Day 7: August 7, 2015
Did you know that the Redwood tree, now native to only a small part of coastal California, once lived in Colorado? We were about to go see some! But first, we were going to see the homestead of a very strong, independent woman.
We got to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument just in time to catch a ranger led tour of the Hornbek Homestead. We were pretty lucky to get the tour of the homestead, because it was only open for an hour! Adeline Hornbek put in a homestead claim on land in the Florissant Valley in the 1870s. Adeline was a single woman living on the prairie – certainly an unusual arrangement at the time. In fact, she had some difficulty getting her land deeded to her after homesteading it for the requisite number of years under the Homestead Act, due to the fact that she had no husband.
On the tour, we were able to go inside the two story cabin that Adeline Hornbek built for herself and her family. The cabin was larger than was typical homestead cabin at the time – a two story, four bedroom home with over a dozen glass-paned windows. The ranger also told us about Adeline’s life, which was pretty interesting.
She was married three times in her life – her first husband died in a flood, her second disappeared under mysterious circumstances. It is still not known whether he walked away from the family or died. After moving to the Florissant Valley and establishing her homestead, Adeline Hornbek married a third time, to a man who is thought to have been her employee. The last husband outlived Adeline when she died of a suspected stroke.
We weren’t allowed to go into the root cellar and one of the original cabins (now used as a barn) because they have dirt floors, and Hanta virus is present there. Hanta virus is a respiratory disease caused by exposure to mouse urine and/or feces, and actually has a decently high fatality rate, so that was just fine with me. We also heard that around the time we were in Colorado, they had two deaths from the bubonic plague, probably contracted through exposure to prairie dogs. All the more reason to let wild animals be wild!
I was also excited to get some great photos of some Wyoming Ground Squirrels (I didn’t touch or feed them!) and a Female Mountain Bluebird.
After the Hornbek homestead, we visited the Visitor’s Center and the fossil site and walked the 1 mile Petrified Forest Trail.
The site has several Redwood trees that were fossilized after they were killed during a volcanic eruption and its subsequent lahar, a mud flow that quickly buried everything in its path. It is fascinating to think that there were once Redwood trees in the plains states, now known only in a small area on the California Coast.
We saw several of the giant Redwood stump fossils that were so prominent here. Unfortunately, during the late 19th century, fossil hunters carted off many of the fossils at Florissant, both for research and for personal collections. One tree stump fossil even has two metal saws embedded in the stump, where fossil collectors were trying to cut the stump into more manageable pieces.
Other fossils of interest at Florissant include a small three toed horse, a tse tse fly (which currently only lives in Africa) and many types of plant and insect fossils. Some of these fossils can be seen in the Visitor’s Center – they keep the fossils out on the site covered to protect them.
The trail also showed the sites of two competing tourist lodges; one was removed by the Park Service after the monument was designated on August 20, 1969. Apparently the owners of the lodges had a passionate rivalry; there are stories of spike strips to flatten guests’ tires and at one point the two owners were shooting at each other!
It was beautiful! And a great walk to cap off our day.
We also made a quick visit to the Florissant School, a historic schoolhouse built in 1887. The building is now used as the local Grange. Our last task was to finish the drive to Colorado Springs – about an hour from Florissant; we stayed at the La Quinta Inn there.
For dinner we went across the parking lot to the Caspian Café. Jon and I split an avocado, orange and almond salad, and a Caspian Kebab Platter. It had both beef and chicken kebabs with broiled tomatoes, grilled pitas, greek yogurt, onions, sumac, and parsley over basmati rice with saffron butter and lemon. It was delicious! My mouth is watering again just thinking about it now…
To drink, I had the Kunde Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc (delicious!) and Jon had a California Pinot Noir. My mother-in-law Linda got the tzatziki and shared it with all of us, and the same salad that Jon and I had. Robby had a Mediterranean salad – they were all great meals.
The entertainment for the evening was a belly dancer, and she was quite good. She balanced swords everywhere during her performance, including her head, shoulders, hips and belly. I only dream of having that kind of talent – she was a very beautiful dancer.
And with that we turned in for the evening; and Jon and I quietly watched a thunder and lightning storm in the distance from the hotel balcony outside our room, before settling down to sleep.
Total driving distance on Day 7: 134 miles – Leadville– Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument – Colorado Springs
Hotel for the night: La Quinta, Colorado Springs South AP, Leadville – The hotel was nice, but a bit of a maze with all the rooms opening to the outside in their “courtyard configuration.” The rooms were great though! Breakfast was really crowded, and they were out of caffeinated tea.