Rattlesnakes and Late Night Bike Parades

Yesterday TG and I got up early in order to go for a hike at Dinosaur Ridge. It’s been brutally hot for the past week or so, and we knew that if we wanted any chance of being able to enjoy the great outdoors we had to go early. Even so it was in the high 70’s and climbing when we started at 7:30 am. Dinosaur Ridge is a trail located in Morrison, Colorado, right across from the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater. This lesser known spot is home to a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils and footprints. If you are a geologist, or a geology enthusiast (like TG is) you will also loose your mind over the crazy formations and the history of this part of the Rockies.

It was a pleasantly difficult hike uphill for a short while, and then the trail leveled off. The ground was sandy and we passed clumps of big juniper bushes, aspens, and little cacti. The views were great. A woman on a bike passed us, but otherwise we had the trail to ourselves.

It was on our way back down the trail, back to the parking lots and our cars, that we heard the terrifying dry rattle coming from the side of the trail. We both froze (as I think pretty much all humans are programmed to do) and then TG tugged me backwards and away from the rattlesnake. The snake rose up and stuck it’s black tongue out and rattled it’s tail even harder. I have never come across a rattlesnake in the wild before, but it struck me how naive I had been not have been actively watching for one. TG pointed out that he had been looking out, but it caught him by surprise anyway. Pretty much no power on earth could have made me walk past that thing on the trail, but there was a pretty wide swath of land on either side of the trail, covered by small bushes, and I pointed out that we could just go around the snake. Then TG said something that sent a shiver up my spine.

“Well, they usually travel in pairs.”

I hadn’t heard any other rattling, but then we had probably passed this snake on our way up and not noticed, so there could be a second rattler lurking nearby now. We ended up throwing some rocks into the bushes along the side of the trail, thinking that if there was another snake it would give itself away by rattling in alarm. Nothing happened except that the original snake became even angrier.

So we passed cautiously and then hurried away unharmed. Talk about adrenaline rush.

The day wasn’t exciting enough, though. There’s more. I spent some time that afternoon getting a new tattoo on my arm (photos to come when it’s a little more healed and a little less red and ointment-y). Then a hot hot hot afternoon. Then the sweet relief of sunset and cool air. Then bed, right? Nope! Sometime around 9:30 there was a bicycle parade on the street in front of my building! Hundreds of people riding their bikes, decked out in lights and flag, complete with music, riding through the street. Cars did not even dare to get involved. We were witnessing the Denver Cruisers on their monthly Wednesday night ride through the city. The organization seemed pretty fascinating (check out the link) and I am kind of hoping they pass my way again next month!

Alright, so how was your Wednesday?

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Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park: Ain’t Nothin’ Like It

Last weekend we managed to ditch our regular lives and disappear into that fantastic world of campfires, bird song, fresh air, and bear poo. It was my first camping trip of the year and I feel like the summer camping season couldn’t have had a better start. We left Denver early and drove the hour and forty five minutes to RMNP where the line of cars to get in was already frustratingly long. Unlike when we had the whole place to ourselves (on a rainy Wednesday) this sunny Saturday the park was packed! The only open campground in the off season is first come first served, so we were anxious to see if we would even get a site. We shouldn’t have worried though, because most weekend campers were apparently sleeping in and there were plenty of places to choose from. I took the photo below from a meadow across the camp road from us. You can see my little blue car in the center of the foreground, and the background is dominated by Long’s Peak. Incidentally the meadow I was in was full of alllll kinds of poo, but mostly elk and a little bit of bear.

We decided to make Saturday a lazy camp day. T.G strung up a hammock and decided to nap and read a book in the shade of the trees. I had a hard time staying still, so I decided to go for a wander and check out our surroundings. Although the weather had previously promised rain and thunderstorms all weekend we had nothing but sunny weather! This meant plenty of other people to contend with in the park, but I kept trying to remind my crotchety introverted self that it was good that so many people wanted to visit a national park. A very good thing. Besides, we were tourists too, and had no more of a claim on the park than anyone else.

