones 5a, 6b, or 6a (conversely, many are located in 4b and 4a...the lower the number the shorter the growing season - Napa, for example, is in Zone 9a - their average extreme low temperature is 20-25 F - 25 F was our high temperature today. Zone 9a's last frost date is typically in the beginning of March. Ours is typically in mid to late May)
4 - I cannot goto the farmers market and pick up a quart of strawberries
5 - We are still getting in some incredible winter produce
6 - At the restaurant, we cannot leave the side door - located at the end of our kitchen's line - open all day without being too cold.
7 - Even though our purveyors taunt me with their spring produce (from who knows where) availability, I am trying to have a spine and wait until it is actually in season locally. 

I arrive typically between 7 and 8:30 in the morning, depending on my work load and what kind of bread I am going to make that day. By the time I arrive at work I am about to finish my second cup of coffee.  When I walk in the door the first thing I do is turn the hoods, ovens, and dishwasher on - and I fill the first sink with hot soapy water, in anticipation of dishes I will make that need soaking. I head down to the basement and put my jacket and bag away. I wipe down my station and go grab my dough. I keep my dough bin (tightly wrapped) in a soffit below the stairwell to the second floor cocktail lounge. This seems to be a good temperature for slow fermentation. If I keep it at my station in the basement, often times it will not ferment enough by the second day (it stays pretty fucking cold in the basement). Today I am making focaccia - and I prepped some toppings for it last night. I turn the dough out on my bench and scale it for 1/2 sheet pans. I pat it out, load it up with toppings (I recognize that the focaccia I make is...unusual in its quantity of toppings, but I want to have a lot of everything on my slice when I get some it up!), and throw them in the one oven I have not yet turned on. The pilot light provides enough heat to proof the bread in an hour or so. In that time I clean up my station (this dough is WET and STICKY and makes quite a mess) and then go into the walk in to count my desserts to get an idea of what I will be doing today. 

I hear someone shout 'Hello' from the first floor - so I head on up. Adventures in Food is here with our order. I check it over and then quickly put it away. Back to the walk in. Seems like I have enough cheesecake to get through tonight, but definitely not tomorrow. Since the recipe I use takes about 24 hours start to finish, I will have to make more today. The same seems to apply to the olive oil cake that I am featuring this week. Enough for today, but not tomorrow. This particular cake is better on the second day than the first - so on the prep list it goes. 

Something went wrong the the sheet of brownies I made yesterday, they are thinner than usual - but also taste better than usual. Im a bit dumbfounded by it - but do not want to waste the product (I use very nice, very expensive chocolate, so tossing these is not an option - even though I cannot use them on my brownie dessert). We just bought a batch freezer (aka ice cream machine) and these brownies are appropriately thin to make sandwiches with - so I will portion them, freeze them and test an ice cream sandwich when I spin some vanilla ice cream later this afternoon. Now I also have to make another tray of brownies, and take care that I don't fuck them up as I need them for tonight. I baked off a batch of Stick Toffee Pudding yesterday, so I have an okay supply of them, but I have a small amount of left over batter and they sell well - so if I have the time today I will also bake them off. 

Next I check garnishes to see if anything needs to be prepped. Most of my garnishes are what I would call 'pantry items' - candied nuts, crumbs, dehydrated things - all things that are fairly shelf stable. Today I am in good stock, so I will not have to make any garnishes. Time to take a look at any projects that I have kicking around. We had a brunch that requested strawberries (Yes I fully realize that I was criticizing using strawberries this time of year earlier in this post) and we had leftovers so I macerated them with sugar, bitters, and lime and then put them in the dehydrator, where they are currently. They are still a bit more moist that I would like, so I decide to let them stay in there for a while longer. 

I pull the cream cheese and chevre, for my cheesecakes, to temper a bit before I make the batter. I go upstairs because I hear a delivery coming in. Dole & Bailey are here - this is typically our largest order. I spend a bit of time checking it in and decide that because I don't have a huge prep day ahead of me I will put it away. I notice all the flours I ordered are in, so I can potentially make my gluten free flour blend today, also I have about 45 pounds more tapioca starch than I planned on - so I have to figure out what to do with the excess.

Once the order is put away my timer is going off - the bread is proofed. I season it and throw it in the hot oven - and then turn the oven it was proofing in on. My next task is to start my dough for tomorrow. The recipe I use requires 18-24 hours of fermentation (for it taste good, anyway) so its important that I start the dough early in the day. Once the dough is done I decide to take on a task that doesn't require the oven - as the bread is in the one that is hot, and it'll be a little while before the second oven is up to temperature. I also do not like baking in this oven as it is...not good at holding a steady temperature and often runs way too hot. So I pull the case of oranges out and start pressing them because I will need a quart or so of juice for the olive oil cake. By the time I am done with this, it is time to pull the focaccia out of the oven, transfer it to cooling racks, and put it out of the way in our garden patio (which is where I have taken to cooling the bread).

