Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blues, BBQ, and Baseball

So just to catch up, two weekends ago Ryan, Daryl, and I went on a friday night campout down at Cedar Creek. We went to an "island" in Cedar Creek we call "Gilligan's Island". Nothing too exciting. Hike in, pitch tents, make a fire, cook some poor boy packets. Have a few drinks and laughs around a camp fire. Get up. Make an oatmeal breakfast, break everything down and go home. Just some good outdoor fun.

Saturday Vicki and I went to Columbia's (well, Boone County National Bank's) Roots, Blues, n BBQ festival. I think it was the bank's 150th anniversary, and they brought in Taj Mahal and Jerry Douglas among others.

I was all about seeing Jerry Douglas, but mostly I just wanted to check out what they had going downtown. They'd started closing streets downtown at noon on Friday to set up -- which made it difficult for me to get back from lunch. A trip that should've taken me 3 minutes took me 40 instead since I wasn't sure what was going on.

Anyway, we went about 3:00 or so and had some expensive but ok tasting BBQ and chips. Sandwiches werer $5. Chips were $5 (but they were fresh made right there and you got a lot), and water... 16 oz of water was $3. So lunch was $18 for the two of us! And only one of us got water.

That's kind of to be expected at an event like this, but the kicker was you had to buy them with these "Blues Bucks" that you had to buy at a separate place. We placed our order, went to pay, and they said "we only take Blues Bucks. You can get them over there." Good thing I got 20 of them. But then I was stuck with two, which I think is by design.

There were people trying to sell their Blues Bucks all over the place so they weren't stuck with them. We found a place later in the day that took both Blues Bucks and cash and were able to liquidate our extras, thankfully.

It was pretty big. Not bad for a first try. They needed more food vendors, and they should drop the Blues Bucks. Oh, and work out some way to get food inspectors to ok sales by the people in the BBQ contests. All this BBQ and you couldn't buy any from any of them.

We ended up hitting Flat Branch for a beer because 12 oz of draft Bud/Bud Light was $4 and you could get a pint of good beer for $3.75 (about the same with tax, but more and much better beer) at Flat Branch and sit and drink it at a table. At the booths you had to stay within certain boundaries so as not to violate the open container laws. No taking it back to your concert venue, or walking around sipping one enjoying the atmosphere. Yeah that was another problem.

We caught a bit of local band Chump Change on Broadway. We missed the BelAirs because either the printed schedule was wrong or they switched time slots. We caught the Carolina Chocolate Drops. They were good. Jug band music. Ran in to Sam and Deb, and a couple of our neighbors. And then stayed and watched Jerry Douglas from about 8-9 pm.

I first heard Jerry listening to an acoustic music station on internet radio. This instrumental called "The Big Bug Shuffle" really caught my attention and I ended up buying the CD. Turns out Jerry's in to instrumentals and has won something like 12 Grammys. He plays with Alison Krauss & Union Station. Dobro. He's amazing, as are the rest of the guys in the Jerry Douglas Band.

Then this past weekend my sister-in-law Dawn had gotten tickets through her Cardinals' credit card to the Cards Cubs game (weeks ago). She called Vicki, a Cubs fan, to go with her so that they could dress in the respective garb for their two teams and maybe get on TV or something. Vicki later ended up scoring two standing room only tickets through Mark of Mark and Gretchen fame in Indiana, so Joel and I were able to go, too.

Interestingly, I've been to somewhere on the order of 10 Cardinals baseball games over the years, all in Bush Stadium (this was my first time in the new one.)

Here's the interesting thing: I have never seen them lose. Not at a game I attended. I should get free season tickets or something.

And apparently the Cardinals had been on the brink of coming from way down in the standings all summer and at a game maybe 10 or 14 days ago were in the lead in a game that would have put them first place in the division. They lost that game. Big, from what I understand. And they preceded to lose their next 8 games. Our game would have been loss number 10 in a row. And early on, by the third inning, the Cubs were up 3-0.

Vicki called my cell phone. "How do you like the game so far?"

"Well, it kinda sucks so far", says I.

Vicki and Dawn were surrounded by Cubs fans. And the place Joel and I finally lit, we were also surrounded by Cubs fans. In case you're wondering, Joel, Dawn, and I are in the Cardinals' camp.

I had also seen several couples walking around before and during the game where one was a Cubs fan and one was a Cardinals fan. One young female Cardinals fan walking with her boyfriend/husband who was a Cubs fan grabbed my arm and said "So it can work, then?"

