Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Goodbye, and a hike I'd been meaning to do

Wednesday morning rolled around, and it was time for the Groves to pack up and go.  I took the opportunity to organize my own gear so that Thursday morning my teardown could be as quick as possible.   We had some breakfast and they set about tearing down their tent.  I organized mine, and tore the food bin with the melted spot (from the exhaust) apart, throwing the remaining food in my Sam's Club refrigerator bag.  I cut the bin up with my survival knife to fit it in the trash bin, gathered all my other trash, but everything away I wouldn't be using that night or the next morning, and I walked down to the ranger station to see if there was a possibilty of changing sites right away to get away from the foul-mouthed giggly pot smokers. 

It was too early, and I decided then and there that I just wouldn't come back to the campsite until 10:00pm that night and slip my earphones in and I could deal with one more night of them.

While they packed the truck, I re-organized my car.

I had a couple of wooden flutes I'd brought along to give the kids to remember the trip by.  I gave them to them and we had our goodbye hugs and they were off before I knew it.
It was a nice day, so I decided to head for Chasm Lake.

It was supposedly only a 4.5 mile hike one way, and I didn't have time to see it when I climbed Longs in '07.   You get a full view of the Diamond Face, the lake .... sounded like a cool thing to see.

I got my water and food together, went in to town for more block ice, called Vicki to let her know where I'd be, and headed down CO 7 toward the Longs Peak Trailhead.

It was more crowded at 10:00 in the morning than it was at 2:30 am a few years ago.  Anyone who was serious about climbing Longs that day had gotten there long before I did today.  But I was headed only about halfway up.  So I had to park about 1/4 mile down the road from the parking lot and hike up the road to the lot and to the trailhead.

I ran into a couple from Insbrook, Austria at the trailhead. They were going to Chasm Lake as well.  I told them they'd probably beat me there, but perhaps I'd see them there.   I strapped my daypack on and started up the trail.

I had forgotten how relentless the Longs Peak trail is -- almost from the very beginning.  To get to the top you gain 5,000 feet in about 8 miles.   And a bit over half of that is on the way up to the split in the trail at Mt. Lady Washington where you go left to Chasm Lake or right around that mountain to the boulder field.

The lake itself is just under 12,000 feet, but you get up to about 12,000 feet before heading down a long, shallow trail toward it and then scrambling over another 150, 200 feet over a lip of rock at the end.

As with the last time I climbed, people were passing me right and left.  Ok, mostly left ;-)  But I knew this time about how far it was before you broke the tree line, and I pushed myself harder than last time.  I thought to myself that it was a good thing I did this in the dark before, because if I'd seen the relentless slope of the trail through the woods I might have been more discouraged.

Nah, it wouldn't have stopped me on that day.

A ranger lady was coming down the trail on my way up.  I gave her the "head bob" and waved and went by without a word.  Talked to a few people who had peaked and were on their way down, and a few people who didn't.  One guy told me he got to the homestretch and said "no way".  I told him I understood ... when I was there I looked up it -- but I was prepared for the psychological shock by reading stories of other people who had climbed it.   I told him it's not as bad as it looks, but it is pretty daunting.  It helped me to know that 1) thousands of people have done it, and 2) I could see people ahead of me, doing it when I was there.  He also said it was pretty windy.

It was a bit windy.  But I wouldn't be anywhere that dangerous today.

I began to break the tree line after a couple of hours of hiking, which of course reminded me of why I was doing this in the first place.   Forest is pretty, but I love the high country above the tree line and that's what I was after today.   The tall trees couldn't disappear soon enough.   I wandered the switchbacks through the tundra meadow, having breif conversations with people as I made my way and took as few rest breaks as I could, opting for hiking v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y for a few minutes rather than stopping when I got tired.  One foot in front of the other, as the song goes.

The fork in the trail seemed to get farther and farther away as I hiked, as more ground revealed itself between me and it.   Besides, I thought the lake would be just over the ridge and down a hundred feet or so.

I finally topped the ridge right near the fork in the trail, and talked to a fellow there who just loved Chasm Lake.  He was waiting on the rest of his party.   Since it was mostly a welcome downhill from there, I didn't linger long and pushed on.   He passed me again with a part of his party a little later.

