Friday, May 31, 2013

Aspens; Maroon Bells; Beaver; "Nice Outfit"; Hanging Lake; Stinky - The Rest of the Story; Fishnet Stockings?

The past two days have provided us some much-needed mountain scenery. On Wednesday, we drove to Aspen, but not to hang out with Madonna. We were looking for some mountains, and on the way up, we found thousands of the aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) for which the town was named. These trees alongside the road grabbed our attention for their beautiful bark. Aspens grow in clonal colonies, derived from a single seedling, with new trees appearing up to 100-130 ft from the parent tree. Individual trees live for 40-150 years, but the root system can live for many centuries. One colony in Utah, nicknamed “Pando”, is estimated to be 80,000 years old. 

We visited the Maroon Bells, which are neither a restaurant nor a colorful church tower. The Maroon Bells are two 14,000 ft peaks in the Elk Mountains near Aspen that are stunningly beautiful. With many stands of Aspen trees below, they are rugged and snow-streaked (not snow-capped because they are too steep to hold much snow). They are also called “The Deadly Bells”, named that because of a series of accidents in 1965 when eight climbers were killed because of their down-sloping, loose, rotten and unstable rock. 

The approach trail is alongside Maroon Lake. It is a lovely lake, and supposedly a good fishing spot for rainbow and cutthroat TROUT, although the water was so cold that they aren’t feeding this early in the season. The hike was a joy for Suzanne and the puppies, who rarely get out on real hikes, since National Parks and Monuments don't allow canine hikers. 

What have been feeding are the beaver (Castor canadensis), some of whom live in this condo with 360 degree water views. Rudy and Gretchen were going crazy with all the beaver scents along the shore. Even though Dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers, beavers (the world's second-largest rodents) are a suitable replacement for their hunting skills. 

The tender sprouts of this willow and dozens of others have been gnawed by the beaver for food and to build their lodges. Aspen are also a favorite food. Getting to their bedroom requires a chilly swim, but their water-resistant fur keeps them warm even in winter. Beavers can grow to 55 lbs, and their four incisors are self-sharpening and keep growing continuously so they won’t get worn down from chewing wood. 

The town of Aspen itself was nice, but filled full of shops and boutiques. One display caught my eye. I commented to My Lovely Bride, “Gosh, if that’s what the girls here wear, it can’t be that bad of a place to live... maybe we could look into property here, Suzanne.” Smack... 

Well, I couldn’t read the real estate listings because of my black eye, but My Sweetheart told me that Aspen was the most expensive market in the USA, with most single family homes going for 2-15 million bucks. We decided to forgo even looking...

Thursday morning was another hike, this time to Hanging Lake, near Glenwood Springs. It had been recommended to us by Jerry and Rusty Bianchi as one of the most popular trails in Colorado, and we can understand why. This 1.5 mile trail is one of the steepest we’ve completed. You start along the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, and hike up Deadhorse Creek Canyon. There are several places to sit beside a roaring stream and meditate... 

After an hour’s effort, you arrive at crystal-clear Hanging Lake where waterfalls and cliffs provide an idyllic backdrop. The turquoise color is provided by travertine mineral deposits. You can see fish thirty feet away in the clear water, but fishing and swimming are not allowed to preserve the clarity of the water. We reluctantly left Hanging Lake and returned to The Coach for the next leg of our trip, to Moab, Utah.

On the way to Moab, I received a note from our good friend Catherine Cote, relating to a previous blog entry about a guy named Stinky Steinbeck. We had seen his name on an "Adopt-a-Trail" sign while hiking on the Blue River Trail in Silverthorne, Colorado. Well, here is "the rest of the story": Stinky is actually a close friend of Catherine's sister Sally. He apparently got his nickname from kids at school, who called him Stinkbrain, among other names. I innocently asked, "Would you want to make a trans-Atlantic flight with him sitting in the seat next to you?" Turns out Stinky is an Air Force Academy grad and a pilot to boot, so perhaps it would be okay if he was in the cockpit instead of sitting next to you on that long flight. Sally and her husband Steve, who was Stinky's Academy roommate, introduced her good friend Karen to Stinky... and they are still friends after all these years... It's a small world.
I would normally make some cheap shot about Air Force guys at this point, but since I haven't met either Steve or Stinky, I will withhold any comments. Maybe next year we can come back this way and meet Stinky, but I'll be sure to bring a gas mask just in case...

In closing, I feel obligated to report on two varying perceptions of women's apparel. As we were walking our puppies around Moab tonight, we passed a restaurant, where I noted an attractive young woman server wearing a very short skirt and fishnet stockings. I smiled with approval, and My Lovely Bride, ever observant to such sideways glances, rolled her eyes without comment... I said, "Darling, I know women think those stockings make girls look cheap, but they also make her look trashy... snort..." Smack, smack, smack...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hard Core; Elevation Fatigue; Stinky? New Buds; Exploding Catsup; “Minnow? What Minnow?”

As many of our readers know, Suzanne and I both like to run. I might even suggest that we are pretty “hard core” runners for our ages. We were walking on the Blue River Trail today in Silverthorne, Colorado, when we were passed by a young man who really fits that appellation. He was running barefoot. Like, with no shoes. Okay, admittedly this was a pretty smooth paved path, at least at the point we saw him; but it is still unusual to see a young guy running sans shoes... there is actually a renaissance in barefoot running occurring these days, especially among twenty-somethings in California, Washington State, and Colorado, but I have not caught the bug. 

Speaking of physical exertion at altitude, My Lovely Bride has been affected by the 9,000 plus foot elevation here in the Rockies more than I have. She has felt more fatigued after workouts since we left the Denver area, which is at a mere one mile (5,280 ft.) elevation. While giving a reading by Skype this morning, she could not tell if the fact that she was suddenly having difficulty breathing was a symptom of the person she was tuning in to or the lack of oxygen in her own system.  We were talking to a lady my age today who hooks up to bottled oxygen at night to reduce the load on her heart and increase the oxygen levels in her blood, even after living in the mountains for over 30 years, and she swears that half of her friends do the same and that it helps.

While on our walk, we noticed numerous houses in the upscale Silverthorne area with logs incorporated into their design. This house was one example, and we remarked how lovely a view the owners had of the mountains from their deck. 

In this same development, we noticed a sign for two local “Adopt-a-Trail” supporters. I’m sure Karen is a lovely person, but you have to suspect her good judgment in marrying a guy nicknamed “Stinky”... he might be a terrific guy, but would you want to make a trans-Atlantic flight with him sitting in the seat next to you?  

This particular trail, which runs along the Blue River, was subsidized by proceeds from the Colorado Lottery. It is well-maintained, and has dozens of benches strategically placed along this lovely stream for resting, meditation and reflecting about the Mysteries of Life. This young hiker is making good use of one bench... but what is she thinking about???? (Her deranged husband, perhaps?)  

I am not knowledgeable about horticultural or floral subjects, but I did note today that Spring has yet to come to the alpine areas we are now visiting. There is still a lot of snow above 9,000 feet, and trees are mostly leafless, except for the evergreens, of course. 

Along the Blue River, these were some of the few buds making their appearance. Regrettably, I cannot identify the bushes they belong to. Is there a botanist in the house?

I have always admired log fences, and this one caught my eye. What a backdrop!  

One of the funny events related to the altitude here happened today when Suzanne was making lunch. She had made hamburgers, and when she opened the catsup bottle, a spray of red burst out of the top of the bottle. It was a bit of a mess, but fortunately she didn’t make a direct hit on Your Faithful Correspondent.

As of Tuesday afternoon, we have moved west on I-70/US-6, past beautiful (and pricey) Vail, Eagle and No Name, Colorado, to a lower elevation (around 6,000 feet) in the town of Glenwood Springs (where Suzanne can breathe again). In talking to one of the local residents, we learned that we are near Storm King Mountain, where 14 firefighters lost their lives in July, 1994 when a forest fire exploded in high winds and tinder-dry conditions. It is still brisk here, but whereas last night’s temperature dropped to 33F, we are only expecting a mild 39F tonight. Here is Suzanne in her ski parka with the puppies on our last walk of the day, with scenic Red Mountain in the background. 

In closing, I have to acknowledge one of our Minnesnowtan readers, Terri of the Frozen North, who commented on my recent fishing success. Terri wrote, “Congratulations on that minnow... um... “fish”... that you caught! Hopefully that’ll start a lucky streak for you, and by the time you come to Minnesota (note the correct spelling on that) you can catch some real fish. Oops, sorry... I mean some BIGger fish!” Terri, Terri, Terri... you do not cast aspersions upon the Blogmeister and escape unscathed. Every real fisherman knows that rainbow trout are one of the most challenging fish on the planet, and indescribably tasty to boot. 12-14 inch rainbows are considered the tastiest. This is one case where size does not matter. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

No Gators Here; Lady Mountain Driver; Beignets; An Elkador? Dam Road; Two Pretty Skiers; Kissing on the Grass

Before leaving Loveland, we got a last bike ride in around Boyd Lake. The bike path, like many we have ridden in Colorado, is paved and wide enough for two bikes to safely pass at speed. The view of the Rocky Mountains from these lakeside houses is lovely. And there are no water moccasins or alligators in the lake... imagine that!  

We were headed west from the Denver area, which takes you on I-70 into the Rockies. I generously took the first shift, and asked Corvette Chick if she would like to take over just before the steep grades leading to the Continental Divide for her very first time to drive our new coach. I am a very thoughtful husband. She took over happily, and this photo proves she was in a good frame of mind. The Coach’s 450 hp Cummins diesel powered us up the mountains easily, although our speed was reduced to 45 and then 35 mph to keep pace with heavier semis in the right lane. The left lane had a 50-55 mph minimum, and we couldn’t keep up that speed on these steep grades. 

We reached the crest at the 1.7 mile long Eisenhower Tunnel, at 11,158 ft. elevation; it is the longest mountain tunnel and highest point on the Interstate highway system. The tunnel has a command center with 52 full-time staff to monitor traffic, remove stranded vehicles, and maintain generators that keep the tunnel’s lighting and ventilation system running. 

The views from I-70 are impressive. There is still a lot of snow up above 11,000 feet. 

For those who have only driven in relatively flat parts of the US, this sign will grab your attention. Imagine a 70,000 lb semi and loaded trailer losing its brakes on an 8% down grade. These runaway truck ramps, with a curved upward grade, are filled with loose gravel to stop the runaway before it hits the trees. The Coach has an engine exhaust brake that uses compression to slow us down. Even on steep grades, Suzanne merely had to cut in the engine brake and our speed was reduced to 45-48 mph without even having to touch the brakes (the transmission also automatically downshifts, in this case from 6th to 4th gear).  The Coach and Suzanne finished the shift without breaking a sweat.

We arrived in beautiful Dillon and adjacent Silverthorne, Colorado, Sunday evening and hooked up to shore power at the Elks Lodge. With snowcapped peaks all around, it’s an enchanting area. On our Monday morning w-a-l-k in t-o-w-n with our puppies, I spied a tempting sign... “Beignets”... Louisiana French fried pastries, covered in confectioner’s sugar, a New Orleans delight. Being a native of the Crescent City, I had to sample them, and they were excellent. The elevation and dry air here gives them a different texture than back in NOLA, but with a cup of coffee and chickory, they were still very tasty. It helped that the owner was from Barataria, Louisiana, in Cajun country west of the city. 

It’s a good thing I had those beignets and coffee, because just after leaving town, I was attacked by a giant elk. (He mustn’t have known I was a member of the Silver Springs Elks Lodge back in Florida.)  We went face-to-face, hands to antlers, for several minutes before I bested the brute and he beat it back to the brush. Colorado wildlife has been tough on me this month... 

We are now at 9,000 feet, so after the elk adventure, what’s to do but laze around and have an ice cream, right? Wrong... how about a 19 mile mountain bike ride from Silverthorne to Dillon and then to Frisco? No, not San Francisco, but the lovely town of Frisco, pop. 2,863, founded in 1880 to support silver mining, but now a popular ski destination. Copper Mt., Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Breckinridge are nearby. Frisco sits alongside Lake Dillon, seen behind My Lovely Bride. We had just finished a long series of switchbacks from the base of the dam to the crest. 

The bike trail circles the lake, and you ride across the top of the dam on... what else... the Dam Road. We had ridden here last year when the reservoir was nearly full, but now it was way, way low. You can see how far down the water level is, with the boat docks on the mud and a series of “waterlines” on the shore.  

When we got to the Frisco marina, we had to find out...  was Global Warming the culprit behind the low water levels? We went into the marina office and shop and found two delightful young women, Jenn and Emily, who gave us the scoop. The reservoir level varies seasonally up to 30-40 feet. It bottoms out in late winter/early spring when the snows are on the mountains, and fills up when the snows melt in late spring/early summer. Since it is a major source of water for Denver and its sprawling suburbs and nearby cities, what comes in does go out, and it replenishes annually. By the way, Jenn is from Durango, Colorado, and Emily hales from Nashua, New Hampshire. Both are expert skiers; Jenn climbed a local 14er (14,000 ft peak) and skied down; Emily skied Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington, one of the most challenging runs in New England. They both moved here because of the beauty of the mountains and the outdoor adventures to be enjoyed in this part of Colorado.  

After a shower, Rudy and Gretchen insisted on another ride and walk, so we found a nice park area near the Dillon Marina and found a nice sunny, grassy area for me to collapse onto. I snoozed for just a minute, and woke up to find My Lovely Bride getting kissed by another guy... “Hey, Dude, that's my girl!”  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bus to Coach; A Spiritual Evening in Ft. Collins; Longmont Art; “Greasy Food”

The blog has been absent for a few days... the Blogmeister has not been kidnapped, but it has been an “interesting” week. After I recovered from the eel attack, we decided to take an easy day and look around our local area. We were camped in Longmont, but Firestone, Frederick, and DeCono were nearby communities. My Lovely Bride selected Frederick; it was an ominous choice. She said, “Let’s take a drive down this frontage road and see what’s there...” Now, I have to say in advance that she normally looks for country roads with scenic vistas, not service roads that run alongside freeways. I knew I was in trouble when I looked ahead and saw three (3) RV dealerships... “Ty, why don’t we stop in that one and look at the Prevost coaches that the movie stars use, just for fun...” Now I knew I was safe, because Prevosts start at $1 million, and there was no way we could afford a Tom Cruise Bus. Also, even though our American Eagle was only 10 years old, it had 87,000 miles on it, and by the new year would probably break 100,000, and its value would plummet. I was resigned to having it for another 5 years and then hopefully going back to backpacking, sleeping on the ground and cooking trout over a wood fire 20 miles from the nearest road. (Yes, I was terminally delusional.) My Lovely Bride had other ideas... 

We went inside and met my worst nightmare, Wade the RV salesman, who was not only a fisherman and a Nice Guy, but Very Smooth... Wade showed us a new Eagle like ours, which we also couldn’t afford, and then said, “Hey, you have to see the most popular floor plan in the industry right now... and it's affordable...” I felt a vise around my throat and a sense of doom gripping my heart, and tried to reply, “Wade, I have to leave for a root canal appointment right now...” but before I could get a word out, Suzanne said, “That would be great.” You can see this coming, right? 

Well, to make a long story short, fourteen large bags of pennies, nickels and quarters later, we signed on the dotted line sixty three times and had a new home on wheels. Here is My Beloved sitting with a glass of the most expensive wine we had stowed in the belly of our old Eagle, saluting me on our new Itasca Ellipse 42QD, nicknamed “The Coach”, since “The Bus” has been traded in and retired. 

Here is a photo of our old Eagle and the new Ellipse side by side. It took two days to move all the stuff from The Bus to The Coach and get it stowed properly, but now we are settled in. We will be reading manuals and instructions for the next month, because the new Itasca is an order of magnitude more sophisticated than the Eagle. You can see a tour of our new coach here.  

I have to admit to you readers, but not to My Lovely Bride, that I think she made a good choice... The Coach is really pretty cool!  Tonight's temperature is supposed to get down into the high 30s (Dillon, Colorado, 9,725 feet). As I write this blog, here is Rudy curled up in front of the fireplace... "Hey, Dad, make it a bit warmer, please?"  

