A July 4th Hike Up Mount Evans

IMG_3942.jpgThis Independence Day was a strange one. It was a day with all sorts of mixed feelings. The first is related to the holiday. I love the United States of America, and feel extremely blessed to have been born and live here. However, something just feels a bit off right now. Without getting too into it, as travel and adventure is supposed to be an escape from all of this nonsense, I do not feel that our current political climate is in line with what this country was originally intended to be about. Based on the values of the Enlightenment, we escaped from tyranny and intended to set up a nation where the impact of politics and government on our lives is limited. People feeling that government is important enough that they will de-friend and even act violently towards those that support a different political party just doesn’t feel like America to me.

I was also somewhat mixed about the event. Mount Evans is one of two 14ers (peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation) with a paved road to the top, meaning that people can get to the top of this mountain in their cars (or on a bike). In fact, I know someone who drove to the very same peak on the same day.

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I also wasn’t too crazy about leaving Denver at 4 in the morning to arrive at the Summit Lake parking lot just before sunrise.

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14ers close to Denver are quite popular, and there was concern about parking availability. In many of my social circles, I find myself among the least cautious. It’s not that I want to go around being reckless, taking risks for the sake of risks. I would just rather deal with things occasionally going wrong than all the missed opportunities and additional stress that comes from being averse to risk.

However, the big picture is that I am hiking to the top of a tall mountain. Waking up two hours earlier than I wanted to guarantee a parking spot at the trailhead is a small compromise, and not one that takes me anywhere near a place where risk avoidance is costing me opportunities. There were also some benefits from starting that early, as each hour of the day is unique in the mountains, and the time around sunrise can be quite magnificent.

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Less than twenty minutes into the hike, the sun emerged from behind both the clouds and mountain peaks on the horizon.

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They do not call these mountains the Rocky Mountains for nothing. Many of these high elevation hikes are both steep and rocky.

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I would definitely recommend some form of hiking boots or trail shoes to traverse terrain like this.

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The trail climbs pretty quickly right from the start. Less than an hour into the hike, which is a slow hike, averaging little more than a mile per hour, I began to see Grays and Torreys Peaks, the first 14ers I ever climbed, five years ago.

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It wouldn’t be long before that top of the world feeling emerged. This is because, the trek up Mount Evans from Summit Lake is actually two peaks. The first one, Mount Spalding, is only 158 feet shy of being a 14er itself, and has its own scramble to the top.

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Like Grays and Torreys, there are many places where hikers conquer two peaks at once. This hike felt very much like this, despite the fact that Mount Spalding does not count as a “14er”.

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Saddling between the two peaks was rocky, shaded, and breathtaking. It may have been my favorite part of the hike.

It was kind of strange to reach the summit only to see all the people who had just driven all the way up. We were also able to look down upon the lot where we had parked a couple of hours earlier.

From the top of the road, there is actually an additional 134 feet of climbing to the peak, at 14,264 feet.

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We also got a chance to get up close and personal with the mountain goats, who seemed strangely inclined to hang out relatively close to the road.

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With the steep rocky sections, and the climb back up Mount Spalding, the return hike was only slightly easier than the climb.

We also encountered a crew of trail maintenance volunteers. I cannot overstate how much I appreciate their work. I had not previously seen them working, but I know they work hard on behalf of the Colorado outdoors, and are an important part of the mission to encourage others to get outside, get active, and enjoy nature.

Then, at the bottom of the trail, we encountered more wildlife- sheep.

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I am somewhat in awe of these animals, both the goats at the top and the sheep near Summit Lake. They live their lives on the steepest of all hills. I wonder if they ever fall over, but it feels like they don’t. I spent half the downward trek grabbing onto rocks with my hands for balance, despite having a good pair of hiking boots. The goats and the sheep, they just walk up and down these steep, slippery, and rocky hills like it’s nothing.

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We got back to the car before noon. By the end of the hike, I really did not know what to feel. Hiking to the top of a tall mountain is no longer a new experience for me. It’s beautiful but familiar. 2018 so far has been quite emotional for me already, dealing with issues related to our mean spirited and way to identity-driven political climate, as well as drama related to my career, social standing, and even identity. Maybe, at this point in time, I do not need some kind of grand emotional response to my activities. I just need to enjoy them, laugh with friends, and see nature for the majesty that it is. That was good enough for me before I started writing this blog, and some things are indeed true regardless of time, place and culture.

An Intense Hike Outside of Boulder

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Colorado has some really intense hikes! Places like these, where steep terrain features rise up out of the ground like gigantic walls, are breathtaking beyond belief, but also intimidating for hikers. Most people commonly think of places like these as being tucked away in the densely packed mountains of the Central Rockies, hours away from Denver and Boulder, or even further away, in the canyons of the West. However, there is a hike, a challenging hike, with just this kind of feature just outside of Boulder.

Bear Creek is a hike that, in some way, feels similar to hiking up a 14er (A peak whose elevation is greater than 14,000 feet). Its total elevation gain is right around 2800 feet, and the hike up Bear Peak, along with its neighboring peak, South Boulder Peak, has frequently been described as a great way to train for a 14er. It can be accessed from two points, both just outside of Boulder; the Mesa Lab and Eldorado Canyon State Park. The later has a $5 parking fee, but offers a somewhat more pleasant hike.

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From a distance, the flatirons have some amount of intimidation factor, particularly for those who are relatively inexperienced with respect to hiking. It is, after all, a fairly abrupt transition between the flatness of the Plains to the East and the rugged terrain of the mountains that are a near constant feature for miles to the West.

From Eldorado Canyon, the hike has two parts to it. The first part is relatively easy, and actually persists for a somewhat surprisingly long distance, just over two miles.

Deer run through a gently sloped field jumping in and out of the bushes. Flowers of all colors appear alongside the trail. The mountain features gradually get closer. However, this is all just a set-up, kind of a prelude. It turns out to be a warm up that lasts nearly half the hike. After that the trail runs right into Shadow Canyon, where everything changes quite abruptly.

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All of a sudden, the wide open trail and wide open spaces all collapse into densely packed trees and rocks, shade, and a tight single-file tail.

It also becomes quite steep!

Over a 1.2 mile stretch, the trail gains 1600 feet in elevation, going pretty much straight up most of the way. Only towards the top are there any switchbacks. In this case, the switchbacks actually make it easier. The slope of the trail becomes far less intense, than the stair-steps that are nearly constant for about a mile. It ends up being a good reminder of why switchbacks are commonly used on roads and trails.

There are two peaks at the top, less than a mile apart, Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak. Getting to both peaks involves a sketchy, rocky scramble.

This is only the last few hundred yards. On both peaks there is reasonable cause to be nervous. The rocks can be both slippery and unstable, and the terrain is steep in all directions.

Both peaks also offer views of both the mountains to the West and Boulder and the Plains to the East.

Bear Peak is a little bit closer to town. It may be one of the best places to overlook Boulder and the surrounding area in its entirety. One thing that can almost always be observed when looking at some of these Colorado towns from above is how many trees are planted by people in cities. Just east of the Rocky Mountains, trees do not naturally grow. The distinction between what is natural and what isn’t can be seen quite clearly. It is almost more evident than any of Boulder’s actual features, such as downtown or CU campus.

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The view of the mountains from South Boulder Peak is not all that different from Bear Creek, but still feels like the better view.

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Looking in the other direction from South Boulder Peak, as the day wares on, a reminder appears, as to unique of a year 2018 has been.

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According to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, several major fires are ravaging the state, leading to fire restrictions in all but some of the northernmost counties and even some prolonged closures on major Colorado highways.

By the start of July, the haze from these fires had become a near permanent feature of the afternoon sky. The appearance of a thick low cloud with an orange tint on an otherwise perfectly clear day serves as a reminder that no two experiences, even if in the same place at the same time of day and year, are exactly the same. The weather, just like many other aspects of our lives and culture, is always changing. There are times that are considered “normal” and other times that are considered “abnormal”. Sometimes what is considered “abnormal” beings to appear more frequently, or persists longer than expected. In these cases, it is natural to speculate, but only the future will truly settle whether what is normal is shifting, or whether the world is destined to shift back to what was previously considered normal.

Cycling from Colorado Springs to Denver

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It started with a two hour bus ride, from Denver to Colorado Springs, on something called the Bustang. Bustang is a pretty good service for cyclists in Colorado, as each bus has bike racks on the front. It would be a great service with more schedule options. For anyone thinking of making this journey, the only real option is the 7:35 A.M. departure from Denver, which arrived in downtown Colorado Springs just after 9:30.

