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June 2021

2021-06-07 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Day 12 – Fruita, CO

Today we return to the Colorado National Monument to see more of its beauty…

On our way to the entrance we crossed the mighty Colorado River…

The Colorado River is the major river of the southwestern United States and northwest Mexico. Its headwaters are in Rocky Mountain National Park where La Poudre Pass Lake is its source. It flows southwest through the Colorado Plateau country of western Colorado, southeastern Utah and northwestern Arizona, where it flows through the Grand Canyon. It turns south near Las Vegas, Nevada, forming the Arizona–Nevada border in Lake Mead and the Arizona–California border a few miles below Davis Dam between Laughlin, Nevada and Needles, California, before entering Mexico in the Colorado Desert. Most of its waters are diverted into the Imperial Valley of Southern California. In Mexico its course forms the boundary between Sonora and Baja California before entering the Gulf of California.

We re-entered the Colorado National Monument.

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the “Organic Act” creating the National Park Service, a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for maintaining national parks and monuments that were then managed by the department. The National Park System has since expanded to 423 units (often referred to as parks), more than 150 related areas, and numerous programs that assist in conserving the nation’s natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of current and future generations.

The National Park Service manages all of the various “units” – Parks, Forests, Monuments, Historic Sites, Lakeshores, Recreation Areas, Scenic Trails, and several other designations. The first parks were Yellowstone (1872), Sequoia (1890), Yosemite (1890), Mt. Rainier (1899), Crater Lake (1902), Wind Cave (1903), Mesa Verde (1906), Glacier (1910), Rocky Mountain (1915). Colorado National Monument was established in 1911. The different desinations have to do with how they are created. National Parks are created by acts of Congress. National Monuments and most other designations are created by the President via Executive Order. Thirty States have National Parks; the States with the most parks are: California (9), Alaska (8), Utah (5), and Colorado (4).

We began our visit with a ranger talk in the picnic area where we had had dinner last night…

We learned about the geology of these magnificent cliffs and canyons, plus a little of the park history. The man behind the creation of the Colorado National Monument was John Otto, who settled in Grand Junction in the early 20th century. Otto was the first white man to explore the area.

Prior to Otto’s arrival, many area residents believed the canyons to be inaccessible to humans. Otto began building trails on the plateau and into the canyons.  As word spread about his work, the Chamber of Commerce of Grand Junction sent a delegation to investigate. The delegation returned praising both Otto’s work and the scenic beauty of the wilderness area, and the local newspaper began lobbying to make it a National Park. A bill was introduced and carried by the local Representatives to the U.S. Congress and Senate but a Congressional slowdown in the final months threatened the process. To ensure protection of the canyons President William Howard Taft (who had visited the area) stepped in and used the highest powers available to him via the Antiquities Act and presidential proclamation to declare the canyons as a national monument

John Otto was hired as the first park ranger, drawing a salary of $1 per month. For the next 16 years, he continued building and maintaining trails while living in a tent in the park.

For many years during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps. built roads, tunnels, trails, and other features of the park. The CCC left in 1941; the major Rim drive was completed in the 1950s.

Following the Ranger talk we visited the Visitor Center. I liked the fact that it is built from the native sandstone…

After we had seen a few exhibits in the Visitor Center we drove the Rim drive for 23 miles, all the way to Grand Junction. We saw 23 miles of rocks.

Here I liked the walls made from the natural sandstone… These walls are several hundred feet long, and they occur at many of the pull-outs along the Rim drive…

After we left the park we drove through Grand Junction again. We found truck fuel and DEF. Tomorrow we will return to Fruita for some final grocery shopping before we enter the wilderness of Dinosaur National Monument, Flaming Gorge Dam, and the Grand Tetons National Park…

It was 97 degrees again, but we have good, clean power, so both AC units are running in the Airstream… At 5:00 we took a walk around the lake in the park.

We also saw the Colorado River again, adjacent to the park…

Unfortunately, we walked out of the park and around the outside of the park, and finally had to go totally around the park and walk in the maim entrance…

After a short break we joined other caravaners for happy hours. We returned to the Villa, and an enjoyable time was had by all…,

2021-06-05 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Day 10 – Gunnison, CO

Outing of the day is Black Canyon, in the Gunnison National Park.

We drove west from the RV park, enjoying the quiet beauty of this area…

Our first hint of the awe-inspring cliffs of Black Canyon occurred just after entering the park….

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is in western Colorado. It surrounds part of a deep, steep-walled gorge carved through Precambrian rock by the Gunnison River. Roads and trails along the north and south rims have views of the Black Canyon’s dramatic drops and the striated Painted Wall cliff. The winding East Portal Road descends to the river. Wildlife includes mule deer, elk and golden eagles.

Big enough to be overwhelming, still intimate enough to feel the pulse of time, Black Canyon exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.

John Williams Gunnison (born November 11, 1812 in Goshen, New Hampshire) attended Hopkinton Academy, where after one term, he went on to teach at the local school. During his years as a teacher, he prepared himself to enter West Point Military Academy. In June of 1837 he graduated second out of fifty.

Gunnison’s first sight of the western lands came as a member of the Captain Stansbury Utah Territory Expedition of 1849. Gunnison, having caught the exploration bug during his previous expeditions in Florida and Michigan, was thrilled to embark on this new adventure. Their task was to explore the route to the Mormon community in Utah.

The canyon has been a mighty barrier to humans. Only its rims, never the gorge, show evidence of human occupation – not even by Ute Indians living in the area since written history began.

We drove the loop road along the south rim. There are turn-outs to park, then we can walk down to viewpoints…

What we are looking at here are Pegmatite Dikes, which form when water is separated from lava as these mountains are pushed up from the crust of the earth. The water is forced though fractures in the rock. The water then forms crystals, which in turn produces pegmatite dikes.

We are at the visitors Center, looking down at a viewpoint below…

Here we are at the look-out…

Above us is the Visitors Center…

And below is the Gunnison River…

The Gunnison River has been carving this canyon for about 2,000 years…

This is Painted Wall… It is showing the striations of the different rock and crystals. Painted wall is the highest cliff in the park. It is 2,300 feet tall. If the Empire State Building were placed at the river below it would barely reach half way to the top…

Black Canyon is quite amazing in that everything is so close. It is only 48 miles long, 2,700′ deep, and 1,300′ wide at the top (40′ at the narrowest point at the bottom). In comparison, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and one mile deep!

After our amazing visit to Black Canyon, I had to write about it… We drove to Gunnison and found a coffee shop with internet access…

After about 3 hours of work, we returned to the Villa. Tonight is the obligatory drivers meeting. Tomorrow we drive to Fruita, CO…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2021-06-06 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Day 11 – Traveling to Fruita, CO

Today we travel to Fruita, CO, near Grand Junction.

Colorado National Monument is a National Park Service unit near the city of Grand Junction, Colorado. Sheer-walled canyons cut deep into sandstone and granite–gneiss–schist rock formations. This is an area of desert land high on the Colorado Plateau, with pinyon and juniper forests on the plateau. The park hosts a wide range of wildlife, including red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, ravens, jays, desert bighorn sheep, and coyotes.

Here we are in our pickup truck caravan lining up to get into the park…

The cliff ahead is over 1,000 feet tall. We will drive up the side of it, as you can see here…

There are two tunnels through the rock…

We met at the top for a catered “Southwest” dinner… I’m sure you know our personal prohibition of entering a Mexican restaurant outside of California (with rare exceptions…). SO we told ourselves that this is not a restaurant, and this is not even trying to be Mexican food… For a catered buffet served up in 97 degree heat in the middle of a desert, it was pretty good!

Lynda performed her first duty as birthday celebration host, presenting birthday cake to a fellow caravaner…

After dinner we drove back down the mountain. The light was just perfect on the valley floor…

We returned to the Villa. The heat subsided to about 90 degrees, with a slight breeze. We walked the park, enjoyed the sunset, and had a nightcap on the picnic table…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2021-06-03 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Day 8 – Traveling to Gunnison, CO

Travel day: Today we left Colorado Springs and are heading west to Gunnison, CO.  We will travel small roads once again, which is fine with us.  Some of the Airstreamers are taking the interstate, which we find boring.

It was an easy 180 miles. The scenery was beautiful and ever changing…

We left Colorado Springs about 9:45.  Along this route we are traversing 4 mountain passes, some higher than others.  Wilkerson Pass is at 9,500′ elevation.  (This is not as high as it sounds to you flatlanders – we started at the RV park at elevation 6,320’. In contract, Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the 48 United States, is 14,500′, rising out of the plains of Death Valley, at elevation -282′.

We stopped in the tiny town of Hartsel.  This is a highly recommended café called Highline Café.  Breakfast burritos and buffalo burgers are their specialties.  Several other Airstreamers were already there, and they kept on coming. 

After lunch we walked the town a bit; there was this cute little schoolhouse… And then we were back on the road.

