environment

Dream Canyon

My uncle asks from time to time if we’ve hiked Dream Canyon yet. It’s been on our list of places to explore once summer came and everything got green and pretty again, so last week I decided that the time had come to check this one off the list. Luke and Elizabeth weren’t feeling a hike this weekend. But according to AllTrails this is a short, easy loop, less than a mile long: an unchallenging solo hike for me.

It looked simple enough on the AllTrails website, but the trails are not clearly marked and they randomly connect in all directions. I lost the main trail early on, and by the time I realized it I was already committed to my new path.

My goal was Boulder Creek. I was sure I could find a way down to it one way or another.

This is a gorgeous canyon. Amazing views and fun scrambles.

Twice the path I was following dead-ended at drop-offs too steep to climb down, and I had to turn back and find another way.

Finally I decided to turn back and see where I had lost the main loop trail. I ran into a couple of guys who were in the same situation I was in, trying to get down to the creek but unable to find the right trail. While we were wandering around and having no luck, another guy came hiking through with the confident air of a dude who knows where he’s going. I told him we were having no luck finding our way to the creek, and he said that’s where he was headed and we could follow him if we wanted. So we fell in behind him.

The trail he took us on was 100% not the main loop. I think it was made by mountain goats. But it was an incredibly fun scramble, and it did eventually wind down to the creek.

The part of the creek he led us down to was perfect for wading and sunning and apparently it was clothing-optional, because there were naked men as far as the eye could see. That wasn’t a problem for me, I’ve never been bothered by nudity. I found a comfy spot to sit and read the book I’d brought.

But since I was the only female there, and the only clothed person, I was the one getting sidelong looks from the locals. I think I was making them uncomfortable. I didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s vibe, so I didn’t stay long.

It was right about then that I realized I would have to find my own way back up that rough goat trail. I didn’t have much luck with that, but I did eventually find my way out of the canyon and back to the parking lot. 10/10, day well spent. It’s such an incredibly beautiful setting, I’m thinking about going back sometime and exploring more of the area. Maybe take my swimsuit next time, and find a part of the creek that isn’t full of naked dudes.

 

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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

Barr Camp

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain…

-John Denver, “Annie’s Song”

We had planned to conquer Pikes Peak over the Memorial Day weekend. But all the rain has put the Summit House construction project behind schedule, so that coveted summit is still closed off to the public. We briefly considered canceling our Barr Camp reservations, but it wasn’t like we’d be able to get reservations anywhere else on such short notice. Short notice for good camping reservations in Colorado is counted in months, not days. Anyway, we figured half a mountain was better than none, and the views would still be nice.

Then we got the weather forecast for the weekend: thunderstorms through Monday. Fun fact—the Pikes Peak area is one of the most lightning-prone spots in all of Colorado.

At that point we gave some serious thought to canceling the hike, because that would be a dumb way to die. But in the end we decided to risk it. Fortune favors the bold, right?

We got to the trailhead early, just as the moon was setting. Manitou Springs still had patches of blue sky, and the air was mild. Perfect hiking weather!

This hike was also the maiden voyage of my new GoPro, because I got tired of ruining good cameras with rain and dust and general abuse. I was surprised at the low resolution of the photos, considering the GoPro 9 is a 20mp camera. You can’t really zoom in at all without seeing every pixel. There’s quite a bit of lens distortion as well, even with the fisheye setting off.

The clouds rolled in early in the day, and the higher we climbed the denser they got.

We were surrounded by mountains, but the clouds swallowed them up. We never got even a glimpse of Pikes Peak.

We don’t know what this concrete thing is. It doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just a little man-made cave about five feet deep. Maybe a remnant of the cog railway’s utilitarian days, or maybe a shelter for hikers caught in storms?

My pack was the only one that didn’t come with a rain cover, and for some reason I didn’t think to buy one. So I used that incredibly classy trash bag, and it worked fine.

The clouds turned the trail into a mystical, otherworldly place.

This hike was harder for me than I expected. It was partly the altitude, but mostly the extra weight I’ve put on in the last couple of years. I need to get serious about getting back in shape if I’m going to be exploring Colorado on foot.

But we made it to Barr Camp at last!

For some reason I didn’t get a pic of the outside of our lean-to, but here’s the view from inside.

We got incredibly lucky with the weather. As soon as we were safely under shelter, the thunder and lightning and hail arrived. A couple of hours later the view looked like this:

After we got our stuff all settled into our lean-to, we went to the main cabin for hot chocolate and tea and the company of other campers. So cozy! At 6:00 they served spaghetti and garlic bread…

…and the next morning they served yummy pancakes hot off the stove.

The lean-tos have mattresses in them, so we only had to pack in blankets. One thing we realized right away is that the camp blankets we used in Texas are not warm enough for up in the Rockies. We ended up using our reflective emergency blanket as a top layer to hold the heat in. Next on the shopping list: winter-rated sleeping bags!

