For most international flights, I choose a major carrier, but for my trip to Colombia, in order to find decent connection times, I opted for Copa Airlines. I have used the airline for intra-South America flights, but it had a been a while, and I wasn’t sure what to expect flying from Denver International Airport.
Copa Airlines began operations in 1947 as a domestic airline in Panama. Over time, it dropped its domestic flights and expanded to international flights in South America. Before Continental merged with United, Continental was a 51% owner of the airline. Copa flies 737s and while it generally focuses on South America, it has expanded into additional North American cities and even to a few European destinations. With only one crash with fatalities, its safety record seems better than many airlines. Continue reading “Why To Fly Copa Airlines”→
I enjoyed two days in Durango after finishing the Colorado Trail. Given I had just backpacked 53 miles on the Colorado Trail, I opted for an extremely relaxing day. I stayed at the Best Western Durango Inn & Suites. It is conveniently located at the South end of town within walking distance of Durango’s historic district loaded with shops and restaurants as well as the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Museum and Train Station.
I started the day at Durango Bagel as it is located near the train station and I planned to take the train ride to Silverton. Durango Bagel seemed popular among the local young folks. After grabbing a breakfast sandwich, I wandered over to the train station to find out about my ticket that I ordered online the previous evening.
I recommend getting the ticket sooner than I did (especially in the summer) as many choices were sold out. The weather had been so bad the previous month, however, I wanted to wait as I was interested in one of the open-air cars. After having read many reviews, I wanted to take the train from Durango to Silverton in the morning and to return on the bus in the afternoon for a different view and a shorter ride. This option wasn’t available, so I picked the reverse and hoped for clear skies in the afternoon.
I found the narrated bus ride to be uneventful. I suppose if one hasn’t spent much time in the mountains, the drive would be nice, but frankly, I saw most of these views on foot multiple times over the last month. In addition, the bus driver short changed of us Colorado Trail hikers 10 miles and then said thru-hikers took 2.5 months to hike it rather than 1.5 months at most. Then, after he literally pointed out every gulch and mountain, he drove right by the trail without saying a word! OK, I am being hard on him as he was very knowledgeable. I suppose I was still relishing in my glory of completing it!
Anyway, upon arrival in Silverton, I climbed up to Christ of the Mines Shrine which overlooked the town, stopped for lunch at Thee Pitts Again which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and strolled along the main street as well as through the red-light district one street over. The town is pepper with old buildings including the old jail and a variety of shops, including a nice antique store. It doesn’t take more than a few hours to explore the whole town which is all I had before I boarded the train just as a rain and hail storm hit.
Christ of the Mines
I paid extra for the Knight Sky car which had a glass roof and open-air sides. As we started, I was getting rained on, though I had rain gear. Less prepared passengers were given ponchos, umbrellas and blankets. Fortunately, the storm didn’t last long and by the time the train left the station, the menacing cloud had left. I’m not certain the Knight Sky car is worth the extra money, as I hardly ever sat in the plush seat for the three-hour ride. I mostly stood outside the car on the platform or talked with the leader of a Kiwi group that was driving Mustangs around the Western United States for 33 days! The car wasn’t crowded which was nice. I’m unsure if the other cars were crowded. All cars have windows that open, and it is best to get one toward the end to keep from breathing the ash from the steam engine. Protective eye-wear is a good choice too.
the rock where Butch Cassidy jumped onto the train
In the movie Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid
I loved the train ride. Despite having hiked through parts of this area, and even having crossed the tracks on the Colorado Trail and having followed the Animas River, this train ride offered spectacular views of the river, old mines and more. Also, some of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed on the tracks. I think it would have been a little better to ride the train from Durango to Silverton rather than the way I went. Not for the scenery, but for the stories the train attendants tell. The Kiwi group rode the train both ways, so the attendant, who was great, limited his stories on the return. As far as scenery, the train criss-crosses the river many times, so either side has good seats, but for the high section of the tracks, it is best to be on the left going from Silverton to Durango. I’m really glad I rode the train, and I suspect the bus was a better choice just because the train ride would be long for both directions.
