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Chanterelles straight from the forest

Mushroom hunting has been the impetus for a lot of our hiking lately. This has taken us from New Hampshire to Maine, and the mushrooms from the forest floor to the table. Chanterelles, a favorite in France, have a delicate, creamy and earthy flavor and a wonderful texture. Lightly fry them in butter and voila! you’ve got a sublime side dish! Mandy learned how to identify these lately, expanding her knowledge from the Shaggy Manes we found in Oregon. We’ve found up to 2 pounds of the beauties in a single hike. When you know what you’re looking for they seem to appear everywhere. BUT, you have to be very careful. The false chanterelles can be dangerous. I won’t get into the differences here, but before you go hunting get some training from an expert mushroom hunter.

Maine and New Hampshire have been getting plenty of rain lately, which has lead to swollen stream crossings and muddy conditions, but this has also of course given rise to so many different types of mushrooms in the forest. Most of them scream “I’m poisonous!”, but we are anxious to know more of the edible or even medicinal varieties. Speaking of mud, many of the trail builders/maintainers have made an attempt to get you over the muddiest areas, as seen in the photo below:

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It is very nice to find the rocks, logs and even small bridges to make going though the mud easier, but some places you just have to plow straight through the mud itself. Your boots may be a muddy mess by day’s end, but it will usually dry up and flake off. We have been doing small sections of the Appalachian Trail, as it snakes through our neck of the woods. The longest section so far was 8 miles near Monson, ME. The AT is marked by the characteristic “white blaze,” which occurs every 200 yards or so. Needless to say, there are thousands of these blazes, and they get repainted every year, which is an undertaking handled by volunteers with each of the local Appalachian Trail chapters.

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The 8 miles we hiked in Maine was at the start or the end, depending on which direction you are hiking (“Nobo” or “Sobo), of the infamous 100-mile wilderness. Nobo hikers have already come over 2000 miles, if they are through-hikers, once they reach the 100-mile wilderness. The wilderness is an arduous undertaking, mostly because you have to carry 7-10 days worth of food on your back. That is, unless you can arrange a “food-drop” at one of the few forest service roads that come close to the trail. Otherwise you are on your own, and you’d better be well-prepared, for the wilderness is unforgiving.  This sign appears at the start of the wilderness:

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The A.T. really varies in its terrain and under-footing. Maine is known for its rocks and roots (and mud), which can be treacherous, especially after a rain. Pennsylvania on the other hand is known for pointy rocks almost the entire span of the state that make for slow-going. Here’s an example of rocks and roots, and boulders that require scaling:

Our son Levar makes the scaling of the big boulder look easy, as he hops up the face of it like a mountain goat, but for someone older or not as tall, it’s a challenge. You definitely get a workout in muscle groups that don’t normally get a workout, which leaves you feeling achy but satisfied the next day. The mountains have always been where I go for solace and an awakening of my soul and opening of my heart chakra. I always feel like that part of me is wide open after a “mountaintop” experience, but increasingly I find the same in the deep forest. Living in New Hampshire for the summer and fall, I get the best of both worlds. It only takes me an hour or two in the forest to feel my stress melting away, my nerves calming, my body relaxing, and suddenly I find that I am “in the zone” or “in the flow” of the Universe.

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My heart melts at a vista like this…..and I feel connected to everything!

The trail is full of rewards for all the hard work; be it a salamander in a shallow pond, a rewarding sunrise or sunset, a view from a high ledge or simply the grand silence that envelopes you in the deep forest.

One of the most rewarding hikes we’ve taken lately was up to Lonesome Lake via the Cascade Trail. This is one of the many, many trails in the Franconia Notch section of the White Mountains National Forest. It is a steep climb. Again, lots of rocks to contend with, but the view of 4,000 foot Cannon Mountain looming over Lonesome Lake is wonderful. There is an AT Hiker’s Hostel there known as the Lonesome Lake Lodge. Even non-AT hikers can get a hot cup of tea and a cookie-and those were great to have on a coldish June day, enjoyed from inside the safety of the dining room, with the cold winds whipping across the lake outdoors.

And our days have featured some glimpses of nature of the living, breathing, furry kind as well. Thankfully these encounters have been from the safety of the car, not on the trail. The two bears we’ve seen have escaped the camera lens, but the moose was standing in the middle of the road, so I had plenty of time to snap her picture.

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The rivers have been fantastic to watch swell and recede with the coming and going of the rains. We’ve spotted many a cairn on a boulder in the river, only to have it apparently swept away next time we happen by. Some of the trail creek crossings would be impassable after a heavy rain. Even when the water is low though and the rocks are slippery, a steady helping hand is a welcome thing:

There is a famous spot on the Pemigewasset River in Franconia Notch called “The Basin.” Upon seeing the Basin for the first time in September of 1839, Henry David Thoreau called it “perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.” Similarly, Samuel Eastman described The Basin to early American travelers as, “One of the beautiful haunts of Nature, a luxurious and delicious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess.”

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Inside Franconia Notch is another treat, “The Flume Gorge” is on the opposite site of I-93 from the Basin. Here you will find a variety of geologic wonders. Visitors make their way up a narrow slot canyon via a cantilevered system of stairs and walkways. A large waterfall is the reward at the top of the climb. A little further up is a covered bridge that was constructed atop a single massive white oak tree, hewn into a beam, that fell in the 1939 hurricane.