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Colorado Springs is an interesting town. People who think about Colorado Springs often think about one of two things; its affiliation with Christian conservative causes, as it is where Focus on the Family is headquartered, and Pike’s Peak, the mountain that towers over the city to the west.

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Pike’s Peak is actually only the 20th tallest peak in the State. Yet, it is often amongst the most visited and talked about because, compared to many of Colorado’s other mountains, it is relatively isolated.

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Perhaps most importantly, Colorado Springs is among the most active and fittest cities in America.

This was apparent as I began to pedal north from downtown Colorado Springs. The Pike’s Peak Greenway, was quite crowded for much of the journey, with joggers, packs of runners, and other cyclists.

At the northern border of Colorado Springs, the Pike’s Peak Greenway connects to the New Santa Fe Trail. Both of these trails are part of a long term plan to create what is being called the Front Range Trail, a network of trails that will eventually cross the entire state from the Wyoming border to the New Mexico border, through many of Colorado’s most populated cities. Sings for the Front Range Trail have already been put in place here.

For some riders, the New Santa Fe Trail has the potential to be the roughest part of the ride. Much of it is both uphill, and unpaved. It also runs right through the property of the United States Air Force Academy.

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Many sections of it are quite rough, probably more suitable for mountain bikes than road or touring bikes. Along this stretch, there were about half a dozen instances where I had to dismount and walk my bike for a short distance.

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It was still a beautiful place to bike. The trail cuts through fields of Piñon Pines, and Monument Creek creates some picturesque mini-cliffs in front of the mountains.

However, although the journey up the hill is actually quite subtle, with no switchbacks or steep climbs, it did take more time and energy than anticipated to get to Palmer Lake, the high point of the trip, at an elevation of about 7,300 feet (2225 m).

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The next part of the ride was my favorite, north along Perry Park Road. This section is mostly downhill, but with some rolling hills. It was a wonderful 25 mile per hour ride on a smooth road, with bright blue skies, wide open spaces, rock formations popping out on both sides around every turn, and a light cooling breeze.

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There are a few route options at this point, and following Perry Park Road as long as I did, a little over 10 miles to Tomah Road, does bypass the town of Larkspur. I found it worthwhile, as I was enjoying the ride, but it does mean a total of about 20 miles between towns.

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Turning East, Tomah Road was actually the most challenging climb on the entire ride. The total climb is pretty small, from about 6200 feet to just over 6800. However, that climb occurred in less than two miles, and can be unexpected, as Castle Rock is at 6200 feet and this climb came from one of the subtle terrain features east of the Rocky Mountains.

After climbing and descending Tomah Road, the route was follows the Frontage Road along I-25 for about four miles into Castle Rock. Despite it being right next to the interstate, the road was quite crowded, and with no shoulder. It was probably the least enjoyable part of the ride.

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This was also where I struggled the most. It was the hottest part of the day, and after the unanticipated challenges, I began to doubt whether or not I could complete the ride. In these situations, it is usually good to stop and take a rest. The additional time it took on the unpaved trail up Monument Hill had set me back at least half an hour, but I definitely needed a rest, a snack, and, most importantly, I had a coke.

Maybe it was the caffeine, maybe it was the sugar, but the coke re-energized me, and I was back on my way.

Crawfoot Valley Road, the road that connects Castle Rock and Parker was surprisingly crowded. It is a good thing there is a wide enough shoulder for bikes. This area is growing quite rapidly, and seems to get busier every time I ride this segment.

My next burst of energy was actually mental, which is usually the battle we are actually facing when we decide to undertake physical challenges like this. In Parker, the route connects to the Cherry Creek Trail, an amazing trail that is fun, well kept, and mostly flat.

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From here, it is 30 miles to downtown Denver. This sign (the Cherry Creek Trail has one every 1/2 a mile, but this is the first one I saw when I joined the trail) felt like a welcoming of sorts, to the home stretch. The final 30 miles of the trip would feel like a victory lap.

I knew there was only one real climb remaining, the part where the trail goes around the Cherry Creek Reservoir.

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It reminded me of this weird place we often find ourselves in life, where we know some sort of “victory” is coming. We can sense it on the horizon. We are anticipating it. However, it is not there yet. There is still some amount of work that needs to be done, and there is still some things that can go wrong.

Is it too soon to start feeling good about ourselves? Can we start celebrating something that is “about” to happen? Or, do we remain cautious and diligent, understanding that although we feel we deserve this victory, it has not yet happened, and it is still not yet time to celebrate?

That was how the final 30 miles felt for me. The first half went by fast. However, as I got closer and closer, anticipation increased, and this “homestretch” seemed to drag on.

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At that point, there really is no choice but to pound out that final ten miles, with those mixed emotions. I knew I had persevered, ended up having to take on more than expected, and would arrive at home triumphant that I had ridden my bike from Colorado Springs to Denver. However, I would have to keep pedaling those last few miles before I could check that box off my internally kept bucket list.

Moose at Rocky Mountain National Park

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We humans seem to have some kind of fascination with moose. There must be something about that animal. Several years ago I was on a weekend ski trip in Breckenridge. The condo our group stayed in had a moose theme. Every decoration .. moose. The pictures hung on the wall. The design on the pillows. Even the back of the couches. It was impossible to rotate my head more than 15 degrees without seeing six new images of moose, in one form or another.

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It is nearly impossible to drive around Colorado, or anywhere in the West, without eventually seeing cars with decals like this one.

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Two years ago, when I rode my bike through the White Mountains of Central New Hampshire, I saw advertisements for numerous “Moose Tours”, in the town of Lincoln, NH. These tours involve a bunch of people crowding in a van of some sorts and heading out into the wilderness to look for moose. A subsequent Google search revealed page after page of companies offering moose tours. There are a lot in New Hampshire, some in Maine, a bunch in Canada. There are even “Moose Safaris” in Norway and Sweden!

Added altogether, there has to be at least hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who earn a livelihood helping tourists see moose!

I woke up on a mid-summer Saturday morning without a real plan. I wanted to go by instinct, as I’ve been trying to avoid overtaking things lately. That instinct told me to head to Grand Lake, a place I had actually not been to before.

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Grand Lake is perhaps best known for having Colorado’s largest naturally occurring lake, however, the town itself is pretty interesting too.

Just West of Rocky Mountain National Park, it attracts a lot of visitors and tourists, not unlike Estes Park, the more well known town east of the park. Compared with Estes, it is a little bit quieter, and the buildings also have somewhat of a more western feel.

It is also apparently near the part of Rocky Mountain National Park where visitors are most likely to find moose. I had no idea when I decided to hit up the Green Mountain Trail, the first major trailhead one encounters after entering the National Park from the West.

I just knew I wanted to be out in nature, and have a break from my pursuits back in Denver. I knew there was some sort of healing power in being immersed in a place like this.

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I wasn’t even tracking my progress along the trail. I wasn’t thinking about where I was, where I was headed, or what I was hoping to see. I was just there, in the moment, in the deep evergreen forests of the Upper Colorado River valley, apparently headed for a meadow, when a woman walked up to me and told me that there was a family of moose 200 feet past the next trail junction, in the meadow, where moose are typically expected to be spotted.

I must admit, that although I do not count myself as one of those moose obsessed people, when I heard this, I got extremely excited- almost giddy. It was a feeling that is hard to explain. It felt almost like the excitement that comes over someone’s entire body when they suddenly hear their favorite song, or that their secret crush asked about them, or that their best friend got them tickets to see their favorite performer. It’s that suddenly bubbly feeling that often comes more frequently from anticipation than an actual event.

They first appeared in the distance, walking up toward big meadow. Two other families were watching them, in awe.

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It is never a good idea to get too close to moose. They are dangerous and powerful. This was about as close as I wanted to get.

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Even from somewhat of a protected distance, it was still an amazing experience. We watched them gradually walk downstream along the Tonahutu Creek in this wide open meadow. I am really not sure if they saw us at all. I imagine they did, but serious did not care. It is as if the moose are the ones that have perfected the art of not caring about the judgements of those around them.

I am actually nearly 100% certain that had there not been a bunch of humans taking pictures of them and watching them slowly walk by, they would not be acting any differently. Maybe I deeply respect that about them. If only more of us humans can learn to stop relying on the approval and attention of others.

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What is it about these creatures that capture so many of our imaginations? There are, after all, plenty of large mammals to be spotted on this planet. What makes the moose worthy of hundreds of tour companies in Eastern North America, decals on countless SUVs, and an entire section of nearly every Western themed home decoration store.

