Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Storm Chase Without Feedlots

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Just when I was concerned that the entire Northeastern section of Colorado had turned into one giant feedlot, yesterday I was able to go on a storm chase, completely (albeit barely) confined to the Northeastern Plains of Colorado, without encountering a single feedlot.  This is phenomenal news!  There actually is room for more!  If someone were to get elected Governor on a platform of wanting to reduce the price of beef to a dollar a pound and literally stop caring about the quality of the food we are consuming- it could be done!

After seeing the hail shaft pictured above, one of the first major events of our chase was getting tumbleweed stuck in the grill of the car.

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Tumbleweeds are often found in this part of the country.  In modern society, they have become synonymous with isolation, desolation, and decay, often portrayed as showing up in the wake of an economic decline or some kind of abandonment.  However, in this situation, the presence of tumbleweeds blowing across the highway was actually a positive sign for our mission, which is to see really cool storms.  The tumbleweeds were actually blowing across the road at this time of day because powerful inflow currents had developed, which fuels storms.  If I ever needed more reassurance that I had blazed my own path in life, and not followed the track that everyone else does, this is it.  I am in Northeastern Colorado and on a mission where seeing tumbleweeds blow across the road and get stuck in the car is a major positive sign.  Because it led to this.

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These funnel clouds did not quite reach the ground, but were still really cool to see.  These storms were seen near Sterling, Colorado.  Apparently, there is something about the location of this town that makes it especially susceptible to tornadoes.  I wonder if that is why their roads are in bad shape, and their light cycles are timed in such a way that it seems like they try to virtually guarantee that you will stopped at over 50% of all traffic lights in town.

We tracked the storms north out of Sterling (after we eventually got out of Sterling), towards the Nebraska border, where we saw a couple of other cool features.  First, some downdrafts, which are what leads to strong wind events, and then another funnel formed on the storm.  This funnel was rather small.  All this indicated that the atmosphere yesterday was marginally fit for tornado development, but not anything like the atmosphere that lead to the gigantic tornadoes in Oklahoma last week.

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Unfortunately, when you get out into this part of the country, good paved roads can be quite far apart from one another, in some cases over 20 miles.  Storms don’t really care where the roads are.  So, in this case, to continue to follow the storm circulation northeast of Sterling, we ended up having to take dirt roads.  The chase kind of ended on a dirt road that was literally less than half a mile from the Nebraska border.  At this point, we had kind of decided that we had already seen some really nice storms and it would be good to get home at a reasonable hour.  The storms we were looking at had kind of become one big cluster, which makes them hard to see anyways.

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For people hoping to get to as many states as possible, something like this would be frustrating.  It actually reminds me of a chase I had in 2003 where we spent a good deal of time in Nebraska, and on something like three occasions (on different days too) came within a mile of the border with South Dakota, but never entered the State.  I guess that would piss off people wanting to get to as many states as possible, but I have been in Nebraska a whole bunch of times, even been bored on a drive between Denver and Chicago where Nebraska, along I-80 feels like it goes on endlessly.  A couple of decades ago someone wrote a comedy song called “Interstate 80 Iowa”, basically mocking that 90% of what you encounter on that drive is corn.  But, when it comes to boredom, Interstate 80 Nebraska kind of blows Iowa out of the water!

Our final destination was Fort Morgan, where we went to a local pub to get some food.  This was around dark, so kind of late.  While there, another storm rolled through, producing some pretty major winds.  When looking outside at the wind, some of the locals at the restaurant looked at me and replied “Welcome to Morgan”.  This seemed to indicate to me that they knew we were not from the area and that those from the area do not even blink at stuff like this anymore.  We were something like 75 minutes East of Denver, but in a whole different world.  Upon reflection on this, I guess this Fort Morgan town can kind of be thought of as where “tornado alley” begins, with it stretching eastward from there to Missouri.  Pretty neat for a not all that exciting town.

Hiking With Dogs at Vedauwoo

My Memorial Day weekend has been pretty standard up until today. I got to spend some time out by the pool, went to the park for some games and grilling, and rode my bike a bit. You know, the standard kind of stuff someone is expected to do on Memorial Day Weekend. I stayed in town. Everything in town was more crowded than normal. But, the roads to get in and out of town were also more crowded than normal. What gives? More people going out of town, but also more people doing stuff in town. Where are all these people coming from? And, most significantly, where are all these people on an average summer weekend? Could they be doing nothing? That sounds weird to me.

Anyways, on Monday we decided to make a trip up to Wyoming to go to Vedauwoo. For those not familiar, Vedauwoo is a place between Cheyenne and Laramie with some unique rock formations. It is popular for Wyoming standards for both hiking and climbing.  Both the hiking and the climbing here are kind of moderate, as in, if you are looking for a really challenging hike or a really challenging climb, this is not the place to go.

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I like to bring my dog on some hikes.  To be honest, I do feel somewhat bad that a large majority of the activities I love do not involve the dog, and she usually ends up sitting at home alone all day.  Specifically, there are some places that fit a dog profile better than a human profile and visa versa.

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Vedauwoo is the kind of place where although the hikes are not physically challenging, there are some off-trail places you can go where the technical aspect of the hike gets kind of rough, specifically because of the rock formations.  While hiking up these rock formations, there were definitely some paths that we did not follow because they would be too hard for the dogs.  Three were also some places the dogs went that were tougher for humans.  Let’s just say that whatever limbo skills I do have definitely came in handy.

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The apex of the trails reach elevations of only about 8500 feet.  However, this was definitely more than enough to wear out the dogs, who are pictured here completely worn out.  Dogs simply do not have the stamina that humans have, and most people who are very serious about their activities tend to prefer to leave their dogs at home.  However, today was not about accomplishing the greatest hike of all time, or even doing any hard core training.  It was much more of a fun hike.  I mean, we did not leave Denver until 9 A.M., which in the hard core hiking world is a no-no.  But, the amazing thing about this place is how good of a view I got from relatively little effort.  Only 600-700 feet of vertical, and I was able to kind of feel on top of the world.  It actually reminds me of a place in Wisconsin I used to go to in my graduate school days called Devil’s Lake.  The hiking there is actually the best hiking I have ever done in the Midwest, but then again, there are no mountains there.   But the climbing distance and rockiness is somewhat similar.

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Overall, I think the amazing thing about this particular hike was that I was able to do this hike in an hour or so, even after I drank last night.  I am not an alcoholic, or someone that needs to drink, but I do enjoy going out and letting loose from time to time.  And, I would never do so if I was hoping to climb a 14er or something serious the next day, it is really nice to know that there are places out there where I can get in a satisfying hiking experience without having to give up the previous night, not bring the dog, etc.  While I plan to hike some more major places this summer, I think there is room for the challenging hikes as well as the lighter and more recreational activities.  In fact, the same can be said for any activity.  Sometimes we want to push ourselves to the limits and come away worn out, but sometimes we just want to have some fun, laugh a little, and enjoy our surroundings.

That kind of sums up the entire Memorial Day Weekend for me.  I went for a bike ride, but it was only 31 miles.  I spent some time at the pool, chilling with friends, dancing, etc.  I drank a little, but did not go out of control.  I spent some time at a park playing some games, and enjoying some good company as well.  And, well, also this hike.  I could have used this weekend to do a challenging 3-day ride, or go out of town somewhere that is hard to get to on a standard 2-day weekend.  In fact, I will probably use some subsequent weekends for the purpose of pushing myself to the limit on one particular activity I enjoy.  But, sometimes in life, you want the sampler platter.

A More Successful Storm Chase

I promise anyone that is reading this that this blog is going to have a good deal of variety.  I have a good deal of travel plans starting next week, in which I will be traveling almost non-stop the first half of June.  But, for now, I guess there are going to be two consecutive blogs about storm chasing.  It is May, the peak month for tornadoes, and I plan to blog about the interesting places that I go.  It just so happened to be that two back to back entries ended up being storm chases.  I mean, I am not going to blog about things that are not too interesting, like my dog chewing up my underwear yesterday.  I guess I could write about partying, but for now I am keeping this a travel blog.

