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Archive for September, 2012

The weather has become very dramatic for a couple of days. That works for us. We departed Curecanti and drove all of 20 miles to a lush, gorgeous valley near the “town” of Cimarron. The town consists of a post office, a defunct motel that a couple of residents live in, a defunct gas station, and the Newberry Store with a couple of gas pumps, where an older couple share their days with Sadie, a dog that looks like she has some Dingo in her. (I wonder if the town would do better if it changed its name to “Cinnabon”?) The Black Canyon RV Park is a large swath of grass surrounded by ranches and mountains rising up in every direction. It’s one of the first times we’ve ever stopped at a place purely for its beauty. The clouds were beginning to look pretty threatening to the west, but we headed down the packed-dirt-and-gravel Cimarron Road, seeking photographic adventure. That plan came to a quick end. We ate lunch in the car, watching and listening to a thunderstorm go by. We returned to the campground and waited for some better weather.

Because US-50 had some promising aspen stands, we headed back the way we had come after dropping off the Lazy Daze. We had trouble pulling off the road, though, because traffic was heavy and moving fast. Although doable, it’s not a relaxing experience. So I pulled out my trusty Colorado atlas (what a worthwhile acquisition that is to a map-lover) and dug up a dirt road heading toward the mountains – Alpine Plateau Road. Ah…. immediate peace and quiet. The road was curvy and many turns brought nice vistas. I’ve expected to get tired of the yellow of aspens and birch, but it doesn’t happen. Each stand, in its terrain, varies enough that I enjoy looking. We went down the road about 10 miles before deciding to return to the highway. Dinner was not too exciting – the only thing I could get at the Cimarron store was milk.

It sprinkled a few times Monday night, but the campground manager said we wouldn’t have any trouble on the Cimarron Road (CR 858). It connects to Owl Creek Road (CR 860) at the 10,000-foot Owl Creek Pass. The manager said that was no problem either unless there was a lot of snow on the road. So off we went on Tuesday morning.  The views were spectacular. We probably stopped to shoot about 25 times over the course of the day. Although we were at 8,000- and 9,000 feet, it was very comfortable. Almost immediately, we could hear elk bugling in the aspen, though we never saw any. And, oh, the wonderful smell of wet sagebrush. The slopes without trees had vegetation that grew in paisley-shaped configurations, creating muted patterns in dark green, brown, dull gold and russet, providing a great counterpoint to the bright aspen areas.

The road took us up to Silver Jack Reservoir, a nice foreground for the mountain crags beyond. Next we were entranced by a very thick aspen forest, with trunks bunched closely together. Then it was Pinnacle Ridge, cliffs that were unlike anything we’ve seen before. Not basalt, I don’t know what they were made of. But the clouds were playing tag in their upper reaches. We ate lunch again in the car, as sprinkles turned to rain.

Luckily, Owl Creek Pass didn’t have any tantalizing viewpoints so we continued down the west side of the mountain as the rain lightened.  The light was very soft, so we stopped again, shooting from inside, then outside, the car. We wended our way downwards and then stopped at a turnout that knocked our socks off. It was an alluvial fan of aspens; a flood of green and gold. As we continued our descent, Dave spotted a small area with 3 motorhomes parked, two of which were Lazy Dazes. One of them was an older Burgundy model named “Skylark”. Dave recognized it as belonging to Andy Baird, the moderator of the “Life with Lazy Daze” Yahoo group. Nobody was home, but he left a card with a note on the door. There was then a “Vista Point” pullout, but we gave it a glance and continued on our way. So five hours after starting on Cimarron Road, we pulled onto US-550 and headed for Montrose to do some grocery acquisition before heading back to the RV park. Thanks to the weather and Colorado for another amazing day.

