Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Last Day in Colorado...WOW!

We checked out of our condo in mid morning, and decided to hit the Rocky Mountain National Park at the Estes Park entrance and spend the rest of the day there while we waited for our late night flight back home to Bradenton. We hadn't seen elk on our first visit there, so we thought we'd check out trails along Trail Ridge parkway, go back to the Alpine Visitor's Center so Sparky could hike "Huffer's Hill" again, and hang around till dusk to look for elk.....

At the visitor's center, we heard it had snowed at the Alpine Visitor's Center. Hot diggity dog! Sparky was rarin' to get up there. She had her ski headband and lightweight parka ready in the car. But first, check out some trail heads and the Continental Divide trail marker....No snow here....

The trails looked beautiful....We didn't have our poles and hiking shoes on so we just took notes for next summer in August when we plan on returning....
Sparky loves the wood carved signs....
We saw mule deer cross the road....

As we climbed higher, Sparky saw snow on the sides of the road. We were almost to the top of the park, Alpine Valley. STOP THE CAR, Eldy! SNOW! Quite a bit of it. Well, compared to what we see in Florida anyway, haha. Oh, boy!

Sparky just HAD to make a snowball and throw it!
It was in the thirties at the top of Alpine Valley.....Many people chose to stay inside and look at the beautiful view from within....
Bet the staff made this snowman....Sparky wanted to add a sign, "Florida or melt!" But the chances of this snowman melting any time soon were probably nada, as cold as it was up at the top and the winter weather coming. The park was getting ready to close down the visitor's center within a week or two, we could tell. They were shutting down some of the services inside.

Sparky wanted to climb "Huffer's Hill" again....just to get the exercise and to help her sugar levels plummet, which they did the last time she hiked it. Just goes to show, you really need to get aerobic exercise to help get those sugar levels down. Lately, the only time she has levels in the 90's (high average end) is when she really gets her heart pumping. So off she went again....And here's a repeat of that heart stopping, (just about), awesome WOW view at the top looking down at the visitor's center, just because it's so cool--taken with the iPhone 6S.

Sparky did it! Twelve thousand feet up! Eldy would have done it too, but he was having more trouble with the altitude and Sparky wouldn't let him try it.

After hiking and getting a bite to eat, we headed down the other side towards the meadows where the elk congregate every night. Eldy had to stop the car again so Sparky could make another snowball. Hey, it's the closest she has been to snow in four years! Gotta enjoy what little there is of it!

bull elk on the hillside
By this time, it was getting to be late afternoon....We drove around the park visiting several meadows, no signs of elk yet. They were still in the woods up on the ridges next to the road....Eldy spotted a bull and his harem of three females up above the road side. We decided to sit and wait.....and wait......and wait.....Cars came and went. We stayed parked on the side of the road right next to the meadow. The bull and harem waited patiently on the hillside, munching away on grass shoots. We waited some more. Sparky was getting impatient. (She's not very good at just sitting in the car, explains E.)

Finally, she couldn't stand it any longer. She was going to get out her knitting and pass the time that way. Just as she started to knit, Eldy shouted, "HERE HE COMES! HERE HE COMES! THERE HE GOES!" And the bull passed right in front of the car ahead of us. He just bounded out of the woods from up above, and two females bounded down the hillside right behind him, dodging cars that were still moving in the roadway! Sparky missed the shot because she was looking down and couldn't get the camera out and going fast enough. :-(   Boy, when they decide to move, they GO! That bull had had enough of the passersby, and decided to make his move. It was thrilling to see them come by us so close and so fast!

After watching them head into the marsh waters, we headed out of the park. Just as we got to the Estes Park ranger station/entrance, we saw more bulls....Sparky wasn't going to miss any more chances to get some wildlife photos! This bull elk passed nonchalantly by a small group of people who had stopped, thus starting an "elk jam" right along the roadside. Nobody was coming or going on either side of the roadway. He had definitely "tangled" with some brush and was wearing a crown of grass shoots on his head. Didn't seem to bother him a bit. He regally paraded right by us, not giving anybody the time of day. He was just a few yards away from us!

And off he went, on his way to who knows what?

We hated to leave....We saw another bull with his harem hanging around some park buildings near the exit. He was definitely interested in a female and was following her around. But she wasn't interested at all. We heard some bugling from a male while we were there. Rut season was just starting to get under way, the rangers said. But it was time to head out of the park. Regretfully, we left the park and immediately, we saw ANOTHER bull elk in the front yard of a resident's house, just sitting and enjoying the late afternoon light.

Went a few miles down the road and TWO more BULL elk were nibbling and antler tussling with low tree branches. WOW! What a day of wildlife!