This is my first season of chasing out of Denver, so I am still getting used to certain things about chasing from here rather than Chicago.  Storm chasing from Denver means that you will always be going east to try to catch the storms, and trying to catch them from behind.  This is the opposite of chasing from Chicago which almost always entailed going west.  Strong thunderstorms often form on a weather feature known as a dry line.  Dry lines are boundaries between dry and moist air, with moist air to the east and dry air to the west.  It took us a couple of hours to get to the moist side of the dry line (which is more favorable for storms), but when we first started to see storms form, we were still in a very dry air mass near Akron, Colorado.

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From now on, I am going to refer to U.S. highway 34 from Greeley to the Nebraska state line as “feed lot highway”.  I didn’t take another picture of the feedlots because one picture is enough, but I am still amazed by how may cows you encounter along this road in eastern Colorado.  I noticed that there is a gigantic feedlot about four miles west of the town of Wray, Colorado.  If there is a west wind, that town must smell horrible, and all 100 or so people must be pissed off.  There was a part of the drive when we were unable to get the smell of 1000s of cows all jammed up into something like 5 acres of land out of the car.  I remember the first time I drove by a feedlot (also on a storm chase).  I remember thinking that I had finally encountered a worse smelling road than the New Jersey Turnpike, and it only took me 19 years!

We chased four storms today.  The first two we caught up to near Holyoke, CO, about 35 miles north of Wray.  The first storm we caught actually showed some rotation, and produced some major hail.  I looked it up later, and the reports we saw indicated hail sizes of up to 2.75″.  Luckily for our chasing vehicle, we did not end up in that section of the storm, but we did see some smaller hail, as seen on the road in the below picture.

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We followed the first storm for a while, and then started following the storm just to the east of it.  Tracking this storm took us across the stateline into Nebraska.

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This is the best picture I could get of the welcome to Nebraska sign on state route 23.  One of the strange things that makes me happy is when a state highway crosses into another state and maintains the same number in the adjacent state.  This is actually somewhat rare.  For example, Indiana state highway 2 becomes Illinois state highway 17 when you cross the border.  If you look at state highways on a map, you will see that it is way more common for them to take on a different number when crossing a border.  But, this crossing was an exception, Colorado state highway 23 became Nebraska state highway 23!

By the way, when it comes to state welcome signs, Nebraska is without a doubt blown away by all of it’s neighbors.  South Dakota’s welcome sign has an image of Mount Rushmore.  Kansas’s has a sunflower.  Colorado’s is the classic wooden sign saying “Welcome to Colorful Colorado”.  Wyoming’s forever west ones are a neat depiction of the state’s cowboy heritage.  Iowa’s say “Fields of Opportunities”.  Okay, that is kind of a stupid slogan, but at least it is memorable.  Home of Arbor Day?  Really, Nebraska?  Of all the facts about your state that you could present to me every time I enter Nebraska, you chose Arbor Day?  I’d rather see a picture of Warren Buffet every time I enter the state.

Anyways, that storm kind of crapped out, so we went after a few storms a bit farther north, near Ogallala.  Here we actually saw a funnel cloud.  It did not reach the ground and therefore was not a tornado.  In fact, there were no tornadoes reported today, only large hail and strong winds.  So, seeing this, we did feel like bad-asses for being on the best storm of the day even if it was not a tornado.

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These pictures came north of Ogallala, near Lake Mcconaughy.  Basically, somewhere along the line someone decided to dam up the North Platter River just northeast of Ogallala, NE.  Behind it, as is typically the case with dams, a lake was created and suddenly Nebraskans had a place to bring their boats.  This is not too interesting of a story, but I am sure it is more interesting than Arbor Day.

