Friday, September 30, 2005

Heading to the Badlands

After trying to catch up on the blog and posting all those entries it seems like we've done so much here in the Black Hills. Yet at the same time, there is so much left undone. It's a great area with lots to do. Who knows, maybe we'll stop here again some day.

But it's time to move on. We're heading northeast now for the Badlands. We'll be there for a couple of days, then....Well, we're not entirely sure where. A lot of the attractions and campgrounds up here are starting to close for the winter. October 1st seems to be the big 'shut-down' day.

We'll let you know our plan once we devise one!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Custer, SD - Centennial and Mickelson Trails

Well, today we attempted to bike a portion of the Centennial Trail which is a 111-mile trail that starts at Bear Butte State Park in the north and winds south all the way to Wind Cave N.P.. We knew we weren’t permitted to take our bikes on the trail in Wind Cave, but in Custer State Park it is considered a multi-use trail (hikers, bikers, horses) and we were really looking forward to getting on a section of this trail. We finally found Badger Hole trailhead and got on the trail and headed south, deeper into Custer S.P. where there are no roads. We didn’t get too far, though. The trail was deeply rutted and too narrow for our bike pedals. It is very hard to go up hills without pedaling. So we bagged it and went back to camp to do another portion of the Mickelson Trail. We might’ve had better luck trying another portion of the trail, or we could’ve biked the interior gravel roads. But we didn’t want to spend our time searching, we wanted to ride. The sun was out and the temperature was a toasty 80 degrees. Considering we were in fleece and gloves yesterday, and this morning was in the 30’s, we were eager to enjoy this warm day!

From our campground we rode our bikes to the Mickelson trail in town. We got on around MM45 and just rode a little over 5 miles north to where we could see the Crazy Horse Monument and then turned around. This time we were luckier. It was uphill on the way out and an easy downhill coast on the way back. Along the path we came across a couple of horses near the fence in their pasture. One large paint and a chestnut foal enjoyed our petting, but then Momma Chestnut put her ears back and came stomping over and scattered everyone including us. But once she realized we didn’t do her baby any harm, she let us get a few more pets in before we left. A foal’s coat and mane is so incredibly soft (I can’t even think of anything to compare it to). The horses here and in Colorado have seemed so happy. We think it’s because they have such large pastures to roam around in and usually there are several horses together (they are very social creatures). After our bike ride, we took a rare moment to just sit at our campsite and read and enjoy the birds who came to visit.

Custer, SD - Mt Rushmore and Rapid City

On Wednesday we toured Mt. Rushmore. We were surprised by how many tour groups were there – all posing for group photos on the Grandview Terrace. Once, there were three groups posing at the same time. But the President’s Trail didn’t seem that crowded. We walked around which gave us some nice views of the monument. Plaques mentioned each of the different presidents at the prime viewing spot for that president. I think it’s a shame they never actually finished the monument the way Borglum had planned – with Washington’s jacket and Jefferson’s hand poised as if he was talking and Lincoln’s hand on his lapel. The scale model seemed to come to life with these additional features.
They say the granite is so strong here in the Black Hills that it will only erode 1 inch in every 10,000 years.
On our way to Mt. Rushmore, we saw these two mountain goats on the side of the road.

From Mt. Rushmore we headed up to Rapid City to check out the city and do some shopping. It looked like a neat little city and was very clean. We walked around Main Street and hit some of the stores on the highway coming in. Unfortunately we didn’t have more time to do some of the tourist attractions in the area. Maybe we’ll find time when we’re passing through again.

