Rocky Mountain High

We came to the Rock Mountain National Park to get a feel for what the Rockies are like. This is a very unique park; there is a paved road that goes up and along some of the high part of the Rockies – the highest point on the road is 12,183 feet up!

We saw very beautiful scenes of the mountains, several glaciers, alpine tundra above the treeline where nothing else will grow, and several herds of elk! Knowing that the Rocky Mountains were formed by uplift when two tectonic plates came together and one was pushed down and one up, I was surprised to find an area of lava cliffs high in the mountain range that was from a volcano that erupted over 14 million years ago…that’s even before the Rockies were as high as they are today!

The park doesn’t have a ‘loop road’, so we started in Grand Lake where we’re staying, on the west edge of the park, and drove along the road to the east edge where the town of Estes Park is. Then, after lunch we got back on the same road and came back to the west edge. We saw some views coming west that we didn’t notice going east, so it was well worth travelling the same road from both directions!

I have always suffered from altitude sickness and knew I would have problems at these altitudes! I read about a study that said sumiptriptan (migraine medicine) helps with altitude sickness, and I had taken one before we drove up to Pikes Peak (over 14,000 feet!). For this trip I waited to take one and when at 11,000 feet I really started feeling light-headed, a bit queasy and anxious, which are the symptoms of altitude sickness. So, I took a tablet and during the return trip coming west I really noticed that it helped – I was just a little bit light-headed, not at all queasy and not anxious (anxious feeling really manifests when we’re on a tight switchback road with steep drops on my side of the vehicle!). Yeah!

We enjoyed the Rocky Mtn Natl Park so much we decided to drive it again, taking in a couple of different options. We had to drive the same route as the previous trip to get from the west to the east, but then we took a side trip to Bear Lake. It didn’t go nearly as high, and unfortunately it appears this is the most popular part of the park as all the turnouts and parking lots were full, so we couldn’t stop and walk down to the lake to take pictures. They have shuttles from a parking lot a few miles away up to Bear Lake, but we had Laddy with us and he could’t go on the shuttle. Oh well.

Then, for the east-to-west return trip we decided to take a little dirt road – the original Ridge Trail road. It’s one way going up and was literally just wide enough for the truck. The switchbacks were very narrow! It was really good though as we saw some different and incredible views amd glaciers! And, another elk, this one a large buck with either damaged or deformed antlers. He was munching on some grass right next to the road and didn’t even flinch when we pulled up, stopped, and took a few pictures. There were other cars on the road and they all stopped too.

Then, after we rejoined the main road and started going down the switchbacks on the west side of the park I noticed a large glacier across the valley with a bunch of brown dots in it that I hadn’t noticed on the previous trip. “Hey” I said to Jeff, “are those animals in the snow?” We pulled over and got out the binoculars and sure enough, there was a large herd of elk, with many on the grass and many standing around in the snow. Why would they stand in the snow where there’s no grass, when there’s grass just a few feet away? Who knows, but we took a couple of pictures of it.

Interestingly, the part of the mountain range where the elk were standing in the snow is called “Never Summer Mountains”. With large patches of snow year-round, it’s a good name!

Here are pictures we took both days in the Rocky Mountains:

More tire trouble!

We’ve been on the road for almost 4 years now (retired for 5, but we didn’t travel for a year to care for a family member) and have had 4 trailer tires lose their tread on the road. One with disastrous results as it caused damage to our trailer that took a month to repair while we stayed at a motel in a small town in Vermont.  Here’s a blog entry about that: click here.

We’ve purchased good new tires, never used or retread. But, they just don’t last. We’ve had one tire get a nail in it, and once we caused it by cutting a corner sorry and running over a border rock with a protrusion, but 4 times the tread has just come off.

Luckily we have always had AAA so they’ve sent a tow truck out to change our tire. A few times we’ve been out in the middle of nowhere and have had to wait hours for a tow truck. Yesterday was the 4th tread problem and we were in southern Wyoming without any cell service either!  A nice man pulled over and asked if we were ok so we were able to use his cell phone to call AAA. I told them we didn’t have a phone so don’t try to give us a status, just send someone! They actually called the highway patrol and an officer came by to tell us a truck was on the way. That was nice!  Still, we had been waiting 2 hours. The previous time when we had a nail we waited over 3 hours, in 95 degree heat with the truck facing the sun…Ugh!!

