Over the mountains to Wyoming

As we left Boulder yesterday morning, several cyclists and climbers were also getting away. I had hoped to see Boulder Canyon Falls but they were closed due to a high risk of rockfall. Instead we had a break at Barker Lake in Nederland where I watched fish jumping and swallows diving for insects as it was too windy for flower photography. The plentiful insects also fed on me. Ducks were feeding with their ducklings and another bird on the water was too far away to identify even with binoculars. We had coffee in the hippyesque Happy Trails Café and relaxed on the comfortable seating there. It has the first restroom I have been in which has a skeleton lounging in a bath and a moose toilet roll holder.
View 2 Peak to Peak Highway 8 July 2016-1
We continued on the Peak to Peak Highway and just north of Raymond had the first emergency braking for a moose running across the road. Something akin to the Elk Test that Scandinavian car manufacturers put their vehicles through.  Twelve years ago in Victoria, Australia I had the iconic Australian experience of a kangaroo jumping over the fence and across the freeway in front of me.
As we approached Estes Park the traffic got heavier and the Chapel on the Rock near Camp St Malo was also busy with visitors. The wind had brought clouds in and very soon we had a thunderstorm. We spent the night in Estes Park to be ready for an early start in the Rocky Mountains National Park this morning. I had read all sorts of horror stories in guide books and the Park’s website about heavy traffic in the high season but we were treated to a fairly quiet run on the Trail Ridge Road – the USA’s highest continuous paved road. Its highest point is around 3,500m. I had not been at such alpine altitudes and seen glaciers since my trip to the Himalaya in 2010.
Trail Ridge Road 1 9 July 2016-1
Glacier 2 9 July 2016-1
Glacier 9 July 2016-1
We saw some wildlife; several elk, a raven and had a close encounter with a Yellow-Bellied Marmot. The road goes over the Milner Pass and crosses the Continental Divide. This zig-zags around in these parts and we crossed it later and will do again in Wyoming. We walked a small section of the Colorado Trail in the shade of the forest as it was starting to get hot and then descended into Grand Lake for coffee. The grass was growing around the snowmobiles here and boating was the big activity. Heading south to just outside Granby, we were back with the railway briefly and for once saw a passenger train. R125 passes into ranching country and heads north alongside the Willow Creek and through the Arapahoe National Forest where like elsewhere in Colorado, they have lost a lot of trees to a beetle infestation.
Continental Divide 9 July 2016-1
We crossed the Continental Divide again over the Willow Creek Pass and descending, could see the smoke of fires behind the north end of the Gore Range off to our left. Heading towards Laramie, the road winds through small communities in the Medicine Bow Mountains where the town hall is a hut and on into the town where we will rejoin the Lincoln Highway tomorrow.

To the Rockies and Boulder

The lincoln Highway may have only passed through Colorado for two years between 1913-1915 but we could not resist a detour to the mountains. We left Denver early as all the commuters were heading into the city. Our aim was to get some walking done in Golden Gate Canyon State Park before it got too hot. One of the winding roads up into the mountains reminded us of a previous trip to Corsica when we rented a gîte in a mountain village up a very similar road. On the way up a fox crossed the road in front of us with its prey in its mouth, presumably to feed cubs. Further on some deer were just off the road. We arrived at the park as it was opening and set off on one of the trails. It led uphill in a forest of mostly pine but with some spruce and aspen. There were lots of wildflowers on the ground and we heard several birds but I am not familiar with American birdsong.
Pine Golden Gate Canyon State Park 7 July 2016-1
Forest Flower Golden Gate Canyon State Park 7 July 2016-1
Back at the Visitors’ Centre, some children were feeding the trout in the pool there, which is fed by the Ralston Creek. We headed back to the road and then joined the Peak to Peak Highway towards Nederland.
Peak to Peak Highway 1  7 July 2016-1
We were in need of coffee before that and stopped in Rollinsville at the Stage Stop. It is a bar, restaurant and music venue it seems and you can even take your dog on to the upstairs patio.
Stage Stop Rollovillle 8 July 2016-1
The next stop was Nederland where we found a spot by the covered bridge and local garden to have our picnic lunch. Driving through Boulder Canyon took us into the city where we wandered downtown until it was time to head to our B&B. There were so many street performers it was like Edinburgh at Festival time. It also has the highest concentration of used bookstores in the USA. One book and music store we wanted to look in said that it opened afternoons and evenings but I am not sure what time their afternoon started as there was no sign of life when we stopped by. While having an ice-cream, we watched a House Sparrow steal a scrap of food from the ice-cream seller’s cart. It seems that as in Australia, someone thought it was a good idea to introduce European birds in the 19th century. The citizens of Boulder have purchased land around the city to make a green belt and prevent further expansion and generally there seems to be much more care for the environment here than in some of the places we have passed through on this trip. After checking in and freshening up, tea in the garden we headed into town for dinner. When I was with a group trekking in Ladakh and we were stranded by floods with injured people, stranded hikers of various nationalities and traumatised villagers to deal with, someone commented that whatever was happening, at 5pm the Brits sat down and had a cup of tea. Dinner was a curry at the Sherpas’ Adventurers Restaurant where we watched the staff scare away a squirrel that was trying to steal fruit from the tree over their courtyard. That is an animal that has gone the other way to the sparrow. The American Grey Squirrel has squeezed our native red squirrel into only a few places and in my garden the grey squirrels steal bird food, unripe cherries from the tree and have even chewed the lead flashing around the chimney on my studio. When we were on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State a few years ago, James commented that the squirrels were a bit skinny. I pointed out that this was the native animal’s natural physique and that the ones in our garden were extraordinarily well-fed.