It was a terrific trip! We loved our stay in Breckenridge, Colorado, and we hope to come back for the whole month of August next year to hike and bike and explore even more. We sure packed a lot in in four days and it was a great way to explore the area, and to find accommodations that we knew we'd be happy with. So, until next time......Happy Trails and safe travels to you!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Colorado Trip Day 2 and Day 3

The second day, we went exploring into the town of Breckenridge, formerly an old mining town before it evolved into the bustling ski resort town it is today. The population is only about 4500 when the skiers are not around, so the amount of restaurants, pubs and shops is quite amazing.....They have artful duckies all over town...sort of a theme like Yellowstone has painted bison, Chicago used to have cows, Cherokee, NC has bears...fun stuff like that...

Breckenridge has a beautiful city park in the heart of downtown....The Blue River runs through it, and the mountains form the backdrop.  There are many sculptures in the park and even one stone sculpture is in the Blue River. This is a view through a rock sculpture in the center of the park.

There is a beautiful Victorian home section in town. What would a visit to Colorado be without seeing log homes? There are hundreds of beautiful log homes dotting the hillsides.

And there are some terrific little shops as well....This candle shop was beautiful...The artist was making the candles in the front window of the shop. Being a fellow crafter, Sparky had to check it out.

There were excellent restaurants, too many to check out in four days! One we enjoyed was the Columbine Cafe for breakfast. Any place that has breakfast burritos and more than one kind of them on the same menu, is all right with Sparky. And anything that has big wooden timbers, paintings of moose, bears and other Colorado wildlife on its walls makes it a great place. Eldo liked his biscuits and gravy. We looked at many restaurant menus there, trying to pick a different one each day for dinner. The restaurants were mostly moderately to expensively priced, so we conserved our budgets and decided to explore more next visit. We visited a Mexican restaurant while we were there, (meh!) and had snacks at two bar/tavern places. Colorado has GREAT beer choices, reports Eldy. :-)

Where this flat place was, Sparky does not remember!
After checking out the town, Sparky decided she was going to do a bike recreational path that ran from Breckenridge to Frisco, a neighboring town a distance of 9.5 miles away. The elevation change was from 9.050 to 9,600 feet. Not too bad. She decided to ride there and back. For 20.00, (coupon in a local brochure giving 20% off) she rented a Specialized bike, a quality hybrid bike for four hours. That should be enough time. Sparky saw this cool stained glass in the window upon entering.

The trail is rated as "easy" in local biking magazines and brochures. HA! Easy for somebody acclimated to 9,500 feet up in the Colorado Ten Mile Mountain Range! BUT--the guy at the bike shop said it's downhill from Breckenridge to Frisco, so that made things easier. Sparky thought, OK, if she was feeling badly, she would just call Eldy to come and get her after 9 miles making it to Frisco. Off she went.....Piece of cake to get to Frisco. Well, maybe not a piece of cake, but it was doable. BUT---#1) it is NOT flat all the way there, there were several hilly places and one pretty good sized hill on the way to Frisco.

 And there were some road hazards. She hoped her brakes were good ones! They were....
 The scenery was FANTASTIC!
 The scenery was AMAZING!

The scenery was AWESOME!

Thankfully, there were places to rest and stop which Sparky took advantage of. This rest stop was almost at the top of the biggest hill to climb towards Frisco, and the mountains are just past this rest stop around a curve.

And Sparky kept going....Till she hit Frisco....Right before she entered the turn around to come back on the same track, she saw a cute little red fox with black sox...He just trotted across the road like nobody's business and kept a movin' on..No time for a photo for him! Time to turn back.

Sparky got about half way back, and the legs started to give out...No cramping, just tired and rubbery and refusing to work. She stopped for some rest and water. She stopped to take photos.
Sculpture on the bike recreational path
"I can do this...I can do this..." But this was a new experience, biking in the mountains. She soldiered on. The legs got weaker. Breathing wasn't the problem, the legs were. She stopped again....This was a cool lawn and garden center with LOTS of metal and wood sculptures.

She thought about calling Eldy and asking him to come pick her up. Nope..."I can do this...." It was VERY difficult the last three miles. She really got an idea of an athlete's exhaustion levels, those who run marathons and Iron Man competitions and stuff like that. Sparky stopped many times. But she finally made it! NINETEEN miles in high elevation. Woo hoo!

Stay tuned for our last day in Colorado, with one more visit to Rocky Mountain National Park....It was the best as far as seeing wildlife.....

