Wednesday, September 27, 2023

A Good Long Day at the Chaffee County Fair

We're way behind in getting travel posts published because we were having way too much fun traveling! So we won't be confused about when each "wandering" happened, we'll start each blog with its actual date.

July 29, 2023

While we were hanging out at Buena Vista for a month, we were looking for festivals or celebrations in the area. While we didn't find a festival for the first weekend, we did find the Chaffee County Fair. The fairgrounds are on the west side of the neighboring town of Salida, with a beautiful view of the 14ers on the west side of the rodeo grounds.

Saturday was "Kid's Day" at the county fair, and we went early to watch the events that were organized for the kids. We should have taken pictures of the greased pig contest for the youngest group of children, because they were adorable. This older group was more focused and had more pig-catching skills.

While Chaffee County is popular with tourists, many of the locals live on farms and ranches outside of town. These kids knew how to catch a pig, and the $50 prize money was a great incentive.

Another activity was the lawn mower race that wound its way through a series of cones. The trick was that the driver was wearing a blind-fold, and only had the advice of the passenger in the cart to get them through the maze. Lots of the cones were knocked down on that race course.

We also watched the contest to see who could unfold a frozen tshirt the fastest, and another to see who could pick up the most marbles with their toes from an ice cold tub of water. A local bank hid coins in a big pile of wood shavings and that was another popular kid's day event. After enjoying the county fair, we spent the middle part of the day exploring the town of Salida. The town is situated along the Arkansas River, and this is a popular place to cool off on a Saturday afternoon. Salida is in the valley, at an elevation around 7,000 feet so it does get warm here. We saw lots of people tubing down the river that meanders through town and along the popular River Park.

They've added water features to increase the flow in certain areas. It's a fun activity to find a seat on the edge of the river to watch the people that try their luck in the eddies.

The Arkansas River had been channeled to provide a wave-like eddy, and surfers in wet suits lined up to test their skills.

Most of the beginners wiped out quickly on the wave. But seasoned river surfers were limited to three minutes because it looked like they could surf forever on that wave.

Besides having to judge the current and keep balance on that unsteady board, obstacles can come downriver at any time. While tubers usually exit before the surf zone, an occasional tube must be dodged.

The rafts were harder to dodge. In order to continue down the Arkansas River on a longer float trip, rafts must negotiate these big waves.

We watched as rafts full of people went over the wave . . .

and then disappeared into the white water after it.

We ate lunch in town, and then got caught in a rain storm. We have heard of the afternoon lightning storms in the mountains, but they also happen in the valley. This area desperately needs the moisture, so it was a welcomed rain. We experienced the closest lightning strike, and we were glad that we were in the pickup instead of on a hike. While we drove under a traffic light, the pole was struck by lightning. The boom inside our vehicle was deafening, and it wiped out the stop light. We assumed that the storm would cancel the evening activities at the Chaffee County Fair, but we were glad to see that it only delayed the start of the ranch rodeo. We got there as they were finishing the "Cowboy Calcutta," a fund-raiser where people bid to sponsor a team of cowboys that are in the competition. The team leaving the arena just sold for $1,800. If the team they "bought" won, the bidder would win part of the prize money.

The reigning cowgirl queen and princess presented the colors on horseback, and we sang the Star Spangled Banner after we were led in a prayer.

As they rode the flags around the arena, we could see the large wall cloud that had brought the storms to the valley.

While we have been to many rodeos in our lives, we have to say that we prefer to watch a ranch rodeo. While a regular rodeo contains individual cowboys trying to stay on bucking bulls and horses for eight seconds, the events in a ranch rodeo are more complicated. They are team events with a group of five cowboys trying to complete a task using skills that are needed in everyday ranch work. For example, in this competition a single cowboy on horseback enters a pen of ten cows and calves, each with a number on its back. A random number is drawn and announced, and the cowboy must rope the back legs of (in this case #9) that calf in the crowded pen.

He brings calf #9 out of the pen while three other cowboys close the gate. They then hold the calf down and remove the rope while the fifth cowboy runs across the arena with a chalk-covered branding iron to mark the calf.

When the cowboy runs back across the arena to replace the branding iron, and the ropes are removed from the calf, the judge will lower the red flag to stop the timer. The team that can accomplish all that in the fastest time wins that round.

