For my first 3-Hour Tour post, I’ll start with what I thought was one of the more fun routes we’ve discovered on account of all the mines and old buildings we ran across. Also very challenging drive.
Let me explain briefly that the area around Nederland, Colorado, and especially between it and Central City, is criss-crossed every which way with old mining roads and old forest service roads. The area around Central City was once known as the “richest square-mile on earth” for the wealth of minerals in the ground, particularly gold and silver. I couldn’t even guess at the number of old abandoned mining cabins, mines and ore processing buildings that dot the forested landscape. Of course, by now, every year there are fewer as their age has finally reached a critical point where many are collapsing. So I value each one I run across, not knowing how much longer it will stand.
So on this particular adventure, it was our goal to locate a 4x4 route from Mammoth Gulch Road to Gamble Gulch Road. We had pretty amazing luck ending up where we wanted to, considering the maze of roads that exist in this area … truly dizzying and hard to know in the thick forest if you’re driving in circles or not. We usually go out late in the day when the sun is beyond helping us, and our 4Runner ain’t got no fancy compass thingy in it. In fact, it ain’t got no fancy anything. Which is partly what makes it a great vehicle for exploring … a few more dents and scratches will hardly be noticed.
Putzing around online after we got home, I found a description of this route saying to be sure to bring your GPS for this very confusing route … Bah!! GPS-users are wimps. We even managed to find -- mapless and GPS-less -- the “shaft house” listed as an attraction of sorts on the website, and we didn’t even know it existed. This post was originally written while we had the 1988 4Runner. I'm updating now having revisited the shaft house after a good number of years - five or six - and we now have a 1999 4Runner named Chewie, whom we totally love. We also have Pinzy the Pinzgauer, but we revisited this site with Chewie. Part of the road has been significantly upgraded, so it's not so gnarly as it was the first time. Here are a few updated pics ... summer 2019.
The description on the website also says parts of the route are "not for wide or shiny new SUVs," and this I have to agree with but this is the case for many of the 4x4 trails around us as they are narrow and in the trees. The site also states it’s a half day trip … but as you know, we did it in 3 hours. Pretty much any drive time stated in any source for any driving condition on any road with any vehicle can be practically halved with Erik at the wheel. Fortunately we get along well in this respect as I’m typically game for the faster pace. A lot of 4x4 route drivers go slowly in order to minimize the bumpiness of the ride for passengers, but I personally like a bumpy ride, it’s more like being on an amusement park ride or something.
At one point the road dead-ended, and fortunately we got out of the truck to have a look around, for we found this charming abandoned mining cabin. The mine entrance is right next to it, now collapsed and filled in as most mine entrances have been for safety reasons ... though I miss the old days when I first moved to the area and a lot of old mines had not been capped and you could walk into them. The mining cart tracks now just disappear into the weeds.
After this picturesque dead-end, we managed to turn around in very tight quarters and followed a different path which led us to what we'd been looking for -- Gamble Gulch Road -- a "regular" maintained dirt road. There was a gate at the end of the 4x4 path which fortunately somebody else had torn down, clearly for the purpose of allowing vehicles on the 4x4 route to pass through. Had the gate been standing, it would have been excruciatingly difficult and perhaps impossible to turn around on the narrow forested trail to find another route, and backing up it would have been significantly less than fun. As of 2019 this part of the trail has been significantly smoothed out and is not so tricky as our first adventure.
Once on the Gamble Gulch Road, we ran across more mines, shacks, processing buildings and artifacts from the mining days ...
The water leaves trippy colorful patterns on black plastic around this mine, which is pretty, but knowing normal water should not make those colors and should not be brown, takes a little from the beauty ... there are many contaminated mining areas.
A nice lookout, in a rare break from the narrow confines of the forest, to the backside of the Front Range mountains.
I’m always a sucker for European castles and cathedrals. Prague Castle and St. Vitus cathedral didn’t disappoint. The heart of “old town” or “classic” Prague lies between the castle/cathedral complex and the Old Town Square, with the Charles Bridge spanning the river between the two of them. The castle, I suppose naturally, holds the high ground, overlooking the rest of Prague and the Old Town in the distance. Here is a little photo tour through the cathedral, the castle and its grounds, which are lovely to walk through and provide excellent overviews, plus a quirky little attraction rather at odds with the uber-classic nature of the rest of old town Prague’s architecture. Then we'll take a brief jaunt across the bridge.
From my temporary residence near Pohorelec, I could walk downhill to the castle, entering it through the main gate, and passing by this lovely lantern which I always wished I could have seen lit at night. At noon each day, a column of castle guards marched into work (I presume). Hi-ho hi-ho. There was a wonderful gypsy band that often played for tips in the large open courtyard in front of the castle, I spent probably a total of a couple hours listening to them and watching the crowds filter in and out of the castle, wondering what sorts of folks wandered in and out of the grounds in its heyday ... what the guards once looked like with lances and swords and horses to ride, what scenes of stench and horror surrounded the castle during times of plague and pestilence, what ragged bands of Renaissance musicians sounded like twittering their flutes and drums.
