Tag Archives: colorado

Confessing my climbing love affair at Thrillseekers in Denver, Colorado

I must start this post with a declaration of my undying, unwavering love for Tally Rock Gym. My marriage to this smelly, sweaty, dirty climbing facility cannot be touched, and nothing can ever come between the bond that I share with Tallahassee’s finest (and only) rock gym.

But this whole long-distance relationship thing is getting to be too much.

I’ve spent too many nights pining for my dearly beloved rock gym, and it’s come at the cost of my climbing abilities, and my now way-too-soft finger callouses. I went on a few first dates with the climbing walls here in Denver, but was turned off by their too-clean facilities and hoards of patrons who just used this place as an alternative to traditional gyms. I need a rock gym that’s as dirty as an outdoor crag, as smelly as my boyfriend after a week living in a tent, and as creatively set as my darling Tally Rock Gym.

And then I found Thrillseekers. It was love at first sight.

This phenomenal climbing facility knocked my socks off from the moment I pulled into the parking lot. Housed in an old theater, this joint reeks with evidence of the building’s past life. The stage was converted into a raised climbing area, the balcony transformed into a sweet bouldering section that you can actually climb up to from the ground level, and you can even spot the original ceiling molding peeking out from the hold-filled walls.

Unlike the overly-sterile gyms I had previously visited in Denver, this place instantly captured my adoration with dim lighting in the front desk area, messy rubber flooring, chalky old holds, and fellow climbers who didn’t give me the “who is this girl” stare when I hopped on the wall. The route setting was creative and challenging, and I spent my afternoon acquainting myself with the taped, dirty orange walls. I was in heaven.

While Tally Rock Gym will always take the cake as my favorite climbing gym, Thrillseekers has swiftly earned itself a second place ranking. I plan on investing in a membership when I return this week, and can’t wait to start frequenting the climbing walls. Nothing will ever beat the musty warehouse, family community, and collection of memories I treasure from my sweetheart gym in Tallahassee, but I’m ready to engage in a little love affair with Thrillseekers while I’m here in the Rockies.

Shh.. Don’t tell Tally Rock Gym about my infidelity.
I wouldn’t want to break her heart – this is just a fling.

An adventurous road-tripper’s top 10 travel moments of 2011

What travel blog would be complete without a year-end review of the best travel experiences from 2011? As I begin to daydream of all the amazing adventures that 2012 has waiting around the corner, I can’t help but reflect on the outrageous and memorable times I had on the road this year. Every moment spent road tripping across America is held dearly, but these ten moments stick out above the rest.

10. Escaping for a week of relaxation in the mountains around Hendersonville, North Carolina

My seven-week September solo trip deserves a big mention, but the leg of my adventure that deserves the biggest accolades is the week I spent lounging around Hendersonville, North Carolina. My ex-girlfriend’s mother invited me to stay at her charming country home, and I spent the week sampling the area’s best cuisine, picking apples at an orchard, dancing the night away at a climbing buddy’s wedding in Flat Rock, and exploring the mountainous region of Brevard.

My solo trip commenced with a rough patch of personal heartache, so this miniature escape truly assisted in establishing up the positive vibes that I carried throughout the remainder of my travels.

9. Celebrating my 23rd birthday boating on Lake Dillon in Frisco, Colorado

My solo trip ended just days before my 23rd birthday, and in true girly fashion, I was determined to make my celebration one to remember. Having freshly transplanted myself and my belongings to Denver, Colorado, I wanted to capitalize on my new surroundings. After browsing potential ideas like a pedal-yourself beer wagon, we settled on renting a pontoon boat on Lake Dillon. The drive out to Frisco was absolutely gorgeous, as was the entire day of mountainside boating. I discovered my new favorite whiskey, vanilla-infused Phillips Union, and our crew downed countless cans of beer while we cruised around the frigid lake.

Having been raised boating on the warm waters in Miami, this Colorado lake experience introduced me to a whole new style of waterfront fun – no sandy beaches around, this day was all about mountain peaks and snow forest landscapes.

8. A wild hike up a muddy cliffside during a rainy day at Boulder Canyon in Colorado

This was one of those totally unplanned, totally unpredicted experiences that taught me the value of relinquishing control and embracing the idea of getting very, very dirty. On our way to what we thought was a sport climbing area, a group of cohorts and I scrambled up a steep, chossy cliff that led to frequent falling rock calls, one very bloody knee, and more dirt caked underneath my fingernails that I could ever imagine – but it was too much fun.

