Rocky Mountain Weekend: Guanella Pass

Balloon
Balloons are a good way to check out the foothills.

October 1, 2011 – We decided to do a whirlwind weekend in the Rocky Mountains.  It’s been a few years since we were both in the Denver area, and there were a lot of good restaurants and fun sites that we wanted to experience.

Driving To Guanella
Hurry, the mountains might disappear if everyone doesn't get out early!

The weekend started with Louisa flying into Denver on Friday night (Tony was already there for work).  He greeted her with a view of the Demon Horse (thanks Denver International Airport) and a salmon, veggie, and rice bowl (with peanut sauce) from Tokyo Joe’s.  The sauce was thick and rich, veggies were fresh, and the salmon was well-cooked and huge.  The bowl was great, and may be a new favorite.  It’s been a few years, as I said, since I’ve been in Denver and near a Tokyo Joe’s, but I still talk about them – the food is seriously that good.

Aspens
The first weekend of October is a good time to view aspens in the mountains.

We were almost to the hotel in Highlands Ranch when we passed a Krispy Kreme with the “Fresh HOT Dounts” sign lit.  While we normally aren’t fans of Krispy Kreme, there’s just something about a really fresh donut – these didn’t disappoint, they were melt-in-your-mouth fresh.

Guanella Pass
The drive up Guanella Pass is one of our favorites.

Saturday morning we went to Pierre Michel French Bakery for some Sumatra coffee, a few pastries and the scrambled egg, ham, and cheese inside a baguette.  Our pastries of choice were puff pastry filled with raspberry and chocolate, and puff pastry with fresh blueberries.  Both were good, though the blueberry was excellent, with a generous amount of juicy berries and powdered sugar on top.  The baguette was fresh, and huge – about 8″ of bread stuffed with egg-y deliciousness – and this is coming from someone who normally doesn’t order eggs.  We don’t think there’s a bad item at the bakery, and the atmosphere is just fun – there’s French music playing, a display case full of breads and pastries, racks of cooling bread, and gracious shop keepers speaking English to the customers and a mixture of English with a smattering of French to each other.  I don’t think you can go wrong with anything you order here, and would definitely return next time I’m in the area.

Bierstadt View
The clouds were already starting to develop around Bierstadt and Square Top mountains.

Properly fortified, we began the drive towards Guanella Pass.  This weekend was the Fall festival in Georgetown, but we were there early enough to avoid the crowds and get a good parking spot.  Along the way we also saw a few big horn sheep happily eating the grass seed that (was valiantly attempting) to grow along the road.  As well as some pretty great views of the golden aspen.  We enjoyed a hike to a few small lakes, then headed back to Idaho Springs for lunch.

Guanella Aspens
We enjoyed more aspen viewing on our way to Idaho Springs.

We ate at the bar at the Buffalo Restaurant.  The meal started off with a few cold adult beverages, then continued with buffalo burgers (always good) and onion rings (very good).  This restaurant tends to be crowded, and parking can be a challenge.  The kitchen can also be a little inconsistent regarding burger toppings (think: 1 Tbsp of chili for a buffalo chili burger).  However, if you’re feeling like pretty decent food (particularly buffalo burgers) and are in Idaho Springs, this restaurant is worth a stop.

Mt Evans Storms
Luckily, we did not get caught in the storms around Mt. Evans.

We drove part of the way towards Mt. Evans before taking the long way back to Denver and looking at some more beautiful trees.  We also spotted a few swans in a small pond, including a mysterious black swan with red bill (we later found out that this is the Australian Swan.

Black Swan
Why yes, we did see an Australian Swan in Colorado.

Once back in Denver we wanted to find a local coffee shop.  Thanks to a handy smartphone we located Enchanted Grounds.  We were originally uncertain about what type of gaming they did – they were involved in a 24 hour game-a-thon.  Turns out they do all sorts of board games, and have quite a collection of Magic cards.  They also have some great chocolate cookies, and some of the best coffee drinks we’ve had.  Tony greatly enjoyed the creme brulee espresso drink.  The cream cookie espresso drink tasted more almond-y than cream-y; it was just “ok” and we wouldn’t order it again.  The raspberry dark truffle mocha espresso drink, however, was thick, rich and delicious – this was Louisa’s favorite, and one of the best coffee drinks she’s had.

Flower
The aspens weren't the only yellow plant in town.

We knew we’d only have one full night (Saturday) to enjoy dinner, and wanted to take advantage of it.  After a bit of online research we made a 7pm reservation at Fleming’s Steakhouse, near the Denver Tech Center.  We started with French onion soup and Cajun barbeque shrimp.  The soup was fantastic – rich broth and good cheese.  The shrimp were also very tasty, and were served with a slice of garlic bread for soaking up the Cajun sauce.  There’s also complimentary bread with goat cheese and roasted red pepper spreads.  Louisa preferred the cheese, while Tony didn’t have a clear favorite.  We both ordered filets for dinner; while they were cooked well the edges were a tad bit overdone, probably owing to the high heat of the oven.  Of course we couldn’t resist dessert and coffee – the creme brulee was perfectly done, and the lemonade pie with graham cracker crust was nice and refreshing.

Reviews:

Tokyo Joe's on Urbanspoon Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on Urbanspoon Pierre Michel Organic French Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon Buffalo Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon Enchanted Grounds on Urbanspoon Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon