Category Archives: Colorado

We are in Kansas Dorothy!

September 3, 2007

We are in Kansas Dorothy! And boy is it flat.

OK, here are the subject lines if I had written an e-mail every day.

Friday: I am so stupid, stupid, stupid

Saturday: This is absolutely mind blowing

Sunday: I just want to get home

Monday: This is a small world/what does it mean

Let me explain. On Friday I continued to drive on the loneliest highway in the US, hwy 50, to Utah.

Highway 50 looking east towards the Snake Range, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest

Highway 50 looking east towards the Snake Range, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest

East of Ely the mountain ranges changed. They used to run mostly parallel to the highway, but now they ran perpendicular to the highway. Once I drove thru one, a valley opened up and the next range was just a few miles away. Amazing, you just can’t get bored with stuff like that.

Once again I was hunting down a ghost town. What a disappointment. Luckily, it was not as creepy as the last one. I would not call this place a town. All that was left were some mining shafts and the usual rotten car. All that after driving up a mountain for a few miles on a dirt road at 10-15 mph.

Ghost Town - old mining hoist

Ghost Town – old mining hoist

I did make it into Utah. I can’t remember exactly how the mountains changed, but they did. Might have been the color or the shape, it seems so long ago. I think the mountains moved further away. There is really not much going on along this highway, towns are tiny and it comes as a surprise when they are bigger, like Delta. All of a sudden there were trees alongside the road, hadn’t seen those in a couple of days. The trees changed into a little green oasis and morphed into cultivated fields.

Fishlake National Forest north of Holden.

Fishlake National Forest north of Holden.

At the beginning of the day I had thought I make it to the KOA in Green River, near Moab and Arches National Park.  Later in the day I had settled for Richfield, about 100 miles west of Green River. Highway 50 merges with interstate 70 soon after Delta all the way to Grand Junction, Colorado. I asked a lady at a gas station in Delta when the sun sets; at around 8:30 – 9 PM. It was only 7 PM and according to the guy at the KOA in Green River it would only take two hours from where I was to Green River. If I get to Green River that evening, I could photograph the arches in good morning light. If I stay in Richfield, I would get to the arches by noon and the light would be very harsh. What do I have to lose, it’s only interstate driving. Nothing ever happens on the interstate, it’s boring. At most I would be driving for ½ in the dark, not bad. Well, this is where the “I am stupid” comes in.  Not too long after I got on I-70 I realized that this was not your usual stretch of interstate. By 8 PM! It was dark and all I could see were silhouettes of some mighty big mountains. Turnouts were marked as “Devil’s Canyon”, “Ghost Rock”. I couldn’t turn around, there were only few exits and I was too far along. I made a mistake! I could kick myself. I made it to the campsite by 9 PM. Setting up tent in the dark is a piece of cake, especially with a headlight.

San Rafael Reef, off exit 149 of I-70

San Rafael Reef, off exit 149 of I-70

Saturday morning I was debating for some time if I should drive back and see what I had missed. I stopped by the visitor center and decided to drive back 50 miles and than drive on to see the arches. I set a new record; it took me four hours to drive the 50 miles going back west! That’s how much there was to see and I didn’t miss a turnout to take pictures. Going back east took only one hour. This area is absolutely mind blowing, amazing, unbelievable, fascinating, did I mention mind blowing? Only Mother Nature can create something this beautiful. The mountains were white with red, yellow, green, round or rugged, some looked wind blown in one direction, just unbelievable. Never mind the canyons. Great area for hiking and rock climbing. I am sooooooo glad I went back.

I-70 east bound thru the San Rafael Reef.

I-70 east bound thru the San Rafael Reef.

East of Green River, the mountains got smaller, more like big sand piles with little bushes.   I turned south to go to the Arches National Park. Without much notice, the earth turned red and the mountains and rocks were deep red. The sunlight was perfect afternoon light when I got to the park. I had little more than 3 hours until sunset. I picked up a map and brochure at the visitor center. The brochure indicated which areas would be best photographed in the morning or afternoon, very helpful. Unfortunately, some of the arches could only be reached on foot. Two hour round trip hike, considered strenuous. It was 95F/35C and I was not up to the challenge. So I did the car thing, stopped where possible and walked in some cases. I

Horseshoe Bend, detail, in the San Rafael Swell north of I-70 west of exit 131.

