Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Decalibron 7-1-13

I was readying to get out of the familiar a bit and go out on an excursion. I spent the majority of the 30th doing laundry, tying up loose ends, and organizing gear in my car. I had my sights set on completing the "decalibron". The highest incorporated town in North America is Alma and it sits at 10,521 feet. Kite Lake is above this town and it has four 14ers that circle it. In one day you can climb and then traverse over to the peaks of Mount Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross. The decalibron so to speak. In my usual fashion I finally managed to get up there late as all hell. Here I am bumping up some eerie county road in the middle of nowhere at midnight. I kept half expecting to see a bear or moose saunter across the road. The only thing to greet me as I passed by was wispy tendrils of fog. The road got progressively worse as I got higher up. I had been up there a time or two before so I knew what I was getting into but it was much more interesting under the cover of darkness. I had to keep it in first gear on the final mile or so. Subarus will go places you wouldn't think possible so long as you keep your tires on the highest parts of the road and correctly navigate the tricky parts. The last turn before the homestretch and parking area was a hairpin. In the daylight it would have been alright to pick my way through but in the dark it was surprising to say the least. Since it was a hairpin turn I swung around coming at it blind. One side was big and the other bigger so I chose to go the big route. Since my car is a 5 speed and it's hard to get going from a stop on a steep incline I just put the pedal to the floor. Keeping my tires on the tallest part of the big ditch was the goal. I managed to make it over but not without lifting a rear tire off the ground in the process.

I rolled into the parking area and noticed how there were several tents spread out across the area. I'm sure they loved hearing me fight my way up the hill with my loud, falling apart exhaust. Once there I made it a point to stay as quiet as possible. I set my car up for sleeping in the back but wasn't tired yet. I was taken aback by how clear the night sky was. Being so far from any light pollution really set the area up to be an amazing star gazing location. As I was sitting in my chair I was lucky enough to see a shooting star. I took that as a sign that the next day was going to be a good one. I wound down and settled in for the night. Being up above treeline at 12,000 feet is nice during the day but at night it can get pretty cold, especially for summer. As I lay there trying to get to sleep I noticed it getting colder and colder. Nualla was in a restless sentry mode, quietly woofing at people in there tent when they turned on a headlamp and stirred around. I eventually gave up on staying warm and convinced her to get in the back with me. That night it ended up being a one dog night and we both fell right asleep after that.

For the sound on my phone alarm I chose a mellow funky little beat. I don't care what sound it is though you never like hearing it. I absolutely did not want to get up that next morning when it started going off. I had a good bit of work to do though so I finally managed. Most of the trails here carry a class 2 rating but they were all very forgiving. I scooted up Democrat with no problems and was surprised to look off the backside and see the top of Fremont Pass and the Climax mine. It's wild how close you can be to something as the crow flies without realizing it. From there it was a traverse over to Cameron. The rock started to change in shape and color. The rocks on Democrat were larger and darker and the ones on Cameron smaller and gray to yellow in color.

Looking off the backside of Cameron towards a high alpine lake.

This pattern continued on over to Lincoln and Bross as well. On the way to Lincoln the rocks were small enough that you didn't have to pay attention to your footing which is a novelty on mountains as tall as these.

Nualla says, "Follow Me."
I also noticed how the saddle between Cameron and Lincoln was inundated with only one kind of flower. They were spread out all over and hadn't yet started to flower. They are really unique flowers in that their leaves are very geometrical and the flowers they produce only bloom around the perimeter of the whole plant structure. I heard somebody refer to them as nature's mandala and that description suits them perfectly.

Pictured here are some flowering on the Bierstadt/Evans climb.
Lincoln had more character than both Cameron and Bross in that it had some cliffs to look off of and there was a more pronounced top to it.

Approaching Bross was unique in that the rocks took on a more red tint to them. Obviously I have never been to Mars but I imagine it would look very similar to what I was seeing on the saddle between it and Cameron. The rocks on just the saddle were slightly larger and I had to pay attention to my footing a bit more.

