Oklahoma to Atlanta

Atlanta, GA

In our last blog we were just finishing our visit to Oklahoma.  We left there and continued our journey east in I-40.  Since, like many people, we don’t like to drive long distances, we set our sights on Russellville, AR, about 200 miles away.

Our first visit to Arkansas

We arrived at Old Post Road COE (Corps of Engineer) Park early in the afternoon and quickly found our site.  The site is a bit low in the back so we had some difficulty getting the motorhome level without lifting the rear wheels off the ground (not a good idea).  With the temperature in the high 90s and the dew point in the  70s we were pretty wet by the time we were settled in for our two night stay.

This park is right along the Arkansas River just below the Dardanelle Lock and Dam.  The dam is not very high as its purpose is not flood control, it is to increase the depth of the river behind it for navigation purposes.

The Dardanelle Lock and Dam

We didn’t do too much during our stay in Russellville as the heat and humidity continued to be oppressive.  We then drove about eighty miles further east on I-40 for a visit to Little Rock and set up in another COE park, Maumelle Campground, a few miles west of the city.

Maumelle Campground

While in Little Rock we decided to pay a visit to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. First a disclaimer:  The writer of this blog is a Republican who did his best to remain objective during this visit.  Some displays in the center made this attempt very difficult!

The first thing that struck us as a bit odd about this facility was the two rather large, moving dinosaurs next to the main entrance and a large banner announcing a dinosaur exhibit on display for six months.

William J. Clinton Presidential Center

We asked someone about this and were given a lengthy explanation that boiled down to it being an attempt to attract families with children to visit the center.  We inquired as to the connection between Clinton and dinosaurs and found it was the fact that he designated the Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monument as a national monument in 1996 using his authority under the Antiquities Act.  Since 2000, numerous dinosaur fossils over 75 million years old have been found there.  Go figure!

The displays in the center are informative and nicely arranged, but the information was a bit over the top if you are a Republican.  John expected to see a picture of Clinton in a superman suit as it appears he saved the country from the evil Republicans during his time in office. OK, end of rant . . .

Little Rock has a nice biking path along the Arkansas River, but one look at the temperature on the dash of the Jeep in the photo below will explain why we decided not to explore it.

We did take a ride past the famous Little Rock Central High School.  The school was the focal point of the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957.   Nine African-American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were denied entrance to the school in defiance of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling ordering integration of public schools.   This provoked a showdown between the Governor Orval Faubus and President Eisenhower that gained international attention.  Eisenhower ended up ordering army troops to insure the students were allowed into the school and troops patrolled inside and outside the school for the remainder of the school year.

Little Rock Central High School

The next day we continued east on I-40 to Tom Sawyer’s RV Park in West Memphis, AR.  This is a very nice park sitting between the Mississippi River and the flood controlling levee so it tends to flood quite frequently.

We were assigned an end site on a concrete pad with a great view of the river.  We placed our chairs in the shadow of the motorhome and enjoyed watching the barges go up and down the river.

The park is very prepared for the frequent floods.  The office is on wheels and the main electrical boxes are placed about 15 feet up telephone poles.  The photo below shows the laundry room located on the second floor above a concrete room.

Our only full day in Memphis was filled with sight-seeing.  We drove by Graceland and found Elvis had left the building, so we decided not to join the thousand visitors lining up in the hot sun for a visit.  Instead we drove downtown for a visit to Sun Studio, where an 18 year old singer named Elvis walked in one day in August of 1953 to record a song for his mother.

On December 4, 1956, Elvis stopped by the studio while Carl Perkins was there cutting new tracks, with Jerry Lee Lewis backing him on piano.  Johnny Cash was also in the studio and the four started an impromptu jam session. Sam Phillips left the tapes running and the recordings survived and have since been released under the title Million Dollar Quartet.

The Million Dollar Quartet: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash

We continued into the downtown for a visit to the Peabody Hotel to check out the famous marching ducks.

The marching ducks are part of  a custom dating back to the 1930s.  The general manager of the time had just returned from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas.  He and his friends, after enjoying an adult beverage or two, found it amusing to leave three of their live English Call Duck decoys in the hotel fountain. The guests loved the idea, and since then, five Mallard ducks (one drake and four hens) have played in the fountain every day.

