Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 5--Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

K and I got an earlier start this morning because we were going further afield. I had my coffee and we got ready to head out. We decided that we would have lunch on the way. The first stop was at a camera store in Golden to see if they had a lens cap for my camera--mine got misplaced somewhere in my apartment. They didn't have one but I did enjoy seeing K's eye glass over in desire for all the cool gadgets on display. She restrained herself and we continued on our way. I spotted a cafe in a strip mall a few miles further. We had already committed ourselves when I spotted the medical marijuana clinic next door. Hmmm...I might not be so good, with many customers having the munchies you probably didn't have to rely on quality to build your rep. The breakfast burritos were OK--the green chili was very tasty--but I chose veggies for mine. On the list of choices was potatoes, I didn't choose them but later found that all the breakfast burritos have potatoes. Don't have it as a choice then!!! Oh, well, I can't say that it wasn't good, but I doubt that if I lived nearby I would return again. K agreed with me.

Our next stop was Estes Park. We pulled up to the scenic stop and I spotted this blue flash. I got all obessive about getting a photo of this blue bird. I thought it was pretty cool. It seems that it was actually a Stellar's Jay. I spent about 10 minutes getting this photo because everytime I would locate the dang thing with my zoom he would flit away to the next spot. Grrr!!!

K shot quite a few photos of the chipmunks. I took a few as well, here is a pretty decent on of the little guys. K's photos were a lot better, she has much more patience than I have and better equipment. I think I have a pretty good eye but with photogprahy you really need to get beyond just snapping. The best photos come from taking the time to set up and analyze the scene.

Nearby there was a sign that said do not feed the animals but the old couple next to us had come prepared with a bag of nuts. Back in the car, K and I discussed how we wanted to point out to them that they should feed the animals but clearly the damage had already been done to these animals, we both felt to inhibited to chastise our elders and it probably wouldn't do any good anyhow. The next car probably came prepared with goodies as well. It seems that most people or at least enough to cause damage don't think much beyond what entertains them.
Once through Este's Park, we used my National Park Pass to get into the park. Wow, immediately, I realized it was beautiful. We started to climb elevation, for the most part I wasn't overly panicked. We turned in a got a few photos. Here is a great photo of the valley below.

And I spotted K doing her thing. I really like this photo because it makes me feel that I have a true photo of her in her element.

We hung around for a bit longer. K got some good photos of a bird in a tree. We also chatted with a guy that had a pretty powerful lens on his camera and he and K discussed shots, big animals etc. In the mean time I was able to get this photo of what I think is a Clark's Nutcracker. He stayed for quite a while letting us take his portrait.

Back in the car and on up stopping at pull-outs along the way finding the temps and the the weather changable at each turn. Here we stopped an enjoyed the glacial lakes below. We kept spotting yet another lake. I don't think either of us were successful in getting all the lakes in one photo, he is one of my attempts.

And I loved being high enough to view the winding river below. It looked like a mythical snake winding its way through an enchanted valley.

On up and I got a bit itchy to get out of the car and have the cool air carress me. Especially after days of hiking in hot arid Utah. We stopped and I explored a little. I went out to an outcropping and walked around it. Here we were in the tundra so I stayed on the trail to protect the fragile ecological system. I was fascitnated by the colors and the height. Breathtaking and not because the air was thin.

Still we continued to climb, the next stop was my first view of an actual glacier. To think that this water in this place in this form has been right here well before English immigrants even thought of constructing a country to call their own. There are no words to express exactly how awed I was by this.

We had reached the 13000 foot mark when I got out for a little hike across the tundra to see what could be seen. The temperature was fairly brisk and about 3/4 of the way to the end it started to rain a bit. I picked up the pace because I wanted to get this shot before I had to make it back to the car.

Once the photo was taken, I began to make my way back to the car, then it began to sleet and I sprinted back. I was thinking two things. First that I could actually sprint at this altitude and not feel like I was likely to keel over and two that here I am running in the sleet when just two days before I was feeling overwhelmed by sun beating relentlessly down on me and I just wanted to push on the walls of the 105 degree air pressing down on me. I made it back to the car and had a chance to thaw out before we stopped at the summit lodge for lunch. I bought a couple of Christmas gifts to leave with my younger brother to dole out at the appropriate time.
We also enjoyed watching a family of marmots playing outside the lodge. The ranger said that there was a mom and four kids in the group. I couldn't seem to get the photo that really wanted so this one had to do.

