Friday, July 29, 2005

Uh Oh!

Just got a call from the mechanic about the truck and heard those three terrible words, "Upon further inspection...." Those words immediately bring up visions of $$$$. Seems a bolt holding the exhaust manifold to the engine head was broken at the head and they need to try to drill it (the bolt) and back it out. If that fails, they will have to drill the enitre bolt, tap the engine head and they might have to replace the entire head. Sigh.

The truck is five years old and was paid off in June. With 95K miles on it it is starting to show its age. I've had some issues in the past but it's my baby. Hopefully they will have an easy time with the bolt and I'll have her back in the stable by lunch time.

Weekend Travel

Terry and I will be heading to PA for the weekend. Friends in the Sayre/Athens area (Bradford Co.) have invited us to stay with them and to show them where our property's located (Tioga Co.). There will be three couples all together. Terry and I, Linda and Joe (still working at EPA), and Carol and Ollie (retired EPA and Jersey City State prof). We haven't seen Carol and Ollie for a good long while so that will be fun.

We'll be hitting the road sometime after lunch. The truck is in the shop for a much needed oil change and tune-up. The "Service Engine Soon" light came on while we were in Colorado Springs and we opted to wait until we got home. It's been rode hard and put away wet--to use the western vernacular. If they finish by noon we'll take the truck, otherwise, it will be Terry's Lumina.

Good News for BSA

I’m behind the curve in bringing this up but Stop the ACLU reports on the Senate’s 98-0 vote to allow U.S. military to continue to host Boy Scout events. Since Morristown’s Troop 112 (with which I and my Eagle Scout/Marine reservist/college student son have had a very nice relationship for the past dozen years or so) is sponsored by the NJ Army National Guard and meets at the local Armory I was very pleased to see this happen.

The founders/leaders of the troop were members (now retired) of the Army National Guard when they decided to reach out to the community with first a boys' club and then the Scouts some 25 years ago. The Guard has generously supplied a meeting place the boys can call their own and it is the envy of many troops who have to make due with church halls and the like where materials can't be stored or displayed on a full time basis. Additionally, the main floor of the armory is available for activities during the winter and the ballroom can be used for special occasions (Eagle Courts, advancement ceremonies and the such). The Troop number--112--is in honor of the Guard's 3rd Battalion, 112th Artillery, their sponsor and the Troop logo includes the crossed cannons of the artillery. A great deal of honor and tradition would have been lost if they were forced to separate. Of course, NJ still has a say and who knows how those dipsticks in Trenton will act.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Jessica--the Runner!

Jessica, 1st Passenger, took part in her first 5K run in Westfield, NJ yesterday evening. She has been training on her own for the last few months. First walking then jogging ever increasing distances. Almost every morning she was out of the house for an hour or more running in the park down the block or up to town. Finally she felt she was ready to see what she could do in a real, organized and timed run.

Runners started signing up for the 4th Annual Run For the Pizza at 5 PM and the race was to take place at 7 PM. Terry and I went as support to cheer her on. The temperatures in the afternoon were in the high 90s and the humidity was way up there too. Luckily for all the runners, a cold front swept through the area around 5:30. It lowered the temperature about 10-15 degrees and dropped enough rain to make things cool off quickly. By the time the gun went off to start the run, things were pretty comfortable.

Terry and I were at the Start/Finish line. While we didn't see her start off, we cheered when she crossed the finish. She didn't finish in the top 1000 (there were over 1300 runners), but she did finish #1241, ahead of nearly 100 others, in 35:55 for a personal best. Not bad for someone who never ran any race before and for whom athletics meant lugging a tuba around at football games in high school and college. Now she has a time mark to aim for, she has been looking at other events in which she can participate.

Jess started to run to compliment her Weight Watchers diet. After losing over 50 pounds, she felt it was time to start firming things up. (Plus she needed the extra metabolic work to help with the weight loss.) She's working hard to lose the weight but has been seeing good progress. Having her mother (down 25 pounds) also going to the meetings and dieting with her has been a boon. It hasn't hurt me either. I've dropped over 40 pounds in the last year. We're all feeling healthier because of the weight loss and better eating.

Oldie but Goodie

I came across this oldie, but still funny one, on a site called Parkway Rest Stop and thought you might get a chuckle out of it. (Or at least a groan.)

Friday, July 15, 2005

We're Baaaack!

We pulled the trailer into the yard at the Bolt Hole this afternoon around 2:30 PM.

After more than a week in the arid west where relative humidity seldom topped 15%, the last three days have been brutal. Both days at Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, we had late afternoon thunderstorms that helped "cool" things off--if you consider the drop of 10 degrees a fair trade off for all the added humidity of puddles under your feet. Even this afternoon, as we pulled north from the NYS Thruway to the Bolt Hole we could see a haze in the distance to the north. Once driving up the road, we realized that the "haze" was in fact heavy rains. It poured for about 2 miles (10 minutes on the very bumpy backroad) and then the clouds shifted and the sun came out as we got to the gate.

It took us about 45 minutes to get things unloaded from the truck and trailer and moved into either the cabin or Terry's car. Then, after an early dinner, Terry headed back to NJ for her Saturday EGA meeting. It will be my job to clean out the rest of the trailer and flush the tanks before putting it back in the barn until the end of August.

I'll be posting more about our trip in the next few days. Right now I'm still rocking from all the driving. Rough estimate: 3400 miles between June 27 and July 15.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Almost Home

We drove east to Geneva-on-the-Lake, an 1869 resort community where we checked into the Indian Creek Camping Resort for two nights. It’s one of the more expensive campgrounds we have stopped at but it has lots of amenities and has an excellent rating. Just east of town on highway 531 it is across the street from Lake Erie. It is a fullfledged little community with store, gas station, restaurant, ice cream parlor, miniature golf, fishing pond, two swimming pools and lots of full time hook-ups. The one thing I haven’t successfully been able to do is hook up to their wi-fi system. They use Hotspotzz like the KOA and I am supposed to be able to connect from the parking lot. While the signal is between two and three bars, I can’t seem to raise the Hotspotzz page to sign in. It is frustrating. But then again, at the last KOA I had a similar problem and couldn’t get connected to the server either.

After setting up yesterday afternoon, we discovered a problem with the blower in the AC unit. It wasn’t blowing air. Since it was in the upper 80s with very high humidity, this would not do. I pulled the ceiling panel down and opened up the panel to the blower unit, gave it a little push and off it went. I turned it off, replaced the two panels then turned it on again and…nothing. I had to remove the panels again and give it a push and once again it was working. This time I didn’t turn the fan off as I replaced the panels.

Both Terry and I were dripping by this time so we changed into our swimsuits and headed for the pool. One pool was for adults only so we chose that one for our relaxation. It was almost too warm to be refreshing. It would have been better if it were just 5 degrees cooler.

After our dip in the pool, we went over to Ferrante’s Winery and Restaurant for dinner. The meal was excellent as were the two wines we had with our dinner. We ended up buying three bottles of wine before heading back to the campground. There we checked out the store and found some more local wines. We got four more bottles. (The check out girls wanted to close the store and join us. I told them to just bring the cheese and crackers. They didn‘t.)

This morning, Terry is doing the laundry while I try to connect on the computer. So far I’m having no luck.


After the laundry is done we will be heading out to visit some covered bridges and wineries. Then another dip in the pool and maybe a walk over to the shores of Lake Erie and the resort part of town. (Think Jersey boardwalks on a smaller scale.)

Tomoorow we head back to the Bolt Hole and the end of our trip.

Terry will leave for NJ tomorrow night and I will have the duty of cleaning up the trailer before storing it away in the barn.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Salina, KS to St. Lou

We left Salina, KS early with the idea that we would spend some time in the Cabela’s store west of Kansas City, KS. And we did. The store is set up like the others we have been to and has a huge bronze statue in front of three mule deer. The aquarium and the mule deer gallery inside are fantastic. The center court mountain with its various animals (goats, sheep, bears, etc.) is about the same as the one in PA. Terry looked at some clothes but opted not to buy. We did pick up a percolator for the trailer, as I really like my coffee to be something other than from a bag. Then we walked through the gun racks. While I saw several nice rifles I wouldn’t mind owning, I could only “justify” the purchase of a Cabela’s replica of a Hawkin flintlock in .50 caliber. I have two percussion rifles (one a Hawkin and the other a modern in-line) so shooting a black powder rifle is not new. Shooting a flintlock will be new, however and should be lots of fun. PA has a special season for the use of “primitive” weapons and that was the justification. I don’t think Terry bought my reasoning though. Then again, she did get some very nice Native American jewelry at the Koshare Trading post and lots of Pankratz pottery in Monument. She bought pretties. I bought a tool!

We drove all the way across Missouri on I-70 and then crossed the Mississippi before stopping on the other side in the state of Illinois at the Granite City KOA for the night. We started to get some rain on the Missouri side of the river but got to the campground just in time to get set up and inside before the rain got serious. No dip in the pool today!

The front edge of Dennis is meeting a cold front from the northwest right over this part of the country. It may change our plans for tomorrow. Instead of stopping near Dayton, Ohio we may continue on our way to the Geneva, Ohio to get north of the rain. The bulk of the rain is supposed to fall just to our south along the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The Old Santa Fe Trail

Terry and I got on the road very early Sunday morning and followed US Route 50 east out of La Junta. This highway follows the Arkansas River and the Old Santa Fe Trail through Dodge City where it branches east while US Route 56 (which angles to the northeast) parallels the river past Fort Larned and Pawnee Rock to Great Bend. We didn’t stop at Fort Larned, but I wish we had. It was the gateway to the Old Sante Fe Trail and one of a chain of forts that protected traders and settlers along the trail. In the final days of its use, it protected the railroad builders. Despite having been sold into private hands back in the 1880s, all but one of the buildings is original to the site. They had to rebuild the blockhouse after the Park Service repurchased the property and designated it a historic site in 1964.

Doug, after driving through Great Bend, I know why you left!

Along the road to Dodge City, the smell of the many feed lots wafts gently across the landscape—like a sledgehammer! One sign on one feed lot said it could accommodate 11,000 cattle. That’s a lot of bull…!
Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!

We didn’t stop in Dodge this time around. We were there in 2003 when it was our first stop out of Colorado City and visited Boot Hill and Historic Front Street then. It’s a fun place with some museum-like charm. The gunfight in the street and the barroom/dancehall show were pretty good as was the chuck wagon meal.

We drove US 56 to I-70 and turned east to Salina, KS where we put up for the night at the KOA of Salina at 3 o’clock Central Time. (The Time Zone change occurred when we got one county into Kansas.) We had driven over 380 miles and it was time for a dip in the pool.

I checked the internet to see what the predicted path of Hurricane Dennis is for the next few days. Supposedly he will rapidly diminish in strength but he is heading right up the Mississippi Valley. We will be just the other side of St. Louis tomorrow night. He will reach St. Louis on Tuesday. We will move more quickly into Ohio (near Dayton) on Tuesday night. Dennis will hook a little to the east according to the forecast bringing him right behind us to Dayton/Columbus on Wednesday/Thursday. We turn northeast and he continues eastward. Hopefully, he will skirt to our south as we get to the Geneva, Ohio area on Wednesday night. We would like to stay in the Geneva area for two nights before heading to the Bolt Hole in the Adirondacks, but if he catches up or the forecast changes, we may have to make a run for it.

Koshare Indian Museum & Dancers

The Koshare Indian Museum is on the campus of Otero Community College in La Junta, CO. and are the result of one James Francis “Buck” Burshears. He started a new Boy Scout Troop in La Junta back in 1933 As a collector of Native American art and artifacts, he decided to get the boys involved in a program of Indian lore and craft so as to keep their interest in scouting once they entered high school and thus attain their Eagle rank. It worked!

The dance group The Koshare Indian Dancers, have traveled extensively through the US and have been given or have purchased many artifacts of Native American craft. Their museum collection is extensive and has been valued at over $15 million.

Boy Scout Troop 232, and now Venturing Crew 230, continue the tradition of presenting interpretations of many Native American dances. Every weekend in the summer, at school programs and during Winter Ceremonials the boys (and now girls too) put their skills and hard work on display for the public in the replica of a Native American Kiva, The round ceremonial room has the largest self-supporting roof of its kind in the country. It is composed of over 600 logs and weighs over 40 tons and is held together by gravity alone. Damon Runyon was the designer.

Oh, and about those Eagle ranks. Troop 232 has had over 600 Eagle Scouts in its 72 year history. Buck Burshears knew how to motivate!

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Friday morning we packed up everything and hitched up the trailer to head out to La Junta on US 50. The drive along I-25 to Pueblo went uneventfully despite it being rush hour. The only slowdown of traffic came when we had people merging with the southbound lanes just north of Garden of the Gods and again near US 24. I had expected much worse because of all the new home construction.

We quickly left the mountains behind and saw and felt the difference in the altitude (down almost 2000 feet) and water availability. The loss of altitude and moving east from the mountains meant the temperatures climbed to the low 100s. Thankfully the humidity dropped to near 10%. (There is more danger of becoming a mummy from desiccation than of drowning in your own perspiration. Salt may encrust your body however so that you become a pillar of salt like Lot’s wife.) The landscape was much drier and only along the creek and river courses could you see the cottonwood trees. Cactus started appearing more frequently along the roadside. There are plenty of farms using irrigation ditches from the Arkansas River and others that join it and I was surprised to see several sod farms. Terry and I speculated about the idiots who would put in a lawn of sod in such arid country when the wild grasses and sage would do so well with no watering.

We got to the KOA in La Junta around 10 AM (it was only a drive of about 120 miles) and unhitched the trailer so we could do some site seeing. A short drive to the east and north off US 50 is a reconstruction of Bent’s Fort. Originally built in 1833 on the north shores of the Arkansas River, which was then the border between Mexico and the US, it served as a trading post for mountain men, Mexicans (whose goods usually came all the way from Mexico City—if they got that far north) and Indians until the fur trade collapsed due to changing fashion and the war with Mexico. It was destroyed in 1849. Cholera among the populations around the fort also may have played a role in its abandonment. The reconstruction of the adobe fort by the National Park Service is detailed and there are both guided and self guided tours through the rooms and grounds inside the fort.

From the fort we drove a little further east to Las Animas and the Kit Carson Museum. This museum was not what I expected having little to do with Kit Carson and lots to do with the history of this small town. They did have some materials from Carson’s days but much of the displays were donations from long time families in the area. Some collections go back to the mid-1800s while many are of materials from the early to mid 1900s. The building itself is one of the barracks from WWII when the town was one of the POW camps for captured Germans. (This is interesting also because just down the road at Grenada, CO there is a Japanese-American internment camp that is being refurbished as a high school project.)

Getting back to the campground, we took a dip in the pool and then went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant down the road.

Friday, July 08, 2005

On The Road Again

This morning we pack up our trailer and hitch her up to the truck. We'll be heading south and then east through Pueblo and out to La Junta for the next two days. I'm told we should expect the temperatures to be a wee bit higher than they have been here in Colorado Springs. We have been enjoying days in the upper 70s and nights in the 50s. While the nights may remain the same, the daytime forecast for La Junta is 100 degrees. Thankfully the humidity is only in the teens.

In La Junta we plan on visiting Bent's Old Fort, the Kit Carson Museum and the Koshare Indian Museum. We'll be posting again sometime during the week but can't be sure when.

One More Day In Paradise

Thursday was an easy day of seeing the Western Museum of Mining and Industry and then doing laundry and going for a dip in the pool before going over to Joyce’s for burgers and dogs.

The Museum is a great place. We got to see a 20-minute video about prospecting and mining in the west and then got a tour of the museum by one of the most knowledgeable volunteers I’ve seen. George is a decorated WWII vet (he was in the Arden Forest) who has been involved with every aspect of mining but whose expertise is blasting. He ably explained the operations of placer mining and hard rock mining as well as the actions of assayers and the process of extracting gold and silver from the ore using either the old mercury method or the arsenic method. George wears an oxygen tank and two hearing aids because of his work drilling and blasting rock for road cuts, mines and quarries. Because of all the little stories he told along the way, the tour of the small museum lasted two hours (three quarters of it with George) and then moved outside. Terry and I opted to leave at that point only because 1-it was lunchtime, 2-we had other chores to do, and 3-George was finished. He had a date with his granddaughter.

On our way out, I complimented the curator on their display and especially in having a living resource like George. We talked about living history and oral resources a bit and he said they were trying to get as much of the stuff they could from George and others. So much history is not committed to the printed page that more is lost every day. It wasn’t until I was back in the truck that I realized I hadn’t taken a single picture.

After doing laundry and relaxing in the pool, we went over to Joyce’s again for hamburgers, hotdogs and good company.

Up, Up and Up Again--On Foot

Wednesday morning Terry and I drove over to The Seven Falls on the south side of Colorado Springs. The falls are located at the head of a narrow canyon and drop about 200 feet. While this isn’t a very far distance compared to some falls, there are two flights of steps (about 250 steps) alongside them that you can climb—slowly to reach the top. Feeling rather brave and needing to work off some of the good food we have been enjoying, we chose to take the walk to the top.

Seven Falls Stairway

Once you have reached the top there are a pair of trails you can follow. One is a short 1/2 mile trail to another small water fall and the other is a mile long trail that takes you up to the crest of Cheyenne Mountain past the original burial site of Helen Hunt Jackson who wrote the novel Ramona back in the 1870’s in an attempt to provide impetus for the Indian Rights Movement in the way Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for the emancipation of blacks. Knowing we still had to climb back down the stairs—and figuring we hadn’t eaten that much—we took the shorter trail. The views from the top of the stairs were fantastic even though we weren’t at the crest of the ridge and the wild flowers along the short trail were beautiful.

Once back at the bottom of the stairs, we took an elevator to an observation point that allows you to view all seven of the waterfalls as well as the two flights of steps. The elevator was carved out of Pike’s Peak granite and caries you 7 floors above the canyon floor. We could have taken another flight of steps to reach the viewing point but our thighs needed the rest.

After leaving The Seven Falls, we drove downtown to the Pioneer Museum. The museum contains materials from El Paso County’s past and the founding of Colorado Springs. The building it is housed in was originally the county courthouse constructed in 1899. The building itself is very impressive and has been the setting for several movies. The District 1 courtroom is kept in its original form just so it can be used as a movie set and for special occasions. The other District Courts and various offices are now display rooms. (Sorry no flash photography allowed and I forgot to get a picture of the exterior.)

We spent some time relaxing in the campground’s hot tub and pool before meeting everyone at the Flying W Ranch for dinner and the show. The Flying W used to be an operating cattle ranch occupying 10,000 acres from Colorado Springs up to where the Air Force Academy now sits. Over the years, parcels have been sold off to become housing developments and, while a small part is still used for ranching, they now have a small “town” of shops and an indoor and outdoor dinner theater where you get chuck wagon food and some real good cowboy songs and picking.

Flying W

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

July 4th Parade, Picnic and Fireworks

July 4th

This morning we all gathered in front of La Casa in “downtown” Monument for one Great parade. (Believe me, it deserves the capital G.)

A town with a population of only a few thousand people had many times that number on had to see the parade. Streets were closed to traffic for both the parade and street fair that continued through the morning into the afternoon. The parade started at 9 AM and was composed of two parts. There was a half-hour long kids parade in which scouts and any kid who wanted to could participate and hundreds of them did. There were kids on stilts, kids on bikes, kids on horses and kids on floats. One of the cutest was of two little girls dressed as mermaids being pulled by an older fella (possibly their grandpa) as Poseidon on a lawn tractor. The tractor had two dolphin cutouts on its sides and a trident mounted next to Poseidon. The float had a banner proclaiming “America the beautiful…from Sea to shining Sea” and the two mermaids were throwing candy to the crowd.

America the Beautiful

America the Beautiful

The “adult” portion of the parade had antique cars, beauty queens, politicians, llamas, elephants, camels, horses, tractors, muscle cars, Chevy Stingrays (red, white and blue among many others), knights in shining armor, and lots more. The Shriners from the Al Kaly Shrine of Colorado Springs were in abundance with a band, motorcycles, miniature antique cars, motor bikes and clowns. Among the tractors was one older gal, “Jane Dear” on her pink tractor. That was really cool. The fire trucks from the surrounding area were the last ones on line and the parade ended around 11:30.

El Paso County Fair Queen

El Paso Co Fair Queen

Kit Carson Riding Queen

Kit Carson Riding Queen

Al Kaly Shrine Drum Corps

Al Kaly Drum Corps

Jane Dear

Jane Dear

We walked through the street fair and had a barbeque lunch at the Bistro on the edge of town. Here we could sit inside, away from the crowds and enjoy our meal while availing ourselves of the restrooms. Neither seating nor many restrooms were present at the fair and the noise and crowds made it difficult to talk.

After lunch, we walked back to the campground and we gave everyone the nickel tour of our home on wheels before I drove them back to their homes for a well earned rest period.

That evening, we drove up to Palmer Lake for a picnic part with some friends of Jerry’s. Another of the guests is a very noted watercolor artists, Joe Bohler. Terry and I would buy some small prints of his work the next day in the local gift shop. Patty has one of his larger prints of the Star of Palmer Lake. It was painted from just about where her new house will be. After some good food (and too much of it!) it was on to Patty and Matt’s property to view the fireworks over Palmer Lake.

If the crowd at Monument’s parade was impressive, that at Palmer Lake was truly amazing. I’d swear half the people in Colorado were in attendance. Looking down at the town and lake from the curb where Patty and Matt plan to build their home in two years, you could see thousands and thousands of cars and people enjoying the festivities of live bands in preparation for the fireworks to come. We had some difficulty negotiating the streets to get to their property because people were parking along the roads a mile or more from town and walking. I feared there may be people parked all the way up to Patty and Matt’s property but there was enough room for us to park there and pull out our lawn chairs and enjoy the show.

And what a show it was. Once it started, light and sound filled the air almost directly over our heads and right over the future house. The mountains echoed the booms and blasts directly back to us and smoke from the pyrotechnics filled the valley and drifted slowly to the north. For a half-hour to forty-five minutes explosions and light dazzled the crowds.

When it was over, we could still see some of the show from the Air Force Academy to the south as well as the finally from another show that was going on to the southeast. They were too far away to hear any explosions but the lights could still be enjoyed. We stayed where we were as lines of cars attempted to make their way down the mountains onto highway 105 to exit the town. About forty-five minutes after the last of the official fireworks and while the private rockets were still bursting in a far more subdued display, Terry and I decided it was time to attempt our getaway. Traffic moved much better than I anticipated and we were able to get back to our trailer by 11:30.

Do any other cultures besides the Chinese (New Year’s celebrations come to mind) and the Americans have such a long tradition of just blowing things up for fun? Seeing all the official and unofficial fireworks exploded along the Front Range made Jerry and I ponder that question (and, probably, secretly wish we had some explosives on hand) and wonder how many thousands of dollars was going up in cordite that night.

Sunday, Sunday

Ahhh, Sunday. a day of rest…NOT!

Driving through the Garden of the Gods (a Colorado Springs city park that is truly spectacular) early Saturday morning gave us the idea of walking there early Sunday morning. So we did.

