Saturday, October 28, 2017

Autumn in Colorado and Utah - Moab UT

Sunset Moab UT
We left Mesa Verde around 4:00 having decided to spend as much of the day there as possible.  We headed north through Cortez CO and eventually into Utah on US 191.  I had found a BandB on Travelocity which had a very good nightly rate and was newly built.  We pulled in as the sun was setting and very pleasantly surprised with the accommodations and the hospitality of our hosts.  It was pretty nice getting whatever you wanted for breakfast cooked to your specification and whenever you needed to eat.  Some guests had to eat as early as 4:30!  We highly recommend Arches Drive B and B.  "Owners Jeramey and Mary McElhaney are long time Moabites. Jeramey is the second generation of his family to be born and raised in Moab, and has extensive knowledge of the rich history of the area. Mary was raised just up the road in Price, Utah and has made Moab her home since their marriage in 1997."  (Quotation from web site.)

Getti, our guide, with Marilyn looking over Canyonlands...well a part of it anyway.
We got up early the next morning in order to eat and get downtown to Adrift Adventures where I had booked a half day jeep tour of Canyonlands National Park.  Mary McElhaney had been very helpful with suggestions and that was how I had found Adrift.  We arrived at 7:00 and met our guide, Getti, and a young couple from Rome, Italy that is not New York.  The five of us fit snugly but comfortably in an enclosed Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.  Since we stopped seven or eight times, the passengers rotated seats so everyone got equal chances at the best views.

Site in foreground with Colorado Rive
on the left.  The road we took is on
the right at the base of mesa along
the river.
We entered the open country on UT 279.  Our first view was of the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project.  Although Getti called it a super fund project, technically it is a project of the Department of Energy.  The site is "located approximately 3 miles northwest of Moab in Grand County, Utah, and includes the former Atlas Minerals Corporation (Atlas) uranium-ore processing facility. The site is situated on the west bank of the Colorado River at the confluence with Moab Wash. The site encompasses 480 acres, of which approximately 130 acres is covered by a uranium mill tailings pile."  (Quotation from web site.)  Every Monday and Wednesday, a 36 car train transports 5,000 tons of tailings to a permanent and secure storage site 32 miles away in Crescent Junction UT.  These twice a week shipments will continue through 2036 and then an unknown amount of ground beneath the tailings may also have to be relocated.  All this is the remnants of the extraction of uranium in the fifties and sixties.  This was the major source of radioactive metals for the U. S. government.  The site is highly secured and we were not able to stop and take a closer look.  The photo is from the project website.

Our first stop was to look at rock art on the rock wall as the highway skirted between the river and the wall.  These were created by those same Ancestral Puebloans we learned about at Mesa Verde.  The exact meaning of the art is not clear.  Actually the best understanding comes from the current descents of these peoples who are still living in their native cultures in the area.  Often the meaning is not meant to be shared with those who are not part of that culture...that means us!
Google satellite view with Colorado River to the
right and the road we were on going around the top
and then down on the left. 

We continued on through the Potash Company's extensive mining operation that generates potash or potassium chloride which we encounter as potassium in wide variety of fertilizers.  Some years ago the company converted from shaft mining to solution extraction both for safety and accessibility issues.  "Unlike conventional mining, which involves moving large amounts of dirt to access a mineral resource, solution mining requires boring injection and recovery wells into the ground. From there, a heated brine solution is injected into the deposit to dissolve potash salts. The dissolved salts are then pumped out of the cavern to the surface where the water is evaporated, either artificially or in solar evaporation ponds; salt and potash are left behind."  (Quotation from web site.)  Blue dye is added to the solution to speed up evaporation.

Here we are at Thelma and Louise Point
We continued on through this open country.  We had not yet entered the National Park.  We stopped at what has become known as Thelma and Louise Point where the final scene of the movie was shot.  In fact, quite a few movies have been filmed in the Moab area starting with John Ford's Stagecoach in 1939.  That starred and introduced John Wayne and began a Ford-Wayne collaboration that defined the western movie genre.  Here is a list.  I was surprised at how many there were.

