My wife and I decided we needed a little getaway. We’ve got two young kids, and we both work from home — she’s an artist, and I’m a writer and a musician. That means we all get to spend a lot of time with each other. But it also means privacy is almost non-existent. And quiet time? Yeah, we don’t get a lot of that, either.
We wanted to go somewhere that was convenient but special. Fortunately, we live in Colorado, which means we’re in driving distance of some pretty unforgettable places. We checked out the map, and decided to make Estes Park our destination. We’re both fans of Stephen King (in fact, we read most of his novels while we were dating), and we’d always wanted to stay at The Stanley Hotel, which was the inspiration for The Overlook Hotel in King’s classic, The Shining.
The Stanley is a popular destination, so when I called I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that the hotel was booked. However, the manager informed me he would be able to get me a room in the Lodge at the Stanley Hotel. He explained that it was more “bed and breakfast-like” than the original Hotel. Sounded good to me, so I went ahead and booked it.
But with check-in at 4pm, we still had to figure out what to do with the rest of our day. My wife is a nature lover, and her artwork is heavily focused on the outdoors. So she came up with the idea of a picnic in the park. Not just any park: Rocky Mountain National Park.
We left mid-morning to drop the kids off at their grandparents’ house, and we got into the park by late morning. By then, the line to get in was fairly long, which worried us. But when we got to the trailhead at Lake Bierstadt, we were delighted to find only one other car parked there.
It was snowing lightly, and the wind was pretty strong—gusting to over 25 mph. But once we set off on our hike our bodies warmed, and we found ourselves stripping off a couple layers to cool down. Once we ascended the trail, we were met with the lush evergreen forest surrounding the lake itself.
It was like stepping into another world. Where the hike up was steep, and the trail alternating between packed snow and dirt and rocks, the trail around the lake weaved gently through deep, undisturbed powder. The trees absorbed nearly all the wind. So even though we could hear the wind through the branches, we hardly felt it at all. There wasn’t a single footprint in sight, and I had to restrain myself from making snow angels more than once. It just didn’t seem fair for the next hikers not to see such untouched beauty.
After reaching Lake Bierstadt and taking in the dramatic views of the surrounding peaks, we found a small clearing within the forest that afforded us protection from the wind, and a comfortable spot for a picnic. I’m lucky to be married to my wife for a lot of reasons. One of them is that she loves baking homemade bread, which is something she did for our picnic. We also brought along some cheese, cured meat, preserves, and dark chocolate. We had worked up quite an appetite on our hike, and were in no rush, so we lingered over our picnic enjoying the food as much as the scenery and atmosphere, and each other’s company, too.
After our picnic, we packed up everything and made our way around the lake, marveling at the fact that we had still not seen another person. It was like we had the world to ourselves. By the end of the trail, we were reluctant to leave this winter paradise. But we were also tired, so we decided to head out of the park and check into the Stanley.
One of the wonderful things about Estes Park is that it borders Rocky Mountain National Park, so our drive back was only about 15 minutes. We pulled up in front of the Stanley, excited to see that the Lodge was only steps from the original hotel. And it appeared to have all of the same charm of the original. Our second floor room featured a very large, very inviting bed. Looking back at the reservation, I can confirm that the room we got is listed as a “Classic Queen,” but the bed itself seemed to be much more expansive than a queen and it was the ideal place to relax after our hike.
For dinner, we decided that we wanted to see more of Estes Park than just the Stanley, so we made reservations at the Dunraven Inn. Now, here is where I should say that I grew up in northern New Jersey, in the suburbs of New York City. I was raised on Italian food. Really, really good Italian food. Some might say I’m a bit of an Italian food snob. Who am I to argue?
So imagine my surprise when we walked into this quaint little mountain restaurant and the aromas immediately transported me back to my youth and all those great New Jersey and New York Italian restaurants. The host led us to our table, and despite it being a Sunday night, there was a good crowd of happy diners enjoying their night out.
As it was a special date night, my wife and I decided to treat ourselves. I got the lobster tail, and she got a steak stuffed with blue cheese and garlic. The food was delicious without being overly fussy, striking just the right balance between romance and comfort. By the end, we were full and felt it would be best to skip the dessert — but our very friendly server couldn’t bear to see us leave without trying the panna cotta. I gave her a little extra tip for her good judgement, because that was the perfect note to end the dinner on.
We returned to the hotel, but there was one other thing on our list: cocktails at the Cascades Whiskey Bar. My wife and I both enjoy whiskey, and the Cascades is very well-known as having the biggest and best selections of whiskey in the state – somewhere close to 1,000 expressions of whiskey, bourbon and scotch. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about getting up early to make the kids breakfast. Why not?
My wife ordered the Stanley Select Old Fashioned (Stanley select whiskey / simple syrup / black walnut bitters / luxardo cherry), which we both agreed was quite literally the best old fashioned either one of us had ever tasted. I got the 4th Earl of Dunraven Manhattan (Knob Creek rye 100 prf / Pedro Ximinez sherry / carpano bianco / bitters), which was also one of the best I’ve ever had. (Though, we decided that the Stanley Old Fashioned was slightly better.) We lingered over our drinks, and then, if I’m completely honest, ordered another round.
The next morning, we awoke refreshed (despite the extra drink the night before), and headed downstairs where the Lodge serves up breakfast as part of the stay — one of the advantages of staying in the Lodge versus the original Hotel. As we sipped our coffee, we admired the views and watched a variety of birds outside the window. Our romantic Sunday had transitioned nicely into a leisurely, relaxing Monday morning. And as we headed out of Estes Park, we wondered: how quickly could we return to do it all over again?
A freelance writer with bylines in Deadspin, Gawker, The Daily Beast, and many other publications, David Obuchowski often covers craft beer, literature, culture, travel, and more. An active and touring musician as well, he regularly scores videos produced by the TED organization, and is the guitar player of Publicist UK, Goes Cube, and many other bands/projects. Sarah Pedry, a fine artist and freelance illustrator, is deeply inspired by the natural world. Her recent show “Out Of Sight” at the Madelife Gallery in Boulder, Colorado retold the story of Little Red Riding Hood from a naturalist and feminist perspective. Sarah earned her BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and MFA from the Maine College of Art.
Based in Colorado, Sarah and David are married with two kids. Combining their love of discovering new places with their respective art and writing professions, the duo has joined forces for travel pieces like this one. See and read where else they’ve gone at their site: http://acoupletravelers.tumblr.com