Tag Archive | Colorado


It’s been a long week, and I am thankful that tomorrow is Friday.  And payday at that!  I also hope to have a relaxing weekend.  Last weekend a friend came to town, so the weekend was full of getting together with various friends and socializing.  It was great!  But I am also looking forward to a quiet weekend with not much planned.

Meanwhile, until I have a chance to do some writing, I hope you enjoy this photograph.  I took it at Paint Mines Interpretive Park, in eastern Colorado.  The colored layers were stunning, and it was amazing to hike and explore the rock formations.

I miss my trip, and now that the weather is warm and sunny again, I find myself itching to be back on the road.  My new job means I have to be stationary for now, so I’m feeling nostalgic.

One day…

Circus Trip 2018: Reset

After leaving Michigan last Wednesday, I decided to make my way west along Interstate 70, to see some sites in states further south than the ones I saw on my way out.  I made my down through Indiana and Illinois, visited St. Louis for a day, and continued west through Missouri and Kansas.

The last couple of days have been cold and rainy, so I drove some pretty long distances. I am more interested in seeing more of Colorado and Utah than I was in hanging around in Missouri and Kansas.

This afternoon I hit Colorado, and the skies cleared up and the temperature warmed up to 70 degrees!  I was able to stop for a hike at Paint Mines Interpretive Park in Calhan, Colorado.  There are hoodoos and other formations made from the slowly eroding clay soil.  The oxidized iron in the soil causes amazing colors in the clay!

It has been awhile since I had some hiking time on this trip, and the hike and the sun did some good for my soul!


Colorado 2015: Highlights and Stats

Sadly, any good vacation must come to an end, and we were at the end of our Colorado Road Trip.  We loved the scenery, we loved the things we saw and experienced, and I think we managed to pack a lot into it!  So for those of you who like a stats recap, here we go!

Number of Flights: 4

Number of airport pat-downs: 2 (1 full body, 1 ankles only)

Miles Driven: 1188+

Number of Hotels: 7

Most nights in one hotel: 1 – we were constantly on the move this trip!

National Parks visited: 3 National Parks; 2 National Monuments

Number of historic tours: 3 – Healy House, Dexter Cabin, and the Matchless Mine

Animals seen: Moose (2), Least Chipmunks (dozens), Stellars Jay (a few), Clark’s Nutcracker (1), Yellow-bellied Marmot (3), Lizards (about a dozen), Rabbits (3), Squirrels (several), Pronghorn (about a dozen), Bighorn Sheep (6), and lots of other birds.

Temperature Variances: High temp, about 86 degrees (in Colorado National Monument and Great Sand Dunes National Park); Low temp – 40s (at night in Alamosa and Leadville).

Best Meal: Himalayan Pun Hill Kitchen, Montrose, Colorado and the Caspian Café, Colorado Springs

Best Hike: Star Dune – Great Sand Dunes National Park

Place I most want to go back to and see more of: Grand Junction, CO, and Colorado National Monument

Most unpleasant experience: Altitude sickness and a pounding headache on Pikes Peak

Number of bear coats I tried on: 1

Number of  thunder and lightning storms: 2 (in Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado Springs)

Number of awe-inspiring views: Too many to count!

What stats do you like to see? 

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument History

Approximately 34 million years ago, there was a lake environment in the Florissant Valley of Colorado.  The whole area was part of the Laramide Orogeny, which also formed the areas that now make up Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado National Monument, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, in Florissant, Colorado

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, in Florissant, Colorado

About 20 miles southwest of the Florissant Valley were several stratovolcanoes that erupted periodically.  Like Mount St. Helens in Washington state, these eruptions created large lahars, or mud flows, that would flow at high speeds down the valley.  One of the lahars flowed down into the lake in the valley, covering the flora and fauna in layers of mud, thereby creating a favorable environment for fossilization.

Florissant Fossil Beds contains thousands of fossils, with large numbers of invertebrates represented.  They include spiders, millipedes and bees, as well as clams and other mollusks.  Plant fossils include fruits, seeds, and cones, as well as 130 types of pollen.  I am amazed that you can tell one type of pollen from another when looking at a fossil!

And then, of course, there are the Redwood trees, part of the Sequoia family.  The redwoods that existed in the Florissant Valley are genetically distinct from the modern Redwoods in California.  But they are similar enough that it allows researchers to determine what the climate was like in Colorado at the time.

