Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park

In 1903, Stanley the co-inventor of the Stanley Steamer Automobile and his wife, Flora, came to Estes Park hoping for a cure for his TB.    As his health improved he decided to invest in the beautiful valley.   He built a truly gorgeous hotel.
Using land he bought from the Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl he started construction of the Stanley Hotel in 1907.   It opened on 4 July 1909 and was luxurious having electricity, running water and telephone connections.   The only thing missing was heating, as the hotel was only designed for summer use.   As the hotel is now open year round, I imagine the lack of heating has been well and truly fixed.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many famous people including Emperors, Presidents and numerous famous actors have stayed at the hotel.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to ride in this old horse-drawn sleigh?  

Stephen King used the hotel as his inspiration when he wrote ‘The Shining’, lots of ‘Shining’ related things, books, t-shirts, DVD’s etc., are available in the hotel gift shop.    

Tours of the hotel are available, but as we didn’t want to commit to an actual day, we just took a chance and arrived.   We were able to look around the outside and the ground floor public area.

It’s a beautiful building and quite honestly with its lovely wide verandahs, gorgeous views and wicker furniture it reminded me more of the hotel in ‘Dirty Dancing’ than the one in ‘The Shining’.

I could quite happily have spent an afternoon enjoying that fabulous view.

Apart from nipping into Safeway for some groceries, we never did get chance to look around the town of Estes Park itself, ah well, maybe next time.

Have fun, we are!

Colorado River Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

On another trip over Trail Ridge road, we took a short hike along the Colorado River Trail, as it was called a “river” trail, I assumed we’d be walking by the river most of the way.   Wrong.
The headwaters of the Colorado River flow from the Western slopes of the Continental Divide and Never Summer Mountains, before flowing over 1,400 miles to the Gulf of California.
The trail left the car park and climbed over a short hill and through the trees.
At a ½ mile the trail divided, as we walked towards the river the trail sign showed the mileage to Grand Ditch via Red Mountain, Hitchens Gulch, Dutch Town and Thunder Pass.  

 Just over the bridge the trail continued through a lovely open meadow

After spending a while beside the river, and thinking that what we were seeing here looked nothing like the torrent that thunders through the Grand Canyon, we rejoined the main trail.

DB studied the trail sign, the two nearest hikes were to the remains of the Shipler mine site and cabins and Lulu City which was a silver boom town for a few years in the mid-1800’s, but as the silver was low grade the town soon died.

Only having planned a short hike, we weren’t equipped and definitely didn’t have enough water for the longer hike to Lulu City, but as Shipler mine site was only a couple of miles further along the trail we thought it might be doable. 

Leaving the river behind we were soon back among the trees, at one section the trees and rocks closed in on the trail, making a narrow passage.

DB was slightly ahead of me and as I followed him through I heard a strange noise, needless to say DB didn’t hear a thing. By now it was getting quite warm and although we carried on, I was sure that we really didn’t have enough water to comfortably reach the mine site and walk back.   On top of which I kept thinking about the noise I’d heard. 

In the end, after me having several “I’m sure there was something in those trees” moments and much muttering on DB’s part, we turned back.   On the return journey, in exactly the same place I heard whatever it was again. Needless to say DB once again never heard a thing and said I was imagining things, but I definitely heard something odd! 

We strolled back along the trail and just as we came within sight of the car park, DB pointed to a tree and asked if I’d noticed it on the way out.   I had.

A lovely ponderosa pine, the bark had been ripped from the bottom and huge claw marks showed where not too long ago, a bear had marked its territory, and DB said I was hearing things!!!!!  

Have fun, we are!

Holzwarth Historic Site, Rocky Mountain National Park

Another trip across the mountains on Trail Ridge Road took us to the beautiful Kawuneeche Valley.   Ute Indians hunted game and gathered plants in the valley for more than 6,000 years, Arapaho were latecomers to the area arriving in the valley in the early 1800’s.
We stopped at the Holzwarth Historic site and took the easy ½ mile trail to the old ranch buildings.

One of the oldest buildings left standing in the valley belonged to Joseph Fleshuts who homesteaded 160 acres in 1902.   It must’ve been tough out here as in 1911 he vanished and was never heard of again. 

Although the valley is a prime moose habitat, as the wetlands along the Colorado River support aquatic plants, willows and aspens that moose like to eat, as we strolled along the trail we didn’t see hide nor hair of a single one.

Holzwarth Trout Lodge, owned by Sophie and John Holzwarth, was an early ‘dude ranch’ in the 1920’s. 

Guests made their way to the valley driving wagons or Model T Fords and at the end of a day’s fishing guests enjoyed home cooked meals.

A freshwater spring behind the cabins, guests stayed in rustic cabins, one of which was used as a taxidermy shop. 

The building with no roof was a tent cabin; it had a wooden floor and a tarpaulin for a roof. 

In 1925 the Holzwarths built a more modern ‘Never Summer Ranch’ along the river and used the old buildings for overflow. 

There were stunning views along the river.

Have fun, we are!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Rocky Mountain National Park

Years ago, I discovered a fascinating book called ‘A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains’ by Isabella Bird.   The book is a series of letters to her sister in which she recounts her adventures and the people she met travelling around Colorado in the mid 1800’s; by the end of the book I was hooked.   Although I had absolutely no intention travelling through the Rocky Mountains on horseback and definitely not in November!
Since we retired and started exploring the US, Rocky Mountain National Park has been somewhere we’ve tried to visit several times, but on each occasion bad weather held us back.
This September we finally made it and it was simply gorgeous.
On our first day in the park we decided to drive Trail Ridge Road, as we knew that although the official closure date was mid-October, bad weather could and probably would, close the road at any time.
We started our drive from Estes Park and right from the start the views were amazing. 
Built between 1926 and 1932 Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles long and is a designated All American Road, 11 miles of the road are over 11,500 ft high and at its highest point it reaches an elevation of 12,183 ft.   Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous highway in the USA.

