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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…

2021-05-31 – 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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