Archive | October 2015

Colorado 2015: Schools and St. Elmo

Day 6 – August 6, 2015.

Our Colorado trip so far had been filled with National Parks, but today we made plans to do something a bit different!  We instead headed out to go to St. Elmo, Colorado – a ghost town!

On the way, we made quick stops at two historic schoolhouses. The Nathrop School was built in 1881, and had a lovely bell tower. The story goes that the bell was cast in St. Louis, Missouri, and had to be melted down and recast three times before it created a suitable ring – one that could be heard for miles. The Nathrop School closed in 1946.

Historic one-room schoolhouse in Nathrop, Colorado, built 1881.

Historic one-room schoolhouse in Nathrop, Colorado, built 1881.

The Gas Creek School was built in 1890, and was used as a school until 1942. It is unique because it features separate doors for boys and girls, and has a huge Cottonwood tree in its front yard.  It is now privately owned; it is located on Highway 285, between Salida and Nathrop.

Historic Gas Creek schoolhouse outside of Salida, Colorado. Built 1890.

Historic Gas Creek schoolhouse outside of Salida, Colorado. Built 1890.

After the schoolhouses, we made our way up a small mountain road to St. Elmo.  The road begins as a paved two lane country road, but eventually becomes gravel – that said, it is a smooth, well-maintained gravel road.  St. Elmo was a mining town; it was founded in 1880, and most of the surviving buildings in the town are from 1881 – 1882.  It sits at an altitude of 9,961 feet.  Silver and gold were both mined here, and for a while, it was extremely profitable. The longest running mine – the Mary Murphy, operated until 1922 and mined an estimated $60,000,000 in gold.

The General Store in St. Elmo

The General Store in St. Elmo

‘As is the case with most mining operations, eventually the ore gave out and the community began to dry up and die away. St. Elmo began declining significantly after the departure of the railroad line feeding the town in 1922; the last residents finally gave up the ghost in the 1950s.  St. Elmo was listed as a Historic District on the National Register for Historic Places in 1979.

Historic buildings in St. Elmo

Historic buildings in St. Elmo

An old filling station in St. Elmo

An old filling station in St. Elmo

The unique thing about St. Elmo is its state of preservation – the buildings are maintained here in a state of decay, but not restored.   There are also many more buildings than you will find in most ghost towns.  St. Elmo today has some homes that are used as summer homes, and some year-round residents operate a general store and an Inn, but that is the extent of its current business presence – it is very much a ghost town. Jeeps and ATVs use the old mining trails for off-road adventures, and fishing is popular in the area as well.

Jon and me, in St. Elmo

Jon and me, in St. Elmo

Three old buildings in St. Elmo.

Three old buildings in St. Elmo.

An old home in St. Elmo

An old home in St. Elmo

The historic St. Elmo Schoolhouse, built 1882

The historic St. Elmo Schoolhouse, built 1882

An old outhouse in St. Elmo

An old outhouse in St. Elmo

We spent about an hour wandering around taking photos of all the old buildings; there is an old school, shops and stores, and lots of homes. St. Elmo also has a different kind of summer resident – hummingbirds.   I think they were Broad-Tailed Hummingbirds.  I was able to get some good photos of them, thanks to the feeders put up by the owners of the general store.

We also saw tons of Least Chipmunks and several Wyoming Ground Squirrels – the Chipmunks have been conditioned to eat sunflower seeds right out of your hand. I didn’t feed them myself, because I don’t like to contribute to the taming of wild animals – it just causes too many issues when they become acclimated to and dependent on humans. But I have to admit I took photos of them begging for seeds and clambering around the pile of sunflower shells, because they were pretty cute. I got a nice photo of two Ravens sitting on a fence too.

After our fill of cute animals and old buildings, we got back on the road to Leadville!  We passed a couple more historic one-room schoolhouses, and Jon and his parents humored me by letting me get pictures.

The Maxwell School (also known as the Mt. Princeton School) was built in 1889, and used until 1933.  It was made with handmade concrete blocks – if you look closely at the blocks you can see the hand and fingerprints – unfortunately that kind of detail doesn’t really show up in the photos.  It has been stabilized, and there have been attempts to preserve it – the roof has been replaced and so have the windows, although it is currently boarded up to protect it from vandals.

The Maxwell School, also known as the Mt. Princeton School, outside of Buena Vista, Colorado. Built in 1889 of handmade concrete blocks. Closed in 1933.

