Twin Lakes

Sally said she wanted to get away for a weekend, and she wanted to go to Twin Lakes. It took no time at all to convince me. The town of Twin Lakes is tiny, and the lodging options are limited. I found a B&B that overlooked the water and reserved two nights.

We took off on Friday after work. We stopped at Rudy’s BBQ for supper and then drove across South Park as the sun set.

We were a few miles away from our destination at around 8:40 when my phone rang. It was Donna, the woman who owned the B&B. She asked if we were OK. Of course what she really wanted to know is whether we were still coming. When we arrived, she met us at the door. She gave Sally a hug as we walked in, and then proceeded to compliment her on her wrinkle-free complexion.

The name of the B&B was Ores & Mine in reference to the history of the area. There were mining artifacts scattered around. There was a full bar in the dining room, but Donna told us she didn’t have a liquor license so we’d have to bring our own alcohol.

Our room was in the front of the building. We had to walk through our bathroom to get to it. The mining theme was in full play here. Getting around in the room was a challenge—there were  myriad things to trip over or stub a digit on.

Donna told us that her husband John (who has been dead for eight years) was an amazing builder. We could certainly see evidence that somebody had been building and didn’t know when to stop. For example, the view out our window looking over the lake was partially blocked by an ugly fence and an empty shed that “was supposed to be a reading gazebo.” Fine, but why put it in the middle of the view? Donna’s 19-year-old grandson was on hand to help her run the place, but we didn’t see much of him.

It was dark when we arrived, but when we got up in the morning, we saw this.

There was also a small porch off our room with a swinging chair. Both of us spent some time out there on Saturday, reading.

The morning view from our room.

We were the only guests on the first night. Donna made us breakfast in the morning then sat down and chatted with us. She asked where I worked. As soon as I told her, she asked if we’d prayed over breakfast. I had, but I told her I was willing to do it again. She stood up and held our hands, and I thanked the Lord for the food and the beauty of His creation.

We spent Saturday in Leadville and got back to the house around 4:00. Sally read and napped in the room while I took a walk by the lake.

The peak in the middle of the photo is Mount Elbert. At 14,439 feet, it’s the tallest mountain in Colorado. The peak on the right is Mount Massive (14,429 feet). More of Mount Massive is above 14,000 feet than any other peak in North America.

I walked about half a mile to the dam that forms the lakes, then crossed it to the campground on the other side.

I had my binoculars with me, of course, but I didn’t see many birds. I did see an Osprey and this Rock Wren.

Here’s a shot of the B&B from near the dam. That’s our white CRV in the lot.

Donna gave us a tour of the B&B in the evening. There are three rooms downstairs, all of which lacked the explosive devises, sharp tools and rocks that were scattered about our room. The walls in the common areas were lined with display shelves filled with random collections of cultural stuff with an emphasis on Barbie dolls.

Our view on morning two.

A family from Pueblo stayed downstairs on Saturday night. We ate breakfast with them on Sunday morning. The dad was reading the Mueller Report when I arrived, so I whispered to Sally not to bring up politics. We didn’t, but they did. The father had his college-age daughter tell us about a book she’d just read. The topic was gender roles and how women do worse on math tests if they have to identify themselves as women before the test begins and all sorts of goofiness like that. The rest of the family chimed in on how unfair it was. Sally and I listened politely and said little.

I was trying to figure out if they were pushing for a fight because of what had happened at the beginning of the meal. Donna came out again and stood next to me. She announced to the whole table that we were going to pray, and she had us hold hands around the table. Then she told me to pray. I thanked the Lord for the food, the beauty, and the fellowship.

Anyway, we took off right after we’d finished eating. As Donna was checking us out, she gave us both hugs. She told us we were now family and that we had to stop in every time we were in the area, even if we weren’t staying with her. As she was saying all this, she handed me our $402 bill. I wanted to ask if there wasn’t a family discount.

