Going Places – Denver and the eclipse

I’m not a huge traveler but I do like to get out and about every so often. I’d like to two vacations a year, maybe more if the trips are more local. It was actually one of my goals this year as well! The Denver vacation is my 2nd one of the year.

I thought it’d be cool to document some of my trips here on my blog since it doesn’t all have to be financial stuff. After all, life is about more than just money.

If the personal tag didn’t tip you off, this post won’t have anything to do with what I typically write about. I like to write and it just seems reasonable to combine that passion and archive some of my trips on this page.

I went out to Nashville earlier in the year and had fun. The plan was to write a bit about it when I got back but I never go around to it so now that I got back from Denver, Colorado, I have another opportunity to get that started. The Denver trip was a few weeks ago so I’m a bit late to the party but it’s a start!

The idea of heading to Denver was actually spawned by my fiancee’s dad who wanted to go see the total solar eclipse. I’ve wanted to check out Denver for a while and as luck would have it, it was only a few hours away from Wyoming which was in the path of totality.

It wasn’t just my fiancee and I this time around which wasn’t ideal but having three other people around really helped reduce the costs of the trip which was a plus.

One of the nice things about this trip is that my fiancee’s dad actually took care of all the booking which was awesome as I’m typically the one doing all that. He also got tickets for a bus trip on the day of the total solar eclipse so we wouldn’t have to worry about driving there ourselves and finding a good spot.

The visit to Denver wasn’t going to be a long trip since we’re all employed and have certain schedules.

We flew out Friday morning and got there around lunch time and then flew out Wednesday morning so I was back in my own bed by Wednesday night.

The total eclipse was happening on Monday so that day was booked up but the rest of the time was spent exploring Denver and the areas around it. It may seem like a short trip but we tried to jam as much stuff as we could into those days.

Day One

I think I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to take a flight if it’s not direct. My Nashville trip a few months ago had a layover since I was leaving from a smaller regional airport and that wasn’t great. This time, we flew out of LaGuardia in NYC which meant a ~2 hour train ride into the city beforehand but it was worth it to fly directly into Denver without a layover.

The flight itself was smooth, arrived on time and we were soon on our way to downtown Denver in our rental car.

This was the first time I’d be staying in an airbnb and after our experience here, it definitely won’t be the last.

The fact that there were five of us meant that it made more sense to rent an apartment versus getting two separate rooms at a hotel. We got a great two bedroom loft right in the heart of the River North district. This part of Denver, known as RiNo is the hip artsy area and is within walking distance to a bunch of restaurants, shops and even Coors Field.

The place we stayed in was pretty damn awesome. It was a tall two floor brick building with the second floor being a loft that looked down into the living area. The furniture was cool and comfortable and the kitchen modern and functional.

Denver loft

There was exposed brick everywhere and the two bathrooms were clean and large. There was enough sleeping for five and a large enclosed private courtyard. The best part was that it had its own garage so parking was never a problem.

Denver loft 2

As you can see the place had lots of open space, a ton of windows and a lot of natural light. It was within walking distance to a bunch of cool places and as soon as we got settled in, we walked over to a place my brother(who’s a big food nut) told me about to get some lunch.

Along the way, we looked at all the cool building art that was displayed all around the neighborhood.

Tortoise and the Hare

We ate lunch at Denver Central Market which is a cool little high end eatery.

It’s basically a food court with six or seven different vendors that offer food. There’s also a butcher, a bakery and an ice cream place there and it has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.

We must have eaten here four or five times during our stay here because it was within walking distance and we enjoyed each meal we had at the various vendors. The food is pretty damn solid and not too expensive(although I’m comparing to northeast prices which are generally going to be higher). We also returned to the bakery multiple times during our stay to pick up muffins or croissants for breakfast and as a snack.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the district then went for a drive west to scope out the area. It was cool to see the mountains off in the distance as we drove into Denver earlier in the morning but it was awesome to see them emerge as you drove down the highway.

It’s crazy how fast you go from relatively flat land to being completely surrounded by beautiful and enormous mountain ranges. It was just a preview of what we’d be seeing in the next couple of days but it got me excited for all the hiking we’d be doing once we got more situated.