The Maxwell School, also known as the Mt. Princeton School, outside of Buena Vista, Colorado. Built in 1889; closed in 1933.

I could not find any information on this old red school outside of Leadville, except that it may have been built in 1902, but I love its bell tower and bright color.  It has clearly been painted somewhat recently.

Old Leadville School - I have no information about it, except that it might have been built in 1902.

Old Leadville School – perhaps built 1902.

We were almost to Leadville and I was starving!  I’ll tell you about Leadville next!

Book Review: Cane River by Lalita Tademy

Have you ever felt that your family history is the stuff of novels? Perhaps Aunt Gertrude was that one-of-a-kind woman who fought in the French Resistance? Maybe your Grandfather Jacob was a CIA spy during the Cold War in Cuba? Or maybe your family was just made up of hard working people who did what they had to do to survive, caught up in the laws and social norms of an era. They survived and loved in the ways that they knew how, warts and all.

Cane River, by Lalita Tademy

Cane River, by Lalita Tademy

Lalita Tademy’s family was more like that – the ordinary kind of family.  Although living for generations in bondage made the family’s achievements more extraordinary. The story begins with her Great-great-great Grandmother, a slave sold from Virginia to the Louisiana bayou, a place called Cane River, where the culture was predominantly French Creole. She fell in love, raised a family, and lived, all while owned by another. Generations of strong women, with all different personalities, doing what they could to fight for some semblance of control and authority in a culture that gave them none.

The novel is fiction, but based on the genealogical record of her family. Tademy researched for about two years, piecing together the births, deaths and marriages of a family over 150 years ago. Her work was challenging, as records were not as thorough for slaves, if they existed at all. And the gaps, the information that could not be gleaned from court and church records, and deeds of sale, were filled in with Tademy’s imagination, weaving a rich story of the women that preceded her.

Tademy doesn’t gloss over her slave ancestry; instead she confronts head on the complexity of a system that created relationships that mirrored marriage in every way but name, yet often didn’t allow a couple to live together, or even keep their own children. She also fills the tale with rape, social customs, racism, and subservience that existed in the slave-holding south. She explains how her family members inherited progressively whiter skin as white men fathered children. She explained how some family members chose to move away – where they could “pass.” How education and enrichment provided a better life; how rare those chances were in a society built upon slavery and filled with racism.

The result is a wonderfully written narrative, with characters that explode off the pages of the book; their emotions, their defiance, their intelligence and their desire to work for a better life all evident in the descriptions of their personalities and lives. I was intrigued until the very last page.

Good Friends and Wine

Over the weekend, we had a couple over for dinner that we hadn’t seen in far too long. That’s one of the tough things about Jon’s crazy schedule.  It is hard enough for us to find time together, and even harder to coordinate our schedules with our friends!

We decided on appetizer dinner; does anyone besides me and my friends like to do this?  Basically, you combine a whole bunch of appetizer foods into a meal – who cares if they are the same style – they are all delicious!  We had proscuitto, olives, hummus, tapenade, naan bread, pita chips, blue corn tortilla chips, spring rolls, Pad Thai, grape tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic marinated mushrooms, chevre, and brie.  It was all so good!

With so many different foods, we need a wine that pairs easily.  I chose a Kramer Vineyards Celebrate! Rosé of Pinot Noir, with a rosy pink color, and aromas of strawberries and rose hips. On the palate, it is super dry, with a crisp berry flavor.  I loved it!  Kramer is an Willamette Valley Oregon producer, known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and several sparkling wines.  I first tried Kramer during the Bubbles Fest Oregon Sparkling Wine Festival last Valentine’s Day, and was hooked!  But I haven’t had a chance to get more!

Kramer Vineyards Celebrate! Rosé of Pinot Noir

Kramer Vineyards Celebrate! Rosé of Pinot Noir

As we filled up on appetizers and wine, we talked and laughed and debated.  There was a lot of laughter and catching up on life, and pets and travel.  It was fabulous; exactly what I needed.

Here’s to appetizer dinner, good wine, and great friends.

Colorado 2015: Alamosa to Salida

Day 5: August 5, 2015

Who could pass up a chance to see more wildlife!?  After we left Great Sand Dunes, we decided to check out the nearby Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge. Alamosa’s claim to fame is the huge influx of Sandhill Cranes that stop over here during the fall and spring migrations. But we didn’t really find much going on in the middle of the afternoon on a hot summer day.

