Colorado Gold

The state of Colorado has many colors and is often called “Colorful Colorado“.  The very name (taken from the river that springs up in the western part of the state) is Spanish for the color red or reddish, which is the color of the water in the Colorado river, coming from particles of the red sandstone that is part of the state’s geological heritage.

But more than anything else, Colorado is known for gold.  The gold dug out of the mountains that brought Caucasians and their culture first to Colorado and that kick-started its economy, yes.  But the gold that Colorado is famed for now is the gold of autumn in the high country, the gold of the turning leaves of aspen, their final glory each year before the leaves fall and winter sets in.

On Saturday, I took a drive/hike/walk in Rocky Mountain National Park to see the color (that’s what we call it around here, “going to see the color”). And with just a few comments, I’ll mostly let these photos speak for themselves.

Long's Peak in the distance

Long’s Peak in the distance

My special mountain, Long’s Peak, but look at the patches of gold on its lower flanks.  Those are aspen.  Aspen have some unusual, even fascinating facts, information to share.  For one thing, a grove of aspen does not consist of separate trees, but of one organism connected via a root system and appearing to be individual trees.  Aspen are a member of the birch family of trees, with paperwhite bark and heart-shaped leaves.  These leaves are attached to the twig in such a way that each individual leaf quivers in the slightest breeze — so much so that the tree is often called a “quivering aspen”.  Aspen are first growth trees.  In areas of land with very poor soil or little topsoil, or land that has been burnt over or clear cut, the first trees that will grow on such land are the aspen.  They will seed themselves after scrub oak and other lower, ground-covering bushes and plants, and will help to prepare the soil over time for the more needy pines that, in our part of the world, are considered the “mature” forest.

So, in a sense, aspen are placeholders, but such beautiful placeholders.  Mostly, during fall weather, when temperatures get low enough, the aspen turn gold, with some trees for reasons that are unclear, at least to me, turning orange, rusts or even nearly red.

Small aspen grove

Small aspen grove

Artist and Aspen

Artist and Aspen

Moraine Park View, Aspen Groves

Moraine Park View, Aspen Groves

Moraine on Bear Lake Road

Moraine on Bear Lake Road





Rocks in the River

Rocks in the River


Be Careful What You Wish For

This blog was written, but not published, very soon after the flooding that affected about a quarter of the state of Colorado.  Now (December 16, 2013), according to observation and the latest news (I get updates on Facebook, Twitter and email from the Town of Estes Park and Larimer and Boulder Counties), we are returning to normal.  Virtually all the county, state and national roads are in some kind of repair and are usable, the FEMA office is closing, we’re back to “normal” status, whatever that is, regarding all emergency services and even Fish Creek Road is being repaired.  There are still some people who have lost their houses, some who can’t get to them (I think primarily in Little Valley and Glen Haven), some of the reason for which is that the roads in those places are private and the money for repair is quite limited.  It isn’t the normal we had, but we are reaching for a new normal that will be workable, we hope, for Colorado.  So what follows is, more than anything, the way it felt to me.  The way it still feels.  I’ve decided to put updates in italics and brackets throughout this blog if I have new information.

Flooded Creek - 34

Flooded Creek – 34 (Photo credit: Nikkayla Green)

Be careful what you wish for.  You see, last year, in 2012, Colorado was in a state of drought so terrible that we thought the entire state was going to burn down.  We had fires all over the place, ranging from a little baby fire that nevertheless destroyed over 20 homes and caused the evacuation of hundreds right here in Estes Park (including me), all the way up to fires that torched thousands of acres and hundreds of houses and other buildings.

So we all thought a little rain would be nice.  Wet things down and make it a bit harder for the pine trees to burn like fireworks.  So whether we prayed and prayed or hoped and hoped, or just wished for it (or as is more than likely, our individual and collective thoughts and prayers had nothing to do with it), this year we got it.  It rained.  And then it rained some more.  And then it really settled down and started raining.  Building an ark kind of rain, cats and dogs kind of rain.  Three weeks ago come Wednesday [this was first written on October 6, 2013], it started raining again and it rained all night and into the next day.  I remember going from window to window (apparently in the hope that I would find a window where it wasn’t raining outside) saying to myself and out loud “Oh, this isn’t good.  This is really bad.”  Having lived here for long periods at various times in my life, I already knew, as do we all who live here, two things:  First, that this was not normal Colorado late summer rain and second, that the Rocky Mountains are called that for a reason.  Underneath the three inches of gravel that we fondly call topsoil is rock.  Not a bunch of rock, but one big solid rock.  And rock is not really good at holding moisture.

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...

This map shows the incorporated and unincorporated areas in Larimer County, Colorado, highlighting Estes Park in red. It was created with a custom script with US Census Bureau data and modified with Inkscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plus, Estes Park sits at the top of a series of canyons carved out by normally cheerful bubbling streams of water plashing over rocks and providing beauty and recreation and a fish or two thousand.  But there’s this little thing called gravity (according to physicists, it’s a “weak” force; I’m sure they have their reasons for calling it “weak”, but obviously they’ve never been downstream of a flash flood) and water is heavy.  So because the land can’t absorb it, and gravity pulls it to lower ground, there’s nowhere else for water to go except down those narrow canyons.  And if it really rains, water swells those sweetly flowing streams into raging torrents that climb up the canyon walls and take out anything lying around loose or even attached that isn’t actually bedrock.  Including, in both the primary canyons with the main roads coming up to Estes Park, the roads themselves.  Sometimes wall to wall.

Highway 34, from Loveland to Estes Park, is a scenic highway at the bottom of a steep canyon that usually runs side by side with the Big Thompson River.  It’s 22 miles from Loveland to Estes Park via this highway.  In one night of rain, 17 miles of that stretch of road were torn out by the Big Thompson River, either partially (one lane) or literally wall to wall.  The town of Drake was nearly wiped out and the residents of cabins and streamside houses from Estes Park to Drake were evacuated to Estes Park, while those below Drake were evacuated to Loveland.  The north fork of the Big Thompson, which runs through the tiny hamlet of Glen Haven, virtually removed Glen Haven from the map during the flood, took out the switchback road from Estes Park and tore out all the electric lines to Glen Haven and to a rural mountain community known as The Retreat.  [Highway 34 is now open, but from what I hear will still require up to as much as $48 billion in permanent repairs to guard against another such flood from destroying it again.  I believe that residents in the Big Thompson Canyon and in Drake have returned to their homes, those that weren’t destroyed, but many people in Glen Haven are dealing with private roads (as mentioned above) and are still not able to live in their homes, although power has been restored.  Also, just to be clear, I didn’t know any of this, none of the people up here knew any of this, until several days after it took place.]