It is probably that the quest to spot a moose has all of the ingredients that any other worthwhile life quest could have. As is the case with learning a new skill like car repair, finding the right date for a school dance, or finding a rare collectable, it is a challenge, a deep one, but an obtainable one. This is important because if a challenge seems impossible, it would not be taken on by too many people. People who do not believe in the existence of BigFoot are not going to go searching for it.

There is also something amazing about the end result. This is important because there has to be some sort of reward that makes the challenge worth pursuing. I do not see a market for a 1,000 piece puzzle that is pure white, with no color, picture, or design. The end result would be nothing. Moose are something.

They are also unique, at least in the realm of the experiences the average human being has throughout their lives, but unique in a non-threatening way. Finding a moose in an open meadow is the right kind of unique. It is a unique people can relate to based on their own experiences, having likely seen something somewhat similar, like a horse, or some of the animals at the zoo. It is not too far out there for one to relate to.

So, in a way, seeing a moose after trying and failing a bunch of times, is a metaphor for obtaining the things we most cherish in this life. We have to work for it. There is some amount of reliance on luck. The reward is something amazing and unique, but also tangible, obtainable, and relatable. Now I understand why so many people love these creatures.

The Largest Farmers Market in the USA

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It is the farmers market that ruined me for all other farmers markets. When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, for several years, I would regularly attend the Dane County Farmer’s Market, the largest producer-only farmer’s market in the country. Every Saturday morning during the warm season, the entire capital square would be filled with vendors, selling fresh produce, flowers, baked goods, and, of course, because this is Wisconsin, cheese and meat.

Each Saturday, between 9 A.M. and noon, crowds of people pack the sidewalks that surround the capitol square, creating a lively scene. It was enough volume, enough activity, that every other farmer’s market I visited after this one has left me asking “Is this it”?

That is partially because the Dane County Farmers Market is a unique experience in a unique place. It was included as a “must see” in the book 1,000 Places to See in the USA & Canada Before You Die.

The book, however, was published in 2007, and a lot has changed since then. One distinct characteristic of the 21st century is the presence of simultaneous contradictory trends. For example, we have a new generation of people emerging who both spend over nine hours per day in front of screens and prefer face-to-face interactions. Likewise, while obesity rates continue to climb, people are also becoming more health conscious and more aware of the food they consume.

Specifically, with detox diets, and awareness of the amount of waste caused by our food distribution system, more and more people are desiring locally sourced food. This can be seen at grocery stores and even some restaurants, where more and more displays indicate that food was produced on a “local” farm. Farmers markets are expanding everywhere to meet this increasing demand to buy locally produced preservative free produce. Some lists of top farmers markets in the USA published more recently do not even include the Dane County Farmers Market.

The Dane County Farmers Market still certainly represents a unique experience, as it has always been about more than just the vendors.

As far as I can remember, Madison has always been a very political town. On all four corners of the square, booths promoting political causes and local candidates are an expected presence. Along the roads that radiate outward from the Capitol Square, more interesting activity can be found, including live performances, some additional vendors and demonstrations of activities like wood carving, and even an impromptu children’s play area placed in front of the children’s museum.

I would say that Madison, Wisconsin is certainly more interesting than most towns around this size. The college campus guarantees plenty of interesting cultural activities. The pedestrian mall, State Street, that connects the capitol with campus is always active, even if it does have a speed limit that just begs people to break it… on their bicycles.

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And there are the lakes, four of them to be exact, of pretty good size, one of which is directly adjacent to the University.

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The city has two other characteristics that, having visited a lot of different places, feel quite surprising.

One is how strong drinks are mixed here, particularly on State Street. I ordered a make-your-own-bloody mary at one of the many establishments on State Street. Restaurants that offer this beverage typically provide a glass with vodka to mix with the other ingredients at the bloody mary bar. This is the only place where the glass provided to me was filled halfway up! Mixed drinks at other bars are also quite strong compared to the ones in most other cities.

From a now outsider perspective, it is also surprising to see how politically one-sided Madison is. Signs promoting events and groups, conversations around town and even signs in front of local businesses are quite frequently politically charged, way more so than in most other cities and towns. They are all from one side. It is as if those on the other side had been silenced or run out of town. In a State that is quite close to evenly divided politically, it feels strange to be in a place where one side has near 100% dominance of the discussion.

