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Archive for October, 2009

After languishing in Rapid City for another day, we finally made it out and headed south. The roads were mostly dry and not icy – lucky after so much snow and extremely low temperatures. We had a cold weather problem with the RV – the gray water tank was solidly frozen at the external end of the pipe. Dave tried the hair dryer and then chipping away at it, to no avail. Since the campground we stayed at had shut off the water in their showers, and our gray tank was full, there were no showers for us on Tuesday. On the way through Wyoming, we saw enough prairie to last us for a long time, even though it was beautiful covered with a thin layer of snow.

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Periodically, plowing through fog and winter haze, we got to Fort Collins, CO in time to get a look at the Center for Fine Art Photography, at which Dave has had a print accepted in one of their shows. The next day, we arranged to meet Paula Sarlls for lunch in Denver. Paula and I met many times over the years while creating and teaching various Customs classes around the country. Retired from Customs and a former woman Marine, she now spends a great deal of time organizing events and fundraising for the Marines. It was nice to see her, if only for a couple of hours.

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We continued our run south, spending a wonderful, warm afternoon (80 degrees – hurray!!) in Pueblo, CO and then went over the 9,000 foot La Veta Pass to reach Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is a spectacular place, nestled against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, with wind patterns creating dunes up to 750 feet high. We walked out into the sand and found that Medano Creek, that usually runs right in front of the dunes, was totally dried out. Too bad, it adds a blue note to the beige and green hues of the dunes. Some of the aspen and cottenwood trees still have golden leaves, but many have already fallen. The color is well past its peak. Oh well.

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We got up pre-dawn Friday morning and hiked about a mile from the campground up to some of the dunes. At 8,000 feet, it was cold, but there was almost no breeze at all, which makes slogging up dunes easier. Because the sun is already high in the sky before it rises above the eastern mountains, it seems to just pop up, creating harsh shadows immediately. But it’s still beautiful. We spent the rest of the day lazing about and went out again in the late afternoon. Dave hiked along the top of the dunes but the light wasn’t great. I drove over to nearby San Luis Lakes State Park to see if there were any sandhill cranes there. They are on their southern migration right now and we’d love to see them in numbers. We have been excited to see several flocks of them flying overhead in the past week. But bupkis at the State Park.

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Friday night was very windy, so we decided to sleep in Saturday morning. Of course, the morning was not windy at all but we enjoyed the hanging out at the campground and did a part of the hike up Mosca Pass later that day. It was sunny and warm, so different from the last time we hiked up to the pass. What a difference sunlight makes; it elevates my mood so much. We celebrated the return of the sun by drinking the Limoncello, created by Jeff and Betty, given to us by Mary and Rick. Ah, warmth!!

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This morning we got up at 6:15 again and headed for the dunes. It wasn’t as cold as Friday morning and we got up to a higher place by sunrise. As Dave puts it, we were “sucking wind”; it’s really hard sloshing up 300 or 400 feet of steep sand dunes. But it’s worth it to see the sun crest the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and progress over miles of dunes. When we got up high enough, we were surprised to see Medano Creek sparkling a little to the north. Usually this shallow but broad creek runs all along the base of the dunes, but a drought year may have dried up a portion of it. After getting back to the RV, we made coffee, and drove closer to where the stream was flowing. It wasn’t terribly photogenic, but it was fun wading around with our coffee cups in hand.

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O Lord, stuck in Rapid City, again. (Lodi scans better.) It’s snowing this morning and every road south has travel advisories. We’ve done the laundry and grocery shopping, so it’s read, blog, see a movie or hit the mall. Dave doesn’t seem too interested in a Backgammon tournament.

Our Thursday outing was a walk around the lake that is next door to our campground. There were (of course) Canadian Geese and two large white geese. They were probably mated, and they had a weird habit: they would face each other and stretch out their long necks past each other. They let us get pretty close before getting into a threatening mode (feathers ruffled and spread out). Friday was cold and grey; the highlight was seeing Matt Damon in “The Informant!”  It’s a clever little movie that has you going in one direction, then generates a few doubts about what’s really going on and finally turns things around in a big way. It’s worth seeing.

