Fall in the Rockies

We headed out fairly early on Saturday morning—to beat the crowds and the rain that was forecasted for the afternoon.  We drove south along the Front Range to Florence, then headed back north along Phantom Canyon Road. There were huge, beautiful banks of fog in the lowlands, and we dipped into and rose out of them repeatedly along the way.

The recent rains had eaten away the banks of the creek, and in places the road was very narrow. We saw maybe 15 cars parked here and there in the canyon, and passed maybe that many more. but for the most part, we had the view to ourselves. The Cottonwoods were turning, and there was color in the bushes on the hillsides.

But the real color didn’t begin until we got up where the Aspen grow.

When we got up to 8,500 feet, we could see the peaks of the Sawatch Range far to the south.

We stopped in Victor for a bit, then headed toward Divide. Two things were immediately apparent: the clouds and crowds had moved in. At 10,000 feet, in Goldfield, we had a stunning view of Pikes Peak, already with snow.

Every wide place along the road on the way home was filled with cars and people taking photos of the colors. Traffic was stop and go through Woodland Park. We had breakfast for lunch at the Hungry Bear, stopped for some shopping in the Springs and were still home by 3:30.

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Downtown Aquarium — Denver

We were in Denver, the weather was lousy and forecasted to get worse. We spent the afternoon at the aquarium.

We were hungry when we arrived, so we went to the restaurant first. We had to wait 45 minutes for a table, I guess because they were short of staff. They certainly weren’t short on empty tables. This was the view from ours.

We waited a long time for our server to show up, and then a long time before our food arrived. This gave us plenty of time to watch the fish in the large tank nearby. Sally ordered fried chicken. I had a noodle dish with shrimp and chicken. Both of us thought the chicken was tasteless, but the rest of the food was good—except for the pile of vegetables on top of mine that just didn’t go with anything else.

Halfway through our meal, a mermaid showed up in the next tank down. Her show lasted maybe five minutes. She would rest at the surface for a minute or so, then dive down, circle, and swim back up. I haven’t tried swimming with my legs stuck together in a rubber tail, so I can’t really complain. Although if I tried, it would give the diners something to remember.

The meal was expensive. Unless you have a strong desire to watch mermaids while you eat, I wouldn’t recommend going. If you do, avoid the chicken.

The aquarium was crowded. All the exhibits were along a single aisle that wound around the building and got pretty narrow in places. We had to make a serious commitment to block other people if we wanted to see any one thing for more than a minute or so. We took our time as best we could and saw everything—patiently waiting and enduring loud OPKs.

We had a very good time. We saw several interesting and beautiful creatures. We were allowed to touch swimming rays. They’re slimy. The Sumatran Tiger looked smaller than the Bengal Tigers I usually see in zoos, and it had longer facial hair. When we finished, we walked outside to the 4D Theater. It was raining, and we had to stand under an awning in the cold, damp wind until the previous showing was over. We’d paid to see a movie on the gannets, sharks, dolphins, and whales that feed off the sardine schools in the Indian Ocean off South Africa. When the doors opened and we headed inside, we found out that the show we wanted alternated with one about Legos. We didn’t want to stand outside for another 15 minutes, so we asked the attendant if we could see both. Since there were so few people there for the Lego show, she said we could. She gave us pink glasses as we entered.

The Lego movie was stupid. In addition, to even begin to understand it, you had to have seen the Lego movie. We hadn’t. The 4D effect consisted of five things — seats that shook, blasts of air on our necks, bubbles that floated up from the front of the theater, a sharp jab in the back, and sprits of water (that I didn’t feel, but Sally said she did.) These rotated throughout the show with little or no connection to anything that was happening on screen. The blasts of air were frequent and particularly annoying. 

The predator movie was more interesting, but the effects seemed to rotate through in the same order and frequency, again with little connection to anything on screen. The blasts of air on my  neck while a dolphin swam through the ocean were hard to figure out. 

