Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings

It’s hard to know exactly what’s what at this place. The cliff dwelling isn’t an original, but the story goes that much of the material was scrounged from actual cliff dwelling ruins elsewhere in the state. The bricks were brought here and assembled to look like a representational cliff dwelling. It’s all held together by cement.

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I was surprised to discover that some of the structure was built in 1898 and that it’s been a tourist spot since 1907. Until 1984, Indians lived in it, or at least pretended to.

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The holes are doorways into rooms that are maybe five feet by five feet. Each room housed a family (or would have if it had been real). The round tower is thought to be for grain storage “because it looks like a silo.”

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Here’s a view into someone’s home.

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One thing I learned. The dwellings were built under overhanging cliffs, but they weren’t attached to the rock. I always figured the back wall was the hill, but there is a space between the back walls and the rock where stuff was stored or tossed and where bodies were kept until they mummified, which in the dry air didn’t take long.

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This is a cliff-top hut used as a lookout post.

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There was also a pueblo built to resemble the structures the Indians built after they gave up cliff dwelling. The pueblo was built in 1898, I believe.

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The inside was 20% museum and 80% gift shop. I wasn’t even sure if the artifacts in the museum were authentic.

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There were also displays on the history of the site as a tourist attraction.

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It rained off an on while we were there, and the view of the mountains across Ute Pass was a lot more beautiful than this photo makes it look.

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I went because I’m doing posts on the attractions in the area. But we didn’t have high expectations, it was actually fairly enjoyable. Having said that, I don’t need to go back again.

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The Airplane Restaurant

The Boeing KC-97 first flew in 1944. It was mostly used as an in-flight refueling tanker. The one at the restaurant operated from 1953 to 1976 with the Texas Air National Guard.

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We were given a choice of eating in the airplane or in the “hanger.” We chose the airplane. As we walked through the building, we could see one wing of the craft with one of the engines protruding into the building.

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We sat at a booth inside the fuselage. It filled up soon after we arrived. Most of the other diners were accompanied by small children.

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The servers wore pilots uniforms and talked as though they were giving us in-flight service. While we waited for our food, I walked up to the cockpit. We were allowed to pretend we were flying the plane, but a long line of kids beat me to it. You can’t see him in this photo, but there was a young lad in the left-hand seat that didn’t plan to leave in this lifetime.

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We could look through plexiglass into the tail of the plane. There was a mannequin back there portraying the crew member who operated the boom. This person extended the boom and guided the pilot of the locking airplanes so they could connect and refuel.

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We didn’t go there expected gourmet food, but my cheeseburger and fries were just fine.

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It was raining when we left, but we walked around and got a shot of the outside.

The experience was enjoyable enough that we might return if we’re in the area around lunchtime, although next visit we’ll probably sit in the hanger with the adults.

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Air Show (?)

The news went around that the French Air Force would put on a brief air show to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United State’s entry into World War I. The show would take place over the Air Force Academy, which is just west of CBS.

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My drive to work at 7:30 in the morning was complicated by the long line of cars waiting to get onto the Academy grounds. The drivers were hoping to get good places from which to watch the performance. At 11:25, most of the people from work filed onto the patio. We waited. And waited. 

Finally, we saw them coming. We watched expectantly as they did this:

 

And then we waited some more. Were they going to turn around to the north and make another pass? Were they circling behind the mountains? We they about to come over the roof our our building?

None of the above. After about 10 minutes, we went back inside. Here’s a couple screen captures from the video.

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It was a very windy day. Someone surmised that it may have been too gusty near the mountains for formation flying. I don’t know. Maybe. The did say it was going to be a brief show. I’m glad I didn’t take the day off work to go wait at the Academy for four hours. 

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Idaho Springs

We braved the terror that is I-70 and headed east. For much of the way, the lane markings had been worn off by snow plowing. That, coupled with some insane drivers (like the guy who slowed down to 20 mph in the center lane to merge into the fast lane), frequent sharp turns, distracting views, and tunnels made for an adventure.

We pulled off in Idaho Springs and parked downtown. A trial led under the interstate to Clear Creek and Bridal Veil Falls. 

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The giant wheel was used in gold mining by a local eccentric named Charlie Tayler, who “never kissed women or took baths.” There may be a connection between the two.

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We walked through this town too, but by now all the stores were beginning to look familiar.

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An old narrow-gauge trail sat in a park along the highway.

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I took a photo down the length of the passenger car towards Karen who was taking a photo from the other end.

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We ate dinner at Smokin’ Yards (which my GPS pronounced “Smock … In Yards). I ordered a combo plate with St. Louis ribs and brisket. I do believe it was the best barbecue I’ve ever had.

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Nate and Karen headed back west to Silverthorne for the night, then drove all the way home to Elgin on Saturday. Sally and I headed east toward Denver and then back to the Chase’s.

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Frisco

We drove north from Breckenridge to Frisco, mostly to see the Dillon Reservoir and get our water fix after being in the desert for the past four months. But the water was very low, and much of it was still frozen.

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We walked to Peppino’s, a pizza place owned and operated by Nate’s uncle and aunt.

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Frisco has created a museum by collecting old buildings from town and placing them in a park at the end of main street. It was very well done, and free! All the buildings were open, and we took our time and saw what there was to see.

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The schoolhouse (on the left, above) had a display of what Frisco looked like when everything was tiny.

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I thought it was interesting how they took a log cabin and fancied up the front.

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This building had a display on local bars and bordellos, but I’m not sure it worked quite like this.

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The inside of the old jail had a cell (back where Sally is standing) and a display on mining.

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Our favorite building was a cabin built locally in the 1930’s as a summer cottage. Much of the stuff inside was original. It looked like a very cozy space to spend a week by a mountain stream.

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One of the cabins had a dress-up area in the attic. 

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The day was beautiful, although actually hot. We wandered the streets and stopped in a few stores.

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Breckenridge

As we came down off of Hoosier Pass, we could see the ski slopes above Breckenridge.

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We drove through town and parked across the street from the Kava Cafe, where Nate and Karen were waiting for us.

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The place is known for its mini-donuts, so we ordered a dozen. They were mini, indeed, and just tasted fried.

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We wandered up the street, poking our heads into the occasional store. We found a small museum in a tourist information building and stopped in.

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Nate and I wandered outside after a while and spotted a Dipper flying along the Blue River.

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A lot of the buildings are from the late 1800’s, and there are historical plaques scattered about.

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We’ve already noticed that the history of most Colorado mountain towns is the same—Indians then miners then depression and almost ghost town then skiing and tourism.

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There wasn’t a whole lot to do in town if you weren’t skiing or shopping, so we didn’t stay long.

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Alma

On Good Friday, we headed into the mountains to explore. Nate and Karen had been in California for a month and were on their way home (after being stranded by car trouble in Tuba City, Arizona for four days). We arranged to meet them in Breckenridge.

Sally and I drove through Ute Pass into South Park, where we saw thousands of Pronghorn, all on the left side of the road. 

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I think the mountain on the right is Lincoln Peak, one of the 14ers.

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Alma is the highest incorporated town in North America, at 10,578 feet, which puts it at two miles above sea level.

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It’s a funky little town that’s very proud of being “high.” We stopped at the Al-Mart, a general store that sold food and clothing and all sorts of things. The guy running the register told me, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” We soon discovered they didn’t have toilet paper in the restroom, so I’m not sure I agree with him. 

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North of Alma, we drove over Hoosier Pass on the Continental Divide. The road never got above treeline, bit it came pretty close.

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I think this might be Quandry Peak, another 14er.

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Buckhorn Exchange

We ate lunch in downtown Denver, at the Buckhorn Exchange, the oldest restaurant in the city. It was opened in 1893 by Henry “Shorty Scout” Zietz, one of Buffalo Bill’s band of scouts. 

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The walls are covered with mounted animals heads and birds and photos of celebrities who have eaten there. These include five presidents, Princess Anne, two astronauts, actors, and Buffalo Bill himself. And now us.

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The upstairs features a bar built in 1857 and a lounge.

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Our table was an old poker table brought over from Germany over 160 years ago. We both ordered steaks and baked potatoes.

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They were delicious, as was the Dutch apple pie with ice cream and cinnamon rum sauce that we split (although a little less sauce would have been OK).

