The 2017 Grubert-Dicus western tour concluded this week with a 9 day visit with Amy Grubert and Chris Wolpert and our granddaughters Clementine 6 and Penny 4 in Denver, Colorado. By the time we were to return our rental car for our flight back to PA on Tuesday we would have clocked more than 4,000 miles on the road.
Amy and Chris moved to Denver three years ago after living in St. Louis, Albuquerque and the San Francisco bay area. We always enjoy visiting our families wherever they reside, but this time we got a better feel for Denver. The 3.1 million population of the Greater Denver Metro Area is set on the plains east of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
The Rocky Mountains stretch more than 3,000 miles from the northernmost part of British Columbia in western Canada, through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado to New Mexico, in the Southwestern United States.
There are 55 peaks in the Colorado Rockies and 25 of those are 14,000 feet and higher. The mountains were visible in varying degrees during our visit depending on the forest fire smoke. Many western states are battling fires this dry summer. Forest rangers tell us it is just part of nature. Lightening strikes are a common cause of fire in the forests and on the grassland prairies.
Early in the week Charlie started taking Penny and Clementine to school every morning and picking them up in the afternoon. The girls’ are in Pre-K and First Grade. The short 2-block walk around the corner at the end of their block to school is ideal. Papa Charlie enjoyed the ritual as much as the children, who always greeted him with hugs and lots of conversation about their day. It was nice break for the working parents, whose jobs began before school was in session.
Charlie and I got into a daily morning walk on the days we chose to stay close to home in beautiful Washington Park located 6 blocks from Amy and Chris’ comfortable 100 year old home. Our loop around the park and back was 3.5 miles and included views of two lakes, green fields, gorgeous colorful flowers and lots of trees. It was completely flat as is 98% of Denver and a sharp contrast to the 3.8 miles I hike on my Gamelands mountain trail in Mountaintop with its invigorating elevation gain. The 5,250-foot elevation of Denver adds to the workout effort. Athletes train at higher altitudes and when they returning to sea level their stamina is sharpened for athletic events. I’m looking forward to testing that probability.
Denver and many US cities have active running, cycling, and walking residents, who enjoy their exercise in temperatures ranging from the 30’s and below to the 90’s.
Pike’s Peak or Bust!
We took a day trip to Pike’s Peak south of Denver near Colorado Springs halfway through our week. American explorer Zebulon Pike named the mountain “Highest Peak” in 1806, and the mountain was later renamed “Pike’s Peak” in honor of Pike. Pike’s Peak is the tallest mountain located east of the Rockies.
The 14,115-foot mountain is accessible on a winding 19 mile two lane road that ascends 8,000 feet into the rarified air at the summit. The higher you go the less oxygen is in the air. We didn’t stay long at the summit and we certainly felt the altitude. I was very grateful to ride and not hike. The air temperature at the summit was 42 degrees on our warm September visit, about 25 degrees lower than what we experienced at the beginning of our ascent. Views from the summit were fairly clear but viewing the mountains below was hazed in from forest fires. Winds can carry the smoke hundreds of miles away from its source.
Charlie had always wanted to visit Pike’s Peak having studied its history and the gold mining effort in Colorado long ago in elementary school, and while I do not enjoy looking over the edges of winding mountain roads, we both agreed the trip was amazing. The road was first built in 1892 in what I conclude was an engineering marvel in its time and now. There are many pullouts to enjoy views both before and above the tree line. The scenery is surreal. There are 55 Colorado named summits spanning 14,440 to 13,154 feet. The region offers ample opportunity for mountain sports year round.
The next day our daughter Amy had a day off from her Physician Assistant position with Denver Health and she took us on a tour of another portion of the Rockies. Traveling south from her southwest Denver location we took Route 285 into the Guanella Pass road toward 14,065 foot Mount Bierstadt of the Chicago Peaks in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The drive was spectacular and at the highest point we could see four 14,000-foot mountains including Bierstadt, Mount Evans, Long’s Peak and Sawtooth.