The valley on that side of the ridge was lush, green, and beautiful with a mountain stream running through it.  Near the head of the valley up by the "lip" where the lake was (still not visible) there were two beautiful waterfalls.  It was something out of a fantasy novel, really.  I of course took some pictures as I went along.

I had brought the Pentax because I knew I'd want it when I reached Chasm Lake and perhaps a few places before.  I had all my camera gear in my fanny pack, which I caribinered to my frameless daypack.

This was not the best idea for comfort.   It was too much weight for the daypack, and the waist belt wasn't taking the brunt of the extra weight -- my shoulders were.  And they were sore.  It was making the hike unpleasant.  But I tried to ignore it and continued on.   I started designing a frame for the pack to mitigate this problem in the future -- in my head as I went along.

I ran across a big patch of Columbine near .... Columbine Falls ... and took a shot of those.  I caught up with the guy who loved this hike so.  A bunch of his party was still more than half a mile up the trail and not budging.  He really wanted them to come down to see this place, which he believed was the prettiest place in the park.  It was difficult to argue with the man.  He just might be right.  But he said his younger son was worried about catching a plane that afternoon.  Poor planning on his part did not constitute an emergency on this man's part, he said.  He pointed to the rock wall (not really a wall) I'd have to scramble over to get to the lake.  I splashed on on the trail that crossed the shallow stream, and right over the head of the second waterfall, and had spectacular views of the valley.   But before I knew it I was at the Big Lip.

A group of about a dozen tweens with some adults were coming down from the lake.  Apparently they had swum in its icy waters, too (I'm sure MUCH colder than the Big Thompson down in Moraine Park.)  Another man was hiking down with a baby in a baby backpack with a sunshade on top.  That's love, man. 

My camera suddenly didn't feel so bad.
On top of that I ran into the couple from Insbrook coming back down.  They recognized me.  And after a few minutes I topped the lip and was looking at the Diamond Face and Chasm Lake.   There were maybe 6 or 8 other people there.  A few of them had come down from Longs via the Loft Route.  Others were just sitting on the rocks enjoying the view.

There was a lady there, maybe late 50's in a yellow top and black biking shorts who said this would be her last trip here.  She loved this spot and had always wanted to come back, but it had been over 20 years and this hike was a bit tough for her.  She lives in Nederland ... one of those cool mountain towns I'd love to live in.  She'd moved there in her early 20's from Florida.   She wanted her picture taken there, which I took for her, and she took a couple of me with my camera, and we said our farewells.   I hung out and ate the food I'd promised myself.  It was about 2:30 pm.  It had taken every bit of 4 hours to get here.

Like the man in the valley had said, Chasm Lake was a bit of a letdown, scenery wise after the beauty of that valley, but this was the destination and it had a stark beauty all its own.  Besides, you got to inspect the Diamond Face pretty well sitting there on the big boulders this side of the lake.   There was a patch of ice or two left over from winter in the shade on the rocks, but it was mainly rock.

After a couple of self portraits and a look at the sky ... which was beginning to show signs of orthographic storm building, I headed out, over the lip, across the stream, and back toward the fork in the trail on the ridge.

Of course a long shallow slope down on the way in becomes a long shallow slope up on the way out, but it wasn't bad, and it's literally all downhill from the fork.

I passed several people, including the lady I'd met at the lake.   We kept leap-frogging each other, hiking together for a while, then I'd move on, and she'd catch up later.  I ran into an older gentleman that I spent a lot of time talking to on the way down.   I stopped to rest on a boulder in a stream by a bridge just below the tree line.  The lady caught up with me.  I continued and caught up with the older gentleman.   At some point she passed us, and we caught up to her with another guy who looked a bit worse for wear, and she was asking if anybody had any water to spare.  I had like 4 ounces left in my hydration bladder.  I told him if we could get to a stream I could filter him all the water he needed, but another European couple (German or Austrian or Swiss ... that area) had an extra bottle they handed him.