It was teeming rain when we left, and we were drenched by the time we got to the car. It was a long, stressful drive home on a crowded Interstate with near-blinding rain at times. 

As for the aquarium, we both enjoyed it. If we’re ever with someone who wants to see it, we’d go back, although we probably won’t visit by ourselves. But we’ll skip the 4D theater and the restaurant.

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The Stone Collection

We are the first people to live in our house that have actually owned it. The original owners bought it as a rental property, and everything in it is builders’ grade. That’s fine. It’s the reason we were able to afford it. And it gives us a chance to make upgrades that suit our style. 

Like the kitchen counters. They are currently laminate, and there are several spots where hot pots have been placed on them and left marks. We decided to replace them with granite. We contacted a guy who specializes in this. He measured the counters and told us what we needed. Our job was to go to the Stone Collection in Denver and pick out the granite slab we wanted.

There are nine grades of stone, 1 (the cheapest) -7, exotic, and super-exotic (which can be semi-precious stone). We were obviously looking at the low end.

This was a little discouraging, because there were some pretty amazing slabs of stone there, and none of them were 1’s. Or 2’s.

But all the 1’s were pretty dull. This was the best of them, and I thought it looked boring. Another one looked like it was made of smashed tater tots.

Sally went back and forth between two or three of them, holding up the drawer from one of our cabinets to see if it matched. I walked all the aisles and looked for a 2 or 3 that matched better and looked nicer.

I found this. It’s called “Suede” and it’s from India. 

At that point, a woman who worked there walked up and asked if we needed help. Sally asked her if she had a good eye. The woman claimed she did, and when Sally held our cabinet up to Suede, she immediately said it was a good match. It was a 2, but it’s also the only thing we saw that really matched our counters and appliances, so that’s good.

We showed her the 1’s we were looking at, and she shook her head. She said they were all builders grade and can be found everywhere. We reserved our slab so the builder can pick it up and cut it to fit our kitchen.

Oh, some of the ones I took photos of … People with more money that we have sometimes buy them and hang them on the wall as art. One last comment about The Stone Collection—they had really impressive bathrooms.

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Colorado-Style Pizza

We’ve been disappointed with the pizza in Colorado. They understand the basic concept—get a circular piece of dough and put stuff on it. But good pizza is much more than that. The sauce out here has no zestiness. It’s little more than tomato sauce.  A coworker who used to live near New York and understands my complaint about Colorado pizza told me a story. A guy moved out here from the east and opened a place that made good pizza. The locals complained that the sauce was too spicy. Wow.

It was with a certain degree of skepticism that we tried Beau Jo’s Pizza. There are several locations, but we visited the one in Evergreen. It came in “mountain” and “prairie,” depending on the thickness of the crust. We went with mountain, of course.

There is a lot of crust. It’s a bit greasy, but tasty. And the rest of the pizza wasn’t bad. It wasn’t up to Chicago standards, but we liked it. 

Sally asked our waiter what made it Colorado-style. He didn’t know. He thought it might be the fact that you’re supposed to dip the huge chunk of end dough in honey. He was from Minnesota, and he thought this was weird. Sally tried it. She likes honey, and she thought it was weird. So skip the honey and just enjoy it for what it is—good pizza by Colorado standards.

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Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave

I never intended to make a special trip to visit this museum dedicated to the life and career of Buffalo Bill Cody, but I knew it was there and figured I’d be in the neighborhood some day. That day turned out to be on our way home from RMNP. 

Cody requested to be buried on Lookout Mountain, above Denver. What you can look out on from the mountain, we don’t know because, when we arrived, it looked like this.

I won’t go into details about Buffalo Bill. The museum was much better than I’d expected. Most of the collection came from an associate named Johnny Baker. When Cody’s own son died, he semi-adopted Baker, teaching him how to ride and shoot. Baker later became a headliner in Buffalo Bill’s tent shoes and, when Cody died, his chief memorialist.

