Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Young Hero; Unity of Dallas; Is That Marzipan? Handcuffs? Beautiful Music; Cypress, Crawfish and Gumbo

Every now and then I meet a young person who breaks all of the stereotypes. Logan Wilson, a recent high school graduate in Colorado Springs, impressed us as we arrived almost at closing time at Chick-fil-A for our traditional post-event cookies and cream milkshake. He was busy mopping the floor (swabbing the deck in Navy terms) with a big smile on his face. We asked if it was okay to sit in the area he had completed, and with an even bigger smile, he said, "Oh, please, sit wherever you'd like. Thanks for coming to dine with us tonight." While I got our milkshake, Suzanne chatted with Logan, and discovered that not only does he work full time, but he also teaches a School of Honor for young men and boys, providing Christian-based lessons in honor, chivalry, civility, and lessons of heroes from the past. I looked him up on line and found rave reviews from a home schooling mother whose two sons had attended his classes. Logan is just out of high school, and is already making a positive contribution to our society that many 30 and 40 year olds should be emulating. Well done, Logan!

Suzanne's most recent event was held at Unity of Dallas, Texas. The nearest campgrounds were a bit of a hike, so we parked in their big back lot (yes, everything in Texas is big), and "dry-camped". Daytime temps were in the high 80s/low 90s, so we had to run our generator for air conditioning.

Suzanne spoke at Unity's Sunday service and followed with her Making the Connection presentation, which was very well received. The youngest member of the Unity Congregation, Keelin, was a real cutie, and after church was on her way with her credit card to a boutique to pick out a christening gown for next week's ceremony. Watch out, Nieman Marcus! Thanks to Laura Sutherland for her warm Texas hospitality and coordination for these events. We are already looking forward to our return to Unity of Dallas.

After the event, we went out to dinner at a nearby grill for fish tacos (MLB) and fish and chips (Moi). Dessert was bread pudding, and herein lies a funny story. We were about to take our first bites, and Suzanne asked me, "What's that white thing on top?" I replied, "I dunno, maybe marzipan?" (We didn't think to put on our reading glasses...) It took a bite to realize that it was a chunk of banana...  another senior moment... sigh. 

Speaking of scrumptious-looking goodies, while walking to the car, I noted this poster in the window of a high-end cosmetics store. I made the mistake of commenting to My Lovely Bride that perhaps in my spare time I could work with selected criminals to help them become model citizens... Smack! "You won't have any spare time, buster!"  (No intended good deed goes unpunished.)

With my head still ringing, we got ready to get underway. Before pulling in the slideouts, Suzanne noticed that our jacks had sunk into the asphalt, which had become very soft due to the 90 degree heat and our coach's 23 ton gross weight. Fortunately they retracted easily, and we were soon on our way east... (The photo shows the imprint with the jack six inches above it)


On our way out of Dallas, we stopped at a studio for Suzanne to make a meditation recording. She will provide more info on her web site, but here she is with her sound guy, Matt, preparing for the recording session.

And here is MLB at the microphone, about to start the recording with spiritual composer Jim Oliver's beautiful music...

Then on to Bossier City, just east of Shreveport in northwest Louisiana. This would only be an overnight stop, and our campsite was at Barksdale Air Force Base. We went for a bike ride and discovered Clear Lake, in just a bit different setting than the high mountain lakes we'd been enjoying for the past couple of months. Those are bald cypress trees growing out in the lake, by the way. The bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a hardy tree able to grow in lakes and ponds, and its heartwood is extremely rot and termite-resistant. However, older cypress are susceptible to Pecky Rot fungus (Stereum taxodii), which is not related to the term "peckerwood". In fact, that term is an inversion of "woodpecker", and is used to describe certain backwoods Southerners since the red-bellied woodpecker also has a red patch on its neck, and therefore a peckerwood is also a redneck. I do not use these terms in a derogatory sense, since I grew up in Louisiana... it's simply part of the culture and language here, especially in the northern part of the state.