Highway 36, from Lyons to Estes Park, is a bit longer, maybe 24, 25 miles.  It is a wider road, and designed for heavy-duty traffic, since it is Estes Park’s main supply line from Denver, Longmont and Boulder (the staging areas for mail, food for grocery stores and restaurants, FedEx, UPS and other deliveries).  The damage to Highway 36 was initially harder to determine, primarily because the little town of Lyons, at the base of the canyon road, seemed virtually destroyed by the flooding.  The St. Vrain river there cut a new channel, taking out the sanitation department, the lighting and power department, and natural gas lines.  So although, thank heavens, in the end only (ONLY!) 25% of the houses in Lyons were destroyed, it took weeks to be able to get Lyons up and running again.  [On November 20, I drove down the reopened Highway 36 to see flood plains where before there had been meadows and a much narrowed roadway where the river had taken out big chunks.  Lyons is now open for business, but it’s sad and brutal to see the smashed houses and the heaped up wreckage of cars still piled by the roadside.]  Bridges were washed out, cutting off the hamlet of Pinewood Springs, and several small earthen dams were destroyed in the neighborhood of Big Elk Meadows.  [Residents of Pinewood Springs are back in their homes now, with electricity restored, and their community is fully functional again. I have no information about Big Elk Meadows residents.]

Saint Vrain Canyon

Saint Vrain Canyon (Photo credit: Ed Ogle)

This was a major disaster for those of us who live in Estes Park (as it is for everybody who lives in the watershed area of northeast Colorado), especially with the government shutdown [now thankfully over, at least for the moment], because of the only two roads that remained open and actually left the area to get somewhere else.  One of them is Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuous roadway in the United States and runs from Estes Park through the center of Rocky Mountain National Park to Grand Lake.  RMNP was closed during part of the shutdown and reopened using state funds before the shutdown ended.  Thus one of our two lifelines to the outside world was, just like that, closed.  Thank you, Congress.  [Please also note that by this time, December 16, 2013, Trail Ridge Road would be closed for the winter in any event and was, in fact, closed for the winter by the end of October.] The Governor of our state, John Hickenlooper, earned my vote in his re-election bid next year and my undying respect, by the way, for stating that Colorado would use Colorado emergency funds to keep the National Guard working on repairing the roads into and out of Estes Park and reopening Rocky Mountain National Park.

The other road we had, a combination of roads including Highway 7 to Allenspark, then switching to Highway 72 to and past Nederland, going all the way down to Central City and then getting on I-70 to Denver, or turning back on flatland roads to Boulder or Longmont, was, during the emergency, held together with spit and bailing wire by the constant efforts of CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation).  This high mountain road was never designed for heavy traffic and for some time was our only means of getting in or out or getting supplies in or out.   Apart from anything else, the loss of Highway 36 until November 4th when it reopened ahead of schedule turned a pleasant 30- to 40-minute drive down to the front range cities of Colorado into a marathon that could take as many as five hours (one way).  After Highway 36 reopened, life (or at least travel and resupply) returned to something like normal in Estes Park, although it’s not exactly the same normal it used to be.  The trip takes longer than it used to because the road in places is narrower, with sharper curves, and there is still ongoing reconstruction, which often results in delays as they reduce the road to one lane in order to work on the other lane.  We’re still too grateful to complain, believe me!

Estes Park itself didn’t actually lose any houses and only a few business buildings were condemned, for which we are all deeply thankful, but our major rivers–Fall River, the Big Thompson River, the North Fork of the Big Thompson River, Fish Creek, and the St. Vrain River, which all come together in downtown Estes Park (except for Fish Creek, or as we not so fondly called it for weeks Fish Raging Torrent)–left devastation in their wake.  Most of the digging out and gathering debris is over by now and a lot of the shops are doing business (while for others clinging to hope, the floods were the last straw).  We have two sanitation districts up here and one of them, the Upper Thompson Sanitation District, had to work frantically for weeks to repair the huge breaks in their major sewer line (which followed the creekbed of Fish Creek), with residents on both sides of Fish Creek living in a “no flush” zone so that raw sewage would not go into the watershed.  Porta-potties became the new black up here, very fashionable, although like a skimpy little black dress, they quickly began to get real chilly, especially after dark.  One of the favored Halloween costumes for grown-ups at the Halloween festival Estes Park holds every year was something to do with living with Porta-potties.  [This, thankfully, is over with and all the sanitation facilities are working properly again.  Perhaps this helped the popularity of the slogan (printed on t-shirts and sweatshirts and bumper stickers) that we up here are “Mountain Strong.”  I got real sick of that phrase.  As one of my friends said, she’s a “mountain weenie”.  Well, so am I.] 

Porta Potties On South Beach For Winter Party 2011

Porta Potties On South Beach For Winter Party 2011, but Estes had lots more than that (Photo credit: Phillip Pessar)

Other than that, if there can be said to be an “other” to losing one of the basics of modern life, we’re doing a lot better than many communities downstream.  The town itself did not lose power (until after the flooding was over, when a transformer blew) or internet, although cellphone service and landline phone service were out for several days.  [Outlying areas, especially Glen Haven and parts of Fall River, if I remember correctly, did lose power and that was the first priority the Town of Estes Park made in terms of repair.]  In my part of town, several crawlspaces were flooded and had to be pumped out, although that did not happen to me.  Two sets of friends were in the “no-flush” zone, which ended up being more boring and inconvenient than anything, according to them.  Another couple had their basement flooded so severely that they spent days, even weeks, in the clean-up, trying to salvage possessions and furniture.  During the emergency days, and again I am grateful for this, that’s official, my own worst problem was not being able to find out any information about my friends and determine whether they were all right and if they needed any help I could offer (weak back, weak mind, but I can still carry stuff, and did).

The most remarkable circumstance up here in Estes was that unless you got as close to one of the rivers as the barriers would let you, it didn’t look much different.  The aspen turned gold, the effect against the blue sky was startling (now wind and snow have stripped the aspen for another year and we’re in deep winter, with the bears denned up, a huge snowstorm and the beginning of the wind that will be our constant, if not much-loved, companion until March or April).  The mountains stand as they always did, now with a frosting of snow that’s getting thicker and more beautiful with every storm.  It’s underneath and behind that you see the effects.  The edges of Lake Estes are piled with debris.  [Cleanup of this debris has been ongoing and is nearly finished now.]   (The town, in an excess of what can only be called highly creative common sense, scooped out a lot of the debris from the lake to use as crushed underlayment to fix the roads next to Fish Creek and going down to Glen Haven, thus lowering the burden on our then one frail highway supply line, not to mention the costs of rebuilding Fish Creek Road.)  Fish Creek is twice as wide as it used to be and is still flowing as if it were spring and not fall (the rock underlying this portion of the state, having absorbed more water than it can manage, then started percolating that water UP to the surface in the form of spontaneous springs (most of which seem to be situated under people’s houses), so the streams ran very high, quite near the tops of their banks).  [NOTE:  This was written in  November — because of the deep freeze we’re in now, the streams have drained back to their winter levels.]  We got mail service back after five days (because of a heroic convoy over Trail Ridge Road to pick up mail that had been piling up in the Grand Lake post office), FedEx and UPS were back so quickly, it seemed they were never gone.  We have new and beefed up cell towers, landlines have been fixed, Safeway (also heroically — can you imagine in a town meeting the biggest applause going to the Safeway manager?) kept us supplied with all normal foodstuffs, prescriptions and so forth.  Restaurants are open for business, and so is RMNP.  And certainly the elk are cooperating by spending their winter all over the place, especially, it seems, in my front yard.  However, we would love tourists to come up here and see for themselves, stay a few days, help us out by buying some Christmas presents or fall souvenirs here, have a nice dinner out.  Because economically Estes will be having problems for years.  Many businesses did not have (because they could not get) flood insurance and it turns out flood insurance does not pay for loss of business or inventory.  Convenient, right?  For the insurance companies, that is.  Also, in terms of businesses and homes, you don’t have to get it if you’re not on a flood plain, and to everybody’s surprise, some of the worst damage to homes were those definitely not on flood plains but on the sides of hills that could not absorb one more drop of rain.