The inside of the castle was actually surprisingly spare ... not full of opulent furniture and wall/ceiling moldings. It seemed to exist in a very functional state ... an administrative center rather than a lavish palace. It was here that I rediscovered my love for the word "defenestration," when we learned of the history of this seemingly preferred method of deposition of unwanted court officials (that is to say, throwing them out a high window).
My favorite part of the castle was actually walking the grounds and gardens along the side, where you can look over the city ... over the minions, if you will ... over the serfs and subjects of this architectural grandeur. Well OK, only in the imaginative past, those serfs. Nonetheless, very pleasant. First photo, notice the friendly guard hanging out amongst the greenery.
At one point, as you descend toward level ground near the river, you find yourself looking down into this rather odd space with dripping, organic-like shapes that look as if formed out of limestone or cement. In fact, it's a man-made wall whose features are called dripstone. It covers a large area of the Wallenstein Palace Gardens, and makes for kind of a jarring but not unpleasant juxtaposition of modern artistic architecture with very classic gardens and an outdoor stage where I found an orchestra practicing one day. There were several families of peacocks in the gardens which I watched with fascination as they claimed territory and persecuted one another, the mother peahens coddling the strong chicks and abandoning the weak ones.
And now for a study in feeling small and insignificant in the face of human accomplishment ... stand before St. Vitus Cathedral! You can see from the first photo, only a portion of the exterior can be captured in Erik's camera lens. I've stood before some tall cathedrals before, but this one seemed particularly immense, looming above me. Can't decide whether it's ethereal or sinister, reaching Heavenward to the wide sky or glaring down upon the punificent. Daunting, in either case .....
The inside of the cathedral ....
Check out the set of organ pipes!
Walking down through the cathedral and castle grounds, down long stairways and narrow streets, eventually you come to the Charles Bridge, the most famous bridge in Prague. After crossing the river, you can then continue on to the Old Town Square where the town hall with its astronomical clock presides. The bridge was undergoing renovation while I was there, so it was closed down to "one lane" shall we say ... which is to say at only half its normal width, it could get exceedingly crowded, almost claustrophobic during the day and evening.
The outside wall of the tower at the end of the bridge is very ornate and full of statues and coats of arms. All along the bridge are stone statues depicting sometimes kind of random scenes. Street performers line the bridge with their acts, and artisans with their crafts, but with the half-width bridge during renovation, this got to be a little too much. I'd like to return when it's fully re-opened. Just one more reason (excuse?) to come back to this lovely city.
Recently I visited a friend near Santa Barbara, California, and one day we took a day trip into Los Angeles to see the Huntington Botanical Gardens. In particular, my friend wanted to show me the Desert Garden exhibit. She thought it was pretty special and the highlight of the gardens. I concur with her assessment ... I've never seen such profusion of cacti. The garden has existed for over 100 years, so some of the cacti have grown to monstrous proportions. One cactus of this age is reported to weigh in at 20 tons! And some yucca-type plants have a height of 60 feet.
I had no idea the variety of cacti and succulents that existed. The desert garden display features more than 5,000 species of succulents and desert plants!! And is spread over about 10 acres. It was truly astounding -- dizzying, almost overwhelming, in fact, with the often stark geometry of cacti overlapping one another, and so many varieties packed in so close together. It was so densely grown with such variety, it was like a rainforest or jungle, but of desert plants. A unique place, indeed.
So here is a photographic glimpse of the desert garden for you to contemplate the wonders of nature with. The first photo I originally featured in the Friday Photo section before I put together this post. It gives you a very rough and, frankly, pretty inadequate idea of the varieties of desert plants co-existing in the display. One of my friends made the remark of this display area: watch out for banana peels! You can just see Wylie Coyote go skating into one of these prickly scenes, right?
According to the recorded voice on the shuttle bus that takes you to trailheads in the park, this area of Utah was once part of the largest sand dune ever to exist in planetary history. I would like to have seen that! The Virgin River is the heart of Zion National Park, having worn a path deep into the ancient sediment. Visiting there in late October/early November, as I recently did, meant that the river was at a low volume and easily navigable. One of the more unique adventures visitors can embark on is actually hiking in the river through the deep, narrow canyon it carves (the hike is known, surprisingly, as The Narrows).
The first time I visited Zion, a good number of years ago, it was in summer, and at times the water was up to my chest. We were wearing dry suits, so I was still warm, but I had to hold my walking stick above my head being chest deep. The walking stick, I might point out, is the most crucial item one needs in order to do this hike. Outfitters in Springdale rent dry suits, wet suits, and walking sticks, or you can go in your own clothes but you must find a sturdy stick as well, for oftentimes the water flow is swift and strong, and you need it to brace yourself against the current and keep your balance. To walk the best route and find dry rocky or sandy islands, you cross back and forth across the river perpetually.
This year my traveling companions were professional photographers ... which left little amateur me feeling a bit intimidated, but I learned a lot about photography in general, photographing water in particular, and being on a trip focused on photography changed my way of looking at things. That's me below, in a wet suit and jacket, prepping a shot. And by the way, the wet suit (including booties) keeps you warm while you are moving in the water ... but after standing still with a tripod for awhile, the cold seeps in; hence, I had little footsicles at the end of my ankles rather than anything resembling blood-nourished flesh.