On Thursday evening, Suzanne presented her “Making the Connection” talk at the Pathways to Wellness Center in Ft. Collins. Carol Ostrom had attended Suzanne’s talk in Ft. Collins last year, and invited her to speak again this year. It was a wonderful, love-filled evening, with a small miracle resulting for one of the attendees, but you’ll have to visit Suzanne's official Facebook page for more on that. Thank you, Carol, and special thanks to Rusty Bianchi, who drove a long way to hear Suzanne.

Since most of the attendees had not heard Suzanne before that night, she was very busy afterwards signing copies of her books. 

While Suzanne was busy one morning, I took the puppies into Longmont for a w-a-l-k. Rudy and Gretchen were particularly interested in the art displayed in a very small park next to an old church (1870’s) that had been turned into a tourist information center. He asked me to explain the meanings behind these particular pieces... I had to tell him, “Rudy, my boy, there are some things in the world of art, that cannot be easily explained... sort of like with women...” He nodded and sighed; Gretchen rolled her eyes...  

Finally, while touring around Frederick, Colorado, I found a fascinating eating establishment that rivals any in Wildwood, Florida... Jerry D’s, whose sign says it all. I was about to go in and take a photo of the customers, but the line of Harleys dissuaded me... I realized that in my khakis, polo shirt and Docksiders, I was probably underdressed... and unarmed. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Torii Gate and Pagoda; Recovering from Wounds; A Delightful Dinner; Bo(u)ld(er) Drumming; Polish PT

We had a great bike ride today, for the most part, this time on Left Hand Creek, which is a tributary of the St. Vrain River. Halfway along, we discovered this nice Torii Gate and pagoda, along with a grove of cherry blossom trees which unfortunately were not in bloom. That was the good news... 

The bad news is that I was attacked shortly thereafter by a giant eel. This attack occurred while we were riding our bikes along the same trail that we have ridden twice, but the predator was concealed in the sand, sort of like a “snake in the grass”. I am recovering from my wounds in St. Agatha’s Hospital for the Marginally Sane and Terminally Strange. The Sisters of Perpetual Virginity are taking good care of me, and I should be released in a few days.  Please send me your prayers that the injuries aren’t permanent.  

Breaking News: I was released early from the asylum... er, hospital... for good behavior (or maybe I was discharged for bad behavior?), just in time for us to meet our good friends Rusty and Jerry Bianchi for dinner at the Mediterranean Restaurant in downtown Boulder. The meal was fantastic, a variety of tapas ranging from calamari to spanokopita, lamb kebab and skewered swordfish. But best of all was the delightful company of Rusty and Jerry, who filled us in on the Boulder area, which we have fallen in love with. As you may recall, Jerry is my fishing mentor, and Rusty will be attending Suzanne’s Making the Connection talk in Fort Collins on Thursday evening. Thank you both for a fabulous evening! 

After dinner, we strolled with Rudy and Gretchen around Boulder. There are dozens of neat restaurants and bars here, and every parking place in downtown was taken. For a Tuesday evening, it was amazingly crowded. And there were lots of strange people there... young people, like college-age. (May have something to do with the University of Colorado being here, but I’m not sure.) There was also a busker (street musician) drumming on plastic paint pails; he was very good. I was about to offer him some hints from my days drumming with Mick Jagger, but My Lovely Bride grabbed my arm and said, “Sweetheart, I think the eel bite must be affecting your memory... we’d better go now.”

My Sweetheart wanted to get a haircut, so she looked up a few salons in Longmont near our campground. She picked one, and as I dropped her off, she asked what I would be doing for the hour or so she needed for a trim. “Not to worry”, I replied, “I’ll just stop in at the Eastern European Fitness Center down the street and learn some new techniques.” She looked at me perplexed, and asked what I was talking about. I merely pointed to the self-explanatory sign above the door... Smack! It was a tough day....

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Shakespearean Mystery Writer; Fish On! New Facebook Page; Need E.E. Help! Thank You Suzanne!

While w-a-l-k-ing the puppies in t-o-w-n, we met a neat couple who wanted to pet Rudy and Gretchen. (Dog owners will understand that we have to spell out those words because our dachshunds would go crazy if we said them aloud.) Lynette is a retired English teacher who is writing a series of murder mysteries based on plays by The Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Cage is a software engineer for a telecommunications company. Both formerly lived in Blacksburg, Virginia, but moved back to Colorado to enjoy the unique atmosphere and outdoor activities that this state offers. We discussed writing and our working lives and how nice it is for at least two of us to be retired (Cage still does that nasty four letter word, w-o-r-k). Lynette and Cage are good examples of why we love to travel in The Bus all over this great country - they are interesting, friendly people that we wouldn’t have ever met had we not “gotten out of Dodge”. I wish Suzanne had been there to meet them, but she was back in Virginia Beach, and I forgot to ask for their number, but maybe they will read this blog and we can get together before we leave the area. 

Sunday was a Good Fishing Day for Your Faithful Correspondent. Jerry Bianchi, husband of Rusty Bianchi, who is cousin to “Grits Girl”, AKA Elizabeth Magee, joined me for a day of trout fishing at St. Vrain State Park, where we are staying. Jerry scored his first trout within an hour, and the second later in the day. Here is Jerry pondering the mysteries of trout fishing with Long’s Peak in the background... not a bad place to spend the day. 

Jerry was very helpful in teaching me some of the finer points of trout fishing, such as which lure to use for these particular Colorado lakes (such as the “Wooly Bugger” lure shown at right). These lures are only an inch or so long, since the trout themselves are only about 12 inches long and have small mouths. 

I changed lures from my Mepps spinner to a Wooly Bugger, and within a few minutes, had this nice rainbow in the cooler. Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) are among the most sought after food and sport fish in the world, and fight like much larger fish, often throwing the hook and disappointing the poor fisherman. 

A Fish and Wildlife Officer (armed to deal with potential elk poachers during hunting season, but not usually an issue with fishermen) named Josh came around to check our licenses and fish, and stated that ours were good size for these lakes, probably just over over a year old. It seems that the heavy fishing pressure doesn’t allow fish to reach really large sizes in this near-metro area. Josh also gave us very useful information on the five small lakes here. He was the friendliest wildlife officer Jerry had met. We certainly appreciated his advice. 

Not only did Jerry help me with local fishing techniques, he also took me to a great Mexican lunch and donated his two rainbow trout (yes, Bob, I know that I was out-fished) to Suzanne’s Trout Dinner Larder. (I think Jerry knew that My Lovely Bride would be going trout-less unless he made a big sacrifice...)  The three rainbows, a perfect amount for two voracious trout-lovers, made a delightful meal as we enjoyed sunset over the Rockies Monday evening. (Only half of the fish are shown here because our frying pan could only hold that much at one time... Part Two of the feast was still on the stove). 

On Sunday evening, My Lovely Bride flew back from Virginia Beach. I thought about asking her to take a shuttle, but Prudence gave me some advice and I made the 90 mile round trip to pick her up. With delays in Norfolk and Atlanta, she didn't arrive at Denver International until 2100. With the enthusiastic face licks she got from Rudy and Gretchen, she won't have to bathe for several days. The Denver airport is the largest in the USA, covering 35,000 acres, and is guarded by this enormous blue horse, whose eyes are lighted red at night. 

While you folks back in Florida are baking in the heat, we are wearing fleece out here in Colorado, with nighttime temps in the 40s. The Bus has two heating systems, diesel and electric. The electric works fine, but is slower to provide warm air than the diesel. When I lit off the diesel system the other day, it didn't work. In the process of troubleshooting, I removed the cover of the electronic control module (ECM). I expected a simple circuit board and a couple of fuses. Here is the suspect board... I think maybe I should have studied advanced electrical engineering... 

As many of you may have heard, Suzanne's new Facebook page is up and is getting rave reviews. Just search for Suzanne Giesemann on Facebook. Thanks to Bev Garlipp for all her hard work in making this happen, and to Renee Scalzini for her beautiful graphic artistry. On a related note, we just heard from Suzanne Gotesky commenting on this blog; Suzanne was concerned that I would get a swelled head from her very kind comments. Who, me? Suzanne, you made my day!