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge

 

The wetlands at Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge

The wetlands at Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge

We drove the auto tour, which was pretty quiet. I did spot a White Faced Ibis, which I hadn’t seen before, and a female Red Winged Blackbird.  There were lots of ducks, but they didn’t really want to be captured on camera (in focus).  I can imagine that it is really quite amazing in the fall.

Female-Red-Winged-Blackbird

 

Not a great pic, but it is a White Faced Ibis

Not a great pic, but it is a White Faced Ibis

After Alamosa, we drove up to Salida, Colorado. This was our jumping off point for the next day’s adventure – St. Elmo and Leadville. Salida is a cute little town with lots of history and character. It was founded as a railroad town, and has enjoyed a resurgence as a mecca for mountain bikers, white water rafters, and outdoor enthusiasts.

We got there pretty early, just after 5, and checked our hotel out.  Then we went into the historic downtown and had dinner at Amica’s Wood Fired Pizza and Brewery.

Amica's Pizza and Brewery, in historic Salida, Colorado

Amica’s Pizza and Brewery, in historic Salida, Colorado

I had the Collaboration beer – a blend of their sour beer and peach beer – it was good! Jon liked his Headwaters IPA too. We shared a salad and a personal sized Vesuvio Pizza, with cheese, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and red peppers. Robby and Linda split a pizza too – the personal sized pizza was more than enough to share with an appetizer.

Our delicious pizza at Amica's

Our delicious pizza at Amica’s

On the way back to our hotel after dinner, we checked out a bit more of the town from the car, and then stopped at the liquor store to get some local beer. Jon got some of the Elevation Double IPA, but sadly, it wasn’t a highlight for him. We did sit outside for a little while enjoying the warm, summer evening, before turning in early for another day!

A caboose that has found it way to downtown Salida

A caboose that has found it way to downtown Salida

 

Advertising in historic downtown Salida

Advertising in historic downtown Salida

Total driving distance on Day 5: 161 miles – Alamosa – Great Sand Dunes  National Park – Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge – Salida
Hotel for the night: Baymont Inn, Salida – outside landscaping was tired and neglected, the inside of the hotel was nice and clean.  

Colorado 2015: Hiking Great Sand Dunes NP

Day 5: August 5, 2015

Our visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve started out on the right foot.

The entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

The entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

With Pronghorn!  On the long country road on our way into the park, we saw a herd of Pronghorn! I have been thwarted in my many attempts to get photos of Pronghorn over the last couple of years – unfortunately they are tough to photograph at 60 mph from a car. But this time, we were able to pull over and see them from a standstill! They weren’t super-close, but they were watching us curiously while I took photos with my zoom.

There was a whole line of Pronghorn, watching us, watch them...

There was a whole line of Pronghorn, watching us, watch them…

We proceeded on to the Visitor’s Center to fill our water bottles and use the restroom, but didn’t look at the exhibits at that point because we wanted to get out hiking before it got too hot.

I finally got photos of Pronghorn!

I finally got photos of Pronghorn!

Jon and I decided to hike up Star Dune, which is the second-tallest dune in the park; Star Dune is 699 feet tall and the hike is about 3 miles round trip. We left at about 10:40 am – hiking though the flat section of the dune field, across Medano Creek, which was about an inch deep and meandered in a wide path across the sand. Jon’s parents joined us for this portion of the hike and some pictures, before breaking off and doing their own thing once it got more strenuous.

Jon and me at the beginning of our hike to the top of Star Dune - 699 feet tall and the second tallest dune in the park.

Jon and me at the beginning of our hike to the top of Star Dune – 699 feet tall and the second tallest dune in the park.

We began hiking up the dune, and it quickly turned tough in the soft sand. It was definitely a challenging hike; we had to stop multiple times and rest while climbing the steep dunes! I’ll be honest; I was driving the rest breaks much more frequently than Jon.  On the hike we saw several patches of prairie sunflowers growing in the sand – it was interesting to see them growing without any soil!

A Prairie Sunflower growing in the sand.

A Prairie Sunflower growing in the sand.

A whole field of Prairie Sunflowers

A whole field of Prairie Sunflowers

Once we reached the top of the dune, we posed for photos and sat in the sand, resting and admiring the view.

