Saturday, August 29, 2009

Colorado - Week 2

More visitors arrived to help us enjoy our second week in Colorado. Rosemary and Bill Clark, friends from San Antonio, arrived on Saturday. On Sunday, after lunch at Bongo Billy's Salida Cafe, they helped us run the shuttle for a kayaking trip on the Arkansas River ending in town. The photo shows them and Kathy at our launching point, the Big Bend river access. The river flow was down to about 300 cfs, so we encountered many shallow areas.

It was a pleasant run of about six miles. The river carried us along, with most of our paddling used for steering and attempting to stay in the deeper channels. The mountains provided a nice backdrop to the river scenery.

The County Road 166 bridge had its own charm.

About two thirds of the way to Salida, we arrived at a low-head dam used to divert water to a fish hatchery. A three-drop boat chute on river left provided a way around the dam. Kathy heads over the first drop in the photo above.

The bow of her kayak briefly dives underwater, ...

... then resurfaces in an explosion of water.

Kathy's expressions - priceless!

Kathy disappears over the second drop, then waves after making it safely past the third. After I followed her through, we finished the run to downtown Salida. Once again, I was careless at the very end, this time in front of a crowd. As I made the turn into an eddy just past a drop, the kayak flipped over and I was forced to practice my wet exit technique a second time. At least the boat, the paddle, the small ice chest with my camera, and I all ended up together in the same eddy. Only my pride was injured.

Of course, I had to carry the kayak back upstream to run the drop again - this time without any extra excitement.

Loading our gear into the van.

After another dinner at Amicas, we watched the sunset from our deck in Garfield that evening. This photo shows the view east back down to the Arkansas Valley and Salida.

Pete and Carol Berg, fellow Rice alumni who live in Ft. Collins, joined us on Monday. We all had breakfast at the lodge restaurant on Tuesday.

As with all newcomers, the Clarks had to be taken to Old Monarch Pass to enjoy the view from the continental divide. In the view east shown above, Mt. Taylor (on the left) and Monarch Ridge frame two Fourteeners in the background, Tabeguache Mountain (14,155') and Mount Shavano (14,229'). Sally and I reached the top of Shavano ten or eleven years ago. For a good description and photos of the route up that mountain, click here.

David and Louise Eisenhauer drove over from Manitou Springs on Tuesday to join in on the fun. Here they are with Kathy on the deck of the Cliffside Cabin.

I arose early on Thursday morning to enjoy the sunrise. Actually, the real purpose was to discover exactly how a small family of bats was gaining entry to the space behind the siding of the cabin. I wanted to be there when the adults returned to the nest after a night of feeding. These bats had an amazing ability to squeeze into the narrowest of gaps.

On our own again after all of our guests had headed home, Kathy and I drove up Taylor Gulch. We had attempted to do that with David and Louise the day before, but hadn't gone quite far enough down the highway to find the correct turnoff onto the dirt road leading up to the base of Taylor Mountain. About a mile up the road, we came to the remains of Garfield Mine.

Kathy at the Garfield Mine site.

Further up the road, we arrived at the site of a marble quarry. There were three large mounds of crushed marble, sorted according to the size of the pieces. We had noticed that a lot of roads and driveways in the Garfield area sported patches of white marble gravel.

About 15 years ago, this quarry was being operated by one man. We would see him driving an empty dump truck up the road across the highway from Garfield. Many hours later, he would return with a truck full of marble boulders. He had a front end loader parked up at the quarry. When we visited with him briefly while hiking up past the quarry one day, we discovered that his wife had once taught at the old schoolhouse in Garfield. This is now the Amen Schoolhouse, enjoyed by the family for over 30 years.

Further up the road, we caught a view of the ski area.

After proceeding as far as we could in the van, Kathy and I hiked a little further up the road to find a nice spot for lunch. From there we could see the old Lilly Mine further up the mountain.

