Friday, October 28, 2005

A Colorado Mile

Someone needs to tell Colorado that a mile is 5,280 feet long!

We swear when we are hiking here in Colorado that their mile markers are way wrong. There are times when a 0.3 mile trail FEELS like a mile. I know it's the elevation and the elevation change that insults our pride so much, but sometimes it amazes us how challenging a short hike in Colorado can be.

I just don't know how the locals can run the Pikes Peak Marathon, run the mountain trails, bike these mountain roads, and do all of the things that they do. I'm impressed and awed.

Colorado Springs - Fossils and Mountains

We drove about 35 miles west yesterday to visit Florissant Fossil Beds Nat'l Monument. This area used to be a large lake. So there were fossils of insects and plants that were preserved in the muck of the old lake. Unfortunately all of the fossils we saw were in the Visitor Center. What was surprising was to see the petrified tree stumps of Redwoods that were spread out along several trails. Surprising evidence that there used to be a Redwood forest in Colorado.

There was also an old homestead here in the park. Adeline Hornbeck and her four children. It was rare for a woman to be able to receive approval for homestead and it was rare for a homestead home to be built as large as hers. Four buildings and the root cellar were on-site.

Florissant is at 8,200' elevation. It was quite chilly (in the 50's but bitter), so we opted out of hiking more trails here. Instead we drove to Mueller State Park (which was 9,600'). Half of this park was closed for the winter. I hope I've mentioned that a lot of places close in the winter: shops, campgrounds, hotels, attractions, etc. Or, if they don't close, they reduce their services. And in the parks, hunting season is beginning so some areas are off-limits. We hiked one loop trail in the State Park, with a couple of spur trails to overlooks. A beautiful park with aspens, scrub oaks, firs, and pines and great views of Pikes Peak and the Rockies. This would be a great park to camp (campground available, sites looked very nice) and explore. On the ridges and overlooks we were freezing with the wind nipping our noses, but on the uphill treks in the forest we got pretty heated from the exertion. Still hard for us to get used to the "take it off, put it on, off, on, off, on" method of hiking out here in the West.

Did you ever get the feeling you were being watched while you were hiking? I used to think it was the stealthy mountain lion, but now I realize it's because the Aspens have eyes! Ha! It appears that when the older branches fall off, it leaves these marks that look like eyes. Eerie, especially when you look into an aspen grove and see fifty "eyes" staring back at you. But, at least I know an aspen won't eat me for lunch.

Colorado Springs - N. Cheyenne Canon Park

This pretty little regional park offers lots of hiking and biking trails. As the name states, it's in a canyon so most trails go "up". We hiked to the top of Mt Cutler. It was a short trail, only 1.1 miles each way. But the views of Colorado Springs, the canyon, and Seven Falls made it a pretty little trail. Lots of trees and pink granite boulders.

After that hike, we drove further into the canyon and stopped to see both the Helen Hunt (not the actress from Twister-fame) Falls and Silver Cascade Falls.

From there we continued the drive out of the canyon via Gold Camp Road. Several miles of this road are dirt and although it is two-way traffic, it is basically a one-lane road. It used to be an old rail line converted into a road. Now here's the neat thing - it was the old Shortline Rail - you know it from Monopoly! Cool, huh? There were two tunnels to drive through, and several of the outside corners were blown out of the rock to create the space for the rail line. It reminded me of the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Train we took last year.

Colorado Springs - Air Force Academy

Unfortunately, the AFA restricts the areas which the public can view. We were allowed in the Visitor Center, the Chapel, and the Hall of Fame. The Visitor Center provided lots of information on the life and schooling of the cadets. It was very interesting, although quite promotional - Andy decided to enroll after watching the video. The Chapel is very interesting. There are three separate chapels within the one structure: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish. The Chapel is made with 17 spires, and over 100 tetradrons to give it it's unique styling.

The Protestant Chapel (on the upper/2nd level) is very elaborate. It has one of the largest pipe-organs. The ends of the pews are shaped like old propellers, and the backs of the pews are tipped like plane wings. The ceiling is vaulted with strips of stained glass windows.

The Catholic and Jewish Chapels share the first floor. We couldn't go in the Jewish Chapel because of a special tour. The Catholic Chapel had the Stations of the Cross built into walls of stained glass windows which made the wooden pews just glow with colors. The rear wall of the altar was designed with colored tiles and two angels.

