Category Archives: Colorado

Eagle Nest Lake

We got a late start leaving the Elks Lodge in Colorado Springs. Donna wanted to go for a run in the morning. While she was out I puttered around and cleaned the HWH hydraulic leveling jack rams with WD-40. By the time we filled the fresh water tank and dumped and flushed the holding tanks, it was after 11am.

Our first stop was just a few miles down I-25 at the Walmart where I picked a couple of cases of drinking water and Donna bought a few groceries. Then we hit the road in earnest. A few miles down the interstate – near the field where Brad landed the Heart’s A’Fire on Saturday at the Mesa Ridge exit, there was a bad accident blocking the northbound lanes. It was a visual reminder to be alert and drive defensively. A smashed car was being loaded onto a flat-bed truck and a high-cube type delivery truck was lying on its side across the lanes. Traffic was completely stopped as the State Patrol directed all northbound traffic onto the off-ramp.

We’d decided to head down to the Cimarron Canyon area in New Mexico. Our route took us down I-25 about 160 miles to the New Mexico border at Raton Pass. This pass is part of the old Santa Fe Trail in the eastern Sangre de Cristo Mountains and has an elevation of 7,834 feet above sea level. On the south side of the pass, we encountered rain.

We stopped in Raton for fuel at a small truck stop. The pumps weren’t the high speed nozzles I’ve become accustomed to at Pilot/Flying J. It was just a standard automobile type and it took about 20 minutes to pump 63 gallons of fuel. I can usually fill up in five minutes or less using two high-speed nozzles.

About 10 miles south of there, we left I-25 and hit US64. This took us past the NRA Whittington Center and through the town of Cimarron. Donna found sites at Cimarron Canyon State Park that appeared to be big enough for our rig. She phoned the ranger and he told us we should check out the first campground – it had the longest sites. The State Park system here uses Reserve America for its reservation system. One of the issues I have with Reserve America is it doesn’t allow you reserve on the same day as you arrive – you must make reservations in advance.

Not all of the sites in New Mexico State Parks are reservable though. They keep a number of sites in each park available for what they call “walk-ups.” We were counting on snagging one of these. Since it was day after Labor Day, we expected most of the campers would have gone back to their workaday lives.

Before we got to Cimarron Canyon State Park, Donna found another park about 10 miles further down US64. It was called Eagle Nest Lake State Park. She hadn’t seen this park before and it isn’t listed on our Rand-McNally RV GPS. We decided to take a look at Cimarron Canyon, then proceed to Eagle Nest Lake and make our choice. Eagle Nest Lake sounded good – long pull-through sites with lake views.

The sites at Cimarron Canyon weren’t too appealing. So we continued on to Eagle Nest Lake (map). The entrance to the state park has a visitor center and a self-serve kiosk for day use and camping. At the stop sign, the sign above the kiosk warns not to enter the park without paying first. Here’s the thing – the self-serve kiosk at the entrance is about a mile from the campground. When you fill out the self-serve form, you’re supposed to enclose cash or check and drop it into a lock-box. So far, so good.

I filled out the form, then the last blank said to enter your site number. What? How could I know my site number if the campground is a mile away? Even if I’d been here before and knew what site I wanted, how could I know if it was open or if another “walk-up” had already taken it? The visitor center was closed, so we drove to the campground and made a couple of loops to check the sites out. We decided on site 16 – a 62-foot-long curved pull-through that easily fit our 64 foot rig. It also has our door facing the lake. Nice.

I drove back to the park entrance, Donna wrote our site number on the form and dropped it in the box. We paid for two nights but will likely extend. Campers are allowed up to 14 nights before they have to leave the park for a minimum of one week. We’re dry camped – there aren’t any  hook-ups here. The cost is $10/night and they have a fresh water fill station that we’ll hit when we leave.

We’re at an elevation of 8,215 feet above sea level, so It’s a lot cooler here. Plus light rain was still falling when we arrived so we didn’t get to explore.

Sunset at Eagle Nest Lake

Sunset at Eagle Nest Lake

Overnight the temperature dropped to the 40s and we were comfortable under our down comforter and blankets. It’s totally quiet here – almost eerily quiet after spending the past week in a city. I’m loving the change of pace.

This morning, it’s about 60 degrees as I type this at 10am. The expected high is 72 degrees with partly cloudy skies.

Lake view from our site

Lake view from our site

Another view from our site

Another view from our site

The camera perspective doesn’t do justice to our view. It’s a beautiful spot. Eagle Nest Lake has a small village a few miles from the campground. We plan to take the Spyder out and look the place over. At some point, we’ll head west on the Spyder about 30 miles to check out Taos, New Mexico.

 

Donna Sails Water and Wind

After watching the Moto GP race and napping Sunday afternoon, Donna made beef ragu over spaghetti squash for dinner. We had hit the hotel pool briefly before dinner and got the scoop on the night’s social event. Someone in the group – it seems like there’s a little controversy over how it came about – secured a reserved conference room on the third floor of the hotel for a round of Cards Against Humanity and other nonsense. We were in – we came back around 8:15pm to see what was up.

We found the conference room and the party was already rocking. After an hour and a half of this crazy game and adult beverages, I was feeling like I needed to bow out. Nothing good would come from the lack of sleep, physical work and abundance of adult beverages I partook in. I loudly announced it was time for me to hit the sack and found my way home. Donna soldiered on for another hour before the game ended, then she joined me. We hear things got interesting after that.

I slept like a rock until the alarm woke me at 5am. I got up and fired up the generator and started the Keurig coffee maker. Donna was up as well – she needed to ride to Memorial Park with me and the crew this morning as she was invited to take a balloon ride today.

At the park, we started with the morning pilot’s briefing as usual – Donna hadn’t been to this before. She discovered the pilot’s briefing includes donuts, bagels and coffee. The briefing was all positive and the weather outlook was good.

We walked back to our launch area, then stood around while our pilot, Brad, sussed out the wind conditions. The weather forecast at the morning pilot briefing has been suspect at best – in fact they were 100% wrong so far. Brad made the decision on how we would orient the envelope and we started laying out the equipment. Once again, we had a large crowd of spectators.

Crowd of spectators in our launch area

Crowd of spectators in our launch area

I don’t mean to brag, but I should add a footnote here. Our pilot, Brad, and the Heart’s A’fire balloon own a great advantage. We have a dedicated crew that works together, knows what needs to be done and how to do it, and each of us collectively take our stations in turn and get the job done. Many visiting pilots rely on volunteer crews that have never worked together or maybe never crewed a balloon before. Props to these volunteers – they’re needed and much appreciated by the ballooning community. But this scenario means the pilot must direct each step of the operation and double check all of the work. Of course, Brad inspects all of the critical work, but he’s in a position where he can work on public relations and think about the upcoming flight knowing his crew will have things ready. I’m proud to be part of this crew.

We set the equipment out and started the Honda gasoline powered fan to inflate the envelope. I take the left side (viewed from the basket) and Daren takes the right side. We have to hold the throat of the envelope open so the balloon can inflate. We also have to keep the balloon stabilized so it doesn’t start rolling from one side to the other as it inflates. The sponsor banner makes this difficult because it’s heavy and wants to roll to the ground.

As the balloon inflated, the ground wind kicked up. It was variable – coming from the west, then north and then northeast. As the balloon filled with cold air, the wind was trying to roll it away from me. I usually invite photographers and people with children to step up next to me during this phase so they can have a look up inside the balloon as it fills. Today it was spectacular as the top of the balloon has a heart that was backlit by the morning sun. I do this due to following Brad’s lead – he’s a huge ambassador for ballooning and encourages spectators to get up close and get excited.

I was soon unable to even think about the spectators as the wind tried to roll the envelope away from me. I spent the next 30 minutes wrestling the ropes to keep it from rolling over as we cold-filled the balloon with the fan – it was far more difficult than I’ve experienced.

Then Brad decided to fire up the burners and heat 90,000 cubic feet of air. We got the balloon upright. The next 45 minutes were agony for me. Brad kept the balloon inflated with bursts of flame, but it was just another static display. The winds aloft had a shear that would take the balloons north-northwest to restricted air or over the Gardens of the Gods. Sending 60 hot air balloons into restricted air space was a no-go and trying to land in the rocky Garden of the Gods would be a disaster.

Brad has the right temperament for a hot air balloon pilot. He was patient and kept the envelope inflated while I kept my weight on the basket rim. He said, “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were flying than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.” Finally Brad told Donna to get in the basket. Balloons were launching. We’d burned a lot of fuel by then, making the flight decisions more critical.

The launch controller came to our site and directed us out. Brad added heat to the balloon and the basket got light. We walked it out 20 yards while Brad hit the burners and they were off!

Donna's launch

Donna’s launch

Donna had a real treat. They flew over the ridge and trees, then descended into the lake at the park. Brad expertly dropped the balloon and had the basket floor two inches under water while Donna hoisted herself on the basket rim. They sailed the length of the lake – the balloon acting as a sail while the basket skimmed along. Then Brad hit the burners and they climbed above Colorado Springs. The winds aloft carried them to the northeast. I wish I could’ve captured a photo of the dunk in the lake, but we were dealing with crowds of spectators as we tried to follow in the chase rig.

After a while, we saw them descending back toward the park. Brad read the wind perfectly and had them on track to land near where they launched. By then, though, we were on the wrong side of the park and would have to run the gauntlet through spectators again to get to where they would land.

When Yonnie stopped the vehicle for spectators, I bailed out of the truck and said I would run to the landing zone. It was a little over half a mile, but I got there well before the vehicle could make it. The balloon was already down without incident. But here’s the thing – when I signed on to be a crew member, I felt it also meant I took on a responsibility. Every time that balloon goes up on my watch, I need to do everything in my power to make sure it and its occupants land safely.

Donna at the landing site

Donna at the landing site

The bummer is Donna’s smartphone. After take-off, it froze. The camera wouldn’t work. She had opportunities for fantastic shots as they sailed the water with reflections of balloons on the lake surface, but it wouldn’t cooperate and she was too taken in by the sights to mess with her phone/camera. I don’t blame her, but it was a bummer nonetheless.

Back at the hotel we said our goodbyes – until we meet again soon in Albuquerque. They were all looking forward to a night back at home in their own beds – that’s an advantage we enjoy. We’ve been home in our own beds the whole time and will be in Albuquerque as well.

We moved back to the Elks Lodge and need to figure out where we’re going next.

 

 

Labor Day Lift Off

Our main reason for coming to Colorado Springs was the Labor Day Lift Off hot air balloon event. It was an opportunity for us to reacquaint ourselves with Brad and Jessica Rice and their family and some of the other crew members for their Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon team. I looked at it as kind of a pre-season opportunity to get back in the game ahead of the big event – the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

The Labor Day Lift Off in Colorado Springs is celebrating its 40th annual event. Although the number of balloons participating pales in comparison to Albuquerque – about 70 balloons here versus more than 500 balloons there – the event is well-run and draws large crowds of spectators. The organizers fill an area of Memorial Park with vendors and also bring in a mobile kids’ amusement park.

On Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed at 5am and prepared to go to work. I met Brad, Yonnie, Darin and Aaron at Brad’s rig. We would be the main crew for Brad. We rolled out to the same area of the park where we set up the static balloon display on Friday. Our stall was marked E2 on the site map, but it wasn’t clearly marked at the field. Brad had an app on his smartphone from the organizers that utilized the GPS function to pinpoint our spot. We were in the right area but it still wasn’t clear which way to orient everything for set up. Looking around, it seemed everyone was in the same boat and we saw what appeared to be a haphazard approach around us.

