Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Weekend to Remember for Under $100?

Genesee Park is a place I had never really thought too much about.  For most of my first year and a half in Colorado, I was barely aware of it’s existence.  I mostly knew that there was some kind of park at the spot along Interstate 70 where the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains first appear, which is about half an hour west of Denver.  But, on most of those trips I would be on my way to the ski resort, or some other destination that is more well known, and farther West along the interstate.  With about half a day’s worth of spare time, and little appetite for a long drive, as holiday travels await, I decided to explore this area and see what I would find.

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Not surprisingly, I was the only person at Genesee Park today.  Not only is it off-season for places like this, but it is also a weekday, a time when most other people are working.  In addition, the park was closed for the season.  Being alone in a place like this is somewhat of a strange experience, especially for someone who is accustomed to an urban environment, with a plethora of noise and crowds.  However, being completely alone was what allowed me to truly tap into my imagination and discover what could come of a place like this during the summertime.

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What surprised me about this mountain park were the plethora of available activities.  The two short red poles are obviously for horseshoes, and the two taller metal poles are for setting up a volleyball net.

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Additionally, the park had a pretty wide open softball field, which even included a home plate and a backstop.  Combined with a subtle smell of wood near the stoves adjacent to the picnic tables and I instantly imagined myself here on a warm summer’s day, with groups of campers taking part in a multitude of activities.  I pictured not only the activities the park is specifically set up for, but a multitude of others, such as Ultimate Frisbee, or just simply goofing off with all of the logs and pine cones all over the ground.  Children seem to never run out of things to do at a place like this, but sometimes a weekend up here can bring out that imaginative side of adults as well.  With the right group of people, a simple weekend away at a place like this could prove to be quite memorable.

It also dawned on me that the experiencing I am currently imagining at this place would also be quite inexpensive, at least compared to many other activities.  I did not do the math, to calculate the cost of gas, food, tents, etc., but I could not imagine it coming out to more than $100 per person.  In fact, it could end up being quite a bit less.  Just the thought of having an incredible weekend like this for such a small price demonstrates what is really important in this world.

It is odd that Christmas time, a time originally designed for people to reflect on what is really important in life, can now have the opposite effect.  Regardless of what people think of the practice, few people avoid the stress involved in purchasing Christmas gifts at this time of year.  But, what is it that people really want?  And what do people really need for Christmas?  After a quick mental survey of the people I know, as well as society as a whole, I came to the conclusion that while a new shirt may help someone’s confidence, and a new game may prove fun to play with, we are generally looking in the wrong places to satisfy ourselves.  What many of us need is not a new gadget, or an expensive coat.  What we need is more subtle.  We need things like companionship, appreciation, a sense of purpose, and security.  These are the things that we can often find at places like Genesee Park when we share experience with one other, and share ourselves with one another amongst the breathtaking backdrop of some unexpected mountain views.

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However, it seems to me that all too often, rather than looking to places like Genesee, or to the people around us to fulfill what we need in life, we look to places like this.

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I will certainly give and receive presents this Christmas.  Some may even excite me quite a bit.  But, in the long run, the things that matter most will be more reflected in the way we view ourselves, the way we view life, the people around us, the way we treat one another, and the experiences we all have.

History Colorado Center

It has been unprecedentedly cold across Colorado these past several days!  It’s been so cold that no outdoor activity, not even skiing, sounds even remotely appealing.  So, in order to make the most of my time, I decided that today would be a good day to check out the new exhibit at the History Colorado Center.  As, I do want to check it out, and will likely be skiing or traveling elsewhere the next several weekends.

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The History Colorado Center is a State history museum in Central Denver, located just south of downtown.  As the name advertizes, the museum covers the history of the State of Colorado.  A similar museum can most likely be found in nearly all state capitol cities.

In my biased opinion, the History Colorado Center is one of the best museums I have ever been to.  The reason I say it is a biased opinion is that I definitely prefer museums that cover topics I am personally interested in.  I tend to be more interested in science and history than art and lifestyle museums.  In addition, I have not been to too terribly many museums, as I tend to spend more time on outdoor activities.  So, my recommendation of this museum can be taken for what it’s worth; based on a strong personal bias and a limited sample set of options.  But, I do feel like this museum is worth the $12 admission. Today we spent just shy of three hours there, but I do feel like I could spend close to an entire day here.

I really enjoy this museum for three reasons:

1.  The museum is highly interactive.

This seems to be a trend in museums of late.  I am not sure what instigated this particular trend, but over the past decade more museums have been moving towards more interactive exhibits.  This particular museum was constructed only a couple of years ago (replacing the previous Colorado History Museum), and thus many of the exhibits at the museum are indicative of this trend.

