Things I Saw and Did in November

Posted in Highlights of the Month | 4 Comments

Manitou Incline

I’ve been aware of the Incline since we moved to Colorado. Almost everyone I talked to had hiked it at least once. I figured it was something I needed to do sometime, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. I was reminded of it every time I looked up at Pikes Peak from the south end of town. Here’s a shot from the Siamese Twins at Garden of the Gods. The Incline is that slash through the trees on the mountain in front of Pikes Peak.

The Incline was built as a railroad to take supplies up Pikes Peak, then converted to a tourist attraction. After a rock slide damaged part of the track in 1990, the railroad was shut down. Locals began climbing the old rails, which was technically illegal until 2013 when it became a Colorado Springs attraction.

I happened to mention it to my great-nieces when they visited last summer, and they mentioned it to their parents. So when their family came for Thanksgiving, they said they wanted to do it. I made the reservations—necessary because Manitou Springs wants to control how many people climb it (but mostly because they want to force everyone to pay for parking). We drove over the day before Thanksgiving. My daughter and son-in-law came along. We took a shuttle bus to the base of the Incline.

This is not a hike for wimps. Since we’ve lived in Colorado, I’ve heard of several people who have died of heart attacks on the way up.

I knew I wasn’t going to set any records—probably not even for slowest ascent. Within the first few feet, most of my family was out ahead of me. My daughter and I stuck together. At first, we were resting every 80 steps, but even that became ambitious when we came to the steeper part.

It snowed for a while as we were climbing, but it didn’t amount t much.

This shot looking down on Manitou Springs give a good idea of how steep it was.

Looking up and down from the false summit. There were still 300 steps to go.

My great-nephew and son-in-law both made it up in about 36 minutes. My nephew was a few minutes behind them. The rest got to the top around the hour mark. My daughter and I were still far below. I was having my usual problems with exerting myself at altitude—dizziness and the feeling of carrying a 20-pound rock in my stomach. But I knew I only had to do this once to be able to say I did it, so I kept going. One thing that made it difficult was the unevenness of the steps. The were slanted in all directions, varying distances apart, and of unequal height. I was unable to get any rhythm going. On the few stretches were they were even—even on a steep bit toward the top—I did much better.

My son-in-law actually came back down to meet us at the false summit and walked back up with us. That was a huge encouragement. When we got about 12 steps from the top, with the family cheering us on, we “sprinted” to the top step. I was feeling fine soon afterwards. We’d hiked it in almost exactly 90 minutes.

We descended on Barr Trail, a hike of three or four miles, depending on where you look for your information. I can’t say I enjoyed the hike, and my ascent certainly wasn’t pretty or swift (I’m not even sure if we spent more time climbing or resting), but I’m glad I did it—once.

I took this shot on the way down.

Posted in Hikes | 1 Comment

Fall Birds

Osprey along the Arkansas River in Lake Pueblo State Park — October 30

Blue-winged Teal, Arkansas River in Lake Pueblo State Park — October 30

Merlin at Chatfield State Park — November 13

Posted in Birds | Leave a comment

Argo Mill and Tunnel

The Argo Mill operated from 1913-1943, milling gold brought in from mines in the region. The tunnel was bored straight back into the hillside for four+ miles and connected along the way with several of the mines. The ore was assessed and purchased by Argo before it was milled. The mill building is largely intact, although much of the heavy equipment was removed during WWII and used for the war effort.

We arrived 45 minutes early for the 11:00 tour, parked, and wandered along Clear Creek for a bit. There were maybe 15 people on our tour. The guide did a good job, although I had a tough time not laughing at his hair—basically a crew cut with a triangle patch of longer hair that originated in the center of his skull and hung forward like bangs. We saw the process backwards. When operating, the ore was brought in at the top, just below where the word “gold” is on the top section of the building. It started as chunks about the size of a loaf of bread. It was fed through presses like this one (the original ones were much larger and no longer exist). The canister-looking things on the bottom of each post crushed the ore to the size of ping-pong balls.

Here’s where the original stamp mills were located.

I’m not as clear about the rest of the process. The smaller chunks were worked down through the mill, using gravity (which is why the building was guilt on a slope). Part of the process was chemical, using mercury and other stuff to separate the gold from the other minerals.

The ore dust was finally sifted on four tables like this. When the tables were shaken, the gold actually went uphill and collected at the top.

The mill make a lot of money, as did the workers. But for them there was a cost. The stamp mill was so loud, they all went deaf within months. Supposedly, the noise could be heard in Golden, 25 miles away.

Various drills can be seen on the wall in the background. Our guide explained how they were used in gold mines to bore into the rock. The process created tons of dust that would coat the miners’ lungs and cause fatal silicosis. Many died withing 6 months. Others, particularly smokers whose lungs were coated with tar, lasted 3 years. Doctors would prescribe cigarettes to miners to prolong their lives. One couple on the tour were wearing masks. The guy (in a way that I perceived to be smug but maybe wasn’t) asked if the miners wore masks. The guide said no, because masks didn’t do any good. The dust simply went in from the sides. By the time we got to the tunnel, the couple had removed their masks and never put them back on.

The tunnel entrance was about 200 yards from the top section of the mill. Here’s a map of all the mines that emptied into it. Idaho Springs and the mill are at the far left. Construction of the tunnel began in 1893. It took 16 years to drill 4.16 miles back into the mountain to connect with close to 100 mines. At the Central City end, the tunnel was 1,300 feet below the surface. Ore was carried out in carts pulled by small electric locomotives. The tunnel sloped down slightly to allow for drainage.

It all ended in 1943 when four miners tried to bore through the tunnel wall to access a flooded mine. The water pressure burst through the wall, killing the four men immediately.  Water burst down the tunnel, sweeping away equipment and flooding the town. For seven hours, a massive flume of water burst out of the tunnel, destroying houses and anything else in its way. The tunnel and mill never reopened. Most of the tunnel is now filled with four feet of toxic sludge. About 50 yards of it have been drained so tours can enter. A vault door keeps the gunk back.

Another great attraction in Idaho Springs is a statue of cartoon character Steve Canyon.

Here’s the plaque at the base of the monument, and you now know as much as I do.

We ate a delicious lunch at Smokin Yards BBQ. It’s my third time eating there and I like their sauce about as well as any I’ve had. We then attempted to wander the streets of downtown, but couldn’t find a parking space and so gave up and went home. The open spots were posted for residents only. All other spots were filled— and cost money. It seems odd to charge people money to shop in your town, but apparently it’s working.

Posted in Historic Buildings, Interesting Buildings, Museums, Tours | Leave a comment

A Week in Arkansas

The family rented a house on Petit Jean Mountain in central Arkansas for a week. On our way down, we stopped in Oklahoma City at The American Pigeon Museum. There were three rooms—one on pigeon breeds, one on the use of homing pigeons by the military, and one on pigeon racing. A lot of the items on display were unexplained, and the explanations on the others were hit-and-miss, but it was an entertaining way to spend an hour and break up a long drive. A few live pigeons were in cages behind the building.

On Sunday, I hiked with my brother-in-law at Mount Nebo State Park. That’s Lake Dardanelle down below.

Here’s the house where we spent the week. I tried not to hang around much, and when I did, I was often outside around the fire pit.

Shortly after we arrived, I wandered across the road into the state park. The house was directly across from the parking lot for Rock House Cave. When I wandered down there on Sunday evening, a choir of young people was giving a gospel music concert deep in the cavern. For various reasons, I suspect they were from a Mennonite church. There were perhaps 30 people in the choir and maybe 10 family members standing around listening.

I walked up the road to track (successfully) two Pileated Woodpeckers I could hear calling. I went off the road into the woods for a better look. I heard a rustling and discovered a large Coyote walking by not 20-yards away with a large … something in its mouth. My best guess is a chicken.

On Monday, I went birding. There wasn’t a lot of activity, but I scrounged up some decent stuff at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, including this Black-throated Green Warbler.

And what I think is a female Painted Bunting (which would be rare this late in the year and eBird hadn’t confirmed it yet).

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I saw several on the wires along Route 155 outside the park.

From Holla Bend I went to Bona Dea Trails, which was even less exciting. I did get a photo of a Great Egret.

On Tuesday, I hiked Seven Hollows Trail with my daughter and son-in-law.

There was no water running in the Grotto (or anywhere else). I’ve never seen the park so dry. I almost had the sense that the mountain was broken.

On Wednesday morning, I got up early and took a three-mile walk on the road that loops around the end of the mountain. I did not see another human until the very end of my hike when I spotted a park maintenance worker emptying garbage cans.

Looking west from the overlook.

The now-choirless Rock House Cave

Later in the morning, I walked the Cedar Creek Trail with family members and then explored Bear Cave. This was the most running water we saw anywhere.

In the afternoon, Some of us went to the Rockefeller automobile museum on the mountain, which I’ve toured at least six times before.

On Thursday, six of us drove up Highway 7 to King’s Bluff. There was almost no water running there either, and the trees weren’t turning much, so it was something of a letdown. We did have an enjoyable lunch at a local spot.

On Friday, my son-in-law and I went birding at Holla Bend and the Dardanelle Dam. It was one of the slowest days I’ve ever had in Arkansas. I suspect the hunters, who were out and about even earlier than we were, chased most of the big birds away. We stopped by Mount Nebo on the way back to the house. This view is looking east. The Arkansas Rive makes an “S” in the right distance. We were surprised at how small Petit Jean Mountain looked in the distance—a slight rise on the horizon on the right half of the photo.

That evening, family came from all over the state for a birthday party at the house.

We drove all the way home on Saturday, even though we took a round-about way so we could see our daughter in Missouri (and had to drive through a blinding rainstorm on the way). We got home a little after 9:00 pm.

We took other hikes and saw other stuff, but I’ve done most of this stuff before and so have only posted photos of things that were new or particularly beautiful.

Posted in Birds, Mammals, Scenery | Leave a comment