Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Great Colorado-Utah Vacation 2011, Day Seven.

OURAY, COLORADO – Another day of Jeeping! Today we had an easier time – sort of.

First we went out to Animas Forks, a pretty famous ghost town.

ANIMAS FORKS:

The Duncan House, first bay window west of the Mississippi (or so they say):

01 - Duncan House, Animas Forks02 - Duncan House intact stairway, Animas Forks

This just tickled me pink –

03 - Fancy attached privy, Animas Forks04 - I only got a photo of one of the two seats05 - 'This Old House' at Animas Forks06 - kids exploring Animas Forks07 - Animas Forks08 - boarding house foundation, Animas Forks09 - Animas Forks Jail

10 - old, old

CINNAMON PASS:

11 - view from Cinnamon Pass

Seriously, the worst photo of the trip so far, AWESOME:

12 - doing the best we can to take the shittiest
photo ever13 - frozen-over alpine lake at Cinnamon Pass14 - snow on Cinnamon Pass or Corkscrew Gulch

CORKSCREW GULCH:

15 - Corkscrew Gulch16 - Ethan's attitude17 - Laurel's attitude18 - more from Corkscrew Gulch18 - Red Mountain Number One, I believe

By the way, I just have to note here that Ethan was concerned about two things, and two things only, to wit:

1) How many creeks, puddles, and other bodies of water we crossed; and

2) How many kids were in each and every other off-road vehicle we saw.

After all that, we went back to return the Jeep (I hear Ethan gave Greg several pointers on washing it). Laurel did laundry – twice – thanks to leaving a Burt’s Bees lip balm in her pocket. Greg and I worked on a growler, and then we all went to Buen Tiempo, a restaurant highly recommended by Greg’s coworker. Either it was really good or the growler was working its magic (haha Joe, I know you’re reading this).

Anyway, the kids made some new friends at the campground, played until they were exhausted, and now it’s time for all of us to sleep.

So.

“Say goodnight, Gracie.”"

“Goodnight, Gracie.”

The Great Colorado-Utah Vacation 2011, Day Six.

OURAY, COLORADO – Today we took our rented Jeep and drove and drove and drove. We started around 7 a.m. and didn’t finish until after 6 p.m. We visited a lot of mountain trails, all of which were closed at some point along the way. That’s the curse of Colorado in June. The flipside blessing of it is that the trails are almost deserted so we didn’t have to worry so much about passing on narrow roads.

Most of the trails we took are rated as easy, with a few moderate points mixed in. That’s another curse of early June and record snows in the area. They clear the easy stuff first. And the easy stuff is often not much worse than what we drove on in the Ozarks from time to time. Even so, we had a good time.

There are so many photos in this post, so while I may comment on some, for most just mouse over for descriptions.

LAST DOLLAR ROAD:

This is a “shortcut” to Telluride.

01 - mama moose02 - last dollar road 1

I love this photo:

03 - last dollar road lookout point04 - last dollar road lookout point

Mama sheepdog and her man did not like us taking photos of their sheep:

05 - dog guarding her sheep from us on last dollar road

Telluride has a free gondola over the mountain to Mountain Village. We took it, but there wasn’t much to see. We just used the restrooms and came back over.

06 - riding the gondola from Telluride to Mountain Village

Then we were on to…

IMOGENE PASS:

07 - Greg had to try to explain to Ethan why we went around the closed sign07 - view of Black Bear Pass switchbacks from Imogene Pass

We got nervous and turned around here where the road was washed out. We probably could have made it but figured the pass was closed further up and we’d have to turn around anyway.

08 - Had to stop here & turn around on Imogene pass09 Imogene Pass

OPHIR PASS:

Also closed, but we made it up almost to the summit before we had to turn around.

10 - Ophir11 - Shelf road on Ophir12 - shelf road on Ophir13 - valley from Ophir shelf road14 - Ophir pass summit closed by 7 foot drifts or so

We stopped at camp for sunscreen (I was already far gone to the burned side) then moved along to…

YANKEE BOY BASIN:

Also closed, but only past Twin Falls, so we had a good run.

