Catching Up and WOW

Springfield, MO – Aug. to Oct., 2017 We had reservations for the last week of August at Glacier Basin Campground on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Our intention all summer was to wrap up our visit to Colorado there. But several things caused us to rethink that plan.

The 45 mile road across the RMNP between Grand Lake and Estes Park is not big rig friendly. It has MANY tight switchbacks. We saw some big rigs crossing it but the more Jim thought about it the less he wanted to attempt it. We even got mixed answers as to whether it was allowed. One park ranger said there was no length limit on the road, another said they had only recently enacted a 32 foot limit. The 150 mile trip around the park was doable but did put a damper on our enthusiasm.

We had visited Estes Park briefly and even checked out the campground. Glacier Basin was nothing to write home about. It was an open area with few trees. The roads through it were rather tight and lined with large rocks. The pull thru we had reserved was so awkward we were certain we’d have to pass it and back into it.

Then there were the crowds. Even on a Monday the eastern side of the RMNP had lines of traffic, congested parking lots, and the stores in the little town were packed. No thank you! We finally decided to cancel our reservation all together and head back to Missouri to get a head start on remodeling one of our rentals.

We hoped the remodel could be completed in as little as three weeks but allowed five weeks for good measure. Good thing we did. I left Jim for almost a week when I flew to Florida to help our daughter evacuate.

I was only home a couple days when I badly sprained my ankle. This laid me up completely for almost another week and slowed me down considerably for the remainder of the month. So Jim got stuck remodeling the house mostly by himself. It took the whole 5 weeks and we finally delegated a bit of the work and made our escape on October 2nd.

We kept our nose the grindstone most of the time we were there (or at least Jim did). But we did have plans to keep our granddaughter the last weekend in September. We were thrilled when we realized the much anticipated and long awaited Wonders of Wildlife (WOW) National Museum & Aquarium was opening just in time for our weekend with her. It is part of the Bass Pro complex in Springfield and has been closed for remodeling for many years.

We arranged to meet my cousins and enjoy the tour with them. They have a daughter almost the same age as our granddaughter. Here is our picture taken by our 7 year old granddaughter.

We started our tour on the museum side.

So obviously this included a LOT of stuffed animals.

Their dioramas were amazingly detailed and quite stunning.

There were also rooms full of artifacts and informative displays on everything from indians to conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt. It took us about 2 hours to tour the museum and then we proceeded to the aquarium.

This is when things got really interesting.

I’m talking 3 story circular tanks you can walk around on multiple levels. This picture gives you some idea what I am talking about. We were standing on the second level on the outside and you can clearly see the other side of the tank and people standing on the first level.

After traveling up and down and around this amazing display we thought we were about done. No. This was just the beginning. The aquarium went on, and on, and on!

One of mine and Jim’s favorite places was this bait ball display. Being able to see the fish’s reaction when a predator swam by was very entertaining.

We also really enjoyed the jelly fish display.

The kids were pretty much enthralled with everything in the aquarium.

They especially enjoyed the touch tanks. The first, smaller one is in the middle of the tour. Isn’t this the oddest looking shark ever?

The tour ends at a really big touch tank full of rays. The rays swim around in a pool that circles another massive tank. So the ray at the bottom of this picture is in the touch tank and everything else is swimming in an aquarium. There is so much reflection going on it is hard to tell where one tank ends and the other starts.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and were completely worn out by the end. It took us around 4 hours total and that was a bit rushed. The ticket is good for the entire day so if we had it to do over again we’d probably visit the aquarium first, then go have lunch (and maybe a nap), then return to visit the museum. If you are taking kids and are short on either time or money you might consider skipping the museum.

The one day admission tickets may seem steep to some. Compared to the aquariums we’ve visited throughout the country it was an average price for an above average experience. The adult aquarium tickets are $30, the museum tickets are $15, or the combo ticket to visit both in one day is $40. Children 4-11 are $20, $10, and $24 respectively.

If you live in the area I would highly recommend the annual membership. I like that it includes two adults and their designated children OR grandchildren under 18. It is $250 or for $300 it includes two guest passes. We may consider a membership as we definitely want to return.

Georgetown Loop RR and Silver Mine

Georgetown, CO – August, 2017 Jim is as much a fan of trains and mining as I am of fire towers and moose. So while exploring the mining communities west of Denver I read about a train ride to a mine tour. Well that was a no brainer!

