Our vacation out West was an unbelievable experience. In eight days, we managed to visit both states of Colorado and New Mexico and explore about ten cities within. The view of the Rocky Mountains felt unreal, as if we were at portrait place choosing a backdrop for our photo shoot. Residing in New Jersey, we are not used to being able to see so much terrain while driving. The wide open space provided us with such a thrilling sense of freedom; that anywhere we wanted to go was in sight.
Being that this is a food blog, I’m sure you could assume that we ate at some magnificent restaurants. And, we sure did! But, not only did we eat and drink our way through the trip, we also accomplished some of the most strenuous physical challenges of our lives, and that might have even been a more satisfying feeling than sampling the “Christmas” chilies to share with ya’ll on this blog.
We landed in Denver on Monday, July 13th, and immediately took a bus to Boulder. We initially planned to explore the city of Denver, but with twenty five pounds on our backs, we grew a fear of the unknown and decided to play it safe. Boulder was where we were going to be staying for the next four nights and our friend Allison agreed to meet us for lunch and take our backpacks. The new plan of releasing the dead weight our backs and roaming around Pearl Street much lighter seemed like an excellent idea.
After a short wait, we sat down at Foolish Craig’s Café, a chill little restaurant that was featured on Diner’s Drive-In’s and Dives on the Food Network. Guy Fieri raved about their BLT Guacamole sandwich and their Butter Rum Caramel Crepe Cake. We ordered one of each of these and two orders of their most popular savory crepe. This was a crepe that contained a bacon hash, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and onions and was topped with eggs over-easy and salsa. The crepes were to die for! They were moist and buttery and just everything you’d expect a crepe to be… and more! No wonder this place had a constant line!
Allison went back to work and we decided to rent city bikes and ride on the outskirts of the popular Pearl Street to the Boulder Creek Path. This ride was relaxing in a sense as we got to admire our surroundings and see the brave souls tubing down the creek. However, the bike rentals were only a half hour at a time so we had to return them and check them back out again. This was a little stressful, but we made it work.
We then thought it was the best time to start brewery hopping. Boulder itself contains sixty breweries, with a whopping three hundred something in the whole state of Colorado. That means a person could go to a different one every single day for a year. Insanity! We ordered a flight at the West Flanders Brewing Company and enjoyed all of the beers.
That night, we made dinner for our friend and went to sleep early.
The next morning, we woke up and went to Crossfit Roots, a local Crossfit box that our friend in NJ recommended. She used to be a member there when she lived in Boulder. We participated in a WOD (workout of the day) that was comprised of running 400 meters, back squats, and dead lifts, five times. The running was the hardest part of all. Being a mile above sea level, the altitude really affected us; making us a little light headed and loopy. It was constantly hard to catch our breath because we were deprived of oxygen. We were proud to be able to finish the workout and to say we “dropped in” to our first foreign box!
After that, we traveled to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a very famous concert venue that dates back to the early 1900’s. In my opinion, this might have been the most beautiful sight of our entire trip. There are massive red rock configurations that form an incredible structure and produce a brilliant acoustic sound. We were curious as to how the performers get quickly acquainted with singing at that altitude. After eight days, we still weren’t acclimatized. We witnessed people of all ages exercising on the bleachers of this theater and it was pure entertainment. We were fascinated that they weren’t afraid to topple down hundreds of feet as they were sprinting from one side to another and executing lunges up and down each step. It was even a workout just to get up to the amphitheater from the parking lot. It was a relief to see that not all of the United States is lazy and out of shape. Colorado definitely contains super athletes.
We then ate lunch in Idaho Springs at a Barbecue place recommended by Legacy Excursions (an active travel company based out of the tri-state area). Smokin’ Yards BBQ was delicious! We sampled the brisket, pulled pork, St. Louis style ribs, macaroni and cheese, and a sweet potato concoction. Everything had a lot of flavor and was cooked thoroughly. They had a few barbecue sauce options on the table to smother your food in, as well.
We sampled beer at three more breweries: Golden City Brewery in Golden, Southern Sun Pub and Brewery back in Boulder, and Twisted Pine Brewing Company also in Boulder.
