Friday, April 29, 2016

Road Trip - Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.
My drive east across the Colorado prairie was detoured by a late spring snow, so I drove south first to Pueblo, then went out east across the Big Empty. There was no snow along this route. There also wasn't much else to look at, except for a few small communities marked by grain elevators. This was a very long Road Trip across almost featureless plains.
I did stop along the road to shoot a few photos and I have included those below.
The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site is located along Sand Creek, which was also called Big Sandy and during the mid-1800's was part of an Indian trail into the region.
The ranger on duty told me "this site commemorates a national tragedy". Please read about the massacre HERE. There are many sites online, books, films and TV stories about the event. Living in Colorado, you become aware of the Sand Creek Massacre very quickly. Please click PLAY on the short video below.


The flag you see in the at the start of the video, is a 33 star flag, similar to the one Black Kettle flew from his tee pee with a flag of truce that fateful morning of November, 28th 1864. What I found there and tried to show in my short video, was peace. And quiet. Birds were the only sound I heard at the site other than wind.  The few others who visited while I was there were thoughtful, respectful and quiet too. I feel it is important to remember these terrible events, the times that are not shiny and clean. Maybe by remembering them we can choose to not repeat them.
From my road trip (almost to Kansas) here are some photos from along the route.

Rusted Railroad Fuel Container along Highway 96 East

Once-nice abandoned home along Highway 96

One of many cool old buildings in Ordway, CO

Cannot refuse an old street sign in Ordway, CO

Star of Sugar City, CO
I continued driving south along back roads to La Junta, CO, then followed the Santa Fe Trail route to Trinidad, CO where I spent the night.
So far my Road Trip began in Castle Rock, followed I-25 south through Colorado Springs (where I last saw snow) to Pueblo. There I turned east onto highway 50, then left onto highway 96 east. At Eads, you pick up US 287 for a couple miles, then turn left onto 96 east again. Follow this to Chivington and turn left onto county road (dirt) 54. Follow this road north until you hit a T stop, turn right, then left into the National Historic site.
When leaving, return to 96 and follow it west through Eads to Colorado Highway 31, then left/south to Cheraw. Pickup highway 109 at Cheraw and follow south to La Junta. Go west on highway 50 and then go south on US Highway 350, and follow the Santa Fe Trail to Trinidad. A long, full day Road Trip! More Road Trip to come!


Friday, April 22, 2016

Road Trip - Highway of Legends

Highway of Legends!
Colorado's Scenic Byways always take you somewhere really cool and unusual! This route, the Highway of Legends, loops around the two Spanish Peaks which tower over the region. I drove from Trinidad in south Colorado clockwise around these mountains to Walsenburg, following Colorado Highway 12 and US 160.  West Spanish peak has an elevation of 13,626 feet with the East Spanish Peak topping out at 12,683 feet.  The 17, 855 acre Spanish Peaks Wilderness Area includes both summits and offers great hiking and backpacking opportunities. Click HERE for more of the legends and stories about the area. Geologic information about the spectacular dikes formed in the region are available HERE.
The first part of the loop, starting outside of Trinidad was very much like driving through Appalachia with visible seams of coal in the roadside cuts and oppressive poverty with abandoned buildings and junked cars providing homes for weeds in the unkempt yards. There was much poverty here, with much money in the land up and away from the road, funding weekend farms and get away cabins just up the mountain behind them.

Welcome to Cokedale
After passing the entrances for the Trinidad Lake State Park, you arrive at Cokedale, surrounded with man-made mountains of slag and the old coke oven structures. Over 140 people now live here full time in the towns historic mining houses, the community was placed on the National Historic Register in 1984. The American Smelting and Refining Company had sold the land and homes to the miners at reduced prices.
A quick drive takes you through Cokedale's community neighborhoods, by the old school house, and around the old miner's office and the (privately owned) Gottlieb Mercantile Company.  This was once a model mining community with a population of 1500 in 1909. Founded in 1906, it operated over 40 years to when the company sold out in 1947 due to a decrease in the sale of coal. During those years the coke ovens ran 24 hours daily. 2 mines provided coal from above the town with another providing coal from a few miles away. Coke was made by first washing the mined coal, then cooking the coal to remove impurities and moisture, so it will burn hotter in the iron smelters to make steel. Slag is the byproduct of coke, and is mostly made up of slate and sulfur.  There used to be a trolley into Trinidad, serving the miners, costing a quarter for the 1.5 hour ride.

Coal Washery remains

The rows of Coke Ovens

Gottlieb Mercantile Company

Mounds of slag
The road out of town runs along the Purgatoire River, twisting and turning along with the old railroad cut on the southern shore. I pass a modern and working coal mine on the left. Finally I get to Stonewall, where I turn north along the loop around the mountains. Stonewall is named for the stone wall that abuts it, which was created by an uplifted wall of lava which had formed in cracks in the ground. This town looks like one of those 1960's camping vacation towns, with cabins and hotels tucked into the heavily wooded forest. The actual stone wall the town is named for splits so the road can pass through it. I paused to eat lunch in the car (it was cold outside) in a lodge parking lot. Across highway 12 was a gate marking the entrance to where WWII German Officer Prisoners of War were kept. The town smelled of pine trees and the whole community appeared to be waiting to open for the season.

The stone wall at Stonewall

Through these gates were kept WWII Prisoners
Driving onward, the road past the stone wall makes a right turn and immediately begins climbing up to Cucharas Pass at 9938 feet elevation (the sign there reads 9995 feet elevation) and the intersection with Forest Service Road NF 46 or FR 415 or Road 364, all numbers are listed on my maps. There are no houses here, just trees, rock walls and snow. And views!
Just a few miles on down the road is the Town of Cuchara in three separate areas.  You can check out the local places like Dakota Dukes or the Cuchara Country Store while in the area.
Following Highway 12 on down the mountain brings you past several of the stone dikes, one with Gollum stuck in it : )

One of the many mountain lakes along Highway 12

Lots of Aspen, pines and views

That's Gollum in the dike!!!
My drive encountered sunny, cloudy, rainy and snowy conditions but with the roads being cleared, was an easy drive in a 2 wheel drive car.
Near highway 160 you find La Veta, another fine mountain community nestled along the base of the Spanish Peaks. Taking a right along US 160 takes you to Walsenburg and the end of the Highway of Legends.

The Spanish Peaks under snow





Friday, April 15, 2016

Coming Up - Free National Park Entry Dates



Don't say I didn't warn you!
Beginning tomorrow, April 16 through 24 is National Park Week!  Enter a National Park for free all week!  Check out the link above for more parks.
In Colorado there are: Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Also there are 8 National Monuments including: Browns Canyon National Monument, Colorado National Monument, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Chimney Rock National Monument, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, and Yucca House National Monument.
And there are 3 National Heritage Areas: South Park National Heritage Areas, Sangre De Christo National Heritage Areas, Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Areas.  You can read more about these HERE.
Visit a park near you!!!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Backpacking the West Spanish Peak Trail

Spanish Peaks, Colorado
One of the ultralight trips I am planning to do this summer is backpacking in the historic Spanish Peaks Wilderness Area of southern Colorado. I have located two hiking trails, the Apishapa Trail and the Cordova Pass Trailhead that combine to climb to the 13,626 foot West Spanish Peak summit starting from a scenic, unpaved route. Just below the talus slopes on the west side of the peak there is a saddle around 12,000 feet in elevation that by map looks appropriate for an overnight camping spot. The area is located within 19,226 acres of wilderness and the combination of 2 trails provides an almost full day trip, if I first backpack up the west peak, then traverse to the east peak, shoot some photos and retrace my path back to the saddle below the west peak to camp for the night. I need to better evaluate the off-trail route to the East Spanish peak and back before I go, and purchase some micro spike traction devices for potential ice along the trail. From looking at the maps on CalTopo mixed with Google Earth, it looks challenging, doable and fun!
To make a better trip, I could then travel by car the next day west over the divide to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and backpack and camp on the sand dune that night. I have read that the clear Colorado sky there gives great views of stars and constellations during the night. Some people even report UFO sightings in the Crestone area to the north of the park, which could be cool or terrible, an adventure in every way.
Either way, it would be an awesome two night, two location backpacking trip to two of Colorado's signature natural areas along with a scenic drive tunneled through a volcanic dike.
I will publish more backpacking information as I get closer to trip time, and a trip report when I return.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Better Funnel?


The old style plastic funnel

I have long used a small plastic funnel to capture a trickle of water for treating in the outdoors with my water purifier when backpacking. Many of the outside above ground water sources are small trickles, where water follows its path of least resistance while being drawn downhill by gravity. Perhaps you have some experience with this on your backpacking trips and like me, seek a better way.

