Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Colorado Vacation – Part II

For Part I go here.

On Monday morning (our second day) Courtney and I woke up bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready for adventure! I started making breakfast burritos while Courtney finalized our plans for the day. Once our bellies were full we took off for Manitou Springs, a touristy little town not far from where we were staying. As I mentioned before, we were trying to get acclimated to the high altitude- walking around a small town seemed to fit the bill.

On the way to Manitou Springs we discovered that even Wal-Marts are cooler in Colorado. Why doesn't my neighborhood Wal-Mart look like a log cabin? Not fair.

Anyways, once we got to Manitou Springs we walked around, shopped, got some lemonade, and generally just enjoyed the amazing weather. Not only was the temperature usually in the 70's or 80's, but the total lack of humidity made it absolutely pleasant outside. Here is a shot of Manitou Springs:

While we were walking around I was looking for a cool hat and Courtney was looking for a Father's Day present (and anything else she wanted). I never did find a hat but Courtney found some good stuff. After walking up and down every street we decided to move on to our next destination... Garden of the Gods.

If you talk to anyone that has been within 7,000 miles of the Colorado Springs area you will hear about Garden of the Gods:

"You can't miss Garden of the Gods!"
"OMG... Colorado Springs... you going to see Garden of the Gods?!"
"I would sell my first born for 15 more minutes with Garden of the Gods."
"I tried to legally marry Garden of the Gods, but Arnold Schwarzenegger had beat me to it."

Needless to say, we had to go see the place. It was just a short drive from Manitou Springs and we were there in no time at all. The first thing you see entering Garden of the Gods (other than 2,200 tourist) is Balanced Rock:

If it wasn't for the fact I had seen old black and white photos of Model T's parked next to Balanced Rock I would have thought it was going to fall at any moment! It was pretty cool. After Balanced Rock we headed down some trails and checked out the landscape nearby:

Next we headed to the "main garden" and I proceed to take a gazillion photos. The place was very amazing, but the amount of tourists there was a little distracting (and this was on a Monday, I thought we were being smart). You should check out our entire Garden of the Gods gallery, but here a few pics to wet your appetite:

Can you see the climbers in two of the next three shots?

One interesting fact I heard secondhand is that most of the anchors in the rocks are 50-70 years old and they are not replaced unless experienced climbers see signs of metal fatigue or an anchor snaps while someone is climbing (yikes, and it actually happens). According to this article, and many other web sites, quite a few climbers and "rock scramblers" have died at Garden of the Gods. I guess I now understand why Courtney was mad at me for my own bouts of rock scrambling (sorry poopy)!

All of these pictures don't really give the proper impression of how enormous everything is. I guess I could say that about most of the pictures we took the entire week though. After Garden of the Gods we drove to the nearest book store and bought Best Hikes with Dogs Colorado and then proceeded a place called The Mason Jar in Colorado City for lunch. The Mason Jar claims to have the best chicken fried steak in the world and that claim certainly peaked my interest. I don't know if it was the best CFS in the world but it was pretty darn good (the gravy was certainly the bomb). The portions were also so large that we ended up skipping dinner- a good problem to have.

Once we got home we jumped back into our hiking shoes and checked out a local trail called Outlook Ridge. Although Outlook Ridge didn't have the immediate wow that Garden of the Gods had, it was completely devoid of tourists. We didn't see anybody the whole time we were out there.

You can check out the rest of the Outlook Ridge pictures here.

That was pretty much it for the day. We went back to our camp site, watched some Band of Brothers and went to sleep early for our next day- a hike along the Waldo Canyon trail!

Stay tuned for follow-up posts outlining the rest of our trip!

