Archive for July, 2014

Anvil trails: Windy Hill

July 27, 2014

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Maybe something less than a killer hike today? Maybe just a few local trails to contribute to the anvil total? Somewhere close and convenient, like Windy Hill?

For those who haven’t been following the details, the Anvil award goes to anyone who hikes all of the open space district’s 200+ miles of trails. Nothing says that any given open space preserve has to be conquered in one day, but it’s something of a challenge.

What they don’t point out is that, because of the topology involved, you end up having to hike most of the trails twice over, some of them three times, and on yesterday’s adventure, even one short stretch four times. And it will get to be another hot day.

So I started around 6:30, by hiking the outer perimeter trails, along with their stubs and loops.

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A nice dawn. We don’t get a lot of really pretty or interesting clouds here, so this is a little unusual.

With a jaded eye, especially from yesterday, I was watching for undesirable plants. Windy Hill is impressively clean, but I found two small colonies of yellow star thistle (YST), the stuff I have been battling at Los Trancos. I had neither gloves nor a bucket, so the best I could do was mark the spots with GPS for subsequent action.

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The view from the top of Windy Hill, looking off toward the ocean. Nice! Windy up here (funny about that!) and almost chilly. Too bad I can’t bottle it for the heat we’ll get later.

Along Lost trail, I heard a tree fall. A brief creak, then a sound like a shot. I couldn’t see anything, but it was well below me, somewhere down there where I’m going. Kept an eye open, and found a freshly broken bay laurel branch arching over the trail half an hour later. No way to know whether it was the one I heard, but the leaves were still fresh, so it had fallen very recently.

Did my trail patrol duty by GPS marking and reporting a spot where a clump of vines had come down across the trail. I am not equipped to deal with poison oak, and certainly have no inclination to do so. Still itchy, sore, greatly swollen.

Returned all the way back to the parking lot, where I picked up gloves, bucket, and the water I had left in the car. Figured out a route back up to Skyline that went through forest, even if not through cool, deep forest, and would result in giving me all the trails in the preserve by day’s end. When it’s time, I’ll go back down on the sunny route, but in the hot sun, down is better than up.

It was hot enough that my ass was dragging. Even carrying the (almost) empty bucket up the hill got to be a nuisance. But eventually, there I was at the YST colony on Anniversary trail. More growth there than I had thought; I ended up pretty much filling up the bucket. One pair of hikers made a point of thanking me for doing a thankless job; I talked with a runner, who may turn out to be a volunteer himself one of these days.

And I headed back down the hill. I’ll report the other colony of YST on my patrol log, but I have neither time, water, bucket space nor enthusiasm for attacking it today. Rationed the last of my water carefully, got to the parking lot dry.

An easy day? Windy Hill is advertised to contain 12.2 miles of trails, but hiking all of them cost me over 19 miles, and 3700 vertical feet. Yet a second killer day in a row; the car thermometer said it was 90 degrees when I left the parking lot.

Home in time to welcome Steve and Mary to see our new deck, soak up some munchies and drinks, swap stories about any number of topics. Good to see them!

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YST and Coal Creek

July 26, 2014

Saturday, 26 July 2014

It was supposed to be a very hot day, so I set the alarm an hour early. Arrived at a side gate of Los Trancos just after 6, and spent 3 1/2 hours attacking yellow star thistle. Hard to get my work gloves on, especially the right hand, because it’s swollen and puffy from last week’s poison oak.

Dumped my bucket of spoils at the tarp-covered compost heap. The way this works is that the flower heads will continue to develop seed even after they are plucked, so they can’t be left where they lie. To keep them from germinating, the compost heap is covered with an open mesh dark green plastic tarp. Mice and voles love to eat the fluffy seed as it develops, which is fine. A high population density of mice and voles attracts rattlesnakes, which is also fine, except that, when you’re popping the top off the compost heap, it’s advisable to be prepared. Being prepared: I had my camera turned on, lens cap off, ready to go, but there was no snake for me.