After a few hours of relaxing, we went to “Taco Tuesday” at a place called T|aco in Boulder. The 45-minute wait was totally worth it because those tacos were out of this world. The options that were all $2 were ground beef, chicken, pulled pork, pork belly, beef tongue, shrimp, fish, cheese, vegetable, and skirt steak. Each one had an intense flavor profile and the toppings paired so well with the meat it contained. The guacamole and salsa were wonderful too! We especially enjoyed the mango one.
The next morning, we woke up early and drove southwest. We stopped in Frisco, which was an adorable, quaint, tiny town recommended by a girl I went to high school with who now lives in Vail. We were so happy that we stopped there! We ate brunch at Yelp rated 4.5 star placed called the Butterhorn Bakery. We ordered their two most popular breakfast dishes: The Eggs Butterhorn and the Eggy Bread topped with fruit and nuts. Not only did these dishes photograph well because of the outside lighting, they tasted spectacular. The roasted red pepper sauce on the sandwich wasn’t too salty or overbearing for breakfast. The fresh fruit on top of the French toast-esque platter really hit the spot. My only regret was not eating it in its entirety! I made us wrap some of it up so we weren’t stuffed to capacity. We never had time to finish it because there was so much other food to be consumed.
Then, we arrived in Vail and took the suggestion of many locals to attempt to hike the Berry Picker trail on Vail Mountain. The term “berry picker” sounds so sweet and innocent. And literally after taking our first couple of steps, we quickly learned that it was anything BUT. Instantaneously out of breath at only about a 20 degree incline, we contemplated turning around and giving up. No amount of CrossFit training, my years of dancing, or Natalie’s sports playing her whole life could have possibly prepared us for what was in store for us on this mountain. We would walk about twenty feet and then have to stop to catch our breath. After what we assumed was about half of the hike, we decided that at that point we just had to keep going. Later on, we realized that that point in fact, had barely put a dent in it. It took us exactly three hours of sweat, huffing and puffing, and borderline tears until we reached the top. Each time we asked people who were passing us how long they had been walking down, the time would grow. It was bizarre and seriously miserable. I was so scared that we were going to run out of water. The incline was so intense in certain areas that we were almost rock-climbing. When we got to the top, we realized that it was actually an intermediate hike and we were so proud of ourselves to have made it to the summit. We were two miles above sea level at that point! Over ten thousand feet! We were allowed to take the gondola down for free! “Saved sixty dolla!”
Afterwards, I definitely felt the altitude messing with me and we were both exhausted. We stopped in the town Breckenridge to check it out and picked up some delicious curry chicken salad and a green salad to eat on the drive home. I don’t remember the name of the place, but of course I took pictures.
The next day, we saw Chautauqua Trail head and then went to the Boulder Reservoir. It was similar to the beach in that there was sand and water. The water was calm, of course, and there were platforms that you could swim out to and hang out on. It was relaxing! We laid out and tanned for a little bit. Once about fifteen busloads of camp kids arrived and a false scare of a missing kid had occurred, we decided it was best to leave. We stopped at two more breweries: Boulder Beer Company and Fate Brewery. Fate had some really unique beers. They had a citrus one, a coffee IPA, and an earl grey tea flavor. I think this brewery was the most memorable of them all. Then, we ate an incredible Indian Buffet lunch with Allison, went back to her house and played with her cats while packing for the following day.
On Friday, we drove to Albuquerque and whaddya know, our first stop was a brewery. Natalie’s aunt and uncle greeted us with big smiles, open arms and an itinerary of all things that would appeal to us! They were so nice and tons of fun. The brewery had amazing food! We were spoiled out west because in New Jersey, breweries cannot sell food. Natalie and I shared a Kobe beef burger and green Chile calamari. Both were great!