All the above is just one small, not truly important except to us, story in this vast disaster.  The floodwaters, having scoured the canyons and picking up debris (everything from logs to pieces of highway to rocks to propane tanks), then hit the foothills cities, which were (of course) built next to the watersheds for water and sanitation.  From the northernmost (the Cache le Poudre River, the flooding of which was worsened by the fact that last year’s fire had already scoured the ground so there was nothing to hold the floodwaters back, going through Ft. Collins like a wet freight train off its tracks) to the middle portion (the Big Thompson took out ALL the bridges on north/south streets in Loveland and for several days even closed I-25 while the St. Vrain played with Lyons like a destructive child whose building blocks were actual buildings) to the more southern tier with Boulder Creek rising to a point where the University had to be closed because of flooding.  And there were lots of little tiny streams, most of which are usually dry this time of year, wreaking havoc with small settlements, backing up septic systems, eating away at narrow dirt roads, pulling down power lines, all through the foothills and mountains east of Highway 7.

North Platte River

North Platte River in normal times (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

And then the waters really got going.  All the northern rivers in Colorado east of the Rockies pour themselves into the Platte, which is a major river system that eventually goes through Nebraska and feeds into the Missouri and then the Mississippi (south of Colorado Springs, mountain streams one the eastern side feed into the Arkansas which eventually itself feeds into the Mississippi).  The Platte, which is on a very flat flood plan and usually is a fairly wide, shallow river, crested at over 20 feet in places, a bulge of water that can only be compared to a large rodent being digested by a python.  Evans lost its sanitation system completely and so many houses were pushed off their foundations that I don’t think all of them have actually been counted even yet.  [I have no new information on that, although I suppose by this time they’ve gotten housing organized again.]  Weld County, watered by the Platte and irrigated, usually, from the Big Thompson, is the second most productive agricultural county in the United States (topped only by Fresno County in California).  I read that somewhere and having lived near Greeley as a child, I see no reason to doubt it.  It was about to go into harvest, vegetables, fruits, orchard fruits, so many delicious things.  I’m fairly certain the flood waters destroyed the entire crop for virtually all the farmers in Weld County.  Not just by drowning the growing things, but because by the time the waters got there, they were a really ugly soup of feces, sewage, chemicals, debris, all churned into the water and impossible to separate out.  I wonder how long it will take to clean up the soil in Weld County so that it isn’t toxic.  The flood waters also knocked oil and natural gas tanks off their foundations and that got added to the stew.  For a long while, quite a few agricultural towns remained cut off, their bridges out or their roads turned into asphalt kibble.  [Latest news I’ve heard is that all county roads in Larimer County have been repaired to some degree and are open, but I don’t know about Weld County.  All news is local news.]

But the waters weren’t finished yet.  Up they went, north with the Platte, to mess up Sterling’s sanitation plant and evacuate quite a few more homes and businesses.  Other news has taken over, of course, as it always does, but I would imagine that Nebraska did not enjoy its part of the Great Colorado flood.

Nearly one-fourth of the state was directly affected.  It was the greatest natural disaster in regional history, second only to the last time Yellowstone blew itself up with an earthquake and rearranged that portion of the geography of the west.  And, because of the news cycle and because of the even worse horror that the Philippines also underwent, it is already a more or less forgotten disaster to all but those of us affected by it.

Heavy Rain Shower

Heavy Rain Shower (Photo credit: AlmazUK)

And what will be the aftermath?  All of this has made me think a lot.  Part of that thought is that I’m not real fond of myself right now.  I wasn’t directly affected, my house was and is dry and kept all its services, both in and out, except that I lost cellphone for a while, and basic cable for a few days.  Oh, poor me, right?  So there’s survivor guilt.  And there’s the fact that for a long while I couldn’t get out of here.  I have a bladder disorder and the longer route had very few facilities along its length.  So I was basically going stir crazy.  There is nothing like not being able to get out of a place to make you want to get out of a place.  Desperately.  I was irritable and unable to concentrate and biting my own head off, not to mention having to be very careful about what I said to friends.  And (and I stress this)  I didn’t have any problems.  I was thinking it was just mostly me and that I was a selfish narcissistic bitch (old cartoon based on a combination of those fifties-style romance comic books and Andy Warhol–gorgeous blonde with a tear in one eye and the caption says “Nuclear war?  What about my career?”), which of course being an “artiste” I pretty much am–narcissistic, that is, although I do try to work on the “bitch” part.  But I’ve discovered there are a lot of us with this less than comely combination of irritability, survivor guilt and cabin fever up here.  In my case (and for so many this wasn’t possible), a trip to New York City to see friends and, well, just get out of town, helped immensely — ironically, of course, three days after I got back, I got snowed in, but thank heavens for the break; otherwise, the snowed-in week would have resulted in my cowering in a corner, gibbering nonsense and picking at my cuticles.

That whole internal reaction got me thinking, though, not just about my not being the saintly strong wise tough (but funny) person I’d like to pretend I am, but also about the fact that no matter how awful the disaster actually is, it stops feeling like a disaster, the critical right now crisis reaction stuff in your mind and heart, and starts being mostly a huge inconvenience.  And it doesn’t take long for this to change.  It apparently is a constant in human nature throughout history.  After 9/11, many pundits were saying that the spirit of cooperation, of help, of getting things done would mean a long-range change in the way people in the US behaved.  Uh, well, no, it didn’t.  The horror became yesterday’s news, none the less horrible and tragic, but not immediate any longer, the emergency energy that filled us and made us help and work and cooperate returned to our usual baselines.  We want normal.  I hate to say this, it seems so callous, it is so callous, but even when death comes into the picture (and Colorado’s flood left us incredibly lucky, comparatively), the desire for normal grows and the grieving, while it leaves holes that are never filled, has to become a background to living, and we have to go on.  We want normal.  The disaster recedes and becomes a monumental clean-up job, an inconvenience to our lives.

San Andreas Fault 1101

San Andreas Fault 1101 (Photo credit: DB’s travels)

I was in LA during the Northridge Earthquake, and it surprises me still to realize how quickly I went from terrified to worried about my friends and relatives, to helping out in the neighborhood, to getting really sick and tired of being in the house, to wanting things back to normal, even if the “new” normal was different than the old normal to, finally, annoyed at Caltrans for not getting the I-10 fixed faster.

Somebody from another planet would, I imagine, think of human beings as adrenalin junkies, always going after conflict and terror and excitement.  After all, it’s on the news each night (even if some of it feels manufactured), it’s the central tenet of all our entertainment, even the so called “reality” shows, it’s the primary topic in the newspapers and magazines.  We must live lives of incredible emotion, not just fear but terror, not just love but ecstasy, not just anger but rage.  All the time.  But most of us, let’s face it, want all that adrenalin to stay where it belongs, on the other side of the TV screen or movie screen.  Even the most naïve of us really do know that when the Gladiator dies so bravely at the end of the movie, the director yells “cut” and the actor gets up, grinning (we hope) to the plaudits of the other actors and crew for a job well done.  And goes back to his trailer and calls his sweetheart, or wife, or kids, or maybe agent (“hey, get me a gig where I don’t have to die, okay?”).  In other words, his normal life.  And ours.  We leave the theater, having felt all the Gladiator feels, our hearts bumping with terror and rage and ecstasy and loss and all those adrenalin-filled emotions, and then we go home, kind of wrung out if the movie was really good, and we’re very glad that our homes are working normally, that we are in our usual and normal state of health, that our families and friends are living what to that visitor from another planet would consider to be lives of amazing boredom.  We want normal.

But we never wish for normal, do we?  We wish for excitement, for drama, for love, for rain when it’s dry and clear skies when it rains and maybe we overdo the wishing part, not realizing that we don’t really want all that excitement, we want normal, with maybe just a hint of novelty and fun, but we’ll go to Disneyland or the movies for that if necessary.

So maybe we should think a little when we wish.  Maybe even wishing for normal is too much.  Because the world isn’t normal.  It is filled with all sorts of things, events and movements that are not normal.  I’m not suggesting that there is a clearing house up there or out there that listens to our wishes and gleefully or even absent-mindedly leaves the water running (“they want rain, we’ll give them rain”), although that’s how it feels lately in Colorado.  Just that I’m going to try to wish a little more carefully for a while.  You know, there is something called the law of unintended consequences.  You want something and you wish for it and you work for it, and you get it, hooray!  And instead of a lovely summer of no fires and plenty of wildflowers and growth, you get floods.  That happens in human transactions, too.  You can’t always see all the consequences.  But it may be a good thing to at least take a few of them into consideration when you’re wishing and hoping and praying and working for something or someone you want desperately.  Be careful what you wish for.

Estes Park Colorado


August full moon

August full moon (Photo credit: Stelios Kiousis)

It is now August and those of us who, whether by choice or simply because here we are, deal with tourists on a daily basis are beginning to grit our teeth when we smile.  It’s not actually the tourists’ fault, I suppose, it’s just that there are so many of them.  This is of course a very good thing for our small town’s economy, but a mountain valley town with one main street, no matter how hard we try, is not really well constituted to accommodate daily influxes of 85,000 or so people, none of whom really know the area and most of whom seem to think they’d lose their amateur standing if they looked at a map.

I have commented on the ways tourists behave in the supermarket before.  I have compared getting through Estes Park on its one street (Elkhorn) to attempting to get crosstown in midtown Manhattan.  I have pointed out that elkjams are a lot of fun for tourists, not so much for locals trying to get to the post office and probably not as much fun as advertised for the elk.  (Mostly, this time of year they’re in the high country, which is cooler, so they’re harder to spot anyway.)  So what is it that makes all this more interesting (I was going to write “annoying”, but I’m snarky enough right now and am trying to be pleasant) now than say, in June or July?

Traditionally, it is simply weariness.  When the tourists first come back (like the swallows to Capistrano and for the same reason), townspeople whose livelihoods depend on the tourist dollar are so RELIEVED.  The cash cow will moo once more.  And, let’s face it, there are moments in this paradise of ours, moments we call January, February, March and April, where paradise has some ragged edges, mostly brought about by the incessant wind.  And we get tired of our own company, too.  It never gets less strange being the only customers in a restaurant (survival tips for winter restaurant dining in Estes Park:  don’t go out on Monday, a lot of places are closed or should be; memorize when the Sysco truck deliveries are so you can be more sure of relatively fresh food; go to the several truly popular places because they won’t be holding on to the food as long as humanly possible and there will be other people there, although not on Monday; order something that would definitely have been frozen, since thawing a frozen entree can at least assure you of the smallest amount of bacterial life, whereas “fresh” definitely would not).

So, the tourists are very very very welcome and we worry when they’re not enough of them.  The shops furbish themselves up, the new shops put on their brave displays, and we smile benignly when the visitors stand in the middle of the sidewalk making it impossible to turn your car left, right or go straight.  They’re HERE!  Everybody smiles and it’s a real smile, and when the cash registers start to ka-ching, we hope it’ll be a good summer, because that means a winter in which we can actually make ends meet or at least wave at each other.  So June is good.

Then, as summer wends its way through July, fresh Colorado produce actually makes it all the way up here and turns up on restaurant menus and even in Safeway, the afternoon thundershowers keep things green and pretty and cut the dust (and pull the tourists into the shops until the big drops stop splatting) and the locals get used to not being able to make a left turn and figure out their favorite this-summer way to avoid downtown in their errands.  The summer residents come back, which sort of makes up for the fact that social life takes a nosedive because people are so busy running shops and catering to the tourists, and all the houses that can look a little empty in the wintertime have kids playing some kind of ball in the front yard, and chairs pulled out under the trees to catch the fresh breezes and look at the mountains.  Hikers are all over the place, most of them, thank heavens, staying on the hiking trails.  And the wildlife, looking sleek and well-fed, delight everyone.  (Estes Park, because it has a lake, is a favorite stopping off point for birds, especially, migrating to and from summer and winter feeding areas, so June and August are filled with birds you would never expect in the mountains so far from an ocean, including pelicans, ibis, egrets, even seagulls.  And of course we have the occasional trumpeter swan, lots of Canada geese, ducks, each lady duck trailing her own little comet tail of fluffy ducklings, our own bluebirds, Stellar Jays, hummingbirds (more than three species, all of which fight over any and every red flower and/or feeder–fierce tiny creatures), and eagles and hawks.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our mammalian wildlife ranges from miniature chipmunks who dart around almost too fast to see to moose, who are newly arrived and seem to like it here.  We have a couple of beaver dams in the Estes valley, although most of these industrious creatures stay well away from humans because they know how much we like (for various reasons) to disturb or destroy their dams.  We have predators too, of which most people see only the black bears (oddly enough, they look cuddly but are NOT, and in many ways are more dangerous than the mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes who are also make these mountains their home).  And elk, deer and bighorn sheep, most of which are sleekening up for the rutting season to come up in the high country.

Moose -animal - Wildlife - Alaska

Moose (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Estes Park, in addition to very few streets, a huge and glorious national park, lots of high mountains and tiny gem-like lakes, hiking trails and wildlife, also has two golf courses, a go-kart track, a “family fun” center (which is hideous but which apparently makes money hand over fist), miniature golf courses almost without number, an aerial tramway, and rivers that always are festooned with fly fishermen in the summertime.  We also have a “fairgrounds” (so-called, but all the signs say Stanley Park), with a horse show or an exhibition every weekend.  So there’s lots to do, and a lot of people to do it, and if they’re also spending lots of money and filling up the motels, hotels, B&Bs, condo rentals and restaurants, there’s a lot of smiles on the faces of the locals, even if they do start looking a little weary.  (If you run a shop or a motel, your daily worklife lasts at least 10 hours and usually runs from practically dawn to midnight.)