Back to my station to make the olive oil cake batter. The recipe I use always has some extra batter (its not formulated for the tiny molds I use, but rather a few cake pans) so I use the extra batter to bake some cakes in 8 oz mason jars, which I will sell as a dessert in the wine bar next door. My dishes are starting to pile up a bit so I take a few minutes to wash some of them. Once I am done, I load up the second oven with the last of my stick toffee pudding batter. Nick and Matt (Chef and Sous) are in now, so I spend a bit catching up with them. Timers going off for both the olive oil cakes and stick toffee pudding - so I pull all of them and go downstairs to finish the sticky toffee pudding. While it is hot I stab it a bunch of times with some skewers and then pour Port wine toffee sauce over them, which they soak up like sponges. This is why this dessert is so good. It is completely saturated with a sauce made with port wine, molasses, brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream. 

I make the cheesecake batter quickly - because it requires that I use the robot coup (food processor) for it - and it can be a fight to get my hands on it one the hot side guys are in production. I put the cheesecake batter in molds and then into the oven to bake. This takes two hours - during which the oven door cannot be opened. 

Jake (who has trickled in at some point) and Matt are now rearranging the units on our line. The kitchen seems like it was built around these units, so there is very little room to maneuver - and it requires some real Tetris-ing to do. I help them for a few minutes and then head back to my station in the basement, where I put together some brownie batter and then I bake them off. 

Now its time to start thinking about ice creams. I mentioned earlier that we have just bought a batch freezer - but I didn't mention that it hasn't arrived yet. Currently I am using a machine that is somewhere between a home ice cream machine and a batch freezer (what they use at real ice cream shops). So it takes about 20 minutes to spin a quart of ice cream - and currently I spin between 3 and 6 quarts a day just for the dessert menu (we do not sell it by the scoop or as an option on the menu - something that will change soon). So anyway, ice cream usually accounts for a good chunk of my afternoon, as it has to be in deep freeze for a bit before it is stable enough to use for service (if it is not in deep freeze long enough, it will be too warm and become too soft to scoop after pulling it out of the freezer a couple times). I turn on the ice cream machine and then I start adjust the consistency of the orange sorbet base that I am using with the olive oil cake feature. It seemed too thick before, and as best as I can tell this was causing the machine to work in too much air (or overrun, if you want to sound fancy) so my goal was to thin the base a little with fresh orange juice. Typically this is not how I would fiddle with ice cream or sorbet, to me it is a very meticulous thing that require precise formulation and just 'adding a little bit of this or that' to a base will pretty much always fuck it up big time. But this base was already fucked up so...what there to lose. Next I strain the mint and cocoa nibs from the base I made yesterday. I then scale 2 quarts of vanilla, 2 quarts of mint and 1 quart of orange sorbet - with 700 g of base in each quart - this is the maximum I like to spin at one time in this machine. 

While the ice cream is spinning, I pull the brownies from the oven and put a sheet tray with 75 or so cookies in for tonights mignardises - or little gifts to be given with our checks. Once the orange sorbet is done, I scoop off a little bit to taste. The consistency is much better now. I have this extra sorbet so I decide to play a bit. I fold in a little bit of Sriracha and give it a taste. Its not bad at all, and may be worth exploring a little bit. Im starting to get hungry now and I am finding it difficult to stop myself from grazing on Matt's Broccoli Rabe that he just finished prepping. 

I make some chocolate cake batter and throw it in the oven - I am baking this off for the chocolate mousse cake that I make for the wine bar. This is a dessert that I cannot seem to keep in stock. While the cake is baking, I start to check off the last few tasks I need to get done before service. The cookies has cooled to room temperature, so transfer them to a small container and put them up at the servers station. I take the cooled focaccia and portion it all, wrap it up on 1/2 sheet trays, and put it at our expeditors station/pass. I then un-mold and pack up the olive oil cakes I made earlier in the day, and do the same with the sticky toffee pudding. The cheesecakes are ready to come out of the oven, so I pull them and put them on the speed rack in the cooler. I cut the cheesecakes that I already had into the correct portions for the plated dessert. The brownies are cool enough to portion, which I do, and then I pack them up into a fish tub (these are plastic tupperware like tubs that fish is typically packed in when it is ordered for a restaurant, hence the name). 

