Friday, April 29, 2011

Denver, part 3 (Colorado Springs)

It was with a great deal of reluctance that I left Fruita - so many trails, so little time! In addition, I would be crossing the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide for the second time in a week, and knowing that just days later I would drive right back over the same piece of road, over the same high mountain passes. As icing on the cake, shortly after getting on the highway I saw the giant signs warning that trucks were required to use chains in the mountains, so I had snow and ice to look forward to at high elevations! But I pushed on, eager to get back to Denver and pick Nancy up at the airport after over two weeks away.

Thankfully, however, the trip was no problem at all. Yes, there was snow, sand and salt, but by the time I got up high the roads were not slippery, the chain requirements were lifted, and I arrived in Denver having made good time, and with only a filthy truck and trailer to complain about. Against campground rules, I gave the Whale a quick hose-down to restore her to decency.

The next day Toby had a follow up appointment, stitches out and a new bandage, and then we drove down to Colorado Springs to visit friends Lisa, Micheline and Barry:

The home of Micheline and Barry is a gallery of her paintings and his photography, all so very beautiful. Lisa came by and we had a nice visit before she had to go to work, and Micheline and Barry took me out to see some sights.

In the foothills just outside of town is the Garden of the Gods, an amazing occurence of rock spines jutting dramatically out of the otherwise gently rolling terrain:

Forming an impressive backdrop to this otherwordly place is the massive Pike's Peak:

We had a great time wandering on and around the fantastic shapes:

We watched the swallows, pigeons and crows wheeling around and perching in the heights, and contemplated the forces of nature which created such unique and striking phenomenon.

Another fun formation was this huge balanced boulder, which reminded me of the Orc Captain from Peter Jackson's film "Return of the King":

Afterwards we toured the charming artists community of Manitou Springs, drove through Old Colorado Springs, stopping to say hello again to Lisa at work, and then they treated me to a great dinner out (Thank you!). Returning back to their home, Micheline and Barry showed me their studios, spacious and well equipped work spaces for printing and framing, for painting and, mostly, jewelry making. Micheline's inventory of beads for her jewelry was staggering - such an amazing diversity of shapes, colors and materials to serve as a pallet for her inventive creations. It was a great visit, one I wish Nancy could have shared with us, and which I hope we will repeat in the future.

Speaking of Nancy, I picked her up the next day - we were all so excited and happy to have her back. Toby was particulary exuberant in his greeting, wiggling and wagging his whole body, and giving lots of wet kisses!

Reunited at last, we can resume our travels together, heading west once more towards Utah, where we look forward to enjoying warmer weather and amazing landscapes (and maybe just a tiny little bit of world-class mountain biking too!).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Road trip: Glenwood Springs/Aspen/Fruita

Leaving Golden Gate Canyon State Park meant having to tow back down the twisty two-lane to the valley floor, where I-70 lay in wait. Without the exhaust brake working in concert with Gigantor's Allison transmission, I'm certain that this descent would have been another brake-killer. I've lauded the benefits of this expensive add-on in past posts, largely in an attempt to convince myself that it was worth the money. Could have bought a pretty sweet mountain bike for that kind of coin. But here, in the Rocky Mountains, any remaining vestiges of doubt that it is truly a necessity have been shattered. Kudos, Me, for having it installed in anticipation of such need.

Once down to the relatively drivable interstate, I headed westwards and upwards, cresting at Loveland Pass, where the Eisenhower tunnel bores directly under Loveland Ski area, at 11013'. We (me and my trusty Banks exhaust brake) then enjoyed a period of descent, but it didn't last, as we had Vail pass to overcome as well. At a paltry 10603' we crested easily, and rolled past the massive ski town, longing to strap on a pair of boards and carve some turns in that fluffy white powder. But with 32 feet of living space hitched up, I couldn't easily duck in for a few runs, and kept driving, following the Colorado River through beautiful Glenwood Canyon:

I made camp in Glenwood Springs, a good base for fishing several local rivers, and skiing at Aspen. First I fished. Overnight rains clouded the water considerably, like black tea with milk, but I caught a fish despite the poor visibility - a nice brown trout. It escaped me as I fumbled for my camera too close to the river bank. In one desperate squirm it freed itself from me, my nymph fly, and the riverbank.