We had a good time, and we liked Donna. The place was clean and comfortable enough. The breakfasts were tasty. Minor negatives were the cluttered room and the partially-blocked view. It was definitely overpriced. But we enjoyed ourselves and weren’t sorry we stayed there.

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Southeastern Colorado

What to do on a Saturday when there’s nothing to do? I drove down to Higbee Canyon south of La Junta, where I’d seen some cool birds last August. Even though I got there much earlier in the day this time, there wasn’t much to see. I did happen upon an old cemetery with gravestones that were apparently hand carved.

I gave up on birding and drove 25 miles or so to cross the border of Baca County in the southwest corner of the state, just so I could color it in on my map. I was tempted to drive another 30 miles into the Oklahoma panhandle, but common sense kicked in just in time. I did find a couple Chihuahuan Ravens on a phone pole.

I stopped for lunch at Lucy’s Tacos in La Junta. The tacos were good, but the guacamole on the chips had the consistency of Elmer’s Glue and had little taste. I also bought a couple Rocky Ford melons at a food stand. On the way back home, I cut north across the Arkansas River into Crowley County. It actually touches El Paso County but I’d never been there because there is nothing there to see. I got home around 4:00 after a very long drive for very few thrills.

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Rocky Mountain Vibes vs. Ogden Raptors

We didn’t see fireworks on the 4th, and Sally needed her fix, so we went to a Friday night Vibes game. We got seats just down the third-base line, which gave us a great angle on the game but also had us looking through a thick portion of the netting around a gate. The Vibes played the Ogden Raptors, the Rookie-Advance affiliate of the Dodgers.

Both team played like Rookie-Advanced—it wasn’t a crisp game by any stretch. Only one of the pitchers was reaching 90 on the pitch clock.

It was a close game until the fourth inning, and then the Raptors ran away with it. They hit three home runs. The game only went seven innings because it was the back half of a double-headed to make up for a rain out the night before. The fireworks weren’t terribly exciting either, but we had a good time and enjoyed the cloudy, pleasant evening.

        

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July Recap

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Cripple Creek Museums

My first afternoon stop was the Cripple Creek District Museum, at the head of main street right next to the railroad depot. The building was the Midland Terminal Depot, built in 1895, when Cripple Creek had a population of 50,000. Three railroads passed through the town then, with an average of 10 trains each day. The building was used as a terminal until 1949.

It’s your basic small town historical museum, filled with old stuff donated by families when Grandpa died.

A map of all the surface claims of the gold mines in the area.

Three or four other buildings were part of the museum, including these two cabins moved here from elsewhere in town. The one on the left (and the inside photo) was owned by a local woman of negotiable affection. The other one was owned by a miner.

The Colorado Trading & Transfer Company building dates from 1894. It is the only frame commercial structure to survive the two fires that swept through the town in 1896.

I drove up the street to the Cripple Creek Jail Museum. The building was used as the Teller County Prison for 90 years, into the 1970s.

The men’s cells were stacked two stories high.

At times they had six prisoners in each cell.

The upper level is supposedly haunted. There was a notebook where I could write down what I experienced. Idiots had written a bunch of stuff about feeling out of breath when they entered. I don’t suppose the elevation of 10,000 feet had anything to do with it.

There was a children’s cell upstairs. The lady who took my money told me there were three reasons children could be locked up.

  1. If they were an orphan, they were locked up until suitable guardians could be found.
  2. If their only parent was in the jail.
  3. Or if they were incorrigible, skipped school, or committed other crimes. The youngest child locked up for his own actions was 6. Children’s sentences were generally about 4 days.

There was some sort of silly history tour going on in the town. I was told there would be a jail break in 15 minutes, so I joined two or three families across the street and waited. While we waited, this was the scene at the jail.