I was skeptical about the messy scramble at first, since I was carrying my beloved Nikon camera and equipment in my pack, but after a sprinkle of rain turned our dirty hike into slushy chaos, all bets were off. I returned to the car slathered in mud, and spent the evening picking sticky burrs out of my hair – but again, too much fun.

7. Watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon in Arizona

As the final ‘big’ stop on my post-graduation road trip with Niko in May, we made a pit stop at Grand Canyon National Park – but our original intentions didn’t involve a sunrise. Niko had been dying to see the sunset, so we raced our way along barren roads to catch the sun before it dipped beyond the rim of the canyon. Literally missing the sunset by three minutes, we decided to spend the night in the nearby tourist town so we could watch the sunrise.

After spending a very uncomfortable night sleeping in a hotel parking lot, Niko roused me from my catatonic state and we returned to the park. This time we made sure to arrive well before the sun, and were pleasantly surprised to find the area was nearly deserted – I guess the 5 AM wakeup call for the sunrise is reserved for only the most diehard adventurers. I was cranky and cold, but I ended up with one of my favorite Niko photos of all time.

6. Pitching my tent at Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park

This campground, located inside Yosemite Valley, is one of the most legendary watering holes for famous climbers. It was inspiring to camp at the same spot that housed icons like Lynne Hill and Ron Kauk – Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia even used to sell homemade gear from the camp’s parking lot.

Everything from waking up at 6:00 in the morning to queue in line for camp registration to the rusty bear-proof food lockers and name tags we had to tie on our tents for the ranger check-ins combined to create this inspiring air of climbing confidence and community vibes that spread throughout the grounds. I woke up in the morning pumped to climb some Yosemite granite.

5. My first sport climb at Sandrock in Alabama

An avid climber from the moment my fingertips first grazed the plastic holds at Tallahassee Rock Gym, it was a damn shame that I had never sport climbed until August 2011. Two years into my climbing obsession, I finally embarked on a sport climbing trip to a beautiful crag called Sandrock near Steele, Alabama.

The exhilaration of clipping into the anchors at the top of my first lead was only rivaled by the experience of sleeping out beneath the stars atop the rock formations at the mountain summit, and waking up to explosive hues of sunrise. It was one of the moments that cemented my adoration for the outdoors and living in nature – although the chiggers that infested my bellybutton on this trip weren’t the best reminder of why I love living in nature.

4. Getting a taste of desert life in Moab, Utah

Anyone who has asked me about my travels in 2011 has heard an earful about my infatuation with Moab. Niko and I spent a week living in the desert in May, when we came to visit our two buddies who spent the summer working as river guides in Moab. I became enthralled with the lifestyle of these dirty, leather-skinned desert people.

Over the course of a very short week, I photographed beautiful roadside climbs at Potash, hiked through Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park, ate sandy campfire food alongside my fellow tent-dwellers at the Lazy Lizard Hostel, and met some of the most amazing people I have ever encountered while traveling – Josephine, Paul, Chelsey, and Mike, I’m talkin’ to you.

Seriously, you must visit Moab. It is my most highly recommended destination.

3. A weekend at Still Mountain Retreat in Willits, California

After weeks of vagabonding throughout Moab and Yosemite, Niko and I readily accepted an invitation to join some friends for a relaxing weekend retreat at family cabins tucked high in the mountains near Willits, California. The entire weekend was a fantastic blur of great homemade food, excursions into the woods and nearby waterfall, and peaceful time spent in great company.

Niko and I stayed in a small cabin with an attic-like entrance to the second-story sleeping area – which inspired notions of simple living and small spaces.  It was so refreshing to experience this place tucked away from civilization, where all that mattered was when the next shuffleboard tournament would take place.

2. Driving into the mountains on I-25 on my way to Denver, Colorado

My September solo trip concluded with a final haul down to Miami to load up my hatchback with my belongings before returning to Denver to move-in. The push back to Colorado from Florida was grueling with a jam-packed car, but as I finally hit the Rockies after driving through hours of flatlands, I was overwhelmed by the most intense feeling of pure joy I have ever felt. My music was blasted at full volume, all windows were rolled down, and I literally burst out with ecstatic squeals as I wound my way through the beautiful mountains that would soon become home.

1. Camping solo for the first time at Lake Barkley State Park in Cadiz, Kentucky

Of all my travels throughout 2011, there is one experience that shines above the rest. My first night spent camping solo was a huge milestone for me as an independent traveler. While I spent seven weeks on a solo road trip, the first night of successfully pitching my tent, building a fire, and surviving the wilderness through daybreak was easily my biggest accomplishment.

