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BackCountry - Wild at Heart

The nest is empty. But the schedule is full.

by | October 20th, 2014

Last year’s Empty Nester Christmas party had a new rule. Only the men could do the cooking. The end result was scrumptious lasagna, less-stressed ladies, and the largest turnout yet—upwards of 50 people.

BackCountry is home to a wonderfully active network of singles and couples beyond the child-raising years. Lou Casteel, the informal head of this loose social network, counts about 80 residents on her email list. Each quarter, they meet for potlucks in the comfy sitting area and kitchen at the Sundial House. “It’s perfect,” says Lou. “You can get together with lots of people and no one has to clean their home.”

Other functions include a monthly Empty Nester Coffee, Monday games of mahjong, Thursday bridge, and couples’ canasta/hand-and-foot (plus potluck) one Friday a month.

BackCountry Colorado community group
Noting that four or five new couples joined the last quarterly potluck, Lou says they’re an especially good way for new residents to meet others who share the same interests. She should know, as she and her husband Steve are relatively new residents themselves, having moved to BackCountry from Pennsylvania about three years ago after retirement. They wanted to be near their kids and grandkids, and after looking for a year, they saw BackCountry online and instantly fell in love with it. “This place was so different from everything else we saw, with the views, open space, trails, and Sundial House,” says Lou. “We didn’t want our kids to feel like they had to entertain us all the time. We wanted a cool place where the grandchildren would be excited to come.”

Indeed, visiting grandma has proven to be a pretty cool thing to do, between the pool, picnics in the amphitheater, and events that include face-painting, games, and other high-energy, kid-friendly activities.

But grandkids aside, it’s been the perfect next step for the Casteels. Their home in the Luxury Villas includes a main floor master, and the front lawn is mowed and watered and snowy sidewalks are shoveled by the HOA. Without the maintenance to handle, there’s plenty of time for things to do, between the community-wide happy hours, comedy nights, and nearby activities. “Good shopping is close by, and so are the Highlands Ranch rec centers, which are wonderful. We like to take light rail to Rockies games. And there’s a group of six of us who enjoy going downtown and trying out new restaurants once a month.”

For Lou and Steve Casteel, retirement is proving to be a very busy time. But in a very good way.

Meet the neighbors: Backcountry CrossFit

by | October 13th, 2014

On the owner’s bio page of this nearby Crossfit gym, BackCountry resident Steve Hartle has wife Ashley casually draped over his shoulders. Yep, this guy is fit. Not too surprising, since he’s a former Division I All-American college wrestler. And co-owner Ashley has competitive gymnastics, running, and cheerleading in her own resume, by the way.

Steve and Ashley Hartle Backcountry Crossfit

Photo courtesy of Backcountry Crossfit

But these days, their passion lies in a 13,500-square-foot gym just five minutes away from their BackCountry home. For their many—and growing—clients, Backcountry CrossFit is changing bodies…and lives.

“Everyone changes in some regard,” Steve tells us. “I’ve seen people’s self-confidence take off once they start completing the workouts and making progress. I’ve seen people lose 100 pounds. Once you start working out at this level of intensity, you tend to start cleaning up your diet too. It makes you want to get better in every way.”

So what is CrossFit, exactly? This extremely popular form of fitness training focuses on constantly varying the types and durations of movements to keep your body off-balance and prepared for anything. It’s a daily, changing concoction of endurance, weightlifting, gymnastics, and high-intensity cardio. “We’ll mix up heavy, light, long, short, body weight, strength, weights, and other apparatuses so the body just doesn’t adapt,” says Steve. Although it’s an intense form of exercise, it’s also modifiable to all, whether you’re a former college athlete or an out-of-shape exercise newbie.

Highlands Ranch Herald Robbie Wright

Photo by Robbie Wright, courtesy of Highlands Ranch Herald

It’s also a group activity in which you’ll be coached (by a fleet of full-time trainers—unique to this gym) and cheered on by your fellow CrossFitters. This summer, that bonding through sweat culminated in a group of seven Crossfit clients competing at the Reebok CrossFit Games in California, a worldwide competition to “find the fittest on Earth.” More than 45 athletes from the gym went to support the team, which finished 15th out of 33.

