Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 13...Tuesday, June 29, 2010...Desert Drive

Before I forget, I'm posting a photo of a furry friend I came across on my way out of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Back at camp last night, I cooked up a great double bacon cheeseburger for dinner...excellent. Some folks from Racine, Wisconsin are camping next to me. They came in night before last and were as skilled in backing in their pop-up camper as I am with the Little Guy. I lent them my trailer dolly and helped them back their camper into their camping spot. So...last night, they invited me over for s'mores...and they (she) mad some great ones.
This morning, I decided to drive over to 4 Corners National Monument where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah all meet...tacky and touristy, but worth a photo. Alas, after a 40 mile drive, it was closed. So...I drove around in the desert for two hours or so...very peaceful and calming.
Eventually, I ended up at Hovenweep National Monument...more Puebloan cliff dwellings...not as big as Mesa Verd, but still impressive.
Afer this post, I'm heading back to camp to pack up. Tomorrow, I leave for Moab, Utah and Arches National Park.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Supplemental Post...More Photos of the Puebloan Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde


And...we have a winner in the "monumental event" quiz. Jasmyn Thomas correctly guessed...The 2010 Burning Man Festival.
It is going to be AWESOME, dude!

Camping Out West Days 11/12...Sunday/Monday, June 27/28, 2010

Not much to post from yesterdat...spent most of the day in the town of Cortez to restock supplies, have lunch (pizza), and use the Wi-Fi at the local McDonalds to post blog entries.
Cooked an unusual cut of meat that I picked up at Safeway a few days ago..."Dorado" cut? Anyway, I threw it in a bag with some adobo marinade and it was good...real good.
A few glasses of Portugese red with that...ah...bliss. Then...a Snickers bar for dessert!
Today, I was up early for coffee and cereal. I headed up to the campsite office for a much-deserved luxury...a hot shower. Then drove the ruins road up the mountains to view the Puebloan cliff dwellings. The road up there was a "pants-wetting" eleven mile drive up and along the sides of the mountains...some guardrails...lots of sheer 1000 foot drops. There could only be one choice of music for this ride, so the iPod was banging out the score to the movie "Vertigo". It's one of my favorite movies...Jimmy Stewart gives one of his most complex performances, Kim Novac (my childhood "crush") looks stunning. And the score by Bernard Hermann is perfectly atmospheric. The more I watch this movie, the more I see how deeply flawed and disturbed the character played by Jimmy Stewart becomes as the story proceeds. If you have never seen it, you should rent it...I think that it is Hitchcock's best film.
Anyway, eleven miles later, I'm at the Visitor's Center, then on another ten miles or so to the actual ruins. During the period 600-1300 A.D., Native Americans called Puebloans constructed an amazing series of living quarters, religious "kivas", and others rooms carved into the sides of enormous cliffs. I have to say that the whole thing was stunning. I spent four hours driving around and taking photos at every opportunity. It is possible to take tours and actually get down inside the dwellings...but, since this requires climbing down steps and ladders on the side of the cliffs...hundreds of feet above ground level...there was no way that your "vertigo-afflicted" traveler was attempting that!
So...I'm posting the allowed five photos on this post. And I'm following that with a second, supplemental, post with five more photos.
Man...you have GOT to see this place!!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 10...Saturday, June 26, 2010...South to Mesa Verde..."The Little Escape That Could"

I'm up just before dawn...5:00AM...and the camp is very quiet. I brewed a thermos of coffee last night, so a cup is ready this early morning. I pull out my AAA "Trip-Tic" and look over the day's route. I'll be heading due south on Route 285, then west on Route 160 to Mesa Verde. I'll be going over five passes of over 9000 feet...Kenosha Pass (10,000 ft.), Red Hill Pass (9993 ft.), Trout Creek Pass (9346 ft.), Poncha Pass (9010 ft.), and Wolf Creek Pass (10,850 ft.)...now, can the Escape make it over those passes?
It doesn't take long to find out as, just south of Boulder, I head up Kenosha Pass. The Escape, camper in tow, huffs and puffs and struggles...but I make it. Soon, the thoughts of "I think I can, I think I can" become "I know I can, I know I can".
Route 285 is a beautiful drive up and over the Rockies. Coming up Red Hill Pass, I'm driving in the "high Plains" at 10,000 feet past cattle ranches, farms and small towns.
Just south of Poncha Springs, I decide to detour over to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It's very impressive with dunes hundreds of feet high. But...luck is not with me this day. There's been a serious accidnt in the area where you can get close to the dunes, and the road is closed...so...I can only view this wonder from a distance.
Not far out from that Park, I swing west on Route 160...another beautiful drive and one last pass (Wolf Creek) before Mesa Verde. I get to the Park around 5:00PM, and, I'm in luck, there are campsites available. It takes me twenty minutes, but I manage to back the camper into a nice spot. I've been driving for over ten hours and I am, to put it mildly, "whipped". Three quick Margaritas, a bowl of Ramen noodles, a little time around a campfire, and i'm off to bed at 9:30PM. It's been a long day...but a good day.
Oh...and I heard from Adam and Sarah...they made it to Florida in record time. They're staying south of Jacksonville for awhile before heading down to the Keys.