In the late 19th century, the fossils had been discovered, and researchers and tourists alike were flocking to the Florissant Valley to cart them off, especially large pieces of Redwood stumps.  At one point, two tourist lodges provided accommodations to tourists in the valley.  One of these lodges is actually the current Visitor’s Center.  The Park Service acquired the property after legal wrangling that pitted the Park Service and several scientists and citizens, who wanted the area protected, against landowners who profited handsomely from operating their concessions in the area.

The view from the trail - looking over at the Hornbek Homestead

The view from the trail – looking over at the Hornbek Homestead

The monument was signed in law on August 20, 1969 by President Richard Nixon.  It protect 5,998 acres of land, and now the park receives approximately 61,289 visitors.

We were going to visit next!


Colorado 2015: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Day 4: August 4, 2015

Have you ever heard of the Gunnison River and Black Canyon of the Gunnison? I don’t blame you if you haven’t – I really hadn’t either until a couple of years ago. But after hearing about a canyon that rivals the Grand Canyon in terms of its awe-inspiring beauty – I knew I had to see it.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has two main roads, one on each rim of the canyon. Driving to the other rim is about a 90 minute trip, because you have to go outside the park and drive around. We chose to visit the South Rim, based on what worked for our trip route, which has a Rim Road that is about 6 miles long with several viewpoints along the way.

A view of the Gunnison River

A view of the Gunnison River

We went to the Visitor’s center, which has a fabulous view of the Canyon from an overlook. Jon and I also went on a 2 mile hike, the Oak Flat Loop Trail, which took us through stands of Gambel Oak trees, and descends a short distance into the canyon. It gave a great perspective on what the canyon walls look like from below. At one point of the trail, there is a sheer wall of granite – you can look up and see the sparkly rock, and see the swifts leaving and returning to their nests high above.

A butterfly on the Oak Flat Loop Trail.

A butterfly on the Oak Flat Loop Trail.

After our hike, we did the scenic drive, and stopped at several of the viewpoints, which have overlooks between 100 and 600 yards from the parking areas. Each viewpoint has a sign marking how far the walk is. Each overlook offers something different, showing various features of the geology of the canyon.

Rock formations at Black Canyon

Rock formations at Black Canyon

The Pulpit Rock Overlook has a unique rock formation jutting out into the canyon, giving a great view of the river.  Another of the overlooks, the Painted Wall overlook, gives a view of the Painted Wall to those who are willing to walk the 200 yards, which at 2,250 feet is the tallest cliff in Colorado, and 1,000 feet taller than the Empire State Building.

The Painted Wall with its unique features.

The Painted Wall with its unique features.

The view of the river below the Painted Wall

The view of the river below the Painted Wall

The last overlook on the South Rim Road is at Warner Point; it offers a 1373 yard hike (about 1.5 miles round trip), to a panoramic viewpoint.  In one direction, you can see the canyon, in the other, you get a spectacular view of the farmland outside the park.  Jon and I really enjoyed ourselves on this hike, and we were virtually alone the whole time!

A view of distant farmland from the Warner Point Trail

A view of distant farmland from the Warner Point Trail

After hiking the overlooks, we decided to take the 5 mile road down to the Gunnison River.  The road is extremely steep, with over a 16% grade, so we had to shift into low gear and take it slow (it did take us a little while to figure out how to get the rental car into the lowest gear).

Once at the river, we sat for a little while and relaxed, watching a fly fisherman further up the river.  Only catch and release is permitted.  We also saw a small branch floating down the river, and when it got just past us I realized it was actually a river otter!  I didn’t get any pictures though, because I was caught completely by surprise.

A fly fisherman in the Gunnison River.

A fly fisherman in the Gunnison River.

We had a fabulous day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, taking in the amazing views, and spending some time hiking along the rim.  Jon would like to see the south rim as well, but that will have to wait for another trip.

We couldn’t stay at the park too late, because we still have quite a long drive ahead of us – we were going to be visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park the next day.  We had dinner on the road, at the Blue Mesa Grill in Gunnison, which had an assortment of dishes.  I mixed and matched my dinner, with a Philadelphia sushi roll with mango and a cup of Baked Potato soup.  Jon had a Tuna roll, and shared his dad’s burger.  It hit the spot!

My Philadelphia Roll and Baked Potato Soup at the Blue Mesa Grill

My Philadelphia Roll and Baked Potato Soup at the Blue Mesa Grill

Obligatory pic at the Continental Divide

Obligatory pic at the Continental Divide

On the rest of the drive, we saw lots of magpies and rabbits, plus two bighorn sheep!  No photos though, as it was dusk and we were moving at a good clip along the highway.  What a great day!

