After years of meaning to visit the drive-thru Christmas light show at National Trail Raceway, I finally did it this week. I loaded up my parents and an aunt to go check out this much hyped holiday event about 30 minutes north of Lancaster on Tuesday.
The bad news is that I learned after buying the ticket that it’s a new operator and the lights aren’t nearly as good this year. The good news is that we had nothing to compare it to and had a great time anyway.
I’m not a fan of crowds so we chose to visit on a non-peak day and to book an early time slot in the 5:30-6:30 hour when it wouldn’t be too busy. Consequently, there were just a handful of other cars and I didn’t even have anyone behind me until the very end.
If you go, it’s $20 for a carload Monday through Thursday and $30 Friday through Sunday. They have some snacks for sale like cookies and hot chocolate and their event radio station plays an excellent variety of new and old Christmas music.
I was driving so the pictures are poor but you can get the gist. If you go, you must buy your ticket online here.
Do you have a favorite place to see Christmas lights? I would love to hear about it! Here’s something I wrote about Gallipolis in Lights last year. I’m looking forward to heading that way again soon!
No trip to Estes Park, Colorado is complete without a stop at the town’s most famous hotel. The Stanley Hotel has a fascinating history and is reputedly haunted but it’s most famous for inspiring the Stephen King bestseller The Shining.
They offer a guided tour for a few dollars but we opted to just nose around a bit on our own. The tour offers stories as well as a look at areas of the hotel that are not public. However, you are permitted to independently explore the lobby and a nice museum area downstairs so you can get the gist if you don’t have time for a tour.
The hotel was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley – they called him F.O. – in the early twentieth century.
F.O. had invented a steam powered horseless carriage called the Stanley Steam Engine.
He and his wife Flora traveled west to Colorado in 1903 when his doctor prescribed fresh air to treat his tuberculosis. The doctor arranged for the couple to stay in a friend’s cabin in Estes Park and advised F.O. not to make any plans past six months.
That fresh mountain air must have been good for him because his health began to improve, prompting the couple to build their own home. That house still stands about 1.5 miles from the Stanley and remains a private residence.
As much as the couple loved the beauty and benefits of the area, they were accustomed to the culture and refinements of the east coast and craved something more. So they set out to build a luxury destination that would rival any of the fancy hotels back East and entice the wealthy into the mountains.
Construction on the Stanley began in 1906 and was finished in 1909 with no expense spared. Built in the Georgian architectural style, it was equipped with all modern conveniences including running water, electricity, telephones and en suite bathrooms. It wasn’t heated at the time because it was designed to be a summer resort destination.
Guests had at their disposal a fleet of vehicles, uniformed staff and any number of activities to keep them entertained. It is said that the town grew and flourished because of this hotel.
It has hosted many famous people over the years including Teddy Roosevelt, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, Bob Dylan and John Phillip Sousa. Remember Radar O’Reilly from the tv show MASH? The actor who immortalized this role was Gary Burghoff. He stayed there and they have a picture of him playing the concert piano in the ballroom.
Sadly, the hotel was in decline by the seventies and it seemed destined for the wrecking ball when a young author came knocking. Stephen King spent a single night in Suite 217 in 1974.
He and wife Tabitha actually arrived as the hotel was closing down for the season so they mostly had the hotel to themselves. He was inspired by the grandness of it all, the remote location and by the eerie emptiness. They ate alone in the dining room, accompanied by canned orchestral music that drifted down long, empty corridors.
By the time they left, he had created the bones of The Shining which was published three years later and was set at the fictional Overlook Hotel. Twenty years later, the Stanley would serve as backdrop for the tv mini series version of The Shining.
It was also used in the movie Dumb and Dumber.
Today, it has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and has been expanded to offer different kinds of accommodations, spa services, events and dining experiences. At an average of $450 a night, it was beyond our accommodations budget but we did enjoy nosing around and taking it all in.
The view from here is spectacular and I imagine that a stay would be a splendid retreat. It would be a fun place to celebrate a special occasion too. Learn more about the Stanley at their website!
Lunch in Estes Park was at a cute place called Claire’s Restaurant and Bar. We randomly selected it because their online menu included a few vegetarian options but, random or not, it was a superb choice.
They offer soups, salads and wraps along with pasta, steaks and all matter of other dishes meaning there’s literally something for everyone. I had an Impossible Burger with fries and a great salad. Everything seemed fresh and thoughtfully presented. Plus, the menu changes seasonally so there’s always opportunity to discover something new.
This family business is cozy inside with outdoor seating for fair days. Stained glass over our table provided unexpected joy.
I would absolutely go back if ever given the choice. Want to know more? Click here!
Denver weather was windy but otherwise ideal during our visit. So it was quite a shock to leave the mid sixties of the city for the gusty, cold of Estes Park.
This town of less than 6,000 residents was once home to Arapaho Indians. Today it’s home to dozens of small businesses and is a destination for outdoorsy types looking for some R&R or for excitement in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Winter sports are a big deal here as is the Stanley Hotel. This stately old hotel overlooking the town inspired Stephen King to write his bestselling book The Shining.
We visited the Stanley and then headed up the mountain to sightsee. We actually planned to hike some but the wind was so strong it would knock you over. When we arrived in Estes Park the temperature was 36 degrees but felt 19. It was significantly colder when we set foot on a trail and it started to snow.
You can’t tell from this picture but, trust me, it was frigid.
We were layered up but it was simply too windy to be enjoyable. We drove some but the roads started to turn slick so we did the only logical thing to do. We headed back to town, got lunch and shopped! Yes, we are weak of body but strong of shopping spirit.
Since it gets dark so early, we spent most of our Denver evenings perusing thrift stores, antique malls and bargain stores like TJ Maxx. We were pretty diligent about our retail therapy especially at Found Antique and Artisan Mall in Wheat Ridge.
They have about 65 vendors in 12,000 square feet of small rooms, nooks and crannies. It’s sort of a maze where every turn presents opportunity to find unexpected treasures like these rosettes made from old ties.
They have tons of handmade items and numerous vintage items that I had never seen before. From a mid century era baby monitor called the Baby Sitter to a sixties era Fred Flinstone/ Dino the Dinosaur toy, there are many interesting things to admire. That Flinstones toy is fabulous but comes with a $465 price tag. That was a bit out of my price range but they also have some eighties era Carebears like some I had as a child. Finding them marked vintage was a bit offputting (because I can’t possibly be old enough to call my toys vintage) but they were far more affordable than Fred.
Anyway, it’s a great store in a fantastic space and I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the Denver area. They also have a location in Wisconsin if that’s closer for you. Get the details here!
Denver is a fantastic place to visit in the fall. The weather was in the mid to low sixties the entire visit and the sky was mostly a beautiful light blue. The wind was lively at times, causing leaves to swirl through the air and pile up along the city streets.
In fact, within an hour of our arrival I had learned the true merit of the phrase “hold onto your hat” as I held tightly to my hat and scarf while we scurried down the street. However, the wind calmed and left us with perfect weather for outdoor fun most of the time.
We ended our vacation on a gorgeous day at the Denver Botanic Gardens, stopping here for a few hours before my friend dropped me at the airport and began her drive home. The 23-acre property is located in the Cheesman Park neighborhood and was the perfect ending to our trip.
They have been busy winterizing the grounds and preparing for their Christmas lights event but there was still plenty to see and trails to walk. The property is nicely accessible to all with sidewalks that provide ease of use for strollers, wheelchairs and anyone with balance issues. However, there are also non-paved trails that meander hither and yon through wooded areas and past water features as well.
There are a lot of Asian influences that provide calm and quiet.
An indoor tropical space features a treehouse style observation deck and a large selection of mature plants.
They also have some nice art including this Dale Chihuly piece. It’s similar to others I have seen in the collections at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus and the Phipps Conservatory and Gardens in Pittsburgh.
We walked several miles here but I know we didn’t see everything. What I wouldn’t give to go back for their Blossoms of Light exhibit this year.
Here’s one last picture. I was obsessed with this scene and envious of the people who live in this apartment building. What a view they must have from up there!