Rob and I departed on Friday afternoon starting our 20 hour trip. It was pretty uneventful but I do need to mention the nice little cafe we stopped at for dinner Spoons, in Princeton, IL The food and service were excellent and the town is really cute. We drove through the night, only stopping for gas and for a couple of hours at a truck stop to sleep and at a diner to have breakfast. We took I-80 out and I always love the approach to the mountains. There are a ton of wind turbines, miles of prairie with cattle and deer, and watching the mountains get bigger as you get nearer just fueled my excitement.
We arrived at The Solarium International Hostel on early Saturday afternoon. This photo above is what we walked into after we checked in and I was immediately in love with the place. It is truly like being in the tropics. The air is warm and soft and you can tell it has more oxygen. All of the plants are beautiful and there are statues and interesting planters everywhere. There are so many hidden gems that I didn't even notice there is a Koi pond until we had been there for 3 days!
Our room wasn't quite ready, because it was before check-in time, so we left our stuff there while they finished with the linens and decided to go grab some lunch in Old Town. We found this great deli, Backcountry, and split an Italian sub and some delicious potato salad and then headed back to The Solarium. We debated whether or not to nap but decided to stay up and just go to bed early. And instead we cleaned up and went to hang out in the tee pee. This is where we met Suzie for the first time. She is a very outgoing, talkative, woman, with a heart of gold. She pretty much was the unofficial greater to The Solarium and welcomed everyone. She had been staying there for about a week when we arrived. We spent the afternoon relaxing in the hammocks and the tee pee. We then decided to go get dinner and walked down to Black Bottle Brewery and had an awesome dinner of Oyster Shots; a Salmon, Cheese and Crackers Plate; Sliders; and of course, a couple of beers.
When we arrived back at The Solarium, they had a bonfire going in the tee pee so we decided to check it out. There were numerous guests hanging out and when I sat down the lady next to me asked me where we are from. When I told her, "Michigan", she asked, "Sand Lake?". I was taken aback and said, " Yes". She went on to explain that she had checked in after us and saw our city, state, and zip on the registry AND that she was also from Sand Lake, MI!!!! So, we traveled 1169 miles to meet my our neighbor! Crazy how small the word is. Lisa and her sister, Laurie, were in town for a wedding and would be there for the week. (We ended up playing Euchre with them later in the week and hung out with them on and off.) We hung out for awhile but were exhausted and decided to hit the sack.
I am not going to bore you with all the details of the rest of our trip but these are some of the things we did:
Spring Creek Bike Trail and Biking in general:
Fort Collins is very bicycle friendly and there are paths, trails, and lanes all over. The Spring Creek Trail runs right behind The Solarium and along Spring Creek which has had man-made improvements done to it to control run-off from the mountains. There are parks all along it and it is beautiful. The bike lanes make it very easy to get around the town. We biked to Equinox Brewing and The Kitchen Bistro with no issues at all.
Emerald Lake Trail-Rocky Mountain :
We drove to Estes and then hiked the Emerald Lake Trail. It was breathtaking, not only because of the beauty, but the elevation change makes it hard to breath! At Emerald Lake the elevation is over 10,000 feet. I had to stop frequently. One of the things I really liked about CO is that everyone we met was incredibly generous and kind. We had forgot our sunscreen in the car and my husband asked a lady we met on the trail if she had any. She dropped everything, dug down into the bottom of her backpack and found us some. I am so grateful because with the almost 4 feet of snow pack and a very sunny day, we would have gotten fried! We hiked the rest of the way with her and her two friends and found out they live there. I told them my plan was to move out there after our daughter graduates from high school and she said that was exactly what they had done. As we were hiking, one of her friends noticed that I was struggling a little and that we did not have grampons or poles, and offered me one of her poles for the rest of the hike. She said I could just drop it at Kind Coffee on the way back through Estes. I am so touched by this kindness. We ended up running into them in the parking lot on the way out. It was such an amazing day.
I-70 to Eagle, Vail, and back:My aunt and uncle live in Eagle and I couldn't make a trip to CO without visiting them. We also have some friends from MI that happen to be in Vail, so we left The Solarium for Eagle for a couple of days. The drive out there is worth it alone. In Eagle, we relaxed, went on a road trip to Sylvan Lake, where it snowed! We were going to go to Hanging Lake but it was closed due to some idiots vandalizing the trail. We also went to Bonfire Brewing, which is a great little, dog-friendly brewery in Eagle. We also stopped on Oskar Blues Brewing in Lyons.
Dispensary Tour on 4/20
Being that cannabis is legal in CO and The Solarium was offering a free tour and because we arrived back at The Solarium at exactly 4:20pm when the tour was leaving, we decided to join them! It was really cool because one of the dispensaries, Choice Organics we visited also grows and uses organic practice. One of the growers took us through 4 different grow rooms where the plants were at different stages and he explained the whole process to us. It was very interesting, being a gardener, to hear about how he builds the soil, insect control, and fertilization methods. We also went to Organic Alternatives which is just a dispensary but very pretty inside. The owner used to own an older bar in Fort Collins and took the wooden back of the bar with mirrors and stained glass and Tiffany style lamps and put them in the dispensary. We also went to Mellow Yellow and another cool gift shop.
New Belgium Brewery and Odell Brewing
Our last full day was all about beer. We did the tour at New Belgium and our tour guide Mindy was great. We learned all about the history of NB, the brewing, bottling, and canning processes, their sustainability practices and how well they treat their employees (free bikes, free healthcare, trips to Belgium, etc). We also got free beers along the 90 minute tour. It was extremely cool and now I want to work there!
The Solarium International Hostel
I loved this place so much that it was really hard to leave. Chelsea and Clayton have done an amazing job with the place. They have numerous private rooms, a couple of apartments, and the dorm rooms. We had a private room with an en suite bathroom so it was a little like staying in a small hotel. The difference with a hostel is that it fosters the sense of community. I think that is what I loved the most. All of the shared spaces really encourage interaction with other guests. I loved the kitchen, not only because we saved money making some of our meals, but because we had a lot of interaction with other people.
In addition to the other people mentioned we got to know:
Aaron, the truck driver who was just staying for the weekend, who was very generous and made extra breakfast to share.
Dan, the massage therapy student that was living at the hostel, and brewing kombucha!
Val, the traveler and musician, that was just staying a couple of days and then going back to camping.
Gia and her husband who were also on vacation
A group from South Bend, IN
Others, forgive me because I am a terrible with names, two young men who were working as electricians for 12-16 hours a day and were spending a couple days off there relaxing. Numerous people from the neighborhood that would come and hang out at the almost nightly bonfires.
And, I have to mention again, Suzie, my soul sister, crystal loving. bohemian woman, who reminded me to be true to my higher self and practice inward integrity and self-love. We had many bonfire and hammock conversations and we are going to stay in touch and keep each other on track. I gave her the felt bag I brought and she and Chelsea (the owner) came up with the idea of having people take a rock from the tee pee and sign and date it. Rob and I instead signed and dated the back of the owl stone I brought and left that. I also hid my tiny owl in a tree close by our room. I don't know why but I knew before we even went to The Solarium that I would want to leave a little bit of me there. It is a magical place, a tropical oasis in the dry mountains, a community, and was so much more than a typical vacation. Our last night, Suzie quoted to me, my favorite poet, e.e. cummings, and unbeknownst to her the poem read at mine and Rob's wedding, "i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)."