Flaming Gorge to Golden

Just south of Grand Teton lies the skiing mecca Jackson City (Jackson Hole).  This is what one typically calls a “tourist trap”.  Tourist trap because it literally lives off tourism.  The skiing is supposedly great here.  The snow is dry and more like confectioner’s sugar than the wet heavy snow, we have in Europe.  The runs are also not so heavily prepared so the snow lies loose and deep.  Good leg muscles are required to ski here.  Carsten and I skied Taos many years ago.  The snow and the mountains there are similar to here.  Skiing the Rockies can absolutely be recommended.

Jim and Pat, our neighbors from Yellowstone, who live in Golden, recommended that we visit Flaming Gorge on our way from the Tetons to Golden.  When you drive north to south in the Rockies, the National Parks and National Forests lie one after the other.  You are almost never off government-owned land.  Coming from Denmark, it is overwhelming how much land has been set aside for recreation purposes.  After barreling through Bridger-Teton National Forest, we enter Ashley National Forest, home to spectacular red cliffs and the Flaming Gorge.

The Gorge is slightly longer than 60 miles (as I always say; everything is bigger in the United States).  There is a road on both sides of the gorge.  We’ve chosen the western side, much steeper, but from this side the view of the cliff formations is supposed to be superb.  Talk about steep.  I hope Caprise can make it up this mountain road and down the other side to the campground.  

The view stupendous.

This is the first time that Carsten is able to convince me to take a longer hike into the woods (my fear of bears).  Carsten likes to talk, and sometimes perhaps too much, but this time I’m happy when he’s talking. Talk (especially deep baritone voices like Carsten has) is supposed to warn the bears people are coming, so they can lumber away.  We still haven’t purchased a bear spray – we should.  My head is turning like the radar on Capri the entire trek, as I try to spot movement in the underbrush or bushes.  I’m relieved when we return to the campsite after the 5 km hike.  No bears were seen or heard, but I’m now firmly convinced that we do need to buy a bear spray.  We will need one anyway when we get to Canada and Alaska.  The bears there (grizzlies) are much more territorial and aggressive than the black bear here.

We continued southward towards Fort Collins coming up the east side of the gorge.  The landscape here, although different, is just as impressive as on the western side.

We planned to stay in Fort Collins for two nights, so Carsten could reacquaint himself with the town.  He lived here almost 45 years ago.  After he finished his university, he was part owner of a chain of pizza restaurants here and in other parts of Colorado.  As usual, our plans go awry.  We don’t get to see much of the town as halfway down Main Street, our front brakes start screeching like the proverbial banshee.  We manage to limp into a Walmart.  Thank God, the brakes held for entire trip down the mountains.

Of course, this is also Labor Day weekend – the last holiday in the US before school starts.  Everything is closed.  What to do?  Just across from the parking lot is a car shop that is open and advertises he does brake work.  Carsten walks over only to be disappointed.  Caprise is too tall to get in through the shop doors and the mechanics won’t work outside. 

OK, no reason to panic, but the issue is serious.  Carsten has to fly from Denver in two days to New Jersey for his 50th high school reunion.  We’ve booked a camping site in Golden for 10 days for me and Caprise while Carsten is away.

Apparently, the US is in the same boat as Denmark.  Everyone is too busy to accept doing brake work (some say they can get to us in a month or two).  Other shops say they can’t fix our brakes because they can’t hire anyone.  After several hours on the phone and internet, we realize no one is going to be able to fix the brakes here in Fort Collins.  The only option is to drive the 60-70 miles to Golden and book brake service there for when Carsten gets back.  Of course, we really shouldn’t use the brakes on the way to Golden.

Ha, ha – easier said than done.  Carsten runs Caprise in low gear all the way out to the interstate, managing to adjust his speed so he hits all the stoplights at green.  Once on the interstate, we’re in better shape, the interstate runs within a mile of our campground so brake use was minimal.  Of course, we have arrived at the campground a day earlier than planned and the host says that they are completely full.  Carsten seems to have way with these campground hosts, he charms her and she relents, showing a little corner where we can spend the night.