Items belonging to Sitting Bull who toured with Buffalo Bill for a few months. They made a determined effort to appeal to the politically correct. Yes, Cody killed buffalo, but not THAT many. The species decline was due to the market hunters. Yes, Cody killed Indians, and even scalped one of them. But he fought for Indian rights, and they admired him and were happy to appear in his shows.

I sat on a plastic horse and tried to rope a plastic calf, but after three failed attempts, I settled for my horse’s plastic ear.

We could see if Buffalo Bill ever put on a show in our town. The woman at the front desk pushed this as a very cool and exciting thing to discover.

The grave was just a short walk behind the gift shop. The fog had cleared, but from the grave, the view was hidden by trees and a cell tower.

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Berthoud Pass

We woke up to a steady rain on Saturday morning. After breakfast in the hotel in Winter Park, we headed south. We could see high mountains covered with snow in the distance. As the road climbed, the rain turned to thick fog. At times, ghosts of nearby mountains would show through for a second, then disappear. We kept climbing and soon found ourselves above the clouds. It was spectacularly beautiful, and I’d like to take credit for knowing it was there. But I didn’t. I just took the shortest route from Winter Park to I-70. Turns out we were driving through Berthoud Pass, which tops out at 11,307 feet and is a major avalanche area.

The south side was clearer and drier, but no less spectacular. Unfortunately, a slow-moving pickup pulled off the shoulder in front of me and sprayed my windshield with muck the whole way down, so my photos aren’t great.

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Winter Park

After touring Rocky Mountain National Park, we drove south past Grand, Shadow Mountain, and Granby Lakes and stopped for the night in Winter Park. After mediocre BBQ at a restaurant across from our mediocre hotel, I wandered a trail behind the town.

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Rocky Mountain National Park — Moose

As we were getting out of our car at Holzwarth Historic Site, a kind man with a British accent pulled up in his SUV and informed us that family of moose were grazing in the meadow along the Colorado River.

We spotted the cow from a long way off. This was Sally’s first look at a moose. It didn’t move as we continued along the trail. We walked a short way down a side trail and got a great view from about 30 yards away. 

There was another couple at the spot when we arrived. I asked if they had seen the bull, and they hadn’t. They didn’t even know it was in the area. We walked another 10 yards down the trail after the left. I looked toward an aspen grove to the north and saw this.

We watched enthralled for about three minutes. These photos don’t begin to capture the immensity and grandeur of this amazing beast. It was huge and it was awesome. As Sally looked through my binoculars and I took photos, it got up, stood for a few seconds, then wandered back into the trees and disappeared. We were almost giddy with the thrill of what we’d just seen.

We toured the area around the buildings, then headed back toward the parking lot. A few more people were around, and they were looking at the cow. Except we soon figured out it wasn’t the cow—she was down a ways, closer to the river. What we were seeing was the calf.

Soon the two were very close to each other near the water.

On a day filled with very cool things, this was the coolest.

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Rocky Mountain National Park — West Side

The Never Summer Mountains

Holzwarth Historic Site

The Fleshut Cabin, built by the first person to homestead in the Colorado River Valley.

The Holzwarth family operated a fishing camp/dude ranch in the area from 1918 into the 1970’s.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

The headwaters of the Colorado River run out of the Never Summer Mountains and through the Kawuneeche Valley.

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Rocky Mountain National Park — Trail Ridge Road

We drove west across the park on Trail Ridge Road, stopping at most of the pull-offs and overlooks along the way. This is the view from Rainbow Curve.

The Forest Canyon Overlook. At lower elevations, the day had been extraordinary. Up above timberline, it was tremendously windy.

The view from the Alpine Visitor Center. Perhaps 20 Elk were relaxing in the cirque below the overlook.

We browsed in the gift shop for a bit, but the prices were as ridiculous as any I think I’ve seen anywhere. I did spot a family of four Yellow-bellied Marmots right outside the window.

Another clump of cars right below timberline alerted us to another herd of Elk in the woods.

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