2021 Family Vacation in Colorado
at Above The Clouds
July 30, 2021 Monday - August 5, 2021 Sunday

Anne and Stewart French

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Evergreen, Colorado is an amazing place to vacation. Back in 2018 we found the mountaintop retreat Above The Clouds and were astonished how beautiful and serene it was. Sitting out on the back deck looking at the mountains over the forest or lounging in the game room downstairs playing pool and shuffleboard we couldn't imagine a better place to spend time with family. Last year we decided to make another trip to ATC and started planning.

Our Above The Clouds property manager was Cristine Arnold, of VRBO and Luxury Rental Collective. Stewart had been in contact with her many times prior to the trip to get everything lined up properly. Things had gotten complicated by COVID. We had originally planned this trip to be in July 2020, but as COVID spread and everything shut down we decided to try and postpone it a year. Cristine was completely cooperative. We picked these 2021 dates, modified the contract, and hoped for the best. Surely the pandemic would have eased by then! Cristine agreed to the year delay with no change in the price. Luckily, it worked perfectly.

Here are the folks that were able to attend this year : Anne & Stewart, Trina, Manasi & Doug, Emily & Andrew, Mia, Melanie & Brad & Charlie, Brandi & Lamar, Manisha & Freddy.

Sunday July 25, 2021
DFW to Denver International Airport

We had an American Airlines flight from DFW to Denver at 12:36pm so the morning prep was easy. We had already packed most everything the night before to see if it would all fit, no problem, so Sunday morning was just packing up the toiletries and a few other items.

Uber picked us up and dropped us at our gate at terminal A. We breezed through security and baggage check (we are both TSA PreCheck cleared) and headed for American's Admiral's Club lounge. Anne had signed up for this months ago and found it to be super nice. We relaxed, had some food & drink, read our books until the flight time, then headed over to our gate. The flight to Denver was uneventful. We had First Class seats so we boarded first to our seats and got settled in. On landing in Denver we picked up our luggage and caught the bus to the Hertz Rental Car area off the airport grounds. It was very confusing here. There were two lines, one for the Gold Plus loyalty program customers that was maybe 8 people long, and another for everyone else that had 100+ people in it. Both were moving a bit slow. We had no idea if we were Gold Plus or not! Anne had signed up for Gold Plus in June but the Hertz app was unclear about displaying it. So Anne got in the regular line while Stewart got in the Gold Plus line. Stewart quickly got to the front first (duh) and found out that we were indeed Gold Plus. Our car was waiting for us in the parking lot. Stewart walked back over and got Anne and we headed west to Evergreen.

We wore our COVID masks for the Uber ride to the airport as well as in the airport and for the entire flight. Everybody was quietly compliant about mask wearing and distancing. We saw no confrontations, it was very civil.

Turned out Manisha & Freddy and Melanie & Brad & Charlie had arrived earlier and were exploring the Denver area. Anne msg'd them and got things organized. Manisha & Freddy were already at the Lariat Lodge having drinks and relaxing. We joined them for dinner. Then later, just as we were leaving, Melanie and crew showed up. M&F stayed with them for their "third dinner" and more drinks. This turned out to be a recurring fun occurrence for F&M. They'd find nice bars and grab chairs then call in the troops (us) to fill the seats.

Late afternoon at the Lariat Lodge was the perfect time for a mountain rainstorm and sure enough, we got one. It rained and hailed on us! We gathered under the umbrella and enjoyed the storm then headed out to ATC as it let up as M&B&C showed up and took over our seats.

On our way to Above The Clouds we stopped at Safeway and picked up some groceries, then at a local liquor store for some wine and other supplies. On the drive up the mountain we saw a doe feeding a fawn right on the road in front of us! We slowed and crept by as quiet as possible and they watched us but didn't really react at all. The wildlife is used to people. ATC was exactly as we remembered it, except they had remodeled the living room a little and moved the fireplace from the center to the right wall, building it into the boulder. It is a much better arrangement and very beautiful. We brought in our luggage and got settled in our room then headed out to the back deck to watch the storm dissipate with the fog and clouds over the forested hills. Sitting out there looking at the mountains, our feet up, a glass of wine, is pure heaven.