August (Photo credit: randihausken)

So now that it’s August, it isn’t that the tourists are, in themselves, worse.  It’s just that our smiles are wearing thin, the elkjams are getting annoying instead of charming, and why is it that nobody’s kids have any manners any more?  You see, now we all just want the visitors to come, look around and gawp, spend all their money as quickly as possible, and leave, preferably in about three days.  Or three hours, if we could manage it.  We’re tired.  And disgruntled.  And soooooo ready for them all to go home and back to school and leave use our town for ourselves for a while.

Of course, there will still be the blip that comes during the autumn color season and the elk rut, but that’s smaller and we’ve caught our breath a bit and quite a few of us have looked at the books and realize that winter will be a lot nicer if we get a whole lot of people coming to see the elk play and aspen turn.

And then, of course, being human, we complain that the tourists are all gone too early and we didn’t make our nut and what is winter going to be like?  And so it starts up all over again.

But right now, it’s August, and we really wish, in our hearts of hearts, that they all would just go home.

Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spring Thoughts

Aspen trees near Aspen, Colorado

[NOTE:  I’m categorizing this post also as  “writing” because I am attempting to write a somewhat descriptive essay–creating a picture with words.  I would be most interested to know if I approach this goal, but then again, I’m putting in several images to help . . . . ]

Received an ecard today from a friend filled with budding flowers and trees and an Easter message, and I realized that spring did in fact, ahem, spring going on a month ago, in late March, as it always does.  Except in the high country in Colorado.  Here, I have always maintained, we have one day of spring in which the aspen bud (aspen is both singular and plural so imagine I mean “aspen trees bud”) and the lilacs bloom.  This happens some time in June, hopefully early June, hopefully after the last snow, and then we have approximately two and a half months of summer, if we’re lucky.

This early spring we’re having here in Colorado (completely apart from the lack of rain or snow and the resulting fire danger) is a little disconcerting.  Whether it’s a weather (ooh, clever use of words, there, Gail) anomaly or a symptom of climate change (a scary and controversial topic into which I’m not going), that’s not what normally takes place at high altitude.  Here, historically, we’re more likely in March, April and May to get heavy snows instead of snowdrops.  I’m trying to remember (using increasingly faulty equipment) when we in past years saw the first crocus, the first robin, the first bluebird, and it seems to me it was later in April than has happened this year.  I definitely remember, however, always seeing the first crocus peeking through the snow.

In any event, spring has a special feel to it, doesn’t it?  Freshness, balmy air with a few brisk winds for contrast, growing things.  I don’t think there’s a green as beautiful at any place or time as the green of new leaves with the sun shining through them.  All the animals start up their lives again after the winter’s rest, scurrying around finding food and nesting materials, making homes, getting ready for babies.  The birds chirp so cheerily and some of them dart around in such finery, their feathers so filled with color and life, they lift the heart.  And even while recognizing the practical reasons for flowers, oh they look so frivolous and bright, waving in the breeze on their stems.  Even here in Estes Park, where we don’t have much spring to speak of.

Now, New York is a place that understands spring!  They do the season right in that state.  Nature in New York starts with the forsythia, which is a kind of bush type of thing that in spring has delicate yellow flowers arrayed on more-or-less dark red new canes.  The rest of the year, these bushes are kind of background, but in spring they become sun-colored lace by the sides of the roads.  The forsythia is followed by daffodils, huge clumps of daffodils all blooming in a kind of yellow frenzy against the darker green of their leaves and stems.  Then the tulips pop out, bringing pink and purple (and, of course, more yellow) into the mix.  By this time, the trees have gotten the message and their new green leaves start to unfurl, making even an elderly dowager of a maple tree look like a girl again, quite giddy with the fun of dancing through the spring.  If had lived closer to water (although in New York city, water is always closer than it is in Colorado, it seems), I would also have enjoyed the pussy willows (as we called them), the little paw-like catkins bursting out of the willow wands.  I saw them in the florists shops, though, and touching their softness was almost irresistible.

lilac Syringa vulgaris in bloom

Lilacs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soon after the robins and bluebirds arrived, other bushes and bulbs would spring forth, and the flowering trees would turn into sticks of cotton candy, cloudy with pink or white blooms.  Then, the most glorious of spring flowers would finish the show:  lilacs bloom earlier in New York than I ever remember from Colorado and I love lilacs, their color and their scent, more than almost any other spring flower.  In my Bronx neighborhood, there were several older houses that had lilacs bushes so huge they were more like trees, so filled with blossom that walking by them was a heady experience, the fragrance saturating my senses.  And so spring renewed a tired world, animals and people and flowers coming out of their winter funks, with even the spring rains feeling soft and warm and welcoming.

Here, it’s quieter, somehow.  The blooming plants seem to grow more closely to the ground and their blooms are not riotous in their color, at least not this time of year.  The mountains in Colorado have glorious wildflowers that array themselves in rich, paintbox colors, but those come later on, in June or July.  Now there’s the haze of green new growth that underlays last year’s dead stems, fuzzy buds on the aspen that will (hopefully after the last snow) break out into a green so delicate even from a distance you can see the veins in the leaves, and there are the crocus (croci?) with their pale lavender and cream cups and soft green leaves.  Later, in early June, there will be the blue flag, a kind of native iris, which creates a haze of blue in the low-lying ground close to the reservoir and on the big meadows in the park (as I mentioned in an earlier post about how we in Estes Park talk, this means Rocky Mountain National Park, the best back yard in the world).

While all this greening and coloring is going on, the animals–and the people–start to put off winter coats and lethargy and begin making a big fuss about life again.  While I always love to watch the deer and elk (and, yes, even the bears from a safe distance and usually on the other side of a window), it is the tiny ones that fascinate, the chipmunks and ground squirrels.  Because they are fair game for predators (we are a wild place here in spite of all our cars and houses and electric lights), from bobcats to eagles, they move quick quick quick and then sit up and scan their surroundings as this one is doing:

RMNP rodent

RMNP rodent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then, there are the birds darting through the air, building nests, finding new things to eat, flirting with the big folk.  Truly beautiful birds make Estes Park and the mountains their summer home.  While we may not have cardinals or orioles or purple martins as the East Coast does, we have Stellar jays (blue shading into black, unlike the blue and white of the more standard jay), camp robbers (I can’t remember their actual name, this is what we call them up here, big birds in gray and white, utterly fearless), ravens and crows, chickadees, cedar waxwings, magpies, downy woodpeckers and our own wonderful blue, blue, bluebird, among many others.  They fill the air with song and their quick, darting flight.

And, later, in June, will come the flying jewels, the hummingbirds.  Almost everyone keeps bait around their houses, either the kinds of (usually red) flowers the hummingbirds adore or a hummingbird feeder.  They are enchanting to watch as they zip through the air or hover, with that distinctive sound they make, not quite the hum of their names, but not quite a buzz either.  They are quite territorial, and the battles between two of the tiny males are more furious and aerobatic than any other aerial combat.  They move so fast it is as if our eyes see where they were and not where they are.  Here in the mountains, they arrive at the very end of the spring renewal, and they delight us all summer long.