Custer, SD - Hike to Harney Peak

The trailhead for the Harney Peak Trail started at pretty Sylvan Lake. It was 3.8 miles to the summit which is also where a historic fire tower is located. This fire tower was built by the CCC in 1939 and was in service until 1967. It is made of stone and is a handsome building with a stunning 360-degree view. From here you can supposedly see 4 states. It was a clear day and we could see for many miles. I’m assuming we saw 4 states! The trail up was steep and very pretty as it wandered through ponderosa pines, firs, aspens and birches. We could hear birds, even if we couldn’t see them all. Occasionally we could zero in a woodpecker because of the rat-a-tat-tat on an old tree. It was very quiet and peaceful until we reached the fire tower. At the tower, it appeared a tour bus had just dropped off a bunch of chattering tourists. But we knew it was a popular hike, and if we can avoid that kind of noise on the trail itself, we’re happy. We ate lunch at the summit and had to resist feeding the “lil’ beggars” – chipmunks…adorable (almost irresistible) and absolutely ballsy in their attempts to scarf up food. If you turn your back on them they’ll eat a hole through your pack if they suspect a free lunch. On the way back down we decided to take a different trail to make it a loop. Our guess is the way home was probably closer to 5 miles (mileage on signs and maps didn’t match). USFS Trail #3 led to Trail #4 which took us near the Cathedral Spires. These pointy granite spires do resemble the spires you would see on the top of an old cathedral. We saw rock climbers scaling the spires. The granite boulders are fun for scrambling and are about as close to rock-climbing as we can get. The rock is course enough so it’s not slippery and bumpy enough to give you lots of handholds. There are also locks of cracks and crevices for your feet. We would scramble up boulders to get better views of the surrounding areas. And just to have fun. I had to drag Andy away from this area to keep heading down the trail. About half way down, we had the option to take a spur trail to Little Devil’s Tower. We started to worry about the clouds, the time, and our tired legs, but we figured “oh, it’s onnnnllly 0.6 miles each way. So, why not?” Well, considering it was practically straight up and took us ½ hour to walk up 0.6 miles, would’ve been a good reason why not to do it. But the view was worth it. The last part of this hike required us to scramble up boulders, some with shiny pink granite stripes, to get to the summit. We could see the Fire Tower, the town of Custer, the backside of Mt Rushmore, and on and on. The hike down from Little Devil’s Tower was painful for the knees and toes, but didn’t take us as long. This hike rated as one of our favorites for the scenery along the whole route. But what a day…especially for being our first hike in three weeks.

Custer, SD - Mickelson Trail

The George Mickelson Trail
This 109-mile Rail-to-Trail cuts north-south through the Black Hills from the town of Deadwood all the way south to Edgemont. Nah, we didn’t bike the whole thing, just a 10-mile stretch out-and-back. It was my first “active” day since the surgery. It was a great ride. The path was crushed gravel and traveled over 12 trestle bridges, through three tunnels, and past one ghost town (Mystic) – just in the 10-mile section we did. Our only mistake was starting at MM70 because the first 5 miles going north was all downhill…so you know what that means? Yep…one tough, long, uphill push for the last 5 miles on the return trip.

Custer, SD - Jewels, Needles, & Wildlife

Jewel Cave
Even though September is a great time to tour the busy parks, one of the downfalls is that there are usually less services. At both Wind Cave and Jewel Cave this meant one kind of tour being offered. Normally there are about 5 different tours, not to mention the wild tours. Not so in September. But we enjoyed Jewel Cave. The group was smaller (30 vs 40 people at Wind Cave), and may I remind you that I get claustrophobic in a crowd, not a cave. So these big tours weren’t really our thing. One thing we should’ve done differently was bring our own flashlights – you can see a lot more detail in the formations with your own light. We just hung around the family in front of us who had their own lights. The most common formation was Nailhead. These knobby looking crystals covered the ceilings and walls. Some areas of the cave are wet creating the normal formations: stalactites, stalagmites, cave popcorn, and cave bacon, etc. Here's a picture of a 20 foot long cave bacon.

Needles Highway (Hwy 87)
Needles Highway is just one of several scenic drives in the Black Hills. Our first stop on the loop was Sylvan Lake, a pretty little lake with huge boulders bordering the backside. A short trail takes you around the lake and over some of these boulders. Fog was encroaching over the rocky outcroppings and mist was rolling over the lake. Back on the highway we drove through rock tunnels and past granite spires with names like Needles Eye, Cathedral Spires and Little Devil’s Tower. We still don’t know if Black Hills got its name because of all the dark granite outcroppings or because the hills look black from the thick Ponderosa Pine forest that covers the hills. Both provide a great contrast to the yellow and gold of the aspens and birches, though. On the way home we were even lucky enough to spot a Great Horned Owl sitting on a snag at the edge of the forest.

Custer State Park – Wildlife Loop Road
As the name states, you should see lots of wildlife on this scenic drive. We must’ve picked a bad day. It was chilly and foggy at the higher elevations of the drive. For the first several miles we didn’t see anything. Then we saw a few deer, then later a herd of bison in the distance, but what made it all worth it was seeing pronghorns – and one was right next to the road which is unusual. They normally stay pretty far away from the roads and people.