At this point, we still had not entered the park.  There were many more overlooks and other interesting features where we stopped and learned more from Getti.  Once we did enter the park, we were treated to some marvelous views that could only be captured with a panorama image like this one.
From the intersection of Shafer and White Rim Roads looking toward Dead Horse Point
Marilyn at Musselman's Arch
We turned onto White Rim Road and drove up to Musselman Arch, which sounds innocent enough until you learn why it is named that.  It is named for a local guide who would drive his VW bus--apparently filled with tourists--over the "bridge."  When you see it and then find out that it is six feel wide, 187 feet long and 300 feet down, you begin to question the sanity of the people of this area.  While I am sure that some people still walk or even bicycle across, the park rules prohibit anyone from being on the bridge.  Just to put it in context, a 1962 VW bus had a wheel base width of 67.7 inches leaving a margin of 2.1 inches on each side when crossing the "bridge!"

We returned back toward Sky Island Mesa and began our 2,000 foot climb up a twisting turning road up it face to arrive at the Visitor's Center of that part of the park.  This video gives an idea of what it was like.

A view to forever

Once we arrived at the top, we were treated to a view that was hard to describe.  Well, here is a photo...which is supposedly worth a 1000 words.

After a rest stop, we headed back to Moab, grabbed some lunch and headed off by ourselves to tour Arches National Park, a short five minute drive from Moab.

Arches National Park is an entirely different experience.  Getti had characterized Arches as a personal, even intimate experience compared to Canyonlands.  As soon as we entered, I could see what he meant.  At each viewpoint along the road, short walk or hike brought us into direct contact with these giant sculpted red rocks.

That's Colorado in the background.  Imagine them snow covered!

It is hard to believe that 65 million years ago all this was a dry seabed with these sandstone structures buried thousands of feet below the surface.  "First, geologic forces wrinkled and folded the buried sandstone, as if it were a giant rug and someone gathered two edges towards each other, making lumps across the middle called Anticlines. As the sandstone warped, fractures tore through it, establishing the patterns for rock sculptures of the future.

Next, the entire region began to rise, climbing from sea level to thousands of feet in elevation. What goes up must come down, and the forces of erosion carved layer after layer of rock away. Once exposed, deeply buried sandstone layers rebounded and expanded, like a sponge expands after it's squeezed (though not quite so quickly). This created even more fractures, each one a pathway for water to seep into the rock and further break it down."  (Quotation from Arches NPS web site.)  Today what we see is in a constant process of destruction mostly due to the forces of water.  Eventually all these structures will be flattened to await the next series of geologic cataclysms.  

We spent the afternoon among these dramatic structures.  Around 4:00 the sun peaked below the clouds providing the kind of light that shows the formations at their best. 

We ended our time in Moab with dinneer at the Sunset Grill which is high above Moan in the house built by Charlie Steen, the "Uranium King" who put Moab on the map in the 1950's and who was probably also responsible for that massive cleanup mentioned at the beginning of this post.  However, that was then and this is now so Charlie is somehow fondly remembered.

We left the next morning for Vail where we met Brendan and Maria White, friends of Marilyn and now friends of mine as well.  Brendan has been in Colorado and the Vail area for many years and participated fully in the life of this beautiful mountain area.  We worked for many years as a designer and jeweler for a major jewelry store in Vail Village and now works on his own.  They showed us around Vail and Beaver Creek.

While we were there I did get a chance to review the current political situation with President Lincoln who provided me with much needed perspective and, I must say, hope.  

After driving over Vail Pass during the end of a snow storm, we made our flight home through Chicago and ended our ten vacation in Colorado and Utah.  I was able to get one last image, this one of downtown Chicago on our final approach to O'Hare.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Autumn in Colorado and Utah - Silverton and Mesa Verde

Sunet from Terry and Johnny's
The next two days with Terry and Johnny saw us off to adventures by ourselves while we returned to their peaceful and beautiful casa in the Pagosa Lakes area.  Johnny is an excellent cook and we never wanted to miss dinner and the pleasant conversation.

Our first adventure was aboard the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  I remember this well from my time in Colorado.  We took a memorable trip on the train with the three oldest and Liam who unfortunately stuck his head out the window and lost his railroad engineer cap which we had purchased at the Durango station.

 On that trip, we took the train to Silverton and then drove home.  This time we took a bus on US 550 over  two  and then the train down to Durango, a three and a half hour trip.  On the trip up as our motor coach was cresting Molas Pass at 10,900 feet, a car pulled out of the crest viewpoint area and right into the side of our coach.  The driver pulled over about 100 yards down from the site of the crash and the sedan pulled in behind us.  When the driver, walked back to the car, the driver was out and yelling, "How could you not stop?  Didn't you see my turn signal?"  It is interesting what nonsense we are capable of when we are embarrassed by our own mistakes.  I offer these two photographs as irrefutable evidence of the cause of the crash, confirmed by the Deputy Sheriff in Silverton.