Finally, there are the big animals, the elk and deer that wander around all winter in scruffy coats and lost antlers, now sleeking up into their summer wear, growing new weapons covered in softest velvet, eating everything in sight.  And the bears come out of their dens in April (early this year, it seems), searching for food and frightening the populace (bears are not cuddly, not tame, and they are very dangerous).  While we see bobcats and coyotes all winter, the eagles and hawks seem to reappear in the spring, as do the Canada geese and the whistler swans.  They love our small lake here, a place to rest and find food during their travels.  So spring increases our populations of animals, and that burgeoning brings the tourists, another sign of spring.  If nothing else let us know it is nearly summer, the sudden inability to turn left would.  And so spring, bringing our senses back to life after our winter naps, leads into summer, the rich, fat season, filled with skies nearly purple in their blueness, leaves darkening into forest green, animals raising sleek babies, the joys of water and air and rocks, views and breeze and tiny, surprising lakes, rivers and summer thunderstorms.  And the memories of spring.

Spring’s pageant is ever new and ever the same.  It is, after all, the circle of life, and as necessary to our planet and our lives as the sun itself.  Perhaps it is intrinsic to spring that it be exhilarating, beautiful, warm, fuzzy, or perhaps that is just a bonus.  In any event, even here in our much shorter, quieter springtimes in the high mountains, our hearts and spirits lift with each chirp of a bird, each bursting forth of an aspen’s leaves, each bloom of a lilac.

Two males hummingbird are fighting. They do it...

Hummingbirds in Combat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Mountain Bluebird


My Home in Estes Park

I recently read a magazine article which was primarily about the subtle joys of retirement.  Her point was that, while it was hard to become accustomed to determining her own use of time, she found it to be a great wonder in her life.  I agree with that wholeheartedly, both the difficulty of getting used to it and the joy it brings being truly the captain of my fate, as it were.  But something she wrote got me to thinking.  One of her greatest joys now that her children have grown and she’s no longer employed is that she does not have to be home at any given time, nor stay home.  Her life, now, can be and is spent away from home, in the great world.

For me, however, the entire purpose of retirement, the delight I gain in not having a paid job, is that I can stay home.  I have always liked home best, enjoyed the freedom of doing what I wished inside the cozy, private space of my own domain, taking care of my house and possessions, working on my computer, reading, sewing, needlepointing, even watching TV, enjoying the antics (even if they are mostly asleep) of my cats.  I still arrive back at my house, put my car away and close the garage door with a feeling of safety, security and joy.  I’m HOME!  I remember how glorious that feeling was when I was working, but it still lives in me every day.

So I’m curious.  What about the concept of  home can be to me such a welcome refuge, but to others more a prison?  Perhaps for the writer mentioned above, her time at home had always been spent dealing with, picking up after and mothering children, cleaning the space, figuring out what to have for dinner, and much more.  It could very well have been a place where there was no leisure, no self-determination, no feeling of refuge.  It could very well have been a place where the writer simply had more and even harder, perpetual work to do.  I have heard from women, particularly women with small children, that leaving home, getting out of the house, is like being released from a particularly noisy, messy and sticky jail.  I didn’t have children, so that aspect of life at home was not at issue.  But I was married, once, and sometimes the presence of a husband seemed to loom over me.  My home, my rooms, weren’t really mine.  I was fortunate because our house had a small basement room that I used as a sewing room and (later on) a refuge from my marriage, and I suppose it served as an emotional release valve.  Since he never went in it, my husband didn’t comment about its tidiness or lack of same or the ways in which I stored and organized my projects there.  But I have clear memories of him going through the living room and rearranging ornaments so that they were militarily square with the edges of the surfaces they were on.  I remember quite clearly how that drove me quietly crazy.  I remember, too, that he once made an entire day’s discussion (lecture) over the fact that I had forgotten I already had gelatin and continued to buy packages of it until I had over 20 packages.  Of course he was right and I didn’t buy gelatin again throughout the course of our marriage (that’ll show him), but what irritated me is that he was spending his time going through MY kitchen cabinets.

Now, from his point of view, of course it was also his house and he had a perfect right to take an interest in it and make his stamp upon it.  (It should be noted, he had his own room that he called his dressing room that I didn’t enter except to clean, so there was a kind of parity.  It should also be noted that we had similar tastes (not, obviously, for gelatin).  Also, he was old-fashioned in some ways and thought that the decoration of the house was up to me.)  So I didn’t make an outsize fuss because I did know he had a right to live in our home just as I did.

But I have to admit that I didn’t miss living with him when we divorced.  How lovely to live in my own place where I could have as many packages of gelatin as I wanted in my cupboards.  (Oddly enough, I don’t buy it any longer, don’t seem to want to eat gelatin salads.)

Robert Frost's Farm

Robert Frost's Farm (Photo credit: StarrGazr)

So perhaps my concept of home, as is the writer’s first mentioned above, is doing what we want to do in our own space, whether that is cocooning (me) or spending most of the time outside of it (her).  There are a great many concepts of home, I think, ranging from my own utter sense of refuge and welcome and gladness to the home-as-prison feeling, where the home is just a house, just a place to put possessions and (occasionally) sleep.  Robert Frost once said, “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  He was talking, I think, more about family than a physical space, and he has a good point.  When I was a little girl, we moved often, because Daddy changed jobs about every other year.  He always said that “home is where the heart is.”  Again, he wasn’t talking about a physical space, but an emotional place of welcome.  Until his death, I was always completely secure in that emotional loving space.  Later in my life, the specific house got more important, I admit, to my sense of being home, because the emotional center left when he died.

On the other hand, however, the concept of home can’t really be encompassed by four walls and a floor and a roof.  My sense of home now comes deeply because I have returned home, home to the mountains of Estes Park.  My home still is the refuge that shuts out the cold and snow and the demands of the outside world, but my home is also and always the mountains surrounding the Estes valley, the sense of peace and joy that coming back to the place I was raised always gives me.  When I lived in Los Angeles, my sense of home was truncated because I didn’t really like it there, and I kept trying to imagine the house that would make it all right.  That never worked.  My sense of home in Los Angeles became my friends, not the places they lived, but the connections among us that made living in a big city less lonely.  New York, well, Manhattan, was home immediately.  I fell in love with it and made my neighborhood my home (this was of course facilitated by the fact that New York apartments, unless one has pots of money or rent control (neither of which I had), are small, cramped and usually face north for some reason.  So my sense of home expanded to include my block and the public spaces I had the great good fortune to live next to (Central Park and  Lincoln Center).  But now, home is Colorado, or at least that part of it from Denver to the continental divide in which my small town nestles.