Hope so. Kevin and Angela were at the first game of the double header. Kevin is a Cubs fan. Angela is a Cardinals fan. She had gotten them tickets to a Cards/Cubs game scheduled for earlier in the season but it was postponed when a Cardinal player died. It was rescheduled for the same day Joel & Dawn & Vicki and I had tickets. Hence the double header. It was a coincidence that we ended up at the stadium on the same day.

Well, in bottom of the fourth inning, the Cardinals scored 4 runs. And they held on to win. The Cubs had won the first game, making 9 in a row the Cardinals lost.

I snapped their 9 game losing streak. My record still stands. No need to thank me. And before you say "hey, you're rubbing it in"... just remember who called whom and when. I was very nice about it :-)

They went right back to it the next day, making it 10 out of 11. Not much hope there for them this year. The Cubs are still in first.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Gettin' My Irish Up

Sat, Sept 2

We went Saturday evening to Olathe, spent the night. Grilled up some beef & peppers we brought. Had a few drinks, watched "300".

When we got to the fest we tipped our figurative hats to Cami who is on the comittee, the art director, and head of the various contests. She was busy. Headed up to the main stage. We watched some Irish Dancing on the big stage, walked the vendor circut, and sat in the shade and watched kids play in the big blow-up obstacle courses and slides.

After a while I heard this great female voice coming from the main stage area, and we went to check it out. It was a group I'd never heard before called Searson. I'd say the oldest was about 50, a man, then a charming redhead (with "the voice" who I'd say was in her early 40's, a captivating fiddler in her early 30's, and the youngest girl was maybe 26. Brothers and sisters, save the drummer. Last name: Searson. Hence the name. They played together like family. Tight as a wet leather knot. They have a new fan. I ordered their live CD.

Then the Saw Doctors, who have a bit of an edgier sound than they did when I found out about them 10 years ago or so, but still quite enjoyable, and finally Gaelic Storm.

It turns out Ellery Kline left because she had a baby and the touring schedule was just too much. So everyone's excused.

I didn't get any pictures of Gaelic Storm (this year) as they were on the Boulevard stage which there isn't a good spot to get pictures from if you're not in the front row, and it was packed.

But here they are last year, with Ellery Klein, my lost love ;-) on fiddle (below).

The Kansas City Irish Fest is a big deal now, and they've done a good job making it very family friendly with lots of good music, places for little kids to play, even diaper changing stations. They dye the water in all the Crown Center fountains green, and the kids play in the only one that isn't ... the water that comes right up out of the bricks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The vacation posts are done

The photo gallery is here.

The YouTube Longs Video is here.

The Trip Home

Saturday, Aug 25

It was all business Saturday morning. It was to be a beautiful day, another great one for anyone who wanted to try Longs, or do anything else in the park for that matter.

But we had to get home.

My least favorite part of the trip is breaking down camp to go home. But we did it in fairly short order, took everything out of the car and re-packed it, checked out of the campground and headed for Estes Park for a quick breakfast and a good cup of coffee for the road.

We found both at Coffee on the Rocks -- a good egg muffin, and sweet muffins to go, with great coffee.

We drove through Lyons and Boulder and sped away on the interstate. I was almost thankful for the haze as I couldn't feel the mountains tugging me through the rear view mirrors like I can when you can see them

We stopped at Limon at a gas station/gift shop where I got a neat, large Kokopeli mug and a Colorado Rockies T-Shirt for me and another Colorado T-Shirt for Vicki.

The trip back to Olathe was pretty uneventful. It's always amazing how much Kansas territory you can see going East.

One thing I found fascinating was the number of people I ran into from Minnesota up there. It seemed like Minnesota and Wisconson were over-represented ;-). Maybe it's the flatness.

My last conversation with Vicki let me know that she wouldn't be home Sunday, so I'd be spending the night in Olathe. If she were home I knew I probably couldn't resist driving the extra 2.5 hours.

I can't complain about anything. The trip was fantastic.

The few things I learned:
  • Add more ibuprofen and an ace bandage to your first aid kit
  • Always bring your monopod
  • Reserve campsites ahead of time on the web
  • Try not to have to change campsites during the stay
  • Granola and protien bars for breakfast. Less preparation and cleanup time means more time enjoying the park.
  • If you even think a piece of valuable gear might slip away, say, into a creek or something to possible ruin -- move it. Secure it. Now.
  • If you think your tent might need seam sealing, do it. Now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Serendipitous Elkortunity

Subtitle: Always Bring Your Monopod!

More Friday, Aug 24

The one thing I'd missed on this trip was a nice Elk photographing opportunity. Mark had a decent opportunity near the campground ranger station the evening I was coming down Longs and was able to get a few nice shots, probably of the same herd we were about to stumble upon. The opportunities I'd had so far were in cloudy, far less than ideal conditions. On my previous two trips to the park, they had been everywhere, especially in the lower valleys. And on my 2005 trip, you could count on herds of them in Moraine Park and Beaver Meadows near sunset... prime photography time.

We had just crossed the Big Thompson River in the very early evening on our way back from Bierdstat Lake on our last day in the park on a glorious afternoon when we spotted a smallish but respectable herd in the lower Moraine Park Valley area. I whipped the car into a small gravel parking area, and we treked down an old road that petered out and disappeared into the meadow where the Elk were.

It doesn't get any better than this.

We gave them a respectful berth and watched for signs that any of them cared that we were there at all. They didn't. The does were grazing and/or lying down chewing cud. There were a couple of young bucks lying down, and a magnificent buck patroling the herd.

He was occasionally thrashing the meadow grass with his horns, tossing it from side to side. He was pretty riled up, but not at us. Still, that aggression could easily be re-focused on us.

I spotted a rock from which to try photographing. The light was beautiful, but relatively low, and I needed to be "up sun" from them. Plus I needed something to help hold my camera still for the long focal lengths I'd be using.

Dang, I wish I had looked harder for the monopod before I left.

But no. Use what you have available. I tried a few tricks my Marine sharp-shooting step-son had taught me about holding a rifle steady for long shots, and also used the rock for several.

I got some decent ones.

The buck was checking out the over-active tails of many does, and it soon became quite apparent what he was so riled up about. They were in season, and he wasn't about to let his opportunity pass. We saw him breed with at least one doe while we were there.

But as the light further waned and I'd gotten all the shots I thought I might get, it was time to pack up and go back for our last night camping.

It's a relatively short trip back to camp from the meadow. Our new campsite was much closer to other campsites than our original. There were kids playing on the rocks by our site, but that's ok. I like seeing kids having a good time out here, and they weren't invasive. They were doing the same thing I did at that age when we camped in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Kind of fun.

While on the Bierdstat hike I realized that I'd never gone back to look for the flask I'd dropped back at the campground. It was one Vicki had gotten for me and it was monogramed. If it had been any other flask, I would have just written it off, but you can't replace a gift... not the "gift" part of it, anyway. It had sentimental value. I tried not to think about it and just hoped it would be there when we got back. I didn't figure it would be.

It wasn't.

I went down to the car to get the food bag, and I noticed a ranger in a golf cart on his radio. It was the same guy who had been a bit rough on Steve our first day there. He drove up to me as I got down to the car.

"Are you in 156?'
"Are your initials ..."
"PGL? You found my flask!"
He had. He'd found it that morning and taken it back and matched the initials with people registered for the surrounding camp sites. I thanked him profusely and mentally took back any negative thoughts I'd had about him before (hey, we all have bad days). I told him it had been a gift from my wife and that I wouldn't have cared about any other flask. The last possible dark spot on our last day had just been removed.

I cooked up the only instant rice/texturized soy protien meal we cooked that week. It was fine. We had three bundles of wood so we could have a white man fire as a sendoff for our last night. Sat and played music around the fire. Roasted a few marshmallows. I took a 30 second time exposure of Longs at Night just because I've never been able to do that with any digital camera I've had up until now. It turned out pretty well.

I had put the regular air matress up when we broke down camp and just used my little Thermarest pad, and actually slept in a sleeping bag tonight instead of using them for blankets on my matress, and took the neck pillow from the car for a pillow.

After a throroughly enjoyable evening talking & playing around the well-fed "white-man" fire* and going over the events of the trip, we finally turned in.

* this is a reference to an observation by certain American Indians that "white man" generally built fires bigger than they needed, making them easy to spot, as well as "wasting" fuel. Well, "waste" can be in the eye of the beholder.

Moving Day & Bierdstat Lake

Friday, Aug 24

Scuddy clouds raked the mountains around Moraine park, including Longs Peak in the distance. If there was any doubt that Tuesday was the right day to make the summit attempt, this morning cinched it. There was snow above 12,000 feet. Not a lot, but the snowline was quite visible. I found out later that at least for the morning the Keyhole route had therefore been "upgraded" to "technical". No way I would have climbed today. The rain had moved in Thursday and I would've been hiking down in the rain if I were lucky enough to make it to the top before it started. And Wednesday had some early clouds and storms rake across the peak. I was glad I did it when I did it.

The last full day in the park is always a bit sad, but a bit exciting. You really want to make the most of it. But we had a problem today. We had to move our tent to 156 by noon. And we had no control over when 156 would be vacated.

Another family was in the same boat and they had to move, too. We took a "tourist moment" picture for them as well as they carried their tent, assembled, from site to site. We didn't have that luxury since we weren't sure when 156 would be breaking down and leaving.

There was a couple from Lathrop, MO where Mark & Cami bought some land about a year or so ago, staying in 157 by the road where we parked. We'd wanted to talk to them more. They seemed like really nice folks and besides they were likely going to be Mark & Cami's neighbors in a few years. We shot the breeze with them and around 9:00am, the people in 156 started breaking down their camp. They were out by 10:30, and we moved ours. At one point my flask dropped out of what I was carrying near the campsite and I made a mental note to go back and retrieve it when I put my load down. We finished moving and talked to the Lathrops for a short bit longer, and headed out to check out of 158 and into 156 and go see what we could see in the afternoon. I was afraid it would cloud up and our shortened day would be a bust.

We told the very nice ranger lady in the camground booth that it was our last day and we wanted a relatively short hike on improved trail (for my knee) and to maybe catch a water fall or a lake or two. She made a note that I had done Longs and said "well people who do Longs generally like to stay away from crowds. Why don't you try Bierdstat Lake?"

So off we headed toward the Bear Lake area. The trailhead would be on the way.

But due to our late start, the parking lots were all full. There were signs to that effect. We'd have to take the Park & Ride shuttle, which I'd never taken before. We parked in the ample parking lot, gathered our stuff, got on a bus and were off in no time to the Bierdstat Lake trailhead.

The trail goes up about 650 vertical feet up the Bierdstat Moraine in just a little over a mile. My knee pretended it was going to bother me, but stopped completely before we were halfway up.

Looking at the trail it looked like it was going to be a woodsy climb with limited, if any, views. But when we broke above the pines into the aspens where there were clearings, the switchbacks offered ample views of the valley where Glacier Creek, Boulder Brook, and Wind River flow. The higher up we got, the better the veiws into Glacier Gorge, of Longs, Chief's Head, Hallett's, Mount Craig, and others.

The top of the moraine put us back into pine forest, and led down to a "trail around the lake". But no lake was visible. We continued to walk around it, occasionally getting out the topo map and matching it up with the GPS to decide where we should cut in to see the lake. We sat on a log while we looked over the map, and had some water. A little way down the trail we came upon a little ... side trail, or water channel? heading off to the right. We didn't know but either way it should should lead us to the lake. It did.

We broke out of the trees in a shady grove near a grassy end of the lake. A gnarled rootwad stood out in the sun -- in bold contrast to the lush green grass around it. A couple of birds started pestering us, and we took some pictures. The lake was pretty, but there wasn't a view beyond the trees rimming the lake.

I couldn't find my GPS. I hoped I hadn't dropped it, but it wasn't anywhere in my pack or on me. It was way too expensive to just give up on, so I backtracked up the trail scouring the ground for signs of it. I got to the main trail around the lake and went back to the last spot I remember using it. I didn't see it. But on my way back I noticed it face down on a log... the one we had sat on while we tried to figure out how best to get from here to the lake. I was just in the beginning mental stages of giving up the search and trying to convince myself not to let it spoil my day. It is grey, and the log was about the same shade. It's a wonder I saw it. Kudos to St. Anthony! (note... this actually happened after the next episode)

Back at the lake, grassy, reedy area extended about 20 or so feet out into the water, and at one point what we imagined a kind of large, serpentine movement moving generally toward us through the grass in the water startled us. Mark beat his hiking pole on the ground, and it moved away, only to start toward us again within about 30 seconds.

Having convinced ourselves somehow that it was a large snake (even though I've never seen a snake above 8,000 feet... not saying there aren't any... but...) I caught a bit of what looked like brown scales. If this were a snake it was a good 2.5" around. It must be big. I was backing up a bit and geting ready to take a picture of this large serpent as it emerged at the water's edge when it suddenly became quite apparent that we were dealing with a zealously friendly duck.

I think people feed the ducks up here. And come to think of it, those other birds were probably used to scavenging from sloppy, or generous, tourists as well.

We had a good laugh at ourselves. Took a few "tourist moment" shots. Ate lunch. And moved on to find the trail. We'd seen people at the other end of the lake and figured that would be nearer where the main trail dumped us to begin with.

We hadn't gone 100 yards before we realized we'd been resting and eating at the wrong end of the lake!

The high peaks to the south and west stood up above the trees when we looked back offering breathaking views against the mostly clear blue sky.