The storm stormed itself out overnight, but the clouds hung around. We refilled our water bottles at Barr Camp’s only source of fresh water:

We filtered it through a Sawyer Squeeze and had no problems.

Everything was fresh and wet from the storm. The clouds got more drizzly as the day went on, but it didn’t really rain until we were almost back to the trailhead.

The GoPro’s photos are so lo-res that this zoomed-in deer looks like a paint-by-number.

But credit where it’s due: the GoPro is impervious to mist and rain and dust and general abuse, which means it gets to go places other cameras shouldn’t. Like the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it.

For the last couple miles of the descent, Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods come into view down below.

The cog trains are running again, after a complete replacement of the cars, tracks and station.

After the hike, we had a nice lunch at Edelweiss.

All in all, Barr Trail is a challenging but beautiful hike. We’ll probably tackle a few of the “easier” fourteeners to build up our stamina before we have another go at Pikes Peak.

Categories: Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Travel, trees, Weather, Wildlife | 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

Thankful, 2020

In June of 2019 I was apartment hunting in Austin, Texas, trying to find something affordable closer to the Tech Ridge area where Luke and I were working. Our lease was set to expire in mid-August and we wanted to upgrade to a nicer neighborhood, something that wasn’t right next to a noisy freeway. When I couldn’t find anything in the price range I was looking for, I reached out to an apartment-finder service.

The agent I spoke to took down our information…and then advised us to stay where we were. It was at that moment I realized that not only did I not want to stay in our current apartment, I did not even want to stay in Texas.

Our general situation at the time was stable and upwardly mobile. Luke and I had found decent-paying jobs with plenty of opportunity for advancement. Elizabeth was content with her service industry gig. With three incomes and frugal habits, money wasn’t really a concern. But we had never found our community – our interests and lifestyle did not mesh well with the Texas zeitgeist, even in blue Austin.

I suggested to Luke and Elizabeth that we renew our current apartment lease for one more year and start making plans to move to a different state. They were instantly on board; the only debate was about where to go. The finalists were Colorado or somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Colorado won out, because it was closer and because I like sunshine.

We made a list of things we wanted to do and see in Texas before we left. These are the kinds of things that are more fun with a group of friends, but since we had no adventure-sharing friends there, we just did them by ourselves. We explored Palo Duro Canyon, summited Guadalupe Peak, and took a three-day road trip along the Gulf Coast. Our last year in Texas turned out to be the most enjoyable, but it also reinforced our desire to live someplace more compatible with our interests and values.

The kids would not commit to any city without seeing it firsthand, so in May we drove up along the front range of the Rockies to choose our Colorado destination. Our rough-draft plan was to look for a nice neighborhood in the Boulder area. The arrival of Covid was a complication, but we were very careful and wore masks and socially distanced from the locals. Our first stop was in Pueblo, which we liked more than we thought we would. Then we stopped in Colorado Springs, which we liked even better. Then we stopped in Denver, and absolutely fell in love. Then we continued on to Boulder, and to our surprise we didn’t like it at all. Too rich for our working-class blood. Our unanimous and enthusiastic vote was for Denver.

Covid complicated everything. Our Austin jobs were essential and fairly secure, but we couldn’t be sure of finding work in Colorado. We applied for jobs, but no one wanted to look at resumes with an out-of-state address in the middle of a pandemic. The best we got was a few “Get in touch after you get here and we’ll see if we have anything for you” offers. But apartment managers want to see an existing job or a solid job offer before they will offer a lease. It looked like we might have to go the AirBnB route just to get a Denver address so we could find local work.

We reached out to a couple of Denver apartment-finder services. One said they couldn’t help us. The other found a couple of apartment options that do not verify income. On the income line we all put our current Austin incomes, and that was good enough. We opted to sign a short three-month lease on a one-bedroom apartment and then find a better place after we found work.

I’d never in my adult life quit a job without having another job lined up. In July 2020 all three of us did just that. It was one of the leapiest, faithiest leaps of faith I’ve ever taken. In August 2020 we packed our belongings into a UHaul and left Texas behind.

And it all worked out. The apartment was comically tiny for three adults, but otherwise nice. Luke and I found work right away. Elizabeth decided to wait until we’d found a long-term rental and live off her savings in the meantime. Then I found a better job, got Mahogany shipped out, and we nabbed a good deal on a bigger apartment in a better location. We love Denver. It’s a very welcoming culture, full of interesting and friendly people. I don’t think we’ll ever run out of things to do here.

2020 has been an objectively terrible year. But for us it was a marvelous year, full of good changes and adventures. From Elizabeth’s trip to Nepal in January to this first Thanksgiving in Colorado, 2020 has been generous with its blessings. In an apocalyptic year of plague and economic unraveling, we are very thankful to be where we are.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may there be better years ahead.

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