Sunrise at the pilot's briefing

Sunrise at the pilot’s briefing

After the pilot’s briefing, we quickly set up and inflated the Heart’s A’Fire balloon. Brad had two passengers from his event sponsor, Xfinity. We were in the first wave of balloons. They had divided the participants into two groups. On Saturday morning our group went first and on Sunday we would go in the second wave. The launch official had us release soon after we were inflated.

Another successful launch

Another successful launch

We piled into the chase vehicle and slowly made our way through the crowds of people and onto the city streets. Navigating around Colorado Springs is challenging. None of us were intimately familiar with the roads. I was using the map app on my phone as we watched the direction the balloon was heading. The wind speeds were much higher than anticipated and the balloon was heading south.

We thought we knew where it was going, so I navigated us to a commercial area where the road ended by a Camping World store. I was hoping we could find a dirt road to get us into the pasture where we thought they would go. No such luck. There was a dirt road but it immediately crossed a ravine with steep sides that were too much for us to pull the trailer through.

After radio communication with Brad, we hit I-25 northbound and pulled off to the shoulder. We could see a number of balloons in the cow field to the east. It was rough terrain and also had a sturdy barbed-wire fence. I wriggled through the fence and trotted down into the field. I wanted to make sure everyone was okay. I saw Brad walking toward the fence. I continued past him and found the balloon and confirmed both passengers were fine. As I looked around, I could see this wasn’t going to be an easy extraction.

Rough pasture landing area

Rough pasture landing area

I saw a balloon with a pilot and two passengers approaching the landing. They had to come in high enough to clear power lines to the north, then quickly drop – only to find a steep ravine that had to be cleared before they could set down. The ground wind had picked up and I could visibly see their balloon pick up pace during the last twenty feet of descent. I ran hard and caught their basket when it was about two feet off of the ground. It was moving fast. The initial ground contact resulted in a bounce that threw me off. I scrambled and jumped and grabbed on again, expecting a rough ride. Just then Aaron appeared and grabbed the basket right next to me and we pulled it to the ground.

The basket was stopped but the wind blew the balloon until it was pulling the basket past the tipping point. I warned the passengers to keep their hands in as it tipped on its side. No harm done. They were safely on the ground. Eventually 13 balloons ended up in this field. It wasn’t an easy landing for anyone, but there were few alternatives.

We set about disassembling the Heart’s A’Fire to a greater degree than usual. We removed the three propane tanks in preparation of packing everything back to the rig at the side of the interstate. Luckily, about then, a local person who knew Brad and crew drove up in a Jeep. We were able to load the envelope, tanks and other hardware in the Jeep and she drove out to the trailer. While the rest of the crew unloaded the Jeep and packed the gear in the trailer, Brad enlisted his two passengers and the four of us started carrying the basket out of the field. It was laborious to say the least, but we got it done and it was time to tailgate.

Back at the park, tables, chairs and easy-up canopies were taken out and set up. Yonnie, Darin and Aaron manned the grills. They made a pile of fixin’s for breakfast burritos. We had eggs, sausage, bacon, hash brown potatoes, grilled tortillas and condiments galore.

Aaron and Yonnie at th egrills

Aaron and Yonnie at the grills

A burrito and a couple of cold beers at 10:30am made the physical labor of extracting the balloon soon forgotten. We were home by 1pm and I was ready for a nap. Donna went to the hotel swimming pool. I ended up taking a dip in the pool around 4pm, then I had to start thinking about the evening event.

Heart’s A’Fire was participating in the evening glow. The evening glow is where the hot air balloons are set up by sundown and provide a static display. When the pilot hits the burners, the balloons glow like a lamp shade. It can be spectacular and a huge crowd came to the park. About half of the registered balloons took part Saturday night, the other half will participate on Sunday night.

Of course a static display entails all of the same steps as a flight, minus the launch and chase. The set-up and tear-down are the same amount of work as always. The workload got higher as the wind started blowing harder than forecast, making it difficult to control the balloon and keep the basket from tipping. It’s physically demanding work to put your weight on the rim of the basket to keep it from rising or tipping. I was too busy to shoot any photos – but here’s one from Albuquerque last year.

Glow photo from last year

Glow photo from last year

The spectators mostly seemed oblivious to anything other than watching the balloons light up. Our balloon was near the tipping point and Brad decided it was best to deflate before things got any worse. As the envelope was collapsing, people continued to crowd around and walk right through the area where the envelope would land. I was yelling, “It’s coming down!” repeatedly as I struggled to keep the basket under control. Aaron and Yonnie were manning the crown line and we had to enlist a couple of spectators to add their weight by putting their hands on the basket as it was more than Darin and I could do. When the envelope deflated, we had to remove a few things from under the envelope like a stroller and backpack that someone had left on the grass in our area. We packed with headlamps on our caps.

I was exhausted by the time we came home. After a nightcap, I zonked out until the alarm had me rolling over at 5am again.

The weather forecast was much nicer for Sunday. After the pilot’s briefing, we were moved to a different launch site. Today, Brad would be the hare pilot for the hare-n-hound event. This meant that Heart’s A’Fire would be the first balloon released in the second wave. Brad’s task was to carry a target, set his balloon down in an appropriate area and the other balloons would chase him. After he set the balloon down, one of the crew would take the large vinyl “X” and place in the open. The other balloonists would drop a bean bag and judges would measure for the closest “hit.”

Once again, the park was filled with crowds of spectators.

Large crowds at he park

Large crowds at he park

We launched with two passengers aboard – a woman who’s apparently involved in the sport and her five-year-old daughter. They had a nice flight. They went up high and moved to the northwest, then dropped down and changed direction bringing them back toward the park.

We were able to watch most of the flight from the chase vehicle and made it to their landing zone just before they arrived. Aaron, Darin, Yonnie and I converged on the basket and set it down gently on the grass as it floated by. Perfect! Aaron quickly set up the target.

Soon balloons were passing overhead and the pilots were throwing their bean bags with streamers at the target. We had to educate a few spectators that were standing and talking near the target completely unaware that bean bags could land on their head if the weren’t watchful.

Balloons coming in over the target

Balloons coming in over the target

We were packed up early and ready to tailgate by 10am. There were brats on the grill this morning plus tables full of side dishes. We were back home by noon. I’ll relax for the rest of the day and watch the Moto GP race from Silverstone, England. Tomorrow we do it one more time, then we’ll move back to the Elks Lodge in the afternoon and ponder our next move.

 

 

 

Expensive Dry-Camping

We hit the dump station and dumped our holding tanks at the Elks Lodge plus refilled our fresh water by noon on Thursday. We drove about 10 miles to the Hotel Elegante and claimed the dry camping spot we’d reconnoitered the day before. Once we got the coach and trailer lined up, Donna mentioned the Burlington – Northern – Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad vehicles in the lot and wondered aloud if we weren’t off the hotel property. So before I put the jacks down and slides out, I went to the lobby to make sure we were in the right spot.

At the reception desk, I explained why we were here and where we parked our rig. The girl at the counter seemed a little confused and asked me to wait while she consulted the manager on duty. The manager came out and was very polite and helpful. She told me we were indeed on hotel property and the BNSF vehicles park on the property as crews often change there and utilize the hotel.

Then she went on to explain that as guests on the property staying in a self-contained RV we wouldn’t be supplied with hook-ups and weren’t allowed to dump any wastewater. I told her I understood this and we had sufficient capacity for the weekend. Then she told me would have access to all hotel amenities including pools, restaurants, business center, etc., but here’s the rub. My original inquiry six weeks ago said it would entail a charge of $35 for the weekend. Now I was told that was incorrect – we would have all the extras of a guest minus the room charge – nominally $159/night – for $35/night. What?! For dry camping in a dirt lot behind the hotel?

This meant our $35 Labor Day weekend just became a $140+ Labor Day weekend. What could I do? We had no plan “B.” So I paid the fee and was issued a pass to display on the coach and key cards for access to the hotel, fitness centers and pools.

Rear of the Hotel Elegante Conference and Event Center

Rear of the Hotel Elegante Conference and Event Center

We set up our rig to get comfortable for the next four nights while we crewed at the Labor Day Lift-Off hot air balloon event.

Our location for the next four nights

Our location for the next four nights

I have to to be glad we arrived early. A few other rigs pulled in that afternoon and pulled out after seeing we had occupied the primo spot. The pilot for the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon, Brad Rice, stopped by with his youngest son Jack along with long-time friends and crew members Yonny and Ruth around 6pm. We gave them a coach tour and had a brew together while we discussed Friday’s plan. Friday was media day and Brad expected six to eight balloons at the park to go up and promote the event. We would participate.

After they left, a car hauler with two BNSF crew vans pulled in next to us. I saw the driver and co-driver unload the crew vans, then load similar crew vans. This had me curious. After a while the two drivers – a man and a woman – stood outside their truck smoking and talking. I went out to say hi and ask what the deal was. Turns out that BNSF bases maintenance crews here just as I was told at the hotel. The crew that had been working here was now assigned to a job in Bakersfield, California and would be replaced by a crew out of Texas. The vehicles they brought in were assigned to the Texas crew and the vehicles they were taking were assigned to the crew here and now needed to be in Bakersfield. Each crew is responsible for all of their gear, including vehicles and BNSF moves the vehicles every time they rotate the crew. Interesting – I guess the bean counters at BNSF have figured this is the best stop-loss method although it creates a logistical expense.

I set my phone for a 5:10am wake-up. I slept fitfully once again but woke up feeling better than I had all week about five minutes ahead of my alarm. I met up with the rest of the crew at 5:45am and we rolled out.

At the launch site, it was as Brad anticipated – there were six or seven teams setting up plus us. It was way different than the Albuquerque Fiesta for sure. Also, we didn’t have as many crew members. Thankfully I was feeling back up to par and had no issues with the heavy lifting. It took me a minute or two to remember the sequence of steps to prepare the balloon and I also took on a couple of tasks I hadn’t performed before.

Laying the balloon envelope out

Laying the balloon envelope out

We had to attach a different sponsor banner for this event – it’s the Heart’s A’Fire Xfinity hot air balloon.

Securing the new sponsor banner

Securing the sponsor banner

Unfortunately we had a low overcast ceiling – below FAA limits for flight. We went through all of the steps for flight but everyone remained tethered with crew hands on the basket for display. After about an hour of this for the media to get their photo ops, we deflated and packed everything away. A lot of work for little reward, but the promotional value was there.

This weekend’s forecast looks very promising. If the event follows last year’s result, we can expect 140,000+ spectators at Memorial Park and more than 50 balloons. Since my crewing schedule means I actually have to get out of bed and be somewhere to do something, my posting times will be disrupted and off schedule for the rest of the weekend.

Bad Dry-Camping Etiquette

Life on the road can be full of fun and adventure, but’s that’s not always the case. Maybe I’m just being grumpy, but I won’t sugarcoat yesterday’s misadventures. We woke up to blue skies and the promise of a better weather day here in Colorado Springs. I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I have a cough left over from the bug I picked up and each time I cough, it sets a pounding headache for a few minutes.

I unloaded the Spyder. Our neighbor was checking the tire pressure on his Airstream travel trailer and found a tire with very low pressure. He asked me if I could locate a Goodyear dealer as he didn’t have wifi access. I found one three miles down the road. Then I looked the map over and found a route to the Hotel Elegante. That would be our first stop – a reconnoitering run before we move our rig there. From there, I looked at what appeared to be an easy route to Manitou Springs where we could do some touristy stuff. I wasn’t up for hiking Garden of the Gods which was the other option we considered.