The new style of silicon collapsible funnel
While shopping for kitchen supplies I came across a set of various sized and inexpensive collapsible funnels, made of silicone. While not new to the world, they were new to me and inspired an idea for their use beyond the kitchen. I believe they can be easily held, bent and folded for improved fit around natures endless variety of contours of rock and earth in a way to better capture those elusive trickles of necessary water. I like the way they fold or collapse to better fit inside my backpack and the fact they won't melt by heat or be bent useless under the weight of backpack items. They also come in bright and fluorescent colors so they will not easily be left behind.


I will use one of these lightweight and flexible funnels this summer during my backpacking trips and tell you how well, or even if it works, as an improved capture method for drinking water for purification. If any of you already have real world outdoor experience capturing drinking water with a silicon collapsible funnel like this, please comment to let me know how well it works for you.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Denver March 2016 Blizzard

video

On March 23rd, the metro Denver area received a "surprise" blizzard.  In Castle Rock my car was buried under 12-14 inches of snow, drifts were up to my waist, schools and the library were closed. The wind was howling above 55 MPH in gusts.  Driving was nearly impossible.  I-25 south of town was closed just like I-70 at Denver and I-25 north to Wyoming.  The eastern plains were battered too. Most of Colorado was under a Winter Storm Warning that became a blizzard warning as the day progressed.  At one time 130,000 people were without electrical power.  Temperatures were below 30 degrees.  All in all, not a good day for hiking or doing anything outdoors.
That's a spring storm.  Spring Storms sneak up on you and change quickly, especially in the mountains.  I prefer hiking in the fall because those storms move slower and are not as severe as the spring storms can be.  The same goes for hiking in the eastern US too.  In the spring, beware of sneaky, strong storms that can catch you off guard.  They won't show up in the forecast as anything more than cold weather, or maybe a light snow and then, bam!  You find yourself stranded on an Interstate highway with dozens of other drivers worrying you have enough gas to keep the heater going or spending the night on a cot in a noisy emergency shelter, calling family and telling them not to worry.
My short video above was shot from inside my home looking out of my balcony.  I was thankfully off work today and didn't have to commute into town.  Remember to always pack a blanket or two in the car for winter and spring trips, plus snacks and water to drink. If you live in the inter-mountain west, or far north, never leave home without a warm jacket, gloves and a hat until well into May.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Preparing for an active summer

Hiking in Colorado
Several days a week this winter I have been exercising indoors, preparing for an active summer season. Though my plans are still in progress, I see myself in the outdoors a lot this summer. I hope to backpack and bicycle in the Colorado high country, and need to develop my body to handle the trips. I need to be in shape for road trips too and keep my health good in general.
Four days each week, I do 50 crunches, 25 push-ups and 20 squats, plus 15 minutes of stretching my legs. My leg muscles have always been tight, and now they are tighter.
On alternate days I go the gym where I live, ride the recumbent bicycle and lift weights on the machines. I started bicycling 30 minutes a day during January's cold, now in March I ride harder for 20 minutes including a 5 minute cool down. I setup a manual workout, either a series of climbs or on-off wind sprints. On the weight machine I do ten sets of ten bench presses, pausing a few moments between each set. I also perform a rowing and a bar pull-down exercise with differing weights. My goal is to increase muscle mass and tone and to strengthen my core.
My plan has been working for me, and while I keep increasing weights and duration's a bit weekly, I am sleeping better, standing straighter and climbing stairs easier. My weight hasn't changed much, but you can now see the muscles in my arms and abs. My work is at a sit-down job indoors, so I get up every 30-40 minutes and walk around the building.

Pavement ends on Ridge Road in Castle Rock last summer
I live at 6300 feet of elevation, so I still get out of breath climbing stairs. When I used to live here and bicycle centuries weekly, I was still out of breath on stairs. I climb stairs daily at home and work and weekly when volunteering.
My good weather plans for April are to leave the gym behind and begin a 2 day per week hike while wearing a day pack for 5 miles each day, and increase the miles as summer approaches. I also plan to dust of my bicycle and begin riding that on local bike trails, alternating with hiking one to 2 days weekly. I plan to increase the mileage, days and training time on the local hills to be able to ride a metric century (60 miles) easily by mid summer.
No superlative goals yet, but I am getting rid of my winter flab and am toning up for a busy summer in Colorado, planing to be able to enjoy the great outdoors!


Friday, March 4, 2016

Walking Time in Downtown Denver




Looking downstream along Cherry Creek Trail
On some winter days, the weather is so warm in Denver, you start to think you are living somewhere else. Then you step into the wind, or see the mountains to the west and shrug your shoulders at the dream.
It was 71 degrees one weekend day last week, overcast and breezy.  A "shorts" winter day, with just about everyone in town outside, enjoying it. Some went as far as sleeveless tops and running shorts, others with their winter coats open or slung over their shoulders. On the trails, bicycles were thicker than walkers, whooshing by close enough to feel them.

It is clear enough to see the bottom of Cherry Creek
I had 45 minutes to spare today, and walked along the Cherry Creek Trail through downtown Denver. Flanked by Speer street on both sides, the creek bisects the paired 4 lane road through the center of town. Once I descended a ramp to the trail, the street noise all but disappeared. The sound of the rushing creek was soft and soothing. Couples, lovers, friends, families, co-workers and solo walkers like me moved along with the water. Bicyclists whooshed by in both directions. A couple bicycles carried wireless speakers blasting music along with them, the Doppler Effect raising up as they approached and falling back down as they passed you. The sky was hazy gray overhead, with few spotty clouds and occasional blue spaces. Ducks swam both up and down the stream with children transfixed on them, parents hanging on to their charges tightly.

Just one of the many bicycles on the trail today
One of many No Camping signs
Camping along the trail must be a problem, as signs saying "No Camping" were everywhere. However, the homeless population was along the sidewalks above the trail today. I walked a couple blocks from where I parked to the trail, crossed Speer and hiked downstream to where the bicycles and walkers split, with a trail on each side of Cherry Creek for them. Here I turned around and hiked back up the gentle slope. I paused under a few bridges in the shade to listen to the water running over the stones and marveled at the modern, straightened creek. Imagining how it appeared before Mayor Speer commissioned the road construction to restrain the creek and create this lovely inter-city park, I remember reading how Denver began at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the Platte River. Back then, a couple large, fallen Cottonwood trees were the only natural bridges across the creek, and most everyone used them to go back and forth. Horses and the few wagons just forded the creek at various spots. Four or five log houses, some with canvas roofs and all with dirt floors were the only permanent homes then, the others were tents and tee-pees. Looking up at the high rise buildings that make up Denver today, it is not too hard to think we may have lost something along the way. Here's a link to Denver History.

I wish Denver would look at a different way to handle storm water than pouring it into the creek
Many bridges cross Cherry Creek along the trail
I left the Cherry Creek Trail a block early and walked around some of the historic buildings along the way back to work. My little 45 minute walk through downtown Denver had been pleasant, reminiscent, and fulfilling.

These sound breaks are pleasant
Maps are HERE. To get there, drive to downtown Denver. Park along Speer Boulevard, safely cross the street and walk down one of the ramps to the trail. The creek grade is very gentle, so pick your upstream or downstream direction, and walk. Do carry water with you. I suggest parking near Confluence Park and walking along that section into town and back. There is a Flagship REI store near there that has a coffee shop inside the historic building. Rental bicycles are available near the trail. I saw many people riding rental bikes this fine day.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Road Trip to Fort Collins


The 1881 Fort Collins Fire Department and City Hall
After several weeks of being kept indoors due to the Colorado wintry weather, I escaped on a clear day on short road trip to Fort Collins, Colorado. This northern Colorado city is about one and a half hours by car, up Interstate 25 from Castle Rock. The 90 minute trip was mostly pleasant, with heavy traffic through Denver.

Different years of Architecture
Camp Collins was built in 1862 by the ninth Kansas Volunteer Calvary to protect travelers, settlers and mail along the Colorado branch of the Overland Trail, near the current town of LaPort in Poudre Canyon. Camp Collins was built during the scary times of the 1860 Indian Wars. In June of 1864 a flood of the Cache le Poudre river sent the soldiers to higher ground near the present-day location of Fort Collins where they built a new fort. Three years later, the fort was abandoned. By 1872, the former fort site had a hotel, store, school, a mill and a brickyard. Many travelers along the Overland Trail must have given up going west and stayed here when they saw the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains before them.

Every old building here has something to look up to...
Legend says the Cache le Poudre river was named for cached gun powder (poudre in French) during a severe snowstorm in the early 1800's. The French Canadian fur trappers and hunters there at the time needed to lighten their load and buried the powder to save it, planning to retrieve it later. Where exactly that was is unknown. Fort Collins history is full of western lore, wild and eccentric characters and generations-old stories.

