Thursday, June 28, 2012

Photo Thursday: Scaffolding on the Colorado State Capitol

I knew before leaving for Denver that the Colorado State Capitol was a dramatic building and I was eager to photograph it. Of course, once we got there, it was immediately obvious that a not-particularly-lovely construction project was underway.
Timing is everything.

For great "Photo Thursday" images from around the world, visit Nancie's Budget Travelers Sandbox and join in on the fun!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Blogging Colorado (Denver and Keystone)

I made a quick trip to Colorado earlier this month to participate in the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX)  conference. (Yes, an entire fabulous conference just for travel bloggers or, as they so eloquently put it, new media travel writers.) The conference was held in Keystone, so we spent a few days in Denver too.

It was a great trip, but, as usual, it will take me awhile to get my journal completely posted. Those posts will be linked here as I complete them.

Travel Journal
Denver International Airport (June 13, 2012)
Does Denver Want Visitors To Avoid Denver?
Historic Capitol Hill
A Summer Night in Denver
The Denver Cruisers Are Out

Denver’s Kirkland Museum (June 14)
Denver Art Museum
Yves Saint Laurent in Denver
Contrasting Architectural Eras
Denver Botanic Gardens

A Lift to the Sunset (June 15)

Ambling Along the Mountainside (June 17)
TBEX Comes to Keystone

Daily Snapshots
Day 1 in Denver (June 13, 2012)
Day 2 in Denver (June 14)
Day 3 in Denver and Keystone (June 15)
Day 4 in Keystone (June 16)
Day 5 in Keystone (June 17)

Travel Planning and Details
Keystone, Colorado
Ski Tip Lodge Bed and Breakfast in Keystone
Capitol Hill Bed and Breakfast in Denver

Related Posts
Along the Road to DIA – Mystery Solved (June 20, 2012)
The Singer Takes a Break (Denver) (June 21, 2012)
Scaffolding on the Colorado State Capitol (June 28, 2012)
Maybe I needed to Bead the Bug (July 19. 2012)
An Old-Fashioned Image of the Denver Botanical Gardens (August 16, 2012)
The Denver B-Cycle as Public Art (September 6, 2012)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ski Tip Lodge in Keystone, Colorado

I didn’t make my lodging reservation in Keystone for the TBEX conference in a timely fashion. While TBEX was advertising a discount on conference lodging, I couldn’t figure out how to get the discount when registering online (as it turned out that was because you couldn’t get it online, you had to use the phone), so most of the designated lodging was booked by the time I got serious about finding a place to stay.

This turned out to be a good thing, since I quickly grew frustrated with the rather fungible options that remained and started looking elsewhere. That search led me to the Ski Tip Lodge Bed and Breakfast.   

The lodge itself is a not particularly lovely architectural mishmash: Part Swiss chalet, part Italian villa, part log cabin. It was a stagecoach stop in the 1880s and part of a ranch for years after. In the 1940s the now-decrepit ranch was purchased by Max and Edna Dercum who opened it to guests as the state’s first ski lodge.

All that history shows in the disjointed expansions the building has undergone - the pieces look almost as if they were just glued together.
Inside, however, it is simply a glorious log cabin, with hand-hewn log walls, picture windows overlooking a mountain pond, and huge fireplaces. . . the multiple additions obvious only in the odd corners and continually changing level of the floor. It is everything a mountain retreat should be.
This is still the spiritual heart of Keystone and one of the benefits of staying here is the nods of approval I got from resort staff when they find out where I was staying. The bus drivers that ask if it is ok to drop me off last take on a conspiratorial tone once the other guests have been deposited at their condos as they relate the history of Ski Tip and it's role. Clearly this is a secret place that can only be shared with those who appreciate it. Being in on the secret makes me feel like a smart insider, instead of just another tourist.

Of course, the real reason to stay at Ski Tip is probably the acclaimed restaurant.

Breakfast is not to be missed, with a broad selection of items available, including a couple gourmet options cooked to order.

The restaurant does not serve lunch, but it is worth the wait for the evening four-course fixed-price menu. The night we ate there the menu included two soup choices, two salad options, 4-6 meat and fish entrees, and another half dozen desserts. The beautifully prepared and presented meals consisted of mostly traditional entrees with a fresh, modern flair. 
Everything was delicious.

The restaurant has a unexpectedly extensive and interesting wine list and we took full advantage of sommelier Megan Morgan's knowledge. Her recommendations led us to some really nice wines we would not have tried without her guidance. 
Dessert can be served in the dining room or in one of the sitting rooms. Of course we chose a spot by one of the fireplaces in a sitting room. 
Guests would be fools not to eat at the restaurant if they can afford it (with quality innovative food and a fixed price menu, it isn’t cheap), but even the ever present cookies (usually chocolate chip, but other flavors as well) are divine. A drink by the fireplace in one of the public rooms is romantic in June and must be enough to make one swoon during a winter snowfall. (These rooms must have hosted countless marriage proposals.) And then there is that breakfast. So all is not lost if you can't find time for dinner in the restaurant, but it really is worth it.