Having finished the hard work for the day, I went off on trail patrol. Cut across the top of Montebello open space preserve, toward Alpine road, with a detour down to the little pond here.

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Just below the pond, a garter snake. Cool!

Today’s objective is to hike all of the trails in the Coal Creek open space preserve. The main trail here is old Alpine road, which was a complete road up-and-down, albeit unpaved, when I first started mountain biking these hills, lo those many years ago. One wet winter, the road collapsed, and because it was just a fire road, not the essential access to anyone’s home, there was no way to justify the expense of repairing it. So they built a mountain bike trail around the washout, and there it has remained ever since.

I hadn’t realized it, but the trail, and the old road, descend all the way into Portola Valley before finally crossing the boundary out of the Coal Creek preserve. I had taken extra water, to replace the water I had consumed during my thistle-pulling hours, but didn’t have enough for that much additional work.

Reluctantly, I returned to the car, having hiked only old Alpine road, none of the side trails. Drove to Alpine pond, where there is a supply of drinking water, and tanked up, two bottles and the belly. While I was there, I went down to the pond to see if anything interesting was posing for photographs.

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Interesting, indeed. I always like these little guys. How many insects have necks?

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And how many airfoils are open on the leading edge?

Drove to the Russian Ridge Vista Point on Skyline, whence I hiked the remaining trails at Coal Creek. One of the trails is old Coal Road, which does in fact go past a black embankment, but the black really just looks like mudstone. If it’s indeed coal, I bet it’s pretty low grade. The most interesting name, of course, is Crazy Pete’s road, which is a trail. It runs into Crazy Pete’s trail, which is a road. Crazy!

A really seriously hot day, and my ass was dragging by the time I finished, ten hours after the morning’s events had started. I count it as a killer hike, even though it turned out to be only 17 miles, 2800 vertical feet.

Home to plunge the swollen arms into ice water — which didn’t help much, if at all. Well past the time when I ought to be developing an immunity to poison oak, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

Being outdoors

July 20, 2014

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Being a morning person, I stopped at Purisima a few minutes after 7 and did a couple hours of hiking … er… trail patrol, before joining the volunteer group to clear ivy from several sections of trail.

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Above: before, below: after.

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We worked until some time after 2, at which time I drove to Los Trancos and spent another hour and a half unplugging yellow star thistle. I have a plastic pail to stow it in, and filled it. Once. On a hot, sunny day after having already done more than a full day of the usual volunteer work, that was enough.

By evening, it was clear that I had gotten too close to the poison oak. Both arms, but especially right, wrist to elbow. It’s rare for it to flare up the same day; this may turn out to be a really unpleasant session.

Sunday, 20 July

Itching. Didn’t sleep all that well. But a good way to take the mind off is to get out and do something. I was on the trail at Rancho San Antonio by about 7:15.

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It looks as if the vegetation has spilled down from the higher ground, and in terms of seed propagation, that’s not a bad model of the process. Of course, some of it spreads by wind or animal droppings.

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The view from the high point of the Black Mountain trail (with innumerable communications antennas) at Montebello road, looking toward the ocean. In the mid-ground, the christmas tree farm at Long Ridge. Very nice.

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Snow? In July?

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Well, no. These spiral seeds are responsible for the snow show. They might be clematis, not sure.

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Before they waft into drifts, they grow in snowballs.

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The bushes that produce them.

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 A pair of high-voltage transmission lines marches across this ridge. The trails up here were built and are maintained as access roads to the towers. Above, a stub where there may or may not someday be a trail along one of these roads that’s not presently open to open space users.

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Below the transmission line, Black Mountain road becomes Black Mountain trail, and very pretty it is, too.

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Above we see the stump of a large bay laurel one of whose trunks retained a rooted connection when the multi-trunk mother tree was cut down. New trees have sprouted from the horizontal base, and the laurel will happily survive until its new trunks overweight the base. At that point, maybe it goes into a third stage of its life.

There are two stub trails where Rancho connects with Hidden Villa. I hiked them, to the preserve boundary, but Hidden Villa has camps during the summer, and closes general access to the public.