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We’ve been camped at Curecanti Recreation Area by Blue Mesa Reservoir for four days. We drove from Great Sand Dunes on Thursday through a lot of fairly boring country. Then we started ascending towards Monarch Pass, east of Poncha Springs, and were blown away by the aspen display. It was spectacular. But we were in the Lazy Daze and decided to forge ahead. The next 50 miles had nothing similar to Monarch Pass. We grocery-shopped and gassed up in Gunnison and settled in a very quiet campground. Again, we could see the Milky Way, but the moon is beginning to plump up, reducing the effect of the stars.

Friday was our first “fall foliage” search expedition. We are camped about 10 miles west of Gunnison and Highway 50 runs alongside the Gunnison River. Dave was driving and luckily he saw an oncoming driver signal to watch out. The next thing, Dave slammed on the brakes as a deer leapt across the road in front of us. She may or may not have lived to see another day – on the way home that day, we saw a dead deer on the side of the road at the same spot. We went north out of Gunnison and veered onto the Ohio Creek Road (CR 730), a well-maintained gravel road that passed about 15 miles of ranches with lots of birch in deep gold. We encountered a cattle drive, bringing down the cattle from high country, and cows and calves streamed by on either side of us, followed by a couple of cute cowboys bringing up the rear.

Once we started to rise, the aspen appeared, but the slopes above and below the road were so steep we couldn’t really wander around. When we reached Ohio Pass, it was really bright display over a vast vista.

After lunch, we headed to Crested Butte, a very relaxed little mountain town, with a large number of coffee shoppes, clothing shoppes and expensive restaurants. I shouldn’t make fun of it – I don’t recall seeing a single souvenir shoppe. After touring the town, we stopped at the cemetery. Many of the gravesites had benches on them, the better to stare at the imposing sight of Crested Butte.

We took a few County Roads and encountered some nice country, but nothing spectacular. The road from Mount Crested Butte (a ski town) to Gothic (nothing too gothic about it) was nice, running above the East River.

It took us a while to get home that day because I was driving and am now driving pretty slowly wherever there are rivers, bushes, trees and warning signs for deer and elk. Needless to say, that’s just about everywhere.

Saturday was chore day, washing big loads of clothes and rugs and sheets and washing all the cow shit off the Rav (the downside of having cattle surround you). I also did a wine run (can’t buy wine in supermarkets in Colorado) and managed to nab a reasonably-priced Tempranillo and Malbec. We did manage to get out and take a walk at Neversink, one of the Curecanti locations on the Gunnison River. It was quite pretty, with the birch trees reflecting in the water.

Later we drove up Mill Creek Road and reached aspens as soon as we entered Gunnison National Forest. It wasn’t a great road, but there were people out picking up branches and sprays of colorful foliage, walking their dogs and hunting. The weather has been beautiful, warmer than usual for the area. After a great dinner (if I do say so myself) of Barbecups and Cuernavaca Casserole, we watched the Giants clinch the National League West pennant (or whatever it’s called at this point). Hooray!! It was fun to watch the team celebrate after all the adversity of the season. We went to sleep happy.

After a leisurely breakfast of French Toast, Dave returned 55 miles east to Monarch Pass. I skipped it and focused on mending, spot-cleaning the carpet, blogging and reading. The clouds began to build and there may be thunderstorms and a bit of rain in the next couple of days. We need to decide where to go next.

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We departed Colorado Springs and headed south. Pueblo, Walsenburg, over the La Veta Pass and up to Great Sand Dunes. The road up to the park is always amazing: miles of flat grassland, then, off in the distance, the dunes, growing higher and wider as you get closer, backed up by the spectacular Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains. We found a great campsite in the sparsely inhabited campground and can ponder a great expanse of sand. It being cloudless, I went out to look at the stars and the Milky Way was crystal clear. I went out once again, about 2 hours later and the Milky Way had moved! I guess I never really looked at it hours apart on the same night. So I guess that proves that the Earth rotates, huh? Either that or the Milky Way rotates.

