Archive for November, 2010

Moab, Utah – Finally open: Potash Road

Dienstag, November 30th, 2010

Longed for long time, finally we can drive the Potash Road. The search for the shooter, who injured the park ranger, was called off. The police assume that the criminal either left the area, or more likely could not survive his own bullet wound(s), the wetness, and the coldness. However, his body wasn’t found yet. Who was ever in one of Utah’s stony deserts with thousands of clefts, holes and caves will understand that it is likely to not find a dead man who crept away to hide himself, since it is not possible to locate the body with a thermal image camera.

The two flyers from Moab’s visitor information are essential to drive and hike Potash Road. Because Schafer Trail, the connector into Canyonlands National Park / Island in the Sky District remains closed for ice and snow we have to come from Hwy # 191 into # 279 and go the same way back later. Having the choice it would be preferable to start from the national park. The initial miles are paved and lead beside Colorado River through a lovely, round shaped red canyon. After five miles a sign indicates “Indian Writings”, petroglyphs that are images of animals and humans, carved into the stone by early Indians. Unfortunately white citizens of the modern age allowed themselves to be driven to creative creation, and left their marks like “Vicky”, “Tom”, “Randy”, or “Sally” for posterity. Other activists even shot on targets carved into the wall. Just a few metres further we can see dinosaur tracks that a representative of its species trampled into the mud before this one petrified. The paws came to light when the stone fell off the mountain and broke apart. Now the negatives are on one slab, the positives on the other. Terribly genuine, terribly large.

The trailhead to Corona Arch starts ten miles from beginning of the road. On the 2.5 km way there we have to overcome 135 m elevation gain, two sections secured with steel cable, and one ladder. During the first cable is just for safeguarding against slipping, the second hill-climbing is a real obstacle. Shallow hollows were carved into the stone to give shoes some support. Not every hiker likes this test of courage and turns round. That’s not too bad since Corona Arch is visible from here. This is one of the world’s largest arches with an opening of 43 times 32 m and to us one of the most beautiful and elegant ones. Right beside there is a huge semi-sphere with a perfect round hole above in the rock ceiling – a horizontal arch so to speak. Allow two to three hours for this worthwhile hike to have enough time for photos.

Several miles further the pavement ends and an easy off-road trail (as long as it is dry) starts into Canyonlands Park; 4-wheel-drive is necessary nevertheless. The powder sand turns into soft soap when wet; you’d better think if you want to dry here in the rain.

La Sal Junction, Utah –Difficult to say goodbye

Montag, November 29th, 2010

It doesn’t happen too often: One meets people, who are on the absolute same wavelength. If those people are so intelligent, educated and creative as Malcolm and Pamela, from whom one can learn so much, it is very difficult to say goodbye. After wonderful days when we met numerous of their friends and neighbours, we finally tear ourselves away. Not without receiving dozens of photographic inside tips for Utah from Malcolm. Will we be ever able to leave Utah? There is so much to see!

Since we drove the section already a couple of times, we take for a change the road combination # 141/90/46 from Grand Junction through pretty canyons to La Sal Junction. You can visit there Hole’n’the Rock, a curious cave flat for 5 $ entrance fee. For 12 years a family kept on hammering a home into the rock, with all kitsch and comfort.

Palisade, Colorado – The Chocolate Walk

Samstag, November 27th, 2010

The five arts galleries in Palisade (what an enormous number for a village) organized a Chocolate Walk for today. They all serve different complimentary chocolaty delicacies. Of course there is something to win and of course one can buy things. But they have need items and – to be honest – isn’t it better to support small local shops instead of huge supermarket chains like W..-…t, which has got a monopoly on “made in China”?

Afterwards Pam and I visit some of the local wineries for tasting and shopping. Phew, five wineries, and each of them has got quite a few kinds…

Palisade, Colorado – Black Friday

Freitag, November 26th, 2010

The day after Thanksgiving is a crazy day. Many Americans have an off-day, Christmas isn’t far, and they use to go shopping. Shops opening at 5 am are late. Some of them open already at midnight. Even then long queues wait in front of the entrance doors to get hold of the unavoidable special offers. Last year a man was trampled to death in Grand Junction.

But the term Black Friday doesn’t come from the black ribbon. There are different explanations for the origin of the name. To me the following one seems to be most plausible: The term appears for the first time in 1966 in Philadelphia. Long lines of vehicles formed in eager anticipation of the bargain hunting. In those days most of the cars were black. That’s where Black Friday comes from.

We think it is much too frantic and perhaps dangerous on the streets – bargain hunters belong to a particularly aggressive genus – and that’s why we prefer to crawl away in Pam’s and Malcolm’s house.

Palisade, Colorado – Thanksgiving in American

Donnerstag, November 25th, 2010

Thanksgiving might be the most important American family holiday in a year, maybe partially more important than Christmas. In a country with the highest freedom of worship perhaps the most uniting feast. Family and friends come together for a banquet. Traditionally stuffed turkey is served with gravy and cranberry sauce as well as a variety of side dishes. We enjoy this evening sweet potato purée and green beans casserole at Malcolm’s and Pamela’s house, together with their friend Harold. Afterwards the usual pumpkin and pecan pie are served.

Grand Junction, Colorado – Malicious toilettes

Mittwoch, November 24th, 2010

There was a storm tonight, but no snow. The blizzard never showed up. There shall be some snow in higher elevation, but not too much. We plan to use the day for hairdresser, purchases and so on. Of course, on these days I use a public restroom from time to time. Those sometimes have two particularities: Lavatory seat covers and automatic toilet flushes. What doesn’t go very well together all the time.

I enter the cabin and pull one of the parchment-like toilet seat covers from the dispenser. The first paper oval tears, as filigree as it is. I throw it into the water. I handle the next one somewhat gentler and try to place it on the smooth, to the inside steep plastic seat. Of course the thing slips and lands in the toilet bowl. The third attempt is successful. With a following soft slap I convince the cover to stay in place. Just unbutton the pants and – well, the automatic toilet flush starts and heartlessly sweeps away the parchment. I have to work on my technique. First lower my pants, then getting seat cover in the right position. Now the difficult part: turning for 180° with the trousers at the ankles without stumbling or making too much wind to avoid the paper oval as light as a feather changing position. That’s definitely nothing for people with indigestion.

Grand Junction, Colorado – Back to Colorado

Dienstag, November 23rd, 2010

Only two days left to Thanksgiving, and we are on our way back to Colorado. What happened? On Saturday, just before Deadhorse State Park, we’ve met Malcolm. The fine art photographer and artist from the area of Grand Junction (great website: very much liked our vehicle and our journey and invited us for Thanksgiving. It’s a bit early to travel, but there is a serious blizzard warning for tonight and a forecast for it to last 30 hours. Utah’s Department of Travel discourages of any unnecessary travel.

Needles Overlook, Utah – View into sandstone country

Montag, November 22nd, 2010

From Needles Overlook we get a far view into the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. If you don’t plan to visit this part of the park, the overlook might be a good alternative to get an impression of it. We plan to hike in Needles District anyway, but didn’t want to miss the overlook either.

Some hundreds of metres below us, right above Colorado River, a police helicopter’s rotors are clattering. Again and again the helicopters circle for seeking the shooter who wounded the park ranger. Up here, 600 precipice metres higher, we should be safe.

Moab, Utah – Miniature mountains and mass tourism

Sonntag, November 21st, 2010

The La Sal Mountains are a tightly structured mountain range between Utah and Colorado. The pyramid-like mostly snow-covered peaks appear as background panorama on many pictures of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Here is the second highest peak in Utah with nearly 3,900 m. From Moab an 80 mi long loop road leads to Hwy # 128 through the mountains and back to Moab. First we pass Castle Valley where deep red sandstone towers rise up and the John Wayne classic Rio Grande was shot. On a very short distance we leave the red semi-desert to pass subalpine flora, and to reach nearly vegetation-less alpine elevation of 2,700 m.

We stop in Moab for stockpiling: Grocery, water, and diesel. Otherwise Moab is a town where mass tourism left its marks. The infrastructure is perfect, the prices mainly insolent. Even in winter when everything sleeps the campgrounds ask for real good prices. But most of them can’t even be called cosy. Without intending to do Moab’s inhabitants wrong: It didn’t happen to us meeting even one friendly person. This is a very ordinary consequence of mass tourism. But anyway, I would prefer to plan a summer visit as much as possible in advance to get a reservation on the campgrounds in the parks. Or use alternatively the BLM campgrounds at Hwy # 128. But there are no hook-ups.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah – Land of the thousand canyons – and crime

Samstag, November 20th, 2010

Utah is well known for its off-road trails. After consulting a ranger we decided to go on the easy Gemini Bridges Trail. 4-wheel-drive and high clearance is necessary, but the rest is not a challenge – just a nice landscape. Then we head into Deadhorse State Park (10 $ entrance fee per vehicle; annual interagency passes not accepted in Utah’s state parks). The views from top of the rock faces to the Meander Canyon of the Colorado and the deeply scarred rocky landscape are incredible. Green Colorado River meanders in huge S-bends through the Mars-red stone; from Deadhorse Point Overlook you can see Horseshoe Bend.

The neighbouring Canyonlands National Park is separated into three parts by the meeting Colorado and Green River: The badly accessible western Maze District, the eastern part (Needles District), and the northern Island in the Sky in front of us. Crossing a small hogback we reach the 800 m high plateau, a mesa restricted by steep walls. We look down to the White Rim Plateau 400 m deeper and the river canyon even 200 m deeper. There are many view points, short and long hikes, and an arch as well. Mesa Arch invites to climb on it provided that there is less wind than today. And the canyon is damn deep.

Our plan was to leave the Island in the Sky via the off-road ways Schafer Trail and Potash Road towards Moab. It is said to be a pretty trail down into the river canyon. But the road is closed. A ranger was shot and wound there yesterday and brought into a hospital. The police closed the trail seeking the criminal who is most probably injured as well. Sure, that’s a pity for us, but more important is to find the shooter. We drive some more kilometres to keep some distance between us and the scene of crime.

Arches National Park, Utah – Hiking with involuntarily bath

Freitag, November 19th, 2010

Devil’s Garden is the only longer marked hike in the park. Walking the main trail until the end with all dead ends to the individual arches, and taking the primitive path from there back you want to consider four to five hours for the 12 km including one or two rests and enough time to take photos. The main trail is moderate, but the primitive trail is a difficult and strenuous hike where you only slowly make headway. There are some climbs, and there is exposure to height.

A well maintained trail leads to the famous Landscape Arch. This fragile structure with 93 m span lost a big slab in 1991 and is since then even daintier. The next one, Wall Arch, doesn’t even exist any more. It broke down in 2008. From Double-O-Arch the primitive loop starts.

Nature compensates for any exhaustion, but, unfortunately, nature is unpredictable as well. Between two steep walls a pond formed. There shall be always some water, but now the pond is deep. Too deep. At least up to shoulder height, maybe more. The right vertical wall is no option. Remains the left one. There are maybe two steps to make on the steep slick stone until reaching a small sloping landing; but after that I have no idea how to continue. Sometimes sandstone is non-skid and easy to climb, but sometimes it’s very slippery. After only few fruitless trials Joerg decides to take off his shoes, socks and pants straight away and walks through the water. (There are no pictures, I’m sorry.) Of course the pond is too deep to walk through, but fortunately he finds support at the quickly sloping shore. The surface is covered with a layer of ice. Joerg forces through the frozen water like an icebreaker and reaches accident-free the other shore. Since I am still convinced to climb the wall Joerg kindly comes back to take the left backpack. I have a lot of confidence in the grip of my hiking shoe’s soles. I had. I try three times to find support at the slippery wall; every time I helplessly slip down on my stomach. The rescue promising sloping landing seems to be unattainable although only two steps away. There might be a solution, but I can’t see it. Maybe it would be possible to surmount the spot with some more experience in free climbing, but mine is restricted to a minimum, tends so to speak towards zero. What to do? I won’t succeed in clinging on the stone with my fingertips. Would it be better barefooted? Or with a little more speed? Unfortunately I have one attempt only. If the landing doesn’t offer the hoped support I will land with all my clothes in the icy sludge. To walk several kilometres through a wintry Utah with wet clothes wasn’t high up on my list of priorities. From the other side the spot seems to be manageable, but this doesn’t help now. With a deep sigh I take off shoes and trousers and tramp through the pond in my thong. Fortunately it is pretty lonesome here; no other hikers, no watchers. (Again: There are no photos!) The advantage is that the pain in the thigh-deep ice-water doesn’t start immediately but just after walking a couple of metres. That encourages going on instead of returning. Eventually I’m in the dry with legs red as a lobster, trying to remove the sand and to dress again. I am happy to read a sign that the path leaves the wash. The rest of the trail is strenuous at the most, but no more technically challenging.

That was a good hike; I can recommend it to anybody. Maybe the other way round? Or in swimming trunks?

Arches National Park, Utah – Nature’ rock wonders

Donnerstag, November 18th, 2010

For most US-visitors in this area Arches National Park is within the compulsory program. With good reason: The plateau contains the world’s highest density of natural arches. Water, ice, extreme temperatures, and a thick layer of salt in the subsoil are responsible for the nature’s sculptor’s accomplishment. Besides arches from red sandstone there are pillars, domes, faces, pinnacles, and sometimes lumps of rock that are balanced on a skinny tower beyond any law of gravitation.

Most of these rock wonders like The Windows, Balancing Rock, Park Avenue or Sand Dune Arch are situated directly beside the road or can be reached with short hikes. The climbing trip to Fiery Furnace can be booked with rangers’ guiding. Delicate Arch can be seen from the road, but it is worth any effort to climb up to the arch. From Wolfe Ranch it is a climb of 2.5 km with 150 m elevation gain, and back. It takes – depending on personal fitness – 30 to 60 minutes uphill. Getting around the corner a beautiful view to Delicate Arch opens, to a crater-shaped wash-out, and to the La Sal Mountains in the background. Starting two hours before sunset is best; don’t forget flashlights for the way back.

Colorado National Monument, Colorado – A last view back

Mittwoch, November 17th, 2010

Colorado’s sun does what it is expected to do on 300 days per year: it is shining. A good last day in this state and a good day for Colorado National Monument, just a few miles outside Grand Junction. The broad canyon landscape with high precipices and odd stone sculptures towers above Colorado River Valley by more than 600 m. Variously coloured stone layers testify for many millions of years of most different climatic conditions. Glowing red, violet, orange and brown tones result from iron and other minerals in the rock. Erosion power of water, wind and ice worked for long time on sandstone, slate and other sediment layers. Harder stratums resist to erosion better than softer ones and influence which shape the rock will take. From the elevation of this semi-desert we look back to a Colorado that charmed us with its unadulterated diversity. In the extremely clear air we discover the city of Grand Junction, the Colorado River Valley, Grand Mesa, and the Rocky Mountains.

On I 70 we head into Utah and take from Cisco Hwy # 128 that follows the now narrow Colorado Canyon. The washed out deep-red limestone landscape is so dramatic that you can think about skipping famous Monument Valley – and even without entrance fee. A particularly beautiful spot are the Fisher Towers called rock formations half-way between I 70 and Moab, to be reached on a gravel road. The monoliths and walls tower fantastically jagged into the steel-blue sly, mildly floodlighted by the evening sun.

Grand Junction, Colorado – Working day

Dienstag, November 16th, 2010

Another partially sunny, but partially ugly day is just good for computer works, maintenance, and improvements.

Grand Junction, Colorado – Onset of winter in Colorado

Montag, November 15th, 2010

Over night there was snow nearly everywhere. Some roads were closed, some car accidents happened. Just a normal onset of winter, isn’t it? There is not much snow in Grand Junction, but an ideal day for laundry and shopping.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, Colorado – Black canyons, white mountains

Sonntag, November 14th, 2010

To get to the north rim of the Black Canyon we have to put up with a two to three hours drive since there is no direct connection. If there is a shortage in time I would even prefer north rim. Here is, in summer as well, not so much going on, the views are more dramatic, and the walls are steeper so that one can look down to the river without hindrance. The last kilometres of the access road are unpaved but well maintained.

On highway # 65 we cross Grand Mesa, the world’s largest mesa. There is room for more than 300 lakes up here and some ski areas. The surrounding plane is at about 1,500 m elevation; the road has its highest point at 3,305 m. -7° C and a layer of snow do not invite us to camping and so we descend the 1,800 m of elevation on the other side – nearly 30 km without accelerating. Then the road follows not less spectacular the canyon of the Plateau Creek and later as I 70 the Colorado River Valley.

Silverton, Colorado – Where gold laid on the road

Samstag, November 13th, 2010

Back in Durango we take Hwy # 550 north that this time leads us lengthwise through San Juan Mountains. This area once had enormous gold and silver deposits. The stretch between Silverton and Ouray is called Million Dollar Highway. Originally the highway is said to have been paved with gold-bearing ore boulders, but unfortunately today this must be gone. But therefore the highly alpine route between hundreds of metres deep canyons (without crash barrier, of course) and kilometres high snow-covered mountains is breathtaking. We have to cross three increasing passes; the highest one is 3,360 m and is called Red Mountain Pass. Up here it is constantly freezing and the land is covered with snow, but the road is perfectly cleared.