Cloudy Afternoon Over Central Park, New York City

Cloudy Afternoon Over Central Park, New York City (Photo credit: andrew c mace)

And one last comment.  Let’s face it, a home would be a prison, by definition, if we couldn’t leave it.  Which is what, I think, the writer I first mentioned above still felt after years as the mother, wife, housecleaner, “chief cook and bottle washer,” as my mother would have said.  Just let me out of here.  Come to think of it, I wouldn’t feel my great joy in coming home, in closing all the doors behind me and feeling safe and enclosed, if I hadn’t, after all, been out in the great world.  In all things, it is the contrast that points up the value.

Swimming at the “Y”

English: Administration Building at YMCA of th...

YMCA of the Rockies Administration Building, image from Wikipedia

The Estes Park Center of the YMCA of the Rockies has 860 acres of mountains nestled beneath Longs Peak.  Most of the land is pristine, with only hiking trails to show human presence.  The vast majority of the buildings, which include lodges and eating facilities, cabins, a theater, administration facilities, a “longhouse” (a roofed enclosure that provides walking and running space during winter months), various craft buildings and an indoor swimming pool, are clustered around a high mountain meadow — the altitude is 8,010 feet.  It is one of the crown jewels of the YMCA system, which has been visited by quite a few of the 20th Century Presidents of the United States, European diplomats, and (most important) ordinary families looking for realistically priced accommodations, lots of outdoor activities and good inexpensive food.  It must sound a bit as if I’m shilling for them, but I’m truly not.  I’m simply a member, entitled for a fairly reasonable membership cost to swim year round in their very large indoor swimming pool.

Swimming is my favorite exercise.  I’m not exactly clumsy but I’m not exactly not clumsy either and walking or hiking on uneven ground scares me.  After several serious falls in the last few years, my fear of falling has grown.  But if you’re in a swimming pool, how can you fall?  I can push harder, either walking laps or swimming them, and not worry so much about such accidents.  Much more than that, I have always hated sweating.  I know that sounds stupidly girly-girl of me, but there it is.  Sweating itches, attracts dust, makes you filthy and messes up your hair.  Contrary to propaganda, women do not glow (except possibly Rita Hayworth, of whom this was said by her then husband Orson Welles).  Women perspire and some women, like me, sweat.  In a swimming pool, my hair is already messed up and wet, there is no dust, and if I’m sweating, how can anybody, even me, ever tell?  And finally, instead of finishing a hike and then having to come in, shower and change in order to go out for errands or simply being with others in the world, after finishing a swim, I’m right there with a locker/shower room and my clothes packed up and ready for me.  A shower, towel-dry my (very short) hair, get dressed and I’m ready for anything, oxygenated, invigorated and clean.  Because the Y’s pool is heated and indoors, I can exercise and enjoy myself any day of the year without reference to Estes Park’s high winds or snowstorms or cold.  Water temperature is kept at about 85 degrees and the temperatures in the locker rooms are just about that, so it’s a pleasure on a cold, blustery day to come in to the pool building and strip down to my bathing suit, not a penance.  The pool is big.  It has one area over ten feet deep, but most of it is no deeper than five feet, with the shallow end at about three feet, making it ideal for families to play in the water with their children.  It is also easily divided into lanes for lap swimmers.

Estes Park has a municipal indoor swimming pool, but it costs more than the one at the Y and its hours are much more limited, because the municipal pool is used by the school district for swimming lessons and meets with other schools.  (Our high school swim teams compete at a fairly high level, on the whole, for such a small school.)  So, if you want to swim at the municipal pool, be prepared to get there at 11:30 and swim fast, because open swim is over at 12:30.  At the Y, open swim takes place each day from 12:30 to 5:00 and from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.  There are also classes and there’s lap swim times as well.  I really do sound now like I’m advertising for them, don’t I?

But, although we have a fitness center in town and it wouldn’t hurt me at all to join and do some weight training, the reality is that if the swimming pool out at the Y didn’t exist, I would turn into a slug in the winter.  It is too cold and windy for an indoor girl like me to enjoy walking or hiking outside (I’ve always had the strong feeling that the outdoors is a wonderful place to look at), and (as said above) I don’t like to sweat.  Walking or swimming through the water exercises the muscles of my arms as well as my legs and torso, gives me an aerobic workout, and, if I use some of the water toys the Y has available, I can even get in some resistance exercises.  It’s also wonderful for a person like me who has excess weight still to lose and who isn’t as limber as she used to be, because in the water it is easy and safe to stretch and extend legs and arms, bend backwards or sideways and in all ways loosen and limber one’s body.

And that’s not all.  Walking or hiking can be quite solitary, which is, of course, one of their charms in such a beautiful place.  And so it can be at the swimming pool.  There are times in winter when I’m the only person in the pool, which can be really enjoyable:  quiet, peaceful and it’s all my space for the time I’m there, to swim, cavort, tread water, float, do what I like.  But mostly there’s always someone there (besides the lifeguards, of course, who are always there and have always been pleasant to talk to, although I’m sure they find my walking (or swimming) up and down a little boring).  Sometimes it’s an elderly couple, walking back and forth, enjoying the water and the use of their limbs just as I am, and we’ll chat and exchange stories.  Other times, and more often, are whole families, with mama holding the baby (festooned with a life jacket, one of the rules) and introducing it to the water, and the older kids splashing and shrieking around daddy, who’s got one of the water toys and is throwing it back and forth to his kids.  Get a larger family group and there’ll inevitably be a game of keep away or of Marco Polo.  I can’t quite see the point of this  game, since from an outsider’s perspective it seems to consist only of one person yelling “Marco” and somebody else yelling “Polo”.  I’m sure that’s not all there is to it, but close observation seems to indicate very little more.  The swimming pool staff have stretched strings of banners over the pool at two points, in both shallower and deeper water, so when a group of high school age kids come swimming, there is suddenly (and always) a game of volleyball, which is usually a lot of fun to watch.

As I plow my way through the people enjoying the pool, I have been head butted by a toddler, backed into by a three giggly girls at a time, and nearly flattened by somebody diving into the pool (that time, the lifeguards were there in a heartbeat, because diving is strictly forbidden–some boy will either not know or figure the rule doesn’t apply to him, but that happens only once, the lifeguards are quite strict).  Sometimes the lifeguards will play some (very loud ) music, and if there are people in the pool having fun, of course their voices echo in the big building.  I duck under the water for some momentary peace and quiet.  But mostly it’s a lot of fun watching people enjoy themselves.  Sometimes I’m asked to take part for a little while in a game of pass the ball in a circle, which is about my speed.  Nobody has asked me yet to take part in a volleyball game or in a game of keepaway and I’m just as well pleased.  So it’s not just necessary exercise, it’s a fun thing to to do.  And it always lifts my spirits.

If I’m fairly alone in the pool, it’s a great time to simply be.  There are windows along each wall looking out at the mountains, with Longs Peak a sentinel over all.  There are trees outside and often animals, elk, marmots, whatnot, ever changing.  I get my zen on, and can stay in the moment (always hard for me to do) better while swimming than in any other place or situation.  Or alternatively, it’s a good time to ponder an issue, plan a future, dream a dream.

Maybe if I’d been able to get out there to swim the last couple of days, I would have been better able to write a post for this blog this past Thursday and Friday.  I could not seem to get started these last two days, and I thought my beginner’s luck at writing this blog had run out and I was hosed.  So, yet another plus for swimming!