So far so good.  Carsten manages to find a brake shop that will fix our brakes when he gets back.

For the next week, Carsten is away in New Jersey enjoying visiting his old friend Wayne and spending a couple of evenings at his high school reunion.  In the meantime, I’m by myself in Golden.  Carsten and I have lived together for 34 years, been married for 31.  The past 5 years we have been together 24/7 on Capri (the first 29 years we both worked and were gone on business travel etc.)  We both have looked forward to a week’s “vacation” from each other, but we find that we started missing each other already after the first day.  I guess we are still in love with each other.

The campground is owned by the city, who runs it as a commercial enterprise.  It is expensive; the slots are very close to each other (profit has to be maximized), so privacy is at a premium.  The facilities, showers, toilets, laundry etc. are first class.  The first four days I can’t get a “full hook-up” slot so before Carsten leaves, we drive Caprise over to the dump station, empty the tanks and refill our water tanks, drive back and hook Caprise up to electricity etc.  I do all this while Carsten watches so I can learn how to do it while he is gone.  After 4 days, I will move Caprise to a “full hook-up” slot.

Come moving day, the campground assistant helps guide me into my new slot.  Caprise needs to be backed in and the view from our mirrors is not the best in the world.  When Carsten is backing in, I usually get out and guide him.  Modern motorhomes have cameras showing what is going on back there, but not Caprise.  Everything goes perfectly and I’m just a little bit proud that I managed it all by myself.

Try to imagine our antique Caprise tucked in between these gigantic trailers and motorhomes.  These are everywhere in the US, but very rare in Europe since neither the roads, nor the campgrounds are big enough for them.  Here you see our neighbors Keith & Ruth, who spend each morning watching the news on their outdoor TV (they one inside also) while drinking coffee.

Keith’s 42 foot trailer has no less than 5 slide-outs so the interior volume more than doubles.

There are, of course, televisions both indoors and outdoors

One of the first days I walked down to the city’s little museum.  Golden is nestled between mesas and cliffs alongside Clear Creek.  The first inhabitants were gold diggers, who arrived in 1850 and by 1860, Golden had grown enough that it became registered as town, had an elected mayor and city council.  Golden was a hub of gold, silver, coal and clay mining.

Adolf Coor started a small brewery in 1873 and became successful as his drink quenched the thirst of all the miners.  The brewery still exists today and is one of the city’s largest employers.  Coors is also one of the largest breweries in the US.  Is the beer any good?  Here is Carsten’s uninhibited comment; “Why is Coors like a couple screwing in the bottom of a canoe?  They are both fucking close to water.”  That certainly leaves no room for milder interpretation.  One evening we went to a pizzeria for dinner and since I needed to at least taste Coors, I ordered a draft.  I have to agree with Carsten, although I will comment in a more lady-like manner.

It is close to water.

Coors headquarters at the foot of The Table Mesa (strange, “Mesa” means table in Spanish, so the mesa is called The Table Table – oh well).  The Table sunders Golden from the Denver metropolis.

On my walks around Golden I passed by the Astor House.  Astor was a boarding house founded in 1867 and housed miners, students, passers-by and their families.  The owner Ida Goetz installed the town’s first bathtub for use not only for her guests, but also for use by the entire town.  The tub was a better investment than the boarding house; earning her more money than renting rooms to guests.  The Astor House finally closed after almost 100 years, in 1960.

The town has a very relaxed atmosphere.  There are young people everywhere as Golden is an old University town.  The Colorado School of Mines was founded here in 1873.  Still a university that specializes in mines and mining, virtually everyone studying here is an engineering student.  Clear Creek, which flows right next to our campground, is especially popular as the students float down the rapids in big inner tubes, come out of the water and walk back upstream with the tubes for another run down.  The weather is hot and everyone cools down by tubbing or bathing in the river.

Every morning I take a hike upstream through the canyon and back along a little path that runs on top of the cliff.  The path runs in an old flume that used to supply the city with water.  My little morning walk is about 3 miles and along the way I always pass rock climbers inching their way up the sheer cliff.