We turned around and headed for the Denver Botanical Gardens which were only a few minutes away from where we stayed. It was nice to see that they offer free and ample parking!

The Gardens were resplendent with beauty and were deceptively big(they didn’t look that huge from the outside) so we spent quite a few hours looking at the large variety of plant life and art that was on display. There was actually way too much stuff to see and we missed some of the displays as we were already getting tired from the travel and the daylight was almost receding.

Denver botanical gardens

I would say there were at least 50 separate areas with unique plants and decorations. We also ran into a little friend having his dinner which reminded us of how hungry and tired we were so we called it a day and headed home. If you’re in the area then I totally suggest visiting the botanical gardens as it’s a great way to spend a day if the weather cooperates.

Denver botanical gardens bunny

Day Two

We stopped by the Red Rocks Amphitheater on the way to the gardens the day before but there was a concert there at the time so we weren’t able to get beyond the parking lot. I checked online and was glad to find that it’s actually open to the public until around 130 on most days so we made sure to make it our first stop on our 2nd day in Denver.

The place is right off the highway and pretty close to Denver and features some amazing views(as do most places here). If you’re not familiar, the Red Rocks Amphitheater is a natural rock structure that forms a natural enclosure perfect for music. The name comes from the color of the rocks.

Red rocks entrance

The place was packed when we got there because it’s apparently a very popular spot to work out as there’s plenty of steps to climb if you’re into that sort of thing. There were hundreds of people out there running and walking up and down the steps.

There’s a concert here pretty much every night and while we didn’t have the time to catch a show, it’s definitely something I’d be interested in if I ever visit Denver again.

You can see the natural rock enclosure in the shot below as well as a part of the stage plus all of the people walking up and down the stairs and seats. The other side has a similar rock formation that yields some perfect acoustic surroundings.

red rocks stage

It was a hot day and we had a lot planned so after spending an hour hanging out here and taking photos, we drove on towards our main destination.

Mount Evans is one of the biggest mountains in the area and also happens to be the highest paved road in North America. I was eager to get up there as I’m not much of a mountain climber and this was probably one of my best chances to see what it’s like to be 14000+ feet in the air.

One of the things to keep in mind when visiting Denver is that the city is much higher in altitude than most cities(thus why they call it the mile high city) and that can do a number on how you feel.

It’s key to drink plenty of water, take it easy on the exercise and wear plenty of sun screen since you’re closer to the sun. I wasn’t really feeling all that different in Denver(although my girlfriend felt pretty out of it the night before after all the walking we did) so I was eager to see how I would feel at an altitude of 14k.

The Mount Evans scenic byway is one of the coolest things I’ve done in quite some time. It’s a long winding road that slowly takes you from I-70, the main highway to Echo Lake right near Mount Evans then up to the peak of Mount Evans. The whole drive is about 30 miles and features some amazing views. There is a cost to enter Mount Evans and the road is only open in the summer for safety reasons but it’s something I highly recommend.

The road is pretty tight and has no safety rails to keep your car careening off the side. That means everyone drives slow and the final 15 mile trek up the mountain takes a while but it’s just so packed with views that you want to go slow. It was cool to see the clear delineation of the tree line as we drove further up the mountain and to see the snow still cling to certain spots. There were plenty of cars on the road as well and some bikers too plus we sometimes had to stop for mountain goats which had to cross the road and didn’t seem to care about the cars.

mount evans road

We stopped a few times on the way to admire the scenery and I wished there were more stops where you could park because the views are breathtaking. Unfortunately there’s only some areas where the road is wide enough to pull over to the side and still leave enough room for cars to pass through and we made use of those when we could.

mount evans lake

It was obvious with each stop that the temperature was dropping quite a bit if the snow in the photo above wasn’t a dead giveaway.

It was near 80 when we left Red Rocks and I had to close the window about halfway up the mountain because the temperature was getting too chilly. We brought along jeans and a hoodie to change into but I probably would have brought more as it was quite cold up there. The temperature was in the high 40s by the time we reached the top.

There is a parking area near the top although I’d aim to get here early as it gets quite crowded. The road doesn’t actually take you to the very top but it brings you pretty close leaving us to do a bit of the final work.

