Horses, go-karts and boats in Grand Lake, Colo.

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains a two-hour drive from Denver is the cute little town of Grand Lake, Colo. The western-style town — complete with wooden-boardwalk sidewalks, a couple of peanut-strewn saloons and a popular go-kart track — is located on the shore of Grand Lake, the state’s largest natural body of water and the headwaters of the Colorado River. The town is also the western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, so it’s a bustling place on summer weekends.

Moms and daughters are ready to ride. I'm riding Lady and Avery is on Midnight.

Moms and daughters are ready to ride at Winding River Resort. I’m riding Lady and Avery is on Midnight. The two-hour rail ride took us into Rocky Mountain National Park, where we saw deer and a herd of elk.

We were fortunate to visit mid-week with friends from Denver and had our pick of activities. We explored town, went horseback riding at Winding River Resort, introduced the children to go-karting (sadly, no images. They loved it!) and motored around the lake on a posh pontoon boat. Since pictures sometimes  speak louder than words, here are some visual highlights from our time in Grand Lake.

Bennett loves horses, but he's not quite ready to handle his own horse so Blake led him around the resort on a 30-minute pony ride. Big smiles!

Bennett loves horses, but he’s not quite ready to handle his own mount so Blake led him around Winding River Resort on a 30-minute pony ride.

This is Bennett's second time horseback riding this summer. He's a natural, no?

This is Bennett’s second time horseback riding this summer. He’s a natural, no?

On the trail in Rocky Mountain National Resort. The girls were up by our guide Aubry, while my friend Becky and I brought up the rear. And by rear I mean her horse kept pooping!

On the trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. The girls were up by our guide, Aubry, while my friend Becky and I brought up the rear.

After the rides the kids got to hang out with calves, chickens, piglets, sheep and more horses.

After the rides the kids got to hang out with calves, chickens, piglets, sheep and more horses, all on resort property next to the stables.

On the poshtoon boat. Everyone got a chance to drive, including Avery and Bennett. All we are missing is a cooler of beer and some tunes.

After horseback riding and go-karting it was lake time. The water is a freezing 62F (16C) so we opted to stay atop it in a “poshtoon” boat. Everyone got a chance to drive, including Avery and Bennett. All we were missing was a cooler of beer and some tunes.

Enjoying the scenery.

Enjoying the scenery, which includes towering mountains and giant lakefront log “cabins” complete with boat houses.

Sunset over Shadow Mountain Lake. We already miss Colorado!

Sunset over neighbouring Shadow Mountain Lake. We already miss Colorado!

We had such a great time in Grand Lake. Special thanks to our friends Becky, Ryan, Annie and a very tolerant Percy James (their golden retriever that Bennett repeatedly tried to “dogback ride”) for hosting us on the Colorado leg of our road trip. Up next… Utah!

Drama inside the Georgetown silver mine

I grew up in Evergreen, Colo., and one of my Dad’s favourite weekend excursions was a day trip 20 minutes west on I-70 to the historic silver mining town of Georgetown.

The entrance to the old Lebanon silver mine near Georgetown, Colo.

The entrance to the old Lebanon silver mine near Georgetown, Colo. Getting ready to enter the mine with Bennett, Avery and Grand-Dad.

 

Since Blake and I were visiting with the kiddos, my dad (a.k.a. Grand-Dad) suggested we visit Georgetown to ride the Georgetown Loop train. It’s a narrow gauge railway that runs the two miles between Georgetown and Silver Plume (another former silver mining camp). Because both towns are located along Clear Creek in a narrow canyon, the train loops around and gradually climbs the distance over high trestles that span the creek, covering off over three miles of track in the process.

All aboard the Georgetown Loop, a narrow gauge railway that runs to Silver Plume.

All aboard the Georgetown Loop, a narrow gauge railway that runs to sister mining town, Silver Plume.

Being somewhat overly ambitious, I decided to add a tour of the old Lebanon Mine onto our trip. Bennett loved the old — if slow — train, and because he had tolerated Kartchner Caverns cave tour in Ariz. as a five-year-old, I thought he would be good for the mine (30 minutes round-trip walking about 500 feet into the side of a mountain). And truly, he was having a blast wandering into the dark abyss, splashing in puddles and ogling veins of “dragon’s blood,” which are silver seepage lines along the mine walls that have oxidized and turned black… until we stopped at the miners’ old lunch spot. While our guide proceeded to explain what the miners ate (some kind of mash), Bennett spotted a locked gate and was hell bent on opening it to explore even more dingy, drippy tunnels beyond.

