Doing the I-80

Last weekend I drove to Colorado for the first time in a few years. That meant a traverse of Nebraska—otherwise known as the Great Midwest-West Transition Area—where, when proceeding east to west, one sees irrigated fields give way to ranches, the boundary of the cattle brand inspection regime, and finally Mountain Time.

While in Colorado we went with my young nephews to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to see exhibits on pirates and dinosaurs (to my disappointment, not combined).

Here are some pictures from the ride out.

Owen’s birthday

We were in Colorado last weekend to celebrate my new nephew’s first birthday. He just arrived from Korea in September so this was the first time Lore and I have seen him. He’s adorable. He’s also one of the quietest babies I’ve ever seen. Between him and his brother Jackson I was a bit overloaded on cuteness last weekend.

We all went to the Denver Zoo on Sunday. Here are some photographs:

Christmas in Colorado

My two year old nephew looks under the Christmas tree for his presents.
My two year old nephew looks under the Christmas tree for his presents.

United Airlines has a bad habit of not posting their delays until the last minute. In our case, they posted a two-hour delay ten minutes after the flight should have boarded. But we eventually escaped from icy Iowa to icy Colorado.

St. Nicholas visited my nephew Christmas morning in the form of his Uncle Mike in Santa drag. I’m not sure he understood it all, but he likes unwrapping gifts.

Looking back on it, we packed a lot of activity and inactivity into five days.

Thanksgiving in Colorado

Lore and I went to Colorado for Thanksgiving with my family. My nephew is almost two and now speaks in more or less complete sentences. He’s also prone to occasional bouts of the terribles: “Mine!”

A toddler descends snow-covered steps in his blue snowsuit.
A toddler descends snow-covered steps in his blue snowsuit.

The Front Range may be known for its great weather but it snows just about every time I go there for the holidays. Lore experienced snow on the ground for the first time. She said she thought it would be more like shaving cream. It was more like a wet snow good only for making hard, welt-raising snowballs.

A woman's black-gloved hands hold a small white snowball.
A woman's black-gloved hands hold a small white snowball.

We also went up to Boulder to see how the other half lives. One shop sold hand-made Peruvian knit caps for about $56. Lore can get them in Argentina for five pesos (Ar$5,00).

An Art Deco stone courthouse lit with green and red holiday lights.
An Art Deco stone courthouse lit with green and red holiday lights.

Adventures in Colorado

I was with my folks in Colorado last week and part of this. My uncle made it out too.

I decided to drive. For some reason, possibly the approach of the Democratic National Convention, flights to Denver were outrageously expensive, so I drove. Yep, another trip across most of Nebraska, something most people bemoan but I happen to find not so bad. The four hours it takes me to get across Iowa are much more tedious.

A girl in a tight tee shirt walks the aisle of a stadium with a card reading I-20.We went to a Rockies-Nationals game to see some minor league baseball in a major league stadium. My brother got some free tickets through work. We were in the Men’s Club section, which means that a Hooters-type girl raced up and down the aisle with cards so we could play bingo. I didn’t quite understand, except that it was an excuse not to watch the game.

The author riding a horse.We did a little bit of horseback riding. When I say a little bit I mean a little bit around a small corral. My uncle even managed to snap a photo of me that doesn’t make me look like a fat bastard.

My uncle and I went up to Estes Park and into Rocky Mountain National Park. I took him up to Bear Lake, which is good activity for the elevation-unacclimatized. It was so very busy there, though.

A toddle catches a kiss blown to him by his mother.One of my major activities was playing with my nephew. His parents don’t use the television as a babysitter, so having him around is good way to stay occupied. He talks enough that we can have rudimentary conversations. He loves keys for some reason so you have to keep an eye on them.

On the way home I stayed off the Interstate all the way to Grand Island. US-34 in eastern Colorado is a good place to see high-density cattle feed lots, if that interests you. In southwestern Nebraska the attraction is giant grain elevators. I stopped in the little city of McCook, Nebraska, which must be the cleanest city I have ever seen. Their mayor must hate litter because there was none.

A road sign reads Leaving Brand Inspection Area.And just past McCook, I found the holy grail of Great Plains travel: a “Leaving Brand Inspection Area” sign, a convenient tool (according to John) for demarcating the West and the Midwest. Unfortunately I passed the same sign again closer to Hastings, so I’m still a little confused.

In between holidays

It keeps snowing here in Iowa. We got six inches after I flew out Denver last Saturday and then a few more inches on Friday. It even snowed on Christmas Day in Colorado. My brother keeps telling me how mild the winters are there but every time I’ve been there in the fall or winter it has snowed.

Christmas was nice. I’ll be spending the New Year here in Iowa, which is a break from my usual routine of spending it with friends in New York or New Jersey.

Things in the sky

I’m back from the holiday weekend in Colorado. I spent a fair amount of time playing with my nearly one-year-old nephew. He’s so cute I can’t stand it. He walks around now and babbles in baby talk.

The flights were uneventful, and were a nice break from my recent streak of delays and other nonsense. The Cedar Rapids airport has a giant mobile in the terminal of different mythological representations of the cosmos, which I took a picture of in my boredom.

Iowa was cold on Thursday, but Colorado was much colder. It was well below freezing most of the time I was there. They even had more snow than we got in Iowa.

When I got to my brother’s place in Colorado, I was startled by a much closer celestial object: a hot air balloon.

Great Plains and Rocky Mountains

Here are photos from my recent trip across the western Great Plains of Nebraska into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Rocky Mountains

I’m done with three days of camping and hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park.

A saw-toothed ridge of bare gray mountains cuts into the clear blue sky.
Rocky mountains

The Aspenglen campground is off the shuttle route, but it’s small, quiet, and near Estes Park. The tent sites are really nice, which for me means it is easy to drive my tent stakes into the ground with a rock. The park provides each camping loop with a bear-proof food locker, but I was only one who used it. I figured out why pretty fast: The families and couples who camp there bring tons of food–the backs of their SUVs and minivans are loaded with coolers, Rubbermaid bins, and the tools of eating and cooking. And I thought I brought too much food. Most of it fit in a container borrowed from my mom; I also have a portable gas camp stove and some utensils. Anyway, the bear lockers are a good idea; they’re not secured against other campers but they let us store food somewhere other than our cars. With better planning families should be able to bring less food and store it in the locker.

Three pine trees on the slope of a valley meadow clearing surrounded by coniferous forest.
Little Horseshoe Park

So I hiked about 20 miles in three days, and my knees were screaming during the last half-mile. I’m icing them now. I’ve decided I like the scenery of the desert Southwest better than the mountains, but I really like hiking up those high mountain lakes. Sometimes when I’m looking up at the tall, barren, mountain tops I wonder, “what’s up there?” and I know that’s what drives people to climb them. And it’s hard to believe that when you’re climbing up a steep mountain trail that there’s a lake up there somewhere.

A clear blue lake is lined with pines and spruces, flanked by gray mountains, and fed from melting glaciers.
Emerald Lake

Rocky Mountain is a busy park. I know it has it’s quieter areas but I didn’t go to them this time around. I know from experience that no matter how many people crowd around a trailhead, I can outhike most of them to find some quiet. But there were quite a few people up at Lake Haiyaha and Black Lake, though there were still many people up there. Contrast that with my backcountry trip to Baker Lake at Great Basin National Park, far from any metropolitan areas or even large towns, where I saw no one for twenty-four hours.

An orange, black, and white butterfly on a yellow flower with wings spread displays a false-eye pattern.
Butterfly on a yellow flower

I saw mountain bluebirds and tassle-eared squirrels, and coyotes for the first time. I caught a glimpse of something on the opposite slope of Black Lake; maybe it was a cougar, but it could have been anything.

Pawnee National Grassland

I entered Colorado this morning by the back door, passing through Pawnee National Grassland.

An ocean of short green grass extends from the barbed wire fence along the road to the hills on the horizon.

Aside from being awed by the massiveness of this tract of shortgrass prairie, I saw a small group of pronghorns attempt to cross the road. A couple made it across, then panicked when a truck approached and returned to the field. Those barbed wire fences mean nothing to the pronghorns, they stuck it to the man and jumped right over.

A brown pronghorn on the green shortgrass prairie shows me his white rump.

Home

Last night we ate at a fondue restaurant. I’d never done this before but it was fun and educational. You cook some of the food yourself in oil or broth (I ordered a plate of vegetables, for example). There’s also cheese and chocolate for the respective appetizers and desserts.