Flowers on the saddle between Cameron and Bross
Flowers on Cameron near the saddle to Bross
Once I started getting up the slope towards the top the rocks were smaller and more yellow in color. Bross was an unimpressive sloping mountain but the views of the rest of the 14ers around were well worth the climb up there. The only memorable thing about Bross was how broad an area it was for the top of a mountain to be. Because of the nature of the rock the mountain had a very gently smooth surface to it that I hadn't yet seen on another mountaintop. Once I had had my fill of being up high I made my way down the other side of Bross to complete the full circuit. Nualla and I both were happy to be back at the car and off our feet for a bit.

I made my way back to town for a couple of odds and ends but now I had my sights on the Sawatch Range. Once done in town I hit the road again but this time I was headed for Leadville. After camping out amongst some old mine ruins and hanging out for a day I had my batteries recharged. I fumbled along some county roads in the dark trying to find a nondescript trailhead and finally stopped in what I knew to be the general area. I was going to hike Mount Sherman, my first Sawatch Range 14er.

Keystone Bike Race 6-29-13

As much as I would like to sever all ties with the real world and simply climb my heart out I still have some responsibilities. There will always be the credit card, phone, and miscellaneous bills hanging over my head. And as much as I would love to write them off I know that I need good credit and a phone that will make calls when needed. My financials now are like the tide but on a very small scale. They ebb and flow but there is a lot more ebbing as of late. I work enough to get me to the next stretch of the journey. Until the money is gone I'm running around on the sides of mountains chasing mountain goats. As I'm sure I've mentioned before I'm a huge fan of Craigslist. You can be as resourceful as you want provided you know where to look. Well I needed money so I was looking pretty hard. I managed to find a gig working a local bike race helping set up and break down the event. I really enjoyed it as the only real "work" aspect consisted of initially sorting out riders during the first lap. After that it was primarily sitting in a chair and making sure nobody went down the wrong path while I studied my 14er guidebook. This went on for hours but I was getting paid. At the end of the race I rode along in a souped up golf cart helping remove signage and road cones. After getting to the bottom I was treated to an awesome meal before breaking down the finish line area I had help put together. Awesome! I had made enough money to pay a couple of bills and keep the wheels rolling. You can be as broke as you want or you can be as resourceful as you want.

Beirstadt & Evans (Sawtooth Ridge) 6-26-13

I was really on the fence about taking Nualla as I didn't want to wear her paws out. I was also planning on bagging both Mount Bierstadt and Evans. The saddle between the two is class 3 scrambling and is affectionately referred to as the Sawtooth Ridge. Between that and hearing a horror story about a dog being abandoned by its owners on the ridge was what tipped the scales in the direction of leaving ol' girl at the house. Don't let me forget to mention that people have died on sections of this ridge. This was my first class 3 excursion but it had to happen eventually. Not all of these summits are as hospitable as others.

I had a great start to the day, it was beautiful and sunny. The sun was doing its regular routine of lighting up the high alpine areas of the mountains and then working the light down.

The beginning of the hike to Bierstadt was mellow. The trail consisted of alternating footpaths and boardwalks over marshy areas. Inevitably though it turned uphill and the elevation gain began. This mountain was very forgiving though and the trail was very careful to be well worn and have plenty of switchbacks. I eventually came to the end of the footpath and the boulder jumping started.

In no time at all I had bagged another peak!

The moment was bittersweet though because I took the liberty of having a glimpse off the backside towards the sawtooth. It was certainly intimidating despite the fact that the guidebook says it's harder than it looks. I wasn't too fired up about it but I knew that I would be hitting mandatory class 3s and 4s before too long. This might as well be a nice introduction.

I started making my way down the steep talus on the backside of Bierstadt towards the ridge. I took my time as the blocks of rock were very uneven and haphazard. Getting hurt here would be no picnic.

Since I had never been on this route before and I was soloing it I was just picking my way along in a general direction. In hindsight I made the mistake of staying too high on the ridge where it was much more exposed and tedious. I ended up spending more energy than necessary but it was still good practice. I noticed my mistake when another group of hikers stayed lower in the talus field and were making very good time. Just as I was approaching the crux of the route the other group caught up with me.