Having a lazy camp day, in my opinion, should definitely involved sitting around with a book and a mug of wine. Also, a hammock. This we did for a few hours. Later in the day we went for a walk through some of the camp loops that are still closed for the season. It turns out that they are all stunning, and with the recent heavy rainfall, numerous ponds had appeared, and all were full of singing frogs.

While sitting in camp we observed the camp life going on around us. The kids next to us argued about stand up comedians. A single guy cooked gourmet food at his site, and a van with Minnesota license plates pulled up and a bunch of college students came spilling out, obviously thrilled to be out of the car. Maybe the most entertaining thing we witnessed (besides T.G’s new bestie Darrel, the firewood guy) was the enormous and oversized camper that pulled in. It was ironically named ‘Solitude’ and was about three times the size of my apartment. The man in the driver seat struggled- and eventually failed- to park it at one of the campsites. It wasn’t for lack of trying though; his wife was “helpfully” yelling instructions at him the whole time. It was a bit sad when poor Solitude finally gave up and drove off.

Just after sundown, in that weird twilight time, we walked through the trees to observe the vast openness of the part of the park we were in. This meadow has a stream winding through it and is enclosed by mountains on all sides. We saw Long’s Peak still illuminated by all the snow in the darkness. Evening birds were calling out. The sounds of minivans and trucks were gone.

We cooked (tofu) brats over the campfire and went to bed not too long after dark. Thanks to my magnificent sleeping bag (I think I probably wrote a love story about my sleeping bag in an earlier camping post) I was cozy and slept pretty well. It did not rain, but a cold wind blew through from time to time. Just before dawn I got up to use the bathroom and enjoyed the early morning peacefulness of the park. My only companions were some mourning doves and a couple of crows.

The next morning we were up early to drink coffee and get started on a long hike. We ate a leisurely breakfast and then packed up. We planned to drive to the trailhead and let someone else take over our campsite.

In December of 2016 I hiked part of the Cub Lake trail and loved it. I was not used to hiking, and that plus incoming snow turned me around before I finished it. This time we were going to hike it all the way through and then some. The trail starts off in the flat land and follows a small stream more or less as you head towards the mountains. In 2012 it was an area that was partially burned by wildfire and the evidence was in the burn scar on the hill and all the charred logs near the trail. We passed ponds and boulder fields, and eventually the trail began to climb. There were a few other groups hiking around us, but for the most part this area of the park felt secluded. At one point, in a woodsy section, a couple of other hikers gestured to us. “Do you know if elk charge?” On the trail right in front of us were about six bull elk casually walking by. They were absolutely enormous! We could smell the animal mixture of sweat and ammonia coming off of them, and see the fine detail of the fuzz on their new antler growth. We proceeded cautiously.

The hike was gorgeous. The halfway point was Cub Lake. We stopped to admire it for a bit, enjoyed the sight of some elk taking advantage of the water, and then headed on. By this point it looked as if some rain might come in, so we were motivated to finish the second part of the hike and get back to the car. We stopped for snacks along the way, but mostly kept moving. The trail now started going back down. I hadn’t realized how much elevation we had gained until we started to descend.

The last part of the hike was level and followed a creek. It was shadier than other parts of the trail and cooler owing to either the oncoming rain or the water, or both. I was pretty beat by the end of it, and glad to see the car at the trailhead. That doesn’t mean I was happy to be leaving RMNP though! I thought many unkind thoughts about the city and the crowds that were descending on my neighborhood for the Cinco de Mayo festival.

This has gone down as one of the best camping trips ever, in my book. Plus it was the first time I have camped in a national park and the whole experience was so much grander. The mountains and wildlife sightings definitely helped with that, of course. It also taught us about what to bring next time (obviously the hammock), what we needed for future use (hello pretty enamel camp mugs that-I’ve-been-holding-back-from-buying-but-now-I-have-a-reason), and what not to bring. I’m eager to go back, but with work getting busy and the summer tourist season approaching I’m not sure when that will be. Until then, I guess we can at least use our sweet annual pass to come back on rainy Wednesdays!

