Denver with Kids: A Travel Guide

For the past year, we have been exploring Denver and all that it has to offer families.  I am fairly certain that we could live in the Mile High City for ten years and not hit everything that I want to do.  As we share some of our favorite things (and we have a lot more to share!), we will continuously update this page.

Denverwithkids

Itineraries

3 Days in Downtown Denver

Museums, Tours and More

Butterfly Pavilion

Coors Factory Tour

Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Denver Zoo

Dinosaur Ridge

Holiday Activities

Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Light (Winter)

Day Trips and Overnighters from Denver

Celestial Seasonings Factory Tour in Boulder, Colorado

Echo Canyon River Expeditions in Canon City, Colorado

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes in Mosca, Colorado

Ski Destinations Near Denver

Keystone

Breckenridge

Loveland

Winter Park

Dinosaurs in Denver: Exploring Dinosaur Ridge

Dinosaur Ridge, located about 25 minutes southwest of downtown Denver, will captivate the dino lovers in your household.  When we first moved here, everyone kept telling us to head to Dinosaur Ridge.  The kids will love it, they claimed, but we just never got around to it.

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My sister and her family were visiting for a week and we needed to get all five of the kids (and the adults!) out of the house.  Unfortunately the weather wasn’t really conducive to a winter hike because many of the trails were still iced over or too muddy.  It was kind of windy and a bit cold so we wanted something short.  We knew that Dinosaur Ridge would be perfect.

Because we had never been to Dinosaur Ridge, we started our adventure at the gift shop.  This is where we learned how to get to the Dinosaur Ridge trail.  There is a small indoor exhibit hall, the Trek through Time. Because it was late in the day, we decided to skip this and just walk the trail.  The exhibit hall can be visited for $2 a person.

Dinosaur Ridge can be explored on guided or self-guided tours.  If you aren’t up for walking, there is a shuttle bus available on a first come, first served basis.  The fee for the shuttle is $5 per person ages 4 and older.  If you choose to walk the trail, it ends up being about two miles round trip.  This walk/hike is not a loop but is a semi-circle.  You will be walking uphill for about half of the trip and then downhill.  On the way back, you will do the same.  The path is paved.

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Along the trail, you will spot the dinosaur track site.  The track site was discovered accidentally while they were constructing the West Alameda Parkway in 1937.  Over 300 tracks have been identified and they are colored in with charcoal so that they are easier to identify from the trail.

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Once you make it to the top of the hill,  you will see the hogbacks, which are long hills or mountains with steep sides.  Some of the hogbacks can be hiked.

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You can also see the Red Rocks Amphitheater as you head down the other side towards the Dinosaur Ridge Bone Quarry.

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This site is where the world’s first stegosaurus was discovered.  When you reach the bone quarry, it is time to turn around and make the walk back to your car.

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All of the kids were a little underwhelmed by the site.  It was interesting and they really liked seeing what they did but both of the older kids thought there would be more dinosaur bones and tracks.  We skipped the exhibit hall so this might have helped them think they got a lot out of the trip.  

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The adults really enjoyed the walk because it offered some great views and got everybody out of the house.

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Things to Know Before You Go:

Keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings.  This path is used by bikers, the shuttle, and walkers.  Be sure to stay on the correct side and pay attention to the traffic around you.

The parking lot at the exhibit hall and gift shop is locked at closing.  We arrived later in the afternoon so although you can walk to the trail from the exhibit hall, we decided to move our car so we didn’t feel rushed to get back to the parking lot before the gate was locked.

Bring a bottle of water with you or have one waiting in the car.

Be prepared for the weather.  The weather was not terrible when we left the house but the sun was setting and the wind had picked up by the time we were finishing up.  Even if it is summertime, throw a lightweight jacket in the car because the weather can change in an instant.

Hot Cocoa Sleigh Ride at Snow Mountain Ranch

When I think of the Christmas holidays in the snowy wintertime, I think of hot chocolate and sleigh rides.  This holiday, we spent a week in Fraser, Colorado near Winter Park.  It was a snowy winter wonderland and we skied, tubed and just enjoyed family time.  When my daughter and I wanted a break from skiing, we decided to take a sleigh ride.

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There are a number of sleigh rides available in the Fraser and Winter Park area.  After researching some reviews and asking around, we settled on a sleigh ride out of the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch.  Snow Mountain Ranch is about a 15-20 minute drive from Fraser.  Once you are on the YMCA grounds, follow the signs to the stable.

