Devil’s Bridge

During some of the coldest days of this Colorado winter we (Peter and Renée) sneaked off to Sedona Arizona to escape some of the severe cold for temps that seem downright balmy by comparison.  Once again this year we were rewarded for our efforts.  Both locales feature great days of sunshine, but winter in Sedona is generally warmer than our hometown of Fort Collins in northern Colorado. Different for us this year was the company we kept.  Our son, Doug, and his wife, Heidi, joined us for about a week of our trip.  When Doug and Heidi are with us we tend to be outdoors most of the time.  Hiking and running were significant activities for us.  Doug and Peter were training for the Sedona Run which was held on February 2nd.  They both ran and did well.  Doug excelled by placing first in his age group in the ten kilometer race and Peter placed fourth in his age group in the half marathon event.

Hiking was the activity that allowed all four of us to interact with nature at the same time and place.  We hiked to Devil’s Bridge in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness and found a new part of Sedona to enjoy. It rained overnight so the ground was wet and the water was flowing in streams and tributaries along the way.  The water added depth to the tones of red rock and sand.  We had lots of company on the trails, including four wheel drive vehicles with high clearance levels that allowed them to skip a good portion of the hike that we did.  As we got closer to the Bridge we could see dots of people making their way up the hills toward the bridge.  The Bridge is one of the few arches that people can walk on top of. Renée opted out of crossing the Bridge but the three of us made it out and back without mishap.  The top of the Bridge is about 45′ or 50′ above the surrounding area. This is one spectacular natural arch.

 


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Hallett Peak @ 12,713′

Beside getting up a 4:00 am I had a great day hiking to the summit of Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I’m training for a backpacking trip with my son Doug and his wife Heidi later in July so I need to get out and hike.  This trip was about 10.7 miles long and had an elevation gain of about 3,200′.  The hike starts at Bear Lake and heads west through a pine forest that transitions into a krummholz area before reaching treeline.  Then the trail wends its way through alpine tundra to the summit of Flattop Mountain.  From there the hike is across the top edge of the Tyndall Glacier to the base of Hallett Peak.  The steep climb to the top forced me to take it slow and use a rest stepping technique to save energy and keep a steady pace.

The hike through the pine forest was on top of dozens of slippery snow drifts,  I used my micro spikes for the worst parts.  As I wound my way into the krummholz forest the drifts were fewer and not as deep.  Breaking into the open sky tundra is always a treat seeing the adjacent mountain peaks and expansive snow fields.  I enjoyed the dozens of marmots sunning themselves and chasing after one another over their rocky habitat.  I saw only one pika but was pleasantly surprised by the sighting of some ptarmigan right next to the trail.  They are taking on their summer plumage blending in extremely well with the rocks along the trail.

Attracted to Warmth #2: Five kilometers

One of the advantages of warmth in the winter is the ability to train in comfort.  Training for me right now is running and hiking.  To set a short term goal for myself I signed up to run a 5 kilometer event at the Sedona Marathon.  Even though this is a fun run I try to be sort of competitive.  I don’t want to be embarrassed with my performance.  I checked the run results of last year’s event in my age category and the first place time was much faster than I was running this year.  Oh well, maybe that runner will have a off day if he runs this year.

I ran parts of the route during the week as I prepared for the Saturday event and I saw hills.  I hate hills.  Hills are my nemesis.  As I ran I remembered hiking hills and the technique I used.  When I encountered a hill I just have to keep my head down and didn’t take in the whole elevation.  I applied this technique and it seemed to work.  Maybe I’ve rediscovered something.

I ran several days during the week in preparation.  I picked up my packet on Friday and felt good that things are falling into place for my preparation.

A little light breakfast on Saturday morning and off we go.  Renée dropped me off near the start of the event and I took in some of the festivities and drama prior to the start of the marathon and the half in staggered succession.  Not many runners competing for the 26 miles honors.  More runners signed up for the half and even more for the 10 kilometer event.  The 5 k event started at 9:30 sharp.  The route was slightly different than I envisioned at the very start, but the bulk of the route was as expected. During the run I keep my eyes open for the other old guys running, hoping at least to keep pace with them.  Only one time did I see another older runner ahead of me but he stopped on a hill and I passed him.  I had enough left in me to sprint a little into the finish chute.  After grabbing some water and a banana chunk I looked around for any results.  A table of computers was set up for runners to check their results.  The screen popped up in response to my bib number being entered and I was delighted to find that I came in first among the old codgers in the 5 k run.  My winnings consisted of a can of coffee and a paid spot in the run for 2019.  Cool.