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Just inside the entryway to the museum is a “time machine” exhibit.  These two “time machines” can be physically moved across a gigantic map of the State of Colorado.  Depending on where these devices are placed, a user can select a year from a list.  Each selection contains a different historical story of Colorado.  These stories come from many different time periods and nearly all portions of the state.  If one were to watch all of the stories available in this exhibit, it would definitely take multiple hours.

Other interactive exhibits at this museum include a silver mining exhibit, a bunch of screen-selecting games, and my personal favorite, the ski jump simulator.  The ski jump simulator not only simulates the building of speed, becoming airborne, and subsequent landing, but also requires that the user mimics the right ski jumping technique.  All this is done in from of a screen that shows the ski jump in progress.  Improper technique will result in a crash in the simulation, and the length of the jump is also dependent on technique.  It is interesting to attempt this ski jump simulation several times to get the best possible result.

2.  The museum presents a fairly complete representation of state history.

By this I mean the all regions of the state, all time periods, and all types of people appear to be represented at this museum.  Many people think of Colorado and think only of the mountains and the activities associated with the mountains.  Some think of Denver and the Front Range cities, but the entire Eastern 1/3 of the state is often ignored.  This museum actually includes several exhibits that cover life in the Great Plains portion of the state.

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Half of the first floor of the museum is dedicated to the story of a small town named Keota on the plains in Northeastern Colorado.  Like many town in this area, it’s economy was primarily based on farming and ranching.  Although the town did fairly well in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, it did not fare well during the dust bowl and now is basically a ghost town.

Other exhibits about the history of Colorado’s often forgotten Eastern portion include one on Bent’s Old Fort, and one on the Sand Creek Massacre.  With these exhibits, and several others, the History Center Colorado also presents history from the point of view of nearly every ethnic group to ever inhabit the state.  One exhibit describes Colorado’s history as a borderland between the United States and Mexico prior to the Mexican-American war.  Another one describes the Japanese Internment Camps during World War 2.  And, despite the fact that Colorado is only 4% black (as a state), the museum contains an exhibit about a place called Lincoln Hills, a resort in the mountains developed by black people for black people at a time when many places refused to serve them.

In addition to presenting history from all portions of the state, as well as from multiple perspectives, the museum covers times all time periods, as well as both good times and bad times.  The Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival is a celebration of the winter sport activities that make Colorado a destination for many.  However, the new exhibit covers the importance of water resources in the state of Colorado.  This exhibit covers three periods of time where water resources and the management of them made a major difference in life in Colorado.  In the 13th century water resources were depleted from the “Mesa Verde” area, leading to hard times for the once thriving Pueblo Indians in that region.  Their response was to move south to areas where resources appeared more abundant.  Remnants of this civilization can still be viewed at Mesa Verde National Park, the only archeological U.S. National Park.  The dust bowl was one of the hardest times in Colorado.  Many farmers suffered from a combination of low prices and extreme drought.  This began a population decline in the plains, but some remained on the land.  Finally, current concerns about water resources were covered, as reduced snowpack from climate change combined with population increases threaten shortages of water resources.

3.  The museum has character.

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By this I mean there are a lot of little fun things like this Bison topped with a Santa hat.  Throughout the museum there are a lot of other little decorations here and there, such as the Welcome to Colorado sign, that just make the atmosphere a bitmore fun.  They do this without either going over the top, or seeming too cheesy, which I very much appreciate.

Visiting the History Colorado Center today was a good change of pace from my normal activities, and a wonderful way to take advantage of a day with less than ideal weather.  With a fun yet intelligent atmosphere, a complete view of Colorado’s history as a state, and a plethora of interactive exhibits, my visit to the History Colorado Center  was a memorable experience.  It gave me a lot to think about, and a good overview of the state that I now call home.

The Last Chance Of The Year

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There is a saying that “old habits die hard”.  This is possibly an overstatement, and it might not apply to everybody.  But it is a powerful statement of inertia that applies to a large segment of the population.  A major stress factor, such as the discovery of a new food allergy or the loss of a job, can change people’s habits rapidly and decisively.  However, in the absence of some kind of major push, most people’s habits will change slowly or even not at all.  It is for this reason that bad habits like watching too much TV, engaging in frequent unprotected sex with strangers, and even smoking can persist for decades.

I would not consider the habit I am referring to as a bad one.  It is mostly just annoying to some people around me.  It all started in the 8th grade when I became somewhat obsessed with football.  A typically Sunday for me that fall I would not only watch a couple of NFL games, but I would also watch the pre-game show at 11 A.M., as well as NFL Primetime at 6 P.M.  On any given Sunday, I’d watch as much as 8 hours of football!

