The next destination on our Colorado road trip was the city of Golden. It is situated a little over a half-hour south of Boulder.
For this leg of the trip, we did an overnight at the SpringHill Suites Denver West/Golden. It's a Marriott property. In fact, all our stays during this road trip were at Marriott properties. The reason was so that we could accumulate enough points for free stays. This hotel is situated next to a shopping center located a little outside the city of Golden. For dinner that night, we chose a fast-food restaurant of which we had never heard called Kickin Chicken. I saw that it had good online reviews. Furthermore, the cashier assured us that we would have a hard time finding any chicken better than theirs. Kickin Chicken turned out to be a winner. We actually created a chicken & waffle meal the next morning in our room using our leftover Kickin Chicken along with the waffles we got from the hotel buffet.
Now that we were into the road trip portion of the trip, we were starting to establish a routine of getting up early enough to pack up, catch the hotel's complimentary breakfast, check out, and make it to our first sightseeing destination of the day on-time.
I had to get comfortable with the pandemic protocols in Colorado. Most businesses had a sign indicating masks are not required if you are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus - we were. It was rare that I saw anyone wearing a mask. Despite being fully vaccinated, I was still a little uneasy around crowds. Therefore, if I found myself in an indoor crowded place such as a visitor center, museum, or store, I wore my mask. The only people I saw wearing masks in the public areas of hotels were the employees. As for the complimentary breakfasts, at some hotels, there was person serving the buffet food. At other hotels, it was a self-serve buffet.
Our plan for the day was to drive the Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway. It is advertised as "40 Miles of Western Adventure". The website lists several points of interest along the route. I chose a subset of these attractions that I thought would interest us.
Our first stop was Dinosaur Ridge to see dinosaur footprints and fossils. This was more of an interest of mine than of Traci's. I had booked the 10:30 AM tour. We were loaded into a shuttle whose air condition struggled to keep up with the heat of the day. Masks were required while we were in the shuttle, but we could remove them when we were outside. We were driven to sites where paleontologists discovered the footprints of dinosaurs. The land containing the footprints has become rock hard after millions of years thus preserving the footsteps of these massive creatures. The strange thing about the site is that the land has shifted thus causing the footprints to appear as if the dinosaurs were walking up a vertical wall. Our guide assured us that the land was horizontal at the time of the dinosaurs. The 45-minute tour took us to other sites where we saw other sets of preserved dinosaur footprints and a few dinosaur bones encased in hardened earth. We had to really use our imagination to make out the bones. I enjoyed the tour; however, the thing that bothered me was that organization rubs charcoal in the footprints to make them easier for guests to distinguish. To me, the charcoal makes the footprints look fake. After our tour, Traci and I had a quick look at the dinosaur fossils on display at the main visitor center and had a good chat with the man who works there before getting back in the car to continue our journey along the Lariat Loop.
bulge - underside of a brontosaurus footstep
Our next stop was a short drive away. It was the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This famous concert venue is in the mountains surrounded by red sandstone rocks. It seems that no matter where you park, there are stairs and inclines to climb in order to get to the amphitheater. This is especially challenging because the amphitheater is "at altitude" where the air is thin. I noticed that along the way there are signs directing you to pulse rate monitor stations in case the altitude is getting to you. I did not need a pulse monitor to know my heart rate was significantly elevated. In my case, it was not anything I needed to worry about. It felt like a good workout.
The view from the top of the amphitheater is incredible. You have a great view of the stage as well as the valley below. I would love to see a concert at this venue someday.
Traci and I spent some time walking through the visitor center at the top of the amphitheater. There are plaques on the wall that contain a list of all the concerts that were performed here over the years. There are other exhibits to see in the visitor center such as a film of interviews with artists who have performed at Red Rocks. Then of course there is a souvenir shop, but we did not buy anything. I really enjoyed my time at Red Rocks. It is a unique attraction.
lots of uphill and stairs to get to the venue
view of the stage from the last row
browsing lists of performances by year
John Denver Statue
We continued on into the mountains where I was hoping to get great views of the landscape below. After all, our next destination on the Lariat Loop was called the Lookout Mountain Nature Center. The radio stations started to become staticky and we eventually lost our mobile phone service as we climbed higher. This meant we could no longer depend on Waze for navigation. Despite the street signs pointing to the Lookout Mountain Nature Center, it was kind of pathetic of how distressed I was becoming because Waze was no longer calling out directions.
We made it to the Lookout Mountain Nature Center, but it was not what I had envisioned. There were no sweeping views of valleys or other mountains. It was more of a forested area. There is a visitor center, but it is open on weekends only. We were there on a Monday. In addition to the visitor center there is a mansion that was built in 1917. There are nature paths in the area along with signs warning about the wildlife you might see - deer, raccoons, bears, snakes, mountain lions, etc...
