Monday, July 22, 2013

Denver 2012: Day 8

July 10th 2012

We took a rare, intentional slow and restful start to the morning, pausing to call just in time to miss my Uncle for a belated birthday greeting. We would have called his phone instead of my Aunt’s, preventing the miss, but it was in its normal position of being both next to her and turned off, while he drove to the store. This left us to settle for conveying our wishes through her.

At the midpoint of my stay in Colorado, and after being in the state that has dinosaurs sticking out of the freakin’ ground for a week, we had yet to see any. This needed to be remedied in a big way.

Our first stop was the nearby Dinosaur Ridge. It was made slightly less nearby due to following the signs we saw near Red Rocks Park, which took us on a strange and circuitous path around the environs, rather than the straight shot in we would have had if we stayed on Route 470 for one more exit.

We decided to take the bus up to the top of the Ridge, and then walk down to view the sights and exhibits at our own pace. The guide driving our bus was very fun and energetic. Even though she unapologetically said “Brontosaurus” several times, and also said “therapod” when she meant “sauropod,” Anabelle and I let these go with only sideways glances at each other because of the quality of the rest of her talk. This was especially since she had a fun shirt with a Tyrannosaur on it bearing the caption, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your…oh.”

Her background was geology and she provided a great deal of interesting information on that aspect of the tour. We were very guilty and apologetic about not getting back on her bus at the top stop, and made sure to inform her it wasn’t her fault.

Hiking down the ridge, we had an edutainment filled time getting closer looks at some of the non-bus stop fossils and explanation signs, as well as taking in some of the fabulous views of Red Rocks and the surrounding valley.

We apologized again to a second guide (who recognized my less than obvious Godzilla gang silhouette shirt) but were glad we ran into his group. We learned that the fossils in and around the Mangroves section of the ridge weren’t actually Mangroves after all. This story would be much less pointless if I remembered what they turned out to be.

There were bones, there were track bulges, there were trace fossils, there was the giant egg looking thing, and of course, there was the dinosaur freeway. Yes, we’d seen it all the previous year, but that kind of hands on natural fossil fondling (and licking!) doesn’t come easy in our neck of the woods. It was definitely worth the slower and more focused return visit.

As we worked our way back to the base, we learned that the open and smiley friendliness of almost every one we passed in the state did not extend to bicyclists, and they blew by us with the same disdainful glare they give people on the East Coast who have the audacity to share a piece of roadway with them.

The three of us dug through the sandbox for souvenir fossils before entering the little museum that was pretty much unchanged from our previous visit. I didn’t remember seeing tracks from the “Dinosaur Freeway” that some vandals felt guilty about digging out and returned, though.
We spent time in the small room anyway, not because of the items, but because of the people. John, the retired guy at the front desk, was particularly helpful and entertaining. He was also very British – yelling, “BLIMEY!” every time his walkie talkie made a loud noise. We talked to him about several of the exhibits in the room and on the ridge. He also provided us with directions to the “Triceratops Trail” section across town we had missed the previous year, by drawing them on a flyer with a map on it. This was great as it mostly protected me from Tina, our evil GPS.

We had less success with retired folks working in the gift shop. In there, I met the poster child for “artificial politeness.” A guy who’s job seemed to be solely to delay shoppers from reaching the cash register cornered me for way longer than my East Coast sensibilities were happy about standing still.

He started by extensively refusing to believe my state of origin because I didn’t say, “Joisey,” and it went downhill from there. When he asked about occupations, it got worse.

A) His granddaughter went to see a college out east.
B) She was majoring in biomedical engineering.
C) That involved making robotic limbs for people, because he saw it on the Discovery Channel.

Therefore, incontrovertibly:
D) I would be working for her some day.

I finally got away from him to buy a souvenir Dino Poop book for Anabelle (waiting until she was well out of the shop because Mr. “Can’t Take a Subtle Hint” from last year was at the counter again) plus some dino pennies, and Carnegie Dinosaurs for me. I assume it was my rush to escape Yappity Man that I ended up with two Albertosaurs in my collection when I got home.

We thought about grabbing a late lunch in Morrison, but instead formed a different plan involving eating all of our snacks in the parking lot. I incredibly remembered I had clubs in the car and juggled by the Iguanodon model before driving the short distance to Morrison.

The Morrison Museum was just as tiny as we remembered, but the people and exhibits there were just as awesome, making it a worthy visit. We were looking at the old
(like, over a BILLION YEARS OLD) rocks outside and ended up between tour groups. This was great because we had several students and one adult curator, all overly exuberant about dinosaurs, showing us through the exhibits, including the ever impressive, world's smallest dinosaur footprints.

The year before they had told us work had begun to extract one of only seven Apatosaurus skulls ever found from a rock in the lab. This year we learned it was even more exciting (for us dino-geeks anyway). It was the ONLY Apatosaurus Ajax skull ever found. The student showing us that work in progress held Anabelle’s hand and let her help as she gingerly removed some of the rock with a small air drill. While they were working she related some of her other experiences, such as locating what was only the second fish from that period ever found in Colorado inside the “Jurassic Gumbo” of one of the rocks outside.

Anabelle painted some take home tracks and fiddled in the bone finder box in the play barn outside, and then we all dug in the large sand box for fossils. Unlike the Dino Ridge sandbox, we couldn’t keep what we found, but they were much larger and more interesting. We each brought handfuls into the curators for identification. While we did find some shells and petrified wood, the most interesting and ornate discoveries turned out to be broken pieces of mortar from the bottom of the sandbox. The curators praised our efforts anyway, stating that we knew to look for unusual or out of place items.

At the gift shop I picked up my newborn nephew’s first Dinosaur book, by Dr. Robert Bakker: my favorite paleontologist. (Doesn’t everyone have one?) The girl at the checkout counter told me “Doctor Bob” comes in all the time, and has worked out of there. I told her to be sure to thank him for publishing data supporting that dinosaurs were as colorful, active and cool as all us dino-geek kids always knew they were. Honestly, if I had gotten my hands on his Dinosaur Heresies when it was first printed, instead of all the outdated, old fashioned, “boring, slow and dim-witted” dinosaur books in my local libraries, I probably would be a paleontologist now instead of an engineer.

It was time to follow British John’s directions to Triceratops Trail, and follow them we did. His instructions were absolutely perfect, with one small exception…

The name of the final street we needed was incorrect. This led to a lengthy and random tour of the Boulder School of Mines before we found some semi useful signs and parking ticket pay dispensers.

Anabelle needed a bathroom break, and luckily we saw someone entering a door. He let us into the music building to allow us a much less stressful hike. Not completely stress free, as they didn’t really go out of their way to make it obvious, or even apparent, where Triceratops Trail began.

After following a very vague sign that left us wandering in a meadow for a while, we found the trail. Sadly there was a large fence between us and the trail, forcing us to back track around the edge of the meadow to actually walk on the trail.

We also found “Carrot” a bunny with a little orange spot on its neck that Anabelle was thrilled to have guide us along the route. He always managed to be ahead of us at each stop, leading us to the sights…that was one fast moving and well organized rabbit, let me tell you.

In addition, we met “Slimy” a local lizard who Anabelle assured us was cousins with “Sally,” a salamander we see Up the Lake.

There was an impressively prehistoric looking canyon, where we first saw Carrot and Slimy, housing several fossil impressions on its wall. OK, some were bug tracks and multiple million year old rain drop impressions, but other ones were impressive.

There were some duckbill footprints, and a couple of prints which might have also been duckbill, but could have been Tyrannosaurus Rex prints. It is a testament to the vastly different popularity levels of dinosaurs that the “could be a T-Rex” print was covered over by a giant metal barred enclosure.

Exiting the canyon brought us up a hill to a geological marker and a lookout point facing Table Top Mountain. It would have been a perfect picture spot, with the exception of the near infinite number of winged ants crawling all over the marker.
As we pressed on rapidly, past some clay pits, I realized we were in the area that we looked down on from Buffalo Bill’s gravesite. I was slowly getting the lay of the land.

The three of us walked down a gently sloping path along side of the Triceratops Tracks that gave the trail its name, and directly into a giant, perfectly manicured golf course. Our minds reeled from the culture shock, and our non-member bodies were not allowed on the course, forcing us to retrace our steps to the badly marked start of the trail.

We stopped only briefly to let me juggle by the sign. We were so hot and tired, we probably shouldn’t have even stopped for that, but after I stupidly forgot I carried my clubs along the whole hike without using them, I wanted some evidence.

Our previously mentioned plan, which involved over exhausting ourselves while only having snacks for lunch, was to meet Titi LuzMa after work at the Country Buffet with our now enormous appetites ready to go.

The problem with this plan was every GPS in the car was highly insulted that I trusted British John’s map over their advice. They conspired to find a Country Buffet on the same street name, surrounded by the same stores, but twelve miles and four towns away from the one down the street from Titi’s. It is also possible that the Buffet near Titi’s closed, instead of our guidance systems trying to kill me again, but I know which scenario I find more likely.

Needless to say, she didn’t meet us, and we were all crazy starving.

In general, the people of Colorado are an extremely exercise and health conscious bunch. However, we found out where they hide all the out of shape people… at the Country Buffet.

Nicely stuffed, we drove home, but needed a stop for gas since the Impala’s gage didn’t seem to move when the car did. We also threw some change in the vacuum machine, and then realized there was no indication of how much suction time was bought. What followed was a car cleaning that would have put Indianapolis Pit Crews to shame. We found out how badly we rushed upon pulling into the parking lot at home, and discovering the binder of directions still perched on the roof of the car.

Anabelle survived the horror of the removal of a splinter she picked up from a fence on Triceratops Trail. Once she calmed down, she started writing her own dinosaur tour for her birthday barbecue in two month’s time.

That’s my girl!

That day’s camera war ended in a tie. Rosa still had much better and fancier equipment for the outdoor shots, but since I actually knew what we were looking at most of the time, it gave me an edge.

Hi, Stan!

Day 9

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