Almost Home: Denver and Breckenridge

While we were sweltering in Williamsburg, our Moorea home swap friends were experiencing an unusually big spring snow storm and enjoying winter ski conditions at Arapahoe Basin. It made us smile to think of their two little girls delighting in seeing their first snow. The family was staying at our home for a few more nights after we flew back, so we spent our first night "almost home" at an airport hotel.

The next morning we decided to check out nearby Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA). Susan had seen a picture of newborn Bison there, but we also had hopes of seeing some good birds. The RMA has a fantastic Visitor Center and we saw several male bison out the back of the building.

Rabbit at Rocky Mountain Arsenal

Western Kingbird

Horned Lark

American Bison at RMA, unfortunately in a fenced enclosure

Bullock's Oriole

We took the RMA driving tour and didn't see and bison babies, but we did see several birds, including our first Bullock's Oriole, before heading over to our grandson's concert with the Colorado Honor Band Association

2014 CHBA Beginning level band

The family after the band concert

After the concert we enjoyed dinner at Ginny and Chuck's and got our first introduction to the family's newest hobby, backyard beekeeping. 

We enjoyed playing with their boys before heading back with Steve and Lauren to Breckenridge. They would be putting us up for the rest of our homeless time. We relaxed and unwound from traveling our first day in Breck then started looking for a hike to do on the second day.

Susan at a Lake Dillon overlook

The trail to Iowa Hill was very closeby, but would still be muddy so we'll try it another time. Instead we did the Dillon Peninsula hike near the Dillon Nature Preserve at Steve's suggestion. 

Us on our hike

Pasque Flower

It was mostly dry, even after the recent big snow. It was a great little warm up for the hiking season with several scenic overlooks. We had never seen so many Pasque flowers before, and there seemed to be more flowers per clump than we see in Rocky.

Pasque along the trail

Historic Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown

We might not have visited Williamsburg this May had it not been for the September 2013 floods. Our Moorea home swap partners could not come here last fall because of the natural disaster and rescheduled for May 2014. So the offer for a non-simultaneous home exchange to Virginia worked out as a great opportunity for us to do something fun and different during that time!

Susan with our condo and transportation

Our condo was at the Kingsmill Resort, and though the LPGA Kingsmill Championship was going on in our neighborhood, our activities were focused on the many historical sites and museums. Friends from New Hampshire drove down and stayed with us most of our visit which was a wonderful way to vacation.

One of the championship golf courses at Kingsmill

Our first day together was spent at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, which our friend suggested and we are so glad he did. We spent a lot of time learning about the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack) at the Battle of Hampton Roads, then progressed to the rest of the equally interesting museum.

Mike at the Mariners Museum in Newport News

Susan at the Mariners Museum with the April Fool, a 6 ft sailboat
that nearly made a trans-Atlantic crossing in 1968

The National Park Service runs the Colonial National Historic Park which features the Yorktown Battlefield, Historic Jamestowne, and Colonial Parkway. The historic parts of Colonial Williamsburg are managed by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, with a lot of help from the APVA Preservation Virginia.

The Nelson House in Yorktown

Yorktown was one of our favorite places. Before our friends arrived we drove out to Yorktown Battlefield and joined a most interesting ranger tour in the area overlooking the York River. Later we visited the the Yorktown Victory Center with our friends and were much impressed with the knowledge of the presenters and the quality of the museum. The whole Center is being expanded and we found it hard to imagine how they could make it any better! Yorktown itself proved to be a cute little historic town to stroll through and get lunch.

Musket firing demo at Yorktown Victory Center

Replica of Revolutionary War era musket

Redoubt 9 at the Yorktown Battlefield

Colonial Williamsburg (CW) took some time to find our way around. The Visitor Center is enormous! The weekly schedule of activities is lengthy. Multiple options for passes are available, some including Jamestown and Yorktown, and it was confusing because there is both a Federal and State of Virginia section of each of these places so our National Parks Pass didn't always work. Should we even buy a pass since you can walk the streets of CW without one?

Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg

Inside the entrance hall to the Governor's Palace

Blacksmith at work in Colonial Williamsburg

A beautiful garden in Williamsburg

The Capitol Building in Colonial Williamsburg

We generally found ourselves less interested in the reenactments and restorations than historical sites and museums. But CW has some of it all and we made a few visits there, finding more to like about it each time. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, and the Public Hospital of 1773 were very good.

Our favorite exhibit was probably the Decorative Arts Museum's Changing Keys: Keyboard Instruments for America, 1700–1830. This was a really excellent exhibit explaining the history and evolution of early keyboard instruments like the spinet, harpsichord, and piano forte. Aside from restored period instruments, there were really excellent mechanical exhibits showing how the keyboard actions, worked.

Spinet in the Changing Keys exhibit in Colonial Williamsburg

Keyboard action for geeks :-)

Another interesting museum exhibit we toured was Threads of Feeling, a poignant showcase of pieces of fabric used as an identification token for foundlings being registered at London's Foundling Hospital in the mid-18th century.

One evening we attended a Candlelight Concert organ recital at the Bruton Parish Episcopal Church, which included a harpsichord piece and an opportunity to sing along to the Chorale Prelude on Schm├╝cke dich, O liebe Seele, a J.S. Bach chorale cantata. Services have been held in this church continuously since the 17th century.

Bruton Parish Episcopal Church

The Aeolian-Skinner Organ at Bruton Parish

Not at all far from Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestowne took us back in time another 150-175 years, and was quite interesting. We took the Archaeological Tour which was very good, but it ran long and all four of us were wilting in the heat. Several days in a row the temperatures hit 90 or nearly so! We cooled off in the museum for a bit, watched a militia demonstration and headed over to the far less inspiring Jamestown Settlement, a recreation of the original townsite with the only lunch spot in the area.

Jamestown Old Towne site with John Smith statue, 1600s church tower with 1907 Memorial Church

St Mary's militia group at Jamestown

Shipworthy replica of the Susan Constant, one of the 3 ships that landed at Jamestown in 1607

When the temperatures dropped later in our trip, we returned to take the Jamestown Island loop drive and visit the Jamestown Glasshouse, where they still make glass objects using traditional techniques. The island really is quite a swamp.

Bald Eagles were a common site around Jamestown

Nesting Osprey near Jamestown Island

Another destination that our friend put on our radar was Fort Monroe National Monument and the Casemate Museum. This fortress, completed in 1834 is the largest stone fortress in America, with a moat and tons of interesting history to go along with it, is a must-see. It was an active duty Army post until 2011.

Aerial view of Fort Monroe, Virginia (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Inside Fort Monroe

Susan at Jefferson Davis Memorial Park, Fort Monroe

After a little walking around the edge of the moat, we drove out along the North Beach Area and watched a pair of nesting Ospreys. Lunch was at the Olde Towne Tavern, a locals kind of pub in nearby Phoebus.

Osprey takeoff near Fort Monroe

We headed back across the James River Bridge, stopping briefly to see the triple chimneys at Bacon's Castle, then rode the free Jamestown-Scotland Ferry.

Bacon's Castle, ca 1665, near Surry, Virginia

On our last day we returned to Yorktown to visit the NPS Visitor Center museum and drive the self-guided battlefield tour. It was finally cooler so we were better able to walk around and appreciate what we were seeing, and reflect on its significance.

The Moore House near Yorktown where the British met with Washington's officers
to negotiate Cornwallis' surrender in October 1781

We learned so much about early America on this trip and it would be impossible to do more than scratch the surface in this blog post!