Sunday, October 2, 2016

South Fork, CO

The sun setting in South Fork, CO

What's the saying, if you see a fork in the road take it.  Why did we choose South Fork, CO as a destination? Easy, it was in between Glenwood Springs and Taos, New Mexico.  Our goal was to get to Taos and we could have stayed another night in Glenwood Springs but the hotels were all booked or way too expensive.  The logical thing to do was to find a post somewhere in between the two and find a place. This was the scariest part of the trip for me. I don't usually throw a dart at a map and says let's stay there but that's kinda what we did. I've never heard of anyone going to South Fork before so I had no idea what kind of town we were headed to.
Turns out South Fork is a relatively normal, small town that seems to depend mostly on tourism.  We had just missed the Shady Burro Enduro, which is an enduro race through the mountains that's either 100 miles or 75 miles depending on which you sign up for. If you don't know what an enduro is ask your dirt bike riding friends. As we were going into town we could see all of the racers leaving town. Oh well, we were just staying for the night and getting rested for New Mexico.
It was a little obvious that this was a railroad town. In front of our lodge there were several old Santa Fe cars parked.  Seeing the old cars makes me sad that design and style seem to have gone by the wayside.  Sure one doesn't need their train car to look appealing in order for it to get you from point A to point B but still, it's nice to see that someone put in some effort.
Something else right across the street from the lodge was the cutest little church. Turns out the Holy Family Catholic Mission was actually someone's home before they donated it to be turned into a church.
Our main outing in the town was to a restaurant called Ramon's Mexican Restaurant. My friend REALLY likes tacos and she was anxious to try some from the area.  Me, I don't get too worked up about Mexican food. I can get some of the best Mexican food at home. Literally. The one Mexican dish I get worried to try at restaurants are Chile Rellenos. In different regions of Mexico they use different sauces and different chiles, and I'm a little particular about which ones I like. If your relleno isn't made with a poblano pepper then I might not like it. Over the years I've learned not to be too particular about the sauce and in this case I'm lucky I'm not. When it was brought out to me the sauce was pink, no lie it was pink and garnished with an orange. Did I order a fruit cocktail or a chile relleno?  I was brave and tasted it and it was good. Still have no idea why the sauce was pink or what the orange slice was all about but I ate it and I'd eat it again if I had the chance. The margaritas and chips and salsa were really good too. Ramon's did not disappoint. The only disappointing thing about this small town was that everything closed super early.
Apparently there are some good hiking trails in the area as well. Some of the people staying at the same lodge said they were going on a four day hike. If I ever found myself in the area again I would not hesitate to stay a night or two in South Fork, CO. You can read all about South Fork on their website here if you'd like. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Independence Pass

Sorry for the slow updates on the wild west trip but this leg of the adventure needed to be told via pictures. I had about 2,000 pictures to go through. I know, that's a ridiculous amount but I had two cameras and my phone to go through. As much as I'd rather be shooting film I was ever so grateful for digital cameras for this trip. After we left Glenwood Springs, CO we headed southeast towards South Fork, CO.  Amber was feeling adventurous and decided to take Colorado State Highway 82.  When she suggested it I thought, sure whatever, a highway is a highway, right? NO! I'm glad she thought of it and glad we did it so I don't ever have to do it again. I've been on mountain roads before but this one was, we'll just say exhilarating. From nowhere to go but down to snow on the ground, it was quite the ride.
I was the passenger on this scenic highway and I was too busy looking at what was in front of me to notice that it was a long way down and no shoulder. Amber quickly pointed out by shouting, OH MY GOD DON'T LOOK DOWN. Well of course that's exactly what I did. I had no idea we had been driving up a mountain. From this picture you can see we're up higher than the trees and the utility poles.
The mountains don't seem so tall when you're practically on top of one. This highway took us through some small scenic towns and the destination of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, Aspen.  Unfortunately we didn't find Mary Swanson or Samsonite but we did see a ridiculous amount of private jets. Way to leave your carbon footprint all over Colorado you private jet owning a-holes.
Right about the time this picture was taken I thought, this isn't so bad. We're pretty high up but it could be worse, we could be all the way up there. Then I noticed some cars way up there. I pointed up and said, look at those cars up there, surely we're not going up there are we? Yes, that's exactly where we were going.
Zooming in and cropping to help illustrate just how far and high up that tiny two lane highway was. Highway 82 crosses the Continental Divide at Independence Pass. The Great Divide, or the Continental Divide, is where the continent is divided by mountains and water. It begins in Alaska, goes through Canada, back through the US, down to Mexico and eventually ends in Nicaragua. I've crossed this in Mexico on what used to be the Mexican Federal Highway 40 (Carratera Interoceánica) a two lane undivided road that used to take 8 hours from Durango to Mazatlan, now it's been updated and only takes 3 hours. If I had to say which was better or worse I can't really say since I never driven through them, I was the passenger in both instances, but I can only imagine I'd have white knuckles for weeks.