Cristine had msg'd Stewart Sunday morning to let us know that the refrigerator had been replaced. This thing is a huge Sub-Zero unit. Cristine said that the old one had quit and they had a very difficult time finding one and getting it up the mountain, that they had completed the installation at 2am the night before we arrived. She sounded tired. She said they couldn't haul away the old one yet so it was sitting outside the back door and for us to be aware and not put anything in it. (Later, Doug told Stewart to let her know that the "beer fridge" out back made his beers skunky. He told her and she loved the joke).

Monday July 26, 2021

Stewart's Story

Stewart started having double vision Sunday afternoon after we picked up the car at the airport, starting about 3pm. He was able to drive to ATC but had bad headaches overnight and the double vision was worse in the morning. He called his local Optometrist who sent us to CareNow in Littleton, CO near Denver. The PA there referred us to Swedish Medical Center ER for an MRI and CTscan. About 3pm he got results from the neurologist who ruled out stroke (thank god) and other causes. He says Stewart needs to be checked by an ophthalmologist when we get back but can carry on with vacation week as Pirate Stewart. An eye patch will help. We picked one up on the drive back to ATC and he slowly adapted to it.

When we got back at home he saw our optometrist on 8/3/2021 Tuesday. Dr. Wimbish has tons of tools and he hypothesized the right eye's "4th nerve wasn't enervating". Also there was some edema of the right eye optic nerve (inflammation). He gave recommendations for several neuro-ophthalmologists.

Meanwhile, he can drive with an eye patch on one eye, in familiar areas at slow speeds, no highways. Exercise is indoor cycling and maybe local walks. After coming home we tried a step class in the garage and it worked okay. We got a COVID test at a local CVS on Friday expecting results in a day or so. If NEGATIVE then step class is back on the agenda.

In a later voice message Dr Wimbish suggests this may be "Idiopathic sixth nerve palsy". Idiopathic meaning there is no obvious cause. This type of palsy usually resolves within 6 months with or without treatment, but it is still a good idea to see the neuro-ophthalmologist and eliminate all the potential causes. Stewart saw an Ophthalmologist about 2 weeks later who confirmed idiopathic sixth nerve palsy. He suggested Stewart get a prism overlay on his right lens and wait a month to see if the condition improves. He did get the overlay and it helped, improving his depth perception somewhat so driving was safer.

As of this blog entry he is waiting until his next appointment in October to see if his vision has improved or is unchanged. If unchanged then surgery is an option. If it is still changing then he'll wait another month. Rinse and repeat.

The route back from Denver was winding through the foothills on the eastern side of Bear Mountain, where Above The Clouds perches. It is a beautiful drive through the forest. Halfway up we met a lone bicyclist descending (which meant earlier he had a tough climb!). Descending often is harder ascending because of the speed and our bikes iffy brakes. We didn't notice but hoped he had new disc brakes. They make descending much easier, maybe even fun. Back at ATC Doug and Manasi were toiling away in the kitchen, making several batches of delicious chili. We sat around and talked and when the sun went down below the peaks to the west we all migrated to the back deck for dinner, conversations, and scenic views. It got chilly out there as evening fell. Manisha grabbed one of the comfy blankets from the living room and wrapped it around her neck, a blanket-scarf, a Scarf! Trina decided that was totally wrong, it's called a scarf-blanket, a Skanket! From the back deck we could see lots of birds and some ground squirrels, including Mountain Chickadees and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. The hummingbirds would zip by so fast that we could rarely see them, but we heard them clearly! They seem to be checking us out sitting out there, maybe looking for some treats to share.

About 8pm Brandi, Lamar, and Mia rolled in. They drove to ATC directly without stopping. Brandi drove the whole way (wow!) and was super tired and had a hard time winding down. We eventually got her to sit on the back deck and relax a little. Hugs helped a lot. Some chili. A glass of wine (for us!).

Star Gazing

Lucky for us Freddy packed a nice spotting scope in his luggage. So later Monday evening just after dark he brought it out and set it up on the back deck. The mist was settled over the mountains to the west horizon, but the east horizon was pretty clear and the dome of the sky was clear and brilliant.

