Thursday, May 26, 2016

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is a public park in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It's an easy drive off of Interstate 25 and is open almost 24 hours (Summer 5am to 11pm and Winter 5am to 9pm). The park is composed of red rock formations with an excellent view of Pikes Peak. There is a visitor center containing a gift shop, snack bar, interactive map and a small exhibit about the park. You can walk, hike, bike ride and picnic here (we picnicked both times we were here) all for FREE. Yep, totally free - unless, of course, you choose to purchase something at the gift shop or snack bar.

Native tribes, including Apache, Commanche and Ute, have camped on this land using the rock formations for shelter. It was purchased in 1879 - well, 480 acres of it - and was given to the City of Colorado Springs in 1909 with the provision that it would become -and remain- a free public park.

The visitor center is located directly across the street from the park entrance and should be your first stop. There is a information desk and exhibit about the park on the first floor and then the gift shop, snack bar and interactive map on the second - with elevators for those who cannot climb stairs. Best of all, is the postcard perfect scene from the outdoor deck - don't forget to get a photo from here!

The rock formations in the park have names - especially the more iconic ones like Balancing Rock. In the 1890's the Goerke family started charging 25 cents to have your photo taken with Balancing Rock (they took and processed the photo there in a photography shop they set up) and eventually purchased it, and Steamboat Rock. They put a fence up around it to charge admission. When the fence was finally taken down, and the city took possession, there was a crowd assembled to cheer the dismantling of their empire.

I think my favorite part of the park is the fantastic view looking over the city of Colorado Springs, the Manitou Incline and Pikes Peak. Drive up Ridge Road to "High Point" to see some beautiful scenery.

If you're near Colorado Springs, head to Garden of the Gods for a pretty place for a hike, or a walk, or just to enjoy a picnic lunch. (You can also rock climb - you must obtain a permit at the Visitors Center - and horseback ride for a fee) It's easy to get to and you can take as long as you like - an hour or a day. And it's FREE.

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The North Carolina Wine Trail

When you think of US Wine regions, Napa and Sonoma in California usually come to mind first. Then there's Southern California's Santa Ynez Valley, the Finger Lakes and the North Fork of Long Island regions in New York, Virginia's wineries, Washington state and Oregon wineries and even wineries in Texas. But most people don't know that North Carolina has some 100 wineries, mostly concentrated in the Western and Piedmont regions of the state. And in the Yadkin Valley area there are 36 wineries on the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail. Located near the small town of Elkin, North Carolina - which was one of Budget Travel's "Coolest Small Towns", the Yadkin Valley is a primarily rural area located about 45 minutes south of the Virginia state line.(In fact, North Carolina is said to have the "mother vine" of US wines which was here when the first settlers arrived on Roanoke Island) We visited three of them recently for some wine tasting and beautiful scenery.

RagApple Lassie Vineyard I had seen the sign for RagApple Lassie Vineyard and I was always curious about the name. So we headed to Boonville (about 25 miles north of Winston-Salem) for an afternoon tasting. RagApple Lassie has 15 different wines available for purchase (my favorite was their very unique chardonnay) and all are made from estate grown grapes.Wine tastings are held inside a building designed by students at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and made to look like a farm building of that area, including a silo. And as to that unique name, well it comes from the owners show calf he owned as a teen who won Grand Champion at the North Carolina State Fair.

Adagio Vineyard Adagio Vineyards and Tasting room, located just outside of Elkin, is brand spanking new. Our tasting was hosted by Douglas, who is a native to Elkin, and he was very helpful in not only identifying what we might like to taste but also in giving us some helpful tips about the area. Adagio has eight wines they are currently pouring (my favorite was the Coda which is a sweet dessert wine that reminded me of ice wine that I tasted in New Hampshire) and most have won medals at nationwide wine shows. After our tasting, we sat outside at their fire pit enjoying the afternoon.