The other problem we ran into was lack of a good road network in the area north and east of Ogallala.  Therefore, we had to let this particular storm, which was the most interesting one we saw today, go.  Luckily, there was one other storm behind it, tracking northeast from the west edge of Lake Mcconaghy.  So, we decided to watch this storm go by- well until sunset.

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At this ranch, where there were hundreds of cows out on the range, making plenty of noise (it was really funny actually), this spectacular sunset took place.  There was something kind of awe inspiring about the way the sun set gradually just to the left of a major thunderstorm that was producing frequent lightning.  It’s the kind of event that you really have to be there to truly appreciate, but let’s just say it was one of those things that really got me thinking.

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I tried to get a picture of lightning, but it is hard to do so with a cell phone camera.  But, I really liked the feeling of being on an empty two lane undivided road looking straight into a thunderstorm around sunset.  I think it just had a specific feeling to it.  It’s kind of like stepping into the unknown, and taking a path less traveled, but still knowing you are not going anywhere too terribly dangerous.  It is stepping far enough outside your comfort zone to generate an excitement in you, but not so far that you get truly scared, kind of like trying a new restaurant or taking a new class.

This scene also reminded me of a time in my life when roughly half of my weekends would start out this way; traveling on the open road on a Friday evening.  This was in college and graduate school when I would frequently be headed elsewhere in the general Midwest area; Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Ann Arbor, Saint Louis, Bloomington, Champaign, etc.  I remember months where I would literally have spent 24 total hours traveling, but realize that I had not even left the corn belt.  Most of those weekends actually ended up being somewhat similar.  They would involve parties (or bars, etc.) with a couple of people I knew, and a bunch of people I did not know.  It was exactly that mix of the familiar and the unknown that is captured by driving down a desolate road into a thunderstorm.  In a way, it is the balance we are all seeking.  Very few people are satisfied continuing to do the same thing over and over again for their entire lifespan.  So, we all must learn new things, meet new people, and develop new experiences.  But, we must all do so at our own pace.

As I watched the sun slowly descend the horizon I continued to ponder what it meant.  I thought to the feelings I had on those countless Friday and Saturday evenings on the road last decade.  It is usually about what lies ahead.  Sometimes life can get frustrating.  When life does get frustrating, it is the promise of some kind of new experience that can help alleviate the feeling of melancholy that attempts to infect your mind.

It is impossible to know what kind of storms you are going to see when storm chasing.  Anyone that says they only want to go storm chasing if they know they will see a tornado simply does not understand storm chasing and should not be invited on future chases.  The unknown needs to be embraced.  It is the same with traveling to a place you have never been to before, trying something you have never done before, or meeting someone new.  The place may be a disappointment, like when I was 8 years old and I thought Plymouth Rock would be bigger.  You could always try a new activity or a new type of food and discover you don’t like it.  And, we have all met assholes.  But, the uncertainty is part of what makes it exciting.  Any task where a certain outcome is guaranteed quickly becomes just another task, indistinguishable from work, chores, etc.

This is why I gamble.  This is why I go to parties and dance with complete strangers.  This is why I am always looking to go somewhere I have never been to before.  And, in a way, this is why I chase storms and study the weather.  There is always a chance for a surprise, which makes these experiences the exact opposite of watching a movie you have already seen.  I for one, cannot wait for my next journey into the unknown, regardless of what type of unknown it is.

Storm Chasing in Kansas and Nebraska

Yesterday, for the first time since moving to Denver, I went storm chasing.  Thanks to the movie Twister, the discovery channel’s TV series on storm chasers, and other media, most people are familiar with the practice of storm chasing.  Basically, it is groups of people driving around looking for severe thunderstorms.  Seeing a tornado would typically be the biggest prize of all, but I have seen some really amazing non-tornadic storms in the past, including one that where we measured 71 mph winds from our vehicle.  I used to chase storm a lot more back in college and graduate school, but the combination of a more regular work schedule (essentially the real world), being around less meteorologists, and higher gas prices have made this a less common occurrence for me.

