Snowshoeing in May

Just as prime hiking season was approaching, a late season snow-storm on Thursday dropped several inches of snow on us in Denver and several feet in the mountains.  But we didn’t let that stop us from getting out on the trail Saturday.  Heading for Staunton State Park, we put in the snowshoes just in case.  Even then, the ground was fairly dry at the trailhead, so we almost didn’t take them.  A ranger happened to mention that she lived at higher elevation and there was still plenty of snow at her house, so I strapped them on my backpack.

The Mason Creek trail starts at about 8,100 feet and follows its namesake through a dense forest up to a ridge about 1,000 feet higher with views of Pikes Peak to the south.  As soon as we got into the trees, the trail was snow-covered, but hikeable in boots.  Crossing the stream a few times and enjoying the pleasant sound of rushing snow-melt, we broke out of the trees into a snowy meadow that was blissfully quiet.  Still, we didn’t need the snowshoes until we started on an untracked trail for the last mile to the ridge.  Finally the snowshoes came in handy as at least a foot of snow still covered the trail.  After about 3.6 miles, the trees opened up to reveal a grand vista of smaller white and green mountains and the brilliantly white-capped Pikes Peak.

The weather had been very comfortable while we were exerting effort working our way through the trees uphill, but here in the wind we were reminded that winter hasn’t quite released its grip in the high country, so with pictures and a brief rest, we headed back down.  By this time the sun was quickly melting the snowy billows in the trees, one of which let go just as I walked underneath and hit me right in the back of the neck, then slid exhilaratingly down my shirt.  Dodging “snow bombs” the rest of the way down, we made good time and were back to warmer elevations in no time.  As I write, I’m sitting on the porch in short sleeves and sandals.  Summer hiking season will be here in no time and the trails will be dry again, but for one last time this season we enjoyed our winter walk in the woods.

When life hands you snow, go snowshoeing!

Categories: Colorado, Hiking, Snowshoeing | Leave a comment

Four Colorado Days in May

The week started with a beautiful Mother’s Day weekend.  Celebrating with one daughter who just arrived home from college, we went for a hike Saturday morning, starting early to beat the 80+ degree heat.


Then a pleasant bike ride on Sunday.


A quick hike on Wednesday afternoon as the weather was threatening.


Loud thunderstorms rumbled through Wednesday evening and this was the forecast:


And this is what we woke up to Thursday morning, May 18:


All this will be gone and it’ll be back in the 70’s within a couple of days.  As someone who is fascinated by weather it’s one of the things I enjoy about living here.

Growing up in Texas, I was used to six months of summer.  You can pretty well count on it being hot from mid-April to mid-October, except for occasional reprieves from thunderstorms.  The only way to keep cool is to stay inside, or go to the lake or pool.  Spring and Fall in Texas are pleasant and then Winter brings a cycle of mild weather punctuated by cold fronts accompanied by strong northerly winds and freezing rain or sleet.

When my wife and I lived in Missouri as a young couple, we enjoyed the four distinct seasons there, each seemingly balanced and blending gradually into the others.  Later moving to Oklahoma, we found it a lot like Texas, except with more tornadoes.

But Colorado always keeps you guessing, weather-wise.  In Denver, we are just as likely to get a relatively warm, sunny day in January as a snowstorm.  Heavy, wet snow in May is not uncommon.  Even though we get some 90+ days in summer, afternoon thunderstorms tend to dissipate the heat, it’s not humid, and cooler days are not unusual, even in July and August.  And whatever the weather is like in Denver, drive an hour west into the mountains and the weather will be different.  The rule of thumb goes for every 1,000 feet of elevation the climate is like traveling 600 miles north, so the high peaks are more like Canada than the rest of Colorado.

But this week we experienced it all in a span of four days.  Just a normal late Spring in Colorado.

