Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The World's Biggest Prairie Dog and Son of World's Biggest Prairie Dog

Presented as a public service to our loyal readers: Should you ever find yourself speeding across our great country on I-70 through the lovely rolling fields of Kansas, and find your curiosity piqued by a sign advertising the World's Biggest Prairie Dog, at the previously mentioned Prairie Dog Town attraction in Oakley, Kansas, feel free to use the above picture of the World's Biggest Prairie Dog, with bonus possible runner-up large prairie dog, in your mental calculus of whether to stop or not. Also know that there is a real live five-legged cow and a real live six-legged cow. They are actually kind of gross and/or sad to look at. Pictures available on request.

We remain, as ever, here to serve.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Last Bit of Colorado

So after the Sand Dunes, we ventured through the Valley once again, home of such sites as this structure which may or may not be a home constructed of a combination of old boxcars and an RV getaway vehicle. We swung by Salida, which I don't think I had ever been to, but it's actually quite a nice town. Your faithful correspondents had hoped to continue their tour of Colorado microbreweries, but it turned out the place in Salida that claimed to brew their own beer was called "Amica's" and featured a sign with a bunch of day-glo-colored blobby people dancing or something, possibly lifted from the cover of a Jazzercize album. It just seems like a natural for a brewpub in a place as unique and relatively historic as Salida to have a dignified name like "Salida Brewing Company" or "Monarch Pass Brewery," and maybe a logo that features a mountain or something. I guess people in Salida are bored with that stuff, which I guess is fair since they have to look at mountains every day. In any case, we gave it a miss and went to the Victoria Tavern, which, as its name suggests, was a much more discriminating locale, to the extent anywhere with a shuffleboard table can be discriminating.

Anyway, we figured our last stop would be the world-famous Royal Gorge, and the world's highest suspension bridge, which crosses it. It turns out to be privately owned, and to cost $25 per person, just to walk across the bridge. Of course the ticket also includes the visitor's center and a carousel ride or some such foolishness. Also, it was closing for the evening when we arrived. We tried to convince the guard to let us pay a discounted price, since they were closed anyway, just to go look over the edge and not even set foot on their precious bridge, but he would not listen to reason. So your intrepid correspondent sneaked out to the far end of the parking lot where the fence ends and snapped the above picture without paying a dime to the rapacious gorge-owning gougers. Take that, pigs!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Of the Great Sand Dunes

One of the most weird/cool sights in the Colorado Rockies is the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the San Luis Valley. It really is like a little dollop of the Sahara plopped in the middle of the mountains. Your correspondent hadn't been since a family trip in elementary school, so a return trip was one of our primary goals in the Valley. Of course, since we were sleeping in a luxurious Best Western hotel room rather than out in the woods fro the first time in a few days, we slept in a bit longer than was perhaps advisable, and wound up at the Sand Dunes right around noon, in August, which accentuated certain Sahara-like characteristics.

The Lovely Katherine thought it insane, but clearly we had no option but to brave the conditions and climb the tallest dune we could see. Of course, climbing hundreds of vertical feet up sand involves a lot of one-step-up-slide-a-half-step-back slogging. And it was hot, and we weren't carrying all that much water. At several points, your correspondent thought maybe, just maybe, The Lovely Katherine was right. But then we got to the top, and it was clear that The Lovely Katherine was wrong for once. The views from the top were great, and the run down the hill was perhaps even better.

Of course, as it was a National Park, there was a lot of educational stuff about the bugs or weeds or something that live in the mini-Sahara, but we were more focused on getting back to Alamosa for a beer at the highly recommended San Luis Brewing Company.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Of the Movie Manor

When last we wrote, your faithful correspondents were zipping through the San Luis Valley, racing against the setting sun to find a place to camp. Sadly, our target was out of reach, and after several nights of dehydrated food and a quick face-washing in a sink at the trailhead we decided that splurging on a hotel wouldn't be a bad idea. We pulled into Monte Vista, greeted by a sign for the "Best Western Movie Manor." Not seeing many other options, we decided to follow the billboard's guidance and follow the road out of town. There are surely any number of reasons one might call one's Best Western hotel the "Movie Manor," especially in a world capital of cinema like Monte Vista, Colorado. As we neared the Movie Manor, and the looming screens next to it, our happiest suspicions were confirmed: This is a motel specially designed so that you can watch the feature at the adjacent drive-in from the comfort of your queen-sized bed, or two singles, as you may prefer, based on availability. We chose a room with a view of "The Simpsons Movie" (as opposed to a film version of "Hairspray"... the pickings were slim), ordered a pizza, and hunkered down.

The whole movie theme was done to the hilt. The door to each room had a nameplate bearing the name of a mid-80's celebrity, so a guest could pretend they were actually spending the night in Tom Selleck's dressing room, if one so desired. The framed print above the bed was a classic Renoir scene re-styled so that Marylin Monroe, James Dean, Elvis, Laurel and Hardy, Judy Garland, and, for some reason, Frankenstein's Monster were together enjoying a summer party along the banks of the Seine. The crowning achievement was the driveway and sidewalk in front of the lobby, which, in a tribute to Graumann's Chinese Theater, had celebrity names written into wet cement for all time. Among the celebrities who had supposedly graced the locale were: Marilyn Monroe, Brad Pitt, Angilina Jolie (sic), Robert Denero (sic), Lionardo Decapprio (also sic), Tom Cruse (also also sic), Mickey Mouse, Nemo, Buggs Bunny (again, sic) etc. (Note from fact-checking department: Your correspondent was actually derelict in writing down and preserving the many interestingly spelled names, and is reciting these from memory. But they were bad.)

In any case, we flipped the in-room switch to "Movie: ON" and listened to the movie magic of a 90-minute episode of the Simpsons, which we could (mostly) see on the distant drive-in screen. We are absolutely in love with the Best Western Movie Manor. The whole Holla staff is trying to find an excuse for a return trip to Monte Vista, Colorado for no other reason than the Best Western Movie Manor. But next time, we may choose a movie that isn't a feature-length version of a TV show that we could have watched more easily on the standard hotel TV.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Of the San Luis Valley

After emerging from the wilderness (and passing any number of tourists near the trailhead outside of Aspen who asked us questions indicating they had never seen backpackers before), we headed South. We crossed Independence Pass and skirted around Mount Elbert and zipped down to the San Luis Valley. Beautiful country, all of it, and as we were hoping to find a campground somewhere in the Valley before darkness set in, we were in too big a hurry to take as many pictures as the scenery justified. For those who haven't been, the San Luis Valley is a huge flat spot in the southern part of the Colorado's Rockies. It is one of the poorest parts of the state, and has a bittersweet combination of natural beauty and dying small town America.

Latvian test tomorrow, details on the Valley to follow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Of the Grueling Four-Pass Hike Around the Maroon Bells, Part the Last

Esteemed Reader:

We try our best to only present pictures here that in our amateur opinion rise above average vacation snapshots, because we know nobody wants to look at too many vacation pictures unless they have a blood relation/obligation to do so. Today we were almost ready to move on from the Bells, but then, we weren't. So here are some vacation snaps of us on top of each of the four passes of the Grueling Four-Pass Hike Around the Maroon Bells.

West Maroon Pass (Cold and wet, heroic survivor Nalgene™ not pictured):

Frigid Air Pass (Air actually somewhat less frigid than the other passes):

Trail Rider Pass (The Lovely Katherine on the left side of the frame, not technically on top yet):

Buckskin Pass (All downhill from here):



Monday, November 12, 2007

Of the Grueling Four-Pass Hike Around the Maroon Bells, Part the Second

An account of the Four-Pass Loop around the Maroon Bells is probably not of much interest, as it would mostly be a series of superlatives about how gorgeous the scenery was from atop each of the four high passes and in the valleys between them where we camped. Other than running a bit of the trail to try to get help for a climber who was thought lost on Snowmass Mountain (she was fine in the end), the biggest bit of excitement was this: After the long, arduous ascent up the boulderfield on the first pass, your faithful correspondent took a long drink from his trusty Nalgene™ water bottle. He then set it down, and it started to slide, then roll down the trail, and then it hit a big rock and bounded straight down the side of the mountain, bouncing off of more rocks, launching itself at least 15 feet up on each bounce and then crashing down to the rocks even further down the slope until it came to rest some 150 yards down the hill, and where, after a slog back down the hill, your correspondent found it - intact! It was unbelievable. If any representative of the makers of super-tough Nalgene™ products is reading this, feel free to send a check.

Your correspondents thought themselves to be equally bad-ass for doing the whole 25-mile roller coaster in three days, until they met a guy doing the whole thing in one day near the end of our trip.

Anyway, the above picture is a full 360 degree panorama from the top of Buckskin Pass. (For those who bother to click to see it bigger - the Maroon Bells are on the right side of the valley to the right of The Lovely Katherine, across the valley to the left of her are Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak.)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Of the Grueling Four-Pass Hike Around the Maroon Bells, Part the First

The Maroon Bells claim to be the Most Photographed Peaks in North America. (Or rather, the Aspen Tourism Board claims that they are. Exactly how they claim to know this remains a mystery. As does why, in the face of an inherently unverifiable claim, they wouldn't just go for it and say the Most Photographed Peaks in the World, other than perhaps to make it seem like Science had determined the Matterhorn to be More Photographed. Then again, it's also a bit mysterious where the line is between the Aspen Tourism People's desire to instill a yearning in others to come visit Aspen and their desire to have you people just stay away and quit wrecking their town. Life is full of mysteries.) Anyway, the staff photographer took several pictures of the Bells before we casually strolled around them. The above picture fits nicely in this publication, but I think this other picture is actually better.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Of Glenwood Springs

So after a nice backpacking trip in RMNP we headed out for a trip near Aspen. Unfortunately, all the public campgrounds were booked for the night before we wanted to hike. Fortunately, we found a private campground with space, and it turned out we were literally sleeping on the bank of the Colorado River; we only had to take a few steps to dip our feet in while reading a book in the summer sun, watching yahoos tube down the river with beers in their hands, gazing up at the beautiful rocky walls near the Glenwood Canyon. That night we discovered why there was space right on the northern bank of the river, as the southern bank of the river was an active railroad track, and over the course of the night several trains came barreling through, wheels squeaking on the curves. Freight trains are noisy. But we did get to see a camper festooned with a light-up animatronic flamingo, so it wasn't all bad.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Of Rocky Mountain National Park, Part the Second

This was one of the more interesting things we found at Rocky Mountain. To the best of our deduction, it's an old water pipeline for feeding the thirsty towns of the Front Range. It's long since been abandoned, and a small PVC pipe runs through the middle of the former wire-bound wooden structure. But the PVC doesn't look big enough to carry much water unless it's really rushing through there. Our crack research team didn't do much digging to find out the truth behind the matter, but did find that the Grand Lake Brewery has pretty good beer.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Of Rocky Mountain National Park

After the cabin in Wyoming we went for a three-night backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. We climbed from Grand Lake up to the Continental Divide and back again. You won't be surprised to hear it was gorgeous. Long stretches across the alpine tundra well above treeline were marked with huge cairns (as below), which we raced across on legs weary from climbing as thunderstorms drew near. We saw pikas and marmots and ptarmagins and moose and elk. The Lovely Katherine says she almost froze to death, but in the end, she didn't.