So, when on the road with your home behind your vehicle, expect some trouble, and have AAA for sure. And, make sure your coverage includes RV!



Cripple Creek Steam Powered Railroad

We decided to take a trip to visit Cripple Creek, a gold mining town west of Pikes Peak. Gold was discovered here in the 1890’s. There are numerous mines including one right in town. The town is mostly old buildings circa 1896 as most wood buildings were destroyed in a fire that year.
In order to get gold ore from the mines around town, they built a narrow gauge rail line from town to the mines. Standard gauge for railroads is 4′-8 1/2″. This line is 2 ft.
The engines are coal fired steam. The actual engines used date from the 1920’s since the originals no long exist.
Along the line, we saw many old abandoned mines. Mines would stake a claim and dig down about 10 ft. Then they would take samples to be assayed. Assayors would determine how much gold was in the rock then the miner would determine whether it was worth his time to continue mining.

Here are pictures we took:

Lunch in the Rocky Mountains – a great fresh deli to try!

We drove from one end of the Rocky Mountain Natl Park to the other and then back again so we could see the views from both directions (and it’s not a loop so it would have been a few hours to get back to start without driving back through the park) so while in the town on the other side, Estes Park, we stopped for lunch.

We wanted something light and fast so we stopped at “Scratch Deli and Bakery”. What a great place! They make almost everything from scratch, including the bread and they also smoked the turkey meat right there. The sandwiches were HUGE and really good. Here’s my review on Yelp:

Air Force Academy; could have been Jeff’s alma mater!

Well, we arrived at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Bringing back memories of 1964. I got an appointment to AFA(Same initials as Admiral Farragut Academy- my HS alma mater). To think, I could have been a “Doolie”( Freshman at Air Force) The real highlight of the visit is the Cadet Chapel. Quite impressive.
In the photo of the Quad, you can see the grid where Doolies must walk or run. They are not allowed on the white areas in between the grid.
The campus is quite large with mountains to the west and the plains to the west. Most of the academics and barracks are located arounf the quad. There are approximately 4400 cadets including women here.

Pikes Peak – you can drive to the summit at 14,115 feet!

While in Colorado Springs we planned to drive to the top of Pikes Peak. The summit is 14,115 feet which scared me because I’ve been getting pretty queasy and light-headed at around 9,000 ft. But, I read that a study had shown that Sumatriptan helps with the effects of altitude sickness and I have a supply for my migraines. So, I took one this morning and we headed out.

The scenery is beautiful and the drive is very steep and windy! It’s just 19 miles from the gateway entrance to the summit, but that 19 miles take you from about 6,500 ft to 14,115 ft in less than an hour!

At the summit I was a bit light headed so I chose to stay in the car. Jeff and Laddy walked around the saw the 360 degree view. At the top it’s basically a big pile of loose rocks, because over time the soil has washed away with the snowmelt and wind, and the rocks also have fractured and broken up. There’s no vegetation right at the summit although just a bit lower there is some moss and grass. A bit lower there are lots of pine trees and aspens and underbrush and grasses.

There’s lots of wildlife on the mountain, but we only saw a marmot who sat on a rock and checked us out.

While not the highest peak in Colorado, Pikes Peak is one of the ‘Fourteens’, meaning it’s one of the few mountains that tops 14,000 feet.

Here are some pictures we took:



Garden of the Gods

Within the city limits of Colorado Springs there is a park called “Garden of the Gods”. It’s a very unique area containing vertical rocks sticking up out of the ground. Most are quite red but a couple are gray.

The park is owned by the city and admittance is free! The only cost is to watch a 15 minute movie that goes back 1 billion years to tell the story of how the area and the rocks were created.