My evening was spent at Lake Barkley State Park, a tranquil slice of outdoors paradise sitting near the town of Cadiz in rural Kentucky. Family and fans of my adventures had been dreading this day since the beginning of my trip, but I approached the evening with a calm attitude and wound up having a great night tending to my fire and basking in the peace of solitude. My first experience camping solo left me with overwhelming sentiments that I can handle anything my travels throw my way – and I don’t need anyone’s help to do it.

What are your top travel moments from 2011?
If you’ve got a link to your own blog post, I’d love for you to share it below in the comments section! You can also tweet pics and links to @themorningfresh, or share your experiences on The Morning Fresh Facebook page.

Thistle, straw, seedlings, and spindly flora at Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, CO

One of my favorite parts about spending time outdoors is simply enjoying the little things – plants, bugs, pebbles, twigs, you name it. My climbing buddies will quickly confess that I often spend more time chasing insects around boulders than I do actually climbing the rocks. I can’t resist becoming instantly distracted the moment I see a beetle crawling by, or a tiny flower peeking out from the dirt.

My mother always proudly credits herself with my buggy fascination. When I was a little tot, she used to wrap earthworms around my fingers and have me wear them as rings – now do you see where my adoration for creepy crawlers comes from? She always encouraged my affection for rolling around in the dirt.

The wintry weather in Colorado seems to have driven the bugs from their usual swarming tendencies, but I still managed to snap some sweet photos of unique dry-weather plant life while hiking through Three Sisters Park (also known as Alderfer Park) in Evergreen, Colorado. The parched landscape has taken on an entirely new appearance since my last visit to the area during summertime, and I think I quite prefer this desert-style look.

As if I needed another reminder that I am in dire need of a macro lens, these up-close shots of nature’s tiniest jewels offers another reason to justify splurging on new photography equipment – but hey, these photographs aren’t too shabby considering I was using a standard kit lens with my Nikon D7000!

Slushy hillside hiking and coyote sightings at Four Mile Creek in Boulder, CO

Weekday escapes to Boulder have become a new tradition as I frequently flee the city limits of Denver to embark on adventures with my mountain-dwelling gal pal, Jane. Our favorite haunt is Flagstaff Mountain, which offers abundant moderate climbs and steep, scenic hiking – but today we opted to scope out a new venue for our afternoon explorations. We scoured the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks website in search of a new destination, and debated the merits of several different options before settling on the Four Mile Creek/South Foothills trail head off Broadway and Lee Hill.

This area is great for hill runners, leisurely dog-walkers, casual hikers, and even features a paved lower path ideal for handicapped outdoor adventurers – plus, these hills sit directly in the sun, making them a warm winter hiking spot. The beginning of the trail was wide and packed with gravel, though the wintry conditions had us trudging through thick puddles of frozen mud and slick patches of ice. Jane and I appreciated the extra natural challenges, and eagerly stomped on melting sheets of ice as we pressed towards our first loop on the Old Kiln Trail, which led us to a historical limestone kiln dating back to early settlement days.

After easily completing the short mile-long trail, we hiked back to the original fork that separated towards the Old Kiln path, and this time followed a trail that led us to a very frozen Wonderland Lake. Eager to head up into the hills, we veered away from our lake-bound course and headed up a steep, narrow trail that wound up towards the hilltop. Always late to commence our outdoor discoveries, it was nearly sunset as we clamored up the foothills. As usual, Jane captured some impressive shots on her phone – check ’em out.

On the way back from our hike, Jane and I were entertaining ourselves with the sights of hundreds of fat, barking prairie dogs that dwell along the foothills when we spotted a creature I’ve been dying to see since I started my adventures in Colorado: a sly coyote. We watched as the hungry predator chased plump prairie pups into their tunnels – I was admittedly a little worried that one of my chubby little buddies would become this carnivore’s lunch. Fortunately for me, the prairie dogs managed to stave off the coyote’s tactics, and eventually sent him retreating up the hill as they loudly expressed their disapproval of his presence.

I may have missed this week’s edition of Travel Talk on Twitter, but the great day of hiking and wildlife encounters made it absolutely worth it. I can’t wait to head back to this spot with more time on my hands so I can summit the hill and hopefully meet a few more coyotes.

Digging into Juan’s Famous Poo Poo Plate at Morrison Inn in Morrison, CO

After a grueling day of hiking to crags, exhausting yourself with beta, and the whole propelling-yourself-up-a-boulder thing, climbers need good grub and cold drinks to help us refuel – and there ain’t nothing better than a hearty plate of Mexican food to get you back on your feet.

