Mile High Christmas: Colorado – 11/12/2019 to 07/01/2020

Looking out the plane window the clouds finally break, below an endless stretch of plains filled with crop circles. Small clusters of cities dot the way until the plains meet the great majestic Rocky Mountains. The plane descends further and the white peaks of Denver International Airport come into view and no matter how many times I fly into D.I.A or the length of time that passes between, the feeling I get seeing this sight is always the same. A wave of nostalgia, comfort, and gratitude to have grown up somewhere so beautiful. It feels like home. I’m through the roof with happiness that I get to share this with Liam for the second of many times to come. Especially since we’re here for the holidays! Family, friends, and festive food and scenery.

Views of the Rocky Mountains from the sky 

The vast majority of the time we were in Colorado was spent enjoying quality time with family. It was such a joy to see everyone again. To give everyone a hug and see everyone sat across the table as we shared our travel experiences and catch up on all the small and big things that happened over the past year, made all of our experiences even more special. To make matters even sweeter Nicole, my best friend for the past almost twenty years came home to Colorado for the holidays as well. She was able to stay with my family over Christmas and then Liam and I went to spend a second Christmas with Nicole’s family, who have been like family to me for as long as I can remember. Double family Christmas, it was perfect, a dream holiday experience!

We were honestly so busy just enjoying the holidays that we hardly managed to take any pictures at all! Here’s a quick snap of the lovely Christmas feast Nic’s sister Taren made for Christmas.

One of the things I was really excited to show Liam during our time experiencing a Colorado winter was the Denver Zoo Lights. Every year during Christmas time the zoo opens up at night and decks out the entire grounds in festive Christmas lights! A rainbow of colors speckled across the trees and lights creating moving shapes of the animals who call the zoo home. It’s always a very chilly night but just bundle up and let those lights warm your heart… and maybe a mug of hot chocolate as well because that always helps! Since it’s at night you don’t always get to see all of the animals since many of them are asleep, but this time we were lucky and we got to see giraffes, elephants, hippos and, best of all, the tigers come out at night for a little nighttime treat. We were so close, we could see their huge paws and sharp teeth tear into their massive chunks of meat while looking so majestic. It was the best. There’s also the reptile room filled with tropical plants and slithering things, the perfect break to warm up a bit from the cold.

Bright pink flamingos dipping their heads in the bright light water 

Visiting a mountain town in Colorado during the winter was another must. We decided to stay a bit closer and just take a day trip up to Estes Park. The winding drive into the mountains was so beautiful, especially with the snow-covered hills and frosty rivers below. We parked the car and went for a long walk around the main strip of Estes, popping into small shops and having a look around. We quickly discovered that Colorado mountain towns were so much like British seaside towns. There’s always a sweets shop, ice cream store, souvenir place, and an art gallery (the only difference being paintings of mountains and deer or paintings of the sea and some boats). It was a great little walk experiencing the charm of Estes. We popped into a pub and had a pint of a local stout before heading back out and grabbing an infamous dish for lunch that Liam has been wanting to try since hearing about it.

I will always be grateful that I was able to grow up in such a beautiful state!

You might’ve already guessed it if you’re from Colorado, we were on the hunt for some rocky mountain oysters! In all my time living here, I have never tried them, or even considered trying them. I knew they were out there but it always remained one of those “I can’t believe people eat that” kind of things. We ordered the dish along with a French dip and some peppermint stout (which was so good) and then they arrived. Thinly sliced and deep-fried bull testicles. With a dip, of course. I picked one up and closely examined it before dipping it and willing myself to take a bite. Turns out, if you deep fry anything it’s going to taste alright! And if you don’t think about what the meat really is it’s better than alright, but I guess the same could be said about hot dogs and chicken nuggets and let’s be real, they’re great.

Crispy testies 

There was one more key stop we were making on our day trip up to Estes and that was a visit to the Stanley Hotel to do their historical and spooky tour. The Stanley Hotel is a beautiful icon of the town, and while it’s not as old as most things in England, it’s a wonderful historical site that documents the western history of the USA. We actually learned on the tour that the land the hotel sits on was owned by an English noble who came out there and stayed until he literally hunted all of the animals in the area and then decided to sell; typical. The Stanley’s bought the land and built this amazing place to entertain their friends from the east coast during the summer months. Walking through the hotel on the tour you can tell what an amazing place it would’ve been to experience during its hey-day. Wake up, go out on horseback, play some tennis, socialize over cards and coffee. Nice. After they died it fell into a state of disarray and eventually was restored into the beautiful hotel you see today. Today it’s probably best known for inspiring Stephen King’s novel The Shining. King and his family stayed here and, during his stay, he felt there were so many untold stories of spirits still at this place that he stayed up all night and wrote most of the book. You can see his inspiration in every room; from the bar where you expect to see Jack Nicholson having a drink, to the carpeted halls where you think two creepy twins will sneak up on you. It was such a fun tour and the place has so much history with a bit of a haunted vibe throughout. Absolutely worth a visit even if it’s just for the tour!

