Maggie thought she was in dog heaven from the minute we checked into the Vail Cascades.
As soon as we turned down the hallway to our room, Maggie was excitedly sniffing at every "Wipe Your Paws" mat. The room had a soft dog bed and a bowl full of doggie treats on the floor, which Maggie, being a lab, tried to inhale without chewing. She got to jump on the sofa without being yelled at. She crawled underneath the bed, emerging with dust bunnies hanging from her tail. But best of all, the patio opened to the lawn and, not thirty feet away, the Eagle River.
She ran out, not sure whether to sniff around at the rocks and trees on our lawn, or run directly into the river. The river won out.
She's still a puppy, so she doesn't swim as much as tipsy-tipsy until the water reaches her belly, at which point she runs back up the bank, digs a couple of holes, and then circles from the water back to the shore at a frenetic pace. We call it her happy dance. It's a quick way to get wet andsandy.
We were a couple of weeks past prime aspen viewing, but the trees that still had leaves were the deep oranges and reds, and the entire mountainside still shimmered. The sun was warm, the river ran clear, and we spotted a good sized rainbow trout underneath a bridge, just lazing out into the current every once in a while to grab a bite. I immediately wished I had brought my fly rod.
This is the off-season in Vail, in between summer and winter, and the town is pleasantly low-key. The hotels offer low rates, and the restaurants offer my favorite thing on earth: the prix-fixe menu.
For just $29 each, we had a fabulous meal at one of Vail's top steak houses, Chap's. As empty as the town was, we still needed reservations, and didn't eat until nearly 9:00. It was still warm enough to take a moonlight stroll along the Gore River trail, which meant that our appetizer had to be the toe-warming french onion soup, topped with crunchy gruyere-covered bread. A perfectly cooked sirloin, a nice bottle of cab, and creme brulee. (Just for comparison, our room-service breakfast of coffee, OJ and french toast was just as expensive as our dinner was, minus the wine.)
This is the time of year when all the locals, or townies, get out and eat at all the nice restaurants. They indulge in the area's spas, which offer their services at a serious discount. We spent the afternoon getting massages and facials, steam baths and jacuzzis, at the Aria Spa. Everything was 40% off.
We're still making some newbie-parent mistakes. Like figuring out what we were going to do with her while we spent two hours relaxing at the spa. While the spa does offer kid day care, doggy day care is not yet on their list of services.
Luckily, the friendly valet guys at the Vail Cascades -- all of them dog owners -- offered to watch her. How many places would do that?