All in all, the munchkins traveled quite well for our long car ride. (Many thanks to our Harry Potter audiobook.) At our neighbor's suggestion, we stopped off at Ole's Big Game Steakhouse for dinner in Paxton, Nebraska. Apparently the original owner started this bar six decades ago to fund his hunting excursions all over the world. The entire restaurant is filled with his trophies. While definitely a unique dining experience, it was likewise surreal with strong undercurrents of "horrific" and "disturbing."
The girls enjoyed the chance to stretch their legs as they walked around taking pictures of everything:
On to happier thoughts: hiking! After surviving the first night (Annika was a horrendous hotel sleeper), we met up with some Illinois friends of ours in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Meet Forest and Ivy. (Cute couple names, huh.) They haven't aged a bit since we first met them years ago. Even more amazing is the fact that Forest hiked Bear Lake with us, even though he'd had his appendix out four days before!
A family photo. Last time we were in Rocky Mountain National Park, Talia was still a baby and Brooklyn wasn't even three.
Annie Mae hitches a ride on Daddy's shoulders.
About thirty seconds into our hike, Eli pauses for a rest.
The kids were adorable, creating their very own "Wolf Cub Club" that periodically cheered throughout the trail. When we took other hikes later on, Brooklyn, Talia, and Eli insisted on creating new club names, so we also had the "Nature Preservers" and "Harry Potter Hikers."
Annie Mae, smiling widely as a jack-o-lantern.
Vistas so beautiful that it hurts.
What fun to reunite with my visiting teaching friend and singing buddy!
After finishing the Bear Lake Loop, our friends needed to get back on the road. Ivy had a cello concert that evening, plus Forest must have been ready for a break post-surgery. Since the mountains are a rarity for us, we Wheelers decided to keep going.
Eli kicks back on a rock.
Talia was definitely in here element. She loves to hike!
Our next destination? Nymph Lake.
Love the lily pads!
Eight years apart, yet Brooklyn and Annie have so much in common.
Eli scales this amazing root structure.
Perfect spot for a couple family pictures.
Talia soaks in the sunlight.
We made it to our final destination, Emerald Lake, just as the sun started to slip away. The chipmunks were just as friendly as we remembered them being during our picnic at the very same spot seven years ago.
By this point, the munchkins were tired, but they still humored me with a photo at Dream Lake on the way back.
Something about the mountains brings the whole world into better perspective.
The following night with Annika was long, but we cheered ourselves up the next morning by hiking in Boulder Canyon. The kids were way excited to pull out their Camelbaks once more.
The real joy of sisterhood.
Annika Mae sure enjoyed smearing her snack in Dad's hair.
The only downside to this hike was that we'd hoped to rappel, but never found the spot. Ah well, I guess there's nothing wrong with playing it safe and keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Saturday afternoon watching the street performers in Boulder instead. This amazing guy folded not only himself into a plastic box, but squeezed Eli and a couple other kids in there too.
Talia's living the Good Life.
After two nights of lousy sleep, you'd think that Annika would have crashed that evening. Ha! At one point, she slept in the shower where she was strapped into her car seat, having been delicately carried in after Jason drove her round and around trying to convince her to close her eyes. Still, our last hike made it worth suffering through that final night. Eldorado Canyon State Park was stunning with its tall cliffs, reminding us so much of Snow Canyon.
We happily embarked on the Rattlesnake Gulch trail.
Annika "woofed" at every passing pup and insisted on petting most.
Hey Jason, you're looking a bit sleepy there...
...but not as sleepy as Annie. Going...
So glad she had a chance to finally catch up on her zzzs.
At least we didn't have to tote our big girls.
The trail wound right past the ruins of what used to be the Crags Hotel. Built in 1908, it was in operation for only 4 years before burning down.
...while Annie sleeps on.
Posing for a picture at the Continental Divide overlook.
On second thought, sit down. That's a mighty steep drop-off!
Annika finally woke up (and kept stealing my hat!)
I think Annie spoke for all of us in summing up our Colorado adventure: