Continuing our little safari in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia ... (see the last two installments: "Birds and Those With Patterns" and "Wanna Tussle?") now we'll visit another category of creatures ... those with tusks or horns ... in other words, those with sharp pointy things growing out of their head somewhere. Tusks grow from the mouth, they are essentially massive, elongated teeth; and horns grow from the head and are are essentially crazy fingernails -- made primarily of keratin, the same as nails and hair. I guess technically, they would be "headnails."
We might as well start with the big boys! The animal above which I love few others -- elephants! Those who have had the increasingly-rare privilege of living to old age are often called "tuskers" because of their large tusks ... they keep growing over the lifetime of an elephant. One of the most beloved beers (a lager) in Africa is Tusker beer. :) Naturally, I would know and be familiar with a side note involving beer! The first pic below kind of gives a sense of how the elephant really towers over his savanna mates. An oryx by itself (the creature facing us) does not seem a particularly petite animal. But he looks more like a toy standing near an elephant!
An elephant trunk has a staggering number of muscles. Typically literature will refer to either about 40,000 or well over 100,000 ... it depends on how you are classifying the muscles, whether larger muscle groups or individually. You get the idea either way, that the trunk is an appendage over which the elephant has exceedingly fine motor control, and with its prehensile tip, it can be used to do everything our human hands can do and then some. For example, we cannot store water inside our hands! Trunks are perhaps the most topographic and textured limbs on any mammal, and I think they are one of the most fascinating things one could occupy their time with watching.
In addition to sucking up water to release in their mouths to drink, with its Hoovering power they can also suck up water and mud to spray over their bodies in showers and mud baths. The dirt in Etosha is often a light grayish or chalky color. This guy is really giving himself a power wash!
Here is some interesting behavior we observed ... this elephant was eating a termite mound. First he curled his trunk all around it, investigating it and almost seeming to caress it. Then he opened his mouth and started nibbling off the top of it like it was an ice cream cone.
As sweet and loving as this pose below looks, it's actually two young males practicing their sparring skills. Though they were tussling (see more tussles), it was not aggressive ... sort of that line down the middle between play and fight.
And now a much smaller critter with no less impressive tusks relative to their body size ... warthogs. Like elephants, both male and female warthogs have tusks. Besides looking for the requisite junk to determine the sex of a warthog, you can tell a difference by their faces ... down by the jaw, males have a third set of lumps -- the "warts," for which they are named. (This is similar to sexing a giraffe by the little horn nubs on their head ... the older males have a second set.) The warts are not actually hard solid growths, they actually store fat.
Moving on to critters with horns ... Horns are one of the methods Mother Nature uses to express some of her whimsical creativity. A lot of people on safari kind of overlook the antelope species, perhaps because they are typically relatively plentiful and don't have as unique or endearing characteristics as the iconic mammals of Africa -- elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, etc. My favorite antelope species is the kudu. Their corkscrew horns are magnificent. I just can't help imagining if the keratin growths on humans came in such wicked lengths and shapes as the keratin growths on antelopes. Imagine having corkscrew fingernails! haha.
The oryx have impressive horns, as well. Their shape may be nothing to write home about, but the length can be impressive indeed. Because of these great spikes on their heads, they make kind of an epic outline on the flat grasslands (giraffes are the only other animals about which I have this epic-on-the-savanna impression).
I've never seen a black wildebeest, whose horns orient a little differently, but blue wildebeest are one of the most popular animals on the plains. Of course, probably the most famous event in all of Africa is the wildebeest migration up in Kenya and Tanzania. This isn't that exciting of a photo, but it's one of the very few I've taken in which the animals' faces are somewhat visible. So often their dark snouts and eyes make them look like faceless black masses.
This is one of my favorite photos just because it shows three very different antelope species getting along just peachy-keen fine. If only the human species were as tolerate and friendly as the antelope species. My favorite safari pics are the ones with multiple species in them.