Avery and Bennett explore the Lebanon Mine near Georgetown, Colo.

Avery and Bennett in the Lebanon Mine near Georgetown, Colo.

We explained he couldn’t pass through there, and about five minutes later he started to have a bit of meltdown, wanting to leave the mine ASAP. Bennett emphasized this point by taking off his orange helmet. So I began to frog march him toward the small rectangle of light at the entrance, which only made him angrier. By the time we reached the light of day, Bennett was in full tantrum mode: upset, crying, irrational. It was one of those “Why do we ever leave the house?” moments, made worse because of all the tourists watching the spectacle. It even prompted a couple of sympathetic, “I don’t know how you do it,” comments from my dad.

But the cool part was, after the tirade ended and as we were slowly making our way uphill toward the train that would carry us back to Georgetown, the tour guide — a young Georgetown native — came over and asked us how we’d liked the tour. I explained that it was neat but hard to enjoy with my son who has autism. He told me his mom used to work with kids with severe autism, who could be violent and were not able to go out in public all that much. He said he thought it was awesome we were bringing Bennett into the mountains to experience the train and mine, and encouraged us to keep trying. Then he high-fived Bennett.

I know it was only one blip out of a couple so far this trip, but when meltdowns happen it can feel like the world is ending in that moment. Still, like the guide said, it is so important to keep trying. I also know that seeing Bennett smile and laugh makes it all worthwhile. By the time we got back to Georgetown, he was skipping again. We ended up having a great day with my dad.

Posing along Georgetown's historic main street.

Posing along Georgetown’s historic main street.

Yellowstone National Park with kids

Wilma, Fred and Pebbles, from the cartoon family The Flintstones, used to visit a nearby park called Jellystone. I can’t recall what manner of natural attractions (lava-spewing volcanoes?) or wild animals (dinosaurs?) they saw, but I’m pretty sure the cartoon version of Yellowstone National Park doesn’t compare to the real thing.

We’re on a road trip to Salt Lake City from Calgary, via Denver and the Rocky Mountains, to attend the annual Chromosome 18 Registry & Research Society conference for Bennett. Blake and I thought it would be fun to hit Yellowstone, and other places like Georgetown and Grand Lake, Colo., and Dinosaur National Monument and Park City, Utah, along the way.

This orange colour is caused by heat-loving micro-organisms such as bacteria.

Avery, Blake and Bennett pose in Yellowstone. This orange colour is caused by heat-loving micro-organisms such as bacteria.

But before I recap our drive-by shooting of photos inside Yellowstone, I will give you a tip: Do not visit this park on a weekend in the middle of summer. It is a human zoo. If you make our mistake, follow this itinerary for the highlights, but be prepared to experience nature while rubbing shoulders with a bunch of tourists like you’re at a football game.

Fountain Paint Pot trail

The almost one-kilometre boardwalk Fountain Paint Pot loop trail located in the Lower Geyser Basin takes you past the majority of thermal attractions you’ve come to Yellowstone to see: orange bacterial mats, bright blue hot springs, boiling mud and active geysers. It took us a good 45 minutes to take in everything, and we loved watching the geyser erupt!

A beautiful blue

A beautiful blue “paint pot” hot spring in Yellowstone National Park.

This nearly constant park

This nearly constant park “performer” spews water almost around the clock. The geyser’s Greek name, Clepsydra, actually means “water clock.”

Firehole Lake Drive

We turned off the park’s main drag to enjoy the sights along Firehole Lake Drive, also in the Lower Geyser Basin. It winds past more blue pools, geysers and travertine terraces caused by flowing hot water. We didn’t see White Dome Geyser (below) erupt, and we didn’t let Bennett climb the ancient, 30-foot-high cone, either.

The only family photo from our road trip thus far, at White Dome Geyser along Firehole Lake Drive in Yellowstone.

Family photo at White Dome Geyser along Firehole Lake Drive in Yellowstone.