Thanks to Mountain Project’s description of the Morrison/Evergreen climbing area, Niko and I gained curiosity about the highly acclaimed Mexican food in the area, especially the recommended Morrison Inn. Located only a few miles away from Three Sisters Park, we figured it would be a great place to unwind after a cold day of climbs. After a day of this, we loaded up our gear and followed the winding mountain roads that led us from Evergreen to Morrison.

Always a beer man, I was surprised when Niko expressed his interest in ordering a margarita. Naturally, he maintained his manhood by ordering a house variety on the rocks, and I stayed true to my own form with a sweet frozen strawberry flavor. My favorite part of my blended drink was the sugar-coated rim, yum.

We both felt comfortable in this cozy establishment, which has some of the friendliest waitresses I have ever encountered. Our particular waitress was quick to refill our constantly emptied salsa bowl, and her quirky antics left us feeling cheerful as we slurped up our drinks and pondered our next move.

As Niko and I sipped on our tequila cocktails and shoveled tortilla chips into our mouths, we scoured the menu in search of edible conquests. Always budget-minded, we decided to order something that we could share. Fish tacos and burly burritos called out to us from the offerings, but as soon as our eyes landed on “Juan’s Famous Poo Poo Plate,” we burst into giggles and found our meal.

To be honest, neither of us had a clue what “cocktail flautas,” or “petite chili rellenos” were, but we decided to take a gamble after our bubbly waitress told us the platter was an excellent choice. Curious, but even moreso famished, we continued noshing on chips and salsa as we waited for our mystery meal to arrive. We eventually spotted our waitress rounding the corner with an enormous spread of Mexican goodness – as soon as she delivered the mound of morsels to our table, I shot Niko a doubtful concern about our ability to clear the massive plate.

Truth be told, we totally demolished every last bite. The nachos were perfectly layered, the queso dip had an ideal balance of spice, and the mysterious flautas and rellenos turned out to be the best part of it all. The flautas were basically deep-fried tortillas wrapped up and stuffed with ground beef and seasoned chicken. My favorite portion of the platter were the petite chili rellenos, little fried balls oozing with jalapeno-infused cheese.

How we managed to fit all that food in our bellies after two huge margaritas and more refills on chips and salsa than I’d like to admit, I simply don’t know. We are veritable foodie champions, conquering the realm of Mexican food so readers like you can enjoy the stories while we clutch our bloated bellies. I would highly recommend this joint as a post-climb pit stop for any climber, hiker, or adventurer in the vicinity. Two thumbs up, Morrison Inn!

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A bloody bouldering battle against Prince Charles (V8) at Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, CO

It doesn’t happen often, but every few trips, a climber finds themselves absolutely, unwaveringly infatuated with a rock. For me, the love affair was with Beached Whale (V5) in Yosemite National Park – but for Niko, true love was to be had the moment he set his eyes on Prince Charles, a compression-crazed problem tucked away from the trails at Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, Colorado.

His love affair was something that I, as his faithful woman, knew I could never come between. I accepted this attractive boulder as the new third-wheel in our relationship, and honestly grew quite fond of Niko’s granite mistress. He was a man transfixed, and Prince Charles quickly bit back – it didn’t take more than ten minutes of climbing before Niko managed to tear his elbow open on the boulder.

My trusty first-aid kit was buried beneath my car seats in the parking lot, a 15-minute hike back from our location off the Sister’s Trail – so I worked with what I had in my pack: a roll of climbing tape, and a tampon. I felt proud of my MacGyver moment as I fashioned my bleeding beau a sweet makeshift bandage from my feminine stash. It held up pretty well, considering its hasty construction.


Niko’s dance with Prince Charles was a two-day tango that involved plenty of bloodshed, burning muscles, and my frustration as I attempted to photograph the horribly mixed scene of piercing sunlight and dark shadows. Watching him battle against this boulder was inspiring; he fought with every ounce of his ability, and probably mustered up some strength he didn’t know he had.

Here’s a breakdown of the Prince Charles beta, compliments of Mountain Project: “Start back and to the right side of a giant wedged shape nose. Move into a full body bear hug squeeze of madness. As the wide hugging tapers to a thin point continue up and over the nose heading right or turning your back to the East at the last possible point on the line. Slap your way to the finish.” Yes, it’s as burly as it sounds.

After the first day spent working Prince Charles, we took a short climbing break to prepare for round two. On his second date with his granite muse, Niko convinced our buddy Douso to tag along for the adventure. Two of the strongest climbers I know, it was a treat to watch them exchange techniques, sample footwork, share frustration, and bleed all over the place.