The community of Georgetown, Colorado was once known as the “Silver Queen of the Rockies.” They had a narrow gauge railway that carried silver ore from the mines 2 miles uphill in Silver Plume. The railway and mines were shut down for 50 years but were reopened in the 1970’s by the Colorado Historical Society.

We stopped in historic downtown Georgetown for a quick bite before our scheduled departure. We couldn’t resist a café called the Happy Cooker and we were not disappointed. Jim’s French dip and my meatloaf sandwich were both exceptional.

We walked around the area admiring the many neat old buildings. Their firehouse is very distinctive and serves as the town’s historical symbol.

We then headed up the hill to the Georgetown Loop Railroad. We passed under a train trestle and Jim exclaimed “I hope we get to ride over that”. I was not as excited about the prospect. It soon became apparent that we would be traveling over it as a train came around the bend before heading to the station.

We picked up our prepaid tickets in the gift shop and headed for the platform to catch the train. We didn’t have to wait long until we were boarded and on our way.

The train ride is about 4 miles each way. Even though the stations are only 2 miles apart the tracks zigzag back and forth to keep the grade at an acceptable level, 6% or below. The path crosses the beautiful Clear Creek again and again.

In less than 30 minutes we pulled in to Silver Plume. The engine pulled away to take on water and then reattached itself to the other end of the train for the downhill return.

This took about 20 minutes and we had an opportunity to get off and visit their gift shop if we wanted. They also took on new passengers at this station as you can begin your tour at either Georgetown or Silver Plume. Finally we were back on the rails.

In about 10 minutes they stopped at a platform and those of us who had purchased a mine tour departed. Some people chose to just ride the train. The mine tour is optional or not an option for anyone with children under 5 or those who can’t handle the walk to and through the mines.

We had a brief safety talk and then the passengers broke in to separate groups for the 3 different tour options. We had chosen a tour that would take us 900 feet in to the Lebanon Mine. Everyone donned a hard hat and we headed underground.

The first part of the mine looked like this. The timbers were spaced close together until they got through the part of the hill with the smaller stones.

Once they reached bedrock they only shored up the ceiling where it was needed. The height of the cavern became much shorter and anyone over 5 ½ feet had to spend much of the walk hunched over.

Thankfully they had the hard hats so it wasn’t painful when one found a particularly short spot. I even bumped my hat on a couple low spots. When the tour stopped for a talk everyone was usually able to find a spot where they could stand upright and straighten their backs.

The tour was fascinating and incredibly informative! Much of the mine equipment had simply been abandoned when the mine closed. This scene is practically as they found it when they reopened the mine.

You see the ladder to the above tunnel but can’t see that there is hole in the floor to the lower tunnels. This winch was used to haul the ore from both to the ore carts. We were walking on the carts’ tracks now filled in with gravel.

In another side tunnel the hole down was closer and you can clearly see the ladder descending into the depths of the mine, now flooded.

Our tour was on the 3rd level of a 6 level mine. They are continually trying to open new tunnels to tours. They work over the winter when they are not giving tours. They expect this tour to be about 100 feet longer next season.

The mine didn’t close because they ran out of silver but because the price of silver dropped below an amount that made it profitable to mine. There was silver ore all over the place. The miners called this a dragon tongue.

It apparently means that there is another rich silver vein above it. Several of these have appeared since they reopened this mine. It’s not like you can just pick up the silver though. It is embedded in granite and has to processed to extract the silver.

They don’t anticipate the price of silver ever reaching a level that would make it lucrative to mine these veins in today’s economy. There are working silver mines in the area though. The tour operator said the Phoenix mine down the road does OK and supplements their mining profits with tours during summer.

After about an hour long tour filled with tons of information we were totally satisfied with our experience. We didn’t at all mind leaving the 40 degree mine and Jim especially appreciated being able to stand upright again. We were very happy with our choice of tours as the Extended Lebanon Mine Tour had only 10 participants. Each of the other available tours had at least double that amount which would have made it pretty crowded in the narrow tunnels.

We walked up the hill to the platform and stopped to visit their very gentle pet donkeys on the way.

Our train showed up very shortly and we boarded it for the brief 15 minute ride back to Georgetown. Of course, we had to cross the trestle for the second time but it wasn’t really bad as there were so many sights and sounds to distract you.