The next day I headed up the valley to Aspen. Only one of Aspen's four ski mountains was open this late in the season: Aspen Highlands. The local's choice, this mountain offers more expert terrain than the other three (over 50% of trails). But, there were enough lowly intermediate trails for this New-England skier to have fun on. It was a beautiful day, snowing up top (from about 9500 feet and up) sunny below. The top half of the mountain stayed powdery all day, but the lower half softened to classic spring "mashed potatoes" by lunchtime. So, I spent my time up high, and had a good ol' time (except for the painful sunburn on my nose and lips). Fruita:

Here's a town that's got its priorities straight! I've had my sights on this stop for over a year, and it feels good to finally arrive. It'd feel even better if the skies weren't heavy with rain clouds. After getting set up I paid a visit to the local bike shop, got some trail suggestions, and learned that the trails dry out quickly, so even just a couple of hours after a shower they would be mostly ridable. Good news.

The next morning (Easter) the ground was fairly dry, so after breakfast I headed out to the Kokopelli trailhead. I headed up Mary's Loop, stopping to enjoy the amazing views of the Colorado River and the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness.

I then dropped down a crazy steep access-way to ride the Horsethief Bench Loop, which was awesome. But, it started raining again, and halfway through the loop the sandy trail surface was starting to make trouble with my brakes and drivetrain. I tried to enjoy the remainder of the ride, but it was hard listening to the crunching, grinding and scraping noises coming from my bike's vital moving parts. Back at camp I spent quite a long time restoring cleanliness and hoping that tomorrow would be much, much drier...

...and it mostly was. The sun woke me the next morning, and I headed out to the "18 Road" trails. On the way there you must remember to turn onto the N 3/10 road from the 17 1/2:

Lawn art and a unique fence reflect the local mindset:

The trails at 18 Road are awesome - built by bikers for bikers. Great flow and use of terrain to make riding fun. It got really good when I turned onto the Frontside trail which clung precariously to the slope of the foothills. But then, I got to Zippity Do Da, which is now my new favorite trail of all time. Nearly all of this trail is cut into the apex of a series of long, pointed ridges. Its like riding on a roller coaster track: climb up a ridge, then hang on as the trail plummets back down, to shoot upwards once more. Again and again! I was giggling like a schoolgirl!

Look closely (click to enlarge) and you'll see the trail swooping from ridge to ridge:

My too-brief stay in Fruita was capped off by a drive over to nearby Colorado National Monument, a spectacular plateau cut with deep canyons exposing beautiful red rock:

I drove the length of the park road, which at times clings to the canyon walls, with only a low stone wall between the truck and a 1000 foot drop! I stopped to admire the scenery, hike some of the trails, and let the dogs get out and sniff.

Now I've got a big drive back to Denver to retrieve Nancy - hoping that the forecasted snow at high altitudes doesn't prevent my passage.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Denver, part 2

Once Toby's surgery was over I could get in some exploring. First on the hit list was Rocky Mountain National Park. I picked what seemed to be the best weather day in the near future, packed a lunch, loaded dogs into Gigantor, and headed up there. It was a beautiful day in the Denver area - sunny and near 70 degrees. I drove through Boulder, and immediately found myself driving through a large scale bicycle race. There was spandex and lycra everywhere! A veritable peleton, if you can believe it. I gave them as much room as I could and felt a little bit bad expelling diesel fumes in their direction as I passed. But pass I did, and began to climb into the mountains. As I neared the park I could see a massive cloud bank stuck there, and sure enough, right about at the park boundary, I drove into a snowstorm. The temperature at elevation was hovering right around the freezing point, and the visibility was quite poor. As it turns out, not a good day to go looking at mountains. I did come across several herds of elk, however. Unlike those we observed in the Smokies, these were not wearing radio collars:

The landscape was pretty, what I could see of it:

I let the dogs out here and there so they could sniff about. Here is Toby modeling his Subway sandwich bag which he puts on to keep his bandages dry (he likes the cold-cut combo, double meat, no veggies, hold the bread):

After a few hours of driving around to various scenic overlooks, where I would get out and strain to see some shadow of what must have been a fabulous vista, hidden by low clouds and blowing snow, I bailed out and headed for lower elevation. I had spotted a trailhead on the drive up and, finding it sunny down there, had myself a nice hike to salvage the day. What a difference a couple o' thousand feet makes:

Then we stopped in Boulder to see the town. Great city center pedestrian zone, full of shops, restaurants and such, teeming with tourists and locals alike, soaking in the warm spring sunshine. I stopped to listen to a very good bluegrass band performing for passers-by. Then I stopped again and bought what turned out to be the best gyro sandwich that I have ever consumed, and I consider myself qualified to pass judgement. Makes my mouth water to think of it...