Dave got up early on Monday and went off to the dunes. I remained snuggled in bed, reading my odd book, taking it easy. I consider GSD a good quiet place to “take a vacation” from our trip. It’s so remote from everything, there’s not a lot to do. There’s one trail you can take and one drive that requires a high-clearance vehicle. Otherwise, it’s about the dunes. The weather changes a lot and the light on the dunes is endlessly fascinating to watch. When Dave eventually returned, we had a late breakfast and then hung around. The book I’m reading, discovered in a campground library, is Larry McMurtry’s “Books: A Memoir”. (How could I not read that?) Although he’s written about 30 books, including “Lonesome Dove”, “Terms of Endearment” and “The Last Picture Show”, his real devotion is collecting and selling books. He runs or has run many, many bookstores. This book, with 109 short chapters, describes that part of his life.

Later in the afternoon, the gray day was breaking up somewhat, so we headed out to the dunes with our cameras. There’s about a quarter mile of brush and flat sandy terrain to traverse before you actually reach the foot of the dunes. Then it’s slog, slog, slog. We’re around 8,500 feet here and the highest dunes are 700 feet up from that, so we had to stop several times to catch our breath. Each time we turned around to look at the mountains, we could see the tips of additional peaks, white with a smattering of new snow. The dunes themselves were covered with the tracks of all the people who had come before, but a good wind will get rid of them. If not the wind, Photoshop will get rid of them. A front was moving across us and the clouds were spectacular. We’d get a few little sprinkles of rain, then the sun would peek through a thin part of the clouds. It would be totally calm, then a 20 mph wind would whip at us. We heard a few peals of thunder in the mountains that was enough to turn another couple back (It’s not good to be on top of bare dunes with metal tripods in a thunderstorm), but that appeared to be east of us so we kept climbing higher. Finally, we had a good view of the dunes and mountains to the west. It was glorious.

On Tuesday, we both slept in and puttered around the campsite. After lunch, we drove outside the park to Zapata Falls. It didn’t look too promising, but after a short uphill hike, we found a pretty little stream with a concealed waterfall. Watching Dave hang onto a cable beside the creek while clambering over rocks with his camera and tripod, I decided to focus on photographing where I was. Check out his site to see the falls.

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So what happens after a perfect day of photography? Some not so perfect days. We had a pleasant drive from Estes Park to Colorado Springs. We stayed off of I-25 for quite a while, traveling through the mountains. We ended up at the Golden Eagle RV Park, a little inconvenient, south of Colorado Springs, but cheap and remote and quiet. They have an invertebrates museum, the May Natural History Museum, with lots of very large insects. We managed to avoid that. After a quiet night, we visited the Pikes Peak Roadway. Over 19 miles, it rises from about 7,800 to 14,115 feet. The last time we were here, the road closed above about 12,000 feet. This time, we made it to the top. The views become progressively spectacular. I began to feel a little light-headed around 12- or 13,000 feet and we ate some lunch when we reached the summit. The Cog Railroad arrived while we were on top, and about 60 people got off, making us happy that we had already gotten our meal. We walked around a little and then headed down. Our gas level was low and I was happy we made it back to Manitou Springs for gas. We got half a tank and returned to camp.

Saturday, we departed for Garden of the Gods around 9 a.m. By the time we got there and parked, it was already warm and fairly crowded. We took a walk along one of the unpaved paths and then returned to the main portion of the park, where rock-climbers were showing off their stuff. It was fun to watch. Lots of people were walking dogs, babies, little children and older children. Young adults were checking each other out; there was a lot of activity. We walked around quite a bit and the day grew warmer. We left there around noon, found a cool, shady spot for lunch and made the fateful decision to drive to Cripple Creek. It looked like it was about 40 miles away from our current location and we decided to do it. Looking at the map, I noticed CR-8, a graded, dirt road that crossed the mountains from Cripple Creek to Colorado Springs. Stopping at a Visitor’s Center in Cripple Creek, we spoke with an informative woman who showed us a route across the mountains, but didn’t have a map to give us, just oral directions. She told us it would take about 2 hours going 20 mph.