The check-in process is easy.  After you sign your waiver, you can wander around and visit with the horses until it is time to go.  Once you take off, it is a leisurely ride to the area where you can get hot cocoa and roast a couple of marshmallows by the fire.  After that, the ride back doesn’t take too long and you can visit with the horses again before saying your goodbyes.

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Things To Know Before You Go

Wear your ski clothing to help keep you warm.  The weather on the day of our ride was miserably cold and windy.  I was glad that we wore our ski pants, gloves and hats.  There were a couple of people putting their ski pants on over their jeans in the parking lot when they realized how cold it was.

Wear sunglasses.  The wind was whipping around and my daughter wouldn’t stop complaining about how she couldn’t see.  I wish I had thrown her ski goggles or sunglasses into my car before we left.

There is nowhere to sit indoors while you wait.  The stables recommend that you arrive early to check in but there is nowhere to wait indoors.  We met the horses and then we spent some time hanging out in the car because it was just too cold to wait outside.

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At the time of this posting, Groupon is offering a deal for $55 (not an affiliate link) for this hot cocoa sleigh ride.

4 Things To Know about Winter Park Ski Resort, Colorado

Winter Park Resort in Winter Park, Colorado pleasantly surprised me.  We stayed a week in Fraser, Colorado and it wasn’t my first choice to be honest with you.  I had hoped to book accommodations in one of our other favorite spots but it didn’t work out and we ended up in Fraser.  We loved everything about it.  We had so much fun exploring Winter Park and we can’t wait to continue skiing there.

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Parking

The best parking lot is free.  Unless you are staying at the resort and have a parking space with your room, we found the easiest parking lot is the Vintage Parking Lot near the Vintage Hotel.  The Village Cabriolet lift will take you to the edge of the village where you can load your family’s ski gear into a wagon and take the short walk to the slopes.  Downside to parking here:  The walk to the slopes is short but might not be if your little ones aren’t used to walking in ski boots.  You might want to consider renting a locker to store regular boots so that you don’t have to walk in your ski boots.

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Off-slope Activities

Going to a ski resort does not mean that you have to love skiing.  This is one of the things that I didn’t understand when we first started visiting the ski resorts around Colorado.  I thought that a ski resort meant skiing.  Boy, was I wrong.  Ski resorts also mean things like snow tubing, snowshoeing and more.  Winter Park offers a number of off the slope activities that we participated in on the days that we weren’t excited about skiing.  Our favorite off the slope activity was tubing on the Coca-Cola tubing run.  Next time we go to Winter Park, I look forward to taking the snowcat tour and the snowshoe tour that are both available.

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Great for Beginners

I was so worried that I would find Winter Park difficult as a beginner after skiing some of the other mountain resorts.  Winter Park is a wonderful place to learn how to ski or practice your new-found skills.  Stick close to the Gemini Express and it will take you up to Discovery Park where there are several easy green runs and a couple of lifts that will take you to some more challenging territory if you wish to stretch your skills a bit.

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Don’t miss the crepes.

Winter Park Resort has a lot of great restaurants but don’t be surprised by the prices.  Everything is a bit pricier than you would expect but the prices are not absurd.  Well, a lot of the kid’s menu items are absurd.  Expect to pay upwards of 10 dollars for every kid’s meal you order.  That being said, if you need an indulgent snack you will want to visit Goodys Mountain Creperie.  The creperie has a number of items on the menu but the sweet and savory crepes will hit the spot after a morning of skiing.  We tried several and our favorite is the S’mores Crepe.  Delicious!

 

Keeping the Holiday Spirit with Lights Around Denver

We arrived back home from our Christmas vacation in Winter Park and, although I am glad to be home, I am definitely feeling a little bit of the holiday let down.  As I mentioned on the Two Kids and a Map Facebook page, I may or may not be searching real estate websites for mountainside condos!

I am ready to move into the new year, but I am not quite ready to do away with the holiday spirit that has finally found its way into my heart.

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Denver Botanic Gardens – This is our second year visiting the Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Lights and Trails of Lights at Chatfield.  I recommend getting to both of the spots to see the lights.  Purchase a pair of glasses to see the lights from a different perspective.

Denver Zoo – The Denver Zoo offers over 150 animated animal sculptures.  It is fun to walk around and spot them all.  There is also a schedule of events so be sure to check it before you go.

Hudson Gardens – We discovered this gem just a few miles from our home this fall.  It was fun to see the different plants and flowers that are hearty enough to make it through a fall in Colorado.  This weekend, we plan to visit the Hudson Christmas Holiday to see the lights.

Stonz Winter Bootz

*As part of my brand ambassadorship with Stonz, my children each received one pair of boots to review.  All opinions are ours and ours alone.  For the record, I will buy Stonz Wear gear from here on out as long as they fit my children.