From the deck we hunted the eastern horizon for Saturn. The Sky Guide app showed us that Saturn was coming up on the horizon soon and within a couple hours would be followed by Jupiter and then the moon. Once the moon peeks up over the horizon the stargazing gets difficult, it is so bright! We thought we had it spotted, using binocs and the scope, but after a few minutes, as the sky got darker, we realized those were the city lights of Denver peeking through the mist at the horizon. Using the app we eventually found Saturn. The spotting scope was having a hard time being stable on the deck with a bit too much shaking. By this time we had Freddy, Stewart, Brad, Manisha involved with binocs and the scope, with others stopping by to peak through the scope and marvel at the rings of Saturn.

We looked west to the horizon of the setting sun and there was Venus at about 30 degrees up from the horizon. Venus is very bright and can easily be spotted near the sunset on a clear evening. We pointed the scope at it but the shakiness was too much to resolve it to a disk. Brad had the great idea to move to the rock walkway outside the game room so we packed up and headed over there. We found one clear viewing angle through the rocks and trees and was able to resolve Venus to a small disk! Beautiful. Sitting here on the walkway made us think of moving to the other side of ATC to get an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon on solid firmament. This worked brilliantly! We found Saturn and could much more easily resolve the rings. Freddy and Brad took many pics using their phones held over the eyepiece of the scope. It was a miracle this worked, they got several pics of Saturn.

By the end of the evening Jupiter had started peeking up over the eastern horizon and we could see it through the binocs and scope. We saw one, maybe two of the moons, but put off to another day exploring Jupiter further.

By the end of the evening Freddy, Brad, and Stewart had drawn in Manisha, Melanie, Anne, and Brandi to peek through the scope and use the binocs to see the many satellites as those rocketed across the night sky.

Tuesday July 27, 2021

Early Tuesday morning everybody's phones started buzzing, back in Houston Sophie Elizabeth Webb had been born! She was 7 lbs 1 oz, 19.75 inches. Lots of messaging back to Glenda and Russell congratulating them, getting the details, and high-fiving.

In 2020 our friend Lee Anne, who lives in Evergreen, put together a "Guide To Evergreen" newsletter for guests who would be coming to the wedding of her son. She sent a copy to us that we posted on our evite. It is a fantastic guide to restaurants, hiking, scenic sites, kids attractions, and many other things to do in and around the area. We referred to it often as we planned and during our vacation.

Nephew Doug had spent a great deal of time preparing several "options" for the vacation days. These included hikes, lunch and dinner possibilities, rafting, scenic drives, various fun theme parks, dessert stops, wineries, and breweries. They made the decision process so much easier with 14 people involved.

Tuesday's option started with breakfast at Above The Clouds then a 15 minutes drive over to Alderfer/Three Sisters Park. This is the same park that Anne and Stewart hiked on Saturday back in 2018. The route was a easy/moderate 3+ mile loop starting at the parking lot and heading up to The Brother's overlook. There were lots of boulders, pines, wildflowers and a little elevation.

Earlier in the parking lot we saw many kids and several of their handlers getting ready for a hike. The adults had large folding pads on their backs. What was that for? Later we saw these same hikers rock climbing on a boulder, called The Eggs, on our trail.

Freddy and Manisha have a fun way of enjoying their hikes. They bring 2 hammocks that roll into tiny little balls and fit into their backpacks. When they get tired they'll pull these out, stretch them between two trees, and grab a quick nap. When done, pack them back into their bags and backpacks and head on down the road. It seems one could do this all day long! ( if there's food, water, and someplace to pee :-)

On the overlook Freddy pulled out his hammock and set it up so we could all try it out. Loved it! We got quite a few pics here too. After a while we broke into two groups, one would turn around and head back to the parking lot, the other would continue onto the Sisters Trail and Hidden Fawn looping around then back to the parking lot. Stewart was in the return group, so he, Mia, Brandi, and Lamar turned around and headed back. We talked a lot during the hike and the diverging paths weren't well marked when returning, so we missed the right turn that would have taken us to the parking lot and continued on the west fork of the Sister's Trail then the Hidden Fawn trail until we eventually got back to the parking lot. We found out later that we had hiked as much distance as the other group! There was one point where the north fork of the Sister's Trail met up with the Little Fawn Trail. If the timing was right both groups could have run into each other right there.

