Friday, July 27, 2012

Independence Pass

If you had just worked 13 days in a row, what would you do with your day off?

For me, the answer was hit up a farmers market and then drive up to over 12,000 feet above sea level on a road that vehicles over 35 feet are forbidden.  Toss in a few cliffs, hairpin turns and less than 2 lane road, and you have yourself a day along Independence Pass.

We took an excursion to explore this area, having been told that it is a beautiful drive.  Well, I am all over something like this. Plus, since the people telling us this live here in Colorado--where, in my opinion, every drive is beautiful--I had to take them on their word.  We started cruising through Aspen and quickly realized that there is no clear boundary between the town and where the scenic drive began.  The drive is littered with pull offs, campgrounds, hiking trail heads, and day use areas.  We stopped at a few, either to see the scenery, take a break, or get out and stretch our legs.
This day use area offered a cool stream to play in.  We only got our toes wet.
We continued our climb, stopping at the town of Independence, founded guessed it, July 4th.
Going down the path into town.
Information for you nerd types.
After getting winded from walking up and down the side of a hill at an even higher elevation than we have become used to, we continued our trek to the top.  Soon enough, after a few final switchbacks to get the adrenaline pumping, we made it.
Say it with me, some water flows this way, some that way.  That is why it is a divide.
Yes, I know, we had to pass the Continental Divide to get into western Colorado, but we did not have the time or opportunity to make a deal of it at that point. That, and we crossed it in the middle of a tunnel on our initial drive West. Talk about anticlimactic. But not this time!

It was a beautiful day, sun and clouds.  One thing that I love about Colorado is how you can see the weather approaching and just how bad it is.  While we were up on top, we could see a storm blowing towards us.  We had enough warning and lead time that we were able to almost get back into Aspen before it started to rain on us.

And to try to share the same view/experience, here are a few panorama shots that I put together from the lookout point at the divide.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Concert fun

Every Thursday the town of Snowmass Village holds a free concert.  It has been rained out a few times, but we took the opportunity to head down this past Thursday to check it out.  Many of the people I work with have said that it is a good time (although I think that they like the prices of certain 'adult beverages' compared to what they normally have to pay).

Finding a parking spot was our first hurdle.  Thankfully, since I have been running around town, I knew a few places to look and could park in some reserved lots due to my parking permit for work.  Once we were parked, I took the family on a quick tour of town as we walked to the concert.  They have set up a stage on one of the slopes, so seating is raked uphill.  For our Indianapolis friends, it is like Klipsch Music center, but no covering or seats, just all grass.

We sat towards the back/top of the hill, since we got there after the concert had started and we wanted some room for the kids to play.  As a bonus, there was a gentleman that had chinese yo-yos and some juggling items for kids to play with and a lady with some hoops.  Granted, both were drumming up business, but it was great that they had the activities for kids to do.
View of the stage and hill.

The kids checking things out right after we got there.  Didn't take long for them to get up and run around.

Lydia working on her hooping skills.  The skirt was a good complement.
The whole setup is right next to my job site, so I was able to give perspective to Stephanie about what I am doing and the layout of both the town and the jobsite.  I think one of the biggest realizations for her was how much everything is built into the hill and how much vertical change I go through throughout the day.  So, if you look at the first photo, that is the background that I see every day.

It was a fun outing for all.  We can't wait to do more exploring.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The new norm, for now.

Welcome to our new home state for awhile kids.

I must say, it has been a busy week or so.  I started working the day after we got to Colorado, so things seem like a blur.  We have settled into our campsite here at Aspen Basalt Campground.  It is a nice 25 minute commute to the job site, which is in Snowmass.  The Westin is doing a complete remodel, but will be open for ski season, so the pressure is on to be done in time.  Because of that, I am working 10 hour days, 6-7 days a week.  I don't get to do much exploring, but Stephanie and the kids have had some fun traveling around and seeing what they can find.  The bus system that runs up and down the valley has a stop right outside of our campground, so for just a dollar or two they can all ride into Basalt to do some shopping at a very awesome farmers market, visit the library (which issues short term cards so that the kids can check books out), or visit one of many playgrounds.  We are getting used to having to drive to get places, since towns are spread out and friends are about 45 minutes away.

We are enjoying life around the campground.  The play ground is right across from our site, there is a pool and hot tub, a really nice bath house, and great owners, whom Stephanie and the kids seem to visit everyday.
Our living space.
The playground that the kids want to visit all the time.  It is basically our front yard.
The view from a restaurant in Eagle, CO.

The Westin in Snowmass, CO.  Not a bad view from this room, eh?
We hope to have some more excursions and stories to tell soon, but for now we are just getting comfortable.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Settling In

Well, we made it to our first extended stop in Western Colorado.

After we left St. Louis last Tuesday morning, we drove for nearly 13 hours through the hot, barren nothingness that lies between St. Louis and WaKeeney, KS (with just a brief pause to celebrate civilization in Kansas City...but not too long, because we knew what a long push was still ahead of us!).
Not that there's much of anything in WaKeeney, KS either, but it does host a very nice, quaint KOA Kampground there with long, level pull-thru sites (HA! Not like that's a problem in the plains states!), hot showers, a swimming pool and they also offer nightly ice cream socials and pancake breakfasts every morning. It's quite the little oasis in the middle of the plains.

On Wednesday morning we got up early again to leave by 6:30am, hoping to get past Denver, CO before the heat of the day. We made great time, with the windmills along the highway in Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado to entertain us. Being the 4th of July and also that we knew what a long haul we had for the day to get to the Western Slope and through Vail Valley, we unfortunately didn't get to stop at the Genoa Tower in Eastern Colorado. The sign from the highway boasts that you can "SEE 6 STATES!" and from my brother who has stopped there in the past, I hear that it is unforgettable, mostly because of the "museum" inside. One day, we'll have to make a stop of it.
We rolled through Denver around lunchtime (mmm...Qdoba!), but not without passing the hazy skies over central Colorado from the Waldo Canyon wildfires that have been blazing through the state the past couple of weeks. Fortunately, the only wildfire that we witnessed firsthand along the highway was small, attended and we saw several tanker trucks on their way to tend to the flames. Still, closer than I planned on being to the fires!

After lunch, we ventured into the mountains for our final push toward Glenwood Springs, where our campsite was located.
It was nearly 100* and the truck was reading more than that as we made our first climb out of Denver. Recognizing that we needed to take it slow, we stopped off to cool the truck down before pulling up the mountain. Once we got going, it was a fairly smooth coast the rest of the way. Don't get me wrong--grades were steep, both uphill and downhill--and my knuckles were white. Jason, however, totally kept his cool and did an awesome job getting us through the ups and downs. We also experienced a major cool-down once we got past the Eastern Slope--which was wonderful all-around! Finally we had escaped the 100-110* average daytime temps!!!

Around dinnertime we made our way to Glenwood Canyon Resort, which was where we planned to stay. Being the holiday, their "Big Rig" sites were booked solid, but they did have an off-river site available for us. Great! What could possibly be more beautiful?!
Not much, except that "off river" when you are in a canyon means waaaaaayyyy down at the bottom of the canyon, in a campsite made for a tent or small pop-up...not necessarily for a 36' fifth-wheel and 21' beast of a truck! Fortunately, we had awesome neighbors again that helped guide Jason into the site and others who allowed us to park our truck in front of their campsite, since we did not have room for it in front of ours.
All in all, it was a beautiful site. You could hear the sound of the Colorado River rushing past, watch folks zip-lining across the river and rafting/kayaking/tubing, walk a short way to the "beach" and play at the riverfront and several times a day both passenger and freight trains would go by on the tracks across the river--which the kids adore! Only downside for us, aside from the size of the campsite in relation to our rig, was that from 4-10pm every night was karaoke on the balcony of the bar at the top of the hill which echoes through the canyon, breaking up the serenity of the otherwise peaceful, riverfront campsite.

Jason started work on Thursday in Snowmass Village, and we quickly decided that with the long hours that he is working, we needed to find a campsite closer to his job site which was an hour away. He found one and by Friday evening we reserved a site, for as long into the season as we need, just 20 minutes north of where he is working. While we're no longer staying riverfront in a canyon, Aspen-Basalt Campground is very conveniently located to a bus line that the kids and I can ride into the neighboring towns, there is a bike path into town just outside the campground, we still have river access--but now we also have a pool/spa on-site too! Not to mention that a Whole Foods Market is opening within walking distance next month. The kids and I might be making daily treks there at that point. Unbelievable!
We'll take a few days to settle in, but it seems like a nice little spot to spend most of the summer.

We are also doubly blessed to have friends nearby! One of our dear friends from college and his wife live just an hour north of where we are currently staying--and we've even been able to get together with them a few times already for dinner and to play in the river/go rafting on Sunday. Another of our best friends from college lives just a little further up the valley in Vail and we were excited that she could join us for dinner on Saturday as well.
While it was a long road to get to this point (literally AND figuratively!), we're very blessed to be where we are right now. Seriously, does life get any better than being in the mountains of Colorado in the summertime? If it does, I don't think I want to know about it right now, because this is more than I could ask for already!

