Monday, August 8, 2011

Geocaching, Shoeless Joe, and Al-Mart

Windy Ridge Lake
It took my breath away!

Have you heard about geocaching?  No?  Neither had I.

Well, apparently it is a "treasure" hunting game that uses GPS to find things that other people have hidden.  When you find the geocache stash, you sign the log book, then you can either take the booty and replace it with something else or leave the original item for the next seeker.  Here's the link.

When my brother explained it to us, it sounded either like a giant scavenger hunt played with strangers or like a Harry Potter port key.  The port keys were always something that looked like a bit of old rubbish, a single tennis shoe, a tuna can, a baby's pacifier.  Once found, port keys allowed multiple people to apparate together at a specific time. 

Either way, it sounded intriguing!  So Wednesday morning most of the group set off to find some geocaches hidden around Alma.  Mother and I, both exhausted by our marathon of a day on Tuesday, decided to stay at the cabin.  Around lunch time they came back with their faces lit up and words spilling out of their mouths.  They hadn't found a geocache, instead they found something much better.  Back behind Alma there was a dirt road, a very rough dirt road, that led to narrow deep valley. In the valley we found a beautiful little alpine lake and at the end of the rocky road a private camping ground with numerous hiking trails.  Some of the trails, we discovered, led to the top of the 14ers that surrounded the valley.  After scouting it out, we decided to take the whole family in SUV the next day. 

Let me tell you!  SUV's are essential in the Rockies.  I don't know how people live in the mountains and drive regular sedans like Accords or Camry's.  My guess is that they don't, at least not for long.  After a day or two it was easy to spot the locals and the out-of-towners.  If the vehicle was old and beat up, was a truck, a jeep, or a heavy duty SUV, if it had two foot long shocks, and had thick, heavy-duty tires, it belonged to a local.  If the vehicle was clean, a four door sedan, a Mini or a mini-van or a mini-anything it belonged to a naive flat-lander, like us.  The concept of "form follows function" could have originated from a car designer living in Colorado.

Thursday morning we emptied everything out of the Highlander and piled all eight of us into it's interior.  We had to stow the kids into the very back area, the part that was intended for luggage and groceries.  Not exactly legal, but... My brother drove us into Alma and turned at the street next to the minuscule mining museum.  The paved street quickly petered out and became red dirt...then red dirt and rocks...then big rocks...then BIG rocks...then small boulders!  To say it was a bumping ride would be an understatement.

Oh!!! But it was worth it!

First, we went to Windy Ridge Lake.  This was quite possibly the prettiest small lake in Colorado.  Idyllic.  Beautiful.  Peaceful.  These words only hint at how truly gorgeous this lake was.  I just kept mentally humming the John Denver song, "Sunshine On My Shoulders."  We snapped endless pictures of the lake, of each other by the lake, and of the mountains reflected in the lake.  Once again, we became nature paparazzi. 

After a while, we piled back into the Highlander and bounced down the road to a beautiful spot further down in the valley.  There was a turn off close to a rapid mountain stream where two fields of wildflowers enveloped the trail.  We only thought we had seen beautiful flowers before we came to this meadow.   The flowers here spendiforous!  How's that for an adjective?  Wild lavender lined the trail!  We found flowers that none of us had ever seen before.  Who knows?  Maybe no one had ever seen some of those flowers before!

"If I had a day that I could give to you...
I'd give to you a day just like today."
Very quickly, we scattered in all directions.  The kids honored the call of the wild in them and headed for the river and the thick underbrush on the other side.  My sister-in-law followed, camera in hand.  My brother and dad started up the mountain meadow on the other side of the road.  Mother and I put our noses to the ground and oohed and awed over the flowers. 

Although we were spread out, we were all keeping track of each other in that subconscious way that families develop.  That's why we all heard the alarm cry.  Somehow, older nephew and middle niece had made their way to the other side of the river.  Coming back was more complicated.  The water ran fast, deceptively deep, and ice cold.  They decided that it would be safer to take off their shoes to wade back to the other side.  Oops!  Almost immediately, the water gods demanded their first sacrifice of the the day and took one of middle niece's tennis shoes.  Sister-in-law tried to save the shoe and instead gave the river her sunglasses, and almost herself.  I saw flashes of  headlines in our hometown newspapers. "North Texas Family's Tragic Loss in Colorado."  Instead of "Sunshine On My Shoulders" I was hearing "Ride of the Valkyries."  

