Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Rough Beginning

As my posting frequency of the past two weeks may indicate, it's back to school time here at Central Standard. Our first day of classes was Thursday a week ago, after the freshmen had been given a day without the bother of other classes muscling them around in the hallways. Our first two days were problem-free. My classes seemed populated with good kiddos; your expected diversity of personalities and skill levels, but no glaringly tough nuts who might make life difficult for ten weeks. I left school on Friday thinking I might have a good term.

Sadly, a tragedy struck our community a week ago, as a junior at our school died in a Saturday morning traffic accident. Many emails were sent over the weekend, and all staff was called into a meeting on Monday morning to discuss our role in dealing with the needs of our students.

It was a difficult week, to say the least. However, as upset as all of us may have been about losing a child from our community (even those of us who never knew the student), most of us personally contemplated how terrible it is for a family to lose someone so unexpectedly.

Overall, I think we, as a school community, did a tremendous job in response to this awful situation. The school really legitimized the student's reactions, offered ample opportunities for students and staff to deal with their emotions, and made the transition back toward "normal" as smoothly as a community can. However, this is something that will color our entire school year, as it most likely should be. And that will make this year difficult, at times, no doubt.

Meanwhile, Back At The Bourbon

Thursday, Monkey and I headed down to the Bourbon Theater to see one of our old favorites, Split Lip Rayfield, a former quartet (now a trio since the death of guitarist Kurt Rundstrom from esophageal cancer in 2007) of speed-picking Kansans. Opening for them was the more traditional local bluegrass quintet, triggertown.

After our first week of back to work, it was good to get out and see a show. And this was a good show to see. The openers are a good band. They harmonize beautifully, and they sound great. They personably entertained a crowd that took the dance floor at the foot of the stage in larger numbers as the set wore on. The crowd clearly knew and enjoyed the undercard.

SLR took the stage near eleven pm, which didn't bode well for Monkey and I on a school night, but, I honestly didn't mind. I had indulged in a nap after work, so, I felt pretty energized.

This was Monkey's and my first time seeing SLR since they had become a trio. For us, Kurt's absence was clear from the start. Not in the sound, so much, but in the energetic spirit of Kurt's performance. Which is not to say that the rest of the guys are lethargic, by any means, but Kurt just had a way of playing that was mesmerizing. His flaring eyes, his flailing arm, his occasional screams, his throw-himself-into-it-100%-all-the-time spirit added a certain extra joy to a Split Lip show. That wasn't there.

That said, the guys still kicked ass. They sounded great, they played tight, they worked the crowd. And, as I had heard they do, they dedicated the show (and every show they play) to Kurt.

They came back for two encore songs, finishing up with Monkey's favorite "Kiss of Death." This song always reminds me of myself in my earlier years: "I am the kiss of death / To cars / The kiss of death." Returning home safely in the early hours of Friday, I felt that warm hum in my head that only loud live music can provide. And those musical bees, dancing in the jar of my head, lulled me into sleep.

The Growing Season

It's time, ladies and gentlemen. The Great Beard Experiment of 2009-2010 has begun. The question is, what is this experiment setting out to prove?

Is it a test of my endurance? How long can I go without shaving? How much self-doubt can I consume as I stare into my furry face each day, asking if I am simply making a spectacular mockery of myself? How much time can I contemplate exactly what haircut should be matched with my ferocious facial attachment?

Or is it a test of Monkey's endurance? How many prickly kisses can she take? How many times can I press my damp chin whiskers to her cheek before she screams, "Enough!"?

Or is it less of an experiment, and more of an exhibition?

These, and countless other questions, can only be answered through more investigation, contemplation, and hirsute existentialism. Let the growing begin!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are, Part Six: The Scene of a Great Disaster

Our final hike of the Rocky Mountain National Park phase of summer vacation, was a seven mile round trip to Lawn Lake and back, mostly along the Roaring River. There was a good deal of elevation on this trip, and I recall feeling pretty beat after this last trip. I don't know if I was just having a bad day, or if this was some cumulative effect of daily hiking, but this trail kicked my butt!

The hike was worth it, however; as the scenery at Lawn Lake was awesome. It was a bit blustery up there, among the several surrounding peaks, but it was lovely sitting by a rock and munching a PB and J as the chilly winds whipped the lake. There were several fly fishermen around the shore, and one even caught a trout while we watched him in the distance.

At one time, Lawn Lake was once much larger than the lake by which we ate, since, at one time, it was dammed at filled the valley where we sat. About thirty years ago, the dam broke after some heavy weather, flooding the valley below, and covering downtown Estes Park in three feet of water. Tragically, several people lost their lives in this flood.