15 - Yankee Boy waterfall16 old mill on Yankee Boy Basin rd17 - old mill on Yankee Boy Basin rd18 - doesn't look as steep in the photo as it felt19 - Yankee Boy Basin rd20 - mill at Camp Bird21 - Twin Falls, Yankee Boy Basin Rd22 - Yankee Boy shelf road plus overhang23 - Jeep at Drinking Cup, Yankee Boy rd

After Yankee Boy, we moved down to

RED MOUNTAIN TOWN:

24 - Starting up Red Mountain Town25 - Cora Bell Mine I think, Red Mountain26 - Family at Yankee Girl Mine remains27 - Yankee Girl28 - Ethan pointing to illustrate how deep his shoes go into the snow29 - Snow taller than the Jeep on Red Mountain30 - Ore tram bucket on Red Mountain31 - ore tram on Red Mountain

By the time we finished with Red Mountain Town, the kids were bickering, Greg and I were exhausted, and we had put off dinner way too long, so we headed back to Ouray where we ate (not enjoyed) some pizza and headed for bed as soon as we could. After all, we had rented the Jeep for two days!

The Great Colorado-Utah Vacation 2011, Day Five.

OURAY, COLORADO – We spent most of the day driving.

We shouldn’t have had to spend so much time.

But we did.

This is why:

01 - MOVE OVER

That jackass had apparently never heard of the concept of slower traffic considerately pulling over and letting others by. So what should have been a 55-60 mph pace became a 35-40 mph pace for miles and miles and miles of double yellow lines. Someone needs to require that guy to put a slow-moving vehicle placard on the back of his rig.

Ugh.

Lather, rinse, repeat. He was just the first of many who had that particular consideration-of-others handicap on this day, putting us quite a bit behind schedule (oh, and also, I had a hard time getting around that morning, so frankly some of the blame is on me. But not all of it!).

But! We finally rolled into beautiful, sunny Ouray, Colorado, one of our major destinations on this trip. 02 - mountains over Ouray

We were all restless, thanks to Grandpa Slowpoke and his merry band of vehicular crawlers extending our time in the truck, so after setting up camp we went to visit Box Canyon Falls. Talk about beautiful, it was in full force with the snowmelt.

03 - box canyon falls 104 - downstream

We even hiked all the way up to the top of the canyon and across a bridge built in 1900 to carry water from one reservoir to another. The view was breathtaking.

After taking all that in and hiking back down, it was off to Ouray Brewery for dinner. Either we were really hungry, they have really good food and beer, or both, because we retired that evening happy, full, and sleepy, and had a great night’s sleep.

I think.

By this time it’s all blurring together.

Our campsite:

campsite

Mileage: 235.

The Great Colorado-Utah Vacation 2011, Day Four.

GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK, CO – Last night after posting, Greg managed to get a great shot of the view from our campsite at night. This was Colorado Springs.

01 - view from camp at night

Today we awoke early even though we didn’t need to rush to leave camp. I guess we’re still on CDT, but that’s okay. We had a stop we wanted to make along the way.

Can you guess where it was?

02 - biggest cactus the kids have seen so far

That photo of the kids with the biggest cactus they’ve seen in person was taken there.

What, not good enough? Here’s another hint:

02 - royal gorge bridge

Yup, that’s it! The Royal Gorge Bridge, built specifically as a tourist attraction, which is obvious from all the boarded up businesses on the approach. Still, our attitude with this type of thing is that it’s something to see once in your life and we’ll probably never go again, especially considering it cost us $80 to get in – and that’s with a coupon!

03 - crossing royal gorge bridge

By the way, have I mentioned how windy it’s been? At Cheyenne Mountain it was so windy the trailer was rocking around even with the stabilizer jacks firmly secured. Here, it was so windy the bridge was visibly swaying as we moved across. Another unsettling factor is the very large gaps between decking slats and oh yeah, Greg mentioned they only bothered to bolt down every few boards.

04 - gaps in bridge

Kitsch was the order of the day, and Royal Gorge just oozes it:05 - kitschy kitschy koo

Even so, the view from the bridge is just gorgeous.

06 - royal gorge07 - royal gorge 208 - royal gorge 3

Once we were on the other side of the bridge we availed ourselves of the ‘attractions,’ which included burro rides for Ethan…

09 - riding a burro

And a “Petting Zoo” chock full of those exotic creatures such as goats. And cows. And…that’s about it.

