Friday, June 24, 2016

The Long Story

So yes, I bought a new ultralight tent!
So I needed a tent to sleep in nightly while volunteering for Project ReCycle during Ride The Rockies.  My full-time current job and REI's Spring Sale 20% coupon combined to make purchasing an ultralight tent possible.  So I bought an REI Quarter Dome 1.  Posted weight is 2 pounds and 2 ounces, but I will verify that with my scale and my choice of stakes and bags.  20% off is a $45 savings so the tent cost me around $185 plus tax, so it was competitively priced with other ultralight tents.
The tent does feel light and it fits in/on my Gossamer Gear Kumo backpack nicely.  I did buy the footprint and will try camping out without the tent portion, occasionally using only the footprint and rain fly like a tarp system in the Colorado mountains to save weight.  I know I need the tent body for keeping the bugs at bay and for my privacy during public camping with Ride The Rockies.
With only setting up the tent once indoors, I do like it.  The one person sizing and side-entry is generous with space, but I couldn't fully test the tent without staking it out, as it is not self-supporting.  I'm not crazy about using the tent poles because I was planning on getting double-use with my walking pole.  The tent pole design is cool though, offering a lot of interior space for little weight and they fit fine on the side of my Kumo.  I am packing the tent in its bag on this trip due to the light weight fabric, trying to keep it from being torn while in transit.  The included stakes are much heavier than mine, so I still need to add 2 of them to fully support the tent with the 6 lightweight stakes I have.  Maybe I will need to purchase some different stakes later.
I'll learn a lot more about this tent when camping out in it 6 nights in a row during Ride The Rockies and will write a full review upon my return.  I also hope to shoot a video of the tent setup one day during my down time.
For the record, I now have all the essential equipment I need to backpack in Colorado with the exception of:
1. A  bear-proof food container-required in National Parks.
2. Microspikes for my shoes for safety on icy trails.
I would like a better-designed stove, some newer clothing and lighter weight rain pants, but will carry and use what I already have until I can easily purchase them.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Summer of Volunteering

A couple weekends ago, I began this summer volunteering as a crew member of Castle Rock's Elephant Rock Bicycle Ride.  I drove back and forth all day to pick up weary bicyclists and transport them and their bicycles either to the next SAG Stop for emergency repairs or back to the starting location of the ride.  I had a great time and spent the day outdoors in wonderful weather.

I have been volunteering weekly for Project ReCycle as a bicycle mechanic since moving back to Colorado in 2014, and have been recently asked to step up to a position as Communications Manager.  In this volunteer position, I am responsible for keeping calendars current, writing newsletters, coordinating media coverage, and for shooting Internet video of tutorials, events, fund raising and training.  I like the opportunity for the experience I am getting working in a non-profit and the fact I can use my previous media experience as a television news and production videographer to support Project ReCycle in their mission.  And I am still welcome to use my hands to repair bicycles.  You can read more about Project ReCycle HERE.

In mid-June, I am driving the Project ReCycle truck during the premiere Ride The Rockies event, where the PR Team will be bicycling the beautiful Colorado mountains.  I will be setting up the truck, tent and tables in the communities the ride passes through, working a SAG stop, shooting photos of the Project ReCycle Bicycle Team riders, and sleeping on the ground each night in the mountains.  I rode Ride The Rockies back in 2001 and have been looking forward to supporting this event in some way because it is so professionally executed.  It was my best supported tour by bicycle, ever.
It may sound funny that I am supporting bicycling instead of backpacking, but after I broke my collar bone in 1998 and couldn't carry a backpack, bicycling became my great love.  Many years later, with ultralight equipment and lots of bone-healing, I have returned to my first love of backpacking, making my first overnight backpacking trip in 15 years (read about it here).  I still bicycle occasionally, but not the 200 mile weeks I used to ride.  And supporting Project ReCycle has given me a great community-centered opportunity to help children with bicycles.
It is something I did in the mid-1990's too.  I picked up children's bicycles that were in the trash, repaired them and saw they were freely given to needy children in the community.  The tearful, down-on-his-luck dad who was so thankful, hugging me tightly for the gift to his child is something I will never forget.  Too bad I didn't see the non-profit business opportunity of doing this at the time.  But the people at Project ReCycle did see it, followed through, and several years later, have asked me to help them.
So, while working a media job and volunteering for Project ReCycle, I will still be getting out this summer on overnight backpacking trips, starting after Ride The Rockies.  The tent I purchased for Ride The Rockies will be my same tent for backpacking this summer.  So you see, bicycling and backpacking in my life are both related in some way.
Maybe the jobs I applied for haven't worked out as I planned, or the cool business opportunities didn't materialize, but by hanging in there and continuing to volunteer for something important to me, life is working out, and that's the lesson.  And it is working out pretty well.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Paint Mines Road Trip

