Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Rockies Take My Breath Away!

 June 22-24th, 2013

Rockies to the Horizon
Coming  back from NJ and landing in Denver, the Rocky Mountains are a towering majestic  presence on the horizon, awe inspiring and invigorating. So I turn the key  and get Mage's tires spinning again. Driving  through Golden, Colorado it takes a fair bit of will power not to pull over for a tour as I pass the Coors Brewery, but the huge crowd of alcoholics I spy waiting for the tour persuades me to forgo it. With hindsight, I probably missed a good party.

Around Idaho Springs I pick up the Rt. 103 Scenic Byway towards Mount Evans.  Echo Lake, lying just below the United States' highest highway, seems like a picturesque spot to park for the evening and also holds promise for some night photography. It's cloudy, but possibly and hopefully clearing later to bathe the snow capped Rocky Mountains behind the lake with the light of this year's "Super Full Moon" (30% bigger and brighter due to being on its closest orbital approach).

Two things I can tell for sure:
1) It's going to be a cold night here at this high altitude.
2) It's going to take a bit of acclimating to the lack of oxygen here at 10,000+ feet.

It feels like I'm constantly out of breath. Which makes it slightly more difficult than usual for me to talk to myself and be convinced that the headache and body aches I'm experiencing are in fact due to the altitude and not symptoms of Lyme's disease contracted from that little blood sucker of a tick I pulled out of me a few days ago. 

Echo Lake with small Super Moon
Having cheerfully survived the night starved of oxygen and warmth on the bank of Echo Lake I awoke and began the hike on Chicago Lakes Trail #52 from Echo Lake to the Lower Chicago Lake. In the morning I felt slightly more acclimated, but after an 8 mile round trip hike starting at 10,500' and ending at 11,700' I have to admit that I struggled at times and may have over extended myself a little. That afternoon Mage was a very welcome site for sore eyes and feet and legs and back.....

Fields of Gold- Guanella Pass
Feeling much more comfortable back in the driver's seat I dove the van through historic Georgetown and sliced and diced the mountain roads along another Scenic Byway leading up to Guanella Pass at around 12,000 feet. Planting my flag, well actually my tripod at the summit, I gathered some golden hour photos like you might gather the beautiful wild flowers flourishing along the mountain side until dusk settled upon the peak. I cooked up a meal and hydrated as best as I could, but apparently it wasn't enough. As I lay in bed tossing and turning while the cold Colorado winds rocked the van my headache reemerged with a vengeance, relentlessly tightening its grip and not letting go no matter how much precious water I chugged. Even without any cell phone signal,  I made the call to get up and drive down to a lesser altitude and was much happier for it. Down around 10,000' again I was able to park and almost immediately travel off to dreamland. I always thought that it would be awesome to take a couple of weeks to climb Mt. Everest. I'm definitely rethinking that now and have a huge, newly found respect for anyone who even comes close to such a feat!

Tomorrow I could avoid the ski town of Winter Park, but I won't. There is no point because on the other side lies Rocky Mountain National Park and there is no avoiding that place. It would be a crime to do so on a trip such as this...... Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Bad Lands to Devil Lands

Mid to Late June 2013

Early Dawn in the Badlands
Well, it was a great week and if it wasn't for the serious lack of water here I might backpack around the backcountry of the Badlands for a considerable time. Alas, I decided it was time to move on and said goodbye to what was so far the most photogenic national park of the trip. 

Not far from the Badlands is a former "bad ass" hole in the ground. What makes a hole in the ground deserving of such a reputation? Consider that it was the home to a Minuteman Missile capable of delivering over half of the entire fire power unleashed during World War II, including the two nukes dropped on Japan! Additionally it could reach its target in Russia in 30 minutes! Throughout the cold war there were about 1000 of these Minutemen Missiles scattered among the Midwest States. This was one of 150 in South Dakota and the last remaining, the others having been imploded. Today it sits as a reminder with its 60 ton blast door pried back so you can have a look at a "dummy" missile resting idly in the silo. However,  I don't think the site is about the visual impact. It's more about the awe and terror of having these things in our midst. Contemplating their existence and the possibility of them having to be used in the past or heaven forbid, in the future. 