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Yesterday, we went out to see Mt. Rushmore. We did manage to get there when the sun peeped out from the clouds, and got a few images recorded. I got cold quickly (it was about 25 degrees at 1:30 p.m.) and went into the cafeteria for some hot chocolate. Dave stayed out another half hour and proved that Washington does have nostrils carved into his face. By the time he came in, the sun had disappeared for the day. Since it was now a dull, gray, cold afternoon, we headed back to Rapid City and the Lazy Daze.

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We woke up to about an inch of snow on Monday. It was chilly and snowy with gray skies, but we took a 1.3-mile walk around the base of Devil’s Tower. It is an eerie place, with the 867-foot tower jutting out of the prairie landscape. There were many more Indian prayer flags and bundles (bits of bright cloth tied to trees) than we saw the last time we were here. After another chilly night and more snow, we woke up to some blue sky. We again circuited the tower. The snow was melting off the pines and oaks, mostly descending in pellety sprays, but sometimes plopping down in larger splotches. I love the ocean sound of the breeze in the pines. We had to be careful aiming the camera up because you could end up with snow on your lens. Unlike Monday, when nary a prairie dog showed its nose, we passed the prairie dog town near the park campground and the dogs were out in number, mostly eating whatever it is they eat. Some of them have burrows about 2 feet from the roadway, but it doesn’t seem to bother them.

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Because another storm was coming in, we drove to Spearfish, South Dakota on Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday was supposed to be the warmest (58 degrees), clearest day of the week and we wanted to drive Spearfish Canyon, which is spectacular in autumn, with lots of deciduous trees that turn yellow and orange. The sun was out and it was pretty nice when we arrived and settled in. The campground owner told us that Mt. Rushmore had so much snow that the electricity had gone out and they closed the monument for part of the day. We were happy we would have a good day in between storms. Deciding that we deserved a treat, we went to the Spearfish Chophouse for dinner and watched a nice sunset while munching on great hamburgers. Wednesday morning, we woke up at 6:30 and found gray clouds obliterating the sun. We were disappointed but we went into Spearfish Canyon anyway, and photographed. Thank heavens we had brought all our cold-weather gear; it was freezing out. The car heater and some big hot chocolates kept us going. And we did catch a glimpse of what we think was a weasel. Dark creatures stand out against the snow.

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We’re back in camp and a steady snow is falling. It’s already sticking at 4:30 in the afternoon. I guess we’ll move on to Rapid City tomorrow.  It’s a little lower in elevation and we might see some movies or go to a museum there. This isn’t quite the trip we envisioned, but c’est la vie.

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We did another drive of Yellowstone’s upper loop. It had snowed on top of the mountains which provided a different view of the park. The required place to stop was the Nature Trail, which contained our rock. Our rock is a large boulder with a bench directly in front of it. You can either face out and lean on the boulder or face in and contemplate the boulder. We have photographed the rock several times. It was too cold to do much contemplating. We had planned to go most of the way down the east side of the park, but the road was closed around Dunraven Pass because of the snow, so we ate our lunch in the car (it was snowing lightly) looking out at the great valley below us and turned back.

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The plan was to go on a hike on Friday because it was going to be a nice day. But Dave wanted to get 4 new tires for the rear of the Lazy Daze and we could get it done Saturday morning and a storm was expected on Sunday, so we decided to get out of Dodge. We drove to Billings, MT and stayed at the first KOA in the country. It was a very nice park, but we were in stock-up mode, getting groceries, doing laundry and trying to fix leaky vents in the ceiling. Saturday, we got our new tires and drove to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, in Garryowen (?), Montana. We stayed at a Mom and Pop campground and they were pleased to take possession of the 5-liter box of Chardonnay that was languishing undrunk behind the passenger seat in the Lazy Daze. The monument is in the middle of the Crow Indian Reservation, which added a note of irony. We watched a video produced by the park service that was evenhanded in the way it described the battle, from both the cavalry and Indian viewpoints. There is a 5-mile road that stretches through the various battle sites. The weather was sunny, breezy and cool, but there’s something sad about the area. Lots of small, white gravestones are erected throughout the battlefields, placed where the soldiers and Indians fell.  I couldn’t help thinking that the USA might look really different today if all the immigrants had learned to live peacefully with the Native Americans. Maybe there wouldn’t be strip malls outside of every medium-size town. That would be nice. On the other hand, there was the Indian-run Little Bighorn Casino immediately outside the battlefield.

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Today we drove to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The rain that was supposed to develop didn’t come in while we were driving, but it was a gray day.

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