Saturday, September 10, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday, Queen Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Mayes

It wasn't the birthday of Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth, but that of Stafford's very own centenarian, Elizabeth Mayes.  On Saturday morning, many of my hometown's inhabitants turned out to honor her and to view her celebratory birthday parade.  

Her daughter Linda

The procession was planned by Elizabeth's daughter Linda who telephoned my brother Friday evening to ask if he could drive his John Deere tractor to town to participate. But now that corn harvest has begun, the tractor was powering the vacuum system of the farm's grain bins.  Still, harvest was stalled when a thunderstorm blew through the area Friday night so why not be part of the fun?  

Choosing an alternate parade entry, Jon uncoupled our semi's cab from its trailer and drove that to town instead.  

For many years, Elizabeth taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School classes for the children at 1st Baptist Church.  I was one of those lucky kids.  I wanted to wish Elizabeth many happy returns of her day so I went along for the ride.

Parade participants on bicycles, motorcycles, golf carts, pickups or automobiles--the mode of transportation really didn't matter--gathered in front of the town's rest home so its residents could view the proceedings.

While Linda shuffled the parade members into some semblance of order behind the golf cart carrying our Queen Elizabeth, her husband Steve handed out balloons.  Jon tied ours to the truck's side mirror, I stuck our American flag out the passenger's window and we were off!

It took a couple of blocks for the procession to get up steam, but by the time it turned onto Main Street, it was moving along at a proper parade pace.  Our truck was supposed to bring up the rear, but a semi passing through town was caught behind us, an unscripted (and probably unwilling) addition to our motorcade.

On our first pass through the two blocks of our town's business district, the spectators congregated on the east side of the street near the bank.

I'm sorry!  There wasn't time to wash off the bug splatters on our windshield.

However, when the parade made the U-turn to go back through town,

many observers migrated to the west side of the street to wave to Elizabeth again.  

Jon pulled over to let the unwitting semi driver get by; then, deftly turned the cab around to catch up with the rest.  


All along the route, there was a cacophony of noise as drivers of the various parade vehicles unofficially competed for whose horn honked the loudest.  Personally, I think Jon's truck won that contest by a landslide.  

Too soon, the parade passed and the crowd dispersed, all hoping that there will be another parade next year to honor this inspiring and beloved lady. 

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!

Farewell to the Mountains

Labor Day was our last day in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. After eight weeks on the road, it's time to head back to the farm in Kansas to help with fall harvest. 

But there was still time for one last hike, the Ouzel Lake trail with its wealth of waterfalls and cascades.  

Our five-mile hike turned into nine miles when we mistook a horse trail for the real deal.  You'd think we would have noticed the steaming piles they left behind, but we just thought some equine had an upset stomach.  I guess the joke was on us!

Still, we did find the right trail eventually and it was worth the extra miles.  I'll let the following photographs speak for themselves.

Copeland Falls

Calypso Cascades

Ouzel Falls

On our way back to the campground, a herd of 40 to 50 elk stopped traffic as they crossed the highway from one meadow to another.

It's rutting season in Rocky Mountain National Park, the mating season when bull elk gather cows and calves into their harem of females.  The bulls wallow in the mud to cover themselves with their urine perfume in order to attract the females.  They also aggressively guard their harems from other bulls, sometimes fighting encroachers to the death.

Packing up that night, we saw this harem of elk who had wandered into the campground.

Leading the herd was a magnificent bull.  What a chance to see them up close--but not too close!

They must have been attracted to the lush grass of the campground and by the nearby Big Thompson River.

Big Thompson River at the rear of our campground

Wildlife, waterfalls, winding rivers and our week in this beautiful place made me feel that I, too, had gotten near to the heart of the world.

"As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing.  I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche.  I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can." ~ John Muir

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Drive With Altitude

On a misty Friday when the rain made hiking unappealing, Tim and I ventured up the 11 miles of Old Fall River Road, the first auto route through Rocky Mountain National Park, gaining 4,274 feet in elevation along the way.  

Begun in 1913 and finally finished seven years later, this gravel road was built with Ford Model T's in mind.  

Only 14 feet wide, the lane is a one-way adventure with twisting switchbacks, turning radii as tight as 20 feet, and steep grades that sometimes reach 16 percent.  Some early automobiles had to make the climb in reserve gear due to their gravity-fed fuel systems.  

Oh, and did I mention?  There are no guard rails. 

Luckily for us, cars have improved since the Model T.   

Still, Tim had to shift our Jeep into second and even third gear as we ascended to the Alpine Visitor Center at the summit.  

But it was worth it!  Not only did we see some incredible views, but also wildlife like these elk. 

Arriving at the summit, we had a choice to make.  Should we return to Estes Park via Trail Ridge Road or extend our journey down the other side of the mountains to the charming town of Grand Lake, Colorado?  That was a no-brainer!  We decided to make it a day trip and set our course for Grand Lake.  

We made a few stops along the way.  The first was the Colorado River trailhead where Tim and I searched for the headwaters of the mighty river which today quenches the thirst of much of the Southwest.  

This photograph of the Colorado Riverside was taken at the trailhead kiosk.

I feel a special connection to the Colorado River.  During the last years of my teaching career, I assisted seventh graders in a research project that pitted Native Americans against Colorado River rafters, hydropower industrialists and southwestern communities dependent on the river's water, always an interesting debate with such conflicting stakeholders. Then, at the end of each school year, the science teachers organized a field trip to Glen Canyon Dam, one of a series of dams that harness the power of the river. I rode along as an additional chaperone on the three-day trips, an incredible opportunity for first-hand learning.

Returning to our car, Tim and I continued down Trail Ridge Road to the Holzwarth Historic Site, the homestead and later dude ranch of John G. Holzwarth, Sr.  How resourceful this man was!  Baker, brewer, Texas Ranger, saloonkeeper, boardinghouse owner, homesteader, rancher, taxidermist, dude ranch proprietor!  For a 15-year-old German immigrant who travelled to the U.S. alone, Holzwarth deftly parlayed his skills to survive and provide for his family.

By the age of 19, he had migrated to Denver, married Sophia, and together opened a saloon, a business that morphed into a boardinghouse when Prohibition was passed. 

Dissatisfied with city life, Holzwarths homesteaded this site, but found the conditions too extreme for farming or ranching. So they built additional cabins and transformed the homestead into a profitable dude ranch, the Holzwarths Trout Lodge, an amazing success story. 

Hungry, we headed to Grand Lake where the historic Grand Lake Lodge sits majestically above its namesake's waters.  On the lodge's back porch, we ordered bowls of soup to warm us up on a chilly day.  Later we walked the streets of the town, ducking into the shops that drew our attention.

By then, the sun had burned the clouds away.  Perfect timing to return to Estes Park via Trail Ridge Road!

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Walk in the Woods with Friends

My friends, Cathy and Bud, have worked as campground hosts in Estes Park for the last eight years.  They know Rocky Mountain National Park like the backs of their hands.  So when Tim had other plans for the day, I was lucky that Cathy and Bud were free to take a hike with me to Mills Lake.

The approximately 2.5-mile trail to the lake was a gradual climb, making it easy to carry on a conversation without too much huffing and puffing. 

With the sun peeking through the trees, it was a perfect morning for a walk through the woods. 

Cathy and I became friends as colleagues at a middle school in Tucson, but it's been several years since I'd seen her.  

Yet, when you've served together in the trenches of teaching middle schoolers, the bonds of friendship are forged to last.   

She and Bud are also living the life of full-time RV-ing.  Once we covered the usual topics of long-separated friends, we turned to talking of--in the lyrics of an old John Denver song--"places that I'm going to and places where I've been."  During their summer vacations from teaching and now as RV travelers, they've covered much of the United States.  I almost wished I'd had pen and paper with me so I could take notes.  

We talked so much we almost missed the sights along the trail.

However, Alberta Falls, a scenic 30-foot waterfall that tumbles down a small gorge of Glacier Creek, would be hard to bypass.

Lots of other hikers had found their way there, too.  Camera shutters were clicking with a rapidity that rivaled the rapids.  But, no worries!  There were plenty of vantage points for everyone to enjoy. 

We also saw that the leaves of the aspens are beginning to change.  In a few weeks, the mountainsides of Rocky Mountain National Park will gleam with gold.  The tree above is only a hint of the glory to come.

Before I thought it possible, there was our first glimpse of Mills Lake.  

Logs like matchsticks blocked the mouth of the lake. 

A gift from a glacier, Mills Lake reflects the sky and the surrounding mountain peaks in its crystal-clear water.  A pretty prize for the people who persevered to this place. 

Photo by Cathy

We shared our lunch with this little guy, a feisty chipmunk who crept up to Cathy's knee.  We thought he was cute, but that was before he stoled her apple core.  Reclaiming his prize for our trash bag, we bade him farewell and hiked back down the trail.  

Photo by Cathy

A wonderful walk In the woods with friends!


Cathy and Bud invited us to a John Denver Tribute Concert Saturday night.  

Brad Fitch aka John Denver

The singer impersonated John Denver so perfectly with almost the same mannerisms and voice, it was--in the words of John Denver again--far out!