Minuteman Missle
Right there at the silo exhibit is what is touted by the U.S. Forest Service as a mountain biking prairie trail so I pulled out the bike and went for a ride. Sometimes I consider buying a book listing the "Top 100" biking trails as a useful reference. It is "trails" like this one where I consider finding a book listing the "Top 100 Trails To Avoid!" So useful would it be to avoid trails like this one that if such a book doesn't exist I may just write it myself! I would consider it a great service to mankind. Well, at least for mountain bikers.
I can't stress this enough: STAY AWAY from the Prairie Trail at Exit 116 on I-90! It is a shitty ride, literally and figuratively. That the area is plagued with cow patties I can accept, it's to be expected in prairie land. However, the trail is not contiguous throughout the loop and everywhere the trail isn't cut there are tiny cactus growing. I trust I need not remind you that inner tubes and cactus needles don't mix well. In addition there are "streamlets" crossing the trail many times which are a formidable obstacle since you can forget about riding through them. When the water mixes with this land it doesn't create mud, it creates thick, slippery, deep, heavy clay! The kind that will suck the shoe right off your foot if you step into it. The kind which instantly doubles the size of your tires, sticking to them like glue as you ride through it.  I tried riding through one tiny little stream and quickly and non ceremoniously was gifted with a clay bath. I was on the ground so fast I looked back  expecting to find an ice patch. They say that clay is good for the skin and some people even pay good money at the spa for a clay treatment, but I was not pleased!

Dusting, or rather, scraping myself off I reluctantly soldiered on and eventually the trail led right to a watering hole and a big herd of cattle. It's interesting to note that you can drive your vehicle with a few feet of cattle and they will just stand there with a big dumb look on their face. However, if you ride a bicycle near them they totally get spooked! I didn't realize this prior to my approach, but since they didn't get aggressive, but instead retreated hastily I didn't get spooked myself. I was, however, a bit concerned about how I would fair if too many of these 1000+ pounders got spooked at once and a confused stampede started. So I proceeded very, very slowly. It wasn't until I spotted two Bulls among the herd and realized I was wearing bright red shorts, that I got SPOOKED!

I'm not sure how true it is about the bulls being attracted to the color red, but I sure as hell wasn't going to put it to the test! I 'slowly' dismounted my bike as 'quickly' as I could and removed my shorts before I could soil them. Before you get visions of me riding bare butt, I was also wearing riding shorts underneath so put that out of your head! Shame on you!
I could have used this after my prairie ride!
Needless to say, I very cautiously walked the rest of the way till I was no longer encumbered by the herd, lest I be trampled by a cow or molested by a bull! I'm not exaggerating  when I say that by the time I finished the ride, my bike weighed at least 20 lbs more than at the start. The ride took a little over an hour. I spent twice that long just trying to get enough clay off of my bike to be able to lift it back into the van! 

Next on the agenda was to check out the world's 3rd longest cave system and then a photographic drive-by shooting of Mount Rushmore, but I had gotten word that my grandfather's health was deteriorating fast so I made a beeline for Devil's Tower in Wyoming. I didn't mind skipping Rushmore and the cave, but ever since watching Richard Dreyfus sculpt the Devil's Tower out of mash potatoes in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" I had wanted to see the tower in person.   
Devil's Tower, WY

The Lokota Indian legend is that 7 girls were playing in the area when a large bear ominously started stalking them.  The girls ran to a boulder, but they weren't out of reach so they started pleading to the Great Spirit to save them. It responded to their dire situation by causing the boulder to rise high into the sky. All the while the big bear clawed at the sides leaving the distinctive markings on the tower. The legend goes on to say that the girls were thrust so high into the sky that they became the "Seven Sisters" of the Pleiades Constellation. Modern geological science tells us that the tower is the ancient remains of a volcano. I'll let you decide which story to believe. 

I had just enough time to do a lap and take some photographs when I got the word to come home. So I drove to Denver to fly home and lay Pop Pop to rest. I had been debating what itinerary to follow at this junction of the trip, but that was moot now. After returning, I will continue the trip by exploring what Colorado has to offer.

The world will continue to be worthy of exploration, but it won't be the same. Rest in Peace Pop Pop!

Wyoming- site of "Dances with Wolves"