Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Garden of the Gods

Wednesday we had decided to take a longer excursion away from Nathrop since we weren't needed at the campground, our chores had been accomplished, and we had located and explored the closest shopping areas. It was time for an adventure! We decided to drive east over to Colorado Springs, and visit an attraction called Garden of the Gods. I had also thought, since we were there, that we would visit another area known as Seven Falls, but as you'll see we didn't make it that far! We will also be doing the Pike's Peak drive at some point, but decided to make that an excursion on its own day. They have just recently opened the road all the way to the summit, but the weather forecast was calling for possible thunderstorms and the wind to pick up. best not to be over 14000 feet in that scenario!

The drive from Chalk Creek over to Colorado Springs takes place almost completely on Highway 24. Even the drive over was beautiful. The initial portion on the west end goes through a portion of the San Isabel National Forest, and is pretty curvy. Then the land flattens out into a valley before heading into the Pike National Forest. As we headed back up the mountains in the Pike National Forest, we stopped at the Visitor Center perched on the Wilkerson Pass. From here we had a great view back over the plains to the Collegiate Peaks we had left behind ( Chalk Creek, where we are staying, is in a region known as either  "the fourteeners", for the multitude of mountain peaks over 14000 feet, or "the Collegiate Peaks", for the many mountain peaks named after universities).

Here I learned that this view west from the Wilkerson Pass is known as the Bayou Salado. This is a combination of French and Spanish terms that refer to the large salt deposits on the southwestern margin of South Park, a major attraction for grazing animals (yes folks, there really is a South Park Colorado!). This is one of four high altitude parks in Colorado.  Park is not used in the traditional sense of the word, as much of it is privately owned land, many ranchers. Park was derived from the french "parc", meaning a hunting preserve. 

While there we encountered this little fellow, a golden mantled ground squirrel. There's a short walking path around the visitor center, and as we stopped at an overlook, there was a pair of these guys hanging out on the rocks below. I snapped a few shots, and then one of them scooted away. All of a sudden he was right here in front of us! Even with the dogs here. I gathered from this that they are accustomed to being fed :-). Sorry kids, no seed from me!

Big stretch!

We then continued east to Colorado Springs, heading through smaller towns that are gone in a blink of the eye, then eventually larger towns like Divide (where we've seen the cheapest diesel prices in months at $3.83/gallon...guess where we filled up on the way back!) and then Woodland Park, a suburb of Colorado Springs. Very touristy, with all the major shopping areas, lodging, dining. The Walmart there is even built to look like a huge log cabin...funny! We soon encountered the signs leading us to Garden of the Gods, which were in conflict of how Samantha (GPS) was taking us in, so once again, she was getting upset with us and we had to turn her off :-). We eventually figured out that she was taking us to the main entrance where the visitor's center is, but the signs on the highway bring you in the balanced rock entrance. 

Garden of the Gods is a city of Colorado Springs park. The land was donated to the city by the family of Charles Elliott Perkins in 1909. It has been designated in 2011 as a Great American Public Place by the American Planning Association. It attracts over two million visitors a year, and is the city's most frequently visited park. Entrance to the park is also free :-). There are more than 15 miles of hiking trails in the park, with a mile and a half paved trail that is ADA accessible running through the heart of the park, enabling anyone to enjoy the scenic rock formations. The park has many recreational facilities available, from hiking, road and mountain biking, horseback riding, and, with a permit, technical rock climbing.

Our entrance was spectacular. Our first view of the park was its most famous attraction, the balanced rock:

The outstanding geologic features of the park are the ancient sedimentary beds of red, blue, purple, and white sandstones, conglomerates and limestone that were deposited horizontally, but have now been tilted vertically and faulted by the immense mountain building forces caused by the uplift of the Pikes Peak massif. Evidence of past ages; ancient seas, eroded remains of ancestral mountain ranges, alluvial fans, sandy beaches and great sand dune fields can be read in the rocks (wikipedia)
Headed up for a photo op

Once again, the pups in a beautiful scenic photo :-)

We continued around the park, following the signs to the Visitor Center. It was time for a restroom break, and we figured a map would be useful to have. The center is very nice, many exhibits, a short movie (for a fee), a restaurant. It looked nice, but with the dogs, we needed a picnic spot rather than a restaurant.

