We awoke on Sunday morning with our bags packed and ready to trek into the mountains (and by trek, I mean drive). E, A, AK, AB and I all piled into the van and went on one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever been on. Ascending into the mountains, I saw sharp cliffs, green pines, and soaring birds of prey.
Unfortunately we also saw the wreckage from the 2013 Colorado Floods. Homes that sat on the river had been gutted by the rising waters. Riverbeds were dry, and once-grassy yards were dead. I saw a couch literally dangling out from the bottom of a home whose floors had been ripped out. Very sad to see. It makes you grateful for the workers who are striving to get things back to normal.
Our arrival to Estes Park was a blustery one. The temperature was actually quite pleasant – low 60s – but you wouldn’t know it because of the chilly wind! After having a lovely mountain-y brunch at a local restaurant, AB, AK and I went straight Sombrero Ranches to ride horses in the foothills. We were signed up for a two-hour horseback tour of the foothills of the mountains. I love riding horses, so I was very excited! My horse’s name was Pecas (pee-cus). He was very sweet, but turned out to be a bit of a rebel!
We spent the next two hours bouncing in between awe and fear. The views were beyond gorgeous. It was so quiet; all we could hear was the sound of the wind and our tour guide yelling back to check on us (“How you doin’ back there, Chicago?”). It’s a good thing he was doing that, because sometimes things got pretty scary! Our horses were working so hard to climb up and down these rocky, muddy, snowy, uneven hills. I had to learn to trust Pecas; he’s done this a billion times before! Pecas also decided to canter a few times during our tour. If my equestrian cousin hadn’t taught me how to control a horse, I’d probably be lost in the mountains right now. It was all worth it, though, for those views.
Once we were back on “flat” ground and trying to regain our own footing (isn’t it funny how much your legs hurt after riding a horse? I find it so ironic that you were basically just sitting the whole time!) we went to our lodging for the evening, The Stanley Hotel. This was a wonderful gift from E and A. It was even more beautiful than in the photos. Not to mention it has a cool back-story: it’s where Stephen King got the idea for The Shining! The movie actually plays 24 hours a day on channel 42. Hilarious!
We strolled around the downtown area for a while before returning to the hotel for a dinner of Prosecco, pizza, and a fruit and cheese plate. Then we had an appropriate ghost tour of the grounds. Now, I’m not necessarily a believer in ghosts, but I actually had a ghost experience on the tour! Our tour guide had us sit in a basement room to wait for a little girl ghost named Lucy to arrive. She liked to close doors, which did happen, but that’s questionable “ghost” activity. She also would sometimes take candy out of peoples’ hands. Our tour guide gave us Dum Dum suckers, which he told us to balance sucker-down on our palms while holding our wrist to stabilize it. And…nothing happened. At the end of the tour, we were in the foundation of the hotel (it was built right on top of the rocks in the early 1900s) wandering around in the dark. I felt the sucker still in my pocket, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny to try that again here?” I meant it more so as a joke with my friends. But then, the sucker twisted 360 degrees around in my hand, with the stick up in the air, pointed at me, and then fell off of my hand. I yelled some expletive (sorry kids), the tour guide turned the lights on, and a woman snapped a picture of me. She came over to me and said, “I don’t want to freak you out, but…” Her photo showed me with the sucker in my hand and an Orb (a spherical light that paranormal experts claim is a spirit) right next to me. The tour guide came to look and said, “This is really cool.” So I took that as validation for my ghost experience! I still have the Dum Dum. Wish I would have asked that lady to email me the photo!
Anyways, after our experience, AB, AK and I wanted to go to their famous hotel whiskey bar (a Dumb & Dumber scene was filmed there, too!). I was excited before I started to feel suddenly nauseous. We made it to the bar, where I ordered a Dark & Stormy with the hope that the ginger beer would calm my stomach. But to no avail: I had to run back to our hotel room to yak and crawl into bed. Apparently I am susceptible to altitude sickness! I was trying to stay hydrated, but from what I researched, a lot of it is simply passed down from your parents. I later found out that my dad has a serious weakness when it comes to high altitudes, too. Thanks, dad!
The next morning we had to get ready to trek back down the mountain. The night before, the bartender encouraged me to take my drink upstairs for when I felt better. I awoke to it sitting on the windowsill. It was so sad! We couldn’t leave, of course, without going up a little higher in the mountains first. We ascended to nearly 9,000 feet, looking over what seemed like eons of snowy, green-speckled peaks. Watching the wind blow snow over the caps was my favorite part. We also saw a pack of elk casually grazing by the road, which was strangely magical!
Despite my brief mountain-induced illness, I really loved being in Estes Park and Fort Collins. Everything was so new to me. The air was like taking a fresh drink of water, the people were down-to-earth, the beer was tasty (and dangerous), and the terrain always had me staring. Someday I’d like to go back, maybe to Pikes Peak. I’ll just have to remember to bring my Dramamine next time!
Also, a side note: here’s a funny story about Jim Carrey’s ghost experience while staying at The Stanley Hotel (he only lasted three hours!).