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Much like a bad pair of gloves can make or break your ski trip, a bad pair of boots can ruin just about any winter outing.  Last year, we bought the kids’ boots at a big box store for about $20.  They worked well enough but they were heavy and cumbersome.  The kids never lasted more than about 45 minutes outside before coming inside to peel off their wet socks and sit by the fire.  When you live somewhere where it snows on a regular basis, the world does not shut down.  School goes on (we have only had one snow day), work goes on, and you are expected to be there.

Getting to school in the morning means your regular clothes and then gloves, hats, heavy coats, and winter boots.  Then you have to put a sweatshirt in the backpack because the classroom is cold and the coat is too heavy to wear.  You also need a change of shoes so you aren’t wearing your snowboots every day.  Getting out the door can be quite an ordeal!

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The Stonz Winter Bootz have been an awesome addition to my children’s winter wear.  They are sturdy and help them keep from slipping on the icy paths.  They are lightweight so my kids can run around outside on a snowy day for as long as they want.  Our walk to school is a little less than a mile.  In the fall and spring, we walk to and from school at least three or four days a week.  With our Stonz Winter Bootz, we can keep up our walking to school routine.

The boots come up high enough and have a drawstring to help keep snow out of the inside of the boot.  Sledding, snowball fights and more won’t stop my children.

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Stonz Winter Bootz come in sizes that go up to 14 years old.

A Good Pair of Gloves

*As part of my brand ambassadorship with Stonz, my children each received one pair of mittz to review.  All opinions are ours and ours alone.  For the record, I will buy Stonz Mittz from here on out as long as they fit my children.

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When you live in a place that only experiences winter for about nine days a year, you don’t really have the kind of cold weather gear you should have.  Moving from Florida to Colorado was an interesting experience for us.  We left Florida in shorts and arrived in Colorado only to frantically dig out what little cold weather gear we had.  After unpacking some of the boxes, the first order of business was to go shopping.  Sweaters, more long pants and jackets were easy to purchase.  Other outerwear pieces left us confused.

Are knit mittens enough?  What happens if it snows?  Are all gloves equal?

Last winter, we discovered that all gloves are not equal.  We went through at least five pairs for each kid during the winter.

It didn’t matter how much money we spent on a pair of gloves.  I would hear constant complaining about how cold their hands were.  Cold hands from playing outside in the middle of February.  Cold hands while skiing down the mountain.  Cold hands on our walks to the park.

It seemed like we couldn’t do anything during the winter time without complaints about cold hands.  It got to the point where I probably could have bought stock in those disposable hand warmers.  I would toss them a pair and block out the complaining.

I didn’t think there was anything I could do.

Until, our Stonz Mittz arrived.

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For the past couple of weekends, we have made the drive from Denver up to Copper Mountain and the Stonz Mittz have been with us each time.  A lot of the mountain isn’t open yet, but we are beginner skiers so that is okay.  We have been spending most of our time at one of the learning areas, the Pitchfork lift.

This small lift is perfect for practicing your lift skills (something this mama needs a lot of!).  Once you successfully get off of the lift, ski down Green Acres.  Green Acres area is great for beginner skiers.  It also gave my kids a chance to ski ahead of me and ride the lift alone without giving me the anxiety and worry.  I could see them from almost everywhere.  Being able to ride the lift together and then ski down the hill without me bothering them gave them quite a confidence boost.

It was very cold and dumped buckets of snow on us during our first trip.  I didn’t even realize until the end of our ski day that I did not hear one single complaint about cold hands.  Not one.

It was a winter miracle!

The Stonz Mittz are both water and wind resistant and they are extra long.  The Mittz go over the outside of the jacket and can be cinched both at the wrist and at the end of the Mittz.  This kept the snow out of the gloves and jacket when one of the kids took a tumble.  Unlike my own gloves, they are not so thick and uncomfortable that it makes it difficult to do anything in them.  Both kids were able to carry their own skis without them slipping out of their hands.  The only time they took the Mittz off was during a hot chocolate break.  We did discover that it is difficult to hold a cup of hot chocolate while wearing them.

Mama wants a pair of Mittz too but they don't come in her size.

Mama wants a pair of Mittz too but they don’t come in her size.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was kind of nervous about ski season and some of the complaining that goes along with it…the skis are too heavy…it is too far to walk…my boot is too tight…

I am thrilled that cold hands will not be on the list of complaints this season.