I give my counts/numbers to our front of the house manager, Charlotte - and then head back to my station to refill my sauces and start to set up for service. To set up the station I take all my garnishes and sauces and keep all of them in order so that everything for this dessert is all together, and everything for that dessert is all together. I gather my tools and put them in a bain marie with hot water in it and give the station a quick wipe down. I then make some whipped cream and prep some toppings for tomorrows focaccia. My last tasks are to wrap up the chocolate cake and olive oil cakes that I made for the wine bar and put them in the cooler. Its now 5:00, the restaurant is open, and I am winding down for the day. I check with Matt & Nick to see if they need anything done before I head out, which they don't - and because it is my last early day for the week I leave for the night. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 6: Colorado, Part 1. Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder.

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

Hows that for a confusing title?

Scottsbluff, NE to Denver, CO.  198 Miles, 3 Hours 10 Minutes.

Bear peeking into the Colorado Convention Center
One of the most enjoyable and staggeringly beautiful (and desolate) drives I have ever taken was from Estes Park, CO to Rapid City, SD following route 85 through Wyoming. I was pretty excited to make the drive from Scottsbluff to Denver because it went along a bit of the same route - but for the most part it was a dull drive. We were both very excited to get to Denver, finally see some mountains, and to visit our first National Park together. 

We got into Denver in the early afternoon. The weather was dramatically different from what we experienced the night before in Nebraska. We were shedding layers throughout the drive and by the time we were in Denver we changed into shorts and t-shirts. We didn't really have much of a plan for our time so we just started chipping away at our list. 

Pink fountain at the Museum of Outdoor Arts
Our first stop was the Museum of Outdoor Arts. Immediately we were amused by its bright pink fountain (we found out it was dyed for breast cancer awareness). We strolled around inside for a bit - browsing the mostly contemporary mixed media collection in just under half an hour. 

Sculpture at the Museum of Outdoor Arts
We were getting kind of hungry so we stopped at Whole Foods to grab some food, which we took with us to Chessman Park. It was an unbelievably nice day out - and we were happy to see the park was popular, but not overcrowded. We took up post under a tree, had a picnic and took a short nap.

View when I woke up from the nap
We decided to check out the 16th street (pedestrian) mall, which was a total, complete waste of time. Nothing but touristy shops and restaurants. We were pretty off-put so we quickly decided to go find someplace to grab a drink. We decided on a hardcore/punk/metal microbrewery called TRVE (pronounced True). The bar was mostly populated by crust punks and metalheads, the music was good - and so was the beer. We liked it here and felt much more comfortable than we did at the mall.

In the bathroom at TRVE
It was approaching dinnertime, so we headed out to the outskirts of the city to cash in a groupon for some sushi at a place called Japon. No surprise, it was garbage.

We spent the night in a Walmart parking lot in Westminster, which was the first nice Walmart we came across on the trip. Colorado seems to have a lot of nice Walmarts...

This is what the bathroom at Walmart looked like. Seriously. 

The next morning we had breakfast in the parking lot and got ready at the Target down the street. We drove into the city and headed to the City Park Esplanade farmers market. We walked around a bit and grabbed a Palisade Peach, which wound up being one of the best we had all year. 

Panoramic in the Kirkland Museum
After the market we headed to the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. This place was really cool - just a house packed full of mid-century modern furniture and cool art. There were SO many cool chairs. Once we were done here we wanted to check out another microbrewery, so we headed to a place called Our Mutual Friend. It was OK at best. The silver lining - on our way to it, we passed a street festival - so we ditched the car and went it. It was some Mexican Street Fair, and it was WAY too crowded so we left pretty quickly...but on our way back to the car we found a woman selling elotes and churros out of a basket on the sidewalk. We bought a few and they were fantastic. 

Typical snack on our trip.
We spent the rest of the evening driving around in a futile attempt to find some food trucks to grab some dinner at. We wound up staying in the same Walmart Parking lot as the night before.

This cave was transplanted from somewhere in Mexico to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

The next day we were heading to Fort Collins in the afternoon to visit a friend, so we didnt really want to get into too much. We went to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and quickly realized it was an all day kind of place. We tore through the place, seeing everything we possibly could as quickly as possible before we had to leave for Fort Collins, as we had to catch our friend before she went into work.

Denver, CO to Fort Collins, CO. 65 miles, 1 hour 7 minutes.

We arrived at our friend Nicole's apartment about an hour before she had to leave for work. We settled in quickly and cleaned ourselves up (first shower in six days!). She left for work and we headed downtown. Fort Collins is a very charming town, not unlike Ballston Spa, New Paltz, or Saratoga. Its littered with bars, breweries, shops, and restaurants. We walked around for a few hours - grabbed a margarita somewhere in there - and eventually made our way back to Nicole's apartment. We spent the rest of the night by her fire pit, having drinks and eating pizza, and catching up.

Horsetooth Reservoir
The next day (day 20 of the trip) we woke up and did some laundry while we had breakfast. Nicole had the day off and was going to show us around. Our first stop was the Horsetooth Reservoir, which - as you can see - was quite nice.