Part II...Camping Out West...Day 9...Friday, June 25, 2010...Fire!...Equipment Failure #3...Tom to the Rescue

Well...it's certainly been interesting around here since my last post.
Returning to my campsite after that last post at the Visitor's Center, I came upon a large group of people/vehicles blocking the road...another "squirrel sighting", I thought. But no...everyone was looking at he big fire on the ridge of mountains to the south and west. Back at the campground, I was assured by one of the Rangers that there was no danger...We've got it under control".
Thus reassured, I set about packing for tomorrow's trip south to Mesa Verde. After hitching up the camper, I connected the lights...and...nothing. My local auto place, Mufflers and More put in the first trailer harness in 2008...and that failed. Then they took ten days and $150.00 to put in the new one...and it has lasted just 16 days!?!?
One of my fellow campers, Tom from Erie, Pennsylvania, saw me struggling and offered to help. Soon he was on his back crawling under the Escape to check the wiring. We finally found that a fuse had blown...and Tom had a replacement. I'm back in business, thanks to Tom!
A light dinner, and early to bed...I've got a 450 mile drive tomorrow to get to Mesa Verde National Park.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 9...Friday, June 25, 2010...Hiking to Alberta Falls...Packing Up for the Trip to Mesa Verde

I'm up at dawn this morning, making coffee. I want to get an early start because I want to hike up to Alberta Falls in the morning. Then, I've got to start packing everything up to be able to leave early tomorrow morning for Mesa Verde National Park.
I catch the Shuttle right across from my campground for the ride to the trailhead of the Glacier Basin Trail. It's a beautiful day for hiking. The hike to Alberta Falls is only about a mile, but it's a tough hike...mostly uphill. It takes me over an hour to get up to the falls...beautiful! I reward my success with a Snickers bar and a liter of water. The hike back, all down hill, is easy.
Back at camp, I clean out, reorganize and sanitize my cooler (preventative maintenance). Then it's into town for ice and firewood.
Right now, I'm at the Beaver Meadows Guest Center using their Wi-Fi. When I post this entry, I'll be heading back to camp. I've got a whole checklist for this afternoon in order to be ready to head out tomorrow morning for my next stop...Mesa Verde National Park.
More news later...

"Monumental event" clue#4...
It lasts eight days...in the desert...of northern Nevada...celebrating art and music.

Camping Out West...Day 8...Thursday, June 24, 2010...An Idle Day

I was up at 5:00AM this morning...hung around camp until 6:00 before setting out for Boulder to the REI store.
A pretty drive down the mountains and into the city. Boulder is just as I imagined...lean and tanned bicyclists, solar panels, recycling centers, natural foods...a mecca of "green" in the Rockies.
Got in to Boulder a little before 8:00...REI didn't open until (:00, so I stopped across the street for coffee. A disappointing visit to REI...normally they are( so friendly and helpful. But this time, their somewhat hostile and skeptical attitude took me by surprise. Unable to find definitive proof of my Coleman stove purchase ("Well..I see a Coleman stove on your purchase history, but I can't verify that it's THIS stove"), they are not willing to help at all. A 90 mile drive wasted! As I'm leaving REI, a guy tells me to drive two blocks to a place called McGurkins...a legend in Colorado for carrying anything and everything. And...five minutes and $18.00 later, I'm waling out with a new regulator for my stove.
By the time that I return to Estes Park, it's lunchtime, so I stop at the "Grumpy Gringo" for nachos and a big Margarita...pretty good. Then, it's over to Don's Laundry for a $5.00 shower (even "Mountain Men" like me need to clean up once in awhile). Then, over to the Estes Park Brewery for a few "staggering Elk Lagers"...refrshing! On the way back to camp, I see a few Elk...I can snap a photo because the road is backed up for a quarter of a mile. In the photo, the animal on the left is an Elk...the animal on the right is known by it's Latin name "Gawkerus Touristae"...known for stopping their vehicle in the middle of the road to get a photo of a chipmunk.
Back at camp, I'm not particularly hungry, so a few snacks suffice before bedtime...it's a full moon tonight...gorgeous!
Late in the evening, a Ranger stops by...a cute gal named Kristi. She's working the summer as a ranger in the Park. She's thinking about going to Ranger School and joining the Forest Service full-time. Having just read "The Big Burn", I'm big on the Forest Service...so I'm encouraging her to become part of something with a great history...a great tradition. She's also thinking about Law School, so we talk about that as well.
Then...Kristi's off, it's almost 1:00PM...time for bed. Big hike tomorrow!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 7...Wednesday, June 23, 2010...Hiking Sprague Lake...Equipment Failure #1 (Good News)...Equipment Failure #2 (Bad News)

