A Plethora of Parks

Road Trip 2022, Part I

The world feels a bit apocalyptic lately. There’s been a growing sense in the back of my mind that if I don’t make time soon for all the things I want to see on this earth, I’ll miss my chance and never get to them at all. So, on a gray morning in mid-May, Luke and Elizabeth and I packed up the car and headed north out of Colorado to check a few more items off the bucket list. 

In retrospect we brought way too much stuff with us, but you never know what you might need on a trip like this. My main concern was boredom in between the interesting bits. I brought books to read, a journal to write in, camp games to play, even the old family hymnal in case we felt like a sing-along. I’m not a fan of organized religion, but my issues with it don’t extend to those lovely ancient hymns. In the traveling days of my childhood, those were the songs that passed the miles.

The books, games, journal and hymnal sat untouched in the trunk for the entire trip. An audiobook reading of “The Fellowship of the Ring” brightened a few tedious stretches of road, but for the most part it was the journey itself that kept us entertained.

We brought boxes of nonperishable food, and most of it came back home with us. Canned and dehydrated provisions and energy bars could not compete with all the fresh local fare we enjoyed along the way.

We brought raincoats, rain hats, sun hats, an umbrella, LifeStraws and matches and never needed any of them.

For myself I packed something like twelve shirts, and then wore the same merino wool top for almost the entire expedition. On the other hand, I brought five different pairs of footwear – snow boots, chelsea boots, trail runners, water shoes, sheepskin booties – and ended up using and being grateful for all of them. You just never know what you’re going to need.

We stopped for lunch in a 1950’s-themed diner in windy Wyoming, skimmed through the northeast corner of Utah and spent the first night in a truck stop parking lot in southern Idaho, just trying to put the miles behind us on this first uneventful leg of the journey. We were on the first runthrough of our road trip music playlist and hadn’t got tired of it yet, so we turned it up loud and sang along.

Back in January when we started discussing the trip, we had planned to stop in Salt Lake City to see Temple Square. I’m no flavor of religious, but I can appreciate fine architecture. Unfortunately the Temple is buried in scaffolding now for renovations. We’ll visit it another time, when the construction is done and we can appreciate it in all its majestic glory.

The next morning we stopped in Twin Falls, Idaho, to see Shoshone Falls. The “Niagara of the West” is fed by the once-mighty Snake River, but agricultural diversion and drought have all but dried this part of it up. Here is what’s left of the Snake just upstream of Shoshone Falls:

The falls were flowing at a sad trickle when we arrived, just before the viewing area officially opened. That big dry riverbed tells a cautionary tale about climate change and unsustainable water use.

Some baby marmots were frolicking together on the viewing path, and there were several larger adults nibbling grass in the picnic area. We had never seen marmots before and had to consult the googles to find out what we were looking at. Yellow-bellied marmots are apparently common in the Twin Falls area.

Shortly after we arrived, the dam released a pleasantly noisy and scenic flow over part of the falls. I’m guessing this is done during the park’s open hours to attract tourists. The riverbed itself was still dry, but at least we felt like we had seen an actual waterfall. Birbs for scale:

Later we stopped for lunch in the Basque Block of Boise, Idaho’s Old Historic District. This colorful enclave is dedicated to preserving and commemorating the language and culture of Europe’s Basque region.

We bought a bar of chocolate in the Basque Market because we liked the wrapper. The excellent chocolate was a delicious bonus.

We had a nice lunch at Bar Gernika, named for a small town that was bombed by nazis during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Picasso’s famous painting, “Guernica,” is referenced on a mural next to the pub.

The Snake River winds back up and around to mark the state line between Idaho and Oregon. We crossed the river for the second time and continued north.

At a rest stop in Oregon we found a little water mill that had once powered a tool shop.

We drove through Deadman Pass, where I-84 follows the old Oregon Trail. This is a steep and winding section of highway that loses 2,000 feet of elevation in six miles of hairpin curves. The views are great.

We crossed the Columbia River into Washington, and made a small detour in the sleepy town of Zillah to see a defunct gas station shaped like a teapot.

Fun fact: there is a “Church of God Zillah.” Presumably unrelated to the Japanese monster.

The weather was unpredictable on this first part of the journey. We’d had rain off and on ever since we left Denver, but so far it had hospitably followed a pattern of raining while we drove and being clear whenever we stopped to look at something.

I was obsessively following weather forecasts for the Olympic Peninsula. I wanted to hike Hurricane Hill via Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, but so far the seasonal road to the trailhead was still closed to vehicles due to an unusually snowy spring. Walking to the trailhead would add an additional three miles to the hike. But aside from that, the Hurricane Hill trail is all about the views from the top. It wouldn’t even be worth doing on a foggy, overcast day with poor visibility. So I watched the forecasts and hoped for open roads and one day of clear weather.