Roadside Old West Town
We drove around  a bit by the reservoir, stopped at some random old west themed road side shop and then headed to New Belgium Brewery to try and hop on a tour. 

Kettles at New Belgium
Look who we found in the Mosaic
We put our names on a list and crossed our fingers and in 10 minutes or so we were on a tour. Ive never been a huge huge fan of New Belgium - its totally fine, but not anything crazy - but I totally fell in love with them after this tour. They are, I am convinced, the coolest company you could possibly work for (rock wall, ping pong table, slides - all in the brewery... a position called the director of fun, free bikes on your anniversary, paid trip to Belgium, etc..). We got to try some of their sour beer, which was pretty fantastic.

Neat tables at one of the many bars in the New Belgium Brewery
The appropriately named bottling room at New Belgium
The rest of our day in Fort Collins was spent bar hopping, trying various microbreweries, which was actually a pretty good time. Later on in the evening we made our way back to Nicoles and crashed hard. The next day we packed up and said our goodbyes. 

Paper hat at Hammonds
We headed back to Denver. Our first stop was at the Hammonds Candy Factory. This was a complete shit show. Our tour guide was incredibly unknowledgeable, the candy was gross, and all in all a big waste of time. From here we went to Dino Ridge for a hike but  by the time we got there it was pushing 100 F and we were a bit concerned about making the another waste of time. 

Very weird, giant (4 feet or so) lily pads at Hudson Gardens
Back into Denver, we stopped at Hudson Garden to eat lunch (sandwiches). This was really pleasant, but there was a group setting up for what looked to be a wedding. We wanted to check out happy hour at a place called Linger because we read about its rooftop bar and the great view of downtown. While the setting was nice, the happy hour sucked and there was either something wrong with their water or dishwasher because it tasted like shit (kind of like fryer oil). We were striking out so we decided that we were going to grab some ice cream at the giant milk jug next to the bar - at a place called Little Man Ice Cream. We actually really enjoyed the ice cream here, sampling about half a dozen flavors. 

Ice Cream! Well...sorbet!
It was approaching dinner time and we had one last groupon to cash in at a place called Sherpa House. The food here was pretty crappy, the service was truly awful - but the decor and setting were hard to beat. We tried Yak, a first for both of us. 

Inside Sherpa House
We headed towards Boulder CO after dinner, stopping at a Walmart along the way. We were woken in the middle of the night by some police at our window, letting us know that we were okay for the night but Walmart was changing its policy and would no longer allow overnight campers in their lots. We were pretty bummed out, but a bit skeptical. We checked on Walmart's corporate site and their policy had not changed - it was still up to individual store managers/local laws. Cops were likely just checking to make sure we weren't doing drugs...or each other. 

The next day we wanted to get to Rocky Mountain National Park with enough time to pitch a tent before dark - so we knew we didn't have a ton of time in what did we do?

Celestial Seasons!
Celestial Seasons Tour, of course! We actually had a pretty good time here, believe it or not. Our tour guide was awesome.

After drinking all that tea, we needed some alcohol. We stopped at Redstone Meadery for some mead. Much to our surprise, it was all pretty good - but we especially enjoyed the juniper and the boysenberry flavors. From here we walked around a bit and then made a stop at Boulder Creek Winery. The woman pouring our wines was great - talked to us about the park, Grand Junction (our next stop after the park) - as well as eastern Washington, where she was from. She told us we had to get dinner at Pizzeria Locale, so we did! 

Apps at Pizzeria Locale
We got there just as they were opening, and had a chance to try their happy hour menu, as well as order a pizza. This place was incredible. Everything was top notch. I still think about this pizza often!

Really exceptional budino at Pizzeria Locale

After we ate we high tailed it to Estes Park, where the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park is. We arrived just as the sun was setting - also a perfect time to see lots of Elk grazing in the tall grass along the road to the campsite. What a wonderful welcome.

Up next: A few days in Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Junction and many stops near it. 