Finally, back to food. Since we were back in my home state, Suzanne graciously suggested that we should go out for some Louisiana cooking. On the recommendation of our good friend Reve Norman back in The Villages, we dined at Ralph and Kacoo's near her former home, and enjoyed hush puppies and homemade bread, duck and sausage gumbo, and sea bass with crawfish, shrimp and lump crabmeat. If you haven't been to Louisiana for its fabulous and unique cuisine, you should think twice about where you spend your next vacation.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Stanley Canyon; Aspens; Quaking; Colo Spgs Event; Do You Foxtrot? A Timely Smile; Ki-Oats and Bears; Hot Nails?

Our third day in Colorado Springs was another glorious day for hiking. At least for me. Suzanne was scheduled to give an in-person reading, so I took the opportunity to push myself a bit, and set out to complete the Stanley Canyon Trail, a 2 1/2 hour, 4.4 mile, 1,200 ft elevation gain "difficult" rated trail in the Rampart Range. The brown squiggly lines on this topographic map indicate changes in elevation. The closer together they are, the steeper the terrain.


We had been told about this trail by Lt Col Jim Lovewell, USAF, who had stated, "You will be cursing me under your breath for the first mile or so. It can be a scramble in places. Then it gets easier, and it's beautiful." Jim was correct on every point except one. I was cursing and thanking him out loud, not under my breath. "Thanks, Jim. Darn you, Jim."

The route up was over a lot of broken rock, and much of it loose "scree", similar to gravel. I was glad to have a trekking pole (a telescoping hiking stick made of aluminum) to give me a third leg of stability. Going up, it was helpful. Going down, it was critically important... I fell on my keister three times on the way down as it was; without the trekking pole, that would have been double digits.

As scenic as the steep canyon trail appeared, what made the hike unforgettable were the aspens which had started to turn yellow in earnest. This was my first late September hiking in the Colorado Rockies, and I urge you to find a spot on your bucket list for the chance to see the aspens changing color in person.

I liked looking up into the treetops to see the yellow leaves against the blue sky.

Stanley Reservoir itself was very nice, but almost anticlimactic after the canyon and the aspens. There had been very few people on the trail, but here at the reservoir I found eight other hikers. It was like walking into downtown Manhattan after being alone in the woods... well, okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration...

After finishing my hike, I returned to The Coach where Suzanne had completed her reading. A quick lunch and we were on our bikes for another ride on the Falcon Trail, the primo mountain bike trail here at the Air Force Academy. Then a very fast dinner, and then off to our last event in Colorado Springs, where Suzanne gave her Making the Connection presentation at the High Plains Unitarian Universalist Church. Thanks again to Annabel Carney for all your help in making this visit possible.

On Thursday morning we got underway for three long days of driving to Dallas. As I was writing this paragraph, we were driving through northern Texas, the area called Texhoma, since it borders the state of Oklahoma. This is cattle and oil country, and about an hour ago, I was driving past a gas station with $3.43 diesel. Suzanne was on a phone call, and wondered why I was making a quick U-turn. The price here was 30-40 cents a gallon cheaper than in New Mexico or Colorado, so it was a no-brainer. (Many of my decisions are made without using my brain, but I think this was a good one.)

People are more friendly out here in the country than in cities. A guy with a shovel standing on the roadside at the entrance to his ranch just waved at us when we drove by. Yeah, like that would happen in Orlando, Detroit, New Orleans or Philadelphia. Speaking of ranches, many have tall log, timber or metal gates; most just give the ranch’s name, but one near Lake Arrowhead, Texas, the 4P’s Ranch, also displayed “World Champion Foxtrotters”. I turned to Suzanne and said, “Sweetheart, how nice that that rancher and his wife have the time to practice ballroom dancing while their cows are out grazing.” She looked at me kinda funny and said, “Ty, you had better look that up.” So when we traded drivers in an hour or so, I discovered, much to my dismay, that the 4P’s Ranch specializes in raising and training trail and versatility Missouri Fox Trotting Horses, including 3 time world champion “Boss’s Midnight Cash”. Their website also states that this breed “… can do anything that other breeds can do, except be rough, which has identified the breed as the Baby Boomers’ most chosen horse.” Who knew???

