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  1. #1
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    Default Colorado Solo Trip - 2014

    Hi All! I know it's been quite a while since I posted in here. However, I am on a road trip right now and I wanted to post some updates about my trip. I started on Tuesday, but I have only written about Friday and Saturday, so I'll start there. I'll go back later and update with information from the first few days.

  2. #2
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    Default June 12, 2014 Night

    It’s around 10:00 pm Mountain time. The full moon will arrive shortly - in fact, in the Eastern time zone, it will be here in approximately 15 minutes. I bet a lot of people think it’s Friday night, not Friday morning; they should check a moon phase calendar.

    Into the car, a 60 mile drive waits ahead of me. The only traffic at this time of night is 18-wheelers with giant bars across the front of their rigs, used for reducing the amount of damage when an antelope or some free-range cow is struck I’m sure. Off the main road and on to one of several dirt roads - some being the very definition of “washboard road” - that lead to the Pawnee Buttes.

    I arrive at the first of two parking areas, and as expected I am alone. Or so I think. In front of me I can see the Pawnee Buttes. At a greater distance are red lights flashing atop windmills, and spots of light here and there that indicate a house…or a town. The wind is prominent here and it is getting colder. Some thought I was crazy to pack a winter hat for a trip to Colorado in June, especially since the temperature had been hovering around 90 degrees for a few days. It was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time.

    The moon is full and to my back as I set up the camera for the first night shot of a natural wonder that I have ever taken. I’ve done some urban shots before, but this is an entirely different environment. I’m guessing an f-stop around 5.6 or so will work. Exposure time - I guess at that. The first shot is complete and I review it on the camera’s screen. I am satisfied with the result, and truly in awe at how the sky is blue for the camera yet remains black for me. This is some form of magic to be sure.

    I stop what I’m doing to listen for a minute. Wind. The sound of a windmill - squeak, squeak, clunk; squeak, squeak, clunk. Then voices, from where I do not know. The moon’s light provides semi-adequate illumination of the area directly around me, for further distances I have my flashlight. Nobody is there. Then the sound of cattle. Do you call that a “bleat?” It certainly isn’t a “moo.” For a moment I’m struck with the realization that this scenario could be the basis for any of a number of movies, all which involve an unsolved murder and a host of unanswered questions. The feeling passes. If I’m meant to die out here, so be it. I’d rather go doing something I enjoy instead of holed up in a hospital room, or worse, working. My brain does something I’ve spent the past year and a half training it to do: shut the heck up.

    There is a trail in front of me that I want to explore. Being that I am alone I won’t go too far, but curiosity overwhelms me and a different angle of my subjects beckons. A short distance into the trail, some form of manure. Is that horse manure? No, no, you know what horse manure looks like. This isn’t it. It’s cow manure. Nearby a white flower stands alone and has its pedals spread open, pointed towards the moon. I am struck with the thought of a couple different people I know. Survivors. Adapters. Those who have a hidden inner beauty beyond whatever face they expose to the world. I know at least one of those people would love to be here right now.

    A few shots later I decide to venture farther along the trail. While the camera is doing its thing, I notice some black…things. Did that one just move? Yeah, it moved. Probably cows. Or something wild. The moonlight reflects off of a pair of eyes and that’s enough for me to make the decision to move on.

    The next parking area is a bit more developed, and here I learn where the voices were coming from: a campfire glows about 1/2 mile away. Some more shots and I figure it’s time to get back to the hotel. It will be nearly 3:00am when I get there, at least. More dirt roads, more campfires here and there. A pipeline is being constructed (for drainage) in one area, and this provides an incredible opportunity to photograph heavy equipment under the moonlight. I’m standing in the middle of the road for a good half hour; of course nobody drives by during that time. This is one of the few places on Earth remaining where a person can go and truly be alone. I let the wind carry away some of the pain of the past year.

    The rental car is completely covered in dust and the guts of bugs from the road. More will be added before the night is through. The drive back is one mostly of solitude and loud music - of particular note, Porcupine Tree’s “The Sky Moves Sideways” and “Idiot Prayer.” I get back to town and am greeted by the presence of two police cruisers. Ignoring the speed limits, the cruisers quickly pass and I am again alone to make my return to the hotel. Exhausted, I crash on the bed and sleep…for three hours.

  3. #3
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    Default Saturday, June 14th, 2014

    Off to Boulder and its surroundings. First a good breakfast at the Silver Grill Cafe - corned beef hash and fresh-squeezed OJ, produced right in front of me. Since I was dining alone I was able to grab the only empty seat at the “bar” and get in and out of there in relatively short order.