Upside of the incident was a 15 minute break so we could get off the bus and view the high country and get a few photos.

View of the San Juan Mountains from Molas Pass
We got back on the bus and about 30 minutes later, we descended into the valley and saw Silverton for the first time.  Located at 9,300 feet, Silverton gets 150 inches of snow a year with January through March lows below zero.  Founded as a mining town, it now exists as a tourist destination.  In fact, without the narrow gauge, it probably would have become a ghost town as did the other mining towns in the region.

Lunch time at the Grand Imperial Hotel
We found our usual activities:  I wandered around town taking what I hoped would be interesting photos and Marilyn cruised through several shops.  Some of the restaurants and shops were already closed for the season but we were able to grab lunch in the Grand Imperial Hotel.  We had a delicious lunch and glasses of crisp wines after our walk around town.

After lunch, I did some more walking and Marilyn--you guessed it--did some shopping while we waited for the train.  You might notice something a bit different in the video below as the train leaves the station.  If you want to see another version, click here.

Once we got underway, we experienced views for the next two hours that we could not have seen any other way.  The last hour and half we were out of the mountains and often running along US 550.

By the time we got back to Durango, the sun was setting and we drove the hour plus back to Pasoga Springs in the dark.

The next day we said goodbye to Terry and Johnny and drove west a couple of hours to Mesa Verde on our way to Moab Utah where we spent the next two nights.  Mesa Verde National Park is a place I had also visited before, actually on a trip with my three oldest children when we lived in San Diego.  "Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States."  (From MVNP website.)  The park has an excellent six minute video overview of the park.  Click here to view.
Cliff Palace (Note men in yellow jackets working on the left just at
the beginning of the ruins for scale.)
We were not able to enter any of the cliff dwellings wither because they were closed due to heavy use or required tickets which were not available.  Nonetheless, the views from across canyons provided a spectacular visual of the complexity and size of these.  Most of the photos almost look like models.  In some, however, you can spot park employees in yellow safety jackets to give a sense of scale.

"About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. 

"Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture. Archeologists have called these people Anasazi, from a Navajo word sometimes translated as “the ancient ones” or “ancient enemies.” We now call them Ancestral Puebloans, reflecting their modern descendants. " (Quote from document on these Ancestral Puebloans.)  Click here to download entire document.  During that time period, it is estimated that 30,000 people lived in the area which is more than currently live there.
There were also a number of surface sites that were much more accessible.  In fact, we were able walk in and around some of these ruins.

Autumn in Colorado and Utah - Pagosa Springs

Sunset with high winds blowing the snow that fell that morning and early afternoon.
We have returned from the West but I took so many photos and were so busy every day that I just didn't get any blogs written.  So, here is the next one about our driving trip to Pagosa Springs to visit  my brother Terry and sister-in-law Johnny.  But before we left Estes Park, I spent a chilly evening and early morning getting some images of the Continental Divide.  The views were just outside our lodge and were spectacular.  I used 1 stop exposure brackets to capture three images each and then combined them with some High Dynamic Range software, another reason why I needed to get home to my main computer.
Aspen on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass
Click here to view more photos of the aspen.

After that treat, we continued on to a real treat:  spending time with Terry and Johnny and their little dog child, Quito.  One of the nicest things about visiting my children and my brothers is that we all seem to get up early and thus have wonderful conversations over coffee before the household becomes active.  That was the case with Terry and it was especially nice since this was the first time I had visited him in Colorado.  I apparently also bonded with Quito which is apparently quite unusual.

Creede, Co
After Johnny and Marilyn got up and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, we headed out to explore and enjoy this area of Colorado.  We started by going back over Wolf Creek Pass and headed to Creede, Colorado.  Creede is an old mining town high in the San Juan Mountains below San Luis Peak near the head waters of the Rio Grande.  Crowded into a narrow gap where the West Willow Creek exits the mountains, it never became a ghost town since mining operations continued into the 1980's and periodically recommences in response to changing mineral prices.  Originally founded because of a silver strike, it has produced gold, lead, zinc, and copper.  The current population is somewhat less than 300.  However in one two year period from 1889 to 1891, the population increased from 600 to more than 10,000.

After a brief stop in town, we were treated to one of the avid past times in southwest Colorado, jeeping on old mining roads although in this case we were a Toyota.  Now we were able to see some of the old mines and rise above the almost 9,000 feet of Creede up to the base of San Luis Peak.