I ran into a very worried lady toward the end of the trail asking if I'd seen a wheezing woman in a yellow top and black shorts.  I said yes, I'd seen her, but she wasn't wheezing and that she was fine and probably less than 10 minutes behind me.   It was more like 4.  The lady was relieved to see her.

Got back to the trailhead, signed out, found my car, and headed in to Estes Park.

I decided I needed a shower, and went to Dad's Laundry and Showers.   Then I decided I needed clean socks, so I did some laundry as well.  Called Vicki while I did laundry.  Went into Estes Park.  Had an Elk Burger at Grubsteak at my "old" table (a table for two in the window that they lead lone vacationers like me to).   And as it got dark I headed back to camp.

I got there, and the wind was kicking up.  I noticed some of the extra tiedowns I'd added to the criss-crossing tent poles had pulled out, and as I got into the tent I realized something wasn't right.  And rain started to fall.

Rain?  I dont' remember rain in the forecast.  Not for the evening anyway!    But the sides of my tent were bulging inward much more than they should've been.   I figured out why.  One of the corner stakes had been pulled out (probably by wind) as well.   I set about re-securing the corners and my extra tent-pole stays as the wind really started whipping and the rain started to get serious just as I finished and I slipped into the tent, undressed, popped my headphones on, and watched the tent flap in the wind but hold steady for a few minutes, and passed out cold.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Swimmin' Hole, a Near Tragedy, and Foul Mouthed Neighbors

It was about 4:00 in the afternoon by this time, and I knew we didn't have a whole long time before sunset and a cool down.  It was around 80 degrees in the valley, as opposed to the 55 degrees in the mid-day heat up on the mountain.

Mark and the kids got right in the cold water the moment we reached the spot Cassie had in mind.  I had put on my quick dry shorts and a quick dry shirt thinking I might want to jump in myself.  And it wasn't more than a few minutes before I started in. 

I threw my shirt on the ground, and so as not to lose my wedding ring in the cold water, tossed it on my shirt.  Got up past my knees and did the only sensible thing ... made a shallow dive from there to get the shock of the cold water over with.   A few more dives and swishing around and I was done.  I got back out and put my shirt back on and plinked on the guitar while Mark and the kids swam, and occasionally took pictures of them.  Mark got out and took a few shots of me playing the backpacker.  Then we all went back in for another dip.

As we were getting ready to leave and I put my watch back on, I noticed I was missing something.  

My ring.

I couldn't remember putting it back on after getting out the first time.  But I put my shirt back on.  Which means I had forgotten my ring was there and it got tossed aside into the grass, OR I HAD put it back on and lost it in the cold water (your fingers shrink in cold water!  I've lost one that way before at Jacks Fork!). 

For evidence of what probably happened, I went back to the camera at the pictures Mark took of me playing the guitar to see if I had the ring on then.

I didn't.

That meant it was likely in the grass.

I was about ready to give up on it, but Mark and the kids were looking diligently and Mark wasn't giving up.  I was trying to be cavalier about it so as not to put a damper on everyone else's vaction, but inside I was a little panicked and seriously bummed .  Just as I thought all was lost I felt something under the ball of my right foot.  Underneath it, pressed into the mud, was my ring.


Mark thought we should all go into town and celebrate with a dinner, but by the time we got back to the campsite we were both in a more frugal mood and dug into the food-a-plenty we had brought with us ... opting for a trip into town for ice cream afterward.  Mark's treat (thanks, Mark!).  It was very good ice cream.  We also stopped at a kind of cool, kookie Nepali-Paki-Indian store where Mark picked up a cool dress for Cami, and I called Vicki from the balcony of the store.

Then it was back to camp and for a run-in with our new neighbors -- a group of late teen-ish underwear showin', skinny jean wearin', "pants on the ground", foul-mouthed, giggly a**ed, pot smokin' emo-ish ... boys ... who were annoying to say the least. On the other side, Mark said we had people who stayed up late into the night talking about dog breeding.

Thankfully, my "sleep music" on my MP3 player drowns just about everything out. Unfortunately, that also means no sounds of wind in the trees and splashing mountain streams. But no snoring or giggly, inconsiderate pot smoking teenagers, either. Seriously, next time, kids -- go smoke in some National Forest campsite in a remote site where you won't bother people - especially people with kids.

Next time, reservations at Moraine Park. And a walk-in.

This was the Groves' las night in the park.  They would pack and leave in the morning.  Wow.  That went quick.

To the High Country!

Tuesday dawned with bright sunshine and a little kickup in the wind, but not too bad.  My little gasoline/kerosene stove made coffee for us again, thanks to Mark's coffee supply and efforts.  Apparently it burns more gas than a lantern, though.  I didn't bring extra fuel, but since the lantern wasn't ever used on this trip, I raided its tank for more.

Perfect day to hit the high country.  Mostly clear to puffy-white-cloud partly cloudy skies.  The views should be spectacular.  And that was the plan.  

After breakfast and cleanup, we stopped once again at the trash facilities and filled our hydration bladders, and piled back into the car and headed for Trail Ridge Road -- IMHO one of the Park's greatest human-enhancements to the park.  Not that the road doesn't mar the view, but the road allows so many who can't or won't climb to the heights necessary to see the part of the world I call "God's Country" -- the land above the tree line - to go there and see it anyway.

Since we'd gotten there we'd promised the kids the top of a mountain, because we knew that Sundance is a mere 1/4 mile hike from the Rock Cut parking lot on Trail Ridge.  It would be doable.  Barring that, there is a 12,005 foot unnamed peak with a similarly short (but much steeper) trail to the top right next to the Trail Ridge Road's Alpine Visitor's Center & and the Trail Ridge Road Store and Cafe.

A man told me he'd been over the road in the spring and the Alpine Visitor's Center. was completely covered in snow and that he in fact had walked on the snow over the top of it.  It's not a tiny structure, either -- One of the rangers at the store was telling a tourist that the top of the two storey window facing the valley (away from the parking lot) was visible in early June, and the whole thing wasn't clear until mid to late July.  We were there in early to mid August, and there was little snow to be seen anywhere. 

The few weeks of summer, unfortunately, is the only time they really have to work on the road, so they try to avoid it as much as possible during the peak of the season ... but the whole summer is pretty busy, and they were working on it while we were there, re-paving road surface and parking lots.  They had it down to one lane and let traffic flow each way in 15 minute shifts.  One of the parking lots they were resurfacing was the Rock Cut parking lot with the trail to the top of Sundance, so we scooted by it and went to the Alpine Visitor's Center.

When we arrived, the trail to the top of the unnamed peak was closed for maintenance.  We went in, and I bought a replacement USGS Long's Peak Marker replica pin ... I lost mine ... to pin on my hat.  Also got a nice water-proof & tear-resistant topo map of the park.  Next door at the store, I looked for some jewelry for Vicki ... ended up getting her a silver aspen leaf (she already has gold ones) with a bit of abalone??? (everyone knows mountains and abalone go together like ... ) ... well it's pretty anyway.  I also got an RMNP coffee cup for myself and an RMNP keychain bottle opener.   I think the kids enjoyed the view and the shopping.  Between the two buildings there's an overlook and we could see a small herd of elk in the distance with binoculars.  You can also see Sundance Mountain from there, and the lush green valley that Old Fall River Road comes up.

A ranger told us that there should be 4 or 5 parking spaces at Rock Cut, so on our way back we found one and swooped into it and commenced the short hike up the tundra trail to the top of Sundance Mountain.  This part of the mountain has some odd rock formations on the top of it where harder rock capped more limestoney rock and there are pillars of limestone underneath little caps of harder stone. 

Cassy found a small cave-let in one and Mark and Cassie and Q sat and ate lunch in it.  We spent a decent amount of time watching the kids climbing around and playing with the walkie-talkies, soaking in the beautiful view, blue skies, puffy white clouds, and peaks and ranges rippling over each other to the horizon in all directions.

Eventually we walked back down to the car and hopped in, timing it just perfectly to be let through by the traffic lady.  I asked what the kids wanted to do on the way down, and Cassie immediately piped up that she wanted to get completely wet in the Big Thompson River.  She'd been obsessed with this since she got to wade in it on Sunday and saw the other kids swimming in it.