The Hartles’ path to owning a CrossFit gym traces back to Steve’s coaching at other facilities…and in their own BackCountry garage. Steve started training neighbors at their request, then moved to a warehouse and then opened the gym. BackCountry itself has proven a good place for working on his fitness as well. You can frequently spot Steve out on the trails in a 20-lb. weighted vest, stopping occasionally to fire off a round of sit-ups or burpees. “We love BackCountry,” he says. “We moved here four years ago. We have two young boys and wanted more yard, a cul-de-sac, and a gated community. The views and trails are amazing and the people are great.”

And many of them are making their way to his gym. Unlike some other, more hardcore CrossFit gyms, his “is not intimidating,” he says. “This place fits Highlands Ranch. People get nervous because they’ve heard about the intensity, but we make it as encouraging and positive as possible. The biggest obstacle is stepping through the door. Once you’re here, we’ll take good care of you.”

Know of other businesses owned by BackCountry residents? Let us know and your business could be profiled on this blog. Email to connect.

Season’s Eatings: Catch the grand finale of Colorado produce

by | October 6th, 2014

Sadly, those melt-in-your-mouth Palisade peaches are a distant memory, but all is not lost. Let the waning days of October remind you to hit the farmer’s market one last time before they close. Or, if you’re up for a little adventure, go pick your own produce at one of the farms listed below. Arguably, there’s nothing as delicious as a tree-ripened peach, but fresh apples and roasted chile peppers deserve a place of honor on any autumn menu.

At the Highlands Ranch Farmers and Street Market, it’s not too late for fall treasures like Brussels sprouts, winter squash, kale, and other greens, too. And it’s a great source for well-priced and beautiful pumpkins for your jack-o-lantern endeavors. Purveyors of other goodies, like pickles, coffee, honey, baked goods, clothing, and more are still going strong. Sundays, 10-2 at Town Center South through October 26 (weather permitting). Learn more.

Want your food even fresher? Make your first stop, a website that can help you find the source you seek, as well as give you tips on canning and freezing your stash safely.

There, you’ll find info about various nearby farms, such as YA YA Farm & Orchard, located in Boulder County. This historic century-old farm specializes in heirloom apples, organic methods, and family-friendly activities. The farm and orchard will be open to the public through a to-be-determined date in November. Reservations are required for picking, but apples, apple cider donuts, apple pies, honey and many other apple products are available for sale at their apple barn. Learn more.

More apples are ready to be picked at Happy Apple Farm. The farm’s location in Penrose means that their apples ripen earlier, but Red and Golden Delicious apples are still available through mid-October (if not picked out). Nonetheless, they’re a good source for pumpkins, fresh cider, apple butter, jams, marinades, roasted chiles, brisket, pulled pork, and hayrides to the pumpkin patch. Learn more.

At Berry Patch Farms in Brighton, you may be stumped as to where to start. This full-scale farm should have all their fall crops still growing strong through the month, including apples, kale, beets, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, garlic, and onion. They also sell grass-fed beef, honey, freshly ground flour, and more. As with all of these weather-dependent, real-life sources, you’ll want to call first to make sure they’ll have what you want. Learn more.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

by | October 1st, 2014

What was that noise? Was that streak in the road a black cat? Does that mannequin look a little too…real? If you find yourself looking over your shoulder a bit more this month—and kinda liking it—then we have some appropriately spooky October activities to recommend. Not into it? That’s okay. We have some not-so-spooky ideas for you, too.

Blue Man Group
-Oct. 10-12
The ultimate in family-friendly entertainment, the Blue Man Group stops into Denver for five shows beginning Friday, October 12. This theatrical experience combines comedy, music, and technology for a truly unique event. Friday features one show; Saturday and Sunday feature both a matinee and evening performance. Purchase tickets.

Fall Craft Show-Oct. 11-12, 9am-5pm
Autumn and craft fairs were made for each other. Come ogle the creative, handcrafted wares of more than 100 exhibitors. The Fall Craft Show is the perfect place to find that one-of-a kind gift you’ll otherwise be hunting for desperately come December. Items for sale include jewelry, bath products, pottery, wooden crafts, floral arrangements, wreaths, baby and children’s articles, fused glass vases and bowls, hand-knit scarves, shawls, afghans, and more. Free admission. Held at the Recreation Center at Eastridge. Learn more.