The short story is that the rocks were originally horizontal bands of soil at the bottom of a shallow ocean that were very compressed over long periods of time. Then, when the sublimation that formed the Rockies occurred, the horizontal bands were pushed into vertical bands, and the harder bands have not eroded like the other bands did.

There are several hiking trails that go around the rock formations. We hike a 1-mile trail going to a formation called the “Siamese Twins” because there are two towers standing together and joined.

There’s also a very unique dinosaur fossil that was discovered in one of the rocks. It’s the only one of it’s kind in the world! It resides in a museum in the east, but there’s a cast of it at the park and a recreation of what the dinosaur might have looked like.

All in all, a very interesting and informative park! Here are some pictures:


Florrisant Fossil Beds – fossils and petrified wood buried in volcanic mudflows

The Florrisant Fossil Bed National Monument isn’t very well known, but it is very interesting.

Thirty-four million years ago this part of Colorado was a lake with a warm, temperate climate. There were many types of insects, birds, fish and mammals. This was also the home to a forest of giant redwoods, some estimated to be 500-750 years old and 250+ feet high.

But, there was a nearby volcano that erupted and spewed out ash and mud flow that buried the lake and 15 feet of the surrounding forest. The lake had a surface layer of a type of algae that, combined with the ash/mud flow, served to cement the insects, mammals, plants, birds etc. and eventually produced a huge assortment of fossils in the area. The stumps of the redwoods became petrified over time.

In the late 1800 settlers came into the area and started to find the fossils and stumps. Some of the settlers collected and preserved a wide array of fossils and turned them over to scientists who came out to see the area. But, other settlers opened their land to tourists who dug up lots of fossils and broke apart many of the stumps for souveniors.

In the 1930s area residents started petitioning the government to protect the area. But, it wasn’t until 1969 that the area became a national monument and the remaining fossils and stumps were protected.

Now the area is a grassy meadow and forested land with many trails that visitors can walk around the view the remaining petrified redwood stumps and a museum that displays many fossils and a history of the area.

Here are some pictures we took:

Mesa Verde – the most popular ancient cliff dwelling sites

Probably the most famous of the ancient Puebloan sites is Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado. There are over 1,000 archeological sites on the Mesa Verde plateaus, about 600 of them are cliff houses. Most are unexcavated and not accessible to visitors, and most that are accessible are only through a guided tour. We visited one cliff dwelling that didn’t require a guided tour although there was a ranger at the site, and Jeff visited two others with a guided tour. Based on the steep steps and ladders (my hip has been bothering me when climbing up) and on the very small tunnels visitors have to crawl through I decided to stay home.

Cliff Palace is the ‘crown jewel’ of all the sites at Mesa Verde. It really is a palace! The site was excavated to recover artifacts, and the rubble removed and many walls rebuilt so that visitors can see how the ancient puebloans lived here. The Balcony House is also very large and fabulous.

We also walked around some of the pueblo style structures.

We had a great time visiting Mesa Verde – here are some pictures:

Black Canyon of Gunnison – very steep and beautiful

We visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison located near Montrose, CO. It’s an immense canyon that was cut through hard metamorphic rock over millions of years producing very vertical canyon walls. The canyon is located on a mesa, so you have to drive up to get to the top of the canyon and see down into it.

It’s not as large as the Grand Canyon but is very impressive! There are several overlooks on the south rim where we visited and also on the north rim. It can be climbed by experienced rock climbers but of course we didn’t do that! There is no evidence that ancient natives lived in the canyon itself because of the type of rock – very hard metamorphic rock with shafts of lighter colored rock that was molten and squeezed up into cracks in the older metamorphic rock (not lava, but similar to it). As the river started running across the mesa and cutting into it, the hard rock caused the river to stay on it’s course cutting deeper and deeper rather than meandering and widening the canyon.

There is a narrow, very steep road (in many areas it’s got a 16% incline!) that goes to the dam built at the head of the canyon. It was built not to create a large lake but to divert water to the nearby valleys for irrigation. It has reduced the river somewhat but not too much.

It was very interesting to see this canyon cut into such hard rock!

Here are some pictures: