Views and Thrills on the way to Lake Mills

Hiking RMNP, Part 1

Approaching Mills Lake, RMNP

Approaching Mills Lake, RMNP

After three nights of camping at Ohaver Lake near Salida, we followed a Western route through curvaceous and vertiginous roads to Estes Park.   Here we stayed at the Stone Brook lodge in our own private cabin complete with a balcony and outdoor hot tub overlooking a roiling, swollen creek. Paula, the owner, was a gracious host, even providing us with a stick of butter for our grilled potato on our last night of the stay. Stone Brook has a strict ‘no children, no pets, no guests’ rule, which would have ruled us out if we’d been traveling with the kids but was absolutely perfect for two tired school teachers running from the cluster and bustle of Houston. The hot tub was listed as a ‘private’ hot tub on the web site, but we discovered when we arrived that ‘private’ meant ‘not shared with other residents,’ as opposed to ‘hidden from view of everyone else.’ Alas, we kept our swimsuits on when enjoying the soothing jets, which turned out to be just the remedy for tired legs and feets.

The view on the Trail to Mills Lake

The view on the Trail to Mills Lake

An Elk in the Trail

An Elk in the Trail

"Our" Elk, up close

“Our” Elk, up close

Our first hike was a 3.2 mile trek to Mills Lake, accessible from a multi-site trailhead down Bear Creek Road. Here’s some very useful advice for hikers at RMNP: get there EARLY! Parking spots fill up and you’ll have to take a shuttle if you can’t beat the crowd, plus RMNP is a popular place, so your trail will be filled with other hikers of various ages and physical condition with their extendable hiking poles, babies, and hurried expressions. We were rewarded within the first mile: an Elk was stopped on our path and after we watched her for a bit before she stepped aside to let us pass within a few feet of her. These animals are used to people but must have an aversion to crying babies and squealing children, because once the path was cluttered with humanity there were none to be seen.

Mountain Path

Mountain Path

Pines and mountains

Pines and mountains

Crossing Streams

Crossing Streams

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Alberta Falls

On the way to Mills Lake you’ll pass Alberta Falls, a respectable waterfall which serves as a great photo opportunity. Unfortunately, even at 7:30 a.m. there are other hikers along the path, so communing naked with the water was out of the question.

Flowers on the mountain

Flowers on the mountain

Cindy plays in snow

Cindy plays in snow

Hiking on snow

Hiking on snow

Colorado this year was unusually moist and there was a fair amount of snow on the ground as we got closer to our destination. Most of it was a bit slippery and squishy, and dirty from hikers plying the route, but it was ‘no big thang’ and certainly not persistent enough to warrant skis.

A selfie, thanks to a couple of helpful hikers

A selfie, thanks to a couple of helpful hikers

Cindy at Mills Lake

Cindy at Mills Lake

Mills Lake

Mills Lake

The views along the route were wonderful. We debated, even as we reached the trail juncture, of traveling an additional 2.7 miles to Sky Pond, but took the shorter route to Mills Lake and were rewarded for it. A serene, mountain lake surrounded by trees, it was mirror clear when we arrived. A swarm of large and logy mosquitos descended upon us as we ate a mountain snack, but they quickly dispersed when repellent was applied.

Whiskey Flight at the Historic Stanley Hotel

Whiskey Flight at the Historic Stanley Hotel

Having conquered our first RMNP trail we hit the hot tub, rested, then went for dinner at the historic Stanley Hotel. Supposedly Stephen King got some inspiration for The Shining from this place, possibly at the restaurant, which offered a whiskey tasting flight. Choosing three from the hundreds of selections proved difficult, but the Sazerac won the day with its smooth yet complex flavor that settled well into the throat.

Wandering Nakedly

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From Salida, go north (or from Buena Vista, go south) on highway 285 until you reach county road 270. Go west for about 3 ½ miles (part of it is dirt road), then turn south again for a mile and a half until you reach the well-marked trailhead. Follow the signs, go up the hill, and you’re on your way.

Brown's Creek Trail, the EZ part

Brown’s Creek Trail, the EZ part

View from Brown's Creek Trail

View from Brown’s Creek Trail

The first part of this trail is a climb; for those unaccustomed to hiking or higher altitude, it’ll wear you out. We stopped frequently to catch our breath, but this isn’t so bad. The view is quite nice: pine and aspen forest, mountains, and on our morning, low clouds that hugged the treetops and gave our journey a murky, nubilous feel. After about ¾ mile, the path flattens, and the climb is much more gradual. Brown’s creek was raging due to ample quantities of rain that had fallen in Colorado recently, so the views of the stream and the multiple crossings of it we made were fun and picturesque.

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Brown's Creek Falls

Brown’s Creek Falls

The waterfall is about 3 miles from the trailhead, and worth the hike. We left early and, with no one else on the trail (so we thought) decided to ‘walk the walk’ and get a picture of ourselves greeting this natural wonder as God intended: buck naked. For those of you who are interested in trying this the next time you’re alone in the woods, we’ll offer this advice:

1) Be kind, and make sure there is no one else on the trail or within viewing distance. No one wants to be enjoying the beauty of trees and streams and mountains along a forest trail and come face to face with your bare ass, no matter how firm and sexy you think it is.

2) Move quickly. We recommend setting the shot BEFORE taking off your clothes so you don’t end up running around naked trying to find the best spot to frame yourself against whatever other natural beauty you’re trying to capture. Use a camera with a timer and a tripod, but if you don’t have a tripod, placing the camera on top of a rock can also work well.

3) Once you’ve got your shot you’ll want to dress quickly. Someone might be coming, and quite frankly it was pretty darn cold up there against the waterfall.

Celebrating Nature at Brown's Creek Falls

Celebrating Nature at Brown’s Creek Falls

We wish you all fun and adventure and some great naked pics from famous places! Feel free to email us if you do manage to get bare-assed against a scenic mountain lake, waterfall, or National Monument, and we’ll be happy to post it here!

Reaching Climax

Johnson Tunnel, Camp Dick, and other things along the road

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From Salida we traveled north on 285, gaining a spectacular view of the Collegiate Peaks to our west (Mt. Princeton, Mt. Yale, Mt. Harvard).  Once on highway 24 we stopped for breakfast at Jan’s Family Restaurant in Buena Vista, a lovely dining place with amazing food (the omelet must have been made with a dozen eggs, and the Huevos Rancheros was a giant plate size spectacle slathered with refried beans and green chili sauce).

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Once in Leadville, highway 91 took us to Frisco and I70 via Climax, Colorado, also known as Freemont Pass, at 11,318 feet. On the way down we passed through the Johnson Tunnel and then found our way to Frisco and I70 was its usual catastrophe of high speed vehicles and bad drivers, but once we got off at Highway 6 the route turned frantically scenic.

The route into Estes Park involves highway 119 to Nederland, then highway 72 for 23 miles and finally highway 7 into the city. There seems to be four ways to travel this path. First and least popular, hitchhiking. We saw a father and two young children trying to catch a ride going south. Folks, you know, in movies this activity never turns out well, either for the hiker or the. . .picker-upper.

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Bicycling seems to be quite popular, though I can’t imagine it is very relaxing. There are more hills and twists and turns than candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential ticket, and the cyclists we saw seemed to be in genuine (not imagined) pain, spinning their tires in the lowest possible gear and moving up a 7% grade at about 5 feet per minute.

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Motorcycles (or choppers, baby) were also prevalent. Here’s a tip: don’t flip off the roving packs of cyclists you see on the road—they’ll follow you for miles.

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Cars were by far the vehicle of choice, and from your car you can see plenty of scenery on the way and occasional turn outs, but don’t expect to see a gas station or any semblance of civilization once you’re past Nederland. There is Camp Dick, just south of Estes Park; recreation.gov will give you more information about this seminal camping institution.

Wanna see my beaver?

Camping at Ohaver Lake

Warning: this post contains raw, uncensored, wet, naked beaver shots.

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Ohaver lake sits at 9,000 feet above sea level, about 3.5 miles off highway 285 just eight miles south of Salida, Colorado.  The word “Idyllic” barely begins to describe this camping spot. You can reserve a site on this newly remodeled campground by going to www.recreation.gov for about $20 a night. Nicely shaded, each site has a fine tent pad, a fire ring, and a picnic table. All sites are close to vault toilets and water.

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Most of the campers arrived in RVs, but we did it the old fashioned way, in a tent. Be prepared for extremes in weather. When the sun is out it feels hot, but at night (we were there June 10-13) it gets downright cold, and we didn’t feel a damn bit guilty about sitting in the car when we woke up and it was 38 degrees outside. Be prepared for afternoon rains. During one of these rainstorms the wind was gusting so fiercely it nearly collapsed our tent.

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There are fish in Ohaver lake. In the mere hour or so that we tried to catch some the fishes were not eating what we offered, but the fly fishermen floating around with flippers in little inflatable boats seemed to be having better luck.