After speaking with them briefly I learned that at least one of them had done this same route several times so I joined them for the remainder of the ridge. After picking our way through I realized what the guidebook author meant when he said it was easier than it looks. Technically speaking it wasn't that hard once you got past the fact that some parts of the route require you to be on cliffs that are over 1,000 feet tall! We all scrambled along and I made it a point to not look down over the edge. I also tried not to dwell on how others had lost their lives where they had slipped off right from where I was standing.

After a hasty traverse and ascent we had successfully crossed the sawtooth. I was thankful for the camaraderie and route experience. I told them all as much and we went our separate ways. The way towards Evans was interesting in that the top area was generally flat but peppered everywhere with slopey rocks.

I paused and ate some food under a nice overhang that one provided. It was nice to be in some shade and rest after all the scrambling.

Back on the trail and working my way to the summit found me tired. The trek started to seem arduous and the relentless sun was sucking all of my energy away. I made it to the summit of Evans after plodding along. I knew that there would be people up there but my senses were accosted after my accustomed solitude on the mountain.

Everybody up there was so full of energy and loud in comparison to how I felt. I realized I was pretty exhausted but I still couldn't help but feel like these people had cheated their way to the summit by driving. After sitting for a spell, drinking some water, and eating a bit more food I got noticeably less crabby. Another hiker struck up a conversation with me and realized we were both heading back down the same trail. After I checked out the bighorn sheep and mountain goats hanging around the parking area I met up with her and we started back down the other trail to make a loop.

It's always nice meeting people on the trail as conversation makes the miles go by faster and you can help one another out. We carefully made our way down a steep gulley until it leveled out into a marshy valley.

We had heard that it was supposed to be pretty sloppy down there and it proved to be accurate. The trail was hard to find at times as it twisted and twirled through stream crossings, mud patches, and willow thickets. At first I took care not to get my shoes completely soaked but that soon proved an awfully silly notion. Once they were both soaked it wasn't anything to simply plod along through the worst of it. On two different occasions I tried to get out of some mud a little too quickly and almost lost a shoe. With a good bit of navigating and a whole lot of patience we finally got back to the main trail. We made good time after getting back on better ground. At the last creek crossing we made sure to simply walk through the creek to get the worst of the muck off our shoes. It was very liberating to get those filthy things off of my feet. This whole endeavor took 10 hours. The longest hike so far but that would be surpassed in the days to come.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Grays & Torreys 6-24-13

I managed to rip myself from my bed at 5:30 in the morning. I have never been a morning person, especially after climbing a mountain the day before. For the sake of carrying my momentum I opted to climb two days in a row. I would retrace my steps again and climb the two for one deal that is Grays and Torreys. They are two distinct mountains sharing a saddle. Because of the saddle they are both easily climbed together in a day and their names are almost always mentioned together. Along with Quandary these were the only 14ers I had ever climbed. Similarly, they were close to the home base and easy mountains to climb. My first time climbing the combo I approached from a more difficult side out of Chihuahua Gulch. This time however I chose to climb it from the traditional trailhead and it was like climbing a new set of mountains. All the views were different and it was a fresh experience. I was surprised by how many cars were in the parking lot at the trailhead. I had assumed that there would have been less people on a weekday but plenty were looking to get out and have fun as well.

Once out on the trail it was nice to see the sun lighting up the tops of the mountains. As it rises it lowers the light farther down the mountainsides until it hits the valley and everything is aglow. It is a special time of day to be up and see this process.

As I got farther uphill the forest thinned and eventually gave rise to the high alpine tundra. With less trees there were more wildflowers. Wildflower season had already started but was just really getting underway. All manner of different species were bursting open and starting to thrive.

Snowmelt was feeding beautifully clear and cold streams working their way down to lower elevations.

I had indeed been able to carry my momentum and was making good time as I worked my way up the trail. Right around 12,000 feet the valley flattened out and I was able to get my first good glimpse of Kelso Ridge. It is an impressive class 3 ridge that stands right out of the valley and connects adjoining Kelso Mountain to Torreys Peak. I admired it from afar and made note that I would have to remember that climb for another day.