It is a reminder to all that, no matter how much we think we can harness nature, it will always have its way. We may want to dam rivers, but, without constant inspection, those dams will fail. We may want to create pristine wild areas, but truly pristine wild areas will contain predators that can harm us. We may wish to dwell among nature, but, along with the beauty, we have to accept the risks. Otherwise, we are simply riding a monorail through an amusement park.

Which is exactly how I prefer to see my bears.

I apologize for the dearth of pictures, but feel free to click back on Part One and follow the photo link from there (if you haven't already). I am tired, and I still have some work to do.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are, Part Five: The Bear Trap

The start of contract time has curtailed my blogging the past few days, but it is my intention to offer finish this multi part story as soon as possible, beginning today with the story of our hike to Lulu City, a former mining town that thrived for only four years in the mountains of Colorado before succumbing to the economics of the times and becoming a ghost town known mostly for its still-visible bear trap (of which, I neglected to take a photo--I didn't realize it was such a famous bear trap until afterward...hell, I didn't even know it was a bear trap, at the time, but, I digress).

The morning of this hike, we intended to mosey into Allenspark and eat at the wonderful Meadow Mountain Cafe. When we arrived, at exactly the time that they opened, we found the small parking lot full, and the small dining area fuller. Not wanting to wait too long for a table, some coffee, and some food, we decided to head into Estes Park for an alternate breakfast experience.

After a not-so-good-as-Meadow-Mountain-would-have-been breakfast, we drove over Rocky Mountain National Park's Trail Ridge Road, to find the Colorado River trail head, on the other side of the Continental Divide. This trail is relatively level, until the descent into/ascent out of the Lulu City site, and follows the Colorado River for a distance, revealing along the way several mine shaft sites, and the ruined cabins of the man who once owned the mines (I believe his name was Shipler). It was a nice trail through riparian wetlands and wild flowers. Earlier, one of the Ambassadors had purchased a book on RMNP wild flowers, so we had a fine time trying to identify some of the more common flora along the trail. Unfortunately, the wetlands also breeds some local mosquitoes, so we didn't stand still over the flowers for too long.

Once we arrived in the vicinity of Lulu City, we discovered that the only living inhabitants of the site are golden-mantled ground squirrels. We debated whether it was a good idea to feed the squirrels pumpkin seeds (we decided not to), and whether a golden-mantled ground squirrel was any match for a chainsaw beaver (of course, not). Most importantly, we found a beautiful river bank of stones in a river, upon which to have a mid-day snack. It truly was one of the more beautiful places we spent time (of course, there were many of those).

Of course, on our way back to the trail head, it rained. The only difference was that, today, everyone had adequate rain gear. Hooray! The backs of my pant legs did get awfully drenched, however. I think next time, I am toting my rain pants, as well. We stopped by the Ranger's Station after the hike, to get a last check on the weather, but it was not good news. The weather we had been having, we would continue to have, and that, we all decided, was not conducive to scaling any 14000 foot mountains. So, with disappointment, we scrubbed our Longs Peak hike for that trip.

That left us with a decision to make about our last hiking day in the area. Where would we hike? How far? How high? How early? We spent the evening, over dishes of not-very-good Tuscan bean soup (my fault), discussing our options.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are, Part Four: Oh, Hail, It's Hopelessly Raining!

Our next adventure took us into the town of Allenspark, where we would depart from the aptly named Allens Park trail head on an eight mile out and back hike to Finch Lake. Again, this morning, a mostly sunny sky turned mostly cloudy as we drove to the trail head, but all of our past hikes had been pretty decent (except that one), so we were not too worried.

We hiked a few hundred yards up into the park before noticing that a hummingbird was stalking one of our party. Red circles on her pack attracted the bird, and, despite the fact that it must have quickly discovered that there was no nectar in the pack, it made persistent strafing runs at her back and hovered for long seconds in her vicinity. The hummer also noticed a similar color on my pack, as it buzzed and hovered around me, as well. After a few minutes it realized the futility of its actions, and whizzed off to find some real sustenance.

We climbed on, through some lovely pines and aspens, eventually coming to an intersection known as "Confusion Crossing," where two trails meet in an X, with a wide central space. I am not sure what is so confusing about this crossing, since a) all four of the arms of the X are distinct, and b) there are clear signs delineating where each destination one might wish to wind up might be reached. At any rate, we had no problem finding our way beyond this ominously named nav point.