Garden of Gods 01

So as to beat the crowds and enjoy the best morning light, we got to the park around 6:30 AM and hiked a short loop trail through the very center of the best formations. As we walked past the North Gateway Rocks, Terry spotted a Prairie Falcon sitting in one of the holes. While that bird looked on swallows and rock pigeons dove and swooped all around. Wrens were singing and we even saw a spotted towhee in the brush. Numerous rabbits fed in the grasses along the trail undeterred by passing walkers and cyclists. It was only when the dogs (even on leashes) past them that the rabbits scurried into the brush.

Near the end of our walk, as we neared the Gateway again, we saw a falcon swoop from one hole in the South Gateway Rocks to another and then back again. How cool is that?
We finished our little hike and drove along the road to the Balancing Rock formation in the southwest part of the park. We got out and snapped some pictures before heading to the Trading Post (southeast) and then The Visitors’ and Nature Center (northeast).

It was still only 10 AM so we headed over to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame where we spent an hour and a half looking at the displays and reading about rodeo champions of years past. Like the Baseball Hall of Fame, each inductee must be elected. There are human competitors, announcers, bull fighters (clowns) as well as the animal participants (bucking horses and bulls) inducted here. It's a very nice place to visit.


Since it was still short of noon, we drove up Route 24 to the Cave of the Winds. The road into the Cave’s parking lot is a twisty-turny affair that climbs at a very steep angle. We got to the top of the road and found a spot in the parking lot and walked into the visitors’ center. For $14 each, we took a short 45-minute tour through the cave. (We had to wait about that long for the tour to start so we got some lunch at the snack bar and enjoyed the view back down the canyon.) Being 500 feet above the canyon floor, these are one of the highest commercial cave systems in the world—and also one of the driest I have ever been in. The recent 10-year drought hasn’t helped much in the water department. All the formations in the cave are calcite and the water must have contained very few other minerals, as color is sparse. Temperature in the caves was just 54 degrees (as it usually is) yet some people in the tour group were “complaining” about how cold it was. There were stalactites from the cracks in the ceiling and a few stalagmites, lots of ribbon stalactites and a few spidery looking deposits that I haven’t seen elsewhere that the guide called cave coral. The rooms were smaller than in some caves we have visited with the largest only some 30 feet square and maybe 20 high. Terry noted that this cave had more low passageways than we have seen in others. She even had to duck for a few of them.

Cave of Winds 2

After the tour, it was time for us to head back to the trailer but first we had to go to Safeway to pick up some deserts for dinner at Joyce’s.

Joyce owns about five acres at the very base of the Front Range just north of the Air Force Academy. She enjoys some spectacular scenery from her deck but even more she has many wild neighbors who enjoy her hospitality. As we walked up the steps to her deck and front door we couldn’t help but notice the 8 hummingbird feeders attached to the rail of her deck. Nor could we miss the constantly darting birds feeding on the sugar water from these feeders. At six o’clock it seemed incredibly crowded but we were told, “Just wait until twilight then you’ll see a show!”

Outside her kitchen and dining room windows you could see two or three feeders containing seed for the other birds in the area and there were quite a few of those. Cowbirds, scrub jays, black-headed towhee and spotted towhee were all present while we were eating and then they gave a squawk and flew off as Mooch showed up. Mooch is a red fox that has been coming to Joyce’s back door for around three years. He gets a literal handout of hotdogs and cheese, taking the offerings right from Joyce’s hand. It is actually amazing that he still trusts her enough to do this. Earlier this year he showed up with a torn lower eyelid having gotten into a fight somewhere. Joyce arranged to have him trapped and taken to a vet to get stitched up. Once released, he didn’t come back to the house for two or three days but then, apparently he missed his hotdogs and cheese and started showing up regularly again. Tonight, while Terry and Patty looked on he gently took his hotdog and cheese handout and trotted off into the brush.

After dinner, as the sun settled down behind the mountains, the drone of the hummingbirds increased and we went out on the deck to view the show. Each of Joyce’s feeders has six stations; she has eight feeders; that makes 48 feeding stations. Every one of those stations had a bird on it and at least as many birds were zipping around looking for an opening or chasing someone off a station so they could feed. There had to be a hundred hummers flitting around totally unconcerned about our presence (except to investigate Annette’s red fingernails). Each bird was only concerned about getting enough food to make it through the night and to heck with anything else. Almost all of the birds were broad-tails (they look a lot like our ruby throated back east but they are ever so slightly larger) but there was one little rufous sided bully that crashed the party. For twenty-five or thirty minutes this continued, then, as if someone flipped a switch, they all disappeared until tomorrow.