After getting Toby in for a follow up appointment and bandage change, we packed up camp and headed west. Less than two hours away, but nearly 4000 feet higher, we stopped to camp at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The last 30 mintues of driving were where most of the elevation change took place, and Gigantor dug deep to haul the bulk of the Whale up that last 1500 feet, to make camp 9100 feet above sea level:

I was the only one camped there - it was so quiet and peaceful with nothing but wind and birds to break the silence. Why no-one else? Because it's friggin' cold up there, that's why. I had a nice hike which started out in brilliant sunshine...

...but as I hiked along I observed what appeared to be a snowflake blow over my shoulder. I turned to look the way I'd come and saw an enormous storm cloud bearing down. I turned up my collar and let it come, and found myself hiking in blowing snow. Just as I was considering what I would do to survive in this high, cold, snowy forest, home to bears and mountain lions, the storm blew past and restored the sunny afternoon that I'd ordered. What would I have done, you ask? I'd have whittled a spear from an aspen tree, skewered that bear that was stalking me, skinned it, ate it's flesh and slept in it's hide, that's what I'd have done.

But that didn't happen. What did happen is that I finished my hike with no drama, and awoke the next morning having decided that camping is better about 3000 feet closer to the earth's core. So I left, heading west once more, and you (if anyone still reads this) can learn about that in my next post.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Denver, part 1

It's been an eventful week. Seven days ago Nancy dropped me off at the Durango airport, and I flew to upstate New York to be with the family after the passing of my grandmother. I spent two days there, visiting with family. It was only sad and difficult because of my grandfather, Arnold, who was understandably having a very hard time coping. Although he was not receptive to conversation, I believe that it was meaningful to him for me to be there. I hope his is a wound that time can heal.

I flew back to Durango, and the next day we drove towards Denver. To avoid an epic drive we went about 2/3 of the way there, stopping in Buena Vista. To get that far Gigantor towed the Whale to her highest point: Wolf Creek pass at 10550 feet:

The plows were out up there, and dropping sand and salt on the road, too, so truck and trailer got dirtier than they've ever been in a year of travel.

We arrived at a campground in Buena Vista, a community nestled in the shadow of six peaks over 14000 feet:

The next day we drove the rest of the way to Denver, through a couple more mountain passes, stopping this time at Cherry Creek State Park, where I remain as of this writing. As in most state parks, the sites are large and well spaced, and surrounded by park lands. From our campsite it's hard to tell that this park is surrounded by Denver suburbs and sprawl. It's just right, with the Denver airport 1/2 hour away, and a half-dozen veterinarians nearby to choose from for Toby's knee surgery.

So just a few hours after setting up camp we climbed back into the truck and I dropped Nancy at the airport. She's home now until nearly the end of April, taking care of business. The next day I took Toby in for an appointment to confirm his torn ligament condition and schedule surgery for the following morning. While he was under the knife, I explored the park by bicycle. There must be 20 miles of trails here, half of which are paved, and all of which are dead flat. But any ride is a good ride, and I did get pretty close to a mule deer...

And enjoyed my first prairie dog sightings!

These cheeky little varmints have a colony in one corner of the park and the air was filled with their squeaky warning cries as I stopped to take some photographs.

I picked Toby up at the end of the day, pleased to find him alert and relatively comfortable. His leg is bundled up in thick bandages and supported with a plastic splint, so it is quite unwieldy. He struggles to find a comfortable position, particularly lying down. That first night we didn't get much sleep as he thrashed about and we both searched for some position that he could tolerate. It's a little better now, a day later, as he learns to cope with his giant useless appendage. Here he is back home post-op:

Our biggest challenge will be dealing with his frustration as his desire to run, jump and play increases. He's supposed to wear the splint for three weeks - the longest three weeks of his life, no doubt, and I fully expect that I, too, will be filled with great relief when his mobility is restored.

During the next two weeks, in addition to taking care of dogs' needs, I'll try to get up into the mountains for some skiing, visit Rocky Mountain National Park, and spend a few days over in the Fruita area riding their renowned mountain bike trail system.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Durango, Colorado

We have arrived. Colorado is one of the states that we have been excited to visit ever since this trip was first conceived. The Rocky Mountains, deep powder skiing, legendary mountain biking... So grab a snack and a drink - this is a long one...