Terry and Johnny outside Tommyknocker Tavern.
When we returned to Creede, we enjoyed lunch at the Tommyknocker Tavern.  What exactly is a "tommyknocker" you may ask?  Leaving Stephen King's story aside, you can learn more about these little guys on a website named Legends of America.   It is a fascinating story of the legends brought to the United States by the Cornish miners who were brought here to do the dangerous work of underground mining.  Check it out on the link above.

After lunch we headed back west and at the summit of Wolf Creek Pass, we took a road to Lobo Overlook which sits astride the Continental Divide at 11,200 and provides an expansive view of the spine of our continent.  Since it had snowed the week before, we were able to enjoy a bit of those snow capped peaks.  It was also bright, sunny and windy as you can see in the photo of Marilyn, Terry, and Johnny.  Also those smiles indicate that we were having a great time enjoying the scenery and the time with these two people who love their home area.

Speaking of their home--which is beautiful and very comfortable--we returned to Pagosa Springs to see the hot springs--I didn't know there were hot springs but believe me these are big deals.  Terry and Johnny have annual memberships and go down once a week for early morning soaks followed by breakfast in a nearby cafe.  Apparently these are very relaxing.  The different pools are managed to different temperatures ranging from 83-114 F.  The hearty can also dip into the San Juan River and experience 40 F.  The calming influence may be due to the fact that the water contains 2.9 (mg/L) of lithium!

You can view more photos of our Pagosa Springs adventures by clicking here to go to the Google Photos album.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Autumn in Colorado and Utah - BeadforLife Conference

Marilyn with the Continental Divide in the background
We spent three days at the YMCA Conference Center just outside Rocky Mountain National Park attending the biennial conference for BeadforLife Community Partners.

The mission of BeadforLife is " creating sustainable opportunities for women to lift their families out of poverty by connecting people worldwide in a circle of exchange that enriches everyone."

What began as a mechanism to support and sustain women in Uganda in the paper bead business has transformed over its 14 year life as a powerful training organization for partner non-government organizations (NGO) weeking to impact the lives of women and children who live in extreme poverty--less than $1 per day.  BFL has developed a training methodology and approach that has had measurable results on the lives of more than 46,000 women and children in Uganda.   Refining their experience, BFL has created a training, support and mentoring program which can deliver astonishing results.  This program is known as The Street Business School.  

Over its 14 years, BFL has tailored its approach to fit the cultural and economic circumstances of Uganda.  Rather than aim to duplicate that success in other East Afican countries, BFL is now working with other NGO's as partners.  Training the trainers is provided to these partners who can then take the proven techniques and adapt them to the local circumstances within which they work.  So far NGO's in Kenya, Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, and others have become Global Catalyst Partners and are implementing The Street Business School in their localities.

While these NGO's invest money to attend the training sessions, the overall work of BFL continues to be sustained by the continuing bead business--where it all began.  The difference is that now it is possible to envision a future of impacting the lives of 1,000,000 men and women by 2027 throughout Africa and Asia.  Early results indicate that the The Street Business School partnerships can achieve this goal--something not possible directly through bead sales.

Working on one of the training exercises
This all works because BFL continues to be faithful to its underlying values of empowerment, relationship building, and listening.  We spent a day and a half going through two segments of the full eight day Street Business School Coaches training so we could get a better understanding of how the SBS works and, more important, why it is proving to be so successful.  Built on the ten years of BFL experience in Uganda, this training allows other NGO's to achieve similar results with their target groups without going through the ten years of trial and error that BFL did.  As somone who has trained trainers, I can testify that this training is comprehensive, well designed, and built on sound adult pedagogy.  Very impressive.

Chris and Korri
We also got to spend time with the staff of BFL who are
directly involved in the SBS training:  Chris, Korri, and Rachael.  Rachael is a member of the BFL staff in Kampala, Uganda.

Click here to view more photos of the BFL conference.

Bull overseeing his harem
Of course, it wasn't all work.  Marilyn and I drove into Estes Park early one evening to watch the elk gathering on the golf course adjacent to downtown.  We were not disappointed.  As I had experienced in Rocky Mountain National Park about 39 years ago, the young bulls would meander into one of the harems of an older and much bigger bull only be driven off when the older bull decided to pay attention to the girls.  This is preceded by those whistle like buglings.