That little line towards the bottom fourth of the picture is the road where we were when I took the previous photo. Independence Pass is in between Aspen and Twin Lakes. The elevation is 12,095 feet. It's the highest elevation of paved highway in the state of Colorado. There are gates that close off this portion of the highway during the winter. That's something I was seriously concerned about.  We normally drive through snow like nothing but where I live there are shoulders along the road for you to pull over if you need to. Forget about getting a flat tire on this highway or running out of gas, or having any kind of swerve room for slick road conditions. There's nowhere to go, it's either down or drive into the the mountain.
 You can see here, this itty bitty guard rail may not have seemed like much but it clearly served its purpose. I didn't want to mention to Amber how beat up the guard rail was as I didn't want to scare her and end up testing the full strength of it. When I later said something she said she did notice but didn't want to say anything either.
Again, the mountains don't seem so tall when you're on top of them. The clouds didn't seem so far away either.
I was excited to see snow. Not sure why, but yay! When we saw the snow we realised how far up we actually were. It also made sense that we were actually kinda cold while up there. It was close to a 15 degree temperature difference from when we started.
Once we went through the snow and said goodbye to Independence Pass we thought the insanity was over. Not even close! You can see the road in the lower right corner.  Up and down and around the mountain we kept going.
At the point when I took this picture I said, surely this is the end, that road down there is where we'll end up and we'll be "on the ground" again.
As we went around the corner and looked up, that line going through the side of the mountain is where we were. We were literally driving on the side of a mountain. This section of the highway was different from the rest. You could smell the water running through the rocks and when traffic slowed way down you could hear and sometimes see it it.  At this point I thought, what kind of crazy person would choose to drive through here? Mother Nature is still cutting her way down through this mountain, at any moment a big chunk of this mountain could decide to sled down itself.  Looking at it again from this picture it seems like no big deal.
From here we can see the water that was trickling down the side of the mountain.
Finally we made it to the end.  All along the highway there were people pulled over, where they could, to go swimming, tubing and whatever else there was available to do in the middle of nowhere. Every now and then we could see cabins/homes. We couldn't believe that someone would choose to live there and have to drive that highway to go into town to get stuff. As much as I'd love to be a hermit and live on a deserted island I'm still realistic in that I know I have to get toothpaste and potato chips from the store.
Up next, South Fork, CO, the Shady Burro and a grocery store that closed before it was dark. Seriously, are there vampires in South Fork?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hanging Lake

