Thursday, July 28, 2005

Fort Collins (cont'd)

Well, we're still here. We keep adding days onto our stay. It's a nice area to explore and we like Heron Lake RV Park where we're staying. They have an ice cream sundae bar in their store where you can make your own sundae for only $1.49. Ok, so maybe thats not the only reason why we keep extending our stay, but it sure is one of them! The first several days we were here was during the heat wave, so we didn't get out as much as we liked. But that gave us some opportunity to tour some of the local towns. We like getting on our bikes and using the bike paths that meander through Ft Collins and Loveland to see the area. And the sunsets here have been phenomenol.

We also took a bike ride in Lory State Park. Lory sits west of the Horsetooth Reservoir, so you are flanked on one side by the red-rock encircled reservoir and on the other by foothills. A very neat place with multi-use trails in the valley. On the reservoir people boat and scuba dive. We saw an article saying the viz was only about a foot, but people do it. It would've been nice to kayak around and explore the different coves.
On one of our driving tours, we came across a field filled with elk. We hadn't seen many with antlers up to this point, and this guy was sporting an impressive rack:

Tomorrow we're heading to Ft Robinson in Nebraska. Nebraska will be Andy's 50th state. He and his brothers, Jimmy and Chris, have a competition going on who could visit all 50 states first. Granted, he's had an unfair advantage this past year and a half, but to his defense he is the youngest so they've had more years to do it. So sorry Jimmy and Chris, you guys are about to LOSE! ;)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Fort Collins, CO

The drive from Estes Park to Loveland via Route 34 through Big Thompson Canyon was one of the most beautiful drives we've ever seen. The canyon walls reached high above on both sides. There was only enough room on the canyon floor for the road and the Big Thompson river. Well, there was an occassional cabin. Those residents must be very brave. I'd be afraid of falling rocks, rising waters, or both. But unfortunately, both Andy and I were driving so we weren't permitted to gawk as much as we wanted to, or take any pictures. Since it was only 28 miles to Loveland and we were stopping there for an RV oil change we didn't feel it was worth towing. I definitely drew the short straw on which vehicle to drive since it's harder to see above the cabover on the RV.

Ft Collins is a neat city. We're finding most college towns are. They are vibrant and active. It is very outdoor-oriented with many, many pathways through the city for biking and walking. Many of the roads have wide, designated bike lanes. They are still developing pathways that would connect nearby cities, such as Loveland. And the town sits right at the foot of the Front Range mountains. The temperatures since we've been here have been breaking records. Thursday was 15 degrees above normal, hitting 104 degrees. Since then it's been in the high 90's. This has slowed us down on our outdoor adventures. The dry heat "burns". You actually feel like you're being cooked alive versus our humidity + heat in Florida where you feel like you're suffocating. So our activities have been reserved for morning or late afternoon. We've tested several of the pathways through town. We have one path that is 1/2 mile from the campground and we can make it to town in 14 minutes. We found one of the five microbreweries so far.

One day we took a driving tour into the Cache la Poudre ("pooder") Canyon. This canyon cuts through a National Forest and offers many hiking trails and small campgrounds along the Cache la Poudre River. Many rafters, kayakers and tubers were using the river to cool off. But we thought this water was a little too cold for us...40's maybe? My feet went numb as soon as I stepped in. We took a short hike up the mountain to get a different perspective on the valley. It was a gorgeous 40-mile drive into the canyon. Supposedly you can find the elusive big horn sheep in both the Big Thompson Canyon and Poudre Canyon...but they continue to elude us. Andy keeps joking that he's gonna butt heads with one when we find one. Don't know why that should surprise me considering he butts heads with everyone he meets ;)
If you look closely at the bottom left corner, you'll see an inflatable kayak that just flipped while I was taking the picture of the tunnel.

It fascinates me that the north-facing slopes are always covered with trees, and the south-facing slopes are dry and desert-like. We hiked through sage-brush on this trail.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rocky Mountain NP (cont'd)

Our last two days in Rocky Mountain NP, we went for the vertical challenge. We decided we've been here long enough, we should be acclimated to the elevation, right? So on Tuesday we were going to tackle Chapin's Pass which meant getting up at 5am to be on the trail by 7am because of limited parking spaces. But when the alarm went off we did the same thing every other red-blooded American would do...we hit the snooze. So, we didn't do Chapin's Pass. We tackled Twin Sisters Peaks instead. This trail starts at 8,880' and summits at 11,428' within 3.7 miles. It felt like it was straight up the whole time. Not a bad trail, but the rocky field above timberline was otherworldly. But the views at the top were phenomenal since the peak is a rounded hump of rocks, you can see in all directions. East views was of the flatlands. West towards the park, Longs Peak stands out prominently since it's a fourteener. To hike Long's Peak, hikers need to be on the trail by 3am. Yep, they hike up part of the trail in the dark. Here's Longs Peak in the background.

During this hike we met a local Boulderite who convinced us to do Flattop Mountain on our last day. So on Wednesday we were on the trail before 7am (finally!) and headed up to Flattop which peaks at 12,324'. The trail starts out within the forest and occassionally you'll get a nice view of the surrounding area. But once you get higher up, and the trees look more like shrubs because they are stunted from the harsh environment, the views are breathtaking. You can see almost all of the lakes in the Bear Lake region as you zig-zag back and forth up the trail. You can see so many mountain peaks and the valleys and on towards to the flatlands. We even had to cross a snowfield towards the top in order to reach the summit of Flattop. As you can guess, the top of Flattop is flat. It was a large tundra area with rocks and alpine wildflowers. We could look down the western slope and see Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake. To the south was Hallet Peak. We considered scrambling up the boulder-strewn side of Hallet for the ultimate view, which was another half-mile and 400' up. Unfortunately we didn't like the looks of these clouds that appeared to form as we watched, right over our heads. We played it safe and decided against it. Exploring Flattop was wonderful enough. We could see Tyndal Glacier and the view down the glacial-cut valley.
We also enjoyed watching the little pikas dart in and out of the rocks collecting whatever plant-life they could for their nests or stash or whatever they were collecting it for. These critters are in the rabbit-family.

For the record, it did start to rain on our way down, so we had no regrets about skipping Hallet Peak.
We had a great time here and are actually considering how we can come back in the fall to see the Aspens in yellow and maybe hear the Elk bugle. Now we're heading towards Fort Collins (no, not a long drive), then north to the Dakotas.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Boulder and Rocky Mountain Natl Park

On Thursday we went to visit Boulder. We didn’t have too much time, so we spent a couple of hours running errands, touring Pearl Street and having lunch. We’ll have to put Boulder on our list of places to re-visit. We need more time for this cool city. We had to drive back to Lyons, pick up the RV and head on up to Estes Park that afternoon. It was raining when we got to Estes Park so we didn’t head into the Rockies as we had initially planned. Later we learned there was a foot of hail at higher elevations. Not that Estes Park isn’t high at 7,840 feet.

On our first full day in the Rocky Mountain NP we drove Trail Ridge Road, which bisects the park. We stopped at various overlooks along the way to take it all in. At one point the road goes over 12,000 feet in elevation. Up here the trees disappear and wildflowers get smaller and closer to the ground. It’s a cold, rough life for plants. There are still snowfields dotting the hillsides. As we continued along the 48-mile long road, we crossed over the Continental Divide and down into another valley. A short walk along the Colorado River provided us with a rare moose sighting. We continued on through the park and checked out the old cowboy-town of Grand Lake. The covered, wooden walkways in front of stores are just like in the old western movies.

Over 3.3 million people visit the Rocky Mountains each year, with the majority visiting during the summer months. We think we met them all. Overlooks and Visitor Center parking lots were packed. Short trails near the overlooks were crowded. We can’t wait to get on some of the longer trails and enjoy the beauty in some peace. We hope.We were on the trail the next morning by 8:15, which we considered late. We headed to Beaver Lake area and took the shuttle to the trailhead. They have a large parking area for Park & Ride and a shuttle system to take you to the different trailheads. The biggest plus is that you can hike one-way trails, end up at another shuttle stop and not worry about having to make a loop back to your car. And in Bear Lake the shuttles run every 10 minutes so there’s no waiting. Our 8-mile hike today took us past several different lakes. Lake Haiyaha and Mills Lake were our favorites with the snow-specked mountains as a backdrop.
The scenery along these trails was constantly changing and even the lakes were all characteristically different from one another. The one similarity was the water temperature – a frigid 30’s or 40’s is our guess. It felt like picking up an ice cube. But as for the peace and quiet? Nope. The trails were pretty crowded, especially within a two-mile radius of any trailhead. Oh well, it is high season and we knew it when we came here. The benefit is that it is also wildflower season. They’re peaking now and it is wonderful.

Our second day of hiking got us off no earlier. We headed down the trail at 8:15. But our excuse this morning was that a herd of elk came into camp so we had to watch…and take pictures…silly tourists. This day we hiked in the Wild Basin area and hiked to Ouzel Lake. The initial plan was to hike to Ouzel Falls, but when we got there by 9:40, we decided to go further to the lake which made our hike 10 miles roundtrip. Ok, now we’re tired. We’re just not accustomed to these elevations (Ouzel Lake is 10,010’). But it was worth it. Part of this hike took us onto a ridge with views of the valley below and mountains above. The lake itself was hidden inside an oasis of pines, so we didn’t see it until we went back down. The wildflowers were spectacular up in this area and such a variety - columbines, bells, daisies, forget-me-knots, and so many others. This area also looked like it was hit by a forest fire at some point which added character to the scenery. Along the hike from the Falls to the Lake we started to think we lost everyone else. We saw two guys close to the Lake and they were the first people we had seen in over an hour. But when we turned to leave after our lunch break, the hordes started to file in. At least we had the lake to ourselves for lunch. The warning in the Rockies, though, is to get off the ridges and down from above timberline by noon, because that is when the storms start to come in. And lo and behold, as we were hiking back on the ridge, I turned to the west and there they were. The clouds were still white and puffy, but billowing and rolling over the mountain range. The storms move fast here, so we had to keep watch. The fat, cold raindrops started to hit us when we were still 2 miles from the trailhead. It was refreshing, and I didn’t mind knowing we were moments away from the car. But what about these other people heading up in their dollar flip flops? It amazes us how ill-prepared some people are…bad shoes, no water, and no pack. But who knows how far they were planning on walking, right?

Today we took the day off from hiking and went to downtown Estes Park. We biked over and then walked the shops and ate lunch out. It’s a touristy town with lots of shopping and restaurants. The Fall River runs through it with a pedestrian walkway that runs alongside. We followed this path from one end of town to the other. East of town Fall River merges with the Big Thompson River which cuts through our campground. There are views of the mountains from almost anywhere in town. It was a nice, quiet day to try and give our legs a break. Hiking uses muscles that aren’t used much running or biking flatlands. But we’ll tackle some higher trails tomorrow and Wednesday.

So far we've seen some great wildlife. Here's a sampling:

Ok, so we got lucky with this last one...definitely not something you see everyday!

Lyons, CO

We inched closer with a night in Lyons, CO. Since we actually arrived one night early and Estes Park was full, we decided to stay in Lyons so we could also explore Boulder a little, too. Lyons is about halfway between Boulder and Estes Park. Little did we know that this small town has a lot to offer. The town is surrounded by three “open space” ranches offering mountain biking and hiking. Temperatures were too hot during the day for us to take advantage of these trails, though. But we heard they are great. Our campsite in Meadows Park was a block to town, two blocks to Oskar Blues Microbrewery, and was nestled on three sides by the St Vrain River – which is popular for tubing the rapids.
It was a perfect day for tubing – hot and sunny. The drawback was the river temp was a chilly 54 degrees. But we braved it anyway. We had to purchase tubes (no rentals available in town). But because you could start on one side of the park, loop around, take out at the other end of the horseshoe, then just walk across the parking lot and start all over it was easy to do multiple trips. Almost like an amusement ride. Sadly, Andy got dumped out of his tube several times, with the first time on the very first drop. Once your head gets wet in that 54 degree water, it is awfully hard to warm up again. But what a hoot. Rapids, drops, rocks to bump over or bump you out, downed trees to catch you. We did two rides before Andy started to feel the onset of hypothermia. The poor boy has no body fat. Unlike me, who decided to go for a third run. This gave Andy the opportunity to take some pictures.
Downtown Lyons was cute with several little shops and restaurants. Of course we tried the Brewery, and the Classic Pinball Gameroom. All pinball games. One was made in 1961 and another rarity was a game called Joust where two players play each other (only 402 were ever made). Just for the record, I won.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Independence, MO to Strasburg, CO

We almost decided to stay in Independence an extra night to do some tours and check out Kansas City (the "City of Fountains"), but our campsite was already reserved. So instead of moving to another campsite for one night, we just went with the flow and moved on as planned. But prior to leaving we did visit President Harry S. Truman's Home and had an early lunch at the historical Clinton's Soda Fountain. Harry's first job as a young boy was working the counter at Clinton's.

Since leaving Independence, MO we have driven about 600 miles in two days. We're currently in Strasburg, CO which is about 35 miles east of Denver. Current elevation is 5,381 - over one mile high. But we haven't seen any mountains yet. Eastern CO looks pretty much like Kansas, except for the long steady climb to get to this elevation.

We got an email from some of our fellow Mammoth Cave spelunkers. Two of them got their pictures posted on a different website. Check it out at: There are some really good ones that show how tight some of our holes and tunnels were. Well, enjoy!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

St Louis, MO

First stop on the tour yesterday was The Arch. 630 feet tall. Triangular shaped stainless steel skin with concrete supports inside. The Visitor Center is all underground in between the legs of the Arch, so it doesn't take away from the simplicity of its look. To get to the top, you hop in a tiny 5-seater pod (think of space-ship or amusement ride) and it cranks to the top in about 5 minutes. This is not for anyone who is claustrophobic. The view from the top is spectacular looking over St Louis and the Mississippi River. But the windows to peer out were tiny.

Then we walked over to the old Courthouse which looked like a Capitol building with the dome.

From there we went to Anheuser-Busch Brewery for a tour and two free beers each. ( a quick buzz before lunch!) The factory and museum take up about 70 city blocks and looks more like a college campus than a factory. The red brick buildings provide a nice backdrop to their gardens that line the walkways. If you look, you'll see the Eagle logo on buildings or on top of pillars or fences and everywhere. We got to see a couple of the identical-looking Clydesdales. I'm sure there aren't many stables that have chandeliers hanging in them, either.

On the way home we stopped at the Soulard Farmers Market. We love these places - fresh, locally-grown fruits and veggies. Andy says he likes the environment, when the vendors hawk their wares, yelling out prices, etc. But I specifically remember him running for cover when the fish mongers in Pikes Place (Seattle) started throwing fish pieces into the crowd. But our fridge is now over-flowing needless to say.

This morning we crossed Missouri and stopped in Independence, MO, the birthplace of Pres Harry Truman. Originally our plan was to spend one night and focus on washing and cleaning the RV (it still amazes me how much dust collects inside and out). But we may try to squeeze in some touristy stuff since it looks like both Independence and Kansas City have things worth seeing. Either way, from here we are shooting across Kansas on I-70 to Estes Park, CO (Rocky Mtn Natl Park) by Thursday. We can't wait!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Indiana and Illinois

Sometimes RVing is unsettling when you're constantly moving and you have a hard time remembering where you are let alone where you were. In Louisville, we were on the Ohio River which separates Kentucky from Indiana. Yesterday we were in New Harmony, IN on the Wabash River separating Indiana from Illinois. Today we are in E. St. Louis, IL on the Mississippi River across the water from Missouri. Now, who's on first?

Harmonie State Park, IN was another beautiful State Park with large campsites and big trees. We went for a bike ride one day to check out the boat launch on the Wabash, but didn't realize how large the park was. Twelve miles later we arrived back at our campsite. Aaah, hills...being from Florida we forget that they exist. Our full day in the park we decided we needed some real exercise and went for a run in the morning. Trail-running is so different from running on pavement. I can't do my "Diane-Shuffle". Having to pick up my knees and heels to avoid trail hazards wears me out so much faster, but I still find it more peaceful than running on asphalt with cars. Afterwards we went and soaked in the Olympic-size pool. Normally I don't pay any attention to water-slides, but the one that they had here was a lot of fun. We tried to get a few laps in at the pool, but the human obstacles made it a little difficult. It was a great day to hang out at a pool - hot and sunny.
We also visited the historic town of New Harmony which was immaculately maintained. The log cabins from the 1800's, the red-brick storefronts, the lovingly painted Victorian homes were all in great condition. The gardens, both private and public, added color and a sense of serentity to this quaint town. Worth a visit. We should've done the historic tour to learn more about the founders of this town and their culture.

We arrived in E. St Louis, IL this afternoon. After two weeks of not finding a laundromat, we needed a private RV park. The nice thing about this campground is that we can see the St Louis Arch from our RV.
We plan on touring it tomorrow. The light-rail train is accessible from the RV park, so we plan on hopping on that to tour around. Talk to you more tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Louisville, KY

Our RV was parked in Lousville for ten days. We went home to Philly for a week of that time frame, however, so I could help my mother with her big move. We moved her out of the house we grew up in and into an apartment that is more manageable for her. It's such a big change for her and an important time in her life, I'm glad I went home to share it with her. Andy went home too to see family and friends. During his trips home he usually spends one afternoon downtown at one of the local establishments with friends and family who work in Philly. So after these trips, he usually avoids alcohol for two weeks or more. Good thing we don't live there anymore! Especially now that another bad influence is working downtown - yeah, I mean you Rosie! Well, if you can call interning with the EPA 'work'.

It was a shame we didn't spend more time though with the RV. Otter Creek Park (actually in Muldraugh, KY, next door to Fort Knox, KY) is a beautiful park with hiking/biking/bridle trails, a creek to swim in or tube down, it borders the Ohio River, and is heavily forested with an array of birds. The camphosts had bird feeders out attracting many hummingbirds and goldfinches. The park offers many activities including caving and rock-climbing which we missed because they were only offered on the busier weekends. We were expecting the park to be mobbed for the Fourth of July, but were relieved it wasn't. On the Fourth we went and toured the Patton Museum which is on the Fort Knox Military Reservation. The museum included a large assortment of tanks, American or other countries; from different wars including WWI to Iraq; from 2-seaters to large 4-man tanks. There was also a display about Elvis Presley in the Army which I found interesting (I always assumed he did more PR than fighting, so I was totally wwwrrrong). And we also learned that Patton died from an embolism after breaking his neck in a car accident. Ironic that a man can earn so many medals and die from a car accident.
We drove past Fort Knox. Not only do they not offer tours there, but it doesn't look very inviting, either.
We did get to see a flame-thrower demonstration at the Patton Museum, though.

While we were at the museum, we learned that the base was providing fireworks for the Fourth. We were planning on driving the 45 minutes back into downtown Louisville, but decided we would rather drive 15 minutes and see the fireworks on a military base...and at Fort Knox to boot! Men in uniform and tanks on the lawn, all set a nice patriotic stage to celebrate the Fourth of July. The concert was good, but I always prefer patriotic music on this day of the year...give me the old traditional, big band music on this day to really get me in the spirit. But maybe the boys in camouflage preferred a respite?

We spent the fifth touring around downtown Louisville. We walked around Glassworks which has three different divisions of glass-makers: the architectural division which makes glass for buildings and large sculptures; the flame-workers which make the small ornate glass designs; and the hot-shop which uses the ovens to make vases, etc. We ate lunch at Andy's favorite restaurant, Skyline Chili, thinking of our other Skyline-loving friends in Florida (Hi Rod and Drew!).
Afterwards we toured the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. The factory was surprisingly small and old-fashioned in the fact that the only thing that separated us from the workers was a yellow line taped to the floor. Machines now can make a bat in 30 seconds, versus the olden days of 30 minutes to hand-carve one bat. The tour and the museum gets you dreaming of playing baseball. Anyone up for a pick-up game on the old sand lot? Downtown Louisville is an interesting mix of old and new. Old brick buildings with old-fashioned signs hanging above the door, and down the block a new skyrise of steel and glass.

Since we took the trip home to Philly, we need to make up some lost time. We'll be hurrying through to Colorado now. But we also want to collect our stickers for new states, so we'll be spending one or two nights in each state along the way. It's a quagmire...we don't want to zoom past all this new territory and not stop to see things, but we also feel the need to hit the mountainous and northern regions in the next two months.