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Quick Stop at Capulin Volcano

Like many people traveling between Texas and Colorado in the northeastern corner of New Mexico, I have probably driven by Capulin Volcano two dozen times.  Here is what it looks like from US Highway 87:


As you can see, there is a road to the top and I always wanted to take that drive, but have always been in too big of a hurry.  My family took many trips from Texas to Colorado when I was growing up, anxious to get to the campgrounds in summer or the ski slopes in winter.  For me New Mexico was exciting because it marked the beginning of the mountains.  My wife, a Denver native, took many trips in the opposite direction to visit family in Texas.  She experienced New Mexico differently as the end of the mountains.  Now living in Denver, we have continued to take that drive to visit family and I see what she means.  But returning from a leisurely trip to see family, I finally talked her into a quick stop.

Three miles north of Highway 87, Capulin Volcano National Monument has a small visitor’s center with a picnic area and nature trails at the foot of the mountain.  Volcano Road rises counter-clockwise to the small parking area at the western rim of the crater.  The expansive lava fields from the volcano can be seen here, as well as other volcanic mountains in New Mexico and beyond, the snow-capped Sangre De Cristo Mountains in Colorado.

IMG_4784A mile round-trip trail leads around the rim of the crater to the 8,124 foot eastern summit of the mountain, but for the sake of time, I limited myself to the 0.2 mile Crater Vent trail, which descends to the bottom of the crater shown below.


It is an unusual experience standing at the bottom of an extinct volcano, surrounded on all sides by the crater walls.  If you could combine the two panoramic shots below you would have the 360 degree experience.



The volcanic rocks left in the center of the crater give you a sense of the chaotic activity that occurred here, but all was quiet and calm on a Tuesday morning in April, 2017.


Capulin Volcano represents the ninth national park or monument we have visited in the past year.  It’s no Yosemite or Grand Canyon, but I can now say it is worth a stop.  And that National Parks annual pass we purchased in May 2016 has been well worth the cost!

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1994-1995 Fender Stratocaster

Snatched up a 1994-95, Mexican-made Fender Stratocaster, for a song this week.  This is the classic Rock & Roll guitar in my mind, played by such artists as Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Eddie Van Halen.  It’s the guitar cousin of my 1995 Fender Precision Bass.  I would have loved to keep it, but I’m more of an acoustic kind of guy.  I can come a lot closer to replicating the finger picking of John Denver and James Taylor than shredding like a rock hero.  It was fun to play, but I turned around and flipped it for a nice profit.  Easy come, Easy go.

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Trip of a Lifetime: Honolulu, Hawaii

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could hardly believe I was actually there:  standing in the warm waters of Waikiki beach with my wife and daughters.  Surfers and outrigger canoes harnessed the waves nearby and the iconic Diamond Head crater loomed in the distance.  That picture postcard moment is now etched in my mind some ten years later, but it seemed too good to be true at the time.  This was not a lifestyle to which we were accustomed.  It was only the second time our 9-year-old daughters had ever been to a beach, let alone one of the most famous beaches in the world.  We were an ordinary middle-class family struggling to make ends meet.  So how did we end up on the trip of a lifetime?


The short answer is we were there on the company dime.  The long answer starts when I began working for a major insurance company.  Industry designations were highly valued by the company and they paid for employees to not only take the classes, but also for the employee and spouse to attend the conferment ceremonies upon completion.  The conferment ceremonies were held in different locations around the country, including Hawaii every ten years or so.  As you can imagine, many employees timed their classes to coincide with that conferment trip.  I began taking classes at the rate of one or two per year and could have finished in time to go to Nashville.  Nashville is a wonderful city, but I had been there and it was within driving distance if we ever wanted to go again.  Hawaii represented a trip of a lifetime for us, so I planned my classes accordingly, along with over hundreds of other employees from my company alone.