Hummers 01

Hummers 02

Now that they were gone, it was time to take in the feeders. She used to leave all the feeders out over night but last year a bear showed up and climbed up the stairs to her deck to feed on the sugar water, sooo…. First the seed feeders went into the closet. Then the eight hummingbird feeders came in and were drained (she saves the newest mixture but discards the older ones—it ferments in the sun), rinsed and set in their container until the next morning when, at 5 AM Joyce would again refill them and hang them out for her company.

Not too long after the birds left, we headed back to the campground anticipating the 4th of July that was to come.

Up, Up and Away...And More!

Early Saturday morning (5:15 AM) Terry and I left the campground to meet with Jerry, Annette, Joyce, Patty and Matt at a truck stop just off I-25 north of the Air Force Academy. Once we all gathered we caravanned through Colorado Springs and over the Front Range via Ute and Wilkerson Passes to South Park. On the way over Wilkerson Pass we stopped to enjoy the view to the east of Pike’s Peak and to the west of South Park and the distant Rockies—and to use the restrooms. South Park is a vast, flat-bottomed bowl between the Front Range and the Rockies. About the size of Rhode Island this area is one of several locations that is ideal for ballooning according to Jerry. There are many pieces of ranch land that permit them to launch and fly depending upon the winds. Nearly the entire area is covered with short grasses, sage and cactus. Nothing seems to grow more than a few inches high and it must be very slim pickings for any grazing animals, yet there are buffalo in some of the fenced off ranches and pronghorn antelope roam the flats. There is also ample evidence that cattle are also grazed upon this land so you need to watch your step!

South Park from above

As we came down out of the pass into the flats we could see another balloon already in the air in the distance. Once Jerry led us into the field he deemed best for today, he opened the trailer carrying the balloon and basket and we all pitched in to offload the rig and layout the balloon on the ground. Jerry and Joyce attached the balloon to the basket, started up the gas powered fan and began to blow air into the balloon while the rest of us held it open and in position. Once enough air was in the envelope, Jerry fired up the propane burner started to blow hot air into the balloon and it quickly rose to stand perpendicular to the ground. The rest of us held on to the basket to assure it didn’t take off until we wanted it to.

First up was some “business” that both Jerry and Joyce had to get out of the way. Joyce had to make three solo touch-and-go maneuvers to keep her license current and then she had to check out Jerry on some flight maneuvers. All of this is done in accordance with FAA rules and is, more or less, on the honor system. If the two pilots in the group, Jerry and Joyce, didn’t have one another to confirm some of their maneuvers, they would have to search up another pilot who might charge them for witnessing their activities.

Joyce & Jerry Takin' Care of Business

Jerry&Joyce Balloon

Once they got the business part of the day done, it was time for the rest of us. Joyce took Patty and Terry up for a lazy little flight that carried them south just above the surface of the earth and then northwest a little higher before they stalled and just hung in the air. Slowly they descended as the guys flowed in two chase vehicles. As the basket settled to the earth, a dog came loping out from a nearby home (one of only three that we could see in the surrounding ten square miles) wanting to investigate the strange thing. He looked like a Doberman or Rottweiler and his intentions were not clear. It didn’t really matter because when Joyce gave a blast on the burner, the dog turned and trotted back to the house where he ducked into the garage and didn’t come out again wile we were there. I guess he figured anything that growled that loudly might be more than he could handle!

Ladies First

Ladies Balloon

Jerry then took Matt and I up for a ride. It is really quite amazing how easily the balloon floats upward once the proper amount of hot hair fills the envelope. It takes a careful touch to keep you moving gently as opposed to bobbing up and down. After about twenty minutes, we descended and began to glide rather swiftly along the surface. There was some concern that when we touched and bounced, the basket might tip but the wind hadn’t gotten that high yet. We did bounce once or twice and listed a little but we did land relatively smoothly.

With the increasing winds, both Jerry and Joyce thought it better to call it a morning. The sunlight had begun to set up thermals that could generate some very strong winds in a short period of time. Ballooning is always done either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the wind has died. Seldom is it done during the middle of the day. The air was spilled out of the envelope and the balloon laid out on the ground. The basket got unattached. Finally the balloon was again stored in its canvas sack and everything loaded back into the trailer. We drove back to our original launch site (one of the cars was still there) and got out the food for our celebratory drinks and brunch. It was only 10 AM.

It's Party Time

Party time

While we were raising a champagne toast to our safe flight, the wind did kick up and Annette and Patty pulled out kites to fly. Annette was flying Jerry’s kite which needed very little to get it going. She simply held it in the air and off it went. Soon she had a quarter mile of string out and could have had more if the reel held it. Patty’s little air foil had a little more difficulty getting airborne but eventually she succeeded in getting it to rise a hundred yards or more.

Noon arrived and Terry and I headed off back toward Colorado Springs but along the way, we were going to stop in Woodland Park to stop at the new museum there: the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center. It’s a small museum established by paleontologist Mike Treibold. Displays of two-dozen full size skeletons of different species of dinosaurs of all kinds, fish, pterosaurs and other creatures are labeled with explanations about heir discovery as well has their living habits. All labels are in plain English and are written for the layman. We spent about an hour and a half there and really enjoyed it.

Then it was back to Colorado Springs to stop at Needle In The Rockies, a needlecraft store that Terry was interested in. She left her scissors home and needed to see if she could get some thread for a project she has nearly completed. They had some scissors but not the thread she needed.

Finally we got back to the trailer. It was only 4 PM but we had had a very full day. I wanted to take a dip in the pool but it was a little crowded so we waited until 5:30 when some of the folks would have left for their dinner. Sure enough, it was less crowded and we were able to get a bout half an hour of swimming in before the clouds covered the sun and we decided to call it quits

Fun, Friends and Food in Monument, CO

We arrived at Lake of the Rockies campground around 11 AM on Friday, July 1. After being shown the site that we would call home for the next week and connecting all the utilities (electric, water, sewer) Terry and I went grocery shopping at the local Safeway. A little after 1 PM, I called Patty S. and found out she and Matt had arrived safely on the ground and on their way to Monument. We made arrangements to meet them and Joyce and Jerry for dinner at La Casa in bustling downtown Monument. For the remainder of the afternoon, we lazed around the campsite. After ten years of drought that caused the Lake to go dry, this winter produced enough snowfall to fill Monument Lake and Palmer Lake just up stream. They even stocked the lake with trout—and me without my fishing poles :-(

As we sat and watched rig after rig pull into the campground I was glad that we had arrived early. It meant I had a smaller audience to watch me back the trailer into its slot. (Most of the sites are back-in sites, which can get to be a real challenge when cars/trucks are parked everywhere. I purchased two walkie-talkies so Terry can stand at the back of the trailer and tell me how much room I have and whether the trailer needs to go right or left. Extension mirrors help while driving but they don’t extend far enough to help while backing up. When the back of an 18-wheeler has a sign showing the driver’s blind spots—believe it!)

Late in the afternoon, thunder sounded and lightening crackled. For fifteen minutes we had strong, gusty winds and just a little rain. I had forgotten this about Colorado. Like many places warmed by the sun during the day (from down right chilly nights), afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence.

We all eventually arrived at La Casa for dinner. Terry and I were early, as usual, and arranged for seating for six. We were enjoying our first margarita when Joyce, Matt and Patty showed up. They had nearly finished their first drinks when Jerry finally came in. Dinner was superb and the company was grand. We talked and drank and ate and drank and had a wonderful time. We talked about what we have been doing and what we want to do during the next week. Arrangements were made for ballooning on Saturday morning—early Saturday morning. We finally concluded we all needed to get some sleep if we were going to have to get up so early so the party broke up around 8:45 PM.

We're Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto

On Thursday, June 29, we woke early and drove fast through Kansas City (both of them) and across Kansas. The landscape lacked trees and even the cornfields disappeared giving way to wheat and cattle as we moved further west. Instead of being totally flat, there were many gullies and washes that reminded me of the Badlands further north in South Dakota. These breaks were grassy, however and did not expose the soil. I spots, farmers were harvesting their wheat and then there were clouds of dust rising from the flatter fields and in one instance there was a dust devil that resembled a miniature tornado. No Dorothy or Toto were seen.

Since we had such an early start and made good time, we drove on past Oakley, KS to Goodland to stay at the Goodland KOA. Goodland is a real Midwest small town. As the teenage clerk said, “Everything in Goodland is within walking distance.” It apparently caters to the local farmers but is also the home of the area’s National Guard Armory. One thing I noticed is the softball complex on the edge of town. It has four fields, all with lights, and suggests there may be one heck of a tournament or two held here every year. The one tourist attraction they note on the signs approaching Goodland is the giant replica of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” which is appropriate for the state of Kansas.

Goodland's VanGogh

Friday morning we were on the road again heading to our final destination of Monument, CO. Not only did we get an early start, we gained an hour crossing into Mountain Time. For some reason, four counties on the western Kansas border are in the Mountain Time Zone while the rest of the state is in the Central Time Zone. Go figure!
The last stretch across Kansas is ALL up hill as you head west. The rolling hills that had you going up and down from Kansas City disappear and it becomes one long haul up hill. A short distance south of where I-70 crosses into Colorado is Mt. Sunflower, elevation 4039, Kansas’ highest point. In contrast, the elevation of the Missouri River in Kansas City on the eastern edge of the state is only about 800 feet. It wasn’t a sudden change in elevation, it kind of snuck up on you but it did take its toll on the truck. Gas mileage went from a paltry 10 miles to a gallon (remember, I’m hauling a 27-foot trailer!) to an infinitesimal 4 miles to a gallon. Ouch!