Aspen, home of John Denver and Patrick O’Connell! Continuing our eastward travels with tours of beautiful natural scenery, we visited John Denver Sanctuary. It is manmade, but it is certainly a lovely naturalized spot filled with flowing water, standing rocks and endless perennials. We even saw a muskrat pop its head out of the water.
This peaceful spot is in downtown Aspen (just a block from Jordan’s office). The arrangement of the stream, rocks and plantings is a natural water filter, something Jordan as an environmentalist and engineer quite admires. We told Pat we wanted to see lupines and he knew the best place to go, as the sanctuary is part of Aspen Parks Department.
Pat also took us to Maroon Bells once more. It is one of the most photographed spots in the country…and a good number of those shots are ours!
East of Aspen we followed the Colorado River through the state to Rocky Mountain National Park.
This scenic route over the Rockies reaches as high as 12,000 feet, with accordingly beautiful views.
Notice how some of the views of the forest here have a gray rather than green appearance. This is due to an infestation of the western pine beetle. “As many as 15,000 adult beetles may infest one tree during an epidemic,” according to the NPS. Mild winters contribute to outbreaks, so this loss of thousands of acres of pine trees may be another outcome of global warming.
We stopped briefly in Fort Collins, which we visited frequently in decades past when it was the home of Kodak Colorado (actually in nearby Windsor). A bit of manufacturing remains under the Kodak Alaris name, but we didn’t stop to see it. Too sad to remember the gleaming 75-inch-wide state-of-the-art coating machine that made acres of photographic film and paper daily in its heyday before all things digital. Instead, the highlight was a short visit with Claire, now a proud sophomore at Colorado State. Claire gave us a gastronomic tour of Old Town and let us see the region with a youthful eye. We forgot to take a photo, but here is a recent family pic.
North of Ft. Collins, our short drive through Wyoming included an attempted visit to the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne.
There is a museum inside–and antelope–but the guard wouldn’t let us in because we weren’t military personnel. (It is an active military base and we’re actually glad to have good security measures!) We did see these three missiles outside, the one on the left holding 10 individual nuclear warheads (hopefully not active now).
Entering South Dakota, we’re back in national park territory. This is the home of Wind Cave National Park, named for the winds rushing through the natural openings. Direction of the breeze is in or out depending on barometric pressure. The cave has sacred importance for the Lakota Nation, as the home of an immortal buffalo lady. Soon after 1881, when the Bingham brothers came across a natural opening, tours of the cave began, including scrambling over natural obstructions through the dark with only candlelight…sometimes extinguished by the winds. Our tour was much easier.
We were behind a couple young boys who loved the adventure of climbing down steep stairs, through narrow passageways, and under low ceilings. Their lively chatter was as good as any medication in keeping away any cave claustrophobia jitters.
Later in the tour our guide turned out all the lights, so we could see it in its natural state. She told the story about how an early enthusiastic guide would take visitors into an opening and leave them there for a few minutes or hours while he explored a new side tunnel. Sometimes he forgot they were there and left them in the dark overnight.
This story told in total darkness brought out whimpers of fear from a few in our party so the guide lit a single candle, providing a surprising level of light. The park does offer a candlelit tour to let visitors have an experience similar to original tours.
One unique feature of Wind Cave is the speleothem in the ceilings known as boxwork. This formation is made up of calcite strips as delicate as potato chips (according to our NPS guide) and was left behind when carbonic acid in the stone etched away the limestone and dolomite surrounding the calcium.
To prove we were really in the cave, here’s Nancy amid the boxwork, with Michael at the camera.
Immediately north of Wind Cave National Park is Custer State Park, a lovely place despite being named for a rather unheroic general in U.S. history. We were delighted to see our old friends, the prairie dogs. These are certainly nuisances, digging hundreds of holes in their prairie dog towns, but they’re so darn cute. Nancy’s “friend” Jess Williams would have a hard time navigating his horses through the area without a broken leg or two.
Michael wanted to see a bison and we found one that was quite accommodating, along with pronghorn and plain old deer.
The winding and narrow road through the park is named Needles Highway. We wondered why until we entered this northern section where the rock stands in tall columns, like needles.
Our travel east through South Dakota took us on a driveby past Mount Rushmore National Monument. This road looks awfully familiar.
We’re about halfway through our eastward journey, in a fraction of the time it would have taken a couple centuries ago.
Our last outdoorsy spot was Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where we made a short walk to Brandywine Falls, not quite as impressive as others we’ve seen, although it was a pleasant shaded stroll. We didn’t have time to explore any of the other 125 miles of hiking trails, paddle on the Cuyahoga River, or walk the towpath of the Ohio & Erie Canal. This seems like a good park to visit when we finally retire.
On to visit Nancy’s dad, followed by a summer of relaxation at the lake!
(Originally drafted during our trip in June. It’s almost September now, so yes, we did do a lot of relaxing.)