Found one! Scotsman Picnic Area. The roads within the park are mostly one way, so throughout the day we did a lot of "looping" to get to different areas. 

New bird alert! The Black-billed Magpie..beautiful in flight.

After lunch, we looped around to the parking area for the Perkins Trail, the paved trail running right through the most formations in the park. I took so many pictures, its hard to chose a few, but you can view the entire album here at Flickr if you wish.
View of the central gardens from an off-road pullover just north of the parking area

Can you see the kissing camels?

We spent quite a bit of time exploring this area, and taking many photographs. We then decided to take a walk up a trail to the formation known as the Siamese twins. As you can probably see from the photos, the clouds were beginning to gather, so we headed to the trail to get in this last walk before any rains came.

The top of the trail to the twins

Spectacular view of the Siamese Twins formation with Pike's Peak framed in between them

Back down to the parking area, it was after 4PM. The clouds were thick, it was cooling down, and with a two hour drive home, we decided to call it a day. It was a really nice spot to spend an afternoon. Its funny, we had people tell us to allocate about an hour to visit the park, and we spent several hours! We always seem to spend so much longer in places than expected :-).

Thursday we deemed a "lazy day". Chelsea especially seemed to be a bit stiff after two days of walking and climbing rocks. Casey wasn't affected at all :-)! I did my laundry, we did some grocery shopping, and spent a lot of time going through the pictures :-). Friday we had our staff meeting, and I think we're really going to enjoy working here.The other couples are nice, and Tamara and Lars, the new owners, are really interested in hearing our thoughts and ideas. I spent some time that afternoon looking over her shoulder as she was taking and modifying reservations in the campground manager program. It doesn't look too difficult to learn, its quite intuitive as you work through the screens. I think I'll figure it out just fine.

Saturday we took a scenic ride north towards Leadville and Frisco, along the Top of the Rockies . And that will be the subject of the next blog, so stay tuned :-)!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Getting Acclimated

We've been here for a full week now, and it's starting to feel as if we're getting a bit more acclimated to the altitude. At any rate, I can now climb the hill from the lower campground to the upper campground in one shot without completely losing my breath :-). We are both still congested though, but kleenex and Allegra are taking care of that. I have started taking a spoonful of local honey each morning, and we'll see if that helps.

Monday we went in search of a tire place that could determine the cause of the leak in our front tire. Being that we continued to lose about 10 pounds of air each day after the tire place in Texas replaced the air valve, we were pretty sure that wasn't the issue. The one thing we have been finding is that not all tire places can deal with the larger tires we have on the Ford F450. The first place we stopped was one of these, but they directed us to a shop in downtown Salida that would. Turned out to be very nice folks there, took the truck right in and told us to walk into town for lunch and they should have it ready. We found an old-fashioned soda fountain type of store and ordered a couple of sandwiches,and then we then walked down to the park on the riverfront (the Arkansas River flows right through Salida). It was a really nice day, and a quiet pretty spot. Being so early in the season, it wasn't very busy in town, and only a handful of people were strolling about. Upon arriving back at the tire shop, the truck was almost ready, and they had found a broken off screw had punctured the tire. Now, why didn't the dude in Texas find that?? Anyway, a plug and a few dollars later, we were a bit on our way. Easy peasy :-).

Tuesday we stayed at the campground and took care of a few housekeeping details. Our last travel day had rain involved, and the trailer was a bit spattered with mud and dirt. While Al worked on cleaning the outside (and removing many bugs that had met their demise between Florida and Colorado), I was vacuuming and cleaning inside. It is a bit dusty here, so we're going to have to keep on top of that since its nice enough to leave the windows open. Early afternoon brought a few threatening clouds, so we delayed a planned hike to the Agnes Vaille Falls until late afternoon.

The Agnes Vaille Falls are on County Road 162, the same road we drove to the ghost town of St. Elmo. Its a short hike, only 1 mile round trip, with a 450 foot elevation change, all uphill on the way there. Seeing that the trail started at 8700 feet, we felt that was strenuous enough for a first hike attempt. And I was proud of us (well, mostly myself :-)) for doing it without too much difficulty. We didn't go fast, but slow and steady wins the race.

Agnes Vaille Falls were named after a Denver native, Agnes Vaille, born in 1890. She was an adventurous woman, with a passion for hiking and mountain climbing. She had plans with a companion, Jo Witchey Love, to explore all of Colorado's massive peaks, which sadly never came to pass. During a winter ascent of Long's Peak in Rocky Mountain national Park (elevation 14255 feet) she slipped on ice and fell down the north face of the mountain. She survived the fall, but sadly froze to death before help could arrive. Jo Witchey Love, another adventurous mountain woman, married and moved to Chalk Creek Canyon, where she ran a guest ranch for over 50 years. Upon discovering these falls, she named them in memory of her dear friend.

Curious mule deer alongside the road going up

The start of the trail up to the falls

Beautiful view of Mount Antero

The final leg to see a good view of the falls was a bit of a scramble over fallen rocks. We managed ok, Casey did great...we think he has a bit of mountain goat in him :-)

Agnes Vaille falls...a bit unimpressive, especially with the low amount of snowfall they've had this winter. But it was a nice walk with fantastic views!

Just taking it all in...the peacefulness and solitude was amazing. 

At the top of the rocky scramble...approximate elevation 9150 feet. The waterfall is, unfortunately, still underwhelming :-). But we made it!

I love the fir trees...just beautiful.

So, tired but happy, it was the end of another nice day here. The third set of workampers arrived Tuesday, Joe and Sandi, who are returnees from last year. It's always nice to have someone around familiar with the area, who can give us recommendations of places to visit. We were also informed that there would be a staff meeting Friday morning, at which time we would go over paperwork, procedures and questions. We will be starting work and training on Monday. So, we decided Wednesday we would take a longer excursion since we wouldn't be needed at the campground, and decided to drive to Colorado Springs, 90 miles to the east of us, and pay a visit to The Garden of the Gods. And that will be the subject of the next blog so stay tuned! 

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Quiet Sunday

Without anything too much on the daily agenda, it was a relaxing morning getting up and getting going. It has been so nice here since we arrived! Bright sunshine, crystal clear blue skies. Its so relaxing sitting in the sun just reading :-). Of course, one can't do that all day, especially with Casey around! We did take a ride to Salida, the "major" urban area just to our south. Its a 20 minute drive, and there's a smaller WalMart there which will be good when we need to do some stocking up.

Founded in 1880, Salida was originally a railroad town and was a significant link in the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. After World War II the railroad began pulling back its operations in Salida. Many residents in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s worked either in local ranching operations or commuted north to Leadville to work at the Climax Molybdenum Company. Today the most prominent business in Salida is tourism, consisting of skiing at Monarch ski area, whitewater rafting, kayaking and outfitting, particularly on the Arkansas River. Salida is home to the annual FIBArk kayak race, one of the oldest whitewater races in North America. (source: wikipedia)

It's a pretty little town, and it does have many tourist-oriented shops in the historic business district. We've also been told there are many good little restaurants down there. We don't eat out very much, but will have to try a couple :-).

Upon our return to Chalk Creek, I did a bit of laundry, and Al made a huge pot of spaghetti sauce  with meatballs and sausage. It has to simmer for a few hours to "meld" the flavors, so that was his afternoon project. We now have enough sauce for probably five different meals :-). I had bought him a pasta maker after his diligent efforts making homemade ravioli last fall, so he made his first attempt at making homemade spaghetti. Whereas it was edible, :-), the results were not as good as had been hoped, but it is a learning process and we'll get there, just like the pizza :-).

After watching the latest installment of "The Amazing Race", one of our favorite shows ( we're rooting for Mark and Bopper from Kentucky) and one of the "Frozen Planet" episodes we have recorded, it was time to turn in. I'll try to have some pictures for you tomorrow. I believe we're off to Buena Vista again to find a tire place...apparently the tire valve was not the issue, as the tire is still leaking air :-(.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chalk Creek Drive

The first week we are up here at Chalk Creek Campground is all about getting acclimated..physically and mentally. The physical part is important as we want to feel good while we are here, naturally. Its not easy for a body that has lived at sea level all its life to adjust to over 7000 feet in elevation :-). It is important not to overdo things and gradually get used to the change in altitude. So far, so good.Our worst physical symptom seems to be congestion, and that is most likely due to allergies more than anything else. Local honey is a definite priority when we head towards town.

The other aspect of arriving early is that we are trying to familiarize ourselves with the area, learn what shopping and activities are available close by. This campground is more of a vacationer's campground, with more transients than seasonals. I don't think there really are seasonals in the traditional sense. The closest town is Buena Vista, about 8 miles up the highway. As we drove through Friday, whereas its quite quiet now, I really think this is a busy town in the summer season. There is a City Market for groceries, and a True Value Hardware, as well as the normal banks, gas stations, etc. There are also many restaurants, lunch spots, tackle shops (fly fishing) rafting/adventure outfitters, and galleries and gift shops. It looks very nice, and has most anything we will probably need at a convenient ride from the campground. There is a larger town south about 20 minutes, Salida, which we will probably check out tomorrow.

Yesterday was kind of a lazy morning. The congestion hadn't lent itself to a good night's sleep, so we pretty much slept in as much as the dogs would let us. Its been cold at night, in the 30's, but warms up in the trailer quite quickly in the morning with the sun streaming through our large living room windows. I love the fact that this trailer has so many windows :-). Its so nice to be able to glance out the windows in any direction and see my wonderful view. The finches have already found my birdfeeders, so I spent a bit of time watching them as well; I think its too early here for hummingbirds, but we're ready for them!

We went over to the office around lunchtime to speak with Tamara, and met with Lars as well. A really nice couple who seem to want to keep the campground as nice as it is, as well as mulling over some improvements in the future. They are very easy to talk to, and I think it will be a pleasure to work here this summer. We also needed some propane, so Lars filled our tank for us, as Al hasn't learned this task...someone from the gas company will be coming out to give a class on it when all the workampers have arrived...another item for the resume :-)!

After lunch we decided to take a ride on nearby Chalk Creek Drive. It goes deep into the San Isabel
National Forest, following alongside Chalk Creek for much of the way to a place known as St. Elmo ghost town.
Bighorn Sheep were gathered alongside the road

Chalk Creek, above Agnes Veil Falls, a short walk that we will do another day

Getting higher!

Look what we found! Snow!!

That looks like some cold water!

There is nothing like a nice cold roll in the snow :-). I think Chelsea is part Finnish :-)

Onto the ghost town of St. Elmo, one of Colorado's best preserved ghost towns. Although considered a ghost town, there are still a few year-round inhabitants, and the General Store is open in the summer, renting four-wheel drive vehicles and offering a few items for sale. 

There is quite a long history which can be read here.

The General Store/Post Office

And I thought having to use the port-a-potty when my black tank was cracked was a hardship...imagine running to the outhouse in the middle of winter?!

 The "road" ended at the west end of town, only four-wheel vehicles were permitted from that point....hmm, maybe another day??

Heading back down the mountain, we made a detour to the town of Alpine...dirt roads!

Alpine Lake...beautiful!

More big horn sheep...they must be accustomed to cars slowing down, they didn't take off at all...unlike the mule deer, which I didn't get any pictures of because they ran off as soon as Casey started barking at them!

Chalk Lake, a public access lake unlike Alpine Lake, that was private property. There's a primitive campground here, picnic area, and fishing.

By now it was dinner time, so we headed back home. It was too late to make the planned-on spaghetti and meatballs, so I made a pot of cheddar cheese soup and along with some crusty bread we had an excellent rib-stickin' meal. An old favorite movie was on, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", so we watched that, and then turned in for the night. We'll see what we can find today!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

At Last...Colorado!