An absolute landmark for Estes Park

Another must-do on our trip back home to Colorado was a visit to Celestial Seasonings in Boulder. Home to so many of my absolute favourite teas! And seeing how Liam fits the British stereotype of being a fanatic tea drinker we had to go. My mom and sister were able to come along which made it even more special as it’s a place we’ve been many times before. We jumped in on one of their aromatic tours and learnt more about this fantastic company that specializes in herbal teas and visited their famously strong and wonderful peppermint room where they store all of their mint leaves. If you have any kind of stuffy nose you can guarantee that it’ll be clear by the time you leave! It was the perfect experience complete with plenty of time perusing the great gift shop and sampling dozens of tea.

Liam was our star photographer for our picture with the Sleepy Time bear! A Dechant Carvajal household staple

As with every visit back to Colorado I always feel the pull to go and visit Fort Collins. So one afternoon Nicole, Liam, and I headed out to spend the day wandering the iconic old town and of course visiting a few of fort Collins best-known breweries. After a delicious burger and some light shopping in the old town we went over to Odell’s to experience their tour and of course have a few beers. We met up with Mikayla, Nicole’s old roommate and friend from university and had a chance to catch up and share some laughs. We decided to carry on with our day and check out New Belgium and see what’s changed over these last few years, aside from their sellout to Kirin. It was bigger and more crowded than ever, but they still had a few lovely beers on tap. We grabbed some drinks and sat down to an afternoon of fun board games and snacks. The final stop for the day was meeting up with our awesome friend Sam from back home and playing some trivia. We didn’t manage to win but it was entertaining as ever. After a few more hours spent catching up, we all went our separate ways. It was the perfect Fort Collins day and I hope we get the chance to do it again someday.

Forever one of my favourite bits of street art in Fort Collins 

We decided to avoid the high prices and crowds for New Year’s Eve and instead have a fabulous evening in with my family. We played games, ate lots of snacks and drank some really out there sparkling wine from Georgia (the country not the state). It was the best way to ring in this new decade. Bring on 2020!

Quirky, fun and adventurous. Exactly how I want the 2020’s to be

Despite my best efforts to convince Nicole to stow away in our luggage and come back to England with us, she had to head back to Portland to start her exciting new job. Before heading off the airport though we decided to have one last day trip up to the beautiful Colorado town of Golden. First on the list was completing a Coors brewery tour. The place is an absolute giant in the world of beer making. With over 60 copper kettles it is the largest single-site for brewing beer in the world. Seeing that alone was worth the price of a self-guided tour. At the end, you reach the bar where each person gets three eight-ounce pours of one of their beers and before you head out the door you also get a lovely commemorative beer mug.

An incredibly massive operation 

If you read our Hawaii post you’ll know how deeply Liam and I both fell in love with Kono’s tender kalua pork sandwich. Well, we found that sandwich on a BuzzFeed list mentioning the most iconic sandwich for every state. Seeing how good it was in Hawaii we decided to give Colorado’s pick a go and grab the Fools Gold at Nicks Cafe. Back in Elvis’s hey-day, he had a craving for a sandwich made for him in Denver; a white sub filled with peanut butter, grape jelly, and a TON of bacon. He was in Vegas at the time so he just hopped on his private jet with a few friends and flew out to get that sandwich he was dreaming of and who made that famous sandwich? Nick of Nick’s Cafe. An unassuming little place from the outside, but you step inside and the walls are filled with Elvis memorabilia, friendly faces and a warm welcome to anyone who comes through the door. We had the famous sandwich which was of course, delicious – you really can’t go wrong with that combo! And genuinely the best Gyro I’ve had outside of Greece. And who made our food other than Nick himself, kind and charismatic, he came out to check on us twice and gave us some leftover gyro meat to go. The man is genuinely so caring about the food he serves and his history (as well as his Greek heritage, hence the fantastic gyro!). It was a delicious and incredibly touching experience. You don’t see customer service like that every day. Liam and I both look forward to the day we can go back and have seconds.

Once again ate all of our food way too fast! Here’s a picture of Elvis who was probably every bit as happy after he ate his Fool’s Gold sandwich 

We had a bit more time before dropping of Nicole so we stopped at New Terrain Brewery, a relatively new place in Golden that has an absolutely beautiful space. Tall windows, lots of wood and some amazing beer! I really couldn’t have asked for more on our last day with Nicole before she headed out to go make Oregon an even better place. We headed up to Golden once more to have dinner with my amazing mentor, Heather from my time at City Year and her husband Jordan. Its always so wonderful to be able to have people in your life who you can catch up with no matter how much time has past. Golden really is a great place to be.

Such a pretty flight holder

Our last family outing before Liam and I headed to the east coast was to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Somewhere that’s only a 35-minute drive from the farm but somehow I had never gone to growing up. It’s a remarkably special area for conservation. The rolling prairie lands are filled with native flora and fauna, including the ever majestic Bison which Liam was beyond excited to see (and so was I, especially after we all watched a few episodes of Centennial and I was feeling particularly western). It makes me so happy to know that there are protected areas like this where we can experience a small sliver of what things used to look like, open and wild with the dramatic rocky mountains behind it all. America really is beautiful.

Wild Wild West 

Saying goodbye to my family is always the hardest part. This holiday season was special to me beyond words, family and friends and being able to share it all with Liam was the cherry on top. It was a teary goodbye as they tend to always be with me, but I know the love and support back at home in Colorado will always transcend any distance and always having the next trip on the horizon gives me loads to look forward to. Until next time Colorado. 

I’ve been Emily Colorado and you can check me out on Instagram

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Our impromptu Christmas card