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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.



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.




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??




(“Kissing Camels”)



(That’s Pike’s Peak in the distance.)


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.


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.


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:


(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.



(That is our road winding down below.)



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


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


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.





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.


(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.


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.




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.



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.



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!

Part 1:  Kansas Isn’t as Bad as Everyone Says

So we woke up refreshed and happy in Hays, Kansas, this morning, and headed west yet again, after stopping at a gas station to fill up and attempt to scrub the bugs off the car.  Seriously, I have never seen bugs like what we have had on this trip, especially through Kansas.  I could barely see through the windshield by the time we stopped last night!


And as we drove, we realized that we actually like Kansas.  It isn’t terribly exciting, true, but there is something beautiful about the openness of it, just huge expanses devoid of people, and I like that.  A few miles away from Colorado, we decided to ditch the interstate, because I happened to notice something on our atlas.  “Mt. Sunflower: Highest Point in Kansas.”  How could we resist something like that?  I looked it up on Tom’s phone (seriously, the internet is bizarre) and found that there is a little picnic table there; it’s on private land but the owners let people visit there.

We got off the highway just in time to visit a lovely little town called Kanorado.  Isn’t that just the best name ever??



Not a lot going on in Kanorado.



Then we headed south, searching for the elusive Mount Sunflower.

We found a dirt road.



We found cows.



We found actual sunflowers.








We found cacti.



And we finally found Mount Sunflower!





The views were breathtaking.





(It’s fenced in because we were actually in the middle of a cow pasture.)

And people say Kansas is boring!

Eventually, we moved along, finding a (paved) US route and heading west again.  We stopped in a very, very small town (although bigger than Kanorado) and ate lunch at a hole-in-the-wall diner where everyone else who came in got greeted by name and gossiped about whoever had just left.

We crossed in Colorado and took a state route towards Colorado Springs.  About 70 miles out, we finally got our first glimpse of the mountains.  WE WERE SO EXCITED.

Part 2: Manitou Springs

So, we eventually made it to Manitou Springs, here at the foot of Pike’s Peak.  It’s beautiful, with an artsy little shop-neighborhood just down the way from our hotel.



Isn’t our motel just the cutest thing??

Friday night, there was a huge flash flood/mudslide right through the middle of Manitou Springs.  There is still tons of mud and debris everywhere.  Bunches of shops flooded that had never flooded before.  It happened super unexpectedly; a couple of people even died.  Amazingly, things are cleaning up incredibly fast.  There were volunteers everywhere, long-haired hippy-looking folks with huge grins, extremely muddy pants, shovels, and dogs.







Tom got some better pictures of the lower streets, covered in mud and branches, but they’re on his phone and he’s already asleep, so you’ll have to wait for another day.

Anyway, we walked around the town until our check-in time for the motel.  After checking out our room, we headed off to the Maintou Cliff Dwellers Museum.  On the way, we realized that we really are on the verge of the mountains




We probably won’t make it down to the legit Mesa Verde this time around, so this little park was a nice substitute.  The gift shop was HUGE.  We puttered about and enjoyed the semi-restored ruins







By the time we finished there, there were ominous rumbles of thunder in the distance.  We drove back to our motel and parked, and then walked back downtown to find a place for supper.  It was raining by the time we ducked into a little pub, with terrific wood floors, for supper (I had the most amazing pizza).  We sat at the bar counter with the locals and listened to them talk about all the clean-up that was going on and how suddenly it had all hit.  Everyone was a bit jumpy over the next round of rain.  Apparently, all of this is flooding because of the wildfires earlier this summer.  Where everything has been burned, the water just runs off and washes away large chunks of land with it.

It was raining pretty steadily when we walked back to our motel, and the temperature had dropped almost 20*.  We watched a couple episodes of Doctor Who until the weather cleared, and then went for an evening walk at an almost 800-acre park right in the middle of town.









Now we’re back in our snug little room.  Tomorrow should be busy–Garden of the Gods and possibly Pike’s Peak, then heading west into the mountains!


Sarah E. McCafferty

August 2022

it’s in the past