Springbok are sweet little antelopes. One of the few antelope species in which, like wildebeests, both males and females have horns; the female's just tend to be smaller and daintier than the male's. This was the most plentiful species I saw in Etosha.
Below, we have a female black-faced impala ... these are actually a different subspecies than the common impala, and an endangered one. If you see a pic of one of these, it likely came from Etosha, their main stronghold. But apparently the population in Etosha is still only a little over 1,000. However, the Etosha population began with only 300 animals relocated there from elsewhere for their protection. So though there are more depressing stories of species losing the conservation battle than you can shake a stick at, this one is a success for Namibia.
It's an increasingly special experience to witness a rhino in the wild. I count myself extremely fortunate to have spent loads of time around primarily white rhinos, but also some blacks, in South Africa. And we saw this fellow, below, two days in a row in Etosha. For more on rhinos, including this guy and photos of the little tyke I saw in Etosha, see my "It's Come to This: Saving Just One Rhino" post. While it was nice to hang out with this black rhino, he unfortunately was not very healthy, he had been in a fight and was beat up pretty bad. Our guide didn't feel particularly optimistic for him. But we did see several other healthy ones at the water holes associated with the park camps.
African safaris are not cheap. Especially if you have to fly in from another continent. As with any type of travel, there are certainly more and less expensive ways of doing them. But when I encourage you and anyone else who has never been to make a safari a priority in their lives, I'm not flippantly assuming you all have buckets of money. I myself certainly don't! I realize most of us have to make decisions and priorities in our lives. For me, it's worth not eating out at restaurants at home and not seeing movies in the theater and buying my clothes second-hand to spend my resources instead on being in the presence of these majestic and unique and ancient creatures. And every year that passes I feel more and more drawn to them as their time on earth becomes steadily more precarious. I think that if I had infinite amounts of money, I would pay for everyone on the planet to go on just one safari and see these animals first hand. In my little private Utopia, this would result in the evaporation of indifference and apathy toward the welfare of these animals, which would necessitate solving the underlying problems that threaten the wildlife's continued existence, primarily the eradication of the endemic poverty of the people who live next to the national parks established to protect the animals. As it currently stands, very few of those native people receive sufficiently tangible benefits from the parks they (a) cannot even afford the entry fee into, and (b) are supposed to respect the resident animals of, while their family is destitute. The buyers of poached animal parts most definitely can easily make a choice whether or not to buy them, and carry a moral responsibility not to. The people who desperately need to feed their hungry family ... their choices are not so easy and clear.
But lacking the magical infinite pot of gold ... I hope you enjoyed following me on vicarious safari. :) Now we will enjoy our cold Tusker beer as the African sun pulls a sky of stars behind it as it sets.
OK, here's Part 1 of a little safari through Etosha National Park in the north of Namibia. I made one other post from here, "Wanna Tussle?" about animal interactions. But now we're just on safari ... in this article we'll see some birds and an arbitrary categorization of mammals -- those with patterns. I didn't have a great camera or skills, but it's just fun to share safari ... animal pics never get old to me.
So ... giraffes! The giants with patterns. When I'm around them in the wild I always feel such peaceful awe. They can certainly have their aggressive moments among each other -- fighting for females and fending off predators. But among the puny humans who crane their necks to look up the length of the giraffe's unfathomable neck, they are typically docile, staring dispassionately through their wide and gentle eyes, batting a set of long eyelashes.
They, above all other savanna creatures, compose an epic story of the landscape and the nature of movement. Humorously awkward in some poses, they display an unparalleled grace while traversing the wide open plains.
Walking to a water hole, the giraffe towers over the other thirsty critters with that grace of theirs. Then the grace quickly evaporates as soon as they have to bend down to reach the water! They scoot their legs out one at a time until they are sufficiently "tripod"-ed to reach the ground. When they stand up, they jump up and pull both front legs in together simultaneously.
A behavior not seen too commonly, this giraffe is sucking on a piece of bone ... a behavior called osteophagia. They don't actually eat the bone, just suck on it like a hard candy which releases calcium and phosphorous, which are both beneficial minerals to the giraffes, particularly in regard to their large bone structure. Makes me think of when I sucked on candy cigarettes as a kid.
And here is another animal with spots. My favorite spotted animal, actually. I just got a tattoo of one on my shoulder I like them so much ... the cheetah! This was only my second sighting of cheetah on safari and I was so excited I just about lost my cool over it. The guide, who expertly spotted these three young cheetahs eating a meal in the high grass, told me explicitly to "calm down." I was just a bit beside myself. My camera and lens weren't quite up to the task of capturing them as they were very far away and surrounded by the tall grass. But oh well ... I spent most of the time watching them through the guide's strong-magnification binoculars. These pics are hugely cropped in.
At first we only saw one cheetah head. Then a second popped up, and then a third. The we saw the blood around their mouths and realized they were eating a meal. Then they began licking each others' faces to clean them off. So cute. I sure wish I could have gotten some nice pics! They are likely brothers who have left their mom's care, as they will often stick together.
Now let's move onto zebras ... the most popular images of zebras are of a bunch of them lined up in a perfect line drinking at a water hole, and that does make for a damn sweet photo. Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to snag such a shot. But I like this one for its chaos of lines and shapes.
Here's a mini line, I guess. What I like about it is the one zebra who's got his eye on me. Uh-oh! I've been spotted! At the time, I had no idea what the consequence might be for being recognized by a zebra, but it turns out it was nothing immediate. Hard to say what future hardships could be blamed on this incident. It reminded me of a scene that would exist in the Far Side world, though I can't think of a clever caption.
And now some zeebs hanging out in a small thicket.
Jackals are cute and wily and the little devils of a campground! In South Africa it was the vervet monkeys, but here the jackals were the ones to watch for. I slept outside on a cot in a sleeping bag (very awesome) but I had to keep my shoes and any stray bits tucked underneath my sleeping bag so the jackals wouldn't run off with them. One night a jackal came into our crib thinking he was going to score some yummy treats, but when he pulled the huge cast-iron skillet off the table he got a bit of a surprise ... it was a little heavier than he imagined and made a completely scary racket. Foom! Off he ran.
Birds are creatures I have not sufficiently appreciated until I started traveling to Africa. I still don't have very many photos of them, but there are some lovely specimens here in Etosha. The most stunning is the lilac breasted roller. I was also terribly excited when our guide spotted these fellas because I specifically wanted to have an opportunity to photograph them. Their coloring is so spectacular ... just imagine if we humans grew things on our body of such varied and vibrant color, like what if our hair grew naturally in a rainbow palette such as this.
Flamingos! These are such fantastical birds, by which I mean birds of fantasy and imagination and drunken tropical holidays ... swimming in rum punch along with toothpick umbrellas, and posing on peoples' lawns, and lit up in strings of bar lights, heck I even have floating candles in the shape of pink flamingos. Their plastic prevalence in festive atmospheres kind of makes them lose their credibility as real-life creatures. So it's fun to run into them in the wild just being hungry, feathered birds.
The tallest of the birds in Etosha ... the ostrich. Are they the tallest birds, period? Hmm, I don't know. Google it and let me know. I like ostriches, though I liked them more before I spent time around them in the UWEC and realized what ill-tempered and downright scary animals they can be! So I'd rather watch them from afar. Or at least from amiddle, in a vehicle that can outrun them.
The kori bustard is a healthy-sized bird, it can reach over 4 feet tall. They're pretty incognito strutting through the brown grass in their brown feathers.
The bataleur eagle, on the other hand, has a bright and intense face. He's a bit intimidating with his penetrating stare, or glare, or hexing gaze ... difficult to tell exactly what's going on behind those eyes -- calculations, curses, ridicule, pitying the fool ... haha. Who can say for sure.