Stewart was pretty tired due to his eye patch causing no depth perception so Freddy & Manisha drove them back to ATC while they went off to more hiking. Lunch for us was left over chili from the fridge then a welcome nap!

Bird of the day: Townsend's Solitaire

After getting back to ATC and getting cleaned up we loaded into Doug and Manasi's car and headed to the Evergreen Brewery in town.

Dinner was pizza that Brad and Melanie picked up from Beaujo's Pizza that we spread out and ate on the huge 2nd floor dining room table with beer and wine (pesto with chicken, cajun with andouille sausage, veggie with ricotta and smorgasbord).

Afterwards some went down to the game room for pool and shuffle board, others played 10,000 and Pick 3 (Phase 10).

Freddy and Stewart gathered their optical equipment again tonight, Freddy his spotting scope and binocs, Stewart got their Canon R5 camera with 500mm zoom, and they went out back on the parking lot surface down a bit from the house and set up the camera on the spotting scope's tripod. Soon, on the eastern horizon, Saturn made an appearance. Later that evening Jupiter would appear, and then later still the Moon. When the Moon peeks up over the eastern horizon star gazing is over. The moon is so bright that most all other stars become invisible. Stewart had spent some time earlier changing the camera settings to better capture the planets. They snapped and snapped, thinking, hypothesizing, then fiddling the camera each time. It was crazy fun resulting in a few interesting pics showing the rings of Saturn (800 million miles away!) and moons of Jupiter (340 million miles away!). Brad soon joined in, then Manisha, Manasi, and Anne. Anne brought the 1.4x camera extender and after a while we put it on the camera and started the whole process over. The 1.4x extender made the camera lens a 700mm so the images were bigger and more detailed. We tried the 2x extender but it reduced the Fstop to F10+ and needed lots more light and did not work as well as hoped. We then switched to the spotter scope and everyone took turns looking at Jupiter and it's three moons, and Saturn and it's rings.

Some random things...

We heard a story that Freddy lost his shoe in the strong current of a river he and Manisha were fording and had to buy a new pair.

Anne saw Brad's Toyota rental SUV and asked him - Why would anyone name their truck "Turd of the Road" ?? Later she figured out it was the "TRD Off Road" package. Everyone cracked up. Reminded Anne of Stewart telling her about the Lincoln MKX. She asked why they would name their car the "Lincoln Pancake Mix".

Wednesday July 28, 2021

Wednesday morning, several folks headed to a spa area with hot springs but we opted out since we would be going to see Richard and Lee Anne that afternoon and weren't up for a long drive when there was so much beauty very close by.

Mia also stayed so we decided the three of us would do the Evergreen Lake hike which is mostly flat. She had been a real trooper on the Three Sisters hike but had new boots and was not accustomed to so much exercise. Still she did great on this hike around the lake and we all enjoyed seeing the dam and its nearby cowboy on horseback sculpture along with red-winged blackbirds, cormorants and ducks.

As we neared the nature center, Emily and Andrew called to say they were coming for lunch so the five of us went into Evergreen to The Wildflower Cafe. It was a very cute mountain town type restaurant with excellent breakfast foods and sandwiches. During Covid, many restaurants had added tents outside their doors so people could eat outside or wait without weather issues. That made parking a little more challenging but not too bad. The restaurant had colorful murals all around of flowers mountains and bears. Unfortunately, the bathroom was closed so Anne was directed to a brewery next door and was stymied for a bit at the old fashioned toilet with a pull chain.

About 3pm, Richard and Lee Anne Powers stopped by. They live nearby in Evergreen and we invited them to tour ATC before heading to their house. They were duly amazed at the immense place and its unbeatable views. Then we went to their house which overlooks Elk Meadow and has its own array of stunning views. It's a tri-level house so we toured it while Lee Anne described the remodeling they had done and treated us to wine, and delicious snacks she had made. We ate and chatted in the basement, then headed out to their front patio to relax under the massive pine trees. Just beautiful.