In 1940, a Bellman by the name of Edward Pembroke volunteered to care for the ducks. Pembroke was given the position of “Duckmaster” and served in that position until 1991. As a former circus animal trainer, he taught the ducks to march into the hotel lobby, which started the famous Peabody Duck March.  Every day at 11:00 a.m., the Peabody Ducks are escorted from their penthouse home on the Plantation Roof to the lobby via elevator. The ducks, accompanied by the King Cotton March by John Phillip Sousa, then proceed across a red carpet to the hotel fountain, made of a solid block of Italian marble. The ducks are then ceremoniously led back to their penthouse at 5:00 p.m.

The Duckmaster

On the roof headed for the Duck Palace

The Duck Palace

Since it was early afternoon the duck march was too long a wait for us, so we headed to nearby Beale Street, famous as the birthplace of the blues.

The King! (that’s a statue of Elvis in the background)

The main section of Beale Streat

Beale Street is lined with bars and restaurants offering live music and a variety of menus.  We stopped in a small park to listen to a band play.  They were pretty average and only attracted a small group of listeners and earned just a few tips.

The sidewalks along Beale Street honor most of the great blues musicians with musical notes containing their names.  The most famous is the recently deceased B.B. King.

We couldn’t pass up lunch in B.B. King’s Blues Club.  After all, he was known as the “King of the Blues.”

The food was just average in B.B.’s club, but the band playing that afternoon was outstanding!

The next day was another travel day.  Atlanta is four hundred miles away, farther than we care to drive in a day, so we thought we would divide that in half and stop after about two hundred miles (our usual one day distance).  But we couldn’t find a good place to stay for a night near the highway and there was a threat of rain the following day, so we decided to just dig in and do the drive in one day.  If you’ve ever been through Atlanta, you know that the traffic is terrible, especially during rush hour.  So we decided to leave West Memphis at first light so we could arrive in Atlanta early in the afternoon.

Traffic in Mississippi

Our strategy paid off as we arrived in the Atlanta area in mid-afternoon (we lost an hour changing time zones) and, although traffic was heavy it kept moving.

Traffic in Atlanta

We arrived at Jones RV, just off of I-85 north of the city and quickly got set up.  The park is not the nicest we have stayed in but it is conveniently located to our son’s home.

Remember that beautiful view of the Mississippi River in front of us from the photo at the beginning of this blog?  Well, that is long gone.  The photo below shows our view here at Jones RV!

While here John completed a couple of minor repairs in the motorhome.  The most important one was to replace the pump in the Splendide washer/dryer.  The impeller (the blade that pushes the water) came off the shaft in the pump while we were in Denver and a call to the company tech line revealed that the only fix is a new pump.

The old pump and the replacement

Replacement of the pump is fairly simple, but getting to it is a bit difficult.  The tech said to just tip it over on its side and remove the thin metal panel on the bottom.  But that would require moving it out to the living area, not an easy task as the unit is quite heavy.  So John just moved the unit out of the cabinet and propped it up with a pile of wood.  He then just bent the metal panel down, giving him access to the pump.  The metal panel is now a bit out of wack but it is not visible so that doesn’t matter.  Oh boy, no more laundromats!

We’ll be in Atlanta until Saturday, then move to Gaffney, SC to get the motorhome serviced.  They don’t have any appointments available for a few weeks so we’ll be “walk-ins,” which means we hope for a cancellation or they are able to fit us in after those with appointments have all work completed.  So our stay there may be brief, or it may not!

More on that later . . .

 

 

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A Visit to Oklahoma City

Shawnee, OK

We left Wichita, KS on Saturday and headed south for a visit to Oklahoma City, OK.  After driving south on I-35 into the city, we turned east on I-40 and continued to Shawnee (birthplace of Brad Pitt), about 30 miles away.  The Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center has a large number of RV spots, many with full hook-ups, at a reasonable price.  We found the main section to be empty, so we selected a site at the far end.  For two of our three nights we were almost alone, with only a travel trailer in a distant site for a neighbor.

All alone!

A pet peeve that many full-timers have with RV parks is that, even with numerous empty sites, the park will assign someone to the site right next to you.  The Heart of Oklahoma Expo doesn’t assign sites, you just pick one and go to the office to pay.  So we thought it was interesting when, for the last night of our stay, someone chose to park right next to us.  Are you serious!  There are about a hundred nice sites in this section of the park and you set up right next to us!  And to top it all off, they were up, slamming their door, and driving away at 6:30 the next morning!

