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Live, Play, Travel

A Ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad

November 30, 2015
santatrain

The itty bitty town of Georgetown, Colorado, is right on I-70 as you enter the mountains from the east. If you’ve taken a trip from Denver to the high country there’s a really good chance that you’ve driven past idyllic little Georgetown. Maybe you’ve stopped for gas or coffee. Perhaps you drove over Guanella Pass or used it to access the trail up Mt. Bierstadt. But have you ever taken a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad? Because you really should.

Our Little Dude loves trains and I had been planning on taking him on a ride for a while. On our way up to the mountains for Thanksgiving we noticed the sign for their Christmas train ride with Santa. We mentioned it to my parents and the next thing I knew, we had tickets for the five of us Saturday evening. Thanks, mom and dad!

I had a feeling that this would be really cool … and it lived up to the hype. The ride would have been worth the price of admission even without all the Christmas festivities! Riding an old train through the snow covered Colorado mountains? It’s pretty great. Throw in Santa, Christmas lights, and some adult beverages and you’ve got the trappings of a pretty perfect mountain adventure that is fun for even the tiniest and least daring among us.

Watching for Santa!

Our seats were in the “parlor car” which was completely enclosed and therefore nice and warm. Snacks and non-alcholic drinks were provided and reasonably priced adult beverages (including craft beer and winter warmers) were available. The ride was around an hour long and passed light displays, old steam engines, rushing rivers, and snow-covered pines.

The highlight for the Little Dude was probably when Santa came by and asked what he wanted for Christmas (a tow-truck, apparently). This wasn’t just a quick stop to say hello. Santa actually sat down with us for a while and chatted up everyone in our group. Homeboy was in heaven.

Back at the station there were carolers, free hot chocolate, and some guys roasting chestnuts over a fire. Is there anything that says Christmas more than that? I’m not sure that there is.

If you go: Tickets can be purchased in advance through the Georgetown Loop Railroad‘s website. While the train itself was nice and warm (at least in the parlor car!), remember that Georgetown sits at 8,500 feet above sea level – the air outside will almost certainly be chilly. A lot of people had blankets, which seemed like a pretty good idea. This is a great way to break up the drive between the mountains and the Front Range but keep in mind that winter ski traffic along I-70 can be heinous so be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get to Georgetown!

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

 

Live, Play, Travel

How to do Nothing in Crested Butte (And Still Have a Really Good Time)

September 8, 2015
CBstars

You know those people who hate not having plans? The ones who can’t deal with not knowing what is going to happen or where they will be sleeping that night? I am not one of those people.

Our initial plans for Labor Day weekend, hatched just a few days before, involved heading in the general direction of Leadville. And then we realized just how bad I-70 traffic was going to be and quickly changed our minds.. We decided to stay far away from I-70 and drive up Highway 285 for a while. We thought maybe we’d camp at Kenosha or Cottonwood Pass. I figured we’d figure it out as we went.

When we got to Kenosha on Saturday morning, everyone in the car was asleep and rain looked imminent so I decided to just keep driving. By the time we arrived at Cottonwood we were in a downpour and the world had turned to mud.

So, again, I just kept driving.

A few hours later we rolled into Crested Butte. It wasn’t really an accident.

Crested Butte is my favorite place in all of Colorado, and that’s saying something because it has some pretty stiff competition. The mountains? The town? The trails ? They’re the best around as far as I’m concerned.. The 4.5 hour drive means that we don’t get out there nearly enough … but it also makes it feel pretty special when we finally do.While the sky was dark and cloudy, the roads in Crested Butte were dry. We tossed aside the idea of finding a hotel for the night (setting up a tent in the rain with a kid and two big dogs? Not fun.) and headed up Kebler Pass in search of a place to camp. We found a nice campsite in the meadows above Lake Irwin, cooked some dinner, started a fire, broke out the whiskey and wine, and hunkered down for the night.

Things stayed blissfully dry until we climbed into our tent to go to sleep. And then the skies opened up.

It rained all night and into the next morning and by the time we rolled out of our sleeping bags, the ground was soaked and muddy. I saw the clouds building again over the mountains and started questioning my plans of riding the 401 trail that day. Maybe tomorrow, I thought.

With no big rides or hikes on the horizon we did the only thing there was to do: we hung out. We made breakfast and drank coffee and read books and watched the kid ride endless laps around the campsite on his Strider. We watched as the weather continuously changed it’s plans (rainy! sunny! rainy! sunny!) and hid in the tent when the sky opened up. I went for a little hike with the dogs (still hobbling around on a broken toe …) but other than that, there was no activity to speak of.

This isn’t how we usually do things but, man, it was nice.

The second evening was more of the same. A campfire under clear skies followed by dumping rain all night long. The five of us stayed warm in our little four-person tent despite the fact that the temperatures had to be hovering near freezing. When the sun came up, we decided to throw in the towel and go grab some breakfast.

We packed up the car, hit up Camp 4 Coffee for bagels and americanos, and hit the road. We mused about how, despite our plans being thwarted by the weather, this was one of the best camping trips ever. The kid had a blast and was a joy to be around all weekend long. The dogs were tired and happy. My husband and I were exhausted but content. Getting to slow down and just chill for a while? It might have been just what this family needed after a long, hectic summer.

Being so close to some of my favorite trails on the planet without getting to set foot on them was a bit of a bummer but I can’t call this weekend anything but a success. Spending time in one of my favorite places with two of my favorite people and the two best dogs that a girl could ask for? It will never be anything less than awesome.

I hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend!

If you go: 

Kebler Pass begins right on the edge of the town of Crested Butte and has some of the best dispersed camping in Colorado, as far as I’m concerned. There are loads of gorgeous spots up the road from the Lake Irwin campground and even on this busy holiday weekend, plenty were available. We didn’t have our paddleboards with us but when I saw all the people paddling around on Lake Irwin, I sure wished we did! Take lots of firewood with you – the stores in town seem to run out on busy weekends. We’ve learned this the hard way in the past! Crested Butte has some of the best mountain biking in the state – but that’s a topic for another post (one that’s not about doing nothing at all!).

Live, Play

Finding Balance: Kids, Nature, and Technology

July 22, 2015
https://youtu.be/is5W6GxAI3c

A powerful video from the folks at Nature Valley is making its rounds on my Facebook feed today. It interviews members of three different generations and asks them one simple question: When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?

You could see the answers coming from a mile away.

The parents and grandparents of the children interviewed explained how their childhoods were spent catching fish and riding toboggans. They talked about how they built forts with their friends and played outside until the sun went down. Their answers came as no surprise.

Next they interviewed the kids who described their love for video games and iPhones. They said they couldn’t live without their tablets. They talked about how they use technology to break up boredom and help them through bad days. They spoke in terms of desperation. I would die without my tablet.

It should be noted that this is, first and foremost, an advertisement. But the fact that Nature’s Valley is trying to sell you granola bars doesn’t detract from the overall message: That kids these days don’t spend as much time experiencing nature as their parents and grandparents did. I like this ad because it rings true in a lot of ways. There is no doubt that today’s children are spending more time in front of screens and less time outside than ever before.

But technology is only part of the problem and to place blame on it alone is a dramatic oversimplification of the issue. It’s not like my generation, the people who are raising today’s screen-obsessed kids, didn’t have their own set of digital distractions. We never knew that someday we would have the internet at our fingertips (or that the internet would even exist) but we did have Nintendos and Gameboys and Nickelodeon and Saved by the Bell. The screen’s siren song may not have been as quite as powerful back then but it certainly did exist. So what changed?

I am not a social scientist but I can tell you what I have observed among parents of my generation and the kids that they are raising.

I have observed children whose days are scheduled within an inch of their lives. Children whose days, between school and homework and extracurricular activities, are so full that they don’t have much time for anything else. Children who are so exhausted at the end of the day that they want to veg out in front of the TV or computer or iPhone, and really, who can blame them? Don’t get me wrong, structured activity is good and important. But so is having the opportunity to explore and play and learn on your own.

I have seen loving, well-meaning parents so driven by fear that they won’t let their (appropriately aged) children go outside by themselves. Whether they fear their children being snatched by kidnappers or having the cops called on them for negligence, these kids aren’t getting the kind of freedom that we did. Many parents feel that the world has become a more dangerous place for a kid these days, but it’s just not true. The reality is that kids today are actually a lot safer than they were a decade or two ago, back in the days when we were kids ourselves.

I have seen families that are so overwhelmed and stressed out by work and parenting and life that they don’t have the time or energy to put into encouraging their children to get off their iPads and go play outside. Convincing your kids to turn off the TV can sometimes be a battle and for a lot of people, it’s one that they’re too exhausted to fight. And again, who can blame them?

We are a family that uses a lot of technology. My husband is a bona fide and self-described computer nerd who loves holing up in the basement (he calls it his “lab”, I call it “the dungeon”) almost as much as he loves riding and racing bikes. I regularly see the world through the viewfinder of my camera and my desire to acquire less crap means that I buy less physical books and do a lot of reading on my iPad. I love social media and spend a lot of time on my iPhone. Hell, my husband and I even met on the internet, back before meeting on the internet was a normal thing to do. For us, technology is an important and inescapable part of life.

I suspect that we’re not all that different from most people.

Like everyone else, we’re figuring things out as we go. We both take the view that all this technology is not going away (nor do we want it to), so we better learn to live with it. We do what we can to find balance and encourage our kid, as much as possible, to play outside. But we’re not militant about screen time. We spent all last weekend camping in the mountains but, as I type this, my son is watching his favorite show (Thomas the Tank Engine, obviously) on Netflix. Tomorrow’s plans involve a trip to the lake to go paddleboarding and some time spent hanging out on the beach. When we get home, tired and sun-drunk from a day spent outside, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll watch Thomas again. He knows his way around an iPad and a bike park. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, technology or nature. It can be both. If ever there was a place for moderation, this may be it.

I don’t know what the answer to all of this is. And while I certainly agree with the gist of this Nature’s Valley ad, I think it’s only a starting point for this conversation. Until we change the way we view childhood and address our own (often ill-founded) concerns around granting kids some room to roam, they will continue turning to their screens for entertainment. Until we leave some space in their schedules for unstructured, outdoor play, they’ll keep being so exhausted and overwhelmed that vegging out in front of a movie seems like the best possible idea. Until we give them places where they can explore and play and act like kids, they’ll continue to hang out on the couch.

As someone who is exceedingly dependent on technology but also a rabid lover of the outdoors, this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I hope that this campaign (which seems to be going viral, at least on my Facebook feed) gets people talking about the things that keep our children from experiencing childhood the way that we did. I also hope that the conversation can address why we are addicted to technology and not just the fact that we are.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What do you do to balance the powerful lure of the glowing screen with your desire for your children to play outdoors What do you think keeps kids from playing outside the way that we did when we were little? 

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