We headed into the hills and immediately took a wrong turn. By enlarging the Garmin map to it’s extreme, I found Gold Mine Road and we got on it. By this time, the gas tank was back to a quarter tank, which would be fine if we didn’t get lost. It was beautiful in the mountains, covered with aspens in varying stages of autumn shades, some still green, some in saturated gold, a few coppery. We also saw some great rock formations. We went through a neat, old wooden tunnel. One pullout had a large map showing “You are here” with all kinds of roads going in all kinds of directions and not a single road name or number. I got nervous. We continued about another 2 or 3 miles. There the road split, with the wider-looking road labeled “Forest Service Road 376” and the smaller one labeled “Not maintained by county”. I said I wanted to turn around which displeased Dave, who figured we’d find our way through. But he turned around and  we returned to Cripple Creek and a long ways home in complete, grouchy silence. Would we have found our way across the mountains? Who knows? After the fact, a Google map shows a tangle of mountain roads that I’m glad we didn’t try to navigate.

When we finally got home, we decided we needed a stiff drink was in order while doing some stationary sitting. After dinner, we watched the movie “Contagion”, about a global health catastrophe that made me feel much better about our day.

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We departed Dinosaur on another hot day and headed east. The clouds had built up by the time we reached Steamboat Springs and it began to rain as we headed up to Rabbit Ears Pass, elevation 9,426. We finally arrived at Grand Lake, right outside the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The rustic campground we stayed had a moose and calf who often bedded down for the night in a woodsy area in the middle of camp. The campground owner showed us pictures of the moose trying to drink from a hummingbird feeder. I guess a little sugar water tasted pretty good. Unfortunately, no moose showed up the one night we were there.

The next day we drove all of 11 miles to the Timber Creek Campground in the park. Ah, our senior discount makes camping here $10 per night. Nice! After settling in, we drove down to the Never Summer Ranch, a dude ranch in the Kawuneeche Valley that the Holzwarth family ran in the 1920’s. In the mid-1990’s, Dave and I visited there and got our pictures taken wearing a huge, heavy buffalo coat. We wanted to do that again, but the campground ranger said that, being as that it was the day after Labor Day, they were closing up all the buildings for winter and the coat was going into storage. We went there anyway and they were indeed shutting down the place. We asked one of the rangers there about the coat and he replied that he happened to have it in his car and we could take pictures with it before it went into storage. Lucky timing for us.

 

 

 

 

After visiting the ranch, we drove up the Trail Ridge Road that soars to the heights across the Rockies. We went as far as the highest point, 12,183 feet in the heavens.

 

 

The next day we returned up the Trail Ridge Road for sunrise but the morning light wasn’t ideal. At one point, in the dim light, we saw three male elk grazing with no females in evidence. We’ve never seen males grazing together. They might be too young to compete with more mature males for the girls. We stopped at pretty Lake Irene for a look and then returned to camp.

 

 

 

 

 

Our goal for the day was a 7.4-mile hike along the Colorado River to the bare remains of Lulu City, a mining town from the old days. It was a very pleasant hike, mostly shaded, past rock screes, huge meadows and the small, quiet Colorado River. A nice walk, but unremarkable photographically.

We got quite a show that night. Our campground is pretty bare, devoid of any older trees, but that didn’t stop the resident elk from chomping on all the grass and bushes in the campground. Because the autumn rut is beginning, the males are bugling which is a very odd, high noise. One male had a harem of about 14 females (although some of the elk might have been the growing children of the females). They wandered through the campsites, grazing and licking the grease off barbecue grills. When the male got close to one female, she went down on her two front legs and “presented” herself to him. He wasn’t interested and wandered away. They stayed nearby for more than 30 minutes. A great sight.

