Let me first say: I realize it takes me 7 million years to blog about my trips. Maybe it takes me that long to fully absorb the beauty and importance of my time away from home. Or maybe I literally find it difficult to motivate myself to brush my teeth some days, so writing a blog post can sometimes seem daunting. So there’s also that. Let’s just say, I’m very happy my good friend, Kate keeps harassing me to put this post up. It’s due to her relentless reminders that I’m writing this and I’m so glad. I love being able to look back on these trips on the inter webs. Maybe one day my children will discover these hipster retro things called websites and they’ll be able to see that long ago, their mom was cool and went on solo adventures to remind herself she was a strong, independent lady. And it did her good.
My most recent solo independent lady adventure was in September 2017 in Colorado, USA. I spent a week in Colorado Springs for work (and was luckily able to deal with a small bout of altitude sickness) and when the show was done, I rented a car and hit the open road, listening to Fleetwood Mac, heading towards Estes Park.
Estes Park is an adorable mountain town just outside the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s full of log cabins, woodland themes and inexplicably, saltwater taffy. As soon as you arrive in town, the first thing you notice is the incredible vistas surrounding you in every direction. Everywhere you look, there’s another spectacular horizon.
My first stop was Misty Mountain Lodge where I would be staying for the next week. Misty Mountain was very affordable and really close to downtown, so I could easily explore the town by walking, without having to worry about driving and parking everywhere. The owners, Peter and Ellen were so sweet and their family hosted nightly campfires with good conversation and smores which was great because I never really felt alone. My suite at the lodge included a living room with a tv and fireplace, a full kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. It was great because I could make my own breakfasts and lunches which kept the trip pretty affordable. It was also so comfy and cozy and I loved having my own fireplace which I used frequently for its ambience even though the weather still felt like summer most days.
After I unpacked a few things, I started to make my way towards The Stanley Hotel for dinner. Of all the places I had planned to visit on my trip, I was most excited for The Stanley Hotel. This is where Stephen King had stayed during an unexpected snow storm and was inspired by the hotel to write his book, “The Shining”. It’s gorgeous and full of history and spooky stories and I made sure my first meal in Estes Park would be there.
I had booked a spot at “Table: A Culinary Journey” which is a weekly event at The Stanley where different Colorado chefs take turns preparing the evening’s meal for a select group of individuals all sitting at one big farmhouse table. The night I attended, the theme was “Whiskey Pairings” (not coincidentally, the Long’s Peak Scottish and Highland Festival would begin the next day down the street) so I thought it best to walk to the hotel, considering I’d be asked to sip whiskey all night. Plus, it was a great way to look around the town for the first time. So I made my way through the town and up the hill towards the hotel. At some point the road became more like a 2 lane country highway and the sidewalks disappeared. I noted this for next time, but as traffic was virtually non existent it didn’t bother me too much. I arrived at the Stanley Hotel and was immediately handed a fantastic whiskey cocktail and introduced to my fellow diners. The dinner itself was only Ok, considering it was supposed to be mind blowing, and I’m not a big whiskey fan to begin with so the whiskey tasting itself was not my favourite, but dessert was incredible and I sat next to a young couple who were hiking through the park and I had a great time. I made my way to the lobby and booked BOTH the historical tour for the next day and the ghost tour for the evening after. Then I asked the woman behind the desk for the number of a local taxi company to make my way home. She stared at me blankly for a few seconds and finally said “I don’t even know if this town has a taxi…”. The hotel shuttle had stopped its rounds an hour earlier and after finally acquiring the number of “the taxi driver in town”, he told me he wouldn’t be able to make it to The Stanley for another 2 hours as he had customers booked up until then. By now it was pitch black along the highway with no sidewalk from whence I came and I sat next to the giant, haunted fireplace for about 20 minutes trying to think of a plan. Finally, I called Peter at the Misty Mountain Lodge and he told me he and his son would come to pick me up in 10 minutes. That first night, when I saw their white minivan approaching through the mist like a knight in shining armour, I knew I was not truly alone on this journey and if I really needed someone, I knew who to call. As a solo lady traveller in a new place, I have to tell you, that’s one of the best feelings you can have.
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of chickens outside my bedroom window; an unexpected but not unwelcome surprise (we were downtown after all). I got dressed, had some breakfast and head out for the day. This weekend, Estes Park was host to some 80,000 people celebrating the Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival. I hadn’t realized I would be around for the festivities, but as a former Highland Dancer and current Cameron clan member I found it difficult to resist the call of the bagpipes. I watched the parade make its way down the main strip, waving at the adorable pale children (they’re just like me!) and shouting embarrassingly loud as the Cameron troupe marched by. Before I caught the shuttle to the Fairgrounds for the rest of the festivities, I stopped in a lovely coffee shop called Kind Coffee which would become one of my most frequent stops throughout the trip. It sits right beside the the Big Thompson River which flows directly through the middle of town, so you can sit and drink your coffee and listen to the water trickle by. They also have a fun selection of flavoured lattes and other beverages, all seasonally named after the Rocky Mountain terrain. Once I had my coffee, I set off and spent the day listening to bands play Bagpipes and Didjereedoo, walked through the tents selling all manner of Scottish and Highland wares, picked up a few Cameron tartaned gifts, said hello to a couple distant relatives and started back home before the Jousting really got going.
That evening, it was back to the Stanley for the historical tour. I have to tell you, I’m not really one for tours. It’s not really my jam, but I LOVE Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It’s one of my favourite movies of all time and I thought I’d enjoy hearing the history behind the hotel that inspired the story. My tour guide’s name was Andy or “Voodrew” and he did a fantastic job telling us about the history but also making us laugh and keeping us from getting bored (which I kind of expected). There was a lot about the various ghosts that haunt the hotel – so much so that I wondered what the ghost tour the next day was going to be like….After the tour, I got a table at Cascades Restaurant, inside The Stanley. I ordered a delicious steak and beet salad and on the recommendation of my server, I tried a bourbon cocktail called “Lucky Lucy” named after one of the ghosts that haunts The Stanley. The Lucky Lucy is the best cocktail I have ever had in my life. Cascades has the largest whiskey collection in Colorado with over 1,200 whiskeys so I guess it’s not surprising they’ve got their bourbon game down to an art but this cocktail seduced me back to the hotel on several occasions afterwards…like a literal spirit calling to me in the night…
Want to read about what happened next? I’ll give you a hint: I get haunted…by Southern tourists! Read all about it in: Colorado Part 2
Want to skip ahead to the end like a crazy person? Go ahead: Colorado Part 3