Tag Archives: history

When We Get Stuck

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Here we are, on the verge of something great!  It is right in front of us, in plain sight, a brand new endeavor, a great idea, something that’s going to either change the world, change our lives, or just be one heck of a great time!  The path in front of us is clear, exciting, invigorating.  Never have we felt so alive!  With excitement, enthusiasm, and passion, we enter this new endeavor without hesitation.  We do our due diligence, of course, but the excitement of what lies ahead by far overwhelms any concerns about what could possibly go wrong.

But then it happens.  Shortly into this new endeavor, due to something we either overlooked, poorly estimated, or never even considered in the first place, we find ourselves stuck, much like I was in Vail’s Orient Bowl.  That morning, I got off the ski lift, and saw the 15″ of fresh powder that Vail had recently received.  Instead of following tracks already made by those who skied in this area earlier in the day, I wanted to make my own tracks.  I expected a wild ride through this fresh powder!  On the contrary, I suddenly found myself slowing down, and sinking. The realization that I would find myself at a standstill, and need to work to dig my way back on track, is much akin to the realization many of us have when we realize that some aspect of our plan is not going to materialize the way we had anticipated.

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What is strange is that this experience, of suddenly finding myself stuck occurred at Vail Resort.  Vail Resort is not only home to one of the largest and highest rated ski resorts in the world, but it is also home to a ski museum, which has artifacts of the history of both skiing and the resort itself.

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Vail ski mountain was founded by a man named Pete Siebert, who fought in World War 2 as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.  This group of soldiers trained in the mountains of Colorado, mainly on skis, and were subsequently deployed to Northern Italy to lead an attack, on skis, in the heart of one of the Nazi strongholds in the region.  Many of the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, despite being from many different places all over the country, found their way back to Colorado, and alongside Siebert, helped develop the skiing industry into what it is today.

The story of skiing, and the story of Vail is summarized quite nicely at the Colorado Ski Museum.  In fact, the museum has other exhibits, including one on snowboarding, a bunch of facts about the origin of downhill skiing, which pre-dates Vail and even the 10th Mountain Division’s World War II efforts, and one that shows the history of the U.S. participation in skiing and snowboarding events in the Olympic Games.

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Yes, I had to get my picture taken with one of my favorite athletes, even if it is only a cardboard cutout.  I was not sure if I would get kicked out for taking this photo, so I made it quick.

The abridged version of the story of Vail is that it opened on December 15, 1962, struggled for a couple of years (the second year they had a snow drought and brought in the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to perform a snow dance for them), and then the resort took off in the later half of the 1960s.  After that, the resort periodically expanded, eventually combined with Beaver Creek and became what it is today.  For more details, I would seriously recommend visiting the museum.  With only a $3 suggested donation, it is a great activity for kind of day where skiers and snowboarders need to take an hour or two off due to weather or exhaustion.

The aspect of Vail’s history that is largely not covered by the Museum is the one that pertained to my own experience earlier that day- getting stuck.  The museum has an exhibit, and a video describing the 10th Mountain Division, how they trained, and what they accomplished.  They also describe the history of Vail as a ski resort in detail.  But, the 10th Mountain Division disbanded at the end of 1945, when the war ended.  Vail resort opened in 1962.  The only discussion of this roughly 17 year time period between these two events, was that Mr. Siebert was looking for the perfect place to open a ski resort.

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In detail, what did Pete Siebert do from 1946 through roughly 1960 (when he started laying the groundwork for Vail)?  Nobody knows, but it is definitely possible that he got stuck, much in the same way I was earlier that day.  Maybe, like many who returned from World War II, he came back and did not know what to do during Peacetime.  Or maybe, he looked at places for years and could not find the right one.  It is possible that he could have had a few “false starts”.

Those of us that have ever been, or currently are, stuck, can take solace in the fact that Mr. Siebert eventually, despite what is likely close to a decade of being stuck, put together a world class ski resort.  Additionally, many of his fellow 10th Mountain Division soldiers contributed to what Vail eventually became (the shops, restaurants, and even clubs that popped up in Vail Village).

After being stuck in the snow, I eventually made it down the mountain.  In fact, after only a short delay, I was able to climb my way out of the deep snow into a set of tracks just to my left.  Despite the fact that I did not get what I wanted out of that particular experience, I had a great experience with the remainder of that particular run, finding areas of deep powder farther down, where the terrain is a bit steeper, and then shooting through some glades.

In this particular case, I had no choice but to try to climb my way out of this section of deep powder.  In may other situations in life, we do have the option to give up.  Unfortunately, we often do prematurely, sometimes simply knowing that there is an easier path.  But, the easier path is rarely the more rewarding one.  The experience of getting stuck in the snow only to eventually have a great remainder of the run, followed by seeing a parallel experience with the founding of the very resort I was skiing at reminded me that it is often worthwhile to get “unstuck”, but also that it is less of a catastrophe to be stuck in the first place than we often imagine.

We live in a culture that reprimands people for being stuck only for a couple of months.  Two months with nothing to show for it- you’re on thin ice …. or out of a job!  Sometimes I even reprimand myself for “wasting” a single day!  Pete Siebert may have been stuck for over a decade!  Yet, he eventually founded Vail, and the experience of living in, or visiting, Colorado would not be the same if it weren’t for this important contribution.  So, maybe we need to be less hard on each other, and be less hard on ourselves.

Tea that Isn’t Really Tea

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Tea is not something I ever give any real thought to.  For me, it is one of those products that has always just been there.  As much as I claim to be a curious-minded person, I had never even sat and pondered who was the first person to come up with the idea to take a bunch of ground up leaves, put it in a tiny little bag and dip it into a cup of hot water.  In fact, if you think about almost every product we use on a regular basis from the standpoint of a culture that has never been introduced to that product, it probably sounds absurd.  As I write this, I am eating a bagel.  Imagine telling someone who has never heard of a bagel that you have an idea to take condensed bread, bake it into a cylindrical shape with a hole in the middle, and maybe put some random seeds on top.

You would have probably been told, by at least some portion of the people around you, that your idea was either absurd, or unnecessary.  If I could, I would communicate this point to an entire generation of aspiring entrepreneurs, as nearly all of them, will at some point receive a similar reaction from people they describe their idea to.  In fact, some will even be turned down and laughed at by potential customers and investors.

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One of the reasons I had never given tea too much thought is that in my mind I had always associated it with things that I do not find too exciting.  Our subconscious minds have this strange ways of synthesizing our experiences, the experiences we hear about, and even some of the media we consume into some general associations.  Whenever anyone mentions tea, the image that naturally pops into my head is a fancy table with fancy chairs on someone’s lawn, in front of a garden on a day with the most pleasant weather imaginable, and people wasting that pleasant afternoon, with so many possibilities to engage in activities and explore what the world has to offer, just sitting around drinking tea.

In fact, I did not even start drinking tea until I got my first job after Graduate School.  It was free at work.  I started drinking it to save both money and calories, particularly on chilly mornings.  The only variety of tea that was free at my job was “black” tea, which is perfect, because, as I learned at the Celestial Seasonings tour, it is one of the most heavily caffeinated teas out there (surpassed only by Oolong tea).  So, I conditioned my taste buds to the rather plain flavor of black tea and did not ponder other options.

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However, Celestial Seasonings is a place that has way more character than the stuffy images I think of when I think of the average “tea time”.  It was started by a bunch of hippies, which should not really surprise me given that it is in Boulder and was started in the late 1960s.  They would gather leaves in the Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder to make their beverages.

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However, the leaves that constitute “tea” come from plants that cannot be grown in this part of the world.  So, the beverages they put together were drinks that could not actually be considered “tea” by the technical definition.  They would have been considered “herbal infusions”.  The phrase “herbal infusion” had a clear association with the hippie movement.  So, to sell these products to the general public, which was (and still is) largely skeptical of the hippie movement, they labeled the beverages “herbal teas”.

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Now nearly a half a century has passed.  A lot has happened.  First, the hippies reached full-fledged adulthood (over 30, is that what they said?), got jobs, bought houses on cul-de-sacs, and, eventually SUVs and mini-vans.  A new generation emerged, powered by a rejuvenated economy, and became Yuppies.  They managed to both continuously enlarge the houses and vehicles in suburbia, while also turning formally blighted neighborhoods in city centers across the country into high-class urban playgrounds.  Many of the areas that were once focal points to the hippie sub-culture, including San Francisco, and even Boulder, are now firmly under the domain of this new urban culture.  Of course, this is all an over simplification, but hippie communes still exist, largely in the same way soda fountains and other relics still exist.  A family will randomly encounter one in an out of the way place on a road trip, and grandma and grandpa will explain to the children what they are/ were all about.

Yet, the label “herbal tea” is still there, both in this tasting room, and in their packaging.  It is still there despite the fact that so much has changed.  Not only does the general public have absolutely nothing to fear from the hippie sub-culture anymore, but, I would argue that many of their ideas have penetrated our mainstream thinking, both “right” and “left”.  We do not wear suits to baseball games anymore.  People aren’t mocked or reprimanded nearly as much when they explore their feelings, and try to find themselves.  There is no more stigma around going to seek therapy, and tons of people participate in yoga classes.  We may largely be in boring cubicles and offices, but it is not unheard of to openly defy the authority structures there.

Despite all of this, people are still drinking “herbal tea” instead of “herbal infusions”.  “Herbal teas” are Celestial Seasoning’s three top selling “teas”.  Is this simply the power of inertia?  Are there still a significant enough number of people that would shy away from drinking something if it was labeled an “herbal infusion”?  Or is something greater at work?  Our world is in a constant state of flux, and that flux includes language, definitions, and standards.  The hippie movement did not survive, but some of the ideas joined the mainstream.  Maybe, although, these “herbal infusions” were not considered “tea” in 1969, they are now.  Very few people, when they buy these products at the store, even ever realize that they are not actually drinking tea.  For all practical purposes, it is tea despite the technical definition.  After all, Colorado is already a major part of a movement that changed the standards for what is considered beer, why not another product?

Places that Used to Be

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Many different types of images come to mind whenever anyone talks about “ghost towns”.  I think of all of those images of abandoned, and partially decayed buildings that are pictured on the cover of books about ghost towns.  I think of that abandoned cabin you see while on a hike.

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Sometimes I think back to the recently abandoned town in West Texas I passed through a decade ago on a storm chase.  I even think of other, more recently abandoned, “21st Century” ghost towns.  Heck, sometimes parts of Detroit even come to mind.

But something felt creepy when I came across the site of not one, but three towns that used to exist, as recently as the middle part of last century.

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I looked around in all directions.  There were no buildings at all, not even one of those rotted out wooden buildings that appears to be on the verge of collapse due to neglect.  I looked far and wide along the valley for some sort of evidence that there were three whole towns in the area as recently as the 1960s.  Maybe an abandoned platform along the tracks.  Or even piles of wood, or rocks.  Nothing!  The only evidence anyone passing along this route would have that there ever was any human civilization in the area is a historical marker that marked what once was the site of the highest masonic lodge in the U.S.A.  It’s creepy enough that these towns appeared to be completely erased out of existence.  But, the only indication that these towns ever actually existed is due to the Masons, a secretive organization that many also find creepy.

Three miles up the road, is Fremont Pass, another place with echos of the past.

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Fremont Pass, it appears, is home to another “ghost town”, the town of Climax.  Here, I at least found some evidence of this town’s existence.

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This particular location played a significant role in history on two occasions.  As indicated by the historical marker, the Continental Divide is the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase.  In fact, this very location was an international border from 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase was signed, until 1821, when the Adams-Onis Treaty established slightly different borders between U.S. and Spanish territory.  The border would remain in a somewhat nearby location until the conclusion of the Mexican-American war in 1845.

Later, the Climax Mine would play a pivotal role in the U.S. efforts in both World War 1 and World War 2, as it sits on one of the largest deposits of a little known substance of molybdenum.  To be completely honest, I have no clue what molybdenum is.  All I know is that it is one of those middle elements on the Periodic Table, which, I am guessing is more than the average person knows.

What I did gather, though, was that like the three other ghost towns in the area, this is a place that was significant, actually quite significant, at a point in our history, but now it is basically gone.  In fact, the only real reason I know about Climax is related to one of my other projects.  I recently created an algorithm to calculate seasonal normals at any given point in Colorado for the purpose of planning out activities across this beautiful state.  To develop this algorithm, I needed to find as many reliable weather observation sites in places with different geographical features as possible.  Climax, it turns out, is the site of one of the highest reliable CO-OP weather stations.

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Not only was this weather station particularly helpful in developing that algorithm, it is also a great source of information regarding snowpack conditions at high elevations for the purpose of avalanche forecasting, as well as determining where to hike or snowshoe.  So, although that molybdenum plant re-opened a few years ago, in my world, this weather station is currently Climax’s most significant attribute.

The fact that places both rise and decline in significance is not a new concept.  Places like Egypt and Sumeria formed the cradle of civilization, only to eventually cede that power to other cities and regions.  Similarly, in today’s United States, we are currently seeing places like Texas and Florida gain province, while parts of the Northeast and Midwest decline.

This particular situation is strange though.  When I think of the “Fall of Rome”, for example, I think of a process that occurred over roughly two centuries.  The ghost towns near Freemont Pass were culturally significant a mere half a century ago.  Today, they are all but vanquished from existence.

I am also not accustomed to seeing this process occur over such a small spatial scale outside an urban area.  Most of Colorado is thriving, particularly the mountainous part of Central Colorado.  These three erased towns are only ten miles up the road from Copper Mountain Ski Resort, a resort that is so popular that it one of only three ski resorts to receive its own detailed forecast from OpenSnow (the other two are Steamboat and Vail).

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Roughly ten miles or so in the other direction, is Leadville, a former mining town that also appears to still be doing quite well for itself.

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When I think this all through rationally, I understand why the civilization left the Fremont Pass area.  The economy was largely driven my one obscure material.  When the price for that one material declined, the entire economy left.  Sometimes, though, it takes some time for information to process through the logical mind.  My gut reaction was still one of disbelief, as it still definitely feels strange to see a set of towns decline so quickly to the point of non-existance in a region that as popular and ascendent as Central Colorado.

Bozeman, Montana; Where My Journey Begins

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“I had always known that we had the best downtown in all of Montana.  And then last year, we were voted the best downtown in all of Montana.”  At least that is how Bozeman was described to me by one of the locals, while giving me lunch recommendations.  He eventually told me that every place downtown was good, and to only avoid chain restaurants.

The first person I interacted with in Bozeman was the cab driver that drove me from the airport to the REI, where my bicycle had been shipped to, reassembled, and was waiting for me.  He described Bozeman as a “town full of expert skiers”.  With all of the other observations I had made while in town, and with the other interactions I had with people from Montana, it feels to me as if Bozeman is like a smaller and more extreme version of Denver or Boulder.  The cab driver indicated that the town almost shuts down on powder days, as everyone is headed to the mountains.  And, the people coming in and out of the bike shops appeared to be people that could ride a fair number of miles in challenging conditions.

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Bozeman is only 50-some miles from Big Sky, one of the most famous ski resorts in the country.  Locals, however, appeared more proud of their local ski resort, Bridger Bowl, only 16 miles from town, as indicated by this sign.  It was also described to me as “the only non-profit ski resort in the Country”.

However, my mind was not on skiing at the time.  My mind was on bicycling, as this was the beginning of a 3-day bicycle journey that would take me through some of the country’s most amazing natural features.  And, it would be the most challenging ride I have ever attempted.

After picking up my bike, as well as all of the necessary supplies I needed for my trip at the REI, I rode the first 1.3 miles of my journey, to the Bozeman Inn, where I would spend the evening.

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Having my bike shipped to the REI and assembled there worked out quite well for me.  The price to assemble the bike from the box is $40, and they pretty much made sure that nothing was wrong with the bike, which is something I really wanted for a bicycle journey that would take me through long stretches without bike shops.  They even checked the spokes, trued the wheel, and made sure everything else was working.  And, when they realized they still had my tire lock key, someone from the shop brought it to me downtown.

It would be nearly 10:00 P.M. before the sun went down that evening.  I had already checked into the motel, but was looking for some information about the town, maybe a bike map, or even a restaurant guide for the time I would be in Bozeman.  Instead, there was just a bar and grill located adjacent to the motel.  “Lights” by Ellie Goulding was playing quite loudly where people were drinking inside.  It was a clear reminder of what evenings were like on a normal night during my “normal life”.  So, I had the instinct to go inside, drink a little, enjoy the music, and try to meet some locals.  But, I knew better.  I was on the verge of something special.  It would be a challenging ride, and I needed my energy.

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I loaded up my bike with all of my supplies packed nicely into the panniers I had carried with me on the flight into Bozeman the previous evening.  I looked around me and saw mountains in all directions, reminding me that, yes, I was in for some challenging climbs in the coming days.

Spending the morning, and mid-day, in Bozeman gave me some time to mentally prepare for the challenge I knew I had ahead of me.  I decided to check out the attraction I had heard about the most; The Museum of the Rockies.

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This museum has somewhat of an interesting local take on geological, biological, and natural history.  Like the Field Museum in Chicago, it has an exhibit that displays how life evolved over time, starting with the single celled organisms that dominated the earth for Billions of years prior to the Cambrian explosion, through the time of the Dinosaurs and beyond in chronological order.

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This museum’s exhibit was way more dinosaur centric than the other life over time exhibits I’ve been to.  Their main attraction is the “Montana T-Rex”, the biggest T-Rex to be discovered inside the State of Montana.

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The museum is quite locally focused.  The exhibits on geological history contain a lot of information specific to the geographical area around Bozeman.  Most of the dinosaur exhibits are displayed along with a map of Montana which show where the bones were dug up.

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Seeing some of these specific exhibits actually changed the way I look at scenery.  Exhibits like this one, about the Beartooth Mountains, don’t just show how pretty they are, but show what rock formations can be seen, and how and when they developed.  The geological history behind all of these processes, from plate tectonics to atmospheric composition changes, and even processes involving air pressure changes and erosion all help explain why everything we observe is the color and shape that it currently is.  And, ultimately, for people who study natural history, all of these rock formations that we observe provided clues to Earth’s past, and helped these scientists discover what we now know.

I’ve looked at a lot of mountains, and a lot of natural scenery over the past few years.  It occurs to me that the scenery that we observe means something different to everybody.  Some people focus on the aesthetic nature of what they see, a beautiful mountain, a beautiful lake, a scenic overlook.  Others focus on the adventure.  Wow, this mountain would be great to climb, or this river would be crazy to kayak in.  But, still others are trying to deduce how this scenic view in front of them came to be.  They are the ones that see red rocks and see the process of rusting, which occurred over the course of 2 billion years, as early photosynthetic life gradually increased the oxygen content of the atmosphere, lead to the chemical reactions that made some rocks red, so long as they have had significant above ground exposure.  They are the ones that look at the rocks and see as story, a progression of events.

I almost felt bad, walking around the museum in my bicycle clothes, looking kind of like a bad-ass, talking to people about my bike trip, when the truth is, that I had only biked 7 miles so far, from the REI, to my hotel, and then to the museum.  It was the guy at the ticket window that had told me that Bozeman’s downtown was the best one in Montana.  He informed me that the museum and downtown were the two places to really see in Bozeman, so I decided to ride my bike downtown, get some lunch, and wait for my friend to join me.

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I was impressed by the downtown, particularly the bike parking.  After eating lunch at a Co-op (the kind of place that looks like a grocery store but sells fresh made lunch food to workers in downtown areas), I had some time to kill.  I was excited, getting kind of anxious, and my mind was active!  Maybe it was the 10 miles I had already ridden, enough to get my blood moving.  Maybe it was knowing what was to come.  Or, maybe it was the downtown, the vibrancy, and the unique-ness.

From book stores, to local shops, everywhere I went seemed to put me into an active process of deep thought.  For example, I saw a book.  It was titled “Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are incompatible.”  I thought to myself how ironic it is.  People become attracted to either Science or Religion, but usually do so due to the positive aspects of it; science and it’s intellectual curiosity, religion and the hope and purpose that it brings.  Yet, so many people, after choosing to love one or the other, spend more time focusing on the negative aspects of the other one, as opposed to the positive things that brought them to love either science or religion.

Just like that book, everything I saw brought me to some weird intellectual thought pattern.  I should go back to Bozeman sometime under different circumstances, and see if this is just the way the town works.  Is there something about the energy of this town that makes people just think in unique ways?

Many Montanans refer to Bozeman as “Boze-Angeles”.  In this part of the country, I am guessing this is not meant as a compliment.  That evening, after riding to Chico Hot Springs (more on that in my next post), a woman from Butte, MT would describe Bozeman as “pretentious”, and the place in Montana where one is most likely to be judged.  And, although I did not necessarily feel judged, I definitely sensed the pride here, consistent with what the cab driver, and others told me.  Still, I enjoyed the feeling of being adventurous, intellectual, and on the verge of a major adventure that would also be a major challenge, a major accomplishment, and open me up in a whole new way.

Mesa Verde: A Window to the Past

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For some reason, the history classes I took in Jr. High School and High School left me with the impression that the North American continent prior to the arrival of Europeans was one populated by nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes that never really established a civilization.  The popular characterization of Native America is a series of quasi-nomadic tribes following herds of Bison and other big game animals around vast open areas.  Thus, it is hard not to think of our continent as lacking the ruins of ancient civilizations that are quite prevalent in places like Egypt and Rome.

However, there are places in North America where one can view the ruins of ancient civilizations that existed long before the Spanish established the first European settlement at Saint Augustine, Florida.  The most high-profile pre-European (pre-Hispanic) civilization in the area is that of the Mayans, who archeologists discovered to have been quite advanced in writing, math, and the sciences, at a time when Europe was wallowing in the “dark ages”.   Those ruins can be found in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

Closer to home (for me), there are a handful of places, mostly in the Southwestern United States, where ruins of ancient civilizations can be viewed.  Preserving this history was significant enough for the United States to establish (in 1906) Mesa Verde National Park, as the only archeology themed National Park in the system.

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Mesa Verde National Park is located in Southwestern Colorado, in a part of the state where mountains are less numerous than they are in the popular tourist destinations in central Colorado.  The drive from Denver is roughly seven hours, making it a somewhat difficult destination for many to reach.  In fact, the nearest interstate highway is over 100 miles away, and so are all airports that normal people can afford to fly into (I am assuming flying into Telluride is pricey even in summer).  As a result, even on a popular weekend like Labor Day Weekend, the place is significantly less crowded than many other National Parks.

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The history of “civilization” in this park begins sometime in the 6th Century with the construction of “pit houses”.  Archeologists believe that this was the first time any kind of permanent residence was established here.  The tribes that would eventually inhabit this area were believed to have been semi-nomadic prior to the 6th century A.D.  Over time, these civilizations gradually got more complicated, and houses (referred to as Kivas) were grouped together into little villages.

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Although the period of Ancestral Puebloan civilization at this site lasted over 600 years, it is the very end period, mainly from the middle 1100s through the middle 1200s that receive the most attention at this park.  This, of course, is the period in which most of the Cliff Dwellings were inhabited.  The Cliff Dwelling we visited is referred to as Long House.  For $4 per person (in addition to the entrance fee), the Long House tour provides the most in-depth explanation of the civilization that existed in the region.  This 90-minute tour is only available from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  The road to access Long House (on the far west end of the park) is also only open Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Visitors who come to the park later in the fall, or earlier in the spring, can visit other Cliff Dwellings, and take other tours.

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The inhabitants of this region were a very resourceful people.  In addition to the corn, beans, and squash that they grew in the region, they took advantage of most other plants in the area, including Cactus, and the fruit-bearing Yucca plant.  They even resorted to ever awful-tasting plants like Juniper berries in meager years.

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They even invented the first diaper from Juniper bark.

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Of course, in a dry climate like this one, one of the scarcest resources is water.  For this, the Ancestral Puebloans devised a system to capture what little water precipitates through a system of little streams and holes designed to capture water when it comes.  Even with this resourcefulness, water was still always in short supply, and a long-term drought is often cited as a potential reason as to why these villages were abandoned sometime in the 13th century.

IMG_2426 IMG_2427Their homes, or “Kivas”, were significantly smaller than our homes today, even in large cities like New York.  The standard “Kivas” appear smaller than most people’s garages today.  Even the “Grand Kivas” would pale in comparison to the size of most present-day one bedroom apartments.
This is most likely because this civilization did not view the concept of the “home” in a way we are accustomed to.  A recent commercial (for some kind of real estate agency) describes home as “a place for your life to happen”.  The commercial reflects the prominent views of mainstream America today.  The Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited Mesa Verde from the 6th through the 13th centuries, used these “kivas” as places to sleep, gather, and sometimes have ceremonies.  However, it was not where their “life happened”.  The remainder of their lives was still primarily outside.