Punkin Chunkin Colorado
-Oct. 11, 10am-5pm; Oct. 12, 11am-4pm
Just how far will that gourd go? For the past 17 years, the answer to that question has drawn crowds from far and wide. This zany event engages the energy and creativity of youth and adults as they employ ingenious/wacky launching devices to hurl orange orbs hundreds of feet through the air. Besides the competition, the event offers family activities, a pumpkin patch, fall market, food vendors and a beer garden. Held at the Arapahoe Park Horse TrackLearn more here or contact Jessica Hernandez at 303-326-8659 or

Paranormal Party at the Highlands Ranch Mansion-Oct. 16, 6-9pm
Sure to send shivers up your spine, this event features the Spirit Paranormal Investigations team, who will share a presentation of “Things That Go Bump in the Night,” including creepy photos and samples of real recorded spirit voices. Thankfully, there will be cocktails. Afterwards, the Spirit PI team will lead groups on an actual ghost hunt in the Highlands Ranch Mansion using their sophisticated equipment. 21+ only. Tickets $30 in advance and $35 day of, if not sold out. Learn more and buy tickets here.

Backcountry Wilderness Area Haunted Forest
- Oct. 24, 7-10pm; Oct. 25, 7-10pm
Taking the haunted house concept one frightening step further, the Haunted Forest has nary a wall to protect you from the horrors that lurk in the trees, and no roof to keep out the howling October winds. Brave souls are invited to explore this wilderness of fear, where darkness hides whatever awaits behind the next boulder. Concessions and DJ on site to help allay the terror. Ages 10+, parental discretion advised. Tickets $12 at any HRCA Recreation Center. Learn more.

Haunted Hayrides- Oct. 24, 6-8:30pm; Oct. 25, 6-9pm
Bring the whole family to this 30-minute adventure, where professional storytellers narrate an amusing tale as you rumble down a spooky old west trail. Rides run every half hour. 4-H concessions and petting zoo in the indoor arena. Tickets $12 for adults, $10 for children 12 and under. Payment can be made at any recreation center registration office. A portion of the proceeds benefit Douglas County 4-H. Held at Stockton’s Plum Creek StablesLearn more.

Trick or Treat Street- Oct. 25, 10am-2pm
Recreation Center at Eastridge (map)
At this truly free-of-fear event, children ages 12 and under can trick-or-treat in costume, receiving goodies from local businesses. Little ghosts and goblins should bring their own trick-or-treat bags. The line closes at 1:15pm, so plan to arrive early. $1.00 per person (adults & children), and each family may select one pumpkin from the pumpkin patch, while supplies last. Learn more.

BackCountry’s Blues and Brews Event at the Sundial Amphitheatre

by | September 23rd, 2014

Residents celebrated the last outdoor concert of the summer with a picnic dinner and local brews during the Blues & Brews event at the Amphitheatre.

Date night at Union Station

by | September 22nd, 2014

Union Station Denver

It’s been a couple of months since the grand re-opening of Union Station. Which means that since the hubbub has leveled off, now is a great time to check it out. Especially on a date night.

Happily, getting there from BackCountry is easy. If you don’t feel like driving, park your car at Littleton’s nearby Mineral light rail station, and let RTD whisk you all the way into Union Station on the C-line.

Union Station Denver Interior

And then, behold the wonder of this beautifully updated Denver icon.

Inside Union Station, the Great Hall greets you with loads of original Beaux Arts-style beauty and architecture. Note the original tile floors, high-backed wooden benches, soaring ceilings and ornate light fixtures. The original Union Station was built in 1881, when its arrival inspired the nearby construction of requisite Old West businesses like saloons, bordellos, and warehouses. An electrical fire burned the building in 1894, but it was quickly rebuilt. In 1914, railroad companies replaced the center hall and roof and crafted the building that remains today.

Terminal Bar Union Station Denver

The recent $54 million renovation has created a very fun destination. You and your significant other might want to start with a glass of wine or Colorado craft beer (choose from dozens) at the lively Terminal Bar, located in the former ticketing office at the back of the Great Hall. And be sure to test your skill on the shuffleboard table in the center of the Hall, where you’ll find plenty of comfortable couches to relax on with drinks and appetizers. Dinner options abound, from sophisticated choices like Stoic & Genuine (think just flown-in lobster, shrimp and oysters), to fish tacos and beet burgers at the Kitchen Next Door, to Acme Burger & Brat, to Fresh Exchange, a quick-serve spot featuring wraps, salads and smoothies. Be sure to take advantage of people watching on the restaurants’ patios too, while the weather holds.

