Tag Archives: Vacation

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.

RMH I — Day Seven : Fraser CO to St. Louis (907mi)

It’s been a while since I’ve made a big drive like today’s. Fifteen hours of driving, and I found myself back home. How’s that — two sentences covering 900 miles of driving. Truth is, the drive was pretty uneventful, aside from mega construction going on in Kansas City. That was horrid, and gives me a pretty good reason to avoid KC for a while.

I’d been talking with Becky about her departure to the lake tonight, and we decided to leave the Berners at the house since we’d miss each other by only an hour or so. When I walked downstairs, I got all kinds of “puppy barks” from both of them. Just crazy heartwarming to know that they missed me.

So how would I rate the trip? Well, pretty dang good. It was great to be on the road, and having several days of just drifting about in Colorado was glorious. I saw some things that I wanted to see, and I got to hike and photograph. Nothing better than that.

RMH I — Day Six : Rocky Mountain National Park

After several days of acclimating to the higher altitude, I decided it was time to drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park. It’d been several years since my first visit to RMNP, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I got to the park pretty early, and discovered that the entrance at Grand Lake was under construction, making for a free entry into the park. Sweet! I talked with a ranger at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, and learned that the paths down to Bear Lake were pretty snow packed still, so I decided just to trek up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Last time I was at the park, I’d done the same thing, but had come from Estes Park, so this was completely new territory for me.

While Trail Ridge Road was clear (although closing nightly at 8pm due to freezing and erosion), there was a bunch of construction going on. Both on the way up and the way down, I ended up stuck in construction traffic. Man, is there a lot of roadwork up there!

I stopped at the Coyote Valley Trailhead, and took a little hike next to a creek. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any megafauna, but I did see a couple of geese. Of course, I coulda seen those in Da Lou! Still, it was a nice hike.

Once again, I was surprised at how much snow there was as I drove up to the Alpine Visitor Center. By the time I’d gotten there, I was driving next to snow that was 6-8′ high. In fact, the park folks were using heavy equipment to clear the snow from the site. It was even cold enough to be sleeting on me while I was there. Pretty dang impressive. It really is like being at the top of the world.

I finished looking around up there, and headed back down toward Fraser to get some lunch. I finally got to Timberline Thai, which did not disappoint. I had some amazing Pad Thai Woon Sen (with shrimp) that rivaled the dishes I get in St. Charles. I’m really surprised to find Thai food as good as that in such a small place!

So, a successful day today. I think I’m gonna head back to Da Lou tomorrow though. Beck’s off to the lake, and I’ve been on the road a week. It’s time to get back on the long drive, and head home.

RMH I — Day Five : Return to Devils Thumb

With a quiet condo, I thought I would sleep late this morning. Obviously, my body had other plans, as I was up before 6am. There’s something wrong with that! 🙂

After a little breakfast, I got my gear together — including my trike! — and headed toward Devils Thumb, thinking I’d spend a couple of hours up there, and maybe get some Thai food for lunch. I hit the “county roads”, and climbed my way up the hill to the trailhead. With the earlier start today, I had much better light than yesterday, and was able to make some great images, especially of the rushing waters.

My mother has told me that you could blindfold me in my own backyard, spin me around, take the blindfold off, and I wouldn’t be able to find my way home. As it ends up, she’s probably right. I kinda proved that on the trail today. I decided to walk a little ways into the forest along the trail. The forest was beautiful, and much less dense than I was expecting. When it was time to return to the trailhead, somehow I took a wrong turn, and I got turned around in the forest. The good thing was that I was next to the raging torrent of water, and knew if I followed it, I’d find myself at the trailhead. What a doof!

After leaving the trailhead, I decided to wander around on the county roads, and climbed all over the place on roads that none of my three GPS devices had in their brains. I never knew where I was, and eventually decided to start for home, and figured that if downhill was good enough for the water, it was probably the way to head for home. It was the right path, and I ended up near Tabernash, and pointed the Big Green Box toward Fraser. As it ends up, I retraced most of the steps that Warren and I had taken on Friday. The dirt roads were no better today, and I walked the Jeep down really wet, rutted roads, with plenty of significant rocks showing. The Jeep did real, real well. The driver wasn’t too bad either. 🙂

The Thai lunch idea morphed to thinking about a Thai dinner. Unfortunately, my target restaurant was closed for the day, which left me thinking about Chinese instead. I found a Chinese restaurant that claimed their food was amazing. One order of cashew chicken later, and I’d have to agree. That was some really good grub!