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To sum up, it was an awesome place with awesome food. If we find ourselves in Denver around lunch again, we’ll be back.

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United States Mint — Denver, Colorado

I took a Wednesday off for my birthday, and Sally and I drove to Denver to tour the U.S. Mint. The tickets are first-come-first-serve. We arrived at 9:30 and got tickets for the 11:00 tour. But since it took a half hour to get everyone through the metal detectors, we only had an hour to wait. We hung out in the gift shop without buying anything, then walked around to look at the front of the building.

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And we wondered what to do about our car. I’d parked in a lot a block away. I knew the tour was only 45 minutes long, so I paid for two hours of parking. But when we discovered which tour we’d be on, we realized we’d get back to the car 20 minutes late. We decided to risk it. (Our car was there when we returned, with no tickets or anything, so I guess we got a free 20 minutes.)

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We were the fourth and fifth people through the metal detectors. We entered a room with several random displays where we were asked to wait until our tour began. There were displays on jewelry made from money, on different types of purses, on piggy banks. There was a little on the history of money, but it was all rather odd.

We weren’t allowed to take photos, which is a bit weird since you can go online and see photos of much more than we were shown.

A guy with a polished routine led our tour. He led us into a room with displays and artifacts from the mint. He explained the process and showed us some die and coils of metal and leftover bits. One wall was glass and looked out over one of the production rooms. There were several blue machines that, we were told, were used to mint coins. None of them was operating, and there were no people around. Right up next to the window there was a conveyor belt of trays that contained pennies, but I’m pretty sure they just run that for the tour groups so everyone can say they saw pennies being made. 

They guide explained that the mint loses money making pennies and nickels but makes money on other coins and commemoratives— enough so that they make a profit of $35 million, or something like that.

We were then ushered into another room that was basically a commercial for the mint. The displays—and the talk—was about all the things that were available in the print shop. This room had two glass walls that gave us a view down into another room of blue machines that weren’t operating. We saw two employees, but they were just talking to each other. It was all a little dull. 

In a corner there was a display about a mint employee from the 1920’s. He had a wooden leg, and over the course of several years, he sneaked out a couple hundred gold bars in his … coat pocket. 

The tour ended in the original mint building. The architecture was impressive and ornate. We saw an armored sentry box where a guard used to sit with guns and tear gas. But there’s never been an attempted robbery there, or at any of the other mints. 

And that was it. Interesting, but not thrilling. I’m glad it was free.

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Bird #477 — Mountain Plover

charadrius (a plover and the watery places inhabited by them) montanus (of mountains)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Squirrel Creek Road — El Paso County, Colorado

Not a lot of people have seen a Mountain Plover because they live where very few people go—the dry short-grass prairie east of the Rocky Mountains.

I made it my target bird this month. Last weekend I drove 55 miles east to the tiny town of Matheson, then 10 miles south on a dirt road to a particular field where Mountain Plovers had been seen this spring. I saw none.

This week I tried another location 16 miles east of Fountain where the birds had been seen as recently as Friday. I spotted a couple herds of Pronghorn along the way.

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I found myself in ranch land. To the north was a dry pasture with a herd of perhaps 30 beef cattle. To the south was a scrubby field that stretched to the horizon. A ranch was about a mile east, but beyond that nothing. To the west, across 20 miles of plains, I could see the mountains, including Pikes Peak and, way to the southwest, the Spanish Peaks. 

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The grass was so short that I was pretty sure I could spot anything the size of a plover. Horned Larks, which are about two inches shorter and half as tall, were all over the place, and I was seeing them frequently. 

I crawled along in the car, scanning both sides of the road. I was on my third trip along the stretch where the birds had been seen, and I was beginning to prepare myself for another disappointment. And then there it was. I spotted a Mountain Plover standing on a cow pie in the pasture to the north. It hopped off and moved around the area, stopping and starting as plover do. It picked at the ground, stared into the distance (or so it seemed), ran a couple feet, and so on. It was about 40 yards away.

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Then I spotted a second one much closer. It was about 25 yards away, behaving much the same way. 

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I watched the two of them for about 15 minutes. They were gradually moving further away, and when they got too far off for photos, I headed home. I took a time-lapse video of my drive back to civilization. That’s Pikes Peak on the right horizon.

 

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