It’s hard to imagine that a glacier 500ft thick once covered this valley, it’s beautiful in the sunshine, but just as spectacular as a thunderstorm creeps down the mountains.

As it climbs ever higher the road travels through forests of aspen, and ponderosa pine, followed by subalpine forests of fir and spruce before leaving the trees behind as it reaches fragile windswept alpine tundra.

Old Fall River Road from Trail Ridge Road

Autumn colours in Hidden Valley, the valley once had a ski resort, it’s still possible to snowboard and sled here in the winter.

Trail Ridge Road from Many Curves corner as it winds up the mountain from Estes Park.

28 million years ago volcanic vents 12 miles away in the Never Summer Mountains were clogged with lava.   A violent explosion of molten rock and gas formed a fast moving avalanche, which when it stopped it fused into a solid mass.   The dark rocks are welded tuff and known as Lava Cliffs.

Trail Ridge road at one of its highest points as it crosses the tundra.   It’s easy to see why it’s closed during the winter, as once the snows arrive and the wind blows, how on earth would you be able to find the road?

The Never Summer Mountains, they often have snow on them even during the summer, an informational sign told us they were named by the Arapaho Indians because ‘summer never comes’!   They’re the only volcanic mountain range in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Huge logs on top of the Alpine Visitor Centre help stop the roof caving in during the heavy snows of winter.   We stopped here several times on our visits to the park.   It was almost always windy, but the last time we stopped the wind was so strong I could barely open the truck door.

The coffee shop has huge windows with fabulous views of the alpine tundra, on our first visit there wasn’t a seat to be had by the windows, on our second all the seats were free as the windows had been boarded up.   On our next visit water was limited so only tea and coffee (sadly no hot chocolate!) were available, all this was part of the closure preparations, in case of bad weather, which we were told could close the road at any time and this was only mid-September!

Old Fall River Road, this was the first road in Rocky Mountain National Park and opened in 1920.  The one-way gravel road starts from Horseshoe Park and follows an old Indian Trail as it climbs up to the Alpine Visitor Centre.   When we visited the road was closed for repair after the disastrous floods in September 2013.   Of course, this makes it yet another place to add to our ever growing ‘to-revisit’ list!    

Driving along high on Trail Ridge Road, fabulous views on either side.

The one and only time we saw elk in the park. 

Have fun, we are!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas

Wishing you a very
Merry Christmas

Truly fabulous
 New Year

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Pike's Peak, Colorado

On a warm, sunny day we decided to head to the top of Pikes Peak, the easy way, on the Manitou and Pike’s Peak cog railway.   Fleeces in hand, we boarded the unheated train for the steep climb to the top.  

Pike’s Peak is named after Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, who never actually reached the top.   In July, 1806 Pike and 26 men left St Louis to explore the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers.   The Arkansas River, in the recently purchased Louisiana Territory was the boundary between the US and Spanish territory, but no-one knew for sure where the Arkansas River actually ran.
In November, Pike and his men reached what is present day Pueblo, Colorado, ahead of them was a mountain they estimated to be 18,851 feet high.   Although they attempted to climb it they were driven back by waist deep snow and Pike proclaimed it to be so high it might never be claimed.   It wasn’t until July, 1820 that Dr Edwin James finally reached the top.
The day we rode the train, it was clear and sunny as we passed through different eco systems climbing ever higher up the mountain.

Great views on the way.

The railway climbs 25 feet in every 100 feet and is the highest cog railway in the world with an elevation gain of 7,500 ft.

When we reached the top, according to the summit sign, we were at 14,110 feet, it was very windy and bitterly cold, and thanks to the storm the previous day there was snow in places.

When we booked the tickets we’d hoped to have longer at the top, but we had plenty of time, and despite the cold and the fact that we were rapidly turning slightly blue, the views were absolutely stunning.

We could quite see why during a visit to Colorado in 1893 Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write ‘America the Beautiful’ after a wagon trip to the top of Pike’s Peak.
To the west lies the continental divide; to the north lies the Rampart Range; to the east lies Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods and Black Forest and to the south are the Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

I’m sure we’ll come this way again and when we do, we’d like to drive the road to the top, but I don’t think we’ll be taking part in the International Hill Climb!

Have fun, we are!

Manitou Cliff Dwellings, Colorado Springs

I'm still catching up, slowly!
Our next stop was Colorado Springs, KOA, just off I25 it’s a very handy place to stay as it’s within easy driving distance of lots of the places we wanted to visit.
We arrived on a lovely, hot, sunny day, but wouldn’t you just know it a storm passed through and the next day it was cold, grey and drizzly.   As the day wore on the drizzle stopped and we decided to visit Manitou Cliff Dwellings.
Originally located in McElmo Canyon, not far from Mesa Verde and Dolores, Colorado, the Anasazai ruins date back to between 800 and 1,000 years ago.
In 1904 there was no protection for historic ruins from looters and pot hunters, so Virginia McClure and the original founders of the Colorado Cliff Dwellers Association hired William Crosby and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Ruins Company to relocate the ruins in order to preserve them.
It took several years for them to be packaged and moved by oxen to Dolores, Colorado, where they were loaded onto the railroad, shipped to Colorado Springs and brought to Cliff Canyon by horse and wagon.

When the dwellings were reconstructed they used concrete mortar rather than adobe mud/clay mortar used by the Anasazi, this means that you can walk inside and through the dwellings.

It’s an interesting place and we enjoyed our visit.

Have fun, we are!