Medal in hand

Results

Attracted to Warmth #1

Sharp

Renée and I typically take a trip to a warmer clime sometime early on in each new year. This year was typical for us, we traveled to Arizona for a few weeks. The 70° temps warmed our spirits as well as our bodies.  Our first stop brought us to red rock country Sedona.  We stayed here two weeks and hiked many trails seeking out hidden geocaches and avoiding all things sharp and pointed.  Midgley Bridge was the jumping off point for two hikes in opposite directions one heading to the Jim Thompson Trail and the other along the Huckaby Trail.  The Thompson took us up high, but below the towering red peaks of Shiprock.  The Huckaby challenged us to rock hop across the splashing Oak Creek and later hike high above the Creek as we wended our way back toward Schnebly Road.  We found many caches and earned our supper each night.

Island Paradise

The doorbell rang at 2:00 am.  Renée quickly jumped toward the door.  She smiled and said, “we’ll be right there.” That was the start of our trip to Puerto Rico.  Our Green Shuttle ride had arrived to escort us to Denver International Airport.

In the dreary cold of winter we hatched a plan to spend some time in a warm place so we could come back to Colorado with our hearts and minds warm and better able to deal with whatever weather was handed to us in Fort Collins.  Puerto Rico sounded appropriately exotic yet close enough for easy logistics.  So Puerto Rico it would be.  We booked a timeshare and made flight accommodations that would give us a 16 day immersion in our tropical paradise.  With a stop over in Houston we found ourselves at San Juan International Airport on Sunday about noon.  We hopped a shuttle van that took us to the car rental place and by 6:00 pm Island time we were checking in to the resort.  A pleasant part of the check in process was to get our first of possible daily margaritas, a signature practice at this Margaritaville Resort.  “Come to the front desk between noon and two O’clock and we’ll pour you a margarita, on the house.”  Pretty cool.  We took advantage of this practice and even stretched their limits by looking tired and very thirsty upon our late return from a day of hiking.

Our studio unit overlooked the pool complex and the Atlantic Ocean shoreline.  We spent many hours listening to the pounding surf and watching sun bathers from our little balcony.

We were pleased that the only tropical rain forest in the United States was a short drive away.  El Yunque National Forest boasts over 200 inches of rain each year.  We spent several days learning our way around and exploring the many trails in the rain forest.

Our first stop was to the Visitor Center, El Portal, where we watched an informative video about the rainforest and its many inhabitants.  We planned a couple of hikes and identified geocaches that we could find along the way.  The view from the top of El Yunque at 3,496′ was spectacular.  Clouds played a constant role in what could be seen.  Massive thunderheads menaced but stayed away from the areas I hiked.  The nearly constant clouds and rain in the forest produced a lush, green, textured tapestry of shapes and forms.  Many of the structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s including the road to the summit and structures that provided shelter and scenic overlooks.

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La Coca Waterfalls

We attended a geocaching event in Caguas where we met many enthusiastic and welcoming cachers.  We met outdoors at the community’s art center and talked all things geocaching.  On two separate occasions we were subsequently invited to cache with two of the outstanding cachers in the community.  Mucho gratias, Ellinas and Omarcheli.  On a hot Sunday afternoon we traveled across a large portion of the countryside to Cabo Rojo to see the lighthouse at the far southwestern corner of the island.  Our other Sunday trip was to geocache along the coastline in Old San Juan. Along the way we encountered University professionals expressing their concerns about proposed budget cuts.

The trip gave us a much better perspective about Puerto Rico and the wonderous place that it is.  Locals love the heat and cherish that they can travel from a dry forest in the south to its tropical rain forest in the matter of an hour or so.  People we encountered were open and welcoming and more than happy to help translate for us.

