At home on the range...
Thursday, 19 May 2011
An outdoor adventure playground for all the family... that’s what LAURA MASON-BYERS found when she took a road trip across Colorado to find spectacular scenery, dude ranches and fine wines...
COLORADO IS well loved for it’s many world famous ski resorts – from the smaller mining towns of Crested Butte and Telluride to the glitz and glamour of Aspen and Vail – however once the snow melts and warmer weather glides in, the state is an outdoor adventure playground fun for the whole family.
On a circular road trip across the Centennial state we decided to visit some of Colorado’s top places to stay and play. An easy flight later we arrived in Denver, the mile high city, where we decided to spend a few nights to acclimatise and explore some of the cultural heritage.
With just two days there is a lot to do so we made sure we had enough time to squeeze in some excellent shopping at the 16th Street Mall and Cherry Creek Shopping Centres before exploring the city’s museums. Denver’s art and cultural scene is positively thriving - the Denver Art Museum is a striking building designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, and contains some of the world’s greatest collections of Native American art works. The nearby Denver Museum of Contemporary Art is also of great interest with changing exhibits by nationally recognised artists.
A must-see for any music fans is the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, located just outside Denver, which has staged concerts by musical greats including U2 and Sting. The Visitor Centre has a small Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame charting the history of the Red Rocks and showing some of its most famous visitors.
Our time in Denver finished too soon and we hit the road for our next stop at a dude ranch, a chance to integrate with real cowboys! Colorado boasts over 30 approved all-inclusive dude ranches that offer families the chance to explore life out in the real west and get as hands on as you please.
Lost Valley Ranch is a premium dude ranch owned by Karen and Bob Foster, located just south of Denver in Sedalia. Contrary to popular belief, dude ranches don’t necessarily mean camping round log fires in the wilderness - although it is still an option. Many ranches, such as Lost Valley, feature luxury accommodation in rustic cabins and modern elegant lodges complete with pools, spas and hot tubs.
Ranching is an excellent opportunity for children as well as adults; each ranch has individual programmes for children of different age groups that are fun and educational. Older children can learn to ride their own horses, train in archery, build camp fires with trained guides and learn about Colorado’s gold mining history with the chance to hunt for their own gold. Younger children can also get in on the action with rides on ranch ponies with the help of Colorado’s finest.
At the end of the day, families meet up to share their experiences with each over the campfire as they toast marshmallows and enjoy the fantastic evening entertainment of music and games.
Participation is of course optional, so if you are after a slower pace of life, the ranch can also offer a much-needed relaxation – trotting on horseback across Colorado high country during the lazy sun-drenched days, swimming in some of the state’s ponds or a friendly game of golf is an enjoyable way to pass the day.
Following our ranching experience we were on the move again and continued to head south west with a stop off at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, one of Colorado’s four National Parks. Nestled between a dramatic mountain landscape, this unique landscape is just begging to be explored. Guests can either hike the dunes, or for more fun options pick up a board to slide down!
Back on the road with Mesa Verde National Park in sight. At an altitude of seven thousand feet, the Mesa Verde National Park is close to the Four Corners region where Colorado’s border joins Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Many think the area is magical, if not spiritual as a thousand questions hang in the air and the elusive answers seem to shimmer in the heat haze, so close but - always -just out of reach.
Built in alcoves in sheer canyon walls are the deserted homes of the Ancestral Puebloans. For seven hundred years the Pueblo Indians made their homes here. You can see the remains of the simple shelters and pit-houses these hunter-gathers built on the mesa-tops. They planted corn, beans and squash and gathered wild fruits and herbs. As time moved on they learned how to weave baskets and blankets, how to make clay-pots and how to survive the harsh winters. The population boomed.
No-one can explain why, in around 1200AD, the people began to build intricate settlements in recesses in the canyon walls. It was a huge construction project, using all the skills and trades the Ancestral Puebloans had perfected.
Nor do we understand why, less than one hundred years later, they left, never to return. It may be that they’d used up all the available resources - and a 24-year drought wouldn’t have helped.
Six hundred years passed before the dwellings were re-discovered. The Mesa Verde is now a World Cultural Heritage Site. It’s an evocative, haunting place; empty homes with tiny doorways; one storey, two storeys, even more.
We visited Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the park, with about 150 rooms and 23 kivas. You can join a ranger-led tour that lasts about an hour and takes you through an interesting tale. A visit involves descending 120 uneven stone steps and climbing five 8-10ft (2.6-3m) ladders.
Our last stop took us to Grand Junction. Making Grand Junction your base allows you to explore some of the state’s best outdoor adventures all within a close proximity. In the winter locals head to Powderhorn ski resort to ski and board but it’s in the summer when the town really comes alive. You can walk, jog, bike or rollerblade on the Riverfront Trail – 30 miles of paved scenic pathway skirting the edge of the Colorado river, or head out to one of the region’s five public golf courses, or for the more adventurous take a ride down the Colorado River Rapids.
High Quaity Wines
Not everyone knows this, but Colorado makes some very fine wines and home to wine country is the Grand Junction region. The Grand Valley region produces wonderful, high-quality wines in a spectacular setting with several intimate, accessible and altogether charming vineyards.
If the timing is right catch a tour that coincides with the late summer harvest, when the grapes are picked and processed to create the next standout vintage, so that you can have a true ‘hands on’ experience.
The state's oldest, largest and most anticipated wine festival takes place in Grand Junction every September. Festival highlights include wine and food pairing events, chef demonstrations, grape stomps, winery tours and chocolate and wine tastings – perfect!
So, if this summer you are twiddling your thumbs think of Colorado for a holiday that will literally offer endless opportunities whatever your interest.
FACTFILE ON COLORADO
For further information on Colorado visit www.colorado.com
Where to stay:
Denver - Teatro Hotel www.hotelteatro.com. Rooms start from $199 per night.
Lost Valley Ranch – www.lostvalleyranch.com. Prices start from $990 per person per week. Rates are all-inclusive (cabin suites, 3 meals, guided horseback riding, entertainment, all programs)
Mesa Verde – Far View Lodge www.visitmesaverde.com/accommodations/far-view-lodge Bed and breakfast packages start from $139 per night.
Grand Junction – Grand Vista Hotel www.grandvistahotel.com Rooms start from $79 per night.
Getting there – Return flights from Dublin to Denver with US Airways start from £605/700E.
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