Close to Montrose we drive into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It has got its name due to the dark to black stone wall on both sides of the river. Moreover the canyon is so deep and narrow that nearly no light reaches its bottom so that the gloomy effect grows. De facto it is one of the narrowest and deepest canyons at all: up to 700 m deep and minimum 12 m wide. But how could the river cut itself so deeply into the hard stone? The high stream velocity explains that. On a two-miles-stretch the river descends about 145 m. Originally the canyon was 80 km long, but the majority disappeared under several reservoirs one behind the other. The remaining 20 km were protected with the foundation of the national park. At south rim there is a 10 km long road with several view points and short hikes. The campground is free of charge during the winter.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado – About living in a mountain and the art of being in four places at the same time

Freitag, November 12th, 2010

Mesa Verde is the first and only national park in the United States that protects a human heritage site. The cliff dwellings were discovered only in the end of the 19th century. This region’s inhabitants lived from the years 600 to 1300 in settled villages and built stone houses temporarily under cave-like overhangs into the rock. In the end of the 13th century the formerly named Anasazi, now preferably called Pueblo Indians abandoned this area over a time of about two generations still before the arrival of the Whites. A prolonged drought possibly induced the farming Indians to make this move. Their descendants still live in the south-western USA. The national park is situated on a green, densely wooded plateau (wherefrom the Spanish name Mesa Verde comes) between 2,100 and 2,600 m elevation, towering above the surrounding plain by up to 600 m. The archaeological finds belong to the most important and best conserved ones in the United States. Up to four floor residential and store towers, different ruins of precedent more primitive habitations, earthenware, weapons, clothing, and much more count among these finds. Besides the cliff dwellings and varied excavations one can have a look in the museum at several cultural assets that allow an insight into the life of the former inhabitants.

The Four Corners Monument is located in a distance of about 50 miles. That is the only place in the USA where four states meet in one corner. The whole thing is for 3 $ entrance fee (annual interagency passes not accepted) relatively unspectacular and more commercially concentrated on selling souvenirs by the Navajo Indians who run the monument. But it’s a kind of need to get down on all fours and be with each hand and foot in another state, and therefore in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico at the same time.

Durango, Colorado – Sunglasses instead of snow chains

Donnerstag, November 11th, 2010

On our way through Colorado into the southernmost corner of the state we cross – another time – the Rocky Mountains. As soon as we approach San Juan Mountains, LED letters indicate the requirement of snow chains. We’ve got some, but they’re pretty heavy, and not easy to install. We are happy that the request expires before we reach Wolf Creek Pass at 3,216 m. The road is a steep ramp uphill for many kilometres and downhill as well. But the road is clear, snowploughs have done their work. Snow only crumbles slightly.

In the evening we find a rest area at the foot of Mesa Verde National Park. Unfortunately signs prohibit camping and parking overnight. There is a police car at the access. What is easier than asking an officer? He says that we are fine to stay in the back of the rest area. We can sleep in our cabin, but not set up a camp. The State Patrol will pass by later for a couple of times, since they run an outpost at the rest area. With surveillance and permission by the police we sleep even better.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado – Sandbox games

Mittwoch, November 10th, 2010

We escaped the snow, but not the winter. We measured -10° C this night, and even in daytime it is not much above freezing temperature. Just the sun is kind to us. At the foot of Sangre de Christo Range, a small mountain chain in southern Colorado, North America’s tallest sand dunes gathered. A part of the sand is flushed down from the mountains by small creeks; the majority is blown off the San Juan Mountains, part of the Rockies. Certain wind constellations care for the sand grains to exactly deposit here. Already from far we can see the yellow-beige dunes. The highest elevation in Great Sand Dunes National Park is 229 m. The sand field is prohibited for vehicles, but you can climb on all dunes. That’s just not that easy: The plinth is already at 2,500 m, and then you have to climb 200 m in soft sand: three steps forward, two back. We’ve earned lunch heavily breathing. At half the distance up to the mountain a young man approaches us with big steps. We are astonished as he explains us puffing that not many people go up here. He wasn’t even sure. He hoped to be motivated in our company. Arrived on the peak we celebrate the Canadian’s birthday with lemonade and crackers. The sand warms up fast in the sun, but in the shadow or an inch below the surface it is deeply frozen. If it takes an hour to climb up, downhill it only takes minutes. I run safely with giant strides down the slope and am happy as a child.

