Category Archives: travel

Estes Park, Colorado

My hip surgery put off this post, so to get a long-overdue writeup out of the way…

Mo and I gave some thought to where we wanted to vacation this fall, and after hearing good reports decided we wanted to give Colorado some quality time, neither of us having been there except in passing. Even better, we invited our long-time friends Dave & Sue from Los Angeles to join us, and were pleased when they said, “Yes!”

We rented a house in Estes Park and met up there on a Saturday, us flying into Denver and they driving up with their dogs Kona & Callie. The house was wonderful, and made for a terrific home base for our excursions. Although we were soon to learn that elk were to be found everywhere, we saw three in the backyard the first morning, and 36 the next morning!

morning-elk
morning elk outside our window

It didn’t take us long to adapt to our different time zones: being morning people and hour ahead of the Mountain Time, we found we could work in a trip to town to wander the streets while our late morning friends an hour behind got their beauty rest and exercised the dogs.

Estes Park is a quaint town with a scenic riverwalk behind the various shops and restaurants on the main street, overlooked by the stately Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining”. There were festivals on each of the weekends we were there, so we avoided the traffic and bustle then, opting for a later evening meal and stroll instead.

The house we were renting was just minutes from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, and we made a few trips there during our stay. On our first visit, we watched some drama as a bull elk defended his herd of a dozen cows from two other bull elk. We also stopped at the alluvial fan at Horseshoe Park and tested our balance on the various boulders and rocks along and across the water there.

On another trip we drove a good section of the Trail Ridge Road, again watching elk interactions and photographing the peaks, valleys, and mountain lakes in the distance above and below the alpine tundra. The picturesque yellow aspens made for a nice splash of color among the pines all throughout our drives around the area. Long’s Peak was often in the background of our photos, the tallest mountain in the park at 12,400’+

mt-meeker-longs-peak-mt-lady-washington
left to right: Mt. Meeker, Long’s Peak, and Mt. Lady Washington

When we did finally get around to some serious hiking, we decided to head back into the park to the trail starting at Bear Lake. After stopping to take in Nymph Lake, we continued on up to elevation 9900′ to Dream Lake, where we discovered just why it was so highly recommended.

dream-lake
beautiful Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (click to embiggen)

We had some nice exchanges with other hikers on the trail, and overall (like so many sites on our vacation) we gave it 4-out-of-5 stars: not enough oxygen! 🙂

bear-lake
Bear Lake, in Rocky Mountain National Park

The next day we drove over a good portion of the Peak to Peak highway, taking in the mountains and beautiful aspens, stopping at Barker Reservoir at Nederland, and being blown away by the casino-to-anything-else ratio of Blackhawk — what’s up with that? On our way back, we paid a visit to Chapel on the Rock, and then stopped at Lily Lake to watch the ducks and muskrats before sunset.

chapel-on-the-rock
Chapel on the Rock

We ate a several fine restaurants, from Strong Mountain Restaurant, YOU NEED PIE!, Poppy’s Pizza & Grill, the Rock Inn Mountain Tavern, The Egg & I, Mountain Home Cafe, Claire’s on the Park…well, you can tell we sampled quite a few places during our stay 🙂

On our last night in town for supper, we parked in the library parking lot…and were confronted by a bull elk. He was attending three cows eating tall grass near the stream just north of the lot.

downtown-elk
bull elk in downtown Estes Park library parking lot

It was incredibly relaxing to visit with our good friends and play with the dogs in the fresh mountain environment. So — would we go back again? In a heartbeat! We’d rank it 4-out-of-5 stars: needs more oxygen 😉

Epilogue: On our way to the Denver airport, we stopped in Boulder to enjoy a meal at a restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and as we were finishing up our meal a gentleman at a neighboring table had seizure. We helped out where we could (and stayed out of the way the rest of the time) and thankfully he began recovering as we were leaving. It was gratifying to see that those tables around him at the time did not panic, offered a helping hand where needed, and kept their cool.

Ft. Myers Spring Training IV

This post is way late due to photos lost from my phone, but I had a few that survived, so here goes…

On our yearly trip to Florida, Mo and I stayed again in Ft. Myers at the same Cornerstone Resort condo we were at last year. Thanks to construction along the main drag, Ft. Myers Beach traffic was even more traffic-er than before. Still…no snow, though. And this year, we were joined for a couple days by my (retired) co-worker Ted and his wife Dixie.

Apparently attending a spring training game had been on Ted’s bucket list, so I was looking forward to treating him to the March 8th Cardinals vs. Twins game. Unfortunately, it was a Twins split squad game, plus the first day of their minor league camp, so the practice fields normally bustling with the veterans and promising prospects were empty. Still, it was a beautiful day for a game, and we both had our teams on the field.

Joe
Joe scores in the fourth

We had seats in the same location I’ve sat in the past trips to Hammond Stadium, which provided a great view of the field. The Cards went on to eventually win 5-3. We saw a little of everything, but we didn’t see Sano and Park homer, like in the other split squad game against Toronto in Dunedin.

