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.

A Long Weekend in the Mountains

This past week I took some time off work to spend time in the mountains. The boyfriend, who values his privacy, offered up his mountain home as our base of operations. I’m going to refer to him as That Guy, or TG.

We were treated to some stunning sunrises and sunsets, some crazy high winds, and plenty of warm winter sunshine. The stars were out in full force up there since there only a handful of neighbors and no city light pollution. I have to admit that I was so much of a wuss about the cold nighttime temperatures that I pretty much ruined every attempt we made at stargazing by dashing back inside the house after only a minute or two.

The sunrises were visible from the big picture windows in the main living room of the house, which also looks out over a valley. It’s a pretty good spot for sipping coffee in the early mornings. To observe sunset we followed a trail that led up and away from the house and over the remains of an old mine. The elevation is right about 9,000 feet so even this short trek left me out of breath.

We did plenty of hiking during the day, and we even explored some of the old mines in the area. TG has sworn to do more research on the area to find out more about these slightly-creepy-yet-fascinating ruins. This area was one of the original gold rush towns, and the hills surrounding the main city are dotted with heaps of mine refuse, old tunnels, and mysterious pits that have been somewhat filled in. Curiously, we also noticed that many of the pits have had a tree planted (or maybe it just grew?) right in the middle.

The wind gusted up to 70 mph during our last few days, and although the sun was out and warming up the air, it was still cold outside. We made a few forays outside to check the big wood-burning boiler (which was responsible for heating the house and all the hot water) and enjoyed some leisurely drinks around the fire. Mostly though we stayed inside and watched the olympics in PyeongChang, or experimented in the kitchen to create more and more potato themed meals…

Coming back to the city on Sunday required some adjustment. While I was happy to be back in my own little studio apartment, and happy to see my kitties and bunny, it was bittersweet to leave the valleys and trees and see instead the traffic and hear the ambulances rushing by.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch in the sunny nearly-70-degree weather with my brother, who had flown into town for the weekend. Then *le sigh* it was back to business as usual. Back to work. Goodbye to the mountains, the bracing hikes (yikes, breathing and exercising at 9000 feet is no joke!), the lazy afternoons with a glass of wine, the potato hash for breakfast, and the exciting rounds of hike-n-go-seek in a big house. That’s the thing about living in Colorado: you can love the city life, but travel even just one hour away from home and you find yourself in a landscape so exciting you can’t help but get lost in it.

The Last Minute Road Trip

Recently one of my oldest friends, Kelsey, flew into Colorado to attend a wedding.  Now the airport is in Denver (where I live) and the wedding was in a tiny mountain town three to four hours west of Denver.  Her ride fell through and I had the day off.  I offered to take her- after all, a drive through the mountains can be glorious- but I needed to be back in time for my shift at work the next day.  I originally wanted to take the quickest route to drop her off and then turn right around…That didn’t happen.  Something way better did.  We took the day and turned it into one of those feels-like-you’re-in-a-movie adventures.  I was exhausted by time I got home, sometime after 12 am, but I am so glad we went.  

Just one of the places we stopped on our way up through the mountains.

I mean, is this place even real?
The top of the pass! It was eerily quiet up there and a bit hard to catch our breath since the air was so thin.



There were a handful of other intrepid travelers walking around the top of the pass.  It was above the tree line and the landscape was tundra, so the colors were all muted brown and greens.  There was almost no sound except for the wind and the murmur of voices.  A few people had dogs, all of whom seemed unconcerned about the altitude.  Most of the people, myself included, ended up huffing and puffing in the thin air as we walked around and explored.  It was quite cold!



As we left the pass the road wound down through the forest which was splattered with vibrant yellow trees among all the green. There was a river careening through the rocks off to our our left, so we stopped to get out and explore for a bit.




It was a whirlwind trip.  I got to spend time catching up with one of my oldest friends and we had a fabulous time exploring and take in the mountain air.  I don’t get away from the city as often as I like and I guess sometimes it takes something like a friend in need to take you out of the humdrum of your regular routine.  Between stress at work and a busy schedule I was starting to lose my mind a bit, but this trip was exactly what I needed to recenter myself and find some peace of mind.  

Cafe Life: Carbondale, Co

It’s the weekend before my birthday I and decided to drive three hours straight west into the mountains to spend time with an old friend.  She lives in a picturesque little town called Carbondale.  The Crystal River flows nearby, the mountains surround us, and the downtown is only one street.  I’m sipping my cappuccino in a cafe called Bonfire.  The drink is good, and since it’s late in the afternoon the place is nearly empty.  There’s me of course, writing, and a small group of baby boomer’s discussing things like the con-artistry of Costco, and raising kids.  Outside the temperature hovers just above freezing and the sleet turned to snow.  In Carbondale the trees all have Christmas lights and the bars have outdoor fireplaces for people to enjoy both the the scenery and beer.

I can’t say this is cafe is entirely my style but the scone I ate was delicious and the cappuccino is doing it’s job of perking me up and keeping my productive.  In between writing this I’m adding the finishing touches to another travel piece for a different blog.  I have a book too (of course), and the pressure is on to finish the last hundred plus pages before it’s due at the library on Monday.