After lunch we headed down out of the tundra and back below the tree line. Here we stopped and I realized that we were in the valley were I saw the winding river.

I walked out a little bit and found the Three Wise Men formation. Quite different from the one that I had seen at Arches. Each spectacular in their own way.

We had been in the park for hours with our eyes wide open on the look out for big game to shoot. Nothing, just birds, chipmunks and marmots. I was resigned that I wouldn't see anything this trip we were on our way out. And in the distance, I spotted something moving...a herd? cows, wait no...hey K I was saying as she was pulled off the road. She had spotted a car stopped on the other side. I hadn't been watching the road at all, I was looking out across the field. We got out and spotted the elk, a full herd.

As we angled around to get a better view of the herd, more people were joining us. I felt like a little kid at Christmas. K spotted the fully racked bull lounging in the grass first. It took me a while to see him but once I did, wow, this is great I thought.

We watch for a while longer, then the bull got up rounded up his herd and they mosied off. Almost like they were saying show's over folks, time to go home. And it was. It had been a full day and I had a full day of driving ahead of me the next day. I was going to drive across Kansas and into Oklahoma. A night in Stillwater to see my brother and then home to Mom. The entire purpose of setting off cross country was near at hand.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 4--Idaho Springs & Mt. Evans, CO

Yes, I know I have been extremely slow in getting these posts updated. I'll blame it on South Eastern Oklahoma's connectivity. I went to McDonald's to use the wireless and the connection was so slow that I wasn't able to upload photos. And all my time most days when I went was taken up with just checking my e-mail. I hate coming back to work after a long vacation with a gazillion e-mails in my inbox, so I always try to log in and check it when I can. But anyway back to the regular programming. Today's schedule event is Mt. Evan's--the highest paved road in the world. Mt. Evan's is one of Denver's near by 14ers meaning 14K feet where the air gets quite thin but the views become proportionately beautiful.
K lives in Arvada which is between is about equidistant between Denver and Golden. Since K has lived in the Denver area for over a decade, I just refer to where she lives as Denver. K bought a new house last year, so this was my first time to see her new place. So far, I think I have visited most of her abodes in CO.
I slept in a bit and finally dragged myself out of bed when I heard K rustling around. She got out her mini coffee maker--bless her--and a selection of coffees. I hooked myself up as she checked the pastries in the oven and got omelet preparations underway. Wow, I love being a guest. What hospitality.
During breakfast, we discussed what to do. Since it was pretty warm in Denver, higher elevation was recommended. K said that we could hit the casinos--but I really didn't want to go to a casino. After some negotiation we settled on Idaho Springs for lunch--I had stopped there the evening before to call K and get gas. I glimpsed an interesting side street. K said that there was an amazing place for Pizza--Beau Jo's Pizza. After lunch we would head Mt. Evan's way.
Setting the plan into motion, I showered and we were off. On the way off we turned into a scenic view and snapped a few photos. After days in the desert, the evergreens and rushing water sang to my soul.

We had to round the parking lot several times before finding a space. Beau Jo's was hopping, but so was the town in general. Clearly I popular Sunday outing destination. We ordered our pizza--enough for leftovers and I ordered a beer. I asked if Tommyknockers was a local brew--yes--responded our waitress--the brewery is next door. Alright then, lets have a Tommyknockers. Since the selection was hoppier than I favor, I asked for lemon to accompany my beer to cut down on some of the hop flavor. I worked so well, I requested another. Stuffed and a bit tipsy. K said that she thought I was sedate enough to take up on scary mountain roads. Several years ago, I visited K at the beginning of December. We went up to to another weekend destination for lunch and then on to an outlet mall. On the way back, there was an icy spot that caused a bit of fishtailing. I nearly came unhinged and K pronounced that she would never take me up in the mountains again. But here she was against her better judgement, but I assured here since it was summer and ice wasn't likely, I would probably be OK.
On the way up to Mt. Evans, we discussed the entrance fees. Then I remembered I had a National Park Pass and it would probably work here as well. Sure enough, I racked up another $10 on my pass. I was quickly on my way to saving $ by getting it.
Our first stop was Echo Lake Lodge.
We stopped at the lodge--no lodging available--to look around the gift shop and to use the facilities before heading up. Mt. Evans, passes through 3 climate zone and climbs well above tree level. K assured me that we wouldn't go up the last 5 miles of road which is extremely narrow and full of switchbacks and drop offs. This section of the road is also closed between Labor Day and Memorial Day. The day was overcast and the temperature was already in the 50s. Again after hot days in the desert this was a refreshing change. Our hope to was see Big Horn Sheep and Mt. Goats. K said on previous trips up she had always spotted mountain goats. I love the way they look and really really wanted to see one. Did we? Negative. The best we got were a couple of marmots.
In the car, we headed up. There were spots that I didn't like but I trust K so I was OK and was able to keep any images of us careening down the side of the mountain to myself. Really the views were worth any anxiety on my part. We got out often to walk around a bit and check out the views. At this point, I was still OK in a sleeveless top and shorts. Once again after being so uncomfortably hot the previous days, I was reveling in natural air conditioning.