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Sometimes I find it depressingly easy for people who live in cities to forget what region they are in, on a larger scale. Traveling around the country, it often feels like all cities are tying to build the exact same amenities as each other; luxury apartments, shared workspaces, microbreweries, and art galleries. In my current hometown of Denver there is a constant reminder of where we are, the mountains to the West which tower over the skyscrapers of the city. The Midwest does not have that, however, seeing booth after booth selling cheese curds, other agricultural products, and products like venison jerky is as clear of a reminder to any that Madison is part of Wisconsin, which is part of the Midwest.

The Surf Ballroom; A little bit of History in Iowa

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When one thinks of Iowa, a specific image comes to mind: One of soft rolling hills, and farms as far as the eye can see in all directions, where the sky can sometimes take on a characteristically midwestern form of murky thin cloudiness, giving a feeling that is neither cloudy nor sunny. Traveling across the state, this scene shifts quite little as the miles go by. The scenery is as steady and reliable as the culture.

Some people have a deep appreciation for the role that this corridor plays in agriculture and transportation, as indicated by this wall art at the Worlds Largest Truck Stop.

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Others find it monotonous and unbearable. People have even written parodies about how uninteresting and unpleasant a drive across Iowa is. However, as is the case with most places, there is more to it than what one will see from an interstate highway, whose primary purpose is to provide the most efficient route between cities for trucks.

Tucked away among the endless miles of corn fields are a surprising number of lakes that cannot be seen from the interstate.

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As well as the sites of a surprising amount of our history.

Most music fans are familiar with “The Day the Music Died“, February 3, 1959, when three of Rock and Roll’s biggest stars were all killed in a tragic plane crash. It was an event that nearly torpedoed the still young music genre’s rise to the top. It had the potential to significantly change the path music took for the remainder of the 20th Century, which could have had a major effect on the social and political movements that transformed our society from the middle of the century to where it is today.

What few people know, though, is that all of this occurred in Northern Iowa, in a town called Clear Lake. Clear Lake is a town not unlike many other towns in Iowa, and the structure and establishments feel generally like anywhere in the Midwest.

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Like many place in Iowa, it has a surprisingly beautiful lake, depicted at its best by this postcard.

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It is also home to the Surf Ballroom, the last place anyone would ever hear the three stars of early rock and roll on the night of February 2, 1959.

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Why they chose to play at this spot, on this date, feels both natural and confusing at the same time.

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Perhaps because it is well preserved in its 1950s form, the venue itself feels like the exact place one would expect to hear Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valley, and the Big Bopper. It was also likely the right size, given the types of crowds that a music genre that was hot, but not quite mainstream would attract at that time in history.

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With traveling being a little more difficult than today, as the interstate highway system was just being built and flying was more likely to be prohibitively expensive, it seems logical for tours to come to smaller towns. Today, it would be more likely for musical acts to have tours that cover larger distances, such as a North American tour. Fans in Clear Lake would be expected to come to Des Moines or Minneapolis to see a show. Then, it was harder on both the band and the fans. However, I still wonder, why Iowa, and why in winter? Inclement weather is one of the reasons for the plane crash.

Another is how the tour, labelled the 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour, was planned, as indicated by this display.

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They toured by bus. So, having a tour date in Kenosha right after Milwaukee makes logistical sense. After that, the schedule had them meandering all over the place. These dates were all back-to-back. The show at the Surf Ballroom came at a particularly grueling time, having played in Green Bay, WI the night before, and having a show scheduled in Morehead, MN the next day. Frustrated, Buddy Holly chartered a plane to the next show- the plane that would kill the three performers. One could say that February 3rd was the “Day the Music Died”, but it was a combination of poor planning and a harsh Midwestern winter that killed it.

However, as anyone reading this in the 21st Century knows quite well, the music didn’t really die that day. A few years later, rock music would be infused with fresh life, in the form of new bands that would later be counted amongst the best of all time. The Surf Ballroom also refused to let the music die. They continued to host musical performances of all kinds, and still do to this day. They have hosted some of the all time greats.

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It probably helped that the venue itself did a good job of finding the right balance, between preserving this key moment in history…

 

While also staying in the here and now.

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Road trips are certainly more appealing when they involve more than just traveling from one destination to another, but rather, leave time to explore some of the places in between. Every place that exists, big or small, new or old, has a story to tell. The story of one small town, one of many, tucked away behind the interstate by one of Iowa’s gentle rolling hills, certainly ignites the desire to explore more, eagerly anticipating what is around the next corner, over the next hill, just beyond the horizon.

