Saturday, August 29, 2015

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Golden Gate Canyon State Park is one of the 42 Colorado State Parks and is located in Gilpin and Jefferson counties, around 30 miles west of Denver. This 11,998 acre Front Range Park has 36 miles of hiking trails-- Horses and bicycles are allowed on 22 miles of those trails. It includes facilities such as a visitor center, over 100 campsites, 5 furnished and heated cabins for rent, 2 yurts, and the upscale 4 bedrooms Harmsen Guest Ranch, stocked fishing ponds, and over 100 picnic sites. (All photos, and photo collages, in this post, will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)

The Golden Gate Canyon Visitor Center is open daily, year-round. Outside is a placard that tells about the wildlife that is in the area and gives hiking tips.

We headed up to the Panoramic Point Scenic Overlook, where we saw a view of 100 miles of the Rocky Mountains Continental Divide in the distance! (Click on to enlarge!)

Some close-ups of the mountains we saw along our 100-mile view.

The elevation at Panoramic Point is approximately 9,400 feet.  Here, the picnic table area was under a shady canopy of trees.

This little chipmunk was waiting for us to leave so he could search under the table for crumbs.

After eating our picnic lunch we headed out on the 2.3 miles round trip Raccoon Loop Trail.  This trail passes through Golden Gate Canyon's upper-montane and lower subalpine forests.  Along the trail, we saw lodgepole pine trees, Engelmann spruce, blue spruce, white fir and aspen trees. Do you spot my husband standing next to a giant lodgepole tree on the trail?

Along the trail, we had more glorious views of the Rocky Mountains.

We also saw an array of beautiful wildflowers, more chipmunks, and various fungi along the trail.

We also saw moss and lichens growing on some of the boulders along the trail.

We really enjoyed the beautiful views and the cool mountain air while walking on the trail. 

I was excited to see the 14,259 foot high Longs Peak, located in Rocky Mountain National Park, in the distance.

When we saw this fresh scat, however, we knew it was time to turn back and head home, as we were not carrying bear spray with us.  The black bears have been very active this time of the year along the Front Range, bulking up for their winter hibernation. They need to consume over 20,000 calories a day! Unfortunately, the very rainy spring Colorado had this year, among other weather conditions, caused a decrease in the acorns and berries they like to eat.  They are roaming further into civilization, in search of food, including one cub that was recently found roaming on a street in Denver!  We are careful not to have bird feeders hanging in our backyard this time of the year, and to keep our garbage can inside our closed garage and only leave it curbside the morning of pickup. I've also learned to look up into the trees when I walk on a trail, as it is very possible a bear could be up in a tree! Click here to read my blog post where I learned that lesson!

Here is a short Youtube video about winter activities in Golden Gate Canyon Park produced by Colorado State Parks:  (click here if the video is not visible)

I feel very fortunate that this beautiful state park is just a half-hour drive from my house! It is a place I'll be returning there often in the coming seasons and years. Who knows, I might even buy some snowshoes and hike in winter!  Do you participate in winter activities? What is your favorite thing to do?

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Central City Opera

This is the view my husband and I saw as we drove on Interstate 70, headed up into those Rocky Mountains in the distance, towards, Gilpin County, where we had tickets to attend an opera at the oldest operating Opera House in the United States.  

At exit 243 we entered Central City Casino Parkway and took a 12-minute scenic drive up to the 8,510-foot elevation of the old gold mining town of Central City, founded in 1859 during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush.  Central City was once called "The Richest Square Mile on Earth" due to the many gold mines that once operated in the area--over 17,000 claims were made in this part of Gilpin County.

As soon as you approach Central City, many of its historic buildings become visible...

...and its pretty Main Street.

The town is very picturesque and interesting, and my husband and I both would like to come back one day to explore it more.  The fortunes of Central City declined after gold mining diminished, but in the 1990s casinos were open here, and in the adjoining town of Black Hawk, to form the Central City/Black Hawk Historic District.  Black Hawk has developed casinos at a faster rate than Central City and therefore has more revenue, but the town of Central City is more quaint and historical.

Many of Central City's buildings have historical markers that tell interesting and colorful stories about their history, such as the one above.  Click on it to enlarge the photo to read about the Rose Haydee building.

The Central City Opera House was built in 1878 by Welsh and Cornish miners who had brought the rich tradition of music with them from their hometowns. Prominent Denver architect Robert S Roeschlaub designed the elegant stone building and San Francisco artist John C Massman added elaborate trompe l'oeil murals to the interior.

Unfortunately, productions of this 550-seat opera house soon closed as the mining industry left the region and the population dwindled, and sadly the opera house fell into disrepair. In 1932, some interested opera patrons restored the Opera House to its former glory, and legendary actress, Lillian Gish, came to play her role as Camille, in the production of the same name, which launched an annual tradition of summer festivals that continues to this day. This National Historic Landmark has hosted performances of the nation's fifth-oldest opera company since this 1932 re-opening, hosting such famous artists as Mae West, Beverly Sills, Helen Hayes, and Denyce Graves, among others.

We saw one of our favorite operas in Central City, Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata. Directed by Elise Sandell, and conducted by John Baril, this production starred Ellie Dehn as Violetta, Ryan McPherson as Alfredo, and Troy Cook as Giorgio Germont. No photos are allowed during the opera, but I took this photo of the final bows to the audience's enthusiastic standing ovations.  