From our book:
  • Watch sunset on rooftop patio @ Linger Restaurant. Great view. Happy hour Tue-Fri 4-6:30 ** o 2030 W 30th Ave/Denver CO/80211
  • Farmers Markets
Free to do:
  • Hudson Gardens - 9-5 o 6115 S Santa Fe Dr/Littleton CO/80120
  • Museum of Outdoor Arts – indoor gallery Tue-Thu 10-5, Fri 10-4, Sat 11-4 –
    outdoor hours – sunrise to sunset. o 1000 Englewood Pkwy #2-230/Englewood CO/80110
  • US Mint Tour – must make reservation online, then click on Denver> Create Reservation o 320 W Colfax Ave/Denver CO/80204
  • Coors Brewery Tour – Thu-Mon 10-4, Sun 12-4 o 13th Street & Ford Street/Golden CO/80401
  • Hammonds Candy Factory Tour – Mon-Fri 9-3, Sat 10-3. o 5735 Washington St/Denver CO/80216
  • Washington Park o 891 S Downing St/Denver CO/80209
  • Cheesman Park – Has Denver Botanic Gardens o 1007 York St/Denver CO/80206
  • Cherry Creek Trail – don’t go after dark o 4785 S Dayton St/Greenwood Village CO/80111
  • Sand Creek Region Greenway o 3018 Sable Blvd/Aurora CO/80011
  • 16th Street Mall – 1.7 Mile long outdoor promenade. Cafes, stores along sides. o 1001 16th Street Mall/Denver CO/80265
  • 40 foot tall blue bear ouside Denver Convention Center o 700 14th St/Denver CO/80202
  • Dinosaur Ridge Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 10-5. o 16831 W Alameda Pkwy/Morrison CO/80465
  • Oktoberfest
  • Denver Museum of Contemporary Art - $5/student. Tue-Fri 12-9, Sat-Sun 10-
    5. o 1485 Delgany St/Denver CO/80202
  • Denver Art Museum - $10/students Tue-Sun 10-5, 8 on Friday o 100 W 14th Ave Pkwy/Denver CO/80204
  • Museum de las Américas = free 1st Fri 5-9 / $3 with i.d (Tue-Fri 10-5; Sat-Sun 12-5. Historical, cultural & visual arts from Latin America; educate via ancient & contemporary art o 861 Santa Fe Dr/Denver CO/80204
  • Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art - $6/Student. Tue-Sun 11-5.
    Museum is essentially a home décor museum. 2 Frank Lloyd Wright windows; arts & crafts; art noveau; bauhaus; art deco; CO painters/sculptors/ceramists/furniture designers o 1311 Pearl St/Denver CO/80203
  • Clyfford Still Museum - $6/Students. Tue-Sun 10-5, Fri to 8. o 1250 Bannock St/Denver CO/80204
  • Denver Museum of Nature & Science = $8 (daily 9-5). One of the largest in US; health exhibits on how the body functions & changes; fossil lab on prehistoric journey with lights, sounds & vegetation; mummies; minerals; Native American culture; S Pacific Islands, Australia & Africa exhibits o 2001 Colorado Blvd/Denver CO/80205

  • Restaurante 100% Mexicano. Highly rated Mexican, happy hour daily 3-6 (til 9 Saturdays). Mon-Sat 10-9, Sun 10-6. o 2850 Iris Ave/Boulder CO/80301

Free to do:
  • Boulder Creek Winery (tastings Thur-Sun 1-5:30) tastings are $5 for 6 wine
    ($3 refunded on a bottle purchase) o 6440 Odell Pl/Boulder CO/80301
  • Boulder Beer Company Tour = free & 1st come 1st serve tours (Mon-Fri @2; Sat @2 & 4). CO 1st microbrewery; history & science behind beer making; samples o 2880 Wilderness Pl/Boulder CO/80301
  • UC Museum of Natural History - $3 suggested. Mon-Fri 9-5, Sat 9-4, Sun 10-4. o 1030 N Broadway St/Boulder CO/80309
  • Leanin Tree Museum & Sculpture Garden of Western Art – Mon-Fri 8-6, Sat 9-
    5, Sun 10-5. - paintings & bronze sculptures of landscapes, cowboys, Native Americans, wildlife of the West; outdoor sculpture garden o 6055 Longbow Dr/Boulder CO/80301
  • Celestial Seasonings Tea Tour – Mon-Sat 10-4, Sun 11-3. Artwork; marketing
    displays; tea tasting; production & packing tour; aromatic mint room; herb garden o 4600 Sleepytime Dr/Boulder CO/80301
  • Redstone Meadery – (free tasting Mon-Fri 12-6:30/ tours @ 1, 3; Sat 12-
    5/tours @ 12:30) o 4700 Pearl St #2A/Boulder CO/80301
  • Pearl Street Mall – ped mall o 1942 Broadway St #301/Boulder CO/80302
  • Tue & Thu 11-2 food trucks park in civic center

MoJeauxs – Wednesdays 2for1 burgers 5-9, $1 pints 9-12. , $2 wells & select
micros 4-7 every day. o 820 City Park Ave/Fort Collins CO/80521

Free to do:
  • Budweiser Tour, Thu-Mon 10-4. o 2351 Busch Dr/Fort Collins CO/80524
  • Little Thompson Observatory – Sept 19 7pm – Public Star Night – Use telescope, see presentation. o S 8th St/Berthoud CO/80513
Rocky Mt National Park (Enter @ Estes Park) open 24/7. check road status online. 
o campground closing dates/full price: aspenglen 9/28 $20, Glacier Basin 9/7 $20, Longs Peak 11/3 $20, Moraine Park 9/28 $20/$14 water off,Timber Creek 11/3 $20/$14 water off. Reservations online ( or call 877-444-6777
Trail Ridge Road (Main road) closes Mid October

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 5: Four Stops in Iowa and a Night in Nebraska

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

New Glarus, WI to Iowa City, IA. 156 miles, 2 hours 47 minutes. 