Nathanial said he wanted to climb another mountain.  Since the question was "what do you want to do on the way down?" and not "when we get down" ... we stopped and climbed a ridge near where the road finally makes a dip below the trees down into Horseshoe Park.  Cassie was really in no mood for more hiking and sat down on a rock and contented herself looking at the flowers and tundra plants.  I climbed to the top of the ridge where Mark and Nathanial spotted a patch of snow.  Both kids had wanted to see snow, and Mark and Nathanial headed off toward it.

It was a lot farther than it looked, maybe almost a half mile away.  But they made it and played in it a little while.  Meanwhile 3 ladies came to the top of the ridge and were taking pictures of each other.  I offered to take one of all of them, and they happily took me up on it.  Seems they were three friends who don't see each other often, and each wanted a copy for their respective refrigerators.

After Mark & Q got back, we went back to the car and decended off the mountain, down to the parks below and back to the campsite.  There we changed quickly into swimming clothes.  I grabbed my backpacker guitar and a stool and we headed for Moraine Park and the Big Thompson.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Alberta Falls & Mills Lake, Plus Elk

Monday morning came early, as it usually does when you're camping.  Our neighbors this morning appeared to be a pair of grandparents and a couple of grandsons. Nice enough people. We still weren't sure whether we'd do Trail Ridge Road and hit a mountaintop or two, or go to the Bear Lake area.

The weather decided for us.  The clouds had the high mountains socked in, and it was raining up there ... pretty much anywhere we wanted to go.  Back in '05, when I was there by myself I asked a park ranger what a good rainy day activity would be.  She said "Waterfalls".

Cassie had seen a postcard of Alberta Falls and said she'd like to see it.

Done.  Decided.  After breakfast, it was off to Bear Lake.

If you don't get to the Bear Lake Parking Lot by 9:00am during tourist season, you probably won't be parking there.  You'll probably have to go back and do "Park and Ride".  We were pushing that time, but the rain was keeping the hikers down.

It wasn't exactly raining in our campsite, but along the high mountains from Longs to Hallett and on northward there were some persistent dark clouds that were obviously precipitating in the high country.  We packed our ponchos, got our backpacks full of granola and trail mix and water and protein bars and jerky and apples .... hey, gotta be prepared for a 5 mile round trip hike!  

Alberta falls is only about a mile from Bear Lake.  We actually didn't even stop at Bear Lake ... figured we'd do it on the way back.  It's right at the trailhead.  This time I knew that the first encounter with the river wasn't the falls itself, though if you didn't know you could mistake it for your destination.  It looks "fall-ey" enough.  

We stopped and oohed and ahhed and took some photos.  And then Mark asked the kids if they'd like to travel on to Mills Lake, another mile and a half.   Cassie wasn't feeling well and said she was done with hiking.  But the majority won, and off we hiked through the woods.

Literally, at first.  It turns out that the trail brushes the falls on kind of a switchback, so if you climbed up to the top of the falls, you aren't really on the trail anymore.  You're maybe 50 yards down a forest slope from it.   But the GPS told the story, and we went and found it and hiked on.

There is some very pretty hiking in here.  You cross the stream several times, and there is some relatively dense forest all around.  It was a wetter summer than the past two times we'd been there, and mushrooms were everywhere.  These big ones that grow around pines that I believe are edible (but don't take my word for it!) and lots of pretty red ones with white spots and several other kinds pushing up out of the forest floor.

Mills lake is only about 500 or 600 feet above the trailhead, but you drop at least 200 feet on the trail before you start going up.  So for kids who aren't used to mountain hiking and they're on their second day above 1,000 feet back in Kansas City, it's not the proverbial walk in the park.  (Well, I guess technically it is.)  But we were in no real hurry.