 

 

On Thursday, we drove over the Rockies to Fort Collins, a pretty college town. The KOA we’re residing at is expensive but very nice. One of the campsites actually has its own hot tub. Their library is fairly large, but 70% of the books are romances – not my cup of tea. Dave took the Rav4 in on Friday to have a new side view mirror attached. That added another $425 to our expenses.

As a wine lover, I have determined to give beer a chance while we’re in Colorado, a beer-loving state, so we went to the Fort Collins Brewery for a burger and beer. I had a  cream ale that had a bit of vanilla taste to it. Pretty good. Dave had a Red Banshee, in fact, the last one – they had run out when the next table ordered it. We sat outside for dinner on a balmy evening. After dinner, we went to opening of the Center for Fine Art Photography show: Center Forward 2012. Dave has a print in it. A good crowd showed up, including several other exhibitors. The works on the wall were diverse and interesting; a couple of them really stood out. To look at the images in the show, a link to the Center for Fine Art Photography is: http://www.c4fap.org   Dave’s print is of Don and Dorothy Malpas standing in front of the Lazy Daze. He received a lot of positive feedback on his image.

On Saturday, we returned to the gallery. Dave was getting a portfolio review with Hamidah Glasgow and several of the exhibitors were showing their portfolios to each other. Sean Stewart uses x-rays and complicated techniques to create images that I heard explained twice but still don’t fully understand. Some of them are delicately radiant. Susan Barnett photographs the back side of people’s unusual t-shirts. Some of the images are amusing, others are frightening. We didn’t get to see additional work by Ruth Dudley-Carr, but her image in the show is darkly mysterious and haunting. So it’s been a good stay in Fort Collins. Today we head back to Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Four days of driving 950 miles wore us out. The big rush was reaching Dinosaur National Monument before Friday of Labor Day Weekend. We did not want to get stuck with nowhere to camp. Three days of following Interstate 80 proved to be fairly boring, although it was neat seeing the Salt Desert on the west side of Utah. When we reached I-80 east of Salt Lake City, where we had never traveled before, we were surprised at how gorgeous it was. Some type of small tree all over the mountains is a coppery red color. We don’t think it’s aspen; late August seems early for foliage to be turning. Fall must be spectacular there.

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We had a pleasant evening in Heber City, Utah on Wednesday, a beautiful area in the Wasatch Mountains, a little southeast of Salt Lake City. Thursday morning we were awakened by the odd, chortling sound of cranes somewhere nearby. We’re right by the Provo River, so it makes sense. River’s Edge is a quiet, lovely resort, although it’s a little disconcerting to be at the foot of the 345-foot-high Jordanelle Dam. The park’s policy statement has an interesting rule: “Unsupervised children will be given their choice of a puppy or kitten as well as a high octane sugar drink.” I didn’t see any kids, puppies or kittens, so I guess they got their message across.

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We finally reached Dinosaur National Monument, straddling the border of Utah and Colorado. We settled into the Green River Campground, surrounded by luxurious cottonwoods. The inside of the Lazy Daze climbed into the 90’s, even with the generator powering the air conditioner. We positioned ourselves outside, in the shade of trees, with an occasional breeze coming off the Green River, but it was still stickily hot. We got our first nature surprise: some turkeys trotting alongside the river. When Dave got up to photograph them, ten of them took off, one at a time, like fighter jets.

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Friday, we visited the Quarry, a building that shelters an excavated hillside that has bones poking out everywhere. The last time we visited was in 1983 and I think we only spent one night here. The monument is spectacularly beautiful and I’m glad we got to spend more time here.

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Then, after a lazy afternoon, we drove the “Tour of the Tilted Rocks”. Dave found a good site from which to photograph the Green River at night – a timed exposure. We viewed some great petroglyphs of lizards and ended up at Josie Morris’ ranch. Josie was an alleged associate of the outlaw Butch Cassidy. Married five times, she ultimately chose a single life. Her cabin isn’t much to speak of but her place is beautiful and peaceful. On our way back home, there was a little bit of thunder and some splatters of rain. Dave had put out the awning to shade our east side, but an unexpectedly violent gust of wind tore a chunk of it away from the frame. After that, of course, not much wind at all. We had a night of leftovers and then Dave took off for some night photography. For me, blogging and photo downloading.