The views continued…

We stopped along the road to stretch our legs…

We crawled up Monarch Pass (11,312’).  It was an easy drive, as there was little traffic, and the big red trucked pulled the Villa effortlessly.

We finally arrived at Gunnison, and 12 miles out of town we found the Blue Mesa RV Resort.  We set up the Villa…

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Our site was a little uneven… This is how we leveled the Villa on the low side…

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At dinner time we readied for the Grill Night at the main office and recreation center. 

We met the other caravaners at the clubhouse, where we grilled our own entre, then moved into the Rec Room, where we were served side dishes and desert.   This was a nice time to socialize…

We returned to the Villa, and I dozed off a bit.  At 8:30 we drove 10 miles to the Gunnison Valley Observatory.

We watched a slide show given by the astronomer who was the lead researcher at the GVO.  (Yawn)  The we climbed the stairs up into the dome.  They have an “old” telescope that was built to observe Halley’s Comet in 1986.  More star talk (Yawn). But then I had the opportunity to talk the telescope operator, who explained how the dome works, why the “hatch” opens as it does, and how the entire dome rotates to allow the telescope to have access to the entire sky.  This stuff is interesting!

We each had a chance to look into the telescope and see a cluster of stars 25,000 light years away.  (Yawn)  But it is amazing that the light we were looking at was 25,000 years old…!

We didn’t return to the Villa until 11:30 pm… And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2021-06-02 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Day 7 – Colorado Springs, CO

Another exciting day is planned for us again! We will go to the top of Pikes Peak and ride bicycles back down!

Pikes Peak is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The ultra-prominent 14,115′ peak is located in Pike National Forest, 12 miles west of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The mountain is named in honor of American explorer Zebulon Pike, who explored the area in 1806, although he never reached the summit… The summit is higher than any point in the United States east of its longitude.

The band of Ute people who called the Pikes Peak region their home were the Tabeguache, whose name means the “People of Sun Mountain”. It is thought that the Ute people first arrived in Colorado about 500 A.D. In the 1800s, when the Arapaho people arrived in Colorado, they knew the mountain as Heey-otoyoo’ meaning “Long Mountain”.

Early Spanish explorers named the mountain “El Capitán,” meaning “The Leader”. American explorer Zebulon Pike named the mountain “Highest Peak” in 1806, and the mountain was later commonly known as “Pike’s Highest Peak.” The mountain was later renamed “Pikes Peak” in honor of Pike.

The first European-American to climb the peak came 14 years after Pike, in the summer of 1820.  Edwin James, a young student who had just graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, signed on as the relief botanist for Stephen Harriman Long’s expedition. James and two other men left the expedition, camped on the plains, and climbed the peak in two days, encountering little difficulty. Along the way, James was the first to describe the blue columbine, Colorado’s state flower.

So today, we were up before 5:00 am and we left the RV park at 6:15. We boarded strange looking Jeeps, and we were transported to be fitted for bicycles, helmets, gloves, etc.  

Bicycles, gloves, and helmets were selected…

And soon we were ready to go!

Bikes were loaded onto the van and we were off!

The views were marvelous on the way up!

In 1895, Katharine Lee Bates was so awestruck by views of Pikes Peak that she penned a poem, the words of which have become the lyrics of “America the Beautiful”:

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain

The Visitor Center at the summit (14,000’) is under re-construction, so we knew that we would not be starting from there.  However, we were stopped at about 11,000′; the road ahead was closed due to ice on the road.  So we had a restroom break and waited a bit, letting the sun melt the ice.

We were eventually allowed to continue up to about 12,000’ elevation.  We stretched our legs, claimed our bicycles, and readied to ride down the mountain… 

The ride down was exhilarating!  We road the brakes to maintain our speed, and to keep from running off the road at the curves.  Unfortunately, it’s way too hard to take pictures while riding a bike at up to 30 miles per hour! We stopped several times, to regather the group, and to drink some water. 

At the bottom of the hill we had lunch at the Wines of Colorado. We dismounted, turned in our bikes and helmets, and enjoyed some hearty cheeseburgers…

The ride down covered about 8-10 miles, with an elevation drop of about 5,000 feet!

We were exhausted!  We returned to the Villa and took a well-deserved nap.  Early in the afternoon we drove to Garden of the Gods Park.  We stopped into the Visitor Center and booked a Jeep tour of the park.

Garden of the Gods is a public park located in Colorado Springs, just about one mile from our RV Park. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1971.