This also caused me to put off too much of my schoolwork.  Then one November weekend, I suddenly realized that I had a major Science project due and I was running out of time to complete it.  That Friday evening, I came home from school knowing that I would have to scramble to finish this project on-time, and calculated that I would have almost no time for anything else that weekend.  My parents were disappointed in me, and actually feared that my grades would suffer because of it.

That weekend’s weather was especially nice, with high temperatures reaching 70 on Sunday.  Sometime on Sunday my father reminded me that this would probably be the last 70-degree day until April.  As a weather tracker from a young age, this was a fact that I was already well aware of.  But, it was something I had not been thinking about through all of this.  At this time, my father was just trying to be a good parent, and inform me that procrastination had consequences.  But the sudden reminder, that it would be at least three, and up to five months before weather like this would return prompted me to go outside that minute, even though I knew all I could afford was a 10-15 minute break from my work.

The previous winter was my first in Illinois, and it was quite harsh!  Not only had I just moved from Long Island, New York, a place with milder winters, but that winter was harsh for Chicago area standards too!  Temperatures were significantly colder than their long-term averages, particularly in January and February.  I recalled seeing a snowpack persist for over five weeks, something I had never seen before, and school was closed a couple of days due to extreme temperatures (below -20).  It was quite a shock for me, and something I did not enjoy.  Feeling that fresh air, and knowing that these ten minutes would be all I get for such a long time made me regret my obsessive watching of football in a way I had never regretted anything before.  It was that day that I realized that I cared significantly more about activities that I personally participate in than watching professional sports (or anything on TV).  I did not completely give up on watching professional sports that day.  But, since that day I’ve have had a clear understanding of where my priorities lie.

The winter that followed would be modestly mild for Chicago standards.  But, it was still colder than the ones I remembered in New York, and there were still very few days warm enough to be enjoyable for outdoor activities.  It was enough to cement in me the lessons I learned that November day.  I would spend seventeen more years in the Midwest, in either Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin.  Only one winter season would be more oppressively cold than that first one (and I was in Wisconsin- a colder place overall).  Many of the winters would be milder, some significantly milder.  Still, I would rehearse the same pattern every fall.  Starting around Halloween weekend, any day where temperatures were projected to reach the 60s or 70s would basically sound an alarm off inside of me.  I would start planning ahead of time how to take advantage of these particular days, and bill it “the last nice day of the year.”  Sometimes, I would even have some “false starts” in this process, where I would be prompted to enjoy “the last nice day of the year” only to have another stretch (or even two or three) of warm weather occur before winter set in.

Now that I live in Denver, this practice is not necessary.  Not only do sunny and mild days occur quite frequently in the middle of the winter, but winter is one of the most exciting times to be in Colorado- due to skiing.  But, we are also not in an ordinary weather pattern.  Today’s highs will top out somewhere between 60 and 65.  But, after this, an abnormally prolonged period of cold weather is expected in Colorado.  It might even be too cold to ski, as highs between 10 and 20, and lows below 0 are anticipated for Denver.  It will be even colder in the mountains!  So, that alarm in my head triggered me to take advantage of this day as if it were the last chance I would have this year to go on a bike ride, which I did.

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Of course, one of the challenge in taking advantage of the last nice day of the year is that in November and December, the days are quite short.  Today I also had an added time constraint, as I knew the winds around Denver would pick up around noon, making bicycling much more unpleasant.  So, I stuck to a much simpler ride, down the Cherry Creek Trail to  Cherry Creek State Park, a 25 mile round trip.  Most of the ride is flat, or slightly uphill on the way out and slightly downhill on the way back.  The first major terrain feature is a large hill near Kennedy Golf Course, which is followed by the climb up to the reservoir.

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The Cherry Creek Trail is one of the best trails I have ever ridden!  It follows the river, through all of the underpasses, and avoids nearly all traffic lights.  This makes it a perfect way to get somewhere quickly on a bicycle.  There is some terrain climbing up to Cherry Creek State Park, but overall, the ride here only involves three “climbs”, and each one is only a couple of hundred feet in elevation.  Therefore, this would be a great ride for people who are only in moderately good shape, or not looking for a major challenge.

It will be too cold for bicycling in Denver to be enjoyable for at least another week and a half.  But, in all likelihood, this was not my “last chance of the year” to ride.  Therefore, I probably did not need to be too concerned about taking advantage of today’s weather.  However, I am also not seeing any negative consequences in taking advantage of a day like this.  I did not miss out on anything important, and everything I need to work on I can complete in the later part of this week when the weather turns awful.  So, this old habit is going to “die hard”, and probably won’t change much until it leads to a poor result.