I'm sure by the time we actually got to the lake, they no longer believed that we were "almost there".  But when we got there, of course, you get an impressive view of Glacier Gorge and a nice lake with large granite slabs sticking out into it to sit on, and, say ... have lunch.  Always a hit with kids :-)  

The gorge itself is impessive with giant granite walls ground down by, as the name suggests, glacier activity.  You can see The Trough and the top of Longs Peak if you know where to look, and the Indian Head at the end of the canyon.  We hung out for a little over an hour before heading back. After lunch both kids were in much better spirits.  By the time we left, a thick cloudy, foggy bank poured over the far lip of Glacier Gorge, hiding the ridges.  The return hike was steadily downhill until about the last 3/4 mile.   I called Vicki from a spot I'd called her from back in '05 that I still had marked on my GPS where we got a couple of T-Mobile bars and said hello and updated her on our trip and what we were doing.  I think the GPS actually had the round trip at a little over 6 miles, including our meanders.  But by the end of the hike both were tired and I think Q's blood sugar was getting low.   They were both "done".We drove down to the camp and took hour long naps.  The campground was completely dry.

We fired up some dinner, and about the time we were cleaning up, the lady half of the C loop campground hosts came by and said "have you ever seen a herd of Elk?  There are like 50 of them down in Moraine Park."  Well Mark and I certainly had, but the kids hadn't.  Mark and the kids were at the service sink by the bathrooms washing dishes.  I went and got them.  Mark took over the dishwashing to get it done as quickly as possible, and we piled in the car down to Moraine Park.  They were still there, and docile.  You could get up pretty close and personal without agitating them.  It was pretty cool.   The lighting wasn't great for photos unless you went up the valley and came back like Mark and I did a few years ago, but we contented ourselves to trying a few shots from the down-sun side and monitoring the kids.  They really enjoyed the encounter.

Back to the site for a fire, s'mores, a Mark Ghost Story, couple beers.  Cassie went to bed early, but Mark, Nathanial, and I stayed up and watched the stars come out.  I pointed out the arc of the planets.  We found the Big Dipper and a few other constellations.  Nathanial spotted a couple of man-made sattelites.  And finally, the Milky Way popped out when it got dark enough.

And we turned in for the night.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Rocky Mountain National Park

Previous years in RMNP, I've lucked out without reservations and been able to stay in Moraine Park, which I think is the cream of the crop as far as campgrounds go in the park.  But we were staying at a very popular time, where we had to stay in a first-come first-serve campground.   The lady I had talked to a couple of weeks before said that Sunday morning is an excellent time to get a campsite there if you arrive relatively early, and since we'd slept in Estes Park and had a quick continental breakfast, that was not a problem.

We got to the park, paid our fees, and drove directly to the campground.   What we didn't know is that you have to sit and wait within earshot of the ranger booth.   She said it could be noon. 

Mark sent the kids off to the edge of the forest to tinker and play while we waited.  The plan had been to put our names in and head off to the Lawn Lake Alluvial Fan or head up to Bear Lake, but that was out of the question.

The campground looks like a moonscape with most of the trees cut down due to the pine beetle infestation.  Where the trees were still up generally the campsites were closed.  But the veiw of Hallett and its surrounding peaks was spectacular if you could tune out the surrounding campground, which the human brain is surprisingly adept at doing. 

We expected a couple of hours.   It was more like 25 minutes.   Site 66 came open, and we sputtered off the whole 1/8 of a mile from where we were parked.   Well, after we found the kids.

Apparently they took "edge of the woods" as a mere guideline and had wandered farther back and played with some downed trees and such, but somehow Mark got them back.  

At the campsite, we set about setting up our respective tents and bedding, putting the food in the bear box and the beer in the truck.   That's right. "The beer.... is in ... the truck".   The phrase KC renfest folks utter to get out of character at the end of the day.

We had everything set up by around 11:30 am.   Ate lunch.  I popped my hat on and switched to Full Mountain Mode™.  And headed off to the Lawn Lake Alluvial Fan. Tragic as the event that created it was, it is a great place to take kids (supervised) to play.  Hell, it's a great place for adults, too. It was a beautiful day for it.

Mark and I stuck our feet in the cold water and whipped out the cameras while the kids climbed over rocks, navigated their way across Roaring River, sat on rocks in the middle of the river (as did we) and climbed the rocks along the edge of the waterfall.  The place was full of people.  A lot of parents with kids.  A little boy about a year and a half or so was busily transfering rocks from one pool of rocks to another.   
We stayed there a couple of hours and then headed down to Moraine Park and the meadow through which the Big Thompson River flows.  The kids waded in.  Mark and I played with our cameras.  I got my 500mm mirror lens out and played with it ... the first time I've had a real chance to.  It's difficult to focus.  Cassie found a spot in the middle of the "river" near a small island and was digging a big hole in the sandy, silty mud.   A group of kids were swimming and floating in the pretty darned cold water (though Mark & I have bathed in colder!)

