Hiking the Cumbres – Red Lake Trail #733

hiking the cumbres

We left at 8:30am to go to Cumbres Pass, Colorado, just past Las Mangas Pass, at an elevation of 10,230 feet.  A few miles up a dirt road is the Red Lake Trail. There is a good size parking area and a hitching rail. Yes, this is a popular horse trail. About 3 miles up is the lake. I did not use my fitbit to track it because it sucks up my battery and I wanted to take lots of pictures, but I did verify, on the Forest Service website, that the loop is 5.2 miles. The trail is fairly well marked, with cairns set up where it might get washed out. The ponds and streams were very low or dried up this trip. The trees seem to be suffering as well.

red lake trail 733 stream

We only saw 2 other small families all day. One we kind of hiked up with, a mom, dad and teenage girl with their grandpa, and 2 scottie dogs. Grandpa had been up this trail 5 times in the last 2 weeks. At 73 years of age. They only stayed at the lake a couple hours then left, but must have been somewhere in the area, because their car was still at the parking area when we came down. The other family was a grandma, grandpa and grandson backpacking up to spend a couple of nights. We saw them on our way down.

red lake fishing

The trail was actually moderate, but I took it very slow due to being out of shape. Just needed to stretch my lungs and my legs and boy, that felt good! Took a nap up at the lake while the guys fished. No catches today. Did not get my bug lotion made, so had to use some poison with DEET. Pretty much kept the mosquitoes away, however I did get a few bites. Because I did not give any thought to sunscreen, I am now paying the price. Face and neck very burned, insides of elbows burned, ouch! Good thing everything else was covered. Now slathering with aloe gel and lotion, after relieving the sting with apple cider vinegar.

rio grande nf co

On the way down, the man of the place took us through a marshy area with a bunch of sink holes. I did not much like that. Had to make sure the boy watched himself to not fall in. Even though we found the trail, still the man insisted on taking a different route. Got us pretty much lost, so I just headed toward the vicinity of the trail and kept downhill and we finally ended up back on trail. Never trust that guy and his shortcuts. My knees were pretty sore by the time we got back to the trail but I finally figured out to lock them so they would not be bearing my weight while bending. That is what stresses them. Ended up with no pain or swelling. The man was wearing new boots and his feet hurt like crazy by the time we got to the car. The boy was just plain worn out.

From Chama, NM travel about 24 miles north east on Highway 17, entering CO. Turn west on forest road 114, and continue approximately one mile to trailhead parking.

 