"SEXIST!” That’s what I mumbled when Suzanne was driving and was pulling onto I-35 near Denton, Texas. The traffic was heavy, and moving slowly, and she had smiled sweetly and waved at a semi driver hauling a big 53 ft load to her left. Unexpectedly, the guy stood on his brakes and graciously waved her into line ahead of him. My Lovely Bride waved to thank him and asked me, “Ty, do you think he would have let you in so nicely?” “No, Sweetheart, if I had thrown him a smile, I probably would have received a one finger wave…”

My Lovely Bride used to be a Bandie. That's someone who plays in a band... a marching band, in her case. Throughout high school, she was a piccolo and flute player for the Henderson HS Warriors. (As a side note, I am appalled that in spite of today's political correctness, they still use that warlike native American nickname. They should be the Henderson Nice Friendly Persons, or perhaps "The Fighting Earthworms" if an animal mascot is required. But I digress...) Anyway, yesterday as we were departing Dumas, Texas, a small town in the Panhandle, I heard a school marching band practicing.We were headed to Wichita Falls, and I suggested that we take in a Texas high school football game and hear their marching bands perform. This was one of my Truly Brilliant Ideas, because I earned Big Brownie Points with My Lovely Bride.

After setting up camp, we had a quick meal and set out for the local high school, expecting there would be a few hundred people there sitting in portable bleachers. Wrong. We arrived to find that there were very few people at the school, and they were watching a volleyball game. There was no one at the school's football field. Instead, we were directed to a college-sized stadium for the contest between the Wichita Falls Coyotes (pronounced "Ki-oats") and the Brewer Bears from Fort Worth, 125 miles away. The Coyotes were in black and red and the Bears in white and blue. There were several thousand fans in the stadium, and the air was alive with the excitement of the game, but nothing compared to the excitement of my ex-bandie bride.

The game was exciting up to the last minute, with Brewer winning 28-24. But MLB was most enthralled with the two bands. The Coyotes had the best music...

... but the Bear Babes took the prize for best legs... oops... er, what the BlogMeister meant to say was that the Brewer High School dancers had the best choreography.

Finally, the ladies will understand how important nicely polished nails are to My Lovely Bride when she speaks in front of hundreds of listeners in church, which will be the case about the time this blog is published Sunday morning. Well, today, Saturday, we arrived in Dallas, and her first order of business was to get her hair trimmed just a wee bit, and to have her nails done. I heard the story about her nails experience and almost lost my coffee through my nose. After selecting the color, she sat down and the young nail tech started to work. Suzanne must have dozed off for a moment or three, because she opened her eyes to see the tech finishing up her now very sparkly nails... as in, Las Vegas showgirl nails... or maybe Bourbon Street dancer nails??? She could hardly speak, and just then the shop owner walked up, looked at her nails and said, "They look very nice... very sexy." Suzanne had recovered her voice at that point and said, "I have to speak in church tomorrow morning." Both the owner and the nail tech gasped at once and said, "Oh, no! We can fix!"  There is still just a teeny bit of sparkle, but MLB is sure that no one at the church will be shocked by her nails. (Darn... and I didn't even get to see them...)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Zapped; Melanzane and a Fat Tire; Even Fatter Tires! Colorado Springs Event; Garden of the Gods; GG and the Broadmoor; The Marlboro Man; Laugh of the Week

We have experienced our first major casualty to The Coach. While in the Steamboat Springs campground, we noticed a fleeting burning electrical odor. I tried tracing it down, but could find nothing definitive. Then while in Fort Collins, we had an electrical voltage spike, and our 50 amp connection to shore power wouldn't work at all, 30 amp would work fine, but the generator wouldn't pick up any loads at all. It was obviously a problem in the battery charger/inverter, which has a transfer switch that selects the correct power source. The transfer switch had fried. In the Navy, we call this "N.G." - not good. I called TransWest, the local Winnebago/Itasca dealer, which coincidentally is where we bought the coach last year, and they got us in on Friday morning. It took all day to get the parts, but by 1800 (6:00 PM for you landlubbers), our friendly and professional RV technician Lance had completed the repair and we were ready to go. I asked Lance if he had to call his wife to tell her he'd be late for dinner, but he laughed and said no, his wife was a veterinarian for a canine shelter, and loved her work so much she usually arrived home after he did. She could have opened a private practice and made tons of bucks, but her shelter work was more personally rewarding. We need more fine people like Lance and his wife in this world.

We stayed the night in TransWest's RV lot, hooked up to electric power, which now worked perfectly. We were starving by then, and had a late Italian dinner out with Elizabeth Magee, her cousin Rusty and Rusty's husband Jerry Bianchi, who live in Lakewood, Colorado. I hadn't had Melanzane alla Parmigiana (AKA eggplant Parmesan) for ages, and it was yummy. My Lovely Bride had veal piccata. Since we were near the New Belgium brewery where my favorite beer is made, I felt obligated to have their Fat Tire amber ale. (It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.) Jerry was my trout fishing partner during our visit last year, but he says fishing hasn't been very good this summer, probably due to heavy rain, high temperatures, poor insect hatchings, phase of the moon, excessive pollen in the air, etc. (Fishermen always have 57 reasons for not catching fish...)

The next day we saddled up the coach and headed south to Colorado Springs, where we are currently established for five nights. As we checked in, there was a prominent sign warning of a cougar that walked blithely through the campground just a week ago in broad daylight. We now keep our bear spray close at hand when walking the puppies. The campground, called Peregrine Pines, is delightful, with lots of pine trees for shade and very few neighbors, since it's after Labor Day and Air Force doesn't have a home football game this week. We even got to wash The Coach in a special RV wash area; this is most unusual, since 99.9% of campgrounds do not allow the practice.

Suzanne got me out for a mellow bike ride after we got set up. At least she claimed it would be mellow... "Ty, this is going to be easy since we're down in elevation to only 6,600 feet." Well, sports fans, let me tell you, the Falcon Trail is not mellow... it is not easy... it is hilly (1,521 foot ascent). Here is MLB pointing to the Air Force Academy chapel with its 13 spires near the top of the trail. I didn't want my picture taken because I was gasping for air like a flounder in the bottom of a fishing boat...

The Falcon Trail is also very sandy in many places, and if you haven't ridden a bike in sand recently, it's a killer. "Oh, but Ty, you have fat tires on your mountain bike, don't you?" Funny you should ask... yes, our tires are 2.5 inches wide, good for hard packed dirt, rocks and roots. But in sand they bog down quite a bit. I didn't realize what we were in for until I was gasping for breath and this much younger guy rides by like he's not even sweating. We stopped to chat, and met Lt Col Jim Lovewell, USAF, who is stationed nearby at USNORTHCOM headquarters. Jim just returned from a one year unaccompanied tour in Thule, Greenland. His family stayed here in Colorado Springs for the sake of their children's schooling. Such are the sacrifices of a military career. Anyway, Jim showed us his Fat Boy bike with Really Fat studded tires, 5 inches wide, which roll over sand like there's nuthin' to it. (Yes, that is sand and gravel by his left foot.) By the way, Jim is from San Diego, a Navy town, and I'm sure that his school chums were disappointed when he went over to The Dark Side (the Air Force) instead of going Navy...

Suzanne's first event in Colorado Springs was to give the message at Sunday services for the High Plains Unitarian Universalist Church. She also did a book signing after the service. Many thanks to Annabel Carney for coordinating our visit and to all your members for their warm hospitality. We will be back at 6:00 PM on Wednesday evening, September 24th, when Suzanne will give her Making the Connection presentation.

On Monday we decided to do a local hike at Garden of the Gods. Suzanne had been here with her parents years ago, but it was my first visit. We started hiking and in a mile or two found ourselves overlooking the spectacular red rock "hogbacks" that make this 1,367 acre city park famous. There may be a spiritual vortex here, because you can see the effect it had on my hiking partner.

This rock formation is known as the Siamese Twins. Many Indian tribes have visited here, including the Ute, Comanche, Apache, Kiowa, Shoshone, Pawnee, Cheyenne and Lakota. In 1859, two surveyors explored the area. One, M. S. Beach, suggested that it would be a capital site for a beer garden. His companion, Rufus Cable, was appalled, and said, "Beer garden? It is a place fit for the gods to assemble. We shall call it The Garden of the Gods." Thankfully, Rufus' idea was accepted.

In the 1870s, American poet and author Helen Hunt Jackson wrote of the park, "You wind among rocks of every conceivable and inconceivable shape and size... all bright red, all motionless and silent, with a strange look of having been just stopped and held back in the very climax of some supernatural catastrophe." She loved the Garden of the Gods and Colorado Springs so much that after her death in San Francisco, she was buried in Evergreen Cemetery here.

One of the best things about Colorado Springs was the opportunity to catch up with our wonderful friend GG Moore, the widow of Major General Tom Moore, USAF. GG is one of the most delightful people you will ever meet, and has many fascinating stories about her life as a general's bride. GG attended the Sunday service at High Plains, and invited us to dinner with her at Broadmoor, a five star resort and hotel complex just a mile or so from her lovely home in Colorado Springs.

While at dinner, a couple walked by heading to their table, and GG said, "That's Robert Norris, the original  Marlboro Man." I had to meet him, so I walked over and we chatted for a minute and I got his picture. Bob Norris and his lovely wife Jane own the famous T Cross Ranch here in Colorado. Not only does he look the part of a real western rancher and cowboy, but he still raises championship quarter horses and was director of the American Quarter Horse Association and received the Record Stockmen Livestock "Man of the Year" Award in 1982.

Our dinner at the Broadmoor was fabulous. GG and I both had prime rib - the best I have ever had; Suzanne had the trout, also fantastic. The decor in the Tavern Restaurant was not what I expected... the art work was Toulouse Lautrec, one of my favorite artists, and until a few years ago they were all priceless originals. Common sense and prudence prevailed and high quality prints now hang in their places. GG, thank you for a fabulous evening we will long remember.

Finally, the Laugh of the Week came the other night as we were lying in bed reading, with the puppies between us. (I only wish I had the forethought to keep a camera next to the bed, but MLB may wonder about my intent...) All of a sudden I heard this whoosh, the sound of air escaping from something... and My Lovely Bride began sinking... yes, sinking!  She dropped down a full 10 inches below the level of my side of the bed. Our inflatable king size mattress is actually two singles side by side, so either person can keep the mattress pumped up hard, soft or anywhere in between that he/she wants. Her side had sprung a leak where the air hose connects into the mattress. Further analysis showed that the hose had separated from the fitting on the mattress. I put it back in, but over the next few days it came off several times. I called the company, INNOMAX, which just happened to be in Denver, and on Monday we drove up and Edna and Kelly took care of our problem by replacing the offending mattress free of charge. They suggested that the problem may have been caused by our spending so much time at higher elevations. What service! Now My Lovely Bride can get a good night's sleep without worrying about sinking to the floor. And for all you smarty pants out there, I will remind you that the problem occurred because of air pressure at altitude, not because of, well, you know...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Rutting and A Bad Sleep; Lama Glama? Long's Peak; A Harem in the Woods; Stopped by Ice; A Throne with a View; Chasm Lake

The initial post title, "Rutting", does not refer directly to Your Faithful Correspondent. (No wise cracks here, please.) In fact, it refers to the mating practices of the male elk (Cervus alaphus) that were hanging out near my campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park. However, I was impacted indirectly by the elks' rutting due to the loud bugling that kept me awake in my tent for much of Tuesday night. It is a sound I had not heard close-up before, and one I shall never forget. It was sort of like being in a cheap motel with the neighbors on each side having orgies... Here is a sample, and a full explanation of their mating habits for those with prurient interest: Elk bugling  For those without enquiring minds, just be aware that bull elks may have harems of 5-30 cows. It makes for a busy late summer and fall for the bulls...

After that restless night, my second day in Rocky Mountain National Park started with a modest breakfast of granola and hot chocolate in a beautiful setting in Moraine Park. I had misplaced my preferred meal, freeze-dried eggs and bacon skillet, with a lot more calories and fat. I would pay for this error in a few hours, but for the moment, I was content to eat my cereal and sip my Swiss Miss while watching elk grazing in the meadow in the background.

I thought about taking a quick shower, but facilities were rather limited. This was the only shower facility available. For those uninitiated in "solar showers", one hangs a small black plastic bag in the sun until the water reaches 110F or so. A small sprinkler head allows you to wash off trail dust and sweat, and then you can rejoin the human family for meals and social interaction. Alas, here you have to provide your own bag of hot water, and even if (a) I had brought one along, which I had not, then (b) due to the overnight 29F temperatures, it would have been a block of ice until noon or so. Therefore I simply brushed my teeth and went for another hike.

I drove to the Long's Peak Trailhead, where I found my ride up the mountain on this handsome beast. Just kidding...these two llama (scientific name, Lama glama - you just can't make this stuff up) are leased by the Park Service for hauling gear in and out of the back country. The rangers stated that they were less ornery than horses, had much less environmental impact, carried heavier loads, and were generally better company on the trail. (We're not goin' there...)

This was the average incline of the Chasm Lake trail, up and up and up. The trail started off in the woods, with mixed pine, fir and aspen.

As I made a turn in the trail, I sensed movement, turned and saw this bull and five or six smiling cow elk. (Okay, I promise, that's the last comment on elk mating habits.)

The trail climbed quickly, and soon I was out of breath. I took a few moments to contemplate this sign as I recovered - the high Rockies have extensive sub-arctic tundra, with stunted trees (3-4 feet high) transitioning to shrubs and grasses, due to the relatively infertile soil and extreme cold for months on end. (Sort of like the climate in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.) The exhortation to stay on the trail refers to some hikers' "shortcutting" switchbacks across the tundra, causing excessive erosion and killing delicate plants.

This scene is typical of the vegetation right at treeline, at approximately 10,600 feet.

A sombre warning appeared later on the trail, this one concerning personal safety. Two people were killed by lightning in separate incidents in the mountains a week after we left Estes Park in June. This warning is especially meaningful to our family, having lost our daughter Susan to lightning eight years ago in North Carolina. And of course Wolf Pasakarnis was also lost to lightning in Plymouth, Mass, five years ago.

As I reached the next trail junction, I met these two young guys from Boulder who had attempted to summit Long's Peak (14,259 ft.), in the background of the photo. Long's is the tallest mountain in the area and the only 14'er in Rocky Mountain National Park. They were stopped by slabs of ice blocking their route, with a 1,000 ft. drop if they lost their footing. The technical term for this is "excessive exposure", and they wisely turned back just a few hundred feet from the summit. 85 people have lost their lives attempting to climb Long's Peak, an average of 2 per year. On the positive side, the oldest climber to summit, Col. Billy Butler, scaled the peak on his 85th birthday in 1926!

The next scenic spot I reached was this privy, set on a mountainside between Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls at 11,000 feet. The air is definitely thinner here, and climbing more difficult, but it's worth the effort for the view from this unique throne. Here you are looking up to Long's Peak, with its trademark diamond just above the ventilator pipe.

Here we see Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls, which is not running very high since it's late summer and most of the snow that feeds it has already melted.

My destination is just above and behind that 200 foot high wall of talus (broken rocks and rock debris), and there is no trail up; you have to scramble up the boulders to get to the lake. I met a couple who had just descended, and they related that it was their hardest climb to date. I said to myself, "Okay, sailor, up and at 'em!" It wasn't really that bad, and the worst exposure was only about 30 feet, but the 45 degree slope made for a few "Isn't that interesting" moments.

And here is Chasm Lake, 11,803 feet. That's my green backpack (only 20 lbs or so that day) and 2,500 feet of Long's Peak rising above the lake. I met a 32 year old trail runner lakeside who was using this as a "recovery run"; he had run the 105 mile Steamboat Springs trail run the previous weekend, and completed the event in under 25 hours. That's 24+ hours of non-stop running with about 80,000 feet of elevation gain... lots of ups and downs, as they say.