The Garden of the Gods’ red rock formations were created during a geological upheaval along a natural fault line millions of years ago. Archaeological evidence shows that prehistoric people visited Garden of the Gods about 1330 BC. At about 250 BC, Native American people camped in the park; they are believed to have been attracted to wildlife and plant life in the area and used overhangs created by the rocks for shelter.

Multiple American Indian Nations traveled through Garden of the Gods. The Utes’ oral traditions tell of their creation at the Garden of the Gods, and petroglyphs have been found in the park that are typical of early Utes. The Utes found red rocks to have a spiritual connection and camped near Manitou Springs and the creek near Rock Ledge Ranch bordering Garden of the Gods.

In 1879 Charles Elliott Perkins purchased 480 acres of land that included a portion of the present Garden of the Gods. Upon Perkins’ death in 1909, his family gave the land to the City of Colorado Springs, with the provision that it would be a free public park.

So we toured around and saw more red rocks…

We stopped at an overview of Colorado Springs in the distance…

Whilst we were enjoying our vacation and caravan, our daughter and son-in-law and their children were enjoying a vacation in California at Leo Cabrillo State Beach…

We returned to the RV park in time for a GAM – we met a few more new friends… Then the obligatory Driver Meeting…

We returned to the Villa and fell into bed.  And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2021-06-04 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Day 9 – Gunnison, CO

EXCITING DAY! Our two youngest grandchildren are finally going off to big-kid preschool summer camp! This long awaited event comes after spending the last year at home…

Back in the Villa, we had a quiet morning looking for internet service and doing laundry… Finally at noon we drove the 12 miles back to Gunnison. We fueled up the truck, dropped it off at the Gunny-Lube for an oil change, then we walked to City Market and bought some birthday cake for another caravan member. After a few other errands we stopped for lunch at the W Cafe…

The town of Gunnison has a nice little main street with restaurants and local businesses…

After lunch we returned to the Villa. I took a walk while Lynda sat by and in the pool…

We had another GAM to meet new friends. The host, Charlie and Michael, own a winery in Plymouth, California. While they didn’t provinde wine to our little group, they did prepare an olive oil tasting, featuring their own olive oils. We tasted Tuscan, Lemon, Rosemary, Jalapeno, plus two balsamics, one of which was white… I particularly liked the Rosemary and the white balsamic…

After the GAM we walked around the park enjoying the twilight…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2021-06-01 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Day 6 – Colorado Springs, CO

Today was very interesting. In an interesting way…

We drove for about an hour to the west to a small town of Canon, CO. We are to ride a vintage train into the Royal Gorge, one of the most beautiful canyons in Colorado.

Built in 1913, the Santa Fe Depot was designed in the Mediterranean Revival style.  Even while the rail line through the Royal Gorge lay fallow from the mid-60s through the late 90s, the Depot was used until the early 80s for freight, like cement, oil, coal, produce, and ore. The Santa Fe Depot finally closed in 1983. In 1997 it became part of Canon City’s River Station Project as a family-style restaurant.

In August. 1998, the new Royal Gorge Route made it’s first journey through the Royal Gorge with tourists — and the Santa Fe Depot entered into an entirely new phase of use as ticketing and gift shop and offices for the Royal Gorge Railway.

The train is vintage Santa Fe; we are scheduled to travel in the Vista Dome car, having breakfast served along the way.  This will be fun!

The scheduled boarding time is 9:30. At 9:15 the manager of the depot came out to tell us that the 9:30 train was being cancelled due to engine problems.  They have another engine on its way, and they hope that the 12:30 train will run on schedule.  We lit out to the ticket office to change our tickets.  Sorry!  There are no Vista Dome seats available on the 12:30 train.

We returned to the Airstream caravan leaders.  They had negotiated with the train people so that we can board the Vista Dome car and they will serve us breakfast on the train as planned – we will just be sitting in the station.

Breakfast was pretty good.  As we were finishing, the new engine passed by.  We got up to leave, but we found that we could not leave the train until the engine had passed by once more.  So we waited again.  We spent some time in the open car, where the best views of the canyon were to be had… if we had gone into the canyon…

Finally, the replacement engine came by and we finally left the train

We walked a bit to an adjacent city park, with a nice bridge, a river, and a water playground…

We drove back to the town of Canon.  We refueled the truck and headed back to Villa…

We had wanted to see the Cadets’ Chapel at the Air Force Academy here in Colorado Springs.  No luck!  The base is closed to anyone without a military ID.  And, besides, the chapel is closed for renovations and restorations…

So, instead, we walked Historic Old Colorado City, just outside the RV park.  Old Colorado City was founded in 1859, when this area was still part of Kansas Territory. It became the first capital of the Territory of Colorado and the center of early settlement in the Pikes Peak region. Today it is a part of Colorado Springs, and is a fun place to walk. It is a little touristy, but it was interesting…

We returned to the Villa… And an enjoyable time was had bay all…

2021-05-31 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Day 5 – Traveling to Colorado Springs, CO

Today is Memorial Day. And a travel day. As I mentioned before, there are three pages of detailed driving instructions to travel this 145 mile route… It took us 5 1/2 hours, with a short stop for lunch and only two episodes of missed directions!