We spent the second night in a dirt parking lot on Snoqualmie Pass Summit, next to some (open and heated, yay!) public restrooms and a gift/coffee shop that had closed for the night. We left early the next morning, before the shop opened, which was too bad because I had read good things about their hot chocolate. The air was cold on the pass.

Tangent: in California I used to ride Stormy on the Pacific Crest Trail where it ran through Anza. Back then I just assumed that at some point in my life I would ride or hike the entire length of it from Mexico to Canada. At my age that project doesn’t sound like fun anymore, but I did enjoy seeing a trailhead for the PCT as we continued on through Snoqualmie Pass.

We took another short detour off the Interstate to visit Snoqualmie Falls.

Photos can’t capture the real essence of big waterfalls: the thundering roar, the fresh mist on your face, the sense of dynamic energy. Snoqualmie Falls did not disappoint.

Saw this colorful boi there! Love his little racing stripe.

In Seattle we stopped to see the Lenin Statue. It had been defaced with paint; apparently someone was mad at it about Ukraine. Maybe they got Lenin mixed up with Putin because they’re both named Vladimir?

Elizabeth for scale.

We also visited the Troll Under the Bridge.

Next we stretched our legs at Gas Works Park, which is what it sounds like: an old gas works that has been converted into a public park. 

The park sits on the shore of Lake Union and offers nice views of the Seattle skyline. The weather had turned clear and fine, and people were out playing with their boats and water planes.

From Seattle we took the Edmonds-Kingston Ferry across the Puget Sound to the Peninsula. It would have been faster to drive the long way around, just because of the wait times for boarding. But we had never taken this kind of ferry before, and this seemed like a good opportunity to check it off the bucket list.

Next up: Olympic National Park!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, Christianity, environment, Family, food, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The GoPro explores the Denver Botanic Gardens

The Denver Botanic Gardens are awesome and I highly recommend visiting them if you’re in the area. That said, this post isn’t really about the Gardens. I gained a new appreciation for my GoPro while I was there and want to share what I learned.

I wasn’t expecting much from the GoPro. I had spent some time going through its settings to maximize image quality, and I wanted to see what it could do under various conditions. But I brought my “real camera,” my old Sony RX100, to make sure I got some decent shots.

The Sony is 2.5 years old now, and that’s about the age where my cameras usually need replacing. By then they’re full of dust and moisture and they’ve been dropped and banged into rocks and saddles to the point where the lenses struggle to focus properly. My Sony took glorious photos when it was new. Now they’re just okay. But I still had more faith in it than the GoPro.

Luckily, one of our first stops was the Tropical Conservatory. I hadn’t even taken the GoPro out of my purse yet at that point. I wish I had, because I think it would have taken a better pic of these poison dart frogs than the Sony did.

The Tropical Conservatory is pretty great. Winding ramps and staircases take you up through a lush jungle atrium. I brought the GoPro out for the first time when I wasn’t able to get all of a giant plant-tree-thing into the Sony’s frame. This is where the GoPro’s wide-angle lens really shines:

For those who can’t climb stairs, there’s an elevator disguised as a tree and overgrown with live plants. In the constrained space of the walkway, this is the pic the Sony took of the top of the elevator:

And the GoPro took this pic from the exact same spot:

The Sony did a marginally better job at shots like this, where the subject fit nicely into the frame:

Both cameras took lovely shots of the Monet Pool in their different ways.

Sony…

…Sony…

…and GoPro:

Japanese Garden, GoPro:

The Sony took this pic. I like it because it looks like alien space koi coming to visit a desert landscape.

Here are two shots of the same waterfall from the same vantage point, both cropped down to show roughly the same image. Top Sony, bottom GoPro. I think I like the top one better, but I could improve the bottom one in a photo processing app.

The Sony took the better pic of this tree’s unusual bark, but only because the GoPro’s fisheye lens warped the trunks into weird shapes.

Two pics of the same greenhouse from the same spot. Sony top, GoPro bottom. The GoPro image is actually cropped a bit.

Obligatory nude statue, Sony.

If you visit the Denver Botanic Gardens with kids, be sure not to miss the Children’s Garden, accessed via the roof of the parking garage. It’s got a great Old West theme with mountains to climb, bridges to cross, a stream to splash around in, and woodsy trails to explore. All pics taken with the Sony:

Conclusion: the GoPro is exceptionally useful in small spaces with large subjects. It actually can take decent-quality photos, but it’s crucial to go through the settings and personalize them for what you need. Also, the Denver Botanic Gardens are very cool.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, environment, Family, Gardening, Life, trees | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Manitou Incline

Last weekend the kids and I set our sights on the Manitou Incline. It’s the remnants of what used to be a narrow-gauge railway tram up the side of a mountain, now just a long staircase of railroad ties. The Incline starts at an elevation of 6530 feet and tops out at 8550 feet, an elevation gain of 2020 feet in just under a mile.

When I told my coworkers that I planned to attempt the Incline, they earnestly assured me that there is no shame in failure.

The big day dawned sunny, cold and sparkling with a fresh layer of snow from the night before. We made the hour-and-a-half drive to Manitou Springs in a white winter landscape under intensely blue skies.

You can park right next to the Incline Base Camp for $10, but climbers are encouraged to use the free parking in town and ride the shuttle to the camp, so that’s what we did.

The Incline is free to climb, but for Covid safety they limit numbers by requiring reservations. We got our reserved QRcodes scanned and received bracelets. I told the kids not to wait for me, knowing I would take a lot longer than they would to reach the top. Luke took off up the stairs at an easy jog, and that was the last I saw of him for the rest of the climb. Elizabeth set a more relaxed pace; I could at least see where she was  most of the time.

The grade is nice and gradual at first. It’s a good warm-up. Every couple hundred feet there’s a marker that tells you how many steps you’ve climbed, which is nice.

Most of the snow had melted away in the sun and the foot traffic, but in the shady spots it had packed down to something like ice. We were lucky that better-prepared hikers with microspikes on their shoes had roughened up the ice on the steps, so we didn’t slip around much.

The grade got steeper as we climbed higher.

Pretty soon we were climbing for real.

About two-thirds of the way up, an “exit ramp” connects to Barr Trail.

We didn’t take it, but we do have future plans for Barr Trail. If you follow it up instead of down, it leads to the summit of Pikes Peak! That’s an adventure for another day.

Once past the exit ramp, the Incline gets quite steep.

This is where I really started to feel the altitude and started to take more rest breaks. It’s about where Elizabeth left me behind.

At this point I was managing about twenty steps in between stops to catch my breath. But the top was finally in sight!

The snow was deeper now in the shade.

Getting closer!

We were high enough now to get a nice view of the eastern plains.

Almost there!

We made it!

I took me about two hours to make it to the top. Luke had been waiting there for about 45 minutes. He hung out with us for a few minutes and then headed down the descent trail. Elizabeth and I ate the snacks we had brought and savored our accomplishment. I may have texted a smug summit photo to my coworkers.

The Incline is supposed to be a one-way ascent, although a few joggers ran it it both directions while we were there. Most of us took the descent trail down.

This is another connection to Barr Trail. From the top of the Incline to Base Camp via the trail is almost three miles, but you travel a lot faster going down than coming up. It’s a gorgeous trail even in midwinter.

I like this shot of Elizabeth below me on the trail.

I have two or three fourteeners on my summer to-do list, so the Incline was a good way to gauge what kind of shape I’m in for that. The verdict: my climbing muscles are in decent shape, but the altitude has me gasping for air and I could stand to lose a few pounds. It’s hard to get outside as much in the winter here; hopefully in the spring I can get back to hiking more. And maybe carry a bottle of oxygen with me into the higher altitudes.

The Incline is a great hike year-round, though. Highly recommended!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Covid-19, environment, Family, Life, Weather, Winter | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Lions and Tiger and Bear (and Hyena and Serval and Leopard)

The Denver Zoo has reopened, with extra precautions in place for Covid. Tickets have to be purchased online in advance, you have to choose from available timeframes, and you can’t wander the zoo willy-nilly. Barricades and painted arrows keep visitors moving through the zoo on a one-way path from entry to exit.

We were there on a chilly morning, so some of the animals were more active in their enclosures and some were keeping warm in their shelters out of sight. This adorable hyena just wanted to play!

The bear looked very cozy and sleepy.

I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the tiger, but I feel obliged to include him anyway.

I wasn’t able to get a good shot of the serval either, but he is too cute to leave out.

I think this a clouded leopard? He was snug in his box.

The cold made the lions lively and frolicky. There are two or three separate lion enclosures, so the different age groups were all enjoying themselves in different ways.

This guy was not about sharing his ball.

MIIIIIINNNNE.

I took a gazillion pics, so there are probably more zoo posts to come.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, Cats, Covid-19, Dogs, environment, Family, Life, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breckenridge, Part II

After Elizabeth and I broke camp Sunday morning we drove back to the public parking lot next to the gondola station. Our plan was to explore downtown Breckenridge on foot and then do some hiking up in the local mountains.

Breckenridge is a beautiful little town with an Old West Gold Rush aesthetic. Not in a dusty or faded or ghost-towny way, but fresh and colorful and vibrant. Elizabeth and I stepped into one charming little shop, bought a couple of pretty (and pricey) trinkets, and didn’t step into any more shops for fear of spending all of our money.

See that mountaintop in the next pic? That’s Peak 8, locally known as Imperial Peak, elevation 12,998′. A few hours after I snapped this pic, Elizabeth and I were standing on its summit.

Breckenridge is full of art, and parks, and parks full of art. Much of downtown is closed to car traffic now to make more room for pedestrians to socially distance.

We walked up Main St, and then returned to the parking lot via the Riverwalk Trail.

And then we climbed a mountain!

To be continued…

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, Artwork, Covid-19, Holidays, Life, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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