Napa Valley Vegan Travels Coast to Coast – Colorado

I have a lot of fond memories from my years in Colorado. I moved from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Boulder, Colorado about 22 years ago with a really wonderful guy, Keith. He had recently graduated from Old Dominion University in Norfolk and we decided it was time to explore a new part of the country. We looked at a bunch of options and decided on Oregon. Though we considered living in Portland, we both grew up on the water, Keith in Green Bay, Wisconsin and me on two of the Great Lakes in Northern Michigan, so we ultimately settled on Medford. This small city is near the southern coast just north of the Oregon/California border in a region of the state called the Banana Belt. We gave notice on our little duplex & our jobs before realizing that Medford had no jobs available that fit Keith’s degree. It was a bit of a shock but since we had made up our minds to go, neither of us wanted to give up. So instead of canceling our plans, we took Keith’s brother Scott’s advice and packed up everything we owned and headed to Evergreen, Colorado. Scott & Tawnia gave us a couch to crash on until we could find our own apartment outside of Boulder & the adventure began!

During the decade I lived in the Rocky Mountains, I grew so much. I began as a hard partying twenty-something & transitioned to a married TricenarianI am grateful that I lived in one of the healthiest states in the U.S., for the really wonderful people I met and the gorgeous mountains. This is where I hiked my first 14er, learned to ski & mountain bike and spent much of my free time hiking and exploring the iconic Flatirons and the massive Peaks of the Rockies. I started a career in real estate, broke up with Keith and eventually met my wonderful husband Steve. Instantly, I was a step-mom to his three kids and he became step-dad to my bun-buns, Cadbury & Chloe. Soon we started our own four-legged family and welcomed our adorable dogs, Buttercup & Tobey Jug, into the mix! I’ve only been back to Denver once in the 12 years since I moved so I was really excited to see this beautiful place again.

The cross country journey brought us up through Cortez in the southern part of Colorado. As we got closer to Durango, the mountain terrain began to look like I remembered. Imposing and beautiful! We divided our driving into several short segments because of Violet and the cats. No one wants a Dodge Caravan full of upset pussies and Violet was known to upchuck when we drove her through mountains. Upon arriving in Durango, we were lucky to find a room at the local Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn. The room was tiny but it was clean, there was a large grassy area for Violet and they offered 24 hour complimentary laundry facilities. What Steve and I enjoyed most though was their complimentary Cocktail Hour in Oscar’s breakfast room. We got the family settled and relaxed and chatted over our 2 free drinks. What a relief!

We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Durango the next day since we had plans to visit our daughter Em in Denver but we found a couple spots worth checking out. The Raider Ridge Café has a decent selection of smoothies though pay attention when ordering. Many contain honey, some yogurt and one or two contain dairy milk. However, they were able to put together a couple fruit smoothies that hit the spot. They don’t offer any vegan baked goods; the closest they offer is the “Almost Vegan Bars”. By simply replacing the honey with maple syrup they could rename them the “Actually Vegan Bars”. I don’t know if it was the days of traveling with a husband recovering from brain surgery or 3 animals or all of the above but that sheer laziness of offering nothing really pissed me off! They offer almond, soy and coconut milk that are perfect for smoothies and lattes. They also offer some of my favorite smoothie add-ons – kale & spinach, chia seeds, peanut butter, avocado, almond butter and espresso. Their Big Canyon breakfast wrap contains potatoes, beans, spinach, peppers and portabella ‘shrooms. The Hippie is a combo of avocado, tofu, black beans, salsa and…eggs. Okay, who offers a tofu wrap with egg? Seriously!! So that should be easy enough to make suitable for us vegans. They can also top this all off with their housemate green chili sauce. The Animas Valley Vegan is the only option on the menu that is vegan on purpose with portabella, hummus, avocado, sprouts, tomato & organic greens all wrapped up in a garlic tortilla. And with just a couple adjustments the Greek and Roasted Veggie wraps can be made dairy free too. What I loved the most is that each day they list on a chalk board the food items that they sourced locally and their cups and straws are compostable. Another shop worth checking out is the Durango Natural Foods Cooperative Market. Established in 1974, it is perfect for grabbing organic fruit or browsing the bulk section for snacks for the road.

