ESTES PARK, Colo. -- When packing for a trip to the YMCA of the Rockies, there are several things not to bother bringing. Cellphones, as reception is poor at best in this remote Rocky Mountain location at 8,010 feet. Videos or DVDs, because the cabins don't have televisions. Laptops, because with panoramic views of snow-covered mountains out every window and elk grazing outside your cabin door, your eyes will never settle for images on a tiny screen.
There is nothing high-tech about the YMCA of the Rockies. To the contrary, this is an old-fashioned vacation spot -- think 1950s -- where the game room has wooden Skittles boards rather than video games and ping-pong instead of air hockey. This is not the YMCA the Village People sang about. It's an 860-acre budget resort for families, reunions, and even conferences, adjacent to one of the country's most scenic open spaces, Rocky Mountain National Park.
The location is breathtaking, because of the mountain vistas and the sheer altitude. To avoid altitude sickness, it's best to begin a visit here with some less strenuous activities: a trip to the library, which includes a floor for adults and one for children, a round of mini-golf or horseshoes, or a short drive into the national park. A $15 pass buys a week's worth of admission to the park, which includes the highest paved road in the United States. Trail Ridge Road winds up precipitous slopes, above the treeline, to a dizzying 12,000 feet. Bring your camera. In addition to seeing stunning peaks and glacial valleys, you're likely to drive by elk, deer, big-horned sheep, marmots, bald eagles, magpies, and hummingbirds. Park rangers can recommend hikes appropriate for any level, and they can get young children started in the junior ranger program, which teaches outdoor skills, wildlife, and conservation. An ideal spot for children within the park is the Alluvial Fan, a massive piling of rocks around a spectacular waterfall, created by a dam break and flood 20 years ago.
The offerings of the park and the YMCA are in constant competition with one another. Dozens of activities are included in the price of lodging at the Y. Among the free activities are indoor swimming, guided hikes, basketball, tennis, roller-skating, and volleyball. There are cowboy sing-alongs, and a skateboard park. For extra fees of varying amounts, sign up for hayrides, horseback riding, mountain biking, fly fishing, and rock climbing. Children 3 and older can also enroll in day camp.
The center promotes itself as a place that puts ''Christian principles into practice." There's an onsite chapel, and chances are high that you will meet a minister or someone attending a Christian retreat during your stay. The center is welcoming to people of any or no faith, however, and the Christian principles are low-key, coming across more in the pervasive friendliness of the staff and visitors than in any proselytizing. For people seeking Christian activities, Bible study classes are available and ministers are on call. People who aren't interested in such pursuits can simply remove the evening prayer that is left on their pillowcase and put it in the dresser drawer beside the Gideon Bible.
The Y has several dining options. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in a dining hall reminiscent of any large state university. After one breakfast there, my family headed for the Y's general store in search of alternatives. The $6 box of Cheerios we found there encouraged us to keep looking. The best bet for meals is to drive a few miles down the road to the center of the town of Estes Park for a casual restaurant, an elegant meal at the Stanley Hotel, or to the
With the cellphones, laptops, and high-tech gadgetry left at home, you will have space in your suitcase for extra sweaters. Even with higher temperatures in Denver 65 miles away, Estes Park can be downright cold, even in summer. Evening temperatures in July can fall into the 40s. However, even more than in New England, if you don't like the weather in the Rockies, wait a minute. It is constantly changing, from sun to rain to sun and rain. On Memorial Day Weekend, we were greeted by snow as we drove in, but those flurries quickly gave way to warm sunshine and the clouds lifted to reveal an eye-popping -- and ear-popping -- ring of glorious mountain peaks.
Michelle Bates Deakin is a freelance writer in Arlington.