If this was a trip of a lifetime for us, it certainly was for our daughters as well and we wanted them to go with us.  The travel agent found us the least expensive flight possible so we could afford to pay for their airfare out of pocket.  Interestingly, the route went through Atlanta.  So we flew east to Atlanta before catching a connecting flight back west to Hawaii and ended up spending about 12 hours in the air.  But it was well worth it as we touched down in Honolulu and took a cab to our hotel.


If this trip had been on our dime, we would have found the least expensive hotel available that would still be minimally acceptable to my wife, but the company put us up in the Sheraton Waikiki, with an ocean-view room no less!  Have I mentioned that we’re not used to this kind of lifestyle?  But this was our home for the next six days, four of which were paid by the company, and two of which we scrimped and saved to pay ourselves and extend our visit.  In addition, the company paid meal expenses for my wife and I the first four days, which we could leverage to feed all four of us by sharing entrees.  The next two days we survived eating out one meal per day along with some PBJ sandwiches and cheese and crackers bought from the ubiquitous ABC stores.  That’s the way we usually roll on our trips!


Although certain parts of the trip are still vivid in my memory today, some of the day to day details have faded.  I’ll share the main attractions we visited with some commentary on the things that stand out even now.

Arizona Memorial

This was destination number one on my list and we started there on day one, riding the bus from Waikiki.  The museum was interesting to me and although our daughters were probably a little young to really understand, they enjoyed climbing on an anti-aircraft gun and looking through a periscope.

But the memorial itself is one of the sacred spaces in America and moving in a way that is difficult to explain.  The memorial is accessed from across the harbor by Navy boats.  Visitors who had been talking and enjoying a boat ride suddenly spoke in hushed tones as we approached the memorial.  It feels like entering a church or visiting a graveyard–which it is–and elicits a similar reverence.  One cannot help but be moved by the lives that were lost in this watery tomb and the events that were set in motion by their deaths.  Surrounded by tropical beauty and yet simple, if not stark in appearance, the memorial captures well the conflicting emotions that still ring out from the “Date Which Will Live in Infamy.”  The Arizona Memorial lived up to its place as our number one destination.

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We did not tour the other exhibits around Pearl Harbor, such as the USS Bowfin submarine, or the USS Missouri battleship, but one could certainly spend the day here immersed in World War II history.  Upon returning back to shore, we caught what we thought was a bus back to Waikiki.  After riding for about 30 minutes in the wrong direction, we realized our (my) mistake and asked the bus driver who instructed us to get off and wait for another bus going back the way we came.  It took about 45 minutes for the other bus to come by and this certainly wasn’t the part of Honolulu advertised in the tourist brochures.  I was a fan of the “Dog the Bounty Hunter” TV show and I imagined that this might be where he would find some of his wanted criminals.  Or maybe it is where we would have found affordable lodging had we been paying the bill.  My wife was not amused.  But the bus finally came and delivered us to downtown Honolulu (which wasn’t much better) where we could catch a connecting bus back to where we were temporarily living like the rich and famous in Waikiki.  It wasn’t the way we intended to spend those three hours, but it certainly gave us a story to tell.

Diamond Head

Our family loves hiking, so the next destination on our list was to climb Diamond Head.  This 1.5 mile round-trip hike with 500 feet of sea-level elevation gain was not as difficult as what we are used to in Colorado, but then there aren’t any extinct volcanoes with ocean views in Colorado.  After visiting the Arizona memorial, our girls were in full World War II mode and pretended to be watching out for Nazis on our way up the trail.  They may have been confused about the combatants involved, but the abandoned bunkers were fun to explore. And the view from the top is certainly one-of-a-kind.  Diamond Head was well worth the time and effort as our number two destination.

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Honolulu Zoo

Our animal-loving girls were really the driving force behind our next destination.  The Honolulu Zoo was within walking distance of our hotel with the bonus of some landmarks along the way down Waikiki beach.  In addition to the usual lions, tigers, giraffes, and elephants, the zoo features an impressive variety of tropical birds.  We also got a kick out of the gibbons who were very interactive with zoo guests.  While it was enjoyable to visit with our elementary-age girls, the zoo would probably rank lower on our list under other circumstances.  There are some unique animals and birds, but most of the exhibits can be seen in any other zoo.  On a related note, our girls loved Build-a-Bear Workshops and already had more than one.  But the souvenir they most wanted from Honolulu was another Build-a-Bear animal.  Sometimes as a parent you do what your kids want to do and seeing their joy is just as great as anything else you could do.

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Hanauma Bay

Next on our list was snorkeling at Hanauma Bay.  The bay is a protected area with its own reef which provides a habitat for a myriad of tropical fish.  We only took a disposable waterproof camera with us here, so the picture quality isn’t great.  But seeing these fish up close, including the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, Hawaii’s state fish, was amazing.  Most of the fish were fairly small, but it was a bit startling when a Trevally swam up behind us.  This was another destination that was well worth the time to visit.

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Lanikai Beach

The bus system in and around Honolulu is very efficient (as long as you get on the right bus), but after four days we were ready to explore more of the island, so we rented a car.  The first day we drove the Pali Highway over the beautiful Ko’olau Range.  The contrast between mountains and sea level here is truly dramatic and I wish I had taken more pictures.  Our destination was Lanikai Beach with its gorgeous white sand, blue water, and gentle waves.  The girls loved playing on this beach so we spent a good part of the day there.  On the return trip, we followed the Kalanianaole Highway around the coast that I remembered from the TV show “Magnum PI.”  We stopped briefly at the Halona Blowhole Lookout, but after spending the day at the beach we were tired by this point and again I only took one picture that didn’t really capture it.  There’s no way for pictures to capture the experience anyway but this entire loop was well worth the cost of renting a car.

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Dole Plantation

Our route the next day took us on the Kamehameha Highway toward the North Shore.  We stopped at the Dole Plantation to do the pineapple maze.  Again, this was probably something we would skip under other circumstances, but it was fun because our girls enjoyed it.

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The North Shore

Continuing on, we drove up the North Shore, stopping a few times for pictures (again not enough) and venturing as far as Laie before turning back.  We wanted to end the day watching the sunset fade into the ocean and chose Waimea Bay Beach Park.  We didn’t dress for swimming that day, but that didn’t keep the girls from playing in the surf.  The sunset was everything we imagined and more, again well worth the drive.  A late dinner at a quaint place in Haleiwa rounded out the day.

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Waikiki Beach

On our final day we asked our daughters what they wanted to do.  “Play on the beach,” they said without hesitation.  So we spent the last morning on Waikiki Beach soaking up the last bit of sun and sand before the evening flight back to the mainland.  After all, we don’t usually get to live like the rich and famous, right?  Although, we did notice a couple of people–I’m assuming homeless–who had spent the night on the beach.  Or maybe they were just ordinary tourists like us who couldn’t afford the exorbitant hotel rates.  But just like that, the trip came to an end and it was back to reality.  Our girls asked when we could come back and were sad when we said not any time soon.  It’s been ten years now and with two girls in college I still don’t think we’ll get back there any time soon.  We have been on a number of other great trips in the continental U.S. since then, but because of the circumstances of this one and the age of our daughters, we will always remember our stay on Waikiki Beach as our trip of a lifetime.

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One other memory from this trip: I’m sure I reminded the girls to make sure they had packed all of their stuff before we left.  But somewhere over the Pacific we realized that something had been left behind.  I had bought a nice little ukulele at the Ala Moana Center and I left it in the room.  Maybe the girls should have reminded me to pack all my stuff.  The staff at the Sheraton Waikiki was kind enough to mail it to me and I still have it to remind me of that great trip.


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Group Photo

A common practice among guitarists seems to be sharing photos of all their guitars together.  I had only one guitar for about 30 years, a 1980 Alvarez 5022 that I bought new with lawn mowing money when I was 14 years old.  Then a few years ago, I added a mandolin, then a bass guitar, then a 12-string guitar, then an acoustic-electric guitar.  With recent upgrades to the bass and mandolin, it seemed time for a group photo of the current lineup.