At the bottom of Black Mountain trail is a spur to the parking area at Rhus Ridge (yes, to all intents and purposes, Rhus means poison oak!). I recalled it as steep, and so it is. 0.9 miles, 600 vertical feet. I need to hike this trail down, and then back, for my project of hiking all the trails in the open space district. And so I did.

And I was running out of water. The day was hot, and I took it very easy: something like 5 miles back to Deer Hollow farm, where I knew there would be water.

It was only mid-afternoon by the time I began the re-hydration process, but I decided not to go out and add on a few more miles. Enough! 16+ miles, 4k+ vertical feet.

Bagging OSPs

July 13, 2014

Saturday, 12 July 2014

I had signed up for a volunteer project at Los Trancos open space preserve, but it ran from 9:30 to 2:30. I’m much earlier than that. Also, I’m in the process of hiking all of the trails in all of the Mid-peninsula regional open space district preserves. What could be more obvious? As soon as I had finished breakfast, I drove up the hill.

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On the trail by 7 AM. Cool and pleasant, a little fog on this side of the ridge, probably indicating heavy fog and overcast on the ocean side.

As I came around a curve in the trail, something dark ran across and down into the wood below. Too small to be a mountain lion, deer or coyote. The idea that came to mind was fox, and I did indeed see a fox around here once, many years ago. Not sure.

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By 9:30, I had hiked most of the trail, not all. The picture above shows the kind of thing I look for on trail patrol: fallen trees that block part or all of the path. My disreputable hat is to provide a sense of scale when the open space maintenance people look at the picture.

From the main parking area, the 9:30 volunteer group car-pooled down to the low end of the preserve and spent several hours working on yellow-star thistle. I did a yellow-star thistle project in another preserve, a year ago, and found it very discouraging because there was so much of it. Today’s area was first attacked eight years ago, and we were sweeping through open grassland looking for stragglers. And finding them, but few enough that we covered a lot of ground.

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Paul (above) discovered two straw mantis, and I found another. We would never see them if they didn’t move.

When finally we gave up for today, I skipped the car-pool, hiked back to the parking area. On the way back, the same (probably) fox was on the trail, ran along a hundred yard ahead of me for several seconds. Big bushy tail, as large as the rest of the animal. No question what it was. Cool!

Through judicious choice of trail, the afternoon return completes my effort to hike all the trails in this preserve (some of them three times over!). About 11.5 miles for the day, about 2000 feet of climb.

Sunday, 13 July

There is more low-hanging fruit in the idea of hiking all the trails in particular preserves. I started today by parking at the bottom of Old La Honda road and covering the Thornewood preserve.

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Yet another cool start in a beautiful mostly redwoods forest. The red in the distance is mostly poison oak, already calling it quits for the season. There are only two official trails in this preserve, plus a small lake, but there were a lot of side trails, and a pair of trails that are officially closed, although still showing evidence of use. I covered the entire place in considerable detail. A pretty place, although there are stream crossings that could be completely impassable in a wet winter.

Then I drove to Stevens Canyon park, where I left the car at the foot of the Bear Meadow trail in the Picchetti Ranch open space preserve. Hot and dry, nothing like as cool and pretty as Thornewood. I met a couple California forest fire fighters checking out the trail; I suppose they also explore to familiarize themselves with the terrain.

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Near the top, a view over the industrial quarry next to the zillion-dollar homes along Montebello road.

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The Picchetti winery still operates as a leasehold from the open space district. I stopped in to refill my badly depleted water bottle, with many thanks!

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They have a fair number of picnic tables here. One group spread out a picnic lunch and went inside for a little wine tasting. When you put out a picnic, you expect to have guests, right? Right.

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I was busy photographing the proceedings, not intervening, but one of the picnickers came out to rescue the food before it had been irretrievably lost.

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This area is heavily infested with yellow-star thistle.