Partway through the hike - the view back towards Medano Creek and the

Partway through the hike – the view back towards Medano Creek and the “trail head.”

After resting, we made our way back down the dune. The hiking was way easier going down! We didn’t stick to the “trail” on the way down, instead sinking into the deep sand on the sides of the dunes. It was like being a little kid again! I understood why rangers tell you to wear closed shoes in the summer; when the sand hit my leg it was getting quite warm, and it wasn’t a super-hot day.

Someone wrote a message in the sand - We are not alone...

Someone wrote a message in the sand – We are not alone…

We checked out the Visitor’s Center and I got my passport stamp and postcards – plus I got a cute bumper sticker proclaiming that I hiked Star Dune! 699 feet! Jon just rolled his eyes.  We had a picnic lunch that day near the Visitor’ Center, at a nice picnic area with some shade. We did encounter a few little biting flies, and a relatively well-behaved church group of teenagers.

We tried to hike a little bit near Medano Creek, but at that point it was getting pretty hot and there were lots of little gnats flitting around, so we decided to quit while we were ahead.

And with that, it was time to say goodbye to Great Sand Dunes National Park…

Traverse Bay Winery Cherry Riesling

For the last couple of evenings, I have been enjoying a Michigan wine.  It is the Traverse Bay Winery’s Cherry Riesling wine, a blend of 25% Cherry wine and 75% Riesling. 

Their website describes it as a “unique and flavorful wine was made from our Semidry Riesling Wine and Northern Michigan Cherry Wine. Simply put, this enchanting semidry wine displays crisp, fruity style with a delicate hint of cherry. We recommend serving this versatile wine slightly chilled as an accompaniment to picnic or barbecued fare, as well as cheese and fruit. This is a sweeter-style blush wine with crisp Riesling flavors and just a hint of fresh cherry.”

Traverse-Bay-Cherry-Riesling(384x640)

At only $9, it is a great mid-week sipper, offering something different than a typical Riesling with its light cherry flavor.  While it is a bit late in the season for outdoor picnics, it is a nice, sweet wine that reminds me of summer.  If only the summer would return!   

Cheers to the impending return of the weekend!  One more day!

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve History

What would your answer be if you were asked where are the highest sand dunes in North America? If you said Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, you would be right!

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve protects a total of 85,932 acres of sand dunes, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, alpine lakes and tundra habitat. It was originally designated as a National Monument on March 17, 1932, and was upgraded to a National Park on September 13, 2004 by Congress and George W. Bush. Interesting, the fact that the sand contains consistent moisture, just a few inches below the surface, played a large role in the efforts to achieve National Park and Preserve status. The residents of this area of high desert Colorado have a vested interest in protecting available water sources.

The entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

The entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

The tallest dunes in the park are 750 feet tall, and were formed as a result of westerly winds picking up particles of dirt and sand, then dropping them on the eastern edge of the Sangre de Christo valley as the wind loses power before crossing the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Geologists believe the dunes began forming around 440,000 years ago.

From the top of Star Dune - dunes almost as far as the eye can see.

From the top of Star Dune – dunes almost as far as the eye can see.

Annual precipitation on the dunes averages 11 inches per year, which puts it just above a true desert habitat (10 inches or less), but it still qualifies due to the high rate at which water evaporates. Summer temperatures can exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter lows go down below zero. Snow is rare though, due to the dry climate.

The preserve designation is unique for National Parks in the lower 48; Great Sand Dunes does permit hunting in the preserve area of the park. Bow hunting is common, and hunters are permitted to use tracking dogs to hunt mountain lions, provided that the dogs are leashed until the animal is spotted and being pursued.  That seems pretty cruel to me, so I try not to think about it…

A wide variety of wildlife make their home in the park and preserve, including mountain lion, black bear, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, beavers, badgers, bison, snakes, lizards, several species of fish, eagles, falcons, owls and other birds. The park even has at least seven species of endemic insects.

I finally got photos of Pronghorn!

I finally got photos of Pronghorn!

There is also lots to do for visitors to the park, including camping, hiking, sandboarding (yep – you can slide down the dunes on a sandboard!), sand castle building and skimboarding on the shallow and ever changing Medano Creek.

The park also has one other unique feature – a distinction on something that is absent from the park – noise. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is the quietest National Park in the contiguous 48 states. What a fabulous place! And we were headed there on our trip!

Have you been to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve? I’ll tell you about our visit next!