Behind the dunes an 18 km long off-road trail, Medano Pass Primitive Road, leads up to Sangre de Christo Range. We get a map at the visitor centre and ask if we could make it through with our vehicle. An elder lady is at the information desk. Just to put it mildly: She seems to be retired for three times and has always returned. She asks for the width of our truck, but she doesn’t seem to be interested in the height. Maybe she doesn’t see very well. The trail is accessible with four-wheel drive and sufficient clearance. It consists of soft sand and a brook has to be crossed several times. So far, so funny. Then we go up to the mountains through peripheral aspen forest. The trees stand closer and closer, coming through gets more and more a problem. I drag some boundary posts, which are in our way, out of the sand and sink the stakes then again. I clear a few branches of some trees, and eventually I pull out two complete trunks including roots that are at least double of my size and throw them afterwards into the forest. Admitted, they were relics of a former forest fire, but it wasn’t that easy anyway! Joerg brandishes his axe and tries to manoeuvre the truck through the woods. After half of the distance we give up. The upper branches threaten to damage our solar panel or the skylight and we turn back; with a few scratches, but no bigger wounds.

Guffey, Colorado – Hasten away the snow

Dienstag, November 9th, 2010

The weather forecast doesn’t look very well. Just yesterday we sat outside for lunch in a t-shirt at 25° C, tomorrow it shall snow. We should better go on. We take another drive with the ATV through the forest to the top of the mountain to overview the considerable plot of Joyce and Dave. Their daughter Debbie, who creates wonderful miniature bird houses, gives us one as a present. After crossing beautiful Arkansas River Canyon our compass needle points to the south. We are trying to escape the surrounding snow clouds.

Colorado Springs, Colorado – Railway tunnel, God’s garden, and gambling den

Montag, November 8th, 2010

The 56 km long Phantom Canyon Road connects Victor, few miles south of Cripple Creek, and Canon City. The gravel road is a washboard and partially really narrow, but who has the opportunity should allow oneself to drive it. The maximum vehicle size is 25 feet length and 13 US t weight. The road leads down from 3000 m elevation to 1600 m into the prairie. It follows the route of the former ore railway line through the canyon of the Phantom Creek. Sometimes rock faces rise up at both sides of the road; then again the slope drops off steeply to the brook deep down. The hairpin bends require a lot of turning at the steering wheel, but it is fun to drive through the old railway tunnels. The climate gets milder the lower the elevation is, vegetation changes, and trees get greener, less fall-like. Prickly pears, yuccas and willows create a peculiar mixture. Close to Canon City we reach paved highway.

We take a loop to Colorado Springs to see Garden of the Gods. There are pretty red sandstone formations, and the former owner of this place left it to the public to have access free of charge. There are imaginative names like Sleeping Giant or Kissing Camels, a rock looking like two dromedaries, touching their lips. In the evening, we are back close to today’s starting point, in Guffey. The oddity of this village is that it has 26 inhabitants, a library, and two saloons. We are invited to Joyce and Dave who own a weekend house in this corner. We have accidentally met them in a parking lot in Rocky Mountain National Park.

At dinner in Cripple Creek, to finish the loop completely, we learn a lot about casinos. At the bar we get to know that we have the right to get a free drink every half hour, whatever it is: beer, wine, long drink, or shooter, as long as we gamble. We eagerly nod, take the beer, and go to the in-house restaurant. It is not really meant that way, but nobody really takes care about that. Now the coupons are used that Joyce and Dave got from an acquainted multi-gambler. For a certain amount of gambled money one receives food vouchers. Per coupon one can order a meal for maximum 10 $. The food is inexpensive and not bad. Then the lesson continues: If one registers in the casino, one gets a client’s card with which one can gamble for about a quarter of an hour at the slot machines. Here they really seem to do everything to make people addicted to gambling.

Cripple Creek, Colorado – Compulsive gambling instead of gold rush

Sonntag, November 7th, 2010

William F. Cody is buried up on Lookout Mountain. He was laid to rest in this place close to Denver on his own wish, even if this desire met with a lack of understanding or disapproval whatsoever in Cody, the town founded by him. His foster son and lifelong admirer established a small museum for life and legend of Buffalo Bill besides the grave that can be visited for 5 $. Cody raised Johnny Baker instead of his only son who passed away at the age of five. Therefore Baker possessed numerous personal belongings and photos from Cody’s leftovers, which are part of the exhibit today. So we learn that Sioux chief Sitting Bull, a bitter opponent of Cody during the war, went for four months on tour with Cody’s western show later as highly respected friend.

