Heath Fam Goes West: Part 2

Well, this second blog post in this series has taken much longer than I hoped. I actually had it almost finished before I published the first one, but I have been having some computer issues and somehow it disappeared. At first, I just lost part of it, but now the entire file is nowhere to be found. Ugh!! So I shall begin again…

PART 2: COLORADO

Day 1: Travel Day

Day 1 started out with us flying from Atlanta to Denver, Colorado. Since we do not usually fly anywhere (3 of the 4 kids have only flown once!), even the plane ride was a somewhat new adventure. The boys were super excited to be able to play games and watch movies on the plane, and the girls were glad they brought their own headphones because apparently they work much better than the complimentary ones provided by Delta. Ha! So after parking our car at Peachy Airport Parking and then navigating the airport security lines, we boarded the plane. We had no idea that our “adventures” would start so soon… due to a very large hailstorm over Colorado, our plane was diverted to Salt Lake City, Utah. The kids were actually super excited about this because they had asked me multiple times to add Salt Lake City to our itinerary for the sole purpose of visiting East High, the high school where the High School Musical movies were filmed. The girls quickly informed us that we were only 10 miles from East High, and we seriously considered getting an uber just to take some pictures! Unfortunately, our layover was less than an hour, so we were not able to make it happen. However, we did get an unplanned aerial view of the Great Salt Lake, so that was pretty cool!

We arrived in Denver late that night and made our way over to Avis to collect our rental car. Thankfully, we had signed up as “preferred members” online before making our reservation; this ended up saving us some money on insurance “extras” that were included for preferred members, as well as helping us secure a 2019 Yukon XL for our extended road trip, versus whatever vehicle the customer representative had initially selected for us. The process was very smooth and easy (especially once he realized we were “preferred” customers), and we were on the road to Colorado Springs in no time. It was an easy drive that late at night, and we were grateful to be settled in by midnight!

Colorado was the longest portion of our trip and the most time we spent in one place. My younger brother, Sonny, and his sweet wife, Courtney, live in Colorado Springs with their 2 children, and so do Courtney’s parents, so our lodging was taken care of for this part of our trip. However, if you are looking for a unique place to stay in Colorado Springs, check out this Country Cottage I found on airbnb. The owners are super nice and very easy to work with, and it looks like a great place for a family to spend a few days! In addition to my brother’s family, we have some close family friends who live in the Springs, so our goal was to spend as much time with all of them as possible while experiencing some of the many fun things to do in Colorado Springs. Mission accomplished!

Days 2 & 3:  Reconnecting with Family & Friends, Garden of the Gods

Our 2nd day brought some rainy weather, and since we were pretty tired from our late night travel adventure, we spent most of the day relaxing at home and enjoying time with our family and friends. Jeff was able to play some golf with Sue (Courtney’s mom) while the rest of us chatted, worked on a Lego space shuttle, and played some football in the yard. It was fun to be reunited with our friends after several years apart and for the boys to get to play with their cousins!

On Day 3, we headed over to explore Garden of the Gods with my brother’s family. First, we rode around the big loop looking at all the different rock formations. Parking along the loop was extremely limited, so we made our way to the Trading Post for a map and some ice cream! It was delicious… I highly recommend the Pikes Peak flavor, because, well, how often do you find Pikes Peak flavored ice cream in Georgia? For our first adventure, we decided to trek over to the Balanced Rock area, which was a quick, easy walk from the Trading Post. We spent an hour there and everyone loved it! The boys were in heaven, climbing and scampering over the rocks like little monkeys, while the girls found it to be a great spot for some Instagram pics.  As we were finishing up with our group photos and deciding where to hike next, the clouds rolled in, along with the thunder. 

Fortunately, we made it back to the Trading Post just as the downpour began! We used it as an opportunity to try out their café menu and browse the enormous gift shop. By the time the rain stopped, we decided to make a quick stop by the Visitor’s Center for some great rooftop photos with the rocks, and a stroll through the museum. The highlight was definitely the “Poop Quiz” (which I aced, by the way. Apparently, I’m an expert on various types of poop. Who knew?). We spent the evening with our friends, the Locke family, eating a yummy dinner and reminiscing about old times.  What a blessing to watch our kids, who first became friends many years ago in preschool, all back together again, now as teenagers! They ended the night collapsed on the floor in a pile of laughter, so I’d say they had a good time (and no one is a better Magical Harp than Jessie, just saying)!

