Summer 2017, Day 21: Picket Wire Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite

We woke up to a warm day in Eastern Colorado:

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Here at Picket Wire Canyon, there are wild sunflowers everywhere:

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We unhitched the truck and drove to the trailhead for the 12 mile round-trip hike in the canyon:

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As we walked, we startled dozens of grasshoppers to flight.  They’re pretty big, and all the swatting slowed our progress:

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The canyon is dotted with abandoned homesteads:

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Ants create strange cones of debris around their holes, maybe for flood protection?

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There are remarkable variety of grasshoppers here:

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Another canyon dweller:

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Ruins of a 19th century church and cemetery:

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A Dung beetle taking home his prize:

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The “rock” on the left is a recreation of a dinosaur fossil found here:

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At last we arrived at our goal for today, the Purgatoire River track site.  It’s the largest dinosaur track site in North America.  Portions of the track site were discovered as recently as 2014:

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The tracks are so well preserved that it’s easy to imagine this meat-eating Allosaurus roaming the area, hunting for prey:

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Glad they’re not here now:

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We had to ford the Purgatoire River to see the rest of the tracks.  The river was flowing fast enough that I was worried we would be swept off our feet:

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This side of the river has tracks left behind by the massive plant-eating Apatosaurus.  It was neat to follow the tracks and imagine these lumbering beasts wandering the river bank:

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This interpretive sign shows the tracks as seen from the air:

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We made our way back across the river.  I used a branch as a brace to prevent being knocked off my feet by the current:

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We spotted this Horned lizard on the way back:

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We picked up the pace on our return trip.  Thunderstorms were closing in on us from behind with sporadic lightning, and we were the tallest feature on the trail, so we wanted to get back to the truck before the storm reached us:

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We got back to the truck as it started to rain and drove back to the RV:

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We drove north to La Junta, Colorado to overnight at the Walmart there:

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See the alternating light blue line on the trip map for today’s drive.

Summer 2017, Day 20: Driving the Alpine Loop

Surprisingly, after yesterday’s climb of Uncompahgre Peak, we were able to walk without pain.  We hitched up the RV and said goodbye to our roadside campsite:
 

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We drove down to Lake City and south to an RV park that rents Jeeps.  We got a black one:

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Today’s goal was to drive the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway. Portions of the road are singletrack and have switchbacks too tight for our truck to navigate, which is why we rented the Jeep.  We are driving the route clockwise:

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The route started out easily enough:

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We took a short detour into fabulous American Basin:

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As we continued up toward Cinnamon Pass, the road became more challenging:

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Looking back down the switchbacks we just drove up:

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Looking down from Cinnamon Pass:

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We continued down to the ghost town of Animas Forks, Colorado:

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The old ore mill:

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The town was an active mining community from the 1870s to 1920:

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We looked around some of the buildings:

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It started to rain as we wrapped up exploring the town:

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From Animas Forks, we continued up towards Engineer Pass.  Looking back down towards Animas Forks:

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Some of the switchbacks were steep, and we had to be careful to avoid rolling over:

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We arrived at Oh! Point, an overlook at the end of a narrow ridge:

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Lots of folks were here:

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Views from Oh! Point:

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We continued on to Engineer Pass:

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Driving down from Engineer Pass, we passed some old mining structures:

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This mining site was recently destroyed by an avalanche:

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After returning the Jeep, we hitched back up:

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We drove north to Gunnison, then east, passing brilliant rainbows along the way:

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We continued east out the Rockies to Pueblo, then father on to a dispersed camping location south of La Junta, Colorado.  See the alternating light blue line on the trip map for today’s drive.

Summer 2017, Day 19: Climbing Uncompahgre Peak

We had a nice Shabbos in our dispersed camping location above Lake City, Colorado.  We’re parked at 9,000 feet above sea level.  We had mild headaches as a result of acclimating to the reduced oxygen up here.

On Shabbos afternoon, and there was a knock at the door. I answered the door to a pair of older women who wanted to have a theological conversation. I declined their overture. “The only sure things in life are death and taxes” goes the famous saying, but it seems missionaries should be included as well.

We left our RV parked at our campsite and drove our truck up to the trail to Uncompahgre Peak. The road included two stream crossings:

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Most of the trail was narrow and rocky, so careful tire placement was critical to avoid scraping the underside of our truck. Even with a four wheel drive pickup truck, it took nearly an hour to cover the five miles:

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We had great views as we approached the trailhead:

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At last we reached the beginning of the trailhead at 11,400 feet of elevation:

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Thanks to already being at 9,000 feet of elevation since Thursday, we only suffered minor altitude sickness as we ascended the trail:

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After a short while we could see Uncompahgre Peak in the distance.  With a summit elevation of 14,321 feet above sea level, Uncompahgre Peak is the highest mountain in the San Juans, the 9th highest mountain in the Continental US, and less than 200 feet lower than the tallest mountain in the Continental US, California’s Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet:

