Monday, August 7, 2017

Colorado Part 2

Into the ski resort area of Colorado, we go!  Of course, it’s not ski season, but it is hopping with people mountain biking, hiking and enjoying the beautiful Colorado weather.  We stayed at a state park in the Frisco area.  It was on the East side of the lake with a 500-foot incline between us and the town of Frisco.  So naturally we thought we’d bike it.  7.5 miles and a 500-foot gain, no big deal.  Ha!!  After walking my bike uphill for about ¾ of a mile we decided that the 2 miles to the viewing point would be as far as we would go.  We enjoyed lunch overlooking the area, watching tourist ignore the “Do Not Feed the Animals” sign as they showered the chipmunk and ground squirrel infestation with peanuts and granola, and short hike around the peak before heading downhill on my favorite part of the bike ride.  We stayed for about 3 days cooking on the open fire every night and enjoying the 70-degree weather at the peak of the day.  We got some household chores done and then headed on our way West.

Glenwood Springs (Destination G1/G2)

What a gem!  The drive to Glenwood through the canyon was incredible.  Come to find out we would pass through it about 4 more times before leaving the state.  Glenwood held a ton of adventures for us.  Our campground was on an icy creek the kids thoroughly enjoyed and the area offered us many opportunities to be outdoors.  We went on a (mild) white water raft tour of the Colorado river, we biked the 14-mile trail through the canyon, we hiked the 1 mile, 1000 feet incline to Hanging Lake, and we enjoyed the mineral baths of the Hot Springs in the area.  Glenwood springs could be super expensive, but I’ll share with you some of the ways we pinched pennies to enjoy the adventures.  White water rafting was a wash, no way around the steep cost of that, but the one-way bike trip that could’ve cost us $100 we did for $20, and the hot springs that would’ve cost us $80 cost us $0.  This is how:

1.       Bike trip:  Instead of driving into town and hopping in the shuttle to the head of the trail at $20 a person, Jon dropped the kids and I off at the trailhead, drove into town alone and hopped the shuttle to meet us.  It took some convincing since he was alone with no bike, but he promised the driver that his bike and family were, in fact, waiting for him up at the top.  One shuttle fare= $20
      Hot Springs:  Being an entrepreneur is never a bad thing, but charging people $20 to sit in a hot spring-fed pool that has no options for shade or seating (because it’s Colorado in July) is a little much for this frugal family.  You could purchase shade for a whopping $75/half day.  *Gasp* After a little research we found a hidden gem called, Penny Springs.  It’s right off the road with a small parking area where the hot springs feed into the icy river.  By constructing a few rock-lined pools it has become a popular spot to enjoy the springs without the heavy price tag.  It’s FREE!!  You park, walk down a steep decline to the river edge and find a spot in one of the pools.  If it gets too warm, knock a few barrier rocks off on the river side of the pool, too cold, build up the wall again.  The kids had a blast and we actually got some time to sit and relax.  That is, until Jon decided he should build a family sized pool that he saw to about ¾ completion before we had to leave.

Have you ever wondered what we do about mail??  Well in the year and a half that we have been on the road, my Father-in-law has been acting as our mail manager.  Except for things we need right away or want shipped directly to us.  Not once, until Glenwood Springs, has it ever delayed us to have items mailed to our campground or local Post Office via General Delivery.  We experienced 2 mail snafus here. One package, with gently used hiking shoes for our two youngest kiddos crept across the country delaying us 2 days, and one package bounced between Denver and Evergreen because of a bad barcode, that got resolved just in time for our original departure date.  But the hot springs and hanging lake hike never would’ve happened without this delay, so we’ll take it!  Except for the future adventures, we weren’t exactly in a rush to leave this beautiful weather for the 100+ degree of Utah.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Colorado Part 1

Colorado Springs (Destination D1-3)

I’m not even sure I can justify one of our favorite places to date in a blog. Colorado is beautiful, fun and adventurous.  From New Mexico we made our way up to Colorado Springs.  The last time we had visited AJ was only 6 months old, it was snowing, and Navy beat Air Force in close game.  We are returning in mid-summer with 3 kids and our home trailing behind us.  We parked on the Academy grounds, one of our favorite campgrounds so far.  Our neighbors were great and we even shared a meal with them one evening.  We experienced mild hypoxia at 14,115 feet, the Garden of Gods as a birthday celebration, views that will take your breath away and a hike we are planning on doing sometime in the future.
Here is what we captured.