The furthest north we’ve ventured is to Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, which juts out into the Atlantic Ocean from the coast of Maine. The weather the day we hiked the coast was rather dreary so I don’t have any photographs of the ocean, but the next day was glorious and we could see all the way from the top of Cadillac Mountain to Mt. Katahadin, some 100 miles distant:

I will close with our hike up Welch-Dickey Mountains and to Indian Head on Mt. Pemigewasset. I am also including a Pink Lady Slipper orchid, which bloomed all throughout June and the infamous cairn of blueberry pancakes, which appear regularly at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel, in Monson, Maine.

Miami Spice

So we went to Miami to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We rented a cool apartment located on the beach in North Miami Beach in an extant 1930 art deco building. Art deco is big in South Beach. In fact, the entire Miami Beach Historic District is devoted to it. Our little building was far removed from that district, but was a proud monument to that era nonetheless, although a little toned down from some of the famous buildings found in the district.IMG_0395

There was a great Cuban restaurant, Saźon Cuban Cuisine, located directly behind the apartment building. We tried it on our first night there and loved it. Better yet, Café Saźon was a tiny enclave tucked right behind the restaurant. Café Saźon offers Cuban breakfast starting at 7am. It is quite the gathering spot as well for the locals. I think the locals had a laugh at my expense when I asked if they could fill my 32 oz. coffee mug with Café Cubano! Little did I know how potent this kind of coffee is. She said it would take 5 to fill my mug so I asked for 2. One Café Cubano uses the same amount of grounds as a large cafe americano, so with 2 Café Cubanos in my mug I was really buzzing! I had a spinach empanada to round out the experience.

On our second day we joined Miami Culinary tours for a food crawl through Little Havana. Our host was lively and engaging and of course had a well-trodden beat along Calle Ocho Walk of Fame in Little Havana (otherwise known as SW 8th St.). Here’s the itinerary from the website:

HIGHLIGHTS

Taste authentic Cuban cuisine and listen to the stories behind those doing the cooking.

Learn about spiritual beliefs the community practices including Santeria.

Visit a cigar factory, explore Domino Park and The Cuba Ocho Art Museum.

TASTING & LOCATIONS

SAVOR ONE OF THE BEST BITES IN TOWN 

Enjoy a picadillo-stuffed empanada at one of the oldest restaurants in the area. Filled with rustic charm and graced by a large illustration of Cuba across the walls, this establishment forms part of the daily routine of most Little Havana locals.

El Pub Restaurant

ENJOY CUBA’S FAMOUS DRINK 

This place isn’t La Bodeguita in Cuba, Hemingway’s favorite watering hole, but the drink at this local Taverna is as close as you can get without a passport.  *We also serve virgin drinks

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AUTHENTIC CUBANO

Located next to the historic Tower Theatre, this restaurant is painted with music memorabilia from Cuba’s glorious past. Become acquainted with an authentic Cubano for a true, old Havana experience.

Old Havana Restaurant

“MUST HAVE IN LITTLE HAVANA” – by The Travel Channel

This dark, potent liquid is Miami’s everyday fuel. Similar to an espresso, this ultra-sweet and revitalizing shot of energy is a Cuban staple found at a local famous ventanita.

At La Ventanita

GUAVA PERFECTION

Baked daily at Yisil Bakery, this guava ( guayaba ) pastelito filling is smooth, light, not too sweet, and incredibly flavorful.

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THE ISLAND STAPLE

Indulge with a glass of refreshing guarapo and enjoy a brief education of the various exotic tropical fruits found in South Florida.

Los Pinarenos Fruteria

SWEET MANTECADO

Made with abuelita’s secret recipes and combined with a modern, latin flair, the mantecado ice cream will cool you down from Miami’s “sunny disposition.”

Azucar Ice cream

We had a great 2 1/2 hour crawl and were thoroughly spiced by the end. Actually, it was spicy, sweet and savory-a perfect blend! From the mojito at the historic Ball and Chain, where Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Chet Baker all appeared in the 1950’s, to the sugar cane drink, guarapo, at Los Pinarenos Fruteria, to the old-timers playing dominoes in Domino Park, it felt like we were truly sampling a cross section of everything that Little Havana has to offer. One of the last things on the tour was a stop in a small cigar factory, where we watched the craftspeople roll traditional cigars.

 

I wish I would have taken more pictures to document our experiences, but I was too busy savoring every morsel and drink to break out the phone.

For our big anniversary dinner we got all gussied up to dine at La Mar by Gastón Acurio on the water overlooking downtown Miami, at the lovely Mandarin Oriental Hotel. From the website:

“Featuring the acclaimed cuisine of chef Gastón Acurio, La Mar by Gastón Acurio offers diners the chance to explore the authentic and diverse flavours of Peruvian gastronomy. 

With an atmospheric setting overlooking Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline, the restaurant’s contemporary design provides the perfect backdrop for La Mar’s signature ceviches, freshly grilled anticuchos and speciality cocktails. 

Offering a mix of indoor and outdoor seating with three lively bars providing distinctive culinary experiences the menu ranges from upscale novo-Andean fare to Asian-Peruvian fusion and traditional seafood ceviche.”