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There are several insects that help control it. One of them is a weevil, of which we found a specimen yesterday (looking more like a large tick). There is also a peacock fly that does yeoman duty, but this turns out not to be one of them. They are said to have striped wings, and this little guy doesn’t qualify.

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I returned along Zinfandel trail, quite pretty.

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The trail back down left me a quarter mile from the trail up, where my car was, so there was a short walk along the road.

It was only 1 or so, but it was a hot day, I had put in another 11.5 miles, 2000 vertical feet, and the water bottle was empty. So instead of going on to another preserve, I called it a day. There are 26 preserves total, but I certainly won’t be able to knock off 3 every weekend!

BV and Nathrop

July 5, 2014

Saturday, 5 July2014

We tried the next-door Evergreen cafe for breakfast today. It was okay, but not better than okay. Jacky has sore feet from hiking, so I went out alone for a short hike, across the river, up the steep shortcut trail (which wasn’t all that steep), eventually to an old railroad grade that was very nearly level and very nearly straight.

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The view of BV and the collegiate peaks in the distance.

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Cuts through the rock for the railroad make it a very easy road/trail today.

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And I saw a pair of foxes. One of them scurried away while I was fumbling with the camera. Very unusual for me, at least. Mark told me later that they are fairly common in the mountains.

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Back in BV, Main Street was closed and the special cars were lining up for a day of car show. A Shelby Mustang, above.

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A 1929 Auburn 120 Cabriolet, above, one of only three known to exist.

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An old police car, the six rectangular sections above the fender having been adapted to ripple red and blue flashes.

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And the usual selection of completely ridiculous vehicles.

Back to the motel fairly early. We stopped at the grocery store and picked up goodies, then drove to Pat’s at Nathrop, where lots of people had already arrived and many more showed up over the course of the day.

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Brad playing ball with Sawyer. He spent a lot of the day playing with all of the kids. As batter, Lucienne probably does best.

And Roy had brought along three of his rockets. We went off to the common area to fire them off, and attracted quite a crowd of locals, some of whom were really angry at what they perceived as fireworks. They adamantly refused to believe that these were not fireworks.

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While waiting for the rockets to be set up, Dave the designated photographer was invited to take group shots. I’ll omit the group shots, but just note (below) that Sawyer (especially) had exceeded his patience level of sitting amongst the group looking photogenic. I can hardly blame him.

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After a complete misfire of the first rocket, most of us wandered away. Roy eventually got the largest rocket to fire. It rose a few feet, went sideways, slammed into the embankment, and then the parachute deployed. Exactly like a road-runner cartoon!

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But Roy had three rockets, and the other two eventually launched. Above, we see a streak of rocket blast right in the center of the picture as it took off. Below, its return to earth via parachute.

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There was also a sun dog, not something we see that often.

We retired to Pat’s for more munchies than we really needed, and eventually got down to business with barbequed chicken and pork.

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The youngest of the miniature people present had her own ideas about the proper way to eat all this stuff.

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Around mid-afternoon, we made our excuses and escaped. Back to BV, where we wandered the town a little. The bars we haven’t already visited don’t appeal, and the Eddyline, where we were yesterday, was jammed with people watching the World Cup game, which also didn’t appeal very much.

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We looped back toward the motel on a side street and discovered an active blacksmith business, and good for them.

Eventually ended up at the Branding Iron bar and grill next to the motel, where we sat on the patio for drinks. After the massively large lunch, we thought appetizers might suffice for dinner, but they didn’t really offer anything, so we skipped. We don’t really need anything more to eat.

Buena Vista and Nathrop

July 4, 2014

Friday, 4 July 2014

Having gotten up early (of course) and sampled the motel’s breakfast, we went wandering around some of the side streets, and found a deer in the middle of town. Our friends later told us the deer are real problems here, especially when the apple trees ripen.

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Any number of festivities are planned for Buena Vista today, but we are mostly destined for Nathrop, Pat and various friends and family. We ate breakfast at the motel, wandered past the Optimists’ pancake breakfast in the park, but balked at paying another $7 apiece for not a lot more than we had already eaten.