One of the things I find the most interesting about storm chasing is that it commonly takes you to places you would not otherwise visit.  Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are most common on the Great Plains, an area a lot of people just fly over.  As a result of storm chasing, I have actually spent considerable time in the Great Plains from Texas north to South Dakota.  Yesterday’s chase was no different, as our initial target was near the borders of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska.  We head out East from Denver on I-76, exit at Fort Morgan to take U.S. 34 East to Wray, CO.  On the way there, one thing I keep seeing is cows.  These gigantic lots of cattle seem to show up everywhere in Eastern Colorado.  I remember seeing a few on previous storm chases, and a couple of big ones when I went to Greeley last year, but I must have come across something like ten of these between Fort Morgan and Wray.  These cows are kept in close quarters, and are most likely injected with some kind of hormones to maximize their growth.  They are probably not the best for you, and Chipotle and other restaurants take pride in not using beef from lots like this.  But, I guess it puts food on the table for some people who cannot afford to pay more for grass-fed or free range beef.

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We spent a little bit of time in Wray, CO waiting for the storms to fire up.  Wray, CO is also quite an interesting place.  It is in the Easternmost part of Colorado, less than ten miles from the Nebraska border.  In the Republican River valley (North Fork), it’s elevation is only 3500 feet.  It would take about three hours for someone to drive from Wray, CO to the mountains.  In fact, within the state of Colorado, it would be nearly impossible to find a settlement farther away from the mountains than Wray.  In essence, it is the most un-Colorado like place in Colorado.  This must be especially difficult for people from Wray, or Julesburg, or Lamar, or any other small town in the easternmost part of the state.  I can imagine that anytime anyone tells people they are from Colorado, they will would be immediately asked about skiing, snowboarding, hiking, or any of the other activities that are associated with mountains, and therefore associated with Colorado in the heads of almost all Americans.  People from there must get tired of having to explain to them that while they are technically from Colorado, they may as well be from Kansas given the nature of the area.

Most of yesterday’s chase was spent in the northwestern part of Kansas, kind of along U.S. highway 36.  After initially going East from Wray (into southwest Nebraska) to find atmospheres with more moisture and greater favorability for severe storms, we went South to chase a few storms that had popped up in northwest Kansas.

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The storms we found were quite large, but did not produce tornadoes.  The tornado producing storms actually ended up being in two places.  One farther Southeast from where we were, along I-70 between WaKenney and Hays, and another up in the Nebraska panhandle.  Although we did not see any tornadoes, we did see some major storms.  Additionally, we learned something about storm chasing.  Being from the midwest, I am use to chasing faster moving storms.  Storm motions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin, storms tend to move 30-40 mph quite frequently, and sometimes even faster.  When storms move that fast, it is important to stay ahead of the storm if you want to keep following it, and I’ve lost storms by falling behind before.  The storms we chased yesterday were moving quite slow, 10-15 mph.  We ran into trouble by trying to hard to stay ahead of the storm instead of going straight towards it.  It is kind of like the difference between playing fast-pitch baseball and slow-pitch softball, a major adjustment.

Hopefully, I’ll get another chance to chase this year, but I have a lot of other travel plans for June, much of which will be to places I have never been to before.  I’m still glad to have had a learning experience if nothing else.

The Garden of the Gods: A Place to Collect Thoughts

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I was not expecting to make any posts this week, as I have kind of been focusing on some other projects that do not involve traveling.  But, for reasons I do not need to get into, I felt the need to take a drive today.  There are several places I have wanted to see ever since moving to Colorado (that I have not seen before), and this place, the Garden of the Gods, is the one that was certainly not going involve me encountering snow (unlike the source of the Colorado River and Mount Evans).  I guess I really would prefer not to encounter snow at this point in time.  There will be a great time for me to encounter a ton of snow, in November, and during ski season.  At that point- bring it on.

