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Published: September 19th 2013
JOHNNY'S JOURNEYS: COLORADO 2013
July 23 (Tuesday)
3:30 a.m. alarm clock. That's about 3 and 1/2 hours of sleep. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for
breakfast. Check our list a few more times. I really think we have everything. And then our taxi arrives at
5:00. It is still dark as we arrive at the airport at 5:20. Check in the luggage at the United Airlines desk,
then proceed through the screeners. X-rays detect a large object in my back pocket. Duh, it is a wallet!
Had to get that rescanned and have my hands swabbed for explosive powder.
The three of us board the plane and at 6:15 we are on our way. Happy Vacation Day! Flying above the
clouds, I look down upon the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I could see a few casinos in Biloxi and recognized
the Beau Rivage. It seems we pretty much followed the coast line before setting down in Houston, Texas.
Bethany wants a little more breakfast, so we grab a couple of egg-and-chorizo tortillas. Time to board
and we settle into our seats as we approach a 9:00 take-off. Finally airborne about 9:20 and we proceed to
reset our clocks to Mountain Time. Each seat has a small screen to watch movies or television; maps; or
general information. Janet and Bethany find movies to watch: Thor and Monsters, Inc. I enjoy looking at a
map of our flight. Houston has an elevation of 86 feet. And it is also 86 degrees outside. The flight reaches
an altitude of 28,000 feet while travelling 475 mph. The air temperature registers 15 below zero.
Look at that, I found a Trivia game to entertain myself. The First round had 20 questions on eight dif-
ferent topics. Then I went onto the Bonus round. Proud to say that I had the top three scores of ALL the
passengers that played on our flight. That was fun.
About 10:30 we touch down in Colorful Colorado. Being a tourist, I had to take a picture of the
Welcome To Denver sign inside the airport. And there is such a feeling of relief when all three pieces of
luggage arrive. (We recall Janet's lost luggage for the first nine days of our Irish vacation).
The shuttle bus to the Enterprise Car Rental spot is waiting for us. And we are right on time with our
11:30 reservation. There are three vehicles to choose from. We'll go with the fine looking silver colored
Chevrolet Equinox SUV. It has 15,555 miles on it and I'm curious to see how many miles we shall add to
it in the next 14 days.
Driving in the suburb of Aurora, we look for someplace to eat. Time for lunch and we stop at a place
we haven't seen before: Uno's Chicago Grill. Bethany wants a deep dish pizza while Janet and I happen to
choose the same item, the guaic-alicious hamburger. We soon find out that "sweet" tea is not on the menu.
So I settle for a raspberry flavored tea... a fine choice.
Our plan was to find a Wal-Mart and do some shopping. First on the list was an ice chest. Then, lots of
supplies. We'll be eating plenty of sandwiches on this trip, when we're not near a restaurant. The Tom-Tom
GPS came along for the ride and we program it for our LaQuinta Inn on South Abilene Street. With the
time change, it's like we've been up since 2:30 this morning. Time for a long nap, about four hours.
We snacked on cookies and looked at travel brochures. Trying to plan on what to see tomorrow in
downtown Denver, after the college tour. Janet said that we forgot 4-5 items from our Wal-Mart trip from
earlier in the afternoon. So, I find a Walgreens about 10 o'clock.
I stop at our front desk and place a wake-up call, then pass by the swimming pool. Had to stop and look
out at a full moon. There's a nice reflection in the water. Such a peaceful way to end our first day in the
Centennial State. In bed about 10:30.
July 24 (Wednesday)
With the 6:00 alarm, Bethany is up first today. I then go on to the lobby for breakfast. Along the way,
I see a bird's nest in the bending joint of a gutter. After several shots, I finally get a great photo of the
momma sparrow, sticking her head out from the nest.
At 8:45 we are on our way to Golden. Bethany has an appointment at 10 a.m. for a tour of the Colorado
School of Mines. Our meeting with Mr. Jahi Simbai is at Guggenheim Hall, in the gold-domed building
We chat with Jahi about 45 minutes and get a feel for graduate school. Our family is planning ahead... four
years from now, when Bethany's days at South Alabama are over. We walk to the Geology building and
meet a few faculty members. Quite informative, with a lot of "field work" opportunities. Also on the tour we
see a rock climbing wall, the cafeteria, gymnasium and swimming pool. Very impressive. Will she wind up
here in four years? We don't know, only time will tell. But it has a feel of "home" to her.
What a treat, there is a Geology Museum to visit. Such a large variety of specimens for viewing. This is
one of the best geology museums in the western U.S.A. One of my favorite sections had the shortwave,
ultraviolet fluorescent minerals. With a black-light turned on them, these rocks glowed colors of blue, red,
green and yellow. Awesome!
Janet and Bethany concluded our 4-hour tour / visit with a trip to the bookstore. I drove a few blocks to
the Clear Creek History Park. There were log cabins, a church, fields of vegetables and old farming tools.
This park is adjacent to Clear Creek where several folks were tubing and swimming and walking dogs and
relaxing on the creek. Fun!
Picking up the girls about 30 minutes later, I have a new souvenir CO School of Mines tee shirt. Took
them by the creek park before driving into the downtown district. An arched sign proclaimed: Howdy
Folks: Welcome To Golden... Where The Wild West Lives. We'll eat lunch at the Table Mountain Inn
Restaurant. Including an appetizer, I think our three meals (burgers and tacos) could have fed ten people.
Tentatively, we were going to see Janet's cousin for dinner tonight. Frank lives in Aurora. However, he
was dispatched to Cheyenne, Wyoming on a last minute work assignment. Well, sure hope to see him on
our next visit. A nice little drive brings us back to our LaQuinta in Aurora. Plan B: Janet and Bethany will
stay in tonight while I go to see a Colorado Rockies baseball game. Approaching Coors Field, people are
out in the streets, trying to get you to park at their spot. Saw Parking signs for $10, then $20, then $25. A
few blocks over, I found one for $10.
Purple signs touted this as the 20th year of the Rockies, playing in downtown Denver. Bought a ticket
in the upper deck for $24 and had a great view of the game and stadium. Pleased that the Rockies won the
game, 2-1 over the Miami Marlins. This is now my fourth major league baseball park to visit: Atlanta
Braves, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and now Colorado Rockies.
Had to visit the souvenir shop and pick up a few items. Plus, at the guest services booth, I received a
pin to remember my first trip to Coors Field. Had a blast! So glad I was able to come out here tonight. As
I tried leaving the parking lot, I came to realize how tightly packed all these vehicles were. Then trying to
make a sharp turn onto an alley. Glad a local worker helped me back out of my parking spot.
July 25 (Thursday)
The three of us staggered our getting up routine this morning: 3:20 and 4:00 then 4:30. At 5:15 we have
left the LaQuinta and are heading to Chatfield State Park in southwest Denver. We have 6:00 reservations
with Rocky Mountain Hot Air Balloon Rides. I've been concerned for a week that we would get lost and
not find the place. And we do pass by the site before we call and get good directions. Seeing a wind-sock,
we arrive on time at 5:59. What a relief.
Our pilot Curt and his wife Marlene greet us. It then takes about 45 minutes to prepare for our balloon
ride. Marlene took a few pictures of us just as the balloon starts to rise. We are the only three passengers
on this trip, though it can handle four tourists. We are soon off the ground and skimming treetops. As our
balloon crossed over a lake, I could sew hundreds of animal tracks at the water's edge. As we get closer to
a few dozen ducks, they start swimming away from us. And the periodic roar of the propane-fueled flame
scatters the baby ducks. My, how fast they can swim.
