Friday, July 2, 2010

Rocky Mountain High

We have been over a mile high for the past two weeks as we crossed southern Colorado. The highest we have been was to the top of Pikes Peak when we hit 14,110 feet. And yes, we could really feel the effects of the altitude. No, we did not hike up, we rode the cog train. We were joined by our good friends Ed and Carol Christini who drove down from Ft Collins for the weekend. Ed was President of Scuba Schools International and Carol owns an insurance agency that insures scuba businesses nationally. It was great to see them again and we had a wonderful visit.

From Colorado Springs we moved to Manitou Springs where we visited the Garden of the Gods and the Air Force Academy. Manitou Springs is a beautiful little town. Then we started to drive west through the mountains to the town of Cripple Creek at over 10,000 feet. Cripple Creek is the most productive gold mining area of Colorado. As the gold mining started to slow, new gold was found in the form of casinos. If you want to donate to the casino fund, this would be the place for you, but beware the altitude may affect your judgment.

Next we crossed over the Wilkerson Pass with a beautiful view of the Collegiate Mountains. We camped in Buena Vista on the headwaters of the Arkansas River. This is a white water kayaking and rafting heaven. No, we did not try; it looked a little too scary for some members of our group. We did take a side trip to Leadville and tried to find some records from Mike’s grandfather, who naturalized here in the early 1900’s. We were unsuccessful, but did like the town. We would recommend lunch at the Silver Dollar Saloon, in business since 1879.

We also made a side trip to Aspen and had lunch at the famous Woody Creek Tavern in the village of Woody Creek north of Aspen. There we were joined by an old friend, Bill Carlson. Bill and Mike used to work together from 1970-75 at the Oakland County Health Department. They spent a few hours catching up over a wonderful lunch.

Colorado is covered with mines and old mining towns that have long ago gone bust. One of the ones we visited was Vicksburg, where residents maintain their families’ old log cabins for use as summer camps. On the way back we followed an old railroad grade that went through a number of old one way tunnels carved out of the rock.

Colorado is also the 4 wheeling capital. We bought books and maps and stocked our Jeep with safety equipment and radios so that we could participate. Our first foray was on the Hagerman Pass Road. It is a forest service road that runs over the pass at 11,925 feet. It is dirt and in most places almost a full two lanes wide. To get over the pass you obviously have to climb a mountain. That seemed to be a problem with the riders in back seat that were crying and puking as they looked over the side down the mountain. We never did make the top and had to turn around at a trailhead parking area. The powers to be then made a rule of no 4 wheeling on dirt roads, only on paved ones. We next crossed over Independence Pass which is 12,095, on our way to Aspen on the paved highway number 82. The back seat then voted that we had to stay on only paved roads with guardrails. Anyone want to buy a very lightly used, well-equipped Jeep Wrangler?

We continued to drive west to Gunnison, where we did a side trip to the ski resort of Crested Butte. We are now in Ridgway. It is the end of our drive into Southwest Colorado; from here we will turn the coach north towards Alaska. No, we have not made up our mind yet whether we will go to Alaska or not.

From Ridgway we had a number of wonderful side trips. The mountain scenery of Colorado is absolutely breathtaking. We visited Ouray, where we wanted to stay, but was booked for the 4th of July. Ouray is called little Switzerland, as it is built in the bottom of a very narrow mountain valley. We drove the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton. It is the terminus of the Durango and Silverton railroad and it is a pretty neat old west town. We also went to Telluride, the famous ski resort town. They offered free gondola rides to the top of the mountain which we took advantage of. Our final visit was to the old mining town of Ophir. Ophir had a population of 9600 in 1881. It now has about 96 people.
Problems the last two weeks? In Colorado Springs we were able to find a garage that specialized in air conditioning and after two visits was able to fix our dash a/c problem. At least it has worked for a week and a half, a new coach record. Both coaches overheated coming over Wilkerson Pass, 9500 feet. Knowing we had higher passes to cross, we both had the radiators steamed cleaned in Buena Vista. But again they only cleaned the outside which was easy to reach, not the inside under the coach. The results? We both heated up again crossing the Monarch Pass, 11,312, but not as bad as before.

And how is Jake enjoying the trip? When the coach is stopped he loves it, especially if he gets to meet new friends. He still is not a happy camper when we move. Fortunately for him most of our trips are less then a couple of hours.

We hope that your past week as was nice as ours. We would like to wish you all a very Happy 4th of July.

Take care, Love,

Linda, Jake and the Fat Man

And Linda and Frank Archer, our traveling companions