On our drive to Gunnison, we were just amazed by the gorgeous scenery; I’m so glad I wasn’t driving so I could gawk at the views. We came across this adorable, authentic looking mountain town called Ouray. It was so precious that we even pulled over to take photos before we headed down into the valley. It was just perfect. And then we got out and started asking around for food. There was not a single restaurant that could offer us anything to eat. And possibly even more irritating was that even though we saw dozens of dogs in Ouray, no one allows them on their patios. It was bizarre. I am mentioning this to you so you can plan your route a bit better and spend your money in Telluride. You won’t find any all vegan restaurants but there are at least a half dozen omni places that make the effort to add vegan options to their menus. We had so much planned for our stay in Gunnison. We upped the ante a bit and chose The Inn at Tomichi Village. I think we got a bit burned out on the chain hotels and decided to give ourselves a treat. It is located outside of Gunnison and has the most picturesque setting. There is a huge yard that runs along the front of the rooms that is pet-friendly and offers picnic tables and benches and a fire pit. The pool and hot tub are enclosed so they can be used all year round. The rooms were a wonderful upgrade with warm and rustic decor. The perfect peaceful and serene seating. We had three places we planned to explore – The Twisted Fork, Mochas Coffeehouse & Bakery and the Gunnison Health Food Store & Cafe. And we had finished our day early so the cats could calm down and we could all relax. So, of course, life put an animal in distress right into my path. While wandering around this gorgeous setting with Violet, I found a tiny nestling who had fallen out of her nest right into the path of traffic. In fact, just seconds before, a huge truck had driven right over birdie and missed her! I scooped her up and headed to the front desk. Besides looking at me like I was insane, they had no idea if Gunnison or the surrounding area had a wild life rescue. They went online and couldn’t find anything. So, they brought me a small cardboard box for birdie – I was taking her into a room with 2 cats – and I started my own search. Using a phone book – yes, I actually used a phone book – I found a local dog and cat rescue that thankfully was open and after chatting with her for a few minutes she gave me some great advice. I was told to call the local police dispatch (don’t you LOVE small towns?!) and explain the situation to the officer on duty. The officer would then call the volunteer who runs the wildlife rescue and give her my name & number. And that is exactly what happened! Next thing I knew, Steve, birdie and I loaded up in the van and went in search of Katherine the wildlife hero. After getting lost for a few minutes, we had our precious package delivered and were ready for a meal. By now everything but the Twisted Fork is shut for the evening so off we headed to tiny & picturesque Gunnison to give it a try! Their patio overlooks a grassy park which is perfect for enjoying the weather when it is warm. And even better than people watching I was able to do some dog watching as they played. Oh, and their patio is dog-friendly…they even brought some water out for their furry guest. I ordered their Fresh Veggies & Noodle Salad. It was a delish combination of warm rice noodles with fresh salad greens on top, a mix of fresh and pickled veggies, toasted peanuts and fried onions. I suggest you ordered the small; even that is more than any ravenous salad lover could eat. Steve devoured the small plate of sweet potato tots (that man really loves his sweet pots!) and added a veggie baguette filled with fried tofu, fresh & pickled veggies and jalapeños. After the stress and excitement of helping the baby bird, the delicious meal was exactly what we needed! Denver was our next stop and knowing we were going to only have a bit of time to spend with Emily, we decided to skip the bakery & health food store & head out of town early the next morning.

Fairplay was along our route to Denver and we were excited to see that the Java Moose had a couple options for a late breakfast. From fruit smoothies, to soy or almond milk lattes and deconstructed sandwiches that have been made without the cheese, mayo or pesto it is a good spot to stop for a small meal & a break to stretch your legs. Something interesting about  Park County is that it is believed that the Comedy Central series South Park is loosely based on Fairplay & the surrounding area. So after a little sustenance, a potty break for Violet and a few delays due to road construction, we finally made it into Denver! Hurray. I really love this city and was thrilled to be back if only for a short visit. Our experience at the La Quinta Inn Denver Central hotel easily tops the list as the worst hotel for the entire trip! It is very possible that it is the worst I’ve ever stayed in – definitely in my top 3 worst! I had this brilliant idea to try to stay as close to Emily’s house as possible. We had decent experiences staying at La Quinta’s and I (wrongly) assumed that this would work out perfectly. I’m not going to even bother listing why you shouldn’t stay here, you just shouldn’t. Enough said about that place. There are several really excellent vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Denver that are worth visiting and the list continues to grow. A couple of my favorites include City O’ City, Watercourse Foods and the Beet Box Bakery. The omni Root Down is another excellent choice if you are near Highland Park or at DIA. When we were deciding where to eat, Emily mentioned one of her favorite spots – Vital Root.  They offer fast casual dining that is 99% vegan, always free of gluten and brimming with health. They currently work with over 55 local growers, farmers & artisans and acquire 50% of their ingredients from right inside Colorado. 40% of the produce they use in their dishes is grown in a large garden located in the middle of the city by Edible Beats . They also support Arcadia Power which provides 100% of the restaurant’s energy using local wind & solar projects. And on top of all of that, their food is beautiful and incredibly delicious! For those of you who are doughnut lovers like me, you may already know that Denver has a Voodoo Doughnut off of Colfax Avenue. I had my first experience with Voodoo at one of their Portland locations. After years of having to pass on donuts because they weren’t yet vegan, I decided that I would stand in line for as long as it took. To be completely honest, when I bit into my first VD doughnut I knew it was full of crap ingredients but I did not care! So when I saw that Denver had a store now too, I knew I would eat too many of them and I would feel crappy afterward but again…I just didn’t care. So if you don’t mind dodging puddles of vomit, the smell of urine or paying exorbitant prices for vegan doughnuts be sure to stop by on your next trip to the Mile High City!

Honorable Mention: Steve & I spent one night in a tiny town called Holyoke to visit Steve’s oldest son – Anthony. Holyoke is almost to the border between Colorado & Nebraska. There is nothing about this ranch town that will interest a vegan but if you have to stop to rest The Cobblestone Inn & Suites is the place to stay. The service was wonderful and the hotel is new and clean. They have a large breakfast area, a dog-friendly patio that Violet loved and a workout facility with up-to-date equipment.

So let’s explore the world together and as always…eat, drink & be vegan!

Tags: coast to coast, coast2coast, colorado, denver, Denver International Airport, Durango, Flatirons, Gunnison, road trip, Rocky Mountains, vegan travels

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