These days, Traci's day is not complete unless she gets at least 10,000 steps on her pedometer. Despite all the walking we did at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, she still had not hit her daily goal. This meant we were going to be walking the nature trails. We did the 0.7-mile Forest Loop Trail and then the 0.7-mile Meadow Loop Trail. The Meadow Loop Trail was the more worrisome trail for us. Unlike the forest trail, there were few trees to shade us from the intense sunshine. The waist-high meadow grass was sometimes close enough to the path to brush against us. We did not see much wildlife; however, we could hear the rattlesnakes rattling their tails in the tall grass! I was hoping to see a rattlesnake (from a distance) because I have never seen one in the wild. I never saw one that day. The only things we saw were grasshoppers that leaped into the grass as we approached. We also saw two bees during our walk. The bees frightened Traci more than the sound of the rattlesnakes. After that, it seemed like the path went on forever. We just wanted to get out of that meadow as fast as we could.
"Yikes! I hear rattlesnakes!
Before leaving the Lookout Mountain Nature Center, we did a quick self-guided tour of the Boettcher Mansion. The friendly lady at the welcome desk gave us brochures containing a map and an explanation of the rooms. The detailed explanations of the architecture of each of the rooms did not appeal much to Traci and me so we did not spend much time in the mansion.
We made the short drive to the Buffalo Bill Museum. This was an unexpected gem of a museum. William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody was a philantropist, a showman, and a controversial figure among many other things. The museum covers it all with memorabilia and an excellent film on his life. Buffalo Bill was probably most known for his traveling Wild West shows which he began in 1883 and continued until bankruptcy in 1913. Buffalo Bill and his performers would provide the audience with an entertaining glimpse of life in the American West. My favorite part of the museum was thumbing through the book of places the Buffalo Bill show went. The show toured the world. You could use the book to see if the Buffalo Bill Wild West show ever visited your city back then. Chances are, it did.
Buffalo Bill so admired the view from Lookout Mountain that he said he wanted to be buried there. His wish was granted. There is a path leading from the museum to the graves of Buffalo Bill and his wife Louisa. The view of the plains and mountain ranges below is breathtaking from here. Just be sure to stay on the paved path. I could hear the rattlesnakes in the grass.
graves of Buffalo Bill and his wife Louisa
view from near Buffalo Bill's grave
We left the Buffalo Bill Museum as it was closing for the day and we drove the switchback and curvy roads down the other side of the mountain. These were the views I was hoping to see during our journey on the Lariat Loop Scenic Byway. We stopped at several scenic overlooks on our way down the mountain. Our views were hazy due to the California wildfires but mesmerizing, nonetheless. We encountered several cyclist and runners on the two-laned mountain road. I was especially impressed with people biking or jogging up the steep roads.
With all the stops we made that day, we had spent 8 hours traveling the 40-mile Lariat Loop. We hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so we were quite hungry. We backtracked a little because I wanted to try a restaurant called The Fort. I had read about it during my research for this trip. The place is built in the form of an old adobe fort. Unfortunately, there was a wait list to be seated when we arrived. The manager was eager to have us stay. He invited us to their outdoor terrace to look at the menu while enjoying the pleasant evening weather and a nice (but hazy) view of the distant mountains. There was tranquil Indian pan flute music playing as we relaxed to the trickle of the nearby fountain. The manager returned several times to update us on the wait and to see if we wanted drinks or appetizers while waiting. Although the menu looked good and we appreciated the manager's efforts to earn our business, we decided not to eat at The Fort. I felt bad relaying our decision to the gentleman. I knew we had a 2-hour drive ahead of us to get to our lodging in Colorado Springs and I did not want to be driving on unfamiliar roads in the dark.
Getting on the road when we did turned out to be the best decision. Waze offered two routes to get to Colorado Springs. I chose the one that avoided tolls since it increased our travel time by only a minute. As a result, we ended up driving most of the way on a 2-lane road through sparsely populated farmland. With the tall mountains in the background, the drive was incredibly scenic, but my anxiety level started to increase as the sun started to sink down behind the mountains. Fortunately, we made it to the highway portion of the drive before it got dark. We stopped to have dinner at a Cracker Barrel before eventually arriving at our hotel for the night - Fairfield Inn & Suites Colorado Springs South. We felt so tired and dirty by the time we got checked in. This would become a familiar feeling each evening during this road trip. The daily question for Traci and me was will we finish our day before 9 PM? For most days, the answer was 'No'. Continue...