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The trail almost immediately climbed above the “tree line”, the altitude above which trees cannot grow. We passed trickling streams cascading over stone ledges, their frigid waters supplied by melting fields of snow:

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A bewildering variety of wildflowers swayed in the wind, enticing butterflies with their scent and color in a desperate effort to be pollinated before September snows set in:

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As we continued to climb, even a relatively slow hiking pace brought out rapid breathing since the air at this altitude contains only 60% of the oxygen found at sea level:

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Up and up we climbed. As we approached the peak, the grade of the trail increased, then increased again:

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Looking back down the trail, we could see this peak, so insignificant around here that it doesn’t even have a name:

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We encountered a rock wall that, while not vertical, was steep enough that we were holding on with our hands as well as our feet. The temperature was steadily dropping as we climbed, and we donned gloves, wool hats, and jackets to keep the biting alpine winds at bay. By this time, we were higher than any of the surrounding terrain, and the views were breathtaking. Snow-kissed mountain peaks (even in August!) extended as far as the eye could see. I imagined buckskin-clad explorers like Lewis and Clark, trying to find their way to the Pacific Ocean, encountering this vast expanse of rugged peaks in their path:

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At last we reached the summit. Despite our recent high-altitude acclimation, at over 14,300 feet of elevation, we were all suffering from headaches and nausea. But the views, what views! From the summit, a 360-degree panorama of lesser peaks and mountains was visible, layer upon layer, to the horizon:

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Thrilled with our accomplishment, we ate our lunch and began our descent:

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Back down through the steep part of the trail.  One missed step and it’s a long way down:

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Six hours after we had began our hike, we were back at the truck.

Unfortunately, my advice to wear brimmed hats was not heeded.  M has quite the burn on the back of his neck:

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We’ve climbed our first Fourteener!  We will sleep well tonight, I think.

Summer 2017, Day 17: Exploring Lake City, CO

We don’t have cell phone connectivity up at our dispersed camping location, so we came down into town to make our travel plans for the next few days.  It’s a cute little town:

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Colorado yard ornaments:

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Most of the roads up here are not paved, so people use ATVs and UTVs to get around:

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We drove back up to our campsite, taking a few photographs of the Ute and Ulay mine complex.  Built in the late 1800s, the complex was one of the most productive silver and lead mines in Colorado, recovering minerals valued at over $280 million in today’s dollars.  The mines closed in the early 1900s:

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The old dam:

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Good Shabbos from near Lake City, Colorado!

Summer 2017, Day 8: Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile SHS

We’re back to our RVing tradition of great breakfasts:

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We packed up to head out.  B made a poster for her cousin:

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Ready to go:

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Saying goodbye to my parents:

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We drove north and west into North Dakota.  It’s the first time the four of us have visited the state, our 48th state.  Only Kentucky remains:

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We got off the freeway and passed through fields of sunflowers:

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We arrived at Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site:

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The Minuteman Missile is a nuclear ICBM still in use by the US Air Force.  The facilities in this area were dismantled as part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in the early 90s.  Each missile alert facility controlled ten launch facilities dispersed throughout the countryside.  The only facilities remaining are the Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility and the nearby November-33 Launch Facility.  The map below shows the location of the two remaining facilities in green:

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The launch facility is little more than an underground missile silo surrounded by a chain link fence.  The Missile Alert Facility which we visited is composed of an above-ground support building and an underground facility composed of a machine room and a control room in which two Air Force officers were always ready to direct their ten silos to launch:

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Our tour began in the above-ground structure, which provided housing for the facility’s manager, cook, and security team:

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This is the guard room, from which the main gate was watched.  The red doughnut is made of concrete with a coffee can in the center.  When visitors checked in their firearms, they would be unloaded and test fired into the can to insure the weapon did not have a round chambered:

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Modem and RS232 interface for the weather station.  Ah, the good old days:

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This escape ladder allows personnel to travel between the underground and above-ground facilities should the elevator fail:

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Thankfully the elevator did work, and we took it 60 feet down to the underground complex, which is composed of a pair of spherical reinforced structures, each with a massive door.  The machine room was to the right:

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The missile control room was to the left:

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We checked out the machine room first:

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The equipment room floor is suspended from the walls by a suspension system designed to allow the equipment to survive the shock of a nearby nuclear attack:

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When the facility was decommissioned, the departing personnel signed the wall:

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We next toured the control room from where the missiles would be launched:

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The key that launches the missiles:

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From this chair, civilization could be destroyed with the turn of a key:

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One of the two Air Force officers would sleep here while the other waited for the launch command:

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We left the historic site and continued west and south.  Late afternoon brought a magical light:

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Tonight we’re overnighting at Chain of Lakes Recreation Area.  After getting the RV set up for the night we discovered that we were in the day use area and that there are individual camping areas ringing the lakes here:

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We decided to stay put for the night:

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See the alternating light blue line on the trip map for today’s drive.