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There is a path that circles the entire lake and makes and excellent evening walk. During one of these we saw this beaver, whom we named Melvin, frolicking in the water.

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Pictures do not do this place justice. It might be one of the most beautiful places on earth. A perfect place to get engaged.

Who Knew You Could Find THIS in the Mountains?

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve 

Along the drive through Colorado, travelers see a plethora of breathtaking sights – mountains, cliffs, streams, rivers, wildlife. What I never expected to see, however, was sand dunes. Huge ones. Did I mention HUGE? These, I’m telling you, these are NOT your grandma’s sand dunes!

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After driving through an extensive, wide, flat prairie encircled by gorgeous snow-capped mountains, we suddenly could see the sand dunes in the distance. Seeing them from a distance, though, seriously, is not good enough.

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These dunes are massive. Mountain tall. And there are a lot of them! In order to get to them, visitors get to wade through what, when we were there, was a broad, surging stream, sometimes knee deep, of ice cold water rushing down from the mountains. Fun!

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Standing at the base of these dunes, heralded as the tallest in North America, one could feel small, insignificant. Unless, of course, you bring some white sheets and play Lawrence of Arabia. (No, we didn’t do that. We DID wish we had thought of it!) People climbing up them looked like ants leaving the mound. Looking up at them, I had to wonder how in the HELL something like this could be. According to the brochure we got in the visitor’s center, the dunes are, “Eroded from mountains, then shattered by freezing and thawing, and tumbled by streams and winds…”

Walking along the sand dunes, at the base of them, can be a bit painful for those of us that are tender-footed as the sand here is not as fine as one would expect. However, as we climbed, the sand became reminiscent of that we would find at the beach – hot, fine, and difficult to walk through.

If you get a chance, go. They’re awesome!

Politics Free Suzy G

Our Recalcitrant Window Driver

Suzy Garmin is our navigator. We stick her to the window, plug her in, enter the destination, and she tells us—in her non-melodic, slightly nasal fembot voice—how to get there. “In one and a half miles, take the exit, on the right, to Highway 69 south,” or “when the road ends, turn left.” She can lead us to the nearest Starbucks, or grocery, and is totally apolitical when it comes to directions. Hers are always the most efficient routes, on the fastest roads, in the quickest time, and for this we love her.

Except when we’re not in a hurry.

Heading north from Salida, Colorado, our destination was Estes Park. Suzy’s plan was to take us N. on 285 and directly into the Denver area via 470 and then through Boulder. Ugh. Just because George W. Bush destroyed the nation’s economy doesn’t mean I have to drive around Denver. I’d sooner vote for Mitt Romney than drive on crazy, crowded highways (and by the way, you other drivers out there: you’re all assholes). I had already planned my route, and it is a good one. Take 285 N to 24 W, then hook up with Colorado 91 and pick up Interstate 70 at Frisco. Once I got on 24 W, Suzy recalculated and, in a surprisingly reluctant voice, gave in to my route choice, at least until we hit 70. Suzy was sure that we wanted to drive right into Denver and pick up on the route she’d originally planned, but when I took the highway 6 exit (exit 244, on the left), she recalculated again and seemed genuinely pissed. She even tried to loop me back to 70 via highway 40, but Colorado 119 to 72 to 7 is much more scenic, far less traveled, and genuinely peaceful.

We arrived safely in Estes Park and all is well.  Suzy must have forgiven us, because she seemed pleased to tell us:  “you have arrived at your destination.”  One thing to note about this route: there are no gas stations or places to stop and leave pee (unless it is in a bush or a stream).

HARD WOOD

Hiking in Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon is about 30 minutes south of Amarillo and is the second largest canyon in the United States. According to the brochure, “Palo Duro is Spanish for ‘hard wood’ in reference to the Rocky Mountain Juniper trees still seen in places in the canyon.” We hiked the CCC trail, which was listed as “difficult” and timed at an hour and a half; we’d rate it as easy to moderate, and completed it in far less time than anticipated. If you visit, bring sunscreen and lots of bug spray; along with the beautiful vistas, cactus, and wildlife is an abundance of biting flies.

Thistle

flower bugs

Palo Duro Canyon

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Feeling Peckish?

The Big Texan

The Big Texan

Everything Big at the Big Texan

If you live in Texas, you’ve heard of the Big Texan, a ballroom sized, balconied testament to all things Texas, where the heads of deer, elk, and other hunted forest creatures stare at you as you sit at long dining tables consuming what might be the best steak you’ve ever eaten.