Total driving distance on Day 4: 195 miles – Montrose – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – Alamosa
Hotel for the night: Super 8, Alamosa – dated, strange room configuration, smokers right outside our window (YUCK!), decent breakfast.  

Colorado National Monument History

Colorado National Monument is an area of semi-arid desert and high mesa, with a large canyon running through it. It features several types of rock, including hard gneiss and schist (the gneiss is very interesting because it glitters), as well as softer sandstone that creates impressive rock formations as the powers of erosion do their work. To me the landscape looks like a combination of Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. It has the red sandstone formations, and also the deep canyon with the juniper and scrub pine covered high mesa.

Colorado National Monument Sign

Colorado National Monument Sign

The land on which Colorado National Monument now sits was long thought by residents of nearby Grand Junction to be inaccessible, so there wasn’t a lot going on there until John Otto arrived in 1907. He began building trails through the area, up to the top of the mesa. Otto’s work eventually got the notice of the locals. They decided to lobby for national protection, and Colorado National Monument was designated on May 24, 1911 by President William Howard Taft.

John Otto was named as the first park superintendent and drew a $1 monthly salary for the next 16 years while he lived in the park in a tent – he was an “off the grid” kind of guy. Interestingly, he married a Boston artist, Beatrice Farnham in June 1911 – she only stayed a few weeks before packing up and leaving forever. She just couldn’t fathom living the kind of life he wanted. I wonder if she married him thinking he would change…

Devil's Kitchen in Colorado National Moument.

Devil’s Kitchen in Colorado National Moument.

Visitors today can drive the 23 mile Rim Rock Road, which was begun in 1931 and constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, mostly with hand tools! It starts near the bottom of the canyon at each of the entrances to the park and climbs quickly up to the top of the mesa.

There are 40 miles of hiking trails, several of which descend into the canyon and take hikers to some of the stunning rock formations. The longest hike in the monument is 14 miles. Hikers looking for an easier trek can hike along the canyon rim.

Hiking in Colorado National Monument

Hiking in Colorado National Monument

Wildlife includes several species of lizards, rattlesnakes, scorpions, coyote, squirrels, rabbits, Golden Eagles, swifts, and Desert Bighorn Sheep. Did you know that Desert Bighorn Sheep are actually a separate species from Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep? They have adapted mechanisms to conserve water more effectively than their mountain cousins.

The Coke Ovens in Colorado National Monument

The Coke Ovens in Colorado National Monument

Did you know that Colorado National Monument once had bison? At that point shortly after the turn of the last century, bison were still very close to extinction. John Otto raised money to buy one bull and two cows from Yellowstone National Park in 1925. They multiplied to about 45, and the herd was periodically culled to keep it within a manageable limit for grazing. However, they were fairly destructive to the fragile high desert ecosystem, so they were removed in 1983, and taken to Badlands National Park.

There were 454,510 visitors to Colorado National Monument in 2012, and the park encompasses 20,533 acres, much of which is undeveloped backcountry.

I’ll take you there next!

Colorado 2015: Estes Park

Day 1 – August 1, 2015

After Boulder, we made our way to Estes Park, a quaint little tourist town that is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. We drove through the downtown, which is a cute main drag with lots of tourist shops and outdoor adventure companies, and thousands of tourists. We also checked out the Stanley Hotel, built in 1909 in the Colonial Revival architectural style by Freelan Oscar Stanley.  It catered to upper class tourists visiting the area. Stanley is also known as one of the brothers who invented the Stanley Steam Automobile, fondly called the Stanley Steamer.

The hotel now has 140 rooms, but originally only had 48. It has a fancy bar and dining room, and a beautiful, wide front porch with sweeping views of the mountains. It is also the inspiration for the Stephen King novel (and later movie) The Shining. King stayed there and dreamed up the story about the man who goes insane, cooped up in a haunted hotel one winter. And yes, The Stanley is said to be haunted. Just so you know though – the movie wasn’t filmed there; the exterior shots in the movie were filmed at the Timberline Hotel in Oregon (which does not have a hedge maze).

The Stanley Hotel - it is impossible to get far enough back to get the whole hotel in one picture.

The Stanley Hotel – it is impossible to get far enough back to get the whole hotel in one picture.

I have been to The Stanley once before, but since I was last there, they added a low (knee high) hedge maze to entertain the kids and confuse the adults who venture into it to get far enough from the hotel to take a picture – it is impossible, by the way…  It was a quick stop this time – but one day, maybe we can afford to stay there!