We pushed through from New Glarus, WI to our next stop in Iowa City, IA. We left Wisconsin knowing that we wouldn't arrive until after dark - so we were trying to high tail it out there. Soon after crossing the Mississippi River at Dubuque we started to encounter some shitty weather. The rain remained constant - even heavy at times - for the rest of the night. When we got into Iowa City, we were hungry and decided to cash in a Groupon. 

Some sidebar here - ahead of the trip we looked up groupons for every city and town we planned on staying it. We purchased several dozen of them for the whole trip - ranging from grocery store coupons to winery tours and - of course - restaurants. This proved to be an extremely valuable move - saving us a lot of money in the long run and keeping us from only eating non perishable foods out of the car. 

This Torta was not good.
The groupon was for some Mexican restaurant - where we got some pretty shitty margaritas and Mexican. We did enjoy the quesadilla....but we tend to enjoy anything that is just a delivery mechanism for melted cheese. 

After dinner we drove around a bit to orient ourselves - and not knowing what else to do we parked in an Office Max parking lot and watched some TV on the iPad. After an hour or so we realized that it was too hot out to keep the windows up, but too rainy to have them down - and that it wasn't realistic to sleep in the car that night. After a bit of sleuthing - we grabbed a room at a hotel via priceline. It was good to take a shower and sleep in a bed while enjoying the comfort of some air conditioning. And there was a (halfway decent) continental breakfast!

We tried to get an early start the next day, as we had a bunch of things we wanted to do that were spread out between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City (Think the distance between Saratoga and Albany). 

Devonia Era Fossils!
 Our first stop was at the Devonian Fossil Gorge. Here we were able to walk out on bedrock that was littered with Devonian Era fossils - which was exposed after something like 17 feet of soil washed away in flooding in the 1990's. We had a fun time trying to find all of the markers and especially liked that there was no barrier, no rope - you literally go out and walk on this sea floor, stepping over 375 million year old fossils.

Some building in Iowa City!
From here, we went into Iowa City - to the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History. This was a pretty nice museum (especially for being in a State University). The most memorable part, for me, was a stuffed giant ice age sloth. 

Eugenio, you may be on to something! 
Some good Mexican! And way too much of it!
We then walked around the pedestrian mall, popping into a few shops. It was becoming quickly apparent that Iowa City was not what we expected. It was...just a small college town with a lot of college-y things going on, and a very large student population. We were kind of bummed about this because Iowa City scored very high on our list of places to visit - to both of our surprise. This made it the curiosity of the trip - that we unfortunately became excited to see. We grabbed lunch, Mexican again - but this time surprisingly good. The restaurant was called La Michoacana Taqueria. It was in a nondescript strip mall with a small grocery store attached. We liked all of our tacos - but especially liked the Horchata, which was actually balanced in its flavor and not cloyingly sweet...which seems to be the norm. 
Look at those tacos!

Try not to have a nightmare about this guy.
We then headed to Cedar Rapids to check out the National Czech & Slovak Museum. This wasn't exactly at the top of my list for things to do - but it wound up being one of those pleasant surprises. It was a very tastefully curated museum, covering the cultural history of Czech and Slovak people - focusing quite a bit on immigrants to this part of the mid west. I especially enjoyed the somewhat macabre traditional costumes for....I can't remember what holiday. 

After the museum we stopped at a bakery in the Czech village - where we were given our first Kolaches. They were.... OK. From here we just peeked into a few shops before deciding it was time to head to Ames, IA. Another town that scored high on our list - that we were now expecting to be kind of...unimpressed with. Its a good thing we lowered our expectations...

A traditional Czech pastry brush
Cedar Rapids, IA to Ames, IA. 104 miles, 1 hour 47 minutes. 

We got to Ames right around golden hour. We took a stroll down Welch Ave & Main Street not really knowing what we wanted to do that night. In a fortunate stroke of serendipity, we overheard a few college students on the street talking about going to 'dollar pint night'. With a little bit of google-fu we landed at the Olde Main Brewing Co guessed it, $1 pint night. We had a few, some fries, and a pint of their house root beer and decided it was time to try a Super Dog. We read about the super dog somewhere online. Its a staple in Ames - there are two hot dog carts that serve them.