Custer, SD - Crazy Horse Memorial

Custer, SD
We moved further up into the Black Hills and stayed in the town of Custer for its convenience to many of the attractions. Custer is close to Crazy Horse Memorial, Jewel Cave, Mt Rushmore, Custer State Park, and many hiking and biking trails.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Our first stop after setting up camp was at Crazy Horse. The visitor’s center and museum there is very in-depth: history on the Lakota Indian tribes, the sculptor they hired, the sculpting process and there were tables set up with Indian craftsman selling their wares. We spent about 3 hours touring the facility. The sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, started sculpting the memorial from a request by the Lakota elders to build a memorial to show “the red man as heroes as well”. Korczak started carving in 1948 all by himself. He used a compressor named Buda with 2,000 feet of hose to start jack hammering the granite outcropping. Buda wasn’t very reliable and would quit on him sometimes before he even walked to the top and got started. One day he had to go up and down 9 times to restart the compressor. How he must’ve dreaded hearing those sounds: “kaputta, kaputta, kaput”. Luckily for Korczak, he met his wife and had ten kids. Now 7 of those children and his wife are continuing his legacy. Crazy Horse is a private non-profit, not accepting any federal funding so they can create the facility without any outside influences. And it is a top-notch facility. Oh, did I say just how large this monument is?? It’s huge. Crazy Horse’s head alone is 87 1/2’ tall and the horse’s head will be 219’ tall. For comparison, Mt Rushmore is 60’ high.

We were given a re-admittance pass to come back for the night-time laser show, but it took us three nights before the rain would allow us to return. I expected just your standard-fare laser show, but this was really good. The pre-show included different colored lights shown on the monument. The laser show actually covered the history and meaning of the monument. History of the Lakota Indians, Crazy Horse, the request for Korczak’s work, progress of the sculpting, etc. It was 30 minutes long and was definitely worth pulling out our winter gear (hats, coats, gloves) to watch. But even with the damp cold the sky was crystal clear (previous days were blanketed in fog) with so many stars that felt within reach and even the milky way was visible. It was a very beautiful night. In So. Florida it’s easy to forget stars even exist for all of the city lights blocking our view.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hot Springs, SD

Mammoth Site
This place is an archeological wonder. So far, they have found over 100 mammoth skeletons from both the Wooly Mammoth and Columbian Mammoth. Apparently, it used to be a sinkhole that filled up with water and, being in Hot Springs, the water was a year-round 92 degrees. So grass grew on its banks year-round and the water never froze. Lots of animals were drawn to this site for water and food. But the poor, ungainly mammoths couldn’t climb out of the sinkhole if they slipped in while trying to drink or eat. Ironically, all of the skeletons so far are males – still trying to decide if that’s due to more courage at the sinkhole or less intelligence. Girls, ya wanna vote?

Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary
This non-profit sanctuary is an 11,000-acre ranch for unadoptable wild horses. They currently have over 400 horses. It started when the owner, David O. Hyde, saw starving wild horses at an unethical feed lot and decided they deserved better. The sanctuary survives off of private donations, receipts from guided tours, and the sale of foals. Many of the foals we saw were already sold, but just waiting to be weaned and transferred. Not only do these sales provide necessary income, but it also provides space for the sanctuary to keep taking in new horses. We went on a guided tour with Bob in a little Blue Bus. Bob drove us around the sanctuary for views of the grounds and discussed the background of the sanctuary and local botany. But when he found a herd, he took us on the “country roads” – which meant straight out into the pasture, no road, no trail – we had to hang on to our bus seats to keep from bouncing out into the aisle. Bob was a little crazy. He literally drove us into the middle of the herd for our close-up photo ops. There were even a couple of horses who he knew would let us touch them. Most would walk or run away if you entered into their personal space. But, wow, it was great standing in the middle of all of these beautiful creatures. Even with burrs stuck in their manes, or cactus branches stuck to their sides, and the stallions even had bite marks from fights. They’re wild.
The stallion on the right was one of my favorites!
Several groups of horses were curious, and would just walk up and watch us.

The property has been in several movies. One was “Crazy Horse”. The set Hollywood built to look like Ft Robinson is still on the grounds. The other movie was “Hidalgo”. Apparently the first 8 minutes of the movie are on sanctuary grounds. Mr. Hyde is only the second owner for this land. The first owners were true homesteaders. We were shown the cave they lived in for the first 7 months they homesteaded. And in that same rocky outcropping are petroglyphs carbon-dated 2,000 years old. And presently, Lakota Indians hold their Sundance ceremonies there on the property.

