Note: The following is a running commentary about our vacation to Colorado. Dennise has this album of pics up on Facebook. Many of the shots posted here come from there…..EF
With some guilt feelings right at the surface, and a lot of major things still unresolved at home, we have left on our vacation anyway. Got the house sitter squared away, and left Dallas late this afternoon in the hopes of getting to Estes Park Saturday by check-in time.
I find that there is never a good time to go on vacation, and that every time I go, I spend the first part of my time away lamenting all the things undone and generally living with my heart in two places.
This time, there’s an awful big pile of stuff going on…
Dennise’s Dad had heart stint surgery this morning in Irving. It seemed to go well. We stayed through early afternoon, and the prognosis appears to be good. My father-in-law is, thus far in his life, the Energizer Bunny of heart attacks. Last weekend was, by all counts, number six in twenty years.
We of course know that there is a very serious side to all this. But he’s in good spirits, and we’re hopeful the recovery will go well.
Meanwhile, Mary Clair will have gall bladder surgery tomorrow, and I have significant guilt about leaving with that pending too. Plus, she’s in Fort Worth, which makes it challenging for folks to visit as easily. We went by to see her on our way West this afternoon. I will check on this quite a bit tomorrow while we travel.
Also still checking on getting the AC and other issues at the log house fixed. What a mess this has been. More phone calls tomorrow from the road, and some reliance on Dad to help us coordinate things while we’re gone. Jeez…
But, with all this hanging, we left anyway. We really need to get away. There’s other news we’ve been dealing with that we’re only now able to say: Dennise’s Mom, Mary, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. This is old enough news that she’s already had a lumpectomy and is getting chemo during these past few weeks.
It took her a long time to get comfortable with telling folks about this, so it’s been a quiet, unshared burden around the house for some weeks now. But it’s public now, so there you go.
Add to this, we’re both just pretty tired and really need to spend some time with Maria.
So, we’re going.
Hopefully, nothing else major will fall apart while we’re gone. (Where’s the wood to knock?)
We had an uneventful and looong drive to Amarillo tonight. Got into the hotel about thirty minutes ago.
I tell you, that stretch of road from Wichita Falls to here is a killer. It’s like being in the State Fair funhouse…in that room where the walls spin, and as you walk through, you feel like the door on the other end is actually getting farther away.
Maybe it’s the unchanging flatness of the landscape. Maybe it’s the number of small towns I know absolutely nothing about. Maybe it’s just the anticipation of wanting to leave Texas, and being thwarted by the vastness. Whatever it is it’s just the worst drive I ever seem to take in our state, with all apologies to everybody who lives around here.
There was, however, a fantastic sunset, which set the clouds on fire for a while. This is always a treat as you drive West. And one benefit of the utter flatness is that you get to savor every last second of a sunset, and enjoy the widest possible angle on the long afterglow.
Then, after this there was, as Jaime Michaels would say, “one spectacular moon.” In fact, all night there were low, wispy, fast-moving clouds traveling East, away from us. They shimmered and glowed moonlight like a stained glass window on an escalator to the sky. It was gorgeous, mysterious and a little dangerous looking all at the same time.
Nice mix on the iPod up here. I was especialy thrilled to hear Lyle Lovett, Marvin Gaye, Tom PR, Eric Schwartz all back to back at one point. It was a moment.
So, we’re here now.
What will tomorrow bring?
Will things at home seem calmer from distance?
Will they get more complicated?
Will the distance help us gradually relax and enjoy things?
Will Maria remember that this is the town with the “Big Texan” and force us to be chintzy tourists once again?
These are the big questions of life tonight.
Yes, Maria did remember that Amarillo was the home of “The Big Texan.” We ate there, and afterwards all agreed we were a little underwhelmed. The place is great for tourists…what we we doing there?!
This picture was a from a few minutes down the road from Amarillo, in the very highest of the high plains of the Texas panhandle…
That kind of scene always reminds me of a quote from Larry McMurtry about Texas:
“It was the sky that was Texas, the sky that welcomed me back. The land I didn’t care for all that much — it was bleak and monotonous and full of ugly little towns. The sky was what I had been missing, and seeing it again in its morning brightness made me realize suddenly why I hadn’t been myself for many months. It had such depth and such spaciousness and such incredible compass, it took so much in and circled one with such a tremendous generous space that it was impossible not to feel more intensely with it above you.”
Nice to be reminded about the sky….
BTW, I always forget just how high Amarillo is! By the time you get there, you’re already at 2,600 above sea level. Nothing like Colorado or New Mexico, but an impressive little rise over Dallas.
After a few miles more, making it more than eight hours of driving, we were finally out of the state. Immediately, the scene changes, and you start to see the volcanic mesas and wheat-colored fields of New Mexico.
On the recommendation of several Facebook friends, we stopped at Mount Capulin, a pretty stunning volcano on the road between Clayton and Raton. We hiked all the way up, and got some good pics and videos that eventually will make there way here. For today, enjoy this iPhone pic:
We did walk all the way around the volcano’s rim, and honestly the mile-long hike kinda kicked our butt a little…the altitude, that is. Hopefully, by the time we’re in Estes, we’ll be better adjusted.
Beautiful smells among the Pinon and other vegetation.
Back on the road, we found ourselves face with an incredible New Mexico thunderstorm. It was one very powerful cloudburst that we drove through in about 10 minutes….sunshine on both sides, pelting rain, no visibility and tons of lightning right in the midst of it.
The storms was absolutely stunning, silhouetted against the afternoon sun. Here’s are a couple shots:
I love being out where you can see the full force of these storms, spanning the horizon. I love the amazing way that storms in the mountains pelt you with rain, and then are gone as quickly as they come.
There were more storms through Colorado, and as we passed Pikes Peak, Dennise got this shot, just at sunset:
Isn’t that fantastic?
We stopped for dinner in Pueblo along their riverwalk (I don’t know if that’s what they call it, it just reminded us of the San Antonio Riverwalk…) and we got here to Denver about 8:30.
Two long days of travel. Time for some sleep.
We have arrived here at Estes, and checked in to our cabin a the YMCA of the Rockies. One of the discoveries we’ve made is the cabin doesn’t have internet or a TV. Interestingly, we didn’t bother to check this out ahead of time, which I interpret as a secret desire to actually be rid of these things for a while.
What this means, in practical terms, is that these entries won’t get posted every day. In fact, maybe not even every other day. There is Wifi up at the main lodge here at the YMCA of the Rockies, and when we can we’ll get there to post an update. Just the way it is…
We spent about half the day with my Aunt Alice and Uncle John in Denver. They’ve always lived in and around Denver, but since last I was in Colorado, they’ve moved out to Arvada. It’s closer to their daughter (my cousin) Caroline and her family (Walter and kids). Caroline brought her two very cute kids to breakfast at a local place, and then we all went back to Alice and John’s new house for a while. We stayed until just before lunch, and then continued North to Loveland. They lent us a sleeping bag for Maria, since we forgot to bring one for her overnight camp out. Nice to have relatives in Denver.
To my mind, the best way to get to Estes Park is the Loveland route, which takes you through Big Thompson Canyon. This 30-mile journey is one of my most vivid memories of our family trips to Estes Park when I was a kid. I’d be in the back seat (rear-facing) of the station wagon, with my little cassette tape player, playing a mix tape that I’d made just for that part of the journey.
That mix tape was heavy on the John Denver, as you might imagine….”Rocky Mountain High,” “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” And, of course, “Eagle and the Hawk.”
In my seventh-grade mind, I imagined that song was probably written about that very canyon. I mean, every now and then you’d see an actual eagle or hawk during the journey.
How cool is that?
Hiking through the Rocky Mountain National Park during those years of the late 1970s, John Denver was always the intentionally-conjured earworm in my brain.
Yes, I totally get how cheesy that is. Yes, I totally get how geeky it is to admit what a big fan I have always been. This is another of those times where my proud answer is “I don’t care.”
I mean, when you spent your youth actually going to Colorado, seeing the places that surely he had in mind when he wrote some of this music, you can’t help but have a special place in your heart for it.
And, I realized something after he died. When I thought back over what he’d meant to me, I realized that it was John Denver (“Rocky Mountain High”) who first introduced me to “alternative tunings (Dropped D) years before I learned about them via folks like David Wilcox. That’s worth something.
So, I had no mix tape this time. But I did have an iPod playlist. It had all those John Denver songs on it. A bunch of Dan Fogelberg too (Surprised? Wonder where I learned to love him?) But also some friends too….Bill Nash’s “Colorado,” started us off, and Amilia K. Spicer’s “Moving Mountains” was a nicer addition than I could have imagined ahead of time.
None of us actually took any pics of the trip through Big Thompson. We mostly just looked around and enjoyed the ride. But I did find this photoblog, via Google, and it has some nice pics.
We pulled in to the YMCA of the Rockies about 4 pm local time. We’re in a cabin called “Ghost Rider,” pretty near the center of the camp. It’s a very nice cabin…nicer than I remember them being as a kid.
We walked around the grounds after dinner tonight, just to get acclimated a bit. I think I saw Ken Hardt (retired from Perkins) walking through the main lodge, but I couldn’t recall his name quick enough to stop him and say “hello.”
Late this afternoon, I went back into town to get a few more things on the grocery list, and saw an Elk on the way back! Just meandering across the road….amazing. At about the same time, Dennise and Maria were taking these deer pics just outside our cabin window:
Tomorrow, is probably the day for a first short hike, getting Maria registered for the week, and who knows what else.
Wow, what a great day.
We started out by visiting the Estes Park UMC (Dennise’s idea, actually…), which is just outside the Fall River entrance to the park. It was a nice service, and they certainly have a great view out the window….the stained glass window here simply a clear-glass view of a huge Ponderosa pine and the mountains beyond. Frankly, I could’ve just sat there watching that scene, listening to a little music, and called it church.
It was a nice service. We bumped into my friend Debra Hobbs Mason there. She and her family have been up here for three weeks. She says they have a family place up here and they come every year. Like me, she first came up here as a kid too.
We came to church dressed to hike and slipped right into the Rocky Mountain National Park afterwards. Our goal was the Bear Lake area and, in retrospect, it might have actually been quicker to just loop around back to the other park entrance. But, it was a nice drive down through the park.
We stopped off to have lunch at some little unnamed picnic area on the road the Bear Lake area. The goal was Glacier Gorge, and a quick hike up to Alberta Falls. It was short enough to be a nice first hike of the vacation. Check it out here:
We came back at 3 pm to register Maria for the camp for the week. She actually seems excited about perhaps making some friends and going to the camp. It’s 8:30 to 3 every day, but she’ll skip out on some of it to do stuff with us.
We were pretty beat after that, and rested for a while. I had actually hoped all along that we’d do a late afternoon drive up the Trail Ridge Road, but at about 4 pm that looked to be pretty iffy, since everybody was tired from the hike.
But dinner perked everybody up, and by 7 pm, we were back in the park and headed up Trail Ridge Road.
In the interest of full disclosure, I probably did not fully disclose to Dennise how treacherous the road was. OK “probably” is a little weak. I didn’t really make it clear that it was the highest continuous highway in the US. I didn’t really mention the steep, hairpin turns, with no guardrail and a vertical drop of several thousand feet. I probably failed to mention how, when you’re most of way up, you look down at cars that have that ant-like size you usually only see from an airplane. I also left out how, at the highest point you are 50 percent of the way through the earth’s atmosphere.
The point is Dennise doesn’t like heights, and she got a little nervous. OK, she got a lot nervous. We made it up to the tundra area, and took these pics up there, before turning back:
This last one is of a Marmet, native to the area up there. The info station up there calls them squirrels that have adapted to the atmosphere. To me, they looked more like the gopher from Caddyshack.
Isn’t that a great shot? Marmets hybernate eight to nine months of the year. That’s mainly because the “frozen tundra” up there is, literally, frozen tundra for most of the year. It’s inaccessible to cars, and most humans and animals for most of that time.