Another view of the Stanley Hotel

Another view of the Stanley Hotel

A Stanley Steamer Automobile at the Stanley Hotel

A Stanley Steamer Automobile at the Stanley Hotel

We also stopped at a viewpoint outside of town and got photos proving we were in Estes Park – and then watched some other tourists feed the chipmunks. I’m not a fan of feeding wild animals, but I have to admit they were cute to watch. We also saw a Dark Eyed Junco, “Gray Headed” morph, and a Steller’s Jay, “Southern Rockies” morph. Even though we have both bird species at home, these ones looked very different, and the Steller’s Jay was stunning – I loved his “eyebrows”!

Jon and Me outside of Estes Park, Colorado

Jon and Me outside of Estes Park, Colorado

Someone feeding the chipmunks in Estes Park

Someone feeding the chipmunks in Estes Park

We had dinner at a local restaurant – Hunter’s Chop House – I had the steak salad, with steak, Gouda, cheddar, mushrooms, Craisins, and romaine lettuce. It was pretty good – my only gripe was that it was a rather fatty cut of steak.  Jon had the elk burger with spicy beans, and loved it so much he forgot to even offer me a bite!

Dark Eyed Junco - Gray Headed Morph

Dark Eyed Junco – Gray Headed Morph

A Steller's Jay - Southern Rockies Morph

A Steller’s Jay – Southern Rockies Morph

Total Day 1 Driving Distance – Denver International Airport to Boulder to Estes Park: 88 miles

Hotel for the Night: The Columbine Inn – a locally owned motel from the 40s or 50s. Clean and quiet – the owner was friendly and had several maps and great info on Rocky Mountain National Park.

The next day we were going to visit Rocky Mountain National Park!

Colorado 2015: A Trip is Born

August 1-8, 2015

Last year, we had such a wonderful time on our Rogue River, Oregon trip with Jon’s parents that we talked of doing it again. But like any good trip, I always struggle with the decision to return to the same place, or try something new. We talked with Jon’s parents about perhaps visiting Bend, Oregon, but some research revealed very high prices for mid-summer stays. Meanwhile, Jon and I talked about visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, and doing a broader Colorado loop. We asked his parents if they wanted to join us, and well, you can guess what they said.

Colorado has several National Parks, and several more National Monuments and other park service sites. Jon wanted to see Pike’s Peak (what he thought at the time was the tallest peak in Colorado). Linda and Robby just wanted to do whatever we did, but if at all possible, Linda wanted to see Leadville, the country’s highest incorporated city, and take a scenic tourist train ride there.

We already had some lofty visions for the trip; Colorado is a big state and these were some big driving distances. I checked to make sure that everybody would be ok with the driving, and making camp in a new hotel every night. Then I mapped.

In the planning phases, Jon started talking about how close Moab, Utah is, but really, we can’t go to Moab every time! What do you want to not do, in order to go back to Moab? Scratched… I wanted to see Dinosaur National Monument, but it was about 2.5 hours north of Grand Junction, and would require a whole day for the detour, so it got disappointingly scratched from the list too.

The route would include Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado National Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (somehow fondly renamed by Jon – Gunnison of the Bay), Great Sand Dunes National Park, the St. Elmo ghost town, Leadville, CO, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Pike’s Peak. What a whirlwind in 7.5 days!

The route map of our Colorado Road Trip

The route map of our Colorado Road Trip

A trip was born!

SW National Parks Trip: Wild Horses

I am a horse lover.  I got the fever when I was a very young child, when I went on a trail ride with my family – I think I was four.  The fever just got worse when my parents asked if I wanted to go to Pony Camp.  A whole week of riding – for 3 hours a day!

So, when I heard there are wild horses in Mesa Verde National Park, I knew I wanted to see them.  However, the 100-150 horses there are persona non-grata, according to the Park Service.  They have resided in the area for over a hundred years, thought to be escapees from the nearby Ute tribal lands, but they can be very destructive.  They have trampled fragile archeological sites, destroyed water lines near the visitor areas in search of water, and been aggressive towards both employees and visitors.  Plus, they compete with the native deer and elk for water and food sources.

I wanted to see them anyway.  There has to be a way to manage them so they can coexist…

We had been at Mesa Verde all day.  We had seen Cliff Palace and Hemenway House from the overlooks, we had toured Balcony House and Spruce Tree House, and we had visited the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.  We were just wrapping up our day, cold from the chilly temperatures and the biting wind, but happy.

As we drove along the flat top of the mesa, heading back towards the entrance, Jon saw them.  A flea-bitten grulla and a black.  Just two.  The grulla ran away immediately, but I was able to get a few photos of the black horse.  Just two horses.  But that was enough.

Mesa-Verde-Horse (640x618)