Thankfully, last night's cold front was followed by a stablizing northwesterly flow and high pressure, leaving us with a picture-perfect afternoon for our last day.

Well Mr. Shutterbug here went nuts, trying to figure out the right exposure and the trick to using my graduated neutral density filter to try to get a good exposure of the landscape without washing out the sky and especially the detail in the clouds. I got mixed results. I need to consult with my friend Megan.

But we did need to head back, and so after a few more tourist moment shots (some with cheesy but fun poses), we hiked out. On the way we found where we should've turned off the main loop trail -- there was a large hitching rail that said "no horses beyond this point".

Of course, the hike down offered spectacular views from the opposite direction as the hike up. That's a cool thing about hiking up here (or anywhere for that matter). You think the hike back is going to look the same as the hike in, but that's not true. They look different. You are seeing different stuff behind the same stuff, and that same stuff is being looked at from a 180 degree angle from the direction you saw it before.

So here's a bit of Phil's Hiking Wisdom:

The hike up is not the same as the hike down.

Simple as that.

My knee was doing fine. We had a nice chat with the bus driver on the way back to Park & Ride. I was a bit leery of Park and Ride... but no more. It's a great way to go... especially if you'd like to start at one trailhead in this valley and hike to another. They don't care where they drop you off or pick you up, just so long as you're at a bus stop.

So next time you see the parking lots full, don't fret. Do Park and Ride. Just make sure you have all your stuff before you get on the bus.

Zero Falls

Thursday, Aug 23

I had seen a place over by the End 'O Valley picnic area on my topographical at the beginning of old Fall River Road that looked like it should be a series of waterfalls cascading down a relatively steep portion of Sundance Mountain. The source of the stream seemed to be up on Sundance, the mountain of which we had tagged the summit Wednesday from Trail Ridge Road. We packed the backpacks and took off for there after a light breakfast and the traditional morning coffee from Mark's camp percolator.

On the map it was labeled "Thousand Falls". It sounded promising, and it shouldn't be too hard to find, maybe a few hundred yards at most from the picnic area.

Using the GPS, we wandered up Fall River a little ways. At one point, somehow the battery latch on the bottom of the Pentax had come open and deposited my batteries on the ground without my noticing it. Fortunately, Mark ran across the batteries and they were rescued and placed back in the camera.

We found our way across Fall River (which was only about 10 feet wide here). I think Mark found a small ford and I went across a log.

The other side was pretty much untouched, virgin forest. Probably not quite natural as we have had a tendency to discourage -- even stop -- forest fires in the last century, especially in parks like this. So I imagine the thickness of the undergrowth and preponderance of deadfall was at least somewhat exagerated. Either way it was surprisingly thick and slow going, especially with my knee, which wasn't really appreciating all of the bending it had to do to get over these obstacles.

We were practically in a forested marsh, and according to the GPS if there were falls we should hear them thundering. I thought if we could only find the creek that produced the falls we could follow it to them, but the creek was nowhere to be found.

On the ground, there was evidence of some water flow earlier in the season, but no water. Just very wet ground ... and the GPS said we should be standing right in the middle of the stream. We moved east and west and decided that the GPS was right and the stream was just done running. No more snowmelt.

Mark said we should call it "Zero Falls".

One of the reasons we came out this time of years was for me to have the best crack at a snowless Longs Peak. I guess that would naturally mean a lot of streams would be silent or mere trickles.

We went back to Fall River and sat and soaked our feet in it. It was fairly cold so I stuck my knee in it, which felt good.

We went back to the picnic area and sat and had a little lunch.

After a while I noticed my backside felt a bit wet. When we got up to leave, I realized I'd been sitting on the mouth piece of my hydration pack. What a klutz!

I changed pants.

It was clouding over, so time to look at more close-up intimate settings anyway, like water. We had passed over the Big Thompson River bridge on Bear Road... or the road that goes out to Bear Lake Road, several times. There is an area I'd stopped at last time that runs right under the bridge which is pretty much right at the end of the south lateral moraine of Moraine Park. Here the stream cuts through some impressively sized boulders and cascades around them. (for scale, keep in mind that I am in the picture to the right. I'm wearing a blue shirt. You'll probably have to click on it to find me.) Mark thought it looked neat and I'd promised we'd visit it before the week was out. The week was almost out. Plus I thought it was cool, too, and it'd give me a chance to try out my new neutral density filters Megan had reccomended to me to try to get that "silky" water effect in a stream or waterfall. I welcomed the chance.