Not long after leaving the valley floor I noticed a huge tooth of an outcropping that jutted out from the surrounding mountainside. It was cliffed out on all sides but had a nice little trail up one side of it to the top. My immediate impulse was to detour over and climb it. As if on cue a group of hikers ahead of me dropped their packs and clamored straight to the top. I wasn't going to intrude on their photo op but instead took one of them while they were on it.

With as many people that were on both mountains everybody did a great job of pacing themselves so as to not be on top of anybody else. This made getting to the top a bit easier and before I knew it I had summited Grays. 

There was already a small gathering of people up there hanging out and taking pictures. There was a particularly interesting group of people with large packs on and they were decked out in all the heavy duty gear possible. One of them was making coffee on top of the mountain. It was very odd to see somebody have such an assortment of gear on top of a mountain like that. My curiosity got the better of me and I brought up the coffee making to start up a conversation. They quickly informed me that they were training to climb Mount Rainier and that was the reason for all the extra equipment. After a couple of pictures of my own I was heading down towards the saddle between the two peaks. One unique thing about this area is the size and frequency of cairns used to guide you down. It is very common for little cairns to dot alongside the trail in order to help you along the path. These however are unusually large and well constructed. I am always impressed when I see these particular cairns.

Getting up Torreys wasn't difficult and with a little effort I was on top of that summit as well. I had my picture taken again and was getting ready to make my way back down. Before setting out there was a noise that was coming up the valley. Before long it was apparent that it was the Flight for Life helicopter heading in the direction of the Summit County hospital. I hoped the best for whatever the situation was but it was still interesting to see it crest over the saddle right between the two mountains and head on its way. 

Once I started making my way back down the trail I kept eyeing some large patches of snow and wondered what it would be like to glissade down them. I had seen clips of it being done and it looked straightforward enough. I also liked the notion of a speedier descent to the bottom. Before long I found myself standing on top of a snow field eyeing a line down the middle of it. It looked tempting enough as there was already an existing line where somebody had previously tried it. That was enough for me so I made sure to empty all my pockets and zip everything up in my backpack. I readied for the descent and after a botched first attempt I was on my way. What I didn't realize though was that I would be going much faster than I anticipated with little or no way to stop. That kept things interesting. Not long after beginning I managed to have my hat fly off my head. I flailed behind me in a vain attempt but it was gone, a sacrifice to the mountain. I tried digging my heels in but all that managed to do was spray snow in all directions, principally my face. At one point I flipped around upside down and was heading down headfirst. Second only to ragdolling, that was the worst case scenario so I quickly righted myself. Using my hands and feet to help guide my descent I just hung onto the ride until the slope eased up enough for me to come to a stop.

I made sure I was all in one piece and still had all my gear. Aside from my hat and some extremely exfoliated palms I was alright. I cleared all the snow from my pockets and belt of my now soaked pants and looked upslope to find Nualla. I was surprised to see how far she was up there and how much ground I had covered in such a quick period of time. "Ease up on that craziness", I told myself. Lesson learned. I picked my way back to the trail and by the time I got back to the car I was almost dry. I was grateful for another good day and headed back to the home base.

And So It Begins 6-23-13

Once back in Colorado I had a bit of reacclimating to do. I don't think I had lost all the altitude ability yet but it was waning. I wasn't excited about getting done with a cross country trip and then immediately throwing myself at a fourteener. I tried to ease back into high country life by simply taking care of loose ends. To begin with, my PO box was just about overflowing and I knew there was the odd bill to sift for. Aside from the dreaded bills I did manage to receive my order of juice plus and the remainder of my security deposit. In my experience it seems like no matter what the condition the house was left in the landlord always manages to whittle away half of the deposit. At least I my juice plus order had come in. I had been wanting to start that and see what it could do for me.

With the boring stuff done it was time to go play outside for a bit. I had drug around my disc golf discs all over the south and only managed to play two times in Wilmington. Now that I was back in familiar terrain I was able to go to the Frisco Peninsula and play a round with a friend. Disc Golf is a great way to get outside and walk around without having to exert too much energy all at once. Since you are walking for over an hour you get the exercise in and don't get too winded. If you are skeptical I recommend giving it a try and you might surprise yourself with what you think.

