Ice Castles

Somebody has figured out how to make icicles and fuse them together to make walls and towers and other formations. The company looks for places— Minnesota, Utah, Alberta—where it stays cold long enough to build a castle. This year, the baseball field in Dillon, Colorado, was chosen. That castle opened in late December. When I saw that tickets were only on sale until Valentines Day, we jumped and bought two for 6:00 pm on the Sunday before. 

It turned out to be a really lousy day for us to go. I had a toothache that radiated into and intense headache, and Sally was busy studying for a test connected to a job application. We left home at 2:00 because I know traffic can be horrific on I-70. It was—but not on the westbound lanes. We got to Dillon by 4:00. We drove around town for a bit looking for restaurants and settled on Pug Ryan’s. We both got the shepherds pie, which was tasty, but neither of us were really in the mood for a relaxing dinner. 

I stalked the parking spots by the Ice Castles until I found a space right by the entrance to the castles. The sun was still out, and we had an hour to wait. I walked around the outside and took photos. 

We sat in our car until 5:45, watching the line of people waiting to get in. It seemed like a lot more people than could comfortably fit. When we got in the line, however, it moved faster than we expected. When we got inside shortly after 6:00, it was dark and the lights built into the walls were casting a colorful glow.

I’ll let the pictures tell most of the story. It was near impossible to take photos without people in them, so I didn’t try. I had my point-and-shoot camera and held it as steady as I could. The photos came out better than I expected. 

Sally waving through an ice window.

The fountain, such as it was.

The colors in this section of wall  (below) were more varied and changed more frequently than those other places. We were in line behind a young couple who were discussing how they didn’t want to give their expensive camera to just anyone. I volunteered to take their photo in exchange for them taking ours. They jumped on the offer.

I decided I wanted the whole experience, so I got in line for the ice slide. It took about 15 minutes to get to the top. I was given a small sheet of plastic to sit on, but quickly found out that positioning my body in the entrance to the slide, arranging to sit on the plastic, and holding my phone so that I could take a video was a challenge. I started down the slide with only half my behind on the piece. I got about a third of the way down and came to a halt. I managed to reposition myself and restart my camera before things got too embarrassing. Even so, it was fun and worth doing once.

And here’s a mashup of clips I took during our visit.

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ProRodeo Hall of Fame

My family had an annual tradition of visiting the International Livestock Exposition and Rodeo in Chicago on the day after Thanksgiving. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a rodeo, but I have fond memories.

I knew the rodeo HOF was in Colorado Springs, but I also knew it wouldn’t be terribly exciting and that Sally probably wouldn’t want to go—so I saved it for a bad-weather day. Saturday dawned snowy and messy with more snow promised later.

I was the only car in the lot when I arrived. I mentioned to the woman who sold me my entrance ticket that I’d picked the right day if I didn’t like crowds. She told me she’d just been on the phone with her boss who had told her to close up at 1:00 if nobody came.  A few other people came by while I was there, but not many. The snow came down hard shortly after I left, so I’m guessing it closed early.

There were two floors. The top one contained a small museum of rodeo equipment—saddles, bridles, cowboy hats, etc.—and explained the history of each.

The main floor was the hall of fame, with display cases filled with plaques for each member along with memorabilia and equipment for each. Members included athletes, behind-the-scenes personnel, clowns, animals, and even a handful of entire rodeos. I was surprised at how many members there were, but who am I to judge.

One of two or three members I’d actually heard of.

The courtyard was lined with sculptures. There was also an arena where they demonstrate rodeo events in the summer. They also keep retired rodeo animals out there, but the woman at the desk said they move them elsewhere in the winter because of danger from bears and mountain lions. This in the middle of Colorado Springs, remember.

I spotted this photo in the history section. I don’t know of any relatives who liked to bit the lips of steers, but there’s probably a lot about my relatives I don’t know.

I got into a conversation with the desk woman on my way out. She had relatives in Chicagoland. She tried hard to convince me to visit frequently, but I doubt I will. She did inspire me to see one of the local rodeo, however.

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Not a Western Screech-Owl

A Western Screech-Owl, a would-be lifer, was discovered hanging out in a cottonwood tree in southern El Paso County, at a regional park called Clear Springs Ranch. It was first seen on the last Sunday in January, but by the time I’d heard about it, the work week had begun. I had to wait patiently for five agonizing days as reports and photos kept showing up on my computer. 

Finally, Saturday came along. I knew screech-owls like to perch in the sun on winter days, so I decided to go to Fountain Creek first—until the sun got warm. I spent about two hours there, seeing all the usual suspects. The highlight was a Sharp-shinned Hawk that scattered all the little birds by the feeders in front of the visitor center. It landed in a small evergreen and scanned for prey, paying no attention to me taking photos 20 feet away.