Rock climbers are not the only thing I meet on my morning walk.  One morning a middle-aged couple come jogging by me.  Ok – good for them is my thought as they pass.  Just after they pass me, I see them suddenly stop.  What have they seen on the ground?  As I get closer the man turns to me and says; “there’s a rattlesnake here on the path!”  Ok, I’ve read in the guidebook that when hiking in the mountains it is a good idea to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, but here on this popular path, I never dreamed that I might run into a rattlesnake.

Curiosity killed the cat, as they say.  I’m curious, walk over and explain to the couple I’m from Denmark, where we don’t have these kinds of dangerous reptiles, so I’d like to get a closer look.  I stand next to the wife, but can’t see any snake.  It is only after she points that I can see the tail end sticking out from under the brush.  Wow!  The husband explains that the snake is cold-blooded and is lying here in the sun to warm up.  As long as it is cold, it will be sluggish and won’t move very fast.  Besides, it isn’t dangerous when it lies stretched out, it only becomes dangerous when coils and starts rattling with its tail (the reason it is called a Rattlesnake). 

We stand completely still and wait.  Nothing happens and I finally ask the man if it is dead.  “Oh no, it’s alive, I’ll just grab a stick and poke it a little, then it will disappear into the brush”.  He carefully pokes at the snake and it immediately coils up, raises its head and tail and begins rattling.

The rattler has coiled and is ready to strike

We waited until it calmed down, straightened out and disappeared under the brush before walking onwards.  As I walked back to Caprise, I realized how lucky I was that couple had passed just before we got to the snake.  I would never have seen it and could have stepped on it.  It was thin and its colors were the same as the rocks, camouflaging it completely.  As far as I know, snakes have poor eyesight and generally sense by registering warmth, movement and tremors through the ground.  I could only have hoped that I would have become aware of me as I tramped closer to it, but I can’t help thinking that if it first became aware of me as I was alongside, would it have felt threatened, coiled and attacked?  Most adults survive a rattlesnake bite, especially if they get a shot of anti-venom quickly.  But if I had been bitten, I would have been up there by myself, several miles from the nearest help.  Fortunately, the path is well travelled so I suppose someone would have come by and helped me.  Now when I hike, my eyes constantly scan the ground and we have seen several Gartner snakes.  These snakes are harmless and not venomous.

Snakes are not my only surprise.  One morning as I move our lawn car, I see a dead mouse hanging on to the chair’s arm.  I shake the car to get it to fall off when it suddenly spreads wings and flies away.  My “dead mouse” was a bat.  As Carsten would say; “Guess we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live bat before.

While Carsten is partying with Wayne and his high school friends, I being entertained by Jim and Pat who have returned home from their camping trip.  They picked me up in their car and give me the grand tour of Golden and its environs and treating me to dinner at the town’s popular hotel (scrumptious chili rellenos).

Carsten finally comes back and it is wonderful – I’m almost newly in love again.  We have to drive 10 miles to the mechanic to have our brakes fixed – once again without using the brakes too much.  The repair takes all day, the mechanic works while Carsten and I sit in the shade in our lawn chairs.

After all this, we drove high up in the mountains and spend spent two days at Pat and Jim’s charming house in the high meadows.  At night we hear the Elk roaring right outside the house, during the day, the mule deer graze in the brush just below their deck.  Pat and I chat about almost everything between the sun and the moon, while Carsten and Jim repair sundry smaller items on Caprise.

Jim and Pat

One of the joys of being a blue water cruiser, now a land cruiser, is that you meet so many nice friendly people.  We are constantly making new friends, but of course, they are short-term friendships, since we are always moving on.  It really is sad to make new friends and then have to say good-bye, knowing that the chances of meeting up again are few.

Nonetheless, we have to drive onwards.  Our next stop is Black Canyon of the Gunnison national Park, a place Carsten has been excited to show me.  It made a huge impression on him when he visited with his parents 45 years ago.

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