I managed to get out to the Visitor's Center early this morning and, once online, I managed to get my iPod working. Apple has the "five Steps" to try when there's a problem, and Step three did the trick. So...now I have music again.
Later in the morning, I drove out to Sprague Lake to hike the trail there. Another easy hike of three miles or so with some beautiful views. After that, had a late lunch of "junk food"...honey-roasted cashews, bbq chips, cheetos. I had planned to cook a hot lunch, but the regulator on my Coleman stove failed...spewing propane all over. I called around, and it looks like I'll have to drive the 45 miles or so down to Boulder tomorrow morning to get it replaced at an REI store. No morning coffee tomorrow!
I grilled another steak and some potatoes for dinner...excellent. Also opened a bottle of 2003 French Bordeaux...very good. A couple from Paris, France camped next to me in a rented motor home...they're traveling from San Francisco to Boston. They stopped over after dinner for some wine, and I played some French music off the iPod.
I think that they were somewhat taken aback by my knowledge of Paris and French food...we talked about the best places in Paris for ice cream, cheese...the best restaurants, etc. I think they were especially surprised to learn that I ate at one of their favorite restaurants in the Burgundy region, Lameloise. Very charming people and a great conversation.
It got cold early last night...down in the 40's. So...a good fire was welcome before heading off to bed around 10:00PM. The more that I sleep in the Little Guy Camper, the more I like it. The mattress is comfortable, and the insulation keeps me warm even when the temperature drops after sunset.
And...here's clue #3 in the "monumental event" quiz...

It lasts eight days...in the desert...of northern Nevada.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 6...Tuesday, June 22, 2010...An Easy Hike...Equipment Malfunction

I was up bright and early this morning at 6:00AM...brewed coffee...ate a bowl of cereal for breakfast.
By 8:00AM, I was out hiking the trail near Lake Moraine...pretty easy at 1.5 miles each way on level ground. Got some nice photos as well.
After the hike, I stopped by the Visitor's Center, which has a great Wi-Fi connection, to check emails, pay bills, post blog entries, etc.
For lunch, I cooked up a batch of those great Indomie noodles...spicy! With the noodles, I had a piece of leftover Tandoori chicken and a Coke.
I spent a very leisurely afternoon updating my expense log and starting a new book...I finished "The Big Burn" yesterday. So now I'm reading "Track of the Cat" by Nevada Barr. It's one of a series featuring Park Ranger Anna Pidgeon...so far, an interesting mystery.
Around 5:00PM, it was cocktail time, and I shook myself up an icy-cold Stoli Martini with olives...refreshing! II grilled a big ribeye, along with some fingerling potatoes and an Anaheim pepper, for dinner and washed that down with a bottle of Catena Malbec...a VERY satisfying dinner.
After dinner was campfire time (the leftover coals from the grill make the perfect starter) with a glass of Catdaddy White Whiskey...very tasty (slightly sweet with notes of nutmeg).
One note of potential disaster...my iPod just quit when I tried attaching it up to my little portable boombox...a completely blank screen. Tomorrow, I'll have to head down to the Visitor's Center and get logged on to iTunes to try to find a fix. It will be a very LONG, not to mention boring, trip without music!
iPod excepted, all in all...a good day.
Also, here is clue #2 on that "monumental event" coming up...
It lasts eight days...in the desert.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 5...Monday, June 21, 2010...Two for One Specials

I had an ambitious plan to do some hiking today but spent most of the morning searching inside the Escape for my meds (found them after about an hour...behind and under the passenger seat). Having blown the best time for hiking, I head into the town of Estes Park for more supplies (ice and firewood), some window shopping, and lunch. The town is full of people...it takes me 45 minutes to find a parking spot. Ed's Cantina has been recommended for lunch...OK food, but the staff is very friendly. After lunch, I wander into a few shops before I find the coveted European-style sticker for Rocky Mountain National Park...or "RMNP". Later, I'm able to affix it to the Escape.
Back at camp, I relax and read for awhile (finishing "The Big Burn") before it's "cocktail time". Then, I st about preparing dinner. I've invited Adam and Sarah over for dinner...Tandoori chicken and a potato and fresh corn succotash. We share a few beers...and dinner is enhanced by some more of Adam and Sarah's "produce". Adam and Sarah love the chicken as well as the corn/potato saute.
After dinner, more conversation by the fir...but not for long. Adam and Sarah are heading out at 4:00AM for a non-stop drive to Key Wsst, Florida...I do not envy them that.
My campground is approximately 8800 feet above sea level, and there are some significant consequences to that. First, and most obvious, the air is thinner up here, so breathing is more difficult until you adjust. Fortunately, I had an Advair inhaler disc which helped the first night (Thanks Terri!). I also figured to wait a day or two before camping...adjustment time. Second, and more interesting, is the "Two for One" factor...the thin air intensifies the effects of alcohol...so...every drink (beer, wine, Margarita, etc.) has the effect of two...more buzz for the buck.
One other observation...the Campground "Hosts" are absolutely relentless in enforcing the rules with respect to camping in "bear country"...several times a day, they're cruising through the campground in a golf cart looking for unattended coolers, food, cooking equipment, glassware, etc. The "offending items" are confiscated, and you have to retrieve them at the Ranger Station after a stern lecture. Repeat offenders are fined.
And...one last thing. I've had conversations with several people on the trip so far, and I have learned that I have the opportunity to take part in something really big...monumental...something that I'll be talking about for years. So...what is it? I'll give daily clues, and we'll see who can guess that first. First clue...it lasts for eight days.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Camping Out Waest...Day Four...Sunday, June 20, 2010...A Relaxing Day