The Day We Had A National Park To Ourselves

The crowds at national parks can be overwhelming, especially when you just want to get on the trail and bypass the touristy stuff. Nobody comes to a place like Rocky Mountain National Park just to sit in their vehicle while long lines of traffic stretch ahead.

It turns out, though, that there is a recipe for having a park all to yourself. It takes one part snow, one part weekday, and one part early morning to create the perfect mixture of calm, quiet, and empty roads. Having left Denver around 6:15 am we made good time to the park, and even beat the park rangers to the entrance! It was cold and the rain had turned to a mixture of sleet and snow, but we were undeterred.

We chose to turn left at the fork in the road and go up first. The roads started to get slick pretty fast as the snow and slush accumulated at the higher altitude. We tramped around briefly in the snow, but quickly decided to drive back down.

The roads were gloriously free of traffic and the park was silent except for the wind and the various bird calls. T.G has been working on learning not only to identify birds by sight, but also by their calls. We’re both novices at recognizing bird species, but when it comes to other animals there was no mistaking the big shaggy creatures clumped around the park. The famous elk of RMNP were out in full force on this day.

Can you spot where I am in this photo?

We got out to explore here and there, but we had been saving our energy mainly for a hike. There are so many trails in the park it can be hard to decide which one to take; however our choice was made easier by the fact that many of the trails with a higher elevation would be socked in with too much snow for us. The trail we ended up choosing was gorgeous. We enjoyed watching the view change from rainy forests with mist rolling over the landscape to silent snowy woods. T.G stopped to try out one of his bird calls on a chickadee, who was confused (I think), but not really fooled. We saw hoof imprints as big as my whole hand. We even lost the trail in the snow for a bit!

After our hike we explored more of the park. It seemed so open and huge! My special gift of summoning moose came into play again, as we saw a cluster of park rangers and a few other tourists (okay, so by this point a few other people had come to the park) pointing at one of the huge animals roaming around by the river.

We wrapped up our day with a quick jaunt over to Bear Lake and then some more elk sightings as we cruised some of the roads crossing the park. We were both pretty tired at this point, and craving fried food and beer. I think a good day of hiking and exploring is not complete without fried food and beer. I am lucky enough to have been to RMNP about half a dozen times, but this trip was definitely one of the best. Any trip is made better by having a companion who is just as excited about adventure as you are, and the rain/snow that deterred many people just made the landscape even more dramatic. We were thrilled by the isolation on the trails and road. I think this day was the perfect recipe for a day in a national park.

*Note: This is a rare photograph of T.G, who only gave his permission for me to post this because of how dark it is. I like it anyway.

Snowy Walks With Big Cats

The sun is up and warming up the air nicely by the time we get up and head outside to explore. By this, I mean that The Guy was shoveling steps and paths, and I was meandering through the snowy woods. The snow was deep enough to creep over the tops of my boots, but I didn’t mind. It was white and powdery, and the only thing that marred it’s perfect surface were the deer tracks that I was following. Here and there a cascade of snow would come down from the tree branches. Birds sang from the branches.  I think they were probably glad to be out in the sun instead of huddling for warmth in the trees. I had wandered a fair distance from The Guy. It would be easy enough for him to find me by following my footprints in the snow when he was done shoveling, but for now I was on my own. I was feeling optimistic, and the stress from work had melted away as I breathed in the fresh mountain air and marveled at the snowy landscape. I felt that peculiar feeling of being watched and I thought of the fresh deer trail I was walking beside. Of course, this was before we heard about the mountain lions.

The day before:

Work was sending me into a downward anxiety spiral and I just couldn’t get away fast enough. It was beginning to snow down in Denver and I figured whatever was happening here was tenfold up in the mountains. The Guy agreed to collect my halfway between my home in Denver and his west, in the mountains. Road conditions were patchy at best, and getting worse. It was a relief when we finally made it up the “hill” and into the house. From inside we could watch the snowfall with metal cups of wine. I essentially spent the evening burrowed under a pile of blankets, not unlike a hibernating bear (except instead of stocking up on berries and fish for the winter, I stocked up on wine, and instead of winter it was April).

The next morning we were up early, per usual. We waited just long enough for the sun to come up before we were out exploring. I wandered through the snow (see above) and The Guy made himself useful. He did find me eventually, and together we hiked up to the little trail that we like to amble along. He made time to stop and laugh as a tree dumped some of it’s snow load down the collar of my jacket. I made time to stop and taste the snow. We took in the sun, the birds, and the fresh air. It was lovely. Then we got back to house. I don’t think we had been inside for more than fifteen minutes before The Guy received a text from a neighbor:

“Just wanted to let you know that I saw a couple of mountain lions on your property when I drove by earlier.”

There, just like that, everything we had done was thrown into sharp relief. The Guy going outside alone the night before to toss wood in the boiler. My solitary wander through the woods. Our amble along a trail which is usually heavily trafficked by local wildlife. The feeling of being watched.

I guess all you can do is shrug and keep a weather eye out for big ole’ cat turds on the trail. It’s just the way it goes.

The Best Things About Being Home (Briefly)

As summer winds down it turns out a lot of people are taking trips.  I guess I was always under the assumption that as September rolls around and fall starts to settle in people hunker down.  I was wrong!  I have been delightfully busy house sitting for some of my favorite Colorado dog owners.  While this means that I get to cuddle and play with some wonderful pups, it also means that I haven’t been home much.  My cats are feeling a bit neglected!  While I was home for a few days this week I feel back into my Capitol Hill routine.  There are some great things to do if you ever find yourself in this part of Denver, so here are a few of my favorites.

The street art around here never fails to disappoint

Pizza at Benny Blancos.  This is truly a hole in the wall establishment, as it is a narrow shop nestled in between bigger and louder buildings.  I literally walked right past it twice!  Different people had recommended this place for a slice of New York style pizza and they knew what they were talking about!  For $2.50 you can get an enormous slice of pizza. You can add just about any topping your heart desires for a little more (something like .50).  Be warned, only about three or four people can fit inside at any given time, so you might end up standing on the sidewalk outside while you wait!

Drinks at City O City.  This place is mainly known for it’s tasty vegetarian fare (wohoo!) but I actually end up coming here more often to grab a cup of coffee or to take advantage of their great Happy Hour specials.  Happy Hour takes place for several hours at a time, two times a day!  They serve craft cocktails, a selection of beer and cider, great coffee, and even house made kombucha.  Not to mention the artwork you can take in inside the building is gorgeous, OR you can sit outside and sip your libation in few of the golden capitol building.
Relaxing at Cheeseman Park or City Park.  I know I’ve written about the parks in this neighborhood before, but I just can’t praise them enough.  As if the colorful history weren’t enough (haunted parks!) both feature plenty of shady space to relax, open grass for dogs to play, and playgrounds for kids or adults-who-just-want-to-swing.  I like to bring a blanket, thermos of beer or coffee, and my ipad or a book to kick back for a few hours.

The Denver Art Museum Is just down the street from me.  You can’t miss the iconic chrome structure gleaming in the sun!  Not to mention all the crazy sculptures out front.  This place has plenty of cool exhibits on display, plus the architecture itself makes for a very trippy experience just walking around.  Plus, the first Saturday of every month is a free day!

Voodoo Doughnut Is another place I write/talk about frequently.  Yes it is a bit of a tourist attraction, but for a good reason.  This place has the perfect quirky downtown vibe that I love and the donut selection is pretty magical.  I have my favorites, but whenever I bring friends here I try to think outside the box and try a new creation!  Creation, not flavor, is the right word since some of these donuts looks like pieces of delicious art piles high with peanut butter, cereal, marshmallows, coconut flakes, frostings- you get the picture.  There are even vegan donuts available! Plus, since this joint is open 24 hours, there is no wrong time for dessert.

So yeah…those are a few of my favorite things.  I have could go on- there are tons of tiny cafes, restaurants, and bars around here but I think I would run out of battery life before I got done trying to type it all up!  If you ever find yourself in Denver head towards the golden dome of the capitol building and spend some time in Capitol Hill.