Monday 25 September 2017

St. Elmo - A Real Ghost Town

    The drive through the empty Chalk Creek Canyon to the ghost town was an eerie prelude of things to come. St. Elmo is a ghost town in the heart of the Sawatch Mountain range 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista. Founded in 1880 it grew to a population of 2000 when silver and gold mining were active but by 1922 the mining industry declined and the train to St. Elmo was discontinued. Postal service ended in 1952 and the town died.

      Surrounded by mountain peaks with the wind blowing dust down the deserted dirt roads left us with a dream-like vision of what must have been. The distant sound of hammering and talking only added to the spooky feeling as we wandered knowing there were people present but realizing we were unable to see them.

      Is the loss of this part of history the price we pay for what is so often and so errantly called progress? If I were to hazard a guess I would say that this town is presently being restored and if we were to return in 20 years we would find a carnival-like commercial Wild West atmosphere that would totally rob this town of its current mystery and charm. I was much happier knowing we saw it while it really was a ghost town not some wannabe theme park.

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Monday 18 September 2017

Scaling New Heights

    Each day we headed out we were constantly in search of diversions from the road trip boredom for the kids. It didn’t take long to find another spot on the side of the road to stop and do some more rock climbing. Although it appeared that Gavin and Adam undertook this activity with total reckless abandon they had been warned numerous times to take care. Not that us telling them that had any bearing on their actions, both Karen and I were always nearby should our assistance be required, as sooner or later we knew it would be.

      Scaling the face quickly then scrambling up the ridge, our fears were set aside as Gavin reached the top and glanced down. If we had any concerns that he was not aware of his surroundings or the potential peril he could be in, the expression on his face told us he got the message. As he glanced straight down his eyes widened, his eyebrows shot up and his mouth dropped open - it was priceless.         

      Always wanting to emulate his brother, Adam gave no thought whatsoever to how he might get down, he just scrambled to the top and sat next to Gavin. Oh to have the innocence and fearlessness of youth. After all this display of agility, balance and speed Dad had to come to the rescue as on his way down Adam got stuck on a rock outcrop that was just a bit too far for him to jump across to safety so I stepped in to bridge the gap and lift him across.

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Monday 11 September 2017

The Royal Gorge

    Royal Gorge is another gem we found; a deep canyon on the Arkansas River near Canon City, Colorado. At the bottom the gorge is very narrow at a width of about 50 feet but it is its 1250 foot height that makes it so memorable. As we approached we stopped the van on the side of the road and got out because we were rapidly being approached by a herd of wild yet somewhat contented looking mule deer. They were obviously quite used to human presence and it soon became evident the reason for this familiarity was that they were fed by our species. Not wanting to break with tradition we dug through our lunch and Gavin and Adam immediately chose to surrender their carrots.

      The deer approached cautiously at first but once they discovered we meant them no harm and food was involved they came right up to us. Adam was a little fearful at first but when he saw they were gentle and willing to eat right out of his hand he enjoyed it and even started petting them. It was a heartwarming scene for me to see the boys feeding and petting the deer and I asked myself, “Can you get this close to nature in a book, even if man did have something to do with it?”

      The flags of all the states, in the order they became states, adorned the rails of the 1260 foot long bridge traversing the canyon so it was an education just crossing to the other side. The deck of the bridge was approximately 1000 feet above the river below so I found it somewhat preposterous that there was a sign warning, “No Fishing from the bridge.” Exactly what kind of tackle would one need to make this work?

      Once across the bridge we found a rock ridge that Gavin and Adam insisted on climbing, exercising their new-found favourite activity. Hindsight being the wonderful thing that it is pointed out to us just how insanely dangerous the allowing of this activity had been. The back side of the ridge they were climbing leveled off slightly for several yards then dropped straight into the canyon – 1000 feet! Maybe as parents we should have exercised a bit of authority and found somewhere else for them to play. Oh well, wait for a couple years until we get to Delicate Arch!

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Monday 4 September 2017

Pikes Peak

    Today we would be heading up Pikes Peak, yes that’s Pikes not Pike’s. In 1891 the newly formed US Board on Geographic Names recommended that apostrophes not be used in names. In 1978 the Colorado state legislature passed a law mandating it be called “Pikes Peak.”

      I expected the journey would bring us some trying moments, like the altitude, but we were ready to give it our best effort. It is 30-some miles west of Colorado Springs and as part of the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains it rises an impressive 14,115 feet. Starting just a few miles up Ute Pass at Cascade, the 19 mile Pikes Peak Highway climbs steadily to the summit, the last two thirds still being unpaved in 1990.

      The road had a series of treacherous switchbacks called the W’s because of their shape on the side of the mountain with a continuously steep climb out of the densely forested lower level to a barren, open expanse toward the top. The road was dirt for the highest parts and was an unnerving drive as there were no guardrails so you had to be comfortable with your driving skills. With great risk, however, came great reward.

      At the top I felt alone as I gazed across the peaks and valleys with the howling wind and surrounding snow providing an indescribable sense of isolation. The air at this altitude contains only 60% of the oxygen available at sea level. We had trouble breathing and felt nauseous but I managed to take a few pictures, had a quick look in the gift shop then suggested we head down immediately because that was the only way the nausea and light headedness was going to subside. The trip up Pikes Peak was a real eye opener as I discovered that one felt like absolute crap at 14,000 feet.

      On the drive down the switchbacks came at us fast and furious and all of a sudden the fact that there were no guardrails seemed to be of greater concern. On top of that was the worry that my brakes would melt as I was pretty much riding them the whole drive down, to the point we felt it best to stop a number of times just to let them cool down. Somewhere on the trip down the mountain the nausea disappeared as we descended in altitude. There was so much to pay attention to that I didn’t even realize I felt better until down to the highway but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat and wouldn’t change a thing – well, maybe I wouldn’t bother to go into the gift shop.

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