A really neat place to poke around in central Colorado is Paint Mines Interpretive Park, just outside Calhan and about 40 miles northeast of Colorado Springs.  
I used Google maps to create a road trip there and was quite surprised at the amount of small farms I passed along the way. On the return trip home, I followed another plan which challenged my route finding skills plus offered more scenic views.
Paint Mines is an erosion, like Bryce Canyon, only smaller in size.  Humans have visited this site for 9000 years, mostly to collect the colored soils for use in vessel paints and body markings. Another portion of the park also interprets the early settlers who came west and settled here in the mid 1800's. I took many, many photos here and posted quite a few of them below.
From the parking lot, follow the trail and take your first right to get to the formations and geology interpretive area. At the bottom of the hill, turn right again onto the small trail that runs along a drainage. At first, the erosion and rock formations you see are small and kind of bland. But a few yards later they start to get much better. Even fantastic! 

Small paths lead left and right into the Hoodoos and spire erosion areas. Beware as these rocks are soft stone and wear easily. I will caution you here to just follow the trails as far as you can into the rocky areas, keeping the sandy ground underfoot but beleive the signs and DO NOT CLIMB THE ROCKS!  It is hard to tell just where to stop, but figure that any wear you create on the rocks means those rocks will never be seen as the same again by anyone else.  
Covering 750 acres, the total trail mileage is around 4 miles if you follow all the way around.  A Trail Map is HERE.

You will see stone that looks like poured liquid, stones that "run" down hill or pool into circles and blobs, like wet cookie dough. The colors go from white to red stripes to yellows, grays and even greens. Rabbits cross underfoot constantly, often ducking into mini caves or tunnels of stone. Some stones rise above you, creating holes through which the winds blow. Others create falls of stone, flowing stone streams with rapids of gravel. 

Off in the background stand tall windmills, creating electricity from the constant Colorado winds. The same winds sculpting the erosion around you also powers your PC and keeps your drinks cool. Wild flowers and stunted trees frame hill tops, blown grass constantly changes shapes around you. This place is quite cool!

The exposed land around you goes back more than 55 million years with centuries buried below your feet. Layers are known as Castle Rock Formation, the Dawson Formation... and much more. Colorado's light amount of precipitation will keep Paint Mines around for many years. If it rained hard, like in sub tropical regions, all this would have been gone centuries ago. All this in a county park too!
Getting there: Follow US 24 northeast about 40 miles from I-25 at exit #139 in Colorado Springs to Calhan.  (Follow Fountain Blvd through downtown and turn left onto highway 24.)  Drive through the small town of Calhan, turning right onto Yoder Road.  Follow past the fair grounds and turn left onto gravel Paint Mines Road.  Follow past a right turn in the road and park in the Paint Mines parking lot on the left.  There is a pit toilet here. The small yellow steel container beside the trail holds informational brochures with maps.