Back in Iowa. Modern air travel continues to amaze me. Yesterday I was riding a horse. Tonight I am typing on my computer, which I finally unpacked this afternoon. This morning I was driving past the arid yellowed grasslands of Colorado under a clear blue sky and by afternoon I was driving past the lush green farms of Iowa.

By the way, Colorado corn is puny compared to Iowa corn. Puny!

Western-style recreation

The author, in blue jeans and a red shirt, on brown horse at a horse ranch.I got on my dad’s horse Belle yesterday. Though I haven’t ridden a horse since last fall I was comfortable and she was much better behaved than last time. In the evening we went handgun shooting at a range in Fort Collins. It’s really easy to get a handgun in Colorado. My father, brother, and sister-in-law have made a little hobby out of it. It’s not really my cup of tea (I’d rather shoot a rifle if anything) but when in Colorado do as the transplanted Long Islanders do.

Two emus in a pen: one close-up, the other crouching beyond.

A prairie dog gets ready to dart into its hole as I approach to take a photo.

2007: Let ‘er rip

A family relaxes after the chaos of Christmas morning gift opening.Picture of the Christmas morning aftermath. You’ll notice that the sofa in my brother’s house is built for lazing around.

I managed to get in and out of Denver between blizzards without incident, but I couldn’t get out of Newark on Monday on time because of slightly inclement weather and low visibility.

I missed my connection in Chicago and, rather than wait overnight at the airport for the next flight to Cedar Rapids, I rented a car and drove the 210 miles home. I think I let my impatience get the best of me. The rental car was more expensive than the money I hope to be refunded by United, and I was dead exhausted the next day. I had figured I wouldn’t sleep at the airport anyway.

Christmas Eve

Adam in a blue plaid flannel shirt cradling newborn Jackson in his arms.Everyone’s watching football, which bores the hell out of me, so I’m posting a photo of my nephew Jackson. He sleeps almost all the time. When he’s awake he’s feeding or getting changed or taking a bath. He’s not very “interactive” at this point. My dad showed me a photo of me when I was an infant, and I looked a lot like Jackson.

In Colorado

Rows of unclaimed luggage line the baggage claim area while people wait on a very long line to go through the security control.My flight to Denver went just fine, but it took about two hours to get my bag. The ice on the ground was slowing down the baggage trucks. When I landed there were phalanxes of snowplows plowing away. The airport is still reeling from the blizzard. I didn’t see any “campers” but there was a lot of stranded luggage. The line for security control was queued all the way around the baggage claim area, which at Denver International is pretty far away; a three hour wait one of the airport workers told me.

Colorado blizzard

It’s snowing like damn in Colorado. I just called my brother and they’re totally shut in there, not having to go work, with his loving wife and their newborn baby, and his in-laws who cooked a delicious turkey dinner. Those, poor, unfortunate bastards.

Conveniently, this natural disaster is scheduled to end tomorrow at noon. That should give C-DOT plenty of time to plow me a route between Denver International Airport and my folks’ place in Longmont.

Meanwhile, it’s hardly seemed like winter is upon us here in Iowa. Since that frigid weekend earlier this month it’s been no worse than winter in, say, the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Home from the holiday

I got back home at about midnight last night, after a relatively smooth flight. I was due for a smooth flight after my canceled flight in July, getting stiffed on a ride from the airport in August, and having to bail out on the inflatable slide in September.

A saddled brown horse with a white blaze hitched to a post in front of a white stable.I capped off the holiday weekend with another trip to the horse ranch with Colorado Red (my dad) and The Horse Whisperer (my brother). I couldn’t manage to get Belle, my dad’s horse, into the big pasture, but I maneuvered her around a simple course in a little arena.

Horseback riding with Colorado Red

I’m in Colorado with my family. My dad (a.k.a. Colorado Red) has been spending a lot of time at the horse ranch. He’s even getting into “horse trading” so to speak. We went riding Thursday and today. This time I rode a new, more mellow horse named Belle. I did pretty well for a greenhorn. My brother and I played some racquetball yesterday, from which I’m really stiff.

I’m going back to Iowa (and my sleepy job) tomorrow but I’ll be back in Colorado for Christmas. I’m thinking about doing some snowshoeing up in Rocky Mountain NP. I never go up there when I visit here, I think I’d like to spend some time there next time.