Then, we drove around in search of all of the Breaking Bad filming locations. These addresses are open to the public and it is really exhilarating for die-hard fans of the show. We went to the car wash, where Walter White ran his business. Skylar White owned, operated, and laundered money through this car wash. Next, we went to the White’s house! People actually lived in that house and were pretty pissed off that tourists just kept showing up all day every day. They sat in their garage with an angry demeanor and told us to take pictures from across the street. Lastly, we went to the Candy Lady candy store, where the “blue meth” was actually made. They used candy as a prop for the drug. The lady in there was so sweet and told me that I could dress up as “Heisenberg” and play with the blue meth. We even pretended to do a drug deal and someone took pictures of us in front of the Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant sign. It was so much fun and I am happy to check that off my bucket list.
Later on, we walked to the park and Natalie played a quick game of catch with her uncle. For dinner, we went to this iconic restaurant called Frontier. All of the New Mexico travel books insisted that this was a must. It was like a cafeteria and you order at the window. It was really cool and ancient feeling. The food was also cheap. We shared some New Mexican food.
The following day, we drove up the fourteen mile spiral to Sandia Peak. We watched a man propose to his girlfriend up there. It was so sweet. The view from the top was indescribable. It’s not every day we are able to look out at the world from the top of a mountain.
Then, we went to The Tinkertown Museum which was a museum of one mans’ artistic collections. He put together towns with little trinkets and built the walls of his house with glass bottles and other interesting materials.
We then took the famous Turquoise Trail to the second village called Madrid. It was adorable! There were old shops and places to eat. We ate at a place called The Holler and I got a green tomato goat cheese salad. Everything was extremely local and tasted so fresh. Then, I bought a cowboy hat and staged some touché photos with the elements. We really enjoyed that little town.
That night we checked out the Route 66 festival. It was crowded, but not too bad compared to the crowds we are used to. We walked a lot and looked at some cars that were part of a car show. Then, we took Vietnamese food to go and ate it back at their house. It was a jam packed day.
The next day, Natalie and I went ourselves to Taos and Santa Fe. We enjoyed the sand, clay, and straw buildings. Their structures are just so mesmerizing. We ate at a place called Orlando’s New Mexican Restaurant in Taos and I ordered shrimp tacos. They were definitely interesting and I enjoyed them. They came on soft blue corn tortillas.
Then, we drove to the Rio Grande Gorge, which was the scariest experience in the world. Walking across the bridge was just petrifying! We took a few pictures before I scurried off to safety. We saw some Earthship houses made of recycled materials that run on rainwater, wind, and solar power and then stopped at the Taos Mesa Brewery for just a taste. That brewery was in the middle of nowhere and pretty awesome but we couldn’t stay to drink a lot. We had much more to do. We checked out the downtown area of Taos and then proceeded on our route to Santa Fe. We stopped for ice cream since it was National Ice Cream day and we also pulled off to the side of the road to take a few pictures of the rocks on the mountains and an abandoned bridge that I was fascinated with.
The town of Santa Fe was upscale and very nice. Too bad it was Sunday night and most things were already closed. We walked around for a little bit, got coffee in a coffee shop that had “cats” in the name but unfortunately (for me) did not contain any cats, and then headed back to Albuquerque. We need to go back to Santa Fe again one day.
We picked up six different beers at Whole Foods from breweries that we weren’t going to get to visit and we drank those for dinner with some stinky cheese. Then, we casino hopped with Uncle Bobby. We had a ball! We found it crazy that they don’t allow drinking on the gambling floor. You have to sit at the bar to consume alcoholic beverages. The second casino gave us twenty five dollars of free money to gamble with! We arrived home very late that night after all of us had lost some money.
On our last day, we went to a hole in the wall New Mexican restaurant for brunch that was family owned and was wonderful. Everyone ordered New Mexican food, except me because I was sick of it already! I got an “American breakfast”, which is so unlike me.
We saw a different part of Route 66 with some additional older buildings. Then, we went to the Petroglyph National Monument and walked up their thirty minute trail to the top of the rocks. We thoroughly enjoyed that hike! It was short and painless, but we still got a workout from it. It was nice to hike at a lower altitude. We saw three inactive volcanoes from the top and took lots of pictures. Afterwards, we went to another casino for a few hours.
Later that night, we boarded the plane for our flight home. We were sad to leave but we know we will be back to visit again in the future!