We enjoyed this sell-out opera very much and seeing it in this historical building made me feel as if I was also viewing a part of our nation's history. We will definitely return next summer for not only an opera but also a musical, or two. It is wonderful knowing this treasure box gem is in close proximity to us, and an additional theater along with those in Denver, in which to enjoy the arts. We saw many operas when we lived in New York City, both the Metropolitan Opera and City Opera, and we are happy that we have some choices here in Colorado to continue seeing live performances.

Do you enjoy visiting performing arts complexes around the country and the world? What places have you visited and the performances you would recommend? 

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Hudson Gardens and Event Center in Littleton, CO

Hudson Gardens and Event Center is a 30-acre non-profit botanical garden complex located near the South Platte River, at 6115 South Santa Fe Drive in Littleton, Colorado, which opened to the public in 1996. It is open most days from 9 AM until 5 PM and admission is free, with a few exceptions. Its history can be read on this link.

One day recently my husband and I decided to take a stroll in the garden for the first time, after hearing from friends about what a lovely place it is. I'd love to take you along, through my photographs, to show you what a beautiful and peaceful place it is!  All photos, and photo collages, will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on.

I can imagine that it is lovely in every season, but late summer is a good time to visit. We were greeted by the Welcome Garden.

A garden map is distributed at the main entrance, and also along some of the walkways. If you click on this photo to enlarge the map you can see that Hudson Gardens is made up of many different water features and mini gardens.

The Victoria Water Lily Pond is one of the first we saw on our stroll.

The Victoria Water Lily is a native of the Amazon and is in limited display in Colorado. Its massive leaves can grow to be 3 feet or more!  All the aquatic plants at the Hudson Gardens are maintained by volunteers from the Colorado Water Garden Society.

The next garden was called the Oval Garden. One acre in size, it is filled with perennial flowers.

There were many gorgeous blooms still in profusion in many of the Hudson Garden beds.

As a novice western gardener, I liked that many of the flowers along the pathways were labeled. I am trying to find perennials that will flourish despite the frequent deer and rabbit visitors that come to my home's gardens.

Nearby was the Rose Garden. This garden was updated in 2009 to contain roses that thrive in the Colorado climate. Bloom here was past prime, but I enjoyed seeing the names of the variety of hybrid tea roses and floribundas, grandifloras, and climbing roses, planted here. In the distance, we saw a tent where a wedding celebration was being held.

We then strolled through the relatively new Chocolate Garden. The plantings change every year, and are those that mimic the odor or image of chocolate, and are not meant to be consumed. The "Chocolate Chip" plant did indeed smell like a delicious chocolate chip cookie, to me!

There are many whimsical places in Hudson Gardens and Event Center, which makes it a charming place for children to visit.  The Garden Railroad mimics the Colorado landscape and contains 700 feet of "G" size railroad tracks and buildings. The railroad runs weather permitting, and on a changing schedule, from mid-May through September and during the holiday season.

There was also a fun place for children to walk through and explore, called the Hobbit House, which was constructed of stone.

The Dahlia Display Bed contained some beautiful blooms. Dahlias are grown as annuals in Colorado and this garden contains 100 varieties each season.

The Honeybee Garden is home to an apiary that has been in existence for ten years.  Community beekeepers maintain the apiary and use natural management methods that are minimally invasive, chemical-free, and non-toxic. There is more information about the beekeeping program on this link.

The Aquatic Plant Holding Pond is where aquatic plants grown from seeds or tubers in a greenhouse are transferred to grow and mature in this less stressful environment before being placed in larger pools. 

We followed the walkway that then leads to the Herb Garden and Vegetable Garden.  The herb garden is maintained by volunteers from the Herb Society of America and contains 115 varieties of herbs used in tea making, medicinal and culinary uses, and potpourri, as well as native herbs found in the Colorado region. 
The vegetable garden is planted and maintained in partnership with the Colorado State University (CSU) Extension-Arapahoe County Colorado Master Gardener Program. The vegetables are easily grown and widely available and are planted during the last week in May. All the produce collected at harvest is distributed to area food banks.  

The very popular Water Gardens is home to 140 varieties of plants. 

You have to see this garden in person to truly enjoy the variety of delicate and unusual flowers!  It is also maintained by the Colorado Water Garden Society.  

Monet's Place is located near the Water Garden and is thought to evoke the feeling of being in Impressionist painter Claude Monet's garden in Giverny, France.  Magnolia, Ginkgo, and Weeping Willow trees can be found here.

The Hudson Gardens and Event Center has many beautiful places in which to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.  Whether it is under a giant old Cottonwood tree...

...or by a running stream of water cascading over rocks.

Visitors can find many cool green areas within the center in which to sit and enjoy the scene.

During the summer, many concerts are held in Hudson Center and Event Center.  The stage was set for a concert being held in the evening when we visited the Concert Amphitheater.  For information on how to purchase tickets and concert events click this link.  You can bring your lawn chair and picnic basket and enjoy music under the stars! 

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the gardens and we know we will be back to stroll its walkways many times, and in many seasons.  I hope I've enticed you to also visit if you live in the Denver/Littleton area or are on a visit to Colorado.  It also is a beautiful place to rent for a special occasion, or in which to take an adult education class. 

I think the Hudson Gardens is a wonderful collaborative effort by many talented volunteers that give their time and expertise towards maintaining the garden for all to enjoy for free, and that more communities should do the same   Do you have a garden, such as this, in your community that you can enjoy?

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