Upon arrival into Durango, I deboarded the train and head to Himalayan Kitchen, a great Nepalese Restaurant. The food was delicious. Still looking to catch up on sleep, I headed back to the hotel early and awoke with renewed energy to explore Durango for another day.
I started out with Durango Diner as I loved dine food. Bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns…who can go wrong with that? Afterwards, I checked out the free museum at the train station. The museum includes far more than just trains..old cars, WWII gear, stuffed bears and more.
Next, I stopped at Bread where I picked up a sandwich to take with me on the trail that follows the Animas River through the town. I walked part of the trail and sat on the riverside as I watched many enjoy water sports like tubing and kayaking.
Happy hour included a beer a Ska Brewing just next to Ken and Sue’s, a fantastic restaurant that I shared a meal with some of my fellow CT hikers. All of our meals were outstanding! It was a great way to end our hiking. ETB
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Monastery, Museum, and Music in Mongolia…say that five times fast!
This morning we managed to sleep in until about 5:30am which was pretty good. We just had to kill a little time until hour 7am buffet breakfast which included an egg station, fruit, meats and cheese, Mongolian fare, waffles, spaghetti and meatballs, grilled veggies, kefir, juices, and of course coffee and tea. While the breakfast and room were nice, the most memorable part of the Best Western was the carpet in the elevators which indicated the day of the week! This was very helpful to those of us on vacation!
Around 8:30am, the group loaded on our bright yellow bus which transported us to Gandan Khiid located on the west side of Ulaanbaatar (or UB for short). Gandan Khiid is one of the most important monasteries in Mongolia. Its full name, Gandantegchinlen, translates to “the great place of complete joy”. Along with Choijin Lama Temple Museum, it was one of the few monasteries that survived the religious purge in 1937 under Soviet rule.
This monastery, which is active, was saved in 1944 when US Vice President Henry Wallace asked to see a monastery during his visit. Prime Minister Choibalsan, who carried out Stalin’s religious persecution orders, scrambled to reopen Gandan Khiid to cover up the committed atrocities which included murdering tens of thousands of monks. Gandan remained a “show monastery” for foreign visitors until 1990 when the Soviet Union crumbled and religious ceremonies could recommence.
Mongolians are spiritual people. As such, Shamanism and Buddhism never died under communist rule, but is was practiced under ground until religious freedom was again restored. Buddhism, which was introduced to the Mongols under Kublai Khaan’s reign in the 13th Century, is now more prevalent than Shamanism which has been practiced by Mongolian tribes since recorded history. Having said that, both belief systems exist today and are sometimes intermingled.
For example, Carroll explained, the blue khata which in Shamanism represents the sky god who controls all nature, can be seen depicted in the outside monastery door. It can also be found tied to many Buddhas inside the temple. This is because the Mongols (or at least the nomads) who live in “The Land of Eternal Blue Sky” need the rain from the sky to grow the grass for their herds to survive the harsh winters.
blue khata at the top of door
In addition to learning about the symbolism painted on the outside of monastery which was constructed in 1838, we learned about the prayer wheels mounted on spindles outside of the temple. They are spun in a clockwise direction to accumulate wisdom and good karma while expunging bad karma.
Soon we quietly entered the Ochidara Temple located near the main entrance to watch the monks perform their ceremony which generally takes place around 9am. We shuffled to our left and slowly worked our way around the seated monks to the right side of the building. With their shaved heads and dressed in maroon robes, they chanted their mantra, drummed, clinged symbols and blew in conch shells as visitors provided gifts. It was my first time to see a ritual like this, and I found it quite interesting despite not understanding a word.
After the ceremony, we followed the kora path in a clockwise direction through the courtyard past four stupas which represent the four great elements in Buddhism: earth, water, fire, and wind. The square base expresses solidity, strength and support like the earth. The round dome atop the cube represents the cohesiveness of a water droplet. On top of the dome is the conical fire element which radiates energy upward. Finally, the wind which symbolizes movement is in shape of a disc that crowns the cone.
After passing the stupas, we reached Migjid Janraisig Süm, the monastery’s main attraction. Hundreds of Buddhas of Longevity line the temple wall as an enormous statue of Migjid Janraisig stands two stories high in the center. The original statue was commissioned by the eighth Bogd Khan in 1911. Syphillis blinded him, and he hoped the statue might restore his eyesight. The statue was removed in 1937 during the religious purges, and it wasn’t replaced until 1996 with the help of donations from Japan and Nepal. The hollow statue is made of copper, covered in gold and holds 27 tons of medicinal herbs, 334 Sutras, two million bundles of mantra, and an entire ger (similar to a yurt) with furniture!
Photos were only allowed inside this temple only if we paid extra, which turned out to be a common theme. Most of the time, however, the photo charge was five times the paltry entry fee which caused visitors to balk. Had the fees been reversed, tourists would have lots of spectacular photos to show of their visits to the major sites.
From the monastery, we loaded into the bus for a short ride to the National Museum of Mongolia. The three floors of exhibits date from 800,000 BC to present day. We saw a variety of old tools, games, and traditional dress as well as documentation related to the history of socialist Mongolia along with the current Democratic Mongolia which is still facing difficulties today.
In fact, there was an election last week, and out of protest several young people voted with a blank ballot. As a result, none of the three candidates won 50% of the vote. Another election is being held while we are here. The two candidates in the run off seem to be polar opposites, and the citizens as evidenced by the blank ballots are not that happy with the choices. One supports the traditional nomadic beliefs while the other supports the copper mine which has damaged the land but will account for one third of Mongolia’s GDP by next year. We’ll see what happens…nothing like going half way around the world to find the same political controversies.
From the museum, we went to Rosewood Kitchen for a great lunch. We were warned this was one of the last times we could get fresh greens, so I went with an apple quinoa salad which was quite tasty. The restaurant is run by a Bostonian name Cliffe and offers a variety of choices from pizza, to burgers, to salads, to roasted bone marrow.
By the time we finished lunch it was almost 3pm. Page went on a shopping expedition while I returned to the hotel. We had to be ready by 5:30pm for a show performed by the Mongolian National Song & Dance Ensemble. Once again, we were not allowed to snap photos unless we paid an additional $20. Dancers, clothed in elaborate traditional dress, performed the dances of different tribes. Singers performed khöömii, traditional throat singing of a guttural sound. Musicians, played traditional instruments such as the popular horse-head fiddle called the morin khuur whose strings are made from a horse’s tail. In addition to the traditional music, the orchestra included some newer music which included a classical version of “We Are the Champions” by Queen. I don’t think I have heard such a rendition, but it was quite good!
View from our hotel room
before the performance
From the performing hall, we walked to the Silk Road Restaurant for our dinner…pumpkin soup and lamb kebobs. I can’t say it was as good as yesterday’s lunch here, but it’s always nice to know the food is safe to eat. We enjoyed a nice day and look forward to getting closer to the Mongolian steppes tomorrow! ETB
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Another segment of the Colorado Trail is marked off the list…Segment 14 (20.4 miles) with a 3-mile side hike to Browns Creek Falls that is definitely worth the detour!
Just about every weekend I am in town this summer is dedicated to finishing up the 484.6 mile trail. Thus far I have completed 292.7 miles over the past few years.
This weekend I planned backpacking Segment 14 solo, but needed transportation from the end of the segment back to the beginning at Chalk Creek Trailhead to get my car. The Colorado Trail Foundation provides a list of helpers if asked, but the two places I tried contacting in the area didn’t respond.
In a bit of a bind (as I preferred not to hitchhike even though I’ve heard it is a reasonable option in the area), I posted my plan on the Colorado Backpacker’s Meetup site. Lucky for me, two backpackers signed up! Alyssa, who had no experience backpacking, but a lot of experience camping; and Darrell, who knew his way around the woods and loved maps.
I was both excited and apprehensive to have two strangers join me, and I’m pleased to say, I’d backpack with both of them again. We had a great trip!!
I met Darrell at the Wooly Mammoth parking lot. He was from Tennessee and moved out to Colorado a few years ago for the mountains. He is an engineer and owns his own consulting practice. He really has a passion for hiking and backpacking and has completed the entire John Muir Trail.
We then met Alyssa in the parking lot at the Knotty Pine in Bailey as she was coming from Conifer. Once we shuttled the cars to the end of the segment at Hwy 50 and piled into Alyssa’s Jeep, we learned that she is an engineer at Lockheed and had planned to through hike the CT the prior summer, but the plans fell apart. So now, she got to at least experience her first backpacking trip.
We arrived at Chalk Creek Trailhead around 3:30pm and planned to hike in about 4 miles to a dry campsite. It was quite a warm day for June and VERY dry. For the first backpacking trip of the season, the 1,000 foot gain over the first 1.4 miles proved slow going as our feet sunk in the sandy trail and we inhaled dust and smoke from a Utah fire. The switch backs led us through intermittent open areas and pine forests before we finally reached a nice view, where upon we descended to a small, lush valley before crossing Eddy Creek Rd.
We continued on mostly flat terrain for the next few miles until we reached Raspberry Gulch Rd where we planned to look for a campsite. Apparently, this is a very popular road for camping, as we ran across an RV, a truck, and another car all camping on Thursday night. We hoped for a quiet night so we slowly made our way a few hundred yards farther and found a somewhat flat, grassy area that seemed reasonable despite a few dry cow patties and a few cow bones.
In the time we set up camp and made our dinners, we determined the mosquitoes and ants were relentless. I must have missed spraying 100% deet in a few places, as those blood suckers bit me through my clothes! I couldn’t take the pesky insects any longer, so I turned in early and watched the sunset from my tent window!
Darrell and I both awoke when the sun came up the following morning. I slowly piddled with every task I could to finally emerge from my tent at 6:30am. Darrell had been exploring and noted there was a stream just another 100 yards down the trail. REALLY?!? We lugged 4 liters of water each (8 extra pounds each) up the mountain to a “DRY” campsite according to the book and there was full force stream running practically right next to us! DANG IT!! Usually, the databook indicates “seasonal creek” or something to suggest there might be water! But this time, nothing. In my dismay, I imagine I woke Alyssa though it was a more reasonable time, about an hour after we were stirring.
The day was gorgeous and we started out beneath clear skies with birds cawing and chirping up a storm. In fact, we felt like we slept in an aviary and the birds were a secondary wake-up call to the sun! Again, we enjoyed the view of open spaces and the shade of lodgepole pine forests for a few miles before we reached the junction to Browns Creek Falls.
Here we ditched our packs and enjoyed a lovely 1.5-mile stroll to the roaring falls. Along the way, we admired beautiful wildflowers as we dodged stale piles of horse manure. This trail was clearly popular among horse back riders as there were hitching posts and creek crossings for the horses. In addition, there we several great camping spots and other trails to explore nearby. This area is worth another visit.
Upon return to the junction, we filled up with water and nibbled on our morning snacks before the cool air finally encouraged us to move along. Over the next five miles, we crossed a few more creeks, passed through some aspen groves, and climbed a few more ridges with marvelous views before we settled into our camp just past Squaw Creek at mile 12.2.
With only 8.3 miles of backpacking and 3 miles of hiking it was an easy day, and we finished by 2:30. We chilled around camp while discussing photography and eventually built a small fire in a large fire ring to keep the bugs away, though we were cautious of the dry surroundings. It was all we could do to wait until 5:30pm to eat dinner…blue hair special coming right up! Who knew dried food could taste so good! Being camped in a valley, we couldn’t see the sunset and I think we all turned in around 8:30!
Of course, with early bedtime, came an early rising…once again with sunup. Even Alyssa woke sooner. Given the last hour of our hike yesterday was rather warm, we figured an early start was a good choice. Not to mention we had a three-hour drive home after completing the trail.
The first six miles of our morning were simply spectacular. The trail took us in and out of countless aspen groves. I don’t know how I don’t have any good pictures to show for them. We all really loved this portion of the trail. In addition, for part of the time, the trail followed a ridge with a spectacular 180⁰ view of the valley below.
The last two miles or so, however, we a disappointment. Along with a few road crossings, we entered a logging zone and listened to large machinery working in the forest. Several trees were cut and stacked along side the trail. Presumably it was all beetle kill, but tractor tire tracks peppered the trail and surrounding area. We could only imagine the possible erosion if the damage is not repaired. On a positive note, the sawdust smelled sharply of pine, so there was nice aroma in the air along with countless blackbirds. I’ve never seen so many swarming in one place.
As we left the zone, we crossed a creek and then ascended to our last view where the trail led us right beneath a tower supporting power lines. Nature at its finest…NOT! The last of our hike took us along the maintenance road for the powerlines, across a railroad bed, past a deer carcass and to my car where we loaded up and headed home. It was definitely anti-climatic after the first six miles of the day. Regardless, we were happy to finish by 11:15am as the brisk mountain air had already warmed up. Who knew it would be cooler in Denver upon arriving home! I loved my hiking companions and hope we will end up on another trip together. ETB
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I’m pleased to announce another blog post has been turned into an app with a GPS Map and is available on GPSMyCity.
You may wonder, “What’s the big deal? I can read the travel post on your blog.” Well, yes, assuming you have access to the internet, you can read my article on my blog.
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Along with all the wonderful wedding events in Missoula, I was able to sneak in a few short hikes. The first hike, Rattlesnake Trail is 34 miles and connects to several other trails. Kelly, Chelsea, Sara and I simply followed the well-groomed, wide trail for about one hour until we had to turn around as we were limited on time.
The trail led us in and out of lush forest with moss covered trees that shaded a variety of wildflowers. Upon our return, we detoured off on to a single-track trail which followed the raging river. It was a lovely outing close to town which was very convenient. It would be a great place for trail running or biking as well!
The following day, I awoke early and ventured to Morrell Falls located in the Swan Mountain Range. The drive through farmland and mountain valleys was just spectacular. What made the drive even better was spotting a black bear who was patiently waiting on the side of the two lane highway for cars to pass so he could cross to the other side. I don’t know why I didn’t pull off onto the shoulder to snap a photo. It would have been fantastic!
Anyway, I continued on to Seeley Lake where I continued to final part of the long drive on gravel roads that weaved past campgrounds and through pine forests. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, especially when I arrived at the popular trailhead and didn’t even find a car!
I managed to forget bug spray so the cool, damp morning was perfect as I pulled a hood over my head and kept my arms and legs covered. The moist trail led me through a pine forest damaged from beetle kill.
The trail was rather flat with exception of one incline, though with the lower elevation, the climb was uneventful. The path, dotted with wildflowers, soon led me past a few, somewhat stagnant ponds/lakes.
I wasn’t able to spot any wildlife, though it probably didn’t help that I played an audio book on speaker in order to warn any grizzlies of my whereabouts. I certainly didn’t want to sneak up on one of them while I was hiking alone.
I hiked pretty fast for two reasons. One: I had a limited amount of time and I was uncertain of the trail length. The Forest Service USDA website (which was likely accurate) posted 5.4 miles round trip while the AllTrails website posted 6.9 miles, a good 40 minute swing. Two: The mosquitoes were relentless! I had to snap photos fast.
I made it to the falls in a little over an hour and I could hear the falls from a good distance away. It was roaring! If a waterfall can be “out of its banks” then I’d say Morrell Falls fit that category. Mist sprayed at least thirty feet as the river flowed into the campground! My camera lens was doused in water with each click of the shutter.
While I was expecting not to stay long because of the mosquitoes, the spray kept them away, so I enjoyed the falls until my clothes were damp enough to get chilled, less than ten minutes! I headed back toward the parking lot. This time in solitude so I could listen to the birds chirping on the partly cloudy day. I made it all the way back to the trailhead before I ran into two different groups beginning the hike. I was so lucky to have this path to myself as it is a popular destination! Hiking is so peaceful, and this adventure did not disappoint. I even spotted a deer on my drive out! It’s amazing how I only see wildlife when I’m in a car…ETB
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