We accept a short detour, because we really want to go from Central City to Idaho Springs on the Virginia Canyon Road, often advertised as Oh-my-God Road. At first it starts harmlessly, when the paved lane spirals into the sky. But then “Oh my God, the road is down there!” it becomes quite exciting. The track, now gravel and of course without crash barrier, gets so narrow that we just wish for an oncoming-traffic-free phase. The view to Mount Evans Range makes up to us for many “oh my God”. Fortunately there is not much traffic and as long as the road is dry there are no problems when descending again the 500 metres.

From Idaho Springs the beautiful road combination # 285 / 77 / 1 takes us to Cripple Creek. At Kenosha Pass we reach 10,000 feet for the first time, with sun and without blizzard. Then we get to a high valley at nearly 3,000 m. The town Cripple Creek was once in the middle of Colorado’s gold rush. Still today people are mining for gold, although with lower gains. The whole village was declared a historical district and turned into a gambling den, after Colorado allowed game of chance here and in Central City. Today the historical fronts are renovated. Hotels, restaurants and campgrounds seem to be disproportionately large according to the town’s size. But the parking lots are astonishingly occupied; coaches cart whole loads of compulsive American gamblers to Cripple Creek. But there is nobody on the prettily fixed streets. I guess the slot machines have a lot of company.

Denver, Colorado – Day of culture

Samstag, November 6th, 2010

Perhaps Denver is just another of these big American cities. But there’s more: It’s location at the edge of the Rocky Mountains is simply gorgeous. Plus there is a distinctively sunny, dry continental climate with warm summers and winters of low precipitation in the lee of the Rocky Mountains, but for skiing you just have to drive a couple of kilometres. Today, on a November 6th, we have 28° C with sunshine – the whole summer in Canada wasn’t that hot. Harley Davidson motorcyclists are cruising about with t-shirts and helmet-free hair blowing. The metropolis in the centre of the western states has almost 600,000 inhabitants, with metro area 2.5 million and is located in the flat prairie that imminently merges into the foothills of the Rockies. Since the plateau continuously rises from east to west, Denver is already situated on 1,600 m elevation is therefore often called Mile High City. On the steps of the Capitol a mark was fixed where exactly one mile elevation is measured: Interesting: this changes during the years. There are already two different marks. Afterwards we visit the Museum for Science and Nature that shall belong to the leading museums about flora and fauna in North America. Worth the entrance fee of 11 $ is already the view from the terrace where we can see City Park, the pleasantly restricted skyline, and the mountain panorama behind as well.

In the end of the day we take the Lookout Road out of town that winds its way in sharp bends up to Lookout Mountain from where we enjoy a wonderful view to Denver at sunset.

Denver, Colorado – Pill box health

Freitag, November 5th, 2010

I am kind of shocked today at Costco’s pharmacy. I know that Costco is bulk buying, but there are weird things. Like soap. How will you ever use 20 pieces of soap bars, especially since invention of liquid soap? But I am completely at a loss when determining the shelves with over-the-counter medicines: allergies, eye complaints, cold, and particularly pain. The tablets are stored in plastic screw-top jars with 400 pieces. Holy smokes, what do the Americans do with 400 pain killers? Is there a secret around? Do they illegally deal with them on the internet? Bequeath them to their descendants? Share with neighbours? Fertilize flowers?

Then I thought a little about it. It is not as unreal as it looks for the first moment. If you do not exceed the recommended daily dose of eight tablets, you could use the jar in less than two months. If you share it with your partner “Darling, would you like to have a pill with your coffee?” you could halve the time. And if you mix some of the coloured capsules among your children’s Smarties box – they will not exceptionally stand out – the jar will be lickety-split empty. And you can get a new one when shopping next time at Costco.

Denver, Colorado – From peak to peak to Denver

Donnerstag, November 4th, 2010

We follow the Peak-to-Peak Highway # 7 and 72 along the Rocky Mountain chain south to Denver. The road deserves its name; it really goes from peak to peak between 2,500 and 2,800 m of elevation.

