Friday, July 31, 2015

Canon City, CO: High Times and Mountain Vines (Days 38-40 of 42)

Our last Colorado destination, Canon City, had us dangling highhhh over the Arkansas River, sipping wine on the grounds of a Catholic abbey, and going to prison.  (Not really = a prison museum.  Gotcha!)  Also, the Lucky Charm had her first-ever rendezvous with roadside assistance ... it had to happen eventually!

A goodbye toast for our final stop in beautiful Colorado

The Royal Gorge Bridge is one of the world's highest suspension bridges, hanging high over the Arkansas River.  Built in 1929 for $350,000, the cost today would exceed $20 million.

The flags of all the states adorn the bridge's 1,270-foot span.

You can walk across, or catch a ride.

The Royal Rush Skycoaster is a free-fall tower that sweeps you 1,200 feet above the river below at 50 MPH:  no wonder it was named the world's scariest skycoaster.

The aerial gondolas glide 2,300 feet across the Royal Gorge on one of the longest single-span cables in the world ...

See the tiny red specks in that huge canyon?  Those are the gondolas!

...  while the ziplines are also one of the world's highest.

The zippers (on the right) are even higher than the gondolas (middle center).

All those heights made us need a drink, so we headed to the grounds of the historic Holy Cross Abbey.  As far back as 1924, the Benedictine Fathers were bottling wine, presumably for their own usage.  The modern-day winery located here has returned to that early heritage, though no Sisters or Monks will be serving you.

In the last 6 years, the winery has won over 100 awards for their 14 different varieties.

With advance notice and a valid credit card, they will happily lay out a beautiful spread and provide you with your very own wine hostess, which we desperately needed because we know absolutely nothing about wine.

Back in town, the Colorado Prison Museum is housed within a real 1930's-era women's cell block, and is filled chock-full with lots of historical items.  You go into each of the 32 cells with their unique themes and related exhibits about famous prisoners, past wardens, historic riots and escapes, and "behavior control devices" including balls and chains, cattle prods, and a whipping horse known as the "Old Gray Mare."

It is right next to an active Colorado prison that is older than the state itself, opening as a Territorial Prison in 1871, that currently houses 800 men.

Actual gas chamber used in eight different executions, the last one in 1967.

Display of confiscated weapons, some of which were noted as having been used during in-prison murders.

Amazingly detailed chess set made out of toilet paper and water (considered contraband and taken away from the inmate who spent many long hours on its construction).

Our travels leaving Canon City were not without excitement, though not of the desirable variety, as the Lucky Charm blew a rear inside tire in the middle of Nowheresville, Colorado.  Although we had to wait a couple hours for assistance, the teeny-tiny general store-slash-coffeehouse-slash-art gallery across the street kept us amused for at least part of the wait.  Here, Philip creates beautiful music to soothe our troubles away.

The repairman swore he thought Philip was Bill Clinton (a common observation) and that I (with my hair up in a messy bun and wearing my square rimless glasses) was Sarah Palin.  Why he thought Bill Clinton and Sarah Palin would be RV'ing together, I am not quite sure.  But at any rate, he took photos with both of us to show the family back home.

Back on the road for the last two days of the 2015 Summer Adventure, we are already starting to plan our 2016 summer travels to the upper Northwest, including Canada's unbelievable Banff National Park and the Calgary Stampede, the "Mardi Gras of Rodeos," a.k.a. a week-long party!  The Lucky Charm cannot be kept down!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Manitou Springs, CO: Donut Gods and Garden of the Gods (Days 33-37 of 42)

Manitou Springs is just outside Colorado Springs, and their crown jewel is Pikes Peak, often called "America's Mountain."  It was named for failed explorer Zebulon Pike, who failed to reach the summit, making this the ultimate celebration of failure, like the Focker's wall of 12th place ribbons.  We were joined by Phoenix friend April Yarmus for a trip up Pikes Peak and to hike the in-town scenic splendor of Garden of the Gods.  But little did we know tha we would run into ANOTHER very-special Phoenician at the top of Pikes Peak!  (More on that later.)

Although the top is 14,110 feet, it is one of FIFTY THREE Colorado "Fourteeners," or mountain peaks that are taller than 14,000 feet.  The summit is higher than any point east of its longitude in the U.S.

We took the famous "cog railway" up the mountain ... the highest in the nation by a considerable margin.  The "cogs" are in the middle of the track and similar bumps fit into the notches of this track to make it go.  (I clearly have no engineering knowledge whatsoever ... "bumps" and "notches" are not the official terms.) All I know is they have been successfully dragging humans up the at-times-25% grade of this mountain since 1891.

Although the scenery is lovely on the way up ....

It's nothing compared to the breathtaking beauty at the top!

The train is not the only way up ... you can hike 23 miles round-trip with an arduous 8,000 foot elevation gain, or you can also drive the 19 slow miles, the last half of which were paved only a few years ago.

Oxygen level at the top is 60% that at sea level, and we had a merry time passing around our elderly seat-mate's fingertip-O2-sensor to see how we were faring on the ride up.

Also, because of the reduced pressure of the high altitude, it would take 12 hours to boil an egg at the summit!  Making a ham sandwich a better choice, should you find yourself at the top with both a raw egg and and a ham sandwich, that is.

         Study the red rocks in the middle right ... "Garden of the Gods".  This will prepare you for the second half of this blog.

One (sweaty) fella we talked to at the top had just ridden his bicycle to the top ... 5 butt-numbing hours of straight climbing!  One way up!  (But a great ride down.)  In 1893, Katharine Lee Bates wrote the song "America The Beautiful" after having admired the view from the top of Pikes Peak.  She, presumably, did not ride a bike up.

Did we take the train to see great sights?  Or to make great memories?  Of course not!  We did it because we had heard the best donuts in the world can be found at the top!!  Memories of the amazing waffles we had at the top of Jackson Hole last summer guided our mission.  MUST! HAVE! DONUTS!

OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!  Tragedy strikes!  We fought our way through the crowds to the donut stand and found this empty tray.....

The train gives you exactly 30 minutes at the top (and then leaves with or without you) and we were already 22 minutes in.  To wait, or not to wait?  To cry, or not to cry?  Luckily, with little time to spare, SHAZAM!  The hottest, freshest batch arrived from the fryer!  The donut gods were smiling upon us! The day was saved!  And Philip was happy again!

We raced to the train and started gobbling.  Some magic combination of the altitude and the recipe makes these hot little buggers gooey and amazing inside, hot and greasy and crunchy outside.  We gazed outside as the final whistle blew, and suddenly daughter Sarah's boyfriend Sean appeared in the window!  WHAT!??  In my confusion, I held out my half-eaten donut, like he could/would want to take a bite right through the window.  Doh!!! And Philip captured the epic moment.

Back up this tale. You may recall Sarah and Sean had been with us earlier in the week in Breckenridge.  Sarah had returned to Phoenix, but Sean had stayed in the state for a couple extra days to visit family.  Unexpectedly, without prior coordination amongst us, they had decided to drive to the top of Pikes Peak and coincidentally arrived there during the same 1/2 hour that our train just happened to be there!  It was a Pikes Peak Miracle!

We love Sean!!  And so does Sarah!!!

We progressed from the Donut Gods to Garden of the Gods, a sanctuary in the middle of a city, just 5 minutes from downtown Manitou Springs.

The family that owned this parcel of land, gave it to the City with the provision that nobody ever be charged a fee to enjoy its beauty.  So, admission is free, and the many connecting 15 miles of trails on the 1,364 acres are heavenly!

Also, dog-friendly!!

Geologic upheavals like glaciation, erosion, ablation, lots of things ending in -ion, (which I learned about in high school and promptly forgot) are responsible for the formations.  Here are just a few of the more-loved, less-red-headed-stepchild formations, which were deemed worthy of names.

Cathedral Spires - find the little people to get a feel for the size.

Balanced Rock

Steamboat Rock

Our time in Manitou Springs and with April was, alas, way too short.........but the road calls us ever onward.  (Plus, we had to sober up after a late night margarita fest in the campground.  The videos have since been wisely deleted.)  Onward to Canon City, where we will traverse the Arkansas River, visit a way-cool Colorado Prison Museum, and drink wine on the grounds of a converted Catholic abbey!