One other disappointment with split squad games is the limited autograph opportunities. I did manage to catch one:

program
backup catcher Juan Centeno’s autograph

When it all comes down to it, though, you can’t beat the beach.

condo
the view from our lanai

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Wine!

After talking about it for quite some time, Mo & I finally teamed up with the Irvings and took a trip to the northern California wine country, specifically the Sonoma Valley.

On our drive to hotel in Windsor, CA, after arriving in San Francisco, we conferred with our cellphones to find a place for our first meal, and eventually (inevitably?) stopped at…In N Out Burger.

We had our first evening to kill, and found nearby the Williamson Wines in Healdsburg. While the wines were good, what really made them memorable was the cheeses/spices/spreads expertly paired with them, which really brought out the nuanced flavors. Also impressive: free tasting.

The next morning we left for the first of our two winery tours — Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford. We were immediately struck by the quite beauty of the flower/vegetable garden which was a centerpiece of the grounds behind the main building. Our guide Seth was knowledgeable and passionate regarding the vineyard’s sustainability commitment. Meanwhile, the harvest was in gear during our visit, so we saw some of the related activity.

frogs leap
a beautiful loaded grape vine at Frog’s Leap

Later that day we toured Cakebread Cellars also in Rutherford. While it was an impressive operation, I think we were just a bit let down after the earlier stop at Frog’s Leap.

The next day happened to be my birthday, and also the high point in our vacation: a guided tour by Sonoma Segway. Yes, that’s right — Segways! Hunt, our guide, set us up, and after ~10 minutes of practice around the parking lot to familiarize ourselves with the operation, the four of us and two others followed him on our four hour scenic “stroll”

After winding our way around the back streets and quite countryside, we stopped among the grapes to discuss sugar content and to sample a couple. Our first tasting was at one of the area’s few German vineyards, Gundlach Bundschu Wineries. It was nice to have a break from the primarily French wines to find some more similar to our Missouri wine country, although we found them to still be a bit drier than our liking.

We next stopped at Buena Vista Winery for a delicious picnic lunch followed by wine tasting and siteseeing at the fascinating grounds of the winery. The owner is definitely a bit of a showman.

Our last stop on our Segway journey was at the Vella Cheese Company. Besides learning about the cheesemaking process, we took advantage of refrigerated rooms to cool off, as the temps were in the mid-to-upper 90’s. We tried several variety of cheeses made here and took home a wedge of Mezzo Secco cheese, a partially dry Monterey Jack, which we shared with friends (to favorable reviews).

vella cheese
among the cheese wheels at Vella Cheese

After turning in our Segways (I named mine “Buck” btw!) and saying our thank yous, we stopped back at our hotel, then went for supper at nearby Kin Restaurant in Windsor. The atmosphere was neat, and the food very good. And a birthday rhubarb crisp for dessert as well!

On our way back to San Fran the next day, we stopped for a bite along the water at Barrel House in Sausalito. The food was great, and the view was outstanding — a fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island, with layers of houses hugging the nearby hillsides.

sausalito
the view south from the Barrel House

From our hotel near SFO, I contacted my cousin Mark & his wife Amy, and we met and drove down to a supper at House of Nanking, in Chinatown portion of San Francisco, just over a block from the Transamerica Pyramid. Upon hearing that we had not eaten there before, the matriarch of the restaurant replied, “I take care of you,” and for the next half hour one platter followed another a few minutes apart. We did an admirable job emptying them all (see photo), and it was delicious.

house of nanking
Diners 6, Food Platters 0

We said our goodbyes and thanked our gracious hosts and the next day we wended our way home, wined, dined, and rested.

Stuff And Things

Thought I’d clear out a few photos, etc. in a post prior to my surgery tomorrow…

While doing a bit of last-minute mulching in the back, I came across this little guy, below. Plume moths are cool, but they’re small and hide in the grass, so photographing them is difficult. This one was okay with settling on my hand, and stayed there while I went to get my phone and find a little fading sunlight to take the picture. I haven’t added to my insect photo pages lately, so this will be a nice addition:

6091 - Grape Plume Moth (Geina periscelidactylus)
6091 – Grape Plume Moth (Geina periscelidactylus)

Memorial Day weekend took us up to Chicago area for a wedding, and at the last minute I realized that the Twins would also be playing in Chicago the same time. I was able to take in the Friday night game from the third row of right centerfield at The Cell on a clear, cool evening. While it was a good game, the only runs the Twins scored were in the first inning, when I was still a couple stops away on the “L” red line. The Twins ended up losing 3-2, but haven’t lost a game since.