On the way down, I took this photo of two folks climbing up that talus slope to the lake. This should give you a sense of scale as to the climb up. It truly was a lot of fun, and one of the more challenging hikes/climbs I've done in years.

But just as I was feeling pretty self-satisfied, I met Bob Pohl, from Breckinridge, Colorado, who had just summited Long's. There are 54 14ers in Colorado, and Bob has climbed 52. He hopes to knock off the other two soon. Bob is 60 years old, and obviously in pretty decent shape. For an old guy.

After my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, I returned to Fort Collins for dinner with My Lovely Bride, Elizabeth Magee from The Villages, and Charles and Elaine Cunis. Charles is the retired Army Colonel who insists on losing bets on the Army-Navy game to MLB. I didn't get any sympathy from him when I mentioned that after my hikes, I felt like a private in the 10th Mountain Division. I think he said something like "Suck it up, sonny", or words to that effect...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Rocky Mountain National Park; Four Mountain Lakes; No Nymphs; A Gnarly Tree or a Gladiator? Oh, No, Not Vegan!

During our Fort Collins stay, I took the opportunity for some meditative time, AKA solo hiking in the mountains. It was a short drive to Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. I picked a nice spot at the Moraine campground and set up for two days hiking.

Driving ten miles up Bear Lake Road from the campground to Bear Lake itself meant an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet, which was much easier than walking. The aspen leaves were starting to turn yellow, earlier than I had expected.

Once I got up to elevation, the view improved even more. RMNP is one of our favorite places, and we wish that we could stay up here for several months...

As I hiked to Nymph Lake, I had visions (fantasies?) of being abducted by nubile young maidens as was Hylas in Greek mythology and in this painting by John William Waterhouse.

Fortunately (alas?), this lake was poorly named, as it was devoid of nubile young maidens. It was scenic, however, and much of the lake's surface was dotted with lily pads.

The hike up to Dream and Emerald Lakes was not made in REM sleep, when most dreams occur, so I was able to observe several root systems of trees that had been felled in storms or avalanches. This one was particularly striking.


The trail occasionally left me breathless -  not so much because of its beauty, but because of its steepness. I was over 10,000 feet at this point, and the air really is thinner, making it harder to catch your breath.

As I climbed, the views continued to improve. The mountains that form the Continental Divide lose their trees between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, leaving the 12, 13, and 14 thousand foot peaks bare.

Dream Lake was indeed a dream destination. I have enjoyed many hikes over the years, but wandering through the woods and mountains in these "later years" has given me a new and more intense appreciation of the beauty of nature than I have ever before felt.  I'm not sure why this is...


Emerald Lake was most impressive, with an almost vertical cirque wall in the background which marked the head of the valley which once held a massive glacier. "Cirque" comes either from a French word for "arena", a Scottish Gaelic word for "cauldron", or a Welsh word for "valley". All would fit the terrain here.

Lake Haiyaha was another gorgeous spot, and almost totally devoid of other hikers, being literally "off the beaten path". I wish they had allowed camping here, but that was strictly verboten.

As I hike, I see thousands upon thousands of trees, but there haven't been many as gnarled as this ancient specimen. It almost looks like a Roman gladiator in the arena, on his knees with fatigue, and I wouldn't be surprised if it is about that same age. Wind and snow bend the trees into fantastic shapes, and lightning often sets them afire or splits them into pieces.

As I descended from the upper lakes, more stands of aspens breaking into bright yellow came into view. 

The final stop was at Bear Lake, near the trailhead where I had parked. The sun was setting, the wind dropping, and darkness descending like a veil on the park. It was time to head for my campsite, where I would enjoy a very special gourmet treat: freeze-dried vegetarian Pad Thai. (I normally don't eat vegan, but the choice was that or even less appetizing entrees.) Unfortunately, my tent would be rather chilly, since My Lovely Bride and our two puppies would not be there to keep me warm, and temps were set to dive into the high 20s/low 30s. Sigh...