Part of my view as I drive out to the Y is given here in a picture I took last summer.

RMNP from Moraine Avenue

Estes Park Talk

We got to the Stanley Hotel around noon on Sat...

The Stanley Hotel (from Wikipedia)

It occurs to me that some definitions may be in order.  As in a great many places, those who live in Estes Park have their own way of saying things.  Since everyone here, including the elk, came here from somewhere else, we are possibly even more fiercely partisan about our town than people are who have been born in theirs.  So here are a few names and definitions:

Estes — What we call our town when we’re not being formal.  As in, to a summer resident:  “When did you get back to Estes?”

ParkRocky Mountain National Park, for which Estes is one of two primary gateways.  Sample statement:  “Let’s take a drive around the Park.”  Also called “Rocky” or, less often, “RMNP.”  I also call it “my big back yard.”  To see a map, please Google maps and specify “RMNP.”

Around the Park — Does not mean literally “around the Park,” which would be a very long hike.  Instead, it means a paved road of about eight or so miles from the Moraine Park entrance up to Deer Ridge Junction, then back down to the Fall River entrance.  Sometimes, this includes a side journey to Bear Lake.  Takes about a half hour, unless you stop and watch the elk cavort or happen to spy a bighorn sheep.

Locals — People who live for either part of the year or all year in the Estes valley.  Sometimes includes residents of Glen Haven (a small mountain community down a picturesque canyon), but does not include residents of Allenspark (a small mountain community up a very picturesque drive called the Peak to Peak Highway, otherwise known as Highway 7).  (Allenspark residents have a beautiful town and are very proud of it.  Also, by definition they do not live in the Estes valley (see below).)  Also a local restaurant.

Elkjam — Local term for the traffic jam that happens instantaneously whenever a car (all right, its occupants) spies an elk or an elk herd close to the road or crossing the road.  That car stops to take pictures and immediately, as if by magic, at least 25 other cars also stop, often in the road rather than on the verge, to take pictures of the elk doing what they do, which is mostly eat and stop traffic.  Those interested in seeing this (locals get very tired of it, actually, not the elk but the cars) should search for “elkjam” on YouTube.  There is at least one news feature about the phenomenon nearly every year.

Estes valley — What residents call the entire valley enclosed by mountains which encompasses Estes Park, with the continental divide to the West, Lumpy Ridge to the north, and lower mountains leading down to the valley.  As a local, I stake my claim that this is the most beautiful mountain valley on earth.

Valley — Term used by all locals (see above) and other mountain people to refer to the area of the United States between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains.  As in, “I’m going to the valley to shop today.”  (In this case, the speaker actually means Ft. Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Boulder or, less likely, Denver.)

The Stanley — The Stanley  Hotel, built by F.O. Stanley (of Stanley Steamer fame) in the early 20th Century as a resort hotel in NeoColonial style.  In order to build it, Mr. Stanley also had to create a hydroelectric plant, a sewage plant and a sawmill.  He also had to greatly improve the roads up to Estes Park from the valley (see above) so they could be used by his own Stanley Steamers to bring tourists to his hotel.  In doing so, he practically created the modern town of Estes Park and its primary industry, tourism.  The Stanley Hotel was a primary inspiration for Stephen King’s novel “The Shining” and his own television production “The Shining” was shot on location there.  It is most definitely haunted.  A picture of the Stanley is at the top of this post.

Fairgrounds — Actually and precisely, Stanley Park, which contains the arena, quite a few horse barns, and space for tents, booths, and so forth.  This is the venue for many summer activities, including the Rooftop Rodeo, the Hunter-Jumper show, the Scottish-Irish Heritage Festival and others.  Called the “fairgrounds” only by locals (see above), thus confusing all visitors because all the signs say “Stanley Park.”

The Bypass — Another confusing term.  Locals call this road the bypass because it does that, i.e., it bypasses downtown Estes Park.  All the signs, however, say Wonderview Avenue.  Which it also is; i.e., a wondrous view.

Longs — Local term for our tallest and most prominent mountain peak, Long’s Peak, discovered by an Army gentleman named, oddly enough, Long.  Of course, “discovered” is a relative term, since the Arapaho and Shoshoni tribes always knew it was there.  “Longs” is not to be confused with “Pikes”, which is another famous Colorado mountain peak west of Colorado Springs.  Longs, by the way, is several hundred feet higher than Pikes.  Sample statement:  “Are you planning on climbing Longs this year?”  (My answer is an immediate “no, I plan on looking at Longs this year,” as it always is.)  One of my own photos of Longs is published at the bottom of this post.

Elkhorn — Our main street, named (probably) for the Elkhorn Lodge, one of our oldest still-standing structures, a resort, tourist lodge and dude ranch that is now considered one of the six most endangered historical structures in the state of Colorado.  It should be noted that elk actually do not have horns, they have antlers.  Antlers are shed each year, while horns (see bighorn sheep, above) are permanent and grow incrementally each year.

Dunraven — Now primarily an exceedingly good and long-lived Italian (and seafood) restaurant out on Moraine.  However, in the 19th Century, the Earl of Dunraven (yes, a real British (okay, Welsh, I think) belted earl and no, I don’t know why earls would be more belted than, say, barons or even bankers), falling in love (as so many have since) with the Estes valley, decided ownership was the only possible course.  He spent years more or less bribing more or less unsavory types to “homestead,” after which he would buy the homesteaded land.  Theoretically at that time, one was only allowed to homestead 160 (I’m not looking this stuff up, so anybody out there reading this who begs to differ is probably right and I would love to hear the, well, facts) acres of government land, which the Estes valley was considered to be.  He planned on making the place his own private hunting reserve and to this end built a hotel, the first in town, I believe, for his friends.  (He also, with his friends and with the help of other tourists and hunters, killed off all the local elk population.  The big elk herds that have taken over the town now were originally imported in the 20th Century from Wyoming.)  The State of Colorado and the United States Government took issue with his version of “homesteading” and worked in the courts to break up his holdings, finally managing to annoy him enough that he left, never to return.  F.O. Stanley (above) bought quite a bit of his land for the Stanley Hotel.  However, statements that the Earl of Dunraven haunts the third floor are a bit strange, since the Earl left Estes years before the hotel was built.

Long's Peak

Hello world!

Estes Park Colorado

Image by siliconchaos via Flickr

Welcome to my blog.  Here I am, assimilated at last. is now my journal and my online communication with anyone who cares to read it, and I hope you will.  My focus, while mostly on my life here in Estes Park, will also include my work as a writer and my interests as they wax and wane.  I hope to add pictures as they are appropriate, and here’s the first two, one a rather nice shot of the high country in Rocky Mountain National Park I took last summer and the other one I found in the media gallery attached to my blog.  I think even some of the folks I knew in New York City would understand why I’m here.  I’m still learning how to operate this site, which has a great many options to add text, images, links and whatnot.  So expect changes.  Again, welcome.  I look forward to blogging and to your reactions.A picture of the high country from Moraine Avenue, Estes Park