Demonstration at Capitol.

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Faro Los Morrillos

Geocaching event

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Mount Britton

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El Portal Visitor Center

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Near the summit in El Yunque.

Micro stream in rain forest.

Colorado: Hiking and Caching

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Greyrock Mountain

What’s not to like when you live in Colorado and can hike in the mountains and look for hidden geocaches?

Renee and I moved to Colorado from Wisconsin six years ago and every day appreciate the beauty and freshness of living in the mountains. While we may miss Lake Michigan and its beauty, the wildness so close to us is a treasure.  I drove a half hour into the Poudre Canyon from our home in Fort Collins to the Greyrock trail head in the Roosevelt National Forest.  As soon as I exit our forest green Corolla I have access to the wild.  I cross a pedestrian bridge over the Cache La Poudre River and listen to the raging current of the wild water rushing below.  The thick wood planking of the deck absorbs my bounce as I cross over to the start of the trail.

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Trail map

My mission today is to be the first to find a geocache hidden a few miles away west of the summit of Greyrock Mountain.  My twenty pound pack contains the essentials I need to be safe as a hiker including lots of water and navigation instruments.  My route today will be the slightly steeper but more direct route to the Upper Fork on the Summit Trail.  From there I must travel west along the Meadows Trail down to the Meadows before I bushwhack a half mile north across the Meadow to the cache called Mushroom Rock.  The morning sky is deep blue and the 61°F temperature makes it ideal for a climb up the trail.  Wild flowers dot the trail in bright clusters to punctuate the otherwise green bushes close to the rocky dirt path.  The high timbered walls of the canyon loom overhead in dark hues of live green conifers and fire blackened trunks from a devastating wild fire a few years ago.  I appreciate the shaded walkway as I hustle myself in quick steps in a continuous upward direction.

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Summit Trail

The insects buzz from blossom to blossom taking advantage of the abundance of the beebalm flowers taking their turn in the succession of blooming plants.  As I gain altitude the sun floods the open areas and warms up everything.  Run off waters from higher elevations stream across the trail making muddy boots a certainty.  As I round a bend in the pathway a mule deer doe freezes in place with alert eyes watching my every move.  A few more steps and she decides to scamper across the stream to the sheltered bank of willow bushes.  The switchbacks allow me to gain elevation without requiring a super steep climb.

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Greyrock at Upper Fork

After nearly two hours of hiking I reach the upper limits of the rocky surroundings.  The summit of Greyrock looms before me.  My mission is not to summit the rock but to hike downhill to the west to access the Meadow and then toward the hidden geocache.  I sit at a bench and eat a snack while I listen and watch the birds swoop from tree to tree and munch on their own snacks of tasty morsels.  My hiking style changes a bit as I must hike in a downward motion using muscles in a different way.  I  follow the Meadow Trail till I reach the grasses hundreds of feet below the Upper Fork.  Next I exit the trail and begin my bushwhacking through the waist high grasses and over wet soft soil.  A couple of hundred yards north I exit the tall grasses and the terrain turns into a dry grass area with many small cacti with extremely sharp needles.  Yellow and orange blanket flowers dot the ground just before I enter an area of trees as the ground rises again above the grassy meadow.  As the trees increase in number and density I spot the “mushroom rock”  dubbed that by Tiny Tuttle (the geocache owner) who placed the container.  My Garmin GPS device brings me close to the rock and the hint given by the cache owner provided me with text to locate exactly where to seek the container wrapped in camouflaged duct tape.  I sign the paper log sheet with our caching name, Pixel Magic, and return the container in the exact same spot so it can be found by the next cacher.  Hooray.  Pixel Magic is the first to find this cache.

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Meadows below Greyrock

I retrace my steps to return to the trail and start my route back to the trail head on a slightly longer route known as the Meadows Trail.  The hike continues up and down in elevation along a generally drier route.

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Bull snake

As I emerge from the relative darkness in the trees to the sun drenched open trail I chance upon a bull snake warming itself draped across my pathway.  I check to identify the snake and capture a photo (from a distance).  I walk around the snake and it moves off the trail into the adjacent shrubbery.