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Summer In A Small Town

We interrupt the Oregon epic, to fast forward to our latest adventure. Pioneer Days in Manassa, Colorado. Summer is an event in Colorado. While other areas of the west experience mild temperatures year round, maybe just a hint of winter now and then, Colorado has a more Midwestern experience of early freezes and late thaws. With most of the state above 4500 feet, the non-winter months can be filled with 4-season days of 80 degree sunshine followed by wind and rain, then hail and then sunshine again. July frequently brings hail and lots of rain and snow bring lots of mosquitos. So Coloradans tend to make the most of summer while it’s here.
Small towns host carnivals, parades and founders day celebrations. There are lots of outdoor concerts and rodeos. Outdoor activities abound.
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We try to make it out to some of these events. Sometimes it’s difficult because it would be too much stress on the abuelo. Once in awhile we can get someone to come in and stay with him for a few hours so we can get out and do something different. Recently we were able to make it for a day of the Manassah Pioneer Days. The 2 mile parade route through town was already completely lined with spectators when we got there. Horses and floats were lining up at the start. We strolled main street greeting friends, relatives and neighbors. Young boys wheeled coolers of ice cold sodas up and down the street, kind of a mobile “lemonade” stand. We stopped at the park and found a good place to sit, stand and enjoy the parade.
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Manassa’s origins are primarily Mormon, though there are many Native Americans and Hispanics in the area. Several of the entries in the parade were traditionally dressed Mormons pulling hand carts and driving horse-drawn wagons. I marveled at the creativity and skill displayed in many of the floats. Really, this is a small town in the middle of nowhere (aka, San Luis Valley) nearly 100 miles and a mountain range away from Denver or any other big city, yet the floats could have easily been in a much larger, more competitive parade.     
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Minions, of course, are dominating the world this summer.
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My favorite was the dragon ship.
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We also enjoyed Olaf and, of course,
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the lovely Pioneer Princess and her court.
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Naturally, in this farming and ranching community, there were plenty of horses prancing through town. My only disappointment was the lack of music and the arts. There was no marching band, no drill team, not even a drum corps. Ah well, I guess that is a testament to the sad state of where our school dollars go. Even at our home base in Arizona, there is no high school band, no drill team, no drama department or glee club.
What small town parade would be complete without candy thrown from many of the entrants? We are used to seeing it come from the police and fire trucks, but in Manassa it was mostly the local businesses and politicians who contributed to the local dental practice. I was pleased to see at least half a dozen businesses tossing icy water bottles to grateful spectators. This was new to me, and a welcome change, though we did have our own water.
After the parade, we wandered through the midway. Being on the road frequently, we have played leap frog down the highways with several carnival companies. Like rvers, they experience challenges along the road, but by traveling in numbers, they seem to handle them well. I was happy to see them set up and bringing some fun to an otherwise sleepy little community. Though we did not partake of the rides or the fair food on this particular day, we did buy the boy a snow cone and it was nice to know that these small companies are bringing joy to small communities across the U.S.
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Colorado Gators, Mosca, Colorado

Almost halfway between Great Sand Dunes National Park and Alamosa, Colorado Gators is a fun spot to stop and stretch your legs and gawk at something you don’t expect to see in the Rocky Mountain state: alligators.  Begun in 1977 as a fish (tilapia) farm, the gators were brought in to eat the dead fish. Within a few years, the farm became a tourist attraction, as people started stopping by to see the alligators.


The first part of the tour, holding the baby alligator, taking pictures and learning a little about the farm and gators, is held inside, in the dark reptile room. Very much like other reptile rooms we’ve visited (dark and smelly). I must admit, I was happy to move into the fish tank area. Substantially less smelly and brightly lit. I was fascinated with the hydroponic setup there. The fish-waste-to-plant-food-to-fish-habitat recycling system looked very efficient and all the plants I could see looked to be thriving.

water returning to fish tanks

hydroponic sprouts

fish tanks with hydroponic garden above

Finally outside in the fresh air we got to see dozens of alligators lazing in the sun. Even a movie star, Morris, of Happy Gilmore fame, as well as numerous other movie credits, including Dr. Doolittle, Jay Leno, and of course, Steve Irwin (the late, great “Crocodile Hunter”).


Other critters on the property include a couple ostriches, emus, and geese. The farm also offers educational programs for schools, churches and other groups. Alligator wrestling classes are available for the crazy! more adventurous. Gatorfest, held this year on August 2nd and 3rd, features gator roping and wrestling, children’s games and barrel races.


For more info, click on one of the links above, or contact Colorado Gators Reptile Park, 9162 CR 9 N, Mosca, CO 81146, 719-378-2612.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

Colorado. Rocky Mountains. Forests. Farms. Water. The tallest sand dunes in North America. What? No kidding! Sprawling over 330 square miles, sand and sediment from the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountain ranges blew and washed into what was once a huge lake. As the lake filled in, the gusty, year round wind piled the sand into dunes and continues to feed and shift the dunes today. The park contains nearly half the Dunes, while most of the rest are part of  a National Preserve in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.


Another anomaly of the park is that it contains 7 life zones and the many animals and plants that inhabit them. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can be found in Alpine Tundra; black bear roam Subalpine Forests; bobcats prowl among the pinon and juniper of Montane Forests; brightly colored tiger beetles liven up the Dunefields; elk wander the Grasslands; sandhill cranes patrol the Plains; finally, there are Streams and Wetlands, where beaver can sometimes be found. So this is Colorado after all.