The downside of staying at the Ski Tip Lodge is that it is old, with small, somewhat quirky rooms that are in need of updating. Old plumbing and outlets (and the lake of internet access) can make things interesting. For example, I suspect our hot water was shared with the kitchen. Each morning, halfway through an otherwise perfect shower, the water would turn sizzling hot and stay that way. There was no changing it. My husband, showering in mid-morning (after the kitchen had closed and most other guests were off for the day), never had this problem. (I think the diverter was broken, limiting the amount of cold water reaching the shower, as the water temperature in the faucet below could easily be controlled.) Other quirks included a cabinet (the only place to put clothes) that would only stay closed when completely empty, leaving us dodging the edges of the door every time we needed to cross the room to, say, use the bathroom. The tiny window had an uninspiring view of the roof and the parking lot, which was a disappointment in such a beautiful location.

However, those things don’t really matter. Staying at the Ski Tip is an opportunity to live a piece of history. It’s rare for travelers to be able to so easily connect with the heart of a place. . . . and an hour or two by the fireplace in one of the sitting rooms with a glass of wine and a good book is worth a lot of inconveniences!

Rates vary with the season. With the conference discount (which we didn’t know we were getting until we checked out) we paid just under $130 per night. Guest rooms are clean and practical, but small (at least ours was small) and in need of updating.

The Ski Tip’s small, rather plain-Looking restaurant serves a wonderful breakfast for guests each morning, with cooked options that change regularly.

The restaurant is open to the public in the evening for dinner (reservations are required), but lodge guests get a 15% discount. (This should be reason enough to stay here.) The restaurant only serves a four-course fixed price meal, with several options for each course. (There is a three-course menu for children.)  Portions are ample - too ample for us (staff reminded us that they need to enough for hungry skiers in the winter). There is also a wine pairing available. It isn’t as good of a value as the price fix menu (and the 15% discount doesn’t apply), but the pours were generous and the wine choices interesting, unusual, and well-suited to each dish.

During the afternoon and evening there is a full bar service (including an excellent wine list) in the public sitting areas. There is also a pleasant patio with views of the pond.

The lodge is served by the resort shuttle on an on-call basis. From the lodge it is an easy, pleasant walk to the gondola at River Run Village. Otherwise the lodge is relatively isolated.

Service throughout the lodge and restaurant is personal and attentive. Staff will do their utmost to accommodate guests at any time of day, including rounding up beverages and table settings for the light lunch we brought with for the first day.

Information on the history of Ski Tip is rather hard to find on the web, although Edna Dercum’s book about her life at Ski Tip, It's easy, Edna, it's downhill all the way, is available in print.

There are a couple of nice stories about Ski Tip at:
•    Snow
•    Around the Bend 

Related Posts: Blogging Colorado (Denver and Keystone)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Photo Thursday: The Singer Takes a Break (Denver, Colorado)

Denver, Colorado, is participating in what has become a bit of an international urban craze over the past few years – placing artist-decorated pianos in public places for use by anyone who happens to wander by.

This shot was taken last week along the 16th Street Mall in Denver where pianos are available for use by anyone who happens to walk by. Often this leads to dissonant banging, but sometimes a true artist appears on the scene.

She was taking a break when we first reached this spot, but soon began softly singing to the piano’s accompaniment. Her voice was precise and lovely, barely drifting above the gentle notes of the piano.
It was a delightful mini-concert. Perfect for a hot summer night.

For great "Photo Thursday" images from around the world, visit Nancie's Budget Travelers Sandbox and join in on the fun!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Along the Road to DIA - Mystery Solved

There are what appear to be weird shaped tanks along the highway near the Denver International Airport.   I absolutely could not imagine what they might be for.
"Cloudscape" by Christopher Lavery - photo from
They are art!

A project by artist Christopher Lavery, “Cloudscape” is constructed out of corrugated metal and cellular plastic. Its function is purely decorative.

They are cute, but I still think they would make good storage tanks.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Colorado Daily Snapshots: Day 5 in Keystone

On the Incline trail behind (and above) the Keystone Conference Center:
Dinner at the Ski Tip Lodge:

Previous post: Colorado Daily Snapshots: Day 4 in Keystone

The TBEX Conference Comes to Keystone

I am actually in Colorado to attend the TBEX conference. I’ve been a (rather inactive) member of the Travel Blogger’s Exchange for a while now and watched as last year’s conference came and went. It seemed like it was a good conference and a lot of fun. Should I go next time? Am I serious enough about my blogging to invest the time and money necessary to attend a conference? Do I want my blogging to be more than just a hobby? COULD it be more than a hobby?

