The Harris Family Reunion at Estes Park

Last week, the Nelsons and the Harris’s converged on a small town in Colorado.  Specifically, we converged on a YMCA camp in Estes Park.  There were friendly people everywhere, giving more credence to the Village People’s take on the Young Men’s Christian Association (from all that I can tell, it’s a great organization.)

The environment

The YMCA at the Rockies is located in Estes Park, a small, Jackson Hole-type of town.  It is small, delightful, and full of tourists.  The city lights up at night, with little shops that sell everything from clothes to ice cream (there are many, many ice cream shops here).

At 8000+ feet in elevation, it is common (and acceptable) to walk 20-30 feet up a hill, lean against a railing or tree, and talk to a fellow citizen about how little oxygen there is, as they also work up the courage to take 20-30 more steps.  It took me a full day to really get to where I walk from one place to another without taking breaks along the way.  Actually, that’s not completely true.  But the breaks were not as dramatic or heart-wrenching as they were on the first day.

The entire camp (camp?) is located on the side of a mountain, so it is likely that your breakfast or laundry, or room is located up or downhill.  You are always walking up or downhill.  It would not be a bad idea to do some moderate hiking for a couple of weeks (at elevation, if possible), before arriving at Estes Park.  A person who is in pretty good shape may not require this, but it is also likely that a person in pretty good shape is already doing something similar.  Get into shape.  Then, arrive at Estes Park’s YMCA of the Rockies.

The food

There is a cafeteria at the YMCA of the Rockies.  It is fine as far as cafeteria-style food goes, but if you’re staying for a week or so, I’d recommend breaking things up by heading into town for a bite to eat, just to shake things up.

They do a good job of moving people through the lines, so you don’t have to wait around for too long.  All of the workers in the cafeteria (and really, in the entire camp) are quite friendly and more than willing to accommodate.  However, when they announce over the loudspeaker that the cafeteria is closing down for that particular meal, they are not kidding.  They have a system down and they stick to it (and they are quite efficient at it).

The activities

Our group had a lot of children, so we spent our time doing things that kids like.  There are craft centers, a very nice park (although it is not shaded, so you might bring a good hat for the kids), a general store (with more ice cream), pony rides (ours was rained out), and lots of hiking and outdoor experiences.

However, I know that there are a lot of lakes in the area that we didn’t get to, so there is also fishing, wading (no swimming at Estes Lake), kayaking, etc.  There is a zip line at the YMCA, somewhere, but we also didn’t get to that.  Honestly, we spent a lot of time moving slowly in the heat, getting to and from meals, and just enjoying watching the kids have a great time (and they definitely did).

Your YMCA of the Rockies running environment

Brutal.  Just brutal.  Between the elevation and the fact that this place is literally on the side of a mountain, you are looking at some very tough running conditions.  My first run was one mile, straight up a mountain road.  I ran .24 miles of it, then hiked the rest (I am not using the word “walked” for a reason, here).  Once I reached a mile at the top, I ran back down at a breakneck pace.  I could hardly stop myself.  Once I completed two miles, I ran on as flat of ground as I could find to get my three miles in.  If you want to get into shape, this is the place you want to be.

A birthday party for twins

Roxie and Reagan turned 7 while we were at our family reunion, so things were a little different (and, in my opinion, awesome).  I ran into town (15 minutes to the Safeway in Estes Park) for a birthday cake and candles and came back with a great cake.  I’ll tell you this.  With each store I visited, or each person I spoke to, Estes Park is looking more and more like a great place to vacation.

I came back with the cake (my wife approved of it) and a storm hit.  Rain, and lots of it.  We took cover in a reserved building and celebrated seven years of life with Roxie and Reagan, as lighting flashed around us (one person in Estes Park was seriously injured from a hit) and the rain kept coming.

One highlight of the party was when Patrick, Derek and me tried to light the birthday candles.  I had failed to bring fire with me from the store, so we worked hard to rig up a solution.  We tried propane from a camp fire (A propane camp fire?  Fancy!), a donated lighter (no flint), running a paper torch from Patrick’s truck’s cigarette lighter (smoldering smoke by the time it reached its destination).  We tried everything.  This is documented, several times over.

Eventually, we ended up with donated matches.  This did the trick, of course, and things continued on.

The girls received a ton of My Little Pony dolls.  That’s all I have to say about that.


Overall, the most important thing that happened, was that we were able to spend time together as a family.  I hadn’t seen my cousins, Blake and Ryan, in quite a while.  Additionally, I got to spend more time with siblings that live far away, and the kids from all families were reacquainted.  The planning and preparation that went into this reunion was immense and I very much appreciate all that was done to make this happen.