IMG_2420 IMG_2417Archeological analysis has also revealed that these homes were actually built in a rather hurried manner, with little attention to details.  It was hinted that there was always this view that any residence would be considered temporary.  According to the exhibits at the Visitor Center, while many scientists and archeologists concur that the reason this site was abandoned in the 13th century was scarcity of resources (water and animals), the descendents of the inhabitants of this region indicate that it was simply time for their people to move on, to another chapter of their story, in a different place.   Coming from this point of view, the concept of homeowner’s insurance, something practically considered a necessity in our present culture, would have been rejected as an absurd idea in 12th century Mesa Verde.  Fire?  Move on.  Earthquake?  Just put up a new building.  Not the big deal that it has become for us today.
IMG_2448 IMG_2406 IMG_2439 IMG_2403 Mesa Verde’s more recent history appears to be driven by wildfires, always a concern in regions like this.  While traveling about the park, the landscape of any given area can vary significantly depending on how recently it has been burned by fire.  A major fire in the year 2000 engulfed nearly half of the park, causing significant portions of the park to appear as this picture above, with a creepy combination of larger, older, dead trees, and the newer vegetation that has developed over the past decade and a half.For those on a tighter budget, I would certainly recommend staying in the town of Mancos.  It is the nearest town to the entry of the park (only 6 miles away).  It is a town of only 1300 residents, and does not boast too many amenities.  However, it offers, by far, the best deals on hotel rooms in the area.  Our hotel room was the Country West Motel, and I would recommend it to anyone.  A classic looking, modest roadside motel, it had it’s own courtyard, sizable enough rooms, and even a poster that I really enjoyed having in my room.
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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.

Gettysburg 150 Years Later

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When any American thinks about the key places in the American Civil War, Gettysburg is without a doubt one of the first to come to mind.  It was here that the war reached some kind of turning point.  As I had learned in history class, prior to the Battle of Gettysburg the momentum in the war was clearly with the Confederates.  The Union victory at this battle turned the tide of the war, which eventually resulted in a Union victory.  I sometimes speculate that the history is actually more complicated than this narrative.  But, this narrative does seem like it makes a good high-level summary, and the Gettysburg Battlefield is an important battle regardless of what other factors and events contributed to the Civil War’s outcome.

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The town of Gettysburg is a fairly small town in South Central Pennsylvania close to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  After a string of victories, Robert E. Lee determined that if he could wind a few decisive victories in “northern” towns, he could demand some form of surrender in Washington.  I am guessing that meant the United States recognizing their independence.  Effectively, the invasion of Gettysburg was part of a plan for the South to complete their victory.

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Most of the Battle occurred just outside of town.  The first shot was fired in a field a little bit west of town, as the confederates invaded from the west.  It was tough to get a good picture of this monument due to the sun angle, but this marker indicates where the first shot actually took place.

Due to the chaotic nature of battles, it is hard to follow all of the events in Gettysburg in chronological order without criss-crossing paths and recovering ground.  The Gettysburg Military Park offers a driving route that covers many of the battle’s key locations and events, but it does not cover them in chronological order,

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One of the first places I visited after the location of the first shot is this cut in the railroad tracks that many soldiers used strategically to hide from bullet shots.  What I find amazing was that this land had already been cut out and these railroad tracks had already been built.  From what I remember about railroad history, 1863 was still kind of early in the development of the railroads.  So, I conclude that Gettysburg was somewhat ahead of the game with regards to getting railroads through their town.

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The entire battlefield area, which is quite large in area (a couple of dozen square miles) has plenty of monuments to specific people involved in the battle.  And, in order to attract visitors from all places, the monuments represent both the Union and Confederate sides.  This monument to Robert E. Lee is placed near a giant field where the Confederates made the final blunder of this battle.  Essentially, both the Union and Confederacy had “lines” where they had set up, and faced each other from roughly a mile away.  On the final day of the battle, General Pickett marched a whole bunch of Confederate soldiers right into the center of the “Union” line as part of a three-prong strategy that did not work.  There were massive casualties, and some soldiers even aborted the mission.  General Lee admitted his mistake to the remaining troops.

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The battlefield also contained a lot of replicas of cannons from the civil war era.  I could not really figure out the rhyme or reason as to why they were placed where they were placed.  But, there were a lot of them.