Last winter I went to the conference website and realized how inexpensive the conference itself was. What the heck, it’s an excuse to visit Denver, a city I’ve long wanted to see, so I registered.

Now here I am.

The conference itself is at Keystone, Colorado, a ski resort outside Denver. We’ve arranged through the conference to take the Colorado Mountain Express to Keystone, so for me the conference begins in the van as we exchange information about our blogs or travel industry jobs. (Among my travel companions is Jenny McIver, whose blog Around the World in Thirty Days chronicles her annual trip around the world and provides a wealth of planning information to help anyone do the same, and Julie Gallager, whose blog Things You Should Do provides a wealth of things to do.) The time flies as we share tips and ideas while we travel through the mountains to Keystone.

Things officially get underway with an over-the-top Taste of Vail Resorts event at the top of the mountain. It features delicious food prepared by Keystone’s various restaurants (some of which are among the very best in the county), unbelievable desserts, and views of the setting sun.

This is followed the next night by a western-themed party at the stables, complete with a dinner, bull riding, music, and line dancing.
The ranch event is fun enough, but what I like best is the way the evening sunlight illuminates the old wagons and machinery scattered around a nearby hayfield. 
It’s more my style than all the programmed activities.

As for the working part of the conference, it was hard to decide which sessions to attend, but my choices end up providing valuable information at a level that suit my needs. Some sessions, like that of  The Vacation GalsJennifer  Miner speaking on “SEO for Beginners” or The Expeditioner’s Matt Stabile on “Legal Issues for Bloggers” provide solid practical information. Others, like CC Chapman’s keynote “Amazing Things Will Happen When Your Content Rules,” Rand Fishkin’s general session “SEO without Selling Your Soul,” and Travelllll’s John O’Nolan’s “Advanced Web Design: How to Build the Best Blog on Earth” were practical, but also incredibly inspirational. They left me fired up and excited to get to work on my writing, photography, and blogging. They also got me thinking more seriously about what a career that allows me to travel for extended periods might look like.

A Brief Conference Critique
The conference exceeded my expectations in many ways. I found many sessions that clearly addressed my questions and needs – some of which I didn’t know I had before I walked into the session! It helped me clarify what my options are for building a travel-related career and identified immediate steps I can take to improve both my blog and the likelihood of making a career change. It also confirmed that, while he is a great guy, I really DON’T want to be Nomadic Matt (or any of the other permanent nomads out there); I need a home base.

While the session tracks generally made sense, it might have been nice to have a better sense of what was aimed at novices versus those with a lot of experience. Session descriptions in general could have been better – that alone might have been enough to steer people into the sessions of most use for them. However, I learned useful things in every session I attended, so really can’t complain!

TBEX brands this as a conference for “new media” writers. I found that really appealing. As someone who once envisioned a career with a major newspaper and now finds most newspapers to be zombies that don’t realize they are already dead, I like the way “new media” captures the change, challenge, and opportunity out there right now. How we share news and information is changing fast and TBEX is trying to help people build on and shape the future. It’s exciting stuff.

Vail Resorts seemed to be a great conference host. (Keystone is one of a number of Vail Resort properties.) The level of service provided seemed pretty incredible. They also made my trailing spouse feel welcome, even giving him passes to attend all the big functions. (For its part, TBEX handled the issue of travel partners who were not attending the conference poorly.) If Vail Resorts carries this ethic throughout their corporate structure at all properties, they should have a brilliant future.  I have no idea how well that relationship worked for the conference organizers, but what I saw as an attendee (who has arranged conferences in the past) was impressive.

Keystone is a sprawling place with no real center, which could have been a problem for people like me who didn’t have a car and chose to stay at lodgings not part of the main group options. However, the resort ran its shuttle service throughout the conference on an on-call basis. It was fast enough and very convenient, with competent and personable drivers. I appreciated not needing a rental car, although there were times when the ability to spend a few hours touring the surrounding area would have been nice.

When it comes to little things, the fact that there were electrical outlets everywhere was great. The existence of a classroom set-up (tables) at the front of the room, with power, is something I will recommend at every function I’m involved in. It was great to know I could take notes on my laptop or go directly to a site on the web as long as I wanted. It seems so obvious, but most conferences don’t address those needs well.

Despite a heavy emphasis on making contacts, I didn’t make a lot of meaningful contacts. It was hard to figure out who (aside from speakers) had what sort of expertise or might be in a position where we could meaningfully support each other. The conference structure (including the speed date sessions) didn’t really help. I met a lot of interesting people, but that isn’t the same as making good contacts and I found the socializing required rather exhausting. This year everyone was a stranger, so meeting people took a lot of energy even for an extrovert. However, the people I met were generally interesting and nice, so I’m hoping it will be easier next time. . . and maybe by then TBEX will have a simpler way to locate and connect with others with similar interests and needs.