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Butterflies on Beebalm (Who knew?)

The suns seems to have activated the butterflies.  I spend a few minutes enjoying their whimsical flight.  My journey continues from the higher elevations to the lower areas.  As I do so the pathway once again crosses small streams that allow the greenery to grow with lush deep greenery.  Along with the bushes and flowers a bumper crop of poison ivy encroaches the pathway.  I’m glad I’m wearing long pants.

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Currant bush

A flash of red catches my eye.  I’ve grown accustomed to the purples and yellows and this plant stands out as different.  Currants are starting to grow and ripen along with black raspberries.

Greyrock

Hike Tracks

My hike eventually takes me over a route of 7.6 miles with an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet.  It is a good work out for me.  Geocaching presents the opportunity to hike with a purpose and enjoy the beautiful flora and fauna of wild Colorado.

 

 

First European Experience

Our street view in Rome.

Our street view in Rome (minus the trash).

For years we talked about going to Europe.

The time was never right.

It cost too much to fly.

It takes too long to get there.

Where would we stay?

Can we handle a foreign tongue?

2015 provided answers for us.  We made the plunge to experience Europe by exploring Rome for three days and then cruising to Islands of Greece and Turkey.  We made the trip in late August flying from Denver through Chicago to Rome.  A shuttle service was pre-arranged to take us from the Rome Airport to our lodging in the heart of ancient Rome.  Our shuttle driver spoke little English and took great pleasure in trying to scare us en route.  There were lanes striped on the roadways but our driver was too busy honking to be concerned about staying in any lane.  He honked at most of the young females we passed along the route. We booked a hotel for three nights so we could explore Rome before we boarded our cruise ship.  Our driver made a couple of stops at conventional hotels for some of the others on our shuttle before dropping us off at the intersection of what appeared to be two dark, narrow alleys.  He pointed us toward one of the alley ways and gestured for us to go forward.  We reluctantly rolled our luggage on uneven ancient cobblestones seeing trash piled in ripped bags, doubting whether we were in the right place.  We could see no signage.  No marquee.  Amidst the tall four story structures towering above us nothing recognizable.  Nothing that would indicate a hotel is nearby.  We hoped we didn’t get dumped and abandoned.  I pulled our confirmation papers from my luggage and checked for an address or a phone.  Great.  We were warned not to use our phones in Europe to save the expense.  I don’t even see a street sign.  We had the sinking feeling that we just been dumped by our flirtatious driver.  With paper in hand and an exasperated expression on our faces we were greeted by a gentleman who exited one of the buildings ahead.  I walked to him and showed him our confirmation papers.  He smiled and gestured us to come forward.  We were in the right place.  We just had not recognized that we were there.  Adjacent to a doorway ahead was a listing of dozens of names.  One of the names was that of our hotel. The gentleman worked for the hotel and helped us get checked in.  The check in was on the second floor accessed by a narrow circular stairway through a dark doorway and into a hall that led to a small desk.  We checked in and were shown our rooms in a separate building across the alleyway.  Two keys and a room pass were required for our entry after we negotiated a flight of terrazzo stairs to the second floor and the Coliseum Suite.  The passkey is required to gain entry, but is also needed to keep the power on in the unit.  A control panel just inside the doorway controls the power for everything inside our unit.  When the card is removed the power goes off.  That’s nifty and different.  We adjusted to our unit, clean and modern.  It took a bit to get adjusted to walking down the dark hallway to get the motion detector to trigger the lights on.  Energy consumption must be a major concern here.  After a brief rest while our room was cooling we ventured out to find the on and off red shuttle bus for a tour around town.  We asked around at the information kiosks about where to board the bus, but no one knew.  We ended up walking a lot, at a time when Renee was hardly up to the challenge of walking distances.  She did amazingly well using her cane to assist a bit.  We could see the buses driving by on the major streets we walked on, but none were stopping.  We learned later that there were certain designated on and off points.  I ended up waving down a driver who took pity on us and allowed us to quickly board.  That was our quick introduction to Rome and we had only been there for a few hours.  More to come.

Lots of shops and businesses along the via.

Lots of shops and businesses along the via.