K has been into photography for awhile now. She takes some amazing photos. One of the things that I appreciate about her is her patience and meticulousness. I operate in broad bold brush strokes and as such, I can really appreciate the finer detailed ones of K. I have no patience to line up the perfect shot, to figure out how to set my camera to cox out the best shot. I see, I shot, I move on. We think that this is the main reason our friendship has lasted so long. We compliment each other. At times K high jacked my camera and directed me for photos. Here is me between a rock and a hard place.

On up we went to Summit Lake--ten miles from Echo Lake. Here I had to don my sweatshirt jacket to be comfortable. It was misty and the temp was down in the 40's.

We walked around for a bit, although I was breathing a bit heavier than normal, I felt OK to walk around. I spotted this view and wanted to take a closer look. K was feeling the thin air a bit more, she told me to go ahead and she would take photos of the lake. To me it, looked a bit like a a proud eagle carved by nature.

I walked around a bit, crossed over and spotted some glacial lakes. My breath was taken away. I don't think I have ever looked at something and thought Glacial Lake. I was reminded of Plato's Theory of Forms. We have this internal knowledge of the perfect form. As a crude example, when does a cup stop being a cup and become a glass? We know this innately because we have a knowledge of the perfect form of each. I had never seen a glacial lake before, but I knew what it was when I saw it. I was amazed enough to pull out the philosophical toolbox and open it up for a few minutes as I enjoyed the majesty of it all.

I hiked around for a little while enjoying the vast beauty and also appreciating delicacy of the vegetation at this level. I love wild flowers and always have. Some of my fondest memories as a child were going out into the pasture and happening upon Indian Paintbrushes. I also loved to run into daffodils as remnants of house places long forgotten leaving a pasture with a carpet of yellow to remind us that once upon a time someone had made a home here. This mossy spot captured my attention.

After a while, we decided to head back down, we had gotten a late start, and lingered over lunch so it was getting late in the day. We got in the car and started down with drop offs on our side of the road, then an entire murder of crows flew over us. We both felt a little freaked and hoped that it was not a dark omen. Thank goodness we weren't characters in a movie because we would have certainly been done for. On the way back, we stopped again at one of the scenic spots and I took a little hike.

If we had thought about it, I could have hiked down to the nature center and had K meet but then I would have missed this view of Echo Lake.

We stopped back at the lodge on the way back down for sodas, facilities and to browse the gift shop again. On the drive back into Idaho Springs, we were discussing the lack of wildlife sightings when a low flying red tail hawk almost collided with K's windshield. Wow, talk about proving us wrong. The hawk was weighted down with its dinner. I had the impression that it was a weasel of some sort because dinner had a very long bushy tail, The next day we thought that it might have been a marten.
Back in Idaho Springs we decided to stop for dinner at a hole in the wall BBQ restaurant. Yum. Once again, I was stuffed to the gills with good eatens. Over dinner we tested out my night settings, because K planned to take me up on Look Out Mountain to look out over Denver. Here was my first try.

It'll win no photo contest, but I like the reflections. Outside the restaurant, I fell in love with the cigar smoking pig mascot. I wished I had gotten a photo going in when there was more light but I didn't and this is what I ended up snapping.