    I got into town before noon and it was clear that it was not where I wanted to be - traffic was getting crazy and I wanted to be off the beaten path. Heading west out of town, I saw “Four Mile Canyon Drive” and I figured “Why not?” It became immediately apparent that this area had suffered some recent devastation: signs denoting “temporary road” and people rebuilding retaining walls along the Fourmile Creek. Stumps and roots and rocks and other detritus slammed into piles all along the road. This is hard living. Cyclists slowly climb the hill. This is hard training.

    The road climbed up and up and up, twisting back and again. At the top the remains of a 2011 wildfire clearly evident both near and far. Black charred pine trees standing without needles and verdant growth below, feasting on the nutrients and the sunlight afforded by the unfortunate occurrence from years before.

    I proceeded, a bit nervous as to what I would find next - would this rental car be able to pass through here? - but I needn’t have worried. If there is a Prius up here, certainly a Passat can make it too. Now a “town” - well what passes for a town up here; Gold Hill. Rustic-looking log structures built with the squared-off logs and wide chinking that is also common in Pennsylvania. The Gold Hill Inn, on the National Register of Historic Places, here in the center of “town.” Across the way, a small cabin with a satellite dish over the door provided some humor.

    A few drops of rain fall.

    Looking at the map, I see some interesting choices: Suicide Hill Street doesn’t go anywhere I want to go. Lickskillet Road appears to be what I want. I make a note to look up where this road got that name. An incredibly steep hill means that it will be first gear for most of this section of my journey. I’m a “flatlander” but I have driven in the mountains before. A pickup truck slammed into the walls of earth above a stream, evidence again of Nature’s fury. A small yard - maybe 1/16th acre - and a…riding lawnmower? Huh. Dirt, dirt, and more dirt. A short time later I am back on a paved road. Lefthand Canyon Drive.

    The lane on which I am traveling randomly appears and disappears, the results of flooding. The remains of guard rails are either slammed into piles or, in one particularly disturbing scene, wrapped into a box culvert like a giant staple. Dirt, trees, rocks, asphalt, and various other items - some unrecognizable - form collections along the drive.

    Rain sputters from the sky. Having seen what it is capable in these hills, I am glad to be heading away from the area.

    Back on US-36, I am treated to a spectacular view of the mountains…and flash of lightning that leaves my eyesight temporarily impaired. When was that last tornado? The rain comes back, stronger now, and makes a valiant attempt to wash away the evidence of my dirt-road traversals of the past few days. Ultimately, all the water does is to make the car look even dirtier.

    Back to the hotel, some time to relax and take a quick nap. Then, off to the Taste of Fort Collins to see Collective Soul. It's a great night and a great show!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
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    Las Vegas, Nevada
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    10,059

    Default Great to see you on here!

    Tim,

    I missed your initial reports. Awesome to see you on here.

    Pretty dramatic rendering of your trip to the Four Mile Canyon Drive area. Yes, this was an epic flood area.

    I really liked your night-time wanderings from the earlier post. What kind of eyes did you see in the dark?

    Mark
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 06-15-2014 at 06:53 AM.

  5. #5
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    Default Great report.

    Thanks for a wonderful report of word pictures. A most enjoyable read. I can only imagine what the photos must be like. (Sorry to read of the pain of the last year.)

    Lifey

  6. #6
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    Default More to come...

    Thanks for the kind words. Actually, I have yet to post the earlier reports (I haven't written anything up about them yet.) Tonight is my last night out here and I truly am going to miss it.
    As far as the photos, here are a couple that I've captured over the past week. The second one was actually taken around midnight or 1:00 am (long exposure - I've always loved Troy Paiva's work on lostamerica.com.)

    Mark - I don't know to what or whom the eyes belonged. I imagine it was just some cattle, but I didn't want to find out the hard way that it was something else!





  7. #7
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    Default Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

    June 10, 2014 -

    Up before my normal awake time to get to Bradley Airport for a flight to Denver. I’ve actually never gone on a flight solo before, so this will be a new experience for me. The hotel rooms are taken care of for the first two days - Loveland, Colorado on day one and Cheyenne, Wyoming on day two - and I have a rental car lined up as well. Beyond that, I have no plans.

    The flight is relatively uneventful. I am seated next to two women who don’t appear to know one another; a trio of strangers then. One is sitting in the window seat and the other in the middle, having arrived after I sat down. I chose the aisle on account of my long legs. During the flight I read, glance around, and at odd intervals, decide that that candy isn’t going to crush itself, so I help that along. At one point during the flight the woman in the seat next to me stars working on a presentation. I decide that I am glad I won’t have to be in the audience of that presentation as it is just words, words, words. I picture a two-hour meeting with somebody reading exactly what is on the slides. My public speaking teacher would have been dismayed.

    Coming in for a landing in Denver, I get a glimpse of the countryside out the window across the aisle. Farmland. No mountains to be seen from this vantage point. I see the reflection of the mountains in the side window of the shuttle bus carrying me to pick up the rental car. Then I lean forward and see them through the front window. Magnificent!

    At the car rental location I wander the aisle for a bit deciding on which car to take, one too small, one already occupied, one smelling of the family that last occupied it, one missing an auxiliary input for my phone. After a period of checking almost everything on the lot, another option appears fresh from being cleaned - a VW Passat. Hopefully this has a bit more power than the Malibu I had on the last trip. After a while it becomes apparent that this is a better car than that Malibu. It too is built in the USA and, a bonus for driving through the mountains, it has a turbo engine. Of course the fuel around these parts starts at a paltry 85 octane, so that may impact performance some.

    I head out from the airport into Denver proper. I drive around somewhat aimlessly, trying to get my bearings and getting a feel for the pace of the city. After a while I pull over and decide to check for recommended restaurants. I find Tom’s Home Cooking in the Five Points neighborhood. The area looks kind of seedy; the restaurant looks run down; the place just opened and there’s a line. One out of three ain’t bad I decide - a line at a restaurant on a Tuesday at 11:00 am will ALWAYS trump any potential personal harm. Or so I tell myself. Inside there is a dry-erase board with today’s menu items (also on Twitter) and the line moves fairly quickly. For $12 I’m into a meal of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, jalapeńo cornbread, and sweet tea. All of it is delicious, though the jalapeńo cornbread wasn’t spectacular.

    My belly full, I head out to take some photographs of the city. I find a parking spot right in the middle of all the action and fill the meter. “One hour maximum” it reads in warning. I’m able to walk around the center of the city without much difficulty.

    I take pictures of the Capitol building and its prominent “One Mile Above Sea Level” marker on the steps. Architecture is the primary focus of my shots, though the mountains loom proud to the west. As it is with any city, various characters play out their stories in their own ways, most unaware of the presence of this interloper. On one street I meet up with a few people that seem a bit out of place in their own right. A glance at the license plate on their car tells the tale: Massachusetts. Imagine that.

    Growing aware of passing of daylight and the impending mad exodus of wage slaves from the city to their suburban dwellings, I get back into the car - parking meter long since expired - and find my way I-25 towards Loveland. Traffic is heavy, much heavier than I expected it to be. It is getting around rush hour, so I chalk this up to the time of day.

    I find my hotel without too much fuss, a place to eat, and then a place to grab some essentials - Dr. Pepper and Gatorade - that I don’t want to hunt down every day. Back to the hotel to copy the photos to the laptop and then off to sleep. Tomorrow should be interesting as it will be my first day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

  8. #8
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    Default Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

    June 11, 2014 -

    I am up in time to grab a quick bite in the hotel, even though I’m not a huge fan of the “continental” breakfasts normally served there. I don’t see much for options in the immediate vicinity, and I’m a bastard if I don’t get something to eat soon after I wake up, so I decide for the sake of humanity to swallow my pride and whatever mystery meat they are serving and eat what is offered.

    My first stop is a gas station, where nearby there are some people carrying signs regarding an upcoming vote on tracking for natural gas. Within the past year or two I read a book about this process from someone who toured areas of Pennsylvania where tracking had taken place. According to that book, the process is fraught with negatives not limited to but certainly including the destruction of potable ground water.

    With that at the back of my mind, I head towards the Rocky Mountain National Park. First, I pass through Estes Park, the town where the Stanley Hotel is located. This hotel is perhaps most notable for being the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining.” I also pick up some chocolate at a company in which I used to own stock - Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. It’s delicious. Too bad their stock was fairly bitter.

    I stop at the Visitor's Center to stamp my National Parks passport and to get a map and some advice from the Ranger on duty. Once in the park I’m greeted with signs warning me of icy roads (there aren’t any) and to watch for wildlife (of course.) The road twists and climbs and affords majestic vistas from every angle. Traffic isn't extremely heavy - this is the middle of the week, after all - and I'm able to travel the road without much difficulty. Each overlook is tempting and I have to restrain myself from stopping at every single one. The stops I do make are for 5-10 minutes each and give me enough time to capture the beauty around me with my camera. Continuing on the climbing road, I sense the air getting thinner and realize that I have approached a significant elevation. At 12,183 feet, the highest point on the Trail Ridge Road is almost three times higher than the highest point in Massachusetts (Mt. Greylock, 3491 feet.) Trail Ridge Road is also the highest continuous paved road in the country. Show is very apparent at the next overlook and I can see virga nearby - precipitation attempting to reach the ground. The wind lashes out at everybody and I'm glad I brought my winter hat. I overhear a younger couple nearby on the verge of an argument related to the wind, as if somehow one or the other had control over the weather. They are either tired or hungry or both, I figure, having learned that lesson many years ago. Not that I'm always good about remembering that lesson, mind you.

    Back in the car and the beginning of my descent towards the Continental Divide. Snow is piled high off the sides of the road, in some areas up to 8 feet in depth. Cars and trucks heading in the opposite direction are dwarfed by the walls of white. Fortunately there is nothing on the road itself in the way of snow; something about driving in snow in June seems wrong to me, and I've driven in snow in July. At the Divide, snow is melting in slow drips almost directly behind the center of the sign indicating the position of this natural curiosity. To one side, water will ultimately end up in the Atlantic Ocean, and to the other, water will head to the Pacific Ocean. Across the street, people have written their names in the snow. The names are not yellow; they used their hands. A short rumble of thunder has me curious as to what change the weather will take. Mountain weather is about as predictable as a squirrel in traffic after all.

    Rolling along down, down, down the mountain, another sign captures my attention: the Colorado River Trailhead. The Rocky Mountains contain the source of the river that carved the Grand Canyon, the Colorado. The recognized source of the river is La Poudre Pass Lake. I am tempted to head out on the trail, which is 3.1 miles in one direction. There are other people here, so I'm not concerned about the issues that could arise when hiking alone. Rather, the continuance of thunder and random spots of rain, as well as the fact I have started to get hungry, make my decision. This will have to remain a mystery to me until some other time. Knowing that the last time I headed through Colorado (in 2002) I was on my way to the Grand Canyon and being in the presence of its source lent a sense of continuity of time and space to my life for a brief moment.

    Out on the road again and the weather starts getting worse. I can hear the thunder through the closed car doors. Occasionally rain starts heavier, then lighter, then heavier. Near the park entrance I'm witness to a moose and its calf wandering the fields. Exiting the park, the sky starts to look friendlier and I head to Granby for a bite to eat.

    Granby could be called a "one-horse town" but I didn't see any horses. I did see a place with a slogan that said "Bed and Bagel" which I thought was creative. And probably true. I eat at a place called "Brick House 40." It's brick to be sure, not really a house, and the food is nothing spectacular. The flavors of store-sliced pastrami and mass-produced bread are quelled only somewhat by 90 Shilling Ale that I am drinking. The waitress seems confused to have a customer at this hour. An older man strolls up to the bar, tosses back a single drink, pays his tab, and leaves. I follow not too long after.

    More road awaits between here and my goal for today, Cheyenne. CO-125; CO-127; WY-230. Driving through the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge and Medicine Bow National Forest, occasionally a town makes its presence known more by the radical change in speed limits than by the presence of houses. One town, Rand, is essentially a dozen or so houses located near a restaurant, a fire station that is a one-car garage, and a police cruiser in the form of an old International Scout. At various points on this stretch of road I am able to stop the car and walk to the middle of the pavement and take pictures without the fear of getting run over.

    In Wyoming I finally reach Interstate 80 near Laramie. I see signs for a supercomputer center related to the National Center for Atmospheric Research and I take a note. Soon I'm at my hotel, gearing up for some night photography in town. Dinner is a quick bite at a local Mexican joint. I'm lucky to have arrived before closing - 9:00pm - but just barely. Cheyenne is almost as I remember it from a visit nearly 17 years prior, during a trip to Yellowstone. A small city with interesting, older architecture. There are some nice new touches, such as a central park that plays host to various community events. But around the different neighborhoods at this time of night I am sure to keep my peripheral vision on high alert. This certainly isn't New York City, but that doesn't mean there isn't a reason to maintain awareness of my surroundings. After some walking around and attempting to get interesting shots, I get tired and decide to call it a night.

    I have no definite plans for the next day.