Drifting at 300 feet for awhile, we see houses and roads. Then Curt takes us higher and higher, up to 2000
feet above ground level. From that distance, we easily view the downtown Denver skyline; and can see about
60 miles away! It was easy to see which yards had a sprinkler system for their green yards. But most yards
were naturally brown. Such a smooth ride. Floating over an empty area, I look down and see a herd of elk,
maybe 60 of them. What an awesome sight. There is a geological area, just east of the major Rockies chain,
with very different looking red rocks. They stand out against the green, tree covered hills behind them.
After about an hour, our balloon, called Sun Walker tried to land. We descended to an open area near train
tracks. We made a hard "thump" on the ground and within one minute heard a train whistle. Time to go "up".
I counted about 100 coal carrying cars on that northbound train. A few minutes later, here comes a southbound
train, also carrying coal. Well, we shall find another place to land. Five or ten minutes later, we reach the earth
as we set down near a beautiful sod-grass farm.
After getting permission to land there and pack the balloon, Sun Walker calls Sky Chaser and gives
Marlene our location. The truck and trailer soon arrive and we start to pack it. Bethany and I are asked to help
load the deflated balloon into a huge carrying case. A dog has to come over to sniff and check us out. Twenty
minutes later we arrive at our destination.
Back at Chatfield, the three of us are given a little history lesson on hot air balloon flying. We listen to a
few details about Montgolfier in 1783 in France. A tradition for first time balloon flyers is to celebrate a safe
return with a small cup of champagne. Curt and Marlene and two of their friends/helpers recite the balloonists
prayer. "The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with his warm hands. You
have flown so high and so well that God has joined you in your laughter. And He has set you gently back again
into the loving arms of Mother Earth." Afterwards, we are given a souvenir certificate of our first hot air
balloon ride. Just an amazing morning. We'll check this off our "bucket list", a flight we shall never forget.
Around 10:00 we find an IHOP in east Denver for breakfast. Then back to Aurora where we check out of
the hotel at 11:45. We drive west on I-70 through Denver. Near Golden, we exit up to Lookout Mountain.
The first of two stops here this afternoon is the Boettcher Mansion. Built in 1917 as the summer home and sea-
sonal hunting lodge of Charles Boettcher, this 110-acre estate was listed on the National Register of Historic
Places in 1984. A German immigrant, Mr. Boettcher founded a hardware store. Later, he opened the first Ideal
Cement Co. There are panoramic views of Denver, 20 miles away. The walls are made of stone and the
family's living room has a huge fireplace. The cathedral beams ceiling really lend character to the place. There
is a garden outside the front door and the mansion is surrounded by hiking trails. Owned by Jefferson County,
the common venues here are conferences, parties and weddings. I especially enjoyed the sun porch room. One
framed letter gave details about a visit from the Queen of Romania. We pass by the old Carriage House as we
stroll back to the car, and are delighted to see hummingbirds.
Another must-see here is the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum and gravesite. Stopping at the Observation Deck,
there is a wonderful view of the Rocky Mountain Front Range and the Great Plains. We could smell the
Ponderosa pines as we arrived at the gravesite. Buffalo Bill was "Laid to rest at his request" in 1917, next to
Lunch time and there's a cafeteria next to the gift shop. On our menu was chili, veggie soup and burgers.
Bethany had to have a root-beer float. Several souvenirs caught my eye, especially the Nativity Set featuring
wooden bears. It was too cute.
There was so much history packed into the museum. I like it when we start with a little movie. As a child,
Bill Cody carried messages for soldiers and ran errands for stagecoach companies. Then he joined the Pony
Express. It was a dangerous job, delivering the mail. He became one of America's first comic book heroes.
People did not want to just read about him in these dime novels, they wanted to see him and learn about his
adventures. So, he created a show called Buffalo Bill's Wild West. It was part rodeo and part circus. His
costume brought everything together: the fringed jacket from his days as a scout, beads from Indian clothes,
tall leather boots from the Army, and a fancy saddle decorated in Mexican silver.
Sioux Indians were hired to be in the show. There is a headdress made from real eagle feathers which
belonged to Chief Iron Tail. Not only were these shows a huge hit in America, but in 1887 the Wild West
show debuted in England. And two years later it returned to Europe. In all, the Wild West show lasted from
1882 until 1913. One of his star performers was Annie Oakley, nicknamed Little Sure Shot by Sitting Bull. His
show featured hundreds of people, cowboys, cowgirls, the Native Indians and animals: buffalo, elk, horses and
Wish we could have stayed longer, but the rain is coming and now we're heading to Frisco. Signs indicate
a work stoppage ahead on I-70. We are essentially parked on the road for more than 20 minutes. There were a
few teenagers in the car behind us. On a dare, one of the girls gets out and runs up ahead to touch the back of a
large truck. I stick my hand out the window and she gives me a Hi-5 as she runs by. Think that is the first time
I've exchanged a Hi-5 with anyone on the interstate before.
In Frisco we find our New Summit Inn and settle in about 6:30. We are so tired, we sleep for about four
hours. Eat sandwiches for supper about 10:30, then go on back to bed.
July 26 (Friday)
7:00 and time to get up. I went to the lobby to see about breakfast. Above the coffee maker was a wooden
sign of a bear, drinking a cup of hot coffee. In the bottom corners were 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., which were
the breakfast hours... adorable! Today we shall have pastries and bagels.
When taking the suitcases out to the car, I could still see the moon over the mountain tops... nice. Couldn't
help but notice the thermometer by the front door, as it registered 50 degrees. In the lobby were a few large
deer heads, looking down upon the stairway. Yes, took a few pictures before checking out at 10:00.
We then drive into downtown Frisco and it had the feel of an alpine village. Most of the shops and
businesses had flowers planted out front. It was a pleasure seeing so many blue spruce trees. Thought of how
much my mother would have enjoyed visiting here. Needed to make another quick stop at a Wal-Mart for a
few items. Outside in the parking lot / garden center I saw rolls of sod grass. That was a first for me to see that
Shopping at the Alpine Natural Foods, we found a couple more things we needed. Then we drove on to the
Lake Dillon Marina. There are about 27 miles of shoreline here. Dillon Lake is home to the highest elevated
yacht club in North America, sitting at 9000 feet above sea level. As we walked toward the marina, I see the
U.S.A. Junior Olympic Sailing Festival participants are meeting. A flag nearby showed the USA at the top and
five Olympic rings at the bottom.
What is there to do here? For starters, get my picture taken beside the lighthouse. Also there are sailboats,
boats for fishing, kayaks, paddle-boards, yachts, a water-taxi, swimming and sun-bathing. At 11:30 we climb
the stairs to the deck of the Island Grill Restaurant. Janet and I both decided (again) on the battered cod-fish.
We look out at the peninsula. And there is a small beach area where kids are playing. This is such a pleasant
place to visit... like a paradise!
As we are about to leave, a 3 year old boy near us gets away from his grandmother. He scoots for the stairs
and I quickly jump up to "rescue" the little fellow. I was in the right place at the right time.
We take I-70 East to a scenic overlook. There are dozens of small islands. Glad we chose Frisco for our 3rd
night. Less than ten minutes later, we exit at Silverthorne. There are three separate villages of Factory Outlets.
The first stop is at Columbia Sportswear. There's all sorts of outdoor clothing and shoes to check out. Almost
got a nice pair of hiking boots but they didn't quite fit Bethany. But we did find her a nice light-weight rain
jacket. We then drive under the interstate, along River Road, and visit the Izod store. After buying three sweat-
shirts we're heading west again.
Near Idaho Springs (elevation 8700 feet) we exit the interstate and drive 14 miles to the Mount Evans park
entrance. Known as "the road into the sky", it is easy to see why it is listed as a Scenic Byway. Another 14
miles will take us to the summit. A sign read: Welcome to Mount Evans ... North America's Highest Auto
Road... 14,260 Feet. There were so many turns and curves and switchbacks as we continued to climb another
5000 feet. Finally passed the tree line and we entered a Tundra region.
Near the nine mile mark, we stopped at Summit Lake. Bethany and I took the little trail to the lake. Janet
stayed in our warm car and took in views of the lake, meadows and snow-covered mountains. With the temp-
erature in the 30's and still in a short sleeved shirt, I began to shiver. So, we made it a quick hike. But I did
spot a yellow bellied marmot and got a picture while he was on his hind haunches.
About four miles later, we saw a mountain goat. After a few more turns, we were thrilled to see five more.
At the parking lot, we saw a few more! Surprised to see a University of Denver observatory up here. In fact, it
was the highest altitude observatory on the planet, until the year 2000. I could only imagine how many stars
one could view on a dark night.
Snow fell here last night. I scooped up a handful and took it to Janet. Had to take a picture of my wife
holding a snowball in July. From the parking lot, there is another 100+ feet to climb. Bethany and I make it!
14,264 feet. What wonderful panoramic views below us.
Driving down the mountain we see a different family of mountain goats. Some are still shedding their
winter coats. Had to carefully concentrate on my driving, since there are no guardrails. Wanted to stop at
Summit Lake again. The sun has replaced the clouds and there are some good photo opportunities.
Just below the park entrance, at Echo Lake, we stop again. There are two deer looking for grass. Across the
road, Bethany wants her picture taken next to a one-foot tall "Christmas tree".
From I-70 we drive a few miles to Idaho Springs. One of the first things we see is the Argo Gold Mine and
Mill. Opened in 1893, it was active for 50 years. It was opened in 1976 as a tourist attraction, as a historical
mining museum. Hey, you can even pan for gold. It is time for supper and we go to the Main Street Restaurant.
We read about the history of this place on the menu. A former feed, flour and hardware store, it was built in
1884. The meatloaf looks good to me. Janet wants breakfast while Bethany goes with the green chili. I
watched some of the CO Rockies baseball game on television.
Next door to the restaurant was Margie's Place. Thought of my sister, Margie, back in Alabama. It is a store
with souvenirs, gifts, candy and tee-shirts. There were "owl" pajamas in the front window so the girls wanted
to check it out. They also found a huckleberry night shirt. Hey, my daughter enjoys her shopping.
There are 138 long miles before we arrive in Steamboat Springs. It is about 9:15 as we drive north through
the dark, sparsely populated areas. Seems like hundreds of sharp turns and hair-pin curves. Couldn't count how
many times we had to slow down to 30, 25, 20 or 15 mph. I have 42 years of driving experience. But at night
on an unfamiliar road, this was not easy.
Stopped in Granby at 10:30 and called our hotel. I told Jose that we would arrive after midnight. Jose said
he left at 11:00 but we should use the phone at the front entrance. And at 5 after midnight we finally reach our
hotel. There are ten small lock-boxes by the phone. The operator was at Legacy headquarters in Orlando, FL.
She gave me a 3-digit code to box 1. It opened and there was a sticky-note for Room 102 on the plastic key-
card. Well, that card did not work. I made another call and was told that card would work for Room 515. That
did not work either. After my third phone call, the operator called "security" to help us. Finally in Room 515
and will go to the front desk tomorrow to get a key-card that actually works.
We bring in the luggage and pull a few items out. Had to pull out the sofa bed for Bethany and put on the
sheets. Janet and I have our bed up in the loft. On the 5th floor, there is a large 6 foot x 6 foot window on our
slanted wall. From the bed, I can see the lights of the city below. At last in our beds at 1 a.m.
July 27 (Saturday)
Sunlight and lots of it early in the morning. Rested until after 10:00 this morning. Sure needed that. Now
it's time to get up, find something to eat and go take on the day. This is a day to recharge our batteries: camera,
telephone and ourselves. About noon, I went down to the front desk and got two plastic key-cards. Told them
of our previous night's adventure. We have reservations for 7 nights at the Legacy Vacation Club Steamboat
There is a Wal-Mart three blocks away. Time to buy about 7 days worth of foods. Early this afternoon we
enjoyed scrambled eggs and chicken sandwiches. Then watched an old Indiana Jones movie and just relaxed.
Brought a restaurant guide book from the lobby up to our room. Of all the places to eat, only two featured
mountain trout. So, we chose the Sweetwater Grill, overlooking the Yampa River. From the back window, it
looks like the river is only about 20 feet away. Tonight, there is no mountain trout on the menu. We have
sweet potato gnocchi, buffalo steak, and chicken cordon bleu. I notice a table of 5 girls behind us. While
awaiting their meals, ALL five of the young ladies were texting on their phones at the same time. Very good
food and a nice view of the river. In bed early tonight at 10:30.
July 28 (Sunday)
An unexpected phone call at 2:15 a.m. The night manager of my Wal-Mart in Mobile, AL was calling. The
pharmacy alarm had been set off. Police were called in to check things out and saw no problem. The alarm
eventually quit sounding on its own. So the manager did not need my alarm code, but he was curious as to why
it went off. Couldn't really tell him why.
I go back to sleep until 6:30. After a shower, I walk down to the computer in the lobby. Clicking on the
weather channel site, I see there will be rain, thunderstorms and maybe flash floods for most of today at the
national park. We'll find something else to do today.
Lots of rain until about noon, then we're driving north of Craig to experience another "ghost town". The
only one here in Routt County is at Hahn's Peak. Founded as a gold mining camp in 1865, it served as the
county seat from 1877 to 1912. Then Steamboat Springs became the county seat. Hahn's Peak has made a little
bit of a comeback as there are now 65 permanent residents. About 125 people stay here during the summer.
Volunteers from the Historical Society preserved the schoolhouse which was built in 1911; the museum; the
Wither House; the Bear Cage Jail and the Pole Barn. It was a step back in time for us. So many interesting
items in the museum.
Our guide lives here just in the summer months. We had (coincidentally) stopped by her house to get a view
of the hummingbirds. Close to 20 of them at the four colorful feeders. She said that at night, there are usually
sixty hummingbirds that feed. Amazing. Was able to get several good, close-up pictures.
Not too many choices for lunch, but we decided on the Hahn's Peak Cafe. The girls wanted the Philly
cheese sandwiches. I wanted something a little different: the Mountain Man plate. It featured biscuits, sausage,
2 fried eggs, chilis, onions and sliced potatoes. It took a while, but I finished this wonderful brunch plate.
Across the road at the Steamboat Lake State Park visitor center we got information on the Kremmling
Ammonite Fossil area. That is on the agenda for tomorrow. Bethany drove us back to Steamboat.
I went and relaxed in the swimming pool and hot tubs, while Janet and Bethany went shopping and found
three dresses. After the rain I saw a beautiful rainbow. A nice ending to our day. In bed at 10:15.
July 29 (Monday)
Up at 7:00 and we ate breakfast here. At 8:30 we are on our way south to explore the Ammonite fossil
area. About 12 miles north of Kremmling, we exited onto a couple of gravel roads (County roads 25 and 26).
A sign welcomes us to the Wolford Mountain Area. It informs us about livestock, wildlife and plants,
protecting Colorado's cultural heritage and the region's geology and paleontology. The fossils found here
provide evidence that Colorado was once under water. Marine vertebrate and invertebrate fossils are roughly
72 millions years old.
The Kremmling Cretaceous Ammonite Locality (KCAL) has the highest concentration of ammonite fossils
in the world. About 100 different marine species have been found here: clams, snails, brachiopods, crabs, fish,
gastropods, and several types of ammonites. We walked and looked for about 2 and 1/2 hours and found well
over one hundred fossil remains. There were mollusks, bivalves, ammonites and a few bones. Wanted to keep
walking deeper into the site, to the "richer" area of ammonites, but thunderstorms were starting to roll in.
Bethany and I took about 100 pictures of fossils that we saw and examined. Then we placed them back into
their own spots. Had not originally planned on this excursion / adventure, since it was just yesterday that we
learned about this site. As we exited, saw a sharp-beaked hawk upon a fence post eating a pica. That's nature.
On our way back to Steamboat Springs there are two signs for the Continental Divide. The one at Muddy
Pass has an elevation of 8772 feet. Not far away is a sign for Rabbit Ears Pass has an elevation of 9426 feet.
Both signs show the direction of the Pacific and Atlantic Watersheds. Also saw several "Open Range" signs.
Going through the mountain passes, there were a few steep grades of 6% and 7%. There were a couple of
Runaway Truck Ramps. Couldn't imagine a scarier scenario than a truck losing its brakes and barreling down
the road on these steep declines. It is easy to pick up speed on these stretches of Hwy. 40. Then I saw a state
trooper quickly turn his car around and start following me. I pulled over as soon as I saw the flashing lights.
I had been clocked driving 62 in a 50 mph zone. I calmly told him about our two week trip to Colorado and
what we planned on seeing. Maybe he believed that we would be spending some money in his state... and he
gave me a verbal warning. Quite fortunate. Promised him that I would drive slower.
Arrived back at our Hilltop hotel about 2:00. Janet and Bethany fixed deli sandwiches for lunch. Then we
took a 2-hour nap. Oh, that was nicely needed.
Bethany wants to show me some of the hot springs pools in the downtown Steamboat Springs area. Park the
car next to the Yampa River. We grab our cameras as we start to explore. The first we see is the Black Sulphur
Springs with its inky color. Legend has it that three French trappers first noticed this unusual spring in the
Yampa River valley. The spouting spring, accompanied by a "chugging" sound, reminded them of a steam-
boat. Since the early 1870s, the trappers, guides and miners came to recognize and know the future town-site
as Steamboat Springs. We climbed a rocky hillside and walked parallel to the train track. And we found yet
another spring flowing from out of a small cave.
Janet had told me of her concern for how close a few of these springs are located to the railroad tracks.
Some are just a few feet away. I saw a wild blueberry bush that was loaded with ripe juicy berries. Sure
wanted a little snack but Bethany disapproved. I noticed a white mineral residue as these springs flowed down
the hillside and into the Yampa River.
The Soda Spring is located inside a pleasant gazebo. Its flow was disrupted by the construction of the
nearby highway and the Cabin Hotel. For decades, visitors would stop by this effervescent spring for a glass of
Next for us was Iron Spring. The sign here states that: This spring was enjoyed by the Crawford family,
founders of Steamboat Springs. In her classic book, "The Cabin At Medicine Springs", Lulita Crawford
Pritchett describes the delicious taste of "iron water lemonade".
Sulphur Springs was the prettiest one to me. It is the most fragrant with its odiferous sulphur gas. Native
American tribes appreciated its special curative powers. Animals such as deer, elk, black bear and horses have
a particular craving for the odiferous waters.
We left our little treasure hunt and went to a grocery store. Looking forward to spaghetti tonight for supper.
As we left, we saw a beautiful rainbow. On closer inspection, we could see a faint second rainbow. This was
above our hotel on the adjacent hilltop, above the Safeway parking lot.
The girls are watching a movie and cooking as I catch up on my travel diary. When finished, I label two
zip-lock bags with rocks. One is from Lake Dillon and has about 20 little chips of mica. The second is for
rocks found along the Yampa River, where we viewed the springs. There is iron ore, pumice and smooth river
At 11:00 which is midnight in Mobile, Bethany and I go to the computer in the lobby. Bethany clicks onto
the South Alabama website for class schedules and attempts to "drop and add". A slight miscalculation, this
starts at 6:00 a.m., not at midnight. So we request a 4:50 wake-up call and we'll try again in six hours.
July 30 (Tuesday)
As mentioned, 4:50 came pretty early and too soon. Bethany successfully added the Honors Geology Lab
that she needed. I get on Facebook and send happy birthday wishes to my brother-in-law, Bill. Okay, back to
bed and sleep until about 7:00. Almost 10:00 when we left. Bought some ice and we're on our way. Our
destination today is the Rocky Mountain National Park. The weather will be nicer today.
We pass by Lake Granby and Grand Lake. It is very pretty looking down on the blue waters and sailboats.
At 8280 feet, the Lake Granby Yacht Club is one of the highest elevation yacht clubs in the world. The lake is
stocked yearly with a few million trout and salmon.
It is time to take our traditional pictures of us at the national park sign. At the visitor center, we looked at
maps and brochures of hiking trails and a ghost town and saw where the Colorado River actually starts. There
is a sign telling of 20 animals we are likely to see in the park, time of day, season, habitat and likely locations.
Three that are no longer located in the park include gray wolves, grizzly bear and rattlesnake. That makes me
There is a paragraph from Henry David Thoreau that caught my attention. "The trail ahead leads into
wilderness. It is a place where wild plants and animals live out their daily lives and where natural processes
prevail. It is an area for people to be spiritually refreshed and physically challenged. It is an area to enjoy". 415
square miles of parkland await us. There are 359 miles of trails, 150 lakes, 450 miles of streams, 26 glaciers
and 72 named peaks higher than 12,000 feet. From the higher elevations, on a clear day you can see Wyoming.
For the next 48 miles we will drive along the Trail Ridge Road, designated as a Scenic Byway. I was
curious about the 15-20 foot tall wood poles alongside the edge of the road. They help guide the snowplows in
the spring. It was interesting to read that it takes about 42 days to plow the Trail Ridge Road.
We must have stopped at every scenic overlook. Travelers go from mild, warm temperatures to cold, frigid
ones in a very short period of time. The green forests give way to rocky tundra with each passing mile. At
11,500 feet we reach the timberline, where trees no longer grow. This road has eleven miles with an elevation
above 11,000 feet, reaching its peak at 12,183 feet. It is the highest continuous paved road in the United States.
We stopped at Milner Pass to read another sign atop the Continental Divide. The elevation is 10,759 feet.
This Great Divide separates water drainage from the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. It traverses America
from Alaska almost to Cape Horn. I am just fascinated be these continental divide locations. As we passed
another curve and looked down upon a beautiful meadow, we saw a herd of about 75 grazing deer. At many of
the scenic overlooks there were interpretive signs. They gave nice insights of the area.
Near the top of this road we stopped at The Alpine Visitor Center. The building is in "hibernation" and
closed for seven months each year. Winds of 150 mph here are not uncommon. I could only imagine. This
center is really a "remote island in the sky", for there are no utility or phone lines connecting it to the outside
world. A diesel generator provides the power. A nearby dam collects snowmelt which is treated and stored
for water needs.
The next stop for our young geologist was at the Lava Cliffs. These dark cliffs were created by the carving
actions of glacial ice through a thick layer of tuff (volcanic ash and debris) that was deposited here about 28
million years ago during volcanic eruptions in the Never Summer range, 12 miles west of here. There was a
fast moving avalanche of molten rock and gas. Where the flow stopped, it fused itself into a solid mass.
At the Forest Canyon Overlook, a sign described the subalpine forest ecosystem. It was also interesting to
read what glaciers had done to the landscape. Today it took about five hours to drive through the park and exit
at Estes Park. After filling the gas tank (no gasoline stations inside the park) we head westward and retrace our
route. We will have to come back tomorrow and do some serious hiking. On the western section of RMNP
several cars are pulled over. That is our cue to do the same thing. We see a moose, munching on leaves.
About 7:30 we stop in the town of Hot Sulphur Springs for supper. From my table, it was enjoyable to look
out the window and see the Colorado River. Arrived at the hotel about 10:00 and soon were in bed.
July 31 (Wednesday)
Up at 5:00 for we originally planned on leaving at 5:45. There is a guided "Geology Trail Hike" by the park
rangers at 9:00. Just too tired, so we reset the alarm for seven. Bethany and I will just hike it on our own and at
our own pace. Janet will stay at the hotel, wash clothes and rest her ankle today. She has had foot troubles.
Bethany and I actually leave about 10:15 and drive through McDonalds for breakfast. We drive on the same
Hwy. 40 we have come to know so well. Ten miles south of Steamboat Springs we see "our" state trooper. He
has pulled three cars over. Guess they had all been speeding. We drive on through Kremmling, then Hot
Sulphur Springs, then Granby. Take Hwy. 34 north and pass the two lakes : Granby and Grand. Looking down
on the fishing boats and sailboats was such a peaceful and pretty sight.
I presented our 7-day park pass and told the attendant that we had come back to do some hiking. Stopped at
the first little picnic table area, but there were no picnic tables there. At 12:45 we parked in a secluded and
shady area. For lunch today, Bethany and I will have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and gatorade. With
our car windows rolled down we sure enjoy the quietness of the park... and the gentle breezes. As we are
finishing, a car pulls into the slot next to us. On their back bumper, the mother leaves a blue, plastic hotel key-
card. It was from Legacy. Hey, we're staying at one of those. Bethany was concerned that it was mine. It was
not. So, I wedged the card into the driver's window. Think that will save them a lot of trouble.
One of our first stops was at a Two Miles Above Sea Level sign... 10,560 feet. Our next destination was the
Alpine Visitor Center. Elevation is 11,796 feet. Needed to buy a few souvenir tee-shirts. Then we're hiking a
steep trail up, up and up. Since we are above the tree line, there were no trees growing here. I tried taking
pictures of each of the 16 little signs alongside our trail. It had the name of the alpine plant next to it in the
There was a second outcropping of rocks to climb to. I stood on the highest one and set my camera to
"video". Took a 360 degree video from the top... breathtakingly beautiful. It was a thrill to see snow banks on
several of these peaks.
Dozens of cars are pulled off the road so we park at the Lava Cliffs site. There are two huge male elk with
large racks of antlers that were grazing nearby. They did not seem to be bothered by the humans. Kept a safe
distance, then used the zoom lens. They were so majestic looking.
On ahead was a dream come true for me: big horn sheep. They were on a rocky slope, doing what sheep
do... eating. Took lots of pictures from the roadside, then viewed them through the binoculars. Bethany
followed me up a paved hiking trail for a closer view. As they were grazing, all six were facing away from us.
We laughed about taking a picture of the big horn sheep butts.
Then the unexpected happened, it started to hail on us. Signs had warned us visitors that the weather could
change suddenly. But it was a little surprising when we were hailed on for a few minutes. I'm glad it was small
sized hail as we climbed back into the car.
Our next stop would be Bear Lake, since we did not have the time to see it yesterday. This is a mild 0.6
mile hike around a lake with the serrated tops of mountain peaks in the distance. There are wide trails that
take you all around the lake, with several places to stop and just take in the views. And the water was so clear!
Well, now its time for the 1.2 mile hike up to Alberta Falls. We could certainly hear the roar of the falls as
we got closer. And there were about ten gold-mantled ground squirrels that we tried taking pictures of. Plus,
there were a few of the garden variety squirrels. There were lots of fellow hikers on our trails today. We then
hiked down to Glacier Gorge Trailhead and enjoyed seeing the variety of wildflowers. Unfortunately, we have
missed the last shuttle bus to the Bear Lake parking lot. A frantic mother asks if we have seen their two
children, who had become separated from their parents on the last leg of the hike. Wow, how frightening can
they be for a parent?
We will just have to walk along the Bear Lake Road. With darkness coming upon us, I think this will be
easier than hiking back on our previous trail. So we face traffic as we walk back to our car. About 20 vehicles
pass us so we step safely into the grass. Finally make it.
Now there is a 48 mile ride ahead of us, just to exit the park and its getting dark fast. The truck ahead of us
stops to watch a few deer. Then he stops again as a coyote ambles down the road toward us. Could not get a
good picture. Don't think I've ever seen one, out in the wild. After crossing right in front of us, it turns and
walks past Bethany's open window... only two feet away from her! Only wish our night time pix had turned
As we continue driving we see the herd of 75 deer again. They are to the left, the right, and in the middle of
the road. (Hey, this is their home). It seems like the grass for grazing is always greener by the roadside.
There is no way to drive fast in here, for there are hundreds of curves. On several of these hair-pin curves,
you just have to slow down to 15 mph. I've got to stay alert because of the wild animals. Anyway, we finally
left the park at 9:40. There is no way of knowing how many other animals we could have seen at night.
Arriving in Granby, we stop at a Kum-and-Go service station. It is nice to have a full tank of gasoline at
night. Could not get any cell phone coverage inside the national park. Stopped at a McDonald's about 10:30 for
supper. I asked the manager to use their cell phone to call Janet, but still couldn't make a connection. Up the
road a little ways, Bethany was finally able to make contact. I knew my wife would be concerned, but she
already knew about no phone service inside the park. Pulled into our parking lot about one-half hour after
midnight. Wow, a 14-hour trip. We are ready for bed.
August 1 (Thursday)
At 7:20 I woke up and was wide awake and alert. This is not how I wanted to start my day. Took a bag of
laundry downstairs. One of the two washing machines had been removed a few days ago. That's why Janet was
never able to wash any clothes yesterday. Four loads of washing and drying later, it is finished at 1:30 p.m.
Not a fun vacation day, but it was certainly necessary. My two girls couldn't seem to get going this morning.
Janet suggested that I do what I wanted to do, so I reluctantly left them behind.
About 2:30 I'm on my way to the Old Town Hot Springs. The facility has eight hot spring fed pools, two
giant twisting waterslides, a pool just for swimming laps and a rock-climbing wall. One of the waterslides
offered total darkness for most of the ride. Of course, I have to get in each one. The small sign for the tourists
at Heart Springs showed a water temperature of 103 degrees and a water flow of 150 gallons / minute. And
there are varying temperatures at the different pools. What really got my attention was the rock climb. The
object is to climb high enough up the rock wall then JUMP up and slap a bell, that is hanging from the upper
deck. This is quite difficult for most everyone. My second attempt was better than my first. And a few teen-
agers were successful.
This was a very relaxing two hours. In one of the pools, I thought I stepped on a small rock. Upon closer
view, it looked like a sharks tooth. Could the natural springs have bubbled it up into the pool? Who knows? In
a few of the pools I let the hot water jets soothe my sore muscles. It felt like a good massage, after all our
hiking. I can see why these hot springs pools are on the "must see" list of things to do in Steamboat Springs.
Back to the room and we're about ready to go shopping at a Fossils, Rock and Jewelry store. There were
some amazing specimens in there. One slab of trilobites had a $17,500 price tag. A large slab with several fish
fossils was priced at $12,500. They looked like museum quality pieces. Plus, there were excellent amethysts,
copper and meteorite pieces. The leaf fossil for $40 really caught my eye.
We drive about six miles in the rain to Fish Creek Falls, but could only read the sign. We won't be hiking in
this weather to see that today. If we come back to Steamboat again, we'll make time to see it.
Back in town wd decide to stop at the Ore House Restaurant. I read in the dining guide that reservations
were highly recommended. But we waited no more than five minutes. This was definitely worth the wait. Our
last night in Steamboat and Janet and I finally get to eat grilled Rocky Mountain ruby throated trout. And the
salad bar was outstanding. Bethany wants steak-bites in Teriyaki sauce. So good!
This is our last chance to drive up the mountain to the ski village. The gondolas are quiet during the
summer. I could imagine several feet of snow and thousands of skiers enjoying the cold weather days here.
This could be a place that we might visit again. It has been almost 30 years since I last snow skied in Santa Fe.
Back to the hotel and Bethany has to fax a few forms to the South Alabama campus for an upcoming
Honors program camp. It will take place in about 10 days. It has been a good night. Our seventh and final
night here at the Legacy Hilltop. We talked about how it started last week with the key-card fiasco. In bed
before 10:30 and and I could stars through our big window in the sky.
August 2 (Friday)
I'm the first up at 7:00, that's not unusual. I walk the three flights of stairs down to the lobby, where I get tea
for Janet and coffee for Bethany. Time to prepare for leaving this place and we check out at 10 a.m. Wanted to
take a few more pictures of the grounds, overlooking the city.
Our last stop in Steamboat is The Bakery for a variety of goodies. We get a strawberry scone, salty
chocolate brownie, almond bear claw and a breakfast croissant. Take a couple of pictures of the Old Town Hot
Springs as we stop at a red light. Such a nice visit yesterday. Buy gasoline and we're on our way.
Very pretty scenery as we drive south on Hwy. 131. Scenic overlooks offered views of meadows,
mountains, cattle ranches and streams. Beautiful! As we enter Yampa, the sign reads: Gateway To The
Flattops. Just south is an interesting geological formation known as Finger Rock. At Wolcott we return to I-70
West. A geological high-light was driving a six mile stretch of road through Glenwood Canyon. Awesome!
South of Glenwood Springs, we stop in Carbondale where we find a picnic table. From our shaded perch,
we can see the river. And there was a railroad track above us. It is adjacent to a bicycle path. The sign reads:
Rio Grand Trail... Cycle From Glenwood Springs To Aspen. It looked very pleasant.
In just a little while we have arrived in downtown Aspen and park by the Information Center. We walk
about five blocks to the pedestrian shopping district. 315,000 bricks line the former streets and in the middle is
a tiny stream, surrounded by flower gardens, shrubs, trees, art exhibits and sidewalk cafes. Benches are
appreciated for those who are waiting on the women. This is much more upscale than we see back home.
There are places named Gucci, Talbots, Valleygirl Boutique, Souchi, Faboo, Buccellati and The Aspen Jewel
Box. Bethany went in one shop and after the sales girl saw my daughter dressed in shorts and tee-shirt, turned
back the other way. That wasn't very nice.
Aspen, like so many other cities and towns in Colorado was developed as a mining community in the
1870's. Silver was the huge draw. From 1880 to 1893, the population of Aspen grew from 300 to around
16,000. Also, in 1891, Aspen produced one-sixth of the silver in the United States (and one-sixteenth of the
A shuttle service takes tourists up Maroon Creek Road, until 5:00. Well, at 5 p.m. we can start driving our
own car up there to Maroon Bells. This is one of the most photographed mountain spots in the U.S.A. A short
walk from the parking lot takes us to the lake.
The Maroon Bells mountains reflected in the lake are stunning. The three of us slowly hike around the lake,
continuing to take great pictures. Janet finds a nice wooden bench to rest her foot, while Bethany and I keep
hiking around the lake. I've never seen so many lavender wildflowers. They are abundant. Also, several
different varieties of reds, pinks, yellows, and whites. I think I have fallen in love with Colorado wildflowers.
There are several signs to inform the 200,000 tourists who come here each summer. We are told about wild-
life habitat, water quality, avalanches, "Tracks in time before Dinosaurs", the dangers of mountain and rock-
climbing, and that Maroon Lake was created by Ice-Age glaciers. As we walk to the tip of the lake, we see a
massive beaver den. A small sign there tells of the importance of the beaver in the lake environment. Some can
grow to weigh over 100 pounds.
There a two men who are fly-fishing at the head-waters of the lake. We cross over a wooden bridge where a
creek empties into the lake. I listened to the gurgling sounds of the waters, as they keep rolling along.
And we continue to hike. There are several large snow banks near the top of these Maroon Bells mountain
peaks. Walking through a little path, surrounded by more wildflowers, we make our way to the creek. It has
a familiar roaring sound as we approach it. Such amazing scenery... this is what vacations should be like!
Time to go on back to my wife, where she has been patiently waiting. As we pass by the beaver den again,
many tourists are at the edge of the lake with cameras. Here comes a large beaver, swimming right to the nest.
A barefooted lady passes by us. She was in the wedding party in the meadow, next to a creek. What a
beautiful, natural surrounding to have a wedding. We won't forget how pretty this place is.
Within 30 minutes, our family arrives at Snowmass Village. This community was developed in 1969.
Winter skiing is the big economic machine here. Our home for the night is the Stonebridge Inn. This is located
in the Lower Village. I'm pleased to look out our window and see the mountains! Nice.
Janet is just not hungry and goes to bed early. Bethany and I go to the Artisan Restaurant. After placing our
order, we join about 40 guests and watch a magician. Doc Eason has been entertaining people for 35 years.
Doc is a two time Academy of Magic Art magician of the year. His magic trick requires audience
participation. One woman holds a Crown Royal bag; then a lemon is placed inside it. A teenaged boy held a
knife. An older man held forceps. While a fourth person donated a $20 bill for this trick. A woman named Rita
used a yellow marker and wrote her initials on the front of the bill. Our magician folded the $20 bill four times,
before it "disappeared" from his hand. The whole lemon was removed from the bag, the knife cut two slices of
lemon, then the forceps removed a $20 bill from the lemon. Unrolling the wet $20, it had Rita's initials, R.I.,
on the front. Now that was a magic trick for all of us to marvel at.
Dinner was now served. Bethany got a large bowl of smoky, potato and cheese soup. I decided on the
Ciopinno mussels, shrimp, scallops, clams, calamari, fish, saffron-tomato broth and ciabatta toast. Oh, it was
outstanding. Quietly returned to our hotel room about 10:00. This has been another wonderful day.
August 3 (Saturday)
Up at 6:30 and shower before breakfast. We will go down to the breakfast buffet this morning. And what
was featured? Freshly brewed coffee, four varieties of juice, fresh to order omelet bar, a waffle bar, scrambled
eggs, bacon, sausage, home-style potatoes, french toast, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, assorted cereals, a
yogurt and oatmeal bar, fresh melon and citrus and assorted breakfast breads. Checked out at 10 a.m.
We drive three blocks to the Snowmass Mall. There are dozens of cute stores and lots of flowers... a fun
place to shop. But our destination was the Ice Age Discovery Museum . In 2010, construction on a new water
reservoir about one mile away yielded bones. Within 3 weeks, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science had
sent in an archeological crew. Mammoths, mastodons and 40 other species of Ice Age animals had been very
well preserved. They had lived from 50,000 to 120,000 years ago. Over 5400 bones have been collected so far.
Roughly 30-50 mastodons have been found, making this one of the richest mastodon sites in the world. This is
likely the best high elevation Ice Age site in the world. It was a very interesting place to visit. And I enjoyed
the 15 minute movie that showed high-lights of the dig. Their website is www. snowmassiceage.com
The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store offered too many goodies to choose from. It was difficult to
choose only three items. I know we will enjoy these later today. Window shopped in a few more stores, but we
have a lot of driving ahead of us today.
I enjoyed a much smoother drive through Aspen today. No trouble. I recalled that yesterday, two drivers
seemed to speed up, like they wanted to hit my car. Not very friendly.
We thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the amazing scenery as we drove south from Aspen. Following the
path of a river, there were hundreds of people enjoying their inner-tube rides. Looks like a lot of fun! We came
around so many curves and several narrow stretches. It seemed like a one-lane road as we tried to hug the
cliffs. It is not surprising to learn that this road is closed during the winter. We did it again, found another
Continental Divide sign, this one at Independence Pass (elevation 12,095 feet).
Finally made it out and then had more down hill paths through pretty meadows, alongside a creek. Near the
Twin Lakes, we see Mt. Elbert. At 14,333 feet it is the highest point in the state. Reaching Hwy. 24 we will be
be driving south along the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway. To the west are five peaks named Mt. Harvard, Mt.
Yale, Mt. Princeton, Mt. Oxford and Mt. Columbia.
In Buena Vista we stop for lunch at Jan's Family Restaurant. I have my first buffalo burger on this trip.
South of town we see two dust devils. There are more inner-tubers on the local creek. The massive Sangre de
Cristo mountains tower to our east. We stop and take a photo of the 38th Parallel sign. It reminds people of the
South Korean Conflict from 1950 to 1953, "The Forgotten War". My father had served in the Army there for
one year. And a most unusual sign touted a UFO Watchtower. This stretch of the highway is known as the
Cosmic Highway. The large watchtower is open nightly for people to watch for returning UFO's. Rather
We finally reach our destination: Great Sand Dunes National Park. This is the 19th national park I have had
the pleasure to visit. These are the highest sand dunes in North America. Some people plan ahead and bring
their sandboards. Also, sand sledding is popular here. Bethany and I plan on hiking to the highest dune peak.
Well, we make it to the top of several dunes. But then we see we can keep go higher. There is too much
thunder and lightning for our comfort, so we reluctantly come on back. It has been a fun 75 minutes. Inside the
visitor center, we watch a 20 minute video about the park and its diversity.
Driving east on Hwy. 160 for awhile, I pull over to check out some historic markers. We have entered the
land of the Rio Bravo del Norte, the northernmost outpost of sixteenth century Spain. There is a lot of rain
ahead of us as we drive for the next two hours. Then we see a rainbow. Saw the most beautiful orange clouds
that looked like they were on fire. Then we saw brilliant blue patches and plenty of cloud to ground lightning.
More heavy rains before we reached Pueblo. We stayed in a Super 8 motel for the night. Didn't want to go find
a restaurant, so we stayed in the room and ate pop-tarts and pastries. Early to bed at 10:30.
August 4 (Sunday)
With a 6:00 wake-up call, I'm going down early for the continental breakfast. After eating, I bring back
muffins, pastries, yogurt and coffee to the girls. They still like to have breakfast in their beds. We checkout
and drive to the downtown section, looking for the Historic District of Pueblo. I recall that my father worked
here for a few months with the telephone company in 1982. There is a small River-walk area that looks like it
would be fun. But that will be another visit. What was really interesting was the painting of the cement
sections alongside the Arkansas River. This is known as the Pueblo Levee Mural Project. It is a 3-mile long
piece of artwork that holds the Guinness Book of World Records distinction as being the world's largest
continuous painting. 30 years ago it was just isolated graffiti. Artists from all over have featured a wide variety
of subjects and many different art styles. Every segment is an education in art and culture as well as a
showpiece of regional history.
Our first stop today is Canon City. Six miles north of town is the Garden Park Fossil Area. Beginning in the
1870s, scientists excavated some of the most complete dinosaur skeletons from the Morrison Formation of the
late Jurassic Period. They were approximately 150 million years old. Amateur naturalists from Canon City dis-
covered huge dinosaur bones here in 1876. This triggered a "dinosaur-bone" rush every bit as exciting as
Colorado's gold rush. Only a small section of these 850 acres has been thoroughly excavated. Fossils from 16
different species of dinosaurs were found here.
A few miles further up the road we stopped at the Marsh Quarry trail. We walked it a little ways and took in
the scenery and learned from the marker / signs. 270 crates containing the bones of 65 dinosaurs were
excavated from this quarry. After careful wrapping, the bones were hauled in horse-drawn wagons to Canon
City. From the railroad station, they traveled about 2,000 miles to Professor O.C. Marsh at Yale University in
The pavement ends and now we proceed with extreme caution on the Shelf Road. It is about 14 miles to
Cripple Creek on a road that too often is just one lane. Indeed, we were passed by three oncoming vehicles.
There were too blind curves to count. Originally it was opened as a stage-coach road in 1892 and tolls had to
be paid to use it. I had viewed several YouTube.com videos before coming out to Colorado. My common
sense told me not to try this white-knuckle drive. My adventurous side over-ruled my common sense. A sign
warned that the road is only minimally maintained. In places, there are several hundred foot drop-offs with NO
GUARD RAILS. The stretch of road that hugs the ledge is about 4 miles long. Down in the valley are the
remnants of the lower toll collector's log cabin. And we delighted in seeing the nearby Fourmile Creek. As we
were about to reach the pavement again, we saw a few tents. Up ahead a family was playing in the creek. This
was truly a National Back Country Byway: The Gold Belt Tour. One of the highlights was seeing the Window
Rock. It is not a normal arch, for the hole that formed in the middle of the rock fin is almost square. This
landmark rock, eroded by water and wind, is made up of 1.7 billion year old granodiorite.
Reaching Cripple Creek, we have climbed over 4000 feet. We comment about all the casinos we see in this
old town. Bethany really wanted to take a train ride... Let's do it. We easily find the 1894 depot for the Cripple
Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad at the top of the town. The railroad cars were opened to the public in
1967. There are three coal-fired narrow gauge locomotives running during the summer. These engines were
made between 1902 and 1936 and it was interesting to see the coal being shoveled in to produce the steam. We
all felt as if we were stepping back in time to the gold mining days. South of Cripple Creek, past the old
Midland terminal over a reconstructed trestle, we passed many historic mines. The end of the line was at the
deserted mining camp of Anaconda. The four mile round trip took about 45 minutes. The narrator told of the
areas rich history, when the population approached 50,000. Such magnificent scenery of the Echo Valley. Glad
30 minutes away is the town of Florissant. Our visit here is to the Florissant Fossil Beds National
Monument. In the visitors center we watched the film "Shadows of the Past". Approximately 34 million years
ago, this area was a lake environment with giant redwood trees. Violent volcanic eruptions produced lava
flows and tremendous ash deposits. The deposited ash covered the base of the redwood trees. The trunks of the
trees became harder and fossilized. This permineralization, or petrified forest effect, lead to the preservation of
the stumps of the trees. The largest of the fossilized Sequoia tree stumps are 14 feet wide. We walked the 1.3
mile trail in a light rain. Bethany went on ahead of us so she could glance at the other trail. Up to 1700 detailed
fossils of insects and plants species have been preserved. An added feature are small delicate plant and insect
fossils on display in the Visitor Center.
We have absorbed plenty of Colorado culture and history today. Tonight, we find a Quality Inn to stay in at
Colorado Springs. Bethany is happy to have a room all to herself. And there is a Denny's restaurant right
across the street for supper.
August 5 (Monday)
Got the day started at 5:30. Bethany and I went to the lobby to use the computer. She had to register for a
parking permit. College days start at the University of South Alabama in 2 weeks. I'm glad that's taken care of.
Our Quality Inn and Suites offers a "hot" breakfast buffet. That's a good way to start our last vacation
morning. We are on our way at 9:45 and we shall visit the Garden of the Gods. This has been a free city park
since 1909. The Visitor and Nature Center is the best place to start. There are 30 educational exhibits to inform
us as we await the introductory movie. There is a 6-foot topographical map; a touch screen Talking Rocks
interactive display; life sized replicas of buffalo and big-horn sheep; hands-on displays; full-color information
displays; dioramas; and five geology murals. I took interest in the Mountains of the United States display.
Alabama's highest peaks is at Cheaha Mountain (elev. 2407 foot). Mt. Mansfield in Vermont is 4393 feet high.
Pike's Peak is probably the best known in Colorado and rises to 14,110 feet. Then in Alaska, Mt. McKinley
towers at 20,320 feet.
So, how did these red rock formations get its name? When M.S. Beach gazed out at these red rocks in 1858,
it reminded him of the settings of the classic European beer gardens. He remarked to his friend Rufus Cable,
''This would be a capital place for a beer garden!" Cable then replied "A beer garden, indeed; this is a place fit
for the Gods to assemble." And so the park became known as The Garden of the Gods.
There is a brand new dinosaur genus and species that was found here in 1878. It is the only theiophytalia
kerri fossil known to exist in the world. This fossil skull is upwards of 125 million years old. The outstanding
geological features of the park are the ancient sedimentary beds of deep red, pink and white sandstone and
We drove through the park and stopped several times to do a little hiking. Some amazing sights were the
"kissing camels" at the North Gateway Rock; Signature Rock; Balanced Rock; Cathedral Spires; Three Graces;
Keyhole Window; Sleeping Giant; Scotsman, Siamese Twins; Steamboat Rock and the Toad and Toadstools.
Our second destination today is Pike's Peak. Had to make reservations this morning for the cog railway. We
drive a short distance to Manitou Springs. Follow the signs and we're on our way to America's Mountain and
the Pike's Peak Highway. Well, this is for the car ride. We're instructed to go a few miles back into town,
where we easily found the Cog Railway Depot. Janet and Bethany go inside and buy sandwiches and we enjoy
a little lunch at a shaded picnic table as we await our train. The track is almost 9 miles long and it will be about
a 3 hour round-trip.
Our tour guide, Avery, was quite informative and fairly humorous. The explorer, Zebulon Pike first saw
this peak in November of 1806. Snow kept him and his crew from ever reaching the summit. The first third of
the trip is through Englemann Canyon. Ponderosa pine trees and Colorado blue spruce are predominant as we
go past Ruxton Creek. We catch a quick glimpse of an old log cabin. We next pass through Deer Park. At
Minnehaha we've climbed from 6571 feet at the depot to 8332 feet. The grade steepens at the 5-mile point.
Looking down, we see Lake Moraine and Mount Almagre. Avery tells us that the bristlecone pine trees are
upwards of 2000 years old (some of the oldest living things on earth). We now climb above the timberline.
Trees don't grow above this elevation due to the ground being frozen year-round. So the Alpine Tundra offers
grasses, mosses and wildflowers. With the binoculars we were able to spot a small herd of 6 deer. Also saw
several yellow-bellied marmots.
On a clear day, Denver can been seen. Well, not today, but we did view Colorado Springs. As the highway
curves near the top, we're only a few feet away from it. At the top, we're at 14,110 feet. Got to take several
pictures here. It is from the summit where Katharine Bates, a Wellesley College professor, visited in 1893. She
was so inspired by the view that she wrote the poem which later became known as "America The Beautiful".
We have 30 minutes to visit (partly due to the effects of high altitude nausea and light-headedness). We are
told about the magic of this place. If we miss the train, tourists are magically turned into "hikers". Please don't
miss your train down. The temperature is now 38 degrees and a light sleet is falling. And there is snow on the
Coming down we pass Windy Point (12,129 feet) and listen to more stories of early settlers in the area.
Most interesting and entertaining. Learned that the first train arrived at the summit in June of 1891. At the
depot there is an informative sign explaining the history of the cog railway system. The system is used
extensively in Switzerland. And there are several hummingbirds enjoying the bird feeders. It has been a
Driving through Manitou Springs we pass The Hemp Store. Marijuana leaves accentuated the sign. In the
window were a couple of signs advertising "Hemp Scream" and also "Don't Worry, Be Hempy". Hey, I'm sure
not in Alabama anymore.
As we try driving through Colorado Springs, I, well, I got turned around... lost. Wound up at the entrance to
Seven Falls... The Grandest Mile of Colorado Scenery. Sure wanted to visit, but another time. We have to
drive on back to Aurora. And we stay in the same LaQuinta that we did two weeks ago.
At the end of our parking lot is the Mexican restaurant, Guadalajara. Enjoyed authentic Mexican food
tonight. It sure tasted different, and better, than say the local Taco Bell. So good.
August 6 (Tuesday)
I'm up after the 7:00 wake-up call. Last morning to bring breakfast to the girls. Coming back upstairs, I see
a young couple still having trouble with their key-card. They look and sound like they're from the Caribbean.
They asked me for assistance in opening their door. I showed them that the arrow on the card had to pointed
down. Swipe, click, and the door was opened. They both thanked me. I told Janet that it was nice to help
someone before 8:00 in the morning.
Pack the car one last time and we check out of the hotel at 10:00, right on schedule. Needed to fill the gas
tank before returning the Chevy Equinox to the Enterprise Rental Center. That was easy. Wow, we drove 2100
miles on this 14 day vacation. Soon, the shuttle bus takes a few of us to the airport. Bethany wants a bigger
breakfast than the muffins from the hotel lobby. She gets it from Einstein Brothers Bagels.
As we stand in line for security clearance, I take off my belt. I had completely forgotten about the camera
case that I kept strapped to my belt. In just a moment, someone taps me on my shoulder. "Did you just drop
your camera?" Wow, maybe 2000 pictures I had taken and I didn't hear the case when it hit the carpet.
Thought of "helping" someone else just a few hours earlier.
It hits us again that we will soon be saying good-bye to Colorado. As we arrive at our gate, passengers
immediately start to board the plane. Very good timing and we're on our way at 12:45. Forward the watch as
we enter the Central Time Zone. Sure enjoyed my window seat as we flew at 37,000 feet. Looking down on
Nebraska and Iowa, it was a mostly cloudless day. It was easy to see the layout of the land with its square-mile
Finally see the downtown Chicago skyline, near Lake Michigan. I spot the Sears Tower and recall that I
have been to Chicago two previous times. In 1976, the Southwestern Company held a Sunday meeting here
and afterwards our group went to Wrigley Field to take in a Chicago Cubs baseball game. Again in 1979, the
Auburn Pharmacy School seniors visited Abbot Labs (and Eli Lilly in Indianapolis) on our "drug trip". This is
the first time in Illinois for both Janet and Bethany.
We have a few sandwiches and chips at the airy and modern looking O'Hare Airport. Very impressive. So
nice to leave on time, 5:45 and arrive in Mobile at sunset. A lovely weather day. A taxi has us home, with all
our luggage, in about ten minutes. Life is good!
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