Saturday, June 27, 2020
Tom is battling an on-and-off again infection that is decidedly “on” the last few days. He has been on a powerful antibiotic but it seems to be giving up the fight. Even with afternoon naps he is functioning at less than 60%, and this morning we figured it is time to declare a truce and head for home.
We enjoyed the drive through a portion of Custer State Park (saw a lone buffalo) and headed straight for I-90 East, to I-25 South, to I-80 East . . . and from there it was a straight shot to Chicago, and then home. We drove the 1,200 miles in two days, and Tom even let me drive a little! We were home Sunday, 5:00 p.m.
We can’t feel too bad about this sudden trip home, because we had a great two weeks and a really special time in the Rocky Mountains. It’s time to get to the bottom of Tom’s ongoing infection, and get rid of it once and for all.
Thursday, June 25
Bright sunshine wakes us up every morning . . . at 6:30! This is our last day in Rocky Mts and the plan was to drive the northern-most Park road to the Fall River Visitor Center and beyond. To fuel up for the day, we cooked hash and eggs – inside the camper. As this was mostly a driving tour, we took the dogs with us.
We left Moraine Park and did a quick side trip back to the Upper Beaver Meadows. Then back to the main road, turning off at Deer Ridge Junction and heading straight north to the Fall River Road. We took that back as far as it was open to the Alluvial Fan, where a flood had torn through in the 1980’s. At that point the Old Fall River Road (which is a dirt road) was closed.
Turning around we came to the Fall River Visitor Center – just inside the city limits of Estes Park. They had a beautiful store and I selected a pair of cute little pinecone earrings as a Rocky Mt. memory. We had carryout for lunch, and then repeated the same trip back to our Moraine Park campground. Pulling in, just after noon, we figured this would be our last trip around the park.
There is a certain amount of clean-up that needs to be done after 5 days in one place without hook-up. We relished that tomorrow we would be heading eastward toward South Dakota and our favorite Custer State Park area.
Wednesday, June 24
We knew if we wanted to hike the Bear Lake trail, we would have to get to the parking lot before 9:00 when it usually filled up! At 7:30 we left, arriving in plenty of time to score a parking space. We have a lovely framed picture of Tom with his mother and sister Becky sitting on a rock with Bear Lake and the mountains in the background. The picture was taken 60 years ago! We were anxious to see if we could identify the location of the picture! Needless to say, there were lots of rocks with the lake and mountains in the background.
I won’t try to describe the lovely hike – here are the pictures.
Heading back down the mountain, we stopped at Sprague Lake for our second hike. It was picturesque because a fly fisher/teacher had all of his students spread out in the shallows of the lake for instructions. By now the temperature was mid 60’s and the weather was lovely. Again, I will let the pictures do the talking.
We stopped to pick up the dogs at the camper – so sad that dogs are not allowed on any of the trails! We took them into Estes Park where we checked our electronic communications, shopped a couple stores, and ate lunch on an outdoor patio. Smokin Dave’s BBQ was so delicious, that we ordered up a mess of buffalo ribs baked in blackberry BBQ sauce to bring back for tonight’s supper.
Every afternoon storm clouds move in, accompanied by thunder, occasional lightning in the far-off distance, and sometimes, rain. There is usually more bark than bite to the storm, and we have taken to pulling out the awning and sitting under it as the storm passes. I don’t think we have ever enjoyed as much leisurely time in a campsite as we have here!
Tuesday, June 23
Our adventure today was to drive the famous Trail Ridge Road. The road is legendary in both our minds from trips as children and as a trip with our kids over 30 years ago. Tom was prepared for the white-knuckle drive, having driven The Road to the Sun last year, and Mt. Washington the year before.
The road navigates three distinctive ecosystems: Montane (below 9,000 feet), Subalpine (9,000-11,000 feet) and Alpine (above 11,400 feet.) Our highest elevation reached was 12,183 feet. There were lots of twists and turns and ups and down, and many places to pull over for pictures. I won’t try to describe – just show the pictures.
As we have been encamped at Rocky Mt National Park, we are slowly gathering information about the Covid impact on the park. The park is operating at 55% capacity, and only those with a camping reservation permit, or those with a reservation to enter the park, are allowed to enter. Visitor Centers are closed and all park employees are wearing masks and setting up information stations outside of the visitor centers. With a self-contained home and masks we are able to follow standard quarantine procedures. We have not gone out to eat, have and will make a few excursions into grocery stores to stock up food, and feel that we are keeping just about as safe as if we were at home.
Monday, June 22
Our first day to wake up in the Rocky Mountains; blue sky, sunny and high 40’s! Tom took the dogs for a long walk and then we fixed coffee in the French Press and ate breakfast.
By 8:00 we were on the Bear Lake Road traveling that short, 10-mile drive back to Bear Lake. There were many stop-offs along the way (Hollowell Park, Glacier Basin, and Sprague Lake), but we quickly found that dogs were not allowed out of the parking lot and on the trails. Truth to tell, Tom’s infection and my hurtin’ toe, were not quite ready for hikes, yet. And, the Bear Lake parking lot was full, and we were turned away! So we called it a drive to scope out the possibilities for another day, and learned the lesson that we would need to get an early start.
We dropped the dogs off at the Silvermine and drove 3 miles in to the Visitor Center. All exhibits were closed – but the all-important gift shop rendered up a hat for Tom and a flour sack towel and ornament (for a basket base) for me. This resulted in having to go through Check-Point-Charlie again – a 20 minute wait. For lunch we dug out the red copper pie irons and made toasted cheese/ham sandwiches. Afternoon was resting, reading, coiling (pine needle baskets) and otherwise indulging in the perfect weather and the campsite!
Sunday, June 21
We woke up to a pressing issue. Tom had not been feeling well yesterday and discovered the reason why this morning. He has had a recurring cellulitis over the years, recently cropping up more frequently. The good news is that it responds to a powerful antibiotic, and he had a refill of the medicine. The bad news is that there was not a CVS pharmacy in Estes Park. The good news was that there was a CVS in the little town of Longmont 31 miles away. How did we ever used to accomplish a scenario like this without cell phones and apps and gps??
It was a beautiful drive back down out of the high mountains into the foothills below to the little town. By 9:30 we were back on our way to the Silvermine where we would beat the 11:00 deadline for check-out before heading for the National Park. There was even enough time for a shower!!
Promptly at 11:02 we left the campground for the Rocky Mt. National Park campground – just 5 miles away. Check-out there was not until noon, and when drove up to our site, it was still occupied. We headed back out of the campground and found a nice place to pull over and fix lunch. We sat in lawn chairs and admired the view of the mountains behind the parked rig. When we returned to our campsite at 12:20 – it was vacated and ready for us.
A bit of a mishap as Tom pulled the stinger out of the hitch. I had put the drill on top of the propane tank cover, and when the truck jerked a bit, it fell off . . . on my toes! I was in sandals! Lesson learned. Our site has lots of pine trees and pine cones laying all around. It has a distinctive and flavorful nice piney smell; I took many pictures of our campsite.
Then I followed a path up the little hill behind our campground that leads to a trail along a ridge. One side overlooked a large meadow backed by mountains, and the other side was a birds-eye view of our campsite. The sky was a bit overcast, there was a slight occasional breeze, and the temperature was 63 and warming by the minute.
Settling into our campsite was pretty much it for the day. Tom’s “condition” knocked him out while the antibiotic kicked in, and my pulverized toe wasn’t up for much walking. At 3:00 the sky got very grey and rain and thunder moved in. We reconciled to cook inside the Silvermine tonight . . . egg sandwiches. As I look around the campground at all the small pup tents and the couples with young kids, I find the inside of the Silvermine very spacious, with all the comforts we need. Even the rain on the windows was cozy.
The parting shot is pictures of our little travel buddies, Jasper and Charlie. Confession: on this trip I have pretty much completely forgone the “real” camera, and am using only the camera in my (new) iPhone 11+. There are actually three cameras, and what it can accomplish with close-ups and wide-angles is a lot of fun. I know – I am one of the last ones to go that way!
Saturday, June 20, 2020
Excited to get to Rocky Mountains National Park, we were up at 6:00 and off by 7:00. Tom filled the fresh water and emptied the grey/black water so that we’re starting out full/empty for the next 5 days. We had less than 300 miles to make today in three states: Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado. The surroundings began somewhat flat, and then became more rolling with definite mountains in the distance.