A blue-eared starling. Also has intense eyes but they seem like just flashy wardrobe components ... they don't make me wonder what is going on in his little head nor ponder whether or not I should be frightened of him.
A dark chanting goshawk below. He sounds so sinister, chanting darkly, but he's light and bright and cheery with orange. But he's got a keen eye on somebody here ... methinks that lunchable somebody might agree more with the "sinister" idea.
OK, now it's time for yours and my lunch, to siesta after our morning game drive. We'll come back to finish the safari with tusked and horned creatures ... next post. :)
About equidistant between Andorra and Barcelona is the renowned Montserrat. It would be easy to visit as a day trip from Andorra; as it happened, we stopped by on our way back to Barcelona. Erik asked me, "So what is this place?" I'm not sure he was thrilled with my answer of, "I don't know, but everyone talks about it." And they said things like, "Oh, you must see!" And my Barcelona guidebook listed it as a top day trip to do from there. It just seemed there was a lot of hubbub around it, and I put it on our itinerary on that flimsy knowledge alone. I didn't research it beyond reading it was a place of pilgrimage for some, and that there was hiking involved in seeing it. I just noticed it was directly on our route and figured I would be silly not to stop by, at the very least so I would know what it was!
In our ignorance, we also had some confusion about where to go once we got off the highway and where to park our car. But we decided to just keep driving up and up the mountainside that rose abruptly and dominated over the plains. Imagine our pleasant surprise when we discovered Montserrat for ourselves. Now, some might call me a poor traveler for being so ill-informed. But this method of travel is a lot of fun, oh detractors, for the thrill of discovery. With no expectations, mediocre sites are cool, and amazing sights are overwhelmingly awesome and joyful to explore. Plus, there are no expectations to turn into disappointments. And so I present to you our happy trails around Montserrat.
Upon arrival, you see the Benedictine monastery nestled into the imaginative rock spires and shapes of the mountain ridge. It's like Mother Nature cupped her hands just to hold this work of man.
We decided we should do hiking first as it was already afternoon when we arrived, figuring we could see the inside of the monastery as the last thing in the day, needing neither sunlight nor warmth to enjoy. When we discovered the next funicular (yay! love funiculars!) up to the trails at the top was arriving in the next 10 minutes, we decided to head straight up, disciplining our growling tummies to have a bit of patience while we exerted ourselves. The tummies weren't overly thrilled with our decision, but we managed. At least we had a water bottle!
There are trails all along the ridges and cut into the sides of the mountain. It reminded me of visiting Huashan in China, with it trails along its five peaks and occasional hermitages for its Taoist monks to engage in spiritual contemplation. Here, a little church-like hermitage perches, kind of lonesome, on a ridge ... sandwiched between overlooking a vast plain and loomed over by a vast sky of clouds.
Paths cut into the rock are fun to walk along.
Making our way across the paths and up through the crevices in the rock -- which, to be honest, were a little arduous and slippery heading straight up the natural cuts in the rock -- rewarded us with some spectacular views. For a sense of scale of the mountaintop rocks themselves, notice that the two little colored dots on the rock directly below are people. (open any pic in this post in a new tab to see at larger size)
Inside the courtyard of the monastery ... one of those shots that took some patience to grab in the couple seconds in which there were no people in it. Even though I'm no professional photographer, it's still fun to pursue one's own idea of the photograph they want to get. Patience paid off.
And more patience inside the church ... Fortunately, worldwide, people tend to clump into herds at tourist sites, so almost always there will be a break between clumps if you can just wait it out. Pretty much the only word that comes to mind for most of the tour around the sanctuary is "gold gold golden gold." OK, if you've been there, you'll call me out on the fact you're not supposed to take photos inside the church. But you know, when you are surrounded, literally, by people snapping pics on their cell phones and cameras, you almost feel like a chump for being the only person sporting a camera around your neck who's not using it, just letting it hang there like a dead chicken. So .....
One day from our mountain base in Andorra we decided to strike down into Spain to see what we could find. Our only real destination in mind was the city of La Seu d'Urgell which is the home of the Bishop of Urgell, who is the co-prince of Andorra, as explained in "Ambling Through Andorra." We knew this wouldn't take the whole day, so we remained open to any sights that caught our eye to explore spontaneously. This day, Erik was the champion at noticing fun activities. On the way to La Seu d'Urgell, he noticed a sign along the road that said "Castellar de Tost." Seemed to us indicative of a castle, perhaps, and Erik was particularly drawn to it on account of it sounding like "toast" ... we have to check out the castle of toast!
So up the exceedingly narrow and twisty road we drove until we came to a lovely ruin, which though not a castle, we had all to ourselves. It reminded us of some of the ruins we explored in Ireland, just lying around so casually and randomly in our modern landscape. Such ghosts. Such fairies. You heard -- fairies. We're not new-agey people who see spirits and nymphs and angels and whatnot, but Erik will swear he was surrounded by a swarm of fairies at an ancient ruin we were given secret directions to on a napkin from a guy we got drunk with at a pub (see "Passenger" in my travel essays section for more on this). Anyway, the ivy-covered lonely ruins of Castellar de Tost gave us a distinctly similar feeling, though we did not actually see any supernatural critters. Yet, we did get an odd craving for a piece of butter-slathered toast.
By now we had learned that in this region, restaurants close by 3:00pm until about 6:00pm. So there is no such thing as a late lunch. We learned this, of course, through lessons the hard way. So as we were getting close to La Seu d'Urgell, Erik noticed the car's clock and had the astute and timley realization that if we didn't pull over at the nearest restaurant, we'd be going hungry. Fortunately, there was a huge restaurant kind of randomly just off the highway. Looking almost like a truck-stop, but it was just a large restaurant ... there were cars in the parking lot -- a good sign. We rushed in the door practically wringing our hands with anxiety wondering if we were too late. Nope, we were seated and menu-ized; we chose one of the lunch specials, which included appetizer, main course, dessert, and a bottle of wine (each) ... for a stupendously reasonable price, considering it's Western Europe. We kind of expected truck-stop quality food for such a price. But the appetizer alone was as large as a main course ... I had a delicious meat and bread tray that was so overwhelming, I can't even remember now what I had for the main course even though I did, in fact, stuff one down my gullet. Along with a bottle of wine. At 3:00 in the afternoon.
Then on to La Seu d'Urgell. A nice town in a wide, high valley among the Pyrenees.
There wasn't too much to see in the town, mostly I was interested in seeing where the bishop lived and ministered, since he is the co-prince of Andorra. I expected that the cathedral and abbey where he resided would be really opulent. I don't know why, just somehow having the additional secular power with his religious Catholic power, I envisioned a place of luxury. Like how popes, although leaders of a religion that teaches piety, live among one of the largest treasure troves on the planet in the Vatican. But no, his digs are very modest indeed.
The skies started to cloud over and we decided it was time to head for our home base in Andorra. On the way to La Seu d'Urgell, Erik had noticed a go-kart racing track along the highway. He said that on our return home he wanted to stop there, and I was all game. In Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) we had a blast riding 250cc karts on a track, and that's what they had here. Though the people didn't really speak English, and we no Catalan, we managed to understand each other on the important points through Spanish, hand signs and our familiarity with the basic process. Fortunately, we accepted the option to wear rain suits, because on our second race it starting raining vigorously. This ended up being a good lesson in how severely wet roads can adversely affect your vehicle. The first few laps in the rain, I was convinced there was something wrong with my kart. I beat Erik in the first race and now I was pulling the wheel the same way and yet spinning out left and right, and crashing into the median while Erik zoomed past me. It took me awhile to figure out what was causing the kart to behave so differently and then to learn how to compensate for the wet pavement. So, we did two races and split the wins. It was a lot of fun.