Cassie was jealous of the swimmers, but we didn't have towels or clothes we didnt' care about.  So after a couple more hours of frolic we headed back toward the campground, stopping at the Moraine Park museum where I knew I could get some chapstick and maybe a souviner or two.   Cassie bought some postcards ... one of Alberta Falls, and asked if we'd be going there.  I said sure, we could.  It's only about a mile from the Bear Lake trailhead.

Then we went back to the campsite where Mark had brats in mind for dinner.     Got ice and wood at the head of the campground.   Mark and the kids cut up various foods for dinner. We started a fire, cooked food, ate, had a beer or two.   Mark played his guitar for a bit and I eventually hauled mine out, but I was feeling too shy in the open campground to sing and besides... I was frankly too short of breath for any breath control.

Our neighbors seemed to be a family with two little boys. They were whiney (don't think at least one of them got enough attention from Dad, so he whined for what he could get) ...  but they got quiet after dark.

It got dark.  We cooked s'mores around the campfire.  Talked, and turned in around 9:30 or so, not really knowing what the plan was for tomorrow.   We knew we wanted to do Bear Lake and Alberta Falls, maybe.  And we'd promised the kids the top of a mountain on the trip.   The weather would decide for us.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Off to Colorado

Starting in Kansas definitely cuts a couple of hours off of MY trip, but heading to RMNP adds at least an hour to, say, Idaho Springs -- where I've started my vacations out there 3 times so far, at least.   We stayed in communication via walkie talkie, and were easily able to coordinate stopping for gas and bathroom breaks.   Cassie and I listened to some Beatles (she's into the Beatles right now) and some Paul McCartney (she's learning to play Bass and is a Paul fan).  Then we listened to some audio book she brought along and she fell asleep most of the way through western Kansas.

However, we did see an interesting sight.... there are literally hundreds of large power-generating windmills in Kansas right now, no doubt a part of T Boone Pickens' project.  It's impressive and I'm all for it, but really ... people don't realize how many windmills it takes to generate the same power as a coal or nuclear plant.  Still, it is an impressive sight.  Hay fields and pastures with windmills.  Neat.

We stopped at the Colby, KS vistitor center for a lunch of PBJ, chips, apples, and summer sausage -- where a nice older man filled us in on some Kansas history, and why I-70 went in where it went in.

My car turned over 100,000 miles just inside of Colorado.  We stopped at Limon for gas.  A man warned us that there was a sports game letting out in Denver and that we might want to avoid 70 through Denver.   We started down the route he suggested, but my senses, Mark's senses, and the GPS just didn't agree so we got back on 70 and found another alternate route nearer to Denver.  It wasn't a bad route to RMNP, really, if you want to avoid Denver.

Co 79 North to Co 52 West to US 85 North to Co 66 to US 36 and into Estes Park.  And to the Columbine Inn.

As we drove into the mountains, the kids were back and forth on the walkie talkies with "Oh, it's so beautiful!" and "I wanna be on top of that rock!"   They loved the sights, the smells, the feel of the air.  As we climbed US 36 into the mountains there was rain off and on.  And never having driven IN to RMNP from that direction, I didn't realize that Estes Park is not even as far into the Rockies as Idaho Springs is.  Maybe 20 miles?  But the mountains that surround it are a lot bigger and prettier.

The Columbine Inn is one of those old motels like you see along old US highways before the day of the Interstate.  Most of them are run down.  This one was well maintained.  The rooms were small, but well kept up.  The twin and double-beds had been replaced with queen beds, making the rooms even smaller ... but as a place to crash with a continental breakfast and a quiet but friendly enough older man running the place (and old 1960's EZ Listening muzak playing in the lobby) ... it was really quite quaint and it fit the bill.  ( I guess they have at least a few larger suites as well according to their website).   We enjoyed our stay.