But these Marmets just burrow into a little hybernating cave and shut their systems down for eight months. That means they spend two third of their life asleep.
It also means that when they wake up each summer, they immediately start eating for the next winter. And, finally it means that even though they spend two-thirds of their entire life asleep, they when they are awake, this is their incredible everyday view.
So, I suppose there are tradeoffs to being a Marmet.
(btw, doesn’t it look like he’s just taking it all in?)
We turned back before the actual Continental Divide. Which was fine with me. It was pretty clear we were as far as we were going to go. Maria loved the whole thing, and I think is ready to go again. In fact, she’s said she wants to hike Longs Peak someday.
Was I scared? I mean, I was driving up this crazy road. And it IS high. Yes, it’s a little scary. But, jeez, it’s so awesome being up there. The mountains are so amazing, and I’d sort of forgotten how much I love being in them.
Here’s the thought I had when I got back:
Everyday of life, we are beholden to a million great and small, legitimate and self-created, fears. It’s an extraordinary day when you are given the chance to overcome one of them. You should take the chance every chance you get.
(As noted in the one of the entries below, we have limited internet access here at the YMCA of the Rockies. But this afternoon, D and I are spending a little time here at the main admin building (where there is wifi) and so I’m posting several days worth of updaates…EF)
This morning, we sent Maria off for the first day of “day camp.” As I mentioned, we mistakenly thought she was signed up for the camp where there was one overnight camp out. Turns out, that’s not exactly true. But I *think* she’ll enjoy it anyway. As we left her, they were all singing some of the same Y-Camp songs we used to sing on our Y Princess camp outs.
And, just now, we saw her little group pass by our cabin. We waved at her goofily, which would have totally mortified me at her age. But she waved back and pointed us out to her whole group. She’s a lot kinder to us (as far as we know…) than I was to my parents at that age.
After we dropped her off, Dennise and I took the guided walk around the Y Campgrounds. It was a pretty gentle little hike. During the nature hike, the guide stopped to identify the purple-flowered “thistle” growing up. A sharp-eared kid –no more than three– chimed in that thistle is “Eeyore’s” favorite food.
Which, of course, it is.
He then opined that the small cabin, off in the distance, must be Eeyore’s cabin. He then chatted for the rest of the hike about the Winnie the Poo movie where Eyeore builds his cabin.
I love that age when reality and fantasy are all one thing. We miss a lot as adults because we don’t walk over that line nearly enough.
Ten minutes later, the guide stopped again to read a few verses from the Psalms. They were nice verses about the splendor of God visible in nature. He concluded by quoting a verse about Jesus coming back in great glory through the clouds.
The adults nodded politely, neither seeming to be unduly inspired or overly offended by the verses.
But as we began to walk again, the sharp-eared kid said to his Dad, “I think Winnie the Poo is coming back right here!!”
Winnie the Poo.
It’s all kinda one thing when you’re three, I suppose.
We stopped by the museum here on the YMCA of the Rockies grounds. Despite the fact that we came here a lot when I was a kid, I really don’t know much about the place. So, it was nice to fill in some blanks.
Two things caught my attention. They were little biographical facts about some of the “founders” of the Y-Camp. One was about William Sweet, who is considered one of the great founders of the camp. He was not only a great philanthropist and naturalist of the 1920s, but he also had a career in politics, serving a term as governor of Colorado. Sweet was elected in 1922 as a Progressive Democrat. But the plaque in the museum contained a line that jumped out at both Dennise and me. The line said that he lost his second term as governor because of his opposition to the KKK.
The other story was about A.A. Hyde, for whom the camp chapel was named. Hyde made his fortune creating Mentholatum. Yes, that nasty smelling stuff your grandmother used to slap on your father’s chest when he was a kid. The guy created what would become a very large and successful company, selling Mentholatum. In fact, the company was owned by his descendants until 1988, when they sold out to a Japanese corporation.
But Hyde’s Christian principles would not allow him to keep that fortune. So, he vowed to give away 90 percent of his worth to charity. Much of this giving came in the gifts that established this very camp.
This was, as the museum told it, his way of doing a “reverse tithe.”
The tithe, in Christian theology, says that one should give away 10 percent of what one earns to the glory of God. Hyde turned that math on its head. By the time he’d died, he’d managed to give away the vast majority of his “net worth.”
I often preach about how poorly Christianity is seen by the world at large today, primarily because the world sees people of faith as hypocritical, and see the story of Christian history as an empty, perhaps even evil, tale of conquest, domination, and subjugation.
Diana Butler Bass calls this “Big C” Christianity: “Christ. Constantine. Christendom. Calvinism. Christian America.”
Over and against this, Butler Bass says that there have always been “Great Commandment Christians” who were not swept up in the triumphalism of the dominant cultural faith….folks who lived out their lives by the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
I would never pretend to believe that every facet of these two white men’s lives –whose stories are briefly enshrined in the Y-Camp museum, and who lived about a hundred years ago– were pure and saintly. I am sure they had their foibles just like the rest of us.
But these two little stories in the museum reminded me of something important. The faith commitment of one caused him to stand up to the hate and intolerance of his day, and he paid a political price for it. The faith commitment of another caused him to give away a great fortune, because he felt that God’s call on his life spoke against the accumulation of personal wealth, for wealth’s sake.
In both cases, it was apparently their faith that led them to make these moral choices.
As Butler Bass might say, that’s a part of the story of Christianity too.
Hard to tell if Maria is liking camp here or not. (Just now, she told me that she does like it…). She on the “old” end of the age group for this camp, and I think she kinda feels like she’s “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.” She says that today’s camp was a little better than yesterday’s. We’ve told her that she doesn’t have to do any of it and that she can just tag along with us if she’d like.
She’s convinced that the counselors are botching several key camp songs, such as the seminal “short neck buzzard.” I have assured her that this is, in part, because of regional differences in our folk song traditions. Kinda like our accents.