(Hopefully we can get some photos up soon. Wifi is spotty here, but even though I can't download photos right now, I didn't want that to keep me from posting when I am able.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

St. Louis: The City We Would Like To Forget

Yes, that may sound harsh, but if you have been tracking us for the past few days, you would know the unfortunate events that have us staying in this city (see this post for more details).

Well, as of writing this, we will be heading out in the morning.  The truck is repaired and the trailer has 4 brand new tires.  We won't be rushing it, but we will be pushing to get to Colorado as soon as we can.

To help bide the time while we were stranded in St. Louis, we took a day to go to the Arch and the Westward Expansion Museum.  It has been 9 years since Stephanie and I visited on the tail end of our honeymoon, so it was fun to revisit it and remember the times when it was just two of us running around.  I remember getting to see and read a lot more in the museum at that point, this time around was more of, "Hey, look, a saddle" or "What do you see in the tepee?".
The view as we walked up to the arch from our parking spot.
No one counted, but that was a lot of steps.
We parked our van down by the river (SNL fans?) close to the ferry boats and walked up the bank to the arch.  The kids seemed to have fun with all of the steps to get to the arch.  We were unable to play on the lawn much and do a photo session, partly because of riggers taking care of a stage, but mostly because of the heat.  So we quickly made our way inside to where it was cooler and more to see and do.

It was quickly determined that we needed to get our tickets to go up the arch first, so Stephanie got in line for that while I purchased our National Parks Pass.  For those that don't know, there is a discount for adult tickets to ride to the top of the arch, none for children.  I'm just excited to have a parks pass again.

We then wandered around the Westward Expansion museum while we waited our turn to ride.  There are a lot of neat facts and quotes to read, and plenty of real and recreated items from the different eras.  One that stood out to us was, "The great majority now crossing the plains were profoundly ignorant of what was before them when starting...".  I have felt like that recently.

Soon enough our time had come to head up to the top, and so we did.  The six of us crammed into the little trolley and made it to the top in one piece (more on that later).  It was a beautifully clear day, so we were able to see for miles around.  The views were great and I think that the kids really enjoyed getting that perspective on life.
Checking out the view of the Mississippi River and how far it goes.
We packed it back into the trolley for the ride down and then decided it was time to visit our campsite and get some dinner.  But I know that a funny story is what you are waiting for, and we can't go anywhere with out some kind of story.  Here is the deal.  Right after parking, Stephanie realized that neither one of us had grabbed the diaper bag after making sure it was stocked.  We felt we would be alright, that we were not planning on being gone for too long, and honestly thought that we would make it through the day.  Wrong.

We almost did make it.  It was not until we were in the holding area for the trolley to the top that I looked over at Eliza and she had that look.  I had to pick her up since she had hidden in a corner, and that was mistake number one.  I quickly discovered my arm to be covered in something warm and squishy, and had to discreetly get Stephanie's attention so that she would know what the issue was without the bigger kids finding out and announcing it to everyone.  Did I mention that we were at a point of no return?  No bathrooms, no oops I need a napkin.  We were in line to board the trolley.  Knowing that I only had a minute or so, I quickly remembered seeing someone else park a stroller by the exit.  I found them in a flash and inquired about some wipes, at least wanting to get this mess wiped up and not dripping anywhere else.  They were more than helpful letting me grab as many as I needed, and thankfully there were also a plethora of extra diapers, correct size and all, in the bottom of their stroller.  A big THANK YOU to this family for bailing us out.

I shoved the goods in my cargo pocket and ran back just as they were calling our number for the trolley.  We waited the tense minutes for the previous occupants to unload (much like my daughter) and for our turn to board.  This is the point that I felt like I was on Minute To Win It.  We knew that there were about 3 minutes to get this mess cleaned and diaper changed before those doors opened.  Needless to say, I had about 30 seconds to spare!  The next fun part was disposal.  I saw that the Park Rangers had a trashcan at the top, but upon seeing what I had to dispose of, they asked if it had #1 or #2 in it.  I couldn't lie to a ranger (it's a crime, right?), and the response that I got was along the lines of they don't empty these cans regularly enough for that, accompanied by a very disgusted look. However, they did provide us with some paper towels to wrap up our steaming package. Gee, thanks!
A crude panorama of how small the trolley is with my phone.

We got to take our present back down with us.  Yippee!

Needless to say, we left after we got back down.  At least Stephanie had hand sanitizer with her.