Monday, August 12, 2013

Denver 2012: Day 11

July 13th 2012

We arose early (for us) in order to get on the road for a completely new journey. We did take the time for an Anniversary call to my Aunt and Uncle. Since she actually keeps her phone both on and with her, it went better than the birthday call.

In order to get to Colorado Springs as soon as possible, we planned to look for a place to grab a quick breakfast after the short trip east on 470 got us to Interstate 25 South. We knew there’d be no trouble finding something for two reasons:

A) There was a Wendy’s immediately on 25.
B) The Wendy’s near Titi LuzMa’s was splattered with signs proclaiming they were now offering breakfast.

Once again, our remarkable planning abilities held up. The Promotional Breakfast was not limited to Colorado as we originally believed, or even that one tiny section of the state. It was limited only to that one specific Wendy’s. Therefore, the single choice we had for breakfast was Subway, which doesn’t really extend their Jared pleasing low fat selection to their Morning menu. (Unless you’d like to pay someone to cook you an egg white wrapped in another egg white.) Therefore we had lunch for breakfast, except Anabelle who was served by the self-proclaimed Greatest Breakfast Sandwich Maker on Earth. She was quite impressed.

Following the slightly confused meal, we got back on track for our trip to the Colorado Springs area, now that it was significantly less on fire. Driving south down the eastern side of Colorado afforded us a constant impressive view of mountains and clouds on the right side of the car. We stopped briefly at the Ackerman Overlook to get a better look at its impressiveness, as well as the Air Force Academy, while also reducing the chance of me crashing the Impala while looking at it. Sadly, the overlook was not named after Uncle Forry, but someone connected with the Academy.

In Colorado Springs, we exited onto Route 24, a windy and mountainy little highway, again packed to the gills with impressive scenery. It was also extremely full of signs indicating many other attractions that would be worth a visit entailing more up front planning than, “Let’s Go!”

Our first scheduled destination was the “Dinosaur Resource Center,” advertised as having the largest dinosaur gift shop in Colorado, a cool, if somewhat specific claim to fame. The first impressive sights were the dinosaurs outside…

A T-Bird and Plymouth from the 1950’s, in near perfect condition with bright shiny paint jobs!

There was also a full sized Styracosaur and a Daspletosaur (small Tyrannosaur) model outside worthy of impressive oohs, aahs, and juggling in front of. Inside we learned the place owed its existence to not only the dinosaurs sticking out of the freakin’ ground in the area, but also the family that runs it being world renowned for fossil casting.
In fact the casting process can be seen through windows and is the place’s prime reason for existence. We saw another casting of Stan the Tyrannosaur as well as a cast of the famous (to dino-geeks like us) Wyoming Apatosaurus, both of which were made by them.

The place had a massive main room, a sun room that was also quite large (being there was room for an Apatosaurus in it) and a couple of other, smaller, side rooms. It featured many castings, plus some interactive exhibits and a few important genuine fossils as well. One of these was the only full Pachycephalosaur ever found.
We now pause for fellow dinosaur geeks to get all frothy, while the rest of you roll your eyes at us.

Rosa questioned needing the tour, since she had Anabelle and me along. However, after experiencing the students full of enthusiasm and knowledge at both Dinosaur Ridge and the Morrison Museum, I was looking forward to seeing what this place had to offer. We milled around the entrance waiting for the next tour, until I heard the guide near the end of the currently running group proclaim:

“This one is a Nodosaur, while Anklyosaurus is an Anklyosaur…but I have no idea what the difference is.”

A which point I made my own proclamation:

“We don’t need to wait for the tour.”

At the end of our impressive, if self-guided, experience we spent some time in the gift shop. While it was relatively large, it maintained Colorado’s record for mostly lame dinosaur shirts.
Anabelle found a Parasaurolophus puppet and a cool Paleontologist Guide uniform shirt. Rosa and I settled on multiple dino skeleton shirts. They were fairly interesting designs, but they totally should have glowed in the dark, which they didn’t.

By this point it was time for lunch. We asked at the counter about good local places, as they had served us well so far, and I was determined to avoid stuff we could get at home as much as possible. Based on previous success at a bear themed eatery, we picked the Hungry Bear.

The Bears in this joint were much more of the “fluffy teddy” variety than the “wild and likely to eat you” variety the other restaurant was based around. Still, Rosa and I had good Veggie Burgers and Chili respectively, while Anabelle had great fun eating a Hobbit like “Second Breakfast.” We were all happy that Anabelle’s spinning of the prize wheel netted her some candy. The “Free Coffee next time you come” wouldn’t really help any of us.

Checking the maps considerably before driving down allowed us to figure out the way to the Southern entrance to the Garden of the Gods, but it still required some back tracking.
We pulled in and parked near the Balancing Rock for the first round of what would be an enormous amount of beautiful pictures in this mind blowingly scenic locale. After soaking in the first site for a while, I became in desperate need of finding “The Potty of the Gods.” Therefore we chose that point to take a scenery break and check out the MASSIVE Trading Post. I got lost three times finding my way to and from the rest room. The place was incredibly stocked and had a nifty looking Buffalo meat filled cafĂ©, which made us somewhat regret our Hungry Bear stop. Pausing only long enough to stock up on some roasted almonds (for Rosa) and Buffalo jerky (for me) we continued on, happily learning Anabelle liked both snacks.

We were hoping to hike to the Siamese Twin Rocks. Since we were able to see them from the road, we thought parking at the nearby entrance to the Scotsman Trail would be a good idea.

Happily, there were trail maps posted all over the parking area.
Sadly, none of them came equipped with a “YOU ARE HERE” marker.

We started wandering the Scotsman Trail in what I thought appeared to be the right direction. The trail was partially made of, and crisscrossed constantly by dried stream and riverbeds, indicating what a nightmare hiking this area after a freak rainstorm or heavy snowmelt would be. Our biggest natural concern while walking came from quite a different source, though.

All the “Scoop the Poop” dog walking signs around the park made us hopeful that we’d be spending the day on clean and fresh air smelling walkways. However, the park places no such scooping requirements on the myriad horses which carry innumerable guests along the trails. This resulted in a near constant game of “Poopscotch” as we vaulted over foul smelling biological land mines all over the ground. My friendly imploring to Anabelle, advising her, “Smell the Nature,” was not met with any friendliness in return.

We were hopping along a particularly uninspiring looking path when the source of some of the obstacles became clear. A three horse stampede came rocketing down the trail with clearly seasoned riders in the old fashioned cowboy mold, wearing old fashioned cowboy hats. It likely would have been incredibly breathtaking if they weren’t stampeding directly at us.

We hopped off the trail completely while they reined up dramatically. Once I was able to breathe again, I inquired about the Siamese Twins and found out while we were sort of going in the right direction; it was what could nicely be termed “The Excessively Long Way Around.” It ended up being much shorter to retrace our steps back to the car and drive quite a bit to a different trail head.

On the way back, we climbed what we later identified on a map as Scotsman Rock. (And frankly, we don’t care if it wasn’t, so shut up.) While taking some more amazing scenery pictures from atop whatever rock it was, we were also able to look down on a much longer, but MUCH less seasoned group of horses and riders. They were mostly wearing not nearly as old fashioned safety helmets. In fact some looked to be holding on for dear life.

Once the train rode out, leaving behind a whole new and exciting Poopscotch board, we jumped our way off the end of the trail and back to the car. The drive to the trail head was interrupted by the exact same horse train. Our timing remained impeccable.

The “Siamese Twin” parking lot had two trail entrances. We chose the one without steps, foolishly imagining it would be an easier climb. Yes, I do realize we knew both of them went to the same place. We were tired, OK?

The climb was big, and very Poopscotchy, but well worth it. The conjoined rock formation with a hole in the middle that perfectly framed Pike’s Peak was only part of the pay off.
The views of the surrounding areas were also spectacular, and the weather formed rocks and ancient twisty trees, whose name I would list but I can’t read my own notes, were fascinating.

After flying more than half way across the country, driving two hours, and hiking up a mountain, we ran into a couple from New Jersey. In fact the woman was born in Denville, the town where I grew up. Humming the “Small World” song, we took pictures for each other, preventing Rosa from having to nearly kill herself trying to perform a fifty yard, cross country Poopscotch within the camera timer’s limit.

We each picked something to climb up for the requisite “TA-DA” picture. Theirs were two different impressive boulders; mine was the mountain top behind the Twins, yielding a view which would shape later choices.

We also took turns running around the Twins to take pictures of each other peek-a-booing out the hole in the middle. After my turn, I looked down and realized it would be much quicker to go through the hole, slide down to a little ledge, and clamber down to my waiting family.