The final hike to the top is only about 250ft and relatively easy but it is winding and rocky so hiking shoes are a must. There were plenty of signs telling people to take it easy as the body’s ability to take in oxygen at that height is limited and they aren’t kidding. We had to stop a few times to drink some water and catch our breath as a few of us, myself included, were struggling especially with the cold wind in our face.

Hiking at that altitude really is quite different and I could tell the difference almost immediately feeling a bit light headed at times.

It’s totally worth making the walk up as the views up there are freaking spectacular.

mount evans peak

I’m not a huge fan of heights so I didn’t get close to the edge in the above picture but there are plenty of spots like that where you can see awesome views in every direction. I could feel my legs shake a bit but it was certainly worth it to see the natural beauty.

The sun was out so it wasn’t too cold especially as we warmed up hiking but I could see how a cloudy day could be rough out there.

What’s great about this trip is that the drive down was even better than the drive up especially if you’re the passenger as the views are more spectacular on the way down. We saw more mountain goats and even spotted some buffalo in the distance.

The one negative about this area is that it takes quite some time to get back to any sort of food and we stopped in the first town we ran into to get food(Idaho Springs). It seemed like the place had a nice downtown scene for a small town and I assume a lot of that is driven by Mount Evans tourism. If you visit, I suggest packing a lunch.

Day Three

This was the day before the eclipse so we wanted to get home relatively early.

We headed towards Boulder planning to check out the town but wanted to get some hiking in first so we stopped at Eldorado Canyon. The place was pretty packed but we found parking in the back and got out to enjoy the sound of the river flowing next to us and then through the gorge.

Eldorado Canyon brook

I really love the sound of running water. It’s so relaxing and even though the place was pretty busy, all you could hear was the sound of nature all around you. The place isn’t too huge and has three main trails, two of which are 1000+ feet in elevation. We started on one of the harder trails but there really weren’t any views there and my girlfriend got pretty tired due to the climb so we turned around and took the lighter trail which is a relatively flat path right near the gorge.

The path takes you all the way to the edge of the canyon and has some awesome views down into the canyon as well as out into the distance once you reach the edge.

Eldorado canyon edge

The weather couldn’t really be any better as the rocks parted into views of forested areas beneath beautiful blue skies. We went back and hung out by the water a bit before heading off to get some food in Boulder.

We didn’t spend a ton of time there but walked around the vibrant pearl street area which had plenty of shops, restaurants and street performers to keep you occupied. Boulder seemed like a nice clean city and the number of hiking trails we saw while we drove around boggled the mind. Colorado truly is an awesome place for those who like to hit the trails.

Day Four

Waking up at 2 AM to catch our bus to Wyoming at the Denver Art Museum sucked.

We knew that getting into Wyoming to see the eclipse would be a popular idea so this seemed a lot easier than driving ourselves and finding a good spot. The bus trip was put on by a local travel agency and would get us there and back without stress. The bus left right after 3 AM.

The drive to Wyoming area would typically take 3-4 hours but we were leaving a lot earlier just in case there was traffic. It was good that we did because there was plenty of it on the way there. It actually felt like we might miss it for a while despite the totality not happening until 11:44 as the traffic was rough at first but as soon as we crossed the WY border, it cleared up and we made it there around 10.

There were probably around eight buses that drove out to this farm in Douglas, WY and there was plenty of space to stretch out and set up. We rented a tent and some chairs the day before and set that up before relaxing and waiting until totality while taking frequent glimpses up at the sun through our eclipse glasses.

The weather was pretty much perfect with clear skies all around. The sun was visible all day without a cloud in sight and we were right on the center line of the eclipse path which meant we’d get some of the best views and the most time in totality.

The moon began to cover the sun bit by bit but you really couldn’t see that anything was happening unless you looked up at the sun through your glasses and saw the moon slowly moving in to cover parts of the sun.

before total eclipse

The photo above was taken around 11:00 so maybe forty minutes before the eclipse. The sun was more than half covered at this point and it looked like a regular sunny day. It really wasn’t until a few minutes before the eclipse that you could tell something was happening.

First, the temperature dropped rapidly. It went from 80F+ into the 60s within minutes. Second, the bugs came out the same way they come out right before dusk. The area around us was suddenly abuzz with life that wasn’t there just minutes ago and then within moments, the darkness surrounded us.

during total eclipse

I honestly don’t have any great photos beyond the one above as I took a quick snap of the surrounding areas right around totality and then looked up.

