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Part 1: Colorado Has Ruined My Life

At some point, I’ve realized that Colorado has possibly destroyed my ability to live contentedly in Ohio.  I don’t know why I love it here so much more than when I was here before.  But the beauty, the openness, the mountains, the views, the way you can go miles without seeing another person–I love it.

This morning, we woke up super early yet again (0500 local time), and, wide awake, decided we may as well be up and about.  We puttered a bit until daylight, and then walked back behind our motel.  The reason that it’s called Island Acres is because it’s on a river island.  Behind our place is about a quarter mile walk with other houses, and then you get to where the river splits and goes around our bit of land.  It’s quite lovely, actually.

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After we got back, Tom headed off to Hartman Rocks, which happens to be across the street and down a piece from where we’re staying.  It’s a very famous location for mountain biking, and has hiking/biking/dirt bike/jeep trails all over the place.

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While he was gone, I finished settling in our stuff, finished my book, and updated this blog.  By the way, something I forgot on this morning’s post was a picture of the amazing rainbow we saw yesterday evening!

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I don’t know if it’s the thinner air or what, but it was truly the most vibrant rainbow I have ever seen.  It was a full double, too.

Anyway, this morning, while I was updating the blog, I kept hearing this weird noise.  You know how when you turn on a gas burner it  makes a clicky noise and then sort of VOOSH.  Well I kept hearing something similar to that VOOSH but couldn’t figure out what it was.  Although there are couple more people here now, as of this morning, there were only two other cars here, and both were in another building entirely.  Finally, I looked out the window, and this is what I saw:

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This would be a pretty awesome area for a hot air balloon ride!

After Tom got back and showered and breakfasted, we headed further west.  Today, by the way, we traveled the furthest that I have ever been west.  So that was exciting.  Gunnison is just east of Blue Mesa Reservoir, which is about twenty miles long.  It was beautiful.

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A stop at the visitors’ center landed us some maps and trail descriptions.  We decided to try one further up the gorge–Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  It’s an incredibly deep valley, with a river that empties into the reservoir.  The trail wound down the canyon wall, along a feeder river, and ended where the feeder river fed into the main river (sorry, don’t know their names, lol).  We knew that it would be a vigorous hike (although only a 4-mile round trip), and it was totally intense.  It was also one of the most beautiful–if not the most beautiful–hikes I have ever taken.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  It was exhausting but exhilarating.

We started at the overlook at the top of the trail.  The view was where the two rivers met.

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As you can see, it is very far below!

The descent was lovely, full of beautiful views, both of the mountains above us and valley below.

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After a little over a mile of downhill, we reached the canyon floor.  The trail leveled out and followed the creek–a real mountain creek, crashing over boulders.

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Finally, we reached trail’s end!  It’s a beautiful spot where the water comes together.  The trail doesn’t go far enough (there is literally no place to put a trail) to see around the bend, but water is deep and beautiful.

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We paused for a snack and to refill our water bottles, using our awesome water pump for the first time!!!

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Then came the fun part–climbing back out of the canyon!  Slow but steady wins the race, right?

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It was so beautiful that it was like a whole different trail on the way up!  (Or maybe that was the lack of oxygen changing my vision…???)

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It’s amazing how much flora there is to see when one is gasping for air whilst struggling up the side of a mountain.

 

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However, we did not die, and we eventually made it back to the car, a bit more than tired, but quite pleased with ourselves.

We continued the drive up the canyon for several miles, before realizing that we were ravenous and heading back towards Gunnison.  The views were amazing, but most of my pictures were taking out the window again.

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This is actually the very same creek that we followed, at a much earlier point in its life.

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Part 2: Off-Roading is Awesome

We finally made it back to Gunnison and found some food.  We popped into a local bike shop to see if we could find a map of Hartman’s Rock.  While Tom enjoyed his ride, the place is riddled with trails and no clear directions.  The bike shop man was incredibly helpful (almost too helpful…  he gave a LOT of directions!).  We were so inspired that we drove back to Hartman’s Rock so Tom could show it to me and we could check out a couple of the trails.

Many of the trails are dirt roads that wind through the park, so we put the Patriot through its paces.

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This Jeep has definitely been where no rental was ever intended to go.  And tomorrow we’re going to drive sections of the Alpine Loop near Lake City!

Hartman Rock is pretty nifty.  Completely different from where we were earlier–much more open and arid, with jagged rocks poking up through the landscape.

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Tom is pretty excited about riding there again tomorrow.

Well, that about wraps up the day.  I started this entry sitting out on our little porch enjoying the cooling evening air.  Now I’m back inside at our retro table.  Tom is looking for painting jobs in Colorado Springs so we can move out here forever, and I think we’re going to watch an episode of Doctor Who before going to bed.  Tomorrow–Lake City and the Alpine Loop!

Part 1: Corrections & Additions to Day 2

First off, the small diner where we ate lunch yesterday is actually located in eastern Colorado, not western Kansas.

Secondly, somehow I completely forgot to tell you about the MOST EXCITING THING that we discovered in Kansas yesterday–real, live, honest-to-goodness wild pronghorn antelope!!!!  I cannot tell you how thrilled I was.  From what I read, while not rare, pronghorns are also not super common.

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They’re a little fuzzy because they were kind of far away (and fast!) but definitely pronghorn antelope (plus we could see them better in real life than you can through the pics).  How cool is that?!?!

Thirdly, now that Tom’s awake, I can show you some of his pics from Manitou Springs.