Next, it’s time to explore the unique shops, all Colorado-based. Bloom by Anuschka offers flower arrangements, furniture, gifts, jewelry, art, and home décor. Browse the eclectic mix of hip local crafts, furniture, and jewelry at 5 Green Boxes. And the Tattered Cover has a cozy shop here too—always a fun place to linger. When you’re ready for something sweet, and maybe a bit sassy, pick up an Irish Coffee at Pigtrain Coffee or a booze-infused milkshake at the Milkbox Ice Creamery.

Shuffleboard Union Station Denver

And should you decide to stay downtown, consider calling it a night at the luxurious new Crawford Hotel, a chic blend of the historic and contemporary, conveniently tucked into Union Station, too.

Middle, yes. Average, no. Good things are happening at Ranch View Middle School.

by | September 15th, 2014

BackCountry kids don’t just have it good when it comes to elementary school. They also have an outstanding choice for middle school, those in-between years that can be the most challenging.

Less than two miles away from BackCountry, Ranch View Middle School boasts a “Performance” plan status, the highest level rating by the Colorado Department of Education. In terms of test scores, 7th graders in 2013 averaged 73% in math (compared to 55% statewide), 82% in reading (compared to 68%), and 79% in writing (compared to 61%).

Why such good scores? One reason may be the school’s emphasis on hiring teachers with real-world experience, which brings additional depth and relevance to subject matter. RVMS teachers hold degrees in Engineering, Technology, Business, Construction, and Marketing, as well as Education.

The school also offers an abundance of choices to match kids’ educational needs. Perhaps its most attractive feature is its International Baccalaureate program, a challenging educational system that helps children develop the skills to live, learn, and work in a rapidly globalizing world.

When it comes to languages, children can choose from Spanish and Chinese, a rare but extremely relevant choice in today’s global economy. The arts include band, choir, orchestra, drama, and visual art.

A “Leaders of the Pack” group of 8th graders serve as role models for the school, and provide practical assistance to 7th graders in order to promote their success.

And there are clubs galore, oriented around books, chess, code, drama, robotics, guitar, and writing, among other interests.

Want to learn more? Visit the school at 1731 W. Wildcat Reserve Parkway or call (303) 387-2300.

Cattle and chickens and people, oh my.

by | September 8th, 2014

A short history of Highlands Ranch.
WildcatOverlook West

It’s a long and winding road that led to the tree-lined BackCountry Drive of today. While people tend to think of Highlands Ranch as a relatively new community (founded in 1981), the story of this place stretches back more than 150 years. Actually, much longer than that, since the land was once the hunting grounds for the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Native American tribes. After the Europeans arrived, land ownership of what would become Colorado bounced between Spain and France until 1803 when, as part of the Louisiana Purchase negotiated by Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte, the area became part of the United States.

In 1859, Rufus “Dad” Clark—aka The Potato King of Colorado—filed a 160-acre homestead where the current Highlands Ranch Golf Club now stands. (Dad Clark Drive now makes more sense as a street name!) 

More homesteaders followed, including Austrian immigrants John Welte and brother-in-law Plaziduo Gassner, who began the Big Dry Creek Cheese Ranch, producing both butter and limburger cheese.

Lawrence Phipps Jr. Highlands Ranch 1937-1976 (4) web
In the 1890s, John W. Springer acquired a whopping 23,200 acres of homesteads and established the Springer Cross Country Horse and Cattle Ranch. And, he was responsible for building most of the castle-like Highland Ranch Mansion. Following a scandalous divorce, the property passed hands a few more times—once for the desperation price of $250. It also changed names to Sunland, Phipps, Highlands, and Diamond K Ranch, and shifted its focus to breeding dairy and Angus cattle, sheep, hogs, and chickens. The ranch was also the site of a prestigious hunt club, which used bloodhounds to hunt coyotes.

In 1979, Mission Viejo Company bought the ranch and began residential construction. The first residents, Phil and Kaye Scott, moved into Highlands Ranch in September 1981. In 1997, Shea Homes, a division of the J.F. Shea Company, acquired Mission Viejo Company and Highlands Ranch. More pools, schools, parks, businesses, and a library followed, and the population grew robustly (92,600 by 2011), thanks in part to the abundant community amenities that create a well-rounded lifestyle.