Friday, June 3, 2016

This Saturday is National Trails Day

It almost caught me unprepared this year, but you don't have to be.  Saturday, June 4th is National Trails Day.  Get out and hike, backpack, bicycle, paddle or walk somewhere to celebrate the American Hiking Society's day!
If you are in need of a trail to visit, search this site for many trails around Douglas County, plus others throughout Colorado.
In Colorado there is no shortage of trails to hike.  The idea is to use human power to propel you through the woods, prairie, mountains or metro.  See you on the trail!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Running Water on Hidden Mesa Open Space Trail

On a warm Spring day recently I walked the Hidden Mesa Open Space Trail near Castle Rock. This is one of my favorite local trails.  It connects to the Cherry Creek bicycle trail to the east and is usually peaceful with few walkers, runners, bicyclists and horseback riders on a weekday.

The freshly washed trees
Rock Split beside the trail
I was wearing a T-shirt, it was that warm.  The temperature bounces up and down in the Colorado Spring, it was snowing just a few days ago. The breeze was light and cool, bird song was everywhere and water was pooled in places I had never seen before. It took some dancing around to keep my feet dry. Flowers were begiining to sprout and bloom.

And then I heard a sound I had never heard here before. The sound of running water!
On the east side along the trail, there are a few drainages, and in one, water was flowing over a cliff, creating a small waterfall. It was a small flow but was music to my ears!!!  From all my years hiking and backpacking back east I had forgotten how much I miss the sound of running water along a trail. How soothing it is. How well it blends with birdsong and the wind.

I know the next time I visit Hidden Mesa all the water will have run off the mesa or evaporated into the air. I do know I will never forget the feeling of hearing running water in a dry place.

Friday, May 13, 2016

New Hikes

From Windy Point On Spruce Mountain, Looking South.
With Spring (mostly) in the air, it is time to find some good walks within an hours drive of Castle Rock, so I can get out and build up some trail-ready cardio and get some badly needed vitamin D. I used here to provide the links and routes.
On each hike I carry water and food, my ultralight day pack, wear a wide brimmed hat and carry a walking pole. I also cover up with long sleeves and wear sun screen. The 10 Essentials are always with me.
The Mount Herman Trail is a 2.2 mile out & back trail, rated moderate that includes some beautiful wildflowers and a healthy climb. The trail is lightly used. You can reach Monument Rock from here. The Trailhead is located along Mt. Herman road, about 5 miles west of Monument, CO which is off exit #161 on I-25.  Drive west through town on 2nd Street, turning left onto Mitchell Road, then right onto Mount Herman Road. Mount Herman Trailhead is on your left at Nursery Road. For a cool almost-all-day mountain drive, head West on Mount Herman Road in your 4-wheel drive vehicle to Rampart Range Road, then turn right and follow back North to Highway 67, turn right to Sedalia.
Dawson Butte Ranch Open Space Trail is a 4.9 mile well-signed loop trail that runs through flowers, meadow and forest. It is situated east of Highway 105 and has some traffic noise from Tomah Road and surrounding properties. Dogs must be on a leash. This is a good loop trail to repeat for 10 or 15 miles if you are in trail-training mode. The elevation gain is moderate. Wear your backpack and bring lots of water. Getting there is easy, take exit #181 from I-25 onto Plum Creek Parkway and follow the west frontage road south beside I-25 to Tomah Road. Turn east and follow to the top of the ridge, Dawson Butte Trailhead is on your right.
Spruce Mountain Open Space Trail is one of my favorites. The circular 5.9 mile trail leads you through meadows and over Eagle Mountain Pass in a loop to the west side of Spruce Mountain, then turn left and climb up a steep jeep road to the top of the mountain. Turn right onto the top loop trail and follow around to the trail back down the mountain. Along the way you pass Windy Point, some picnic tables, cool overlooks, then follow the trail back down to your car. This is another good looping trail. Exit I-25 south at #173 for Larkspur. Watch your speed here. Follow Spruce Mountain Road south through town and climb back up to the meadows. Once you pass Noe Road, look for the Spruce Mountain Trailhead on your right.
Lincoln Mountain Open Space Loop is a 4.2 climb to the top of a mesa and back to your car in southern Douglas County. The walk is moderate and it follows through flowered meadows. Last Spring the wildflowers here were awesome! Exit I-25 at #163 and turn left. Drive east to highway 83. Turn left and head north. Turn left onto East Jones Road, follow across Cherry Creek and turn right into the trailhead.
Castlewood Canyon State Park Inner Canyon Loop Trail is a 6 mile moderate trail.  Busy most weekends, this trail is almost empty during weekdays. Dogs must be leashed. Enter the park from highway 86, just west of Franktown, CO. Park at the North Castlewood Canyon Road parking lot inside the park, the second, third or fourth parking area on the left. Follow the access trail east to Cherry Creek, then follow the loop to your right. Climb beside the remains of the historic dam, loop the lake above the dam and return along the climb up to the Rim Rock Trail, dropping back down to cross the creek to return to your start. Watch for rattlesnakes here! Exit I-25 at Castle Rock #184, go left onto highway 86 and follow to the ridge top, where you turn left at a light to continue East along highway 86. Drop down the mesa and look for the right turn just prior to Cherry Creek onto North Castlewood Canyon Road. Follow to the entrance, pay the fee to the ranger and park. The park is open from 8 AM to 7 PM and costs $7 for the daily pass.
I will see you on the trails!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Road Trip - Ludlow Massacre Site