Some large marble boulders served as our table and chairs. Here is Kathy in a very unusual pose - eating. This ended up being my final photo of our trip. Two days later, we departed Garfield and headed back home to San Antonio.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Colorado - Week 1

After leaving the Rio Chama, I headed up U. S. Highway 84 to the town of Chama. Deciding to explore a scenic route I had not taken before, I drove through Chama (it was difficult not to stop at Foster's Hotel Saloon for a cold one) and headed up Highway 17. This road followed the now much smaller Rio Chama for a while, crossed the border into Colorado, then continued north along the railway line for the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, a narrow gauge heritage railroad that runs from Chama to Antonito, Colorado. A few miles after crossing Cumbres Pass, the highway and rail lines diverged, then met up again later at the intersection with U. S. Highway 285 at Antonito. From there, I followed our often traveled route up through Alamosa, past the Great Sand Dunes National Park, over Poncha Pass, and down to the intersection of Highways 285 and 50 in Poncha Springs. I then detoured five miles east on 50 to Salida, the largest town in the area and the county seat of Chaffee County.

I met up with the family at our favorite Salida restaurant, Amicas. They had all arrived in the area the day before (Saturday) after meeting at the Denver airport. Kathy had flown to Denver from San Antonio, Sally from Austin, Hal and Carey from Buenos Aires (two-thirds of the way through their year in South America), John and Ellen (Carey's parents) from Maine, and Bethany (Carey's sister) from New Hampshire. They were met at the airport by Kathy's sister, Joan, who drove over from Grand Junction. Anyway, somehow we all arrived at Amicas at the appointed hour. Best of all, the restaurant's micro-brewed selection for that week included my favorite, their Green Chile Ale. I don't remember what I ate, but it was good. The Colorado portion of the trip was off to a great start.

On Monday, we decided to take what I described as a "moderate" hike along the Continental Divide Trail. It would duplicate the first part of, and be only about half as long as, what my family lovingly refers to as the "death march" we had taken about thirteen years earlier. But this shorter hike is one that I had taken two or three times before with various family members and friends. So I was fairly certain that we would all survive the route and perhaps even enjoy it.

The trail started on the Old Monarch Pass Road about 1,000 feet east of the pass, and at an elevation of approximately 11,350'. It followed an old road up past the southwest corner of Monarch Mountain ski area, then continued along the Continental Divide and the west boundary of the area and past the top of many familiar ski runs. We walked by the hut at the top of Panorama lift, located at an elevation of about 11,800'. The trail descended past the snow fences lining the Great Divide ski run to a level area. Although we did not know it at the time, this is the site of the original Monarch Pass, which predated Old Monarch Pass by about 10 years (if I remember the history correctly from the exhibit in the Monarch Pass gift shop on Highway 50). Of course, what the trail gave us in the way of descent it then cruelly demanded back from us as we ascended along the Continental Divide up to the top of Outback, a small powder bowl (during the winter, anyway) which is one of my favorite ski runs.

The trail then followed the divide north beyond the ski area. Although the sky was mostly clear, we were being buffeted by a very strong westerly wind. At a saddle, we left the trail and scrambled over the divide to find some shelter on the east side, hopefully out of the wind, so that we could stop for lunch. Using a dense clump of trees not too far down the other side as a windbreak, we were able to enjoy our meal in relative quiet and comfort. The photo shows John, Bethany, Ellen, Kathy, Carey, Hal, and Sally at our rest stop.

Note: Left click on any photo to enlarge.

The saddle we had crossed was at an elevation of about 11,750'. It turned out to be the site of some long, low rock walls constructed by various Native American tribes and used off and on from about 3,000 B.C. to the nineteenth century for hunting elk and other game. The prey would be driven into the area, where the animals would be funneled by the walls into a narrow gap, where the crouching hunters would be waiting for them, hidden behind the rocks. Fortunately, there were no hunters present when we walked by the site.

After finishing lunch, we crossed back over the divide to rejoin the trail on the west side. The view looking west from the Continental Divide Trail, as shown here, was much greener and generally less rugged than that on the east.

Hal's "great white explorer" pose along the Continental Divide Trail amused Bethany, John, and Carey.

Our destination - the Upper and Lower Waterdog Lakes, nestled below Bald Mountain (12,856'), the one with snow on the ridge and which Kathy, Hal, Sally and I had summited on our "death march," and Banana Mountain (12,283'). The two peaks in the background are Mount Aetna (13,745') and Taylor Mountain (13,651'), the latter of which is across Highway 50 from our home base of Garfield.

We reached our highest elevation, about 11,920', when we left the trail and climbed a short distance to the ridge overlooking the lakes. We then descended, without the benefit of a path, down the somewhat treacherous slope. A rock accidentally dislodged by Kathy tumbled down and struck John in the calf, opening up a small but bloody gash. We stepped more carefully after that.