I find the Dunes to be particularly striking during Lent. The stark barrenness of the dunefield summoned us into its emptiness. The mysterious undulations teased us into pursuing their secrets. Were there hidden spaces, or just endless drifts? Daddy couldn’t resist removing his shoes to sink his feet into the soft, silky sand. I left my boots on. The wind was icy and the dunes were not reflecting the sun’s warmth on this day.


As Yak crested a steep mound, the merciless wind stole his cowboy hat and deposited it playfully on the even steeper backside. Despite my dislike of vertical slopes, I judged that even if I rolled down to the bottom, the worst I would get would be sand in my hair, so I went after the headpiece. Halfway there I was creeping on all fours. Just as I was within reach of my goal, daddy clambered over the ridge and stopped right in front of the topper, laughing at me. Refusing to admit defeat, I pounced upon the hat and we all sat down on the backside of the dune, out of the sandstorm, for a much needed rest and a good laugh.


The wind was in our faces on the way back to the truck. I held securely to Yak’s hat, not wishing to repeat my recent heroics. Any trace of our hike in was already blown away. The lenten journey is all here in the dunes. The emptying of myself. The overcoming of fear to serve another. Laughing at my shortcomings. Struggling uphill in the sand one way and against the wind the other. Reaching the truck never felt so good. Closing the door on the tempest. Turning on the heater. Making hot chocolate with the thermos of hot water I brought. The journey is difficult, we screw up along the way. The destination is worth it.

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Slow Travel: Freedom To Roam – Or Not

Sangre de Christo Mts. Colorado

Change of plans. My son’s grandma is dying. Quickly. We are finishing out the winter in Colorado, after all. Minimizing our life into a 28 ft. RV and a 14 ft. vintage trailer has given us the freedom to be able to be here with her and grandpa. Slow travel means we can stay here as long as needed and postpone our planned trip to Texas until fall or whenever. Our income does not depend on us being in a certain place at a certain time.

Yak and ma at Gator Farm 

Homeschooling/roadschooling means Yak is not tied to someone else’s schedule or agenda. He does his assignments when he chooses, as long as he gets them done. If he doesn’t, he knows he will be doing them before anything else, the next day. This frees him up to explore the grandparents’ homestead and visit with his aunts, uncles, cousins and older brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, as they filter in and out, paying their last visits to grandma. Now that the weather is warming up, we are also able to explore more of the local area – field trips for Yak; caregiver breaks for his dad. Who would ever look for sand dunes (Great SandDunes National Park) or an alligator farm (Colorado Gators) in the Rocky Mountain State?

Yak and pa at Sand Dunes

Slow travel allows us to find community in the local Catholic Church. The ladies of the Catholic Mothers Society come over to pray the rosary with the grands a couple of days a week. This gives them great joy. To see the smile on grandpa’s face with his family and friends praying around him, the peace in grandma’s eyes and her joy at having her friends come to see her is a great relief to the brothers and sisters who are staying on to care for their parents. The parish priest sends Holy Eucharist home for the grands with whichever son or daughter makes it to 8a.m. Mass; sometimes he brings it in person.

 

Pretty Ms. Susie, soaking up the sun

Not having to confine our travels to 2 or 3 weeks out of the year and the odd weekend, we don’t have the stress of trying to see everything as fast as we can. Living tiny forces us to reduce the clutter in our lives. Cooking and cleaning are done quickly. There is more time to play music, walk the dogs, and laugh at the cat trying to catch the laser pointer. With no set time for getting up or going to bed, we can stay up late to stargaze and sleep in the next day. Or we can get up to enjoy the sunrise and get back in our jammies right after supper.

We are most blessed to be able to be available to our families when they need us.

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