A lazy day in Denver

Bridge over the railway Denver 6 July 2016-1
I had the repair kit out last night to super-glue the sole of James’s trainers. On our last US road trip we had to buy new walking boots as he left his in the car during a heatwave and the rubber soles disintegrated a few days before we were due to hike in the Grand Canyon. Nothing so drastic today as it was a scheduled non-driving day in Denver. Our only previous trip to the city does not really count as it was only a slightly longer stop on the California Zephyr’s route called a ‘smoke stop’ which allows enough time to stand on the platform for a few minutes. There was no need today for an early rise and we wandered slowly downtown. It was already getting hot. The pedestrianised part of 16th Avenue has three painted pianos in the middle all being played by someone and there were several other buskers. I had to explore the Tattered Cover Book Store which also has a café and could have come away with a pile of books but restricted myself to one. I have read most of William Least Heat Moon’s books (many bought in the USA) and did not have his latest published last year, so that was my purchase today. On a previous trip to the Pacific North West I had bought so many books that my case was overweight and I had to repack into hand luggage and James’s bags at Vancouver airport.
Tattered Cover Bookstore Denver 6 July 2016-1
James had seen an antique map in the bookshop and sure enough there is an antique map seller not far away. We had a good conversation with the proprietor, inevitably about politics and Brexit which was more interesting now that we have left the Trump heartlands. We came away having bought one small map of the Gulf Stream dating from 1840. Near to the station, I thought I could hear some gospel music and realised that a small choir were singing. However, they were on their last number by the time we got over there. On the way back from the map shop we had just missed the European Queer Chorus who were leaving the stage but enjoyed this trio: The Homonics (who hail from Dublin). I discovered that the biggest LGBT Choirs festival in the world, GALA Festival is currently happening in Denver with approximately 6000 singers here. I chatted to some of the Queer European Chorus members who were from the UK, Germany and Sweden. We certainly do not have this next to Crewe Station at home.
The Homophones Denver 6 July 2016-1
Over the railway is Riverside Park and we sat for a while in the shade as by then it was 95 degrees. It was then time to visit the Colorado Contemporary Art Museum which does not open until noon. We got in for free as one of the galleries was being re-hung. The artists represented were Guido Ignatti from Argentina who works in several media, his works inviting a new look at everyday objects and Molly Bounds, a local painter. We had lunch in their rooftop café. On the way back to our hotel for a siesta, we passed a cosmetic dentistry clinic where the patients/customers have their treatment right in the front window in full view of all the passers-by which would not be my choice. We also discovered that the local traffic wardens get round on Segways. There are a many street installations and examples of street art in Denver but we only saw a few during our one day here. Throughout the day we kept getting glimpses of the golden dome of the Capitol glowing in the sun and the trainers held out for more than seven miles on our ‘lazy’ day.

Driving to Denver

We had breakfast this morning listening the weather reports which were full of storms and tornadoes further east and fires in Elko County where we are heading later. As we left North Platte on R30, all the firework stalls were selling them off half price. In Sutherland we found another mileage fence. Our mileage to Frisco will be a little more than that on the fence as we are diverting down the Denver loop, exploring the Rocky Mountains and the Ruby Mountains in Nevada.
Mileage fence NE 5 July 2016-1
In Paxton we were diverted onto the interstate for a few miles because of roadworks and also had a new experience: Chihuahua in the road. We are used to sheep and cattle escaping onto the road but this was a new one. One of the locals was trying to catch him, somewhat unsuccessfully. We were now definitely in ranch country and saw cowboys on horseback rounding up cattle.
California Hill NE 5 July 2016-1
California hill, just to the right of the road in this photograph was on the waggon trail to California and Oregon between 1841 and 1860. So many travelled this route as the terrain restricts other ways and deep ruts are still visible on the hill. We crossed into the Mountain Time Zone and near Big Springs we switched to R138, still alongside the railway and the South Platte River. After entering Colorado, we fancied a coffee in Julesburg but the first place we saw was shut and looked as if it was out of business. The Old Ford Museum was also closed but we peered in the window at the vintage car and other items inside. It was looking as if only the essentials were open: the pharmacy and the liquor store. James popped into the liquor store who directed us to a coffee shop round the block. The towns in this area do not announce their population on their signs but their altitude. Sedgewick which we passed through is at 3,500ft. I am still adjusting to measuring altitude in feet and not metres. Near Sterling we passed a huge recycling centre suggesting Colorado might be more advanced than some of the other places we have passed through. In the town we picked up a few essentials and the woman on the checkout asked where we were from and then told us that she had had people from Denmark in the day before. Further on we passed two huge factory farms, the first with hundreds of cattle and bison, the second with just cattle. Lunch was on the green at Fort Morgan where families were picnicking in the sun. Some children were setting off fire crackers left over from 4th July celebrations. Nearer to Denver the mountains at last appeared ahead. As we had gained an hour, we diverted to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and wandered about looking at plants, insects, anthills, the odd bird and prairie dogs. A better time to visit would have been earlier or later in the day but that was not possible. While I was taking photographs, James was watching lightning over the mountains and then we continued the last few miles into downtown Denver.
Flower in Wildlifer Refuge CO 5 July 2016-1