We had wanted to watch the cadets perform their aerial exercises, but that section of the Academy was closed to the public (unless you had a AFA or DOD badge). But you could see some of the planes from I-25. They have a "soaring" program. All of the cadets have to fly these 2-person gliders. Would've loved to have seen that from close-up. Hey Nick! Maybe some day you can give your Aunt and Uncle a tour? And I'm still waiting on my flight on a fighter plane, don't forget!

Colorado Springs - Pikes Peak Hwy

It was a hard decision: drive up Pikes Peak Hwy or take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the summit. Since the Cog's regular service stopped this past Sunday, and we thought we would want to stop at several points along the way, we decided to drive. It's a 19-mile long road. Only about half of it is dirt. The first 10 miles is not difficult at all. You drive through forests and it's a gradual incline. But you could see the switchbacks in the distance, so you could imagine how the road was apt to change.

Then it got fun! Once we were above treeline, the road generally had some steep dropoffs, switchbacks, and no guardrails, of course.

There were fabulous views near the summit. It is something to see a line of snow-capped mountains running north to south as far as the eye could see. The Rocky Mountains are dramatic.

Pikes Peak is one of Colorado's 53 fourteeners. And it's only the 31st highest at 14,110'. Mt. Elbert is the highest at 14,433', so actually they are all very close in size to eachother.

The Summit House, the cafe at the Summit, has these 'world-famous' doughnuts. We tried some, they are crunchy and on the greasy side. And, one each filled us up for hours. This poor guy, who raided the trash bags in the back of a worker's pickup truck, doesn't know what he's in for!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wilma Update

We spoke with our upstairs neighbor, John, last night and learned what it would've been like experiencing Wilma firsthand. Since most of our windows and 2 sets of sliding glass doors face west, he saw mostly sheets of water and heard the rattling of the wind-whipped sliders. Out of our south-facing bedroom window he was able to watch the debris fly by. What was most unnerving, he said, was when he woke up Monday morning and got out of bed. When he reached the dining room and saw the swinging chandelier it confirmed what he had felt - a swaying building. Our building is constructed with a cable system, and it is supposed to sway in high winds, but I'm not sure if I have the constitution to be on the 17th floor (and in John's case the 18th) when the building is dancing like that.

John told us to expect a different place upon our return since most of the landscaping is gone. From West Broward to the city many trees have come down. This is the second year in a row now that we've lost trees due to hurricanes. It's very sad.

Hundreds of thousands are still without power in both Broward and PBC. But we're hoping we'll hear from more friends soon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wicked Wilma

Well, as you probably already know, Wilma thrashed downtown Ft Lauderdale. So far, we've gotten most of our information online from Sun Sentinel, our local newspaper. It's been hard for us reading about all of the damage to buildings we know are within blocks of our new home: the financial district, the hospital, the Bank of America building, shops on Las Olas, etc. The other bad thing is that we were able to confirm with a friend today that these reports are true. It's such a mess right now, our laid-back friend, Glenn is thinking of leaving the area for a few days, if he can leave.

It seems that even the newer buildings (built after Andrew in 1992) lost windows and suffered other damage. Speculation is that gravel rocks from roofing surfaces of older buildings became flying debris (think shotgun bullets) and that there might have been a "tunneling" effect from the winds ripping between all the high rises.

The Good News: we spoke with our Condo Management Office today and were told that our building remains unscathed! They even had power back on, so the elevators were running. I guess this is a benefit for being near the financial and government districts, considering 97% of the county is still without power. Our condo residents are still waiting for water, though.

But we are still anxious to reach our friends. We weren't able to reach many today. Even contacting Glenn took quite some time ("circuits were busy") and there was poor reception. So, if our Kayuba friends and Boca ex-neighbors and friends read this...please let us know if you are ok when you get a chance. Phone or email. We're thinking of you.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Colorado Springs - Garden of the Gods

After Red Rocks Canyon (and lunch), we rode our bikes back to Garden of the Gods this afternoon. It wasn't as crowded today, so we could walk some of the trails looping close to the rocks.
There are some interesting formations in the park: windows, baby arches, holes in the sides of the rocks (small caves), spires, etc. In this area there were warnings about the potential of falling boulders. We think we found some candidates...

The Balanced Rock formation is very popular with visitors. There are only 2 small sections of eroding grey sandstone that is still holding this boulder up. And I just love the coloring of the rock in this area. It's primarily red sandstone with purple and grey lines that run throughout it. Beautiful. Reminds me of Zion.

We did get on the mountain bike trails today. They were fun since they were a smooth surface with few rocks in the trails. The only problem was knowing which trail we were on (yes, again). We wanted to find a connector trail that would deliver us right into a neighborhood to get back to the campground, but we lost the trail around some big boulders. Perhaps we were supposed to bike down the boulders like in Moab? Not sure. We ended up back onto Ridge Road and went home that way...which is a fabulously fun fast ride down. It's just a shame there's that stop sign and a hard right turn at the bottom of the hill.

Colorado Springs - Red Rock Canyon Open Space

This open space was once a quarry. Now it preserves the red rocks and the natural area surrounding it. Several trails criss-cross through this area, some taking you through the old quarry itself and several of the buildings. We didn't have a map with trail names on it, so it was kind of a guessing game to see if we could make it back to the car by lunch. Especially since they had completed several trails that appeared on our map as "proposed". Would've been a good area to bike as well. If you look closely at the picture here on your right, you can see Andy sitting at the top of this jutting red rock.

And, here's Pikes Peak in the background again. You just have to laugh at the fact that they named this peak after the man who COULDN'T climb it!

Colorado Springs - Olympic Training Complex

Sunday was another cold and wet day. We had planned on taking the cog railway up Pikes Peak, but we were just fogged in. So we toured downtown and visited the Olympic Training Complex. Unfortunately Sundays are limited to self-guided tours with no access to the buildings. Oh well, if we come back, we'll do a full tour next time. Just visiting the center gets you into the spirit of the Olympics. They offer information on all the medal-winners of years past and on all of the different sports. You also learn about the current athletes-in-residence - these are the athletes currently living at the complex in Colorado Springs and training there. We were able to peek into the windows for the pool. We've never seen a swimming pool look so intimidating - it looked like it was a mile long!

Well, get ready for the next Winter Olympics! Coming soon in Torino, Italy.

Colorado Springs - Garden of the Gods

Saturday we said "goodbye" to Golden and started our trek south. Ok, so we didn't go very far. We stopped about 1 1/2 hours south of Denver to spend a week here in Colorado Springs. So we'll be touring such places as Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, the Royal Gorge, and more.

Since it was a short trip, we had time to get on our bikes and ride into Garden of the Gods. It was a little crowded, being a weekend, but it was late afternoon and the light made the red rocks glow. The Garden of the Gods is a park that showcases a series of red rocks that appear to be erupting out of the ground. These rocks are referred to as the "Ancestral Rockies" and are over 300 million years old. We rode our bikes along the bike lane on the loop road. The road is like a roller-coaster with it's big uphills and downhills. Love the downhills; so-so on those uphills. Actually, the challenge is great. Especially when I'm able to power past Andy!
The other major landmark here in Colorado Springs is Pikes Peak. This fourteener can be seen in the background behind Garden of the Gods. Pikes Peak is dusted with snow right now. It is so massive in size and makes for a beautiful backdrop to the city.
We didn't get to do enough in the Garden of the Gods, so we know we'll be back. It's great that we are able to bike right from our campground. They have mountain biking trails that we'd like to check out as well.

Golden, CO - Our Last Rainy Day

Our initial plan was to go for a hike in one of the beautiful regional parks, but the fog was so thick this morning we had to use windshield wipers. Since it appeared it was going to remain foggy and rainy, we decided to hit some museums.
The first was the Colorado Railroad Museum. They had over 60 engines and cars outside. They had both the narrow gauge and standard, since they needed the narrow gauge cars to head west into the canyons and over the mountains, and the standard gauge cars headed east over the plains. As the one volunteer mentioned, "99 9/10 of the workers there are volunteers". Which is really impressive since they are working to restore these engines and cars into working condition.
Some you could board and walk around inside
Some were restored, even down to the fabrics
The roundhouse is functional. Did you know that it only takes one person to move the roundhouse? Even with an engine on it!
This engine was the last of the mega-steam engines. As you can see, the wheels alone are taller than me.
This was a very interesting museum and took us quite a bit of time to get through. Worth a visit for anyone interested in trains, model trains, or the history of the railway in Colorado.