If you need to catch up on the first part of the adventure in Glenwood Springs, CO start here then come back and read this. If you don't care about caves and cheeseburgers you should probably just stay here.
After our adventure at the caves, taking a wrong turn and eating the best cheeseburger ever we woke up the next day ready to explore. My friend went to the hot springs. She chose the Iron Mountain Hot Springs over another place because everyone told her the other one was more of a water park.  She had nothing but good things to say about her experience. She merely mentioned the one guy in his budgie smugglers.
My morning was planned for Hanging Lake.  The woman at the hotel warned us to get to the park early as parking is difficult. She recommended 6AM and told me the hike would take 3 hours round trip.  Since my friend was dropping me off parking wasn't going to be an issue for me, but a 3 hour hike!?  What was I getting myself in to? A 3 hour hike at high altitude and it was too late for me to weenie out of it so I promised myself I'd go at least half way.
When my friend dropped me off there was a huge line of cars waiting to park.  Basically what happens is as soon as one car leaves the first in line gets to go park.  You simply have to drive around looking for that one empty spot. There are park employees directing cars the entire time. As soon as I got out of the car I set off down the path that takes you to the trail. It was paved and nice and I thought to myself, this is going to be a piece of cake, it's so nice and paved and well maintained. Uh, NOPE! The first quarter mile kicked my butt, mostly because it was going up and on some pretty rugged terrain and uneven surfaces. Oh and rocks, lots and lots of rocks. Along the way I caught up with a woman who told me she drove for four hours to get there and waited 45 minutes for a parking spot. They initially told her the wait time would be two hours but she really wanted to hike this trail so she waited. That's when I told myself to get to the top no matter what. The tough thing for me was that my friend was picking me back up at a certain time and there's zero phone reception on the trail so time was also a factor for me. After I reached the marker that said I was officially half way there the trail wasn't so bad, but that was me just getting my hopes up that it would be cake the rest of the way. The last quarter mile was what separates the mice from the men or so the saying goes. I'm no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rocks you have to climb are steep. I had to hoist myself up on them to get up over some of them.  There was a short amount of guardrail that gave little sense of security. The highest point is 7,040 feet which makes for a long way to tumble back down the trail. The nice thing was there was a great sense of comradery amongst the hikers. Those who were already on their way down were encouraging those of us who were on our way up. They kept assuring us that it would be worth it when we got to the top. You know, it better be. I wasn't going to let this hike be my Geraldo Rivera opening up Al Capone's secret vault. There better be something worth it up there. Once I got to the top I was glad that there was in fact something to see and benches so I could sit down and eat my apple and box of raisins. Never did such a lame snack feel so rewarding. Once you got to the lake you could go even further up to Spouting Rock. That path seemed a little more man made and easier to navigate.  The descent down the trail was almost tougher. You would think that going down would be easier but it was pretty steep so you spent the whole way down trying to control your speed.  One kid was going too fast and went face first into a rather large rock. He was fine, a little shook up but he learned his lesson. Once I got to the bottom I looked up and realised what a crazy fun thing I had just done. I was glad I went more than halfway.  It only took me 30 minutes to get to the top.  With a 15 minute rest at the lake the entire hike was just a little over an hour. Not sure where the three hour time was coming from but I read that in several places.  It also said that the hike was the equivalent of climbing 80 flights of stairs. I can't imagine it would take 3 hours to go that far but for some people it might. I also have to mention how shocked I was to see how many people were so ill prepared for such a hike. An older woman in sandals, people with no water and girls in short short shorts. Seriously, if you fall down and scrape your butt it's your own damn fault for not wearing something over it. Unfortunately bad hikers are not a rare breed. If you like hiking check out this short story about a guy who lost his job and took a hike.
After I made it back to the well maintained, flat trail I had time to kill so I painted until my ride came to get me. Once I was in the car we both declared it was time for food. We headed back to the downtown area and ended up at Doc Holliday's Saloon and Restaurant. The food was good, the atmosphere was really cool and the wait staff were really knowledgeable about the history of the building and Doc Holliday.
Up next is our crazy ride up and down the mountainside on our way to South Fork.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