Our first stop was Durango, near the four corners of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Four days later, I can say that this probably my favorite town of the trip thus far. A great main street with loads of good stores, restaurants, cafes and bars that cater to locals and tourists alike; a bike friendly town plus a trolley; an amazing trail system right from town into the San Juan National Forest; a river with trout fishing and white water rapids that flows right through town; easy access to 10000 - 14000 foot peaks and the snow sports that go along with them; an actively oriented population. One of the few places we've been where we've taken a peek at the real-estate section.

My first order of business was to ride the trails. I identified a trail system that started right at the edge of downtown, where the mountain meets the city - the Telegraph trail system. Starting out at 6500', I climbed all of the way up to 7500' before my lungs exploded and I turned back downhill. A great ride, almost all single track, and amazing scenery:

You can see another rider coming up on the trail that I rode to get to the top:

We drove up into the mountains, through Coalbank pass at 10640', where we stopped to marvel at the deep snow that blanketed the land:

Nancy and Kinsey stand on about 4 feet of snow next to a rest house. The slope behind her is popular with skiers and boarders who trudge up to the ridge top and shred back down:

Also popular up top was snowmobiling, back country skiing and snowshoeing. Beautiful mountains:

Our destination was Silverton, a mining town turned recreational destination - pretty quiet this time of year. The tourist season doesn't really get going until May, but it was still fun to visit. Here is the town as seen from the narrow road carved into the mountainside on the way there:

Colorful buildings, fun shops, bars, restaurants. We enjoyed walking up and down main street, and ducked into a cafe for coffee, tea and hot apple pie.

Also, found Gigantor's replacement while in town:

The next day was windy and much cooler, so we went down to Durango town center and walked around, poking into shops...

and had an excellent lunch at a beautiful French restaurant, Jean-Pierre Bakery.

Then we moseyed into another main street establishment, The Irish Embassy, where a full-blown ceiligh was under way. Every Sunday afternoon a dozen or so musicians congregate there and play Irish music. It was really great - as good as anything we saw on Cape Breton!

And then there's Mesa Verde National Park. About 45 minutes from Durango, this is the site of all of the Puebloan cliff dwellings, and they are amazing! Tucked under massive overhangs in the canyon walls, mortared, hand-hewn stone structures were nestled in the nooks and crannies, housing entire villages of 100 or more people. Most were only accessible by scaling the cliff walls, often using shallow dents hollowed into the rock to form a tenuous stairway to the mesa top where all of the farming and hunting was done.

This is the interior of a kiva - a sunken room accessible via a roof hole - an ancient ceremonial underground men's club.

This place really sparks the imagination. At these ruins, more than any others I've seen, I can almost see the Indian peoples going about their lives, grinding corn, tending fires, scaling the cliff walls carrying stones, wood, food, water, tools. It's a unique and remarkable place.

And that's not all...

The Animas River flows through town, and along it is a paved multi-use trail, 7 miles long. Nancy and I rode our bikes along much of it. One section, which has a nice series of drops and rapids, is outfitted with a system of cables and gates, used to set up a slalom coarse for white-water paddling. Here is Nancy next to the river, and some of those gates (not deployed):

We watched a guy run this section in one of these pontoon-style white-water boats. These things can handle the most challenging rapids with ease, so negotiating these little features (class III?) took no effort. Still, pretty cool to watch.

But its not all a bowl full of roses out here on the road...

We took Toby to a local vet because he still isn't putting much weight on the leg that he hurt in New Mexico. Just as we feared, he's ruptured his ACL in his right knee. We'll have the surgery done when we're in the Denver area most likely. Its expensive surgery, and Toby will have 6 or 8 weeks of recovery, during which time he'll be restricted from hiking. Bummer.

Lastly, my maternal grandmother, who would have been 95 year old later this month, died peacefully from lung cancer. It's sad, but not unexpected. It'll be hardest on my grandfather, who, with their poodle, Brownie, will live in their house alone. When Laurel and I were kids, Grandma would watch us during the day. She had lots of toys for us to play with, plus sugary cereal and snacks, soda, and color television, stuff we didn't get at home! We loved her then and always. I fly today to Ithaca, New York, to be with the family and attend a service for my grandmother. Rest in peace, Margaret Albrecht (1916-2011).