The meal was divine. Afterwards we followed the sound of live music up to a gorgeous bar where we had more cocktails and listened to a trio perform a lively selection of popular songs, including a fantastic cover of one of my favorite songs by Radiohead, Creep. Definitely an evening to remember!

On our way into Miami we visited The Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, in the tony enclave of Coral Gables. The highlight of the Fairchild Gardens was definitely the butterfly house, the Wings of the Tropics. There was a card you could carry around to help identify the butterflies you were seeing, but it was still a challenge. Here is a sampling:

 

 

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There is also an amazing orchid garden. I am a lover of orchids of all varieties, so I was in paradise!

 

To round out our Miami experience we had to visit the Wynwood neighborhood, a large area of mostly warehouses graced by a stunning number of murals by artists well-known and not so well-known. Here are some I managed to photograph:

 

You can literally drive around for hours in Wynwood and something new will be revealed around every corner. The quality of the art never ceased to amaze me. As our guide in Little Havana mentioned, though, the area is changing fast. Old buildings are being knocked down and banal new buildings, sans art, are going up in their place. One real surprise treat was a couple of acro-yogabats posing for photographs with one of the murals as a backdrop:

On another occasion prior to our anniversary we came to Miami with Levar and visited the Everglades and the Fruit and Spice Park in Redland, an agricultural town located southwest of Miami.

The Fruit and Spice Park is amazing. Any fruit found on the ground under a tree can be eaten, for an entry fee of $8. IMG_0271

This delicious fruit is called Mamey Sapote, and is native to Cuba. We found it pretty quickly and as best I can describe it it tasted like vanilla custard. Early April is still a little off-season so there wasn’t a lot of fruit to be found, although there were plenty of flowers and tiny fruit on the trees. From the website:

The Park’s tropical climate can be found nowhere else in the continental U.S. and hosts over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and nuts, and other commercially important plant specimens from around the world.

It was truly a 40-acre educational wonderland. I wish the signage was a little better, as some trees and plants weren’t identified. Among a few specimens of each type of plant there was also an amazingly huge mango orchard with tons of varieties as well as an avocado orchard.

The jack fruit was as big as Levar’s head, and the bananas were getting close:

 

 

The Everglades are a subject for a whole other blog entry, but I will close with a video of an alligator swimming through a naturally occurring pond along the Ahinga Trail at the Royal Palms Visitor Center:

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photo credit: Levar Winford

We recently left the unpredictable Texas winter behind on March 4th and adopted the Sunshine State as our new home until May 24th. Key Largo, Florida to be exact. Here, at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park we 3 volunteer for 4 days and have 3 days off to explore. And explore we have! The definite highlight of our explorations for Mandy and I was a 3-day trip to Miami where we got an airbnb just off the beach in North Miami Beach to celebrate our 30th anniversary, but that is the subject for another blog entry. For this entry I will focus on the area around Key Largo, mostly within the confines of the park. We are loving having our son Levar with us. He is volunteering for the first time with us as well and loves it. He gets to work in the Visitor Center one day both answering the publics’ questions and performing aquarium maintenance (there are many small display tanks in addition to a central, 30,000 gallon saltwater tank), hunt for iguanas, pythons and boas on another day, and work on the grounds crew for his 3rd day of volunteering. The awesome Atlantic sunrise photo is his, from an early-morning excursion.

This Key is teeming with life. Life above the water and life below the water. We have been out numerous times to one of the 3 swimming areas here in the park to swim and snorkel. We have been rewarded with Needlefish, Blue Tang, Parrotfish, Mullet, Tarpon, Pufferfish, Grunt, Porkfish, Yellowtail, Crab, Lobster and many others. Mandy and Levar have been kayaking quite a bit through the waterways between the mangrove islands protecting the main island, all the way out to the Atlantic. Rays, Nurse Sharks, Eel, lots of jumping Mullet and Starfish have all been spotted along the way.

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photo credit: Levar Winford

I have to add another photo of Levar’s from an Atlantic sunrise. He may be my son, but I think this is one of the most stunning photos I’ve seen:

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photo credit: Levar Winford

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Mandy and I in a field of peak wildflowers on the Blue Lakes Trail

I haven’t posted since mid-July, so I decided to touch upon each of our weekly high country hikes in one blog posting. We’ve been high in the mountains above Telluride, Ouray and Ridgway, Colorado Tuesday or Wednesday of each week; our days off. The scenery has been amazing as we hiked through deep forests of spruce and aspen, through waist-high fields of wildflowers, through alpine tundra, through snow and over boulders and scree above tree line. We’ve been hiking mostly between 9,000 and 12,500 feet. Each trail has been a challenge and a test as each time we strike out at elevation our bodies feel like they couldn’t possibly carry us up to that high peak or ridge line at the apex of the trail. We huff and puff all the way up and our knees scream “no more” all the way down! I am training, ostensibly for a 14’er summit with one of the rangers, who used to be a guide, here at Ridgway State Park.

