Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Buena Vista Weekend Getaway

Matt and I celebrated Memorial Day weekend with a mini-mountain escape in a little cabin in Buena Vista. We toyed with the idea of camping, but with spring nighttime temperatures still dipping below freezing in the mountains, we opted for a small, family-run B&B called Sagewood Cabins a few miles outside of the town. Besides, we were celebrating our one-year anniversary (albeit a few months late…) and the cabin was freaking adorable. After a day hike around the Clear Creek Reservoir area on Saturday, we had a fire roaring and steaks on the grill: perfection.

Matt grilling outside the cabin

Grounds at Sagewood Cabins

The Clear Creek Reservoir is a beautiful area to explore, dotted with ghost towns and historical landmarks. After a very chilly creek crossing, Matt and I made our way up a trail to a beautiful picnic spot.

Clear Creek Reservoir

On Sunday, we decided on a longer day hike: Kroenke Lake. This trail is a longer hike up to the lake that is described as “paw friendly”…a perfect trip for Gracie. The hike was a scenic route through the evergreens and aspens up to the lake. This is an up and back route that’s four miles each way. When making your way up, always choose the West fork in the trail. Portions of the trail follow the river, so there are a few log bridges to cross. None are too challenging; however, slip-ups would cause VERY chilly toes (see the frigid bridge below). Gracie was a champ in crossing the logs (a big brave dog after her first scary experience crossing the log jam at Snowmass Lake).

Log Bridge

Kroenke Lake is a scenic alpine lake in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. Over Memorial Day weekend, the temperatures were still relatively chilly and the lake was very windy. We built a small fire on an existing fire pit to warm up while we ate our lunch. Matt brought his fishing gear to the lake, but we decided to head back down the mountain to warm up instead of trying our luck at the lake. We had beautiful views with early spring wildflowers blooming, but it was just a bit too chilly to stick around for too long.
Kroenke Lake

After making it back to Buena Vista, we indulged in two milkshakes and a large order of green chili cheese fries from a local burger joint…a perfect reward at the end of our hike. I discovered green chili after moving to Denver and now can’t get enough of it! We soaked our sore muscles in the Mt. Princeton hot springs for a bit and then hit the town for dinner. The hot springs were not my favorite part of the trip. If I return, I will probably check out Cottonwood or one of the different venues (Mt. Princeton was a bit too “public bath”…man-made pools with too many people sitting in bath water together).

 Buena Vista has multiple local dining options, and we chose a restaurant called The Asian Palate. The dinner was a home run: soup with flavorful broth, inventive sushi roll, and a laaarge entrée of fresh and tasty ingredients. We returned to our cabin and promptly conked out. The long weekend provided a perfect mini-break, and we returned to Denver on Monday slightly sore but happy and well-fed.

A happy Gracie on the ride home

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blood, Sweat, and Mulch: My Backyard Sanctuary

The early springtime sun, the sizzle of hot dogs at a Rockies game, pear trees blossoming across the city, the smell of steak on the grill: all serve as constant reminders that I have a heck of a lot of work to do in my backyard. Springtime came early in Denver this year, bringing on a new season of household projects.

My respite from home improvements was wonderful but brief. I had always heard the cliché that a house is a never-ending project, and I am now getting a strong inkling that there must be truth in the adage. I completed a whirlwind of major interior projects on the mouse house from October to February, following a rapid and enviable construction schedule. After wrapping up these major projects, I was reeling from the deluge of decisions and trips to Home Depot. I spent February and March puttering around the house, blissfully ignoring light bulbs that dared to go out.

The time has come again to roll up my sleeves and start making some changes. Over the past month or so, I have tackled the back yard. My home is located in a relatively “urban” area, so having a little oasis and outdoor space to myself is a true blessing. There is still work to be done, but the former pile of leaves and debris behind my house has transformed into my own little sanctuary. Here’s a little window into the process:

Before: Here are some photos of the back yard before anything was touched. Note the ginormous sumac tree right next to the pond that smells like poop (I mean, you can’t tell it smells like poop from the picture…but trust me…it really does). There was also another deck in the side part of my yard you can see in these photos. It was in far worse shape than the main deck and also covering my sewer line that needed repair.



Power wash and Stain Weekend: My lovely boyfriend, Matt, power washed the deck for me while I was at work. The difference was amazing: it was a whole new color! We spent a weekend staining the fence and used Restore from Home Depot on the deck. The wood on my deck was very old and splintery. Realistically, I should have ripped it out to replace it entirely, but Restore covers it with a composite-like coating that gives me a brand new deck! 

Gravel and Mulch Weekend: Spent one day prepping for the gravel and mulch. You can read about my trip to pick up the gravel here. We laid weed block fabric and edged out the mulch beds. My aim for the yard was to be a low-maintenance but still “green” space. There’s not really enough room for a grass yard, so the gravel creates a great area to hang out that takes no work to maintain.



Planting Party: I bribed a few friends with pizza and beer to come over this week and help me plant. I ordered a “garden in a boxpackage of plants through the conservation center. They put together packages of native plants that fare well in Denver’s high desert atmosphere. Plus for each purchase, you get a $25 rebate from Denver Water because the plants require a minimal amount of watering.