Then off to Look Out Mountain. Of all the miles traveled this day, I felt the most anxiety on Look Out Mountain. I am not sure why, maybe it was just the sheer numbers of switchbacks, maybe I had peaked with my tolerance, maybe it was the wind buffeting the car, or maybe I just needed more beer. Whatever the reason, I was sitting on my side of the car trying to quietly mask being a basketcase. But again, the terror was worth it all. Because the wind was pretty brisk with wind chill, I didn't tarry long, but did get this overview photo.

And this zoom photo of the brewery at night. I am impressed at how well the zoom works on this camera.

Photos taken, back in the car we headed home to K's house. Tummy full, legs exercised, memories piled up, it was a very good day. Thanks K for the tour.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Day 3--Arches Nation Park, Moab, UT

After breakfast, I headed to Arches National Park about 3 miles north of Moab. I presented my handy dandy National Park Annual Pass and drove up to the Vistor's Center. I got out, used the facilities and checked out the map of the park displayed. I looked at and commented to the person next to me that it looked like Arches was more of a driving to views national park than a hiking national park. He said that he thought there were some hikes. I looked again, saw a couple of around the rock and back things but then Devil's Garden annouced 18 miles of trail. I'm not that ambitious but I thought I might get out for 3-5 miles. I got into my car and headed out.
The first stop was Park Avenue. I got out to look from the viewpoint where I noticed that there were stone steps down a ways onto the canyon floor. I decided I would head down there. On the way down there was a notice that it was a primative trail and to follow the cairns--stacked up rock way markers. I like the idea of cairns, at the first one I added a rock to one and gave a silent thanks for having the ability to enjoy the view and go for a hike.
I walked out a ways with the wall of the canyon shielding the sun which presented a cool stroll. In the distance, I saw a natural oblecisk formation and wanted to see how it would change as I approached it.

I continued on my way and noticed this water puddle and thought it was intriguing because I could get a photo of the canyon wall in the reflection. This reminded me of one of my favorite photos that K took in Montreal, so in homage to her photographic skills I took this. To me the puddle is shaped like a fish and the sedimate is positioned perfectly for his mouth. Pretty cool, huh?

On my way out I met a few people but for the most part I was on my on in the vast gradeur. Perfect. It was quiet in the canyon and I felt at peace with nature's wonders surrounding me. I met one person who said that around the bend she thought you could see The Three Wise Men and that she had walked out until she saw the road and the next parking lot. I headed out as she headed back in.

After I got out to where I saw the road and the Courthouse, I headed back in. The sun was beating down, it was after 11 in the morning. We were in for a hot day.

On the way back in, I noticed a formation I thought was pretty darn nifty. It looked like a giant had dropped a stone between the two rocks.

Once on the road again, I past the Courthouse turn in since I walked all but about of a 100 feet to it. The next stop was the Petrified Sand Dunes. The marker informed me that this was actually a misnomer because only organic material could actually become petrified, sand isn't organic. This reminded me of my first visit to the Petrified Forest. I was naive enough to imagine that all the trees had turned to stone upright. I was a bit disappointed to realize that they were bits and pieces of longs that had washed away millenia ago. I don't know how I throught that upright trees could become petrified--looking upon the gorgon Medusa? Once over the initial dispointment, I found the Petrified Forest magnificent in much the same way I was awed by the Petrified Sand Dunes--organic material or not.

Next on the route was Balancing Rock. This was a very short out and back stop--one that initially had me concluding that Arches was not a hiking attraction. Balancing Rock is pretty cool, but personally I prefer the rock between the two pillars more so.

Back in the car, time was ticking down before I had to get into town for a late lunch and then on the road to Denver. I passed the turn off for the Delicate Arch hike rather opting for the shorter viewpoint of the Delicate Arch hike. I wanted to make it all the way to the last stop--Devil's Garden. I parked, grabbed my water and headed up the short less than half mile trail. The trail was pleasant enough--and hot enough. Once to top, I looked over at the Delicate Arch. Awesome. Then I saw people hiking over to the arch--it looked like they were walking on a moonscape.