Here are a couple window shots from the car to give you an idea of some of the landscape we drove through.
Here is a little photo tour of one of my favorite local haunts. I live in the middle of what was once a large network of gold and silver mines in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Every mountain town near me, including my own (Nederland), was founded as a mining community, centered either on a mine or a processing mill. There were large mines as well as individuals mining their own small claims. The last house I owned in Nederland, every year debris from the 1800s would surface in my driveway as rain and snow washed away dirt from the cut. I once learned how to date old tin cans and glass, so I could identify most of the artifacts in my driveway to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Old cabins and mills lie in melancholy dilapidation everywhere, deteriorating more each year. By now, most of the mine shafts in the area have been capped or covered with metal grates, but when I first moved to Nederland over 20 years ago, you could still walk into some of them.
One mine very close to me is the Blue Bird silver mine, which now lies inside the Caribou Ranch Open Space, managed by the Boulder County Parks and Open Space. Happily, the Parks department took the effort to stabilize several of the buildings at the old mine and also some old ranch buildings in the valley. Walking to them is both very scenic and super-duper easy. Why so easy? Well, besides the fact they lie in a broad valley rather than over hill and dale, the trail also largely follows an old railroad grade.
Back around the turn of the 20th century, Colorado enjoyed a reputation as the "Switzerland of America." Capitalizing on this, an extensive narrow-gauge railroad system was constructed to choo-choo tourists through our lovely mountains. It was an important improvement to the residents as well, providing a much easier and faster way to transport goods and supplies to and from mining towns than treacherous wagon roads through the mountains. The route was known as the Switzerland Trail. Well, it still is called that, but the tracks have all been torn up and the grades are now either 4x4 roads or hiking / mountain biking / horse riding trails.
Most of the photos I've taken of this space are in autumn (this collection is from several different years) when the aspen leaves are turning color. The area is closed February through June because the large valley is an elk calving area. So allow me lead you down a portion of the Switzerland Trail .....
This year I found lots of aspen leaves on the ground sprinkled with dew. I'm really partial to leaves and flowers with water and dew droplets on them.
And here's one shot I got in early summer of the trail ... this section is rife with daisies in summer -- from afar, it looks like a field of snow, then magically resolves into hundreds of individual daisies. Not an awesome picture, but you get the basic idea.
Along the way to the Blue Bird mine, you pass the wide valley (where the elk calve). In it is the historic DeLonde homestead. The DeLondes first moved here, as nearly everyone did, to be involved with mining, but eventually became ranchers, and they sold the land to another ranching family who raised Arabian horses. The next sale was to a Mr. Guercio who was in the record business, and beyond view, in an area restricted from the public, is the old Caribou Ranch recording studio where the likes of Elton John, Joe Walsh, Chicago, Steven Stills, Waylon Jennings and many, many others recorded albums -- even John Lennon came here to record a song with Elton John ... kind of a random tidbit about tiny little Nederland that we had so many famous people stay here and make an album in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. The first house I owned in Nederland was apparently partied in on occasion by Mr. Steven Stills. Check out this brief video about the recording studio.
Part of this valley is filled with a wetland habitat which was "constructed" by some industrious beavers who have built dams which have formed a series of ponds. I have never seen a beaver around here even though there are many beaver ponds in this region. I am just dying to spot one in the flesh!
And now we arrive at the old Blue Bird mine. It wasn't christened as such for the bird or the fowl's melodious name (I like the word "bluebird"), rather for a type of blue mineral, azurite, found inside the earth along with the silver for which the mine was established. According to the Boulder County Open Space website, "Azurite was known to the Ancient Greeks as kuanos, which means 'deep blue,' and is the root of the English word cyan." Here are a few pics of the mine itself, though the entrance is blocked, you can feel the cold air coming from inside if you stand next to the grate, and the mining cart tracks still emerge and lead into a pile of tailings.