Note The Wide Sidewalks Near The Old Bank Building Downtown on College Street
The city of Fort Collins was platted in 1873. Franklin Avery set out the very wide boulevards and parks because of all the open space available. His Victorian home was the first structure in the city to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and this year hosts a tour of period clothing following the time's of the PBS program Downton Abbey. You can tour the home most weekends.

Remember Fire Escapes?
One bit of history that I bet you do not know, the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Main Street was inspired by downtown Fort Collins due to the high number of old style buildings along Walnut Street, the old firehouse and the way the old buildings sit adjacent to 1950's & 1960's businesses. A Disney art director was from Fort Collins and shared stories about the town during the design phase with imagineers. You can read one story HERE and a second story here. I toured Walt Disney World in October of 1971 on Press Day with my father, before the park was open to the public. Then, Main Street there was a fun part of the park, with silent movies running all day, you could put a nickle in a Nickelodeon and watch the funny shorts, magic tricks were demonstrated and sold at the magic store, you could buy penny candies at the soda fountain and even find foreign cigarettes (yes, Walt smoked) at the cigarette store by the railroad station. It is not that way anymore.
Fort Collin's architecture is just wonderful for those who love old buildings, with all the overhangs, roof lines and cornices to look up at. I found myself constantly looking up at the roof details, enjoying the lost art of tile work and the lost craftsmanship of this era. The different styles of architecture are mixed on almost every street in the historic downtown area. For Fort Collins Historic Attractions CLICK HERE.

Another Walnut Street Building that inspired Main Street Buildings at Walt Disney World
The Colorado and Central Rail Road arrived in 1877, followed by the opening of the Colorado Agricultural and Mining College in 1879 when the first building on campus called Old Main opened for students. The school is now called Colorado State University. Agriculture was large in the area then and still is.

Above the door at one of many fine downtown eateries
There is lots to do here. You can ride a restored, historic trolley car, visit and tour many early homes, shop until you drop, and eat at any of the 84+ restaurants. To get more information locally, check out the Visit Fort Collins office at 19 Old Town Square just off Walnut and College Avenues. This is where many of the local events are hosted. Event Schedules are HERE. You can park along the street or in the public parking garage on busy weekends. The city sits at 5003 feet of elevation with a current population of about 144,000 people.

The Northern Hotel from the center of College Street
I added some photos of the wide streets and downtown buildings to show you just how wide the streets are. Think 2 extra lanes worth of width to cross while you are thanking Mr. Avery.

Fort Collins old Post Office
One of the walking tours offered by the city is to see the Ghost Signs. These are the old, hand-painted signs of Coca-Cola, auto parts, and hotels on the sides of buildings throughout town. Nine are listed to see, and all are still readable. They were painted by "Wall Dogs" who would work long hours with no premixed paints, little safety gear and no workman's comp insurance. Many were painted just because the sign painter's company offered to paint the whole wall for free if they could also paint their advertisement on it. Several of my photographs below include these signs.

Fort Collins Ghost Signs Angell's Delicatessen 1958



Painted over older signs that have faded...

Colorado Bakery & Grocery 1903-1927
Denver Post 1930's

Not on the Ghost Sign tour...
Champion Spark Plugs 1948-1960



















Damm's Bakery 1925
Owl Cigar 1900-1910

Nedley Hotel with fallen light fixture 1909
A big thanks to the citizens and the city's historic preservation program to get so many buildings protected with historic designation in 1978. This led to Presidential acknowledgement in 2005 when Fort Collins was named a Preserve America City by the White House.  The city also has many bicyclists, with riverside paved bike and hiking trails and pleasant riding and walking in neighborhoods.

Sidewalk sign for bicyclists and skateboarders
While the weather was good, I didn't get to see very much of the town due to the time available. I will go back another weekend in warmer weather and enjoy more of the sights. 
To get here, take Interstate 25 north of Denver for 1 hour 15 minutes. Exit at 269B and head west on Colorado 14 toward the mountains. Watch for a jog to the right along the Cache le Poudre river and turn left onto College Avenue to reach the historic downtown. Hotels begin along the Interstate, with more historic hotels and restaurants in the downtown area and everything you are used to living with just south of downtown near the University. Click HERE for more information.