Monday, May 02, 2011

Day 6: For Purple Mountains' Majesty

We left the hotel at 7:57. It was 32 degrees again, but again, didn’t really feel that cold. We headed west and began climbing. The Jedi had a cool app on his phone that gave the altitude, but it was in meters. I wrote the numbers down, but haven’t converted them yet.

At the hotel, our altitude was 1631 m. By 8:57, our altitude was 2300 m.

I went crazy snapping photos through the windows and windshield of the van. If any of the scores of snapshots turn out worth a snot, I’ll post them up. I haven’t seen them yet, so no promises.

Georgetown was our first stop in the mountains. It’s motto was “Georgetown: The Right Side of the Divide.” Our Purple House Friends had been right. It didn’t feel too cold down by Denver, but we were definitely feeling the cold up in the mountains.

At Georgetown, we stopped by a bighorn sheep viewing station. We saw two people hiking up a steep hillside, but no sheep. We were too cold to look long, so we hopped back in the van.

Outside of town, Toa saw five sheep on the hillsides by the highway. No one else was able to spot any. Toa has declared himself the winner of the “Sheep Badge”. I don’t know what the “Sheep Badge” is, but now when we get back to Cincy, I need to pull a Bighorn Sheep Badge out of my butt.

We quickly came to realize why Flagstaff Mountain and its neighbors were considered “foothills”. Now, we were truly in the mountains. Again, I went camera crazy.

We drove through the Eisenhower Tunnel and under the Continental Divide. There was a green sign inside the tunnel to mark the Continental Divide. As we emerged from the tunnel, the mountain we had just passed through was visible behind the van. It was a juggernaut. When we thought to check the altitude again, we had already driven down a ways, and we were at 3287 meters.

We then entered a winter wonderland. The Jedi estimated the base snow cover was probably 3 feet, with drifts of 5 to 7 feet. Pine forests covered in snow and the snow capped mountain peaks just completed the transformation. We now understood while snow chains were required during certain time of the year.

I put on Christmas carols. We saw ski lifts and skiers zig-zagging down the mountain slopes.

We went through several more tunnels, but the Christmas music had done Toa in.

On our way down the mountain, the Jedi made the observation that in Ohio going downhill, trucks pass up the cars. In Colorado, the cars pass up the big trucks, because the big trucks need to stay in first gear to keep their trucks under control. We saw many runaway truck ramps that looked pretty much like a gravel and snow covered side of a mountain. Scary, scary stuff.

We drove through an amazing canyon. There wasn’t room enough in the canyon for both sides of the highway, so they just stacked westbound on top of eastbound, and we drove through the canyon on this extended viaduct.

Finally we reached a high plateau. By comparison, it looked like we had reached the other side of the mountains and had reemerged on the plains, but we were still at a decent elevation. We grabbed lunch at Parachute, and since we were running behind schedule, we ate in the van.

Our next stop was Colorado National Monument, just south of Grand Junction. I had printed out the Junior Ranger booklets, and the kids had worked on them ahead of time.

I snapped more pictures on the drive into the park.

We hiked along the Alcove Trail, which was recommended to us by the ranger at the park’s entrance. It was about 50 degrees, and mostly sunny for us on the trail.

The red rock was so smooth and lovely.

There were delicate flowers in bloom. (At the end of the trail, I got the name of this flower from a ranger, but it’s written down in the van. I, am not currently in the van—hooray for that---so I’ll look up its name later.)

Someone else on the trail had made a small cairn of rocks. I told the kids they may do the same, as long as they didn’t step off the trail to do so.

We took a little bit of time to enjoy ourselves on the trail.

Finally, the trail ended in a little alcove, almost like a small cave.

As we started walking back out, it began to snow. Fifty degrees, but snowing the tiniest little snowballs that hit the ground and rolled before gently melting. No, it wasn’t hail, it was snow.

Back at the visitor center, the kids presented their booklets and received oodles of cool stuff…badges, patches, pins, stickers, and a coupon for 15% off anything in the gift shop. Toa used his coupon to get plush prairie dog. He had seen some in the Frontier Trails Museum in Independence MO, but they had been between $8 and $10 there. Here they were $6 with a 15% discount. Sweetling got a postcard for her collection.

A sure sign that we aren't in Ohio anymore...

We rolled out of there even more behind, leaving the park at 3:40 instead of our planned for 2:30.

That put us entering Utah at 4:20. I had to take some more photos, of course.

Originally, we were going to grab dinner in Moab and eat it as we drove into Arches National Park. But we had a late lunch and we were trying to beat the sunset, so we skipped dinner and went straight to the park.

We drove into Arches at 5:30. At the ranger station, we decided that since we were short on time, we would go straight to the Windows section. That decision held till we reached the first viewing point, at which we had to stop for pictures.

I asked the kids what they would name this formation, and they thought it looked like the letters V and I, so the names Veronica and Ichabod, or Veronica and Igor were discussed.

Don't put me on the prayer chain for this, but let me just say, if I were ever to believe in the myth of a Father Sky coming down and mating with Mother Earth, it would be at Arches.

We had the camera set to its highest resolution, but I've resized the pics to more easily upload them to my blog. (Don't worry, I kept all the high res photos for viewing on our living room flat screen at home. They are going to be spectacular there.)

Our first hike was up to see the Windows.

And Turret Arch.

Our next hike was too see Delicate Arch. The trail to the Arch itself was a 6 mile hike, round trip. Since it was close to sunset, we didn’t take that trail. Instead, we took the 1 mile hike to a viewing point.

Up on the viewpoint.

See how green the valley floor is? That's not all vegetation. Most of that is green rock.

And, on the way out of the park, we stopped for more photos.

By the time we left the park, it was 8:oo, and we still hadn’t eaten dinner. We drove down to Moab and grabbed carry-out from Wendy’s. The Jedi turned the middle seats around and put the table in the van and I ate in the back with the kids. By now, it was approaching 9pm, and we had a 6 hour drive ahead of us to get to our hotel.

It was a long ,long drive. We got into our hotel between 2:30 and 3am.

Read from Day 1
Back to Day 5
On to Day 7

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