Instead of jumping on I-25, I took the back way to the hotel down Las Vegas Street. I was looking for Janitell Road which would take me right to the hotel. Somehow I missed it. Then I was looking for Lake Avenue, not knowing it was called Circle Drive where it crosses Las Vegas Street. This changing of road names with no apparent logic would continue to get me. I ended up going way too far south and had to circle back until I found Lake Avenue west of the hotel.

We found the area where we’ll be allowed to park and scoped out our choices for a site. I also confirmed with the hotel registration desk – they told me I would just have to pay $35 for a pass and we would be good for Thursday through Tuesday.

When I checked out the route from the hotel to Manitou Springs, it looked pretty straight forward. Follow Lake Avenue west, then go north on Cresta to US24. Well, I should have looked at more detail. When Lake Avenue reaches the Broadmoor Resort, there is a series of roundabouts. In each roundabout, I encountered drivers that didn’t know how drive them. The rule is, the vehicle in the traffic circle always has the right of way and should keep moving. The vehicle entering the traffic circle must yield until there is a sufficient break to enter. I had drivers coming to a stop in the roundabout to let me or other vehicles enter, throwing the whole thing into chaos.

Anyway, at the first roundabout, I took the first right to stay on Lake Avenue.  But it wasn’t Lake Avenue, it was called Lake Circle. The next roundabout didn’t have an exit for Lake anything. There were two choices – Mesa or Mesa. I took the second Mesa and 300 yards later the road name changed to Park Avenue. I was confused. Another few hundred yards and now the road was called El Pomar. El Pomar hit Penrose at a T-intersection. I turned right on Penrose and the next thing I saw was a sign calling it Mesa Avenue! I tried to visualize the route in my head and use dead reckoning. This didn’t work so well as many of the roads go into box canyons with no exit.

We finally backtracked after looking at Google Maps on my phone and tried the other Mesa Avenue – we’d been on few roads called that by now with no sense of logic to it. Suddenly I was on Cresta. Yay! But then I missed US24 – just spaced it out. We ended up in Old Colorado City where I took the main drag – Colorado Avenue northeast. This was the right direction. After a while, Colorado Avenue became Manitou Avenue Business Route 24 and we found our destination.

Manitou Springs is a lively old west town. The main street had many shops, restaurants and pubs. There are also nice city parks and alleyways with merchants. We walked the main street and checked out menus and settled on a Mediterranean diner. I wasn’t feeling up to par. I ordered a Gyro but could only eat half of it. It was a little dry and could’ve used more tzatziki sauce.

Manitou Springs

Manitou Springs

The walk through town was taking a lot of effort for me. I hope I regain my strength – I’m due to start crewing for the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon on Friday.

Homes on the southwest side of town are terraced into the mountain side with steep entries

Homes on the southwest side of town are terraced into the mountain side with steep entries

Fountain Creek runs next to the sidewalk at Soda Springs Park

Fountain Creek runs next to the sidewalk at Soda Springs Park

We decided to head home after lunch. I had a much easier time finding my way home. We made a stop so Donna could buy some gardening tape to help support her tomato plant. When we pulled back into the Elks’ Lodge, I could hardly believe what I saw.

While we were out, someone decided to set up their travel trailer. Fine. There is lots of open space in the back lot.

Lots of open space

Lots of open space

More open space

More open space

But this guy decided he needed to be in the area right next to our door. He set up his travel trailer so were facing door-to-door ten feet apart. I could understand it if the lot was full, but he had a ton of space to choose from.

Our new neighbor

Our new neighbor

This is what you call bad dry-camping etiquette.

Our new doorstep view

Our new doorstep view

They weren’t here when we arrived and didn’t come home until 10pm when they fired up their generator and set out a grill and chairs. We’re pulling out this morning anyway, but I have to say some people have no sense at all.

Donna went for a bike ride while I took an afternoon nap and by chance met a guy who works for the parks commission and is an advocate for the bikeways in Colorado Springs. He was on his way to a meeting on his Tern folding bike with panniers. He apologized for lack of signage on the trails and pointed out recent improvements as they rode together for about 20 minutes.

I met with an insurance adjuster at 4pm. He was a nice guy and knowledgeable enough to see this was more than a cosmetic issue resulting from the deer colliding with our coach. I was happy to hear that as I was concerned that the insurance may try to downplay the issues. We’ll have to continue to work out how we’re going to get the fiberglass siding on the living room slide repaired.

It’s time to start packing the trailer so we can move on to the Hotel Elegante today.

Pikes Peak Views

In yesterday’s post, I wrote I hadn’t been sick in more than three years. I also stated that after a rough afternoon and night I was feeling much better. Well, it’s all relative. When you’re really down for the count, being able to stand up without nausea and joint pain feels pretty good. Reality set in – I was feeling better, but I wasn’t good.

Once I realized how weak I still felt, I knew I had to take it easy and recover completely. The weather was threatening anyway, so I wasn’t too keen on unloading the Spyder and heading out anywhere. Besides, as foggy as I was feeling, I didn’t think riding the Spyder in traffic made much sense.

As I said, the weather looked threatening. I’ve been wanting to capture a photo of Pikes Peak to the west of us, but we’ve only had a few brief periods where it’s visible.

Pike's Peak obscured by clouds yesterday morning

Pikes Peak obscured by clouds yesterday morning

Donna had a haircut appointment at a salon downtown – about three miles away. Even though there was heavy cloud cover and we heard a few cracks of thunder, she decided to walk there. She wanted to stay ahead of the rain which we were sure was coming and left around 12:30pm for her 2pm appointment. She made it there with dry feet and hair 40 minutes early for her appointment. So she wandered around the downtown area and into a few shops.