After a few hours, Anne drove us back to ATC where dinner was grilled Chicken Fajitas, served by Andrew and Emily. Fantastic!

Thursday July 29, 2021

Back in 2018, last time we were at Above the Clouds, we went on a guided bird walk. The Evergreen Audubon Society had a regularly scheduled walk on that Thursday and several of us signed up and went. This year there was nothing scheduled so Stewart called Emma Vasicek, Education & Outreach Director of the local chapter and setup a private bird walk for Thursday, 6-9am at Lair O' the Bear Park, in Idledale, CO.

Brad Andres, the Audubon board president (!) met us in the "Lair O'The Bear" parking lot. Emma was going to join us but couldn't make it so it was Brad, Manisha, Freddy, Anne, and Stewart. Turns out we were a good group! Brad knew _everything_ about the local birds and plants. He would hear a bird and quietly call out what it was, find it in the trees or grasses, and point. We'd all stop, super quiet and still, listen, and look. We saw many birds on a beautiful hike through the hills, many birds in 33 different species. The walk was supposed to last 3 hours and went more like 4. At the end we all sat down at a shady table and reviewed what we'd seen and marked up a paper list. Anne updated an eBird checklist and submitted it to support their research. We also happily made a donation to the Evergreen Audubon Society to support these folks.

We ate lunch at the Blackbird Cafe and Tavern. We sat outside at a beautiful creekside table under the shade of several large trees. It was cool and clear, extremely relaxing, conversation, beers, and good food. Brandi and Lamar managed to find a snake near the creek to play with.

Freddy got the grill going at ATC and he and Manisha made grilled hamburgers, toasted buns, and all the fixings for dinner.

Some random things...

Brandi called back to ATC while on the road to ask someone to go out on the back deck and hold a mirror up, to reflect light so she and Lamar could see it while driving the switchbacks up the mountain, stop, and take photos. We searched around a bit looking for something to use. Stewart suggested Anne just step out and drop her drawers, let her lilly white ass get their attention. Trina grabbed a shiny colander and stood out there waving it around. Nothing worked. They couldn't see us up on the mountainside. We did manage to get some pics of ATC from the drive up. There were a couple places that it could be seen.

Friday July 30, 2021

At the Swedish Medical Center ER in Denver, Stewart's Neurologist told him to continue his vacation but avoid elevation gain. So on Friday he opted to stay at ATC while Anne went with the others to hike more. On the way out of town, we saw probably a hundred elk in the forest near Richard and Lee Anne's place.

The first stop was St Mary's Glacier which included a hike up to a mountain lake and, for those who opted to continue on, a more rigorous hike up to the glacier itself. Trina, Doug, Manasi and Anne hiked to the lake together and took in the beautiful magenta wildflowers growing on the mountain which reflected clearly in the calm water.

Anne continued on with Doug, Emily and Andrew and Freddy and Manisha to the glacier itself. It involved climbing over lots of boulders and got a little dicey at times with the gravel sometimes getting loose. But the view was spectacular. The glacier itself was on its last legs, just a dirty white sheet cascading down one part of the mountain but it was a fun trip with a marmot peeking at us from an outcropping and shouting his discouragement. Wildflowers and various birds greeted us on the way back down and Anne ran to keep up with Emily and Andrew who seemed to be racing each other.

After the glacier hike, we stopped in Idaho Springs at the Tommyknocker Brewery for lunch. They had lots of picnic tables and umbrellas set up in the street but we opted to eat inside and once again had great brewery food and local beer.

The next stop was Mt. Evans, a 14000 foot mountain about an hour from Idaho Springs. Andrew drove Emily and Anne to the top and we took in the scenic but intense views as we ascended and ascended some more. At the top there was a Welcome Center so we got out to look around, grab some shots in front of the "Summit of Mount Evans - Elevation 14,130 feet" sign, and try to spot Pike's Peak and other sights. Unfortunately, clouds were building rapidly and we had been warned that you do NOT want to be caught on Mt Evans in a rainstorm. So we headed back down the mountain watch the clouds form and swirl, with rain clearing pouring down in the distance. Luckily we all made it down without any serious issues.