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Telluride as seen from the trail connecting town with Mountain Village

The 2 pictures above are from the sparsely travelled but superbly built Hawn Mountain Trail, which takes off from just above the Telluride Airport (we watched a steady stream of “jets of the stars” coming and going from the precipitously placed runway). The segment of trail we hiked was almost entirely scree, but the trail was constructed through the scree by strategically placing scree rocks against the mountain. They jiggled some when you walked across them, but they felt secure, nonetheless. Thunder sounded ominously in the distance and it was past noon, so we didn’t make it to the top of Hawn Mountain this time around. In the photos below, we did capture some awesome views of 3 14’ers in the immediate distance, Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak and El Diente. If you squint you can also see Lizard Head, which is an interesting 800 foot high column of independent rock jutting above the surrounding landscape. Wilson Peak, the pointy mountain in the center of the left picture is the mountain on the Coors Beer Can; viola!

To find these trails we have been using the High Country Day Hikes books by Anne and Mike Poe. There is one for Ouray, Lake City and Silverton and another for the Telluride High Country. These books are marvelously mapped and illustrated, with step-by-step directions on how to get to the trails and where to go once you are on the trails. The Poes have also published hiking books for Crested Butte and Moab.

We did make it all the way to the lower Blue Lake, which sits in a bowl of high peaks and on a sunny day is an unreal aquamarine blue. If you keep going on the trail, which gets considerably steeper, it takes you over Blue Lakes Pass and into Yankee Boy Basin, which is the starting point for the classic route up Mt. Sneffels. Our day was mostly cloudy, so we didn’t quite manage to capture the famous color.

The wildflowers on the way up were stunning, to say the least, and presented a riot of colors.

For a serious challenge, try the Bridge of Heaven trail. This trail is not found in the Poe books, but I found it on a trails map and the topography looked interesting, so I hiked it with Levar in 2012. It was exciting to bring Mandy back this year, as it is one of my favorite trails. This trail even pooped Levar out:_MG_2254

There are wonderful views back towards Ouray from the trail and deep into the heart of the San Juans from the highest parts of the trail. “I’m on top of the world!”

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The final trail I will discuss is the West Fork Trail, which takes off from Owl Creek Pass, way above the town of Ridgway. Following the West Fork Trail will take you into the Wetterhorn Basin, where you can be face to face with the flanks of the Wetterhorn, another fabulous 14’er. Like the Bridge of Heaven trail near the top, you feel like you are on top of the world when you reach the West Fork Pass leading down into the basin. Below are some photos of the world above tree line, leading up to the pass. This one features some pretty serious scree, with occasional cairns to guide the way.

On the way back to the trailhead you are rewarded with awesome views of Chimney Rock, another 12,000 foot high column of rock jutting high above its surroundings.

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Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Rock as seen from the West Fork Trail

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I climbed to it with my son in 2012, I sent friends there in 2013 and I longed to return this year. Based on our experience hiking around 10,000 ft. there was still a lot of snow until late June, as the winter had had 120% of normal snowfall. On June 27th Mandy and I figured we’d head down to Silverton, camp in the South Mineral Creek campground, and make for the basin.

The hike starting out was harder than I remembered, as you are already at 9,500 ft., so we were huffing and puffing to get started. I remembered the famous last leg toward the basin as being where I had had the most trouble breathing previously. The trail zig zags through the lower forest with a waterfall in and out of view. The trail used to cut across a wooden bridge near the top of the waterfall, but it has since washed out.

After emerging from the forest, the trail cuts through a series of alpine meadows that are beautiful enough to take your breath away. It was still a little early for the well-known blankets of wildflowers, but there were a few popping their heads out, including this beautiful Colorado Columbine.

The last meadow before the surge for the basin is 180 degrees of snow-covered cliffs with waterfalls everywhere emerging from the snow. I tried to capture a video but it doesn’t really do it justice, although you can hear the roaring of the waterfalls.

The first major hurdle was one of the creeks that was not easily crossable, as it was swollen with snowmelt. You could either take off your shoes and wade through the thigh-deep, ice cold rushing water, or you could walk 100 yards up the creek to an “ice bridge,” as a fellow hiker giving us advice called it. We opted for the latter. There were indeed footprints going across the bridge with the swollen stream crashing underneath. We decided to go for it, hoping that we wouldn’t be the unlucky hiker that the “bridge” decided to cave in on. Next came the really hard part – the final push to the top. Keep in mind that you are laboring at 12,000 feet above sea level on a steep trail going up the side of a mountain. Exacerbating this is the fact that lots of the trail was still occluded by snow. The going got a little treacherous through the snow banks, as one little slip could send you down the mountain on your behind. If you kept your mind on the trail and put one foot in front of the other on the previous hikers’ footsteps you were likely to be okay.

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We weren’t at all prepared for what came next. Instead of this:

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We found this:

What a difference a little extra snowfall can make. The picture above was taken one week earlier, in 2012! The entire basin this year was filled was snow and the lake, although showing around the edges, was still mostly frozen solid. Mandy kept saying “where’s that azure lake I hiked up here for!” The vista made for a good trade off, however.

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The 12,500 ft. basin is surrounded by 13’ers such as Vermillion Peak, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob and US Grant Peak. Absolutely stunning. There are side trips to Fuller Lake and Island Lake, all easy side trips except for one thing; the deep snow hiding the trail.

We made friends with a pair of local marmots on the way back down. At least we like to think so!

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The entire trip was 22,299 steps or 7.7 miles and took us 5 hours to complete.