After two hours with the hair stylist, she took the bus north on Nevada Avenue up to Trader Joe’s to do some shopping. She did a fair amount of shopping and had to take an Uber ride back to the Elk’s Lodge to get all of the bags of groceries home. While she was out, the skies actually cleared – well, really it was the overcast ceiling rising to a higher altitude and exposing Pikes Peak. It wasn’t exactly clear skies.

Higher overcast ceiling reveals Pike's Peak

Higher overcast ceiling reveals Pikes Peak

Meanwhile I had talked to an insurance adjuster who was coming out to assess the damage on our coach from the suicidal buck. He said he would arrive in the afternoon and would call me when he was on his way here. I spent the afternoon reading and napping and waited for the call.

Donna came home around 5:30pm. I waited around until 6:15pm – no call. We walked to the lodge for their taco Tuesday and had tacos. I had a glass of IPA but wasn’t really up for it. I left after 25 minutes and Donna stayed to visit with Kim the bartender.

I never heard from the insurance guy. I went to bed early again and was out by 8pm. After I had another fitful night, we woke to clear skies this morning.

Clear view of Pike's Peak

Clear view of Pikes Peak

I heard from the insurance guy this morning. He was apologetic and said he was out without his assignment sheet yesterday and made several stops by memory but completely forgot about my case. He’s supposed to show up around 4pm today.

The forecast today looks good – a 15% chance of rain throughout the day if the weather guessers have it right. I think I’ll finally unload the Spyder. Tomorrow we’ll hit the dump station here and fill the fresh water tank before we move on to the Hotel Elegante where we’ll dry camp and meet up with Brad and Jessica Rice. We’ll be crewing for them in this weekend’s hot air balloon event – the Labor Day Lift-off.

The Streak Ends

It’s been a little rough for me here in Colorado Springs. I was hoping we could ride the Spyder out to the Garden of the Gods and hit Trader Joe’s on the way back yesterday. I’ve been wanting to get a photo of the snow on Pike’s Peak, but the top of the mountain has been obscured by clouds most of the time.

Donna went out and ran the Templeton Gap and Pike’s Peak Greenway Trail yesterday morning. Both trails run alongside the Monument River and are just a half mile from the Elks Lodge RV Park. When she came back, we stood outside and talked to our neighbors, then came in for lunch in preparation for heading out. I knew we would have more thunderstorms in the afternoon, but I was hoping to get ahead of them. No such luck.

It started raining around 1pm. By 1:30pm, the rain was pouring down and numerous hail stones came with it. It wasn’t very windy and the hail was about the size of a pea – maybe more like a chick pea. I didn’t think damage would be an issue unless the hail got bigger or high winds whipped it around. The hail stopped about 2pm, but it continue to rain in spurts. There was a lot of flooding in the streets and our smartphones were shrieking with severe weather warnings.

We're in the center of a nasty storm

Us in the center of a nasty storm

Around 3pm, there was a small break in the precipitation. I put on a microfiber jacket with a hoodie and walked half a mile to the store. I was feeling cooped up and wanted some fresh air. I also wanted resupply with some beer.

We’ve been on the road a little over three years – that’s more than 1,100 nights. During that time I’ve never slept anywhere but in our RV. Also, during that time Donna and I have never been sick – not even a cold. I’ve had a few allergy bouts, but no real illness. That’s not true for me anymore.

On the walk back from the store, I started perspiring and had to open my jacket. By the time I got into the coach, I was sweating profusely. I felt slightly nauseous, bloated and started to have sharp pains in my joints. I laid down on the sofa and read, but I was definitely feeling punky.

We had planned to go to the Elk’s Lodge for their slider night dinner, but I wasn’t up to eating in public. Donna went and brought the sliders home. I managed to eat them, but I was feeling greater discomfort all the time. By 7:30pm, I was dozing on the sofa and got up to go to bed.

I was shivering uncontrollably and the pain in my shoulders, elbows, and hips was very sharp. My legs were aching too. I couldn’t get comfortable and fever set in. It wasn’t a fun night. Between the joint pain and nausea, I barely got any sleep. Sometime around 4am, the fever broke and I was finally able to sleep.

I’m feeling much better this morning, we’ll see how much activity I’m up for. So far, seeing the sights around Colorado Springs has been a bust.

Stealth Parking in Denver

I didn’t post over the weekend, so I have some catching up to do. Friday was our last full day in Greeley, Colorado. We decided to take our chances on getting caught out by an afternoon thundershower and rode the Spyder into town. Our first stop was the WeldWerks Brewery on the corner of 8th Avenue and 5th Street. It’s a very nice taproom and the beer is brewed on site.

I started with a West Coast-style IPA, then followed up with an IPA called Juicy Bits which is a little sweeter, almost fruity. Donna had an apricot gose, then had a five-ounce pour of a beer called Berlinerita. Berliner is a beer style, in this case lime was added thus the ‘rita name.

Donna's little Berlinerita next to a full size glass

Donna’s little Berlinerita next to a full size glass

At WeldWerks they have something I haven’t seen before – they call it a crowler. If you’ve been to brew pubs, you’re probably familiar with growlers, which are usually 32- to 64-ounce refillable glass jugs. The crowler is a 32-ounce can of beer canned on site – it isn’t refillable though. This was a very popular take-out item!

WeldWerks crowler

WeldWerks crowler

After trying a couple of beers, we moved a few blocks away to Santeramo’s Italian Restaurant on the corner of 10th Avenue and 13th Street. This is a family-owned restaurant opened by second-generation immigrants, Lawrence and June Santeramo. Lawrence died in 1968 and June kept the restaurant going until she retired in 1987 and then the restaurant closed. A son and grandson bought the original building in the 2008 and reopened the place. It’s an old house on the corner. The ambiance was casual and very homey. The service was great and we enjoyed the food – Donna had lasagna with a big meatball and I had linguini with marinara and Italian sausage. The pasta was made in-house.