 

Tour the United States Naval Academy – Annapolis, Maryland

You don’t have to wait until your children are filling out applications before touring colleges.  When you tour a college, you don’t have to take the official tour provided by the college ambassadors.  Take a walk around campus on your own.  Some of the most beautiful places I have seen have been in little corners of college campuses.

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A few weeks ago, I hopped on a plane to Baltimore where, with the help of my stepmom and my mom’s co-worker, I was able to surprise my dad, my sister and her family and my mom.  All in one weekend!  It was not an easy feat to pull off but we did it.  Once all of the surprises had been revealed, I was able to take some time to explore an area I haven’t spent a lot of time in.

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My brother-in-law is a graduate of the Naval Academy so he was the perfect tour guide.  We wandered the campus with him as he pointed out the different buildings and told us about his time during school.  We got to see the world’s largest single dormitory and the window that used to be his.

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Exploring Memorial Hall was a moving experience during Veteran’s Day weekend.  The grandeur of the interior is jaw dropping.  My words and pictures from my cell phone don’t do the campus justice.

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We loved the intricate details on the outside of the buildings as well.

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Have you fallen in love with a college campus during your travels?

Colorado Ski Resorts: Why We Love Them (and Why We Don’t)

Almost exactly a year ago, we moved from Florida to Colorado and were so excited that it was just in time for ski season.  We embraced this new lifestyle and spent the season exploring the Colorado ski resorts near us.  We went snow tubing, we learned how to ski, and we played in the snow.  Whenever someone asks me if I have a favorite ski resort, I just can’t answer with one resort.

We loved every resort that we visited for a number of reasons but we also weren’t impressed with some things as well.  These are the resorts that we have visited so far, why we love them and a few reasons why we didn’t (in alphabetical order).

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Breckenridge Ski Resort

Why We Love It:  Breckenridge is the first place where my husband and I decided not to take a lesson and to try to conquer the mountain on our own.  The kids were in ski school so we were able to have our very first snow date.  We spent the day skiing only the easiest of green runs and then we had a lovely lunch in a real restaurant with real napkins.  Breckenridge was also the first place that the kids took a ski lift.  They thought it was hilarious that I was so surprised they were skiing down the same lifts that their dad and I were skiing down.  Breckenridge will always hold a special place in my heart just for these reason.  In addition to the skiing, Breckenridge has so much more to offer.

My favorite part about Breckenridge is that it is more town than ski resort.  The main street is lovely.  It is filled with shops and restaurants and a crepe cart.  Yes, a crepe cart.  There is a rec center, a children’s museum, and an art district where you can take a break from the slopes and take an art class.  The Gold Runner Alpine coaster, snowmobiling, dogsledding and sleigh rides to dinner are just a few other activities that you can partake in while staying in Breckenridge.

What We Didn’t Like:  Because Breckenridge is more town than ski resort, it can be quite difficult to get around.  There is a trolley system that runs through the main town but it wasn’t practical to use from where we were staying.  We had to use our car to go just about anywhere.  Parking near the skiing was not difficult and was fairly reasonable in cost however finding parking in the town was very difficult.

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Copper Mountain

Why We Love It:  Copper Mountain was the first resort we visited.  My husband had visited Copper Mountain many years ago when I was pregnant with our first child.  I still have the shirt that he brought me home!  He loves Copper and we were thrilled to go back.  We stayed in one of the villages and loved being able to walk to everything.  The shuttle system is one of the best we have found.  It was timely and we were able to take it just about everywhere we wanted to go.  We parked the car when we arrived and didn’t move it until we left at the end of the weekend.

Copper Mountain offers a lot of great runs for beginners.  In addition to that, there is a practice area with a small lift that is perfect for getting your ski legs under you.  When you tire of skiing, there are some great restaurants to eat at, a small zip line, ice skating and more.  We loved the fact that everything was just a short walk away from our condo.

What We Didn’t Like:  Though we loved that we were just a short walk away from everything, that also meant that we had to rely on what was available at the resort.  We spent much of our meals in restaurants.  While they were great, this would get very pricey if we were there for more than a weekend.  If we go back for a weekend again, we will make sure to bring groceries with us to help save money.  While the transportation is easy and timely to use, there were times were we wished we had planned better.  We rode the shuttle to one spot and then we had to ride the shuttle to another.  Get a map and plan accordingly!

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Keystone Mountain

Why We Love It:  Keystone Mountain has one of the longest ski days.  They offer night skiing, which is great for my husband.  He can help me wrangle the kids during the day and then we can get them settled back in the room and he can spend the rest of the evening snowboarding on more advanced runs.  Keystone also offers an amazing beginner area with a lift and a hill big enough to please the little ones learning.  Keystone offers some great off-the-slope activities as well.  Take a gondola up the mountain to go snow tubing.  Let the kids explore the snowfort or join in the parade.  My kids loved the cookies and ice skating as well as the fireworks show.