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Gettysburg is somewhat of a strange place as the area seems to have a mixture of open fields and more wooded areas.  I was told that some of these areas were not as wooded in 1863 as they are today, but given how long trees live, some of these trees had to have been here in 1863.  In fact, there is one section of the auto tour where the trees appeared to be a nice fall color, an added bonus of the trip.  It was here, in a wooded place called “Little Round Top”, at the southern flank of the battle lines, that one of the key turning points in the battle occurred when Union troops fought back a Confederate advance on the second day of battle.  It was a turning point event of a turning point battle.  This one spot can almost be thought of as a place that changed history.  It is amazing how what was once just a pile of rocks on a gentle slope now becomes one of the places that shaped our country and who we are.

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There are also several places on site where the war turned uglier.  By this I refer to areas where casualties mount, but little to no land actually changes hands.  This is how I imagine the “trench warfare” during WW1 to have been.  This one wheat field apparently changed hands over six times during the three day period of the battle.  Hundreds upon hundreds continued to die with neither side advancing too much.

 

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I kind of ended up on information overload a bit.  There is a lot to understand about this battle, and prior to today I had really only thought of it as the battle, and the Gettysburg Address.  We decided to stop for lunch at a place called the Appalachian Brewing Company, which has a whole bunch of locally brewed beers, and burgers with their label on them.  I have never really seen any company burn a label into a burger bun.  Last week I saw how the Louisville Slugger bat company burns their label into their bats, but a burned label into a burger bun seems quite unique and different to me. Either way, it was an interesting experience, and I left the place actually feeling a little bit tipsy after this beer “flight”.

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After lunch, back on the battlefield tour, I did do a couple of things one could consider a bit goofy.  I saw a spot on Little Round Top where they had created an iconic image of the Civil War, a photograph of a dead Confederate soldier.  I hope I did not offend anyone when I decided to reenact this photo.  Sometimes I like to feel history come to life when I visit these places.  This is why I was excited to see a Civil War reenactor standing at the top of the hill.  I actually wonder how often Civil War reenactments occur in Gettysburg.  I imagine a lot, and I picture the 8,000 people that live in Gettysburg to run into, and even be delayed by Civil War reenactments all of the time.

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The battlefield also contains memorials to all of the infantry units that fought in this battle.  Each one of these memorial stones contains statistics about the number of soldiers lost in battle.  Reading just some of these stones I conclude that nearly half the people who came to this battle did not leave.  This, of course, is what makes war so sad.  Military history can be interesting, and it sounds like fun to take part in one of those reenactments.  But it is important to remember how many people do lose their lives whenever there is war.

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From the statues commemorating Abraham Lincoln, and the naming of one of our oldest cross country routes the Lincolnway, the impact that the outcome of this battle has had is quite evident all around us.  After hearing all of these details about the battle, strategies, events and such, my main takeaway from all of it is that General Robert E. Lee lost this battle due in part to an over aggressive strategy following a series of decisive victories.  When I process this through my head it actually makes a great deal of sense to me.

I think we have all been in situations where we get arrogant, aggressive, and sloppy after a series of ego boosts.  I can relate this to sports teams that blow giant halftime leads, and executives that push through major new product lines without the full vetting of the product.  It is easy to get caught up in a “winning streak”, and lose sight of the need to make careful decisions.  I do not know if the war’s outcome would have been different had Robert E. Lee exercised a bit more patience and due diligence at this point in time.  The war had other fronts and many battles elsewhere.  It is still strange to think about that possibility though, the possibility that the world could be completely different if only a few events at a key point in history had unfolded differently.  Alternate history writing often makes that speculation, and also speculates about how today’s world would be had the outcome been different.

Would the Southern and Northern States have ever reconciled their differences and reunited?

When would the Confederate States have outlawed slavery?

Could this have changed the outcome of the 20th century conflicts in Europe?

These questions and many more are discussed by many writings and videos often with wildly different answers.  There is no real way of knowing what would have happened had this war turned out differently.  This is part of what makes it fun to speculate.  However, Gettysburg is not about alternate history.  It is about real history, and history we can learn from.  This is why I find it important to not just learn the fact, but also the lessons.  One can memorize the sequence of events in this battle, and every battle of the Civil War but still fail to take away the lessons from it.  One such lesion from this battle is to make sure we all continue to make smart decisions even when our egos have been boosted and our confidence peaked by a series of victories, in any situation in life.