The Garden of the Gods is neither a National, nor a State park.  It is technically a city park, in the city of Colorado Springs.  Colorado Springs is about an hour south of Denver, and is the second largest city in the State of Colorado.  The most common reason people visit Colorado Springs is to go to Pike’s Peak.  Pike’s Peak is dubbed “America’s Mountain”, and attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year.  However, ever since moving to Colorado, I’ve kind of wondered why.  Pike’s Peak is only like the 31st or 32nd (or something like that) highest peak in the state, and it is not even the tallest mountain that one can drive to the top of.  Mount Evans is taller, and seemingly just as close to Denver International Airport.

However, as I approach Castle Rock, it somewhat dawns on me what makes Pike’s Peak unique.  And, well, it is actually something I should have figured out a long time ago, as I do frequently stare at maps.

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You see, when it comes to proximity to other tall mountains, Pike’s Peak is actually quite isolated.  Most other mountains in Colorado, including Mount Evans and Mount Elbert, the state’s tallest peak, are a part of a mountain range and are pretty close to other peaks.  People in Colorado talk about climbing to the top of two or three 14ers in succession quite frequently.  Most peaks are at least near others exceeding 12,000 feet, but not Pike’s Peak.  Pike’s Peak’s isolation makes it easy to spot as far away as Castle Rock (40 miles away).  This had to have contributed to it’s popularity.

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Upon entering Colorado Springs, it is actually quite easy to notice the remnants of last year’s wildfires.  In the foothills outside of town, all the trees are still charred up.  It is also easy to spot Pike’s Peak, especially from the Garden of the Gods.  Pike’s Peak towers over the town much the same way the Empire State Building towers over New York city.

However, there is a major difference between the two.  The structures that tower over cities in Colorado, the mountains, are all natural features.  Whereas, in both New York and Chicago, the structures that tower over the town are man-made buildings.  I seriously start to ponder what kind of sociological effect this has on each city’s inhabitants.  Can this difference actually explain some of the attitude differences we observe between people from Colorado and New York?  Is there some kind of subtle subconscious message being sent into everyone’s mind every time they see the most obvious feature in their area and they know whether or not mankind was responsible?  I mean, Coloradans see nature predominating over man when they look at their skylines, but New Yorkers and Chicagoans see the opposite in theirs.  Maybe my thoughts are just running away with me, but, heck, that is why I came, to collect some thoughts.

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It turns out that the Garden of the Gods is not a major place for outdoor activity, at least not for Colorado standards.  There is some hiking, mountain biking, and climbing, but they are all quite basic.  Mostly in the park, there are sidewalks that people walk on and observe the structures in the Garden.  These structures are fairly unique rock formations and they vary in color as they vary in age.

In one of the few places where I am able to do some off sidewalk hiking, I hike up some rock and get a unique view of the garden, as well as of Pike’s Peak.  I found this small little area carved out of the edge of one of the rocks.  Being in the shade I found it a great place to gather thoughts.  I started to gather thoughts of Pike’s Peak being some kind of watchman, watching over the city, and the garden’s rock structures being it’s associates.  However, before I could get to a productive thought, my thought gathering was interrupted by a teenage girl who saw where I was sitting and was intrigued.  She climbed over to me and started talking to me about what she was doing, and how she loved to climb the rocks and all.  When she asked me if this one guy standing about 150 feet away from me was my brother, it suddenly occurred to me that she was most likely under the impression that I was a lot closer to her age than I really am.  The guy she asked about was a teenager on a trip with his parents (as was she).

On the way back I began to wonder if I look young, act immaturely, or if there is anything about me that would make someone believe I could be barely 21.  But, then I realized that this most likely had more to do with where I was than anything else- Colorado Springs.  In Colorado Springs it is far more common to have already married and had kids by the age of 30 (or even 25).  This is quite different than the places I have inhabited over almost my entire life.  In Denver, as in Chicago, it is quite common to see people in their 30s that are still single, and not single for obvious reasons (essentially a repulsive personality).  I have read this is not the case everywhere, and it is possible that in Colorado Springs this is the case, and that as much as I would like to be flattered by this exchange, she probably just assumed I had to be under 25 because I was there without kids.