Around 10:00, I left Fountain Creek. As I was pulling out of the drive, I noticed that the sky to the south and west was dark gray. I grabbed some food at Culver’s, then headed for Clear Springs Ranch.  I’d never been there before and didn’t know what to expect. It’s located at exit 123 along with almost nothing else. The exit sign is empty except for the numbers. At the bottom of the ramp, I had two options—continue straight to get back on the interstate or turn left and pass under the highway through a one-way tunnel. (“Honk your horn before entering.”) The rutted dirt road skirted a horse farm and headed east. I had no idea what I would find, but at the end of the drive there was a large parking lot, a picnic shelter, and an outhouse. Two other cars were parked in the lot.

As I got out of my car, I noticed that the blue skies and warm weather had entirely disappeared. I knew this considerably lessened my chances of seeing the owl, but since I was there … I had a close-up photo of the owl in the hole where it was being seen.

Further directions weren’t given because the birding community doesn’t like to give out the location of owls because then too many people go to see them and they, supposedly, get stressed. My strategy was to walk slowly and look at every cottonwood until I found that hole. I quickly realized this was a poor strategy. There were a lot of cottonwoods. A very lot of cottonwoods. Another car pulled into the lot and two birders got out. They were walking the path behind me so I slowed my pace and allowed them to catch up.

I asked if they knew where the owl was being seen. They did. The husband had seen it the day before and was bringing his wife to show her. I fell into step alongside them, and we discussed our chances. They weren’t good. The weather had turned decidedly murky. Miserable even. With the overcast skies and the wind and the dropping temperatures and a higher-than-usual humidity, it felt like a Chicago winter. After a walk of about half a miles, the guy showed us the tree. That was the spot, but no owl.

The introduced themselves and wished me luck and left. I walked the trails for another hour, just to see what the place was like. It was like cold and windy.

Monday was a sunny, warm day and the owl was back on its perch. I could see on eBird that the couple I’d met on Saturday had seen it. I was happy for them. Kinda.

I have days off to use, and at this point a good chance at a lifer is a worthwhile expenditure. The forecast for Tuesday was partly cloudy and warm. I drove Sally to work and headed south. It looked and felt like Saturday—gray and windy with some snow in the air. I seriously considered turning around and going to work. But way in the south I could see a belt of clear sky, and weather systems move fast out here. The forecast was still calling for sun by mid-morning.

I had Clear Springs to myself. It’s a typical western river, with cottonwoods lining the banks and the hills of the eastern Colorado prairies visible just beyond.

There was quite a bit of frost on everything. Except for the section between the parking lot and where the owl had been seen, the paths were covered snow with no human footprints.

I say human, because there were lots of other footprints. I had a good time observing them and trying to figure out what had happened. For example, at this point, a deer had decided to change directions, perhaps because of the mouse that ran across the path in front of it, or maybe even because of me, although I hadn’t seen it. 

This spot, however, had me stumped. I should have figured it out, but I didn’t.

At least I didn’t until I’d walked on a little further and saw this. 

Two Wild Turkeys high up in a tree. 

The tracks, I’m sure, had been made by them, and if the tom was displaying like he was in the tree, that explains the streaks made by a wing. I tried to move around to get better light without flushing them, but it didn’t work.

I could see that the sun was trying to poke through, but it wasn’t in a hurry. I walked back toward the owl tree. Along the way I saw a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds, my first for Colorado, and a smattering of other things. But there was still no owl. I hung out in the immediate area for another hour. The sun did break through and it got much warmer, but I decided it wasn’t worth an entire day off, so I left and went to work.

Update: The owl wasn’t reported by anyone else on Tuesday, or, in fact, on any day until the 13th—the following Tuesday. But it’s almost certainly still in the area. One of these sunny days, I hope.

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Blue Pan Pizza

I discovered Blue Pan Detroit Style Pizza online during my ongoing search for decent pizza in Colorado. It’s located about two miles from the Nature & Science Museum. All I knew about it is that the pizza is cooked in pans that were brought to Denver from Detroit.

The dining area was small and packed—mostly due to some kid’s birthday party that took up half the seats. We sat at a tiny table for two stuck between two tables for four that were just inches away. You can see Sally at our table in this photo.

Our server was very friendly. I asked her which pizza was the most authentic, and she recommended the Brooklyn Bridge. I thought that was a bit odd for Detroit-style pizza, but I figured she knew of what she spoke.


1ST PLACE INTERNATIONAL PIZZA CHALLENGE 2014 (TRADITIONAL DIVISION) Mozzarella and Brick Cheese/Pizza Sauce/Creamy NY Ricotta/Natural Casing Pepperoni/Italian Sausage/Chopped Garlic/Sicilian Oregano/Pecorino Romano Cheese


It was delicious—lighter than Chicago-style, but zesty, with a good blend of flavors. We’d started with salad and garlic bread, so we only made it halfway through our pizza, but we’d expected to take some home.

We somehow switched servers halfway through our meal. The second one was also very friendly. As she was boxing our pizza, she asked us how we’d liked it. I said that we were just disappointed by the color of the pan. She laughed and told us the story. Apparently the pizza are baked in (unused, she hastened to add) auto parts—oil pans, I’m guessing. She pointed to a pile of them on a shelf above the bar.

So, not blue, but blue steel. Anyway, the pizza was great and we would go back in a second.

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