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"The Fun Gunns"

We just returned from Denver and "Colorful Colorado" is just that. This was our second visit to the area. My cousin and her new hubby just moved there this past June. We were due for another trip out West, so we figured this would fit the bill.

View from Park

Cool front porch down the street from the Gunn's

I headed out Thursday pm after work. After a slight layover in Dallas, I finally arrived around 11pm. Maria and I head to their house and after a quick unpack, a bottle of red is opened. Once the bottle was gone and we realized it was 1:30 am (3:30 my time), we retreated to our beds! Micah had an exam the next morning so he skipped out on the vino. Not wanting to waste any of my Denver time, I rose up around 7:30, had some coffee and read on their amazing and cozy front porch. Maria and I dropped Micah off at DU and say 'see ya at 2:30'. We were set to pick Brooke up at 11, so we had a few hours to kill. Hazel Girl (the most lovable and adorable yellow lab you have ever met) is ready for her walk! We made to-go coffee and I grabbed my camera for the walk to Harvard Gluch Park. This little gem is lush with vegetation, small golf course, great view of the mountains and a community  garden! On this walk Maria taught me about my new favorite tree, the Aspen Tree. They are just beautiful and grow like a little family, all together connected underground. Their leaves propel, their color is bright and vibrant and their bark is like nothing I've ever seen, an antique white wood. On top of  all that the bark produces a natural sunscreen of  SPF 5. Not ideal, but hey, if you forget to pack some and you are in the Rocky Mts, you have a go to. A little is better than nothing!

View from Park

After scooping Brooke from the Rocky Top airport we headed to S. Pearl Street for lunch. Kaos is a small pizzeria right in the heart of a neighborhood.  After going in and checking out the chalk board specials we decide on  salad, bacon and fig pizza pie and Easy Street wheat beers. We  walked outside and found the perfect table - half shade, half sun. While we waited, we planned out the rest of our day. I am not usually a beer gal,  red vino and bourbon or whiskey is what you will find me drinking, but Maria had been raving about the beer in Co and I decided I would give it a try. The Easy Street Wheat is what she picked out for us and it was delightful! Light, fresh, nice taste and perfect with our meal. I was surprised by how well it went down!

From here we decided the drinks should continue to flow. We walk down the street and stop in at Black Pearl Here we order a bottle of Prosecco. Our dear friend Jeff Cheek has reminded us all summer that one CAN drink bubbly "just because," and no formal event is needed to enjoy it.  After a some window shopping we head to the local liquor store to pick up some "yay! you finished your first law school exam" beer for Micah. As 2:30 rolls around, we whip into DU and Micah takes over the driving.

Bacon and Fig Pizza at Kaos!

Emily and Brett

The Fun Gunns

Mr. & Mrs. Gunn have the perfect bungalow front porch. Deep enough so when (if) it rains in Denver you will not get wet. Perfect in size- it fits a love seat and two rockers  while still leaving room for Hazel to lay out. The right side of the porch has a large square window pain with windows in it, just to add another cool touch to the porch! Last year while we were out in Denver we met a boy name Brett Baird aka: BB. We've kept in touch and told him we'd be out sometime in September and we'd give him a holler. Denver is very spread out so we were hoping to see him, but we were just not sure how it would work out. Well, BB ended up living 5 blocks from Maria and Micah! We made roadies and start walking to visit with BB. Here we were greeted by BB, his friend, brother and girlfriend. His girlfriend, Jenn, is aweosme.  She's from Florida and a vodka rep for the state of CO. She opened a $600.00 of vodka ( the biggest bottle of vodka I have ever seen) that only needed a splash of cranberry to hit our taste buds right. After several of those and a couple hours later we have to say buh bye so we can hit the sunset in the park and get ready for our Saturday night! Dinner is at 9pm at 9th door. As we walk through the park, the sun is starting to sneak behind the Rockies and the sky is orange, pink, blue with white clouds that look like down comforters. With a slight buzz we giggle our way back down S. Sherman.