Donna enjoyed the lasagna

Donna enjoyed the lasagna

On Saturday morning, we made a quick run into town again for the Farmers’ Market next to the Chamber of Commerce on 7th Avenue. We bought some honey, elk sausages and Cajun andouille sausages. We also had Philly cheesesteak-style breakfast sandwiches made with thin sliced steak, cheese and eggs on a soft hoagie roll.

We came back to the RV park, I loaded the Spyder and dumped our tanks. I also filled the freshwater tank – that’s how we like to roll – fresh water full, holding tanks empty. We exited the park just after 11am.

Our first destination was the Blue Beacon Truck and RV Wash in Denver. There are only two Blue Beacons in Colorado. We were badly in need of a wash. The thundershowers while we were set up in a dirt/gravel site splashed dirt up the sides of the coach. Runoff from the roof also left streaks. I had a coupon from FMCA for a free Rain-X treatment at Blue Beacon, so we went there by driving down US85 to I-70. Getting in and out of the place was a little tricky. It’s in a lot behind a Pilot/Flying J Travel Center. You have to drive through the travel center and follow signs to find the entry to the wash bay. I figured it out without too much trouble. But when we left, I made two laps of the travel center lot trying to find the exit. The signage pointed me back to the Blue Beacon. Donna asked a trucker walking by and he explained we had to exit next to the Blue Beacon under the elevated freeway onto an access road. It looked like the entrance to a warehouse to me, but it worked.

Our next stop in Denver was an area called Englewood where Donna’s friend, Ann Koerner, lives with her husband Jim. We planned to park in front of her house for the night so Donna and Ann could spend some time catching up. The last time she saw Ann was in 2006 when we visited her in Santa Barbara while we were touring on our motorcycles.

Ann lives on a fairly wide street and there was plenty of room to park without blocking her or her neighbor’s driveway. Her neighbor is an RVer and didn’t have any problem with us spending the night there. Some people refer to street camping as stealth parking. But we aren’t exactly stealthy at 64 feet long. Getting us level wasn’t entirely possible with the slope and road crown, but I got it close enough. I waited until after dark to put out the passenger side bedroom slide. I left the other slides in – they would have extended into the road too much. The passenger side bedroom slide allows us enough room to walk around the foot of the bed, which is oriented east-west in the bedroom.

Traffic cones out to prevent anyone from accidentally walking into the bedroom slide

Traffic cones on sidewalk to prevent anyone from accidentally walking into the bedroom slide

Ann made a delicious grilled lemon-chicken dinner for us with a fresh salad from her garden, corn on the cob, quinoa salad, roasted broccolini and brownies. Thanks, Ann!

On Sunday morning, Ann and Donna loaded their bicycles in Ann’s SUV and went to the South Platte River Trail for a bike ride. Meanwhile I watched the Formula One race from Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium. There was a horrific high-speed crash at the Eau Rouge corner that Kevin Magnussen thankfully walked away from. Later I caught the first half of the Chargers – Vikings game before it was time for us to move on.

We headed south on I-25. The portion of I-25 from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Puebla, Colorado runs just east of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. As we drove along heading south, towering mountains were on our right side and endless plains to the horizon on our left. We had a few slow-downs where I-25 squeezes down from four lanes to three, then to two. The high point between Denver and Colorado Springs is Monument Summit – also called Black Forest Divide Pass at more than 7,300 feet above sea level.

We arrived at the Elks Lodge in Colorado Springs a little after 3pm. This Elks Lodge has RV sites with hook-ups for Elks members and also allows dry camping. I checked in at the lodge and found all of the first-come first-served RV sites were occupied. We joined a few other rigs in the back of the parking lot and we are dry-camped with them. To the west of we see fresh snow on Pikes Peak.

A thundershower arrived in the evening and grew to a large storm after dark. The street behind us flowed like a river and the parking lot had a couple of inches of standing water as it came down faster than it could drain. Our smartphones had severe weather alerts beeping. Lucky for us, it didn’t get very windy and there wasn’t any hail involved. Late afternoon passing thundershowers are common in this area at this time of year. We’ll have to do our sightseeing and shopping earlier in the day to avoid them.

Today we have partly cloudy skies and expect a high temperature in the mid-70s. Although we’re at an elevation of over 6,100 feet above sea level, the overnight low will be in the mid-50s. Perfect for us.

 

Rodeo Mystery

It seems like we’ve had our share of wet weather in the second half of summer. Rain found us here in Greeley, Colorado first thing Wednesday morning. Showers continued on and off all day long. We decided to forego Wednesday’s senior rodeo and hoped we could catch the second day of the event on Thursday. I shouldn’t complain too much about the weather – I heard that US212 was closed yesterday where it enters Wyoming from Montana due to snow!

Donna used the time indoors on Wednesday to catch up on a couple of proposals she’s writing. I finished another novel – The Hit by David Baldacci. It was a thriller with a decent plot and held my interest, but sometimes these authors make mis-statements that peeve me. Early in the story, Baldacci writes about a long-range sniper shot. He claims that the bullet actually increases its kinetic energy over the distance of the shot. What? The kinetic energy of the projectile is a product of mass and velocity. The bullet doesn’t gain mass as it flies along and velocity begins to decay almost immediately due to aerodynamic drag. Kinetic energy is continually reduced over the entire flight path of the bullet. It’s a small thing, but how does a best-selling author get away with such a statement? End of rant.

On Thursday morning, we had a few high, thin clouds and the weather looked promising. Donna wanted to go for a long bike ride. I wanted to check out the rodeo. So Donna headed out on her bicycle and I rode the Spyder to Island Grove Regional Park on the north side of Greeley to the Pro Rodeo Arena. Donna met me there on her bicycle. But, there wasn’t a rodeo – in fact, the arena had bulldozers converting it to a motocross track for an event.