Horseshoe Bend, detail, in the San Rafael Swell north of I-70 west of exit 131.

would like to come back to this place and spend more time exploring. Some of the rocks looked perfectly round, others looked like skinny walls. Do you remember making sand castles at the beach out of very wet sand? Letting the sand drip through your fingers. Some of the rocks looked like that. If you didn’t make those sand castles, cow manure drops in a similar fashion. All of the rocks, pinnacles and mountains were really, really red. I had only enough time to see one of the arches and a place called Windows. Rocks with giant holes. Unfortunately, there were again those people around. Luckily, not anywhere as bad as in Yellowstone.

Eagle Canyon - San Rafael Swell, I-70 exit 116.

Eagle Canyon – San Rafael Swell, I-70 exit 116.

Spent the night at the KOA in Moab. What a lousy night it was, couldn’t fall asleep and than woke up at 3 AM with the wind howling. The tent held up well, but when you are laying there and the wind is pressing against the walls of the tent you feel a little vulnerable. It was otherwise a beautiful night, the noon shone brightly, the stars were out in full force and it was warm, even at 3 AM.

Well, the next morning I was dead tired, coffee helped only moderately. I decided against seeing anymore of the sites in the area, would have been a waste on me. I headed for the Colorado border. After seeing so much amazing landscape, Colorado just couldn’t hold a candle to it or is it a light?

Arches National Park - Park Avenue

Arches National Park – Park Avenue

The mountains had moved closer to the road, no more wide open spaces. It is almost a blur to me, I was too tired and all I wanted was to get to a campsite and even more so, I want to get home! I remember a line of trees on top of a mountain ridge, looked kind of neat. The western part of Colorado was not anywhere as green and lush as I thought it would be. Still looked a little rugged. I had to drive over two major passes, one was around 7,000’ high and the other, Monarch Pass, measured over 11,000’. Coming down the first pass I looked down onto the Blue Mesa Reservoir, sunlight hitting the surrounding mountains, wow. No pullover possibility, no photo. The skies were gray and it rained from time to time. The drive along the Arkansas River was quite beautiful.

Arches National Park - Garden of Eden

Arches National Park – Garden of Eden

That night I was asleep at 9:30 PM. Unfortunately, I woke up with a nasty headache. I had no interest in seeing much of anything. I was in Cañon City, known for its Supermax prison…

After an amazingly good breakfast, veggie omelet with fresh! veggies I drove towards the Kansas border. I will be taking highway 50 all the way east.

Monarch Pass, Continental Divide

Monarch Pass, Continental Divide

The landscape started to flatten out, no more mountains and that even before I got to Kansas.

The old St. Cloud Hotel, Main Street

The old St. Cloud Hotel – Cañon City

Highway 50 sign

Highway 50 sign – Kansas

This is a really small world. In Rocky Ford, Colorado I managed to get stuck in a ditch, nothing serious, but I knew I wouldn’t get out of it by myself. I walked to a farm stand around the corner and they pulled me out. We got talking and it turns out that a friend of the owner’s daughter went to New

Old Coca Cola bottling building.

Old Coca Cola bottling building – Rocky Ford

York this summer to take ballet classes at the Joffrey Ballet School. She more than likely participated in the performance which I photographed. What are the odds?

Ingalls feed yard

Feed yard

Now I am in Dodge City, staying at the Holiday Motel. No camp grounds around. Not much happening in Kansas. Lots of feed yards around, not a pretty site and very smelly. This place is flat as a pancake.

Fields along highway 50

Fields along highway 50 – Kansas

Here are a few stats. miles driven: 10,000, nights in a motel: 11, nights with friends: 13, nights camped: 20, oil changes: getting ready for the third.

Sorry, that this is such a long e-mail. I just had to get it all down before I forget even more.

I’ll be home soon,

P.S. Leaving Lawrence Kansas in a minute, had to pay credit cards first, thanks to Starbucks & T-mobile.

Colorado – where to begin

I guess at the beginning of my time spent in Colorado. So much has happened in the last three weeks that I am still trying to digest everything. This was at the beginning of October. I am once again in rewind mode.

OK, I drove down from Wyoming into Colorado on highway 125. I had spent the night at a campground in the woods. According to my Street & Trips map there was a shorter road back to the main road instead of the eleven mile dirt road into the woods. Well, let me tell you not every map is correct. The shorter way out turned into an eighteen mile, one and a half hour nightmarish drive. I looked at it as an adventure and after I managed to maneuver the truck with the camper over badly washed out dirt roads and up short steep inclines I figured I can drive that truck anywhere. All that bouncing up and down caused a minor earthquake inside the camper. As they say on the airplane “Open overhead compartments with care, items might have shifted.”

Aspen trees - fall colors

The last stretch out of Wyoming was supposed to be just a short drive; that is if you are not talking on your cell phone (hands free) and miss your exit. Forty additional miles do not sound like a lot, but that’s a good hour of extra driving.
The scenery changed immediately once I crossed the border into Colorado. Aspens in their golden fall foliage and the big mountains just as you would expect from Colorado. I had planned on camping in the forests near Walden. When I arrived in Walden (pop. < 1,000) I wasn’t sure where to find the camp spot. [caption id="attachment_1351" align="alignright" width="300" caption="My spot at the Walden reservoir"][/caption]

I asked a woman walking by and she said the place I was looking for was another twenty two miles away. I was in no condition to drive another five miles let alone twenty two. I tend to fade by three or four o’clock in the afternoon (driving a five ton vehicle is work). Fortunately, the woman had a terrific suggestion. I could just camp right by the reservoir, no charge, people do it all the time. Wow, sounds great, I had enough water in my tank and thanks to my solar panel my batteries stay charged. Lucky me, view onto the reservoir, a lone camper in the distance, mountain ranges in the east and west and a setting sun – life is good. It was too bad that the nearby refinery was humming all night, small price to pay.

Main Street Walden

The next morning I found out to my amazement that the town has a free dump and fresh water station for RVs! I emptied my full gray and black water tanks and filled up with enough fresh water to last me through my visit at my friend’s place in Denver.
The drive to Denver was sprinkled with mountain passes, 10,000’ to 12,000’. I just take it in strides, the drive up is slow, but I enjoy the drive down when I just coast down the mountain. Only too bad when there are slow pokes in front of you who constantly have to hit the brakes at every little curve, very annoying.
The Aspens were not at their peak fall colors yet, but it made for a nice patchwork of colors among the pine trees.
I was looking forward to getting to Denver. For one, my friend Zoë Lewis (check out her website had a concert that night. Her performances are a ton of fun. I always leave her concerts a different person. She is a very talented singer songwriter, musician and storyteller. Try to catch one of her performances near your hometown. The concert was great, and Zoë was pleasantly surprised to see me. A great evening all around.

Downtown historic Salida

The other reason I was looking forward to visiting Denver was that I would get to spend some time with my old high school friend Alex whom I hadn’t seen in twelve years. And I would get to meet her 19 months old son Daniel and her partner Skeeter. It was great, lots of catching up and thanks to summer like temperatures dinners out in the backyard.
I spent four days in Denver, not doing much of anything, it was wonderful. I needed a little break from driving and from being on the go all the time. I hate to admit it, but I slept in the house, I abandoned my camper :(.
Best of all, (next to spending time with my friends) I was able to stock-up on my black bread. Thanks to Mike at Rubschlager who told me where I could get it and thanks to Jeremy at Sunflower Market who put in a special order for 12 lbs; I am set for the next couple of months.
I had not planned much of anything for Colorado other than the Denver visit. But since I fly by the seat of my pants I decided to pay Mesa Verde in southwestern corner of Colorado a visit.
I don’t like to drive down the same road twice, and since I took the loneliest highway in America, aka highway 50, to drive from the West Coast back to New York a few years back I opted to take highway 160 instead to get to Mesa Verde. First, I had to get to the southern most east – west bound highway and boy was I in for a surprise.

Aspen tree

I took hwy 285 south from Denver, nothing out of the extraordinary here, steep mountain passes, Aspens in fall colors, and the occasional mountain creek. My first night spot was a campground in the woods near Fairplay. Nice and quiet, as usual the only way to get to it was via dirt road, not too bad, but my cabinets once again were rearranged.
After driving too many miles a day to get to Denver I wanted to take it a bit slower. I spent a couple of hours walking around Salida, a small town with a nice historic downtown and a handful of art galleries. No, I did not go in any of them. I did however, have lunch at one of the restaurants; too bad that the tuna steak was well done and almost as dry as a bone. After a little grocery shopping, they actually had a full fletched supermarket with a good produce section, I headed south and that’s when it happened.