Descending Guanella Pass Road we came upon a group of mountain goats and into the quaint town of Georgetown, population 1,034, where many beautiful shops and several restaurants in historic buildings keep the tourist trade alive. The former silver mining camp was established in 1859 during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. Georgetown and the neighboring town of Silver Plume together make up the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining & Railroad Park. The town sits at an elevation of 8,530 feet (2,600 m) above sea level, nestled in the mountains near the upper end of the valley of Clear Creek in the mountains west of Denver along Interstate 70. Although a small town today, the town was a historic center of the mining industry in Colorado during the late 19th century, earning the nickname the “Silver Queen of Colorado”.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal
With the children in school and Amy at work Charlie and I decided Friday was good for a short outing. I did a little research and chose the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. My GPS indicated that the location was 26 minutes and 11 miles north of Denver from our house and off we went.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal was built in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 got the United States into World War II. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal was a United States chemical weapons manufacturing center located in the Denver Metropolitan Area in Commerce City, Colorado operated by the United States Army throughout the later 20th century. Napalm, mustard gas, lewisite, Sarin gas were manufactured at Rocky Mountain Arsenal until 1969. When the military determined that the products were no longer needed, the arsenal destroyed most of the chemical weapons they had manufactured from 1970 to 1985. The munitions factories on the 30 square acres of land were dismantled.
In 1986 it was discovered that the absence of human activity at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal had made the area an involuntary park, when a winter communal roost of bald eagles, then an endangered species, was discovered on site. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service soon realized that more than 330 species of wildlife inhabited the Arsenal. The prairie had returned to the vast land areas that had not been used for munitions manufacturing and so did the animals including Bald Eagles, mule and white tail deer, red tail hawks, prairie dogs, rabbits, coyotes, white pelicans and owls. The 15,000-acre Refuge that we enjoy today is a treasure on the plains near Denver.
After an enlightening visit to the Visitor’s Center and a conversation with Jim a Refuge volunteer, we took the 11-mile wildlife drive and saw bison, prairie dogs, and deer.
Sixteen American bison were brought from the National Bison Range in Montana to an enclosed 1,400-acre section of the refuge in March 2007 as part of the US Fish and Wildlife Pilot Bison Project. The number of bison reached 87 in 2013, forcing the USFWS to cull the herd to just 60 animals, as the limited acreage could not support so many animals. The USFWS officials plan to expand the bison acreage to 12,000 acres in the Refuge, which will allow the herd to expand to an anticipated 210 animals.
The prairie dog colonies were extensive. We could see dozens, perhaps hundreds of interconnected burrows on the surface of the prairie and the alert healthy mammals scurried for food.
There are also 10 miles of trails open at the Refuge for foot travel only through the grasslands, wetlands and woodlands. The history of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal is now part of the National Wildlife Refuge. It is a noble use for land that is part of our US heritage.
Friends are Family The end of the work week found
Amy and Chris celebrating the birthday of one of their best friends with two other families and their children in North Denver. It was a lot of fun to spend time with the energetic forty year olds and their ten children under the age of 10. Katie the hostess and birthday girl prepared gourmet dishes worthy of a look on the Cooking Channel. The friends, many from St. Louis where Chris Wolpert grew up, say they are their families now.
Return to Mountaintop I will be happy to return to
Mountaintop where hiking, golfing, gardening and the Mountaintop Eagle fill my days.
I thank my colleagues for taking care of business in my absence. I am also thrilled to come back to Lisa’s Beauty Shoppe for my weekly taming of the tresses.
The fall is one of the best times to enjoy Mountaintop. Soon our colors will return and we hopefully the sun will shine through the season. Fall is football, field hockey, cross-country and recreational sports for the kids. Fall is church supper season. This week St. Jude’s Parish will dedicate their new church. Life in Mountaintop offers diversity, friendship and support. It’s good to be home.