Our second "tour" of the day wasn't a museum, actually, it was the Coors Brewery. After all of these days of smelling the wort throughout town, we finally got to go in for the tour. It was an interesting tour. I liked seeing the indoor fields of germinating barley which were five feet deep. I also liked the fact that the Coors train comes into the building itself. The rags-to-riches story of Adolf Coors was dampened by the fact that Adolf passed away during the prohibition years and he never saw his dream fulfilled. Coors is still run by the Coors family, though. We also liked the three free samples of beer. We tried (& liked) the new Zima XXX flavored malt beverages. Great for the heat of South Florida. I tried the Green Apple, while Andy tried the Hard Orange Slushie.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Downtown Denver

Last Thursday we spent the day touring downtown Denver. It's an easy 20-minute drive east of Golden. Our first stop was the Capitol Building. A gorgeous building made of granite on the outside. And the outside of the dome was appropriately covered in gold sheeting. Very stately. The inside was ornate with shiny brass everything: staircases, light fixtures, elevator doors, and water fountains. Everything glowed. Not to mention the rare rose onyx and carved woodwork. It was enough to give us capitol-envy! If only Jeb Bush would move out of our skyscraper and back into a domed-capitol building.

Then we walked along the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. This area is closed to cars, but the city offers a free bus service that runs up and down 16th Street. You get so used to not seeing any cars, that its hard to remember not to step in front of a bus. We liked the downtown area. It's clean, there were entertainers every other block, the homeless that we saw didn't panhandle, interesting buildings, and lots of new construction.

One of the prettiest churches we saw was the Immaculate Conception. We sat inside for a few minutes and were absolutely awed by its beauty inside as well. The altar was almost all white and repeated the outside design of the church with the spires. And the stained-glass windows were numerous and immense.

We did attempt to get a tour at the US Mint, but they were booked up for the day. But we enjoyed our day walking around downtown.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Golden, CO - Five Days of Fun

Since we weren't able to really tour the Golden area the last time we were here, we decided to camp here again while we waited for my doctor's appointment. Eventhough we've been busy these last five days, I feel we've only skimmed the surface of what's available so we've extended our stay and will now be here til Saturday.

This area around Denver is just loaded with parks. There are county parks (Jefferson County Open Spaces), there are Denver Mountain Parks, State Parks, and probably other "types" I haven't located yet.

Hanging Around Town - Saturday was a day NOT to be driving. (After 600 miles in 2 days, we needed a break)We biked the bike path and went south. From here we were able to go into one of the many JeffCo Open Spaces. Apex Trail is a multi-use trail and supposedly popular with mountain bikers. But that doesn't necessarily mean it would be easy. We gave up after about 15 minutes of trying to pedal up a steep hill with lots of rocks and steps. It's not much fun when you have to carry your bike instead of ride it. So we went back into town and rode on the bike path for several more miles, just enjoying being outside on such a beautiful day!

We also walked along the creek watching the kayakers; we played a game of tennis in the city park next door to the campground; and we walked into town for a nice dinner out.

Mt Galbraith Park (Jeffco Open Space) and Golden Gate Canyon State Park
On Sunday we went hiking and sight-seeing up Golden Gate Canyon Road. Mt Galbraith is just outside of town and offered a 4.2 mile hike up a mountain with views of Golden, Denver and when you looped to the west side of the mountain, views of the snow-covered Continental Divide. From there I wanted to take Andy up to Golden Gate Canyon State Park. I went here before and wanted to share it with him. The views from Panorama Point were even more breathtaking since it was sunny and there was more snow on the line of peaks. We did a short hike, but many trails were closed due to fire mitigation.

Matthews/Winters Park (another JeffCo Open Space, just minutes from our campground)
On Monday we hiked here for about 6 miles by connecting several trails to do a loop hike. We started out on the Dakota Ridge Trail, which ran along the top of a rocky ridge called a "hogback". It was about a 1,000' elevation change up and down. It offered nice views of the park and Red Rocks and east towards Golden and Denver. The ridgeline was pretty narrow in areas with steep slopes off of either side of the trail. This is also a multi-use trail, and just as we were commenting that we would probably die trying to bike it, a biker rode past us. I guess it's all what you're used to, right? Well, later in the day we spoke with a local biker who fell riding Dakota Ridge and broke his arm and thumb. At least he acknowledged it's a difficult ride and death is a risk. We felt better. But we enjoyed hiking it with trees filled with songbirds and magpies entertaining us as we walked.