Wind Cave Nat’l Park
Wind Cave is popular for its above ground attractions as well as those below ground. On the surface there are rolling hills dotted with bison, deer and prairie dogs. The bison are growing their thick winter coats (whereas in the spring it is dripping off) and even their horns appear to be thicker and larger. But they were everywhere. WCNP is another great place to get up close and personal with these large beasts. Inside the cave, the most common formation is called Boxwork, which is extremely rare in all other caves. It’s called Boxwork because it looks like little empty cardboard boxes hanging from the ceiling. Unfortunately, when we first pulled into the park I didn’t realize that my memory card on the camera was full. So I have no pictures of the long bison parade that walked past us, within 25 feet of where we were standing, and no pictures of the Boxwork. Oh well, we all make mistakes, right? After the cave tour, we went back to the RV so I could upload my pictures and re-charge my batteries, and then we went back to WCNP (only 5 miles away from RV Park) for a sunset drive through the park.
Here a herd of buffalo are using the parking lot instead of one of the natural mineral licks.

Lingle, WY

Fort Laramie
Fort Laramie was an open fort, meaning there were no walls surrounding it. The Calvary soldiers here were friendly with the Indians for many years until one man made a poor decision which started the Indian Wars.
Some of the limestone ash buildings are disintegrating, but others have been salvaged and restored. These buildings have been furnished to recreate the scenes of yesteryear. Audio tapes are available for the self-guided tours, which we found very helpful in understanding more of the hardships these men endured while living at the fort. For example, the men used to sing a song at dinner time: “Soupy, soupy, soupy…without a single bean; coffee, coffee, coffee…without any cream…”. Needless to say this song got stuck in our heads for two days. Shoot, now I’m gonna start singing it again…
Had to share this billboard with you. Now we want to know who the 6 sore heads are!

Oregon Trail Wagon Ruts & Register Cliff
These are some of the largest ruts available along all of the trans-continental trails. The wagon wheels dug into the soft limestone rock around 3-5 feet deep in spots. Usually when we’ve seen ruts before, we’d spend about 2 seconds looking at them and move on. These were truly impressive since they were so visual.
Register Cliff is a limestone bluff with inscriptions that have been carved into them since the 1850’s when pilgrims made their way along the Oregon and California Trails. Maybe even earlier, but that was the earliest date we could find. Unfortunately hundreds of people have added their names in more recent years detracting from the historic value of this site and, in some cases, practically overwriting the old inscriptions. I’m not a fan of graffiti (ok, it makes me angry) and I know that basically the old inscriptions can be called graffiti, but to me the difference is that those individuals were making an incredible journey, enduring such great hardships, to make a new life for themselves. Even ancient petroglyphs tell us stories – about animals, hunting methods, costumes, etc. Current-day graffiti doesn’t tell a story. There’s nothing momentous about “Mary” being there in 1972. I saw a poster today that said it all: “Leaving your mark is overrated.” It had a picture of a group of aspens with names carved into the bark. Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

We're Moving Out!!

We're finally on the road again! Our goal was to leave yesterday, but then reality hit us. When you're stationary for awhile, everything seems to migrate out of the cabinets and "secured" areas and onto table tops and counters. Not to mention the layer of dust that accumulates inside and out when you're in an unpaved campground. So we spent most of the day, putting things away, cleaning, checking fluid levels and tire air pressure in both vehicles, laundry, putting our toys back in or on Ele, etc. We would've tried to wash both vehicles Monday, too, but the water pump was broken and the campground didn't have enough water until too late in the day.

In the middle of all of this, we did take one break to ride our bikes one last time to New Belgium Brewery for a tour. All this time here, and there were still activities left undone! The tour showed us that not only is New Belgium environmentally conscious, but as an employee-owned company they are very employee-oriented. Some of the fun things: gardens and picnic tables outside for lunch breaks or mental breaks; a rock-wall to expend energy; a stainless-steel circular slide that you can jump on from the second floor and end up conveniently at the time-clock with lots of speed; every one-year employee is given a fat-tire cruiser and encouraged to bike to work.

After the tour, or in our case before the tour, you can try a four-sampler platter. They have one beer category called a "pilgrimage beer", which means you have to make the pilgrimage to the brewery to drink it. It is not sold or available anywhere else. They change pilgrimage beers every 3-4 months and email customers with the update to come make the pilgrimage. An employee, not the brewmaster, gets to create this specialty beer. Very cool. So Andy was brave enough to try the Liquid Center Surprise, which has chamomile in it of all things.

Andy was also brave enough to try Lafoile. This is a sour brown ale that is aged in a 20' tall, old cabernet wine cask for 3-4 years to make it realllllly sour. The first word out of Andy's mouth was "disturbing" (after a pucker-face), but he finished it and 'didn't dislike' it at the end. Must be an acquired taste. Lafoile apparently has a huge following. But at $17 for a champaigne bottle, it's a little pricey for a bottle of beer.

Ok, we're preparing to pull up anchor here. We'll be in Ft Laramie (thanks for the recommendation Bobby - we're looking forward to this), which is in Lingle, WY. Then we'll go to Hot Springs, SD from there. We're planning on visiting Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary and Wind Cave. Then we'll go north a little ways further into Black Hills for more fun - Custer State Park, Jewel Cave, Mt Rushmore, etc. Talk to you, soon (I think)!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Rocky Mtn Sustainable Living Fair

We enjoyed our weekend at the Sustainable Living Fair. We took classes on solar energy, sustainable businesses, wellness, green building, and the like. I took advantage of two building workshops. In one I learned how to strip the bark off of pine trees in order to use the logs as roofing for an open-air shade structure. All wood was either from thinnings from a forest restoration or recycled wood. In another workshop, I helped build a wind turbine. I helped shape the blades and prepare & paint parts for final assembly. The wind turbine was auctioned off for $1,000 at the end of the fair. There were about 100 exhibit booths to visit, keynote speakers to listen to, food to eat, beer to drink, bands to hear, four classes a day, 3 weekend-long workshops, and then wellness booths including free chiropractors/accupuncturists/massage. It was too much! Too much to do for the time alloted that is. The bike valet (yes, I said Bike Valet) closed shop at 6:00pm, so we had to get our bikes and make the decision to stay and lock 'em up or head home. Usually at that point we were too exhausted to stay any longer anyhow. Two very long days for me, especially - no time for my naps and way too much talking. But it was fun and educational. Now we just have to read all the literature we picked up...

RMNP - Elk Bugling and Fall Colors

On Friday we took a drive back up through Estes Park and into Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park one more time. On this visit we were looking for two things: bugling elk and fall colors. It is rutting season for the elk. This basically means the men are looking for the babes to build their harems for mating season. Occassionally when the younger men try to hone in on another man's turf (and harem), the defending male will put on a display of machismo. Generally it's the older, healthier, more mature elk that get the harem first. They are the ones carrying the larger set of antlers. So chasing the younger ones away appears to be easy for them. In the process they make a sound referred to as "bugling". It sounds more high-pitched, though, almost like a whistle with some barks in the beginning and end. Bugling is used to attract the females and intimidate the other males in the area. We did get lucky. Near the top of Old Fall River Road we found a herd. One large male was just chased off and he was bugling for quite awhile. He looked strong and had a nice set of antlers. I told Andy that I'd go with him (if I was of the elk-species). See...isn't he a beauty! The color of their coats had changed since our last visit - their backs are lightening up for the winter. Then as we were leaving the park, we stopped at the visitor's center, to return a pair of glasses we found, and right there at the VC was another small herd. The dominant male was busy chasing away two young rogues (with barely any antlers at all). Then, to show that he was serious, he started thrashing a bush nearby. I think it was to impress them with his antlers (6 points). Quite a great display (I tried to get a video of him, but by the time I thought of it, he finished his show). We did get lucky to see the show, though!

For a new route, we drove up to the Alpine Visitor's Center via Old Fall River Road. This was the original route the buggies took to travel through the park back in the 20's. It is one-way, dirt, and 9-miles long. As you can imagine: sheer drop-offs, very narrow, very winding. Which is why they built the new, faster Trail Ridge Road that most of the traffic uses. But a gorgeous drive with views of a different valley. Along this road we started to see some of the aspens turning to gold. It had snowed up here in the park just a few days ago, shutting down Trail Ridge Road for the day. But no snow was left on the ground (except near the peaks where the glaciers or icefields still hung in). The sky was clear, the air was crisp, and with the gold splattering the hillsides it truly gave the essence of fall.
At the Alpine VC, we took a short hike to the 12,005 summit. You can't help but feel "on top of the world" in a place like this. A 360-degree view. Just makes you want to throw out your arms, throw back your head, spin in a circle, and take it all in.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

My RV Blender

I just had to share this with you. I got a new blender to help with my soft-diet requirements, and it has been great. The carafe turns upside-down to become the drinking mug. It even has a travel lid. A great idea for RVers, since it is smaller than a normal blender, or anyone who likes smoothies with little clean-up! It's made by Back to Basics, and I bought it at Kohl's.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

So Far So Good

Had my one week post-op appt with Dr. Raj today. He was happy with how I'm healing and gave us the go-ahead to get back on the road. We'll need to be back in five weeks for my next follow-up.