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Alpine Visitor's Center Rocky Mountain National Park

This visitors center at Rocky Mountain National Park deserves a special post all its own along with some important facts about altitude sickness, so here goes....

Our first full day at Rocky Mountain National Park, hereafter referred to as RMNP, was a wonderful day of exploration, culminating at the Alpine Visitors Center, high up in elevation, over 11,500 feet in elevation.

This was a really great center and the "heartbeat" of the park, for the main reason that if you aren't careful, you can really feel the effects of "Acute Mountain Sickness" or high altitude sickness. Going from zero degrees in elevation to over 5,280 feet and higher very suddenly, like taking a flight into a high elevation destination, can cause some people, even very fit ones to have problems, if you overdo it. The owner of our condo told us about his nephew, a VERY fit young man, who came to town for a visit, and thought he was going to jump into the fitness craze of hiking and biking with no problems, and ended up in the hospital emergency room because he got VERY sick. Symptoms are a result of not enough oxygen getting into the lungs at high altitudes and moving from a low altitude to a high one very quickly, usually over 8,000 feet. Symptoms of the condition may range from mild to severe, and do not always occur immediately — in some cases, symptoms may not begin until you have been at a high altitude for more than 24 hours. Here are some common symptoms of altitude sickness and some steps you can take to prevent them: In most people, altitude sickness symptoms are usually mild and include--headaches which begin between 2-12 hours after reaching high altitude, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea and vomiting, disinterest in eating, trouble falling or staying asleep, coughing and persistent fatigue or weakness. Most cases will improve during this time, but it may help if you:
  • don't exercise 
  • drink plenty of fluids (but not alcohol
  • don't smoke 
  • rest until you feel better
  • descend to a lower altitude if possible
Signs at the park say if you can't catch your breath after resting, experience severe pain of any kind that interferes with your enjoyment of your surroundings, or you are concerned about how you are feeling, to notify the park ranger. Before coming to this altitude, we really didn't know anything about the possible effects of the altitudes. Sparky had a headache since getting on the plane, but it took two full days for the headache to go away, even with medication. She now thinks that probably was a result of the quick altitude change. And by the way, the amount of oxygen is the same at no matter what altitude you are, 21%, but the oxygen molecules are spread out a lot more because of the decrease in air pressure, so you are getting 30-40% less oxygen into your lungs than at sea level. AHA! Something you always wanted to know and couldn't wait to ask. :-)

Back to the trail and the center....The Trail Ridge Road to the top of the park is the highest continuous paved road in North America, reaching 12, 183 feet. Every fall, the road closes for SEVEN months of "hibernation". It is totally "green"--no utility lines, no phone lines, no power except for a diesel generator. A dam below the VC collects snow melt and sewage is hauled away daily. The winters are harsh and long here....Snow can fall any time, even in the summer, which sometimes necessitates closing Trail Ridge Road. It takes 6 weeks to reopen the road, plows have to push through drifts sometimes as tall as 35 FEET. This sign stays up and doesn't come down in the summer!

Because the alpine tundra climate is so harsh, the treeline is about 11,400 feet. Above 11,000 feet, there are "banner" trees which are formed from relentless ice winds of up to 150 miles per hour at the mountain tops, so the trees form growth on only one side, making them look like a banner blowing in the wind. The trees cannot grow where the average daily temperature is below 50 degrees at this place in the park. Br-r-r-r-r..... Trees grow so slowly here that a tree trunk which is a few inches in diameter, may be as much as several HUNDRED years old!
courtesy of the internet
Sparky and Eldo learned a LOT from the visitors center...lots of cool exhibits about the flora and fauna of the alpine tundra...Some were on the animals that survive the bitter cold and have adapted--marmots, ptarmigans--birds that change completely in color from brown to white in the winters, and some exhibits were about the identification of tundra plants and flowers. One of the tundra flowers--a species of grandiflora which is one of the largest blooming flowers up here--2-4", grows leaves, stems and roots for up to 20 years or more. When it finally has enough energy to bloom, it blooms once, sets seeds and dies. It's definitely a harsh environment!
 And here is a view near the highest point in the park.....

All these photos were taken with the new iPhone 6S, which has a 12 megapixel camera in it now. Pretty darn good, don't you think? Sparky loves it. She tried taking photos with the little Canon point and shoot as well, but the iPhone photos just blew them away.....

The mountains and their majesty were just breathtaking...literally! We have never seen mountains this high, nor experienced RMNP ever before. We definitely plan to come back next summer. But we will ease ourselves into the altitude change a little more gently next time.

To come---tales from Breckenridge, a wonderful little town...Bye for now....

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Great Getaway to the Rocky Mountains! The First Day

Sparky has been suffering mightily with the heat and humidity this summer and into fall. So Eldo decided it's time for another road trip! We've been thinking about finding a place that's relatively cool during the hottest Florida summer month--August. Heck, they are all hot! (From April to October!) complains Sparky. Enough! says Eldo. We will research a spot and I think I've got one--How about Colorado? says E. Temperatures are chilly right now, he adds. Chilly???? asks Sparky. Let's go!

Eldy researched and researched and researched. Not only does he scour the internet for a place to stay that's reasonable--the price of a motel room for one night, usually, and a better rate than that for longer stays, he researches for HOURS and HOURS on the best flight, the best car rental option, etc. etc. So we found ourselves heading to the Rockies in Colorado, specifically, Breckenridge, CO, after Eldy worked out a heckuva deal. That man should find deals for a living! Most people would give up after a little bit of searching and settle for the cost. NOT Eldy!

Temperatures were averaging in the high fifties to low sixties during the last week of September, so that's when we went. Sparky got all excited--HIKING! BIKING! Whoopeeeeeeee! (Easy girl, says E. this is high altitude hiking country--9,000-12,000 feet) You have to be careful about altitude adjustment and altitude sickness. More about that later....
Provided by the condo owner when we checked in

Here's the condo he found--a mile and a half from downtown Breckenridge. There's free bus shuttle service all over town, but Sparky actually walked one way one day after breakfast, UP the hill all the way, 1.5 miles back to the condo. And that's at about 9,000 feet high. The price for four nights' stay was less than the cost of a motel room stay in the area. Two bedrooms, two baths...updated kitchen and just really really nice...even a gas fireplace! We used every night for our main source of heating, rather than use baseboard heat as the temperatures got down into the 30's at night! Sparky slept with the windows open under a heap of blankets with no baseboard heating on.  (Why, I have no idea! wonders E.) Actually, he understands. We like it cold. (But not THAT cold, counters E.)

The living area.....
And there was a really nice large deck out back, one of the biggest in the condo section, with a pretty view of pines out back and plenty of distance between this condo building and the next one. A beautiful red fox, who is evidently fed by local residents, comes around in the evenings for handouts. Sparky and Eldo were on the patio, when he showed up, not knowing he was on the tame side. When he started coming for the deck, with no sign of retreat, we headed inside. And there he sat at the door for a few minutes. Cool, but not cool in a way....

First day: We went exploring to Rocky Mountain National Park on the west entrance, Grand Lake. It was a little over a two hour trip from Breckenridge to the park on highway 40. We had never been to this national park before, so we took our time exploring. We drove all the way to the Alpine Visitor's Center, which is at the highest point of the park, 11,000-12,000 feet depending on where you stand while you are there. Sparky saw a hill she just HAD to climb. (With her, it's like if she sees steps, she has to climb them, explains E. Like lighthouses...she always has to climb the steps if it's open to the public.) Never mind that this hill, the Alpine Ridge trail gains 200 feet in high elevation in a matter of .3 of a mile. That's why people affectionately call it "Huffer Hill". You can hear everybody wheezing and huffing and puffing on their way up. Sparky, no exception. Remember, this was only her second day at this elevation. She had a mild headache as soon as we got here to Breckenridge. But--off she went! Here's the view from part way up the path, looking down...courtesy of Sparky's new iPhone 6S. AMAZING! The photo below is from the SECOND walk of the hike, two days later from the first one. It's the best shot of the trip, Sparky thinks, after they had had snow at the top of the mountains. A bone chilling 38 degrees at this shot and time of day. Sparky saw a young mother, toting a BABY up this hill, with NO HAT and very little protection against the elements other than a baby sling. Sparky was so angry, she almost called the mother out on this, but kept going, as sometimes she can be overbearing and embarrassing with her opinions. The wind chill alone probably made the temperature in the twenties this day.

On this trail, which was completely redone in 2010 because of extensive damage to the tundra from tourist traffic, you can see lots of beautiful plants in spring and summer: alpine forget-me-not, alpine clover, rock primrose, moss campion, and many other flowers. And even in September, you can see heart pounding, awesome views of the surrounding mountain ranges, appropriately named the Never Summer Mountains, composed of SEVENTEEN peaks!

Here's Sparky at the sign showing she did accomplish the heart pounding -right out of her chest -walk, with MANY stops along the way.

The visitors' center was really nice and very informative. Sparky and Eldo learned a lot about the alpine tundra habitat this high in the mountains. Sparky learned so much she's going to devote a second blog posting about the Alpine Visitors Center.

Tired, we headed back to our home in the sky back in Breckenridge...More to come!