Back down in the valley we connected with the Red Rocks Trail which took us up close to, obviously, red sandstone rocks which appear to be jutting out of the ground at a slant. These towering, smooth rocks are actually a colorful blend of reds, pinks, and purples with streaks of white or black. Set against the tan grasses and green evergreens they were even more striking.

This park is also the location for the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. The CCC built this outdoor concert hall in the 1940's. The benches are carved into the stone and the seating and stage are built between two huge red rocks. From your seat, you can look over the stage and out to Denver and the plains. It would be a unique place to see a concert.

Waterton Canyon
Tuesday we biked Waterton Canyon. This trail was recommended to us by the biker we met yesterday in Red Rocks. Once he heard we were from Florida, he recommended the flatest trail he could think of! Ha! It was a great, easy trail. Relatively flat and the gravel was so packed it could've been paved. The trail is also an access road for the company that maintains the three dams on this section of the South Platte River. It followed the river through this pretty canyon with gold and red trees bordering the river. The rock cliffs were almost as colorful as the trees. The trail was active with hikers, runners, bikers, and fishermen with their hip-waders on dotted the river. We read that there was a herd of 20-35 bighorns in the canyon. The first one we saw was high up on the cliff, but he had a full curl of horns. We continued past the end of the Waterton trail and rode a little ways up the Colorado Trail. If you followed the Colorado Trail you could make it to Durango in only 470 miles. Wanna try? It was on the ride back down through Waterton Canyon that we realized we had biked up a slope on the way in. Our ride back was an easy coast. As we were coasting, we went from sunny spots into shady spots so our eyes had a hard time adjusting. Which explains why Andy almost rode into the second bighorn we saw. I had to holler a warning to Andy because he was easily within 6 feet of the sheep and still had not seen the animal grazing on the edge of the road. Gorgeous! Almost a full curl, amber eyes, white nose and butt. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that these are wild animals that could seriously hurt you if they wanted. Otherwise, I'd probably find myself walking up to it and giving it a big kiss! But if you ever have the opportunity to pick up a ram's horn and feel how heavy it is, it'll give you a good idea of what kind of damage it could do.

Errand Day
Today was errand day, so we didn't mind that it rained all day long. We went to my doctor's appointment and I got the clearance to leave the area. Since we were forced to stay in the area for so long, we had come up with some metaphors for how "trapped" we felt at times. "We were stuck in a holding pattern, just circling and circling the airport." "We were on parole, and not allowed to leave the state." And so on. But Dr. Raj felt everything was healing on schedule and we are free to leave! All in all, I'm happy with the decision we made because I found such a nice doctor. He and Longmont Hospital have restored my faith in the medical field.

We're driving in circles!

We've been doing loopdy-loops! We're starting to get dizzy with all the circles we've been driving in! Last year our goal was not to backtrack on any roads. This year we couldn't avoid it. From Colorado to Nebraska back to Colorado, a day-trip to Cheyenne, back up through Wyoming into South Dakota then on to North Dakota, then down through South Dakota and Wyoming back into Colorado. Most of this on the same roads because there was no better way. If you look at the new Map on our website you'll see it's just a big smudge from Colorado to North Dakota from all of the trips within a small area. Oh well. At least we're back in Colorado again and the weather has been a puuurrrfect 70's and sunny for the last five days. Yes, I've been so content I'm purring!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Dickinson, ND - Roosevelt Nat'l Park

On Tuesday we headed to Theodore Roosevelt eventhough Dickinson was still fogged-in. Luckily, about three miles out of town, the fog lifted. Dickinson sits in a little valley and was probably going to be fogged-in for hours. It made me think of San Francisco!