I spend my third night sleeping in the Little Guy camper...and it's really comfortable. There's a nice mattress, and I've got a down comforter to keep me warm...the temperatures drop into the 40's here pretty soon after sunset.
I cook myself a big breakfast...eggs, bacon, homemade bread, milk. Adam and Sarah stop by for a cup of my excellent coffee...home-roasted Costa Rican with a little Kenya AA added for acidity...freshly ground and brewed in the French Press...perfect.
Afer breakfast, I decide to head in to Estes Park for some supplies. The local Safeway store is nice...I pick up some steaks, chicken thighs and yoghurt to make Tandoori chicken, a case of Corona Longnecks (with the camper "detached", I don't have to worry about weight), and some ice.
Back at camp, I settle in for a relaxing afternoon of reading. I'm about halfway through a book titled "The Big Burn"... it's about the largest forest fire in U.S. history during the summer of 1910...covering an area of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming the size of the state of Connecticut. And woven within the story of the fire is the history of the founding of the U'S. Park Service under Teddy Roosevelt and headed by a man named Gifford Pinchot. It's a good read.
For lunch, I cook up a bunch of my "Gourmet" ramen noodles...they hit the spot. Around 4:00PM or so, it's "cocktail time"...a Margarita or two before dinner. For dinner, I grill myself a nice piece of tenderloin and boil up a few ears of corn...washed down with a 2005 Australian Shiraz...excellent!
Adam and Sarah have run out of fresh "produce", so they make a run down to Boulder to meet a friend and resupply. And later, they invite me to share. And...just as in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and Bend, Oregon and so many other spots around the country, I'm sharing some "produce" with new friends.

Camping Out West...Day Three...Sterling, Colorado to Rocky Mountain National Park...A Day of Good Fortune

By 8:00AM, I'm packed up and on the road for the 150 mile or so drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. It's a perfect day...sunny, not a cloud in the sky and good roads with light traffic.
In the last 100 miles or so, I'm very slowly gaining altitude...this is good as I don't want to stress the Escape with any steep climbs. By the time I reach the town of Estes Park, I'm already at 6000 feet or so. This being a Saturday, the town is jammed with people, and traffic is heavy. I was worried about whether the Escape could pull my heavy load up steep grades, but I'm pleasantly surprised how easy I'm able to gain two thousand feet or so in just over six miles. So far, so good.
Soon, I'm at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and, as expected, all of the campgrounds are full...or so they say. This is to be expected...I'm arriving around noon on a Saturday during peak season. Still, I figure I will at least drive around and "scout out" potential campsites. Moraine Lake, one of my choices, is really full. The Ranger says to come back at 7:00AM the next morning, and I MIGHT get a spot. I move on to Glacier Bay Campground, and I'm asking the Ranger what time to come the next morning, when she says..."Well, I have a nice pull-through" site available right now if you'd like". Wow...this is a small miracle!
My campsite, #10, is not quite the pull-through" I expected...so I have to try to back in my Little Guy Camper. I'm not doing very well at this. Then, a guy from the next campsite over, Rob, comes up and asks if I need any help. In about thirty seconds, he's got the camper backed in perfectly.
So now I start to unload when another neighbor, Adam, stops by with a cold bottle of Heineken...life is good!
Without a tent to pitch, my camp is st up in just a half hour or so. Time for a little reading and relaxation on my first day in the Park.
Around 7:00PM, Adam and his wife invite me over for "cocktails". I'd planned on a dinner of lamb stew, but Adam and his wife (Sarah) have an extra steak for me...truly, this has been a day of much good fortune. Later, we all sit around the campfire sharing some most interesting conversation.
And that...that...is what brings me out here. This is something that destiny had planned for me all along.