The Rockies: Hiking Up Chief Mountain

February 17, 2013

So Kelley, a girl I’ve met a few times through a Texas friend, organized a group to hike Chief Mountain this weekend. We were all grateful for her research, as it takes some work to pull a hike together. I took a quick glance at a post on the web about Chief Mountain, located northwest of Evergreen, just so I knew what I was getting myself into, and the person claimed she took all her flat lander friends here because the hike was so easy. I feel sorry for her flat lander friends! It was short, only two miles round trip, but the beginning elevation is 10,670 feet and the summit clears 11,700. Gaining 1,000 feet in one mile at that altitude is anything from flat and easy, especially when you’re 41 years old and following a bunch of guys in their late 20’s!! I was certainly feeling my age as I was resting with a few other girls and they were climbing nearby trees, boulders, or running through the snow. We went too fast for me to break out my good camera, but the iPhone can snap some good shots once in a while!

20130220-135614.jpgwe had a poacher in the girls’ photo





The trailhead is across the street from mile marker 18 on Squaw Pass Road, marked by a stake. It isn’t very noticeable. The trail winds up through the trees where it eventually crosses above the timberline offering magnificent views of the surrounding snow capped mountains. At times, we faced brutal winter winds which blew Kelley’s hat right off her head! We looked forward to each turn that put the wind at our backs!! To my surprise we found a Bureau of Reclamation Benchmark at the summit. I looked it up on to see if I could log it, but it was not recorded…seemed odd! We gobbled a few snacks at the top, but it was quite chilly, so we turned for a quick walk down with our poles and traction devices. My Yaktrax were still broken from the day before, as we started our hike before REI opened at 10, but I’ll be ready for next weekend! ETB




Fallbrook, California

Well, after an 8 month hiatus from blogging, I am back!  I almost don’t remember how to do this, despite positing every day for a year!

I just recently took a weekend trip to Fallbrook, California to celebrate my dad’s cousin’s 60 1/2 surprise birthday.  Many of my dad’s cousins, who I met for the first time on my trip around the USA, came for Bill’s birthday as well, so it was like a family reunion!  We enjoyed a nice dinner outside in Bill and Pam’s backyard with beautiful weather. Continue reading “Fallbrook, California”

Day 238 – Nebraska Heartland

Day 238 – Nebraska Heartland, August 11, 2011

This morning we left Grand Island and headed northwest up
Highway 2 in gusting winds through corn fields and farmland to Broken Bow, so
named for a broken Indian bow found nearby.
The winds are so strong in this area that trees are planted along the
highways as windbreaks.  The Broken Bow
area came to be known as the Sod House Frontier, as when settlers first moved to
the nearly treeless area, they built their homes, corals, pig pens, churches
and school out of sod.  Today the town is
small and modernized, relatively speaking.
We stopped near the courthouse to snatch a cache…Nebraska checked off
the list!

Continuing along Highway 2 as geese flew in a V-shape form
overhead and trains chugged by, we entered the sand hills region.  The immense system of dunes that spans for at
least 200 miles along the highway was created when sands of ancient sea were
carried here by wind.  The dunes are
blanketed in flourishing grasses whose root systems have kept the dunes in
place.  If I were a cow living solely on
grass, this is the place I’d want to be.
The view was quite serene.

A 90,000 acre area, Nebraska National Forest, is situated on
the south side of the highway within the dune region.  Approximately one fourth of it comprises hand-planted
trees.  In the late 1800’s, Dr. Charles
Bessey was convinced that the region was once forested and could be again.  After years of building his case and
gathering support, he wrote to President Roosevelt stating the government must
take steps to provide for the production of timber for America’s future as
eastern forests had been harvested or burned by 1902.  Roosevelt established the Dismal River Forest
Preserve, which is now the Nebraska National Forest.  We visited the Scott Fire Lookout, named for
the forest’s first supervisor, Charles Scott.
The tower is not only home to a nice view, but also to a cache!  We walked along a hilltop trail watching for
rattlesnakes and sticker burr bushes and admiring the wildflowers.