After leaving Golden, Co. our final destination for the day was Glenwood Springs.  After a ridiculous 18 MPH ride through the mountains we made it and it was definitely worth the trouble. Glenwood Springs was by far the best place we stopped on this wild west road trip.  There was so much to do here, where to start?
After checking in to our hotel we decided to give Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park a try. For $27 I got a round trip tram ride to the top of the mountain and a tour of two caves. I only took one cave tour though, the King's Row Cave. Everyone kept saying it was the better of the two caves. They have a third cave but it's only open on certain days for special tours. Special as in, you have to be somewhat insane to choose to do it. Squishing through crevasses that are only 18 inches wide isn't my idea of a fun time. You might as well lock me in a coffin and let me try to punch my way through. You can watch a video of people going through this tour here if you're interested.  The park had a lot to offer as far as rides, entertainment and refreshments. What it didn't advertise was the amazing views you got from the top. There's a restaurant called The Lookout Grille and the name describes it well. The seating area outside gives a view of the whole town and the mountains surrounding it. While I was up there taking photos I was plotting and scheming on coming back to this very spot to paint. Besides a fun place to go it would be the perfect place to paint.
The tram ride up and down can be purchased on its own, you don't have to purchase the cave tour.  It would be worth it for anyone just wanting to see the views from up top. The park has incredible amusement park rides and I think the tram ride could be considered one as well. It was a lot longer to get to the top than I thought. From the ground looking up it seemed like it would take just a couple of minutes but we kept going and going. The Iron Mountain tramway goes 4,300 feet, one way, so just over 3/4 of a mile up and takes about 10 minutes each way. The park is at 7100 feet above sea level. The town is listed at being 5,761 feet above sea level so we traveled up quite a ways. On the way back down we shared a tram with a nice family. There was a young boy who was telling us about Pokemon Go and we asked if he caught any at the park. He had so much fun up there he forgot to look for them so his dad let him check while in the tram. He found one so the rest of the family grabbed their phones and got to work.
We got to the adventure park too late to eat at the restaurant so we went in search of a Mexican restaurant when we got down the mountain. The cheeky woman in the Garmin gave us the wrong directions then I was a bad navigator as we ended up back on the highway headed out of town. Luckily there was a rest stop where we could turn around. Even the rest stops in Glenwood Springs are beautiful!  We got out and walked around before we turned around and headed back to town. We decided to go back towards our hotel because there were several restaurants within walking distance.
We ended up choosing Vicco's Charcoalburger where I declared I had the best cheeseburger of my life and I don't just go throwing that statement around.

If I wasn't hungry I would have taken a better picture of the burger and the fries. I was so happy to have good fries!  A while back I wrote about my hate for the fries that most restaurants are serving now. They have some sort of disgusting crunchy coating on them and they're pretty much inedible. I rarely order fries anymore but I took a chance here. They were good old fashioned crinkle cut fries and absolutely delicious. I ordered a strawberry shake as well and I was in American food heaven. It did seem to take a little while to get my food but everything was cooked fresh so it was worth it. They had good music playing and I got a kick out of a father and son duo throwing bean bags at each other instead of of playing the game, so the wait wasn't that bad. After the meal we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our second day in Glenwood Springs. Stay tuned for that post!
Travel trip #58903- GET YOUR RECEIPTS  This sounds stupid, why get a receipt, it's just a waste of paper. It might seem like a waste of paper until you need proof of purchase. It's also a good way to cross reference any charges on your credit card. Over the years some shady characters have learned new ways to scam people. For example, the tips on credit card receipts. If you leave a $3.00 tip a knavish server might add a one in front of that three giving themselves a $13 tip instead. You hate to think people would do that but they do. Another instance is at the gas station. I avoid going inside to pay at all costs so I'm well versed in the multiple button pushing at the gas pump. I always push the button for a receipt. The main reason I do this is because I know a guy who once worked at a gas station that called the cops on a guy for stealing gas. The police caught up with the man and pulled him over and had him go back to the gas station. Turns out the guy paid at the pump but the guy at the station somehow forgot that part. He just remembered seeing the guy get gas and drive away without going inside. It was an honest mistake and nobody was harmed in the situation, but it's why I always get a receipt.  Just recently my cousin took a road trip and he got gas in BFE, paid at the pump, didn't get a receipt and went inside to buy something to drink. While inside the clerk tried to tell him that he owed him for gas. My cousin explained to him that he already paid at the pump and the conversation went on and on until my cousin put down the snacks and high tailed it out of there. If he had gotten a receipt he would have had proof in hand that he already paid. Getting a receipt never hurts and you can recycle them once your trip is over and you checked any questionable charges.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Golden Colorado