With peak bagging on the horizon I needed to overhaul all the gear in my car. I had been lugging around an odd assortment of tools, clothes, and random odds and ends. This all needed to get organized and swapped out for climbing and camping gear. It felt good to again rid myself of the fluff and strip down to just what I needed for this summer's adventure. I allowed two days time for my lungs to pseudo acclimate before I decided to pull the trigger on Quandary Peak. I chose this mountain for a number of reasons. This was the perfect one to start on because of its close proximity, ease of climbing, and most importantly it was where my 14,000 foot journey began. Even though I had already summited Quandary I still wanted to bag every 14er in a single summer.

Everybody climbs Quandary for the same reasons I did and with it being a Sunday it was a happening spot. Luckily I got to the trailhead right around 6:30 so it hadn't yet turned into the circus that it does on the weekend. As I was getting ready for the hike I saw a smaller built guy getting ready to hit the trail. He got my attention because of how he was dressed and how little he was bringing with him. I realized that he was a trail runner. There is a certain breed of people that aren't content to merely hike up a 14er but feel the need to run and jog the majority to improve their overall time from top to bottom. There are some driven people in this world. He scampered off and I didn't see him again until later. At the trailhead it was cold before the sun was coming up and I made the noob mistake of bringing my thick hooded sweatshirt. I might have been on the trail 15 minutes before that thing was off of me and halfheartedly stuffed into my pack. Note to self, "Don't bring that blanket of a hoody again." Once I had risen above treeline and hit a flat part of the trail I was greeted by a family of mountain goats. They are usually around on many of these peaks and are always nice to see. Nualla thought it prudent to see how fast they could run but she didn't get too far before I reeled her in. 

It's important to always climb at your own pace. You never want to outdo yourself before getting closer to the top where the air is thinner and the terrain more difficult. You also don't want to hold yourself back and go along at a snail pace if you don't want to. With this in mind I found myself both passing people and getting passed. After 3 hours I found myself on top with a decent gathering of early hikers. Everybody was in good spirits with people eating snacks and taking pictures. Some were commenting that it was their first ascent of a 14er. I remember a group of younger girls enjoying the novelty of having cell service on top of the mountain. I shuffled around on top for a half hour talking with others, eating some food, and reflecting on what I had decided to get myself into. 2 hours downhill and I was back at the car. There was easily twice the amount of cars there from when I arrived and I was happy to be on my way with my first name off of the list. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Land of Enchantment 6-17-13 to 6-20-13

I hit the road and started driving west. I wasn't anxious to be driving for hours on end but I can't imagine who would be. Before long measurements of time go by gas station stops rather than hours. After 3 gas stations I found myself getting tired, 2nd degree tired. 2nd degree tired is after you've already stopped for coffee. 3rd degree flirts with haggard, only go there out of necessity. The rest of my foreseeable existence was going to be surviving on meager means so paying for any kind of lodging was out of the question. Cue Wal-Mart. After working there for two years back in high school I swore them off for years. I've since warmed up to them again partly out of necessity, but mostly out of convenience. I don't know the exact story why but anybody can park their vehicle off to the side in a Wal-Mart lot and sleep. No hassles and no charge. Next time you are at a store after dark pay attention to the perimeter of the lot and you will inevitably notice several vehicles. You'll see truckers, RVs , and even seedy busted ass vans that look like they should have a "Free Candy" sign taped to the side. There are still regular enough looking vehicles to represent average Joes like me. It's not glamorous but there is running water and most anything to buy right at your disposal. It smacks of dirt bag at first but that quickly subsides after you realize all the good stories that you are making. My first lot stop was in Russellville, Arkansas. It was a good intro to Wal-Mart camping with no odd characters lurking about. I must have been that character.

Daylight came round again and with it me in the driver seat facing west. Oklahoma greeted me with rolling hills and lush trees. I let this countryside slip past though, the desert was beckoning me from hundreds of miles away. I had never been to Texas and had no expectations as I crossed the state line. I immediately found myself confronted by the most memorable stereotype of all. Everything in Texas is bigger.

