Wednesday, August 31, 2005

More on Ft Collins

Last Saturday we biked into town to the Farmer's Market. It was great. Andy threw on his backpack, we biked in, loaded the pack up with all sorts of fruits and veggies to re-stock the fridge, and biked home. Granted, some things are hard to pick up this way - Andy refused to buy a full-sized watermelon. The Wus! Ha! Only kidding, we couldn't fit one in our lil RV fridge anyway.

On Sunday we visited The Rocky Mountain Raptor Program's Open House at the CSU Veterinary School. On a previous bike ride, we had come across the Environmental Learning Center on the east-side of town. There we met a wonderful volunteer who imparted a great amount of raptor information within minutes. She invited us to the Open House. Raptors are our birds of prey: eagles, hawks, falcons, etc. Think "big claws" and it's a raptor. Sadly, these majestic, wild birds come to the Raptor Program because of injuries. Injuries are usually gun-shot wounds, vehicle strikes, pesticides/poison, etc. They get rehabilitation, are live-prey tested to make sure they can be re-introduced to the wild and survive, and then are hopefully released. Since 2003 the number of cases of West Nile Virus has skyrocketed as infected mosquitos make their way west. This disease affects their entire neurological system: they lose their fear of humans, they'll fly into things, their normal muscular functions are altered, its sad. Many of these birds can't be released again. So RMRP is needing to build a new facility to handle the larger number of birds that they have to retain. They'll be building a "green building" which I think is wonderful in itself. Check out their site.

After the Open House on Sunday, we did some shopping. We finally broke down and bought two MP3 players. We got so tired of lugging around our old Sony Walkmans on a run. I swear they got heavier and heavier after each run. So now we are hip and cool with our tiny Creative MUVOs that weigh 0.8oz (w/o the one AAA battery). It only took me about 24 hours to copy songs from our cd's onto the computer and then upload them to the MP3s. Can't wait to try them out!

Monday we went for a hike in Horsetooth Mountain Park. A biker at Devil's Backbone recommended the Horsetooth Falls Trail to us. It wasn't long (about 1.2 miles to Falls) and the Falls were only a trickle at this time of the year, but it was the journey, not the destination that mattered here. A gorgeous hike if you like rocks, trees, birds, and views. Our kind of hike. Beautiful the whole way. After hitting the falls, we continued past and connected with Sodenberg trail to make it a loop. Above the Falls, we were able to look down at the pools that still held some water. Lo and behold, but what did we see? Two red and white goldfish swimming in one of the pools! Now how do you think they got there? Later on the hike we saw two golden eagles flying high above the treetops. It made me happy to see them in the wild and not at RMRP.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Ft Collins, CO (again)

Biking Town
On our second tour of Ft Collins, we've tried to see some areas we haven't seen before. We got on our bikes one day and did a circle through the city. Here's one of our favorite spots, this long pedestrian bridge crossing the river to Laporte.
At several water-crossings you can see this "High Water Marker" from the 1997 flood. These signs blow our minds considering that most rivers are running at a trickle in these late summer months.
Route 34
Another day, we headed out for a hike near Loveland but instead found ourselves driving back into Big Thompson Canyon (Route 34 from Estes Park). It was such a pretty drive, and we both felt that we couldn't enjoy the scenery the last time, so we said "what the heck" let's drive up "a ways". But then the wonderful happened...BIGHORNS! We knew there was a herd of them in here, but couldn't believe our luck to see about 20 of them...grazing next to the road! We were lucky that there was a pull-off right across the road from them, so we stopped and watched the herd move about. They didn't seem to flinch as cars sped by or semi-tractor trailers chugged past, but when a Harley thundered past them, my gosh they all ran for the hills. Even the little babies with their pointy stubs just jumped up these boulders as if their legs were spring-loaded. So, of course, I thought since it was our lucky day that we might find the other 100 bighorns around the next bend, I encouraged Andy to drive just a little bit further. Before we knew it, we were back in Estes Park.
At this point it was raining a little and storm clouds were capping the summits, but what a breath-taking view. We already forgot how stunning this area is with mountains seeming to surround the little town. On the way home we decided to take a slightly different route, via Rte 43 thru Glen Haven. What a great loop drive. So, we never got our hike in that day, but it was a great day anyway.
Devil's Backbone
Today we did the hike we intended to do yesterday. Devil's Backbone is an interesting geological formation that, in our minds, resembled the spikes on a dragon's back. This linear formation, in my estimation, is only 10-20' thick and seems very delicate with holes or windows spotting the stone allowing you a view to the west of the park. We did all three sets of loop trails within the park, totalling 7 miles. Each loop provided different scenery along the way, so eventhough we did this hike midday in some intense sun, it was worth it.
Miscellaneous Animal Shots
The wildlife in the flatlands hasn't been as dramatic as in the mountains. When hiking/biking in the urban areas, we've seen more birds, butterflies, and a bazillion grasshoppers...every step causes a flurry of grasshoppers, with little bodies bouncing off of you in their uncontrolled flights.
This large one is pretty in pink.
We only saw one of these red ones. It could be a Painted Grasshopper - I tried to look it up on the web - found What's That Bug website. It's a funny site for people like us who don't know one insect from another.

I took this picture of the butterfly because I thought his face was interesting - looks like a Mardi Gras mask on his face. When I blew it up on the computer I noticed the grasshopper for the first time. So what do you the grasshopper coming in for a sneak attack? Or is it frisky?

Ok, so maybe there are some mammals around town...a young mule deer with his little spots and big ears.

So what if this guy isn't wild. I figured with a mug like this he deserves to be on my blog! Llamas are used more and more as pack animals out here. This one was seen at a Llama ranch. Their wool is also used to make yarn.

A Little Confession

Andy says I need to explain the 'other' reason why we are hanging around Colorado. Remember in a previous post I said that we turned around from northern Nebraska because of the Sturgis Bike Rally and his father's health, right? Well, there's a third reason we turned around. I've been suffering from an infection that antibiotics won't kick and we needed to be in an area that offered some decent medical facilities. I'm not even sure if everyone even knows this (considering it's not normal dinner conversation), but 18 years ago I had surgery performed to correct an underbite. This involved breaking my jaws, resetting them, and inserting cheek implants to add structure back to my face. It appears that the infection is located in the porous implant which is why antibiotics can't eliminate it. The final course of action will be to remove the implant(s). My original surgery date of Aug 25th was postponed in order to finish the antibiotics, receive my operative reports (no small feat from 18yrs ago), and for the surgeon here to consult with some specialists on this procedure and the product used in my case. I've learned that cheek implants are very rare. Aren't I special?! We'll know more specifics after my next appointment this Thursday.

I hope this explains to everyone why I didn't remain in Philly with Andy and his mom for the second week. And, why we can't seem to find our way out of this beautiful state, let alone the Denver-Ft. Collins area specifically. In the meantime we've tried to stay busy and toured more of the area. I hope all future blogs will be fun, travel-related entries. Cuz I know that's what you would rather be reading...and what I would prefer to be writing.

Wish me luck!

About Katrina

Weren't we fortunate? We sell our house in Boca and buy a condo in Ft Lauderdale just months before Katrina makes landfall in South Florida...the first hurricane to hit the area since Andrew in '92. But yes, we were indeed fortunate. Katrina was only a Cat 1. We've spoken to several friends in Boca and Ft Lauderdale and we're relieved to hear that everyone has weathered thru it. Our friends Jim and Chris even hunkered down in their RV through the storm. You can read about their experience on their weblog.

But we continue to watch the news of the catastrophic damages in LA and MS. Passport America, our discount campground club and mail-forwarding service, is located in Gulfport, MS. Andy's brother, Jimmy, has his company's headquarters located in New Orleans. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in these areas. Hoping they survived this Cat 4 and find the courage and strength to rebuild what they've lost. Even our little Nikki, our parakeet we buried last year in Mandeville, LA on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, may he continue to rest in peace.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Golden, CO

They sure do make you feel welcome in this small town just west of Denver. It still carries that Old West feel to the town itself and some of its people. I actually met a gold prospector! No kidding. I've seen several now panning for gold in Clear Creek. This town was a big mining town years ago. There's even a School of Mines downtown. And a big "M" is painted on the side of the mountain above town which is lit up at night.

Several years ago the city made some changes to Clear Creek and created a whitewater park. It is now very active with white-water kayakers, tubers, kids jumping off the banks into pools, or people just soaking in the sun on the banks. A series of pathways that spiderwebs throughout town attracts runners, bikers, and walkers. Our campground is right on the Creek and one of these pathways. It is wonderful to walk downtown for shopping or restaurants. I used it this morning to visit the Farmer's Market and walk the Golden Fine Arts Festival. The pathways are also dotted with wonderful bronze statues (maybe every 50 yards or so). Some animals, some children playing, some with Western themes, but all are so detailed and capture a mood, like this one with the two kids reading. Of course, one of my personal favorites were these large butterflies resting along the sides of the paths.

Andy had stayed behind in Philly for an extra week to be with his mom. So while he was away, I tried to see a little more of the area. One afternoon I drove up to the top of Lookout Mountain which rises above Golden. The road was one of those that is cut out of the side of the mountain. It wasn't a sheer drop-off, but more of a steep slope. It still isn't a road for those with a fear of heights. One part of the road was like a snake with about 5 hairpin turns all stacked on top of eachother. The picture shows a view to the west. To the east you could see Denver's skyline, which is about 20 miles(?) east of Golden.
On another day I drove to Golden Gate Canyon State Park to go for a hike. Now to understand why this disastrous hike was so comical, I'll have to share a private joke. Andy always says that I can't do anything without him because something will go wrong, or something will happen to me, or blah blah blah. Well he jinxes me! That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it. Anyway...I start out on this 4.5 mile hike to Windy Peak, and eventhough it's in the afternoon there was no report of rain. I saw some dark clouds, but they appear to be heading to a different mountaintop, and not all clouds in Colorado produce rain, not even a drop. Needless to say, I'm several miles up the trail and believe I'm close to the summit when I hear the first crack of thunder. Directly over my head. Within minutes the wind picks up (never a good sign), lightning strikes, and the rain comes. Lots of it. Thankfully I had my pack with my rain gear in it, but my hike was aborted. Of course, by the time I was back at the car it was sunny again. Thanks Andy!
Since the weather changed I decided to drive up to Panorama Point to get the views I was hoping to get at Windy Peak. From Panorama Point there is a wonderful view of the Continental Divide.

Clear Creek RV Park normally only allows a 14-day stay maximum. They were kind enough to extend our stay considering our circumstances, but when Andy returned we needed to head out. We decided just to head back to Ft Collins for awhile.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Sad Trip to Philly

On August 2nd we drove the 6 hours from Crawford, NE to Golden, CO. The morning of August 5th we got the call that we had been dreading. Andy's father's condition had turned critical and we should come 'home'. Andy spoke with him by phone that afternoon and then Dad quietly left us a half hour later. The blessing was that he was surrounded by family and he went on his own terms. He spoke to his children who were out of state, gave his list of wishes and reminders to his wife, and took his last breath while listening to the crazy bantering of his family. May we all feel that kind of contentment, peace, and love when we go.

I just want to say a few things about my father-in-law. First of all, I never thought of him in those terms. To refer to either of Andy's parents as "in-laws" almost demeans my feelings for them. He was always "Ace" to me, a nickname many called him. He was a good man. Honest, loving, warm, funny, competitive, intelligent, strong, and caring. His 50+ year marriage is one to envy: the love, trust, and mutual respect was a pleasure to witness every day I was around them. His 6 children and 11 grandchildren are examples of what a wonderful father and grandfather he was. The hundreds of friends who came to the services are another sign of how he positively touched people over the years.

Ace loved playing games - volleyball, basketball, croquet, bocci, whatever. I first learned to play croquet and bocci with this family. You would never think it could be so competitive, psychological...or at times almost a contact sport. A couple of times over the years I would try to get him to ease up on me during a game by claiming "hey, I'm a girl!". But it never worked. His retort was always "you don't play like a girl". Ha! God I'm going to miss those kind of "put-you-in-your-place" comebacks.

Here's a picture of Ace with Andy's sister, Carol, at Christmas 2003.
Here's to a good man, no, a great man...and may we each carry on the legacy he left within us. He'll never be forgotten.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


I'm gonna fudge a little here. A lot has happened since I've last written, but I'm going to jump backwards in time and just write about our trip in Nebraska for now. I'll explain more later...

The night before departing Fort Collins, we were still staring at maps trying to determine where to go. The original plan was to head straight to Fort Robinson, but whenever I asked someone for recommendations on what to do in Nebraska I always heard "Chimney Rock" and "Scotts Bluff", and lo and behold it was on our way! So we decided to visit Gering, NE so we could tour both of these historic landmarks. Driving through Nebraska is quite flat and without much to look at for distraction. So it was easy to imagine early pioneers actually getting excited when they saw Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff and knowing that it was the end of the prairie lands' mind-numbing boring trail ride. Once they saw Chimney Rock in the distance it still took them three days to reach it. Can you imagine? Andy started complaining after watching it for 15 minutes, crying "when will we get there?".
One of the best things about staying at Robidoux RV Park was being able to bike from the campground to Scotts Bluff National Monument. A bike trail picks up at the western end of U Street and takes you the three miles through grasslands to get there. Once there you can choose to take a shuttle or hike the 1.6 mile trail to the summit. Bikes weren't permitted on the park road during the day due to the narrow and winding nature of the road. So we opted for the hike. With a vertical change of 800' it was challenging eventhough it was paved. It offered great views along the way. From the summit you could see in all directions. We could even see Chimney Rock which was about 25 miles away. On the way back down we found it easier just to run the trail due to the steep grade. The only problem was slowing down on the turns...otherwise we could've run clear off the ledge.

On the way to Fort Robinson we took a little side trip to Agate Fossil Bed Nat'l Monument. The visitor's center not only has a great collection of fossils, but a wonderful display of indian artifacts. We walked the Fossil Hills Trail, but there are no longer any fossils that we could find. The Niobrara River runs through the park. It is listed as a Wild and Scenic River. Here the river is narrow, but it provides enough water to create a lush, green valley in an otherwise brown prairie.
Fort Robinson State Park is very large with lots of activities for guests: tubing or kayaking the White River, horse-back riding, wagon rides, hiking and mountain biking trails, a rodeo, a playhouse, two museums, and more. There's a pasture for a herd of bison and a field that the long-horn steer share with pronghorn antelopes. The fort has held many roles over the years including Red Cloud Indian Agency, equestrian training center, war dogs training center, a German POW camp, and other uses. A fascinating history and a pretty location with a line of bluffs on the northern end of the park.
Taking a drive one afternoon we actually saw (what I believe were) some young bighorn sheep. I was very excited, but I'm still waiting for the day to see a ram with a fully-curled set of horns.
Pronghorns are one of the most beautiful animals, in my mind. The coloring, pattern, and those dark eyes. And they appear so delicate. Pronghorns are the fastest mammal in North America, topping speeds of 60mph.
We took a day-trip to Toadstool Geological Park. This geological wonder was created by layers of clay and ash which has eroded over the years into these fantastical shapes. It felt like we were dropped on the moon.

While we were at Fort Robinson we realized that the Sturgis Bike Rally was going on the same time we were expecting to reach the Badlands. Although we were only 50 miles or so from South Dakota, and we have several friends who ride Harleys (we still love ya Gail/Merle/Rod), we really, really didn't want to be there at that time. So we began considering Voyageurs (MN) and Apostle Islands (WI) or go west into River Country of Wyoming. But we were also worried about Andy's father, who at that time was not well and went into a hospital in PA. We decided it was more important for us to be near a major airport, so we turned around and headed back to Denver. This time we chose to stay in Golden, CO putting as close to the airport as possible.