When I read about the National Senior Professional Rodeo Association (NSPRA) event in Greeley, I assumed it would be held at the Pro Rodeo Arena. I looked it up again on my smartphone and found sketchy directions to a rodeo arena northeast of town on the NSPRA site. In fact, I think this was the old Greeley Rodeo Arena where I rode a bull in 1976.

Donna continued her bike ride – she wanted to ride the Poudre River Trail to the town of Windsor. It’s about a 20-mile ride on a paved trail heading west from Greeley. I was on a mission to find the rodeo. After a few false turns, I finally found my way to the area where the NSPRA site said the arena was. Except I was looking at corn fields. I got my phone out again and looked up another page on the site with a map to the arena. It showed the arena in the cornfield I was looking at. Something was clearly wrong here. It’s a rural area, so I couldn’t ask anyone for directions. I rode the Spyder a few miles in every direction looking for an arena, cars or a sign – anything that might mean a rodeo was going on. No luck.

I gave up and rode about 15 miles west from the location to Windsor. I met Donna at Sol De Jalisco Mexican Restaurant for lunch. We locked up her bicycle and went inside. The food was outstanding and the service was good. I’d definitely recommend this place if you’re ever in the area and have a hankering for Mexican cuisine.

After lunch, Donna got back on her bike to make the 20-mile ride back. On my way back, I stopped at a liquor store near Greeley RV Park. I had gone there on Tuesday and asked about Blue Ice vodka. Blue Ice is a potato vodka made in Idaho and is one of my favorites for martinis. They ordered it for me and told me I could pick it up on Thursday. I was standing there holding the bottle when another customer looked at me, then looked at the bottle, then looked at me again. He said, “I get it, you’re Heisenberg, right?” If you watched the series Breaking Bad, you’ll know what he was talking about. With my shaved head and goatee, I’ve been told I look like the character Walter White aka Heisenberg. Heisenberg cooked a special crystal meth called Blue Ice.

This makes a nice martini

This makes a nice martini

Donna made it home about an hour after I arrived. We planned to go to the WeldWerks brewery in Greeley around 4pm. I looked at the weather radar app and saw a thunderstorm approaching from the west. We decided to head over earlier to beat the storm and were getting ready to leave at 3:30pm when the rain started. Looking at the radar app again, it looked like we would have rain for the next couple of hours. That nixed our plan – neither of us wanted to ride into town during a thunderstorm. We had a quiet evening.

Today we had a few rain drops early but it’s sunny with a few clouds at 10am. The forecast looks promising with the high temperature reaching the mid-70s and a slight chance of a passing shower later. Maybe we can make it to the Weldwerks brewery this afternoon. Meanwhile I need to organize the trailer and begin preparations for the road. We’ll pull out of here tomorrow.

 

Poudre River Trail

The first white men to explore some of the places in and around the Rocky Mountains were fur trappers. Many of them were French and gave French names to places such as rivers, lakes and trading posts. This being the wild west, the pronunciation of these French names were often changed from the proper French name to something else altogether.

Donna went for a bike ride yesterday. She’s been looking forward to riding the Poudre River Trail. Donna studied French in high school and college, so she pronounced the Cache la Poudre River with a proper French accent. I told her it’s locally pronounced Poo-der. While riding what she thought might be the beginning of the trail, she stopped to ask a couple of women if this was the trail to Windsor. They weren’t sure about that but they did say that it was the Poo-der River Trail.

Here are a few pictures of informative kiosks and views from the trail. The paved trail is multi-use for hiking and biking and runs from Greeley to Windsor. A short ride through Windsor will get you to another trail and you can ride to Fort Collins.

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8_23PRT2

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8_23PRT4

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You can see the river water level is quite low – not unusual for this time of year.

While Donna was out on her ride, I rode the Spyder to King Soopers to buy a rack of babyback ribs. I set up the Treager wood pellet fired smoker/grill and prepped the ribs. I always remove the tough, thin membrane from the bone side of the ribs first. The membrane can be tough and chewy – also it blocks the spices in the rub from contact with the meat. I dry rubbed the ribs with a mixture of two parts Pappy’s Choice seasoning and one part Lambert’s Sweet Rub O’Mine.

It was hot out and unusually humid again. The temperature was in the upper 80s when I fired up the Traeger. After the first half hour, I lowered the temperature setting on the Traeger and went inside to read a book. I checked the grill a couple of times without opening the lid by peering through the smoke vents. I also stirred the wood pellets in the hopper to keep them feeding smoothly through the auger.

The wind kicked up during the cook and the outside temperature dropped. When I estimated about 30 minutes of cooking time remaining, I decided to raise the temperature setting of the Traeger to compensate for the cooling effect of the wind. In the end, I wish I hadn’t done that. The ribs were slightly overcooked and not as moist as I would have liked. I’m also going to modify my rub to a 3:2 ratio of Pappy’s to Lambert’s to reduce the salt content.

Rack of ribs hot off the Traeger

Rack of ribs hot off the Traeger

Meanwhile, Donna prepared a potato salad and steamed green beans for a complete meal.

A yummy meal

A yummy meal

The windy conditions persisted well into the night. This morning we woke to the sound of rain drops on the roof of our coach. The weather almanac shows an inch of rain for the month to date in Greeley – but that usually comes in the form of an afternoon thundershower. Overcast skies and rain in the morning seems unusual to me for this time of year.

We had planned to go to a National Senior Professional Rodeo Association event this morning, but the rain shower put a damper on that plan. Senior professionals are pro rodeo cowboys over 40 years old. They compete in age groups of 40 and over, 50 and over and 60 and over. The event continues tomorrow at the Greeley Pro Rodeo Arena, so maybe we’ll attend tomorrow. I rode in a rodeo once – it was held right here in Greeley – I wrote about that in this post.

The temperature is supposed to be cooler for the next few days with highs in the upper 70s. Sounds good to me.