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This particular figure is known as The Guardian. We found the image delightful because he reminded us of the totoro, from the Japanese animated film, “My Neighbor Totoro.” Totoro is fond of showing his huge teeth and roaring, and this character seems to be doing just that! The Guardian can be found along Colorado 139 between Grand Junction and Rangely, in the Canyon Pintado National Historic District. It is also part of the 512-mile Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic Byway, which takes the visitor through one of the richest paleontological areas in the world. Little did we know starting out that it is home to so much Native American rock art.

Canyon Pintado was occupied by prehistoric people as long ago as 11,000 years. Most of the rock art dates from the Freemont culture, dating from around 200 B.C to around 1200 A.D. At that time people were beginning to live in villages and cultivate crops, but still hunted and gathered as well. Scientists don’t agree on the meaning of the pictograph (painted) and petroglyph (pecked) images, but some Native American groups still claim a cultural connection. Since no one is sure what the images mean, it is fun to speculate. IMG_1828

The two images below are intriguing. The image on the right appears to represent the sun, moon and earth. Apparently at the Solstice a shadow is cast by an overhanging rock pointing at the earth image. Perhaps the ancient ones used this image to mark time. The image on the left also appears to have a sun image. Some think the artwork on the left side of the photo represents a necklace.

It is a good thing that so much of the artwork is so accessible. Most were a short hike from the car. So were the artists creating art because they had the time to do so, or do the artworks carry significant meaning and messages? The more you drive around Colorado and Utah, the more you discover that these works are everywhere. Everywhere, that is, that a surface was available and pigments could be made.

Somehow the works of art morph into dinosaur bones. The presence of the bones in a quarry captures the imagination as much as rock art. Imagine walking the land in 1909 and seeing 4 fossilized ribs sticking out of the ground. Imagine your excitement as you dig down to find hundreds more bones, then further and thousands more, many as complete skeletons, once assembled. Such is the history of the dinosaur quarry at Dinosaur National Monument in northeastern Utah. Over years of digging, dozens of specimens were delivered to museums all across North America. Digging stopped in 1993, so that now one sees 1500 bones across a huge, enclosed cliff, representing 500 animals and 12 species.

Much like the rock art, I could contemplate all day on the existence of these fossilized relics.  Fortunately for us, scientists are pretty sure why there are so many bones in one place. The site was apparently a river bed. Some specimens are partially intact, others are like putting together a puzzle. There were a couple of assembled skeletons on display.

DSC_2807The heads of the creatures were most fascinating. Look at the size of those teeth! 90% of the bones in the quarry belonged to herbivores.DSC_2799

Scientists still work alongside the bones although the excavation is complete, trying to understand more about the environment at the time and the reasons a creature perished. For more about the exhibit, go to superstars of paleontology. There is even a virtual tour and a list of all the species of dinosaurs and the other animals that lived among them.

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Mandy with a life size model

There is actually nice rock art within the boundaries of Dinosaur National Monument.

To give you a sense of scale, the large lizard in the center of the frame is actually 6 feet in length. Check out my 2015 blog entry for more discussion of rock art in Utah: September 21st, 2015: Of Pictographs and Waterfalls.

There were actually similar, alien-looking figures in southern Utah. Are the people representing themselves in ceremonial dress, or are they mythological beings? I’m sure there has been endless speculation by the experts. One thing I did notice – the people and animals in the depictions appear alone or in small groups. Down in Texas along the lower Pecos River, at the White Shaman site, the pictographs make more of a huge mural, such that it seems to be a single story or, some speculate, what the participant(s) saw during a vision quest.

In Utah, it appears that there are more singular beings or single messages on stone. Dinosaur National Monument is vast, occupying a huge swath of northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado. We camped along the swiftly flowing Green River, the same river that eventually runs into the Colorado in Canyonlands National Park.

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Me at Ice Lakes

I have been coming to the San Juan Mountains since I was 4-years-old. Our first trips as a family to the San Juans began at the S-Lazy-U Dude Ranch between Creede and Lake City, on the headwaters of the Rio Grande. My dad used to fly fish while my mom and sister and I would dam streams, harass weasels that were trying to dine on chipmunks, and hike up to ghost cabins. We would always rent a jeep in Lake City and do the alpine loop over Cinnamon and Engineer Pass. I remember my mother and sister jumping out of the jeep as my dad struggled to keep the jeep moving onward and upward on some of the steep switchbacks. I think he could have used a lesson on a standard transmission in the mountains before heading out!

I feel like the mountains are part of me. A piece of my soul resides here in the San Juans, and I always feel happier and more whole when I am here, and yearn to return when I am not. Fast forward from 1968 to 2004 and you will find me solo-adventuring on my first return trip as an adult to my beloved mountains. I actually made two trips up in 2004, one trip ostensibly to deliver an architectural model that Mandy had built of a new $3 million dollar “cabin” in Telluride. The builder paid me enough for the gas, but it was worth it. On my return visit, around September 8th, 2004, a Pacific front dumped a foot of snow on the mountains above 10,000 feet. I had to wait a couple days, but I soon made my bid to bag my first 14’er: Mt. Handies. It was a tough climb for me, even though it is a walk-up 14’er. I wasn’t well acclimated and every step was a struggle. The last 500 feet to the summit were the worst. At the top I met two cool Californians who had actually climbed over an unmarked route crossing a 12,000 ft. ridge from Highway 550 between Durango and Silverton to make their ascent of Handies. We shared some good political talk and laughs and I bid them farewell, but I keep up with their climbs on summitpost.org, which is a wonderful website for researching mountains and rocks worldwide and the most favorable routes to climb them for your skill level. Here is a great photo of them making their way down the mountain. The basin of mountains covered in snow in the background, looking south from Handies toward Mt. Eolus on summitpost.org (a mountain hosted by “Diggler”, one of the guys I met on Handies) and Red Mountain is the largest contiguous area over 12,000 feet in the United States. In the foreground are from left, American Peak, Niagara Peak and Jones Mountain. Sloan Lake is in the center foreground.

