Beautiful Denver, mountains, dinosaurs to Apr 13

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
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Trip End Mar 15, 2007


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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

PHOTOS TO BE ADDED
It was cold when I left Santa Fe early and headed for Denver. Just about out of Santa Fe we began to climb and climb and climb up and up towards the Sangre de Cristo Range. Still getting more odd red plateaus of red red, red rock through to Las Vegas. The views were magnificent with jet streams - one, two, three, four and more at a time - high, high above.

After that we started climbing, with the Turkey Mountains on the west, towards Raton and the Raton Pass which came in at an ear popping 7,834 feet. I carried on the road passing such places as Pueblo and Colorado Springs. Most of the time the places had a feeling of wide open spaces and very little to stop you. In Colorado Springs it was a bit different as there is a large air force base there (Fort Carson and the US Air Force Academy) and all of a sudden it was like being in a military academy. Speed zones STRICTLY ENFORCED by aircraft. In a two mile area of road I saw 5 police cars giving out tickets. Jets screaming by overhead. Things felt more regimented and I guess they were. You bet I slowed down. The last geographical feature I noted before hitting Denver was Castle Rock, an unusual formation of rock high above a sort of plateau of sand or shale. Reminded me somewhat of part of the Rockies; however, 'way, 'way hotter.

I arrived in Denver about noon and made my way, thanks to some excellent directions by Marjorie, another online friend, to her home. After introducing myself to her, Holland, her dog, and getting my bearings, we had a meal out at Einstein Bros Bagels (why did I not remember that bagels could be so good). Billed as "Darn Good Food", my Country Grilled Cheese Panini (Cheddar, Mozzarella and Provolone with Vine Ripened Tomatoes, Lightly Grilled on Rustic White Bread) was absolutely wonderful. Denver apparently showed off its absolutely best weather during my visit, with temps getting into the high 70s/low 80s (F) during the day. I have used some of Marjorie's notes about my trip as hers are better than mine could ever be.

After picking up some 70 SPF sun screen (yes, it does exist), we headed west to Dinosaur Ridge (www.dinoridge.org) and walked up and around the Dakota Hogback (to give the ridge its official name - means steep narrow ridge) checking out a fault line (the Golden fault), tin mines, dinosaur footprints, fossilized wave ridges, impressions of mangrove trees, and, eventually, dinosaur bones embedded in the rocks.

(Information from sign posts) "Hogbacks form in layered rocks of variable hardness that have been tilted. The softer layers are eroded more rapidly than the more resistant ones leaving the harder layers standing as ridges above the softer rocks in the slopes and intervening valleys. The resistant layer that is the backbone of the Dinosaur ridge is the Dakota Sandstone. About 100 million years ago it was shoreline sand where dinosaurs walked and left their footprints. The sand has since been cemented into the hard resistant sandstone sandwiched between softer sandstones (shale). Beginning about 63 - 70 million years ago, mountain building forces lifted up the rocks to the west, bowing the layered sediments over the mountain core. Since then, erosion has stripped away great thicknesses of overlying rock, exposing the granite and gneiss in the core. The Dakota Hogback, of which Dinosaur Ridge is a part, is an erosional remnant of the upturned layers preserved along the mountain forest. These sandstones, incidentally, also hold vast reserves of oil and gas and run 'way under the city of Denver. "

We also admired the amazing Red Rocks Park, which looks for all the world like a huge theatre stage. (Information from sign posts) "The high mountains to the west are the beginning of the Rocky Mountains. They are made up of resistant Precambrian granite and gneiss. The prominent Red Rocks Park are the Fountain Formation, a series of sandstones and conglomerates that provide evidence of a much older episode of mountain building. That 280 year old mountain range resembled the modern Rocky Mountains, but was eroded completely away before the Morrison Formation was deposited. The modern Rocky Mountains formed about 70 million years ago and tilted the rocks beneath this area."

Unfortunately the visitor centre was closed so I could not pick up a tourist book as I usually do. I will simply have to come back again to see this amazing offering of nature and the Creator.

We then tried to find a circle route back to Denver by going up into the mountains. This took us up a wonderfully scenic drive into the Rocky Mountains, then on to Guanella Pass (http://www.byways.org/browse/byways/2110/), designated a "Scenic
Byway." The road there is a combination of paved and gravel, but her car took it quite well. While there were places I was a bit concerned (like the half mile landslide area and the increasingly wet seepage away from the sides of the road), the drive was basically a nice high mountain afternoon jaunt.

Near the summit of the pass (elevation 11,669 feet/3,557 meters) we made a photo stop. Two mud-spattered SUVs were there already, having come up from the opposite direction - the only other vehicles we saw on the climb. I asked the driver/guide with them whether he thought we should attempt the downhill part. He took one look at the kind of car we'd come up in, blanched visibly, and said "Uhhh...No," so after our picture taking we turned around and headed back down the way we'd come.

By the time we exited the Pass road, it was getting dark and we were hungry, so stopped at a wonderful country inn/tavern (The Plantation Tree) for dinner. The waitress tried to throw a glass of wine at Marjorie; however we moved too fast for her, and escaped with only a few drops on us, though quite a bit on the tablecloth, so we were relocated.

Next morning, we headed to downtown Denver, parked at the Performing
Arts Center and walked up the pedestrian mall to Riverfront Park (the
River in question being the South Platte), then walked to the end of a road trying to figure out what a pole with many guy wires holding it up was all about (couldn't). Then we took the free bus to the opposite end, Civic Center Park, where the state capitol building is at one end and the City/County building at the other. Denver is nice and clean with, for the most part, lovely broad streets. There are some narrower streets in the older section which we drove around. It has a huge civic devotion to The Arts (donates, I think, 1% of its' taxes to them), which, in addition to the very traditional /Bronco Buster /and /On the War Trail
/(http://georgeindenver.blogspot.com/2006/03/bronco-buster.html
and http://georgeindenver.blogspot.com/2006/03/on-war-trail.html)
also includes the unusual /Giant Chair with Horse
(/http://www.savvycenter.com/explorer/roadside/denvhorsechair.htm) and
/The Big Blue Bear /(http://www.denvergov.org/Public_Art_Program/template25444.asp).

We also visited the Episcopal cathedral, St John's in the Wilderness, drove to City Park, and sat awhile in the shade of a tree near the very moving memorial to Dr Martin
Luther King, Jr (http://www.runnersroost.com/4364.html). Lunch was at The Elm, a pub downtown.

That evening, after we had a great thin crust pizza in an Italian restaurant, Marjorie and Holland (the dog) headed off to obedience class and I stayed home to catch up on email and my travel journal. The dog apparently approves very highly of me, because I found exactly the right spot to scratch his head, so that his ears stand out sideways like helicopter blades.

I left Friday morning after a too short and absolutely magnificent time. Marjorie is a wonderful hostess (complimented by Holland). She is a superb tour guide and a very restful and relaxing person to spend time with. She loved showing off her adopted city and state, seeing some favorite places again and finding lots of new things to do again.

Two things I like about Denver a whole bunch: its devotion to the Arts and its love of animals. Dogs are welcome in most places. I hope to come back for more as I think Denver is a very special place. A photo album of my visit is at: http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/mmsmelt/album?.dir=/7f39&.src=ph&.tok=phYj7tEBRVqsTKP
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