  9. #9
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    Default June 12, 2014 (day)

    A stop by the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center to see the Yellowstone computer, used to simulate severe weather events such as tornadoes and hurricanes. When it was built it was the 12th fastest computer on the planet. The woman at the front desk is surprised I am from Massachusetts - she herself is from Lowell, MA. Small world.

    Interstate 80 eastbound and then off to a frontage road and back roads into Pawnee Grasslands. My surroundings are mostly flat, as flat as any landscape this close to the Rocky Mountains, anyway. I follow a construction vehicle along a stretch of road until the driver turns it around. A glance at the map shows the driver’s turning point is the Wyoming-Colorado state line. Pavement turns into dirt, a good place to stop for some photos and maybe a video or two. Miles of dirt road head towards the horizon, a grid pattern in which one could conceivably get lost for days. Here a mailbox with no house. There a quonset hut, open and abandoned…tempting. I resist the urge to sate my curiosity and grab a couple of pictures instead of the hut and an old tractor parked nearby.

    Dirt and dust and rocks pelting the bottom of the car. To the east a dust cloud approaching. An intersection. “Traffic,” two 18-wheelers passing by carrying who-knows-what who-knows-where in this vast emptiness. Not emptiness. There is clearly life here, flora and fauna as well as evidence of humanity evidenced by barbed wire fences and the occasional structure. This is not Manhattan but may be as important to supporting that city as any other place in the nation, be it through agriculture or simply the oxygen produced by the plant life here.

    An abandoned farm house, bizarre implements on the ground in the remains of a fire. Now, a town - Grover - comprised mostly of ramshackle houses and old vehicles. Intermittent images of Aunt Meg’s house from “Twister” and thoughts of Capote’s “In Cold Blood” run through my mind. Driving past the grocery store/restaurant, I’m greeted by stares. Somebody once told me there are only two types of movie plot: “man on a mission” and “stranger comes to town.” Sometimes the man on a mission IS the stranger who comes to town - my scenario here to be sure. I’ll eat somewhere else.

    Eaton and an overpriced burger served with what were, up until a moment ago, frozen fries. The burger tastes like McDonald’s but costs four times as much. In the back is a bar with a pool table that requires players talk to the bartender before playing, and a Galaga machine. I’m just here for the bathroom. Greeley and another hotel, a break before going back out for the full moon.

  10. #10
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    Default June 15, 2014

    The concert last night (Collective Soul) at the Taste of Fort Collins was really good, and I managed to secure a spot directly behind the sound mixer so I got a really decent mix. That’s actually the only reason I went, though I did pick up a slice of pizza from one of the vendors.

    I went to bed later than normal. I was getting some down time by watching shows on TLC, though I have to admit I was adjusting some photos during that time. I slept soundly through the night and woke up around 9:00 am. Off to downtown to a restaurant called “Snooze” recommended by a local friend. To my left, two young women who were very interested in what I was doing in the area. To my right, a young couple discussing the merits of purchasing property to rent out to other people. In front of me, a delicious breakfast burrito which I would not be able to finish.

    South into Estes Park and then into Rocky Mountain National Park to Bear Lake. Traffic was extremely heavy. Considering it is Sunday as well as Father’s Day, this is to be expected. I debate whether or not it is wise to continue since the trails will likely be heavily occupied. I press on, figuring that regardless of the immediate environment, I can block out the noise and focus on the natural wonders. After some time I find a parking place and walk to the trailhead. Some young men are holding skis and icepicks. I’m not going where they’re going.

    It becomes quite clear to me I am at a higher elevation than I was this morning. I become winded easily and have to take quite a few breaks. Other than a mile the other day, I haven’t run in several weeks and over the past year it would appear all of the benefits from my time spent running diligently have gone away. No matter. I am aware of the situation so I can handle it. Bear Lake appears before me and I take the opportunity to sit near it and snap some shots.

    My goal is Lake Haiyaha, but as I press forward it appears that I’m not quite prepared for this hike today. I start getting a headache, which is one of the first signs of dehydration. With no more water, I ponder “what’s the worse that can happen?” and come up with the answer: I’ll be on a four-hour flight with a splitting headache seated directly in front of the loudest baby the world has ever known. Not willing to take that risk, I snap some shots of a nearby waterfall and then proceed back to the car. I can always come back early tomorrow - which is probably a better idea as the area likely won’t be so crowded.

    I’ve returned to the hotel where I started the week - the area isn’t anything special, but it IS close enough to the Park for my liking.

    Less than 24 hours remain and I’ll be back in the sky headed home.

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