For example, in regard to noticing my surroundings, the first time I went with my family, if you had asked me at the end of the day after hiking The Narrows, what was the light like inside the canyon, or what color was the water? I really couldn't tell you much. I couldn't have told you anything about the lighting, but I do remember that the deep water had an almost turquoise tint to it, but that's all I could say.
Now I can tell you that the character of the light changes perpetually. I don't mean in terms of how the sun comes in, for it breaches the depths of the chasm very rarely; there are only a few spots that see direct sunlight. But the amount of indirect light and from which direction, the narrowness or wideness of the canyon, the color of the canyon walls (varying from a vibrant rusty red to nearly pure black), the foliage that might be soaking up the light, etc., made for very different effects and hues. Sometimes the light seems warm and golden, sometimes cold and gray.
The water color varied as well, based not only on its depth, but on the speed of its current and the amount of turbulence in it, from a typical brownish color, to a vague blue, to very pronounced green. The first photo below, incidentally, is what came of the effort captured above by my friend, where I'm hunkered down at the water's edge.
The obvious bonus delight of visiting in autumn was the addition of golden color to the trees along the river. Many times the bright yellow leaves struck a dramatic contrast with the black rock behind them ... made them appear almost neon.
Though we were photographing primarily river shots, the draw for most people (non-photographers) is the dramatic landscape of sheer rock faces and mountains that provoke the imagination the way that clouds do, finding in them a likeness to something else. For a photographer these are very difficult to capture in a professional shot unless it's an overcast day; the light contrast is simply too severe. I, however, not being a professional, needn't consider how good a print would sell and derived sufficient joy from taking pictures simply for the sake of documentation ... I called them "tourist shots." So I often putzed around taking tourist shots while my professional friends were focused on capturing perfect river shots. If you've never been to Zion, here is a quick peek at the typical topography. The white caps on the mountains are not snow ... the rock color simply changes.
We saw lots of mule deer and some mountain sheep, and a little flock of these guys. Yeah, go ahead, Mr. Turkey ... run, run, run; I didn't want a picture of you anyway. You and all your pals just go ahead and flee across the road.
Bryce Canyon was named after a chap with the splendid first name of Ebenezer. Ebenezer Bryce. With the largest collection of unique pillar-like rock formations known as hoodoos, or commonly referred to as goblins, it officially became a national park in 1928. But for eons, it’s been the stage of a planetary tragedy – when The Great Sea withdrew from The Wide Plateau, it was the parting of two lovers. Millions of years ago when the Sea kissed the Plateau with its warm and salty ebb and flow, the two used to lie next to each other and gaze at the dragons in the sky – the stars that breathed fire and exhaled gasses across the universe.
After many, many moons, after they’d watched together as stars grew brighter and extinguished, the Sea withdrew and departed forever, breaking Plateau’s heart. She cried and cried a sky-full of tears, and tiny rivulets of them ran deep into fissures in the rock. On cold nights, they froze, sometimes piling up on the ground in a hush of snow, and inside the rocks the frosted tears expanded. When the sun rose and thawed them, all that sadness seeped even further into the rock and pried it open.
Year after decade after century after millennia, time unfolded before Plateau like a colossal painter's canvas. She whittled away the vast plain with her tears as though they were her brush. Such fantastical shapes began to emerge, at long last she felt a slim ray of joy that something so magical and interesting could take shape from her tears. She became anxious and impatient to create more fantastical shapes, but so much time had passed since her lover left that she began to find it more difficult to conjure up enough precipitating sadness. So instead, she began to laugh. She laughed at the good memories of her lover, but mostly at the whimsical shapes she’d thus created. She laughed so hard until she cried, and once again her tears seeped into the rock and froze and melted and pried it apart even more. She’s still laughing to this day.
So when you look around at the myriad shapes spread throughout the park, don’t be fooled into thinking they are sniveling goblins and bewitching hoodoos. That grand amphitheater was begat from lost love; it’s a sea of tears, in truth, a sea that can never withdraw its shore. You can imagine a land of sadness or a land of joy, or even a stoic land if you mix them up together into an average over time. But in its sublime physical form, it’s the shape of romance – convoluted, unexpected, intractable, unpredictable, violent, peaceful … in the end, a grand echo of every individual soul.
That fable, of course, is my own creation. I feel I should own up to it just so you don’t go around telling other people this is the mythical or fabled story of Bryce. (I’m sure there are more “official” myths known by the Native peoples.) I just didn’t find the landscape evocative of the mischief or malevolence implied in the common reference to goblins; I found it grand and dramatic in a romantic kind of way, it evoked in me a story much bigger and more cosmic than a gathering of individual mischievous little beasties. But the mechanism of Plateau's tears is real ... the shapes in Bryce were formed primarily by the action of frost -- of moisture seeping into the rocks, freezing and expanding, contracting and refreezing, eventually prying the rocks apart. Typically first creating a hole (an arch), which eventually collapses, leaving the pillar-esque shapes. A very straight-forward scientific process that results in very magical and other-worldly shapes.