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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

July 2021
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it’s in the past