I highly recommend this tour if you are in the area and interested in trains and/or mines. I thought the prices were very reasonable. A train ride was about $26 and the mine tours were $11 to 14 more. You could upgrade any ticket to first class which let you ride in a covered car with windows for another $10.

The train ride was rather short but you got to experience all the facets of a train excursion without a serious commitment of time. When we took the Durango & Silverton train a couple years ago it took all day and we were a bit uncomfortable by the end of the trip. This train ride along with the mine tour took a little under 3 hours but we were plenty tuckered out by the end of the day.

We stayed at Dakota Ridge RV Park 35 miles away in Golden, Colorado. We paid $49 per night for a full hookup, back-in site with our Good Sam discount. It was an extremely nice park with a pool, which we never managed to get to, and a hot tub, which we finally visited our last evening there.

Hiking the RMNP

RMNP, Colorado – August, 2017 We were certainly enjoying our time on the western edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park. We took several walks in the area but a couple of hikes were our most memorable.

One weekday we hiked to Grand Ditch via Red Mountain. We parked at the Colorado River Trail Parking Area. The parking lot had been packed every time we passed it so I expected a popular trail with lots of company. Instead we arrived at 8 in the morning and were about the 3rd car there.

We hit the trail and didn’t see another soul for an hour or so. Then a couple caught up to us and trailed us most of the trek. On our way back down the trail we met a few more hikers headed up the trail and a couple guys that had been backpacking several days and were on their way back to civilization.

The day was very overcast and I was grateful we never got rained on. Most of the trail was a pretty steady climb. Parts of it were rough and rocky.

I had developed a fascination with the local mushrooms ever since I discovered these red ones were not exclusively associated with small men with beards.

This romp through the woods gave me plenty of opportunities to photograph them.

Jim started enjoying the hunt and pointed many of the toadstools out.

These little orange ones covered an entire hillside.

I seriously took a hundred photos of fungi.

Our walk was occasionally interrupted by a beautiful mountain pond.

We finally made it out of the woods and enjoyed a view of the surrounding mountains.

A short distance from there we came to the Grand Ditch. Apparently this is a water diversion project to bring snowmelt from the Never Summer Mountains to the eastern plains farmers. The result is plenty of waterfalls.

Jim is often a reluctant model in my shots.

I believe the exact words before this shot were “Where are you? Please get back in the frame.” I am grateful, he is so patient!

The hike to Grand Ditch via this route was 6 miles roundtrip. I must admit the hardest part was the trip down. Our feet and knees were screaming on the descent.

I wanted to do another hike of similar length before we left but Jim wasn’t feeling it. I weighed my options for a solo hike. I read the park’s literature on hiking in bear country and I appreciated their advice.

The 3 primary rules were; don’t hike alone, make lots of noise, and hike in the middle of the day. I’d prefer to have a hiking buddy but given the option between hiking alone or not at all, I’d rather take a hike. Make lots of noise I can manage. I have a bear bell, I’m not above singing to myself, and when I get tired of my own voice I will happily play music on my phone.

The rule I most disliked was hike in the middle of the day. I am a morning person. I’d much rather put in several miles before lunch. If I have to wait till later it’s likely to not happen at all.

So I considered their advice and chose a hike where, despite hiking alone, I was unlikely to be alone. I decided to hike the Green Mountain Trail to Big Meadows and return via the Onahu Creek Trail. We had never passed the parking lot for these trails without them being almost completely full.

According to the trail map it was supposed to be just over a 7 mile roundtrip but my GPS recorded it closer to 6 miles.

I arrived at the trailhead around 8 am on a Sunday morning and snagged the very last parking space. A couple were just hitting the trail in front of me and I lolly-gagged a little to give them a head start so as to not crowd them. I never saw them again.

The trail climbed steadily and I stopped often to catch my breath. Despite the very chilly morning, it didn’t take long for me to shed my down jacket, and shortly thereafter, my long sleeved shirt. The trail map looked pretty straightforward but the trail turned out to be a little more complicated.

There were several paths leading in various directions that were not on the map. And some of the distances were not entirely accurate. But in general it wasn’t terribly difficult to follow the directions and I was able to get to where I intended.

I didn’t meet another soul until I reached Big Meadows. Supposedly it is not uncommon to see moose here in the early mornings. But I was not hopeful on such a popular trail and shortly before arriving there I could hear people making quite the commotion from a nearby campground. It was still a pretty clearing.

I met a couple young fellows on the trail and basically asked them if they thought I was going the right direction. They agreed I was on the right track. Turns out most of the people I met, and presumably most of the cars in the parking lot, belonged to those who had hiked in to campgrounds for a night or several.

The first half of the hike was pretty uneventful and not terribly scenic. But once I reached Onahu Bridge which was, surprisingly, an actual wooden bridge, the trail got much prettier.

The trail criss-crossed Onahu Creek for the remainder of the hike.

I passed a half dozen other hikers that morning, not exactly as busy a trail as I expected. But I never felt unsafe and I enjoyed my solo hike immensely.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Lake, CO – August, 2017 We treasured our time in the town of Grand Lake on the western edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). It was so convenient to slip into the park for a quick visit or for an entire day.

One of the most popular hikes from Grand Lake is Adams Falls. It is an easy half mile walk from a parking lot on the edge of town.

Our first foray into RMNP proper we saw a heard of elk in a field beside the road. We stopped for some photos. A storm was brewing and the wind was fierce. I had to lean on a sign to steady my shot.

They were a group of females and young’uns. I believe there was one young buck among them. See his little horns on the right hand side of the photo? On that same day I stared into the forest as Jim drove and saw a large buck with huge horns. I swear they stood at least 3 feet straight up.

We ventured in on a weekend thinking we would visit one of the sites close to the western edge of the park but couldn’t even find a parking space. Traffic was crazy so we turned around the first chance we got and hightailed it outta there. We returned on Monday morning and crossed the park on Trail Ridge Road. The views along the road were breathtaking.

We visited the Alpine Visitor Center at almost 12,000 foot elevation just as it was opening at 9am. Here is the view from their patio.

There are several elk grazing below that glacial ice. We climbed the Alpine Ridge Trail for more astounding views.

It was drop dead gorgeous in every direction.

And we had it pretty much to ourselves at that hour of the day. It was a bit chilly, around 40 degrees.

We briefly visited the eastern side of the park and checked out Estes Park. Then we drove back via the incredibly scenic AND rustic Old Fall River Road. It was a gravel road with one switchback after another. We had to back up to make several of the sharp turns. Soooo worth it!

We enjoyed a stop at Chasm Falls.

And found a quiet place to enjoy our lunch.

We continued on to where the one-way gravel road brings you back to the Alpine Visitor Center. Here is a view of the center from below. It’s that tiny rectangle to the right of the snow.

We passed through the almost full parking lot of the visitor center. The trail up to the ridge was now crowded with hundreds of people. We were very glad we had braved the chill and had those moments alone with the views.

Of Moose and Men

Grand Lake, CO I don’t know exactly when I became fixated on moose. Somewhere around 20 years ago I suspect. I have no idea what started it but my love for these beasts is not waning.

Despite this my affection seems unrequited. They do not seem to be a fan of me. I have had very little contact with the creatures.

I was sure we would see lots of them when we vacationed in Alaska in 2006. We rented a class C and drove all over the state for a week. We saw a lot of amazing things but not one moose until our last night in the RV.

We stayed at a park on the outskirts of Anchorage. We were told we would almost certainly see a moose there. Sure enough at dusk a couple ladies made their way down the highway and bedded down near the entrance to the park.

This was my one and only moose encounter up to this summer. And it just wasn’t the kind I was hoping for. It was not the same as spotting a moose, preferably a male with a huge rack, in the wild.

So you can see why I was so excited when we had our run in with the moose near Flaming Gorge. Ok it wasn’t exactly up close and personal. But it was a bull and it was in the wild.

Our next stop seemed to promise more moose encounters. The town of Grand Lake sits on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. We fell in love with this little place and ended up staying 2 weeks.

Our very first morning there we went for a drive in the nearby national forest. We spotted a bull moose in the trees on the side of the road. Jim turned the truck around and the moose had crossed the road and climbed way up a hill.

We also saw a large female nearby. After further driving we saw 3 more moose! A young male …

and two females.

They were pretty near the road so I was able to get several good pics.

Thank goodness we had such a positive early experience because we didn’t see any more moose the remainder of our stay. We know they were around, we saw moose tracks and moose poop. Jim was walking along a river and a fisherwoman said “did you see those two moose that just passed?” Nope, he did not. But that’s OK, because we saw 5 moose in one morning!

Despite not seeing more moose we did have a wonderful time. The town was just big enough with great restaurants and nice gift shops. We had pizza the day we arrived at Grand Pizza and it was so good we went back for more before we left.

We also went out to breakfast one Saturday morning. The Fat Cat had the most amazing breakfast buffet. The chef was English I think and every dish was outstanding. I know, 3 meals out in only two weeks, what were we thinking?!

I don’t think the calories hurt us though. We did plenty of hiking, mostly in the national park. I’ll share that with you in my next post.

The town of Grand Lake is on the shores of Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake. It is not overly crowded and moves at the slower pace that Jim and I prefer. It had everything we wanted and we didn’t have to share everything with throngs of people.

One weekend while we were there they held a regatta. They had races for kayakers, SUPs, canoers, and rowers.

Another weekend they hosted a free corvette show. There were at least a hundred corvettes on Main Street.

We visited Shadow Mountain Lake and checked out the dam where they release the lake waters and they continue on for a few miles as the Colorado River before backing up and becoming another lake, Granby. What we saw there got my fisherman pretty excited. The trout and salmon were going crazy trying to jump up that dam and continue their trek upstream, impossible.

We returned to the spot several times and Jim enjoyed the fishing.

He had some luck and we have some trout in the freezer.

This was the perfect area for us because he was entertained and there was so much for me to explore. I hiked along the east side of Shadow Mountain Lake which is part of the 3,100 mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This is a trail that, when complete, will travel along or near the continental divide from our northern border with Canada to its southern terminus at the Mexican border. It is currently only 72% complete and for now requires some travel on motorized roads.

The mile and a half hike beside the lake was a bit difficult because of the number of downed trees I had to go over, under, or around. There were about 20. I counted them on my return trip. But it was worth it. The lake views were outstanding and I ran across a deer and her fawn. They were a little skittish but in the end they decided I wasn’t a threat.

That trail continued on south of the dam and was less difficult. Jim joined me on it another day when the fishing was disappointing. He is so much better than me at spotting wildlife. He saw this osprey which was just a blob in a tree and I had time to get my telephoto lens out before he flew away.

I also walked many miles through the on-site campground, Green Ridge, chasing photo opportunities. The hummingbirds were plentiful but just won’t be still enough for a good shot. The chipmunks were a little more cooperative.

The lake was just gorgeous in the mornings.

We spent the first 10 days of our stay at Elk Creek Campground, an extremely nice, if a bit tight, RV park just outside the town of Grand Lake. We planned to stay 3 nights and then find a boondock in the national forest. But it was just so convenient there so when they said they had a cancellation and could accommodate us for another 7 days we decided to stay. Their daily rate for the full hookup site was $49 and the weekly rate was $309. It was definitely a splurge.

For our last three nights we moved over to our new happy place, Green Ridge Campground. We moved to the first come first served site early on a Friday morning. By early afternoon the place was packed. We paid $21 per night for a sight with zero amenities.

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs, CO – August, 2017  Everyone we know personally in the state of Florida survived Irma with no serious damage. There is widespread flooding in Bonita Springs which is heartbreaking. Nearby Naples took the brunt of Irma’s winds. They don’t expect to have power restored for another week so I imagine it is pretty miserable down there without AC and for many no water or sewer.

Our trailer park in Bonita Springs had only a few trailers blown over but for the most part is OK.   Heather’s trailer is safe and sound and will wait for us to arrive this fall when we can sell it. So I am grateful to get back to my tales of summer fun.

We had spent most of the month of July in Utah and at the beginning of August we crossed in to the northwest corner of Colorado. We didn’t have any solid destination or direction planned for several weeks so we set our sights on Steamboat Springs. It sounded like a neat place with lots of fun things to do.

We stayed at Eagle Soaring RV Park seven miles west of town. They were booked for the weekend so we got a spot for Wednesday and Thursday. The sites were full hookup pull thrus and were $48 per night.

We headed to town to see the sights after getting set up on Wednesday. The Yampa River runs all along the western edge of town. They have an awesome trail system called the Yampa River Core Trail which runs 7.5 miles alongside the river. We stopped and walked a couple miles on it.

We enjoyed the walk which included a couple bridges so it zigzagged back and forth across the river. We stopped at the Steamboat Springs Art Council’s Gallery located in their historic 1908 train depot. And we discovered a half dozen of the town’s 150 hot springs.

You could smell the area’s stinkiest spring, Sulphur Spring, a good ways down the path.

This is Lake Spring, a pond created a long time ago to capture several springs in one basin and in more recent history turned in to a park.

This spring flowed directly into the river.

We also took a walk in Steamboat’s downtown shopping district. There were lots of interesting buildings, fun shops, and people. It was terribly crowded.

What we learned most about the town that first afternoon was that it was not a fun place to drive. There was one major road through town and several construction zones. The town was very congested and basically not our scene.  The fun things we thought we might do there sorta lost their luster when coupled with the traffic we would have to fight to do them.

The next morning we headed out early to check out the mountains to the east of town. The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest was full of possible boondock sites. We weren’t finding very good intel on the area and wanted to scout it out before hauling the 5th wheel up there.

We stopped at the national forest’s office in town right as they were opening. Each office offers a very detailed map for their forest. Many list every forest road in their division and tell you exactly where you are and are not allowed to camp.

Unfortunately you do have to stop in each individual office to get it. Since the forests are so large, they do not always have offices in a convenient location to our travels. It would be nice if they stocked maps for other nearby forests but that is not the case.

So we drove into the mountains with our map and started checking out the side roads for boondocking sites. We drove down a dozen roads and checked out two national forest campgrounds that were first come first serve. You just never know what you might find.

When we scouted our last site near Flaming Gorge there were tons of existing campsites but most of the roads to them were atrocious. In this area there were miles of very good roads but few existing campsites. It’s frowned upon to make a new campsite and the few places this might have been an option would have required a weed eater at least.

We finally found a feasible option on one of the last roads we checked out, Forest Road 296. There were a half dozen existing sites within sight of the highway. The road was a little rough in the beginning but became impossible after the first quarter mile. We would have liked some vegetation between us and the road but at least we would be some distance off it.

We pulled the trailer up early the next morning and started enjoying our new surroundings. About 5 miles up the highway was Dumont Lake and its campground. We would have liked to have stayed there but there were few suitable sites and all were taken. But it was an easy drive.

It was a very picturesque mountain lake.

Jim wouldn’t pose so I had to.

The wildflowers were extreme.

The mornings in the mountains were quite chilly, around 40 degrees if I remember correctly. So we spent some time driving down the long gravel roads and taking short walks. As soon as the sun was fully up it would warm up quickly though and by mid-morning we were usually shedding several layers.

I was surprised how little wildlife we actually saw. There were plenty of deer of course. Jim swears he saw a big moose in a deep ravine beside the highway early one morning while I was driving. There was no easy place to stop but we kept an eye out the whole weekend and never saw another.

We hiked one morning near that area but didn’t see any sign of moose. It was a beautiful hike nonetheless.

There were signs all over the place that said there were sheep herds in the area and to be cautious of sheepdogs. I guess they are vicious if they feel you are threatening their flock. One morning we saw three sheep some distance away when we turned on to our camp’s road.

We stopped the truck so I could get the telephoto lens out and take some pictures. Instead of running away, they started cautiously running to us. They must equate trucks with being fed.

Before I knew it they were right in front of the truck and allowed me to get pretty darn close to them. It appeared to be a momma and baby brother and sister.

They were so darned cute. When I advanced a bit too close they closed ranks to protect baby sister so I returned to the truck. Later from camp I heard dogs barking and saw more of their flock up the road. I hope they were reunited.

On our last day on the mountain I was determined to hike to the high point in the area, Rabbit Ears Pass. Jim’s feet weren’t up to the task so he dropped me at the trailhead and headed to nearby Dumont Lake to do some fishing.

I wasn’t worried about making this hike alone because I knew it was a fairly well travelled path. I didn’t expect quite as many fellow hikers as there were though. I guess I arrived at prime after Sunday brunch or post church hiking time.

I started the hike surrounded by hikers but soon pulled ahead of the pack. I like to attack a hard trail and get as much distance in as possible while I am still energized. I generally push as hard as I can to reach the end then I take it easy on the return trip. My destination:

Once I was away from the throngs I passed a dozen more hikers but generally had some solitude.

It was 3 miles to the pass and 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The last half mile was the hardest with much of the rise in elevation saved for the finale. The hardest part for me was dealing with the thin air at around 10,000 feet. I pressed on though primarily because I didn’t want all those people catching up to me and hearing how hard I was breathing! LOL

I finally reached the top and paused to catch my breath and take some pics. The rabbit ears themselves were not terribly interesting and too rotten to climb.

But the views were amazing.

Once I had rested a bit I started the relatively easy walk back at a leisurely pace. Jim got bored fishing the crowded lake. He said he almost caught a kayak and a paddleboarder. He hiked a mile and a half out to meet me.

We loved the few days we spent in these mountains. The weather was on the chilly side with lows under 40 and highs of 75. That meant we could enjoy campfires in the middle of the afternoon and wear our much neglected long sleeve wardrobe.

Our site was fairly quiet. There was one spot, about a football field away, that was always occupied by a parade of people. Otherwise we had few neighbors. Our first night, a Friday, a party did erupt just behind us. It started well after our bedtime so we assume it was kids, but we were surprised that we recognized all their music and that it was good. So we really didn’t mind so much!

Irma on my Mind

With hurricane Irma poised to strike the west coast of Florida today I’m going to take an intermission from my stories about our trip west this summer to tell you about my week. I was trying to finish and post my next blog about our first stop in Colorado at the beginning of August. But I just can’t concentrate on that while worrying about all our friends in Bonita Springs, Florida.

We had returned to Missouri at the end of August and planned to spend the month of September remodeling one of our rental houses that had become vacant and that needed a complete overhaul. So we were diligently working on it when we started hearing about Irma. We kept an eye on it hoping, like everyone else, that it would head harmlessly out to sea.

At the beginning of this week that started looking more and more unlikely to happen. So we started talking to our daughter about preparing for the hurricane and for evacuation. Heather had moved down to Bonita Springs last fall while we were there and was living in a small trailer in the same RV park we spent last winter in.

She had already decided she didn’t want to become a permanent Floridian and was looking for jobs in other states. So when faced with evacuating she decided she would just move. She agreed that coming back to Missouri where she had lots of friends and family would be a good idea and she could figure out where to go from there.

On Tuesday, amid talk of traffic snarls and gas shortages, Jim and I decided that we didn’t want her facing all that mess alone. I bought a one way ticket to Fort Myers for Wednesday morning for myself. It was a one person job and Jim would be most useful keeping the remodel going.

My plane left Springfield in the dark.

And the sun rose as we did.

I changed planes in Chicago. The clouds over Lake Michigan were gorgeous.

I spoke to or overheard about half a dozen other passengers. Everyone on the plane seemed to be doing the same thing I was; flying in to get mom, dad, aunt so and so, and drive them out of the state.

I arrived in Florida just after noon and Heather was there to pick me up. We went straight to the trailer park and checked in with the office. Heather let them know her intentions and settled her bill.

They only charge a small storage fee if you leave your rig there in the off season. A lot of snowbirds choose to do this rather than haul their trailers back and forth for the season. So the park looks pretty full but most of the rigs are empty.

I thought a lot of folks would come down to drive their rigs out but that didn’t seem to be the case. In fact, some people that were there and capable of hauling their trailers chose not too because of fears of gas shortages. They knew they’d get much better gas mileage if they weren’t towing and have a better chance of escaping the state.

I was pleased to find that Heather was all packed and had her car loaded. I had brought a car top carrier bag and all that was left was to load it and strap it down. Then we just had to do what we could to make her trailer ready for the storm and vacancy.

We cleaned up everything outside and what was left we strapped to the trailer. We filled the water tank to make the trailer heavier and less likely to tip over. Then we disconnected the water and electric and turned off the propane.

We were getting all sorts of travel reports. The most reliable were from the park staff who said residents who had left super early Wednesday morning (like 2am) had made it out of the state, no problem. But that those that had left late morning were still stuck on the interstate just 90 miles away.

We were all done at 4 in the afternoon. We considered trying to rest and leaving in the middle of the night. But we were both too wound up and knew we couldn’t sleep.