At the crossing, we ran into a troop of campers coming down from Finch Lake, our destination. We passed the time of day with them, particularly discussing the weather, since they were on a multi-day outing and had been dealing with the downpours directly and constantly. At least we had the comfort of our periodically powerless cabin to keep us dry. Leaving our trail brethren and sisteren behind, we proceeded farther along the trail, hoping that our discussion of rainy weather wouldn't jinx our hike.

Unfortunately, our hopes were not realized, as, withing minutes of our passing the trail junction, the skies began to drip. We put on our rain gear, but one of us was still unprepared. In a moment of selflessness and shared misery, one of our party gave his rain gear to the unprepared one, hoping that the rain would be light and short-lived. But, it didn't work out that way.

It rained, and then it rained hard. And then it hailed, and then it hailed hard. We took cover under a stand of trees, waiting out the storm. The hail subsided, we trekked on. The hail resumed. The hail intensified. We took cover again. The temperature dropped into the low fifties (I would guess). The wettest member of our party was feeling pretty cold. We waited for the storm to subside. It didn't.

This was a tough moment, since we estimated that we were only about a half mile from our destination, but the temperature and the hail and the driving rain prompted us to decide to scrap the hike for the day. We waited for an opportune moment to take a break for it.

Our wettest member lit out for the trail head. He plodded on, not waiting for the rest of the party, and waited in the car for everyone else's return. That evening, we were mostly bummed by the weather, our low internal temperatures, and the growing realization that Longs Peak would probably have to wait until next year.

However, as hopeful as ever, we discussed possible hikes for the next day: would we go for a challenge, a long, climbing hike? Or, would we take a warning from the recent weather and choose something more docile? We saved that decision for a brighter day ahead.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are, Part Three: Lost Mines

Our next two hikes were adventures of the highest order, in which the groups survival skills, organizational skills, and ability to sacrifice for the good of others were tested intensely.

A short hike to Lost Lake was our Tuesday hike of choice. We headed through the towns of Nederland and Eldora to the Hessie trail head. In reality, we didn't drive to the Hessie trail head. Instead, we parked along an unimproved road (precariously close to a significant drop off), and walked to the trail head, due to the destructive capabilities of those most industrious of rodents, the beaver (I will spare you the plot of our group's extemporaneously devised feature-length animated "film": Chainsaw Beavers).

Beaver dams had caused extensive flooding in the valley below, submerging the road for a length, and making the auto route impassable to all but those with the highest clearance and/or the most fool hardy. So, our two-mile trek was actually more like two-and-a-half, when all was said and done. And, to tell you the truth, the first quarter mile of the hike was made all the more beautiful by the flood waters of the beaver dams.

On the other side of the flooded road lay a wide open space, the ruins of what was once the town of Hessie. Apparently, the town was the headquarters of those who serviced the mines in the area. One of those mines was at the top of the trail we were about to travel. In the clearing, besides some lovely mariposa lilies, we found an abandoned well, and some foundations, but not much else.

We hiked in a generally upward direction (we gained about 800 feet on this hike), circling around a waterfall, and through some lovely wooded areas. As the trail finally crossed the falls, after a split in the trail, the walk got even more interesting, as the trail followed what seemed to be an old corduroy road, with old logs still lined across it. It is possible that this "artifact" of history has a more contemporary origin, but the idea that mule teams from the vanished town of Hessie below may have trod these same roads added a mythical quality to this part of our hike. Not to mention some more beautiful cascade views.

At about 9800 feet, we came upon Lost Lake. I stopped to take some pictures at the shore. When I was finished, the rest of my party was nowhere to be seen. I proceeded up the trail, expecting to find them around the next bend, enjoying some trail mix and taking a break, but that didn't happen. I walked completely along the shore trail, and didn't see anyone. I walked back, thinking maybe I missed them somewhere along the shore, but where? Finally, I walked back up the trail, stopping to walk down to the shore to several hidden spots. At one, I finally came across two-thirds of my mates, sitting on a rock and shooting the breeze, but where was our final member?

I'll admit, I was a little angry at this point, I maybe was a bit short with my compatriots, especially when they said they didn't know where our fourth was either. The three of us walked up the trail, to no avail. I sent them back to the end of the lake and told them I would be back with or without our fourth member, in twenty minutes.

I double timed it up the trail, arriving at an area we had spied from below earlier in the day. At the top of this portion of the trail, a gigantic field of mine debris was spread along the ridge. Visible from miles away, I was sure that our missing companion had come up here for a little exploration. Which he had. We stayed up top for a few minutes, taking pictures and poking around, before heading back down to reunite the party.

