Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Colorado is for family reunions - Senge Edition

*I can't believe I haven't posted anything since the end of July. I basically spent all of August sewing princesses dresses before our trip to Walt Disney World in September, didn't have enough time to get my act together before our next trip in October, and have been sewing since we got back, working on three commissioned dresses for Halloween costumes (which I just delivered!). So I have a lot to blog about and no time to do it. I can really only find time to do one or two "extra" things a day: bake/cook, sew, exercise, create, take photos, blog, etc. So I can sew and take photos of the projects, but not have time to get them on the blog... And with the holidays sneaking up, good grief. I'll see you guys in February. Maybe. JK, I'm working on it...

For a few days this summer, it seemed like everyone I knew was in Colorado and the entire state was one big family reunion - including my mom's family and my dad's family. Unfortunately, we weren't able to join then, because we already had plans to visit in October for a family reunion with Jon's family. And they aren't even from Colorado!

My lovely aunt (my dad's sister) runs a wonderful and charming bed and breakfast, the Avenue Hotel in Manitou Springs, just at the base of Pikes Peak. When I volunteered to co-host the next Senge family reunion event, I realized her inn would be a perfect spot where we could all have our own private room and bath but still be under one roof, and not be spread all throughout a hotel and mingling with other guests. Plus, it's pretty centrally located, since everyone is traveling from the outer edges of the U.S. I think only Kansas City would be more equidistant. And um, no offense to Kansas City...

Anyway, since a bunch of my mom's family lives in Colorado, we decided to stay a few extra days and see my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins and so on. But first, the Senges.

We flew to Colorado a day before the Senge reunion was set to begin so the kids could have a day to recover from traveling, and so we could grocery shop and stock the happy hour fridge.

We love walking out on the pavement at BUR airport, and using the air stairs to board the back of the plane.
We landed in Denver, had Panda Express for lunch at the airport, got our rental car and hit the road for Manitou. When we got to the inn, we said hello to Aunt Gwenn, unloaded our bags, let the girls stretch their legs, and got right back in the car to go to Costco and the grocery store. After we unloaded the groceries, we walked down to the Keg Lounge and had a nice dinner with my aunt and uncle. I tried buffalo for the very first time, it makes a delicious burger!

On Thursday, we wanted to hit up the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo before the rest of the Senge family arrived. Rain had been in the forecast, so I was prepared, but I was sort of expecting a steady drizzle which we got as we drove up the mountain. But as we got closer to the zoo, it started to rain harder. We paid and walked in as people seemed to be walking out. We wondered if this was a bad idea, but we decided to try and tough it out. As a proud supporter of Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, I was super pleased to see this sticker on the ticket booth. I must confess, I'm so cynical, I wondered if it weren't more to protect their investment in their animals than the lives of their visitors...

Anyway, we looked into renting a stroller, thinking maybe they had a nice durable theme park-style with a plastic rain cover. Nope. They had a completely wide open wagon. So we picked up the kids, opened up the umbrella, and rallied.

Luckily, the very first exhibit is their famous giraffe herd, the largest at any zoo, which you can feed for just $2. We absolutely did that. Ivy and Alice were a bit overwhelmed by the giant giraffe head and tongue coming at them.

However, Jon was totally thrilled, obviously. So was I, but there aren't any photos. Thanks, rain.

This giraffe was under the pergola structure with us and getting all the lettuces while the rest of the herd was huddled together out in the open, getting rained on.

I would have spent all our money on lettuce to feed the giraffes, but the weather wasn't very conducive, so we moved along to see the others, sans lettuce.

This giraffe had a bite of lettuce from another zoo guest, and was either still hungry or thirsty (or maybe just engaging in weird stress behavior?) and spent a while licking this railing right in front of my camera. It (he? she?) was so close, I literally had to step back so it didn't bump my lens!

Prehensile giraffe tongue.

After the giraffes, we made our way through the smaller animal enclosures en route to the elephants. We had to walk up a hill and water was just pouring down the street in sheets, making a rushing river in the gutters. Our shoes and socks and jeans were soaked. I had to carry Alice, she was soaked and chilly and miserable. And when it started to thunder, she was really unhappy. I couldn't help but laugh, the whole situation was pretty ridiculous, the kind of thing you always remember about a family vacation. I tried to hype it up to Alice ("we're having an adventure! We are adventurers! We are brave Mighty Girls!), but she was not convinced. 

We stood and watched the elephants for a bit, they were reaching through their fence and pulling up weeds and flowers to eat, and then we decided to call it and head home. We had made it about an hour, but the rain wasn't letting up and it just didn't seem like a good idea to be wandering around in the thunder with an umbrella. We turned and walked back, and the elephants followed us up to the top of their enclosure, and then waded into a big pool there. 