I developed a sudden and intense urge to go see it for myself. I wanted my body to be walking on the moonscape. On the way back down I began to fomulate plans to stop and do the Delicate Arch hike. I chatted for a bit with some on my fellow desenders and verified that the hike was 3 miles round trip. Hmmm, 3 miles, I should be able to do that in an hour, right? I walk 20 minute miles. This apparently was to become my first lesson in how long a vertical mile actually can take.
I backtracked to the Delicate Arch parking lot, grabbed a powerbar and water. I got to the trailhead when I realized that I had left my camera in the car. I briefly considered going on without it but then reminded myself that if I did I would inevibily kick myself for not taking the 5 extra minutes to retrieve it. Needless to say, I was right. At the trail head, I looked up, saw little ants scrambling on the side of the mountain. I told myself that was where I had to go, the Arch was just over the horizon--boy was I ever wrong. In reality the top marked about halfway.

One the way up, there was a family with a 5 year old that just was not having fun. It was hot, steep and really just no fun. She was protesting in a most vocal way. I felt her pain, but unlike her, I could vizualize the payoff--I had seen it from the viewpoint. I debated with myself for a bit whether I should intefer or not and decided, I really didn't want to listen to the little girl in so much distress. So I yelled out to them that they needed to take her mind off her discomfort. Huh? they responded--how do you do that? they added. Here let me show you how, I introduced myself to the little girl and told her we were going to play a game. I had her pick up a rock and throw it as far as she could up the side. Once she did that I told her we were going to now walk to the rock. We did, then she got to throw it again. She calmed down, got into the game and I realized she was also helping me take my mind off my own discomfort and internal monologue to turn back. I told here that once we were at the top, I wanted to take a photo with her. And we did.

Once at the top, I crossed over a low lying rock wall to walk around to the Arch. The way out was at a slight incline which ended in a pretty big drop that I had to get my head around.
I told myself, that the traction was good, I could stay about 20 feet away from the drop off. I thought about one time in Hawaii where we had to go up a short rope to get to the next level and back on the trail. I balked and balked, all I could focus on was the 20 foot drop if I happened to let go of the rope. I argued with myself, Why would you let go? I don't know, but you might? But really would I given the result? But something could happen to make you let go and then you would DIE. But really I wouldn't let go. But when you are on the rope maybe you will want to let go. And on it went, the only thing that got me up on the rope and to the next level was when the dog made it up before me. Really, a dog scrambled up without the actual aide of the rope. Geez. So once out on the ledge, I had to keep telling myself that there was no reason for me to fall down the hole and I also kept reminding myself that I might. Again Geez!!! But I did it, I made it to the Arch. Well worth all the effort.

With a few photo ops. A couple of fellow hikers and I exchanged camera so that we could get each other. With time a ticking and belly a growling, I headed down.
I knew that I would get a brief respite on the way when the trail lay again the canyon wall which blocked the sun. I rested for a bit here and finished my water. Here is what I don't get about myself.

The drop off on the trail here was pretty signficant but I didn't mind walking along it at all. As long as I have a trail wide enough for me to walk and wobble a bit and don't have the sensation that I might fall, I am perfectly OK. It's not a fear of heights that I have but rather a fear of falling.
On down the trail, sun beating down, I was out of water and entirely thirsty, hungry, uncomfortable and getting a bit wobbly. Finally and not a minute too soon I made it to the car. I broke out my emergency water and downed some. Still a little shakey I got into the car. It was well past almost 3 and I needed to get on the road. I stopped off at the Visitor Center and grabbed a cold PowerAide. Once I downed it, I felt a little more right with the world--enough so to make it into town for lunch. I decided to have lunch at the local brewery. There I had a Greek Chicken Salad and three small samples of the local brew. All very good. I thought I could safely have a couple of samples.

Gas and then on the road to Denver. The drive was uneventful for the most part. I had hoped to make it to Denver before Sunset but that went out the door the minute I decided to hike to Delicate Arch. I was perhaps a bit thankful, I couldn't see clearly because it seems that a signifcant part of I-70 is elevated and attached to the side of the mountain. I know this because I saw tree tops off to my right. Better not to know sometimes. I made it to Arveda and then to find K's house. I made a few wrong turns but eventually I made it in before 11. K said she was a bit surprised in the direction I came in. Then she quickly added--I don't want to know. Which is good, because I have not idea how I did it either. So very good to see K again. K is one of my dearest friends. She was the first person I met at Oklahoma State after my roommate. She was my next door neighbor, eventually became a roommate for a short period and has visited me in almost every place I have lived. She probably knows me better than almost anyone else. To this I am thankful. And she took me on a couple of very good tours which are forthcoming.