Friday, June 29, 2012

2012-20 Second week in Montrose Colorado

Montrose Colorado Week 2


Travel Warning:

dangerous road highlighted with arrows

I thought I’d start off with a warning to any fellow campers who are planning a trip out in this area.  As you know, last week I took a day trip to Ouray Colorado which is on hwy 550.  It’s safe to drive from Montrose to Ouray with a large camper and there are plenty of campgrounds in the area to select from.  The warning comes if you are considering driving south of Ouray on 550.  It’s called the million dollar highway and is for Rv’s a treacherous, winding and extremely steep sided highway with no guard rails.  This is a scary road to even consider taking.  Thanks to Mamie and a few other readers for pointing this out.  Lets put it this way.  Bikers love to ride it.  Need I say any more?  Needless to say, I won’t even drive it while touring in my truck.

Frozen Dinner tip:

I occasionally have a frozen dinner, especially when I’m not in the mood to cook anything.  All those wonderful pictures on the frozen dinner packages usually end up being a total disappointment when I’ve finally nuked the dinner.  Today I tried a Boston Market Chicken Parmesan frozen dinner.  It was a good portion size.  The chicken Parmesan was very tasty and the breading was perfectly prepared.  The spaghetti and tomato sauce were equally good.  The sauce was, to my taste perfectly flavored.  I sprinkled a bit of my own Parmesan cheese over the spaghetti but wasn‘t really needed.   I will have to try a few more of their frozen dinners.  Let me know if you've tried any of them.  

A day trip to Telluride.

view just before entering Telluride

Now Montrose is about an hour and a half drive to Telluride which I had visited one previous time, only to end up there on one of their many festival weekends.  That time the place was so crowded it took over 45 minutes to crawl into town with traffic backed up for miles outside of the mountain town.  This time I waited until the day after their Bluegrass Festival, which I would have dearly loved to attend, but knew the logistics of making it even one day would be too much.  When I arrived the weekend traffic was thinning out as the last of the festival goers were heading out of town.  Or at least that’s what I thought.  Driving through the 8 or so blocks of main street, every parking spot was filled, including many vehicles in the center lane, restricted to special permitted vehicle parking.

hydo power plant and home atop Angel Falls

I continued through town and drove to the dirt parking lot at the end of the valley to view Angel falls and take pictures.  A most wonderful set of waterfalls with a house and power plant sitting on the edge of the cliff and waterfalls.  It’s half way up those 14,000 ft mountains that surround the town.  Took some time viewing the last remaining mining structures as well.  Then it was back into town.  Electronic parking meters charge for parking on main street and one block off main.  I of course went two blocks off main street and got a “for free” parking spot next to some wonderfully restored Victorian homes.   They love color up here and many are painted ladies.  It should be noted that this is very expensive real-estate, Sotheby’s being one of the leading sellers of the homes priced in the 1.2 to 9.2 million dollar range.  The downtown buildings have many second floor condo’s and pen-houses going for that starting price of 1.2 million.  I only saw one condo priced under the million dollar mark.

As I had a bit more breathing room than the last time, though downtown was still crowded, I realized that as beautiful as the homes and historical buildings are, it’s all way over my head price wise.  So many of the shops cater to the affluent.  Of course there are the tourist T-shirt shops and basic grocery and drug stores, even an ACE hardware store.  But even those seemed a tad upscale sitting next to a designer clothing and
jewelry store or art shop.  One can take a free gondola ride up to the mountain village.  I didn’t do it this time around, though it provides great views of the valley below.  Mountain village is a new town and is an active center especially during all those festivals and winter skiing that goes on.  After all, this is a premier snow skiing destination.

I guess over all I was a tad disappointed by Telluride this time round.  Realizing Ouray has so many more activities as far as outdoor activities from my vantage point.  Others may disagree, but that’s how I see it.  Ouray also seems more middle class friendly than Telluride.  Of course if anyone has one of those million dollar homes and wants to invite me over to get a different perspective, well, I’m available.

Work, work, work….

And you thought all I did was play each day.  Well I can tell you for the last couple of days I’ve been a workin my buns off. First off I use these small orange cones along the side of my campers slide outs.  Remember my camper is parallel to the road this time around and I don‘t want another camper hitting my slides.   Because the cones are so light weight, I needed to attach a wooden block to each one so they wouldn't blow away.  So I drove to the local Home Depot, went to the lumber department and scrounged the waste bin which is usually filled with cut pieces of wood.  Found just the right pieces and had HD cut the scrap lumber to size.  Total cost:  50 cents. Can I get a bargain or what?

My next project was to bring the truck in for an alignment and balancing the wheels. Whew, I had to wait almost an hour and a half.  But I got the job done.  

Then it was back to the Verizon store where I had brought my Droid “thunderbolt” smart phone in to have it checked out.  Not getting any reception at the campground even though other Verizon users were getting reception.  Come to find out the Motorola phones have a much better built in antenna.  After reprogramming the phone and sending me off to retry it, it was a no go.  Soooooo, my “work” continued and I had to go back to the store and “negotiate”.  After 45 minutes of discussion over the phone with a technician, I was able to bring down the offer of a new Motorola Razor phone from $365, down to $200 and finally not being satisfied, I asked to speak to a supervisor.  Ta-Da, I got the price down to a FREE exchange of my Droid phone for the new Razor phone.  Now that was work that was worth the effort.  I pick up the new phone on Friday.  Yippee.

And lastly, I installed a new directional vent on my toilet vent on the camper.  And you didn’t think I ever did the W word.  Oh, I almost forgot.  I washed the truck as well…. Well actually I drove it through the cars wash… but I got er done…  I got so much done in the past couple of days, I might have to take the next week off.

A final note, I just received my second payment of $100+ for my adds on my Blog.  Nice to have a bit of an income from all the work I do on my Blog and of course a big thank you to all who occasionally click on one of those adds.

More photos on PICASA

Friday, June 22, 2012

2012-19 Montrose Colorado


Montrose Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP


Campground:  Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP campground.  I reserved an electric site at the Senior rate of  $10.50 plus $3 each night for reserving the site online.  No water or dump station.  My campsite is considered a pull-thu but in reality is a space parallel to the road.  Took a bit of jogging to get close enough to the campsite side so I could open the sides. No Verizon cell signal.  No internet. Good DTV over-air reception.

UFO Watchtower. 

 On my last day in the Salida area, I had a choice of going north to Leadville high up in the mountains to visit an historic mining town or go to the San Luis Valley south of Salida to the UFO Watchtower.  Now for me there was really only one choice and that was to the UFO site.  How could it not be fun.  Now up here, which ever direction one goes, one goes over a mountain pass.  Heading south I went over the Poncha Pass at 9,010 ft through a winding, windy pass and then onto the San Luis Valley the largest Alpine valley in the world. Even though it’s high dry desert, with irrigation, those huge round fields of green are throughout the valley.

I just knew I would hear some great stories.  The owner, Judy Messoline author of “That Crazy Lady Down the Road” has quite a story to tell.  Wanting to start her own cattle ranch, she ended up here in the San Luis Valley with about 350 acres of land.  Bought some cattle, fence it in, built a log cabin and from there it went down hill.  Cattle and horses died.  Irrigation rights were false and she was unable to grow her own feed.  Joking with the locals at The Two Sisters Restaurant where she was working to make ends meets, they started to tell her stories about all the UFO sightings in the area.  She said, I think I’ll put up a UFO tower.  Before you knew it, with money running out and having no other options, she did just that.

The short tower was built (after all the land is already at 7,500 feet), a small dome gift shop and a dozen dry camping sites were built.  Tons of news media picked up on the story back in 2000 and it’s been attracting UFO aficionados ever since.  Including psychics, mediums and all the rest.

So here I am in this dusty high desert setting.  Little green men made out of sheet metal point the way to the tower and gift shop.  Old satellite dishes dot the grounds.  Candace provided an introduction to the place, telling the small group about the sightings that have been seen in the area, a green orb, a cigar shaped ship illuminated in white.  About the rock garden with the two vortex’s and how people leave small trinkets and ask for help, healing et all and many receive what they’ve asked for.  Strange stories about the cattle mutilations found in the area, as if lasers were used to remove animal organs and some of the dead cattle having no blood in them.  The ranchers who had a UFO hover over  their vehicle.

The place has a very peaceful feeling to it and I can sense something special about this most unusual remote site.  It feels energized yet there’s a stillness about it all as well.  The UFO tower came after all the sightings had been going on in the area for quite some time, so is it just a tourist attraction, or is it now attracting those space beings.  It would be nice to bring the camper down here and spend a night out here just to see what one could see. Do Dooo, do doo.

In any case it was a fun Sunday drive to a most unusual place.  I of course bought the book so will be learning more of the story behind That Crazy Lady Down the Road.  Note:  I’ve read most of the book and must admit it’s poorly written.  About ¾ of the book contain stories people have told about their own UFO encounters.  Poorly written, bad grammar.  Few details and no names of who experienced the sightings.

a thru the window pic as I'm heading back to Salida

The winds continued to pick up back over the pass and into Salida and I was worried about heading on out the next day over Monarch Pass which is 11,312 ft.  Winds were expected to be as high as 65 mph gusts the next day.  The winds died down overnight and I left early in the morning which is usually very still.  It was a quick rise in elevation with ears a popping.  Pulling a camper going up a mountain the average speed is around 35 mph.  Fortunately they had many passing lanes.  It was a quick view at the top of the pass where there’s a ski resort with ski lifts right to the top of the mountain.  And then a very long decent as the road twisted and turned at a 6% grade for many many miles.  Even with the truck in low gear, by the time I got to bottom, the brakes were a smoking (figuratively speaking as I didn‘t actually see any smoke).  Though I will say I could smell them after they had overheated going down that long incline.

Then it was a pleasant drive along hwy 50 through Gunnison past the Blue Mesa Reservoir looking strikingly blue against the arid landscape and finally to my destination of The Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP.  It became one of the newest National Parks in 1999 having previously been a National Monument.  Up a particularly winding and guard rail free drive to the top of the ridge.  Only to be told first to check in with the visitor center, who then told me to go directly to the campground where a camp host would direct me to my site.  At the campsite, I was told there was no water to fill my holding tanks, so once again I took that winding road down off the top of the ridge and into Montrose to fill my holding tanks.  By now I’m getting hungry and I have a slight headache from the mornings trials.  Right next door to the gas station where I was able to fill up with water is a restaurant.  Inside I sat at a U shaped counter, had a great lunch and conversation with a couple guys living in the area.  Great way to get to learn about the local scene.  Like, it’s been the driest year since anyone can remember.  Even the grazing of cattle on National Forest land was ended early this spring as there is no grass to feed the cattle.  Many farmers without irrigation rights are selling of their stock.

Back up to the top of Black Canyon, 8,000 ft elevation, I finally got set up within inches of the roadway.

Reminder to self:  Review the literature on the next campsite to make sure they have the basics, water, dump station, electric.  If not, make plans before getting to campsite.  I.E. fill holding tanks with water/ use dump station if needed.

The next day I tour some of the south rim scenic drive and watch a film at the visitors center.  The canyon is a shear drop of 2,500 feet down.  Solid granite walls that are nearly vertical unlike the Grand Canyon that has a more weathered gradual decent.  It’s very difficult to capture the steep edges of the canyon which are often in deep shadow as well as attempt to capture the depth all in one shot.  And if your at all queasy about heights, well let’s just say you’ll be doing a lot of hugging thick log rails, metal rails and walking along the very center of narrow rock bridges to the viewing areas.  The word vertigo keeps coming to mind as I venture along the many viewing trails leading of course to the very edge of the canyon rim.

Later in the day I’m sitting out at my campsite.  The camp area that’s off the road is quite secluded with a thick underbrush and stunted oak trees surrounding my picnic table and chairs I’ve set out.  Giving my campsite plenty privacy.  The sun is really intense at 8,000 ft and I’m enjoying the shade of my little hamlet.  As I’m reading a book, I look up and notice a four legged creature munching on the other site of a thicket near the roadway.  Minutes later, a brazen mule deer, with those huge mule ears sticking straight up, comes sauntering into my campsite.  Nonchalantly walks right on past me.  Around my camper and across the street to the next campsite.  One of the rangers had told me the mule deer are not afraid of us humans and know they’re safe in the park.  I had no idea I would be visited by one later in the day.

Note on restaurants in Montrose:  At Emily’s a Mexican restaurant the waiter short changed me $5 from a $20 I gave him.  The next day at the Pancake House, with service extremely slow, the waitress charged me for the wrong breakfast I had, a $1 over charge.  May have been a fluke in both cases, but I’d be careful and watch the bill closely and change given back when traveling in the area.


One of my day trips took me to Ouray Colorado.  For the tourist or as I like to call myself, an explorer it has just about everything you’d want.  Fantastic scenery, hot springs, historic buildings, old mines to explore, waterfalls, hiking with starting points all over town and campgrounds in the area including two right in town.

Ouray’s about an hours drive south from Montrose so I had plenty of time to enjoy the views as the mountain ranges kept getting closer and closer.  When the white capped mountains started to really come into view, a final turn along hwy 550 and suddenly I’m in the snug valley surrounded by all these magnificent mountains.  It just about took my breath away as I stopped next to the visitor center and Ouray hot springs.  Covered in Ponderosa pines, rock outcroppings and patches of green meadows the surrounding mountains create a vertical display of wilderness for the eye, it was just a wow moment.

Ouray county has a total population of 4,260 with a total of three municipalities.  Ouray being the county seat.  It’s the jeep capital of the world and anyone with a good 4-wheel drive vehicle will love exploring all those dirt roads around here.  Sure wish I had one.  There’s definitely a jeep tour in my future the next time I come into this area.  And for my Canadian friend Gary, they tell me the fly fishing is stellar here.

This is another place that I am just so disappointed that my pictures just don’t capture the magnificent scenery the way I’d like them too.  The scenes are just too broad and expansive, it’s very difficult to get the concept of those sweeping views in a single shot or even a dozen shots.

A final note on Ouray. At 12,000 feet above sea level the sun is intense.  I had to wear my sunglasses constantly.  I kept thinking, gee someone has turned on all the 1,000 watt light bulbs and really needs to dim it back a bit.  With the air much thinner up here, acclimation to the thinner air can take some time.  Drinking lots of water and having my broader brimmed hat is a must.

I'll be doing a day trip to Telluride next week......

more photos on PICASA.

Friday, June 15, 2012

2012-18 Canyon City and Salida Colorado


Canyon City, Colorado

Salida, Colorado

Poncha Springs

Map shows my recent and future travels thru Colorado

Campground:  Heart of the Rockies Rv park,  Highway 50 West, Salida, Colorado 81210
(719) 539-4051 June 11-17, wkly $149. =  $21 per night.  Great mountain views.

Tip of the Day:  You can click on any picture in the Blog to blow it up to full size for viewing.

Royal Gorge.  Last weeks report was getting just a bit long so I’ve saved Royal Gorge for this weeks report.  Canyon City is only about 35 miles from Pueblo West and made for a pleasant trip.  Hwy 50 is a great road for Rv’ers with wide shoulders and often expanding into a 4 lane divided highway.  Canyon City a great mountain town and well worth exploring.  It has the countries most secure Federal Prison with a museum attached which I’ve been told is very interesting to visit, but I didn’t visit it on this trip.  As I drove into the Canyon City area, I could see a number of prisons on the outskirts of town, but don’t let that sway your decision to explore this area as the area is truly a great vacation getaway.  Besides the Royal Gorge attraction one can take a train ride and have breakfast or lunch onboard as one travels the deep Gorge on it’s way to the spectacular suspension bridge over the mile deep gorge.

Royal Gorge

Even though I love trains, I opted to drive to Royal Gorge where a corporation now owns and runs the facility.  The price of admission gives the visitor the right to use the gondola ride across the gorge, suspended on a thin wire 1,500 feet above the floor of the canyon.  Or take a ride down a steep  incline railway to the bottom which I did.  Of course walking across the bridge itself is perhaps the main attraction.  It has no sway which is a good thing, though one could feel the timbers on the roadway bounce as vehicles drove back and forth with pedestrians scooting off to the side to let them through.  A trolley also goes back and forth across the bridge if you’d prefer an easier way of crossing.  I enjoyed the walk along the bridge peering over the edge of the bridge into the deep, steep sided granite walled gorge.  The Arkansas River running below it with the occasional white water rafters bouncing along on the  choppy current.  The rail line hugging the edge of one side of the river with steep walls on either side.  Shops, food vendors and entertainment are available throughout the day (magic shows and musicians), but the bridge and the gorge itself are still the main attraction.

Old wooden stave water pipe

An old wooden stave pipe bound by wires is still visible along the rivers edge below.  It once carried water to Canyon City.  Old technology that worked for over 70 years.  A section of the railroad tracks is held up by the only suspension bridge to suspend a railroad over a river.  It always amazes me the amount of work it must have taken to build railroads and bridges like this one.

Dinosaur tracks can be viewed, upside down, along the skyline drive just outside the city.  And Canyon City has a small museum with many dinosaur bones that were found in the area.  Some really great hiking trails surround the area, from easy (for me) to the more challenging.  I’ll definitely come back to this area for more exploring.

Salida Colorado

A new week and I’m continuing my trek west on hwy 50.  The road gradually becomes a two lane road and the wide shoulders I so love have disappeared.  Still the road is a good one as it gradually gains in elevation and there are more and more tight turns as it winds it’s way into the Sangre De Cristo and Rocky Mountains.  I stop along the way and enjoy the sound of the Arkansas River which I’ve been following all the way from Dodge City Kansas.  Meeting a fellow camper who’s heading back into Pueblo where he has a job in one of the four or five steel mills in the area, now owned and run by Russians. He has an older rusted out truck, towing a 1960 aluminum trailer and an ATV sitting in the bed of the truck.  He met up with his girl friend who brought two horses to their campsite.  Enjoying 12 days off from work and knowing how to enjoy life and having the toys to enjoy it with.

My campsite is on an open sloping hillside with parallel rows leveled off for the campers.  Mountain ranges surround me.  It’s sunny and 70 degrees at 11am as I set up my campsite.  A simple chore that doesn’t take long and then I’m off to find a local restaurant for lunch.  A stop at the visitors center to get some good info on the local area and it’s back to the campsite to enjoy a quite afternoon.

The name of the campground is “The Heart of the Rockies” (in Poncha Springs) and I feel as if I’ve made it to the heart of my summer destination.  From here on out, I’ll simply be exploring the west.  Following the road where ever it leads me.  The strong smell of sage and pinion pine is in the air.  A great combination of scents for the senses.

The next day, after doing laundry this morning, I’m taking the day off.

Wednesday, I planned on driving into the mountains to go to a ghost mining town, a hot springs and just exploring the country side.  I’ll give you a heads up right off the bat, this is the type of thing I really enjoy doing.  So after having a cup of coffee and a breakfast bar, I headed out.  Hwy 285 north is the route into the 14ers.  Those are the dozen or more mountains that have heights of 14,000 feet or more.  The highway continues to increase in elevation as I head north reaching 8,500 ft, then onto a county road 162.  I pass Mt Princeton Hot Springs which I’ll come back to later in the day.  CR-162 is paved most of the way as the mountain ranges get closer and closer on either side of the road.  Numerous National Forest campgrounds are along the way and I even stop in one, just to check it out.  They’re all dry camping and most are way too small to fit my 5th wheel camper.  With an old fashioned water pump and pit toilets.  I love seeing the signs that state “you are now entering public lands”.  Gives me a good feeling knowing much of this western land has been preserved in my name and yours as well.

Cedar and pinion pines and large groves of aspen line the road as it winds along a rushing river.  A hard packed dirt road completes the last 6 miles as it winds around a few mountain ridges, one side descending steeply with nary a guard rail in sight.  Just a thicket of aspen to stop any vehicle that might go off road.  And I arrive at St Elmo ghost town.  It sits in a valley surrounded by all those great mountain ranges.  The dozen or so buildings on the main street are all privately owned with two or three open for business.  A sundry store, a shop that caters to the 4 wheeling community.  Renting ATV’s for $250 plus a $1,500 deposit.  There’s even a three story bed and breakfast that has a sign out front “do not enter, for guests only”.

The couple that runs the store are the son and daughter-in-law of one of the few residences who lives here year round.  A most desolate location when winter arrives and the snow blocks all the roads leading in and out of St Elmo.  You’ve got to love solitude to stay here year round.

For me, just being able to walk around one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado is a joy.  The fresh air that quickly warms up with the clear blue skies overhead.  The smell of pine and dusty roads.  The scene is quiet after the 4 wheelers head on out on their adventure and I’m told later on the town will fill up with us tourists running around snapping our pictures and learning the history of one more mining town that went from boom to bust in just a matter of years.  Come to find out, the wife of the shop keeper lived in Orlando at McCoy Airforce Base at the same time I got my first Government job working at the McCoy commissary.   It is a small world isn’t it.  I continue to walk around, taking my pictures, looking at those grand mountains surrounding this valley.  Historic cottages tucked away in the surrounding forest, used only for summer getaways.   Yeh, I could live up here for a summer.

On my drive back, I stopped at Chalk Lake and watched a dozen teenagers learning how to fly fish and then it was onto the hot springs for a dip in the warm spring fed pools.  Even walked out to the rivers edge where rocks and boulders were aligned to create shallow pools of hot and cool spring fed basins to soak up all that goodness.  What a great day.

You know you’ve read a good book when you think about it a couple of days after you’ve read it.  I just finished reading “Ill Wind” by Nevada Barr.  She’s the writer of the Anna Pigeon series about a National Park ranger who ends up solving mysterious deaths in what ever National Park she’s in.  As I began reading this one which takes place in Mesa Verde I was surprised to see references to my home town of Houghton Michigan and Isle Royal.  Now I usually like to read books about places in the general area I’m visiting, hence the Mesa Verde connection.  But to read references to Houghton Michigan just took me by surprise.  Well it was a good read and I’d recommend Nevada Barr if your into mystery writers.

I think that’s enough for this report, or I’ll just keep rambling on.  Until my next story, enjoy your own adventures along the way.

You'll find about 9 albums in Picasa on the above trip.  The area is great for picture taking.

Friday, June 8, 2012

2012-17 Lamar to Pueblo West Colorado

Lamar Colorado

Picket Wire Canyon Lands

Pueblo West Colorado

Campground:  Country Acres Motel and RV Park.  Passport America Rate, $18, full hookup + cable TV.  Parallel sites around the outer perimeter.  Unlimited stay at Passport Rate.

Campground:  Pueblo West Campground.  $120 wkly rate = $17 per night.  Full hookup 50amp.  Monthly rates are $280 + Electric.  95% of the campsites are filled with perms.  Also horse boarding available. Easy spacious pull-thru sites. Close to a Wal-Mart and easy drive into Pueblo.  Good digital TV reception.

Lamar Colorado

Imagine a small town, Wal-Mart on the edge of town, semi-trucks heading through town at all hours of the day and night, semi arid landscape.  One of the reasons I like to travel is to experience the different regions of the country.  All those trucks heading north and south along 287/385 bring to my mind that there sure is a lot of commerce happening across this country.  From my big picture window in the camper, I have a great view of all those semi’s going by.  Many loaded with heavy mechanical equipment of all shapes and sizes.

Building made of petrified wood.

Though the town doesn’t have the historical appeal I quite often enjoy, I am able to discover the oddity that every town seems to have.  Lamar has right on the main street  a building made up of petrified logs that are 150 million years old.  With a faded Ripley’s Believe it or not sign out front.   It’s not being used for anything and appears to be owned by a car dealer of some sort.  As I peaked into the dusty cobwebbed window it appears to be used only for storing old odds and ends.  The towns visitor center, which was extremely helpful in my planning my trip through Colorado, didn’t even mention this piece of Americana history right in their own back yard.

USDA Forest Service Comanche National Grassland
Picket Wire Canyon lands

That visitor center did give quite a bit of information on the Forest Departments lands in the area and I was intrigued by all of them in particular the Picture Canyon and Picket Wire Canyon.  Since there would be a car tour of Picket Wire Canyon on Saturday, I decided to see if I could hook up with one of the tourists who had a 4 wheel drive vehicle.  A major requirement on this adventure.

With luck I was offered a ride with Tom and Barbara from Colorado Springs area.  During the  orientation meeting, the Ranger said that their was usually one or two vehicles that would get a flat tire.  Tom said they’d already had a flat the day before so maybe we’d all be lucky with that out of the way.  I was thinking with my past tire issues and sure was glad I wasn't taking my two wheel drive truck into the canyon.

You guessed it, on our decent into the canyon, two vehicles got flat tires.  After repairs, we were on our way again for the first of a number of stops throughout the canyon.  From rock art, to natural arches, to remains of the Dolores Mission and finally to the highlight of the canyon, the Jurassic Tracks.  One of the largest sites in the world containing over 100 track ways.  Mainly sauropod and theropod tracks that are over 150,000,000 years old.

1300 footprints have been identified, but hundreds if not thousands more are still to be uncovered.  The feeling of being able to walk along these pathways where huge dinosaurs once roamed is just awesome.  Being able to touch the depressions made by these huge animals.  Seeing the imprints of  the three toed  theropods and the larger almost round footprints of the sauropods all lined up as they walked along the shores of the fresh water lake 150 million years ago is something not many people get a chance to do in a lifetime.  Some of these foot prints have only been visible to man for the past 10 years and I was seeing them for the first time out of the veil of history as the rock layers have become visible once again.

The site is so remote that even though it was first discovered in 1935, there was no real serious scientific interest in the site until 1980’s when the site was finally studied in detail.  It was a long day, I had muscle aches galore in my back and had to take a couple strong Tylenol, but I wouldn’t have given up this adventure for anything.  As we visited the last site, the Historic Rourke Ranch the exhaustion mainly from the back issues was almost too much.  We all finally piled into the dozen or so vehicles and began our ascent out of the canyon.  Taking one last look at the surprisingly green canyon valley below, the dark skies finally opened up and a gusty wind and light rain started to fall.  Though we were finally out of the canyon and on very well maintained dirt roads, they quickly turned into muddy, slippery tracks.  Even with everyone having 4 wheel drive, vehicles were slipping and sliding all over the road.  Thick clumps of mud building up on the tires and underbelly of the jeeps.  My two wheel drive truck would have never made it out and I was once again grateful to be a passenger in someone else’s vehicle.

As I drove the hours drive back to Lamar in a light rain, I would later find out that Lamar had endured 60 mile an hour winds and that the gas station a mile away from my camper lost it’s roof over the gas pumps and numerous business signs got blown out as well.

Pueblo West, Colorado

140 miles on down the road and I’ve arrived in Pueblo West.  The road I’m speaking of is hwy 50 which I’ve taken all the way from Dodge City Kansas and portions of it run over the original Santa Fe Trail and is also posted as the Scenic Mountain Auto Route.  I’ve just arrived in the high desert before ascending into the Rocky mountains.  I’ve decided to stay in this area for a week and explore a bit before heading into the mountains.  The area is being built up with homes on 5 acre lots and businesses parallel the main highway.   The area continues to grow, gradually taking over the pastures and ranches that once dominated this dry arid plain.  It still has the open high desert dusty dry grass land feel so I get to enjoy this rugged landscape before it eventually gets overtaken by man.

This was originally a cross roads in the old west, where trails converged.  Add railroads into the mix and it became a boom town.  The largest steel mill west of the Mississippi was based here until the 1960’s when cheap foreign steel out did the mill.  It was shuttered and the owners locked the doors, leaving almost everything in place.  5 tile and brick mills were in the area, making brick the major component in building the town.  Giving the town a permanence that other western towns didn’t have.  A major flood in 1929 nearly destroyed the town.

The historic downtown area has a river walk and even boasts a river ride through a couple blocks of old downtown.  Which has more of a modern feel as new construction lines the river walk bordering the older parts of town.  The History museum which is next to the visitors center is a huge new building, but the exhibits which fill only two large rooms are static and not very inspiring.  Though I did enjoy a portrait show of  Trinidad Colorado’s photographers, O.E and Glen Aultman which has given me inspiration for a project I have in mind for the Photography group at Desert Trails this coming winter.

Bishops Castle

Bishop's Castle

I had a fun drive today up into the Wet Mountains on my way to see Bishops Castle.  It’s a really cool castle that Jim Bishop started in 1969 as a one room stone cottage.  It’s been under construction ever since and none of it has ever been furnished or lived in in it’s 43 years of existence.  Jim has worked on the castle between raising a family and working full time in Pueblo Colorado at his families iron works company.  He wasn’t there when I went through the building so I didn‘t get to hear his rants about the Government.   Which I’m told are quite heated and passionate.  Climbing those steep outer concrete stairs which eventually lead up to a vast vaulted great room with floor to ceiling windows on each peaked end of the room.  But most folks including me spend a lot of time on the wrought iron balconies that surround the upper levels of the castle and towers.  With winding stairs to climb and vistas on all sides it’s pretty awesome and one can get almost light headed with the height and those mountainous views.  Being able to view the castle from inside and outside on those wire rap-around balconies was a stroke of genius.  To me this is one of those places I just have to visit.  To feel and see what one man can accomplish.  A vision that is all his own.  There are so many questions.  Why build it?  Why the effort if not to live in it?  What does it mean?  Is it art?  What’s the message?

Bishop's Castle

So you’d think that would be enough of an adventure for this leg of my trip, but instead I went to Rosemount Museum which is a 37 room mansion in Pueblo built in 1893.  The mansion was built over three years by John Thatcher and his wife Margaret.  It’s been featured on America’s Castles.  It was built during the transition period when electricity was just coming into fashion so all the Tiffany lights in the house are electric and gas operated.  Because of the location of the house in Pueblo, the electric was turned off at 8 pm to the houses on the block.  The home even was designed with the intent of putting in an elevator in the future.  The space on each floor contained closets with shelves which were eventually removed and the elevator was installed in later years.  The descendants lived in the house until 1968 when it was turned into a museum.  And in a sense it is a museum even having an Egyptian mummy on the third floor and a couple Ming Dynasty vases about 5 feet tall.  My guide pointed out a photo of one of the daughters who took a grand tour around the world, quite an accomplishment for a girl back then.  The picture was of her and her friends on camels in front of the sphinx and one pyramid.  The sphinx is buried up to it’s neck in sand so you don’t see it’s large paws and only one pyramid is showing plus the very tip of another one.  My guide was a bit ditzy to say the least.  Along with the shiny gloss around her lips, yes, extending beyond the lips themselves giving almost a guppy like look to her face.  Forgetting some of her pitch and just stopping and staring at some of the artifacts as if she was seeing them for the first time herself.  Made for a most unique tour.  So there you have it, I saw a castle that has been under construction for over 30 years and no where complete to another castle featured on the TV program American Castles that had all the bells and whistles with a fascinating history of the house and people who lived in it.

Rosemount, Pueblo Colorado

I've been experiencing heavy winds the last couple of days, as I’m on the down slope of the cool winds coming off the mountain ranges meeting up with the hot high desert air.  The dark clouds being just to the east of my campsite.  About 35 miles north of where I’m staying, Colorado Springs had a dozy of a storm last night with tennis ball sized hail.  Tonight, just north and east of Colorado Springs they had a second storm and a tornado touched down briefly.  Fortunately I’m just out of range of these storms, but not the winds as my camper does a shimmy and shake dance most of the evening.

I have lots more to report on, but will save it for next week.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

2012-16 Laverne Oklahoma to Dodge City Kansas


Laverne Oklahoma

Dodge City Kansas

Campground:  Sunrise Rv Park.  Passport America rate: $10.  $2 extra for 50amp.  Full hookups.  13 campsites, all pull-thrus.  Real basic campground on the edge of town.  But it works for an overnight stop.

Campground:  Hawleywood RV Ranch, 11347 East Wyatt Earp Boulevard  Dodge City KS 67801.  An Rv sales store w/small repair shop.  I asked if I could stay overnight for two nights after the repairs were done to my camper.  Cost $8 per night, Electric only.  Cheaper than staying at one of the two campgrounds in Dodge City ($30+).


Since I was heading west anyway, I thought, why not see what this panhandle area of Oklahoma is all about.  It’s just a strip of land sitting above the panhandle of Texas after all.  The drive from Bartlesville was a long one all along those secondary roads, most with paved shoulders and occasionally not.  I prefer having that extra strip of concrete there, especially when big ole trucks come barreling down in the opposite direction.  The scenery changed from  those scraggly stunted oak trees to wide open gently rolling prairie land.   Large tracts of grazing lands and cattle.  Half were rich green in color and then there were the wheat fields already golden colored and ready to harvest.  The change was so sudden it was like entering a whole new country.  These are the wide open spaces and huge blue skies I so enjoy, though I’ll be a bit sad to leave all those thick forests behind.  Miles down the road and the prairie is suddenly dotted with sage brush quickly overtaking all the grasslands.  It’s pretty but useless to farm or graze cattle on.

I finally arrive in Laverne Oklahoma.  A dusty little town (pop 1344).   Home of Jayne Jayro 1967 Miss America.  They even renamed main street after her.  I just report the facts folks and that’s pretty much the extent of Laverne Oklahoma.

I ended up here  because it’s on my way out west and it has a small Passport America campground, but not much else.  Though it does have the very basics, a grocery store, two restaurants, gas stations, a post office and a drug store.  I arrived over the Memorial Day weekend, away from the state park campgrounds which are always filled over the major holidays.  After setting up and thinking this could be a really nice experience staying in small town America, things quickly changed when I realized that my toilet, after flushing it, would not stop running.  Ekk!  It could have quickly overflowed, but I ran outside and turned off the main water spigot.  Now here I am out in the middle of no-where and not an RV repair shop within a hundred miles and it’s a major holiday and the closest Rv repair shops have closed for the long 4 day weekend.  What do I do?  Well, it’s not the most elegant solution but I bring in a bucket of water at a time to fill the sink, wash dishes with, flush the toilet when needed and will take a sponge bath this evening, splish splash havin a bucket bath in the shower stall.  And that’s how one rolls with what one is given along the back roads sometimes.

With a windy evening is in store, I’ve battened down the hatches and am in for the evening.

On another note, I was wandering around a Wal-Mart the other day (in another town) and happened to go down their discount isle.  I usually don’t see anything I need even with the additional discounted markdowns, but this time I found a small terabyte backup disk drive.  It’s about the size of a wallet and cost, $90.  It’s designed to only do backups and restore files.  No software to load or setup, just plug in the USB connection and it starts pretty much by itself.  So now, every time I attach it to my computer, it looks for new files and backs them up.  Great safety net for the next time the computer should crash, or I decide to upgrade to a newer computer.

30 miles down the road just as straight as it could be as it rolls over the high prairie country side I‘m in search of history.  Vast ranches with oil rigs on every one of them,  I’ve arrived at Shattuck on this fine sunny Memorial Day.  There’s not too much to see in this small town with 90% of the store fronts empty along the broad main street in town but I have found the Shattuck Windmill Museum and Park.  It’s a tribute to the windmills that first made living in this remote part of the country possible. Pumping up water to feed small gardens,  provide drinking water for the people and cattle that graze on the high country pastures.  The names of the windmills range from the small 5ft Star Zephyr to the big 18ft Railroad Eclipse.  Two of the last windmills to be manufactured were the Kerkwood Steel Mill and the Dempster.  Only one windmill manufacturer remains and the parts to fix so many out of production models still out in the fields are getting harder to come by.  I talked to a handsome young man with his wife and two kids as they toured the windmills as well.  He fixes many of the windmills but says they are being replaced by solar generated pumps these days.  Efficient for sure as they gradually replace those symbols of the old west.  I learned that the size and height of the windmills was determined by the depth the pipe had to be drilled into the ground.  The deeper it had to go, usually between 200 and 300 feet,  meant that a larger diameter pipe would be required to deliver the water to the surface.  Making a larger windmill necessary to do the job of pumping the water from those deeper depths.

The Windmill Museum also has a one and a half story 1900 farm house and a 1904 small half-dugout soddy.  The soddy would have been the first home to most pioneers out here.  This one, built into the side of a hill has caliche rock walls and sod roof.  After the pioneer was able to build an above ground home the soddy would often be used as a cattle barn.  The small house which had a tiny living room, kitchen and parents bedroom on the fist floor and the half story attic with it’s narrow steep steps is where the 3 boys and one girl slept.  Occasionally during the winter months the school teacher also slept in the attic.

A pleasant drive on a mild sunny Memorial Day weekend.

Unit Drilling Rig #311
Speaking of living arrangements, much of the work out here is either on those large ranches or working for the oil wells dotted all across Oklahoma.  My next door neighbors are in “unit drilling rig #311”.  It’s similar to a single wide mobile home, except that it only has two windows and a door.  I’ve noticed that three guys go off to work in the evening and that a larger crew with about 4 or 5 vehicles arrive after the evening crew has left for work.  Rotating shifts and filling up what I can only imagine is a dorm type setting inside the trailer.

Dodge City, Kansas

It’s Tuesday and it must be time to move on up the road.  I’m heading to Dodge City Kansas because it’s the closest I could find for RV repairs.  A short 80 mile drive.  I arrived at Hawly-wood Rv Center and they were able get me in ahead of a quickly mounting list of appointments for service.  Less than two hours later, they were able to complete the work on the errant water closet problems and I had them add a shut off valve, so if I ever have any problems in the future, I’ll be able to quickly shut off water to the toilet.

One of the many grain elevators, often called The Cathedrals of the West

Dodge City has had quite a history and as you know, I enjoy learning something new every day.  Back in the mid 1800’s a number of forts were constructed to protect the wagon trains of pioneers from the nomad Indians as they went west along the Santa Fe Trail.

The Government then thought, how do we get rid of these Indians as they seem to be much better fighters than the Army sent out to protect and defend this new territory.  Ah-ha, lets kill all the buffalo so the Cherokee and other tribes won’t have any food and will have to move on.  Before the mass slaughter began, there were over six million buffalo on the open plains and prairies. The first year it was advertised that hunters could kill as many buffalo as they wanted too, 2,000 hunters arrived in the Dodge City area to begin the slaughter.  By 1889 there were 549 buffalo remaining of the original 6,000,000.

The second phase of Dodge Cities growth came when the Texas longhorn were carrying a deadly tick disease called splenic fever.  Kansas kept moving the cattle drive further west to protect it‘s own cattle, finally landing in Dodge City where the cattle would then be loaded on to railcars for transport to eastern cities.  Dodge City is still a cattle town and rail center today.

Of course we all know Dodge City through all the westerns and Tv shows about this famous town.  With all it’s outlaws, bandits and robbers.  Along with the wild drinking, gambling halls and brothels and partying going on back then in the 1800s.  The good guys, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Bill Tilghman along with others cleaned up the town.  An interesting note is that Boot Hill, where there’s now a complete recreation of the original towns Front Street, never had any famous gun slingers buried there.  It was an unofficial grave site and those who got killed we poor and destitute type folks and were buried here on Boot hill.  Although the remake of the old town is ok and contains many historical artifacts, the shootout which occurs a few times a day is the highlight both for kids as well as all us adults.  One interesting note is that the last Marshall to hold office in Dodge City met John F Kennedy while he was traveling through the state on his campaign trail for president.  The Marshall gave J. F. K a cowboy hat in honor of his visit and when he became president, he invited the Marshall and his horse riders to be a part of the presidential parade.  Bringing history right up to the modern day present… well for some of us.  How many years ago was J.F.K president?  It doesn’t seem all that long ago does it?

Bessy, maybe your next hamburger or steak?

The next day I took the Trolley tour which was pretty cool as the trolley was not only air-conditioned, but it also had nicely tinted windows to ward off those bright blue sunny skies.  Giving a bit of history via a well recorded presentation, overall a pretty good presentation.  Great way to get to know a town quickly and determine if there is anything one wants to go back and visit with more detail.  The area is still a major center for processing beef.  Yup, this where ole Bessie is fattened up from around 600 lbs up to 1,000 lbs before she becomes that burger your going to have tonight.  The Excel Company has over 2,500 employees and processes 6,000 head of cattle each day.  Another factory in town does about half that.  Moooo, Ekk, Yum… ?  Passed by the large Train Depot that once housed the Harvey Girls Dinner.  A popular stopping place all along the Santa Fe and Topeka line.  It’s currently not in use as there is a ton of black mold and no one wants to take over the place and go through the expense of cleaning it up.  Bummer…

On my own I drove a short distance out of town to see the ruts created by those wagon trains that passed through this way along the Santa Fe Trail.  Even though it was early morning, it wasn’t early enough to see the subtle tracks created by those wagons.  But what the heck, the expansive scenery of the plains more than made up for it.

A stormy night.

A severe storm was predicted for most all of Kansas tonight, so I took precautions as best I could and found out that NOWA was right across the street at the Dodge City Airport.  They have a safe room in case of a tornado.  The storm kept coming closer and  closer and of course I was watching it on the news minute by minute as well as my cell phone.  I went out in the calm before the storm and took a few shots of the darkening clouds then ran inside as the wind picked up very quickly.  Almost blowing me away.  With the winds continuing to pick up, the rain starting to come down and the sky turning pitch black, except for an ominous cloud that was a deep red and looked like sheets of rain touching the ground, I ran to the truck, hopped in and quickly drove across the highway to the airport directly into the wind.  The rain coming down now in sheets, I drove into the parking lot of the NOAA offices with the huge white radar bubble just behind building and looming overhead.   I had to ring a bell to get into the building and after a breathless explanation of where I was staying (in a trailer across the street from them), they let me inside to wait out the storm.  It was over relatively quickly only lasting about 35 minutes.  I thanked them profusely for letting me stay until the storm blew over.  Or the worst of it anyway.  What an exciting evening not soon to be forgotten.  My heart is still racing a little faster than normal as I drove back to the camper.  The sun coming out only for a few minutes and producing a huge rainbow.  The sky then turn black once again, lighting flashed across the sky followed by huge crashing booms and the city lights twinkled off in the  distance.

Thanks Guys for letting me stay here until the storm was over with
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