Memorial Day Tornados in Eastern Colorado

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2018 has not been an active year for tornados. With May, the most active month for tornados nearly complete, only 416 tornados have been reported.

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This is, by any scientific measure, over 35% lower than the long-term average, and according to the Storm Prediction Center, in the bottom quartile for tornado activity.

This Memorial Day storm chase almost came as a surprise. First of all, I typically travel Memorial Day Weekend, as does a lot of people. Also, with the season being as inactive as it has been, there had been plenty of days throughout May where forecast models looked promising for a good storm chase several days to a week ahead of time, only for the atmospheric setup to never materalize.

While some aspects of weather forecasting have become quite accurate, forecasting weather beyond a few days, and forecasting weather phenomenon on a small spatial scale remains a challenge. Thus, those that long to see what is perhaps nature’s most violent storm, tornados, can do one of two things. They can set aside a period of time, typically sometime either in May or early June to go out and look for storms.

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Several companies offer this service, a set 7 to 10 day chase in vans like these ones. However, even in May, there is no guarantee that any kind of active thunderstorms will be happening, let alone tornados. Those that have ever chased in this manner end up becoming familiar with all sorts of oddball attractions in the Great Plains!

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There are also those that keep an eye on weather outlooks, deciding to go when the setup looks good. This requires some often last minute decision making, and sometimes chaining plans. This is what I did on Memorial Day. A day that started out slowly, with brunch in Cherry Creek, quickly transitioned to traveling due east out of Denver, straight into the storm.

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Still, even if this tactic guarantees that there will be activity, it does not guarantee that there will be tornadoes. There is still some element of luck to it.

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Near the tiny town of Cope, Colorado, the sky had an interesting orange hue to it with what appeared to be a funnel cloud. This can actually happen quite frequently without an actual tornado being spotted.

At that point in time, around 4:30 P.M., we made two decisions that would put us in the right position to view the tornados. First, we decided to get to the East side of the storms before they became big. Second, we decided, due to Eastern Colorado’s sometimes limited road network, to actually use dirt roads, something that can, at times, be dangerous in the case of a flood.

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The first tornado, Southwest of Cope, we saw kind of in the distance.

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We traveled south, along a dirt road, to get a closer view of it, however, we eventually saw it dissipate.

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Still, the entire time, cloud formations indicated a strong low-level rotation, conditions necessary for tornado development. There was even a “landspout” and several dust devils between the storms.

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Before long, two new tornados were spinning up, just a bit to the South and East of where we had seen the first one.

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The strange thing about these storms was that they were first visible on the ground, with clouds of debris extending outward from both emerging funnels.

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Watching them develop proved quite remarkable. First the funnels showed, then we actually got to see the darker clouds of debris around the funnel fill in from the ground up, forming two side-by-side fully mature tornados.

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The funnels were on the ground for about half an hour.

They gradually evolved, taking on different forms, giving way to yet another tornado, a bit further South and East, near a tiny town called Vona, CO.

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As a person with many interests, I only end up storm chasing several days per year. In the past several years, this was by far the most successful chase day. Even for the most knowledgable chasers, just seeing a tornado constitutes a successful day. Seeing four of them, as well as being able to watch tornados form is nothing short of amazing!

I am also always glad to see when tornados are not actually impacting people where they live. One thing I notice is that storm chasing continues to become more and more popular with time.

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There were several instances where we encountered large groups of people, just like this one, looking at and taking pictures of tornadoes. This is all good, but I do concern myself with how the people who live in these areas perceive this activity. We storm chasers should never be delighting in the destruction of anyone’s home or town, and I am concerned that the perception as such could lead to some resentment among the people who live in tornado prone areas, particularly the Great Plains, which far Eastern Colorado is part of.

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Not only was it one of the most successful chases of my life, but it also was quite possibly the most efficient chase I have ever been a part of. It started after what turned out to be a 90 minute brunch, and that evening I was back in Denver seeing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The perfect storm chase, like the perfect setup when it comes to things like jobs, relationships, communities and homes, results from the intersection of good decisions and good luck. The former can be controlled. The later cannot. Just as I have been on many other storm chases where my group made all the right decisions but still did not see any tornados, the same can happen in all of our pursuits. All we can do is continue to go out there, make the right decisions, execute properly, knowing that the luck will eventually materialize even if it takes several more tries.