10 - petting zoo

Granted, they did have a more ‘exotic’ portion of the park with non-pettable animals such as a white ‘buffalo’ and elk.

11 - white 'buffalo'

Then we walked over to the aerial tram which was, of course, broken. We waited around for the repairs so we could ride across. I mean, hi, $80.

12 - aerial tramway13 - riding the aerial tramway

While nervously moving across the valley, our operator pointed out JFK Mountain, so named because it appears to be JFK in profile.

14 - JFK mountain 

I found that a little disturbing. It looks as though he is laid out in a funeral casket.

We hopped back in the truck soon thereafter, ate some sandwiches on the road, and tripped on down to our primary destination, the Great Sand Dunes. They don’t look like much from afar…

15 - view of GSD from camp

…but trust me, you’ll soon see just how majestic they are.

We checked in at camp, unhooked, watched a dust devil do its thing, and watched the kids shake off some road weariness.

16 - dust devil17 - intro to the sand

We hurried away to the Park with a sled and high hopes. I was determined to ignore the voice in my head nagging, “Remember how much you hate sand, how it gets into everything, EVERYTHING, and you don’t rid yourself of it for weeks? You don’t remember? Hey! I will not be ignored!”

I ignored it anyway.

18 - GSD Sign19 - trudging across the sand20 - still going21 - dunes 122 - dunes 223 - rolling and trying to sled24 - didn't work for me either25 - they go on forever26 - pretty pretty

Greg made a valiant effort to climb to the top of the dunes while I hung back, buffeted by wind and sand, watching the kids play, but he didn’t quite make it. Those dunes are far taller and more expansive than first appearances would have you believe. Exhausted, we trudged back to the truck. The truck was far, far away.

27 - working our way back to the truck28 - pretty pretty

Our visit to Great Sand Dunes was brief, and tired though we were by the time we’d dragged ourselves through it all, I have to say I was a little disappointed we didn’t have more time to play. Great Sand Dunes National Park is a treasure of diversity, with alpine environs, sandy dry dunes, and everything in between.

But boy, does the surrounding terrain give me the blues.

Our campsite:

san luis lakes campsite

Today’s mileage: 182.

The Great Colorado-Utah Vacation 2011, Day Three.

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – It’s Pike’s Peak day! I was up bright and early and so decided to take a little hike on one of the trails here on Cheyenne Mountain.

morning hikecactimore from morning hikesunrise on the mountains behind camper

No danger of being too hot for a hike here; at 5:30 this morning it was about 47 degrees. A brisk hike, sure, but the coffee Greg had brewed by the time I got back was REALLY good. Plus, he’d also gotten a few photos of the sun hitting the mountain behind our camper.

sun on mountainssunrise on the mountains behind camper2

Soon we had the kids up, we were all showered, and we were off for Pike’s Peak.

We had dressed somewhat warmly, but the wind chill at the top was 27 degrees. We hadn’t dressed THAT warmly, especially after acclimating to St. Louis’s near-100 degree temperatures, so we limited our time outside at the summit. The kids had hot chocolate, we bought a couple of souvenirs, and we were soon on our way back down. Photos:

family at Pike's Peakpikes peak from afarpurple mountains' majestyribbons of highway belowtimberlinesmaller trees heremore from the pikes peak highwayAmerica the Beautiful

cog railway 2cog railwaycolddidn't see one today

On the way back, we ate lunch in Manitou Springs. Greg suffered through what he claims is the hottest meal he’s ever eaten, in the form of green chili:

the great green chili experience

But! Strong fellow that he is, he ignored the burning sensation in the pit of his stomach and we all went for a very brief visit to Helen Hunt Falls. No, not THAT Helen Hunt, though that’s always who I think of when I think of the falls:

Helen Hunt Fallshelen hunt falls 2

By this time we were all worn out, we needed a break, and the laundry – that nagging beast that won’t quit for anything – needed doing.

So back to camp we went.

Greg spent time recovering, Laurel spent time with her head in her DS (though to her credit she took care of most of the laundry duties after I put it in the machines), and Ethan and I went hiking. 88 degrees with 12% humidity, which sounds great to those of us from Muggy Missouri, but we have gone through the water and the Carmex like nobody’s business.

Here’s hoping that’s the most discomfort we feel on this vacation.

Until tomorrow!

The Great Colorado-Utah Vacation 2011, Day Two.

Editor’s Note: From here on out we will take as many photos as possible with our nice camera as we have been, but sometimes it just isn’t practical. Sometimes we have to use our phone cameras or our point-and-shoot, so image quality will suffer. If you wish to take issue with this, you are free to write a Letter to the Editor. I wouldn’t recommend it.

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – Today we started out in Oakley, KS with a tragedy. We knew we were in crisis mode because Ethan was desperately yelling, “Dad, Dad! I have a bike emergency!”

And he did.

thorns in tire

Flat tire. From thorns in the parking lot of the RV park.

In fact, he had TWO bike emergencies because those damned thorns had flattened both his tires. No big deal, right? Wrong! Greg had just replaced one of them because we were worried it was so worn (to the threads) that it would blow out. It was replaced to the tune of $25 with a tire that was supposed to be, ahem, ‘self-healing’ and yes, you can see in the photo that it’s trying to do just that but the thorns punctured it so many times that it was useless.

Now he had two flats, so hi, $50,

Or a new bike for $80.

New bike! After all, anybody who knows Ethan knows he will soon suffer the DTs from bike withdrawal. That, and he makes life a living hell for everyone else.

You’ll see it in a few moments.

Then my sunglasses broke. Great!

Undaunted (mostly), we were on our way and drove all the way across eastern Colorado.

entering co

That’s no fun in any circumstance, but it was made marginally better by the fact we were traveling on Highway 40 which is a little better than I-70 as far as scenery goes. On the other hand, when we saw the “NO SERVICES FOR 70 MILES” warning, I started running through my mental checklist to make sure were were as sound as possible.

‘Cause eastern Colorado looks a lot like this:

eastern CO

And that is not where I want to be, broken down, out of gas, flat-tired, whatever.

As it turned out, there were no problems and we soon found ourselves in Colorado Springs. We pulled into camp around 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time, got set up, inhaled sandwiches, then turned right back around to visit Garden of the Gods.

The Visitors Center:

kids wrasslin' buffalo at Garden of the Gods Visitor Center

First things first, we wanted to break in Ethan’s bike because we promised him that we would do so just as soon as possible. We thought the trails were going to be nice, family-style trails. No, they were mountain bike trails, but we took a stab at it for, oh, 15 minutes.

A stab at mountain biking

But then we realized we are not alternate versions of, say, Brian Chamberlain, and so we quickly gave that up for a more mild version of sightseeing – walking.

This was not suitable to Ethan, who was Mr. Bitchy-Pants for the next hour or so because the biking trails were not candy-ass enough for us. But we soldiered on and got some lovely photos.gog1gog3gog2gog5gog4

By the time we took this one, Ethan had mostly unclenched his fists and rejoined the world of the mellow:family at gog

Next we drove on down the line to Balanced Rock. Famous formation, lots of people:

balanced rock view 2balanced rock

Now let me just say, I love me some Americans seeing how I am one, and I love our way of asking for people to take our photos in exchange for us taking theirs. But DANG, can people just TRY? When I took the photo of the group who took the photo below, I made every effort to compose the shot nicely so that it included the whole of Balanced Rock. But did they bother? Noooooo. I’m not looking for professionals here, just competence.

Oh, well, I guess if you want something done right you have to do it yourself, which is why we have a tripod and all (but I didn’t have it there and there were so many people it would get kicked over anyway).

family at balanced rock

Laurel and Ethan clowned for the camera:

kids in an alcove

And by that time we were hungry, so we visited a local brewery, Phantom Canyon Brewing. Either the food was really good or we were just really hungry. The beer? Also tasty.

phantom canyonphantom IPAsteak salad

Our bellies had not yet burst, so we were left with no choice but to walk across the street to Josh & John’s Ice Cream Parlor, where we stuffed ourselves even more and the kids found a fun little distraction:ethan's ice cream shop drawingdrawing kids

On the way back as we pulled into the park we were treated to a rare sight:

coyoteloping away

I don’t think we could have asked for a better ending to our day.

Our campsite:

day 2 campsite

Miles traveled (camp to camp): 263.

The Great Colorado-Utah Vacation 2011, Day One.

OAKLEY, KS – Some of you may remember that for the past two vacations, a third-party reporter has handled the telling of our family’s story.

Due to severe budget cutbacks, this vacation tale will be told in first person. That woman was bitchy anyway, according to Greg.

Yesterday was the first day of our adventure. Ten hours. That’s how long we spent driving, after arising at 4 a.m. and waking the kids by 4:30. The kids were remarkably well-behaved, just like they’ve been in the past on the first day of vacation. I’m a little nervous admitting that because I’m afraid of being jinxed. Aside from telling Laurel that NO YOU MAY NOT PLAY YOUR DS OUTSIDE THE TRUCK WHILE WE ARE CAMPING and telling Ethan YES YOU MUST PEE RIGHT NOW WHILE WE ARE STOPPED AND NOT WAIT UNTIL WE ARE 50 MILES FROM THE NEAREST RESTROOM, we had a good start.

Well, mostly.

We finally got to High Plains Camping around 3 p.m. despite a minor snafu in Kansas City, which is the bane of our existence. I mean, who needs 21 different exits for Exit 2? This always happens to us in KC. We can navigate the hell out of St. Louis and, really, any city (except Charleston) but KC gives us fits. Anyway, It didn’t take us long to set up once we made it to our campsite, considering we were staying only one night and hi, this part of Kansas is flat, so we didn’t even bother to unhook. Leveling just isn’t a big issue here. We usually prefer state and federal campgrounds, but this is probably the nicest RV Park we’ve seen. Fortunately, this RV Park made itself easy to find.

 high plains camping

I mean, not even OUR family could mess that one up.

Anyway, it really is a fantastic park, and if you ever find yourself driving through Oakley, KS and need a respite, this is the place to be. Clean restrooms, super-friendly staff, and a U-Pick organic garden to boot! Plus it reminds me of that Beastie Boys classic, “High Plains Drifter.” Can’t lose!

As is typical with him, Ethan immediately wanted to GO TO THE PLAYGROUND GO TO THE PLAYGROUND but Greg and I were more interested in sitting in the shade for a few minutes with some beer.

Guess who won out?

Yeah, age has its privileges.

We convinced him to ride his bike (editor’s note: to be fair, that doesn’t take much convincing). But soon enough we relented and took our chairs, a beer, and the kids to the playground.

first stop

Seeing as how Greg and I had a couple of beers in us, we decided to try what we would – in a sober state – consider “stunts.”

This is the flexed-arm hang, which confounded me throughout my schooling years and prevented me from ever receiving the Presidential Fitness award:

flexed arm hang

Take that, Reagan. How you like me now? Let’s see that again:

flexed arm hang

Next showoff Greg demonstrated his version, which he said was harder. I took photos:

the most fun we've had with a giraffe

And then I did it too, successfully, but he didn’t didn’t take any photos of ME. Guess he didn’t want any evidence of my matching abilities. Hmph! So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

He also performed a not-quite-but-almost Karate Kid maneuver:

almost the Karate Kid

And then a not-quite-but-almost cliffhanger move:

taking down the giraffe

Now for a few words about the yellow giraffe. It seems the giraffe has been recently painted and perhaps was not quite ready for our attentions. I ended up with yellow paint on my hands, which of course was not latex and of course would not be removed with soap and water so I had to take a Scotch Brite pad to my hands. This is why I will never be a hand model. It is also why I never bother with a manic
ure.

Despite what I’ve written, the grownups weren’t the only ones having fun and blowing off steam after the long drive. The kids were climbing all over, too.

before the sicknessmore giraffe fun

See the merry-go-round below? You know, that thing that’s all but banned because it’s so ‘dangerous’ now? Well, Greg spun and spun the kids, at Ethan’s urging…

merry-go-round

…but then Ethan got sick and had to be carried home.

after the sickness

Poor Ethan.

But fear not, Gentle Reader! He recovered quickly when he was reminded it was time for dinner, so we hustled next door to the Colonial Steakhouse.

steakhouse sign

See? That’s what I call ‘evidence.’

We had the buffet. We’re not ones for buffets, but look, folks, I grew up in a small town where this steakhouse would have been the bee’s knees, crowded every night with a wait on Saturdays. I know all about this kind of place. I know well the fried chicken, the mashed potatoes, the nearly complete lack of vegetables (other than a salad bar prominently featuring Bac-Os and pickled cherry peppers), the kitschy décor, the items for sale in the makeshift ‘gift shop’ and I am intimately familiar with this device:

IQ tester

Which Laurel immediately creamed…

the winning jump

…twice…

…while Ethan simultaneously took down his big pre-packaged roll.
happy boy

Greg had higher hopes for the steakhouse, but it was precisely what I expected and was pure nostalgia for me (hey Anita, remember those peg jump thingies from Miss Kitty’s?).

After dinner we came back to camp and all of us, to the man (especially the man, seeing as how he fell asleep face down on the camper sofa while I got the kids ready for bed) faded out quickly. I’m pretty sure we were all sound asleep by 9 p.m.

And that, friends, is Day One. Our campsite:

day one site

Today’s mileage: 621.4

Adventures in Food.

Here in St. Louis we have a wonderful grocery store, Global Foods, where we buy everything we need to make Thai food. And gyros. That’s about all we make, because we generally have difficulty deciphering labels there in order to know what to try. However, it’s a lot of fun to go and look around.

The kids (mainly Laurel) have been wanting to try durian for a long time. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, durian is a fruit known for its powerful smell. Some people find it very offensive, others don’t mind it so much, but it’s been banned from public transit and hospitals in Thailand and other locales.

This is the durian:

durian

I had no idea what I was buying or whether it was a good specimen, but it was in the freezer case so we had to let it thaw. Then of course we had to look up how to get into the damn thing. But once we did, we had this:

inside of the durian

The fruit has the general consistency of custard, and when we tasted it, WHOA. It tastes like onion custard. Pretty gross, but not as offensive as I thought it might be based on what I had read elsewhere. Greg didn’t care for it either, he thought it tasted onion-y, too. So now the durian is sitting in our trash can awaiting disposal and stinking to high heaven.

In other news, Greg and I dug some new potatoes today. Just a few, to be sure, but just enough to put in with some green beans for dinner:

new potatoes

I have every faith, based on past experience, that these will be far more enjoyable than the durian, particularly because they will flavored nicely with bacon.

But hey, trying new and exotic things is what makes life fun, right?

Greenery.

The garden has taken off, basking in the sun and the heat. I decided the other day to document where it is now, because we leave for a two-week vacation in, let’s see, five days, eleven hours.

Last year I worried and fretted and stewed, thinking the garden would die without me. I very much overestimated my worth to the garden. As it turned out, nature will do what nature does whether I am here or not. The drip irrigation certainly helps, though.

So for prosperity purposes, here is the garden as she stands right now.

Mostly heirloom varieties, by the way.

Baby lipstick peppers:

baby lipstick peppers

Big winter onions, interspersed with volunteer dill from last year’s crop:

big onions

Borage. This is an interesting herb I planted as a companion to my other plants; however, after research I’m thinking of making ravioli from it:

borage

Carrots. Little baby ones, sent for free along with my order:carrots

More volunteer dill from last year (I really need more recipes using dill):

dill

Tomatoes. I think these are of the Illini variety, but they may be Millionaires. I didn’t check the label next to them when I took the photo:

green maters

Green onions in the foreground, with perpetual chard and some volunteer lettuce behind:

green onions, chard, volunteer lettuce, volunteer tomatoes

Thai holy basil:

holy basil

Lettuce. We’re still fairly drowning in it:

Lettuce

Moon and Stars watermelon vines. I didn’t realize the vines had the same pattern as the melons:

moon and stars watermelon

More lettuce. I won’t get this kind again. It holds too much soil in the folds. And bugs:

more lettuce

Buggy beans. Poor beans. Time for some diatomaceous earth:

poor buggy beans

Taters:

potatoes

Snap peas (plus a cicada and some red yard I used to support them during the last storm when I ran out of twine):

snap peas

Thai chilis:

thail chilis

Turnips:

turnips

Crazy vining zucchini:

zucchini

There’s a lot more – sweet potatoes, banana melons, cucumbers, Orangeglo watermelon, lima beans, okra, Mexican gherkins, stevia, the list goes on. So here’s hoping they’ll survive my absence this year. I suspect they will.