Elkin Creek Vineyard My favorite of the three wineries we visited was Elkin Creek Vineyard. Located an hour north of Charlotte, on yes, you guessed it....Elkin Creek, this winery is a popular spot for weddings - in fact, there was one on the day we visited. Housed in a brick building with an outdoor patio, a picnic shelter and picnic tables by the creek, Elkin Creek is owned by two former members of the Blue Man Group. There are 10 wines currently listed on their website including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Viognier. (My favorite was the Mistela which is a mix of whites - Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Viognier - I guess I prefer white wine) One of the more popular aspects of Elkin Creek is their kitchen, and specifically their Sunday afternoon made-to-order pizzas from their brick oven. We are told they are to die for and reservations are suggested - unfortunately, we weren't there on a Sunday afternoon so I guess I'll be back!

Now I only have 33 to go to conquer the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail! It's a tall order, but somebody's gotta do it!

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox , Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Eating (and Drinking) Denver

Good Morning, Good Afternoon or Good Evening! Well, depending on when you're reading this!  I thought I would highlight some of my favorite places to eat - or drink - in Denver this week on the blog.( If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen some of these photos from our visit to Denver) So without further ado -

Snooze bills itself as an "AM Eatery" and has locations in Colorado, Arizona and California. I first went there a few years ago - and my family might say I'm a bit obsessed with Snooze.( Apparently, when MTV's The Real World was shot in Denver there were several scenes happening at Snooze which made it quite popular. I've only been to the Colorado Avenue location - which isn't the Snooze from The Real World.) I'm really only obsessed with one of their menu items - even though I really like their mid-century modern vibe. 
Known for their specialty pancakes, they offer several pancake and french toast flavors but for me it has to be the pineapple upside-down pancake. From the menu:

                     "buttermilk pancakes with caramelized pineapple
                       chunks, housemade vanilla creme anglaize and
                        cinnamon butter"

Seriously, it just doesn't get any better than this! So I always try to make it to Snooze at least once when I'm in Denver. 
Heads up: Snooze is only open from 6:30 am to 2 pm and be prepared for a wait no matter what time or day you go. 

Vine Street Pub and Brewery
Vine Street Pub is located in Denver's Uptown neighborhood, surprisingly enough on Vine Street, and is one of a few brewpubs located in Denver and Boulder and owned by the Mountain Sun Company. (One of Mr. UR's clients is the father of one of the owners so Vine Street came highly recommended)  There are no televisions located in the brewpub but there are several board games that you can play while you wait or while you eat. We were there on a very lively evening, with plenty of families and about a 30 minute wait.  It's a good place to go for pub food and beer. Their burger was voted one of the best in Denver so I had to go with that. And it didn't disappoint. 

Alpine Dog Brewery
Alpine Dog Brewery's Tap Room is located at the corner of Colfax and Ogden in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Their name is a play on words - it is a pet friendly brewery (and there were several dogs lounging about when we were there) and it is also a name for Coloradans or those that like the mountains. We stopped in for a beer on a Saturday afternoon. There were no crowds and everyone seemed to like the beer. It opened in 2014 so it has a newer and semi-industrial feel. This is a small-scale brewery and not a brewpub - no food, just beer.

Deep Draft Brewing Company
We stopped in for a quick drink to Deep Draft Brewing Company right before eating at Vine Street as it's only a couple of blocks away. The beer lovers weren't as impressed with the beers here but I loved it's outside patio with fire pit. Small, and also with a bit of an industrial vibe, they had a few chips for purchase but no food otherwise. 

Stem Ciders Tap Room
Definitely a favorite of mine, Stem Ciders Tap Room is located in the RiNo (River North Art District) area of Denver and behind Mile High Winery. They have nightly events including: cheese, chocolate, macaroon and pie pairings, Bluegrass night and Trivia night along with specialty events like bottle releases. All the females in our party love cider - and theirs is really good. In fact, we couldn't find any other cidery in Denver! I loved this place - located in the back of the winery, and with outdoor seating, I could've stayed alot longer. But we were on our way to another event and had to leave. I'll be back!

Where is your favorite place to eat - or drink - in Denver? Any suggestions for our next visit?

I'm linking up this week with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections En Route,  The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner!