We had a relatively easy drive planned from Colorado Springs, but we hadn't anticipated the construction detour from state highway 36 onto highway 7, a very curvy and narrow road along the Big Thompson canyon and over the mountain pass just southeast of Estes Park. It was the first time that I had driven Phannie in such extended mountainous terrain, but she performed splendidly. We had been through the Ozarks a couple of times, but that was pretty tame compared to this. Threading through the curves and managing the steep grades with such a big rig and a tow vehicle took a good deal of concentration and gear shifting, but I was very pleased at how well it went.
One of the unfortunate things that can't be helped about operating such a large and heavy vehicle on a two-lane highway in the mountains is the fact that other vehicles are going to stack up behind you from time to time until you can find a turnout to let them pass. I hate inconveniencing other drivers, but there is no way that Phannie can ever be as nimble as an automobile. In mountain driving, a low gear must be selected to climb a grade, as it must in descending a grade to avoid excessive speed and brake use. That means a slower speed than everybody else, whether you're climbing or descending. I am always vigilant for turnouts, though, and use them as much as possible. Folks who passed us were nice about it; I didn't see a single obscene gesture.
We really didn't know what to expect at Estes Park, but we were certainly impressed with the beauty of the area and the quaintness of the town nestled among the surrounding rocky peaks. Exemplifying the stunning vistas is a photo I took of the historic Stanley Hotel overlooking the town:
I'll have more about the hotel and also some photos of the town in another post.
We had reserved a spot at Elk Meadow RV Resort, a large park just west of town, and our view from there was pretty spectacular too:
Although there are plenty of empty spaces in the photo above, I heard the owner say there are 121 additional RVs with reservations to arrive for the Labor Day weekend.
For a park with narrow gravel sites that are not all that level, the nightly rate is pretty steep at $53 with our Good Sam discount. However, that's in keeping with everything else here; diesel fuel, for example, is $4 a gallon.
There are a couple of other parks here that are situated on the Big Thompson River. This is the type of setting we would have preferred, but Spruce Lake didn't have any riverfront sites, and Paradise on the River cannot handle a rig of Phannie's size.
We decided that today would be a down day (a luxury of the retired), so we didn't do much other than exploring around town a bit and trying some of the many restaurants from which to choose.
First on the restaurant agenda, after a recommendation from Ed and Marilyn, was Smokin' Dave's BBQ, which is perhaps the busiest restaurant we've seen here. (When is the last time you had to wait to be seated at a BBQ joint?)
Again on Ed's recommendation, I ordered pork ribs, and Sandy ordered a brisket sandwich. Both were very tasty, and there was a selection of sauces at each table--a nice touch, for sure.
Of course, I am compelled--for reasons that aren't entirely clear--to offer an honest assessment, so I need to mention a few slight imperfections:
While the ribs had great flavor, they were slightly overcooked. In my estimation, a perfectly cooked rib, while tender, still has some "bite" to it, sort of like al dente pasta. These ribs just sort of fell apart when I picked them up. It didn't keep me from scarfing them right down, however! The baked beans were very good, as were the french fries. The cole slaw and potato salad were too runny and bland; I will avoid them next time. The cornbread muffin was a nice touch, but where I grew up, cornbread is NOT sweet. This was clearly an insult to my heritage, but I ate it anyway; I decided to forgive them and move on. The service was excellent, by the way.
We also tried a Mexican restaurant named El Mex-Kal on the edge of town. (I couldn't figure out if there was some meaning to the restaurant name that I wasn't getting. Were they trying a word play on "Mescal" or something? I didn't think to ask, probably because the shelf-life of my curiosity expired about the time I entered the door.)
I'm always nervous about ordering Mexican food outside Texas, but we needed a fix. After ravishing the chips (very good) and salsa (better than expected) we ordered a fajita steak burrito and a loaded tostada. I also requested a side order of pork-green chile sauce.
The tostada was good--not exceptional, but good--but the burrito was very good, covered in white Mexican cheese and quite a bit more substantial than expected. The green chile salsa was only fair and too runny. Sadly, it will be difficult to match the green chile sauce we had a few days ago at El Matador in Raton, NM. But because El Mex-Kal exceeded our expectations and the service was impeccable, we would eat here again.
We also had tried (on a different day) a Thai restaurant, the Everest Thai Kitchen.
We ate here twice today--the first time and the last time! While the food was serviceable, they committed the unpardonable sin: They used leftover chicken in the entree! The difference between fresh and leftover is unmistakable and becomes more unmistakable the more aged a leftover it is. There was only one server for the whole restaurant, and to say that she was as slow as a sloth would insult the sloth. (Trivia alert: Did you know that a sloth is so laid back that it uses the bathroom only once a week?)
Okay, before this gets any sillier, I'll sign off and save my fingers for the next post. Besides, I don't know anything more about sloths.