Golden, Denver, and Evergreen (Destination E1/2)

My godparents live in the beautiful town of Evergreen so naturally we found a campground as close as possible.  Unfortunately, by the time we knew where we were going to be for 4th of July, most campgrounds were booked, except Golden Terrace South.  DO NOT EVER STAY THERE.  Ok ok, if you are looking for a parking lot to keep your RV, that may or may not fit in the space provided then by all means.  Being that it was out most expensive campground to date, it was only right for it to be the worst one too.  Folks, we’ve been parking our ‘rig’ for a year and a half now.  I’d like to think we know what we are doing.  It took us almost 2 hours to inch our way in between two RVs so close that we ended up sharing a doorstep with our neighbors. Not cool.  Fortunately, we weren’t planning on spending much time there.  This was just home base for many adventures.  My mom flew in to Denver the day after we got “settled”.  Can I tell you how crazy it is how many people we just happen to see passing through places?  Lizzie, my mom’s friend’s daughter (did you get that?)  has relocated from South Florida to Denver, so we met for lunch.  A friend of mine from Omaha, who now lives in Southern California, we in Denver visiting her in-laws, so we had dinner.  We may even get to meet up with one of my friends from high school who split her time between Colorado and, well, the rest of the world.  It just amazes me how all these meetings happen.  I digress. 
Between the quaint, fun town of Golden’s 4th of July Celebration, with Jon's cousin and family (that live nearby) and the rustic log cabin in the woods belonging to my Godparents, we had plenty to do in this area of Colorado.  Remember how I said we took our kids on a very technical hike in New Mexico??  Well Ted and Cam’s backyard beat it out.  Let’s just say we put in an order for hiking boots and camelbacks for all the kids when we got back off the mountain.  It is time ya’ll. My little men are growing into adventurous and daring boys who need off my leash to explore a bit more.  And my little girl??  Well, she likes to keep up with her brothers and tempt my heart into an attack EVERY.DAY.

Oh, did I mention our day trip into Rocky Mountain National Park where we saw a Moose leading a traffic parade, a bear, yes, a bear, observing the humans driving past, Elk grazing at dusk, Marmots scurrying for food, Big Horned Sheep relaxing in the evening sun and Pika foraging and running about.  Can I just tell you how disappointed my kids are going to be with every other National Park??  This one is for the record books.

Rocky Mountain National Park-An Addition to Our Adventures

After our day in the Park we decided we wanted more.  So, when it was time to say farewell, or better yet, good riddance to our campground in Golden we snagged a First Come, First Serve spot in the Timbercreek Campground on the west side of the NP.  No hookups, but I will take that any day over what we just left with full hookups.  I discovered the camper in me after all.  Cleaning dishes with no running water, cooking on the campfire, washing clothes in a bucket, let’s just say I got in touch with my rustic side.  I know, I know, we’ve been “camping” for over a year now, but not like this.  Windows open, mountain views, no hum of the air conditioner or burning of the lights, just crackling campfires and trickling streams.  It was amazing.  The kids were unrecognizable before breakfast while they played in the “sparkly dirt” outside as eggs were cooking on the stove. 
Jon and I had some work to do while here so we went into Grand Lake to taste the local fare and visit the library for some wi-fi and child entertainment.  We ended up enjoying lunch, ice cream, and dinner in town before heading back to the campground for the night.  Chilly nights made way for some good sleep as we snuggled in to bed after dark, ready for another day of adventure and exploring this incredible state. 

Colorado will be continued as we work our way west across the Rockies.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Texas and Southwest Wildlife

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Seeing different wildlife continues to be some of what I enjoy most about traveling to various parts of the country.  Florida alone can present unique wildlife encounters from one part of the state to the next.  After all, we came across gators, manatees, and bottle-nose dolphins just to name a few.  But most recently we've enjoyed, or rather experienced, what Texas has to offer.  

East of Dallas - Lake Tawakoni, TX
     LJ, Baby A and I are on an evening bike ride along the mostly paved campground roads.  The sun is slipping behind the far edge of the lake.  An orange glow blankets the wooded paths as the falling sun sends streaks of light between the trees, making things slightly hard to see in the glare - until it's almost too late.  I notice a snake on the road a half second before the left wheel of the bike trailer takes off the snake's head.  But just in time the snake recoils, barely avoiding a quick and painless death.  I pull the bike around to show LJ the snake.  We stay about 10 ft back, the snake maybe a foot and a half long itself, and observe.  LJ eggs me on in an attempt to get me to agitate the creature into moving.  
     Throw rocks or a stick, he asks.  
     I tell him when you encounter wildlife, particularly snakes, you keep your distance and never touch.  
     "Throw water on it!" is his only response.  
     "No, you just stay back and can look."

     Just then, a family cruises by on their golf cart and offers the typical campground friendly hello.  "How are you this evenin'?" the man, about my age, asks while still rolling.

     I say good, just checking out this snake.  That's enough for him to pull over for a closer look himself, along with a second golf cart coming up from behind joining in on whatever it is we have going on.  Just as I'm reminding LJ to stay back and that we don't touch snakes, the man walks right up to the snake and brings his tennis shoe covered foot smoothly down on the snakes head.  It seems he is planning on picking it up to transport it off the street and over to the forest.  

    The second man, from the second golf cart, chimes in.  "That there's a copperhead.  Just rip its head off.  We don't want that 'round here."

     So the first man, with his foot securely on the head of the snake, grips the tail end with his bare hand.  "Yeah, my brother got bit by one of these.  Hand swelled so bad it split open three places.  Nasty suckers," he says while getting a better grip.  

     From his golf cart I hear his wife, while shaking her head back and forth, say, "Bo, you're such an idiot.  You're gonna git bit."

     Bo, apparently his name, pulls the snakes tail with all his might.  It looks like the snake is stretching to twice its original length before springing back.  At this point I'm trying to turn my bike and trailer around to get some distance between what I see is a bad situation.  Just in case the snake gets lose or is thrown by Bo in some sort of struggle, I'd like to be well clear.  

     The second man chimes in again.  "Just crush its head!"

     So Bo, in his tennis shoes, grinds this snakes head into the crumbled asphalt road until there is nothing left of it.  LJ and I both look on in horror, wanting to leave but unable to turn away.  The gruesome scene has us captivated. 

     Thanks to Bo, the campground is now safe from this small copperhead.  As for my lesson to my son about not touching snakes, Bo may have destroyed that too.  

...And Tawakoni offers some excellent bass fishing in the lily pads to boot!

Lavon, TX
After pulling into our campsite for our first evening, still needing to get the trailer parked and settled in, we come across a visitor.  The boys are quite excited.  Brynn, on the other hand, is not.  A Texas Tarantula has apparently become enamored with our RV "front yard", creeping back and forth between the tires to the front doorway.  Maybe he likes the lingering bits of shade as the sun sets?  Or maybe LJ is small enough to look like a tasty treat?  A second tarantula is spotted near the truck tire.  Brynn makes it clear from the get go - if one tarantula is found in the trailer, we're listing it for sale, no exceptions.  

     One of the campground hosts, when we share of our animal discovery, says, "Oh yeah those spiders love to come out just about this time every evening.  They're all over the place!  Makes you feel right at home."

She wasn't kidding.  Brynn sees another three that evening. 

Sweetwater, TX  (Stop "A - Day 1")     It's hot, dry and very dusty.  I'm not exactly looking to go for a nature hike.  We've still got to get settled into our campsite and get dinner going anyhow.  So we pull into our first spot.  A pull-through site, which will make things easy.  I go to open up the electrical box and makes sure everything is working properly.  Lifting the lid is just enough to cause a wasp nest to drop to the ground, flying insects of pain and misery caught off guard.  I run long way around the trailer and jump back in the truck.  We'll try the next spot over, I think.

     So I venture to the next spot, and carefully open the electrical box.  A large and mean looking spider has set up home, web and all, right on top of the 30 amp outlet.  Maybe we'll keep looking.  

     We find a third spot one row over.  Wasps.  This time I don't even touch the box.  I know they're in there.  

     We pull the trailer back to the spider's hideout.  A spider doesn't fly, so I figure I can handle it.  He's clearly more scared of me than I am of it, because as I reach the electrical cord up to plug into the box, the spider retreats into the hole for the ground of the 30 amp.  Well, this is easy, I think to myself.  I plug the the cord in and the spider is never seen again.
      Sweetwater is also apparently home to the most millipedes I've ever seen in one place, to very large and very red looking ants that don't so much as make an ant hill, but excavate the earth, and home as well to the usual cottontail rabbits. This place has a strange beauty to it, and certainly feels very wild.  

Carlsbad Caverns* ("Stop A - Day 2")
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A treat for nature lovers.  Our stay is at Brantley Lake State Park, a reservoir in the desert about 45 minutes north of the Caverns, and there is no shortage of wildlife here.  We see quails scurrying about as they chatter, doves cooing from our front shade trees, bright yellow bellied  Western King birds zipping from limb to limb, a scorpion perched outside the bathhouse, jack rabbits moving about in their strange-for-a-rabbit kind of walk, cottontail rabbits hopping all over, wild looking striped and colorful lizards, and roadrunners frequently spotted running along, not surprisingly, the road.  If it counts, we even see a porcupine on the road after it was introduced to the front end of a truck, but still plenty recognizable.  We don't catch a glimpse of any mule deer, but we know they're out there too, somewhere.  The desert seems to come alive in the evening, transforming from a hot and inhospitable climate into a beautiful wilderness with large skies and endless views.  

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 The Caverns themselves treat us to cave swallows that seem excited to share their home with us human outsiders, swooping, flying and chirping all over the natural cave entrance.  Inside the cave the boys learn about cave crickets, and LJ is quickly concerned of the possibility of these crickets being very lonely.  And of course we saw bats.  Many thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats, which every evening escape the cool confines of the cave to join in mans' battle to eradicate mosquitoes from the natural world.  It was a long wait to see the exodus of flying fur balls, but we enjoyed the experience, particularly after having hiked down the same route they fly out each evening.  

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Albuquerque, NM 
    We went to the ABQ zoo, but those animals can't be included in our regional wildlife records.  What we do see, however, is a horny toad, or horned frog, depending on what part of Texas you hail from, I figure.  Like us, it was enjoying the cool climate 9,000' up in the Salida Mountains.  

South Colorado
     After visiting a small, but lovely zoo in Carlsbad, we learned of the pronghorn.  A small, gazelle like creature native to our very own country.  And capable of, get this, a speed that rivals the cheetah - running up to 70 mph.  And wouldn't luck have it that while driving up a small highway with the Rockies a stones throw to our left is the occasional pronghorn.  None outran the Excursion down the highway - probably too hot out - but we saw at least a dozen grazing or relaxing in the cattle pastures.  When I was finally able to get AJ to pull away from his Dragons movie and glimpse this creature, he said "Yeah, I see it" and turned back to the zombie screen.  There were many occasions where the movie was paused for our children to enjoy the world around them, even if only for 5 minute chunks.  

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