Fiesta: After sprucing up the back, I had my first official backyard fiesta…success!

Each small victory along the way is a celebration in itself, but it's great to have a somewhat "finished" project to grill burgers in!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gravel Yard

The car crunches to a halt on the gravel path, and I duck as the sharp metal edging slides off the seat and narrowly misses my knees. The 10 feet of edging is arcing through the back of my car, serending us with a symphony of warbling melodies over every bump.
Mountains and mountains of rock, sand, and lumber stretch over an expanse of open desert. We get out of the car and wander through the walkways of the industrial Giza, with pyramids of red breeze gravel, recycled asphalt, and beach pebbles welcoming us to the maze of raw materials.
I pull out my list to get my bearings: 3 tons of pea gravel, 2 yards of mulch, 3 10-foot railroad ties, 8 flagstone steppers. OK. Matt and I join the landscapers and contracters examining the options.

Pyramids of Gravel

Two contracters dismount their Ford F-350 super-duty and amble towards the back of the dusty lot,
“The ¾” will provide optimal drainage and maintain its spread on the footpath.”
“Yes but you know that tastes have been trending toward the 1 ½” red rock for side beds, we could hit two birds with one stone if we combine them.” A cacophany of industrial grinding, scraping and beeping drown out the rest of their conversation.
Matt looks at me with a raised eyebrow, “What do you think?” I size up the tri-colored pea gravel in front of us. “This works…the colors are pretty.” One decision down.

Home improvement projects are long series of decisions.  I bought my first home this fall and dove head first into the wonderful world of renovation. I was a little ambitious in my choice of a bank-owned fixer upper. This was a fixer-upper in the most extreme sense of the term: no water, no electric, no kitchen, no roof…the list, unfortunately, goes on. I worked through the interior renovations one decision at a time: cabinet style, towel rack, paint color, bathrom tile. One small victory after another.

Springtime brings blooming flowers, barbeque season, and landscaping projects. We wander down the aisles of flagstone steppers. Large signs indicated where each stepper was from and why it was so significantly different that the ones surrounding it…though they still appear identical to me. We walk past Colorado Red, Arkansas Buff, Quartzide, Tumbled Red, Siloam Stone, and Palamino Gold. I needed 8 flagstone steppers to match the ones I inherited with the yard. I dug a small one out to bring with me to compare colors. I left it on my coffee table so I wouldn’t forget to bring it when we headed out to Northglenn, which, of course, I breezed by on my way out the door leaving it as a sandy paperweight in my living room.
“That’s it!” I jumped at Matt’s exclaimation. We have our winner: Penssylvania Blue Flagstone.

After working through our list, we head towards the lonely trailer in the middle of the dusty yard to check out. I join the line behind a queue of men whose boots make it clear that this isn’t their first rodeo. The girl behind the counter waves me over, and I bumble through my order. I may not get all the terms right, but there will be a truck dumping a whole lot of gravel in my alley tomorrow morning.  I have fought and won another battle of endless options. The thin metal edging in the car sings a happy and hopeful tune as we head back home ready for the next challenge.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Machu Picchu Kind of Morning

If you’re making the trek to Machu Picchu, be sure to set your alarm clock early. The sun breaking through the morning fog of the lost city of the Incas is not an experience to be missed!

To make the morning hike to Machu Picchu, resting at 7,970 feet above sea level, make your start a few hours before dawn. Strap on your walking shoes and grab a head-lamp: the climb up from nearby town Aguas Calientes is long and winding.

Your hike up the mountain will be rewarded with the still dawn rising onto the ancient grounds of Machu Picchu. Spend the morning wandering around the misty labyrinth of this UNESCO World Heritage site as the morning fog slowly dissipates. There’s no better place than this to settle in for a breakfast picnic, sharing the the fields throughout the site with llamas munching on the grass.

Fog burning off of Machu Picchu, with Huayna Picchu in the distance

There are certified and informed guides available to walk you through the history of the lost city. I would highly recommend taking a guided tour around the city to learn about the colorful stories of the site. I had a new appreciation for the effort required to transport the stones needed to build the city after my morning climb!

If you’re an adventurous type, you should tackle the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu, called Huayna Picchu. Head over to the gates early to get a pass to climb or purchase tickets beforehand. Only 400 visitors are allowed to make the climb daily to preserve the area’s structures.

Climbing a few of the final stairs to the top

The climb up is not for the timid: Huayna Picchu looms over Machu Picchu promising bursting lungs and slippery stones. You will wind your way up steep hills and weathered stairways to reach the peak at 8,922 feet, almost a thousand feet higher than Machu Picchu. The stairs are narrow and steep—many times barely wide enough for one person to navigate! In many areas a steel cable will help you steady your trip up, so hold on tight! The view from the top is unparalleled: you can see all of Machu Picchu stretching below you and down into the sloping, lush, valleys surrounding the site.

Machu Picchu is an often-visited destination, but you will understand what draws people from around the world once you step foot on its grounds. It will transport you to a different time and different world. Just remember to bring reliable shoes!