"I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota", said Theodore Roosevelt. It was known as a rugged and harsh land. I found it beautiful and appealing. Part Badlands, part grasslands. Expansive - as far as the eye could see. With the Little Missouri River cutting through it and several creeks it offered more life than the Badlands in SD. More trees - cedars, junipers, cottonwoods, etc. On Tuesday we toured the South Unit and saw lots of wildlife: hawks (an unknown variety), golden eagles, bison, elk, wild horses, pronghorn antelopes, prairie dogs, etc. On our first short hike of the day we saw a group of wild horses down in the valley below us. Andy tried to communicate, but sent out some sort of dying-horse neigh, which scared them into a run. As they came up over a small hill, they stopped dead when they saw a grazing bison. This then caused a herd of elk to start running, too. A rare opportunity to have them all in one small area.
We were told not to worry about the prairie rattlesnakes. The ranger said the snakes don't come out unless the temperature was 70-90 degrees. And since it's in the 50's we shouldn't see any. Someone needed to tell this bull snake it was too cold to be out:
Most of the snow has since melted inside the park. Which was a shame since I could imagine how pretty it would be here with snow covering the ground. The melting snow also meant "mud". So our hikes were varied at times:

The grey colors in these badlands are from Bentonite Clay. They use this stuff to grease the oil well drills. When it's wet it is either very slick, or if it's deep it's like gumbo and you sink. So sometimes one foot is sliding while the other one is suctioned in like quicksand. It made for some challenging hikes. Needless to say we were covered in mud by the end of our hikes.

On Wednesday, we toured the less-visited North Unit. Just as breath-taking as the South. Andy thought it was more dramatic. I'm just gonna post some pictures and hope it gives you a sense of what this park looked like and the variety it holds:

Had to post this pic...we don't get to see many coyotes. And isn't he a beaut!

Dickinson, ND

Sunday, the day we arrived in Dickinson, was like any northern winter Sunday. The horizon was indistinguishable between the white snow on the ground and the winter-white sky. It was 40 degrees and damp. Not much to do but curl up on the sofa and watch football.

Monday morning we awoke to fog so thick we couldn't see out of the campground. According to the soothing voice of NOAA (Nat'l Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), the fog was going to lift in the early afternoon. Instead, by lunchtime the visibility worsened. So we started to look around for some indoor-fun. And we found it! The town's Community Center had it all - a swimming pool with slides and a lazy river, a jacuzzi, steam room and sauna, a lap pool, a fitness center, exercise classes, and an indoor track. We spent about three hours there swimming laps, playing in the pool and running laps. Wish we had more energy...we would've tried the rock climbing wall. We've found a couple of small towns have these community centers which are more comparable to a Bally's than a YMCA. And for $4-$6/day, you just can't beat it.

Dickinson, ND - The Drive North

"Head South....Now!" our friend Chris commented on our blog after reading about our Winter Wonderland in Spearfish. Well, we didn't listen (and I'm sure Chris isn't too surprised!). Instead, we headed north so we could visit Teddy Roosevelt's National Park. On the drive up we started to question our decision. First we started to notice the patches of snow thickened into patches of grass. Then the fog bank rolled in reducing our visibility to about 1/2 mile or less. Then we missed a turn, ended up in a construction zone, and had to detach Ele in order to do a u-turn and get back on track (from there on we drove separately). But finally we made it to Dickinson, ND. Dickinson is about 36 miles east of Roosevelt NP. It was the closest campground we could find offering full hookups. The NP campground had turned off all water, others in Medora were closed for the season or had also shut off water and had no dumps available. After being clobbered by a foot of snow, downed trees and lost power, I don't blame them.

Remember, "it's all about the stickers"...which means we needed to get the North Dakota state sticker on our RV map!!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Spearfish, SD - Devil's Tower

We took a scenic drive to Devil's Tower today. The campgrounds in the area are closed already, so we didn't have the experience our friends Jim and Chris had - they got to watch the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind on an outdoor movie screen with the real Devil's Tower in the background. Cool. We day-tripped it and took the Tower Trail walk around it to see all sides. It's a geological wonder that does stand out in an area that is generally rolling hills.
Devil's Tower is not considered a "monolith" since it is actually made up of a number of bundled 5- or 6-sided columns. Occasionally a column breaks off and ends up at the base of the tower.

After learning that 8 Indian tribes called this "rock" a name with 'bear' in it, we want to call it Bear Lodge or Bear Tipi or Bear Den, too! The Indians still consider this a sacred place and have several different legends as to how the rock came to look as it does. Most legends revolve around bear claw marks. To respect the Indian's beliefs, the NPS asks rock climbers to voluntarily not climb the Tower during the month of June which holds special sacred meaning for the Indians.
On this tree you can see several prayer flags and prayer bundles.

Passport America

Just a quick update on our mail-forwarding company who was/is based in Gulfport, MS. They suffered some damage to their office, but are rebuilding and are back to work already. They were able to save all of our mail, too. Our main contact, Amber, survived the storm on a personal level, but several other employees lost their homes. It was good to hear from them and will continue to send our blessings as they work to recover what was lost.

Spearfish, SD - Termesphere Gallery

As of Thursday most of the roads were cleared and the snow had begun to melt. We visited a local art gallery here called Termesphere. It's very unique. Thankfully the artist, Dick Termes, was there to explain his work. He plays with illusions and vanishing points and paints his work on spheres and other geometrical shapes. His work is painted on the tops and bottoms and around all of the sides of these different shapes, so his art is suspended from the ceiling. Even his art gallery and workshops are geodomes - he got the designs from Buckminster Fuller himself! Check out his site, because that would explain his unique work a lot better than I could put it into words.

Spearfish, SD - Snowed In!

Well, the first snowfall of the year was a “blizzard”. Tuesday started with rain, then sleet and finally towards the evening it changed to snow. By Wednesday morning we had 7 1/2”, according to Andy’s unscientific means of measuring. It was beautiful. We got up early and took a walk around the campground. The sad thing was that there were so many deciduous trees that were still full of leaves: yellows, reds, and some still green. Now that the leaves were covered in ice and snow, many of the trees had bent over in half or snapped from the weight. Many trees lost branches or came down completely; some had branches peel off from every side so they looked like a peeled-banana. It looked like a hurricane had come through. One large tree branch fell on the power line bringing down two telephone poles. And, even though several RVs and cars had branches on them, it didn’t appear anyone suffered damage in the campground. Several locals said it wasn’t surprising to get snow this early in October, but never this much. After breakfast we tried to help out by going around the campground and shaking ice and snow off of trees to prevent them from snapping. We could still hear the “craaacck” of trees breaking as we worked. Hopefully we did some good. It’s a beautiful city campground with the Spearfish Creek running through it and a paved pathway for walkers and bikers, deer and ducks share the campground with us, and tons of these deciduous trees (birches, maples, and oaks, and more). We didn’t want them to lose more than they had to. Here are some winter wonderland pictures:
Not often do we see a campground looking like this
The bike path was closed in several areas from fallen trees
The Mallard Ducks don't seem to mind though
Here's one of the young maple trees we saved
Someone wasn't ready for the storm

Who's ready to go kayaking???

Spearfish, SD - Canyon and Deadwood

Diane actually drove the distance from Badlands to Spearfish, SD. Andy wouldn’t let me til now since the antibiotics and pain meds made me so sleepy he thought I would just nod off driving our 49’ of fun. But I’m now officially clear of drugs. Yippee!

Spearfish is back in the Black Hills, but in the north section, and almost on the border of WY. We came here because it is written up as “naturally inviting”. On our first full day here we drove the Spearfish Canyon. This is another wonderful, scenic drive. And with all of the yellows and golds it is a beautiful time of the year to do it. There aren’t too many hiking trails to be found (or at least that we could find) coming from the canyon. We did stop to see Bridal Veil and Roughlock Falls and an area where Dances With Wolves was filmed.

We circled around to the town of Deadwood. This town has been revived by gambling. Driving down Main St you can almost repeat yourself: Black Hills Gold jewelry store, gambling room, hotel. Just say that over and over and you now know all the stores in town, and almost in order. I’m exaggerating, of course. There is a ton of history here and I’m glad we picked up a brochure on a Walking Tour of the town because we would’ve missed a lot without it. The neat thing is that most of the buildings have been preserved or are under restoration. The poor town has been flooded three times and burned down twice. Most of the buildings now standing are from 1895-ish. This is the town where Wild Bill Hickock was assassinated during a card game. Yeah, gambling was rampant back then, too. And brothels, which several buildings still have girls in windows (well, mannequins).

At St. Moriah Cemetary you can visit Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and many other well-known folk from Deadwood’s history.

But there was also a great view of Deadwood from the overlook at the cemetary.

Driving south again to go back through Spearfish Canyon, we stopped quickly in the town of Lead (“leed”). As you might expect, most of these towns were born from mining. Lead had a gold mine that was operational until just three years ago when it closed. The “Open Cut” was a huge open pit mining operation – 1800’ wide x 4500’ long x 960’ deep. The rock was beautiful. I wonder what they’ll do with this pit now the mine is closed.