This building was originally the bunk house for the working miners. When the mine waned at the advent of a crash in silver prices, the Switzerland Trail railroad began bringing tourists to the area. The Blue Bird mine became a whistle stop on the train route and the bunk house was converted to a boarding house for visitors over-nighting. I love the assortment of artifacts people have found and assembled at what I believe is the old ticket window for the train.
The 1965 remake of the movie, "Stagecoach" was filmed here and the bunkhouse was depicted as a stagecoach stop. So in addition to the musical artists who visited here, Bing Crosby and Slim Pickens also left their footprints.
The chicken coop is still intact as well as some outhouses and sheds, all of which are wooden. Most of these were built in the late 1800s, but the caretaker's abode built later was a solid structure of stone and brick. The mine ran on and off over nearly 100 years, closing forever in 1964. In an amazing coincidence, I met a man whose family was the last caretakers and he spent part of his childhood here at this house in the summers in the 1950s. He doesn't live in the area and I met him through a friend who lives on the East Coast whom I met in Prague. Random, small world! I don't have a photo of it, but in front of the house is a large cement pit for a pool which was eventually used just to hold trout.
Just behind the bunk house runs the North Boulder Creek, and the hiking trail that leads from the Blue Bird mine to the DeLonde homestead parallels the creek for awhile. So this is just a delightful and easy hiking loop that I recommend to all who visit me here in Nederland ... you have beautiful landscape with dynamic seasons, a creek, a valley, mountains; and you have many historical components that gave our little nook of the world its multi-faceted vitality.
A little end-note ... every year Nederland hosts our town's heritage weekend, called "Miner's Days." When I first moved here it included a parade and everything, and most of the athletic competitors were aging local miners. Now, there's no parade, only the athletic competitions, but what's cool is that even though the old "real" miners have dropped out of the competitions or passed on, there are a lot of young competitors. This year (2015) there were up to 10 entries in the events and also a women's competition -- they did all the same events as the men. The competitions are all activities that miners of old did every day ... such as mucking, where you shovel dirt or rocks into a mining cart as fast as you can until it's full then push it down some tracks and empty it; spike driving, where you pound railroad spikes into a wooden trestle with a sledgehammer to secure a track; hand drilling, where you use a hammer to drive metal spikes into solid granite rock as deep as you can in 5 minutes ... this is how holes were hollowed out in the rock to put dynamite in to blast the mine tunnels and also build the railroads. We're a very small town but take pride in our founding heritage.
Want to visit Nederland and the Switzerland Trail? You can come stay with me! I rent a small studio at my house to vacationers and would love to have you visit me. See my listing at: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/59868 for "Cozy and Quiet in Nederland."
Another of our favorite 3-hour tours from my home in Nederland, Colorado, is the 4x4 route over Kingston Peak pass. This one is a bit of a doozy in places -- some of the more difficult terrain we have explored in our area. Well, save one stretch of trail we did years ago in Jenny Creek that took us about 45 minutes to move about 3 feet forward -- our 4Runner, Trusty Trudy, was precariously balanced on only two wheels -- one front wheel and one back. As we inched forward, literally inch by inch with me spotting continually and Erik getting out to survey and strategize every few inches, I also had to hang off the outside of the opened driver's-side door with all my weight to ensure Trudy didn't tip over on her passenger side. It was clear from various forms of evidence that previous travelers had spent a long time trying to get past this spot, as well.
The first time we attempted Kingston Peak with Trudy, we were turned back by one boulder on a steep skree slope we dubbed "the refrigerator." Later that summer we made a second attempt and met with success. Then we traded her in for a new ("new" 1999) 4Runner named Chewbacca. Chewie is a beast on this terrain with higher clearance than Trudy and a mean grunt in low-4. We love him. And I'm now updating this post to mention our newest addition to the family, Pinzy, our 1973 Pinzgauer, for whom the refrigerator is but any ol' rock to navigate.
