Day 384: Petrified Forest National Park

This morning, we drove West on I-40 to Petrified Forest National Park:

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The park preserves not only large quantities of petrified wood, but extensive badlands formations as well:

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Also in the park is a recently restored 1930s-era diner and roadhouse that served visitors to the area:

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We also stopped at newspaper rock, a collection of boulders with extensive petroglyphs carved into the patina:

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Next we visited the Blue Mesa portion of the park.  Here petrified logs act as capstones, reducing erosion of the softer sandstone below:

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B examines a petrified log:

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Another petrified log:

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The kids completed their Junior Ranger program:

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The visitor center included a display of proto-alligator fossils found in the area:

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Behind the visitor center, there’s a path that winds among a petrified forest:

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The petrification process replaces the open spaces in the wood fiber with silicates, converting the wood into stone:

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Trish and the kids spotted a 2 inch long Tarantula Hawk, which paralyses tarantulas with its sting, then lays its eggs in the spider so its young can eat the victim alive.  Yum!  (see link for this wasp to scale with a Tarantula):

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We arrived in Flagstaff at sunset, but the Walmarts there don’t allow overnight parking due to a city ordinance, so we continued on to overnight at a truck stop about 20 miles East of Kingman, Arizona.  See the trip map for driving details.

Day 383: Mesa Verde NP

This morning we drove West to Mesa Verde National Park, which preserves over 600 thirteenth-century Anasazi cliff dwellings.  Our first stop was the visitor center:

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Next, we dropped off the RV and drove into the park to visit the museum at the South end, which was very well done:

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The kids completed their Junior Ranger program:

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Next, we hiked down to Spruce Tree House, the best preserved cliff dwelling in the park:

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Inside a kiva:

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Next we visited a tenth-century pit house.  The house was dug down about a foot into the ground, then walls and a roof were built over the pit:

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Square Tower House is the tallest ruin in the park:

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An excavated kiva and tower are all that remain of this surface village:

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In the distance, we could see Cliff House and a number of other cliff dwellings:

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The cliff dwellings are built into canyons that splay out like fingers from the southern end of the mesa:

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Pretty good camouflage:

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From Mesa Verde, we drove West and South, passing several Monument Valley-esque structures:

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Tonight we’re overnighting at the Walmart of Gallup, New Mexico.  See the trip map for driving details.

Day 382: Great Sand Dunes NP

Shabbos was wonderful on BLM land just South of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, the weather was perfect.  Today we drove North to the park itself:

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The main attraction of the park is the dune field, which contains the tallest dunes in North America.  This photo only captures the Easternmost tip of the dune field, which is 30 square miles in size:

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Naturally we hiked the dunes themselves.  Unlike the rest of the family, I decided to use snowshoes, which turned out to work really well:

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M and I climbed to the top of the highest dune in this part of the dune field.  The dunes seems to go on forever:

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The kids ran down when possible:

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Of course, the kids received their Junior Ranger badges:

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The dune field is surrounded by high plains, about 8000 feet high here:

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I find the open plains to be so beautiful:

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From the park, we drove West to overnight at the Walmart of Durango, Colorado.  See the trip map for driving details and our current location.

Day 380: Florissant Fossil Beds NM

This morning, I was curious to see where the fire road we dispersed camped on last night went, so I broke out the bike and took a look.  It was tough going, not only due to the poor road quality and climbing grade, but also because of the altitude, as we’re camped at 9800 feet.  I rode up about a mile to a forest service campground, and the host told me that most people camp here as a base camp to climb Pike’s Peak.

Driving out from our overnight location was easier in daylight, and once we hit pavement we drove another 10 miles or so to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument:

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The fossil beds contain a wide array of very well preserved plant and insect fossils:

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The kids worked on their Junior Ranger workbooks and received their badges:

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It happens that stage 5 of the USA Pro Challenge is passing through the town of Florissant, so we took a break from the visitor center and drove back the 2.5 miles to the highway to watch the race come flying by.  It’s a slide downward slope coming into town, so the riders would pass by at over 40 miles per hour.

Here comes the lead entourage:

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The breakaway was within sight of the peleton:

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The peleton thunders through:

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Team cars and team busses:

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We returned to Florissant Fossil Beds and hiked a short trail that took us by the stumps of petrified giant redwoods that thrived here in the Eocene.  A volcanic lahar buried these trees in 15 feet of mud which then hardened.  The tops of the trees rotted away, and the buried portion of the trees were fossilized.  These fossilized stumps are as large as modern redwoods, with the largest being about 14 feet across:

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Here a ponderosa pine grows out of the top of a petrified stump:

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The hike also took us by a place where the Florissant fossil-bearing shale layer is exposed:

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On the way out of the park, we visited the homestead preserved by the park:

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We drove West and South to stop for Shabbos on BLM land just South of Sunday’s destination, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.  It’s very pretty here:

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Good Shabbos from the BLM’s Zapata Falls Recreation Area!  See the trip map for today’s driving details and our current location.

Day 379: Shut Up Legs

This morning we dropped off the RV at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center and drove the truck to a location near the start of stage four of the USA Pro Challenge, one of only two top-level professional cycling tours in the US.

The race features some of the biggest names in professional cycling, including the 2011 Tour de France 3rd place finisher Frank Shleck and two time Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso.

Racing here for the last time in his career is Jens Voigt, perhaps the best rouleur in modern times and, at 42 years old, the oldest rider in this year’s Tour de France.  I don’t religiously follow bike racing, but to the extent that I have a favorite rider, Jens is it.  So legendary is his ability to attack and shatter the peleton that there is a website dedicated solely to describing his (somewhat exaggerated) near-infinite physical prowess.

The lead media motorcycles and police cars drive in front of the peleton:

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Suddenly, the peleton came around the corner.  This race features 16 teams with 8 riders per team.  This portion of the course is a kind of rolling start, so the riders are being held back by the pace vehicles:

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Trailing the peleton are the team cars, each equipped with spare bikes to hand off to a rider with mechanical difficulties:

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The peleton came around a second time:

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The highlight of stage 4 is the climb up Category 4 Ridge Road, with a maximum grade of 17%.  Since this stage is a circuit race, the riders would ride the climb four times before the stage finish.  We drove from the start to park near the climb.  We could see from the team busses in front of us that we were going the right way:

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We parked our truck and walked over to the base of the climb:

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We didn’t go far because I was pretty sure the riders would soon arrive for their second climb of the hill.  We waited at the 1KM mark from the top of the climb:

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Jens is definitely a favorite of the crowd, with many holding signs printed with his most famous saying, “shut up legs”:

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The lead motorcycle zoomed past, indicating that the riders were right around the corner:

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Around the corner came a breakaway of 12 riders, including, of course, Jens Voigt:

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Jens is seen here third from the right:

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About 2 minutes later, the rest of the peleton rode by:

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We walked up towards the summit while waiting for the third time the riders would come by:

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The summit arch, where KOM points are awarded:

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Here come the riders.  But wait, two riders have dropped the breakaway!  Jens has set a pace that only Ben Jacques-Maynes could match on the climb:

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Jens (right) and Ben (left) summit the climb:

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A bit later, the rest of the breakaway shows up:

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And two minutes after that, the peleton rides through:

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We walked back down the hill to watch the final climb of the race:

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And when the chase cars showed up for the last time, it was Jens Voigt out in front, having dropped everyone else.  In the last race of his career, even at 42 years old, Jens can still attack the peleton and drop them all:

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Go Jens, go!

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Here’s a view from the cameraman behind Jens from the live broadcast:

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I was in tears, and the crowd was going crazy, with some fans running along side Jens encouraging him on:

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Over two minutes later, the peleton, having reeled in the rest of the breakaway, rode past:

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Race leader and 2013 USA Pro Tour winner Tejay van Garderen, seen here in the yellow checkered jersey, was in the peleton:

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Waving to the support vehicles:

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Everyone loves Jens:

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We walked back to the park where we had parked the car to watch the end of the race on my phone:

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Unfortunately, even Jens couldn’t hold off the combined might of the peleton, and was caught by the peleton less than a mile from the finish line.  He did win the “Most Combative” jersey of the stage, and based on the response of the crowd when the crossed the finish line, the fact that he didn’t win didn’t matter.  His tenacity and fighting spirit were nothing short of inspiring.

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After the race, we drove back to the Olympic Training Center to hitch up the RV and look through the visitor center:

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These weights are a bit lighter than they appear:

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Looking up through the Olympic torch on the roof:

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The torch on the roof:

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After wrapping up our visit, we drove West to overnight at the Walmart of Woodland Park.  Despite what they told us on the phone before we arrived, the lot is signed as “no overnight parking”, so we continued on to a dispersed camping location in the Pike National Forest.  It was getting dark as we drove up the narrow, winding fire road.  Even though it was only three miles long, I was ready for bed by the time we arrived.  See the trip map for driving details.