The scenery was again spectacular, and everchanging… Meadows, rocky slopes, rivers, and forests. We even went right through one of those rocky mountains…

We were traveling with and following another Airstreamer. We let him lead because he understood the route better…

We stopped briefly in the early afternoon to make a make sandwiches for lunch…, then we were back on the road…

We finally arrived at the RV park and found our spot. This is a very tight RV park, with narrow streets and small sites…

We all gathered in the park’s Rec Room for a pizza dinner. This dinner also functioned as a second GAM; we shared our stories around our table with four other couples…

This being Memorial Day, our tables were decorated accordingly… They passed the microphone around the room, person to person; each told of a family member and their military service. Not surprisingly, considering the age of our members, most told of fathers (and a few mothers) who served in WWII… A somber but memorable time of sharing.

We walked the park after dinner. We have been joined by another 34′ Airstream, a 1997 model. These folks came in from Florida and are late in joining due to some issues at home… But they are here now!

We returned to the Villa, and an enjoyable time was had by all…

2021-05-30 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Day 4 – Estes Park, CO

We had a lazy, easy day today. It is cold and rainy, with no scheduled activities.

At about noon we drove into Estes Park and stopped to see the Stanley Hotel:

The story of the Stanley Hotel began in 1903 when Yankee inventor Freelan Oscar Stanley (He and his twin brother, Francis, invented and produced the Stanley Steamer automobile…) arrived in the valley, weak and underweight from the symptoms of consumption. To his amazement, just one season here was enough to restore his health to better than before! Overjoyed, he vowed to return each summer for the rest of his life.

However, he and his wife Flora were used to the sophistication of East Coast society, and the little community of Estes Park offered little to stimulate and challenge this multi-talented genius.  Together, they resolved to build a beautiful grand hotel – and when the Stanley Hotel opened in 1909, the first guests who pulled up in stylish Stanley-designed steam cars were astonished at what they saw. Here in this mountain wilderness, surrounded by the rustic haunts of the hunter and homesteader, was an edifice that withstood comparison to the posh hotels “back east.” Electric lights, telephones, en suite bathrooms, a staff of uniformed servants and a fleet of automobiles were at their disposal. Naturally, Stanley had also done much to develop the burgeoning town. By 1917, it was an official municipality with water-works, a power plant and civic organizations that were all, in some way, thanks to Stanley.

By the 1970s the hotel’s splendor had faded due to lack of care and investment. It might have eventually have succumbed to the wrecking ball, if not for a fortuitous visit by author Stephen King. A stay of one night was enough to inspire his third major work and first hardcover bestseller The Shining, which remains a landmark masterpiece in a long and well-known list of novels.

After a full restoration, the hotel stands today as a beautiful testament to its glory days, when it served as a holiday retreat for wealthy urbanites.

Here is F. O. Stanley, himself…

After strolling the grounds we walked towards the city’s shopping district. We found the rushing the Big Thompson River and a lovely riverside walkway lined with many different businesses…

We walked about an hour, then we headed back towards the Villa. It was just starting to rain. But something piqued my interest, so we drove two miles past the RV park to the YMCA camp.

Yes, indeed. Just as I suspected, this is the place where, in 1969, Lynda and I attended our church’s “Young Calvinist Convention”, along with about 1,000 CRC teenagers. After a torturous charter bus ride, where our bus broke down and had to be replaced, and where the second bus driver failed to appear after our driver had driven his limit, we finally arrived many hours late.

About the only things I remember about the convention was that the food was terrible (first time I had tasted hominy, first time I had tasted grits, and I abhor both of them to this day…) and that the days were sunny with clear blue skies until about 3:00 in the afternoon when giant clouds blew in and it rained for about an hour.

Our bus trip home was uneventful, and a week later Lynda and I left for our respective colleges, 300 miles apart… Not an enjoyable time at all…

So we returned to the Villa, and remained cozy inside while the rain continued to fall. Tomorrow we travel to Colorado Springs, stop #2 on the caravan. And an enjoyable time was had by all…

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