Finally the moment came. When the white tour bus rolled up the street, the convict went inside. The sheriff sat in the chair and pretended to sleep. The convict sneaked outside and down the stairs. The sheriff “woke up” and fired his gun a couple times. The convict ran into the now-parked bus. The sheriff went in after him and took him back across the street to the jail. It was not very exciting.

I made one last stop on my way out of town, at the Cripple Creek Heritage Center. The outside was supposed to look like a mine entrance flanked by buildings representing the look of Cripple Creek before the 1896 fire and afterwards.

Displays on the history of the town and the mines filled the inside. By this time, I was about museumed out, and the info was starting to sound very familiar. I didn’t stay long. They had a model of the Mollie Kathleen Mine that I’d toured in the morning.

A chart/wall that showed the highest peaks on all the continents and Pikes Peak.

And a dinosaur.

Here’s Cripple Creek from the Heritage Center.

I stood at the edge of the lot for a couple minutes and watched an impressive thunderstorm rumble my way.

Cripple Creek has been consumed by casinos. All of the restaurants and most of the buildings are casino-owned. Many of the storefronts sit empty, and the town doesn’t have the feeling of health. There were a lot of tourists, and buses came and went with gamblers from Colorado Springs and Denver, I assume, but it felt dead somehow. Still, it provided enough amusement for a hot mid-summer Saturday.

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Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad

Not much of a story here. I decided to spend the day seeing what there is to see in Cripple Creek. That included a ride on the narrow gauge railroad. I sat in the first of two cars, right behind the engine. Next to me was a family with four kids (more on them later).

My train was pulled by Engine 1.

The track curved up around Cripple Creek, headed into a patch of trees, and ended maybe two miles from the station. The two engineers took turns giving us the history of Cripple Creek and the many gold mines in the area. If the train was stopped, I could understand what they were saying perfectly. If the train was in motion, I couldn’t pick out a single understandable word.

The engineers turned the train around on a side track and back we went the way we’d come. I had held my phone out at one point to take some video. Perhaps five minutes later, the 6ish-year-old boy next to me tapped my shoulder and said, “Mister, you’re not supposed to put your hands or head out of the train.” A few minutes later, he tapped me again to show me a small plastic bag with two pieces of coal “just like the ones they use on the train.” After that he just kicked me a couple times. He didn’t even say goodbye.

Near the station, we pulled off onto a siding so the other train in operation this day could go past. The ride wasn’t an unpleasant experience, and if you happen to be in Cripple Creek, there are worse ways you could spend your time and money. But I wouldn’t recommend a special trip.

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Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine Tour

Mollie Kathleen Gortner lived in Colorado Springs with her husband. Their son Perry surveyed gold mining claims in Cripple Creek. When Mollie visited in the fall of 1891, Perry told her where she could see a large herd of elk at the head of Poverty Gulch. Mollie hiked up the hill and sat on a rock. She noticed gold ore in a nearby rock formation and sneaked down to town to make a claim.

Poverty Gulch (below) where gold was first discovered in the Cripple Creek region. Active surface mining is still going on at the top of the hill. We were told that much more gold still lies underground, so when surface mining is no longer worth the effort, mining companies will go back down.

Mollie’s mine was in operation until 1961 when the local ore mill closed. Almost from the very beginning, the mine offered tours. The current operators have blasted some new tunnels to create a looped path on the level 1,000 feet below the surface. They’ve also added air compressors so the guides can demonstrate equipment.

The Mollie Kathleen Mine from across the road.

We descended into the mine in two skips (think “elevator cages”) Each skip is about the size of a phone booth with a sliding door. I was squeezed into a skip with four other people. I was by far the skinniest. One woman weighed at least 400 pounds, and I can truly say I’ve been closer to her than I have to all but about eight people in the whole world. Because we were in the top skip, we first rode up about 10 feet so the lower skip could load with four adults, a young girl, and the guide. The trip to the bottom level lasted about four minutes. The bottom skip unloaded first, so our sardine experience lasted three or four minutes longer than their ride. I didn’t enjoy the extra time.