It wasn't a very wide pool, but we were surprised to see that it was deep enough for the elephants to fully submerge themselves. And they did. They were smacking their trunks around, splashing and shaking their ears, and one kept doing a deep dive, using it's trunk for a snorkel just like in cartoons. I had no idea elephants actually could or would do that.
Submerged elephant. Where'd it go??
 It was so fun to watch, until I had a vision of lightning striking the water and frying the elephants right in front of us... Highly unlikely, I know, but we bid farewell and went on our way. It was a really lovely zoo and we were sorry we didn't get to see it all or enjoy it fully. We'll definitely make sure to visit again whenever we find ourselves in Colorado Springs! We drove past the Broadmoor Hotel on our way up and down the mountain and drooled a little bit. We love staying at the Avenue Hotel, but maybe next time we can squeeze in a night or two at the Broadmoor too, and see all the other Colorado Springs sights we can never fit in (like the Air Force Academy!). 

Anyway, we picked up a pizza for lunch and headed back to the inn to get dry. The rest of the family started to trickle in and we all enjoyed happy hour drinks and snacks and a casual sandwich dinner as we kicked off our weekend.

On Friday morning, we headed up to the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center.  I'd arranged a private tour, because somehow that admission was less expensive than regular admission. When we arrived, they had little signs welcoming the Senge Family. We didn't even see the huge marquee outside until we left, and somehow none of us got a photo... Oh well!

The RMDRC does a lot of fossil and skeleton excavation, but they also do a lot of work making casts of skeletons for museums. If you have seen a dinosaur skeleton in a museum, you have likely seen one of their casts, particularly if the skeleton did not have lots of extra support structure.  I learned that is a good way to identify a cast, instead of a real skeleton; they make the casts with internal supports so it can stand nearly freely. Which seems kind of obvious, but I guess I'd never really thought about it.

Anyway, our friendly tour guide started by passing around a bunch of fossils and casts that we could touch and see up close. My favorite was the giant tooth of the fearsome Megalodon shark. 

I asked, if there were no dinosaurs in the oceans, what that giant shark was eating. Whales. The Megalodon was bigger than the whale shark (a gentle giant), but with the temperament of a great white but about twice as long (about 50 feet!) and 15 times as heavy (like 100,000 pounds). Apparently, Megalodon would bite the dorsal fins off of it's whale prey and then just snack on the immobilized whale. Yikes.

And then we saw a lot more skeletons, including a ton of stuff I'd never seen before or even heard of.
 This flying reptile looks like a cartoon.

On the left here is the "Chicken from Hell," and below him is the Bambiraptor, so named for it's adorable tiny size. The Bambiraptor would wait in trees with it's friend and then jump down to swarm and devour their prey. Fun! 

They had a great T-Rex on display, and I learned that the T-Rex's arms were probably evolving away, since they were so useless to them. That makes a lot of sense. 

We some cool skeletons of marine reptiles that used to live right there in Colorado and Kansas when it was the Western Interior Seaway. We also got a glimpse inside the Resource Center's lab, where they excavate the fossils they find and create and prepare casts on order. I confirmed that if one were so inclined, you could indeed order up a whole museum's worth of casts and start your own dino museum. And people do!

The girls were tired and hungry and ornery from the get go, so I didn't get to learn as much as I would have liked, but it was a really neat place. Small, comprehensive, and informative. And they had a great gift shop! We picked up an excavation kit so Alice can be a little paleontologist and discover a set of bones and make her own model (she is working on it as I type this!). She chose a pterodactyl, naturally. My favorite.

After the tour was over, everyone broke off to find lunch. I'd done some research in advance and there weren't a lot of nearby options. A few stopped in at a brewery I hadn't seen on the map, but they only served sausages and pork bbq and didn't have a high chair, so we moved along to the Hungry Bear restaurant which I had already identified as our best bet. It was probably best that no one else joined us, though. It was a real sticky table kind of place, where salad consisted of browning iceberg under a pile of shredded cheddar drowning in ranch dressing and the walls were crowded with stuffed bears and bad bear art and all kinds of cheesy signs like "Grandkids spoiled here," and "Looks like somebody needs a nap!" Ivy didn't seem to mind the decor, though.

And then we headed back to the inn where the girls rested and we relaxed and visited until it was time to head across the street for dinner at the Stagecoach Inn.

On Saturday morning, we headed up to Garden of the Gods for a hike through the park. We'd had rain and clouds every day since we'd arrived, but Saturday was supposed to be sunny and clear and warm, and it was. A totally perfect day for a hike.

A beautiful day in the Garden of the Gods.

Alice brought her camera, but was so preoccupied with harassing her uncles and cousin aunties that she forgot to take very many photos. The few she got were great. I love taking a picture of her taking a picture and then seeing what turns up on her camera. 