We're making plans to head out on Monday to South Dakota. We'll tour the Black Hills area and Badlands. Devil's Tower and Roosevelt NP are on a "wait and see" plan. Depends on weather and time.

We're waiting til Monday because there's a Sustainable Living Fair this weekend at New Belgium brewery here in Ft. Collins. Workshops and exhibits on everything we want to learn more about: wind power, solar power, green building, etc. We decided it was worth postponing our traveling to check it out. And, of course, there'll be a Beer Garden!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Katrina's Dogs

My girlfriend, Melissa, is a huge advocate of dogs (& cats). She runs two companies Animal Matters and Mutt, Inc that helps to rescue mistreated dogs, organizes foster homes for these animals, helps them to get adopted, and promotes spaying & neutering, just to mention a few of her responsibilities. So I wasn't that surprised when her and another cohort took a Uhaul to Tallahasssee to rescue some of the dogs left behind in the wake of Katrina.

On the way north, their Uhaul was filled with emergency supplies to leave in the area and on the way south they brought back 24 dogs who were legally surrendered by the victims. These 24 dogs are free and clear for take a look at this page to see if you fall in love with one (or more) of them! Or, if you have been wanting to make a donation to the victims of Katrina, I'm sure the previous owners would be happy knowing their pets were cared for, housed, bathed, and fed. RRH is accepting donations to help feed these dogs while they are being adopted out, go to their homepage for more info.

I personally like Foxy Cleopatra (her coloring is so unique) and 3-mos old Oliver is a cutie and...oh well it's either Andy or a dog...tough decisions...I am having a hard time, though, imagining who in South Florida will adopt the Coondog. A Coondog on SoBe; A Coondog in a Pompano Beach Condo; but I am confident that Melissa and Jamie will find the right home for him! Good Luck guys!

I'm so proud of you Melissa!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

September 11th

Today is a doubly-difficult day...

This year's birthday celebration is a hard one. Ace and Mom share a birthday, making today a difficult day since he isn't here with us. We're sure he's watching over us, though, to try and keep the sadness away. Today is a day to remember the wonderful moments we've shared, and to look forward to many more birthdays to come and new memories to create.
Happy Birthday Mom!

Also, in memory of Laura Lee DeFazio Morabito...the Beach Girls will always remember you and may the memory of your contagious laughter always bring a smile to my face.

New Friends

We were fortunate to make friends here during our long stay at Heron Lake RV Park. Below are Dave, Marilyn, Roger, and Chris with Jordan sitting on the ground.

We first met Dave and Marilyn because they were parked nearby with their Toad, a Honda Element, which was our conversation starter. They also carry two bikes inside their Element, but Dave's home-built bike rack is a little more sophisticated than ours! Chris, Marilyn's sister, and Roger came a little later to visit during the Labor Day weekend and stayed in the site next door to us.

One day, Dave rented a recumbent bike to try it out. Here's Marilyn and Dave trying to help Andy on his test drive:

It cracked me up to see them holding Andy's bike, like he was a little kid just learning to ride without his training wheels!

We enjoyed chatting with them, and the place feels so empty and lonely now that they have both moved on. Hope to see you all again down the road! Thanks again for your kindness regarding my surgery!


Surgery went well. It only took two hours. Dr. Terkonda removed 8 screws, 2 plates, and one implant. All from the right side of my face. Now I'll only set off half of the airport alarms I used to. During surgery he found that the cyst-like growth on the outside of my cheek was 'connected', so he removed that as well. Now the running joke between Andy and my sister, Karen, is that I no longer have a screw loose, but now I have a hole in my head. Isn't it wonderful to have such loving support when you're miles away from home? In all seriousness, I do have to thank everyone for your phone calls and emails showing your love and support. It has truly helped make the miles disappear between us. Here's a picture of the beautiful sunflowers we received from Bobby, Nancy, and family (we loved the fact that even four-legged Trixie was on the card!)...this was the first delivery we ever received at our RV. Normally it would be quite hard to track us down since we're usually on the move. We have missed having fresh-cut flowers in our home.