Day three on our road trip took us on a route that would avoid Denver at all costs.  We were warned about the traffic in Denver so we took a route that ended up going through Golden, Colorado. As we were approaching Golden I kept thinking it sounded familiar. Why have I heard of this place before? Oh, yea Coors beer. This was the first town in Colorado where I actually felt like I was in Colorado. We went through a couple of other larger towns, Loveland and Boulder,  but they were so new. All of the buildings were new and modern and they looked like they could have been anywhere in the US.  Golden had an older downtown area, but it was clean and kept up very well. It looked like more of an old west town. The town was surrounded by mountains too so the views, every where you looked, were spectacular.
Our main objective here was to get something to eat and stretch our legs. We walked around and found Buffalo Rose. They had live music on the patio so we found a shady spot and waited for lunch. The service was sooooo slooooooow but the food and entertainment were good so it sort of evened out. Seriously, it took close to 40 minutes for my chicken quesadilla. It was a delicious chicken quesadilla but still. After our long leisurely lunch we walked around the town. When we drove into town we notice people walking around with inter tubes.
There must have been a water park or something and we wanted to find it.  We followed some tubes down the sidewalk and found the spot where they were all going. It's called Clear Creek White Water Park.  You can bring your own tube or rent one and get in the creek and float down.  There were even some fishermen in the creek. There's a nice walkway going along the water.  Since we didn't have our swimming gear handy we walked on this pathway for a little while. It looked like if you kept following the creek you'd end up at the Coors Brewing facility.
We only spent a couple of hours in Golden but glad we did. It was a great pit stop.
Up to this point we avoided bad traffic and minimal construction zones.  We were glad we went around Denver, even though we really didn't know what the traffic was like. Unfortunately I-70 west of Golden was a nightmare. The speed limit was 75 MPH and we averaged 18 MPH for a long time. Going that slow we had plenty of time to contemplate what was causing the traffic jam. It's a four lane highway and all lanes were at a crawl.  Surely there was a horrible wreck. Nope.  The elusive runaway truck? Nope. Jack knife? Nope. Fallen rocks? Nope. A broken down vehicle in the middle of the road? Nope. NOTHING. Once we got out of the ridiculousness of an 18 MPH descent down the mountain we saw nothing that would cause anyone to go that slow. I came to the conclussion that we were all stuck in a bad game of follow the leader and the leader was someone who should have left their car in the driveway that day. My journal uses more colourful adjectives but we'll leave it at that. So this leads to travel tip #5324, make sure you use the restroom before getting back in the car. This stretch of the road trip was only supposed to be two and a half hours long, which any normal person should be able to "hold it" for that long. Unfortunately Google Maps, Garmin and Siri never plan for 18 MPH traffic. When you're stuck in the fast lane going nowhere there is nowhere to pull over to use the restroom.  On the flip side you should also make sure you have something to drink and some good tunes to get you through the madness.  In Chicago this sort of traffic makes people lose their stuff, but in Colorado everyone seemed so calm, like we were all in it together, so we all cooperated with each other to get through it. We joked that this must be the evidence of what legal marijuana sales can do.
Up next, I finally make it to Glenwood Springs, CO!  Some of the best adventures were done in this area so stay tuned.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Wild West Road Trip Day 2 Conclusion

Day two of the wild west road trip ended at Terry Bison Ranch.  I was under the impression that it was just a fun name for a restaurant, but Terry Bison Ranch is a whole lot more than just a restaurant. It's a resort of sorts. There's a campground, amusement park, old west town, an assortment of animals and a train that goes through the bison herd. The restaurant is actually called The Senator's Steakhouse.  It's a large open building, equipped with a buffet and a piano player with questionable fashion sense. There were specials going on for Frontier Days and an extended drink menu with some interesting sounding names.  Unfortunately none of the servers could explain any of them. Our waitress informed me that she was given the drink menu to study so she could be prepared but evidently didn't do her homework. Since I couldn't order based on ingredients I ordered by name, a dead hooker. The drink wasn't very good, watered down gin and cranberry juice or something but it was fun having various servers stopping by asking how my dead hooker was.
After the food, the tunes and the dead hooker we went to the farm/zoo out back.  This is actually a great idea that more restaurants should try to do.  After a big meal it was nice to go outside and walk around.  I'm thinking a maze might be nice.  When you enter the restaurant you go in through a normal door but in order to leave you have to go through a maze. Hey, anything to slow the alarming numbers of new type 2 diabetes cases. The impressive farm had a catwalk that went above the pens so you were walking out on top of the animals below.  Not a great feeling if you're scared of heights or animals, but a cool way to see the animals if you're not a scardy pants.
Over all Cheyenne was a great place to visit. I'd definitely go back.
Here are a couple of travel tips for you.
Febreeze.  If you're not sure what this stuff is it's basically fresh smelling laundry in a bottle. It's a type of air freshener that is not only supposed to freshen the air but remove the bad odors too. If you look in the trial/travel section at the store you can probably find small bottles of it.  However if you're like me and have several of those spray bottles that come in those travel bottle sets you can fill one of those from a bigger bottle of Febreeze. Or you can make your own Febreeze from any of the zillion recipes you can find online, like this one here. I'm still not sure what those spray bottles are for.  What do you put in them? Well, I put Febreeze in mine now, but still not sure why they include one in every set of travel bottles. The Febreeze is nice to spray on the bed linens and wherever else you think smells like hotel room. Even the high dollar hotel rooms can tend to have an odor about them, like an odd mix of chlorine and musty air conditioner.
Power Strip.  You can get these starting around $5.  Stick with the lower priced ones in case you forget it.  It seems like a lot of hotel rooms are lacking in electrical outlets and or they're in the most inconvenient places. Besides being in inconvenient places there's usually only one free outlet. What happens if you're sharing a room and you both need to charge your phones? Or what if you're like me and you have two cameras, a phone, a tablet and a 3DS that all need charging? You need more than one outlet.  The power strip is also good for keeping you organised. If there does happen to be more than one outlet they're probably scattered around the room so you have a phone plugged in one place a camera in another and your tablet somewhere else. If you have them all connected to one power strip they're all in the same place, therefore lowering the chances of leaving something behind.
Coming up next is Colorado.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cheyenne, Cheyenne!