Corridor 44
To save money and only have to cab it one way, we opt for public transportation- $1.50 bus ride. The bus stop was 1 block from the Gunn's. We sneak out roadies on the bus and sit toward the back. While Micah figured out what stop we should hop off Maria, Brooke and I embrace the florescent lights and the company around us. Within 15 minutes we are at our stop. To our surprise we are dropped very close to our restaurant. We walk in and our table is waiting. 9th door is dark, cozy, lit by candles, smothered in dark wood and exposed brick. The outdoor patio is accessed by a large garage door that is lifted during business house. Tall ceilings allow conversations and laughs to echo throughout and music to bounce off the walls. Our waiter was the perfect guy for us. We never felt rushed, he provided honest tips and suggestions about the menu and our glass was always half full. Being tapas, we ordered about 8 different things and shared. I don't think there was anything brought to the table that we did not ooooh and ahhhh over. Then there was the vino. The vino was amazing. Perfectly paired with our choices with an added bit of Spanish spice. 2008 Manos Negras Pino Noir from Patagonia Argentina was our selection . Micah enjoyed a White Rascal which he described as : spicy, earthy, wheat with a magnificent after taste followed by slight citrus flavors. Our fav tapas choices were: fried avocado and pico de gallo, avocado & shrimp and aged manchego cheese with thinly sliced cured ham on garlic tomato bread!

After several drinks we start dancing to the Spanish tunes that are surrounding us. During this, Micah slings his wedding band off, sending everyone in our area  into search mode! It was finally found... in Maria's seat!

" I never understood a single word he said but I helped him drink his wine. And he always had some mighty fine wine" - Three Dog Night.

9th Door

From Dinner we head to Larimer Square a short (very short) rickshaw ride down the street. We check out: Corridor 44, Suite Two Hundred and around the corner Red Square Vodka Bar Corridor 44 was an awesome little bar with great wine that they filled to rim. Square Vodka Bar, we went for just one drink then back to Corridor then to Suite Two Hundred. This is a CLUB. but we were ready to dance... and we did. We also saw some UFC fighters, Big from Rob & Big and who we think is Ty Lawson who plays for the Nuggets, used to play for UNC.

When 2 am strikes we call Anthony our cabby from the night before. He rocks our world. Drives a van and blares the classics: I'm every woman, Al green hits, Bill Wither's best of. Not only does he play them loudly for us, he sings and sways as well. $25.00 later and we are back at the house. Fast asleep we go, as we have a early rise up time in the am.

We are up, dressed, fed, packed and in the car by 9 am heading to Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park. The drive up was breathtaking. Simple as that. As we drove down 36 W/ 25 N for almost two hours we see snow covered mountain tops, wild life crossing signs, Aspen trees, pines, black cows, horses, lakes, , farms, Roosevelt nations Forest , Hermit Park ,  countless photo op stops, and elevation signs... 5363, 5374, 7522, 8200! As we enter into Estes we were sure to stop at the Estes Park stone wall to snap a few shots. Once in Estes we see the Autumn Gold Festival is going on that weekend. Here we loaded up food and a beverage. We made our way back to the car after a quick stop in a T shirt store on Main St. where we scooped a T, magnets and stickers. While we walked around town, Micah pointed out The Stanley Hotel. This haunted hotel cozy in the side of a mountain was the inspiration for Stephen King's The Shinning.

I think one of the coolest wedding gifts Maria and Micah got ( thanks Sara!) was a year pass to all the National Parks. So what would have cost $25.00 or $30.00 - I now know worth every penny, we got a "enjoy the Park" and a wave on in. Mr. Ranger gave us a map of the park which included some fun facts.
- Black Bears need 20,000 calories a day to survive through the winter
- There are 350 miles of trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park
- The entrance of the park sits pretty at 8200 ft.
- 72 Named Peaks in RMNP
- 1.3 BILLLLIOOON year old (or older) rocks and boulders throughout the park
- Highest major highway in North America
- RMNP is one of 390 parks in the National Park System

cool bark

After a breathtaking drive into the mountains we arrived at the trail that will lead us to Dream Lake  However, we run into a slight problem. There was a sign that says "Lot Full"  and some of the cars are being let in and some are being asked to turn around and make the "loop" just to try again. We got to the front of the line and we are told to turn around. The two cars directly behind us were let in. Now, this seemed just a tad unfair. Micah stops the car and sticks his head out the window, asking why they were allowed in and we were not?! Then wanted to better understand the 'system'. The "nice" Volunteer Rangers are not having it. They whip out walkie talkies and starting waving hands. They yell at us to keep moving and to "loop around". Let's get one thing straight. We were on skinny, winding, blind sided mountain roads... we are not sure what "loop" they are talking about. Our only guess is to go the parking lot about 10 min down the road and turn around there. However, we have driven 2 hours, we did not have time for all that. We got out of their vision and whip the Tahoe around in the middle of the road, and get back in line. Micah had come up with a way to beat their so called system: creep very slowly up to the gate to give cars time to come out ( there were actually cars coming out on a regular basis, you just had to be the next car to enter to get the spot ). We saw several cars leave, so we were hopeful. The cars in front of us got in, so we continued to creep, waiting for another car to come out. Our Park Ranger ladies were not liking our plan. They were now blowing whistles and telling us to COME ON! Micah declared he was not moving, he was waiting for a car to exit so we would not have to "loop around" again. Next thing we know a REAL Ranger is beside us in her truck. We were asked to pull up and over to the side. She started by asking what was going on. We explained that we were simply trying to park and / or understand the system. That it didn't seem fair to wait in line, see people walking to their cars and be told to turn around, as the two cars behind us were let in. She proceeded to tell us that our attitudes were an issue and that took that into consideration when deciding if we were allowed to park. Ha, that seemed even more insane. About 10 min later she decided to let us in but she "better not have any more calls about the group". We assured her there would be no problems. We just wanted to hike our 1.7 miles to Dream Lake ( it was at this point, we decide NOT to make a cocktail for the hike). Once parked and watered up, we see Mr. Carolina. Mr. Carolina is a man from NC who went to UNC that Maria and Micah met last time they were here. He looked after Hazel in the trunk with the hatch opened while they hiked. We were sure he'd do it again. After talking to Mr. Carolina we find out he is from Statesville NC. Of course I tell him I live with a girl from Statesville. He asked her name... Maggie Watts and her mother is Judy Watts. He lets out a big chuckle and of course then we know he knows the Watts! Small World.

Aspen Trees

Aspen Tree close up

Dream Lake

Crew at Dream Lake

We were now ready to enter the trail. We started our hike to Dream Lake. On the way, we came to this small lake full of lily pads! I have never seen so many. We met a cute older couple who were celebrating their 42cd wedding anniversary. When you meet a couple that has been married that long and still happy, loving, taking adventures like hiking in the Rockies- its give you ( at least me ) hope and inspiration. After several photos and deep breaths, taking it all in, we continued.

Next pit stop was on  huge boulder that over looks the mountains for as far as the eye can see. Micah, bless his heart, at this point knew what his duty was and said "y'all don't even have to ask, pass over the cameras"...  Just up the trail from here, Maria and I heard a waterfall. Maria climbed up an Aspen, and I went to find the waterfall. When I did it was just how I imagined. Water was crashed over rocks and tress stumps. It was was freezing! Maria and I take turns climbing over the waterfall for pictures. Once we catch up to Micah and Brooke, we keep trucking to our destination. Dream Lake was just around the bend. We arrived and I walked over by myself and shook my head. It's one of the most spectacular things these hazel eyes had ever seen. It is one of those things you try to describe and explain the magnitude of it because pictures just do not do it justice. Pictures do not show the vibrant colors, the fish you see swimming inches from your feet and pictures do not put things in scale. But I tried! We lounge, walk around, get in the water, take pictures for about 30 minutes then work out way back down to the lot. We came across a chipmunk who had been given a raisin. He (or she) sat perched on the rock right along the trail and nibbled away, paying zero attention to me or my lens that was right in his face. When he was done he ran around in circles looking for another treat. None were to be had.