My Road Trip continues from Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site to the Ludlow Massacre Monument.
On April 20th, 1914, Ludlow, Colorado was the site of the Great Coalfield War. With the coal miners on strike for better conditions and the United Mine Workers not yet able to organize them, the coal companies had begun taking pot shots at the miners and families living in their tent cities in an attempt to get them back to work. No one knows who fired the first shots that led to the Ludlow Massacre, but machine gun and rifle fire forced women and children to take refuge below ground where they had dug a pit beneath their tents. Fires broke out in the tent city. By early the next morning, the colony that was once covered with hundreds of tents was now charred rubble. The bodies of two women and 11 children were found huddled beneath one of the burned tents, victims of asphyxiation. In addition, nine other men on both sides and two youngsters were found dead.  The death toll continued for days after in other camps, until Federal Troops moved in to restore order. The strike ended without resolution in December of the same year.
Being a coal miner was a hard, short life. Mostly they lived in squalor, the miners here were paid in company script, not cash. That made them spend the script in high-priced company stores, forced to pay the high rent for company housing.
In 1918, the stone monument was built on the site by the UMW, the town was deserted in the 1950's and the Ludlow site was added to the National Historic Register in 1986. Today, you can walk down a flight of steps into the pit below ground, where I assume, the 13 bodies were found. There is the nice UMW monument here and today, which happens to be the 102nd Anniversary of the Massacre, someone had left flowers on the monument in remembrance. Read the signage outside the fence for more facts about the area.
Otherwise the site is fenced with picnic tables under a roof, there is an old coal car, and a large, empty parking lot. The tent city once covered about 40 acres of the emptiness here. Most of the remains of the community of 1,000 people are now gone.
You can find the town of Ludlow along I-25, 15 miles north of Trinidad at exit 27.
My Road Trip had began today from Trinidad. After a quick visit to the Trinidad Visitor Center temporary office near the Bloom Mansion, it was just a 20 minute drive to Ludlow.  Then I was back on I-25 driving south to Trinidad to begin the Highway of Legends, a loop around the Spanish Peaks on highway 12 and US 160 to Walsenburg, and back north on I-25 to Castle Rock. You can read about the Highway of Legends HERE. I don't typically go visiting massacre sites, but this trip seemed to speak to me, especially in these modern times where life is mostly good. It is a good time to look back and be thankful for what we do have, and to remember those who were often violently taken from us for something we cannot even comprehend today.

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