We also had a nice view of the Stanley Hotel from a top the visitors center parking structure.  This permitted me to get some shots without all the ground clutter and wires.  On our way out Sunday, we will be driving by for a closer look but this distance shot will probably be better than any closeup since it shows its setting against mountains.  This was the inspiration for King's "The Shining" but not the setting of the movie.

The view just outside our lodge.

The next morning I was up early to catch the sunrise and its wonderful light on the continental divide which stretched before us as we walked from the lodge where we were staying.  The next day I captured what I think will be some real keepers on the sunset on that same scene.  But in order to maximize that chance, I took multiple exposures in RAW format and will have to wait until I get home to process them.  In the meantime, you can see more images of the landscape here by clicking here for the photo album.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Autumn in Colorado and Utah - Denver

We began our 11 day trip with a couple of days in Denver before we go up to Estes Park for the biennial BeadforLife conference.  More about that in the next blog.  While this is our third trip to Colorado, we never have spent any significant time in Denver other than the airport.  This time we wanted to explore The Mile High City a bit more making sure to steer clear of Sports Authority Field!

A three hour mechanical delay leaving Chicago meant we wouldn't be doing much sightseeing the first.  We navigated our way through rush hour traffic to reach our hotel in Lakewood just west of Denver.  However we were able to experience Casa Bonita that evening.  Experience is exactly the right word.  The web site describes this unique restaurant this way:  "We are a Mexican restaurant and family entertainment destination located in Denver, Colorado. One of the nation's top ten roadside attractions, Casa Bonita has been delighting audiences for over 40 years."

The food was delicious.  While not "all you can eat," it is actually more than a normal person can eat plus the basket of warm sopapillas.  The preferred way to eat is to bite off a corner and then squeeze in honey from the bottle on every table.  Oh my!  I finished off my meal with a scoop of fried ice cream!  Oh my!  Oh my!  I didn't even bother to look up Weight Watcher points.  This was Marilyn's first trip to Casa Bonita but I had been there more than once when I lived in the Denver area in the seventies.  It was a great place to take the at the time six kids.  The food was reasonably priced but it was the entire experience that kept bringing us back especially on one memorable Halloween.  It is one memory of Denver that the kids always talk about.

What to say about the "experience?"  How about cliff divers (see video), gun fights, gorilla show, fountains, haunted house, Black Bart's hideout cave, an old mine in which you can eat...and all this inside and happening around you while you eat and eat....and eat?

You can see why Halloween was an all year affair!  By the way, if you bought two fried ice creams, you get the third free.  Just sayin'.

Click here to view photos and videos of our evening in this unique venue.

We spent the next day in the Denver area.  We had a lot of options:  downtown Denver with all its attractions, Front Range towns like Evergreen and Golden, and even mining towns like Idaho Springs and Central City.  We couldn't do it all although we wanted to so we headed to the Denver Botanical Gardens as our first stop.  It turned out to be so interesting and so BIG that we spent the entire day there before we head north to Estes Park.

Four Towers Pool with Science Pyramid.
Fall crocus in bloom
Spent clematis
The Denver Botanical Gardens at York Street is the central garden comprising 24 acres in the heart of a Denver residential and park area.  One is tempted to think that a fall garden doesn't offer much since the vibrant blooms of summer are gone.  While that is true, they offer a unique charm of plants that do bloom in the fall and more interesting perhaps are the spent blooms of summer that a unique charm.  I took many photos of the latter but I think my favorite are the spent structures of a clematis vine highlighted by the sunlight.

This welcomed us as we entered.
In addition to what seemed like a hundred different gardens, there were several pools and water features and sculptures throughout.  The most dramtic sculptures were the La Calavera Catrina by Ricardo Soltero.  "La Calavera Catrina ('Dapper Skeleton', 'Elegant Skull') is a 1910–1913 zinc etching by famous Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada.  The image depicts a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time. Her chapeau en attende is related to European styles of the early 20th century. She is offered as a satirical portrait of those Mexican natives who, Posada felt, were aspiring to adopt European aristocratic traditions in the pre-revolution era. She, in particular, has become an icon of the Mexican Día de los muertos, or Day of the Dead." (Wikipedia)  There are several of these throughout.  You will see many of them in the photos I took.

"So proud of all my children"
There is also a collection of 60 sculptures from Zimbabwe artists entitled Chapungu.  These depict traditional themes in stone sculptures mostly in a modern style.

Click here to see more of the photos I took in the Denver Botanical Gardens.

After a stop in Golden for a Starbucks beverage, we head to the YMCA of the Rocky Mountains in Estes Park for our next three days/.