Why ? ? ?

OK, Rant over . . .

We were only in the area for a couple of days but we did manage to check out a few interesting sites.  First, we drove to Norman, a few miles south of Oklahoma City, to visit the campus of the University of Oklahoma.  We were very impressed with this campus with its large open spaces, well maintained grounds, and beautiful buildings.

Bizzell Memorial Library

The Seed Sower Statue

The university seal features the Seed Sower, an emblem of the first university president, David Ross Boyd.  It is said that Boyd walked across the Oklahoma prairies sowing the seeds of education, as well as literally planting many trees throughout the region.  The Seed Sower statue is at the entrance to the South Oval in the center of the campus.

The football stadium stands almost in the center of the campus.  Despite its large size, it fits nicely into the campus without overwhelming its surroundings.

We then drove north for a visit to the town of Moore, just south of Oklahoma City to visit the area destroyed by a tornado in 2013.  Two elementary schools in the area were directly in the tornado’s path.  Briarwood and Plaza Towers sustained enough damage to be considered a total loss. Miraculously no one was killed at Briarwood Elementary but seven third graders inside Plaza Towers’ 2nd-3rd grade annex lost their lives when the structure’s walls collapsed.

Both schools have been completely rebuilt and the entrance of Plaza Towers has a very moving memorial to the seven students killed.  Next to the entrance are seven benches.  The name of each student is engraved on the end of a bench and the stone front section of the bench depicts that student’s interests.

Seven silhouettes of children (three boys and four girls) are engraved onto plaques on the wall of the school entrance as if they were running, walking or skipping.  Each silhouette includes a personal effect that represent items special to the child’s life.

The memorial is very impressive.  While honoring the lost children, it is subtle enough that students entering the building are not constantly overwhelmed by the tragedy.

The next day we drove into Oklahoma City for a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial.  Thisl Memorial honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were affected by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995.  The memorial is located on the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the bombing.

The most moving section of the memorial is the Field of Empty Chairs.  One hundred sixty-eight empty chairs hand-crafted from glass, bronze, and stone represent those who lost their lives, with a name etched in the glass base of each.  They sit on the site where the Murrah Building once stood.  The chairs represent the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victims’ families. The chairs are arranged in nine rows to symbolize the nine floors of the federal building; each person’s chair is on the row (or the floor) on which the person worked or was located when the bomb went off.  The chairs are also grouped according to the blast pattern, with the most chairs nearest the most heavily damaged portion of the building. The westernmost column of five chairs represents the five people who died but were not in the Murrah Building (two in the Water Resources Board building, one in the Athenian Building, one outside near the building, and one rescuer).  The 19 smaller chairs represent the children killed in the bombing.  Three unborn children died along with their mothers, and they are listed on their mothers’ chairs beneath their mothers’ names.

 

The Field of Empty Chairs

The Reflecting Pool, a thin layer of water flowing over polished black granite, runs east to west down the center of the Memorial  on what was once Fifth Street.  The tree on the far left in the photo below is near the spot where the truck containing the explosives was parked.

The Reflecting Pool and the Western Gate

At the ends of the Reflecting Pool are The Gates of Time, twin bronze gates that frame the moment of destruction – 9:02 – and mark the formal entrances to the Outdoor Memorial. On the eastern gate the numbers 9:01 are etched, representing the last moments of peace, while its opposite on the western gate, 9:03, represents the first moments of recovery.

The Eastern Gate

The Survivor Tree is an American elm on the north side of the Memorial, this was the only shade tree in the parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building.  Commuters arrived early to get one of the shady parking spots provided by its branches.  Photos of Oklahoma City taken in the 1920s show the tree to be about 100 years old.   Heavily damaged by the bomb, the tree survived after nearly being chopped down during the initial investigation, when workers wanted to recover evidence hanging in its branches and embedded in its bark.  The force of the blast ripped most of the branches from the Survivor Tree, glass and debris were embedded in its trunk and fire from the cars parked beneath it blackened what was left.  Most thought the tree could not survive.  Almost a year after the bombing, family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony by the tree noticed it was beginning to bloom again.  The Survivor Tree now thrives, and the Outdoor Memorial design includes a mandate to feature and protect the tree.  For example, one of the roots that would have been cut by the wall surrounding the tree was placed inside a large pipe, so it could reach the soil beyond the wall without being damaged.  The decking around the tree was raised several feet to make an underground crawlspace; workers enter through a secure hatchway and monitor the health of the tree and maintain its very deep roots.

The Survivor Tree

More than 5,000 hand-painted tiles from all over the United States and Canada were made by children and sent to Oklahoma City after the bombing in 1995.  Most are stored in the Memorial’s Archives, but a sampling of tiles is on the wall in the Children’s Area.

Tiles in the Children’s Area

The only remaining part of the original federal building

Later we made a visit to the Bricktown neighborhood for lunch.  Bricktown was once a decaying warehouse area but it has been renovated and now is home to a number of restaurants, bars, and parks.  Top attractions include the mile long Bricktown Canal and the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home to the Oklahoma City Dodgers, triple A affiliate of the L.A. Dodgers.

Bricktown Canal

A statue of Oklahoma-born Mickey Mantle in front of the stadium

We are now continuing east on I-40 headed for Russellville, AR for a short stay in a Corps of Engineers Park outside of the town.

More on that later . . .

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A Brief Visit to Wichita, KA

Newton, KS  (north of Wichita)

We dropping our daughter, Jessica, off at the Denver Airport on Wednesday morning for her return flight to Baltimore, returned to the motorhome, finished packing up, and headed east on I-70.  After about 250 miles we pulled into High Plains RV Park in Oakley, KS for the night.  We had stopped here two years ago so we knew it was a good spot for an overnight stay.

The next morning we were ready to head out early but a thunderstorm moving across central Kansas caused us to delay a couple of hours.  But just before 11:00 we were back on the highway continuing to the east.  At Salinas we turned south on I-135, headed for Wichita.  After another 250 miles we stopped for the night at Payne Oil RV Park.  OK, the name sounds a little strange but it turned out to be a decent place.  Years back the owner of the oil company decided to add a small RV park and a nine hole golf course to his property across from the oil company office.  The golf course doesn’t seem to exist any more but there are about 15 RV sites offered on a first come first served basis.  If you arrive before five you pay at the oil company office.  Arrive later and you put your money in a metal container next to the door.  There are no amenities, but the sites are level,  the full hook-ups work well, and it’s only $20 a night.

We intended to just stay here one night but, since Wichita is only 20 miles down the road, we decided to stay another night and spend a day looking around the city on our bikes.  Wichita has many miles of bike paths and one runs right along the Arkansas River.  We parked near the convention center and quickly road across the river.

Once on the other side we biked upstream along the river bank.  Friends Steve and MonaLiza were here just a couple of days ago and said the river was very high from all the recent rains.  We could see debris on the path in spots indicating the water had recently covered it, but the river has returned back to within its normal banks.

At the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers is a beautiful statue called The Keeper of the Plains.  The statue is a 44 foot high steel sculpture by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin. It stands adjacent to the Mid-America All-Indian Center. Surrounding the base of the statue are multiple displays which describe the local tribes that used to inhabit this area.

We continued north on a bike trail a few miles before heading east on a surface street headed for a visit to the campus of Wichita State University.

The name for the school’s athletic teams is the Shockers and, collectively, students are also referred to as being “Shockers.”  The name reflects the university’s heritage. Early students at what was then Fairmount College earned money by shocking, or harvesting, wheat in nearby fields.  Early football games were played on a stubbled wheat field.  Pep club members were known as Wheaties.  Tradition has it that in 1904 football manager and student R.J. Kirk came up with the nickname Wheatshockers.  Although the Wheatshockers name was never officially adopted by the university, it caught on among the fan base.  Newspaper writers also liked it because it was easily shortened to “Shockers” in headlines, and the shorter name was officially adopted by around the time Fairmount became the Municipal University of Wichita in 1926.

While the men’s basketball team has had great success in the past couple of seasons, baseball is the top sport here.  The men’s baseball team is college baseball’s highest winning team for the past 31 years, with numerous conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances.  The baseball team won the national championship in 1989, and was runner-up in 1982, 1991, and 1993.  They play home games in a beautiful little ball park.

After exploring the campus, we rode back downtown to enjoy a late lunch.  MonaLiza had recommended a stop at Tanya’s Soup Kitchen on Douglas Street and we were not disappointed.  We enjoyed a large cup of soup and a sandwich and both were delicious!

Tomorrow we continue our journey with a stop in Shawnee, Oklahoma, just east of Oklahoma City.  A check of the weather forecast shows no tornadoes or  heavy rains for the next few days, so we should be safe to visit the city without drowning or being blown away!

More on that later . . .

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Last Few Days in Denver

Sheridan, CO (near Denver)

One of the reasons for our visit to Denver was to be near an airport.  Our daughter, Jessica, teaches school and usually flies to wherever we are located for a visit at the end of the school year.  Her plane was scheduled to land around six in the evening, but severe storms in the Denver area caused the airport to shut down for a few hours.  So while we sat in the terminal, Jessica stopped in Omaha so the plane could take on fuel and wait for the storm to pass.  She finally arrived after nine, tired but so pleased to see her parents!

The first day of her visit we drove in to the city to check out the flagship REI store (Recreational Equipment, Inc).  Leaving the Jeep in the REI parking area, we walked across the South Platte River to the Wynkoop Brewing House (Colorado’s first brewpub and Denver’s first microbrewery) which is just south of Coors Field (home of the baseball Colorado Rockies).

After tasting some of Denver’s finest brews, we walked back to REI for some shopping before heading to another brew house, Breckenridge Brewery, so Jessica could sample some of her favorite beer, Breckenridge Vanilla Porter.  The beer was very good, while the food was about average.

After recovering from our brewery visits, the next day we headed into the mountains for a bit of hiking.  Mt. Evans is about a forty-five mile drive to the west from us and, with an elevation of over 14,000 ft. boasts the highest paved auto road in North America.  At that high elevation snow keeps the road closed for most of the year, but their website said that it was open, so off we went.

But when we arrived at Echo Lake, where the road to the top of the mountain begins, we found that the website was incorrect and the road was still closed.  An employee inside the Echo Lake Lodge said that recent snows had re-covered the road and there was still a large amount of damage to be repaired before the road could open for the season.  It would probably be mid July before it opened.  So we just parked near the lodge and headed out to hike to the Chicago Lakes since the trailhead was here.

Echo Lake

The trail begins next to the lodge and goes through a pine forest for about a half mile.  A bit of snow covered the trail in some spots, but it was mostly smooth and dry here.

The trail then descends down a fairly steep series of switchbacks for approximately a mile to the bottom of a valley.  A nice wide bridge was there to help us across the strong waters of the Chicago Creek.

After crossing the creek the trail joins a dirt road and goes steeply uphill for about a half mile to the Idaho Springs Reservoir.

Hiking at over 10,000 feet takes a toll on you (Jessica was at the ocean two days earlier) so we decided to enjoy lunch along the water then head back.

The perfect spot for lunch!

All that steep down hill we had coming to this location, turned into an uphill climb on the return hike!

Returning to the Jeep after hiking about six miles, we drove the scenic route (although all routes seem to be scenic) back to the city.  As we drove through the small town of Evergreen we noticed a herd of Elk feeding near the road.

Our next two hikes were repeats of ones we did earlier in our stay with some RV friends.  The first of these two hikes was on the Carpenter Peak Trail, which begins in the red rocks of Roxborough State Park.  The trail begins at the visitor center and winds its way up a thousand feet to a great view of the mountains to the west and the prairie to the east.

Lunch with a view

We took a break from hiking the next day and played tourist.  One stop on our tour was for a visit to the Hammond’s Candy Factory.

Located just east of I-25 north of central Denver, Hammond’s offers tours on the half hour.

Preparing to make candy canes

Everyone was thrilled by this tour!

On a more somber note, as educators we felt compelled to go to Columbine High School and pay our respects to the victims of the mass shooting that took place there in 1998.  On a hillside in Clement Park that overlooks the school there is a beautiful memorial to the thirteen students and one teacher who lost their lives in this senseless tragedy.

View of the memorial from the hillside

The inner circle has a written tribute to each of the victims

The last day of Jessica’s visit we headed back to Red Rocks Park to re-hike the seven mile loop on the Dakota Ridge and Red Rocks Trails.  We hiked this trail with friends Steve and MonaLiza previously and knew Jessica would enjoy it.