So by now we have crossed this terrain in early, mid- and late summer. We've done it every year since the first one with Trudy, probably more than once each year. As you may have read in the Gamble Gulch post, most of these trails originated as old mining roads in the latter l800s and early 1900s ... people were crossing them in wagons with mining equipment! (!!) So I present to you a little photo tour through the seasons. If you are thinking of trying this route yourself -- from Mammoth Gulch Road over Kingston Peak to Fall River Road -- know that I'm not understating the requirement of a high-clearance vehicle with low-4 gearing.
The wildflowers along the lower part of this route (upper Mammoth Gulch) are spectacular. The season begins with a sea of yellow dotted with clumps of our state flower, the blue columbine.
Next, the red spikes of Indian paintbrush, purple clumps of harebells and 20 other kinds of flowers take over the landscape, and these can last most of the wildflower season.
We love collecting wild raspberries from this area. I'll keep it a little secret precisely where we go ... there are many side roads. :) The character below is Chewie.
Excellent views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness are to be found up here. I think this is Arapahoe Peak.
Our first attempt with Trudy ... you can see her hood just peeking up over the horizon of the trail and Erik walking back toward her after we left her temporarily to see if there were any other show-stopping obstacles ahead.
It seems so trivial now, as we've done it so many times! Also it has migrated a bit closer to the side of the trail. This pic is from our second attempt with Trudy ... success and the reward of copious wildflowers, particularly harebells, which I absolutely love. As you can see, we were traveling at our usual time of late in the day.
On the left side the first photo below you can just pick out the road switchbacking up the hillside. Once you get over the top, you feel like you're on top of the world.
A satisfying destination point from which you could turn around and go back the way you came, or continue on like we do in a loop, is the Rock House, where people bring rocks from wherever they're from and place them. Many people, including us, place memorial rocks. There's a mailbox with a register you can sign your name to.
These are the memorial rocks we made for our dear friend, John Major Jenkins, and my dad, Jerry Sinor, who would have loved this place. I also made one for my lost kitty, Tabitha.
This spot also provides a marvelous view of Loch Lomond below. Many pikas run around the rocks at the Rock House, making it a lovely place to hang out for awhile and enjoy the landscape.
I've never been to Scotland, but I envision its highlands somehow like this, maybe just because of the low, heavy mist so iconic to Scotland. I suppose, then, it is no coincidence that there is also a Loch Lomond in Scotland! The red and gold grasses of the pass in autumn are lovely, especially on a misty day with diffused light.
On this day we got out to hike a little ways to see the mountain lakes below (my friend is a marvelously accomplished photographer and was very keen to walk about with his camera). You can just spy him and Erik as little black pixels off on the upper right-hand side of the photo below. It started raining quite substantially and I stopped to try to get some pics of my beloved harebells without kneeling in the soaked grass, as my feet and head were already soggy. Sort of got a pic ... In standing up I banged my shin on a rock and between that pain and being wet and cold, I didn't forge on to see the lakes. That will be a gift for me another time.
Once you start descending the other side down toward Fall River Road, you are treated to a Seussian forest of wind-sculpted bristlecone pine trees. They are quite amazing trees, found just at tree line and able to grandly withstand incredibly harsh weather ... particularly wind. Can you guess which direction the wind blows? :-) haha. Some day I would spend more time exploring this little forest that marks the beginning of treeline. Such fantastical shapes and colors in the trunks.
After crossing the pass above timberline, the route drops into Fall River Road under St. Mary's Glacier near(ish) Idaho Springs. (these days, we call it more of a glacier-ette)
The forest service closes an access gate to the pass during the winter. It's very unpredictable when it will open each summer. Some years it's been late June, some not until August. But it's become an annual pilgrimage for us. Hope you enjoyed a little virtual ride along.
Check out the excellent photography of my friend, Garett Gabriel, much of it taken in Colorado in the Nederland area.