In fact, BackCountry’s quality of life is a direct result of that priority. More than 25 years ago, the community’s developer made an agreement with Douglas County, the Highlands Ranch Community Association, and Sand Creek Cattle Company to preserve the Backcountry Wilderness Area — adjacent to the BackCountry neighborhood — and protect it “in perpetuity for open space, recreation purposes, public facilities and wildlife habitat enhancement.” That promise of stewardship means BackCountry will continue to be a beautiful place to call home for generations to come.

PS- Are you a second generation Highlands Rancher? If you grew up in Highlands Ranch and still live in or have since returned to the community to raise your own family, please contact the Metro District. They’re working on a project and need to interview second generation Highlands Ranch residents. Please contact them at

BackCountry’s Kids Science Event at the Sundial House

by | September 5th, 2014

BackCountry kids had a great time learning all about water wonders with Captain Vic the Science Wizard

Learn. Laugh. Dance. Ride. It’s all happening this September.

by | September 1st, 2014

What are you in the mood for? Chances are good you’ll find an activity in the metro area to match your disposition this month. Between Denver events, Highlands Ranch happenings, and BackCountry’s own calendar of activities, it’ll be easy to get everyone in the tribe to switch off the electronics and tune into some real-life fun.

Highlands Ranch Days
-Sept. 4-6, 9am-2pm
Learn the history of Highlands Ranch—while making some of your own. Ideal for the whole family, this annual event features historical reenactments, blacksmithing, weaving, Native American dancers, a petting zoo, raptor demonstrations, an 1800s tepee, a real chuck wagon, livestock displays, and more. Take a tour of the Highlands Ranch Mansion and hop on a hayride for views of the property rarely seen by the public. Adults $4, children $2; free if under age 2. Held at the Highlands Ranch MansionLearn more.

Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival-Sept. 7, 5pm
After a highly successful first year, the world’s biggest comedy tour is back and in Colorado’s favorite setting—Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Backed up by amazing city views, the festival’s impressively varied lineup of comedians will keep the jokes coming for every taste: Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Demetri Martin, Aziz Ansari, Chris Hardwick, DJ Trauma, Hannibal Buress, Marc Maron, Whitney Cummings, among others. Oddball 2014 will include two stages, the Cut Throat Freak Show (a roaming troupe of misfit performers), tasty treats, libations, and more. Presented by the comedy website Funny or Die. Tickets $99 + fees. Learn more.

Highlands Ranch Mansion
Big Band Dance Night at the Mansion
-Sept. 12, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Dust off your dancing shoes and prepare to swing at this unforgettable evening of big band music and dance, featuring the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra. Hosted by the Highlands Ranch Mansion and Highlands Ranch Cultural Affairs. Very light appetizers included and cash bar available for beer and wine. Ages 21 and up. Advance tickets $25; $30 day of event if not sold out. Doors and cash bar open at 6:00 p.m. Learn more.

Blues & Brews-Sept. 13, 4pm-7pm
Somehow the blues feel right as we say goodbye to another season of concerts at the BackCountry Amphitheatre. Pack a picnic dinner and listen to the Delta Sonics, a fine Colorado blues act known for solid musicianship and exciting live performances since 1992. Enjoy local brews at a discounted price, take home a portrait by a caricature artist, and bedazzle your kids with free glitter tattoos. Open to BackCountry residents and their guests. RSVP at www. by Friday, September 5.

Pedal the Plains Bicycle Tour
-Sept. 19-21
Whether your bike riding tends toward the hardcore or the lollygagging, don’t miss The Denver Post’s one-of-a-kind Pedal the Plains bike tour. Pedal The Plains invites riders of all abilities to celebrate the agricultural roots and frontier heritage of Colorado’s Eastern Plains. The 2014 tour will venture to three charming communities in Northeastern Colorado: Wiggins, Fort Morgan, and Sterling. Cyclists will taste food grown in the region, learn from local experts, explore points of interest, meet local farmers and ranchers, and try their hand at local crafts and farming techniques. Each evening, riders will trade in their Lycra for Levis and settle into good eats and libations, homespun entertainment, and live music. Learn more.

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