Thursday we packed up and departed from Raton New Mexico, headed to our workamping experience this summer at Chalk Creek Campground and RV Park in Nathrop, Colorado. It was a cloudy, cooler day, and we knew we were driving into some showers as well. We stopped at the WalMart Supercenter in Trinidad, Colorado, to replenish the refrigerator and pantry, as I wasn't sure of how close a good grocery store was going to be. We stayed on I25 until Walsenburg, and then turned west onto route 160 to Alamosa. We passed right through the Spanish Peaks on this route, and even with the clouds and sprinkles, it was awesome.
Blanca Peak at 14,345 feet.

We did see a coyote on the side of the road, but I wasn't fast enough with the camera to get a picture. I was happy, though, that it was alive and well...the only coyote in the wild I've ever seen before was killed by a vehicle in Kentucky :-(.

We drove over the La Veta Pass, elevation 9382, and Al was quite please with the performance of the truck and the Banks system he had installed last year in preparation for heading west. He never had to touch the brakes as we descended the pass. I think it will really save some wear and tear on the truck.

At Alamosa, we turned north once again on route 17, turning into route 285. We passed through many "don't blink or you'll miss them towns" as we drove north towards Poncha Springs, with the Rio Grande National Forest to our east and the San Juan National Forest to our left. 
I thought this picture shows the enormity of the mountains towering over the homestead. 

One of Casey's typical "riding day" poses...he likes to lay down on the seat resting his head on the window so he can still see what is passing by. He's very nosy, and rarely sleeps on travel days. Of course. sometimes this makes it a chilly drive for us, with the windows open in the back :-).

After going over another pass, Poncha Pass, elevation 9010, with a long, winding descent into Poncha Springs that was gorgeous! we stopped for fuel in Poncha Springs, about 20 minutes from Chalk Creek. 
The view at the gas station! 

Soon, we were pulling into Chalk Creek and meeting our new boss, Tamara. Tamara and her husband Lars are the new owners of the campground, having just bought it this past winter. We were very happy to hear that they were still having all four workamper couples come in for the summer, and she seems like a very nice person. Lars was not here, as he had headed back to California to pick up another load of their stuff and bring it back. He did arrive back last night, so we will meet him today.

We are still acclimating to the elevation. The pollen here is also very high right now, and that is leading to a lot of congestion and scratchy eyes. Joyce, another workamper, has told us that we need to get some local honey, and have a spoonful every day. This is supposed to help our immune systems adjust to the local pollens. It sounds logical, so we will be heading into town for some honey. Its also a lot drier here than on the east coast, so we are really being very careful about drinking more water, and I have saline nasal spray that I use. We also tire out a bit faster, but we'll adjust soon, its only been 3 days that we've been this high.

OK, on to the campground we'll call home for the next 4 1/2 months. Chalk Creek is not a really big campground, there's 71 sites split between the upper and lower campground.
The owner's residence and office/store.

Irrigation canal that runs through the campground.

The bath house and laundry building. Its the cleanest, nicest laundry room I've ever been in outside of our house!

The lower campground is down the hill and situated along Chalk Creek

Tent sites lined up in the meadow, with the dog walk area behind the tree line on the left. 

RV sites along Chalk Creek. The lower campground is really nice, but the only hookup you have is electric. The water table is too close to the surface to allow water to be put in. You have to fill your fresh water tanks at the upper level before going down. However, it is the prettier area of the two, being right on the creek and very shaded.

Big rig sites in the upper level of the campground. Here is where you have full hookups, completely level sites, with outstanding mountain views in every direction. No shade whatsoever, though. No grass, either.

There are also three mountain view cabins available to rent, with full facilities, satellite TV and BBQ grills

Two premium sites, with full hookups, paved patio and BBQ grill and patio furniture

The office/store with a view of Mount Antero, elevation 14,269 in the back

And finally, our home until mid-September!