Colorado Trip: Red Rocks Amphitheater; Dinosaur Ridge; Rocky Mountains Arsenal Wildlife Refuge; Casa Bonita

And so we reached the zenith of our trip: the final full day, Tuesday, upon which we wanted to fit in as much as possibly could; while also returning the car on time (by 8pm).  We also woke up to a very hot day, topping 100 degrees at point but often settling into a chilly 97 degrees.  While there was almost no humidity, as is the norm around Denver, it was still quite thoroughly hot.

Red Rocks Amphitheater

This is a well-known venue for music and performance of all sorts, relatively close to the city of Denver.  There were no especially great performances going on during our time in CO; but our interest was more in seeing the gorgeous eponymous red rocks.  We got our typical Coloradan dose of wilderness, scenic vistas, and busy backcountry roads full of other explorers… but this time we got a lot of sunlight as well.  My SPF 100 sunscreen worked hard and earned its keep.

Some sort of magpie, in glorious flight against the backdrop of distant Denver, in the extreme heat of the day.

Some sort of magpie, in glorious flight against the backdrop of distant Denver, in the extreme heat of the day.

Some event or other was being set up for later in the day, but we were able to freely walk in and enjoy the venue.  I mostly hid in the shade and watched for avian friends; Richard and Sophia did the lengthy walk down and back from the stage area.

A monument to the Civilian Conservation Corps members who built the Amphitheater, along the path in. The Two monolithic rock formations are on either side of the seating area.

A monument to the Civilian Conservation Corps members who built the Amphitheater, along the path in. The Two monolithic rock formations are on either side of the seating area.

The view from the amphitheater overlooks Denver

The view from the amphitheater overlooks Denver

The view from Red Rocks was nice in towards Denver... but in reality, the view away from the city was far better.

The view from Red Rocks was nice in towards Denver… but in reality, the view away from the city was far better.

We drove a bit up the road, warm and sweaty, and figured we might try our hand at finding and exploring the famous…

Dinosaur Ridge… sort of.

With the sun blazing down we followed our GPS to the Stegosaurus Parking Lot.  A slew of cars were present, and there was clearly a walking trail to the side, so we got out and into the 100 degree heat and began trudging up the walkway.

IMGP5605Across the highway which had split the ridge, there was some gorgeous differently-colored strata of rocks and soil visible because the ridge had been carved out:

A view of the widely varied geological strata across the highway...

A view of the widely varied geological strata across the highway…

We walked up all the way to… a fence with a sign warning that we turn around because the other side of the fence and ridge was the primary law enforcement target range for the Denver area.  In short, as we found out after the fact, we had found one of the tour bus parking lots along the real Dinosaur Ridge – but not the park where we could walk.

... the same riotous geological formations, along the walking path.

… the same riotous geological formations, along the walking path.

It was so oppressively hot, and we were so entirely tired (especially after the huge amount of driving and sightseeing we had accomplished the day prior), that we went and got Chipotle for lunch (though not at the original Chipotle).  There, we considered other museums to see (the Railway Museum; the Aviation Museum) … until Richard made the really solid point that maybe we could do just one other thing, then return the car and go back to the hotel to actually relax a bit on our vacation.

Acting upon his entirely sound advice, we chose our last major point of interest and my second favorite portion of our trip, and drove northeast of Denver proper to get to the…

Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge

One of the best parts of the trip, as I mentioned, and it is because we were surrounded by so many kinds of wildlife thriving.  That itself isn’t rare necessarily – but it is the story behind the site that makes it so satisfying.  In short: the Arsenal was just that, the production center for a huge amount of weaponry during World War II.  At the conclusion of hostilities, the armaments production was suspended, and the land passed to Shell for the production of agricultural petrochemicals.  That too eventually ceased – and at some point the US Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in and strove to reclaim the lands.

After a great deal of work, they finished the project in 2010 – and so there is now a 15,000 acre wildlife refuge northeast of Denver.

And so: wildlife photos, the best of what we snagged, as we slowly drove through in the oppressive heat of the day:

A very normal sign at the entrance to the Refuge...

A very normal sign at the entrance to the Refuge…

... followed by a very Coloradan no-marijuana-laden regulations sign!

… followed by a very Coloradan no-marijuana-laden regulations sign!

One of a slew of birds living its avian life in the beauty of the Refuge.

One of a slew of birds living its avian life in the beauty of the Refuge.

The sizable Visitor's Center across the Refuge's prairie, which we didn't get to visit as it was closed.

The sizable Visitor’s Center across the Refuge’s prairie, which we didn’t get to visit as it was closed.

One of the ~2.446 trillion prairie dogs standing watch in the Refuge.

One of the ~2.446 trillion prairie dogs standing watch in the Refuge.

This is one of the better shots we got of birds as they zipped around in the air.

This is one of the better shots we got of birds as they zipped around in the air.

First several bison we saw were behind a flimsy fence but rather close to us...

First several bison we saw were behind a flimsy fence but rather close to us…

... that first bison was so interesting that birds had gathered to watch him like we were.

… that first bison was so interesting that birds had gathered to watch him like we were.

Then, we moved past the flimsy fence into an area where, as the sign warned us, bison were present and were playing for keeps.

Then, we moved past the flimsy fence into an area where, as the sign warned us, bison were present and were playing for keeps.

Probably my second-favorite photo and experience of the trip, after those heating lightning arcs we saw and captured:

... so we got VERY close to a wild bison with no walls or protection besides our Mercedes steed. Gorgeous animals with a frightening amount of power.

… so we got VERY close to a wild bison with no walls or protection besides our Mercedes steed. Gorgeous animals with a frightening amount of power.

A clutch of wildflowers amidst the sun-baked grasses of the prairie.