The Cell
action from the bottom of the second inning

I’m still actively collecting Twins baseball cards, but things have slowed a bit. Lately I’ve managed to add a few new players to my certified autograph card collection, among those Jim Perry, shown below, along with another Bert Blyleven AU, my 62nd and 63rd different Glen Perkins AU, and some Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer jersey cards.

stuff things
clockwise, from top left: 2005 Topps Pristine Legends Personal Endorsements #PEA-BB Bert Blyleven (auto); 2005 Upper Deck Artifacts Autofacts #PE Jim Perry [298/599] (auto); 2007 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Ultimate Write of Passage #WP-PK Glen Perkins [13/60] (auto); 2015 Topps Heritage Clubhouse Collection #CCR-JMA Joe Mauer (jersey); 2006 Topps Turkey Red White #TRR-JM Joe Mauer [94/99] (jersey); 2008 Upper Deck SPx Winning Materials SPX die cut #WM-MO Justin Morneau [090/150] (jersey); 2008 Upper Deck A Piece of History Franchise History Gold #FH-30 Joe Mauer [67/99] (jersey); 2007 Topps Chrome Refractor White #348 Glen Perkins [003/200] (auto)

Ft. Myers Spring Training — Third Edition

This year, MLB caught us off guard: we had to make our condo reservations early, and when the spring training schedules came out, the season was starting later than usual. This would call for some strategic planning…

During our Ft. Myers stay, one thing I could plan on was dropping by the practice facilities, so I picked a nice morning, fought traffic off the island, and hung out at CenturyLink Sports Complex with many other Twins fans.

practice
team gathers on the big field for drills

It was great seeing the young ballplayers — Sano and Vargas definitely stand out, size-wise.

3rd basemen
third basemen practice fielding, including Miguel Sano

The new coaches were very involved and hands-on in the drills I watched, particularly Molitor, Mientkiewicz, and Guardado. Alumni were also visible all over, including Carew and Oliva.

everyday
Coach Guardado works on fielding with the bullpen

So, what ballgame did I eventually get to? The only Twins games played in Ft. Myers while we were there were either the home opener, or against the Red Sox at their home opener the next day. There was also a road game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park up in Port Charlotte just over an hour away, though.

The ballpark was quite nice, and the weather was sunny and beautiful. When I bought my ticket earlier in the year, I looked for my traditional spot just past the dugout on the third place side, and I found a nice seat in the fourth row with a great view of the action.

ballgame
in-game action

Only one extra base bit in this game, but overall play was pretty clean and still had its share of action. The Rays ended up winning 2-1.

I was able to get three autographs on my program: Max Kepler, catcher Dan Rohlfing, and extra catcher Mitch Garver.

autos
game program

Barring a rainout, you really can’t lose when attending a Florida spring training game.

Yes, Florida Again

Mo and I had been to Ft. Myers, FL on two earlier occasions, although it had been a while, and we decided it was high time to return. Doing things differently on this trip, Mo reserved time at a condo on Ft. Myers Beach, plus we had a bit of time on each end of our vacation to see other areas of Florida.

This time around it was more cost effective to fly into Tampa and rent a car there, so we chose to spend our first three nights at the beach in Clearwater, staying at Pier House 60. Unfortunately, we couldn’t choose our weather — the temps were cool and it rained off and on.

On one of the days we took a leisurely drive through the south end of the island and down to Ft. Desoto, taking in the military ruins and strolling the park.

ft desoto
the guns of Ft. Desoto

We walked out on the pier, and there we saw a fisherman reel in this puffer.

porcupine fish
porcupine fish

Our other notable outing in Clearwater was to visit the Florida Aquarium in Tampa…you know, to get out of the rain. Lots of interesting things to see there, and $2 off if you order your tickets online.

By the time we leave Clearwater for Ft. Myers Beach, we also leave the rainy weather behind, too. We stayed at the Cornerstone Beach Resort, and our condo was wonderful, with direct access to the beach and a beautiful view of the gulf from our lanai.

cornerstone
Cornerstone Beach Resort

We found several nice places to eat, and I took the opportunity to take in a Spring Training practice and game (more on this in a later post). Like Sanibel or Captiva islands, there were plenty of shells to be collected here as well.

shells
cockles & mussels, not alive alive-oh

We toasted the sunset each night, the final night being the only one with clouds, and those just at the horizon.

lanai
the view from our lanai

Did we have a good time? We’re booked for next year…

Ocean City Redux

Apparently we behaved ourselves last year when we were invited to stay with Mo’s brother’s family at their beachfront rental in Ocean City, NJ, because they invited us back again this year. Who are we to say no?

sunrise
Atlantic sunrise

This year K got to go as well, taking vacation from her new job to do so. It was nice that she could see her NJ cousins’ extended family after so many years.

We played it cool this year, relaxing on the beach and/or in the house, with wonderful ocean breezes drifting through the windows. We took advantage of a budding bartender in our midst to sample a few different drinks while we were there. My Almond Joey favorite didn’t go over all the well with others, but Mo found a new favorite in the Jolly Rancher.

afternoon drinks
the bar is open

The weather was cool and beautiful, with the wind picking up the last day and a half we were there. Fewer windsurfers were visible than last time; we instead saw more dolphins in the distance passing by.

afternoon waves
afternoon surf, with Atlantic City in the background

Yep, this bit of vacation was much needed and well spent — a good time was had by all.

sunset
sunset