Heading toward the hogback of Dinosaur Ridge

Beauty on the ridge!

On Wednesday Jessica had an early flight back to the east.  After dropping her off at the airport we returned to the motorhome, packed things up, and headed east on I-70.  Our long distance target is Atlanta for a visit with our son, Kevin, but we have a few places to visit along the way.

More on that later . . .

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A Bit of Golf and a Visit to Rocky Mountain NP

Sheridan, CO (outside Denver)

With Dave and Sue nearby, a little golf was definitely on the agenda during our stay in the area.  The Denver area has numerous golf courses and one is very close to our RV park.  Broken Tee has a regulation course as well as a nine hole par three layout.  So we booked a tee time on the regulation course for Monday, which turned out to be a day of reduced greens fees.

The first tee with a nice view of the mountains

What’s the par for this hole?

Two senior tour members on the first tee

A good caddie is an asset! (thanks for the photo, Sue)

Crossing the South Platte River (thanks for the photo, Sue)

The next day we decided to take a long loop drive into the mountains and go up through Rocky Mountain National Park.  For the first part of the trip we drove west on I-70 to the Empire exit.

Looking west on I-70

Leaving the interstate, we drove north on Rte. 40, immediately gaining elevation as we drove over Berthoud Pass (11,000′).

Waterfall on Hoop Creek

We passed one snowy hillside and saw two skiers coming down.  There was no lift so they must have hiked up the hill.

We continued north on Rte. 40 to Granby where we turned right on to Rte. 34.  Along Rte. 34 we passed by beautiful Lake Granby with the mountains of Rocky Mountain NP in the distance.

Just north of the town of Grand Lake we entered Rocky Mountain NP.  This road is a great spot to see moose, but we only spotted one foraging in the bushes.

In the national park Rte. 34 is called Trail Ridge Road and is the highest continuous paved road in the U.S.  The road crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (elev. 10,758 ‘) and reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183′.

The snow pack increases as we gain elevation (as did the bug splattered windshield)

Trail Ridge Road winds its way up the west side of the national park

Views from the summit are spectacular!

After crossing the summit and descending back down to about 8,000′ we turned on to the Fall River Road at Deer Ridge Junction.  We went this way so we could go by Sheep Lakes, a wide meadow by a lake that is frequented by bighorn sheep.  The sheep are attracted by mineral deposits in the soil, which are essential in the growth of their horns.  Volunteers are stationed at a parking area to regulate traffic if any sheep attempt to cross the road.  We must have some sort of bighorn antenna, while we rarely can spot moose, we often see these magnificent animals.  As we arrived at the viewing area  a male and a female were grazing nearby.

While we watched, the male decided to cross the road and go back up the mountain.  The volunteers quickly stopped traffic to allow him to safely cross.  Soon the female spotted him on the hillside and hustled over to cross the road and join him.

There were no other large animals in the meadow but the little fellow below kept a sharp eye out for any danger.

We continued down the road to the Fall River Visitor Center and inquired about any good hikes nearby.  The ranger recommended the Deer Mountain Trail, a six mile round-trip with a thousand feet of elevation gain.  He said we would have a beautiful view of almost 360 degrees from the summit.  So off we went, backtracking through Sheep Lakes to Deer Ridge Junction.

Deer Mountain Trailhead

The trail began benignly through a pine forest, but we could see Deer Mountain at just over 10,000′ in front of us so we knew we would soon be going up.

After about a tenth of a mile the trail began to gain elevation through a series of switchbacks.  In some sections the footing was very smooth, while in other areas it was quite rocky.

Where the trail went through open areas the views of snow covered mountains were beautiful.

Once we reached the summit we sat for a while enjoying lunch while taking in the views all around us.

Estes Park is in the center of the photo

Storm clouds were building to the south so we didn’t stay long on the summit.  For most of the return hike the sun was shining on us, but as we approached the bottom, the skies darkened and a light rain urged us onward.

We hiked the last tenth of a mile in a fairly steady rain, but got in the Jeep just as the heavy stuff began.  Driving in to nearby Estes Park, untouched by the nearby rain, we stopped at one of our favorite coffee shops.  We enjoy this location because the outdoor seating is right along the Big Thompson River.

A little post-hike refreshment

As we drove south toward Denver we could see large storm clouds on the prairie to the east.  At one point a weird half rainbow ran from the clouds to the ground.

While a bit long (about 250 miles), this loop drive provides outstanding scenery.  Throw in a six mile hike with significant elevation gain and you have a great adventure!

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Seeing the Sights in the Denver Area

Sheridan, CO (near Denver)

While in the Denver area we have taken the opportunity to do some sight-seeing.  Twice we joined fellow RVers on visits to local attractions.  Both couples (Sue and Dave, as well as, MonaLiza And Steve) are staying in a park in Golden and one day invited us to join them on a visit to the nearby Coors Brewery.  Also joining the group was Dave and Sue’s son, Jesse, who lives in nearby Boulder and recently completed a graduate program at the University of Colorado.

The tour begins in a visitors parking area where you board a shuttle bus that takes you to the tour entrance.  But first the bus takes you on a quick trip through downtown Golden, with the driver providing a brief history of the town.

John, MonaLiza, Steve, Dave, Sue, and Jesse await the shuttle bus

The tour is self-guided and each visitor is given an individual auditory player.  Each station along the tour is identified by a number.  Press the corresponding number on your device and you hear information about that step in the process.

Attentive visitors

At the end of the tour each visitor of legal age is entitled to three glasses of the Coors of your choice.  Three glasses seemed a bit much for the group (especially for those driving) so one was our limit.

Later in the week we were again invited to join the group for a visit to NCAR in Boulder (more on that later).  On the way we stopped back at Red Rocks Park to check out the amphitheater.

The road to the upper parking lot goes through a short tunnel

The amphitheater at Red Rocks was built by the CCC and completed in 1941.  With a seating capacity of 9,450 the open air venue has near perfect acoustics.  A long list of famous musicians, including the Beatles in 1964, have performed here.  The site is open to the public each morning and is utilized by a large number of people as an exercise facility.  The group below was working its way up the seating area completing a variety of exercises along the way.

Tired arms do some push-ups

Can you spot the leader of the group?

After our quick stop at Red Rocks Park we continued up the road to the city of Boulder where we met Sue, Dave, MonaLiza, and Steve in the parking lot of the Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).  NCAR is a research center funded by the National Science Foundation.  Studies include meteorology, climate science, atmospheric chemistry, solar-terrestrial interactions, environmental and societal impacts.

The Mesa Laboratory complex was designed by architect I. M. Pei in 1961 as his first project outside of city building design.  It has been noted for its Anasazi-inspired architecture and use of bush-hammered concrete to blend into the surrounding area.

Pam, John, Sue, and Dave

The Visitors Center at the Mesa Laboratory is open to the public daily at no charge.  There are many displays, some interactive, related to the various atmospheric studies of NCAR.

The children playing in a cloud

Two scientists confer on a climate question!

Each day at noon one of the staff leads a tour of the Visitors Center.  We arrived just before the tour began and enjoyed an interesting and informative presentation.

One of the displays has a diorama of the facility and information on its designer, I.M. Pei.  The display is in a room with a beautiful view of the mountains to the west.

Following our tour, the group adjourned for a late lunch in downtown Boulder.  We arrived at The Bohemian Biergarten a half hour before they opened so we spent some time exploring the nearby shops.  The wait was well worth it, as the food and drink were both excellent.

One of the nice things about the Denver area is that there are numerous bike paths throughout the city.  One of the paths runs right by our RV park and connects with another trail leading to downtown Denver, about ten miles to the north.  So one afternoon when it looked like the daily thunderstorms might hold off until late in the day we put some air in our tires and headed out.  The trail runs right along the South Platte River as it heads north of the city.

Due to all the rain in the area the past month there are a number of spots where the trail literally runs through the river!

As we approached the center city the trail went right by Sports Authority Field, home of the Broncos.

Just north of the football stadium we crossed the Platte River and rode into the center of Denver for a visit to the 16th Street Mall.  The 16th Street Mall is a pedestrian and transit mall that runs along 16th Street for 1.25 miles.  It is home to over 300 locally owned/chain stores and over 50 restaurants.

One of 16th Street’s most distinctive buildings is the D&F Tower (Daniels & Fisher).  When it was completed in 1910, this was the highest building west of the Mississippi River. It is modeled after The Campanile (St. Mark’s Bell Tower) at the Piazza San Marco in Venice and its four clocks (one for each side) are 16 feet high.

The D&F Tower

Another feature of the mall is the upright pianos located at various locations.  The “Your Keys to the City” program places 10 pianos along the sidewalks of the mall for public use from May 1st until September 30th.  Piano players, or anyone really, can use the pianos during the day between 8 a.m .and 10 p.m,, before they are covered. The pianos as are also covered during inclement weather.  The pianos are painted with inspirations from artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and also with some local landmarks such as Coors Field and the Rocky Mountains.

A local showgirl entertains the masses one afternoon

As we re-crossed the South Platte River on the return ride, we made a stop at what may be our favorite store in the whole world.

Can’t read the name of the store in the photo above?  Let’s zoom in a bit for a better look.

The arrow points to the name of the main business in this building, Recreational Equipment Inc., or REI.   This is a great store for hiking and biking equipment and has locations all over the country.  The Denver store is the largest one we have visited in our travel.  Now, to make this building even more exciting, the oval is around the location of that little chain of coffee shops from Seattle.  An REI and a Starbucks in the same building!  Life doesn’t get any better!

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Red Rocks Trail Hike – Denver

Denver, CO

During their recent stay in the Denver area our friends, Hans and Lisa, did a great loop hike that began/ended in Red Rocks Park.  The park is the home of the famous amphitheater nestled within the red rocks.  While world-class musicians perform under the stars in the evenings, during the day miles of trails are open to hikers and mountain bikers.

Early one morning we met Steve and MonaLiza in one of the large parking areas and set out to do a seven mile loop beginning on the Red Rocks Trail.  Our plan was to follow the trail Hans and Lisa described using Red Rocks Trail, Dakota Ridge, Village Walk, Morrison Slide, then back to Red Rocks Trail.

The trail begins through a flat grassland area

The high point (literally the highest point) of the hike was the Dakota Ridge, also known as the Dakota Hogsback.  This ridge of Dakota Sandstone creates a natural barrier between the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the plains to the east.

The trail crosses the highway (CO-93) where you begin to climb up the Hogsback

Beautiful view on the ridge

Look at the photo above.  See the red rock formation above the ladies?  That is the location of the Red Rock Amphitheater.  A zoom shot below shows the seating area.

As we hiked along the Hogsback, we stopped for a snack and a group photo.

Looking down over the edge, Hawkeye Steve spotted a pair of antlers and two eyes peering back at him.

The little guy below had found himself a nice quiet spot in the shade for the day!

Looking back behind us you can see the road (CO-93) with the Hogsback on the left and Red Rocks Amphitheater on the right.

As we hiked the Hogsback the girls suddenly began to kiss a pine tree!  OK, they were just enjoying the butterscotch (or vanilla to some) smell of a Ponderosa Pine (bet you never saw Hoss doing this on the ranch!)

This trail is also a very popular route for mountain bikers.  Log ramps are built into steep areas of the trail to help them riding in either direction.

At the north end of the Hogsback, the Dakota Ridge Trail descends down to a point where you have to cross the highway (CO-93) again.  You then enter Matthew/Winters Park for the return hike.

At Matthews/Winters we picked up the Village Walk Trail as it wandered across a grassy area.

After a bit we came to the junction of Red Rocks Trail and Morrison Slide Trail.  The Morrison Slide Trail is a bit longer and gains some elevation compared to the Red Rocks Trail.  Since there were thunderstorms all around us, we opted for the shorter route and took The Red Rocks Trail back to the parking area.

A bit of wildlife along the Red Rock Trail

Thunderstorms all around us on the return trail

We returned to the parking area just in time to avoid some rain.  We planned to go up the hill and visit the amphitheater but the thunder chased us away.  We’ll save that visit for another day.

OK, we did have a little excitement on the trail.  Pam has frequently fallen while hiking, hence the moniker “nimble hiker.”  She was excited (and completely un-sympathetic) when John finally took a tumble on the Red Rock Trail.  He thought she might have pushed him, but she was behind Steve so apparently gravity is the culprit.

An example of using your head!

Other than a skinned knee, a cut on the hand, and dirt on his shirt and hat, he survived with no lingering physical injuries other than a bruised ego!

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