A clutch of wildflowers amidst the sun-baked grasses of the prairie.

This was one of several eastern cottontail rabbits whose reaction to us (potential predators) and the baking 100 degree heat... was to just splay out in the shade and not run from us. It was too hot to run.

This was one of several eastern cottontail rabbits whose reaction to us (potential predators) and the baking 100 degree heat… was to just splay out in the shade and not run from us. It was too hot to run.

One of a slew of mule deer (with their distinctive mule-like ears) we carefully watched for as we drove through the refuge.

One of a slew of mule deer (with their distinctive mule-like ears) we carefully watched for as we drove through the refuge.

One of two or three magnificent red-railed hawks we saw as we drove, this handsome fellow was kind enough to land on a power line frame for me to grab ~a thousand photos so I could pick out this, the best one, to post here.

One of two or three magnificent red-railed hawks we saw as we drove, this handsome fellow was kind enough to land on a power line frame for me to grab ~a thousand photos so I could pick out this, the best one, to post here.

A storm front drifted in over our prairie, as seemed to be our luck on this Colorado excursion.

A storm front drifted in over our prairie, as seemed to be our luck on this Colorado excursion.

But once again: we toured those unpaved backroads in our brand new Mercedes-Benz, with a storm brewing, and wilderness all around. It was fantastic!

But once again: we toured those unpaved backroads in our brand new Mercedes-Benz, with a storm brewing, and wilderness all around. It was fantastic!

To our chagrin, there was one summertime animal we did not lay eyes on while driving through – the bull snake, which looks like a rattlesnake.  But, on the flip side, we were thankful to have seen so many incredibly creatures again thriving in a piece of the earth that humanity once despoiled, and then rehabilitated into viable lands for nature anew.

Casa Bonita

We made quick time through the rain-drenched city of Denver to the Mecca of Mexican food in the area, hoping to sneak in and out quickly and then return our rental car.

For those who do not know – there is an entire SouthPark episode on Casa Bonita, which features Cartman singing about it to the tune of La Cucaracha.  The clip calls the restaurant the Disneyland of Mexican Restaurants, which is one opinion about it – but Casa Bonita certainly takes live entertainment and staying in character very seriously.  This clip from the episode is NSFW for but also hilarious – and also the song we sang multiple times over the course of the week leading up to our last night there.

A cathedral to crappy Mexican food and amazing live entertainment

A cathedral to crappy Mexican food and amazing live entertainment

The artsy posted warning - you will be entertained for free, but each person entering must pay for a full entree.

The artsy posted warning – you will be entertained for free, but each person entering must pay for a full entree.

Even if you pay for that full entree, the delightful pun/signs explain, you will be getting a deal.

Even if you pay for that full entree, the delightful pun/signs explain, you will be getting a deal.

Sadly we settled for the pun, as we couldn't get in to "si a good show"

Sadly we settled for the pun, as we couldn’t get in to “si a good show”

The waiting room we saw was suitably "authentico Mexicano" or whatever they would label it - and the establishment features a 30 foot tall waterfall with cliff divers.... so in many ways it is too bad we didn't get into the establishment.

The waiting room we saw was suitably “authentico Mexicano” or whatever they would label it – and the establishment features a 30 foot tall waterfall with cliff divers…. so in many ways it is too bad we didn’t get into the establishment.

So: sad that we didn’t get into Casa Bonita proper, but we were exhausted and ready to get back to the hotel. So we returned the car, and had yet another lovely Lyft experience.  In this case: the quintessential Coloradan white stoner dude.  Baseball cap; Nissan pickup truck with an interior that smelled overpoweringly of weed being masked by too much smelly spray of some sort; he rocked out to Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” with full body dancing and thumb drumming on his steering wheel as we drove; and just a general propensity to giggle uncontrollable after each and every thing he said to us.  Part of the Gen-u-ine Colorady Experience, I guess.

In Summary:

And so we slept our last night in the lovely hotel, and woke up early to check out and have perhaps the best Lyft experience of the trip.  Deena, a cosmetologist with a glorious sense of humor… and also a propensity to conspiracy theory.  So we got to have interlocking conversational moments about how she bought wirelessly controlled fart noise emitters and always sticks one under her dad’s favorite easy chair when he visits… and then we got the whole “just Google search World Trade Center 11 and you’ll find some scary truths, man” types of tinfoil hat moments.  A long drive to the airport – but also a fun and entertaining one:

Deanna and I modeling the two Lyft mustaches in her car, as Richard and Sophia can't help but smile.

Deanna and I modeling the two Lyft mustaches in her car, as Richard and Sophia can’t help but smile.

Denver is a relatively high volume airport based on our experiences, but their TSA helots seem to be pretty efficient at their job.  We made it through quickly, admiring/questioning the weird artwork as we went…

The Denver airport's artwork is well-known for being weird and at times, macabre.

The Denver airport’s artwork is well-known for being weird and at times, macabre.

Fascinating art, but weird as all hell.

Fascinating art, but weird as all hell.

Sitting near our gate, we ate our overpriced airport food and waited for the Southwest sky-wagon to allow us to board, so it could take us home.  I got a seat I rather enjoyed:

I paid the $40 upcharge as we waited to board our Southwest return flight, meaning I got to choose my seat earlier than most of the rest of the flight. So I grabbed the seat immediately behind the seat immediately behind the captain, and a slew of extra leg room to boot!

I paid the $40 upcharge as we waited to board our Southwest return flight, meaning I got to choose my seat earlier than most of the rest of the flight. So I grabbed the seat immediately behind the seat immediately behind the captain, and a slew of extra leg room to boot!

We made it home, safe and tired, after a wonderful time together in Colorado.  Denver and the wilderness alike, we took it all in during our whirlwind of a visit – and I am thankful that it was such an excellent experience.

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