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Jacky wanted a picture of a happy Dave. Well, I’m always  happy, but here’s a completely frivolous shot.

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There is an art fair in the park. Vendors were busy setting up their displays. Here’s one that’s totally politically incorrect!

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We found Pat’s place in Nathrop, right near the river. She took us across the private bridge to the hot, open country of Ruby Mountain across the river, for a brief hike. Pretty country, but I think I prefer the lush green of the exposed watershed further north.

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Here is the bridge. By rhythmically jumping on it and pulling on the suspenders, I was able to rock the bridge, enough to get a protest from certain accompanying females.

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This bridge leads into a story, so bear with the pictures. Here are the cables that support the span.

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And the span itself, a plank deck flanked with chain-link fence.

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The story is that a small child fell through an opening in the Golden Gate bridge some time ago, a gap that was thought to be too small to pass even an infant. When that happened, Pat noticed that this private Nathrop bridge had big gaps in the chain-link bordering the deck.

The good part of the story is that, instead of lobbying Washington for a billion dollars, Pat and a few volunteers got some strapping material and secured the chain-link to the deck themselves.

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Maybe it’s standard practice in this kind of construction, but we also noticed that the bare ends of the suspension cables have been torch-melted into soft ends, no protruding sharp wires. Good for them.

Going over to Gary’s, we passed a grow house, where Colorado’s state herb showed every sign of thriving. Gary had a couple jars of herb on his coffee table. I asked about the rock-ribbed conservatives who believed in substance control, along with any number of other violations of individual rights. The answer: “We told them their opinions were no longer popular here!” Don’t really know how widespread this atmosphere of tolerance is, but it is certainly an encouraging sign.

We have seen dark afternoon clouds on several occasions, but today it actually rained, sometimes fairly enthusiastically, for a couple hours. Glad we weren’t on the trail this afternoon, but ensconced in Gary’s place instead, soaking up blueberries, cherries, pineapple, bananas, strawberries, crackers, hummus, chips, and conversation.

After Dorthey and Maggie and Roy and all their friends and families and kids had showed up, we spent some time talking, then made our excuses. Brews at Eddyline in BV [the real locals call it Buni!], then to the Asian Palate, where I invited them to make it spicy and they obliged. Good day, good show.

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It rained again, beginning as we reached the motel, and after an hour or so, the sun shone under the clouds and produced a pair of wonderful rainbows!

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To Buena Vista

July 3, 2014

Thursday, 3 July 2014

We enjoyed Steamboat Springs, but it was time to go. Time to gas up the car, as well. We got 38 mpg on the first tank, not bad at all (Hyundai Elantra). On the new tank, the first day came out to about 42 mpg, mostly because I kick it into neutral and coast whenever I can. The habits of a cheapskate who grew up with stick shifts!

We took the western route south, through Yampa and Woolcott. Saw a herd of six or eight pronghorns, but we were going fast and they were too far away for good photography anyway.

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Stopped in Leadville, a picturesque little town, but definitely less interesting than Steamboat Springs. It’s a mining town, although today’s lode is molybdenum, not lead.

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We stopped at the local ranger station, where we got a couple trail maps, one of them the Interlaken resort trail near Twin Lakes.

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This is a trail along the shore of the lower lake. It runs through forest, but nothing at all like the lush forests we have become used to. The 14 000 foot mountains to the west create a massive rain shadow for this area.

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There has been a lot of volunteer effort in restoring the buildings of the old resort. What I found amazing was that the door was unlocked, and visitors were invited to come in and look around.

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Getting on into the afternoon by the time we got back to the car and drove to Buena Vista. People here insist on calling it Boona! Maybe we’ll just call it BV.

Jacky called Pat, who told us about a new area of town out at the east end of Main street (it turns the corner, so it’s called South Main), full of new Victorian houses (but with corrugated steel roofs), and the Eddyline brewpub.

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It’s a license to print money. We had to wait a few minutes, but the food and beer were pretty much worth it.

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The weather had generally deteriorated, and we got a few raindrops as we wandered back along the Arkansas river, through town and to the motel.