Dream Lake

Girls at Dream Lake

Rocky Mountain Blue Jay

Hazel Girl greets us and we piled in to head out. As were were talking about our favorite parts, we all agreed that yes the chipmunk, fish, birds were great, but we had hoped to see some real wildlife! Moments later as we near the exit of the park, we see a dozen or so cars pulled over. Then we see why... Elk . A family of elk, just hanging out. We pull over and rushed to see them. The Big Boy Elk was their with his family: seven or eight females and about 4 or so babies. Even with 30 or so people looking on Daddy Elk did not hesitate to belt out his matting call, try to win several women over or walk around the family to check on everyone.

Daddy Elk
Moma and Baby Elk

We get back in the car not believing what we've just seen
- Family of elk
- Mating call
- Male trying to mount female, female not having it
- baby elk nursing

We are "satisfied" now, we felt has if we are one with nature! As we entered back into Estes, we see something familiar, people pulled over, pointing, taking pictures. We looked up, down and all around and finally spotted what the chaos was about... a Black Bear lounging in a tree! Of course we pull over and try to get a good look. This viewing is a little trickier. We are on the side of a road, cars passing by. Rangers are blowing whistles ( to this day, that still seemed a lot less safe than what we were doing. We all thought, are they really blowing loud whistles with a Black Bear perched above our heads?). Being blown at and shouted at Maria, Micah and I go back to the car. Brooke snaps pictures before be asked to get back in her car. We are so happy she did!
Black Bear

Now we realllllllllllly felt like lucky ducks. Fish, Rocky Mountain Blue Jay, Chipmunks, Elk and now Black Bear! Still pumped about our sittings we got in the car to head out of Estes. As we are exiting, yep, you guessed it- another siting. Another family of Elk was just chilling by a pond in a park! With all the hiking and excitement we  worked up some hunger. We stopped in Lyons, a quaint little town right on our way. Oskar Blues Brewery had our name written all over it. Beer, good food, live music with a dive bar feel.

Saturday was quickly creeping into the evening so we decided we should be getting  back to Denver. Since we had food at Oskar Blues we skipped a "formal dinner" instead we showered, make cocktails and sat on the porch until about 10 pm. From the house we had Micah ( who decided he would stay in ) drop us off in the Highlands area. We bounced around a couple cool bars after meeting up with our friend Jeff. 2 am rolls around  and Anthony was on the corner waiting for us! We all piled in the cab and Micah greeted us at the door. We have a little dance party and pizza party, make some drinks, make phone calls, enjoy the porch and finally call it a night, time not to be disclosed. Lucile's had been our brunch plan since the trip was planned. It is one of Maria and Micah's favorite places. And for good reason. Just to name a few: the menu is out of this world, the mimosas are paired with your own personal mini bottle of champagne, there is a lawn for you to relax on while you wait and grass covers are provided, and best of all - once your ordered is placed it comes our before you can get your drink down :) Benedict, shrimp and grits, omelets were our choices. All perfect choices. OH! and the butter milk biscuits- large squares that cover the size of a saucer plate. On the table there are homemade jams, butters, spreads for all biscuit smearing delights!

With our full bellies in tow, we take Jeff home and then hit up Pearl Street Farmer's Market. I buy granola and jam for gifts. The street is lined with local meat, cheese, fruit, veggie, art, crafts, music. It is a perfect way to wrap up our trip.

-Emily Ballard


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