Left to Right: 1995 Fender Precision Bass, 2013 Washburn WD7SCE Acoustic Electric Guitar, 2008 Kentucky KM-150 Mandolin, 1972 Yamaha FG-230 12-String Guitar, 1980 Alvarez 5022 Guitar.

I purchased all of them except the Alvarez, used on Ebay, a Facebook Garage Sale site, or a second-hand guitar store.  There are much finer instruments available, but these are solid performers for the money and feel very comfortable to me.  All of them cost less than I paid for the Alvarez and I like the thought of giving used instruments new life.  I’ve also owned a few others for a time and passed them on, but I’m content to keep these…for now.

“I don’t know of a guitar player that has only one guitar.  They’re never happy with one.  I’m never happy with just one of them.  I woke up and ended up with six, even if you can only play one at a time.”  — Les Paul

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Kentucky KM-150 Mandolin

Years ago I regularly played bluegrass with a group of guys in a Missouri hardware store.  The owner of the store, a tall, hard-working man named Wendell, had that high lonesome voice from the mountains like Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley.  He played mandolin and guitar completely by ear and could listen to the first verse of a song he’d never heard before and be ready to take an instrumental break by the end of the first chorus.  Wendell once told me, “You can’t think about your troubles when you’re thinking about playing the next note.”  Since Wendell played a Kentucky mandolin, I’ve always associated that brand with those memories.

I’ve played guitar since I was 13 years old, but a few years ago I picked up a cheap mandolin on Amazon for under $100.  Made by Kansas, it had positive reviews and with a little set up proved to be good enough to learn on.  I didn’t want to invest much in the event that it might be hard to make the transition from guitar, but I actually found the mandolin more intuitive and easier to play than guitar.  My daughter plays flute and penny whistle, and I was able to play a number of Irish tunes with her in short order.  The Kansas served it’s purpose as I expanded my mandolin skills over the next few years.  I even played it a few times in church.

Last week, I came across a Kentucky KM-150 mandolin on Ebay.  The seller was a pawn shop in Denver not far from where I work, so I was able to look at the mandolin in person before bidding.  The bridge was out of place and the strings were old, but it was functionally and aesthetically sound.  When I won the auction I picked it up immediately, anxious to get home and play it.  The simple A-style KM-150 is at the lower end of the Kentucky models but it shares the spirit of the beautiful F-style mandolin that Wendell played.  Once I set the bridge back in place and tuned it up, that Kentucky sound came through loud and clear.  With a new set of strings it sounds even better.  I can’t make it talk like Wendell could, but it sure is fun to play.  In fact, I think I’ll name it “Wendell” as a tribute to the man who first introduced me to the music of the mandolin.  Maybe one day I’ll be able to play like him.

P.S. – Oh and the Kansas mandolin?  Sold it to a pastor who was wanting to learn to play.  Turns out we had a similar background and a number of common acquaintances, so I feel good about passing it on to him.



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Wild Basin in Winter

The Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park is our family’s favorite hiking destination.  We have probably hiked it a dozen times, including before my wife and I were married, while she was pregnant with our twin girls, and with numerous family members and friends over the years.  My wife’s grandfather owned a cabin that remains in the family just a few miles away in Meeker Park, but it is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so all of our hikes have been in summer.

As we discussed places to try out our new snowshoes, Wild Basin topped the list.  We wanted to revisit this familiar place in winter and having visited eight different National Parks in 2016, a December 31 outing to Rocky Mountain National Park seemed an appropriate way to end the year.

The winter parking area adds about a mile each way on to this hike, so after easy walking up the snow-covered road, we arrived at the trail-head.

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A third of a mile from the trail-head, Lower Copeland Falls gushes with full force in early summer.