Megan is a much better photographer than I'll probably ever be (but that won't stop me from trying to improve and get as close as I can!!), and I'd asked her about how she did that. She said with a digital camera you don't have much of a choice (especially with one whose lowest ISO setting is 200 speed) but to use neutral density filters.

Mark wandered about on the boulders at the edge while I set up my tripod on a car-sized one in the middle of the river. One should never forget the "People Have Died Here" warning sign, but with a little care the risk is smaller than Longs Peak past the keyhole ;-) .... I wasn't overly concerned, though I did take care not to take big leaps onto wet boulders. I stayed on dry ones where stepping from one to another wasn't terribly difficult.

After several over-exposed shots and a few under-exposed ones, I finally found a setting where I could get a proper exposure at half a second, long enough to get the silky effect. Now this isn't the prettiest cascade in the world, but I was just out for practice anyway, and the pictures are neat enough. It really gives you a better idea of the "feel" of the place than a still shot that stops water droplets mid-air (although I will admit it does tone down the general powerful flow of the water a bit. I was happy with the results. I may need a bit darker filter if I want longer exposures.

I could see rain coming down Moraine Park and decided to pack up and head for the car. Mark had wandered downstream under the bridge, exploring. When I got to water's edge, there were several female elk at the edge of the woods, grazing, and a minor elk jam had developed by my car. I took a few shots, but it was cloudy and the focal length was long and hard to hold still enough. They didn't turn out.

One lady was jogging up the trail by the river with her MP3 player in her ears. I wondered how long it would be before she noticed the elk, which were in and around the trail ahead of her. She stopped about 20 yards from them -- mostly because she had come upon those of us shooting photos. She said "boy, I must've really been in 'the zone'. I almost ran in to them." Indeed.

We decided to head into town to see if we could find a wi-fi spot to maybe send some pictures to the ladies and the kids.

We couldn't find a wi-fi spot (there are some, we just weren't successful) and ended up going thruogh a few shops. There was a dress at some Tibetan shop we both thought Cami would love (and look awesome in) but not in her size. We went through a photo gallery/art shop (nice stuff, but neither one of us can afford original art or limited edition prints, really) and some T-Shirt shop. Finally, we ended up at Grubsteak and had a few beers while we downloaded pictures from the cards to the hard drive and got a better look at them, and it started to rain.

I'd called Vicki from the grocery store parking lot the day before to see how Mom's surgery had gone. It had apparently gone well. Her heart was now beating normally, but she was tired and recovering. I got a call from Vicki right there in the restaruant bar, she wanted to know how to get to her email via the web and a couple of other things. The remnants of a tropical storm had worked its way up through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconson, Northern Illinois, and Northern Indiana, and had deluged Fort Wayne (not Columbia, though, and dang it, we needed it!) But it had managed to flood the rain gutter by the windshield of Vicki's Taurus, run down the cabin air filter and leave 2" of water on the passenger front seat floorboard. Lovely. That'll need attention when she gets back.

It was raining here off and on, too.

We went to Bob & Tony's Pizza because it just smelled so good, then headed back to camp. The rain let up a bit, and Rita joined us again for another nice evening by the campfire. This would be our last night in 158. Someone else had it reserved for Friday and we needed to move to 156 (by the bathrooms, blech! Too much light and traffic. ) But we got 158 for 5 nights. We should be happy with that, and happy just to be here. We were.

Thursday night ended up being a fairly stormy night. It probably rained the better part of two hours, with moderate wind. You could hear the gusts coming through the trees down the valley before they hit and started the tents flapping and breathing. I had brought seam sealer for our identical virgin tents, and we had had ample time to apply it through the week. It really only takes about 5 minutes.

But did we?

Uh, no. I was woken up at one point by a drop of water on my cheek. I quickly convinced myself that it was a fluke, and there would be few more if any. Mostly because I was tired and didn't want to do anything about it, not because I really thought that was the case.

Another drop insisted that it was a problem, and after two more I sat up and dug for the seam sealer. I wasn't sure how well it would work on a wet tent, but I decided to try. I took my towel and ran it down the seam above me, then quckly followed it with a swipe of seam sealer. I rubbed it up and down the seam a few times and repeated the process with the other four.

It seemed to do the trick. I hoped Mark wasn't getting too wet. You never know. His might be perfectly fine. And I didn't hear any cursing from his tent.


more Wednesday, Aug 22

We went into Estes Park to get something at the grocery store. Oh yes, that's right, I went to see if I could find a regular knee brace. We went into Walgreens and bought some more local beer and a bottle of ibuprofen. Then back to the campsite where we bought some wood for a campfire, and I think some ice cream cones and ice, and went back for a proper camp.