I was also surprised (and a little put-off) by how many attendees were really new to this “field” (less than a year) and how self-assured (condescending) some of them were. Maybe they really do have all the answers, but then why were they here?

There’s swag and then there is SCOTTEVEST
After years of attending engineering-related functions, I found the TBEX conference’s swag to be truly amazing. Best of all, Scott from SCOTTEVEST made his million pocket, yet reasonably flattering, vests available to conference participants. I’m still testing mine out (the little daypack I’ve used for years works really well for me in most settings), but I have been pretty pleased with it. . . pleased enough that I’ve been trolling the website looking at other things I might “need.”

Like Scott, many of the people selling products of various sorts had cool things I could have or do for free, along with concrete reasons why their product or service would be useful.

On the other hand, I wish the destinations participating would take a cue from the folks selling merchandise. A little more thought and effort would have gone a long ways for every destination exhibiting. At a conference with hundreds of people who write about travel as their passion or their career (or both), I would think that some meaningful incentives to get people to visit their destination would be worth the marketing dollars. They could run a contest to give someone an expense-paid trip or give away certificates for tours, lodging, etc. that might entice someone to visit that destination as part of their next trip. As it was, it didn’t seem like any of the destinations put any effort into this.

Are there travel bloggers who actually hate travel?
The other thing that surprised me was how many people who either work in the travel industry or write about it apparently don’t actually like to travel.

Keystone was a nice enough resort, in a lovely part of the country, at a gorgeous time of year, and the resort knocked itself out to accommodate us; yet there was plenty of whining about the location’s altitude, the dry air, the lack of dining options, and the distance from the airport. Really? This was too difficult a location for people who promote travel for a living?

TBEX organized several days of well-thought-out, inexpensive or FREE activities in Denver (including free passes to museums and private tours) for the days leading up to the conference. Taking advantage of these by spending a couple days in Denver before the conference (which is what I did) would have allowed plenty of time to gather material for posting while acclimating to the altitude. We asked at each of the places we visited and it appeared that very few people took advantage of the free passes to the places we visited (the Kirkland, the Denver Art Museum, and the Botanical Gardens). I don’t understand why more people didn’t take advantage of that. I would have thought that people who are interested in travel would have wanted to see and do as many things as they could while they were there.

At the conference itself, we saw very few people any distance from the main conference venues. Humorously, almost no one figured out you could cross the street and have a very nice, quick lunch at one of a couple cafes overlooking a pond instead of waiting in long lines for overpriced hot dogs in the courtyard at the conference center. Likewise, we only saw a handful of other people during our 1½ hour hike behind the conference center and don’t think most (any) of them were in Keystone for the conference.

Likewise, the trip out to Keystone takes under two hours from the airport (less from downtown Denver), is well-served by shuttles, and passes through gorgeous mountain scenery. While I’m not a big fan of the location of DIA, it’s not like anyone had to hike up the mountain with their gear in order to get to the conference.   

I realize not everyone is an adventure traveler, but I don’t understand how people who make (or want to make) their living in the travel industry could be so lazy and/or uninterested in traveling themselves. Why would anyone want their travel advice?

For me, travel is all about the magic of place and the increased understanding of yourself and the world that can happen when one opens themselves to a different reality. The speakers I heard all got that. I benefited from the knowledge of these wise, funny, and smart people – I hope their travel writing is what other people turn to when they are thinking about travel. These are the people I want for my friends and colleagues, not the ones who go somewhere else in hopes of experiencing the exact same things they experience at home.

If you want to know more
Because this was a “new media” conference, there were probably a million tweets about the conference as it was happening. There are also quite a number of blog posts, a random sampling of which are listed here to give you a sense of how others experienced the conference:
John O’Nolan of Travelllll (one of the speakers I really enjoyed) also has a fun video about the conference.

The second day of the conference my husband asked where next year’s conference would be. I think that’s a sign that he’ll support my decision to attend the next one. If I didn’t already have fall travel plans, I’d be at TBEX in Spain this fall! 

Previous post:  Ambling Along the Mountainside in Keystone 
Related posts 

Ambling Along the Mountainside in Keystone

It is a sunny and beautiful day in Keystone, so I take a long lunch to hike (slowly amble) along the mountainside above the conference center where are all the other TBEX attendees are networking.
Does anyone down there realize what they are missing?

Do I really have to go back down there and join them?

Next post: The TBEX Conference in Keystone 
Previous post: A Lift to the Sunset at Keystone