We made the decision to start the drive and just roll with the punches. We figured we were two smart, resourceful, females and we were confident we could handle whatever came our way. And we were tired of wondering what was in store and ready to go out and see for ourselves.

Thankfully Heather had managed to fill up her gas tank on Tuesday. We had heard there was no gas in the area but we checked a few gas stations on our way out of town just in case we could find a place to top of her tank. No dice!

We jumped on the interstate for only about 20 miles and exited in Fort Myers before Google showed the traffic backing up. Then we took state highways for a long way. There were plenty of turns, and traffic lights, and even some construction but the traffic wasn’t terribly heavy and at least we were moving.

We kept an eye out for gas but didn’t see any signs of it. We still had ¾ of a tank when we saw the first station with gas just south of Bowling Green. The lines were long and we figured if they had gas so would the stations farther north.

We were right. A little ways up the road we stopped at a Murphy station and only had to wait behind one person before filling up. There were no problems finding gas from there north.

At this point we had some idea where we hoped to end up for the night and we started trying to find a room. We had the granddoggy, Sasha with us so we were looking for a pet friendly room. Later we started asking for any room and kept getting the same answer.

For several hours one of us would drive and the other was surfing for a place to stay. We exhausted every possibility in the state and started looking toward Georgia. Finally around 12:30 we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were gonna drive through the night.

My dad lives in Alabama. It would normally have been a 10 hour drive but it took us 15. We got there around 7 am central time on Thursday.

We stopped pretty often. We made laps around the insides of several Walmarts. We hung out at truck stops and walked Sasha. The rest areas looked like parking lots so we avoided them.

We finally hopped on the interstate at Ocala just after midnight. From there on out traffic kept moving, usually at or above the speed limit, for the rest of the night. Traffic was still heavy though. It was like rush hour all night long until we turned on to I20 in Atlanta and headed west.

We never saw any wrecks and only saw one semi-truck swerving dangerously. It was really a miracle that all those sleep deprived drivers were keeping it together and not making any stupid mistakes. I know there were plenty of wrecks on Florida highways this week but we were lucky and didn’t witness them during our trip.

We spent 24 hours at my father’s. We got caught up on our sleep and had Heather’s vehicle serviced. My father and stepmother were incredible hosts and fed us till we thought we might pop.

We couldn’t face the 10 hour drive to Springfield in one day so we started looking for a room half-way, around Memphis. Even there the rooms were filling up with evacuees. The only pet friendly rooms we could find were outrageously expensive.

My brilliant daughter finally found us an awesome place on Airbnb. She snagged a one bedroom duplex in Memphis’ Cooper Young neighborhood. It was pet friendly and even had a yard for Sasha to run in. After fees and taxes she paid $120.

We got there around 1. We checked out the house and got Sasha settled then we walked a mile to a restaurant. We had an awesome lunch at Imagine Vegan Café, the first meal we had eaten at a restaurant the whole trip. We had snacked on the remains of Heather’s frig and the things I had brought with me throughout our long night’s drive.

We shopped along the way during our walk home. It was a very neat neighborhood with used book stores, a record store, and our favorite, an Urban Outfitters. Loved the way they decorated this overpass.

We stayed in during the evening, enjoying the free wifi and satellite tv. The neighborhood was super quiet and we never felt unsafe. We got another great night’s sleep and woke up ready to finish our trip.

So we are now home safe. Heather will be doing some couch surfing for the near future until she decides her next step. We are keeping an eye on the tv and Facebook for news from Florida.

If the worst happens Heather’s trailer will likely be destroyed. If it doesn’t sustain any wind damage, the storm surge is expected to reach a level where it would at least reach the door. It is only worth about $5,000 so it is not the end of the world. But we are still hoping we may somehow escape that reality.

The last we heard the employees of the RV park were all staying put and the couple we sold our old 5th wheel to, the Alpenlite, were as well. They text us last night with a question about pulling in the slides. There was a mandatory evacuation for all trailer park residents so we don’t know if they will actually stay in the park, whether in their trailers or in the rec hall, or if they’ve gone to shelters.

Jim has family just north of Fort Myers. We know they’ve left the state but are very worried about their homes. I have family on the east coast who have evacuated and I’m sure are worried as well. Heather has plenty of friends in Bonita Springs, most of which have evacuated.

So we will all just wait, and watch, and hope …