What is a super dog? An inexplicably delicious, " All beef hot dog on a Hoagie bun with 5 sauces (pineapple, garlic-cilantro, special, mustard, and ketchup), a strip of bacon, potato chips, and Monterey Jack Cheese, all warmed in a broiler to melt the cheese and warm the bun". I shit you not. We had one and, frankly, loved it. Its the prefect balance of textures and flavors to hit everything you need when your high or buzzed or whatever. Perfect for a small college town like Ames. After the Super Dog, we decided to turn in for the night - sleeping in the parking lot at Walmart in Ames.

We woke up to fall like weather - a pretty dramatic change from what we were used to so far on the trip. The air was crisp and the sky was overcast. We dug deep into our suit cases to find some colder weather clothing to stay warm. 

Our first stop of the day was the Anderson Sculpture Garden - on campus. Either we could not find this or it literally only had one or two sculptures. BUST.

Second stop, Christian Peterson Art Museum. Also on campus, essentially right next to the sculpture garden. Our info was wrong, museum was closed. We peered through the windows. BUST

J in some moody lighting at the Brunner Art Museum
Third stop, Brunner Art Museum. There was some weird function going on here - with a ton of 'young professionals' having breakfast at a buffet while schmoozing. We were tempted to help ourselves to the buffet...but decided to behave instead. The museum had some interesting porcelain and ceramics, as well as an okay collection of photos and paintings. In and out in 30 minutes.

Lunch. Hy-Vee. Deli meat & sides. Sandwiches in the parking lot. Oddly enjoyable. J was craving 'real food' and got some salad bar fruit. I had double french fries. 
What the fuck are these things???
Weeping Willow at the Arboretum
We drove out to the Iowa Arboretum and spent some time walking around the grounds. We both felt we rushed it too much at the arboretum in Madison - so we made sure we saw everything here. It seemed very nice, but like most things of this nature (no pun intended) we were not visiting at the right time of the year. We did see a couple neat things, however.

Playing around with the Macro lens for the iPhone
We took a detour to Jasper Cellar Winery in Des Moines (again, think Saratoga to Albany). I cant remember if we just read about it or if we had a groupon - but we both had a tasting. Everything was fine so we each ordered a glass and sat by the fire while figuring out our plans for the evening. The bar tender gave us some suggestions of things to do in Ames (wine bar, super dog) and strongly suggested we spend the next day in Des its was much more interesting. This was fairly apparent already, just driving through Des Moines to get to the winery. 

Cool bike rack / art installation in Ames
We went back to Ames to the wine bar the bartender in Des Moines recommended. It was happy hour so we dug in a bit. This place was the first self dispensing wine bar we had been to. A few years ago a guy I bought gelato from wanted to open one of these places in Saratoga with me and have me do food for it. I always thought it was kind of silly, but it was actually pretty enjoyable - and eliminated a lot of the awkwardness of ordering wines you cant pronounce or trying ones you don't know very well. 

Not as gross as it looks, but still pretty gross.
After wine we cashed in a Groupon for dinner at a place called Oddfellows. It was a fairly typical 'crazy burger' type place. We had one on a doughnut and one with peanut butter. Both were ..fine. We liked the tater tots but really just wanted the ones we had in Madison. It was getting late so we decided to tun in for the night. We stayed at a Walmart in Altoona - which was closer to Des Moines and also had the cheapest gas we had seen up to that point ($3.04 a gallon!).

Better than gross but not quite mediocre
It was raining when we got up so we weren't really sure how to pack up the car without getting soaked. There was a gas station pretty close by with a canopy - which worked pretty well. J packed while I pumped. The weather eliminated pretty much everything we wanted to do in Des Moines...our first stop was the Hoyt Sherman Place. This was a nice old house with beautiful furniture and decor run by the Des Moines Women's Club. The tour was very nice, our docent was wonderful and charming. Its nice to see old money sometimes. The theater here, which has been restored, is really quite impressive. Not unlike Proctors.
The beautiful theater at Hoyt Sherman Pace
Jill is very possessive about her door stop. 
We grabbed lunch at a place called Zombie Burger, which was recommended to us by our bar tender the day before. We had a great peanut butter milk shake and...a kind of embarrassing gluttonous hamburger...the fried mac and cheese burger. Fried mac & cheese for buns, burger, cheese, onion, mayo, bacon, mac & cheese. It was as good AND as regrettable as it sounds. 

This has to be the most unhealthy thing I have ever had.
As J said, 'Des Moines seemed like a much cooler city (than Ames...or Iowa City...or Cedar Rapids) but its still not tempting to live in'.

Des Moines 
We were very eager to get to Colorado - still about 700 miles away - and decided we could get a good chunk of the drive done if we left immediately - which would allow us some time to do stuff in Denver the next day. We couldn't stand the idea of taking i-80 all the way through Nebraska - so we decided to take the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway - adding a hundred miles and about 2 hours to the trip. It wasn't nearly as mind blowing as I was hoping - after reading it was one of the 10 most scenic drives in the country, but it was nice - and some of the first real scenery we experienced on the trip.