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All I can say about  my presence in this picture is that I didn’t know he was taking my picture and it was raining and the temperature had dropped so I’m a bit wet and cold and also hungry because we hadn’t had supper yet, lol.  Anyway, the flood damage really was crazy.  This afternoon (okay, so I started writing this entry yesterday (Monday) evening, but am actually finishing/posting it Tuesday morning, so this would actually be yesterday afternoon, lol), many of the roads were closed again because the water was rising, but we can’t find anything on the news that says that there was any kind of damaging floods like they had Friday night.

Part 2: Garden of the Gods

So this morning (aka Monday morning), we woke up fairly early (I think we’re still on eastern time, which means we are even earlier early birds than usual!), loaded up and checked out, and had breakfast had a local pancake house (“Uncle Sam’s House of Pancakes,” I think; it was FULL of red, white, and blue and stars and I felt super patriotic while eating my French toast…) and then we went to drive around Garden of the Gods.

And seriously, is there any place in the world more fascinatingly beautiful??

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(“Kissing Camels”)

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(That’s Pike’s Peak in the distance.)

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This is actually the view of the park where we walked Sunday evening, Red Rock Canyon.

We also stopped by the visitors’ center to visit some old friends of mine.

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Then it was time to head to the Academy Riding Stables for our next big adventure–horseback riding through the Garden of the Gods!!!

Now, I have been on many trail rides in my life, and for the vast majority, I have basically been a passenger on a horse that needs to no guidance whatsoever–it would do exactly what it’s doing even if I wasn’t there.  But this was not the case with this ride.  I have never been on such frisky trail horses.  Plus, the terrain was crazy, actually super steep up and downs and riding along ledges.  Honestly, it was a little terrifying at times, but also awesome.  Because the horses were rather independent, a lot of our focus was on them rather than picture taking (actually, I think my horse would have been thrilled if I had died on that trip, but we reached an understanding eventually).  Anyway, point is, most of Tom’s pictures were just of me on Lady.

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haha, not particularly thrilling.  But the ride itself was amazing and beautiful and felt like a real adventure.  It’s the first trail ride that I’ve been on where it was legit horseback riding, if that makes sense.  (Apparently, most of the horses run wild in an 8000 acre pasture in the winter time and get rounded up in the spring and sort of re-broken for the season??  Our guide was actually super, super interesting…  he used to break wild mustangs for the Bureau of Land Management…  although he specifically said he worked “with the BLM, not for the BLM” as though that should have some significance…)

So, we weren’t finished with that until about noon.  We went to the Trading Post at the Garden of the Gods to load up on souvenirs and postcards, then headed to Pike’s Peak!

I, personally, did not have a strong desire to go up this mountain.  If Zeb Pike didn’t do it, I didn’t feel like I had to!  But Tom was seized with a strong desire to see the summit, so we headed up.  The clouds were starting to roll in up on the moutaintop, but the road was still open all the way up.  The recommendation is that you drive straight up, and then make your stops coming back down so your brakes have some time to recover (you’re also supposed to come down with your car locked in the lowest gear).  I tried to take pictures out the window because the views were just so amazing, but most of them came out like this:

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(This piece is entitled: “View that was an amazing view five seconds ago.”  Prints are available while supplies last.)

However, by the time we were nearing the timberline, my taking-pictures-out-the-window skills were getting better, plus there were fewer trees to interfere.

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(That is our road winding down below.)

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However, by the time we reached the peak, the clouds were really rolling in.  The views were quite reminiscent of Mount Mitchell

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But we did find some friendly hippy hitchhikers who took our picture to prove we made it to the top:

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It was cold and difficult to breathe on top…  I did feel a bit lightheaded.  The drive down was a bit nervewracking, because the fog was closing in (by the time we reached the gift shop three miles down the road, they’d closed the road to the summit), but there were glimpses of the same gorgeous views between the clouds.

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The reason I look cold is because it’s only 41*.

Then, it started to snow/sleet/rain.  We stopped at the gift shop to give the brakes a rest, and it was raining pretty steadily by then, with sleety snow mixed in.  Good times.

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(As an aside, Mom would have hated this drive.  Winding roads, few guardrails, steep inclines…  I was glad to get off that mountain myself!)  By the time we reached the bottom, Manitou Springs was under a flash flood warning again and they had closed US 24.  Even though we wanted to head west, rather than east back into town, traffic was all backed up, so that was good times.  (If you haven’t seen the video of cars getting swept down 24–which is the main artery west out of Colorado Springs–you should watch it, and you’ll understand why everyone is so jumpy about any rain falling on the burned mountains.)

Anyway, we got detoured around and eventually made it to 24 west, just east of Woodland Park.  Along the way, I did get a couple of pictures of where the wildfires were.

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You can really see the contrast between where the fire was and where it wasn’t!

After finding food and gas in Woodland Park, we began our final journey of the day–west, over the continental divide, to Gunnison.

To our surprise, west of Woodland Park, the terrain really opened out into a high mountain plain.  It was just stunningly beautiful.

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I don’t really know what I was expecting–winding roads like we had to use to get up Pike’s Peak, I guess.  But instead, the drive was wonderfully pleasant, thousands of acres of open land, ringed around by layers of mountains.

Eventually, the mountains did close in, as we climbed up and over the 11,000+ foot pass across the Divide, but it wasn’t nearly as picturesque because of all the trees.  On the other side, we descended back into those high  mountain plains again.

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We got to Gunnison and found our little motel.  Island Acres Resort is right on US 50, and was originally one of those delightful little motels that were the only place to stay in the 1950’s.  Although recently renovated, they’ve kept that 1950’s vibe, and it’s just as adorable as it can be.

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We are quite contentedly cozied in here until Thursday.  We explored a bit more around here this morning, but those pics will have to wait until next time.  I think this post has gone on long enough!

Sarah E. McCafferty

August 2013
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it’s in the past