Cheyenne Trolley, the infamous billy club, Sanford's Grub & Pub, local attire & the lottery building, statue of Lane Frost and St. Mark's "haunted" church.
Hopefully that show's theme song isn't going through your head now. It is mine, and I apologise now if it is.....One day I'll write about my love/hate relationship with westerns.
If you're just now joining in on the recap of my wild west adventure you can begin here. After a day of driving the second day started out in Cheyenne, Wyoming. We began the day with a trolley tour through some of the historic places in downtown Cheyenne. It was about 90 minutes long and chock full of interesting information narrated by a very colourful tour guide.  The tour got off to a bit of a rocky start though. There was an older couple who were causing quite a raucous. Not even exaggerating there.  They wanted to board the trolley without tickets. The tour guide instructed them to where they could purchase tickets. They continued to try boarding. They finally left to purchase tickets. OR DID THEY!? In the time it would have taken to go purchase a ticket they came back without tickets but with a plan to save seats. After a round of arguing the elderly "lady" exited the trolley. The tour guide was very professional and handled the situation very well and we were finally able to start the tour. After departing I noticed the billy club under the driver's seat.  Was that going to be the next step?  Are the Cheyenne trolley tours so great that they have to use crowd control, or is it for insistent crotchety old people who are overwhelmed with the feeling of entitlement? Whatever it's there for we didn't get to see it in action. What a way to start the day!
Again, the tour was very interesting and very informative.  Some of the highlights were the true birth of Coors beer being in Cheyenne at a place called The Albany, not in Colorado. Most of the buildings in town were moved at some point or another.  A Swiss mason is supposedly buried within the walls of the St. Mark's Church when he died while building it. It's such a sensational story that Geraldo had to investigate.  And the right for women to vote started in Cheyenne, but only out of necessity, not because it was the right thing to do.
After our tour we checked out a few more things that took place for Frontier Days then headed off to find something for lunch.  We needed to find a place we couldn't get back home. Sanford's was where we landed.  I later learned from a friend that Sanford's is a small chain, mostly found in Wyoming, one in Fort Collins, CO and one in North Dakota and South Dakota. (Thanks for the info Ric!)I had the Gilligan Burger, minus the ham.  I'm allergic to pork so I couldn't eat most of the burgers that sounded good, they all had bacon, ham or onions.  I cautiously asked if I could have the Gilligan Burger without the ham.  In high school and college I worked in a restaurant and I know how some cooks dislike "special" orders so I'm always leery of making special requests.  The waitress assured me that it was fine and that people request it that way all the time. So I got a burger with teriyaki sauce, pineapple, a slab of cream cheese on top and a side of sweet potato fries. I declared it the best burger I've ever eaten. I may be allergic to pork but I sure made a pig of myself at Sanford's.
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of day two in Cheyenne, WY.  I promise bison, peacocks, more pigs and dead hookers.