Back in Savoy in Spearfish Canyon, we stopped to do a short hike on the ’76 Trail. Only ¾ mile, but 1,000’ elevation change made for a steep hike. It’s the only trail that will take you to the rim of the canyon. The groves of aspens on the trail were almost as impressive as the view from the rim. Now the sun is starting to set. The colors in the canyon really started to pop now.

Glad we got to enjoy such a beautiful day outside, since today (Tuesday) {editor's note:) since we didn't have access to internet, I'd write the blogs with the hope of uploading them when access was avail, so my dates might seem odd} we are getting freezing rains during the day and snow at night. Isn’t this wonderful – we’re gonna be stuck in another “first snowfall of the year”. Last year it was the first snowfall in the Sierras that caught up with us in Texas. This year, the first snowfall is hitting us in South Dakota. That’s ok, the town of Spearfish looks nice and we’ll take full advantage of their restaurants, arcades, library, and shops. Oh, our heat pump couldn’t keep up with the temperature (hasn’t gone above 40 degrees yet today), so Andy went out and bought a portable heater to keep my nose from falling off AND the RV park has just shut off the water in the campground to keep the lines from freezing. Wish us luck!

Badlands Natl Park

“Otherworldly”. “It’s like landing on Mars”. “This must be where they do all the lunar movies”. These were the types of things we were saying to each other as we hiked the trails of the Badlands.

Even the Lakota Indians called this area “mako sica” for “bad lands to cross”. And, no wonder. With erosion having created deep crevices, limestone bridges, crumbling ridgelines, and steep slopes, it must’ve been impossible to cross this region. Not to mention the lack of water. The clay earth is cracked. Any puddles are chalky white or muddy red. And, in a rainstorm the ground would turn to “gumbo”. Our translation for this term would be a “clay quicksand”.

The one thing I found fascinating is that there is a Badlands Wall. Imagine a “Z” formation: a prairie on the lower level, then a sloping wall of limestone and clay, and then a prairie at the top. So, when we hiked up Saddle Pass, which scales the Wall, I expected there to be a back-side to this “mountain”, but that’s not the case. You are all of a sudden plopped onto the High Prairie. Hiking the upper Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail are relatively flat hikes in the High Prairie. There are 8 hikes within the north unit of the park. We did them all in the day and a half we explored here. Most of these trails are in the eastern half which is quite dramatic. But the park is “open”. You are actually permitted to hike anywhere off-trail you would like. We did a little off-trail walking when we found something of interest to explore further. But there’s the fear of getting lost in this maze of buttes and crevices or slipping off of a high ridgeline.

We drove the Badlands Loop Road and Sage Creek Rim Road and stopped at the overlooks. The drive is nice because there are so many different types of formations in the park: spiky spires and outcroppings, grassy buttes, Spanish skirts, yellow mounds, etc. And there is quite a bit of wildlife to be seen: Pronghorns feeding on the nutritious short grasses in the Prairie Dog towns, mule deer in the prairies, and big horns relaxing on the rim of the Wall. Out of the 400 bison that are supposed to reside here in the park we saw a whopping ONE. And, we were constantly on the watch for the venomous Prairie Rattlesnake, but never came across any – I guess that’s a good thing.
Here's one of the thousands of prairie dogs...
And a baby bighorn with tiny stumps starting to grow...
And my favorite, a bighorn sitting on the edge of the wall enjoying the view.

We did find fossils, and I’m not talking about the replicas at Fossil Exhibit Trail. During a respite, we sat down and once I started to look around me I started to see small shells and things that looked like corals and sponges. Our first fossil find! We even found several of this type of critter – fish or shell, I’m not sure:

We didn’t venture into the South Unit of the park. There’s only one short scenic drive and no designated hiking trails. Considering this area was previously used by the military as a bombing range, and there are still unexploded ordinances out there, we decided to pass for now.

The battle, or massacre, of Wounded Knee was not too far away from here. It’s just a few dirt roads south into the Pine Ridge Reservation. I understand there’s talk of the Lakota building some kind of a memorial, but for now there’s nothing to see. The history in the West is very interesting, but sometimes it is hard to stomach the things that we did to each other. Wounded Knee was where several hundred Lakota Indians were massacred as they were en route to, of all places, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.