They say this town will be hopping with festivities tomorrow. That’s fine, but maybe we’ll try to spend some time elsewhere as well. We’ll meet Pat in Nathrop tomorrow morning.

Once again, Steamboat Springs

July 2, 2014

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

We thought it would be good to avoid driving anywhere today, and that pretty much left Emerald mountain, just across the Yampa River. We had nothing much in the way of maps, but with a GPS, we figured we couldn’t get too lost.

As it turned out, we went up the hill to the quarry stop on the open, steep, boring fire road. But at each of the trail intersections, there was a little graphic map sign, and by the time we were ready to come back down, we had figured out the code. The whole hillside is criss-crossed with trails. Too bad we didn’t know that for the ascent.

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Much, much better, the descent. Lots of single-track trails through beautiful aspen forest. We could have done without the mountain bikies, but it wasn’t really all that bad, except for the hard climber as we neared the bottom who slammed into my arm. I was mellow enough not to yell at him about maintaining control of his bike.

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We found several varieties of caterpillar. Don’t know what sort of butterfly or moth they will become.

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We started the descent on the Blair Witch trail. This is where it comes out at the lower end, joining some other trail whose name escapes me at the moment, maybe Prayer Book trail.

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I thought it was exceptional to get a back-lit view of a couple of insects busy chomping down grains of pollen.

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And this bumblebee was the size of a small hummingbird!

The trail down ended at the rodeo grounds, where they are clearly preparing for a festival. Lots of brahma bulls in pens here, and we later saw trucks bringing in hay. We stopped at the ice rink to refill our water bottles, then went on up into the town, where we stopped at an upper-class grocery store for a pound of strawberries. Delicious!

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We have seen lots of swallowtails, both yellow and white, but they have been reluctant to pose for pictures. This one was so busy nozzling up nectar that it didn’t mind.

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Back to the motel to pick up various things, then to the library, where we sat on a terrace and mellowed out. I edited the day’s pictures; Jacky read a Kindle book. Around 4, we headed off to Mahogany Ridge brewery and grill, where we sat outdoors and enjoyed an early dinner.

Nice town. We’ll come back someday. Or not.

Fish Creek, Spring Creek, Bears

July 2, 2014

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

We had a recommendation to visit Fish Creek falls, only a 4 mile drive from town. The lower fall is directly accessible from the parking area (below), but there is a trail that goes as far as you like, including to an upper fall. We thought the upper fall might be a good destination.

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One of the things we liked about this trail was the near absence of mosquitoes. Fairly steep, rocky and root-y. Conifers dominated the lower part, but we eventually climbed into aspen forest. Really pretty. Also considerably hotter than the lower forest.

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After a couple hours, we reached a bridge that might or might not have been the upper fall. There was no sign to tell us. But after a calorie stop, we agreed to declare victory and abandon the field. Jacky headed down, while I invested another fifteen minutes in the uphill, just to see what there was to see. I planned to catch her up somewhere on the downhill trail.

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More trail, this part becoming a bit more difficult. Open rock faces. More views of the vigorous and  boiling stream. And about fifteen minutes later, a shallow cave in the rock face that struck me as surprisingly beautiful.

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I caught up with Jacky not far above the lower falls. Compare this picture with the same view at the top, before the sun illuminated it.

We considered what next to do, drove to the information office, where they were not quite as helpful as the first set we met.

But we followed a recommendation for a short afternoon hike, went to Spring creek trailhead at the local high school. This is basically a gravel road going along a densely forested creek. Not that interesting, except that there were two bear cubs high in a tree here. Lots of people standing around watching, all of us hoping mama bear wasn’t too close and too grumpy.

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We watched them play a little up there, then shimmy down the tree and disappear into the undergrowth.

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There’s a pond a bit further up, which we circumambulated, but the day was getting hot and we packed it in. Back to the motel for laundry, then wandered around the town looking for the perfect spot to have a brew and later on, dinner. Nice town; we extended our reservation for one more night.