A woman who had camped in site 154 behind us the night before had moved to 160, just a little to the north. I remembered my solo RMNP trip of 2005, and how after a couple of nights alone I wouldn't have minded (at all!) a little campfire comradorie -- or a reason at all to have a fire and stay up past dark, and I was considering inviting her over when I saw her wandering our way with her own beer. Mark had beaten me to it. Good!

Her name was Rita, and she was an artist participating in a contest in Estes Park that week called "Paint the Parks". (Turns out she has a website with a gallery. I really love her aspens!) A pleasant, down-to-earth, happily independent woman, she was good company. Mark cooked up some of his salami and a spicy dirty rice dish with pepperoini -- which we shared. We talked about everything and nothing at all, my favorite kind of conversation, joking, telling short snippets of life stories, and keeping the fire going -- well into the night.

It had rained a bit off and on that evening, almost threatening to drive us into the tents a couple of times, but it would quickly slack off, and after an hour or so seemed to be gone for good.

I roasted a few marshmallows, which nobody else seemed to be particularly interested in... I do like doing a few any time I'm camping, especially when it's cool, and it had cooled off quite a bit with the rain.

Mark had gotten his mandolin out, and I my backpacker guitar... but we're both relatively shy when it comes to "performing" (that means someone else is listening) and we didn't play much. I think I got through ahem, "singing" Farewell Andromeda and that's about it other than some light background picking. Which is fun, too.

Generally when you stay up late at night talking and especially if any alcohol is involved at all (not a necessary ingredient but certainly a catlyst) Mark's switch will turn "on" and off-the-wall humor ensues. Fortunately, Rita didn't seem too easily frightened and seemed to enjoy the schtick. We all did.

As it got late, we all decided to turn in. Rita had a breakfast and more of the Paint The Parks event to deal with, and of course... we had more RMNP to go play in. It's always best to start early out there in the summertime... or any time, really.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Trail Ridge Road

Wednesday, Aug 22

I had half expected to wake up Wednesday morning with a gigantic, very stiff and very sore -- right knee. But it turns out my suspicions from the day before were correct. It wasn't that kind of injury. I somehow strained that ligament, but as long as I was on the ibuprofen, further activity -- including activity that involved some minor discomfort, wasn't doing any more damage. Still, I should be careful with it.

Now Mark is not a fan of heights, but he did want to come on vacation with me and he knows I am a fan of heights. I'm a tundra junkie. The land above the trees I call God's Country. It seems other-worldly, the views are fantastic, you are where relatively few people ever get to go, and the views are incredible. (Did I mention the views? Somehow I don't think I got that in there enough.) You really (or I do, anyway) feel like you're someplace extra special. Plus, if you subscribe to the Heaven is UP theory -- I suppose it actually would be closer to the creator.

I had spent most of the previous day in God's Country, but that was different. There wasn't much time to dawdle and enjoy it. Yesterday was a rare day in that I had a goal that superceded pure enjoyment. This would not be the case for the rest of the week. At first I thought "let's find another set of lakes", but I know myself. I changed my mind before we got out of the campground. We're going up Trail Ridge while the weather is nice.

As we wound our way up, Mark didn't think switchbacks were as bad as he'd thought before. But from driving with Vicki who suffers from a bit less severe case of the same ailment -- I knew that it was because we were still below the treeline and the trees provide a sense of comfort; a psuedo guard rail.

We pulled up to the first overlook with a restroom (rrrrring! hello? this is your morning coffee calling. yeah, we're all done in here, mmmkay?) There were a couple of vehicles parked paralell in the 90 degree parking places, taking way too many up. But we found a free one. It was some cyclists' accompanying vehicles. A couple of them were sitting on the rock rail overlooking part of Horseshoe park, talking. From the conversation I could tell they knew they were parked wrong. "Other people park that way." In my head I said "that doesn't mean you should."

Took a couple of tourist moment pictures and moved on. The trees got shorter and shorter and more tortured looking, and we were in the tundra. Before long we were at the Forest Canyon overlook.

We knew before we left the plains that there was construction on Trail Ridge Road, and that it was closed from 10pm to 6am daily, with 1 hour delays possible during the day. We shot some more pictures and enjoyed the veiws from the overlook, and we could see the traffic backed up and the road construction from there.

Mark wanted to reach the summit of some decently high mountain, and I had suggested Sundance (~12,200 feet) since it's about a half mile walk to the top from Trail Ridge Road. I could see a trail leading up from the east side, but it was a bit of a hike from here to the trail head and Mark's blisters were still healing and I was taking it easy on my knee today. I knew there was another trailhead at the Rock Cut area by those restrooms.