San Luis Valley

I crossed over the Poncha Pass (9,000’) and the world opened up in front of me. Holly cow. Open space as far as the eye could see. To the left the Sangre De Cristo mountain range with peaks as high as 14,000’, to the right the Gunnison National Forest with more gentile mountains. I had landed in the San Luis Valley. The mountains on each side were at least 20 to 30 miles from the highway.

My hub at the San Luis Valley campground

I had planned on driving a little further south to a campground I had contacted earlier that day. If I remember correctly, they didn’t have full hook-ups (water, electric and sewer) and they were located right next to the main highway. So it was pure luck and good fortune that I passed a sign for another campground with full hook-ups just a mile down the road. I decided to pull in at the San Luis Valley campground in Villa Grove, good luck finding that on the map, and made it my hub for the next couple of days. What a great decision. Originally I only wanted to pass through, but once I saw this amazing valley, I told myself it would be a shame not to explore the area more.

My turquoise bounty

Before I had a chance to explore I met John, a half Choctaw Indian, half Irish cowboy. John is the grounds keeper for campground and very interesting. He told me how he still lives as much as possible off the surrounding land. He pointed to plants around us and told me which ones are edible and which he uses for medicinal purposes. The golden grass I so loved in California is also referred to as Indian ricegrass. John gathers it during the summer months and uses it to make flour. In his cowboy days he used to train horses, herded sheep up in the mountains for months on end. A very, very interesting guy. He even had a part in the movie Butch Cassidy playing himself. He invited me to go looking for turquoise up in the mountains.

More aliens - Witches Canyon

How neat is that? How often do you have the opportunity to do something like that? We even found quite a few pieces, not very large, but it was not all about size, but more about the search. We also went to the Witches Canyon, which stood in total contrast to the nearby valley with its abstract rock formations; I would have never found this place.

hwy 17

When I headed out on my own driving down highway 17, my jaw literally dropped (not figuratively, but literally) when I looked down a fifty mile long straight stretch of highway flanked only by sagebrush and the mountains in the distance. You have to understand this happened before I made it to Nevada where fifty mile straight roads are pretty common.

Aliens are coming

Alien garden

Reserved parking

More alien stuff

I wanted to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park which was roughly 65 miles south from my camp spot. I almost didn’t make it before dark. There was so much cool stuff to see and photograph along the way. First there was the UFO Watchtower and Garden, who could say no, then down a dirt road, never mind the huge solar panel farm which stretched for a mile along the road.

Old camper

Hay bails

Solar panels

I was in photography heaven. By the time I arrived at the sand dunes I only had two hours before sunset and a long drive home.

Sand dunes

Not much time to explore the dunes. A ranger at the visitor center suggested I take a drive along the outskirts of the dunes to get an idea of the expanse of the dunes. The drive took me through some pretty deep and soft sand. This road was reserved for vehicles with 4×4 drives and you needed it. The key was to stay in the tracks; otherwise it could get a little iffy. Fortunately, I managed not to get stuck. The nice thing in this park is you can climb the dunes wherever you want. You can even take a snowboard to ride the dunes.

End of a great day

End of day

When you hear sand dunes in Colorado don’t just think of a couple of piles of sand. The park “features” the tallest dunes in North America and they cover an area of 30 square miles. The two tallest dunes are 650 ft. (198m) and 750 ft. (229m) tall.
I had to come back and climb those dunes and I did.
On my way back home a thunderstorm was brewing in the north and it made for a stunning sky. What a perfect way to end a day of adventure.

My footsteps on the ridge

The next day I headed out to move a little closer towards Mesa Verde, but not before I climbed some sand dunes. I don’t remember the last time I was huffing and puffing as much as I did climbing up those dunes. Between the 8,000’ elevation and climbing on soft sand I had my work cut out for me. It took me a little over two hours for the 3 ½ mile round trip hike. I was famished by the time I got back to my truck. I was very glad that I was traveling with my camper and I could make some scrambled eggs before I continued my drive to South Fork, Colorado.

I made it - atop High Dune


Alien at the UFO Watchtower

So much has happened in Colorado, cowboys, turquois, UFOs, ancient monuments. I will try to write in detail soon. I am now in Utah where I have to make some route changes, adding more places to visit. This is the kind of research that takes away from my writing time, sorry.

Jicky atop High Dune, not just trees in Colorado