What We Didn’t Like:  While Keystone Mountain has numerous options for lodging at all different price points, the most desireable lodging in the middle of all of the excitement is way out of our price range.  We stayed at Keystone Inn during one of our visits to Keystone and enjoyed it but we had to rely on the free (yes, some of the best parking is FREE!) parking to get us closer to the activities.

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Loveland

Why We Love It:  Loveland is a no-frills ski area that is perfect for families who are trying to make their money stretch.  It is a great option for a family who is visiting Denver and just wants a day of skiing.  It is a ski area that the locals love because the price is right, the top of the mountain is not super crowded and the views are amazing, and it is one of the closest resorts to Denver.    As soon as we pulled in, it made me think of the stories that my parents used to tell about skiing down the mountains in Lake Almanor, California with their scotch guarded jeans.  Lessons are reasonably priced and our kids grew a lot in their skiing skills during their lesson at Loveland.

What We Didn’t Like:  Because Loveland is no-frills, there isn’t much there.  You pull off of I-70, park your car and walk to the slopes.  There is a small cafeteria with ski resort prices.  The lodge area is incredibly small.  Because it is popular for ski lessons, many families enroll their kids and stake out their spot in the lodge.  It makes it difficult to find a chair at the long tables.  If you are going to ski here, be sure to pack a picnic lunch and be prepared to eat in your car if you can’t find a spot in the lodge.

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Winter Park

Why We Love It:  We don’t have much to say about Winter Park just yet but that is because we haven’t spent more than a morning there.  We will be spending a lot of time there this holiday season as we will be there for a week and I can’t wait to explore.  The morning that we did visit Winter Park was spent tubing on the Coca-Cola Tubing run.  Oh my goodness…this tubing run is full of excitement.  Banked curves and employees who made us giggle with glee as they spun us down the hill makes it worth the trip.

What We Didn’t Like:  The drive to Winter Park is not as easy as the drive to the other resorts.  It is enough to make you white knuckle the steering wheel in panic.  At least, it is that scary to me.  I don’t mind mountain driving at all.  In fact, we were surprised at how easy driving through the mountains on I-70 was.  I was expecting the twists and turns that we find in Tennessee or North Carolina.  Winter Park gives you those twists and turns with ice and snow thrown in.  I am very nervous about our trip up there but we are going anyway!

This year, we are looking forward to exploring Winter Park and Copper Mountain more as well as a few of the resorts that we haven’t been to yet.  I am hoping to visit Steamboat Springs and Arapahoe Basin this year as well.  We will be sure to report back!

Do you have a favorite ski resort?

Join Walking On Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups for Travel Tips Tuesday!

Now.

You look like you are on one big vacation.

You are so happy in every picture that I see you post.

How do you do it?

This can’t be real life.

Since moving to Colorado, we have heard every version of those comments over and over again from people we have known for years to people we have only known a little while.  It wasn’t always like this.

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During our tenth year of marriage, everything around us seem to break down.  The hot water heater, the air conditioner, the heater, the computer and my feet.  I broke one foot and when I was almost completely healed, I broke the other foot.  I was out of commission for months and had to rely on my husband, friends and family to help us get the kids to and from where they need to be, go to the grocery store and more.

I vividly remember during a particularly gloomy day that a friend posted on a Facebook comment about how depressing things were getting around my Facebook wall.  I don’t remember her exact comment, but I remember the sinking feeling I had when I read it.  I don’t even remember what I was complaining about.  That comment was a turning point for me even if I didn’t realize it at the time.

Things happen.  Appliances break.  Money gets tight.

Moving to Colorado has been the jump start that our family needed to get out of our funk.  Moving shook things up.

We have learned that sometimes you have to choose to be happy.  Being happy doesn’t always come naturally when faced with things that we don’t want to deal with.  Choosing to be happy and accepting that there are some things we just have no control over has changed our outlook.

So, yes, it does sometimes look like we are on vacation.  It does appear as if we are happy in every picture we post.

This is because we have decided to choose to be happy every day and embrace the now.  I don’t want to look back and wish that I had taken advantage of the beauty around us by getting out and exploring.  I don’t want to waste time worrying about things that I have no control over.

Of course, it just might be that Rocky Mountain High that John Denver sang about…the high altitude and elation and joy for the beauty surrounding us (not that other Rocky Mountain High!).