On the way home, I decide to get Culvers, as I had seen a Culvers sign on the way there and realized I had not been there in about a year.  Getting there, though, was a challenge.  I have not spent too much time in Colorado Springs, and do not know the road system too well.  Unfortunately, the road system is not to intuitive.

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What is all this about!  Every road I was on was constantly curving one way or another.  There is only one possible explanation about how this road network came to be.  One hundred years ago or so, some city official was charged with developing a road system.  He did not know what to do, so he had his five year old daughter throw spaghetti noodles at their wall.  He then used the layout of these noodles to make a road system for the city.  Really, I can’t think of any other reason for this.

The Peak to Peak Highway

The weather has not gotten quite good enough for a hike in the mountains.  Well, maybe for some people who don’t mind chilly temperatures and trudging through a significant amount of residual snow, it’s time to get out there.  But, that is not me.  I love the outdoors and outdoor recreation, but I am not a fan of enduring the cold.  So, with this weekend being somewhat nice (highs near 60 in Denver, which means 30s and 40s in the higher terrain), I figured this is a good time to take a drive along the famed Peak to Peak Highway.  The Peak to Peak Highway is a popular cycling route too, and sometime in the future I think I want to try it.  But, I need to get better at climbing.

The Peak to Peak Highway runs from Blackhawak, CO, the town that has all the casinos (along with Central City) to Estes Park, CO, a resort town adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park.  In between it runs through a lot of recreation areas, as well as the town of Nederland, which is known for Eldora ski mountain, the ski resort people from the Boulder area go to when they don’t feel like driving farther to go to the better resorts.  It’s 1600 foot vertical still blows anything in the midwest out the water, but is pretty small compared to the likes of Vail, Steamboat, Breckenridge, etc.  It is also known for some recording studio where a lot of famous musicians recorded albums in the 70s and 80s.  I also hear it is full of hippies.

To get to the Blackhawk, the start of the Peak to Peak Highway, we decide to follow highway 6 West from Golden.  This road follows Clear Creek and actually offers up scenery that is significantly different than Interstate 70.

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Following Clear Creek, the highway actually goes through three tunnels on it’s way to Blackhawk.  The number of tunnels, as well as the length of the tunnels actually reminds me of the famous Elrory-Sparta trail in Wisconsin.  I also notice a lot of people fly fishing at various spots along this creek.  Fly fishing is distinct from standard fishing as people wade into the water.  Fishing people tend to know which rivers, lakes, etc. have the best fish.  Judging by the popularity of this particular creek, it is probably a good place to fish, but I don’t know for sure.

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I have been to Blackhawk before, but never entered from this direction, Northbound on 119 from highway 6 that is.  I had always come in via Central City.  Central City is easy to get to via Interstate 70 because they built a 4 lane road connecting their town to the Interstate.  This 4 lane road, which I have taken several times, actually seems kind of out of place in the mountains where most roads are 2-lanes and wind around.  Therefore, every time I had come into Blackhawk before, it had always been via Central City as opposed to from the South.

Sometimes it seems to me that people are willing to go to somewhat great lengths to take Interstate highways as opposed to other roads.  Maybe this is more of a midwestern thing.  Back when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, I would actually usually take U.S. highway 12 as opposed to I-90 to several places, including my parents house in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago.  In my calculations, I found that taking the Interstate would only save me roughly five minutes, and the mileage was almost 20 more.  It wasn’t worth the additional gas money to me, let alone the tolls on I-90 in Illinois.  However, I think for a lot of people taking U.S. 12 instead of I-90 would not even be a consideration.

Additionally, to be completely honest, sometimes I actually get tired of the Interstate.  Despite my willingness to make the calculation described above, often times the Interstate is the most optimal route somewhere.  The interstate highway system was designed to go to places where people are most likely to want to go.  But the Interstate represents a completely different environment than traveling by state and U.S. highways, or by bike trail.  In your standard midwestern town along any Interstate highway, you often find your standard fast food restaurants, such as McDonalds, Wendys, and Arbys, right along the Interstate highway, next to, or even co-located with gas stations, for the ease of the traveler.  However, typically along whichever state or U.S. highway travels through that town, you will enter the actual town center.  This is where you find the local restaurants and shops that make that particular town unique.  So, to me, travel by Interstate represents a significantly more controlled environment, and shows you a world where everything has been standardized.  You find roughly the same dozen or so establishments everywhere you go.  When traveling by other roads, or bike trails, you may travel across the same continent, but in some ways you see a different continent, where the world has not been standardized.

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As we begin to travel north along this Peak to Peak Highway, I kind of begin to see why it is a popular road for bicycles.  There are a lot of good scenic views of mountain tops, and, while there are some difficult climbs along the way, large sections of the road seem somewhat flat, or only to contain small rolling hills.  Blackhawk is at roughly 8000 ft. of elevation.  The beginning of the route does involve a somewhat significant climb.  We do not encounter too many bicycles today.  This is possibly due to the chilly weather.  In Denver, the temperature was in the mid 50s, as we ascended out of Blackhawk the temperature gradually dropped into the lower 40s.  Now that I have lived in Denver for a while, I think that these in-between seasons, Spring and Fall, are a good time for recreation in and around the city of Denver itself (or Boulder, Fort Collins etc.).  In the wintertime, I will often go up to the mountains to ski, and summertime is great for other activities in the mountains.  But, on a day like yesterday, in which there are many, temperatures were pretty pleasant at 5200 ft.  But, this lower 40s doesn’t really do anything for anyone.  It is not cold enough for good skiing, but not warm enough to really enjoy a bike ride, hike, etc.

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Additionally, the farther up, and the farther North we went, the more snow we would encounter.  We would see this especially in the trees, and in areas shaded from the sun.  Most of the April snowstorms dumped the heaviest amounts of snow in the higher elevations and North of us, closer to the Colorado-Wyoming border.  South of us got less in general, so there is a North-South gradient in mountain snowpack right now that we witness first hand on this venture.

We passed through Nederland, and saw a significant amount of people walking around.  I’ve only been there once before, so I do not know if this is typical.  To be honest, Nederland is a town I cannot really figure out.  I know they have a commuter bus that runs between Nederland and Boulder, and a ski mountain nearby, but the town does seem small- smaller than Breckenridge.  But there always seems to be something going on there.  Eldora’s ski season is over, and we passed through town at roughly 1:15 P.M., yet, there were still a lot of people walking around.  Is the town bigger than I realize?  Is there some kind of other reason people generally get in their car and go to this town?  Someday I will solve the mystery, but I hope it is not all for that recording studio.  It did burn to the ground, so there really is nothing to see there.  Maybe it is all the other resorts we see along the way?  Yeah, that has to be it, I mean if you are staying at one of the campgrounds or lakes up the road, in Peacefull Valley, this would be the closest place to get food and such.

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Headed north toward the Estes park side of the road, the views get even more amazing, and, more wintry.  I am not sure which mountain peak this is, it is probably something in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I know it’s not Long’s Peak, as I could not get a good picture of it from the road.  It was somewhat tougher to get a good picture due to the clouds.  However, at this particular point in time, the little window of blue sky appeared in front of us just over the mountain peak, allowing for a good picture.

All in all, the Peak to Peak Highway is a pretty good drive.  I probably could have gotten in a bike ride or something back in Denver yesterday, or gone for a small hike somewhere in the foothills at a lower elevation, with pleasant temperatures.  But, I also wanted to see this famed road, and see first hand what the conditions look like for future hikes in the mountains.  The snow does appear to be melting rather quickly.  So, I am hopeful that these mountains will be ready for some quality hikes in the near future.  However, the current conditions don’t appeal to me at these elevations.  Hiking a snowshoeing are two different activities in my book.