Old Faithful

The highlight of a visit to Yellowstone is supposed to be Old Faithful geyser, which erupts pretty much on time every 90 minutes or so. It’s a spectacular sight watching water spew from the ground to heights of 150 feet, but after seeing the concentrated sights at Fountain Paint Pot with relatively fewer tourists (people are literally seated on bleachers waiting for the Old Faithful spectacle like they’re at a sporting event), I can’t say it was our favourite.

Old Faithful goes off four minutes late (but who's counting?) at Yellowstone.

Old Faithful goes off four minutes late (but who’s counting?) at Yellowstone.

In all, it was a long, exciting day in Yellowstone with kids and we were happy to drive south to Dubois, Wyo., home of the World’s Largest Jackalope.

Drink of the Week: Blueberry Elderflower Mojito

It’s officially BC blueberry season, and I have been stuffing my face with gobs of them this week. Representatives from the British Columbia Blueberry Council visited Calgary on Tuesday, packing with them cases of the little blue fruit. But don’t fret — you don’t have to drive west to get your hands on the plump berries. You can find BC blueberries in supermarkets, farmers’ markets and produce centres all over Calgary.

I’m excited to add my new berry bounty to morning shakes, sprinkle them atop yogurt snacks and toss them into kale salads. With the weekend looming, I’m muddling them into mojitos.

The Blueberry Elderflower Mojito was inspired by a raspberry mojito I tried at Island Lake Lodge earlier this month (I’ll be sharing that recipe in my Spirited Calgary column in the Calgary Herald on Aug. 8). Blueberries add a pretty colour, sweetness and antioxidant hit to this twist on a traditional mojito. Enjoy!

This long, refreshing mojito is sweetened by blueberries, St-Germain and a dollop of simple syrup. Divine!

This long, refreshing mojito is sweetened by blueberries, St-Germain and a dollop of simple syrup. Divine!

Blueberry Elderflower Mojito

  • 5 large mint leaves
  • 2 bar spoons fresh BC blueberries
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water ratio)
  • 1 oz light rum (I used Brugal Extra Dry)
  • 1/2 oz St-Germain
  • Top soda water
  • Garnish: 5 fresh BC blueberries and a mint sprig

Method: In the base of a Collins glass, muddle mint and blueberries with lime juice and simple syrup. Add rum and St-Germain. Add ice cubes, stir, then top with soda water (2 to 3 oz, or to taste). Garnish with more blueberries and a mint sprig.

Drink of the Week: Clover Club

One of the cool things about Calgary lately is it keeps opening these amazing restaurants and bars with fabulous cocktails. In recent memory there’s been Parc, followed by Proof and Pigeonhole. Now there’s Charbar in the East Village, which is practically in my backyard!

A couple weeks ago Blake and I biked there from Inglewood to check out the space and try some cocktails. We were blown away by the vista from the rooftop patio, which faces the Bow River and affords great views of The Bow (skyscraper) in one direction, and that new East Village bridge in the other.

Lovely view down the Bow River from the Charbar patio.

Lovely view down the Bow River from the Charbar patio.

We started out with some appies and loved the eggplant and quinoa chips and the tableside ceviche. Watching the ceviche being made-to-order at your table isn’t as exciting as watching tableside guacamole, but it’s just as tasty.

The server adds a dollop of tk to our tableside ceviche.

The server sprinkles some giant corn-nut-like kernels onto our tableside ceviche.

Parched from the bike ride, we also ordered some cocktails including the spirit-forward, martini-like Aldeano for me, and the Local Derby — a deliciously strong bourbon, grapefruit juice and agave nectar number — for Blake. Round two shook up a Last Word for Blake, who loves all-things-Green-Chartreuse, and a Clover Club for me.

This drink was new to me, but it’s a classic that pre-dates prohibition. I love sours, and I liked the colour and flavour that raspberries bring to the drink, which is named for a Philadelphia men’s club that was open from 1882 until the 1920s. It’s a good summer evening drink: light, tart, slightly sweet and pretty on the patio.

The Clover Club is kind of like a gin sour… with raspberries.

The Clover Club is kind of like a gin sour… with raspberries.

Clover Club

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 7 fresh raspberries
  • 1 egg white
  • Glass: Martini
  • Garnish: Raspberry

In a Boston shaker, add the gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white and raspberries. Dry shake. Add ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a raspberry on the edge of the martini glass.

