Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Well, Aaron and Laura are hitched. And they sure picked a lovely day to get that way!

We started off the day with a walk to Huckleberry, a great restaurant near Patrick's. After a leisurely breakfast, it was time to say our goodbyes to Jonathan. :( Kim took him to the airport and seven of us

took a hike up bear canyon. The morning started out misty and cool, so we slowly got to see more and more of the world around us as the fog drifted away. Catching up, exploring around, enjoying the beauty, and avoiding poison ivy - what could be better? Then it was time to get back and cleaned up and take off for the wedding.

They got married at a country club and the reception was there as well. And man was it lovely! The ceremony was simple and meaningful, and you could tell people were just happy for and with them. The weather couldn't have been better, and (at least from my perspective) there didn't seem to be anything that could have gone better. Hooray! (in picture: Terry, me, Patrick, and Kim)

And now, I'm on a plane headed back for Appleton. Aaron and Laura - so gosh-awfully nice of you to give such a lovely occasion for so much fun!

Birthday fun and friend convergence

Today was the day to turn our thoughts back toward the front range where the wedding festivities and our friends would be converging in a whirlwind of fun, catching up, and just plain ol' celebration.

But first, it was Sharon's birthday! We had a lovely breakfast of blueberry pancakes and grilled sausage (yum!) and headed to the hot springs for the morning. Tom engineered a pool in the side of the river that received just the right combination of frigid water from the river and scalding water from the hot springs. The five of us lounged there till the brightness of the sun drove us to the deck chairs where we munched birthday cake and sang "happy birthday" to Sharon. Then, after many "thank you"s, we bid them farewell and headed to Golden.

Golden saw the reunion of such far-flung friends as Patrick (Lewisville, CO), Kim (New York), Justin and Michelle (San Francisco), and Terry (Appleton). With Jonathan bring from Pasadena, CA and Tom from Raleigh, it felt like quite the long overdue convergence. We hung out, playing games, catching up, and later met up with Laura and Aaron for a bit.
After that, we piled in cars and headed to Patrick's place. He has a new Maine Coon kitten, Sam, so we talked and played with him till exhaustion won out and we called it a day. Well, most of us did. Michelle's flight had been scheduled to land at 10:00 pm, but was delayed by weather until 2:00 am Sat! Boo! So Justin hung out with us and then headed straight to the airport to pick her up. Jeepers!

Top of the world

Remember my mention of 14ers in my previous post? Well, today we made it to the top of one of the tallest peaks in the Rockies!

Here is Jonathan's account:
The day started with breakfast at Rick and Sharon's house, a delicious power smoothie, coffee, and granola. We sat in the morning sunshine, chatted cheerily, and enjoyed the broad view of the Colorado plains before us, the mighty mountains rising in the near distance. Then we piled into a red Jeep and headed toward Mt. Antero, drawn by that instinctive need to climb, conquer, and surmount!

The road led us into San Isabel National Forest, and then turned to gravel. After driving a while, Paul (Rick and Sharon's mountaineering friend who owned the Jeep) made a sharp turn from the relatively smooth dirt road onto Baldwin Gulch, a rock-strewn path that immediately launched us into the air and continued jolting us along for the next hour as the Jeep slowly crawled its way up the mountain. Paul must have seen a bit of consternation on our faces, because he assured us that Baldwin Gulch was practically a "highway" compared to the some of the tougher trails that the Jeep had handled in the past (although he did mention ripping loose an engine mount that time). And indeed, the Jeep handled the road just fine.

The scenery along the way was incredible. For a brief few days each year, Colorado's famous aspens salute the autumn with a brilliant golden show, and our trip happily coincided with this magnificent display.
(end Jonathan narrative)

We spent maybe a half hour at the top, taking pictures and absorbing the view. Then we climbed back down, hopped back into the Jeep, and jolted our way back down the mountain. After a brief detour in a ghost town, we landed in Coyote Grill in Buena Vista for Mexican food and great conversation. The evening wrapped up with Tom playing piano and a picture show for Sharon of the photos we'd captured from the day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Wards

Good evening from Buena Vista. I am delighted to report that Jonathan, Tom, and I are quite happily installed at the home of some friends that used to live in Appleton, Rick and Sharon. They moved here about a year ago, so it has been just great to catch up, explore their home and town a bit, and eat great food! We have some fantastic pictures of the aspens and the surrounding mountains - and others of the town and of our prowls therein, but unfortunately most of those pictures are on Tom's and Jonathan's SLR cameras, which I can't upload to my iPad. This picture will hopefully give you at least somewhat of an idea of what we're raving about as we drive and look out the windows here. I caught this one from my Blackberry when we stopped for Jonathan to give Tom a photography lesson on the way up here.

- lunch
- wandering around (and in!) the Arkansas River, a world class whitewater kayaking site
- wandering around Buena Vista - some trust fund kids are basically building a town and it's fascinating
- checking out a pottery shop and playing on some rock climbing structures they have in a park here
- having pretzels and drinks at the Eddy Line, a local restaurant
- dinner
- dinner conversation about future and finances
- they have a grand piano, so getting to hear Tom play
- learning to play Farkle. Except that Jonathan won both games...

We wound up the evening with some nice conversation and some planning for tomorrow's adventures - wait till you hear about them!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mixing it up

14ers in Colorado are a big deal. There are 54 mountains in the state that rise above 14,000 feet, and folks here make it a goal to hike up all of them. We decided it would be fun to check one of them out, and thought why not try taking a train to do so?! The cog railway takes an hour and a half to climb from Colorado Springs to Pike's Peak at 14,110 feet above sea level.

We were given all sorts of information on the way up.

What Tom thought was interesting: that the reason for the cogs is to allow the train to climb a steeper grade - in this case up to 25% - where a grade of 2% is considered steep for a normal railroad.

What Linda thought was interesting: the house of the folks who live way up the mountain and who manage the water supply for the city of Colorado Springs. They live 17 miles from their mailbox and it takes them roughly an hour to get down into the Springs.

What Angela thought was interesting: there are a bunch of Bristlecone Pines on the way up, one of which is over 1000 years old, and another of which is over 2000 years old. Ok, so it isn't the most beautiful thing in the world, but man is it impressive!

The views from the top of the peak were simply fantastic, so the time until we were to re-board the train just flew. Once at the bottom, there was just time for a quick DQ stop before taking Linda to the airport. We bid her farewell and then Tom and I went our separate ways: he to meet up with his cousin Angie for dinner, and me to meet up with a high school friend Shane and his wife Jana for Cuban. Then Tom and I met up again and took off for the airport to pick up Jonathan, who got in from California around 11. A crazy day, but quite lovely!

Revenge of the badlands

Just to reassure you that there is some justice in the world... After posting that bit of sassiness in my previous post we calmly went to sleep - only to wake in the middle of the night to the sound of the whole state of South Dakota trying to blow us out of our tent and presumably the entire state. By 6:30 it added rain to the mix so we conceded and hightailed it outta there. The ride back was - I'll admit it - LONG! But we're back and recovering and (PRETTY sure Tammy would agree) very glad we did it!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Love on horseback

Well, we knew we had a ton of driving to get in today. It's roughly an 8-hour drive to get from Durango back to the Denver area. So Tom did some research and learned that Colorado is home to a huge collection of sand dunes - who knew?! - that were roughly on the way back. As we drove toward the dunes and started considering what else we might want to do, the subject of horseback riding came up, and (as no one turned green at the idea) we started making some calls. Turned out we could catch a sunset ride on our way toward Colorado Springs, so that became the plan.

(Tom has a different version of the above events).

The sand dunes were very delicious.

See picture.

Moving right along to the interesting part, a rustic cowhand captivated or attempted to captivate the heart of fair Angela.

As the the story goes, Angela, as the expert rider of the group, was assigned to Dawn, a horse with a mind of her own and a swift hoof. Linda was assigned to Phoenix, a hungry horse. A slow, unmotivated animal was relegated to Tom.

Off the intrepid party moseyed, winding up the side of the mountain, fording the Chalk River, and galloping up the trailhead. Along the route, Keith (name changed to protect identities), the aforementioned cowhand, who was serving as the party's guide, sidled up to Angela and mentioned, while demonstrating his manly horsemanship, that he, in fact, was no longer married. Angela maintained a noncommittal pose. At the conclusion of the ride, Tom asked for a restaurant recommendation, and Keith offered up Quincy's Steakhouse as a suggestion.

Monday night, it turns out, is filet mignon night at Quincy's, a dining establishment especially suited for the indecisive, as the menu choices consist of steak ounceages and potato toppings, period. The man knows how to do steak, and do it well.

Full from their dinner, the party drove back to the comfort suites at Comfort Suites of Colorado Springs.

5 points to the gentle reader who correctly guesses the point at which this blog's dictation was delegated (hijacked).

Mesa Verde National Park

You wouldn't believe all we learned today about what we DON'T know. We don't know why the pueblo people came to Mesa Verde, we don't know why they chose, after centuries of living on top of the Mesa, to move to the alcoves under the Mesa and build dwellings there. And that's only the beginning! We don't know why, after barely more than 100 years there, they left abruptly, leaving stores of food and an unfinished temple behind. We aren't sure about why they built the dwellings the way they did, or what all the towers and rooms were used for (communication? defense? status? religion?) We also can only extract a minimum of information about the people themselves from what they left behind, leaving us in the dark about much of their daily lives, religion, family life, and even population size. Of course, there are countless theories about each mystery, and some information can be correlated from tradition and practices of native peoples from the area today, but so little is known for certain that it pretty much became a joke between the three of us by the end of the day. It is kinda neat that even with all archeology and scientific research can tell us, there still are things that we may never find out about this area.

The day was just so full of one fascinating sight after another. All day long the views of the mesas, the views FROM the mesas, and the sky provided a continual, beautiful backdrop to everything else that we got to see and learn. On our way up to the Mesa in the morning, Linda spotted a coyote trotting alongside the road. We stopped the car to get a good photo of him, and he just kept trotting along without the least regard to us.

We spent some time in the visitor center, and then went on guided tours of 2 different sets of ruins: Cliff Palace and Balcony House. You could kind of tell that the guides had been giving the same tours all summer long, so while we definitely found them worthwhile, we had more fun pinging them with all sorts of questions after each tour. Then they came alive with their own interest in the history - the second guide stayed over an hour answering questions and telling us stories. It was neat to make our way through the ruins using ladders and (widened) stone-carved hand and toe holds. We were often reminded not to touch anything, but it really was just cool to a stick our heads into rooms and to look down into kivas and imagine what it must have been like to live there. In spite of the 800 years that have elapsed since people dwelt here,

there are still places where painted designs can still be seen in the plaster, and at one point there are petroglyphs carved into the cliff face.

We ended the day with a self guided tour around the top of the Mesa, where we could see even more ruins - both of the cliff dwellings and of the pit houses where folks lived prior to the cliff houses. As we were leaving the park we saw FOUR huge mule deer bucks, right by the side of the road. I've never seen anything like it. We got heaps of pictures on Tom's camera, so we're hoping they turn out. After a thrilling race against the gas tank all the way back to Durango, we decided to call it a day. Tomorrow? Sand dunes!

(and don't worry; I'm not actually touching the cliff face!)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ride on

Well, guess I don't know how to quit while I'm ahead. Driving back and forth to South Dakota from Wisconsin last weekend just wasn't enough. So hi from southwest Colorado! I flew in yesterday and got the chance to hang out with my friends Aaron and Laura (they're gettin' married - the real reason I'm out here) for the evening before heading back to the airport to pick up my friend Tom.

This morning we all went for a lovely hike in the foothills before Tom and I bid them adieu for the time being and went back to the airport to pick up my friend Linda. And THAT was just so we could turn around and take the 8 hour drive to Southwest Colorado! We're pretty sick of being in the car at this point, but we did take time for some nice stops, which made it a tad more bearable. We took maybe a 2 mile hike on a dirt road through the hills, and once it was dark stopped to look at the stars for a while. We'll start exploring this part of the world and I'll try to keep you updated on what we discover!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

how hard could it be?

Today we watched an introductory video to Badlands National Park, and they went on and on about how hard a time the first settlers had it. Bosh. Tammy and I could have shown them a thing or two.
We started today with a horseback ride into the hills. And it was so easy! I mean, as soon as you step off the platform to your saddled horse, it pretty much stops and goes when the horse in front of it does, and it just sticks to the trail. Since we weren’t allowed to trot them or anything, I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure using horses for all your transportation and farming needs is no big deal.

And then they went on and on about the harsh Badlands country. Wah wah wah. All we could see from the boardwalk lookouts (with our binoculars and as we sipped fresh water from our camelbacks) was fantastic, rugged beauty. We didn’t see any of those rattlesnakes all the signs warn so much about. And as for the wind, well, I can say from the vantage point of my tent that has a laptop cord strung to the electric box outside, that the wind sounds just beautiful and is refreshing. Just take it from us, two newly-self-proclaimed experts: pioneering really couldn’t have been all that bad.

OK – I have to say that today was great. The horseback riding really was fun and wandering up and down through pine forests was, well, just lovely. And I think we both would say the Badlands are breathtaking. We’ll be sharing heaps o’ photos as soon as we’re reunited with Tammy’s camera’s cord. The heat and ruggedness are respect-inducing: you can’t but admire the native people who originally made this their home and fought to retain it, and then the European settlers who came for the promise of land only to find soil that would not support small-scale farming. Given the myriad conveniences that we surround ourselves with even as we visit places like this, it’s hard to imagine what life was like for those who fought for existence here. It makes me grateful – both for the opportunity to learn and for what I have!

Saturday, September 04, 2010


but harder than stone
is the flesh and bone
of a troll that sits
in the hills alone
as soon set your foot
to the mountain’s root
for the seat of the troll don’t feel it…

I like rocks. Can’t say I know much about them, of course. Wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between limestone and granite if my life depended on it. But today I’ve had some time to appreciate stone on a whole new level.heads
First, of course, Mt. Rushmore in all it’s glory. So neat to read the story; so worth it to be so near to the actual icon. 60-foot-high heads are nothing to sneeze at, let me tell you! You could probably ask me or Tammy now all sorts of Mt. Rushmore trivia and we’d fill your cup of curiosity well past the “runneth over”!

Next up was Wind Cave. Fancy being 20 stories underground, hearing tales of the discovery and exploration of the 4th largest cave network in the world. Wind Caves are unusual for their box work limestone formations and hundreds of maze-like passages. I like thinking of the lacey formations growing slowly underground with no one but God knowing of their existence until the late 1800s. I couldn’t help recall the question God asks Job in the Bible: where, indeed, were we when He built the foundations of the earth?!

We wrapped up our stone explorations for the day by making our way back to Crazy Horse – another mind-boggling exhibition of mountain carving and human achievement. This monument dwarfs Mt. Rushmore – and every other monument in the world including the pyramids! It’s far from being complete and you can’t but admire the determination of the family that carries on the work, and their insistence on doing it all with private funds. They’ve turned down two ten million dollar federal grants because they believe in free enterprise and don’t think that tax dollars should go to it. Huh!

Old Tom’s lame
Since home he came
And his bootless foot
Is lasting lame
But troll don’t care
And he’s still there…
(probably my favorite Tolkien poem!)

Friday, September 03, 2010

trippin. road style.

As I think of it, I should check the mileage on my car. This summer has been jam-pack-filled with road trips. While I haven’t faithfully blogged about them, they have made for an interesting and busy summer. Backpacking in the Porkies. The St. Louis trip. Paddle trips along the Fox River or up in Lake Superior. Blueberry festivals and county fairs. Boomerang tournaments and road trips with friends “up north”. Weddings and family reunions. And of course – South Dakota!

Big Sky Yes, South Dakota. When Tammy and I figured out that no one else would be able to backpacking this weekend, we decided it was high time to do something spontaneous. Neither of us had seen Mt. Rushmore, and both of us already had Friday off. And since it’s “only” a 14-hour drive… well, you know the rest.

And here we are. We stayed in the Twin Cities at Aunt Corrine and Uncle Ron’s place last night to break up the driving a bit. After a lovely time and a filling breakfast, we found ourselves very, VERY much on the road. In spite of the sheer distance traveled on I-90, I could not say the trip was uneventful.

  • We discussed cannibalism.
  • We saw a tiny tumbleweed, cottonwoods, and sage brush.
  • We crossed the Missouri river (ok, that really was interesting… I couldn’t get over how dramatically the land seemed to shift from “Midwest” to “West” right as we crossed the river)
  • We listened to books on tape.
  • We saw signs for Wall Drug.

I know, I know, pretty cool stuff.