Our guide was a miner back in the 1970s. He knew his stuff and made it interesting. He also included several jokes, but he had to tell us he was being funny almost every time because none of them were.

The rest of the people on the tour got more of a kick out of me. We each had hardhats on. I put mine on over my hat, which probably isn’t the intended way to wear it, but otherwise it was very uncomfortable. Not long into the tour, I looked up at the ceiling and my hat fell off and made a resounding crash. The guide said, “Don’t lose your head.” About 10 minutes later, the guide told us to look up a shaft. I did, and my hat fell off again. This time the guide just looked at me with a disgusted look. Someone else said, “You need to tighten that.” I did, but it didn’t help. It slipped off again, but this time I trapped it against the wall and kept it off the floor. The guide thought it was funny by now and chuckled. The fourth (and last) time it fell off, I managed to catch it in midair. This time I was congratulated!

The tour took us through the history of mining, beginning with the days when miners broke rock with spikes and hammers. We saw several types of pneumatic drills in operation, learned about explosives, and took a short ride in tram pushed by a compressed air locomotive. We also saw how the ore was collected and taken out of the mine. And then it was time to pack back into the skips for the uncomfortable ride back up to the surface.

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Painted Bunting

A week ago, I was browsing through my bird list and wondering what species I’d never see again now that I live in Colorado. The two brief looks I’ve had at a Painted Bunting were both at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas in the heat of summer, which I’m in no hurry to experience again. I guessed it belonged on the list.

And then on Tuesday evening, someone found a male Painted Bunting on the feeders at Chatfield State Park, about an hour north of my house in the Denver suburbs. When it was seen again on Wednesday, I decided to go for it. I worked a full day and left around 3:00.

When I arrived at the feeders, two women were just leaving. They said the bird had been there minutes before. This was good news and bad news. Good because it meant the bird was still in the neighborhood. Bad because all day it had been showing up about every two hours.

I found a place where I had a good look at the feeders and waited.

There were probably 15 other birders waiting with me. When there were no birds around, I watched them. One couple found a bench and sat patiently. A couple of guys with huge camera lenses (you can see one of them in the photo above in the light shirt) set up across the way. The one you can’t see actually walked over to the feeders at one point and bent the tray so it was best positioned for him to get a photo. As he walked past me, he explained what he was doing by saying that he was making sure there was seed in the tray, but since we could plainly see that there was, I wasn’t buying it.

A mom came by with her 10-year-old son. They weren’t very patient and kept pacing back and forth in front of me. I’m glad the kid is into birds, but he needs to learn to avoid quick movements and loud talking. His mom kept urging him to get up close to the feeders to get photos of the House Finches. Obviously, if he was there, the bunting wouldn’t come.

Two other women were also pacers, stalking back and forth around the area. I’m sure I saw just as many birds as they did just standing still. There were several Broad-tailed Hummingbirds in the neighborhood. At times, they came within two feet of where I stood. I also got a quick look at a Rufous Hummingbird.

This is why I do most of my birding in rural, less-popular areas, even if it means seeing fewer birds. Urban birding is for the birds.

An old man and woman wandered up and unlocked the building in front of me. The woman walked to the wall next to the feeders and tried to flip a switch to turn on the inside lights. She was there messing about when someone called out “Here it is.” I got a very quick glimpse of the Painted Bunting in the dead tree also visible in the photo above. It then flew down into the bushes beyond the feeder. The old woman was still messing about, so all I could see of the bunting was this.

The woman had no idea that she was messing things up for all of us, but the bird was patient. Moments after she finally moved away, the bird came out.

From there it flew to the feeder where it hung around and gave us all good looks for about five minutes before flying off to the south.

I drove home on Route 105 through a very active lightning storm. I got home around 7:00. It was a long wait and a longish drive, but worth it. This was a much better look than I’d ever gotten in Arkansas.

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