Update: Continue on to Part III

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Colorado Vacation - Part I

Hey everyone, this year we finally made it to Colorado for vacation! This is something Courtney and I had talked about for a few years now. Once we got the pop-up camper it was a done deal, our next major vacation had to be a trip to the Colorado mountains. :)

After settling on the Colorado Springs area I came across Mueller State Park. It is a fairly new state park with over 50 miles of trails (the rangers argue with the brochures and claim 65 miles of trails). Mueller State Park is also a working wildlife preserve (translation: no dogs on the trails) and smack in the middle of black bear country (translation: doh!). I did a bunch of interwebs research and settled on a specific camp site that we would reserve for Sunday through Thursday (to avoid the weekend crowds). Now onto the trip!

Saturday night we went to bed at 8:00 PM for an early rise (we were excited, so this was not easy). At 2 A.M. we woke up and hit the road by 3 A.M. We drove in 4 hour shifts and basically saw a bunch of this:

Although we finally got to see mountains around noon (fairly exciting since we hadn't been to Colorado in decades) I didn't get to do any mountain driving until around 1 P.M. I had read all about mountain towing, engine braking, etc. and I was fairly excited to get down to it. Lucky for me our camp site was at an elevation of 9600 feet, so I got to do plenty of engine breaking and veer through some crazy mountain passes. It was a lot fun for me- Courtney might feel different.

We finally arrived at Mueller State Park around 2 P.M. Our camp site was amazing, I think we had the best camp site in the park. We were fairly secluded at the edge of the camping area and had a fabulous view of Pikes Peak:

Courtney and I had both read about altitude sickness, but I don't think either one of us expected to get headaches once we got up there. Although we both felt kinda hungover we trudged on setting up our camp site. Once we were all setup we drove around the park, checking out everyone's setup of course, and found out where everything was. We then came back to our site and prepared pork fajitas (yum):

Now at this point we knew better than to exert ourselves but we just couldn't help it! There was a trail 20 feet from our camp site called "Peak View" and we decided to check it out. Oh my... Colorado is so beautiful! Although we went on some more amazing trails, you can pretty much just look in any direction up in the mountains and see something that takes your breath away (insert obvious altitude sickness pun here) and Peaks View was no exception.

We even got to see what I believe is a mule deer on our first trail. He walked right up to us like he didn't have a care in the world.

Courtney and I even started to wonder if he was coming to kick our ass but he finally walked away- can you see him below?

Back to the altitude sickness- this trail was kind of lame compared to most (in terms of physical demand) but you would have thought we were ascending Pikes Peak the way were acting! Our hearts were beating like crazy and we were short of breath every time we went uphill. We still had fun on the walk but as soon as we were back to our camp site we quickly arranged our schedule so that the tame tourist stuff occurred over the first couple of days (and the the more psychically demanding trails got pushed back to later in the week).

We closed the night out by going to bed early. We had been up for 20 hours straight, and on just a few hours of sleep, so were pretty beat.

On a side note: Monkey isn't allowed on trails at Mueller State Park, so his first day wasn't as exciting as ours. Don't worry though, we planned some pretty fun stuff for him in the coming days.

That's it, our first day. Stay tuned for follow-up posts outlining the rest of our trip!

Update: Continue on to Part II

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Strong City Rodeo

Last weekend we went to Emporia to visit Brian's mom and see the Strong City Rodeo.

I don't really remember going to any rodeos as a kid, so this was a fun, new experience.  Brian and his family went several times as a kid, but hadn't been in many, many years.

We went on the last night of the rodeo, which I guess is not the best night to go to because most of the "good guys" have already competed and moved on to the next city in the circuit, but it was still a lot of fun.  I was expecting more of a "fair" type setting, but it was really all about the rodeo with just a few concession stands next to the outdoor arena.

We saw bronco riding,

calf roping,

steer wrangling, barrel racing, and bull riding.

There was also a rodeo clown that put on a few acts of his own in between events to keep the crowd entertained.

My favorite event of the night was the bull riding.  It was fun to see the clowns taunt the bulls so the crowd could see some action.  Those people are insane!

It is a fun family event, and when the rodeo comes to the American Royal this year, we may just have to get tickets!  Yee haw!

More pics here.