Kathy dipped her tired feet in the cold waters of Upper Waterdog Lake.

Carey, Kathy, Hal, Sally, and I posed for a family portrait at the lake, which has an elevation of 11,475'.

We experimented with an "album cover" pose. We then found the trail down to Lower Waterdog Lake. From there, we followed the well-defined trail down to the trailhead (elevation about 10,360') at Highway 50, where we had left one of our vehicles. Altogether, we had probably covered only about six or seven miles. Almost everyone agreed that the scenery made it all worthwhile, even if our tired feet and sore muscles said otherwise.

On Tuesday, we took a short outing to one of our favorite local sites, a waterfall on the North Fork of the South Arkansas River. It is located a short distance from the Mount Shavano trailhead parking lot and is easily accessible. There was a little less water than usual flowing over the main falls.

Ellen, John, and Kathy peered down to the riverbed, while Sally tried some of Hal's maté (Argentinian tea).

A group shot with the falls in the background.

On Wednesday morning, Sally and the Groleaus left for the Denver airport. That afternoon, Kathy and I chauffeured Carey and Hal 91 miles to Breckenridge and dropped them off at the apartment of Hal's friend Peter Kardos. Peter was getting married on Saturday, and Hal would be serving as the best man. I guess Peter needed their help to get ready for the festivities, and we happened to be the designated drivers.

After a few minutes in the overcrowded and over-commercialized ski town, Kathy and I continued on up past Dillon Reservoir to Frisco, where we hopped onto I-70 and headed down to Copper Mountain. We then turned south onto Highway 91 and drove the 23 miles to Leadville, passing by the famous Climax molybdenum mine about half way there. With an elevation of 10,152', Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States.

The prior weekend, the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, a 100-mile mountain bike race, had been won (in a new course record time) by Lance Armstrong. A few days after our visit, the Leadville Trail 100 Ultramarathon would be run. But the town was fairly quiet during our visit in the middle of the week, and we had no problem finding a room at a reasonably priced motel right on the main street (Harrison Avenue) in the historic downtown section of Leadville.

Shown here is the building in Leadville, right across Harrison Avenue from the historic Tabor Opera House, owned by K. C. Corti, a friend, former neighbor (two doors down from us), and former office mate. He has his accounting office and living quarters (his primary home is in Denver) on the second floor. When I walked around to the back of the building and yelled (there is no doorbell at the front door), K. C.'s younger daughter answered. We found out that K. C. was in Denver, and wouldn't be back in Leadville until the weekend. My guess is that he would not be running in the ultramarathon.

Kathy and I made a walking tour of the downtown area, perhaps all of four or five blocks long. This photo shows the area from the north end of Harrison Avenue. We had a good dinner at the Golden Burro Cafe and Lounge.

After a nice breakfast at a local coffee shop (Provin' Grounds Coffee & Bakery) the next morning, Kathy and I headed south for our 70-mile drive back to Garfield. But we weren't in any rush. The headwaters of the Arkansas River form just south of Leadville, and Highway 24 stays close to the river most of the way. We wanted to take a look at several of the river access points, with the idea that we might be paddling some sections of the river later during our stay in Colorado.

Our first scenic overlook stop was just south of Granite, where, as shown in the above photo, the river turns away from the highway. Across the river, the cut in the hillside is the old stagecoach road to Leadville. The interestingly-named Maytag Rapid, rated as a Class III, is seen in the distance.

Our second stop was just a mile further downstream, at the remains of Granite Dam, pictured above with Kathy. This rapid is rated as a Class IV or V, depending upon the water level.

Less than another 6 miles further down the highway, we turned east onto County Road 387 and, after proceeding about 300 yards, crossed the river. We pulled over to take some pictures at the bridge. Here is a shot of Kathy taken from river level, and below is a photo taken from the bridge and looking downstream. The river was running fast (by our standards), with small drops and rapids spaced closely. We decided to stay close to and on the east side of the river for a while by traveling south on County Road 371.

Close to the bridge, an artist had just set up her easel on the side of unpaved 371 and was starting to paint. She had a nice view of the river and the Collegiate Peaks beyond. From this point, it was about nine miles on C.R. 371 to its intersection with Main Street in the heart of the old downtown section of Buena Vista. Along the way, the road joined the old railroad right of way and passed through this series of tunnels as it squeezed between the river and the foothills of the Mosquito Range to the east.