I was still not happy that we had gotten separated, but I was glad that we were all together again. The weather was again building as we crossed the beaver flood and climbed the road back to the car, so, we called it a day, went back to the cabin, showered up and headed down to Boulder for dinner. A nice visit to a hip town, but the most remarkable thing was the snow we drove through on the way home. It was a wacky weather trip.

I'll tell you all about our second "intense" hike, tomorrow.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are, Part Two: Marmots and Downpours and Bears, Oh My!

After some cereal at HQ, we headed for our first foray into Rocky Mountain National Park itself. We planned on hiking farther along the Glacier Gorge trail, where we had taken a short hike on our last day in Colorado, last year. Instead of Mills Lake, a two-plus-mile hike, where we ended in 2008, we planned to push on to Black Lake (and possibly beyond).

Like last year, this was one of the more beautiful hikes we took. It is hard to really assert that one hike is head and shoulders better than another, although last year's hike to Chasm Lake was a particularly magnificent experience, in many ways, the lakes, falls, and views of surrounding peaks in this area of the park are excessively breath-taking at times.

The beauty of Mills Lake was no surprise, having been there before, but the trail beyond was less crowded and equally magically. I fell behind the group on several occasions, taking pictures, or just marvelling at the sights. In addition, we had a close encounter, at one point, with one of the park's ubiquitous, and clearly unafraid (and misnamed) yellow-bellied marmots. We would encounter multiple marmots on this trip, as well as sightings of larger mammals that would trump this eight-pound rock chuck, but, at the time, we all enjoyed our brush with this distant relative of Mr. Chubbs.

At one point on our hike, we came to an open area, a rushing mountain stream beside it, where I had one of those often sensed moments of awe. My first thought, voiced to Monkey, was, this is where I want to live. It is a silly, impractical, and impossible thought, but, in those places of exquisite natural beauty, I sometimes wish to just lie down and stay forever. Instead, we all gathered for a timer-aided group photo.

On we climbed, pausing for a snack at the slightly mosquito-y Black Lake. Another fabulous alpine lake. Miles beyond, we might find Frozen Lake, and Italy Lake, but it was clear that the time of day and gathering weather would probably not allow for that. Instead, a detachment of our party climbed a steep trail alongside Black Lake's feeder stream, which fell some distance from the ridge above. At the top of the ridge, a bit of exploration revealed the impracticality of carrying on, but also introduced us to the not-too-distant beginnings of the rocky slopes leading up to Longs Peak.

At this point, some of us decided that we would try to attempt to scale Longs Peak at some point during the week, weather permitted. This sent waves of excitement (and not a little trepidation) through the group, considering that Longs is a challenging, but commonly attempted and scaled, climb to the top of Rocky Mountain National Park's highest peak (14259 feet).

So, with a forward-looking jaunt in our step, we proceeded back down the trail, toward our original departure point. As we approached Mills Lake, the skies opened up, and we trudged most of the remaining 2 and a half miles in a steady, and sometimes heavy, cold rain. One of our party's members was inadequately outfitted for such weather, and, while she remained stoic, was clearly not enjoying our final hour or so of descent. But, returning to the Penguin, we tried to make each other as comfortable as possible for the remainder of our trip back to HQ (which included a supply excursion into Estes Park).

As we four-wheeled our way up the unimproved road back to our powerless cabin, one of the most magical moments of our trip occurred. Mrs. Ambassador shouted "Stop!" I stopped the vehicle. "Back up," she said. Okay. We had just seen a beautiful orchard oriole at the base of the ridge, so I thought she might have spotted some other interesting bird. I backed up, looking into the yard of a cabin along the road. I didn't see anything. "More," she said. I rolled back a few more feet. There, standing on all fours beneath an array of bird feeders in the front yard of this cabin, was a medium-sized black bear! He stared at us. We stared at him. No one had a camera. Mrs. Ambassador scurried into the way back of the Penguin to get her camera. Just then, the bear turned and casually loped off over the hill. It was amazing, and I am glad we were in the car.

That evening, I kept one eye peeled as I grilled some burgers on the patio of the cabin. We were pretty far from where we sited the bear, and on the other side of a ridge, but I still felt just a little wary about any black bears smelling a juicy burger cooking. I mean, if you spend most of your time eating berries and bird seed, wouldn't a nice burger, followed by the chef, be a fulfilling diversion? I thought so. Lucky for me, Mr. Bear did not come calling.

Unfortunately, we never saw it again, the rest of the week. For those keeping track, that means that last year, Monkey got to see her moose on the Front Range, and this year, she got to see a bear. There is no conceivable way (currently) for her to see a whale there, so she will have to look elsewhere to fill her "Trinity of Wildlife Sightings," but two out of three ain't bad.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are, Part One: Biscuits, Gravy, and Wet Wilderness

It's finally update time! Been working on getting ready for school (teachers report on the 12th), including a meeting with a fellow teacher on American Lit curriculum, setting up my room--yeah, I am finally getting my own room--and attending a workshop today. Really, it feels like I have already reported for duty, it's just a lot quieter in the hallways. But, let's talk about happier times, like last week, when Monkey and I were spending the week in Colorado with the Ambassadors.

Our drive from Oregon to Colorado was relatively uneventful, save for a nice view of Snake River Canyon near our overnight Motel 6 in Twin Falls, Idaho. Monkey and I stopped for a quick visit with friends in Fort Collins (a very cool town, it seems), before proceeding through falling temperatures and down-pouring skies to Estes Park, where we rendezvoused with the Ambassadors in the parking lot of the local Safeway. Apparently, our cabin was far off the beaten path, and it was easier for them to lead us to it than give us directions.

And, it was. After an additional 25 minutes of driving, through Estes, past Allenspark, and nearly halfway to Boulder, we hung a left past the yellow intersection sign (either an upside down Y or a K with its arm cut off...never did settle that one), and proceeded carefully up a packed (but wet) dirt road, a mile and a half up one ridge and down another, before reaching the secluded cabin that we would spend a week in.

Before we got out of the car, our companions told us to wait until the generator was turned on. Generator? Yup. Our cabin, while not rustic by any means, was powered by a generator that could only be run for three hours at a clip (with a two hour pause in between). While this did not interfere with the operation of the propane gas stove or the propane powered refrigerator, it did leave us without power for all but the darkest hours, and precluded us from showering and flushing toilets during non-generator hours. Minor hardships, of course, most obvious at bed time, when, after the nightly ceremony of shutting down the power, Monkey and I read by the light of our electric halogen headlamps, before turning in. Monkey especially found this humorous.

After a good night's sleep, we rose early to head in to Allenspark for a Meadow Mountain Cafe breakfast. A quaint spot, with good food, the Meadow Mountain has become a favorite of ours (and has been a favorite of some for many years). I enjoyed my biscuits and gravy.

Breakfast consumed, we headed into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, rather than Rocky Mountain National Park, itself, to enjoy a hike along Lake Isabella and up to Isabella Glacier. The skies were gray as we arrived at the parking lot, but we were up and off in good spirits. At a trail junction, where we crossed a small stream, I was pleased to get a close-up look at some ruby-crowned kinglets bathing in a small rivulet.

Unfortunately, along the trail, I became dizzily aware that I was still acclimating to the altitude. We started the hike at about 10000 feet and climbed to over 12, and I was pretty woozy for much of it, but, I was digging the trail so much, I simply walked on. After this first hike, I was good for the remainder of the trip.

Also unfortunately, we didn't quite make it to the glacier. As we climbed to the vicinity of our hike's terminus, scrambling over rocks and gingerly sloshing (can one gingerly slosh?) through snow melt streams, a bank of clouds came menacingly over the ridge before us. We were in pretty open territory, so we decided to call it a hike. On our return, the rain followed us down, falling on us intermittently, but never dampening our spirits.

For more photos (including adventures not yet revealed), click here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pictures of the Past

Since I had no way to upload pictures this past fortnight, I thought I would make my first post since my return to Cornopolis a retrospective of photos from previously mentioned excursions. After this, stay tuned for fresh entries, updating you on all of the goings on in Rocky Mountain National Park and beyond.

First photo: The Goorjian-Duh-Dillon Chicken Coop. Word on the street is that the four chickens who now call this home are pleasantly adapting. No word on egg production.

Second photo: The beach north of Heceta Head, where Monkey and I started our first Coastal hike. The fog was a constant companion on this day.

Third photo: Monkey and I in a self-portrait taken on the roots of a massive tree on Nelson's Ridge, where our hike was again accompanied by fog.

Fourth photo: The excellent view of the Three Sisters from the fire lookout on Ollalie Mountain. Definitely the best hike of the week for us.

Stay tuned for more adventures from Summer Vacation, Final Stage.

And, for more photos of our Oregon trip, click here.