Day 4 – Santa Fe

imageimageimageimageWe woke up early in Taos and drove out to the Taos Ski Village to hike up to Williams Lake (pictured above). The road went gradually went from a highway, to a country road, to a windy mountain road, to a dirt road that perilously crept up the mountain to a Bavarian restaurant at an elevation of 10,000 feet. We parked our car there and found the trail to Williams Lake and hikes up a fairly decent grade, but the elevation made it much more challenging for us. What would have been a fairly casual hike in Pennsylvania had us huffing and puffing on several occasions. Dalia and Winston did a great job, Dalia did the hike in pretty slip on shoes from Old Navy, while I used my fancy hiking shoes from REI that I’ve been using for the past year, she did just fine! The lake was crystal clear and cradled by spectacular mountains. There was some complaining on the hike up, but it ceased when we made it to such an amazing sight. The chipmunks ran up to Jaclyn and successfully begged her for snacks in her bag, she pretty much handed them saltines, both human and chipmunks were happy with the transaction.

On the way back we saw that the Rio Grande Gorge bridge was not too far off course, so we drove over the bridge and snapped this picture.

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After driving past the Rio Grande, we drove back to Taos, left flowers for Jaclyn’s grandparents and then continued to Santa Fe.

image We ate lunch at the plaza and could have window shopped for hours, but we wanted to check out a new amusement park/art exhibition/fun house that was sponsored by the famous Game of Thrones author, George R.R. Martin called Meow Wolf.

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The outside looks fairly unassuming, but there are several enormous sculptures outside that got your attention. We went into the building, paid admission, and experienced something totally mindblowing insane. You walk into a house and nothing is as it seems, you can crawl through the fireplace into another dimension, you can open a refrigerator and go into another dimension, there is some sort of mystery to solve throughout the experience, but the kids were just having way too much fun to make it into an intellectual experience. Here they are entering the fridge.

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This place was mind blowing, weird, crazy, and I’m not sure what to say about it. However, Winston said this afterwards:

“Dad, you know how you were asking me if there are things on this vacation that I would someday show my kids? Well, I will definitely take my 10 kids to Meow Wolf someday.” Winston loved it and that works for me. Here are a couple more images from Meow Wolf. Dalia and Jaclyn are doing some late night shopping in town as I post, tomorrow we head to Albuquerque.

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Day 3 – Taos

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We packed the car and looked up Taos on my phone’s navigation app. It reported a drive of slightly over 3 hours ahead. The environment shifted slightly from lush green to a more desert like appearance over those three hours, but mountains in the distance kept a constant eye on us. The speed limit was usually 75 mph on old worn roads with spattered asphalt lines zig zagging, as if Jackson Pollock’s brother became a paver. The journey was smooth and peaceful, my head kept looking left and right, enamored by the landscape. At one point we saw an antelope walking a field in front of a mountain, we thought they only lived in Africa, so we were pretty excited to see him in New Mexico. We also saw lots of signs for horse and cattle crossings, the farmers don’t use fences in many cases so be prepared to stop for animals. The one sign we saw often warning us of their presence but we did not see the actual animal was an elk.

As we were minutes from Taos, we saw signs for a trout hatchery and I pulled over against the wishes of my family. The first 3 pictures above are from that stop, there was a lake filled with trout, but we got distracted by a fresh mountain stream and dipped our toes in the freezing water.

As we approached Taos, we saw a colorful cemetery, it was the most vibrant cemetery I’ve ever seen. I pointed it out to Jaclyn and she said that is where her grandfather rests. Our hotel was a block or two away and she visited it later by herself.

In the afternoon, we went to the Taos Pueblos which I believe are over 1,000 years old. We got caught in a trembling thunderstorm with icy rain. We explored the buildings where people still live, bought bric-a-brac and then we entered the church on the ancient grounds. The church was very dark (no electricity in the village), candles provided the only illumination. Winston and Dalia bought a candle each for a dollar, lit it by the light of other candles and placed it in the sand with the others. I encouraged the kids to stare at their candles for a minute and think about their grandmother who grew up in Taos, as far as I could tell, they were remembering and seemed touched by the experience.

It is already tomorrow and there’s much more to report on, but we still have lots to do. We are safe in Santa Fe now.

Day 2 – Garden of the Gods, Gold Mines, and Pikes Peak

imageimageimageimageimageimageWe woke up around 5AM mountain time as we are still adjusting to the sun’s slower ascent west of the Mississippi. We sprung to action and made the 5 minute drive to the Garden of the Gods park entrance (free admission!), and found a trail for us to begin exploration. “Trail” may be misleading, it was actually a cement sidewalk about 5 feet across, our footing would not be an issue. We walked around for an hour and discovered a dirt path (again, superbly maintained) and it allowed us to hike up one of the gigantic rock formations. We all had a blast and the kids conceded that this beats any playground they have found thus far. We got an early start, the top image still shows the moon. The bottom image is the world famous balancing rock.