In winter, this torrent is reduced to a small pool of water with everything else frozen and snow-covered.


In fact, you can stand in the middle of the North St. Vrain Creek…

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…something that would be unthinkable in summer.

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The rushing spray of Upper Copeland Falls in summer…


…is reduced to a trickle of water underneath a row of icicles.


The sun was hidden behind a ridge for the first part of our hike, but highlighted a few glimpses of the high peaks of the continental divide through the trees.


Here comes the sun!


Finally, after three miles of hiking, we arrived at Calypso Cascades.

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In summer, this impressive flow of water over fallen logs and rocks creates a mighty sound.


In winter, all is quiet and calm.


At noon, the sun just barely peeks through the trees.  No wonder everything is frozen!  We could have continued on for another mile to Ouzel Falls, but the trail is quite a bit steeper and snowshoeing takes more effort than hiking.  Considering the added mile down the road to the winter parking area, we decided to end our hike at Calypso Cascades.


Despite the stillness of winter, on the way back we heard the sound of a woodpecker who stopped long enough for us to admire his red head.


A stop by the Garrett cabin boarded up for the winter and a late lunch in Estes Park rounded out our day.


No matter how many times we’ve been there, Wild Basin always provides a memorable experience.  Now that we’ve visited in summer and winter, a spring and fall visit are in order.  What a wonderful place to visit, no matter the season!


“What good is the warmth of summer without the chill of winter to give it sweetness.” –John Steinbeck

Categories: Colorado, Family, Rocky Mountain National Park, Snowshoeing | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Snowshoes from Santa!

A Christmas Bonus showed up last week and it wasn’t a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club.  Instead, it was just enough to buy snowshoes for the whole family.  This experience two years ago introduced us to snowshoeing and we have been eager to try it again.  The Sally Barber Mine outside Breckenridge promised to be a good first outing.  We probably should have tried the snowshoes on first at home, but after spending thirty minutes getting them out of the packaging and adjusting them to our feet, we started tracking along at a decent pace.

Except we missed the turn to the Sally Barber Mine and were unknowingly trudging up Summit County Road 520 instead.  No matter, since the road was closed but plowed recently enough to provide us with an easy track through the beautiful French Gulch with Breckenridge and the Ten Mile Range behind and Mt. Guyot towering ahead.  We did come across a old mine site, the Wire Patch Mine and Mill, marked by a sign.  If there are any mining ruins there they were covered by snow.  But our real goal was not the mine.  It was enjoying a Colorado bluebird day together as a family.  Other than a couple of cross-country skiers, we had the road to ourselves.

The solitude available by snowshoeing only a couple of miles is an experience we have not found in any other activity.  We love hiking in summer, but are usually accompanied by numerous other hikers.  We’re not adventurous enough with biking to attempt anything more a few miles on well-traveled paths.  Downhill skiing is great fun, but usually crowded and prohibitively expensive.  Cross-country skiing looks like something we could do, but requires different skills.  Snowshoeing on the other hand, is almost like walking but allows you to travel where very few people go, at least in the winter.

Wrong turn and all, our first outing with the new snowshoes was a great success and we hope to try them again very soon.  Like the Jelly of the Month Club, they are the gift that keeps on giving.


Categories: Colorado, Family, Snowshoeing | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Tantalizing View

My company recently moved to a new office building.  If I stand up in my cubicle and look to the west, this is what I see.  And I’m on the first floor; there are better views on the three floors above me.  Alas, I’ve spent the last three months swamped with work on the budget and haven’t had much time to even look out this window, much less get out and enjoy what’s out there.  The Exit sign seems to taunt me and although the office is about 30 miles from these mountains, they seem deceptively close.  Thankfully, the budget was approved on Friday and I hope to get some even better views sometime in the next few weeks.


“I am losing precious days.  I am degenerating into a machine for making money.  I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men.  I must break away and get out in the mountains to learn the news.” –John Muir

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