The sun was setting behind the mountains as we watched the rodeo, and it seemed like the cowboys didn't even recognize that they had wandered into God's wonders while they were competing. During the rodeo, we were looking over the crowd hoping to spot Mark's cousin. He has ranched in this valley for years, and we thought they might be at the rodeo. Sure enough, we spotted them near the fence. Their ranch has participated in the ranch rodeo and won it several times. But their best cowboys--their children--have grown up and moved away. So they were spectators this year.

Another competition involved roping a randomly drawn numbered yearling, and getting him loaded into a trailer. After shutting the gate, all the cowboys had to jump up on the bed of the pickup before the timer was stopped.

All the competitions used skills that are needed to run a ranch and manage a herd of cattle. Most of them involved some roping skills, and the help of a good horse. 

It was getting dark and beginning to rain during the last competition. Ten yearlings were numbered, and grouped at the far end of the arena. The announcer drew a random number from a hat, and announced it as the five cowboys on horseback approached the herd. If the number eight was announced, the group had to first separate the calf with #8 on its back and move him past a half-way line in the arena. Then they would try to separate calf #9 and move him to the near side of the arena . . . then #10 . . . then #1 . . . They had to do this shuffling and separating on the far end of the arena while keeping #8 and #9 etc. from running back across the line and joining the herd. It was a limited timed event, and it was amazing to watch the dexterity of the cutting horses in action.

Wow! That was a great rodeo! At the end of the four events, the winning team (and the sponsor that purchased them in the Calcutta) took home the prize money and bragging rights. We thought is was so much more interesting than the traditional rodeo with its eight-second rides that have little to do with actual ranching skills. When does a working cowboy really try to ride a bull? We had read about the rodeo dance, and were glad to find that Mark's cousin and wife were going there too. So the four of us danced the night away to a very talented Justin Wulf Band that played lots of good two-stepping songs.

The 9:00 dance wasn't over until after midnight. Considering that we had arrived to the fair in time for the morning events, it was a good long day at the Chaffee County Fair!

Monday, September 25, 2023

It felt good to be settled in one location for a while

We're way behind in getting travel posts published because we were having way too much fun traveling! So we won't be confused about when each "wandering" happened, we'll start each blog with its actual date.

July 27 and 28, 2023

This morning we left Kremmling, and we were headed towards Buena Vista, Colorado. As we drove deeper into the mountains, we also drove deeper into wildlife territory. Colorado has added overpasses for animals to walk over the highway, rather than across these busy roads.

Our drive was 100 miles through some beautiful scenery. The mountains got taller as we headed further south on our drive towards our next destination. 

We stopped in the city of Silverthorne at the Colorado Welcome Center to pick up some travel information. The plan was to spend the next month in one campground, so we were looking for advice on the best things to see in this part of the state.

We stopped for diesel, and we're always watching the pricing trends for fuel. This summer we have seen diesel $1.20 higher than gasoline, we have seen diesel cheaper than gasoline, and today we saw them the same price.

As we drove further south, the landscape looked drier. We checked into our site at the Arkansas River Rim Campground, and the owner told us they hadn't seen any rain for a month. We had reserved a month-long stay here, which is very unusual for us. We found that daily rates at a full-hook-up campground in the Colorado mountains can cost around $80 per night. So booking the monthly rate made this prolonged stop affordable. This is a no-frills campground with no amenities. But it does have good solid 50-amp service, water and sewer hook-ups. Plus, it was half the monthly rate price when compared to the campground just a mile down the road. The back-in spaces were close together, but we were surrounded by mountains.

We were situated on a ridge just above the Arkansas River, but we found that the trees were so thick we couldn't even see the river behind us. We were excited about the possibilities of strolling along the river. But we found that the walk to the water was steep and precarious, and we wouldn't do that but once. But our camp site served us well during our month-long stay.

We got the motor home set up with the slides out and the full-hookups connected. Then we hurried into the nearest town--Buena Vista, Colorado. This town is known for its wide variety of activities, and a free concert was scheduled in the park at 6:00. A singer from a nearby town was singing and playing the guitar, and a big crowd showed up for the concert. There were even two wanderers that had just arrived to town, and they were dancing in the grass.