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Leaving Mt. Handies’ summit

The Californians told me they had made a bid for the summit of Mt. Sneffels, another 14’er about 10 miles due west of Handies in the Sneffels Wilderness about 2 days prior, but that there was too much snow to reach the summit. I decided to try, since the days were warming and the snow was melting. I made it to what I thought was the summit of Mt. Sneffels, even though I had a sneaking suspicion that the rock mass to my left had to be climbed to truly reach the pinnacle of Sneffels. I couldn’t find a way up, and I was alone, so I chose to leave the mountain, in one piece.

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Mt. Sneffels as seen from the north

In 2010 my son was old enough to bring to Colorado for some climbing and adventure. We too made a bid for Mt. Sneffels’ summit in early June, but there was a lot of snow and the signs pointing the way to the summit were buried. I made the mistake of thinking 13,694 ft. Gilpin Peak was Sneffels, so we climbed that by mistake! We were about 1,000 feet from the summit when a peal of thunder struck fear in us. We did an about face and hustled down the mountain as fast as we could with the thunder increasing in frequency and decreasing in distance as we went. I was quite scared, but we made it to the jeep just as the sleet hit, and we drove/slid our way back down the high jeep trail to safety.

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Levar on Gilpin (not Sneffels!)

Levar and I decided to try again for the right mountain this time in 2012, on Levar’s 17th birthday, June 26th.. We made the false summit successfully after climbing the Lavender Couloir and followed others up a narrow V-notch to the true summit. To get to the V-notch you kind of had to hoist yourself over a piece of missing mountain to gain a foothold.

A wrong step and you would find yourself tumbling thousands of feet! Levar helped me up into the V-notch, which once you had a good foothold was pretty simple to ascend. It was only 20 vertical feet or so in the V-notch and you emerged on a narrow ledge that lead to a wide enough area on the summit for a dozen or so people to comfortably hang out. My back decided to go out while getting to the summit, so you can see in the photo that I am slightly hunched!

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Levar and me on the summit of 14,150 ft. Mt. Sneffels

Somehow, despite my back problems, we made it back down Sneffels, with me taking it slow and easy, one step at a time, and Levar jumping and sliding much of the way down the 1,000 ft. scree slope.

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Other highlights from our trip included a jeep trip over some of the same trails my Dad used to take, but adding to that, some more extreme passes such as Ophir and Imogene and some of the infamous routes such as California and Corkscrew Gulch.

After Sneffels, Levar and I high-camped at Alta Lakes above Telluride’s Mountain Village, at 11,000 feet. We had a nice fire and some stories and bedded down. When I opened the tent in the morning I spied to artists painting a nearby peak. Turns out it was the Telluride Plein Air Art Festival, and the artists were dispersed throughout the Telluride region over the course of a week. They were supposed to come together over the weekend in Telluride to display and sell their work. I don’t know if it was really kosher or not, but I shortened that process by negotiating with the artists on the spot. The woman was asking too much, saying what her work would go for in a gallery, but the gentleman offered his work to me for half that cost. I’m happy to say that the painting now graces Levar’s bedroom wall, but unhappy to say that I don’t remember the artist’s name! The painting is not signed anywhere. Perhaps I will run into him again someday and see if he remembers me. Both artists were working on paintings of Silver Mountain. Here is a peak at the work in progress and the actual subject.

I think he did pretty well, in the plein air style of painting. Levar and I also got some mountain biking in on the high trails, as well as messing around on some of the boulders overlooking Telluride.

Now, in 2016 and 2017 Mandy and I have been camp hosts at Ridgway State Park. We get Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, and haven’t wasted any time in getting out to explore. There are wonderful trails around Ouray and Telluride and we’ve hit several already, even though there is still plenty of snow at the higher elevations. An early-season favorite is the Ouray Perimeter Trail, which features gorgeous mountain scenery, close-up views of Cascade Falls and some modest challenges on the trail itself.

One of our favorites recent forays is the Weehawken Trail, which is accessed on CR 361, the Camp Bird Mine Road, just above Ouray to the south off Hwy 550 headed toward Silverton. Instead of hiking the entire Weehawken Trail, we took a righthand spur that leads to the Alpine Mine lookout. The view from the lookout is marvelous, taking in most of Hayden Mountain and United States Mountain.

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I will close with some more shots of my beloved Mt. Sneffels with varying amounts of snow and during different times of day. These are all views from the north side, where Ridgway State Park lies.

 

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It’s been unusually hot for June in Ridgway, Colorado, where we are currently camp hosting at Ridgway State Park. So, this past week we decided to venture up to the Grand Mesa to escape the heat at 10,500 feet. It was at least 20 degrees cooler at that elevation.

The Grand Mesa is the largest tabletop mountain in the world. It is a veritable wonderland full of over 300 tiny to mid-size lakes and beautiful aspen and conifer forests. It feels as though you could spend a month exploring up here, as the mesa is crisscrossed with roads, paved and unpaved, and a myriad of trails. We felt as though we were barely scratching the surface.

The Mesa was formed from volcanic action over 100 million years ago, while the lakes dotting the surface were gouged out by a glacier 20,000 years ago. It is a real oasis of cooler temperatures and gorgeous scenery. The only drawback is the swarms of mosquitos. They do stop swarming as the evening cools, but they are there to greet you when you open your tent flap in the morning.

We only had 2 1/2 days to explore, and we wanted to kayak, hike and mountain bike. We camped at Island Lake campground, so Mandy was able to test the waters of the lake in her kayak the evening we arrived.

Not surprisingly, there was still lots of snow at this elevation, so some of the trails included hoofing it through snow banks in the shade where the sun hadn’t already melted the snow.DSC_2753

Our first full day on the Mesa we did a combination of mountain biking and hiking. It was a combination, because at that elevation with any incline, we quickly tired of biking. We headed out on the Flow Park Trail off Land’s End Road. It was a nice ride through forests, beside lakes and eventually up to the edge of the Mesa. From the edge, we could see our own Sneffels Range some 70 miles away, as well as the nearer West Elk Mountains and the LaSalle Range around 50 miles away in Utah. The first day was very clear, with visibility of I suppose 100 miles. On the second, however, there appeared a haze that we think must have been coming from the fires in southwestern Utah.

On the evening of our first full day we were rewarded with a moose sighting. She was at least 100 yards away, but I was able to get a fairly decent shot of her with my telephoto lens. Next to where the moose was lounging was an intact beaver dam.

On our second full day I chose to hike and Mandy chose to kayak again. From her position on the lake Mandy was able to observe wildlife such as marmots and deer. I hiked the Crag Crest Trail about 4 miles in from the western trailhead, reaching 11,000 feet. The views were inspiring, but the haze put kind of a damper on the more distant views. This is a very popular trail as it is a National Scenic Trail and makes an 11 mile loop. Being a Wednesday though, it wasn’t crowded at all. I imagine as the summer rolls on, the crowds will thicken as the snow disappears. In contrast, we met only one other group of hikers on the Flow Park trail, even though it features on the Forest Service website.

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I highly recommend a trip to the Grand Mesa if you are anywhere nearby. Even if you’re not, it’s worth a special trip. We only began to have its mysteries revealed to us.

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We’re still here!

Wow, the last time I posted was in June, 2016! One of our family members became ill in June, so our focus has been on their well-being and return to good health. Things are almost back to normal now, so I have time to blog again-yes! Where to begin? Even though there was a health-crisis, we still found time to venture to new and exciting places, most of the time with our children. Since last June the Silver Chariot has visited the Great Swamp NWR in central New Jersey, Forsythe NWR in southern New Jersey and finally Enchanted Rock, in central Texas. This event has given me time to reflect on the circle of friends and family in our lives and to better keep in touch.

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Since we were in New Jersey for so long, we ventured out to Pennsylvania and New York states as well as exploring the Garden State. Our daughter lives in Highland Park, New Jersey, where she and her boyfriend opened a new art supply store; Tiger Art Supply. Happily the store is doing well, especially thanks to the community of artists in New Jersey and proximity to several art schools, one of which is the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.

Exposure to the Arts is very important to us since we are architects and have an artist daughter. We made a couple of trips to art facilities in the Hudson Valley while we were in New Jersey. I even made a day trip to NYC to meet my sister at MOMA and walk the High Line. For her, visiting art museums tops the list of things she loves to do! My favorite museum that we visited as a family was Dia:Beacon in the little town of Beacon, New York, right on the Hudson and a short train ride for New Yorkers. I have struggled my whole life with contemporary art. My favorite period is the Impressionists, but I try to understand all of the art I come in contact with. Dia:Beacon is housed in a former Nabisco Box Printing factory, which is larger than almost any museum I’ve been to, except for the MET. From Dia’s website:

Dia was founded in New York City in 1974 by Philippa de Menil, Heiner Friedrich, and Helen Winkler to help artists achieve visionary projects that might not otherwise be realized because of scale or scope. To suggest the institution’s role in enabling such ambitions, they selected the name “Dia,” taken from the Greek word meaning “through.”

Mission: Dia Art Foundation is committed to advancing, realizing, and preserving the vision of artists. Dia fulfills its mission by commissioning single artist projects, organizing exhibitions, realizing site-specific installations, and collecting in-depth the work of a focused group of artists of the 1960s and 1970s

Natural light is an essential element of the museum. The entire space is crossed by countless huge clerestories, helping to eliminate the need for artificial lighting. The building itself is cast-in-place concrete, so it gives a very solid-feeling foundation to the art installations. Images of the current art on show can be found here: Dia:Beacon collection.