Douso began the day slightly reserved, as if he wasn’t willing to succumb to the seduction of this particular problem. They griped over the compression-heavy style of the route, and plopped down to take angry rests after being shut down on certain moves – but slowly, surely, Douso’s eyes were set ablaze with the same fire that sparked in Niko’s. There is something to be said about the motivation and camaraderie shared by two climbers transfixed by the same hunk of rock.


While the boys spent hours demolishing their fingertips against the rough granite surfaces of Prince Charles, I occupied myself by finding a flat boulder perched directly in the sun. I noshed a bit on pistachios, wandered through the nearby woods in search of photographic gold, and even enjoyed a little cat nap in the sunshine.

Some climbers find it frustrating to attempt patience while accompanying friends who are working a problem that is just way out of their league, but I always enjoy these opportunities for relaxation. So what if there’s no chance of me climbing Prince Charles? Any time that I am blessed to spend outside is a-okay with me.

And of course, I was knee-deep in woodland exploration when I heard the hoots and hollers wafting through the treeline as Niko finally sent his problem. I was disappointed in the instant I realized what had just happened, then went careening through the woods to find Niko parading atop his boulder, beaming with pride. Sure, I missed the chance to snap shots as his made his final ascent, but hell, sometimes it’s just about the victory of a successful climb.

A very climber Thanksgiving feast full of Floridians in Colorado

With twenty-two years of bacon-covered, avocado-filled Cuban Thanksgivings under my belt, I experienced a strong mix of emotions while preparing for this year’s November celebration – it was my first holiday spent away from home. Thanks to miniscule budgets and newly-acquired jobs, the rest of my Colorado climber family stuck around too – and we even had a Tally Rock Gym-er fly out to join us in the mountains.

I was determined to keep some of my Cuban meal traditions alive, and my fellow cohorts embarked on similar missions of creating dishes to mimic their favorite family fare. I cooked up black beans drenched in homemade sofrito with rice, avocado salad, and green bean casserole. McGoo experienced his first (and adamantly declared only) foray into chefdom with a delicious sweet potato casserole topped with pecans, and his grandfather’s savory stuffing. Niko made a great batch of garlic mashed potatoes, and donated a Honey Baked Ham gift certificate that got us a delicious brisket.

In addition to the first round of preparations, we had multiple waves of kitchen use that produced an enormous spread of Thanksgiving grub. Steve got a huge turkey from his new job, which Douso draped with bacon before popping into the oven. Steve’s mom pitied our homesick holiday and ordered a beautiful ham for our buffet. Hannah diced up a huge selection of yams, potatoes, peppers, and pearl onions that she doused in a brown sugar and butter glaze. Douso rounded things out with made-from-scratch pumpkin and apple pies.

And of course, McGoo made sure to keep the drinks flowing all morning, afternoon, and night long.


Before long, our guests arrived bearing edible and drinkable gifts. Jerimiah and Adam arrived with arms full of fresh bread from Whole Foods, exotic cheeses and prosciutto, and a hoard of spicy olives. Our bar was soon stacked with everything from Baileys, Kahluha, and cheap tequila to Absolute vodka, Red Stag whiskey, gin and tonic makings, and a huge variety of bottled beer. We made merry while the final casseroles and pies basked for a last few minutes in the oven, then it was time for our grand noshfest to begin.

The meal began with lots of chatter and silverware clinking against glass, then gradually grew into a quiet affair with a gut-clenching crowd. We pleasantly gorged ourselves on every morsel of food we could shovel into our mouths, and I couldn’t have asked for a better family to share my first ‘grown-up’ holiday with. We had all began our adventures down in Florida, and had journeyed to this very moment, crowded around a dinner table in Denver.

Our cookware was largely purchased last minute, upon realizing that none of us vagabonds had proper supplies of kitchen utensils suited for our needs. We purchased the table the night before our meal, and our chair arrangement consisted of every seating vessel scrounged up around the house, and an upside-down tub draped with fabric. It may not have been the fanciest meal, but to a vagabond like me it felt fit for royalty.

While my heart ached to have spent Thanksgiving shouting Spanish across the table and enjoying family traditions that I grew up with, this Colorado celebration was one of the best Thanksgivings I have ever experienced. We were all forced to spend the holiday away from home (besides Niko, who very sweetly came to Colorado to spend the holiday with me), but we had a beautiful time sharing this part of our current adventures. For some, this was the first holiday spent in their new home of Colorado, others saw their last true family meal before moving on to new countries, and some came from across the country just to spend the time together. Me, I was just in it for the bacon and black beans.

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