Speaking of folk songs, as we were walking up to get her today, the whole group was singing “This Land is Your Land.”
Even if none of those kids know the name Woody Guthrie, it made me smile.
Today, we had a good day of hiking. Dennise and me headed for the Bear Lake area, and the three lakes of “Nymph, Dream, and Emerald.”
To get there, we hiked across the border of the YCamp and into the national park. There’s a very quick and easy cut through that crosses the river and dumps you out at a bus stop for the National Park shuttle. If you hike it the right way, it’s only about a quarter mile from our cabin.
I say IF you hike it the right way. We didn’t. I’m not sure either of us is quite sure how it happened, but we ended up on two wrong trails, and before we new it were looping back around the side of the camp the other direction.
(One observation: the trails in the national park are marked quite clearly. The trails in the YCamp? Not so much…)
We probably hiked 3/4 of a mile out of the way and, more disappointingly, down the hill the wrong way twice. Which means, of course, we hiked UP the hill the wrong way twice too. Not fun early in the morning, when you’re not sure how long any of this will take.
Eventually, we got our bearings, got on the right shuttles, and ended up at the Bear Lake trailhead, where we’d been headed all along.
Man, was this a great hike. Clear sky. Perfect temperature outside. Despite the early exercise in getting lost, we still managed to get to Emerald Lake by lunchtime.
Here are a few shots.
Nymph Lake area:
Dream Lake area:
I remember Nymph and Dream lakes pretty clearly from previous trips, but if I’ve been to Emerald Lake I do not recall it. It’s such an amazing place, just below the tree line, nestled right in the farthest reaches of that valley, ringed on three sides by stunning peaks of the Continental Divide. Wow. What a great place for that trail to stop.
Here are some shots around Emerald Lake:
We ate lunch at Emerald Lake and just soaked in the scene for a moment. Then, like clockwork, the afternoon clouds started rolling in about 12:30, and sprinkled on us a bit. So we decided to head back down.
It wasn’t serious although, back at the Bear Lake Park and Ride area, it looked like it had been raining there pretty good.
The trip down was equally fantastic. Personally I alway love the trip down. I so enjoy the scene that opens up in front of you. And how is it that it can be the same mountain, but when you’re coming down, it’s like you’re seeing everything for the first time.
I suppose when you’re on the way down, you’ve got your head down, and your working hard, panting a little. On the way down, you just let gravity do its job, and enjoy the ride.
We sat/stood next to two pretty interesting people on the shuttles there and back today. On the way in, we stood next to a woman who must be local. She clearly gets into the park a lot, and seemed to know the bus driver by name.
She asked where we were going, and then told us about her planned hike, somewhere off the Glacier Gorge trail head.
Then, she told about some other hike she’d been on once by herself, where she was supposed to hike around a waterfall. But she lost the trail, and wasn’t at all sure where she was supposed to go next.
“Just then,” she said, “right as I was getting worried, a little girl appeared out of nowhere and said ‘The trail’s right over here…’ she helped me find the trail again.”
She paused for a moment and then said, “Personally, I think it was one of those angel things.”
On the way back, we stood/sat next to another lone hiker, who was also headed back here to the YCamp. He was, quite likely, in his mid 80s. While most of us half his age were sprawled out on the benches, waiting for our second shuttle back, he sat upright and chatted-up anybody who would listen. I’m not sure any of the people he was chatting up were fully conscious. Everybody was semi-comotose from their hikes.
But he kept chatting away…..
He had one of those loud, but somehow soothing, southern accents from the Deep South. Sure enough, we’d later overhear him say he was originally from Mississippi, but now had moved to Alabama where his wife was originally from.
The two of them, he said, had been coming here since the mid 1980s…when, he swears, you could get a cabin at the Y for $28 dollars. His wife has continued to come each year, but the last several years, including this trip, the altitude has gotten to her. So, she stayed behind to do crafts with his daughter and kids.
While we were on our hike of just under four miles, he apparently hiked something like nine. Or, so he said. I also heard him say he’d hiked Longs Peak nine times (the last time in 1992) and Dennise says she heard him say he’d done Everest. So, at that point, I’d about assumed he was just a tall-tale-teller…ala the movie “Big Fish.” (With the exact same accent as Albert Finney, btw…)
But then, we got back to our stop to cross the river and head back to the YCamp. And he took off up the hill like a guy in his twenties. He had a walking stick, and the slightly hunched over look of an older person….kind of like Yoda.
Got to the top, not a bit winded. Which is not something neither Dennise or me could say. He pointed us the right way, helping us figure out the wrong move we’d made that morning. Then, we came to a place where he stopped to call his wife on his cell, and we kept moving.
“Have a good life,” he said, as we walked away.
So, all the hiking stories he told? Quite plausible to me now.
Just goes to show, you never know.
I will also note that half a dozen times in my life, I have overheard somebody say to the following to a guy like: “When I’m your age, I hope I have half your energy.”
To hell with half.
I want all of what that guy’s got.
It’s been so cool to get everybody’s comments about this little blog. Especially from those of you who’ve been here before and have your own memories. Thanks for all the tips…
Dennise and me had lunch in town today. The big exciting news about that is that we saw a HUGE Elk on the way out of the YCamp:
It was just standing there….amazing…
I am writing this from the Main Administration Building, here at the YCamp. Dennise and Maria are making baskets over at the new craft center (which is HUGE, btw…) this afternoon.
Sitting here on the porch, looking out at the mountains just now, I have a flood of memories of what it was like to be here some years back. I told somebody before we left that it had been twenty years since I’d been here. Actually, it’s probably more like thirty.
I remember being a younger kid and making a leather belt at wherever the old craft hut used to be. Pounded out all the letters of my name with the little metal brands (or whatever they’re called…) Probably wore that belt until it wore out. Lest you giggle, leather belts were actually pretty cool in the mid-70s.
I remember sitting on this very porch, looking out at these very same mountains. I can look out there now, and it seems like only yesterday. And the moment I type that sentenceProxy-Connection: keep-alive
C I feel like just another incredibly old geezer. I would guess hundreds, maybe thousands, of other folks who’ve come here over the years say the same thing.
I was mainly junior high/high school aged when we came up here then, and we did all sorts of cool stuff with the youth program they called the “Teen Barn.” We had dances where we danced to stuff like Foreigner and Saturday Night Fever. We rode horses. We camped out overnight on top of a mountain somewhere. Wish I could remember which one it was.
One year, I remember riding around with some slightly older guys from Houston one of the years we came up here (names, and even faces, completely forgotten now…) and listening to Jerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” the Eagles “Hotel California,” and Boston’s “Don’t Look Back” back-to-back-to-back on their car stereo.
We didn’t go anywhere, we just drove around the little YCamp streets for as if we owned the place. Those guys introduced me to Van Halen, which means (according to Wikipedia) that year must have actually been 1978. They acted like I was a moron because I’d never heard of them. Heard of them plenty after that.
Other than D and me getting lunch in town, we had a pretty calm and laid back day today. Maria did go on the all-day hike. For one reason or another, they didn’t make it all the way to Fern Lake. I think that disappointed her some. But, she’s now liking the camp enough that it sounds like she’ll go all day tomorrow, even though there’s no big activity planned. (There is horseback riding, but she’s not much in to that…)
This morning, I went into town and had coffee with Scott Wesson. Scott is a friend from RHS who also graduated my same year. He’s one of those folks I’ve reconnected with, via Facebook. Hadn’t seen him in twenty years, but got the chance to catch up today. That was quite nice. He and his family live in Denver, but they’re also up for the week so we both took an hour out to catch up at Starbucks. It was great to hear how is life is going.
One of the things we both agreed is that Facebook has been an incredible tool for reconnecting old friends in a way that’s truly amazing. I mean, I certainly would have never known he was here this week, if not for Facebook. And, I’ve also learned my old HPUMC friends, Dean and Pam (and their family) are going to be at their cabin in Southwest Colorado this weekend. They invited us to swing by, but we probably can’t make it this trip.
Northaveners Cindy and Sandy (who just got married in Mass. btw) also invited us by their place too on our way home. Jeez, it’s so great to have to many friends. It feels like an overwhelming blessing. We probably won’t be able to make it there either, but how nice to have the options.
And! Just now (on Facebook) I note that Tom PR and Cary are doing a show Friday about thirty miles from here, and another in Colorado Springs Saturday night. What a ridiculously small world.
But, I digress…
Scott and I both took a moment to remember Brian Barnaud, another RHS classmate who recently died of a heart attack. It was a big shock to all who knew him. Lots of us had just caught up with Brian again via Facebook (even some of us in Dallas!) so it was a shock to hear he’d gone.
I told Scott how the death of Brian, along with last year’s deaths of Kathleen and Russ, now strike me like the beginning of some big “bell curve of mortality” that almost everyone I know will fall out along eventually. I say this neither in jest or in cynicism. Just a growing reality of how much “we are dust, and to dust we shall return.”
Scott told me a couple of nice stories of how Brian had touched his life at various points after high school. They’re really Scott’s stories to tell, but they reminded me of this fascinating tapestry of life that we all begin to weave, the older we get…sort of like Facebook.
Sort of like a wicker basket you might make a summer camp.
Sometimes, all the folks you know seem to be right there…all the time…even if you haven’t seen them in a while…even if you never see them again….the communion of your personal saints.
Like the front-porch view of a mountain range you haven’t seen in thirty years.
Big storms last night have ushered in cooler weather today. Around ten o’clock storms moved in over the mountains. Lots of lightning and thunder-booming. The East-facing porch of our cabin was the perfect shelter to watch the storms come in. Not quite as torrential as a Hill Country storm in May, but impressive nonetheless.
And so, today has been significantly cooler. We’ve been in long sleeves and multiple layers all day. I know all yall in Texas probably don’t want to hear that. I’d guess it’s probably 55 to 63 degrees out there right now.
In fact, yesterday I checked Dallas weather just for kicks. The “low” temperature in Dallas was already higher at 8 am Dallas time than the projected “high” here. Again, just stating the facts. Not trying to make anyone feel insanely jealous. Really I’m not.
People from Texas have been coming here to avoid the summer heat for a long, long time. It seems to me the folks here must have a love-hate relationship with all tourists, but perhaps Texans especially.
For example, I remember a bumper stickers/tshirts here in the 1970s that read “If God had wanted Texans to ski, he would have made bullshit white.”
(Obviously, I am simply quoting here…)
There was a Texas retort that went, “If God hadn’t wanted Texans in Colorado, he wouldn’t have given them all them money.”
Theologically, of course, both those views are pretty untenable. (In case you needed reminding…)
Nevertheless, we Texans are sincerely grateful for the chance to come here in August.
I’ve just returned from the craft building, where all three of us made a basket tonight, to add to the two baskets Dennise and Maria made yesterday. That’s a grand total of five baskets.
That’s a lot of baskets.
And like some homage to Lilly Tomlin’s old comedy routine about buying a trash can at the store, they gave us a box to put all our baskets in.
We picked Maria up from camp a little early because she didn’t want to ride horses. She had a frightening experience riding once, at a Y Princess campout, and she’s done her best to stay away from horses ever since. Kinda sad about this. Not sure anything can be done about it, but I’m always open to tips.
So, since we had a short day, and since we’d assumed that we’d all three be going on a big, long hike Friday, Dennise and me took it fairly easy today. It’s probably more accurate to say we went on three walks, not three hikes.
We started at Sprague Lake, just after dropping Maria off this morning. When we arrived, the only humans around the half mile oval were two fisherfolk, and one other couple. It was wonderfully calm and serene. Take a look:
From there, we caught the Bear Lake shuttle, and made a little walk around Bear Lake.
Once done with that, we drove up the beginnings of Trail Ridge Road to “Hidden Valley,” mainly because it seemed like a good place to eat lunch. Which it was. It was interesting to read about that area. Apparently used to be a ski area, right inside the national park. Operated until 1992, according to the signs.
The information signs all over that place made a big deal of how they’d removed the old ski lodge, taken down the lift, and pretty much just left the place so that nature could do her business in the years since. The result is that you can see pine trees growing back. But it’s a slow, slow process.
Some of those trees, the signs say helpfully, are between 300 and 700 years-old. You don’t just replace trees like that over night.
Another educational sign at the “Hidden Valley” area, which must be several years old now, implied that the only real and significant danger to the pine forest is forest fire.
That probably was true when they created that sign. But based on everything we’re hearing around here, it’s not true anymore. There is a HUGE, potentially devastating, disaster unfolding in the national park right now. It’s the Pine Beetle.
Haven’t heard of them? Well, if you haven’t been here in several years, or if you’re coming soon, you won’t be able to help hearing about them. Because it’s a big, big deal.
I am sure there’s a more scientific name for the things, but everybody around here calls them Pine Beetles. They’re little creatures no more than an eighth of an inch long each. And they kill pine trees. Pretty much all kinds of pine trees. The adults bore into the trees and lay eggs. The eggs hatch, and the larvae eat the bark from the inside out, effectively killing the tree. They’re very good at it, and right now they are spreading with the same effects as a wild fire.
We’ve been told that much of the Western half of national park has either been killed or clear cut to attempt to stop their advance.
We’ve also been told that for every brown, dead tree you see, that have fallen at their advance, there are five more already gone right next to them. Given that math, it looks to me like much of the entire park could be wiped out as early as next year…and there are doomsday folks around here who agree with that.
Here’s what some Pine Beetle damage looks right around Sprague Lake:
There is an insecticide, but it has to be applied from the ground…can’t be sprayed. So, that’s effectively pointless in this big a place.
They say that the Pine Beetles are extremely active because of two reasons:
1) Drought-like conditions that have weakened the trees, and
2) Warmer winters that have failed to kill of the predatory bugs like they used to in the past.
I’ll leave you to decide whether this is more evidence of global warming. You get the sense lots of folks around here think it is. As evidence of this, they point to archeological evidence which shows ancient attacks by these killer bug’s ancestors. But! In those cases, the winters almost always turned cold after a few years.
So, an extremely cold winter this year could theoretically save the park. But nobody’s counting on that. And so (and I’m serious about this) there are folks predicting that ALL of the pine trees in this part of Colorado may eventually be gone. All of them. The great pine forests gone….poof. Five hundred years of nature’s work gone an instant.
Which brings me back to “Hidden Valley,” where we humans are so proud of the restoration work underway there. Yes, it’s nice. But the tiny little trees growing since 1992 are dwarfed by their pine forest elders.
If this really does happen, it will change everything people have assumed about this place for the rest of our lifetimes.
Tonight, we’re gonna head to town in search of “Bob and Tony’s.” That’s the famous pizza place where you can carve your name in the wall. Somehow, we’ve missed it on our trips downtown so far. I hope it’s still there.
I am pleased to report that Bob and Tony’s lives.
The pizza joint is still cooking, and we ate there last night. I must confess one trick of my own memory, though. My memory was that it was a *wood* walled restaurant, and that everybody carved their names in the wood. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Most of the names were in the bricks.
Delish stuff, btw. Really good pizza.
After dinner, we walked around downtown and then called it a night.
As I mentioned, me and Dennise took it easy yesterday, because we assumed that Maria was joining us for an adventurous family hike today. Turned out not to be. She wanted to go to camp again. So, she did.
In fact, when we picked her up a while ago, she said “I don’t want to leave.”
Later she said again that she wished we could stay another week. I suppose that’s a very good thing. It makes me smile a lot.
So, Dennise and me changed our plans, and took another hike off the Bear Lake trails. Since we had to pick Maria up a little after 3 pm, we decided to head down the trail to Sky Pond, just as far as we could make it; knowing that, time and energy wise both, we might not get the whole way.
We actually got pretty far…to the base of Treeline Falls. By then, it was clear that to get back in time for Maria we’d need to turn back. And, frankly, I’m not sure either of us had the energy.
It was an almost 8 mile round trip, if you count how we started at Bear Lake, ended up back at Glacier Gorge, and took a five minute detour up the trail to Andrews Glacier. I think both of us really wanted to go to the Glacier, because Dennise has never seen one. But that trail was pretty steep, and we clearly weren’t gonna get there…perhaps just get close enough to see it.
So, we didn’t see the Glacier. But we did see some snow up there:
Making the choice to head toward Sky Pond ended up being the right choice. It offered a us a nice place to stop, just above the treeline, have lunch, and enjoy the incredible falls.
We stopped at the marshy area, just above the treeline. We were absolutely swarmed by the weakest, wimpiest mosquitos I’ve ever seen in my life. I have always heard that temperature has a lot to do with a mosquito’s ferocity.
Didn’t expect them above the treeline frankly. Hadn’t put any Off on. (I like that sentence…) And in the time it took to wrestle it from my bag, the mosquitos at home would have done their vampire best for dozens of bites.
But up there? The whole swarm of them didn’t even land one single bite.
How pitiful for them.
Good Lord, those falls are gorgeous.
I know, I know, some of you will probably tell us how we should have pushed on to Sky Lake. But we really didn’t have time. Really, we didn’t.
We picked up Maria with just 5 minutes to spare.
It was an amazing hike. Truly incredible. I can remember hiking above the treeline once before. In fact, when we were here in high school, I distinctly remember a hike where we were well above the treeline for a long time. And yet, it wasn’t really that bad a hike. (Of course, I had the body of a sixteen or seventeen-year-old…)
My memory is that on the way down, some folks continued on and boot skied down a glacier, while others of us went down another way. It wasn’t exactly the approved trail either….it was kind of down the side until we came on the trail.
I really wonder which mountain that was.
I have no idea.
So, this was my first time hiking up to the treeline in quite a while. It was gorgeous.
Here are shots….
The “Treeline Falls” area:
Now, we are beat. Seriously beat. We’re gonna head back into town to carb-load at a hamburger joint, and do the last bit of our souviner shopping. We had not sent one post card to anybody, which made me feel pretty guilty until Dennise helpful reminded me that this blog is kinda like a postcard to you all.
I wish I was more reflective right now, but I’m beat. And tomorrow will come fast and furious. We’ve got to check out by 10 am, but will probably hang around here a bit to let Maria make one last bracelet at the craft house.
Then, it’s back through Denver to return the sleeping bag to my Aunt and Uncle. The plan is to end up at Colorado Springs, and do Pikes Peak…which, incredulously, I have NEVER done. I think Dad was always eager to get us home and thinking, “We’ve already been in mountains all week!”
But we’re gonna stop there, and may even stop there for the night. Hopefully, we can call it an early night, before a long day of driving the next day.
By incredible chance, my sister and her family will arrive here tomorrow afternoon. We’ve not check flight schedules yet, but I’m gonna assume they get here late afternoon, well after we’ll need to be gone. We’re gonna leave ’em a note, though.
And, all of this activity is ahead of an idea that is still in the “idea” stage: a big family gathering here next year, to mark my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary.
Frankly, I think it’s a really cool idea. And it’s very clear that the Y is good at going reunions.
(Dad and Mom, if you’re reading this, we’ll do a little research on what’s available. From what we can tell, we’re gonna be two people short of what they require for their reunion cabins, but we plan to ask about it tomorrow. And I’m sure Linda will too. And then we’ll all get our heads together during the year to come. One thing though: we’re gonna have to plan early!)
It would be cool for all the cousins to be here at the YCamp in camp at the same time next year.
I’m sure Linda and her family are coming to check it out this year, just like we are.
And no matter what plans get made for *that* event, I’m really really happy that Dennise and Maria both liked it this week.
This makes me smile ear to ear.
As one last pic, enjoy this shot of the moon tonight, from our cabin’s front porch. Our cabin looks due East, out over Twin Sisters Mountain.
The pic is of the moon, just rising over the top of Twin Sisters, with clouds above and to the side, and the lights from cabins scattered down the side of the mountain.
A fitting nightime “goodbye” to this place.
In the summer of 1893, Katharine Lee Bates, a teacher at Wellesley College, set out on an adventure across America. She and other teacher friends were invited to spend the summer teaching at Colorado College in Colorado Springs…the city I’m writing you from tonight.
But before coming here, they stopped in Chicago to see the World’s Fair, and took in the best of human ingenuity of the time. Then, they headed south through Kansas’ amber waves of grain.
Among other friends, she was accompanied by another woman named Katharine, who many believe may have been her longtime lover.
Bates herself describes one of the events of that summer in Colorado Springs:
“One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.”
One story goes that Bates lingered longer on the mountain than her companions and –even there, at that high elevation– began to write down verses. By the time she left the town later that summer, she had all of the verses of a hymn you have heard countless times.
O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.
As you might imagine, I am thinking of all of this today, because earlier we took our own sojourn to the top of Pike’s Peak.
Dennise says she remembers visiting here at a kid, but she clearly didn’t remember the road; which, turns out, is as daunting, or more so, than the Trail Ridge Road. (And I’ve already written about how *that* went…)
Frankly, I was a bit surprised by the road too. I’d always been told what an easy drive up it is. And, I guess in some sense that’s true. But, much of the top third of the drive is gravel (nobody mentioned that to me!) and there are few directional or speed limit signs.
Which, of course, means the speed limit is *slow*.
We made it all the way up, To my mind, this means we have no good reason to avoid the Trail Ridge Road next year.
It *was* amazing.
I totally get that folks have varied relationships with this song. It *is* a hymn, that is sure. It was first published in a Congregationalist newspaper. And the nationalistic tone can sometimes be troubling.
But I sure like it more than “God Bless America.”
To me, “America the Beautiful” was redeemed by two events. One was when Ray Charles recorded it, which gave us, by a factor of ten, the best recording of it, ever.
The second event was after September 11th, when along with millions I saw Dan Rather on David Letterman, and both of them teared up a little. But none more than when Rather cited the fourth verse of the hymn:
“O beautiful, for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!”
There was something about the memory of the twin towers, the connection of urban America with rural America, that really spoke to me. For about a year I learned my own little acoustic version of the song and played it at every show.
I still like it far more than “God Bless America.” There is something about the driving, bombastic nature of that song that simply doesn’t do anything for me.
But “America the Beautiful?”
There’s such richness to the imagery…
Amber waves of grain…
Purple mountains majesty…
The poetry is lush. And, the truth is, the theology is better too. Check out the chorus of verse two, in case you’ve never heard it:
“America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!”
There’s something about this song that, while it *is* asking for God’s favor on the nation, is not *assuming* we deserve it. It’s a song that assumes whether or not we have God’s favor depends upon us.
It’s a song that’s not so much saying that America is “great,” but that America is “beautiful.” I like to meditate on how being “beautiful” might even be more important than being “great.”
Perhaps the beauty comes from the country’s incredible nature landscape. Perhaps the beauty also comes through, dare I say, *humility?*
Yes, let’s ask God to mend our many flaws. Let’s remember our self control. And, above all, on a day when we hear the current Attorney General probably *will* launch an inquiry into torture, lets remember we’re a country based on law…and that nobody is above that law. Ever.
In every generation, we have that chance to become beautiful again.
In *this* generation, on this day, what stunned me was to imagine how difficult a trip like that must have been in 1893. We now call Pike’s Peak, “America’s Mountain,” partially due to the relatively good road that goes all the way to the top. (Even if it’s more harrowing that I assumed…)
But imagine earlier generations. Whether it was via wagon or on foot…whether it was a United States surveyor, or Native people centuries before…what an unbelievable journey to get to the top!!! You can see how much awe there must have been in the journey, how impressive the memory would have been, compared to almost anything else they could have seen in the known world of the time.
I *love* the trip down. Maybe it’s because since I’m usually driving, I can see much more of the incredible vistas on the way down. Gravity is such an amazing thing.
We did stop at Aunt Alice and Uncle John’s on the way back through Denver. Linda sent me a message that their flight was delayed into Denver, and that they didn’t expect to get to Estes Park until 10 pm or later. I hope they had a good drive up.
I also thought about Bill Nash briefly again this afternoon. We stopped for gas on I-25 at Highway 66, where you can actually turn back to go right back up into the mountains (right back to Estes, really…) Bill and Patty probably traveled down that same road today, on their way to the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest…which I really need to get myself to one of these years.
I’m thinking again about the several friends who invited us to visit their cabins/houses at places here in Colorado on our way home. We’re not gonna make it by any one of these kind offers. But it was nice to have the invites. And nice to think about other folks I know crisscrossing the state today.
Tomorrow, after a trip to Garden of the Gods, it’ll be time to head back to Texas.
We’re back in Texas, in Amarillo, tonight. We had another great night last night, and one more great day today.
Last night, after we came down Pike’s Peak, we found ourselves in the Manitou/Colorado City part of town. I don’t know enough to know whether these are actual suburbs or just names of parts of town (like “Lakewood” is to Dallas…). Maybe somebody can enlighten me.
I have heard from friends who used to live in Colorado Springs that the town is pretty starkly divided among different populations. There is as mostly liberal part of town that’s something like Austin or the West Coast, and then there is the part of town where Focus on the Family and other ultra-conservative para-church groups are located. Many of these kind of groups have moved to the town, earning it the name “The Protestant Vatican” in some circles. More accurately: The Conservative Protestant Vatican. But it’s an interesting name anyway, and speaks to the power and influence of these groups on the nation, and likely on the city.
For example, I did note a green freeway sign pointing out the exit for the “Focus on the Family Visitor Center.”
Anyway, from my own visual observation, it appeared to me that Manitou/Colorado City might be the more Austinish part of town. And if so, that was more than fine and dandy with us.
We ate at a place called Front Range Barbeque, on the main street of Colorado City. Seemed to be a lot of live music today, and we even saw a guy busking as we were leaving today.
We stayed at a Days Inn in Manitou. Added bonus there: a hot tub! Perfect for some still sore muscles from the day before.
We intentionally took our time getting going this morning, because we could. We first stopped off at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. These are some fascinating Native American dwellings right on the outskirts of town….literally right off the highway. Here are a few shots.
They reminded Dennise and me a lot of the Taos area and, sure enough, the museum indicated a link between the people’s who founded this area and the Taos Pueblo. On Facebook today, Tom Geddie reminded me of the several sets of ruins in and around Northern New Mexico…Bandalier, etc. We had indeed visited those a few years back.
Manitou was neither as large nor as spiritually powerful as those sites in Northern New Mexico. (at least to me…) Still, it was fascinating to learn of that cultural connection.
After this, we stopped off at Garden of the Gods, and mostly just did a quick drive through. We all realized that the park would have been quite cool to explore on foot, but it was time to get on the road.
We finally got on the road by mid-afternoon. Thankfully, the interstate bridge that is under construction in southern Colorado is only the northbound side (Walsenburg?) and we just sailed through that area.
I actually didn’t feel real great much of the afternoon. Perhaps dinner didn’t agree? Who knows? Slept some.
Anyway, by the time we go to Raton, I was driving again, and we pushed through all the way to Amarillo tonight.
Man, did the Highlander Hybrid do well through New Mexico!! As we made that slow descent down, zipping back past the volcano fields, we were getting fantastic mileage….30 mpg for the entire trip through New Mexico! Slightly less once we reached Texas and hit a small thunderstorm. But still finished around 28 mpg for the day…pretty dang cool. If we sustain that, it’s more than 475 miles per 17 gallon tank.
As we drove across the Texas line, the iPod gods bestowed a Nancy Griffith song on us…Love at the Five and Dime..the live version.
And at this same moment, we started to note some incredibly ominous clouds on the horizon…clouds that stayed with us the rest of the night. The Treo and iPhone weather radars told us that it was a HUGE Texas storm, situated just over Amarillo.
Dennise shot these, as we drove straight East and toward the storm.
It was an incredible thing, to watch this powerful cloud right in front of us…how it turned from white to pink to amber and orange…and how after the light slipped away, the lightning show was amazing.
From the looks of it on radar, we were pretty sure we’d miss the whole thing. But no. We hit a tail end of it about 30 or so miles north of town. Very heavy downpour for about 10 minutes, and possibly some hail.
Then, as often happens here…poof…it was gone. We’d driven through that tail of the storm and into open dark sky, with the lights of Amarillo shimmering in the distance.
So, we’re here now. And this is very likely the last update for this blog.
If you’ve been reading all along, you will recall that we left a lot of things hanging when we left; things I wrote about the last time we were here in Amarillo.
I can give you some updates…
Mary Clair *did* have gall bladder surgery. And while I haven’t spoken to her in a few days, she was doing very well the last time I did. The report on Dennise’s Dad is equally good. He went home from the hospital the day we got to Colorado, and seems to be doing well. The renters are still moving out, and there is much to do to get our log house in order. Dennise’s Mom is still going her chemo and radiation. Please continue to pray for her.
But, all in all, we did a pretty good job not worrying about all of that while we were gone.
Tonight, some of it is inevitably creeping back into my brain.
As I wrote on Facebook, I’m still looking for how you can get a vacation where all the problems you left at home are magically solved by the time you return. Haven’t found that yet. If you’ve got any tips, not only let me know…but write a book. You’ll be a zillionare.
But I trust some of this trip will stay with me over the next few months, as we move through what we left at home, and whatever else is coming soon.
I will probably do a couple of things once we’re home:
1) rearrange it so that it reads chronologically. This will be more enjoyable for anyone stumbling on this in the future, and
2) Add some links and possibly some video.
No timeline for any of this. Just when I get around to it.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this blog. I really appreciated all my Facebook friends leaving tips and comments each day. That was fun to read. Thanks again.