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I loved Robert Erwin’s installation of white translucent scrim walls, titled “Excursus: Homage to the Square3”, which is visible in the above photograph, below the giant clerestory windows. The thing about many of the installations at Dia is that the installation is so large that the viewer becomes part of the art. Homage to the Square is 16 rooms, 4 by 4 square. Depending on the time of day and weather the walls are constantly, almost imperceptibly changing. On the middle of each wall is a flourescent light fixture, which heightens the effect of light on the piece. The doorways from room to room are lined up in such a way that they create an optical illusion.

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Another one of my favorite large pieces was Richard Serra’s “Torqued Elipses.” I first encountered their models or “maquettes” in one room, before walking into the elipses in another huge room. They are made of solid steel and truly invite exploration. They are often maze-like or spiral inward. I first encountered a piece by Serra at the Ft. Worth Museum of Modern art. It was a tall exterior torque of steel. A woman was singing “Ave Maria” inside and the sound was incredible. I wonder if the artist ever dreamed that they would be the perfect acoustic vessel for signing.

The museum abounds with Dan Flavin’s flourescent light artworks:

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Finally, I really liked Michael Heizer’s “North South East West.” You don’t necessarily interact with these holes in the floor, but the dark voids or “sculptural negatives” cause you to contemplate their meaning.img_0385

Another fantastic museum we visited was The Storm King Art Center in Cornwall, NY. This is primarily an outdoor sculpture garden set amongst rolling hills, forests and lakes. It is quite a hike going from one installation to the other. Everybody loved Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall. The first impression is that the wall is a left-over fence dividing property in an area where fieldstone is abundant. Looking closer, one begins to admire the construction and to notice the serpentine form of the wall as it disappears into the lake and emerges on the other side.

From the Storm King website:

While Goldsworthy conceived Storm King Wall and supervised its construction, the roughhewn structure was built by a team of British wallers, who explained to Storm King staff exactly what kinds of stone to harvest and sort in preparation for their work: chunky foundation stones, a smaller, rounder variety for the wall’s midsection, large “through stones,” and flat cap stones for the top layer. The British team built the wall by placing one stone on top of another while chipping and shaping each one to fit snugly; no concrete was used in stacking the wall’s 1,579 tons of fieldstone. The stones can be as captivating as the wall itself.

Another captivating piece we happened upon was Isamu Noguchi’s “Momo Taro.” Momo Taro was a Japanese folkhero who emerged from a peach pit to become an elderly couple’s son. Noguchi is known for his furniture designs, and this piece is very much like an outdoor furniture installation. It invites visitors to interact, touch, and sit upon the work.

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There are scores of installations in stone, steel, bronze and other materials. I don’t remember the artists’ names, but in closing here are two works that I found appealing.

Once again during our weekly days off we tried to squeeze in a National Park or two. Luckily for us, Mesa Verde National Park is just 2 1/2 hours away from Ridgway State Park in southwestern Colorado. Mandy has been lobbying pretty hard for a visit to Mesa Verde, so happily we finally made it!

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Consult the Mesa Verde wikipedia page for a more in-depth discussion of the area’s history and culture. The mesa area has an abundance of structures. It is estimated that at its height, the Mesa Verde region housed more than 20,000 people, at the beginning of the 13th century or c. 1285. By the next century, Mesa Verde was empty. It is thought that long drought, overpopulation, resource decline and overdependence on maize precipitated the decline and eventual exodus from the mesa. The exodus may have been very rapid, as evidenced by the pottery and other tools and possessions left behind.

The Ancestral Puebloans long inhabited the mesa, which stretches from north to south for about 20 miles and rises gradually towards the south. The first humans to inhabit the area may have done so around 6500 BCE, and were hunter-gatherers following large game. It is not clear whether these peoples inhabited the mesa area permanently or temporarily.

The mesa top is punctuated by canyons, and this is where you will find the cliff dwellings. To visit the cliff dwelling you will drive across the top of the mesas. Stairs or a steep pathway will lead you down to the cliff dwellings, which were mostly sandstone, timber and plaster mortar. The Puebloans began building these more complex structures around c. 1075. The cliff dwellings contain many adjacent rooms, towers and kivas. All are found under a sheltering cliff or recess in the canyon walls.

The kivas are a circular structure sunken in the ground and were typically 12 to 15 feet across. Kivas were accessed from the smoke hole in the roof by ladder. The firepit can be found directly under the hole in the roof. A cooling tunnel was usually built into the side of the kiva, with the air flowing from a hole near the floor, which was blocked by a diversion stone, to keep the airflow from extinguishing the fire. A sipapu was typically a small pit dug in the north of the kiva and symbolized the peoples’ emergence from the Underworld. One of the cliff dwellings has a nice reconstruction of a kiva, complete with the roof and ladder, cutaway so that you can see the construction. Kivas may have been both ceremonial and residential.

A single village may have housed 100 people or multiple families in a small clan. The villages or cliff dwellings were always located near a water source and were accessible to the fields, which remained on the mesa tops.

Prior to the cliff dwellings, the Ancestral Puebloans lived in multi-roomed structures on the mesa tops, close to the fields and check dams which were constructed to control the flow of water. Prior to the multi-room structures the Puebloans lived in pit dwellings, which were a precursor to the kiva. There are several fine excavations of pit dwellings to explore in the Park.

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There are also petroglyphs, which predate the cliff dwellings by centuries.

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We enjoyed the talk and flute performance by our ranger guide, David Nighteagle.

 

 

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