On our travels around, just driving around, we frequently encounter these big deer with antlers, they are not too afraid of humans as they stand on the side of highways unphased by vehicles or me pulling over to snap this picture.

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After Garden of the Gods, I told the kids that we were now going to a Gold Mine.  I didn’t give a lot of detail as I figured that just might create resistance to the activity. The mine, Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine is a real deal gold mine that shut down in the 1960’s. ( http://www.goldminetours.com/goldminetours.com/Intro.html )

We had to drive to Cripple Creek, Colorado to get to the mine, about an hour’s drive from Colorado Springs. The drive was almost entirely uphill as we started at an elevation slightly over 5,000 feet in Colorado Springs and ended up at an elevation of over 10,000 feet in Cripple Creek. The highlight of the drive was seeing 5 or 6 big horned sheep standing on the rocky side of the road, about 15 feet from our car. We slowed down and stared at them while they stared back at us. (I wasn’t able to snap a picture as I was driving, so here is what they look like.

When we pulled into Cripple Creek, we stopped at the visitor’s center first because we all needed to go to the bathroom after the long drive. Within the visitor’s center there was a model replica of the Mollie Kathleen goldmine and it showed these little people getting into a small elevator going down 1,000 feet into the earth into little cave tunnels. Jaclyn looked alarmed and asked, “We’re not going to be doing that are we?” Of course, I lied and said that it the mine, but we won’t be doing all of that.

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We had to put on hard hats and got into a tiny elevator that took us down 1,000 feet. Our guide, a former silver miner, gave us an incredible tour and showed us how all the machines worked and how technology made mining more profitable, safe, and efficient for miners. Inside the tunnels beneath the earth, the sound of the machines were so loud, could easily deafen a man without substantial ear protection (which we did not have, so we covered our ears with our hands). We even got to ride in a little mine train in the caverns powered by another loud machine, it was an incredible experience and worth checking out someday. Everyone got to take home samples of the rocks they mined, the samples are said to contain fragments of gold. The sign above was placed about the urinal at the gold mine and the image below is of Jaclyn in downtown Cripple Creek, it looks like a town, but all the buildings are facades for casinos. It is strange and we did not spend too much time there. I did have to use at an ATM across the street from the casino at a gas station, they allowed withdrawals of up to $1000.

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Later in the afternoon, Jaclyn and the kids went to the hotel pool while I knocked out a little work so I don’t come back underwater. Then we went to the Pikes Peak Cog Train. The Pikes Peak cog train is a small open air train that takes you way up to the top of Pikes Peak, it is over 14,000 feet high. To give you an appreciation for the height, a kid across from us was screaming in pain on the way down because the pressure change was hurting his ears and the temperature at the bottom where we boarded the train was about 80 degrees and it was about 40 degrees at the top. The train ride moves along slow and steady and we saw a ton of wildlife, including deer, bighorn sheep, and yellow bellied whistling marmots.  The train let us off at the peak where we explore the top for 30 minutes before we had to come back down. Aramark runs a concession stand at the top, that company is ubiquitous! I’ve been writing too long, here are some images from that day and I will write more tomorrow. The first image below is something weird I saw on the way to Cripple Creek. Second image is of the kids on the Cog Train. On the third image, by the door on the left is a whistling marmot. Oh, one last fun fact. At the top of Pikes Peak, you can see Kansas and New Mexico.

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Day 1 – Acclimation to Elevation

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The family made it Colorado in one piece. We got up super early (3:30AM), caught a plane, transferred to another plane in Dallas, landed in Denver, rented a car, and made it to our destination in Colorado Springs at a small hotel called the Garden of the Gods Resort.

We were all pretty spent by the time we got here, but we rallied and managed to get out and do a lot. We ate dinner in the lovely Manitou Springs at the Manitou Brewing Company (ate a bunch of appetizers, we loved it!), we walked through town and capped it off with ice cream. We did a brief drive through the Garden of the Gods and it is breath taking, but was pretty crowded so kept driving. We will go back this morning to get out of the car and hike up the rocks, it should be less crowded on a Monday. We can see the Garden of the Gods from our hotel room, I snapped a picture of it from our room’s balcony (see third image down from the top). The first image was off the side of a steep windy road we drove on yesterday, the second is Jaclyn and I on a ledge by the cave of the winds. We just did reconnaissance, no spelunking yet.