After visiting the forest, we continued west past miles of
dunes and eventually turned south toward Ogallala.  Just about the only sign of life were cows
grazing on the hills or drinking from a water trough beneath a windmill.

In Ogallala, I decided to take in the nightly performance of
the Crystal Palace Revue, named for a naughty 1875 dance hall.  Eight high school students perform a gunfight
outside the saloon prior to the beginning of an hour and a half performance of
singing, dancing, and joke telling on stage in the bar.  The show; cute, fun, goofy, comical and very
interactive with the crowd, runs all summer until the kids go back to school and has been in production for over forty years.

I grabbed a bite to eat at the bar before the show where I
met Jerry.  He once lived in Bedford,
Texas and now lives in Kansas.  He works
for a seismology company and is in Nebraska briefing the farmers about the
procedures that will take place on their land in order to look for gas and oil
in accordance with the leases they signed.
Somehow we got to talking about the weather…oh because the bartender
Stacy asked if it was going to rain…and he said a guy traveling through had to
pull off at his hotel because his windshield got smashed by golf ball sized
hail.  I’m glad I missed that storm.  I hope I stay out of them!

Ogallala is on Mountain Time.  I read a road sign that informed me of this,
but my phone never changed, so I ended up being an hour early to the show.  Of course, I didn’t figure that out until I
sat around a while which was annoying until I noticed the Cowboy game was
on!  I thought well this was a good $10
spent.  If the show is boring, I’ll watch
the game on mute.  They turned the
football off and the show was entertaining enough anyway!  ETB

Day 217 – Wisconsin North Woods

Day 217 – Wisconsin North Woods, Thursday, July 21, 2011

I forgot to mention one of the greatest parts to my
Minnesota morning yesterday, despite the rain…the coffee shop I found, Java
Moose Espresso, sold just the muffin tops…no stumps.  Any Seinfeld fan has to appreciate that!  Anyway, on to my next morning, I boiled some
water for coffee and instant oatmeal at the Amnicon Falls State Park
campgrounds in Wisconsin.  Amnicon means
“Where Fish Spawn” and the Amnicon River is an important spawning river for
fish from Lake Superior.

In the heart of the park, the river separates into two
streams which plunge over basalt and sandstone creating at least three
waterfalls and depending on the flow it sometimes fills another channel
creating a fourth falls.  I would have
never known the fourth falls, aptly named “Now and Then Falls” was sometimes
dry…the water was flowing today.

Bridges led Petey and me across the streams to a middle
island where we found a cache.  We also
completed an earth cache that required us to follow the marked trail to several
locations and record pertinent information.
It was the first time that I ran into fellow cachers.  Two folks were standing on one of the bridges
taking an elevation reading with their GPS (one of the requirements), so I
inquired, “Are you caching?”  “Yes”, they
responded and later pointed me in the direction of the final task I needed to
complete it.

One of the bridges that spans the river at Lower Falls is
known as Covered Horton Bridge.
Originally it wasn’t covered and was a highway bridge that crossed the
river not far from the park.  It was
moved to the present location in 1930.
The bridge is historically significant due to its age and
construction.  In 1897 and 1898, Charles
Horton obtained several patents for designs that made bridges strong, lighter,
and more durable.  In addition, the
design allowed workers to assemble the structures without expensive machinery,
tools, and labor.  His method required
using arched beams secured with hooks and clips rather than rivets and bolts
and the bridge is known as a bow-string.

On my way toward Brule River State Forest, I passed by a
roadside historical marker that caught my attention.  It was a windmill built in 1904 by a Finnish
immigrant, Jacob Davidson.  Davidson, who
had not been a miller in Finland, took four years to construct the windmill
whose unique design was based on the shape of a coffee pot Davidson owned.  He and his three sons used local materials
for the grindstones and structural wood.
The wings generate about 25 horsepower and turn at 15 rpm which produces
a mill stone speed of 135 rpm.  Each mill
stone weighs 3,500 pounds.  In added
bonus for making the brief stop was finding a nearby cache!