— Recipe courtesy Charbar

Moose on the loose at Island Lake

With nature, timing is everything. Some days you can hike 20 kilometres in the backcountry and see nary a bird; other times you hit the wildlife jackpot with minimum effort. Such was our hot July afternoon at Island Lake.

A mother moose grazes while her calf eyes us up at Island Lake near Fernie, B.C.

A mother moose grazes while her calf eyes us up at Island Lake near Fernie, B.C.

We drove from Fernie up to Island Lake Lodge to rent a canoe ($10 for one hour) and paddle around the lake. The lake is named for the small island in its centre that makes a fun target to navigate around. After situating Bennett and Avery inside the canoe, with instructions to stay as still as possible in spite of the crazy swarms of mayflies (in other words, no tipping!), Blake and I dipped our oars toward the island.

The mayflies were swarming us in the canoe. Good thing they don't bite!

The mayflies were swarming us in the canoe. Good thing they don’t bite!

I spotted movement along a shaded bank. As we glided closer I saw it was a mama moose and her baby, which appeared to be pretty darn new. The pair were busy munching on leaves along the water’s edge. Mama raised her head and stared us down (Blake stopped paddling; I was busy taking endless photos), then hunger drove her back to her afternoon snack. Baby tried unsuccessfully to nurse several times, but was repeatedly dissuaded by a guttural moan from its mother, who clearly needed sustenance after birthing and nursing her calf. We watched them in awe for 10 minutes or more, marvelling at the tiny, fuzzy baby and its skinny, gangly mama. As we paddled away the small family headed inland on the island.

Mama and baby moose pause to glance at our approaching canoe.

Mama and baby moose pause to glance at our approaching canoe.

We continued our trip around the lake, chasing ducklings (much to Bennett’s delight) and letting Avery try to catch tadpoles. A final circle of the island showed no signs of the wildlife sheltered there.

Canoeing at Island LAke is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Canoeing at Island Lake is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Later, over cocktails on the Bear Lodge patio, Island Lake Lodge marketing guy Mike McPhee told us that a mother moose swims out to the island every spring to birth a calf. She shelters it there for awhile, then they move back to the mainland for the rest of the summer. Smart mama — what a beautiful place to raise a babe.

Ancient Cottonwood Trail in Fernie

We discovered a short interpretive hiking trail just 16 kilometres southeast of Fernie, that boasts the oldest black cottonwood forest on the planet. Eager to see these behemoths up close, we drove from Fernie and turned off on Morrissey Road to hike the Ancient Cottonwood Trail.

Bennett and Avery pose at the trailhead for the Ancient Cottonwood Trail near Fernie, B.C.

Bennett and Avery pose at the trailhead for the Ancient Cottonwood Trail near Fernie, B.C.

The 1.5 km loop trail winds through a riparian habitat dense with ferns, cedars, spruce and the towering cottonwoods, some of which have grown to heights of eight storeys (88 feet/27 metres). The thirsty giants suck up hundreds of litres of water a day and grow up to two metres a year. The most ancient in this grove are about 400 years old! Avery measured it with her arm span and estimated its circumference to be about nine metres.

Blake, Bennett and Avery pose in front of the grove's oldest tree, estimated to be about 400 years old. Bennett is so small compared to the tree -- he fits comfortably in a trunk nook.

The gang poses in front of the grove’s oldest tree, estimated to be about 400. Bennett is so small compared to the tree — he fits comfortably in a trunk nook.

We learned you can tell a cottonwood apart from other trees by its nubby, “groovy” trunk. What’s also interesting is these trees are all trunk — there’s just the smallest canopy at the top.

This cottonwood tree is so old moss is growing on it.

This cottonwood tree is so old moss is growing inside the trunk’s grooves.

Look up, waaaay up! These black cottonwoods grow to heights of 88 feet (27 metres), as tall as an eight-storey building.

Look up, waaaay up! These black cottonwoods grow to heights of 88 feet (27 metres), as tall as an eight-storey building.

In all it was a nice, if short, hike. We liked the trees, the ferns and throwing rocks into the Elk River afterward. Fernie, you continue to surprise us, and that’s a good thing!

Ferns in Fernie, B.C.