All in all, the hospital stay was as pleasant as one could be. Longmont United Hospital was built on the Planetree Model which puts the patient first. They encourage family members to stay to help speed recovery. Ironically enough I ended up spending the night in the pediatric ward, because the rest of the hospital beds were full. So much for the room with the mountain view I requested. I told the nurses it was fine considering neither Andy nor I have grown up yet. The room was cheery and we got large water bottles with butterfly and balloon stickers plastered on them. All of the rooms are private with private baths, a T/V with VCR, and Andy had a chair that pulled out into a bed so he could comfortably spend the night. The nurse gave me a backrub before bed; during the night the nurses use flashlights to do their check-ins (they didn't turn on any overhead lights); I could order meals when I wanted and off of a menu; and a volunteer came around during the day with Hepsi, a Therapy Dog. Those are just a few of the things that stood out that made the experience a little more bearable.

I also have to say that my squeemish husband was a real trooper. He stuck around when Dr. Terkonda changed my bandages, he looked at the pictures of the hardware that was removed, and he even held The Bucket for me. After 15 years, he still surprises me! It must be why I love him more and more every day. Note to The Boys: Sorry to be mushy, I know you guys don't like it, but get over it! Ha!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Quick Update on "The Face"

Just a quick update on my face: surgery has been rescheduled for this Thursday, Sept 8th. I'm putting a lot of trust in my surgeon, since it is now "exploratory". He's going in (through the mouth) with the hope of finding loose screws or plates. He'll remove any hardware that is easy to remove. He'll investigate the implant, which we now have learned is an "infraorbital" implant not a "cheek" implant. This places it above the cheek, and below the eye. If he has to remove the implant, he may choose to go through the eyelid. If aesthetically necessary, he'll remove the left one as well. I'm expecting to be black and blue and swollen for awhile (so that means, no close-ups of me will be posted on the blog for some time) and confined to "quiet time" for one week.

I may have to teach Andy how to post to the blog (finally!) so he can keep you informed of his travels and the fun he says he's going to have without me. Little does he know, it is quite lonely hiking and playing by oneself - I learned that on my solo week.

I'm thinking that doing it on the 8th will be good luck since it's my girlfriend's birthday....HAPPY BIRTHDAY JENNIFER!!!

Ft Collins - Greyrock Trail

On Sunday we hiked the popular Greyrock Trail. This trail is also in the Roosevelt Forest and the trailhead is off of Hwy 14 in the Poudre Canyon. We were nervous that it might be packed, being Labor Day Weekend, but fortunately it wasn't that bad. The loop we took was 7.25 miles, with an elevation change of over 2,000 feet, and somehow it took us 6 hours to do this hike. That's pretty slow, even for us! But it was so beautiful along the way with so many scenic overlooks, I think we stopped more than usual. We ascended via the Summit Trail which is 2.2 miles and is considered the "steeper" route. The hike through a pine forest opened up to rocky outcroppings and large boulders the higher we ascended. View along this portion were to the mountains in the west. When we reached a plateau, our goal of summiting "Greyrock" became quite apparent. From this point, the 3/4 mile trail was a scramble up the rock to the tippy-top of that large grey mass behind me. It was hard to keep track of the trail itself (since the USFS probably only used 4 posts to mark the way). Cairns, small stacks of rocks, helped mark the trails that others have used before us. But it didn't really matter, as long as you continued heading straight up, and not over the south-side which was a sheer drop.
The views were spectacular. Here's the view looking east - you can see the foothills and in the distance the city of Ft Collins. Also, notice the tree growing out of the rock? It still amazes me that trees can grow with so little dirt or water.
Another wonderful surprise was to see this large pond on the top of Greyrock. It was beautiful up here. There was even a grassy meadow in another area we hiked through. If you look at this picture, note where I highlighted other hikers... that's the summit we eventually made it to. From there we could see 360 degrees. Unfortunately, it started to drizzle while we were approaching the summit. And since we were warned that the rocks became very slick when wet, we took our lunch break behind some rocks and waited for it to stop. When it stopped, we quickly scurried up to take in the views than quickly hurried down when the thunder started. It rained almost the rest of the hike down. We were just happy we made it to the summit and down off Greyrock before it started raining too hard. On the way back, we took the longer Meadows Trail. Part of this trial took us through a burned-out area. It's hard to explain what it feels like to walk thru an area that is charred - spooky, like walking through a cemetary at night, there's a sense that you should pass through quietly and respectfully or you'll disturb the dead. It's probably just my imagination, but I have a tendency to think about the terror that must exist when a fire sweeps through...all the little critters who can't get out of its way in time.
The Meadows Trail was suppossed to be the less challenging route, but we didn't think it was any easier than if we took the Summit Trail back down. Our quads and knees were so sore at the end of the trip. We had our hiking poles with us, which we do believe help give our knees a break, but even then we were hurting. But it was another beautiful Colorado hike that we would recommend.

