Garden of the Gods

June 23, 2008
Highways of the Gods
Posted by Bobby under Colorado

Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs

It kind of feels like the long wind-down has begun. Danine and I talk about jobs, houses, selling the trailer, and school for Elise in the Fall. We are looking forward to settling back in Falls Church, but the idea that the trip is ending is a little sad. Obviously, taking eleven months to explore the country has spoiled us. We still have about five weeks left, which is a grand vacation in most anybody’s book. Don’t worry, we’ll make the most of it.

A view from Monarch Pass

The prospect of driving over the Continental Divide on Saturday made us hungry early. So we went back to Firebrand for a delicious breakfast. Once our glucose meters read ‘Tilt!’ we were ready. Much of our drive was (again) on US 50 — the same US 50 that goes through Falls Church, VA. This stretch is prettier. The snowy mountains contrast nicely with the deep green conifer forests and the bright green meadows. Turns out, Monarch Pass isn’t really too bad. I just stayed in a low gear up and down, and we made steady, happy progress. The top of the pass marks the highest in altitude we have been.

The drive into Eleven Mile State Park was also great, but the park was crazy. It was Saturday after all. The place was packed with boaters (it’s on a reservoir) and weekend campers. The loops through the campground are gravel when they aren’t rutted dirt and some of the little hills and twists were just about too sharp for the Airstream. We drove around looking for an open site that would fit us and found none. Back at the campground office — the staff is very good and very kind — I put on my best forlorn expression and asked if there were any other options. There were. Many campgrounds have sites that are reserved for emergencies, booking mix-ups, or forlorn campers like us. They gave us one of these and, after negotiating the narrow, sloping road and campsite, we found our ample glucose reserves drained. Twizzlers helped solve this problem.

There were a number of things in the area we wanted to do on Sunday and hanging out at a campground filled to the gills on a Saturday night, just didn’t excite us. Instead we drove 24 miles East to Woodland Park and went to Mass at a little church called Our Lady of the Woods. It was excellent. When we got back Elise was ready for sleep and Danine and I were ready for several games of Ticket to Ride. I lost them all.

That’s stone, not wood

Our plan for Sunday: Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Pike’s Peak, Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs. Florissant was a neat little place. A huge mud flow, like totally more than 20 years ago, buried the dead creatures in a lake and the bottom 15 feet of the surrounding redwood forest. This mud and all of the organic matter gradually turned to stone. Water carrying silica and other minerals seeped into every cell in the base of these redwood trees — the same species now found only on the Pacific coast. The result: a perfect stone replica of a tree. This place has one of the world’s largest concentrations of fossilized plants and animals. We walked around, eyeing the thunderclouds in the distance, but they stayed away.

Parking Lot of the Gods

Our next stop was Pikes Peak — Oops! I missed the turn-off. Nevermind. Our next stop was Garden of the Gods. This is a busy place on a Sunday afternoon. The park protects an area of sandstone formations that have weathered into fascinating fins and needles. It also harbors a wide variety of wildlife: mountain lions, bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, bighorn sheep, mule deer, prairie falcons, prairie falcon food (also called pigeons), hawks and magpies. Magpies. We didn’t start seeing magpies until Colorado and now we see them regularly. They are related to crows and jays, making them obnoxious and interesting, and now one of my favorite birds.

Elise nabbed two junior ranger badges today, one at the fossil beds and one here. At the visitor center they announced her name to everyone and told them to clap. At some parks, the final junior ranger activity is called Mortify the Children. If the child, or children, survive this gauntlet of attention and clapping, then they get their badge.

As we headed back towards Eleven Mile, we kept a lookout for the Pikes Peak turnoff. We found it and began our drive up. This would mark our highest driving adventure. This would be the highest we had every been in our lives (over 14,000 feet). This would give us incredible views. This would cost us thirty-five bucks? Forget it. We may try to drive up Mount Evans west of Denver instead. It’s higher anyway.

That there, folks, was a full day. We stopped at a pizza-pasta place for dinner. I am writing this on Monday evening and I am still full. Back at Eleven Mile we found a ghost town. Everyone had left. Our next door neighbors were one of the few who remained. Ah, a quiet night for sleeping awaited. After losing a few more times to Danine in Ticket to Ride, it was time for bed.

This morning we took the scenic route to Denver on 285. It’s longer, but we wanted to squeeze in as much Rocky Mountain viewing as we could. Colorado has some of the prettiest driving we’ve seen. Next time you’re heading out to the 7-Eleven, swing by and take a jaunt on 285 or 50. You won’t be disappointed.

Now we are parked at Cherry Creek State Park, which is on a reservoir in Aurora just a few miles from downtown Denver. This park was recommended to us by a number of people, but mostly by Rich Luhr. It is super. The facilities are the best and the sites are roomy and paved and tidy. We are here till Saturday while we explore the area and catch up on chores and stuff.

Colorado makes good clouds

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