I moved on to Brule River State Forest where I drove four
miles to the headwaters of Bois Brule, one of the most renowned trout streams
east of the Mississippi.  I didn’t go
there to fish, but just to see where the river and Lake Superior meet.  It was such a beautiful place.  A light breeze kept away most of the annoying
insects as I sat at a picnic table in the shade looking out on Lake Superior
and its sandy beach.  The color of the
water changed from salmon along the coast to countless shades of blue as it
continued in the distance.  I took
advantage of the cool weather to blog a bit as it has been so hot in VANilla, I
have been less than enthusiastic about turning on a computer that generates
more heat.  Petey and I enjoyed a nice
office as we watched kids swim in the lake.
I thought to myself, I can’t imagine that water is very warm and took
Petey with me down to the beach to dab a toe in the lapping waves.  Confirmed…ankle deep was the best I could do!

After a few hours just chilling out, we continued east
through Port Wing and ended up in a resort town called Bayfield.  Somewhere along the way, a porcupine crossed
VANilla’s path (or at least I think that is what it was), but by the time I
stopped and got the camera up to my eye, it had slinked into the grass.  I found a campground about a mile away and
then returned to the quaint, tourist town for a local dinner.  I went with broiled whitefish which comes
with beer cheese soup.  The cheese soup,
more like a cup of melted Velveeta, was topped with popcorn.  I got about two or three spoonfuls down with
the help of an ice cold local beer on tap.
The waitress warned me it was cheesy…WHEW!  I also very well knew I was taking a risk by
ordering fish because if it remotely tastes like fish smells, I have a hard time with it.

Oh well, the good news was Petey got to join me on the patio
where several people showered him with attention, and I met a nice couple, Nick
and Nikki from Madison who were up for a weekend vacation.  Nikki is a 4th grade school
teacher and Nick owns a concrete business.
Their first child is due in January.
Nikki ordered nachos that ended up being topped with an olive
tapenade…definitely not Texas style.
What I was most shocked to hear was how everyone in Wisconsin can’t
stand Brett Favre…WOW…never thought I’d hear that.  I only know two others aside from myself who
have never been fond of him.  They tell
me that the Jets girl wasn’t close to the first woman.  Ok, so I’m not here to badmouth football
stars, but I just had to mention that I am no longer alone.

Petey and I left the restaurant as the sky turned violet
over the harbor and headed back to the campgrounds for the evening.  ETB

Day 212 – North Dakota Sampler (Part 2)

Day 212 – North Dakota Sampler, July 16, 2011

I failed to mention some interesting sights yesterday, the
first being during long waits due to road construction.  As we were all waiting for the flagger to
wave us on, it was mostly truckers and me, I was debating rolling down
VANilla’s window and turning off the engine.
As I glanced toward the driver side mirror, I noticed a trucker,
probably mid forties, brown hair, sunglasses, periwinkle blue T-shirt and jean
shorts step out of his cab, sidle into the space between his cab and trailer
and assume the position necessary to relieve himself.  As he is looking from side to side, I thought
surely this isn’t the case, but as he turned back toward his cab while zipping
his fly my suspicion was confirmed!  Not
too much further up the road, as I entered the town of Alexander, I was greeted
with a billboard listing the Ten Commandments.
Anyway, it was an interesting day.

I’ve survived another night of hellacious
thunderstorms.  Lightning flashed in the
sky like a strobe light in a dance club.
Some of the tent campers moved into their cars while the storm
passed.  Upon leaving the campground, I
turned east and continued past countless hay fields, rolling hills, and
farmland to Garrison.  It wasn’t a
numbered stop in the book, but New Town, the “major” city (it’s all relative)
on the Indian Reservation seemed uneventful and frankly it was too hot to spend
much time hiking across prairielands on the sunny, somewhat humid day.

Garrison calls itself the Walleye capital of the North and
displays a 26-foot fish statue named Wally at the town park.  Not far from the town park is another park
that geocaching led me to.  I found a
container hidden under an old city horse trough.

After visiting Garrison, I took a short drive through Audubon
National Wildlife Refuge until the road closure in the park required me to turn
around.  I got a quick glance of a
grouse, but it hopped into the bushes, but I think the animals were like me…not
too active.

We moved on the Knife River Indian Villages.  The earth lodge people of the Knife River
were known as the Hidatsa and are believed to have arrived around the
1300.  The tribe remained in the area for
more than 500 years.  The tribe survived
by farming land, hunting bison, and trading materials.  Lewis and Clark encountered the Indian village
during the winter of 1804 and they eventually hired Charbonneau, a
French-Canadian trader as an interpreter.
Along with Charbonneau came his wife, Sakakawea, a Shoshone who was
invaluable to expedition’s western travels.

Petey and I walked along the 1.5 mile path past the
undulating green field which was basically the remains of the earth lodge
village.  The area looked more like a
perfect golf course fairway.  The heat
index was so high, that at the end of our short walk Petey, panting heavily,
decided he just couldn’t make it to VANilla across the parking lot and plopped
down under the shade of a tree to rest.

Indian Village was a final touring spot before coming to a
rest in Bismarck.  ETB

Day 187 – San Juan Skyway – Part 4

Day 187 – San Juan Skyway, June 2, 2011

We spent the morning tooling around Telluride and took a lovely hike along Jud Wiebe Trail.  The signboard posted at the trailhead did not display a map, thus my knowledge of the trail stemmed from the information provided by the woman at the visitor’s center yesterday and a two sentence summary from the Trails app on my iPhone.  It started at the top of Aspen Street, it was somewhere between 2.7 and 3.3 miles, and it was ranked as difficult.  With an elevation gain of 1,200 feet, the iPhone app suggested that I allot 1.5 to 2.5 hours.  It took me every bit of 2 hours to cross Cornet Creek, climb the steep path above town, enjoy the shade of aspen groves, admire the view of Bridal Veil Falls, chat with some locals, cross another creek, and finally descend along a rocky road to town.  I can’t believe Petey made it!

From Telluride we headed south through a plateau of high grasslands, over Lizard Head Pass, and down through emerald green valleys dotted with yellow wild flowers as snow capped mountains towered above.  Runoff from melting snow streamed down the mountainside into the powerful Dolores River.  We reached Rico around lunchtime to find a tiny town with only a few businesses open, including a gas station, a liquor store, and a restaurant.  Many of the remaining buildings of this once booming mining town were for sale or lease.  In 1891, when the Rio Grande Southern Railroad arrived in Rico in a route that connected Durango and Ridgway, the town boasted a population of nearly 5,000 people which supported 23 saloons, 2 churches, 2 newspapers, a bank, a theatre, a boarding house, a mercantile, a brick county courthouse, and a thriving three block red-light district.  I only stopped in an attempt to find a cache nearby some mining remains, but I was unsuccessful.

I continued on to Dolores where I stopped for a look at a Galloping Goose of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad which was also a virtual cache.  The Galloping Goose was devised after the stock market crash of 1929 in an attempt to save the Rio Grande Southern Railroad from bankruptcy.  While ore, timber, and livestock hauling by truck was becoming more favorable and less expensive, the tracks and trestles of the railroad were falling into a state of disrepair.  Running heavy engines on the line would only continue to damage the infrastructure; therefore, a new lightweight, gasoline-powered rail bus was designed to replace the steam engine and transport light freight, passengers, and mail.  For twenty years, seven different rail buses and a maintenance goose operated on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad until eventually the railroad was abandoned in 1951.

Just south of Dolores, I took a half-hour to explore the Anasazi Heritage Center.  The National Monument features a variety pottery excavated from Anasazi ruins that now sit beneath McPhee Reservoir, a photography exhibit of Ute Indians, a photography exhibit of pictographs and petroglyphs, and a nature walk to a few remains of ruin.  Archaeologists use the center’s database for their research.  I think visitors need to have an extreme interest in the Anasazi culture to enjoy the center.  Personally, I could have skipped this stop and gone straight to Mesa Verde National Park where countless ruins can be found in remarkably good condition.

From approximately A.D. 1 to A.D. 550 the Anasazi were semi-nomadic.  From A.D. 550 to A.D. 750, the Anasazi’s settled areas and built pithouses.  From A.D. 750 to A.D. 1200, they advanced to building single story and multi-story villages.  Between A.D. 1200 and A.D. 1300, the tribe constructed cliff dwellings before abandoning the area, most likely due to a twenty year drought.

Pithouses generally consisted of two rooms, the antechamber and a larger room with a storage pit and a fire pit.  The rooms were dug a few feet into the ground and were covered by a wood and thatch roof approximately head high.

The Anasazi also dug kivas, an underground religious room.  The kivas include a bench, a Sipapu, a firepit, and a deflector stone.  The Sipapu is a small, circular hole in the floor which symbolizes the entrance to the underworld.

In addition to the pithouses and kivas, Mesa Verde National Park is home to numerous cliff dwellings, some very well preserved.  The park allows entrance to a few dwellings on a self-guided basis and few others via a ticket purchase and ranger tour.  All of the dwellings can be seen from overlooks as well.  Petey and I visited a handful of overlooks such as the Square Tower House Overlook, the Sunpoint View which provided views of several dwellings including the Cliff Palace, and the Sun Temple.

Standing 26 feet high, the Square Tower House is the tallest structure in the park.  The four-story tower is part of an extensive, multi-storied unit with about 80 rooms and 7 kivas.  The Square Tower House represents the final phase of building at Mesa Verde around A.D. 1200.

The Cliff Palace is Mesa Verde’s largest cliff dwelling and requires a one-hour guided tour for up close viewings.  Petey and I arrived very late in the day, so we just observed it from above.  I’ve been to so many of these dwellings over the last few months, I didn’t really feel the need to walk through the ruins, though I will say that Mesa Verde National Park may be one of the better places to explore ruins for those who are interested in the history of the Anasazi.

Unlike the haphazard design of the cliff houses, the Sun Temple appears to follow a pre-conceived design.  Archaeologists believe the massive construction of the D-shaped symmetrical design required a community-wide effort.  It is also believed that the structure was never complete as there is no evidence of a roof.  Though the structure appears ceremonial, the Sun Temple was erected without doors, windows, or firepits, thus its function remains a mystery.

After completing both the Mesa Top Loop drive and the Cliff Palace Loop drive through what looked like dead cedar trees, we returned to the Chapin Mesa Museum and the Spruce Tree House.  The Spruce Tree House is the most well preserved dwelling in the park.  I had planned on taking the self-guided tour through the Spruce Tree House, but it closed at 6:30.  I was ten minutes too late.  I didn’t think about a trail closing, but I can see that the park would close trails to ruins in order to protect them.  Oh well, I got a view of it from above and then drove another 15 miles toward the entrance of the park where I found a campsite for the night.

This national park is very unique.  The campsites are a bit more expensive than most other national parks, but the showers are free and the bathrooms have flush toilets.  The restaurant by the campground even offered an “All you can eat” pancake breakfast for $5.95.  If only free wi-fi were available!  Camping services at many of the other national parks I have visited have been more primitive.  Off to sleep…ETB

Day 185 – San Juan Skyway (Part 2)

Day 185 – San Juan Skyway, May 31, 2011

We changed the pace a bit today and spent most of our time stopping at overlooks or wandering around old mining towns once I figured out Petey could hardly walk this morning.  I planned a short hike, 0.6 mile, at Animas Overlook about five miles up the dirt road from our campground.  The paved path led us along a nature trail to a view of snow capped mountains and the Animas River below.  I had to coax Petey along and when I left the path in search of cache, he stood staring at me like I was crazy.

As we left Durango and headed north on 550 to Silverton we climbed two passes.  We topped Coal Banks pass at around 10,300 feet where we enjoyed a snowy mountain view before we earned a slight, downhill relief prior to climbing up to Molas Pass with an elevation of 10,899.  Molas Pass overlooks the Weminuche Wilderness, at 488,700 acres, the largest wilderness area in Colorado.  The view at the pass overlooks a range of lofty peaks and the Molas Lake, still covered in ice.  The 470 mile Colorado Trail that traverses Colorado and connects Durango to Denver can be found at the lake.

We eventually made it to Silverton, an old silver mining town that supposedly got its name when a miner exclaimed, “We may not have gold here, but we have silver by the ton”.  Petey and I took an hour to cache in Silverton.  We strolled past historic buildings like the gold-domed courthouse, admired once-elegant hotels, and even took a jaunt down Blair Street, a former red-light district.  My favorite cache of the day was called, “To Too Two EASY”, and much to my surprise, it was!  A camoed film canister was wired to an old metal shack.  It hung in broad daylight for all to see, and if that wasn’t easy enough, the word “cache” with arrows pointing to the film canister was painted in giant red letters on the side of the building.  I couldn’t help but laugh…SO great!

As we turned around to leave town, we passed by a house that appeared to be built beneath a hill as the roof was constructed of rock, grass and dirt.  It was a very unique design.  After we left Silverton, we continued on 550 along a portion of the road known as the Million Dollar Highway.  Built between 1880 and 1920, the old toll road served as a mail, stage, and freight route.  Depending on whom you ask, the highway was named for the amount of gold and silver mined in the area, the value of the low-grade ore tailing used to pave the road, the cost of construction, or the rewarding views.  The road hugs the mountainside as it winds past waterfalls and climbs to Red Mountain Pass.  After topping out at 11,018 feet, the highway twists down toward Ouray skirting the remains of old mines and passing through tunnels blasted through solid rock.

In Ouray, also known as Switzerland of America, we drove to the Amphitheatre campground in the National Forest which provided an outstanding view of the town below and the surrounding mountains.  An additional bonus was a short walk to yet another cache.  It was the fourth of five that I found today.  After taking in the views, I drove through Ouray’s streets lined with Victorian hotels and shops to Box Canyon Falls.  The 285 foot cascade thunders down a narrow gorge, though much of the falls is obscured by the sheer cliff walls.  At the top of the falls, water tumbles into a hidden chute and at base of the falls it reappears as it shoots through a tight gap in the rock face.

The steel suspension bridge above the falls led through a tunnel to the Perimeter Trail which circled above Ouray.  I’m not sure of the length of the trail, but some other day it seems like that might be worth exploring.  In addition, hiking the Perimeter Trail to the falls only suggests a donation while entering through the visitor’s center requires a $3 fee.  Just thought I’d mention that for the financially challenged folks in the world that might want to enjoy nature at a slightly lower cost.  Along the path, I spotted chipmunks, a black-headed grosbeak, and a marmot.  It was my first time to see a marmot.  I couldn’t raise my camera fast enough to snap a decent picture, so hopefully I’ll see another one soon.

After finding the earth cache at Box Canyon Falls, my last of the day, I directed VANilla farther north to Ridgway State Recreation Area where I found a shower and then continued up to Montrose for the evening.  It was time to re-provision at Wal-Mart, take advantage wi-fi, and catch part of the NBA finals over a cooked meal.  ETB

dead horse ranch state park

Day 127 – Red Rock Country Part 3

Day 127 of Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Today Petey and I spent the morning geocaching in Dead Horse Ranch State Park.  We found five of six caches placed around the park.  Most of them were near the lagoons which was definitely the most picturesque part of the park.  The caches ranged in size from micros to medium sized containers.  We found a film canister, a magnetic key holder, two hard, plastic latchable containers the size of a pound of sugar, and a large vitamin bottle that was well camoed.  They were hidden under rocks, in trees, and attached to benches.

ash cave at Hocking Hills State Park

Day 11 – Scenic Southeastern Ohio

Day 11 of a Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways

As I drove through Southeastern Ohio last night, I now understand why the campground was so hard to find at Hocking Hills State Park.  As opposed to having a main entrance to the park with all the attractions inside it, the park is separated into six areas which are named for the attraction. Consequently, Cedar Falls had its own area as did Ash Cave and the other attractions.