Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 10, 2009

Dinosaur National Monument

Yesterday we drove to Dinosaur Nat. Mon.  On our way the road went through an area with a number of pictograph sites.  Unlike petroglyphs which are carved into stone walls, pictographs are painted on the stone.

A couple of examples.

DSC03258 DSC03259

Dinosaur park has two (actually three) fairly distinct parts.  the eastern portion has no connection to dinosaurs but was included in the monument to preserve and showcase some beautiful and dramatic scenery.  Unfortunately that scenery is accessed via a 31 mile narrow two lane road with typical National Park turnouts(short, narrow).  There is also no campground at the east end.  We had to pass on the east end (so no pictures) and drove west into Utah.  The west end is where the monument got its’ name but even here the dinosaur area is a very small part.  There is a great deal of scenery here also in addition to geology, archeology, paleontology, hiking, history, and a nice, quiet campground.

Yesterday we drove the auto tour, stopping at every informative spot along the way.

There were several extensive petroglyph sites

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Real thing.


In stone.


The road is called ‘Tilted Rocks’. A very small example why.


this is really nothing.  In places the uplift is almost vertical.


At the end of the road is a small oasis on which is situated this.

DSC00115 DSC00131 This was the homestead of an interesting woman.  Here is a brief biography of her.  Josie Bassett  This place is over twenty miles from the nearest town and ten miles from the nearest neighbor.  No electricity, phone, plumbing.  She lived here for over fifty years until she was almost 90 when she fell and broke her hip.  She died several months later.  The grounds are a very good example of homestead life in general.

The dark spots in the shale are fossilized fish scales.


Dinosaur fossils.

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Here is the layer where we saw the above fossils.  The trail going up the center goes by them.


Here is the old visitors center which is now closed.

DSC03288 One wall of the center is built against the gray area to the right.  This is the same fossil rich layer as the one in the above picture separated by a small canyon.  The fossils have been exposed but left in place.  Great concept.  Unfortunately the ‘rock’ surrounding the fossils here and on which the center is built is very unstable.  When it gets wet (which isn’t often here) it turns into slippery mush.  We tried it.  We poured a small bit of water on to what looked and felt like rough concrete.  It instantly became wet sand.  For safety and maintenance reasons the center was closed.  It will be taken down and replaced with a smaller and more stable version over the next two years.

View across river from our campgroundDSC00001

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 8, 2009

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Turned north off US 50 and immediately started climbing.  Five miles of steady uphill on narrow, twisty, two lane road.  Through the entrance station (senior passes are GREAT) and then down hill for about a mile to this:

black Canyon view from Tomichi Point

And this:

DSC03239 And this: 


There is no picture or series of pictures that can do justice to this place.  Here is the view looking down to the bottom of the canyon, at this point 1500 feet below.

DSC03243 The blue in the left center of the above picture is the river.  The walls of the canyon extend nearly another picture height above the top of this picture.

There is a view spot at the visitor center that is on top of a point that juts out in to the canyon a little ways.


That’s the point in the center of the picture.  From this point you have about a 330 degree view of the canyon. 

Proof we were there.

Us at overlook

On our way to the park we went through Curecanti National Recreation Area.  View of some of that area.

View across lake Curecanti

If you have to drive across this country.  Take US 50.  It is not an interstate and has some ups and downs (some of them pretty severe) but it is very driveable and almost every mile (of what we have seen) is scenic. 

Monday, September 7, 2009

September 7, 2009

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Monarch Pass

We drove north to Colorado Springs and then west.  Past the entrance to Pikes Peak road and on up to some beautiful country.   Wide green valleys with mountains all around.  At the little town of Florissant we turned south up another beautiful valley (actually the remains of a prehistoric lake) to Florissant Fossil Beds.  This place is OLD.  Much older than the dinosaurs.  It has produced probably the greatest trove of fossils of any place in the world.  Insects, plants, animals, from many ages.  The visitor center has drawers of fossils all under glass but available to see. 

07 fossils 08 fossils

At one time the area was a lush, moist, redwood forest.  Bet you thought redwoods were unique to the west coast.  The redwoods were buried (the lower portion of the trunks) by a volcanic lahar.   The buried parts of the trees became petrified.   The Petrified Forest in Arizona has vast numbers of trees but this place has the largest petrified trees in diameter.  Picture the redwood trees in Sequoia National Park.  Now picture the bottom 10-15 feet of those made of stone. 

‘Modern’ tree growing in the middle of the remains of a petrified tree.


Petrified stump.  The small brown spots near the top are broken saw blades where early treasure seekers attempted to cut off a chunk of the tree.


05 sawblade

Rings on petrified tree.


Ranger duty here must be tough.  The area is beautiful.   It is a bit remote so visitor population is not too bad.  There is no camping and no facilities other than the visitor center and the place closes at six or seven in the afternoon. 

Homestead on land of park.

01 Hernbek Homestead

We spoke with a ranger naturalist for some time and he introduced us to a new term for us that could have applications at times.  “Coprolites Happen”.  Look it up.

Leaving the fossil beds we headed west some more and then south to US 50. 

09 Hwy24 thru the rockies

From there it was west again toward a big challenge.  Monarch Pass.  We had passed on driving the carbus over a 12000 foot pass and we didn’t want to take I 70 out of Denver as we had traveled much of it earlier this year and it would make us miss some things we wanted to see.  That left  US 50.  A very picturesque road through Colorado as it is along much of its’ route.  Just one small bump in the road.  Monarch pass is 11312 feet above sea level.  The carbus did well climbing the pass while towing the Grand Vitara.  Most of the climb was in second gear and we had to use first gear for the last mile.  We gave the RV a rest at the top (we were not alone) and the trip down was fine.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

September 6, 2009

Pikes Peak Revisited

Earlier this year we attempted to summit Pikes Peak but were turned back less than a mile from the top because of snow still on the road.  We were back in the area and could not let the opportunity pass.  Our campground this time was south of town, about ten miles further away than our last visit.  We had all day to do the drive so were not in a rush.  We left the carbus after 9:00am, rather late for us.  As we drove north to Colorado Springs we saw this.


This weekend is the 33rd Colorado Springs Balloon Fest.  Yesterday was breezy so they could not launch.  They made up for it this morning.

Our objective.


The road to the top is a bit over nineteen miles long.  Here is a shot taken at about mile twelve looking up at part of what we have yet to drive.

road above

You can see the lack of land to the right of the road.  There are places on this road where that drop is over 1000 feet nearly straight down.  From about the same mile marker here is a part of what we had already driven.

road below

Proof we made it.

us and sign2 us and sign

When we started at the base of the mountain the temperature on the top was 34 degrees with wind chill to 24 degrees.  The lower picture was taken shortly after we reached the top.  The sun was out.  While we were there clouds moved in, many of them below us.  For a while it tried to snow/sleet.

There is a geocache on the top.  We found it.

Pete and cache

A view from the top.


This view, and that in other directions from the summit inspired this:


The road is not the only way to reach the summit of Pikes Peak.  There is a cog railway.  The train arrived while we were there.


It stays on the summit for about twenty minutes and the passengers have to reload for the trip back. Here is train starting back down mountain.

DSC03229 People in picture are actually on deck overlooking track.

There is also another way to the top.  Right after we got there we met a couple of guys who had just arrived at the summit, five hours after they started hiking from the same area we started our drive.  They looked great.  Each of them bought six donuts (a Pikes Peak specialty and icon) to eat while they waited for their wives to drive up to take them back down.  We each got a donut and they are quite good.  Special high altitude recipe.  We overheard a man relate to the hikers a story about another hiker he met a while back.  That man started climbing up Pikes Peak AND back down again on his 24th birthday and had done that on every birthday since then.  When the man telling the story met the hiker, the hiker was celebrating his 70th birthday.

Sue on top of world.


Clouds above (and below) Pikes Peak.


For obvious reasons there are LOTS of warnings about protecting your brakes on the way down.  Many signs telling you to use low gear.  They even stop all cars half way down and check brake temperature.  If they are hot you are forced to wait at least 30 minutes before continuing.  I saw a challenge.  I put the Grand Vitara in 4W Low and started down.  In the entire 19+ miles down some awesome grade I touched the brakes about five times and then only lightly because traffic in front of us slowed or stopped unexpectedly.  Careful management of gears and throttle.  Kind of fun.

We spent the afternoon visiting with good friends from Auburn.  They are still from Auburn.  How and why they were in the area right now is another story.

September 4, 2009

Rocky Mountain National Park

I was a bit concerned about driving through the park in the carbus.  Map showed very twisty roads and we knew that the road went over 12000 feet in elevation.  We had done nearly 11000 feet with the carbus in May on a pass south of here with no problem but I had a feeling.  We left the carbus in the park and drove the car.   

Road to Estes Park. Town at east edge of park.

01 Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is similar to Glacier National Park.  There are back country trails and lakes, campgrounds, wildlife, and lots of visitors.  The main draw is the overwhelming vastness and the road through the park to see the high altitude beauty.

02 Long's Peak 03 Gore Range

  We drove the length of the road and back as we did in Glacier and enjoyed the whole trip.  The road was not bad.  Plenty wide and the many hairpin turns were certainly manageable for a motor home.  The iffy thing was the climb and descent.  Twenty miles pretty steady up at a noticeable grade to over 12100 feet and then twenty miles down at a similar grade.  Carbus could have done it but it would not have been fun and I would not have seen much more than the road.

A short ways from the highest point on the road is a visitor center.  It is at about 11500 feet elevation.

04 visitor Center roof The purpose of the logs is to hold down the roof.  Wind gusts can be over 150 mph in storms.  Something the Scandinavians came up with.

Can you tell which direction the wind comes from?

08 trees affected by wind

Here is center in winter,

05 Visitor center life

Here is view from back side of center.

06 Valley behind visitor center

Wildlife view from roadside.

06 elk alongside the road

Early fall in the Rockies.

09 aspens