On the first morning of our month-long stay near Buena Vista, Colorado, we were ready for a hike. We could gaze upon a line of 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation) across the highway from us. We had made a list of hikes in the area, but we found that the elevation gain to get on top of any of those 14ers was a little frightening. While Denisa tries to limit us to hikes with 1,000 feet of elevation gain or less, we were seeing the summit hikes around here have over 4,000 feet. Yikes! But this  first day we were taking an acclimation hike to help us get used to this altitude. On our gravel road drive to the trail head, we could see a row of 14ers to our left--Mt. Shavano, Tabeguache Peak, and Mt. Antero.

To our left was one of the most imposing 14ers--Mt. Princeton. This massive mountain houses the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort at its base. There are twelve 14ers in this county, the most anywhere. 

Our destination this day was the trail-head for one of the easier trails in this area. We were hiking through the aspens to Browns Creek Waterfall.

Once we were out of the trees, we had great views of the towering mountains that encircled us.

Most of today's hike was part of the longer Colorado Trail. This 469-mile-long trail stretches from Denver in the northeast to Durango in the southwest part of the state. 

While the wildflowers weren't as abundant as in Wyoming, Denisa couldn't resist a picture of the Scarlet Galia along the trail.

We would cross Browns Creek several times on the hike, and we were glad for bridges and stepping stones to keep our feet dry. We met an early-morning hiker that reported seeing two moose at the waterfall, so we turned on the speed in hopes of seeing them too.

Sometimes we wish that we didn't get moose-sighting reports from hikers we meet. The moose were gone by the time we arrived. We were beginning to think that Colorado moose were just a fairy tale. But we weren't disappointed by our destination--Browns Creek Waterfall.

Mark climbed down the falls to take a picture of Denisa standing beside the waterfall . . .

and then jumped over the falls and climbed up for another angle of the waterfall. We chose a lesser-used trail back to the pickup to make the hike into a loop.

At 7.2 miles and 1,119 feet in elevation gain, it was a good acclimation hike for this new area. When we got back to the motorhome, we got the piano out of its storage spot. This is something that we rarely have time to do with our shorter stays. After a safe drive and a nice acclimation hike, it felt good to be settled in one location for a while.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

We Survived Kayaking the Colorado River!

We're way behind in getting travel posts published because we were having way too much fun traveling! So we won't be confused about when each "wandering" happened, we'll start each blog with its actual date.

July 26, 2023

We were still in Kremmling, Colorado, probably best known for its proximity to some of the best rafting on the Colorado River. After our drive down Trough Road two days ago to check out the put-in and take-out spots on the river, we were prepared for our kayaking adventure.

The water was flowing at a rate of 1130 cubic feet per second, and the water temperature was a chilly 55 degrees. The warning sign at the Pump House Recreation Area warned that water flows were high, with rapids and "raft flipping holes at eye of the needle and Yarmony." Okay, we have been warned. According to another sign, the river was flowing at a rate that requires an intermediate skill. Denisa prefers beginner-skill rivers, but she found that Mark's preference was more toward the expert range.

We were ready to enter the river at 9:00, which is earlier than most float trips start. But we had seen the forecast for afternoon rain storms, and we didn't want to get wet. You'll notice one difference in the picture below. Most pre-kayaking pictures include a life jacket that is loosely draped over the shoulders with no buckles buckled. Mark insisted that Denisa's life jacket was cinched up tight and with all three latches buckled. Why was he being so careful with our kayaking gear this morning?

Even though the current was high for this time of the year, the water looked pretty smooth at our put-in spot at the Pump House. 

We had beautiful blue skies as we started our ten-mile journey down the river.

We shared the river canyon with the train tracks. A long line of oil tanker cars passed by, and then disappeared into the tunnel.

Soon, our placid water turned into rapids, and we weren't taking pictures for a while. Wow! That stretch of river was the toughest we have ever gone through in our inflatable kayak! The water was coming over the bow as we struggled to keep the boat straight and not bump into the boulders through the fastest water. It wasn't until the water calmed down again that Denisa could get the camera back out to get a shot of the rising walls of the canyon.

Remember that chilly 55 degree water? We were now wet and sitting in it. We can confirm that our Sea Eagle kayak can float the weight of two adults, plus an entire boat-load of river water. Denisa was completely drenched in the front of the boat.

Mark's view from the back of the boat was also soggy. We stopped by the side of the river to dump the water out before we continued.

We're not sure why we went to the trouble of dumping the water, because we were entering the narrowest part of the canyon--the eye of the needle. Narrow means that the flow of the water quickened as it was forced into a smaller space. It was time to put the camera away again!

We made another stop to empty out the water. While Mark was getting wet in the back of the boat, Denisa was wet from head to foot in the front. She was beginning to understand why Mark insisted our life jackets were tightly buckled. She had to giggle that this morning we were worried about getting caught in the rain and getting wet

Mark's seat was floating when he got out. We've never had this much water inside the boat!

Now that we had survived several series of rapids, we decided to try to take some pictures. We left our good camera and our cell phones at home for this soggy trip. But we did bring an old phone along, attached to a strap that we could tie onto our life jacket. Denisa tried to hold the phone steady as we started through some rapids.

As you can see from the pictures, the nose of the kayak was very often below the water as the rapids forced it downward.

As quickly as the current was taking us down-stream, we were still passed by another train.

Our next landmark was the canyon that is home to Radium Hot Springs.

We had read about a hike down to the hot springs at the edge of the Colorado River. We almost kayaked right past the springs without noticing them, as they were hidden at the foot of the canyon walls.

When we zoomed in, we could see the heads of a couple guys soaking in the hot water. They were inside the rock-lined natural hot springs at the edge of the 55-degree river water.

It's hard to tell the scale of things from a picture, but the rock walls soared high above us as we entered the hot springs area of the Colorado River. All along this river we felt like we had wandered into God's wonders.

We saw our first boat of the morning as we floated past the cliff jump. This group had a guide in their raft, and he led them up the slippery rock to the top of the cliff.

We watched as they jumped into the cold water below.

We continued down the river at a pretty fast pace. The riffles let us know when to expect faster currents and perhaps more water inside the boat.

At other times, it almost felt like the river had turned into a lake. We even had to dip our oars into the the water and row a couple times.

Without the good camera on board, we were limited to old cell phone technology that just couldn't get a clear wildlife picture. But we saw lots of birds along the river. We found ducks, geese, and herons.

Even though the pictures were blurry, Denisa would take them anyway. We saw this group of magpies on a rock in the river, and they didn't bother to fly away as we floated by them.

We were really wishing for our good camera when we floated right under an eagle perched in a tree at the side of the river.

We made another stop to dump the water out of the kayak, and we were glad that it was warming up a bit. We've been wet and sitting in water all morning, so the July sunshine felt good to us.

By this time, we had gotten used to the exhilaration of going through the rapids. We had taken so many pictures that the old phone was running out of battery. So we took fewer pictures on the second half of the journey down the river.

After seeing a couple freight trains, we were passed by the passenger Amtrak train. One kayaker told us that it was customary to moon the Amtrak train as it went by. 

But we will report that only the sun was shining in our kayak as the train went by. Besides trains, we were being chased by a wall of clouds that was building up over the foothills around us.

The bank of clouds was turning an ominous shade of gray, as we came to the end of our ten-mile adventure.

We arrived at our take-out spot at Rancho del Rio at 12:15. We dumped the water out of the kayak for the last time, and started drying out the boat--and everything that was in it. Even though we had a couple bags tied onto our boat, we discovered that our picnic lunch had managed to float out during one of the many encounters with rapids. 

We were hoping that we could get the boat dry before the rain started and got it wet again. We paid $50 for the folks at Rancho del Rio to drive our pickup the eleven miles from Pump House (where we put the kayak into the water) to their take-out spot at their "resort." Our pickup was guaranteed to arrive by 1:00. But it was a little late, and we were a little early. The owner of the little river resort was surprised to see that anyone had already finished the river trip this early in the day. He thought we made record time. But we were glad we started early to avoid the incoming storm.

It was an adventure! Now Denisa understands why Mark made her tighten up her life preserver before we started. He had read some detailed warning about this day's adventure. This was serious white water rafting and we had maneuvered through it on our own! We loaded up the kayak and drove back to our campground in Kremmling, where the aspens were still staring at us. This little town has been a great stop for us to wander more of God's wonders, and we survived kayaking the Colorado River!