"The water is wide.  I can't cross o'er.
An neither have I wings to fly. 
Build me a boat that will carry two
and both shall row, my love and I."
One thing I really admire about my brother and sister-in-law is that they are really good in an emergency.  Me...not so much!  Somehow they got the two bear cubs safely back over the river.  My sister-in-law even documented their travail with her camera!  That was good because I couldn't watch. 

Danger averted, we decided it was time for lunch.  Once more we got back into the SUV and my brother carefully steered us over and around the largest rocks to the campground at Kite's Lake.  Think about the most beautiful parts of the Lord of the Rings movies, that's how beautiful this place was.  The campground sat at the base of  four 14'ers:  Mount Cameron, Mount Democrat, Mount Bross, and Mount Lincoln.  There's a line in John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" that I kept hearing in my mental sound track.  "He talked to God and listened to His casual reply."   It was that kind of place!  So peaceful!  If you've been to Colorado, you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't been, get up right now and GO!

The town of Alma sits at 10,500 feet.  Kite's lake was about a thousand feet higher.  The surrounding mountains all crested at over 14,000.  All this meant that Kites's Lake was a popular place.  The lake and campground had numerous hiking trails.  Some were short and easy, just exploring that end of the valley.  Others took serious hikers to the peak of the mountains.  The grandparents, one of the nieces, and I set off on a pretty trail that looked more like a stroll than a climb.  But before we knew it, we were higher than we realized.  We were up above the tree line, so we must have been higher than 12,000 feet.  There were pockets of snow, water falls, and the occasional chatty marmot.  Several hikers coming down the trail told us that they had climbed two or three mountains that morning. Impressive!

Later my nephew took us up a much steeper trail that led to a "land that time forgot."  If Adam and Eve had come out from behind a boulder, I wouldn't have been too surprised.  A freezing cold mountain stream spilled down from the snow capped mountain peak and wildflowers practically sprang out of the ground with life.  Of course, I heard John Denver singing in full voice on my mental I-POD.  How can anyone NOT hear John Denver when they go to Colorado?!?

It was a glorious day! 

Around four we had had all the fun we could stand, so we piled ourselves and our booty of shiny rocks and wildflowers back into the Highlander for the return trip.  We thought our adventure was over, BUT WE WERE WRONG! 

Just as we came off the dirt road and back into Alma, a mountain man in a pick-up flagged us down.  "Brother, you've got a flat tire," he told my brother.  And, then it started to rain.  Not just a little rain.  Cats and Dogs.  Buckets.  A Gully Washer. 

So picture this.  Eight people crammed into an SUV.  Stranded in a town of less than 300.  No garage anywhere in town.  Middle niece still with only one shoe.  Serious Rain!

I paniced a little. 

"Men, men, men, men, manly men, men, men..."
Truly they were our saviors.
Always good in an emergency, my brother ignored all our cries of woe and advice and crossed the highway into some business's driveway.  He got out to see how bad the tire was and if we could limp back to the cabin and change it after the rain stopped.  No luck.  The river gods had already demanded a sacrifice.  Now the trail gods wanted their cut.  The tire was already riding on the rim! 

The guys couldn't change the tire with all of us sitting in the car.  It was raining too hard to just get out.  What to do?  What to do?  Suddenly, we remembered Al-Mart!  Alma doesn't have a Wal-Mart, but they do have Al-Mart.  We dashed as quick as we could with shoeless Joe in tow and shamelessly left the guys to change the tire in the rain. 

Al-Mart was like a beacon in the night, a lighthouse signaling us to safety and a bathroom and diet coke and chocolate!  It was about the size of the shoe department of a Wal-Mart and filled with all the stuff you really need.  Rice, water, coffee, cans of beans, small containers of Parmesean cheese, gourmet Italian beef, gold panning pans, and serious mountain man clothes.  No flip flops, though.  Poor niece!

Al-Mart - where you can buy
aspirin, under armor, and art.
Finally the rain stopped, the valiant men got the tire changed, and joined us in our Al-Marty refuge. The guy behind the counter patiently listened to our story, sold us commemorative t-shirts and refrigerator magnets, and told us where we might could get the tire fixed the next day.  Thank you Al-Mart! 
We love you!


Notice the 14er in the background?  We're about to go climb it.

Wow!    Snow in late July!

The only varmits up there were us and the marmots.

The best picture award goes to my sister-in-law for this shot of her reflection
 in Windy Ridge Lake.

On top of the world!

If anyone knows what these beautiful bells are, please comment below!

The same goes for these darlin's.  I couldn't tell you the name of any of them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We were ooing and awing at the beauty of the lakes, mountains, and flowers. The next moment we were laughing out loud to read some of your misadventures with the lost shoe. Thanks for sharing your trip. Karen and Dan