As I got a little farther past the state line I was intrigued with how the the land was taking shape. Scruffy brush peppered the ground everywhere and rains had created gulleys and washouts over time. With nothing but the brush and grass to hold the soil together the gulleys would grow and deepen giving rise to small mesas. This didn't last for long though and I found myself surrounded by an area that bore a striking resemblance to Kansas. I guess it was foolish to think that I would be able to cross the Midwest unscathed. I have to admit that I possess a strong topographic bias towards mountains and feel uneasy in an area that is so flat and wide open. The rest of the Texas panhandle was like this and after Amarillo the monotony was only broken by the occasional cattle ranch or small town. As I approached the New Mexico state line the landscape changed abruptly. The powers that be certainly drew the state line appropriately. Suddenly there were mesas off in the distance with buttes mingled in intermittently. I was relieved to have something new to look at. Old abandoned windmills stood idly spinning in the wind. With no other structures in sight I wondered if they were possessed any purpose other than serving as reminders of yesteryear. I wasn't too many miles into the state when I started seeing numerous signs for Cline's Corner. With all the hooplah I decided it would be worth it to check it out. It was conveniently located right off the interstate where I was exiting so it worked out.
I couldn't help but wonder if it was the New Mexico equivalent of Pedro's South of the Border. After arriving I realized that Pedro's still reigns supreme as the all time tourist trap but Cline's did have a nice back parking lot where I was able to watch my first sunset in the state. Once the sun was all but gone I hit the road again and started heading north on 285 to Santa Fe. Light was fading fast but I was still able to make out the mountain ranges looming in the distance on the horizon. I was a little disappointed to not be able to see them in detail but that sunset was absolutely worth it.

It was dark as I finally wheeled into Santa Fe. Once I located the Wal-Mart there I went about trying to find the way in and found myself having a bit of a time. It was dark, unfamiliar, and convoluted – the perfect navigational trifecta for conjuring creative cuss words. Once there I was immediately surprised by how many RVs and other vehicles were littered around the perimeter. Some were passing through while others seemed to be regulars. I couldn't fault anybody, this was a five star location for lot surfers. After taking care of Nualla and exploring a bit I settled in for the night.

I was at a loss as to what to do around Santa Fe. Road trips are better left unplanned and it's more interesting to simply let the journey unfold before you. With this in mind I began asking around about cool things to check out in the area. I had to be particular though because of the heat and having a dog. There was no way she could hang out in the car for any length of time. I decided on going to an REI store as surely there would be somebody there in the know. After some conversation and map scrutinizing I was headed up the mountain to the Santa Fe Basin. Located here is the winter resort Ski Santa Fe but the area has plenty to offer for the warm months as well. I had been told to check out the Winsor trail and it ended up being exactly what I was looking for. Compared to Santa Fe's elevation of 6800, the parking area at the trail head was just over 10,000 feet. With the change in elevation came a very pleasant decrease in temperature. This trail was the perfect warm up for the climbs ahead of me. The whole area had a very similar feel to Summit County and the hiking I am most used to in Colorado. I climbed as high as my water supply and the thin air would allow. I was greeted with a terrific view of the back side of the basin and decided this was a good place to turn back.

After running around in the woods I made my way back down the mountain to Santa Fe. I didn't like 20 more degrees stacked on the thermometer but I did enjoy the area. I was really impressed with the overall feel of the town and how unique its layout and architecture was.

The sun was relentless and I wouldn't have been sad if a cloud happened to obscure it for a minute or two. No such luck in the desert though. I had spent my day in Santa Fe and now wanted to see what Taos had to offer. I decided on taking the scenic high road to Taos so I would get a better glimpse into what New Mexico was about. On my way out of Santa Fe I ended up driving past a roadside attraction called Camel Rock. Based on the typical angle of pictures taken I was never able to tell how it got its name. Not to be outdone I managed to take a particularly well timed photo out of 3 or so as I cruised by on the highway. The rock appears to be a camel laying down while looking completely perpendicular to it.

Once on the road to Taos I was amazed at the differences in the countryside and how quickly it could change. I would be in the arid and scruffy desert one minute and the next be surrounded by a forest of pine trees. The landscapes would fluctuate back and forth through the winding roads as I neared my destination and kept the ride anything but mundane.