Sandhills Journey
I got pulled over somewhere along the way for speeding - but was let go after promising I would be more careful. We made a quick stop at Car Henge in Alliance to say we saw it and snap a picture in the headlights - and then headed southwest to Scottsbluff, where we stayed the night in a very lively Wal Mart. It was COLD - the first day we were uncomfortably cold in the car. We spent some time in the next weeks buying pieces to stay warmer - gloves, hats, long underwear, balaclavas, base layers, insulating layers...anything we could think of.

The best photo of Car Henge we got. 

Next stop - Denver & Fort Collins - and the start of our trip through the American Rockies.

From our book:
  • La Michoacana Taqueria – 10-9, cheap mexican (1.50 tacos, beef cheek), 436 hwy 1w (****) 436 Iowa 1/Iowa City IA/52246
Free to do:
  • The Pedestrian Mall/The Ped. (shops, park, etc) – free concert 9/12 @ 6:30.
  • Devonian Fossil Gorge – Coralville Lake. . Tour a fossilized Devonian age sea
    o 2850 Prairie Du Chien Rd NE Coralville IA
  • Plum Grove Historic Site = free (Sat-Sun 1-5). 1844 farmhouse with three heritage gardens
    o 1030 Carroll St/Iowa City IA/52240
  • Farmers Markets: Tues 3-6 @ Iowa City Marketplace, 1660 Sycamore St. Wed
    5-7 & Sat - 7:30-noon @ Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp in 400 block of
    Washington St.
  • UI Museum of Natural History – Tue-Sat 10-5 (Thu to 8) Sun 1-5. State’s
    geology; native cultures; ecology; reconstructed ice-age ground sloth o 17 N Clinton St/Iowa City IA/52240
  • University at Iowa Museum of Art = free (Tue-Fri 10-5; Thur 5-9). Paintings; prints; drawings; sculptures; photos; African art
    o 1375 Iowa 1/Iowa City IA/52246
  • Old Capitol Museum – Tue-Sat 10-5 (8 on Thu), Sun 1-5. (neat building)
    o 21 N Clinton St/Iowa City IA/52242
National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library = $5 with i.d (Mon-Sat
9:30-4; Sun 12-4). Videos; folk costumes; glass; ceramics; maps; folk art; military artifacts; restored house to showcase immigrant life; journey of their heritage. 
1400 Inspiration Place SW/Cedar Rapids IA/52404

  • REGIONAL SPECIALTY: Super Dog Stand on Wlech – Mon-Tues 11p-2a, Wed-Sat 9p-3a. Hotdog with variety of sauces, bacon, chips, cheese and pineapple. Smiles & Gyros cart - @ Welch & Chamberlain or Douglas & Main

Free to do:
  • Walk down Welch Ave.
  • Main Street Farmers Market – Sat 8-12:30
  • Main Street Cultural District
  • Iowa Arboretum – 14 miles away in Madrid. Sunrise to Sunset
    o 1875 Peach Ave/Madrid IA/50156
  • Farm House Museum = donations (Mon-Fri 12-4). Restored and furnished
    to its 1860-1910 appearance
    o 290 Schman Building/Ames IA/50011
  • Brunnier Art Museum – Tue-Fri 11-4, Sat-Sun 1-4. National & international travel exhibits; decorative & fine arts. top floor of Scheman Building in Owa State Center at University Blvd & Center Dr,
    o 290 Scheman Building/Ames IA/50011
  • Christian Petersen Art Museum – Mon-Fri 11-4. Sketches; sculptures; art
    o 1017 Morrill Hall/Ames IA/50011
  • Anderson Sculpture Garden – Small sculpture garden, sunrise to sunset.
DES MOINES, IA (30 miles from Ames, IA) 
Free to do:
  • Des Moines Art Center – Tue-Fri 11-4 (9 on Thu), Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4. o 4700 Grand Ave/Des Moines/50312
  • Pappajohn Sculpture Park – Sunrise-Sunset. 27 sculptures from 21 artists around the word scattered on 4.4 acres
    o Western Gateway Park.
  • Hoyt Sherman Place = free (Mon-Fri 9-4). 1877 Victorian mansion decorated
    with carved woodwork, stenciling, marble fireplaces, brass chandeliers, furnished with antiques; art gallery & a domed ceiling
    o 1501 Woodland Ave/Des Moines IA/50314
  • Jasper Winery = free tastings & tours upon request (Mon–Sat 10-6; Sun 1-5)
    o 2400 George Flagg Parkway/Des Moines IA/50321