It was pretty insane how quickly the change occurred and it was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. One moment, it was hot and sunny and then it was cool and dark as if someone just flipped a switch.

It was somewhat eerie and I can only imagine what people thought about eclipses back in the olden days. You’re out there in daytime and suddenly the shadow moves over you and it’s dark and cold and the sun is freaking gone!

Totality only lasts about 2 minutes and is the moment where you can take off those annoying solar eclipse glasses and just stare at the sun. The beauty is hard to describe and I’m not sure pictures do it justice but we took a few shots that I think turned out well.

The unfortunate thing is that the experience is so short and it’s impossible to take it all in within the short amount of time the moon grants you.

total eclipse of the sun

The sun’s atmosphere is visible for a brief moment and looks like a halo surrounding the moon.

The halo of the corona breaking through is gone far too soon and replaced with the sun again. The darkness fades and is replaced by light as the moon starts to drift away and brings back the light. It’s crazy to see how powerful the sun really is as the light floods back mere seconds after totality is done. The bugs disappear and the warmth returns as everything seems to go back to normal. You are able to catch one final glimpse of the sun coming out before you have to look away due to the strength of the sun returning and that’s it. We only got around two and a half minutes to take it all in before the light returned.

total eclipse ending

It may only be two minutes but it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life. I was glad to have the opportunity to be out there in the middle of nowhere and experience the sudden change. I had chills and a general feeling of unease and confusion when it happened despite knowing exactly what was coming because it was simply so odd and came so quickly.

I highly recommend making your way to one of these in the future if you can. I think the next will be visible in the northeast and while it’s 7 years away, I will likely try to make it out there just so I can see it again with my own eyes because these pictures don’t capture the immense beauty of the silver streaks slicing through the black.

We spent another hour or two there while the moon moved away from the sun and then we jumped back on the bus for the trip home. It was around 1:30 in the afternoon when we left.

Four hours later, we were about twenty miles outside of Douglas, Wyoming with 80% of the trip still ahead of us. The two lane highway in Wyoming that takes you back to Denver just wasn’t enough for the massive influx of people that came there to see the eclipse.

Apparently, there were more than 1.5M people in Wyoming that day in a state with a population of 500k and that extra million were headed home at the exact same time as we were.

Luckily, the bus had a restroom, the seats were comfortable and we brought some snacks from the bakery so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I heard one of the other buses didn’t have a bathroom and another one had the A/C go out on the way home so we lucked out.

It was impossible to tell how long it would take to get home as the phones weren’t working due to the number of people on the network and the lack of infrastructure in this part of Wyoming but we were still moving very slowly by the time it got dark. We had to make a pit stop before we entered Colorado to change drivers as they could only be on the road for a certain number of hours. I tried my best to sleep but I’m not one to easily fall asleep unless I’m bed. I even bought three travel pillows to try out before this trip and none of them helped with that problem.

We finally made it back to the museum around 2 in the morning, a good twelve hours after we left. We hadn’t eaten dinner but I was way too tired for anything so we just drove home and climbed into bed.

It was an awesome day but a not so awesome drive home!

Day Five

We had originally planned to go white water rafting on our last day in Denver but we were all dead tired and slept in way late so that quickly went out the window.

We ate crepes, drove west again towards the Eisenhower Tunnel to see the continental divide and made some stops on the way there. We went to the buffalo bill museum which had a nice overlook area. We made a pit stop at Genesee park which has a city owned buffalo herd although they seemed to be on the other side of the park and we couldn’t find a way to get there. We eventually made it to the tunnel, turned around and headed home.

The last day ended up being a bit of a throwaway but a lot of that was due to the bus ride the night before which took a lot out of us. We got home pretty early, stopped by the Denver Central Market again to get some pizza for dinner, and some baked goods for the plane ride home the next day and then went back to our place for our final night in Denver.

Back at Home

I always like to think back about my trips once I’ve had a few days at home.

It’s taken me a while to write this first Going Places entry but everything is still fresh in my mind. This was one of the coolest trips I’ve taken in quite some time.

