Category Archives: Vacation

Trips and flights of fancy.

FST II : Day Three – ABQ to Bluff UT

After two days on the interstate system, today’s drive was all state roads… and less. Frankly, I’d rather be on the back roads than on the interstate anyway.

The highlight of today was visiting Four Corners. I’d been wanting to visit this area for a while, and it was worth the wait. I’m kinda a geography geek, so the man-made confluence of four states is pretty irresistible. We took all the geeky pictures — straddling state lines, fingers in all four states — but it’s the photo of our shoes that I liked best.

And in the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” department… we just saw a commercial for a clothier from somewhere here in Utah, who apparently is focusing on making the well-dressed teenaged Mormon missionary. Talk about a specialized market!!!!

FST II : Day Two – OKC to ABQ

This morning found us pulling out of Oklahoma City in some cold weather. With the front through the area, it was in the low 30s when we pointed the Acadia westward.

As we got closer to Amarillo, we began to see signs of yesterday’s snow. From what we heard, they got about four inches, which is somewhat unusual for them during this time of the year. With snow on the ground, we had to stop at the Cadillac Ranch. Ordinarily, we would’ve gone down to the Caddies, but the snow had been melting all morning, and the path was miserably sloppy. We didn’t even try to get down there. Still, it was beautiful to see the fields with snow still dusting them.

FST II : Day One – STL to OKC

Falling Star Trek II got underway today with the first leg of our journey — St. Louis to Oklahoma City. As I’ve noted before, the first day or so out of STL is always uneventful — it’s just a slight terrain transition that we see in the first 500 miles or so.

Today, though, we knew we would be in for some pretty fierce weather as we traveled toward Oklahoma. There was a huge front between STL and OKC, and looked to be pretty interesting. In fact, Amarillo (which we’ll pass through tomorrow) was supposed to be getting snow. As we got close to Oklahoma City, we got blown all over the place by some tremendous storms. The rain was so fierce that you couldn’t see thirty feet in front of you. Wild stuff.

Tomorrow — we journey to Albuquerque!

RMH II : Recap

After almost 2300 miles of driving, we got home earlier today. This was an amazing trip, although it crossed far too few days on the calendar. There is so much to see out there, and so much yet to discover in the park and the area around Fraser. And with Beck’s brother’s generous lending of the condo, I’m certain I’ll be back up there once or twice next year. I liked seeing the area in a couple of different climates and stages of season. It gave a real perspective from which to enjoy the changes nature imposes on the area.

The only thing that was disappointing was the weather. While the locals were loving the warm temperatures, I went up there to find cold weather after a sweltering summer in St. Louis. And yet, four days out of the last ten, Denver set record highs (in the 90s), with the temperatures in the region running about 20 degrees higher than average. And no snow. I wanted to see some high altitude snow, but with temps at 12,000′ still in the mid-60s, it just wasn’t to be. Maybe next time!

Yes, this was a good break, and a great warm-up for our trip to the desert in November, where we’ll spend two weeks enjoying the Four Corners area. I haven’t even gotten the Colorado dirt off my shoes yet, and I’m already gearing up for the next journey.

Nope, there’s no wanderlust in me!

RMH II — Day Six : Bummin’ Around

After a long day in the park yesterday, we needed a down day before heading back to St. Louis, so today, we just goofed off in Fraser. We tried like crazy to find some shopping in both Fraser and Winter Park, but really came up a little short. There are loads of restaurants around, but not really all that much shopping that isn’t activity based (skiing, snowboarding, cycling, etc.). Still, it was a nice quiet day.

The highlight for me was the return to Timberline Thai for some Pad Thai. This place makes some of the best Pad Thai I’ve had, and it was great to get some for lunch as a kind of gastrointestinal send off. If you’re out in Fraser, give ’em a try. The place only seats 15 folks, and looks like a hole in the wall, but the food is soooooo good.

RMH II — Day Five : RNMP

This was the big day for us… finally, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park! Man, I just love that place, it’s one of the big five for me: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and the Grand Canyon. These are all places where I “hear” and “see” like no other places I’ve ever visited. I see God’s hand, I hear His voice, and I find the kind of peace that I simply can’t find day-to-day anywhere else.

We’d gone into the park a little late, and were told by the ranger at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center that he’d buy us a steak dinner if we didn’t see elk at some point throughout the day. He pointed out some good places to find them, and with some good suggestions in hand, we headed into the park.

And right out of the chute, I watched the moon set between Mineral Point and Baker Mountain in the Never Summer Wilderness. My goodness was that wonderful to see. Of course, I photographed it, but there’s just not words to describe the majesty of watching the clockwork precision of the moonset as the almost-gibbous moon slid behind the young mountains. I stood on the trail for 45 minutes, watching this gentle ballet unfold, like it had countless times before. What a great way to start the day.

We worked our way up Trail Ridge Road, eventually coming upon Milner Pass at Poudre Lake. This is the point where the road crosses the Continental Divide — a geologic feature we’ve documented many times from lots of locations throughout the western US. When I last saw this particular pass in June though, it was covered in snow to the point where the sign noting the divide was one of the few things visible through the snow pack. In fact, were it not for the slight depression of the lake, you wouldn’t have known that it was there in June — there was still too much snow. However, in late September, the lake was well clear of snow, and Beck and I took a couple of short hikes at the pass, one on the “Atlantic” side of the divide, and another on the “Pacific” side of the divide.

I wanted to visit the Alpine Visitor Center, but work in the parking lot really made that pretty impossible — there was no parking left, and in general, it was a madhouse. This is a pretty popular place to visit, and despite the thin crowds in the park today, I think everyone who was in the park was trying to get into the center. We opted out and went on down the road to the Tundra Communities Trailhead. At about 11,700′ it’s not quite as high as the Alpine Center, but it had a nice trail with a terrific overlook. There’s not much higher than you at that point, and you can really tell it. The short hike really winded us, but the spectacular view of the tundra was well worth the effort. It’s pristine areas like this one that really leave a mark on me, and make me long to live in or near the mountains, rather than being at least two days away from them like I am now.

For our afternoon, we drove down to the Moraine Park area of RMNP. I’d never been to this valley before, and I was taken by the difference twenty minutes of driving could make. At Tundra Communities, we were near 12,000′ and surrounded by tundra; at Moraine, we were just above 8,000′ in a lush high valley with thriving flora and fauna. It was here that we saw our first big herd of active elk. And the first elk we saw was a couple of males “arguing” over a harem of females. Once the interloping male was run off, the master of the harem trumpeted, and I thought I was gonna fall over. I’d never heard that sound in the wild, and couldn’t believe I was hearing and seeing what was unfolding just a few hundred feet in front of me. Beck and I watched the herd for about an hour, watching them eat and enjoy a creek, listening to the male trumpet, and just living in the moment as these wonderfully large creatures went about their business as they had for more years than I can imagine.

One of the places I wanted to get to when I was at the park in June was Bear Lake. Due to snow, I couldn’t really get over there, but today, with the lack of snow, we dropped down to that part of the park. This was a very crowded spot, much like the Alpine Visitor Center, but with a parking lot that wasn’t under construction. We found a spot, and walked up to the trailhead. There are loads of trails here, but with us already tired, and hiking around at 9500′, we decided to just take a short walk to the side of the lake. We were told by the folks at the Moraine Park Visitor Center that this was one of the most photographed parts of the park, and I could see why. The water was so still and nestled among the mountains… it was a very serene place to visit. Definitely someplace to re-visit when I have more fuel in the tank, and an earlier start.

At the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, we were told about the Old Fall River Road. This is a single lane, one-way dirt road running east-to-west along the ridge for nine miles from Endovalley to the Alpine Center. It was one of the original roads through the park long ago. After hearing about it, I knew I had to take the Jeep on a classic drive. This road is one of the last to open after the winter snows, and I don’t believe it was open when I visited in June. With the dry conditions, I knew it’d be the perfect opportunity to run around and get the Jeep a little dirty. The road didn’t disappoint! While it was easy enough for passenger cars to make their way carefully, in the Jeep it was a breeze, and attacked it pretty aggressively, taking each hairpin turn in stride, and enjoying the beautiful views. This road has no guard rails, and at times waltzes along the edge of drops that were easily hundreds of feet almost straight down — that just made the drive that much more enjoyable! Along the way, we stopped at the Chapin Creek Trailhead, taking photos of a nice little alpine lake. What a wonderful drive!

With the sun quickly setting, we set about heading back down the west side of the park, heading back to Grand Lake. However, almost as a farewell sendoff, we saw one last herd of elk on Trail Ridge Road just a fraction of a mile from the exit for the park. It was a fitting way to conclude a very full day of enjoying the glory of this national treasure.

RMH II — Day Four : Aspens

Today’s trek was up to Steamboat Springs, with the intent to see aspens in full color. The drive did not disappoint!

All along the drive up US 40 were groves of aspens, adorned in their most brilliant yellow, catching the sun. Simply gorgeous! Many of the groves were far away, atop the many mountains that surrounded the road. Every now and then, we’d find ourselves near enough to a grove to capture the white bark of the trees as well. Words — and photographs, frankly — just don’t capture the beauty of these fall colors.

We’d headed to Steamboat to also visit the Rabbit Ears Motel. There’s a long story here, but the short version is that Becky once directed a work-related conference call to the wrong conference phone number… it happened to be the number for the Rabbit Ears Motel. After a call to the motel, everyone had a good chuckle. Beck kinda wanted to see the place she’d slammed with erroneous calls, so that’s why the Rabbit Ears Motel was on our list.

Unfortunately, Steamboat was totally tearing up the main road through town, making navigating the town nearly impossible. The road construction season is short in that part of the world, and the fine folks in Steamboat decided to redo the length of the main drag through town, which made it kinda tough to get around. We did get to F.M. Light & Sons, where I found a nice Stetson hat for running around in.

And then, there was the quest for boots.

While at Light’s, I decided to take a peek at some boots. Try as she might, the salesperson couldn’t find boots on their shelves that would fit my feet. Really? Really. In fact, she told me that my feet just may not have been made for boots. Really? Really. The reality is that they only carried certain widths of boots, so my feet weren’t made for the boots they carried. 🙂

Once we got back to Fraser, we decided to have a little dinner at the local pizzeria, DeAntonio’s Pizza & Pasta. This place served up some terrific New York style pizza, and the owners were a hoot. We talked with ’em the whole time while we were eating our pie and couldn’t have had a better time. It was a perfect end to a great day!

RMH II — Day Three : Legendary

Today saw the departure of the family from the condo after a nice breakfast. Unlike us, they have to return to school and work tomorrow.

For our “work” today, we decided to drive up to Grand Lake CO. I’d visited the little burb in June, but didn’t really wander around much. Today, Darla and I wandered around quite a bit, and even found a necklace to add to her jewelry box. Grand Lake seems to have a huge restaurant population, and we had to take advantage of it, eating lunch at Pancho and Lefty’s. This was a nice mexican restaurant, and served me some delicious fish tacos. Wonderful day out.

With a belly full of good food, we decided to hike up to Adams Falls. OK, it wasn’t all that much a hike, but it was enough of one that we knew we’d hiked a bit. The falls were nice, although the water level was down from what we were being told. When I was roaming around up there in June, any water that could come down a hill was doing just that, and with a vengeance. The water today was much weaker, but still picturesque, especially with the bluebird skies.

And I know this makes it sound like all we’ve done is eat, but tonight we visited a Chinese restaurant I lucked into finding back in June. Pearl Dragon II hadn’t changed a bit in my absence, either. Beck and I went in for dinner, and in a crazy stroke, the owner remembered me from June, even down to what I ordered and how many times I was there. Apparently, I must leave a legendary streak wherever I go. 🙂

RMH II — Day Two : Colby KS to Fraser CO

A five hour push is all that was left to drive today.

As part of the drive, we crossed the Colorado border, and stopped at the roadside sign for it on I-70. I bet I’ve passed that sign half a dozen times in the last few years, but I’d never stopped and shot it before. It was cold, cold, cold, with the temperature sitting around 55, and pretty high winds exacerbated by the gust front of passing big rigs. But, it was the first time I’ve been cold in months.

Have I mentioned how I love cold weather? 🙂

I was on the lookout for my first peek at the Rockies as we drove. I’d thought I could see them in far western Kansas, but it was just past Limon CO before I saw my mountains. Without the snow atop them, I suppose they just blended in, making it hard for me to spot them. But when I saw them, my heart skipped a beat, and I got excited about getting up into the mountains at the end of the drive.

And as we pulled off I-70, and started up the mountains, we crossed through Berthoud Pass and stopped for a while. When I was there in June, the snow was big and deep, and had folks skiing and snowboarding on it. This time, it was warm. Maybe even hot. Hmmm, he says, that wasn’t what I was expecting in the mountains in fall.

We drove on into Fraser, finding the condo looking just about the way I left it in June. This was Becky’s first look at it, and I think she got pretty comfortable quickly. Not long after we got there, the family from Golden stopped in, started dinner, and we all sat down at the conclusion of planting our flag temporarily in the Rocky Mountains.

RMH II — Day One : Da Lou to Colby KS

We began attacking RMH II (Rocky Mountain High II) today, with a not-so-early departure from St. Louis this morning. Normally, I’m the kind of driver that tries to leave at the crack of dawn. This morning, though, I elected to have us leave a little later in the morning, allowing us a leisurely morning, knowing that we would be off the road around dinnertime.

As always, the drive across Missouri and Kansas is extraordinarily dull. It’s basically the same kind of landscape across Missouri — rolling hills — and the same kind of landscape across eastern Kansas — fruited plains — and frankly, it’s just the kind of drive I have to push through. Once we get into western Kansas (and tomorrow, into Colorado), the terrain gets me excited, and the drive gets way more fun.

With the drudge-like drive today, we decided to stop somewhere we’d never been before. Across central Kansas, there are loads of signs advertising Wamego KS as a Wizard of Oz center of the universe. After seeing the signs for a while, we decided it was time for lunch, and time for a sidetrip. Ten miles north of I-70, we found ourselves in a very small town, with what appeared to be one big main street, and surrounded by The Oz Museum, The Oz Winery and Toto’s Tacoz. No kidding.

We visited the Oz Museum, and surprisingly, it was actually a fun walk through the history of The Wizard of Oz. I thought it was gonna be pretty cheesy when we first walked in to see a not-so-great figure (wax? statue?) of Dorothy and Toto, but beyond that were a boatload of great artifacts from the film, the book series, the actors and their worldwide impact. For seven bucks, it seemed well worth it, and was a great diversion from the road. After an hour in the museum, we were hungry. The folks in the museum recommended Toto’s Tacoz as a staff favorite.

A couple of doors down from the museum, Toto’s Tacoz was a bit of a surprise. I expected a place full of emerald green mexican decor, but what I saw instead was a very refreshingly tropical feel, with the only Oz-related items being the names of the items on the menu. We had a couple of really good soft tacos, and just kicked back for a while.

After a couple of hours in Wamego, we got back on the road, and headed on to Colby. Once again, we stayed in a Sleep Inn, and once again, we had a great experience. This hotel had large rooms, with a flatscreen TV and desk (kinda like the one we’ve visited in Shamrock TX), making it a great place to rest our boots after almost 600 miles of driving.