We waited until traffic started to move, hopped in the car, and got at the end of the line. We were at Rock Cut in no time.

We hiked to the top of the mountain. It was quite a bit different from the last time I'd done this. There was still snow, it was windy, and a storm was blowing in two years ago. Today it was sunny with relatively light wind (for Trail Ridge Road, that is), and more crowded. We took pictures from the top and I tried to figure out if I could see the point in old Fall River Road where I ended my FRR hike two years ago (well, where I turned around, actually). I thought I could pick out the spot. There was a family there with kids about 8-12 years old. The girl was wearing a spaghetti strap top and had very fair skin. They'd hiked up there and were climbing on the rocks. They were taking trip photos of their stuffed animal. And I noticed she was starting to get pink. We mentioned to the mother that there's quite a bit more UV radiation up here. We're almost halfway up in the atmosphere, going by mass (there's that meteorology degree talking again).

Mark had grabbed sunscreen before he left home and thrown it in his back, but later found out it was baby sunscreen. Strong. But it made you smell like... well -- a fresh baby. He offered it to the mother, but the daughter nixed the idea when she found out about the baby smell.

There was another construction backup further down the road, and we used the same strategy. We soaked in the sights until the traffic started to move, and hopped in the car. We wanted to go to the visitor's center and gift shop -- plus Mark had seen the Lava Cliffs from a distance and asked what they were. We were going to drive pretty much right up to them.

Mark was impressed with the cliffs, read the informational sign, and we took pictures of a snowmelt pond at its base with some snow left in it and around it. And on to the gift shop.

There's a nice area in the visitor's center that tells you about the alpine plants and wildlife and why they do what they do and when they do it. I made note of a quote from a book "The Land Above the Trees" that I liked so I could buy it later. (Hey, I said I'm a tundra junkie.)

Oh, the quote was:

"... where the sky is the size of forever and the flowers are the size of a millisecond."
Just in case you haven't yet picked up on how I feel about this land above the trees. ;-)

We took some Brits' photograph and they took ours in front of the gift shop. They were kind of funny. I remember the lady who was voted by the rest to use the camera to take our picture was all "ready.... steady..... wait... did it take the picture?"

I said of course not, you never said "Go!". It's "Ready, Steady, Go!" -- I was teasing of course. She ended up taking two.

We also saw the mother and kids from Sundance Mountain's summit. They were now duely doused in sunscreen. And didn't smell like babies.

Mark bought Cassie & Q some ranger hats and a shot glass for Cami. I got us a gold-plated aspen leaf Christmas ornament, and back at the visitors' center I bought my pewter Longs Peak USGS marker replica, my trophy for reaching the top yesterday.

I thought about heading down to the Colorado Valley where the headwaters of the Colorado River lie and maybe check out the Timber Creek campground for a possible future visit. It's a first come, first serve camp ground. I'd seen pictures... it looks mostly wooded. My attitude is that I can camp in pine trees in Missouri. I'm a fan of the Moraine Park campground and its views. Unfortunately for me, I'm far from being alone on that.

We decided against that and started heading back the way we came, but we quickly ran into an "Elk Jam". And I don't mean when a bunch of people get together with their musical instruments at your local Elks Club. Of course, Elk Jams are common in our national parks, but people should really watch themselves on Trail Ridge Road. There's no shoulder, and they just stop. There were construction vehicles and sections of one-way traffic on the road. About 50 elk dotted the tundra beneath the road. Finally enough people moved that we could get a few hundred yards ahead to the Forest Canyon overlook parking area, where we parked -- and get this -- walked back to the area where the Elk were. See, park in the parking lot (since there's no shoulder) and walk. Then you're not blocking anyone's progress.

I really needed my tripod or monopod for this since I put my teleconverter on my big lens to transform it into a 600mm equivalent. It was getting cloudy, so my options for high shutter speed and low film speed were getting limited. Plus without the sunshine the colors and contrast just weren't that good. But you know, you see that much wildlife and you want to give it a try. Well you do if you're me, anyway.

After the Elk we decided it was time to head back. Mark loves the camping part of camping, and we really hadn't done much of that yet. It'd be nice to sit around a fire, pick a few tunes, cook some meat, roast a few marshmallows, toss back a drink or two, and relax.

We went into Estes Park and picked up a few things at the grocery store (this time I picked up the right bottle and actually got ibuprofen) and headed back to the campsite.