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I honestly cannot believe that it’s been a year since my dream wedding. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, because this past year together has been nothing short of adventurous, laugh-inducing, fun. I married my best friend, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
We had started planning our first anniversary trip well before we had been married a full year. We wanted to go somewhere tropical, all-inclusive, and “anywhere but here.” Well, 2020 had other plans. With intense flight and travel restrictions, a global pandemic didn’t seem like the time to be gallivanting around the world. So, we felt that a roadtrip was the best idea. The summer heat here in Texas had been brutal this year, so a cooler climate was something that we craved. Colorado, it was!
We drove about 6 hours to Amarillo to stay for the night, to wake up early and head for Denver. We stopped by the iconic Cadillac Ranch to take some photos, spray paint some cars, and take in the simple, yet so magnificently quirky space.
A piece of advice: Take your own spray can(s) as there were a TON scattered all over, but the majority of them were empty. Also, if you have a plastic bag (and gloves) in your car, I suggest you pick up some of the empty cans and random trash you find. People are just downright rude and lazy, and it’s not okay to leave places dirtier than you found them.
Day 1 – Friday in Denver
From Amarillo, we drove straight to Denver, and stayed at the Westin Downtown. This is an absolutely beautiful hotel with spectacular mountain views (you gotta pay a little extra for a room on a higher floor…), and its walking distance to so many fun things to do, eat, and see. Our favorite place to hang out while in Denver was Larimer Square, which just recently became a street open only to pedestrian foot traffic, so you can move freely through the twinkle-light strung street, surrounded by adorable cafes and restaurants. The first night we were in Denver, we had sipped on mouth-watering cocktails and devoured appetizers at Corridor 44, a french-inspired Champagne Bar. The weather was PERFECT, and we were lucky enough to snag a seat on the patio, which was PRIME for people-watching, as well. We tried to make reservations at Bistro Vendome, which looked like a hidden gem you’d stumble upon in Paris, but there were no available tables. We ended up making dinner reservations elsewhere (this is HIGHLY recommended for Friday-Sunday evenings) and we wandered around a bit before our dinnertime. We found a totally chill, trendy lounge called Roosevelt, which totally gave me “cigar lounge meets a library” vibes. For dinner, we dined at Blue Agave Grill, where I had probably the best margarita I’ve ever had, made with vanilla-hinted Casamigos Anejo tequila, and ate the Tequila Lime Chicken with Monterrey Jack cheese, roasted poblano peppers, pico, queso fresco, fire-roasted salsa, ancho-orange slaw, cilantro lime rice, and black beans. HOLY GUACAMOLE, was it good! Chris had the fajitas, it was enough food for three people. We topped off the night with a stroll through Larimer Square and the surrounding nightlife areas, including Oskar Blues Brewery, where the service was sub-par, but the drinks were cold 🙂
Day 2 – Saturday in Denver
The next morning, we wanted to start the day with a good, hearty brunch, so we made reservations for Snooze AM, and enjoyed vanilla lattes and a flight of pancakes, which consisted of Pineapple Upside Down, Blueberry Danish & Sweet Potato pancakes. There are no words to describe my love for these pancakes. The side of Tender Belly Bacon, rubbed with brown sugar, cayenne, chili flakes and drizzled with black pepper maple syrup put the entire dish over the top. Once we were substantially stuffed, we stopped by the cutest Target nestled in the middle of downtown Denver to grab a couple of things (which included long sleeves for Chris, because even though he over packed like we always do, he left his hoodies and long sleeves at home… haha). We had a reserved entrance time (which is required during this time to control the number of people in the park at a given time) for Rocky Mountain National Park at 3pm (the only time slot left), so we spent the morning exploring before heading to Estes Park.
On the way into Estes Park, we stopped by the Stanley Hotel, which is the iconic and historic hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. Not only is the location absolutely breathtaking, but Chris and I love historical sites that also happen to have some sort of haunting or spooky history. It was fun to walk around the hotel and the grounds, taking in all of the history and thinking about all of the prominent people (alive and dead…) who have walked those halls. 😉
Rocky Mountain National Park has several entrances, and we entered the park at the Fall River Entrance, which is a popular choice, but not nearly as crowded as the ones just south of there. We then preceded to take the Old Fall River Road route, which is a one-way road and only open from July-September. We spent a majority of our time in this area, pulling off every once in a while to take in the scenery, silence, wildlife, creeks, and trails.
The park was absolutely beautiful, and I can totally see how people can spend an entire day there. We kept noticing the billowing clouds and, from the base of the nearest mountains, we thought they looked so beautiful. The further up we got into the mountains, though the thicker the air became, and the clouds had seriously taken a new shape and look. What we were witnessing was the largest wildfire in Colorado to-date. Wow. It was a beautifully eerie sight to see, yet so devastating because the fire was difficult to contain. It’s sadly still burning as of this morning. So heartbreaking.
As we were driving through the park, we stumbled upon a ledge in which firemen and women stood, watching the blaze grow closer and larger. It was a totally surreal moment, and I grabbed my camera and got some quick shots from the car. My heart goes out to all of the first responders there, as well as all over our country, no matter what the circumstance.
The day ended at Lake Granby, where we had a tailgate dinner with a sub sandwich and local craft beers. Exhaustion had set it, and we headed back to the hotel where we showered and promptly went to bed. Another day of adventure awaits!
Day 3 – Sunday in Colorado Springs
We checked out of our Denver hotel, and headed South to Colorado Springs. It was still too early to check-in, so we just kept our luggage (ALL of the bags… so many bags…) in the car with us. Once in Colorado Springs, we started the morning at Red Rock Open Space, which is a little hidden gem in Colorado Springs. We got to climb on and around some rocks, walk winding trails, and took in the views at a miniature lake nestled within the hills. Next up, Pikes Peak!
As a kid, I visited Colorado Springs with my parents for Thanksgiving, and although we were thrilled to be able to see and play in the snow, we were unable to go to the summit of Pike’s Peak because of hazardous road conditions. Of course, we were all bummed, including my Dad who was probably the most disappointed that we couldn’t make it to the top. So, I made it a bucket list item of mine to make it to the summit one day, and on this trip, I was able to make that dream a reality.
It was Labor Day weekend, so it seemed like everyone and their dog wanted to go to Pikes Peak the day we did, but it ended up not being too long of a wait before we got to the main gate to pay. While waiting in the car, we just sat with the windows down and took in the cool breezes. We were told that at Mile 13 and Mile 16, we would have the option to park and ride the shuttle to the summit. Crammed into a 15-passenger van (aka “the shuttle”) with little to no good window views did NOT sound like fun to me, so I wanted to try and actually drive to the summit. The switchbacks, tight turns, and hardly any guardrails was making Chris a little nervous (read: VERY nervous), so we switched at mile 16 and I got to drive to the top. I didn’t know whether Chris was going to pass out or be sick, but he kept his composure and just got some shots with my camera, while avoiding looking over the edge.
We made it to the top. All 14,115 feet of beauty. The summit house and gift shop is currently under renovation and construction (which was one of the main reasons that they didn’t want people driving themselves to the summit), but we were just stoked to be there.
Being at the top of that mountain really is something. And so are the oxygen levels. I don’t know if it was the altitude or the fact that I was so excited that we had made it to the top, I just started crying when I saw the views. I did it for me, but I did it for Dad, too. When I thought about it, I was sad he was never able to make it to the summit, but then I remember: he’s already got a better view than any of us, so he’s already seen what Chris and I got to witness together.
After spending some time at the summit, we headed back down the mountain and started making our way toward Hilton Garden Inn, which is in the middle of downtown Colorado Springs, and walking distance to many restaurants and bars. After getting ready for dinner, we headed to Ivywild School, which is a brewery/restaurant/event space in an old school house. The school was in operation until 2009, when they had to close their doors due to low enrollment. Rather than it being torn down, the owner of Bristol Brewing purchased it as is, and it’s a great site to visit and see!
Once we had some craft beers and appetizers, we made our way to Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, which was 2 blocks from our hotel. Seating was limited (thanks again, Covid), but we were lucky enough to snag a spot outside at a barrel-turned-table. We chose from a long list of craft beers, and ordered the crispy 5-piece dark meat chicken with tomato gravy and scallions. SO good. And SO not keto, haha. Our friends Ryan and Holly were just getting into town for the week, so they met up with us for a nice hangout before heading to Gasoline Alley for a nightcap, and then back to hotel to get some rest for a LONG drive home.
The Drive Home + Cake & Champagne!
After some good sleep, we hit the road bright and early. And even though we had agreed that we would switch drivers halfway through the trip, Chris just kept driving, no matter how many times I told him we should switch. However, he was literally on a roll and just kept going.
We made pretty good time, and made it back in time to pick up our re-created wedding cake from my cousin; we wanted fresh slices of cake, and not ones that had been frozen for a year. Ick. So, she made us a small version of our funfetti-flavored wedding cake! Even though we were exhausted, sleepy, and barely able to function, we cut our cake, popped the champagne that we received for our wedding, and saved for our first anniversary, and we sat down to watch our wedding video (if you haven’t seen it, stop right this second and watch this amazingness.) I happened to look up at the clock as we started the video, and it was exactly 11pm, which was about the time that our wedding would have been coming to a close, and we shared the last dance of the night together before our big exit. What a cool moment!
I initially planned to write an overview of our trip (ya know, like 4 sentences), but when I started typing, I just couldn’t stop. Because we had such a great time, I wanted to make sure I not only documented the details, but also provide some information and tidbits in the event that you’re planning a trip to Colorado and needed recommendations/ideas! In that case, you’re welcome 😉
Until next time…