Colorado is known as a great destination for ski vacations, but during a recent family vacation I discovered its rich history and what it has to offer during the summer months.
When I travel, I like to learn about where I am going but I don’t like to read dry history books that talk about battles and political events. I prefer to learn about the people and how they lived.
For a trip to Colorado, I recommend Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden. The book chronicles the remarkable story of two young society women, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamund (Ros) Underwood, who leave their posh homes in upstate New York in 1916 to teach in the wild frontiers of Colorado.
Doroth and Ros leave New York and travel by train over perilous mountain terrain, including Rollin’s Pass, to reach the small settlement of Elkhead in the north western part of the state. Our arrival was not quite as adventurous: We flew into Denver on American Airlines and stayed at the Downtown Marriott City Center hotel. The hotel, a typical large chain, had well maintained rooms, the staff was friendly and there was an indoor pool on the roof. Our room had a great view of the city and a very comfortable bed so I have no complaints and our daughter loved the pool. It is a sold choice during a visit to Denver.
However, truth be told, we chose this hotel because we had a gift card from my husband’s employer. On a future trip I’d like to try a smaller boutique hotels or in this case we might have stayed at the historic Brown Palace Hotel (where Dorothy and Ros stay a night) and tried out the afternoon tea there.
Denver is a kid friendly town. Most of the restaurants have kid menus and even the trendy sushi place we went to had crayons and activity sheets. It can be a struggle entertaining younger children in big cities. In Denver it was not a problem. Popular attractions: Elitch Gardens a water park (conveniently located downtown), Downtown Aquarium (which seems kind of weird because you are nowhere near the ocean) and the Children’s Museum of Denver. The city has many parks, bike trails, playgrounds and a skate park. If you want to see the city but are too tired to walk, and are not too embarrassed to be seen on one, you can take a tour with Colorado Segway Tours. Denver is also known for its many micro-brewed beers but we could not convince our daughter that a brewery tour would be fun!
The next day, we headed north toward Estes Park and The Stanley Hotel (see my review). Estes Park is actually in the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park so we made our way through the park imagining what it would be like to cross this terrain in 1916 before there were proper roads. For families with smaller children, I recommend a lot of shorter stops throughout the park rather than attempting an all day hike. Our first stop, the picturesque Bear Lake, took about an hour to hike around and included many mini-adventures, like making friends with a chip monk.
Further into our journey, we took another detour to go horseback riding at National Park Gateway Stables. The two hour trail ride was fantastic and a perfect activity for a family because you cover a lot of ground without hearing any, “are we there yet.”
After our stay in Estes Park, we drove through the park to our last destination, Steamboat Springs. To get there we took highway 34 (only open from Memorial Day to Mid-October depending on the weather) and the drive was filled with spectacular views and lots of animal sightings.
Compared to Elkhead, Steamboat must have seemed like a real city to Dorothy and Ros with its 1200 residents. The women traveled there to take the exams to get their teaching license. Today, Steamboat is best known as a ski resort area so it felt like a bit of a ghost town while we were there.
Our hotel, the Steamboat Grand, was only filled to about a third of its capacity but it made for a peaceful stay. Considering there were so few guests we were surprised when they did not offer us a free upgrade. The hotel has the ambiance of a large ski lodge with lots of wood and nature themes. The rooms were well appointed and it has a heated outdoor pool and Jacuzzi. There is not much to do in the town, but we headed to the main street and browsed the cute touristy shops.
One attraction Steamboat does have is an abundance of natural hot springs. The ones located in town are more like spas where they have incorporated the hot springs into the pools. We went out of town to Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Here you can take a hike on the trails and then relax in the 104 degree springs. The facilities include changing and restrooms and a place to get small snacks. There is also a picnic area if you bring your own. The springs were like a giant huge hot tub with fresh air and great views. It would be even better if the temperature outside was lower than 70 degrees.
What I found most interesting about Nothing Daunted was learning about the opportunities women were making for themselves in Colorado during the early part of the century. At a time when women were finally granted college degrees equivalent to those of men, the book describes a number of educated women who headed west. In Strawberry Park, a couple of Dorothy’s schoolmates from Smith College started a serious dance and theatre school for young women, which still exists today as the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp.
I would love to visit Colorado again. As for Nothing Daunted, it is a great read to prepare for a trip to the western state. It provides a glimpse of what it was like to live in Colorado at the turn of the century along with a great story of adventure and friendship.
For suggestions from the locals click here.