Tomorrow, I think I’m headed toward the Grand Lakes area, and on up into the west end of Rocky Mountain National Park. From what I’ve been reading on Twitter, they’ve had a tough time keeping the Ridge Road open, so I’m only expecting to get into this end of the park. If I get farther, that’s great, but if not, so be it.

RMH I — Day Four : Devils Thumb

The Colorado Days left for another engagement today, leaving me alone in the condo. There’s a kind of quiet that I’m simply not used to. Even when Becky leaves for an event for a week or so, there’s still three canine companions to make some level of noise. Here, it’s quiet, except for the occasional train rolling down the track.

I decided to make today a resting day, with only a trip up the hill to the Devils Thumb trailhead planned. Warren had taken me up there on Friday, and I liked what I saw, but had no camera with me to capture anything, so I figured that’d be a nice quick trip today.

Driving there brought me through stunning vistas of vast river valleys and tall pine forests. It was wonderful. I walked around at the trailhead — once I finally found it! — and captured images of pinecones and needles, in and around the fresh ice and old snow. And with all the cycles of freezing and thawing, the water was raging down the hill. It was remarkable to see that much water flowing like that, all from the winter’s snow beginning to melt.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take my tripod — why, I have no idea — and didn’t get a lot of usable images. Guess that means a trip back up there tomorrow!

RMH I — Day Three : Monarch Lake

After two days of driving, I was pretty doggone tired. However, not wanting to let a day get away from me, I went hiking with my host family, the Colorado Days.

We traveled out to Monarch Lake, taking a picnic lunch with us, and planning for many hours of fun in the forest. As it ends up, it was a bit of a trudge for me — about three hours of hiking near 8500′ just about did me in! It was fun, but man did my joints hurt. Those Colorado Days really know how to climb!

The Grand Lakes area (of which Monarch Lake is one) is simply beautiful. The water is stunningly blue, and seems to be a favorite fishing spot for folks — there were scores of folks drowning bait in the water. There were loads of watercraft out there, too. This is definitely on my list of places to meander about with my camera later this week.

One of the things that has surprised me about this part of the world is the number of dirt roads that are considered “county highways.” I guess that’s why I see so many 4WD vehicles out here. It seems like going to almost anyplace here involves a dirt road. Glad I like my Jeep dirty!

RMH I — Day Two : Colby KS to Fraser CO (305mi)

After a pretty mundane night in Colby, today was the push to Fraser. The drive was pretty uneventful, but it contained my first view of the Rockies!

I stopped at a rest area — somewhere — and could see them peeking at me. And the closer I got to Denver, the bigger they got. While driving through Denver was a mess, the promise of the Rockies spurred me on.

And when I made the break off I-70 to cut toward Fraser, I finally got to see the splendor of the Rockies, close up. And oddly enough, as I was climbing toward the pass, I was passed by a black Tahoe that started honking at me. It was Warren! He’d been making the drive to their condo, and found me along the road. Pretty cool.

I got to the condo, got settled in, and went four wheeling with Warren for a couple of hours. Pretty cool, and gave me some real ideas about places to go shooting.

I think I’m gonna like me stay up here!

RMH I — Day One : St. Louis to Colby KS (603mi)

“Kansas?” Yep, Kansas.

I’ve been running myself a little ragged at work, and haven’t had a good restful time off in a while, so I decided I needed to get away for a while. I’ve had an itch to scratch, something to look for, and travel is the medicine I need. Becky was able to broker an opportunity to stay at her brother’s condo in Fraser CO for a week of fun at Rocky Mountain National Park. Today was the first leg of that journey, and the first “big trip” I’ve taken solo in well over four years.

I opted for a long drive today, thinking that having a shorter drive as I make the crossing through/over the Rockies would be smart. They kicked my butt last year when we went to Moab, and I’m bound and determined not to let that happen again. And a shorter drive means that I can take some “smell the roses” opportunities in the mountains on my way to Fraser.

The drive out was pretty uneventful, as it always is. There’s just no way to go west from St. Louis without having to eat hundreds and hundreds of miles of somewhat uninteresting terrain, slowly climbing in elevation through the day. Today, I climbed from almost 600 feet to just over 3000 feet here in Colby. Within three or four hours of leaving here tomorrow, I’ll find myself at the Eisenhower Pass, just over 11,000 feet in elevation. Tomorrow will be a big day.

I just get all kinds of goofy when I start heading west. I love the feel and aura, mystery and romance of the western part of this great country. I can’t help but be drawn to it. In my adult life, I’ve always been a bit of a nomad, and this stint of fifteen years in St. Louis is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere since I left the nest — longest by a great, great big amount. That kind of sitting still leads to big, hard to scratch itches to roam around. And that leads to my big road trips.

Tomorrow, I will begin to see the mountains, and I’ll start to feel my heart pounding with anticipation. I cannot wait until I return to the mountains, and start exploring.

FST : Day 8 – Shamrock TX to Home (640 mi)

After yet another night of illness for me last night, we decided to point the Big Green Box for home. In truth, we were dancing on the fence about possibly heading to Suck Creek Mountain as late as going through Oklahoma City, but we decided to just push for home, and get me back into some familiar territory. It’s always nicer to recover in your own bed.

Today’s was a long leg of driving. It’d be long when feeling the best you could, but with a none-too-well-functioning body, it seemed interminable. We crossed from Texas to Oklahoma, and then to Missouri, and the end of the line for this trip could be seen. We arrived home, Beck went to pick up the dogs, and all seemed right with the world.

You can’t control illness, and I’ve been very fortunate to have been lucky enough to not fall significantly ill during our travels. This year, though, the odds caught up with me, and our vacation planning was cratered. We’ve decided to call this a “scouting trip” for travel in the future. We’ve also agreed that next time, we’ll do Monument Valley first, which forces us on a southern route to travel west. We’d then travel up to Moab, and return again through a southern route. Those steps will keep us out of the really high mountains in Colorado, and perhaps spare us some of the struggle we had along the way.

We definitely want to stay at The View at Monument Valley, and see the dark skies and rock formations. I don’t know that we have to time that visit around a meteor shower (although that’d be cool), so we may end up splitting up as two trips the voyage to Monument Valley and Moab. Regardless of the pairing or splitting of those trips, they will definitely be made in spring, autumn or winter — no more treks into the desert in summer for us!

FST : Day 4 – Arches NP

Last night, both Beck and I were a little ill — not from the food, I’m sure. The more likely culprit was the heat and the mountain crossing through Colorado. Whatever the cause, the effect was some gastrointestinal distress and my waking up during the night with a massive, raging headache. By breakfast, I was just well enough to get out of bed, and grab breakfast at the motel’s restaurant. However, I was beginning to feel better, especially after eating, and Arches NP was just around the corner, so we gathered up our gear and supplies and headed north to Arches.

Arches was breathtaking. We only went about halfway up the main road through the park, electing to call it a day after three hours in the 100°+ heat. We did a little hiking around Balanced Rock, and it was after that hike that we decided the heat was too much. We drove to The Windows, and I really thought about hiking out to them, but I began feeling a little unwell, and that’s when we decided to head to our rented room.

The rest of the afternoon and night was horrible. My headache returned, and I could barely think straight. Becky took the opportunity to do the laundry, and brought me back a club sandwich from a local joint called Hogi Yogi, which was just what I needed. I was teetering on the edge of asking Beck to take me to a doctor to see what was going on. I knew this wasn’t normal, and I knew if it continued for long, I’d be in trouble. With a lot of fluid, my little sandwich, and lots of cold towels, I’ve come back to normal.

However, this ordeal was a hint and a half — I’m just not rigged for running in this kind of climate. It’s time to cry “uncle” and look for cooler climes. We’ve decided to forego the desert stay at this time, and journey toward Santa Fe where the weather is almost 20° cooler than Moab and the Four Corners region.

Rediscovering my intolerance of this kind of heat is heart-wrenching, as it means the end of our pursuit of the desert in this trip. Moab and Monument Valley will have to wait for another season, when the weather is cooler. Tomorrow, we’re off to Santa Fe, for a couple of days of recovery in the cooler weather.