Below: The Buena Vista Heritage Museum on Main Street.

There was a large buck wandering around this area of town.

We followed Main Street to the east, where it ended at the Buena Vista River Park. This wonderful area features a nice parking lot with public restrooms and changing facilities, and consists of a linear park and trails along the west side of the Arkansas River, a footbridge leading to the Barbara Whipple Trail (a group of hiking and biking trails) on the east side of the river, and what we had come to see - the Buena Vista Whitewater Park. The Whitewater Park stretches over more than a quarter mile section of the river, with several access points along its length. It consists of several man-made, or at least man-modified, water features, and begins just upstream of the footbridge. The named features are the Uptown Hole, the Midtown Wave, the Town Feature (which includes the Pocket Wave), and the Downtown Hole.

Kathy at the footbridge to the Barbara Whipple Trail.

A view from the trail, looking back upstream at the Midtown Wave.

Below the last waterpark feature, the river returns to its natural state, starting with this Class III rapid.

At the top of the ramp leading up to the South Main Development from the Downtown Hole is this interesting public art.

Walking back upstream along the trail, we came across these two kayakers playing in the Midtown Wave.

The river was running at a fairly low 432 cfs. Click on this link for a video showing the three main features of the Whitewater Park, and here for one showing all four features. For another video showing more extreme kayak playboating moves in the Uptown Hole, click here. These were all taken at much higher water levels.

After a late lunch at Punky's, a local hamburger joint with good milkshakes, we first shopped at a vegetable stand next to the only stoplight in Buena Vista and then picked up some more groceries at the City Market. Now fully provisioned, we drove the 36 miles back to Garfield.

The following day, Friday, we loaded our two kayaks into the van and headed back to BV and the Whitewater Park. The river flow had decreased overnight, and the river was now running at only 320 cfs. After a picnic lunch overlooking the river, we launched the boats immediately above the Uptown Hole. Kathy was in the old-style Perception Corsica, while I was paddling the newly acquired Dagger Mamba for the very first time. Our little run was not uneventful.

We both made it through Uptown without incident. Somewhere before reaching Midtown, Kathy became stuck on some rocks, climbed out of her kayak, and managed to fill the boat with water. I clambered back upstream to help. With some effort, I was able to empty the kayak and then launch Kathy on her way. At the very end, just after passing over Downtown, I caught the eddy for the takeout awkwardly, flipped over, and had to make a wet exit. I was able to muscle the kayak over to the side just before the Class III rapid below, but my newly-acquired whitewater paddle was swept downstream and out of sight.

My kayak and I were on the shore opposite the take-out, without the tool needed to paddle across. Despite searching downstream for about twenty minutes, with a lot of scrambling over slippery rocks, I could not find the paddle. And Kathy, walking along the trail on the other side of the river, was similarly unsuccessful. We finally gave up. A nice bystander tossed Kathy's paddle across the river to me, and I ferried my kayak over to the take-out. While Kathy walked back upstream to retrieve the van, I moved our kayaks and other gear, minus one paddle, up the ramp to the road.

After Kathy returned and we loaded everything into the van, I decided to return to the trail by the river to see if I could spot the paddle. Kathy found a nice spot in the park to read as I set out on my quest. From the trail, I spied a glimpse of white under the water and next to a large rock on the other side of the river. So I scrambled down the bank and found a place a little downstream where I thought I could swim across. The current was fast but smooth and I made it without getting swept down the river into the next rapid, but almost lost a sandal in the process. I then worked my way along the opposite bank, climbed over a room-sized boulder that blocked the way, and arrived at the targeted rock. I reached down and discovered that the patch of white was just another rock, not the paddle (which, by the way, was actually silver and blue).

Well, to make a very long story not quite so interminable, Kathy came to check on me after almost an hour and, while watching a stick I threw into the water float downstream, spotted the paddle wedged between two rocks. The paddle was retrieved.

I decided to celebrate by running the stretch of river again, this time using my old kayak. The journey was made without incident, and recorded by Kathy with my camera.

After our eventful day on the river, we visited Cafe del Sol for a Mexican food dinner. The patio seating was nice. It had been many years since our last visit, but things hadn't changed much - the food was at best average and prices much too high. They even charged me for some additional salsa! But at least we were no longer hungry when we headed back to Garfield.

Note: For 38 additional photos of Week 1 in Colorado, click on this link to my Flickr page.