The colors of the leaves were just so beautiful. I especially loved all the yellow aspen.

I kept telling everyone that they absolutely could deny Alice's requests and demands (especially to be carried) but they lovingly obliged her. In the photo below, Alice was driving us all crazy with some never ending squeaking noises, but the photo looks like we're all having a great time...


Such beautiful light and leaves.

After our hike, we headed back to the hotel for a casual sandwich lunch. 
Stone (not stoned) lion on the Avenue Hotel front stair.
The inn was already decorated for Halloween and for the annual Emma Crawford coffin race (which just happened this past weekend). The coffin races are a big deal in Manitou Springs, with six to seven (eight?) thousand people in town for the festivities. My aunt and uncle have a great time with the event, dressing up the inn - and themselves - for the fun. Ivy and Alice both really liked the skeletons climbing up the front porch. Here's Fun Ivy pretending to let the skeleton catch her!
After lunch, we strolled down Manitou Ave toward the Pikes Peak Chocolate Company for some ice cream. Apparently, I didn't get a picture, which is too bad because they serve seriously delicious "Josh and John's" ice cream. Too bad Uncle Josh wasn't with us, I might have remembered a photo then! The 

It took us a while to walk the couple of blocks because we had to test out every seat we saw along the way...

We had forgotten to bring our little collapsable Manitou Springs shot glasses to taste the mineral spring water, so we just had to use our hands when we came across the first spring. I didn't get a great shot of the whole font, but Stratton Spring is a lovely piece of art that echoes the legacy of Winfield Scott Stratton's electric streetcar public transportation that ran along the street. This is one of eight springs that the city has beautifully developed or restored. Sadly, we didn't make time to visit the rest, but I hope we make it a priority on our next trip!

Jon had the first taste. I was wearing Ivy in the Ergo, so it was hard for me to get a taste without soaking her. I tried to get her a little taste, too, but I don't know how well that worked. It was delicious, fresh soda water! If I lived in town, I'd run down for a jug every day!

Alice was hesitant at first, and decided she didn't want a taste. I think she was a bit put off by the hissing and belching as air bubbles disrupted the steady flow from the fountain.
She thought about it...
And decided to move along. Still thinking about it...
And then she gathered up her courage and was so pleased with herself and tickled to be drinking water right out of a ground spring. She felt pretty adventurous. 

And kept coming back for more...

We walked for a little longer up through town. Jon's parents wanted to see the base of the Cog Railway, but Alice pooped out just a few blocks away so we had to turn back. We did get to taste another spring though, the Twin Springs, which was much less salty and bubbly. A very talkative, very crunchy type sitting on a bench next to the spring told us that it made delicious lemonade. I could see how it would, but we took him at his word. Apparently, lots of local brewers like to collect water from their favorite springs to make special brews... It looked like this spring was still waiting for renovation funding, so it wasn't much to see. But it was tasty!

That night was the final night of the reunion. We sweet-talked Aunt Gwenn into making us a nice home-cooked meal that we could enjoy leisurely at the inn, and she even threw in a carrot cake to surprise Jon so we could all celebrate his birthday together. His birthday was actually the next day, but we would all be dispersing, so this was a perfect way to end a family weekend.

After dinner, everyone seemed to end up squashed together on the floor in the front hall. Little kids always end up on the floor, especially late at night after a family dinner, and the big kids just wanted to pretend like we were little kids again.We were just squeezing out the last few minutes of our time together, enjoying a nice gezellig end to our reunion.

Someone is tickling Ivy. Uncle Matt?
And someone is swinging Alice upside down. Auntie Cousin Alexis??
It was really a lovely, relaxing weekend, full of visiting (and eating, and Colorado beer). If you are ever looking for a great family reunion venue, the Avenue Hotel is a perfect place and Manitou Springs is the perfect pace. The area is so picturesque, with just enough interesting things to do and beautiful natural attractions to suit everyone in your family together or individually. There are plenty of restaurants to walk to and plenty of places to window-shop or find a souvenir. And the inn is a wonderful home-away-from-home, where everyone will have a beautiful room and a delicious breakfast, and plenty of space to gather together. I know I'm biased because I am family, but Gwenn will treat your family like family.

We loved being able to eat breakfast together as a family each morning, without any other hotel or restaurant guests. And we loved being able to gather in the common areas to have happy hours, and wind down after dinner. The Carriage House is a separate building behind the main inn with two little apartments (the Upper and Lower Carriage House). They both have kitchens and sitting rooms where we gathered together as well. Not to mention the front porch, overlooking the town's main avenue, and the backyard deck and patio, and the hot tub! I already want to go back.

But we had to say goodbye to all the Senges, and to Aunt Gwenn and Uncle Randy and move on to see all the Clarks! Stay tuned for the next edition of our Colorado family reunion adventure!