The sun was setting as I cruised into town and I tried checking my phone for directions. I didn't realize it until the next day but a fiber optic cable had been cut and the entire area was without internet or cell service. I was able to check out the town pretty well as I cruised back and forth looking for the Wal-Mart. In my wanderings around town I remember seeing a character walking on the roadside with his dog.
After making a pass or two through town I found my way to the store. I parked in the etcetera side of the lot where I shared space with a "free candy" looking van as well as a brightly colored, custom painted van. While settling in for the night I saw the character from earlier approaching with his dog. He had long blonde dreadlocks and a left eye that would wander around. His dog seemed to carry itself very deliberately while still being friendly and approachable. Come to find out, Rick and Socks were their names. After talking with Rick for a bit he spoke of his blind eye, his run ins with authority figures overstepping their boundaries, living out in the desert part time, and making yurt tents amongst other things. He was nice and shared with me the directions to a hot springs way off the beaten path right on the side of the Rio Grande river. Between that and checking out the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge I knew what I would be doing the next day.

While going in to the bathroom the next morning I saw Socks laying down inside a shopping cart waiting for Rick outside of the bathrooms. I didn't even notice him at first because he was so still. It was odd too how people disregarded the dog as if it were either commonplace or they didn't want to initiate a conversation with Rick. That sticks out in my memory because Socks was so well behaved and seemed to enjoy being pushed around in a cart like a child. I wished him a good journey and set out for the hot springs.

I saw the road to turn on right as I drove past it so I was already off to a good start. Anything beats making several passes back and forth looking for something. I was pretty skeptical from Rick's meandering directions but was pleasantly surprised as I noticed every landmark he mentioned. 20 minutes of driving saw me at the trail head for Manby Hot Springs. I was taken aback at the beauty of the river and how it had slowly made its mark. Over time it had eroded away hundreds of feet of dirt and rock into the canyon walls that are present today. Its impressiveness didn't fade as I neared the bottom of the canyon on the hiking trail. I had also heard that the hot springs were clothing optional and truth be told I was greeted with a pale white butt when I showed up. Figures, let your freak flag fly! There were two different people hanging out when I showed up but they drifted off towards the top of the canyon. I enjoyed the solitude of my surroundings until a whole family, complete with grandparents, showed up. They were a bit loud and I felt it was their turn so I began to get my things together. I made it a point to jump in the river before leaving though. It was nice and cold and helped the hike back up from being too hot.

Once back on the highway and off of the washer board gravel road I made good time to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Hiking down the canyon to the river is one thing but to be directly over it looking down is entirely different. It was quite a drop down from the bridge and I imagine that anybody who isn't fond of heights would never set foot on it.

Further yet up the road is a famous earthship community out in the middle of the desert. Earthships have always held my interest as I have studied them in the past. They are designed to be completely self sustaining houses independent of the grid. Fortunately they had several structures for visitors to look at, including one that was under construction.

As I continued north towards Colorado there were scores of dirt devils popping up all around. I could see the odd one or two off in the distance at the end of sight as well as others that were nearer. At one point I took a detour off into the desert to check it out. Suddenly, one manifested out of a dry creek bed near my car. I fumbled around with my camera but unfortunately couldn't get a decent picture. It didn't last long before it expelled all its energy and disappeared just as quickly. If the whirlwind were sentient then it seemed like it had gotten shy in front of a camera. I made my way back to the road after the brief detour and before long was back in Colorado. 

As I got further north I noticed a huge dark ominous cloud looming out on the horizon. I followed it to the source and realized that the massive cloud was the West Fork fire blazing away. It was eerie how it could so strongly influence light and visibility. I ended up driving right through it and had to deal with the smoke for an hour and a half. The smoke had my eyes watering and Nualla sneezing. A normal drive turned into a surreal experience when I had to think about the number of trees and property being burned to produce such quantities of smoke. I kept plugging along and made it through to clear skies. I soon found myself in familiar territory and it was just a matter of time before arriving back in Summit County. I am fortunate to know good people and I was able to stay at a friend's house. (Thanks Lori!) The peak bagging would soon begin.