Family

Adventures in Nepal XV: Boudhanath Stupa

I found the flash drive I misplaced during the last move! I can finally finish the Nepal saga!

When we left our heroes, they were spending their last full day in Nepal taking a guided tour of Kathmandu. After visiting the Monkey Temple and Patan Durbar Square, they took a bus to Boudhanath Stupa.

This is one of the largest spherical stupas in the world.

It was festooned with marigold garlands for an upcoming festival.

The garlands are made with real marigolds, which signify passion and creativity.

The girls and their guide stopped for lunch in an airy rooftop restaurant overlooking the stupa.

I don’t have a lot of narrative input for this post. They visited a couple of temples, only one of which allowed interior photos.

Pigeons clustered by the thousands in the shady areas.

Scary Wheel of Life, and partial glimpse of the tour guide:

Lion and tiger, Nepali style:

Elephant-dragon looks like he’s about to gobble up an airplane.

On to the next destination!

To be continued!

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Celebrations, Family, Holidays, Life, Nepal, Travel | 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

Carousel of Happiness

Last Sunday we drove the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway from Black Hawk to Estes Park. As the name implies, this outing was more about the journey than the destination. We stopped to investigate anything that looked interesting along the way.

One of the highlights for me was the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland. We drove up just as it was opening, so we were the first customers of the day and for a few minutes we had the carousel to ourselves.

It lives in a modest, unassuming building.

But inside is a world of whimsy!

The operator said there was no time limit, we could stay as long as we liked, so we got to wander around and look at all the animals close-up.

There is a bittersweet story behind this carousel. All of the animals were carved by an ex-marine named Scott Harrison, who has worked through his post-Vietnam ptsd by bringing these happy creatures to life.

During the war his sister had sent him a small music box that played Chopin’s “Tristesse.” It was a source of comfort to him between firefights. He would listen to the tune and imagine a carousel in a serene mountain meadow.

The music box was lost when Harrison was badly injured in January of 1968. After he returned home, he struggled to adjust and longed for the comfort of his music box tune.

In 1986 he found an old 1910 wooden carousel in Salt Lake City that was being dismantled after someone had purchased its animals. Harrison brought the carousel to Colorado and spent the next 26 years carving new animals for it. He held a fundraiser to collect the money to build the structure that now houses the carousel.

Look at this adorable little fish giving a frog a ride!

I just now noticed that the rabbit is holding a watch.

Chillin’ with Harambe.

When the next customers arrived, we chose our animals and the ride began.

The carousel is teeming with creatures large and small.

A 1913 Wurlitzer band organ provides the music, guarded by a wolf.

Painted koi swim around beneath the platform.

So many birds everywhere!

Not all of the animals are on the carousel. Some sit nearby to watch the fun.

Hello frog!

Some of the walls are portrayed as misty portals.

This vignette in particular tugs at my heart.

Adjacent to the carousel is a gift shop, with a Nietzsche quote painted over the door: “We have art so that we are not destroyed by the truth.”

The experience made me happy and sad. Sad that a teenage boy was so traumatized by an ugly, pointless war that the entire rest of his life was shaped by that trauma. Happy that he was able to craft his pain into something so beautiful and uplifting.

Almost all art is, on some level, an expression of longing. It’s not hard to see that this exhibit was created by a man who longed for peace and happiness. I hope he eventually found them.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Family, Life, Music, Road trip, Travel, Winter | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Christkindl

I haven’t made any Nepal posts lately because all of my flash drives got misplaced in the last apartment relocation, and one of them has the photos Elizabeth gave me from her trip. Normally they would have made the move in the safety of my purse, but my purse went out to a local repair shop to have its main zipper fixed right around the time of the move, and the flash drives got packed… elsewhere. In a Safe Place somewhere. If they don’t turn up soon, I’ll have to ask Elizabeth to dig up her copies of the pics and resend them so I can wrap up the Nepal saga.

Lost items aside, we love our new home. Technically we’re in Englewood now, just south of Denver. It suits us perfectly, it’s very walkable and charming.

The pandemic has hit the local economy hard. All the small family businesses are a big part of what gives this area its appeal, so we have resolved to support them as much as we are able. Last weekend we took a break from the chaos of moving to visit the Denver Christkindl, an outdoor Christmas market where (mostly) local vendors can sell their holiday wares.

In the spirit of supporting small businesses, we started the day with drinks and sandwiches at our neighborhood coffee shop.

In the background you can see the white bridge/staircase of a light rail station:

Denver has the best light rail system of any city I’ve ever lived in. We definitely want to support that, so we try to use it as much as possible. It’s easier to get to downtown Denver by rail than by car anyway, especially with traffic and the cost of public parking.

After breakfast, we walked to the station.

The C Line to Union Station comes through every 15 minutes.

20 minutes later we rolled into Union Station.

We could have taken the H Line and arrived closer to the Christkindl, but we wanted to walk around downtown and look at the holiday decorations. Denver loves Christmas.

It was the kind of bright high-altitude fall day that’s warm in the sun and cold in the shade. Luke said his head was chilly, so we stopped in a couple of hat shops in Larimer Square. At Pendleton he found a nice wool hat that suits the “railroad baron” aesthetic he has been cultivating of late.

We continued exploring, and found these awesome statues near the Opera House:

We finally saw the Big Blue Bear in person!

Fun fact: downtown Denver has warmed itself with steam since 1880. On cold days you can see it rising out of vents in the ground.

The Christkindl Market is usually right downtown near Larimer Square, but for Covid safety it’s been relocated to the spacious Civic Center Park.

We did our best to support the local vendors. We bought some ornaments and cards and so much food that we had to bring most of it home with us. Since I wasn’t driving, I got to enjoy some hot mulled wine. One stall sold handmade woolen items from Nepal, and Elizabeth found a hat that perfectly matches her Nepali jacket!

We wanted to stay until it got dark enough for all the lights to come on. After we left the Christkindl we walked around admiring the local architecture and art installations.

I love the life-size reindeer and sleigh on the roof of City Hall:

The Capitol Building is beautiful too:

But we had come early in the day, and we ran out of things to look at. And when the sun finally did disappear behind the skyline, it got cold very quickly. We decided to head back to Union Station, and come back another day to see all the lights.

On the way back we stepped into a bookstore and bought a couple of Christmas-themed books. This guy was trippy:

He’s a wax figure, not a live person. Looks super real, though.

Union Station was lit up by the time we got back to it. Denver does love Christmas.

The train home (electric tram, really) was cozy warm. Colorado is nice. We like it here.

Categories: Artwork, books, Christmas, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Nepal | 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.

Categories: Celebrations, environment, Family, Holidays, Life, Road trip, Travel | Tags: | Leave a comment

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