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We arose at 6:30 on Saturday to do the Sound of Silence hike before it got hot. It was okay, not too exciting. There were some nice rocks, but the trail led through a deep wash and mud hills that didn’t allow for expansive views. The trail guide told us not to walk off the trail (we’d hurt the living soil) and about all the invasive plants crowding out the natives. The good news: it’s a good place to experience silence, and we did. Saturday was sunnier and hotter than Friday. We just hung around, reading, blogging and swigging water. And then, later in the evening, a rain shower and a spectacular double rainbow.

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We had no big newspaper on Sunday, but we did have a leisurely morning with a big breakfast of bacon and eggs. Then we drove the 35 miles to the entrance of the Harper’s Corner part of Dinosaur National Monument. This is one spread-out monument. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center where we found a nest of three sparrows waiting to be fed by frantic parents. But we found out that the parents had a getaway gambit – a separate nest where they could hang out without the kids. Both these nests were in the eaves of the bathroom entrance. The kids beaks and mouth were yellow, allowing their parents to quickly aim at the mouths that would gape open as the parent approached.

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From there, we began the drive up to Harper’s Corner. This involved several stops to see incredible vistas in different directions. Halfway through the 25-mile road, we took the Echo Park gravel road that descends about 2,000 feet to the Green River. The road goes across a large grassland, then descends through a beautiful white-rock canyon. We stopped to look at some Fremont petroglyphs that were pointillist in style. I didn’t attempt a photograph because they were all 35-feet high on the cliff face. Then came Whispering Cave, a narrow declivity in a rock wall that provided wonderful coolness, echoes and some interesting images. Finally we reached Echo Park, a tree-full oasis near the point where the Yampa River converges with the Green River. There was a large group of rafters there who were having a great time. I asked one of them where they were going to camp that night and she said she didn’t know, but she had heard that a family of skunks lived there and were very friendly to the campers. So are you friendly back? How do you know when you’ve crossed the line with a skunk? Obviously, you want to know that before you get sprayed. During lunch there, we had a friendly squirrel who invaded our space, sneaking up to stand right behind us. I don’t know if it planned to steal some food or was just begging, but either way, I don’t like a rodent so close to me.

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We ascended back to the main road and traveled to the end at Harper’s Corner. We were looking for the beginning of a hike out to a narrow neck of land when we spotted what looked like a long, dead snake. It was beautiful and as we drew closer, it finally moved its head – not dead. It definitely wasn’t a rattler. Dave thinks it was a garter snake but what a long garter snake.

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Finally, we were on the 2-mile round-trip hot, sweaty trail. The peninsula kept getting thinner and thinner until the end where the viewpoint was about 30 feet across. What unbelievable views!!!! I’m so glad we came out here.

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We returned to the car, turned on the air conditioner and began the long 70-mile drive back to our campground. I was tooling along, not going too fast, when a deer broadsided the car. In my peripheral vision, I could see the deer’s face as it side-swiped the driver’s side of the car, completely knocking off the side-view mirror. As I slid to a stop, the deer bounded off (or limped, I didn’t see it depart), leaving us stunned. Apparently, it timed its road-crossing so poorly, it didn’t run in front of the car, it ran into the side of the car. It could have been much worse; it might well have gone onto the hood of our car and crashed into the windshield. Further reflection revealed how lucky we were – had our side windows been open, the deer might have crashed into me while I was driving. After recovering some composure and our side-view mirror, Dave took over the driving. About ten minutes later, a cute little bunny rabbit dashed across the road in front of us, necessitating a dramatic stop. What’s so awful about both incidents is that you can drive a lot more slowly, but still not be able to avoid a collision with the wildlife.

We are ready to head east now. We’ll have to find a place to fix the side-view mirror.

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