Back at ATC we joined up with Stewart and Freddy and Manisha for some bird watching from the back deck. Manisha has an amazing eye for catching sight of birds, including a brilliant red and yellow Western Tanager and a black-chinned hummingbird. We also saw a Townsend's Solitaire at the top of the pine tree next to the deck, a first for any of us. She also told us of some great hummingbird sightings on the driveway near the garbage bins so Anne took her big camera and got some great shots there the following day.

The big storm that was brewing near Mount Evans was all around ATC and we were able to watch it without getting too wet from the deck. The lightning was phenomenal as it flickered here and there behind the mountains in the distance. Amazing!

Since several people were leaving the next day, dinner was clean-up time so we had leftover chili, hamburgers, fajitas, breakfasty foods and anything else we could find in the fridge or on the countertops.

Saturday July 31, 2021

One of the options that friends Lee Anne and Richard suggested was hiking Elk Meadow Park. It is directly across from their house so they know it very well. There are miles of hikes at all levels. Saturday promised to be very busy as many were planning to leave in the afternoon. So we all got up and had some breakfast and sat out on the back deck, then got ourselves ready and headed over to Elk Meadow Park. We gathered in the parking lot looking at the map. Melanie & Brad got Charlie ready in his "spaceship" backpack and we headed out on the Painter's Pause Trail. Although the weather forecast predicted rain today, it was a beautiful morning with deep blue skies streaked with white puffy clouds. Afterwards we all headed back to ATC and people started packing and heading to the airport in Denver.

Later that evening, with only 5 of us left at the house, we packed into the car and headed to dinner. We drove to Evergreen's "Tuscany Tavern" with Melanie & Brad & Charlie and had delicious Italian.

Sunday August 1, 2021

Well, that was a wild 2 days.

Saturday night at Above The Clouds, there were 5 of us still there, Brad, Melanie, & baby Charlie, Anne and Stewart, all leaving Sunday morning. The smoke detectors went off at 3am. Stewart called the property manager Cristine and woke her up. She said the security company ADT would call and she would call me back. They never called her so she called them and I got on a conference call with her and the ADT rep.

There are 11 smoke detectors and 4 carbon monoxide detectors at ATC. ADT recommended we take them down, one at a time, and remove the batteries, until the alarms stop. Some are 20 feet in the air! The alarm system was throwing errors and the normal code sequence was not working right. The property manager does a lot to prevent this sort of thing from happening. ADT was there in April, replaced all the batteries & serviced the systems. Turns out a communications module was malfunctioning. The replacement was in a FedEx box delivered to ATC on Wednesday, we received it! Stewart had Cristine on the phone while Brad raced around disabling suspect detectors, one down the hallway to the north wing, one in the game room downstairs, and that silenced it. We didn't have to break out the 8ft extensible ladder from the garage and head up top.

We got home Monday morning at 3am. It's a 2+ hour flight from Denver to DFW, it took 17.5 hours to get home. A huge storm over DFW backed up flights from all directions for hours. Our flight was delayed before we got on the plane, then we spent hours in the plane on the tarmac in Denver, then deplaned back to the Denver airport and spent hours waiting there. Eventually we flew to Dallas where we spent hours on the tarmac waiting for a gate, then once gated, almost an hour waiting for the skyway bridge to roll up (it was 2am and there was only a skeleton crew at American Airlines at DFW). We discovered that security at DFW only open one Exit to baggage claim late at night for each terminal. Our baggage claim was C4 but the open Exit was at C15. We walked from one end of Terminal C to the other, exited, then walked all the way back to pick up our luggage. It was crazy. We could see the baggage claim C4 through the windows when we de-planed but couldn't get to it. There were a lot of super cranky people walking Terminal C last night!

Oh, and what's with the "Zones" in Uber? There's no marking of "Zones" and the Uber app requires that you put in the pickup Zone. Anne just put in Zone 27 (random!) then called the driver to pick us up at Terminal A Gate C4. That's what he wanted anyway.

It only took niece Brandi 12 hours to drive it door-to-door from Sherman, TX. sigh

Despite the fact that ATC is for sale (!!) and the excitement of the last two days, we hope to come back soon and renew the memories. Stewart says that the next time he's visiting he must open that trap door in the pantry and see what's down there!