Ribeye

A ribeye from the Big Texan

This is the place that offers the free 72 oz. steak—that’s 4 ½ pound of meat—to anyone that can eat it (along with a baked potato, shrimp, salad, and roll) in under 60 minutes. Think of a five pound barbell, or a small baby, or a bag of sugar in your belly. Contestants have to sit under a glowing bull skull on a raised platform at the front of the auditorium, a red timing clock ticking down over their heads, and, so I hear, are charged for any portion they are unable to finish. The talk of the restaurant was Molly Schuyler’s April 19 visit, when she devoured three 72 oz. steaks and accompaniments in under twenty minutes. Unfortunately for us, no one took the challenge on our evening, despite the fact that the ample space was packed with patrons.

72 oz steak

The 72 oz. steak

The Big Texan opened in 1960 by R.J. “Bob” Lee along historic route 66. The menu is simple: they offer ribeyes, sirloins, Texas strips, and prime rib in various sizes. For beer aficionados, the beer in brewed on site at the Big Texan Brewery. “Whoop your Donkey” and “Whiskey Barrel Stout” are just two of the eleven beers offered.

We were serenaded by a trio of excellent musicians on guitar, violin, and bass, who happily performed Johnny Cash’s “Burning Ring of Fire.”

Burning Ring of Fire

Musicians at the Big Texan

The Big Texan is a fun place for kids too, who can go home with boot cups and cowboy hats.

If you visit, plan to wait a bit for your table, or call them and they’ll pick you up in a limousine. You can check out their menu and other interesting things at bigtexan.com.

DESOLATE DRIVES

The Top Ten Things About the Drive to Amarillo

It is easy to look forward to the destination when traveling, but what about the road itself? These vast stretches of mindless highway can seem as daunting as traveling between two planets unless you know what to look for. The ten things below defined this stretch of highway for us.

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  1. IMPRESSIVE FARM IMPLEMENTS

I287 cuts through agricultural space. Lots of it. Along the way you’ll see a panoply of multi-colored, insect-like farm implements, some for sale, and some in action violating soil and seed with their spiny limbs.

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  1. ROAD CONSTRUCTION

What trip is complete without a lane closure to complain about? Road construction is a fact of life for highway denizens, even when it isn’t actually being worked on.

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  1. ABANDONED VEHICLES

In a six hour drive we counted nine boats, cars, or trucks simply parked at the side of the road with no humans present and no visible structure within miles. How did they get there? Where did the drivers go? Is it a Children of the Corn thing? Space alien abduction? Maybe they’re geocaching?  Attacked by Indians?  Perhaps, as in Dean Bakopouloos’ novel, they just went to the moon. . .

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  1. BEEF JERKY AND PECANS

Given the ubiquitous signs for pecans and jerky, I’d expect this to be a staple of the upper-northwest-Texan’s diet. Do these good folk really eat that many nuts and that much meat?

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  1. ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

Impressively ginormous windmills dot the flat landscape like thorns, generating energy and sending them through wires that drape across the fields like gigantic badminton nets.

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  1. COWS

Of course, our bovine friends dot the grassy landscape too, ruminating while they fatten up to become our 2% homogenized milk or our 72 ounce Big Texan steak while leaving a trail of ozone depleting methane.

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  1. PICNIC AREAS

These are like rest areas without the amenities. There are four of them between Wichita Falls and Amarillo, and who wouldn’t want to take the kids out on a Sunday afternoon to one of these? Complete with one, two, or three picnic tables, a rusted grill, wasps nests, and a tree in case nature calls.

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  1. CORN PORN

Rising up from the fields, it is not uncommon to see an XXX sign beckoning the lonely (or the horny) traveler or farmer to Sodom’s door (this one was a few miles East of Vernon). Zoning laws, perhaps, push them away from towns and into the corn, but all the better for us. After all, who hasn’t run out of porn on a long trip?

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  1. SPEED TRAP TOWNS

The speed limit on I287 is 75 miles per hour, but who doesn’t enjoy slowing down to 55, 40, or 35 when they’re making really good time? The highway patrol is always there to make sure you relax your speed and enjoy the beautiful sights of small town America. Chillicothe, Quanah, and Childress are three signs of the Apocalypse, undoubtedly. And would someone please explain to me what the sign in the picture above means?

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  1. COMING TO TERMS WITH FEELINGS OF ABANDONMENT

With mile after mile of empty buildings, chipping paint, caved roofs, shuttered windows, and vacated businesses, you can’t help but remember your own failed dreams, feelings of abandonment, the coming of old age, and ultimately our slow but inevitable death.