Today the real adventures begin, I do not think my family is quite prepared for it all, but they will find out the the real thing is so much more interesting than Disney World or theme parks. Today we are going deep in gold mines, up the tallest mountains, hiking up amazing rock structures, and perhaps taking a scenic drive. Will fill you in tomorrow.

Walk of Shame

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A couple of folks decided to do a summer solace hike where you tried to walk the entire Rachel Carson Trail (35 miles) from start to finish from sunup (5:30AM) to sundown (9PM). The above schedule shows the timing and distance between checkpoints.

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Jac and I made a covenant that I could do the hike as long as I agreed to discontinue if I started to feel any symptoms suggesting I was in peril. My doctors suggested that I am now at greater risk to suffer dehydration so I should be careful on that front. For this hike, I drank a ridiculous amount of fluid and despite hiking 21 miles, I weighed more at the end then I did at the beginning (from drinking so much). Despite the fluid, at mile 21 I was feeling slightly hazy in the 85 degree temps and decided to quit there instead of pushing 7 more miles to the next check point.

At mile 21, I was thrilled to play the kidney card and drop out. My feet were starting to blister, legs were exhausted, and each future step would have been pretty painful. I was walking with a couple of work colleagues and two women managed to complete the full 35 miles. I made it home without an issue and feel pretty much back to normal 3 days later.

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Winston did a big presentation on The Strip in Pittsburgh (which he got an A+) that included the world famous first location of Primanti Brothers. Primanti’s is famous for their huge sandwiches, piled high with french fries and coleslaw. The sandwich is so big that you nearly have to unhinge your jaw to take a bite. Winston begged me to take him there and try it out, we got one and both kids enjoyed it.

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Today I am in Annapolis, MD for the first time and find it lovely. Hope to come back some time with the family, but would prioritize Cape May, NJ as there is a nicer beach.

 

Benny In the Night

Benny starts off the night on the floor in his dog bed. In the middle of the night he makes his way onto our bed. When I come back to the room after a shower, he is always in my spot with his head on my pillow.

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Dinner for Three

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Jaclyn knew I’ve been working too much and could use some reprieve. She surprised me on Friday night by having a babysitter scheduled and made a reservation at a nice old restaurant called Palazzo 1837 Ristorante (my spell check indicates that they misspelled restaurant – but we let it slide). The building appears old/historic, but there was not much in the way of its history on the website or on the menu – so no backstory for me to share about the place. We’ve tried to eat there twice before, but both times it was beyond capacity and they could not accept any more diners and we were turned away. Jaclyn’s last minute reservation was clutch.

We got to the restaurant a little early and tried to sneak into the bar, but were noticed by a group of work friends enjoying wine on the patio. I introduced Jaclyn and told them about our big night out, they told us to get to it and enjoy ourselves.

When I first turned 21 (16 years ago), my roommates at Bloomsburg University splurged one night and bought a fancy case of beer called Tennent’s Lager. I believe the beer is from Scotland and I recalled it being the best beer I have ever tasted. I’ve often thought about the beer and wondered if my appreciation was because it was the first time we departed from beer that cost $8 a case (Milwaukee’s Best or Natural Ice) or if it was as good as I remember. We were a bunch of clowns, sipping the beer, trying to describe the taste like sommeliers – we concluded it has a distinctly exquisite honey aftertaste.

16 years have passed, I’ve kept a constant eye out for the rare lager from Scotland, but hadn’t seen it until Friday night at Palazzo’s. When I saw the beer on the menu, I was determined to try it immediately – Jac and I tasted it, described the flavors, yes, it does have a honey aftertaste and concluded it was a terrific beer. I’ll take a Tennents any day, but I would also devour an Iron City Light, I’m not too discriminating and I’ve often found that to be advantageous. After our drinks, the bartender informed us that our friends from work bought the round for us. Friday night was shaping up alright.

We asked if we could be seated outside, but they said their patio was at capacity. We showed a little disappointment, but were still excited by the idea of a night out as a couple. The hostess asked us to wait a minute as she wanted to double check, she came back and mentioned a private balcony where the two of us could sit by ourselves. We signed up for the unique opportunity and were escorted to a little balcony at the front of the restaurant for a romantic dinner. At one point, a cicada landed on the back of my neck, I grabbed him and tried to encourage him along back a tree, but he was quite content to rest on my hand (photo above). The night was too perfect to mind the interloper and finally left after a minute or two.

We are very happy to be hosting Jaclyn’s parents this weekend. We’ve been spending a lot of time on the back porch and going to Dalia’s softball games (she’s really improved considerably). In general, pretty laid back summer days, much better than the alternative!

Next Saturday, I am signed up for a very long hike. Will report more on that later.