Day 4:  Cave of the Winds, Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings, Edelweiss Restaurant

This was our boys’ favorite day in Colorado. We spent the whole day with their cousins, which meant it would be fun no matter what!  Our first stop was Cave of the Winds, near Manitou Springs.  This place was awesome! We started with a Discovery Tour of the cave, which took about an hour and was super fun. Our guide, Tatiana, had a great sense of humor and really made it enjoyable for all ages. I think the teens and adults would have definitely enjoyed the Lantern tour, but with younger children, the basic tour was perfect. When we finished, there was a large seating area with picnic tables and beautiful views where we sat to eat lunch. Sonny and Courtney had packed lunches for all of us, but there was also a snack bar available for those who wanted to purchase food. After lunch, we purchased the “Pioneer Package” for all the kids, which included the Wind Walker Challenge Course (high ropes course on the edge of Williams Canyon), Cliffhanger Climbing Wall, Geronimo’s Leap, Bat-a-pault, and Magic Lantern Theater (Virtual Reality rides).  They spent most of their time on the Challenge Course and Climbing Wall, but once the girls found the virtual reality theater, they all spent the last half hour there. We had planned to spend about an hour at Cave of the Winds and then make the drive up to Pike’s Peak, but since the kids were having so much fun (and we weren’t sure the high altitude and long drive were going to be worth our time on this trip), we decided to stay and let them enjoy it. We definitely got our money’s worth out of it, and it was an overall trip highlight for the boys!

Since we didn’t go to Pikes Peak, we had an hour or two to kill before our dinner reservations, and Courtney suggested we stop by the Cliff Dwellings in Manitou Springs. I am so glad we did! I had originally planned for us to make a stop in Mesa Verde on the way to the Grand Canyon, but ultimately decided that was a lot of extra driving just for some cliff dwellings, so this was perfect! We all had a great time exploring all the different rooms and marveling at the architecture and history of a simpler time. The museum part of the gift shop had some really interesting photos and history as well, so if you go there, make sure to spend a few minutes inside. After the obligatory photo by the teepees, we headed to Edelweiss for dinner, a German restaurant Sonny and Courtney really like. Since our family lived in Germany when we were growing up, they thought we would enjoy it, and they were right! My sweet college friend, Michelle, and her boys were able to join us, which made it extra special. The food was authentic and amazing, and our boys all became fast friends. It was a great ending to a wonderful day!

Day 5: USAFA, Teen hike, Laundry & Packing, Birthday Dinner

Our last day in Colorado was a special treat.  Both my dad and Sonny graduated from the Air Force Academy, and my dad taught there for a few years when I was a child, so it was definitely something I wanted our kids to experience. Courtney’s father, Gary, was one of my dad’s best friends when they were at the Academy together and while we were growing up, so it was a real treat to have him give us a tour. He was able to show us the chapel, which is soon to be renovated, as well as various other buildings around campus. Gary shared details and stories of all the planes scattered around the quad; the kids favorite story was about the hot-shot pilot who flew his plane over the quad, hitting the speed of sound just a smidge too early, causing ALL THE GLASS on the windows to suck in and then shatter outwards onto everyone marching to the Mess Hall! While they all enjoyed the tour, I’m not sure they realize yet what a privilege it was to have a former astronaut for a tour guide… to him, he’s just their “Uncle Snake”/“Grandpa”!  

While the rest of us headed home to do laundry and pack, the teens headed out for a fun afternoon together, climbing some big rock (this turned out to be a theme of our trip!) and seeing where Carson and Jess spend their days. I know they treasure the chance to reconnect with their friends!

Sonny and Courtney were kind enough to host all of us at their house that night for dinner, and we were excited to be together to celebrate Courtney’s and Gary’s birthdays. We had a fantastic time and soaked up every minute of being together! Unfortunately, Joe & Erin’s youngest son, Garrett, was at camp for the week, so our boys missed out on seeing their buddy. We’ll make sure they catch up next time! Overall, our time in Colorado was everything we had hoped, and our Western Adventure was off to a great start!

STAY TUNED FOR PART 3… (if you’re lucky, it will be out by Christmas! LOL!)

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