Christmas Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain Park

Blue skies, fresh snow: what better Christmas present could you ask for?

On Christmas day, my husband, my dad and I went snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a gorgeous sunny day, mild in temperature, with no wind—unusual in winter in the high mountains.

We parked at the Sprague Lake parking lot, which was fairly busy for a winter day—but then again, it was a holiday with perfect weather and lots of snow.

We three tramped past the lake and through the forest for a distance. So many of the pines were brown from pine beetles, but still it was beautiful: sun shining on snow crystals, the kodachrome-blue sky, the chatter of squirrels.

The snow squealed and crunched under our snowshoes. “Guess we won’t be sneaking up on any wildlife,” I joked.

Our outing was magical, and we stopped to admire a lovely view of Hallet’s Peak. Then we returned to the lake, where you could walk over ice to cross to the other side. A lot of families were out—many of them from out of town. (Wearing tennis shoes in snow drifts is always a giveaway.) Some kids were sledding on a hill.

One young man without a coat—he looked like he was from India—was fascinated by my snowshoes and poles. “Are those skis?” he asked. I shook my head: “No, these are snowshoes.” I’m not sure if he understood, but he smiled as he watched us crunch away on them.

Rocky Mountain Park in winter

Our National Treasures

Meeting people from other parts of the country and world reminded me of what a treasure our national parks are. They’ve all been set aside as natural or historic preserves with little or no development allowed. They’re some of our country’s greatest natural wonders. They let people experience the magnificence of the outdoors in ways they otherwise might never have.

Although most visitors come during summer, Rocky Mountain Park is open year round—even for snow camping.

My father, who lives in Estes Park, Colo., hikes and snowshoes in Rocky Mountain Park year-round.

There’s something special about visiting a national park in the off-season—like it’s a secret nobody else knows about. Normally there are few visitors, so you might get the place all to yourself.

Of course, quite a few people—many of them wearing Santa hats—were out on Christmas day. But it was a secret I’m glad to share.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Rocky Mountain National Park has 355 miles of hiking trails ranging from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain peak climbs.

Support a national park near you by visiting and by following the Leave No Trace principles.

Read more about my travels in America’s national parks and monuments:

Fly Me to the Moon

I get so involved with traveling on Planet Earth, that sometimes I forget to think bigger picture. As in Universe. One of the (many) things I loved about all the Star Trek TV series was the idea of exploring outer space.

My photo of the Dec. 21, 2010 lunar eclipse. Not NASA quality, but it has a certain mysterious magic.

Last night, we had clear weather and mild temperatures for the lunar eclipse, which happened to coincide with Winter Solstice.

As I sat on the grass in my front yard, staring at the moon, I thought about all the unexplored wonders of the galaxy.

How beautiful the planets are! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a look at NASA’s stunning Voyager photos.) Ringed Saturn (always my favorite planet), blue Neptune, orange-banded Jupiter…and all of Jupiter’s moons: Amalthea, Callisto, Europa, Ganymede, Io.

Here’s to dreaming of future intergalactic travel!

—Laurel Kallenbach, moon gazer

Boulder’s Tastiest Restaurants: First Bite to Last

First Bite Boulder is an annual event that highlights Boulder’s culinary scene. Each fall—usually a week or so before the holidays start—more than 40 of Boulder’s top restaurants offer a special three-course $26 prix fixe dinner menu. And we diners jump at the chance to sample their menus.

First Bite Boulder first course: Polenta and Pear at Alba. The polenta was crispy, the poached Bartlett pear sweet, and the gorgonzola sauce added tang.

For me—and a lot of folks—First Bite lets us try a three-course meal for a fraction of what we’d usually pay.

Granted, the portions served on the First Bite menus are smaller than what you’d get if you paid full price, but it’s nice to have the experience of a more extended meal than we could otherwise afford. (Alcohol is extra, of course).

What’s really cool about the First Bite concept is it showcases how “foodie”-friendly our town is, and how many Boulder restaurants cook with local organic ingredients.

Buying local means we gourmands get the freshest produce and meats, plus eliminating shipping ingredients from around the globe saves fossil fuels.

In past years, friends and I partook of First Bite at Leaf (a vegetarian restaurant), The Kitchen (an organic bistro) and Arugula (northern Italian).

Alba Restaurant and Wine Bar

This year we tried a new spot: Alba Restaurant and Wine Bar, which also specializes in northern Italian cuisine.

For my First Bite experience, I sampled Polenta and Pear (first course); Seared Harris Ranch Hanger Steak with Tuscan friend potatoes, arugula, and salsa verde (second course); and a Torta Cioccolata (dessert).

Everything was fabulous; our table of five had only kudos for the meal (although one friend found the espresso lacking).

This year’s First Bite lasts from November 12 to 20.

I’m already looking forward to next year!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

P.S. If you’ve been to any of the First Bite tastings, share the experience by leaving a comment below.

The grand finale: Alba's flourless chocolate torte with vanilla gelato and a sprinkling of hazelnut pralines