For shopping there is no way around Denver. So we are going to spend two days here to do whatever has to be done.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – About using the seat of trousers

Mittwoch, November 3rd, 2010

The Rocky Mountains are with more than 4,500 km length from Mexico to Alaska the longest mountain range on earth, although not the highest. But in the relative south of the massif, in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, more than 40 peaks rise above 12,000 feet. Some of the park ways have been closed for the winter, but some of them are still open, among them the most beautiful part of the park, the Bear Lake Area in around 3,000 m elevation. The hiking paths are icy, we were warned. And really, the trail around the lake is slippery in shady spots. Precedent snowfall, thaw in daytime with night frost created slippery areas. The lake is situated very romantic and picture-postcard-kitschy between the mountains, but some screeching, yelling, loudly laughing hikers on the other strand somehow disturb me. I would prefer to enjoy the mountain panorama quietly. But in the back of the lake everything turns out differently. In the beginning I am at a loss, then furious, and in the end I can’t help laughing myself. Small waterfalls spread dewdrops over the tough blanket of snow in daytime, and freeze to a solid ice rink at night. In this area are small ascends and slopes that turn to be nearly insurmountable with black ice. At first I don’t make any progress, then I try with speed, but this doesn’t help. Over and over I slide back. Eventually I crawl uphill on all fours, desperately looking for hold at small stones, clods of earth, and tiny branches. I look around: Nobody there to take pictures. Joerg is busy with his own advancement. Downhill the planned use of the seat of trousers is the least dangerous method. There are quite a few waterfalls, ascends, and slopes here…

Sprague Lake is only 400 m of elevation deeper, but climatically in a completely different zone. The sunny loop is nearly dry. Only the surface of the lake is for the most part frozen; trout get some sun seeking warmth. Rocky Mountain Park is incredibly colourful today: The sky is cobalt blue, the slopes grey stone, and the peaks snow-white. The conifer forests are deeply green, the grass yellow, and the lakes clear. There are many elk around, huge herds with cocky bucks. The black bears already hibernate and the coyotes bark and howl. What a beauty.

Nebraska + Wyoming + Loveland, Colorado – Through three states in one day

Dienstag, November 2nd, 2010

The Scotts Bluff National Monument close to the city with the same name is the third landmark of the Oregon Trail in this area. In the beginning this small range of hills from limestone was an insurmountable obstacle that had to be by-passed around a wide area, because in the north the insuperable Badlands adjoin. Already in the mid 19th century soldiers opened a passage through Scotts Bluff to make the onward journey easier for the set of wagons.

Our voyage goes further south. We turn our back on Nebraska and with a swerve via the south-eastern corner of Wyoming we are heading into Colorado. From Loveland we take Hwy #34 to Rocky Mountain National Park, a very attractive access road following Thompson River Canyon for many miles.

Bridgeport, Nebraska – Initial enemy contact

Montag, November 1st, 2010

The elevator in Jewel Cave Monument is broken. There is no possibility to get us down to the stalactite cavern system, one of the large ones in the world, 100 m deeper under the Black Hills. We return via Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park and head into Nebraska with its endless prairie, uncounted grasses, and where the sky is big and the horizon far.

Once the settlers with their covered wagons followed the Oregon Trail to the west. On their way through the seemingly never ending plain landmarks were not only optical changes but a welcome navigation aid. The Mormon Trail and the Pony Express Service took the same route. Three of these rock shapes follow each other in a short distance in Nebraska. The first Courthouse & Jail Rocks named formation is right behind Bridgeport. The second landmark a few miles further west is rightly named Chimney Rock: a vent, a thin finger that points the direction. There is no sign prohibiting to park overnight, so we stay at the foot of the rock to get away as far as possible from the penetratingly hooting trains.

At 11.30 pm we are reading in our bed. Suddenly there are voices, light, the cabin shakes – somebody is climbing on Arminius! It knocks on the door: “Police! Somebody in there?” It seems to be better to open the door. Two policemen with two cars and flashlights explain us that they have been alarmed by the nightly patrol of the monument: “Up there is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!” The officers are kind and very curious and understand that we just wanted to sleep a night here. “Normally we don’t allow somebody to camp here… what’s the mileage of the truck?” They think to and fro and actually we should better park on the campground down the road, which is empty but not locked in winter (that’s where the trains pass by). The kids came up here and were doing their kids’ things. Whatever this means. We should be careful. And then both of them agree to just let us camp here and clear off. They didn’t even ask for an ID.

Half an hour later another car approaches – kids who want to do their kid’s things? Our vehicle appears not only weird, but dangerous as well. At least the car disappears faster than if came. Then all is quiet.