Today’s drive brings back many memories of the trip to drop off/pick up Caleb at Ft. Collins, CO where he completed an Internship in 2010. Tom and I made the trip twice, and Sister Johanna and I also made a trip out just to visit him. In addition, we went right through Loveland where the 2020 International Airstream Rally was to have been held – cancelled due to Coronovirus!
As we turned away from Interstate 25, our route took us through Thompson’s Pass -- a 35 mile stretch of rocky canyon and fast mountain river, with many twists and turns. And just like that – we were in the Rocky mountains!
We reached the town of Estes Park, gateway to the Rocky Mt National Park, at 11:30 and hit a grocery to stock up before entering the park. (No entry to the store without a mask!) We ate a quick sandwich and followed the signs towards the park.
Admittance to the park is ONLY if you have camping reservations or a pre registered visit pass; the line was very long at the check-point where they turned you around if you didn’t have your papers! We were admitted, and the campground was just 3 miles past that.
This next part of the story is a big UH-OH! We made it all the way to Moraine Campground . . . just to find that our reservation didn’t start until tomorrow! With the campground full there was no choice but to head back to Estes Park and hope we could score a campground! (On a Saturday night, just down the road from Rocky Mts. National Park!) We did – at the Elk Meadow RV Resort – a sandy, gravely, dusty uphill road with pull-throughs cut close together. It has all of the amenities/hook-ups – for $70/night – but it just isn’t pretty! On the positive side, it would afford us the opportunity to check out the town of Estes Park!
Estes Park is headquarters to the Rocky Mts. National Park, and has a population under 6,000. You would never know that because it has new construction, shopping, hotels, restaurants, plazas, and attractions, making it look like a big-city town. Although I shopped the downtown district several times just 10 years ago, nothing is as I remember it! I would compare it to Gatlinburg!
Late afternoon we walked the streets in masks, and went into a few stores . . . bought nothing!
On the way back to our campground we stopped at Smokin Dave’s BBQ hoping to pick up some buffalo smoked ribs to take back to the camper. It was too busy and carry-out orders didn’t seem to be a priority! Back at the Silvermine I cooked a chicken breast and cooled it in the freezer and used it to make a large chef salad! Perfect. Tomorrow we look forward to moving into our campsite in the Rocky Mountains National Park!
Friday, June 19
Tom woke up (or, Jasper woke Tom up) at 5:30 to go outside. It was a good move because the rain was just beginning, and Tom walked the dogs and then went back to bed. We had a slow morning, and by 9:00 the rain was mostly over, and the day was predicted to be cool with another brief chance or afternoon rain. With this in mind, we headed out for Chimney Rock.
Chimney Rock is one of the most recognizable landmarks for the pioneers and a symbol of western migration. It is a natural spire formed from erosion, and it sits on a large base. It looks much today as it did when the wagon trains trundled past!
There is a visitor center, but it was closed for remodeling. There were no trails leading up to the base of the Chimney Rock, and once we braved the sidewalks (many snake warnings) bordering the parking lot we continued on our way.
Thirty miles down the road, looming 800 feet above the North Platte River, and covering 3,000 acres, Scotts Bluff National Monument showcases another grand landmark for pioneers on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. Even though it is an obvious consequence of weathering, the area seems timeless. It loomed huge in the distance as we drove the final stretch of backroad to the entrance of the park.
The Visitor's Center was not open, but the 1.6 mile saddleback trail, and the considerably longer and winding auto road to the top were. We drove!
On top, there were trails leading to the South Overlook and the North Overlook. Below we could see the Visitor Center, the Saddleback trail with people on it, small communities, and all of the surrounding area. It was just stunning. The sky was cloudy, the temperature was about 62, and there was a very stiff breeze.
Our next destination was across the border (Nebraska to Wyoming) to Fort Laramie. As we read about it, it seemed that there would be a lot to do – Visitor Center, a lot of bygone buildings, historical video, hiking trails and a phone audio tour. The closer we got, the closer the afternoon promised rainstorm came towards us. Only now it was not just a rainstorm – it was a pounding thunderstorm with temperature of 52, dark skies, winds, thunder, lighting and hard rain. When we reached the parking lot, it appeared that the whole place was shut down! In the backseat of the truck we had two petrified doggies, and there seemed only one thing to do – go back to the Silvermine.
