Posts Tagged With: Steller’s Jay

Downshifting into Week 2

Rocky Mountain Day 2 (2)

Today we wound our way down out of Rocky Mountain National Park, through Estes Park and Boulder and then across Colorado on I-70 to Grand Junction area – James Robb State Park, to be exact, alongside the Colorado River. The river was a clear ribbon we followed out of and across the Rocky Mountains. If you have ever done this trek, you know there is a lot of downshifting going on, both down the serpentine roads and then as you wind your way back up again. But I skipped ahead and need to let you know how it was in Rocky Mountain National Park. AMAZING.

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I might overuse that word just a bit, but it really was an awesome experience. We arrived in camp knowing it was a first-come basis for campsites, but we didn’t expect to find the LAST campsite available. A bit of panic set in just before we claimed it for our own, but it worked out just fine, even though it was across from the restrooms and the bear-proof garbage bins.

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Bull elk

The park was very busy, which surprised us, but we were told that September is their second busiest month due to elk viewing. This is also the park’s Centennial, so I think there has been a greater push to visit the park. It was evident, as we wove our way through the many cars parked alongside the road every place there were elk. But they were spectacular beasts. The bull elk were in rut, so they were rounding up and stealing from each other’s harem of hinds (females). The younger males tried their best, but they seemed to always be on the fringes. The bugling calls of the males were heard day and night, a very eerie sound that reminds you that you are in their mountains. The aspen are all golden and orange, sprinkled among the spruce. It makes for very colorful mountainsides. Unfortunately, the spruce beetle has really taken a toll on the trees, with at least a third of the trees dead or dying.

First hike we did was around the Morraine Park meadow, the place where most of the elk hung out (although they and the mule deer wandered through the campground). At one point in the 5-6 mile hike we were on the far side of the meadow away from all the cars and spectators and we had fairly close view of about 12 = 15 males challenging each other. When we heard calls up the mountain behind us, we picked up the pace so as not to stay between them. These guys move quick.

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The long trail down

We were proud of our hikes, since our walking routine these past months has helped get us in shape. But folks from Colorado out-do you every time. I think it must be a requirement to live in the state that you bicycle or hike miles and miles each day. It is definitely a very bike friendly state. “We just did a little 10 mile hike to the five lakes …” was heard on the shuttle bus. Sheesh.

I spent time trying to get pictures of the local wildlife, which consisted of several kinds of squirrels and chipmunks, large grey and white Clark’s nuthatches and the elusive Steller’s Jay. The one I caught on camera in Cheyenne Mountain was actually a Scrub Jay. As you can see by the pictures, I think I did pretty well with the wildlife. I have to say that the money shot for the elk was the bull I caught in the stream. Was kinda ho-hum after spotting that guy.

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Mountain bluebird

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Steller’s jay

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Abert squirrel

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Clark’s nuthatch

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Mule deer buck

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We decided to only drive the car up Trail Ridge Road, rather than leave the park that way with the motorhome. Good decision. The day we went up to the Alpine Visitor’s Center it was clear and sunny and an awe-inspiring drive. But it went to 12,700 feet from our camp elevation of 7,500 feet, not something I really wanted to do in the motorhome. We hiked across the tundra on a few trails, but the cold wind and the altitude do a number on you, no matter how much in shape you are. The majesty of the mountains and the vistas just took your breath away anyhow.

A thunderstorm rolled through the night before we left. In the morning the temperature was 32 degrees and snow had fallen in the higher altitudes. They are shutting off the water in the restrooms Oct. 5, so I guess freezing temperatures are to be expected soon.

The Morraine Park Campground has some great campsites, a lot of them are for tents. There is no water at campsites and no electric, so you have to be prepared. We were down to the last of our onboard water, but the propane was fine for cooking and the fridge; we ran the generator just long enough to heat up in the morning or just before bed at night.

Back to today’s trip. We did spot a group of Bighorn sheep as we drove west, all females and it was too quick to get a picture. But no moose in the Rockies just yet. Maybe the most exciting part of the drive was through Glenwood Canyon, where the road divides into an upper and lower level to make it through the pass. However, construction had everyone on the same 2-lane roadway, one lane each way. But it was fun, and the canyon walls were just gorgeous.

The state park site tonight has full hookups, so we are charging everything we can, doing a load of laundry and filling the water tank in preparation for Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park. We should be there tomorrow night.


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One Week Down!

Hard to believe it has only been a week since we started on this adventure. This part of the trip is a little bit “off the grid” as we don’t always have easy access to WiFi in camp, nor do I expect to have it in Rocky Mountain National Park.  (Did I just see Bear Grylls??)  I hope folks are enjoying the updates and pictures, although I hear grumblings from my family that we might be overdoing it on the microbrewery samplings. We really aren’t big beer drinkers, but there are so many more craft breweries than we are used to back in Georgia, it just is fun to try a flight and sample some really good brews. And their food selections are pretty unique, too.

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Mountain dog Benji

Time for some shout-outs for family birthdays: Happy Birthday to Courtney and Craig!

So we arrived at noon at Cheyenne Mountain State Park at the base of the mountain that houses the NORAD underground complex. Beautiful state park with very nice campsites that are level, partially paved with a gravel tent pad. We look out on the valley across lower Colorado Springs and Fort Carson (and yes, we hear taps each day).

Looking out over the prairie

Looking out over the prairie

We made camp and quickly headed out to two important spots: US Air Force Academy and the US Olympic Training Center. The Air Force has an amazing campus and with a great location. The chapel is a must-see structure that has this beautiful stained glass glow inside. Very inspirational. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon on campus.

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Stained glass inside chapel

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Jackie Wins Gold!

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Team Handball Men’s VP

Back in town we found the USOTC where about 16 years ago (has it been that long?) I spent some time with the US Men’s National Team for team handball. Sometimes a combination of van driver and chaperone during training and then sidelines statistician and assistant during games. I was also manager for the Pan Am Championships at a time when relations with Cuba were still tricky and their “coaches” were definitely watching for defections. Cuba had a strong handball team and was always pretty dominant when they competed.

I showed Jackie around the training center, but much has changed since I was there. The dorms and cafeteria have been upgraded and several of the sports train at locations off-site. But there was excitement building for the summer games in Brazil.

Cheyenne Mountain has been fun for spotting some new wildlife. We watched some prairie dogs along the entrance road, scurrying in and out of their burrows. Birds in the area that catch your attention are the Scrub Jay and Black-billed Magpie.

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Scrub Jay

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Mule Deer fawn

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Look out Benji!

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Prairie dog


Black-billed Magpie (even cooler in flight)

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We were walking Benji around camp after dinner and suddenly came up to a group of three mule deer – a doe and two fawns from this year. They were curious about Benji, but he was definitely NOT interested in them and was pulling at the leash to get out of there. We watched them stroll through the camp without a care. On our trip to Garden of the Gods we saw another trio bounding through town along the interstate. Since the males are in rut, there is a lot of movement of the large hooved critters all through the area. Saw a report of a bull Elk butting a car in Estes Park (and left some pretty big holes in the side of it).

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We also had a great view of the eclipse and blood moon, even though catching it with the camera was not too successful. I will post what I shot, but the best part was actually during the total eclipse when the moon really did look a dark orange/amber color.

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Next day we combined Garden of the Gods and Manitou Springs, all at the base of Pikes Peak. Garden of the Gods was darn busy, but not surprising since there is an easy, paved trail through the main portion of the park. There are great sightlines all around the park, where the rock formations are just incredible. One hike up to the Siamese Twins was a good workout. At that spot a line of horseback riders was making their way up over the rocks and around us. Pretty cool.

Manitou Brewery

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Lunch was in Manitou Springs (you guessed it, another craft beer brewery) – a town that is quite the gift shop mecca, but you still get a sense of the heady days of Gold Rush fever. We wound our way up to Cave of the Winds for a hike through the cave and all the formations of stalagmites and stalactites.   Barb and Tara would appreciate that there was no belly-sliding and nobody whacked their heads, although the total darkness moments really were weird. Returned down the mountain and back to camp for a change in the weather. A front blew through (and I mean rockin’ the van type blowin) to leave us with cooler weather and some overcast skies today.

Seven Falls Restaurant

Rainbow trout

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Today (Tuesday) we spent the morning at the Broadmoor Hotel and Seven Falls. The falls are a narrow gorge that is really beautiful. The creek that runs through it overflowed pretty bad in 2014 (14” inches of rain in an hour), so the owners sold to Broadmoor and it was redone and reopened. Gorgeously done and crystal clear water. After a mile walk in, we climbed the stairs to the top of the falls for a great view. We skipped another set of stairs that led to a viewing area and instead took the elevator, but it was plenty of exercise, even just going down the steps. Note to self: remember to always carry both camera lenses and bring the selfie stick.

We need to do laundry today and stock up on a few more provisions before we head out tomorrow to Estes Park. That one is going to be a long haul and we will need to get an early start. Showers and storms are predicted for tonight, so we want to secure everything in camp and get as packed as possible.

It seems that something with the convection/microwave oven isn’t quite right and not sure I can resolve this. No heat from the microwave and the convection oven stops every two minutes or so. Checked all the circuits, tried to troubleshoot, but we may be down to the propane grill outside and LP range/oven inside. Jackie used the oven last night, so that at least works. Not sure why the microwave decided to quit.

Off to Rocky Mountain National Park then….

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