Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Thursday, July 17 -- Endless Highway

Made excellent time. Traffic was not heavy at all. I kind of like Kansas. Everyone says it's boring but especially the flint hills, I think, are beautiful. I'm a bit of a geography/geology nut. Every time we stopped Mark asked "got the keys?" before we locked the doors. I brought my extra key along and kept it in my left pocket so that if I ever got out and locked the keys in the car, I'd have the other to get back in. We drove into Salina where Mark had lived for a year to do a little Mark reminiscing... looked for Bogey's, a burger joint he really liked when he lived there. An old diner kind of place with pictures of old movie stars on the walls. It had moved to a new building. Filled up, switched drivers, and sped off listening to a little summer-music-mix mp3 CD I'd ripped songs for over the days preceeding the trip. Cruise control would be nice on a trip like this, but my little escort doesn't have it. Switching drivers made my leg feel much better.

Before we knew it, we were across the Colorado border. Called Rich at the cabins to tell him we were approaching. Switched back to me driving at Limon, and took the scenic route (86) through Kiowa and Elizabeth (ironically very close to my cousin Elizabeth's place -- sorry, no time on this trip to visit) and to Castle Rock and up 25 to 470. Very hazy. Pike's Peak looked like a ghost shadow -- you could just make out its dark shape through the haze. Found out later 8 fires were burning. Nothing like last year though. Drove along the hog's back -- big slabs of earth tilted up like a stargate from which the mountans seem to emerge and hit I-70 again go plunge into the heart of the front range. It still seemed like I was dreaming until that point. Mark was having the same initial reaction to the mountains I had a couple of years ago.... awe. Pur-a-dee gawking awe. We were in Idaho Springs before we knew it. Went to the cabins to get the key and check in. Talked to Rich about possible campsites. He says he's very close to having the cabins sold. They've tied him down for years and he's ready to point his car towards Alaska and drive. I hopped up on a log and for the first time felt the altitude. Kansas City can't be more than 1,000 feet. The cabins are at about 8,900 feet. The feeling, when you're not exerting yourself, I describe as "almost dizzy". Rich again reccomended the end of West Chicago Creek road, about 3 or 4 miles up the road from the cabins. Said it was all national forest and game for camping. Or we could try to brave the road south of Empire where he lives and park in his driveway and camp by a waterfall on Bear Creek. Except for the 50 feet of pretty steep hill he seemed to think the Escort wouldn't have a problem with that road, and he even thought it could probably hack that.

Went back into Idaho Springs and stopped at the forest service office and talked to Adrianne -- very personable young lady. Pretty darned cute, too. She told us that a fire ban was going into effect on Monday -- they were encouraging people not to have them but technically you could. Mark REALLY wanted to camp, so it was good that we could. We asked about camping outside of camp grounds, but all she came up with was a very small campground (Mizpah) toward Berthoud Pass on 40. We drove to it just to check it out because the location was good, but we could see that it was like a very small KOA in the forest. Bleah! No way. Back to Idaho Springs to Tommyknocker's brewery where we had expensive hamburgers and some decent beer. Then back to the cabins.

It was still light -- so we decided to drive to the end of West Chicago Creek road and see what was there along the way. We knew there was an official campground at the end, but there was a forest road I wanted to check out. Got to the end, saw the campground and Sugarloaf peak in the background, saw the road with NO locked gate -- as was indicated on my map, so we drove up it. It dead-ends at a locked gate 1/4 mile up the mountain. There's a locked gate there for the Edith Lake property which is private. There was a young couple camping there with their daughter and niece and nephew. I changed pants because it was cooling off fast. Went from shorts to jeans. We hiked around the area looking for a possible good site. Found a very nice site and said we'd come back in the morning and pitch our tents. Walked up to say hello to the family up the hill. Chuck and Kelly. Very nice people. Handsome couple, good with the kids. They said they'd been there twice before and never had neighbors. Cool.

Walked back to the car. Patted my pocket for the keys. They were in my shorts in the car. Both sets. Locked in. After an initial stage of disbelief, we went down the hill again to Chuck and Kelly. We had cell phones which, even if they did work in that canyon would do us little good since we didn't have a phone book for the area or know who to call. But Chuck said they'd seen a coat hanger lying around we guessed someone had once used to roast marshmallows over a fire. The kids were excited to have something to do and be helpful, and one of them eventually found it. Mark and I tried with it for a while -- then Chuck wanted to try from the front door. My locks are coathanger proof, except for the fact that the rear driver's side lock sticks up higher than it should and there is a groove to latch onto. After about 5 minutes and a lot of luck and almost giving up, Chuck caught it and popped it up. It was getting dark. We thanked them profusely and started towards the cabin. but on the way down the one lane mountain road, two other vehicles were making their way up. Managed to let them by, but then decided we needed to turn around and go back up and "reserve" our site by pitching our tents. So I backed up into a rocky area and made about a 5 point turn to keep from plunging down the canyon and we went back and did just that.

Then back to the cabin where we played music for a brief time and both went to bed exhausted. We slept with the windows and doors open, and could hear West Chicago Creek splashing 20 feet away all night long. Cool, beautiful night.