Ft Collins - Coyote Ridge

On Thursday, while in Longmont for a Doctor's appointment, we dropped off our bikes for servicing. First time since we bought them that we had them professionally maintainenced. And, boy, did they need it.

So Saturday we wanted to get back on them and go for a ride. We had seen signs for Coyote Ridge and decided to check it out. Ft Collins (and surrounding cities) has a lot of "Open Spaces" preserved. Generally speaking, it's space the city buys and keeps as is. They may put one or two trails for hikers or bikers, but otherwise it is intended to be left in its natural state. They are pockets of prairies or grasslands for the rabbits, prairie dogs, birds, and even larger mammals to always have available to them. The trail for Coyote Ridge is in one such open space. The trail from parking lot to top of ridge was only about two miles, but the last mile went up, up, up a loose-rock path. It was slow going and, in the dry air, you're throat burns from the breathing effort. Andy made it all the way up without walking, but unfortunately I got stuck twice and couldn't get started again on the steep slope because of the gravel and loose rock. So I had to walk a bit till the slope leveled slightly so my wheels could get a grip on something. Making it to the top was a real accomplishment for us flatlanders. We rode the ridge a little ways, stopped and enjoyed the views, and considered the connecting trail down into Rimrock Open Space. If we had gotten an earlier start (we are now in midday heat), we probably would've done it, even though that would've meant going down the other side of the ridge into a valley, following a loop trail that would bring us back up the ridge for another vertical climb. At this point, we were already eager for the downhill ride. Yee ha! It was a fast downhill ride. No pedalling required. Just brakes for control. Had to stand up, out of the seat, because of all of the rocks. After that fun ride, I thought about riding back up the hill just to go down again!

Later that night we took our new MP3 players out for a run. What a difference it to distract you and no extra weight to lug around. Should've made this purchase a long time ago. Oh well, we're cheap!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ft Collins - Cherokee Park

On another recommendation we went to Cherokee Park in the Arapahoe/Roosevelt Nat'l Forest. Another beautiful hike. It's nice when we can get recommendations from people, then you're sure to find some of the most beautiful spots. To get there we drove to MM16 on unpaved 80C. The first mile of the hike was desert bushes and toadstool rocks. Then we hiked about a mile following the North Fork of the Poudre ("pooder") River. Sometimes along or through the river, other times the trail ran through a pine forest. Andy just loves jumping on rocks in rivers, which happens to be one of my unfounded paralyzing fears. So, here he is jumping around, having fun. At least he is a good sport about my fear. He always adds rocks to any stream crossing to make it easier for me. He usually splashes me in the process but I still appreciate the added rocks. When we met with the second river crossing, we just couldn't find the path or a dry place to cross. We were so content with the setting, we just sat in the shade of some pines on the river's edge and enjoyed the peace and quiet. We quickly forgot to look any further for the trail.

On a drive between Longmont and Ft Collins we saw our first forest fire. We could see the smoke moving up the slope of the foothills just north of Boulder. The smoke settled into the valleys between each ridgeline creating a surreal site and turning the clouds a pinkish coloring well before sunset.

New Belgium Microbrewery (makers of Fat Tire) is hosting Bike-In Movie Nights every Thursday night for six weeks. Proceeds go to ArtsAlive! here in Ft Collins. It's $2 to get in for the movie, and beers are $2 each...and they have some gooood beers! Last night was our second night biking in. It's great fun...we biked downtown via the bike path, watched a movie on a blow-up screen, sitting outside under the stars in cool weather. It doesn't matter what the movie is because the setting just makes it fun. It's also great to see how big of a crowd these types of events draw. Both nights were packed by the start of the movie (cartoons - good ole Bugs, Elmer, and gang - kept the crowd quiet while people set up their chairs and blankets). I do recommend having headlights and taillights to get there and back safely! Last night on the bike ride in we saw a beautiful fox cross the path in front of us. We had heard that there are a number of them in the city, but this was our first sighting. Quite larger than I expected one to be.
On a side note: Check out their Sustainability page. Colorado is very progressive on Green Buildings and recycling. I thought New Belgium was impressive when I heard the plastic cups used at these Movie Nights were made of cornstarch...which will biodegrade in about one week. Good news for our landfills! Support their efforts - drink more New Belgium beer :)