The eclipse was a big part of that as it’s truly one of those you must see it to believe it types of experiences.

I’ve seen a ton of pictures online and none of them capture the beauty of the corona streaks busting through the dark moon as it sits in front of the sun.

The photos we got were taken on my fiancee’s dad camera through a solar filter as my iPhone wasn’t even close to being up to the task. They represent the view relatively well although the light streaks look much different in person but the photos do nothing to capture the mood or the atmosphere. It was an unforgettable view and the excitement shared with the people around us helped to make it an amazing day.

I think part of what made it awesome was where we were. It was this sparsely crowded farm in Wyoming with no light pollution. There were a few strangers teeming with excitement and the woman I love and we were both seeing something for the first time in our lives.

The only thought I had in my mind as I looked up at the sky was “holy shit, look at that, that’s amazing.”

Life is great that way, that you can be alive for 33 years and still find something that surprises and astonishes you in every possible way.  If you ever have a chance to see an eclipse especially if you can do it in the middle of nowhere, away from light pollution, I highly recommend it.

Beyond the eclipse, Denver was awesome too.

This was the first time I stayed at an airbnb and it a great experience. The location was great. I really loved being in an area where you had restaurants and markets within a minute’s walk and having a parking spot in a downtown area was very convenient as well.

I think part of the appeal was that it actually felt like I was living there instead of just vacationing because it felt like an actual home. I had a kitchen, two beds, a full bathroom and could stop at a grocery store and stock up on stuff which meant I didn’t have to go out for every meal if I just wanted to stay in.

Denver’s food scene was pretty solid as well although we mainly stayed with cheaper food since it wasn’t just my girlfriend and I. I’d typically check out a high end restaurant or two but I didn’t this time since my girlfriend’s family was there as well. In the end, that probably saved me money and the few places we did check out showed me that Denver really knows what’s up when it comes to food.

Denver Central Market was really awesome as I’ve mentioned before and I wish I had something like that near me and all the food we had there was solid. Cart-Driver had good pizza and we had a solid brunch at Rioja. For the most part, this trip wasn’t as food focused as some of my other trips and we ate in more often than not due to the fact that we had a kitchen but I would certainly highly recommend Denver Central Market if you’re in the area. The bakery there was great as was the ice cream, pizza and tacos.

Mount Evans was super cool. The the drive up is totally worth it if you make it out there in the summer. It’s a great day trip out of Denver but make sure to pack some extra clothing because it’s cold up there and take it slow when climbing to the top.

The thin air is real but I got used to it pretty quickly. I think drinking a ton of water is key in helping the transition. I absolutely loved the weather in Denver but maybe it was because we had perfect weather all week and that spoiled me. The sun is definitely stronger but the dry heat is a lot more comfortable to someone who’s used to humidity in the summer.

I think all the other places we visited are worth a look but those visits are the ones I remember most fondly.

I was truly impressed with Denver as a city. There’s a few negatives here like the fact that someone pooped right outside our garage one night which we found pretty humorous(at least they covered it with a hoody which was nice), but they are far out weighted by the positives.

One question I often ask myself after coming back from a trip is whether or not I would want to live there and the answer here is a resounding Yes. If an opportunity like that ever came up, I think I’d jump on it because I really wanted to spend more time out there than the five days we had.

There’s just so much stuff to do and see that it’s hard to do it all in five days. I think Denver is a place I’ll visit again because I really like to see a concert at Red Rocks, and spend a bit more time hiking and vising the various parks and mountain ranges in the area. I’d also like to visit a few restaurants I had on my list but never got to check out.

The northeast has it’s share of beautiful areas but it was really great to drive thirty minutes either way out of Denver and see mountain ranges all around you with hiking trails and outdoor activities galore.

All in all, I really loved Denver, I loved this trip and while I didn’t love the long bus rides and lines at the airport, I’m glad we made it out there to see the city, the mountains and most importantly, the eclipse.

For anyone reading, please let me know what you thought about this blog entry. Was it too long, not long enough? Were there too many pictures, not enough? Any comments would be helpful in making these entries better.

Also let me know if you’ve ever been to Denver and what you thought about the city. I’m thinking I may make it back in a few years but am also looking for suggestions for other places to visit as I have nothing planned right now.

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