When I looked in the food bin on the trailer hitch rack, I noticed the bottom had melted in one corner from the heat of the exhaust.  More on that later.

We headed downtown to Bob & Tony's Pizza for some ... well, pizza -- but Mark wanted to introduce the kids to another novelty, and he ordered some ... ahem, "fritters" .... on the side.  Unfortunately, they were a bit overdone this time, but the kids did try the Rocky Mountain Oysters -- and were duly disgusted when they found out what they actually were.  Mark and I finished them, because we have more, well ... you know ... ;-)

Back at the Columbine, the kids slept on the floor, Nathanial between the two beds and Cassie at the foot of mine.  We got up and showered, not knowing when our next chance would be, went and had our continental breakfast, and headed for the park to find a capmsite.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Off to Colorado Kansas City

So earlier this year Mark decided to take the kids to Colorado to Rocky Mountain National Park.  They'd never seen mountains.  Not in person anyway.   I hadn't been to the Rockies since the last time Mark & I went in 2007, and it was looking increasingly like Vicki's schedule wasn't going to allow a trip with her, so I asked Mark if he minded if I tagged along.

We were going to go in July, but unforseen circumstances put it off until early August.  But Vicki had already planned a trip to Fort Wayne to start packing Mother up for the move the week we were originally going... and she had appointments she couldn't change.  So we spent that week apart, and the August Colorado trip rolled in not too long after that.

I'd decided after a few trips out there that in general, the less cooking, the better.  You have to keep food smells out of your campsite, which means being very careful not to store food outside your car or bear boxes, and to leave dirty dishes in your campsite, and not to wash dishes in your camp site.  It's not so much the cooking, but the cleaning up afterward that introduces logistics that just take up too much time.  Time for going and seeing awesome places and things.

I loaded up on granola bars, protein bars, almonds, M&M's, apples, bread, peanut butter, crackers, beef jerky, and a big can of powdered Gatorade.  I also brought a pound of Colby cheese and a pound of summer sausage.

And a case of beer.  Well, two half-cases.  A twelver of of Busch (hey, head for the mountains, man!) and one of O'Fallon's Wheach -- which is flippin' awesome.  Ok, so there was a handle of bourbon in the trunk as well.  Just in case :-)

I packed my big guitar and the backpacker, the bin of general camping equipment.  Back Pack.  All of my camera equipment (except I forgot my tripod AND my monopod!!!! Doh!!!)  and a bag of electronic gear.  Netbook.  Battery chargers, walkie talkie and chargers.  Extra batteries.  Cables, cords and the like.  Pipes and tobacco.  A few cigars.   The little Ford Escort was pretty full.

On my way out of town, I was thinking one of the kids would probably ride with me, or they would take turns.  So.... I dropped by Wally World and picked up a trailer-hitch rack so I could carry some stuff on it.

I cruised to KC with my new cruise control and newly fixed AC, crankin' the tunes for a ways, listening to Federalist Papers for a while, too.  Got to the Groves where Mark and I put the rack together and mounted it to my trailer hitch.   We crashed early for a 4:00am wakeup time.   Got up.  Grabbed coffee.  Loaded some of the stuff inside my car on the rack.  Cassie called "shotgun".  And off we went, communicating via walkie talkie.  Handy, those.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Above the Tree Line

Heading out to the Rockies this Saturday with my best bud and my two godchildren.  Been meaning to write a song about my favorite place in the world.  Above the Tree Line in the mountains.  One just sort of fell out of my brain onto the guitar over the weekend.  Thinkin' about maybe doing some filming for a video of it while we're there.  This is a kind of a first draft of the song.

Above the Tree Line
- Phil Leith (c) Walking Bird Music - July 30 2010

Above the tree line
You can see forever
It's where I wanna be

Kind of skyline
No steel, wires or concrete
No clatter of the city

Clears my mind
With a sense of wonder
And wild majesty

In the sky
Here in God's country
My favorite place to be

Peace I find
On the alpine tundra
In the rugged rocky mountains

Above the tree line
Ancient and timeless
It's a priviledge just to be here

Above the tree line
For this brief moment
But its mine for eternity