I should have looked more closely, especially considering my waiting family was holding cameras.

The little ledge was, unfortunately, lower than it appeared. When I pushed through the hole, my feet hung freely in air about eight inches off the ground. While I worked on a plan the back of my belt hooked on the weather formed rock I was sliding down, bestowing upon me the “Wedgie of the Gods.” My waiting family was very sympathetic, managing to control their laughter enough to get a good focus.

We worked our way back down the overly fragrant trail to the car, where we videotaped Anabelle describing the long and arduous journey. This was much more entertaining, and safer, than it would have been to try to film while Poopscotching up and down the mountain.

It was getting into the evening. Since the Visitor Center closed before the park, we decided to stop there for dinner before hitting the main area. I remembered my clubs…and juggled in yet another parking lot. Hey, at least I remembered them. Based on signs around the building, we learned the Star Trek spore plants were really yucca. Neat!

Dinner was Anabelle’s hot dog and buffalo burgers (overcooked but still good-me, perfectly cooked-Rosa) at a location much smaller than the non-Park owned Trading Post. Not only did we finally get our own maps, but I also finally got my pretzel. YAY!

We returned to the park and the Garden Center area, featuring paved and poop free walkways. The map we got at the visitor center was a little vague on its indications of which rock formation was which, leading us to snap several pictures of the trail side maps and signs as well. Of course the fact that none of them continued to have, “You are here” markers on them was a hindrance.

Thanks to the mind blowing scenery we constantly passed as we put a large amount of miles on our new hiking boots, Rosa Super Deluxe Magical Camera became completely full. We didn’t have any extra memory sticks, and the camera displayed yet another magical property by freeing up space for a whopping six pictures after she had deleted hundreds. This left my Smartphone, and the backup camera, neither of which worked particularly well in the fading light of dusk.

Much of the lost light occurred while watching a talented lunatic scale the sheer face of one of the rocks, leaving markers and pitons for those who would emulate him when it was lighter. I took several nifty pictures of my feet while observing him…still hadn’t gotten the hang of locking the old touch screen.

Anabelle did get a nice romantic picture of Rosa and me smooching in front of the Kissing Camels rock formation. This came at the perfect junction to diffuse our near constant argument (thanx to the less than helpfully labeled maps) about which rocks we were seeing, had seen, and were heading toward seeing.

We also peeked at the section where the Visitor Center information said bighorn sheep were supposed to frequent. However, more detailed signage at that location indicated they only came down to the park in winter. Our single wildlife encounter was yet more nature mooning as a deer’s butt shot across the path and into the woods. I imagine the rest of the deer was attached to it.

At about nine PM, the park still had another two hours of open time. The fact that it had gotten pitch black out cemented our decision not to hang around until closing time. We all made a pre drive rest stop and as I exited and came back to the parking lot, two women were discussing the oppressive humidity of the evening. I believe there were two clouds in the sky. I was staring at them in amazement, which they mistook for agreement, prompting one of them to ask, “Can you believe how humid it is?”

I answered, “I just came from New Jersey, where it was ninety degrees with ninety-eight percent humidity.”

“Well…I guess you can then.” was their quick reply.

I met up with my family and shared adventure stories, stemming from the rest rooms having neither stalls nor lights. The phrase, “Use the Force, Luke,” sprang up.

It was nearly infinitely easier to reach Interstate 25 from the North end of the park which would shape later choices nearly as much as the discussion on the way home indicating we probably should have skipped the Dinosaur Museum and hit the Garden of the Gods earlier.

We took a very brief stop to fill the car and grab some Powerball tickets, because if I didn’t have to go back to work at all, extending the vacation would be easier. We also took a longer stop to buy a gallon of milk, because Wal-Mart invoked their weird price matching rule which apparently involved the check out girl having to do vector calculus to determine the cost of my dairy item.

Titi LuzMa was well passed unconscious by the time we dragged ourselves home. Before passing out, Rosa’s full memory chip, my knowledge of dinosaurs, and my amazing discovery (only eight months after getting the thing) of how to use the Smartphone touch screen to focus AND adjust lighting put the Camera War at a tie for this adventurous day.


Dina Roberts said...

We too have done the buy-lottery-tickets-in-hopes-of-expending-the-vacation thing.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx for reading. I saw that in your Australia trip. Not the greatest way of planning, but "Ya never know."