Back by 4:00, I did a cleaning of the inside of the trailer while Tom ran one load of laundry; we’re preparing for 5 days of boondocking in the Rocky Mountains National Park!
Thursday, June 18
Our goal today: 276 miles to our first two-night stop-over and certified sightseeing sites that are part of the National Parks system -- Courthouse and Jail Rocks and Scott’s Bluff! Nebraska is flat again as we parallel the famous North Platte River that led the pioneers on their westward trek. But the vegetation/landscape is different, and there is more cattle grazing as well as the crops. Indeed, we’re not in Ohio anymore, Tom!
At 10:00 we were forced off of I-80 by waving flagmen, and a slow convoy of trucks, RV’s, and cars completed a 360-degree circle to reroute onto US Route 30 . . . which continued west. Surprisingly, the west-bound lane of Route 30 was closed off for repaving, and we traveled in the east-bound lane. I don’t know what east-bound 30 traffic did! After 8 miles (and 40 minutes!) we were channeled back onto I-80! I guess we’ll never know what the redirect was about, but it seemed to not have been planned in advance.
When we turned off of I-80 for Nebraska Route 26, as did the Platte River, the scenery took a sweeping transformation; the patchwork green of the fields became equally tan and sage green with increasing scrub trees joining the forestry along the river and streams. Another noticeable change was the weather – about 20 degrees cooler than yesterday! It was nice to be off the interstate and traveling deeper in the countryside.
With the help of another time change, we reached our destination before 1:00. In western Nebraska, where landscape is starting to look like semi-desert, a little green roadside campground can make for a great stopover. One strip of old-style motel rooms and one strip of RV pads – complete with full hook-ups.
The little town of Bridgeport is proud to host the first prominent landmarks on the transcontinental journey west that pioneers on the Mormon, California, and Oregon overland trails passed. Although they have gone by many names, by 1840 most people referred to them as Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock. Truly out in the middle of nowhere they can be seen from miles away. They are a part of the National Park system, but that accounts only for a sign on Nebraska Highway 88, and a dirt road leading up to them. There are a few benches and a dirt trail that walks up near the base of the rocks. No visitor center! No guided ranger tour! No giftshop! Just these two magnificent rock structures springing up out of the surrounding landscape.
The temperature was so perfect that we cooked outside (steak, roasted potatoes, corn/cob) and sat out with a bottle of our favorite wine until time for showers and books and movies . . . .
My parting shot is a picture of Tom -- after the wine bottle was empty!
Wednesday, June 17
Tom was up early (6:30) to walk the dogs, and I was not far behind. We were in no hurry – but there was no reason to linger after breakfast.
As we continued west on I-80 the scenery gradually changed from the flat fields of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to the undulating landscape and crops of Iowa; it flattened again as we entered Nebraska. Along the way we saw many windmills, reminding us of the wind farm in Van Wert County.
Our destination (284 miles) was Mormon Island State Recreation Area, located right along I-80 at Grand Island. It was named for the winter stopover used by Morman's heading westward. We arrived at 1:00 – more importantly, 94 degrees! Our campsite had beautiful grass, but no shade, and we promptly traded it for one that has sparse grass and more shade. There was very little humidity, and a constant stiff breeze making the heat more bearable. Nonetheless, by 2:00 we retreated inside where the air conditioner was gradually winning the battle!
We remembered the town of Grand Island from when we were here last time – but took a turn around town, anyway. Just as remembered, there were a lot of brewery and pubs (it was hard to tell if they were open) . . . and not much else. We saw no people on the streets – whether to Coronovirus, the spiking 97 degree temperatures, or the fact that there was just nothing there! BTW, US Route 30 - The Lincoln Highway, passes right through the center of town.
Back at the camper, Tom tried to sit out and enjoy the very stiff breeze, but even the breeze was not enough to keep large black flies off of him! Soon, he joined me inside, and we read until time to fix dinner.
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2018 25' Airstream Serenity with Salsa interior and front twin beds., and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown