Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A road trip and another check off the bucket list

A happy barn we saw on the road
We were feeling stale and flat like old brittle bread.  Now, of course, we are grateful for our home, garden, swimming pool and cat, but we needed a scenery change and inspiration after the Olympics ended.  We were a little aimless and blue.  A different perspective, a getaway, a mini-vacation was manifesting in our minds.  However, this trip could not be costly because we do not have the funds.  At the last minute we came upon a solution—a weekend road trip in our own state to absorb different scenery and breathe different air and be inspired.  But what would be the destination?

Right now there are 58 of them located in the Unites States of America (and two U. S. territories). Twenty-seven states have at least one, in addition to American Samoa and the Unites States Virgin Islands.  Alaska and California have eight; Utah has five;  Colorado has four; Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Washington have three,  Hawaii,  Montana, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming have two; and Arkansas, Idaho,  Kentucky, Maine, Michigan,  Minnesota,  New Mexico,  North Carolina,  North Dakota,  Oregon,  Ohio,  South Carolina, Tennessee , Virginia,  American Samoa, and U.S. Virgin Islands have just one.  I have visited 17 of them and Bumble tops me having visited 28. Know what I am writing about? It is our beautiful National Parks showing off the best piece of nature available throughout North America and the surrounding oceans.
The National Park Service preserves unimpaired, the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations (U.S. Department of the Interior).
The Organic Act of 1916 (love that name) created the National Park Service, which was intended "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  There are hiking trails aplenty for taking one’s soul searching for a spiritual offering that only nature can bring, and visitor’s centers which will educate the tourist about the ecosystems, geology, history, flora and fauna of each unique park place.

Our National Parks are not to be confused with our wonderful National Monuments (numbering 101) , National Historic Parks (numbering 45),  National Historic Sites (numbering 89), or National Preserves (numbering 18).  These are great adventures too, but the National Parks and visiting all 58 before I pass into the wild blue yonder, are on my bucket list.  Bumble is half way to this goal and I am thirty percent there.  I look forward to each visit with the curiosity and excitement of a child asking in the car, “Are we there yet?”

To prepare quickly for the road trip, we harvested some of our peaches and grapes, bought a bunch of cheese, filled our water containers, packed an overnight bag, and dropped our cat off at the Pet Hotel.  Next, we filled the gas tank and headed out. The drive was delightful.  We left Denver and traveled west through Glenwood Springs, past the historic town of Redstone, over the McClure Pass into an agricultural region of our state called the North Fork Valley (Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford) that is making the healthful transition towards growing organic produce. We delighted in a wine tasting at Stone Cottage Cellars, located on a hill off the highway to Paonia. It is proud to be the second highest altitude vineyard in America. The wines were incredible and the stone structures were charming and built by the proprietor.

Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia, CO
A view of the vineyard and the mountains surrounding the North Fork Valley
Living Farm Cafe and B&B in Paonia, CO
Serving local produce and meats at the Living Farm Cafe

We rested at a B & B called The Living Farm Café (on Grand Avenue in quaint downtown Paonia) owned by the Gillespie family that has farmed in the area since 1938. The café specializes in serving harvest appropriate organic meals that offer gluten free, dairy free, and vegetarian options.  The rooms were homey, spotless and simple with comfortable inviting beds adorned in crisp white sheets and patchwork quilts. The folks were easy going and friendly! To cool down on a hot summer evening we walked down to Ollie’s Ice Cream Parlor and had a few delicious scoops.

On to our final destination—the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  It is a magnificent and ancient Precambrian carving of the earth by the river and is surrounded by the Pinyon-Juniper woodland community and big sagebrush.  The fragrance of the air is a glorious mixture of pine, juniper, sage and sunshine that I adore.  Hopefully, my photos can say a thousand words of how utterly beautiful this canyon is.  For over two hours, we never saw another human being (except the ranger at the station). We could hear two climbers across the canyon shouting “on belay or off belay;” but without our binoculars we could not see them on the rock face.  When we embarked on the 3 mile loop trail to “Exclamation Point,” a female elk immediately made her presence known (no time to get my camera out), crossing the path only yards away.  This elk crossing was precursor of many marvelous views to come of this awesome canyon.  At Exclamation Point our hearts pounded as we looked over the cliffs to the thin silver sliver of the Gunnison River below. I have not been to the Grand Canyon National Park yet but this view was spectacular! Exclamation Point!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Another view of the canyon
The sliver of the Gunnison River far below
The sliver of the Gunnison River far below

On the way back to civilization we soaked in the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and stayed at the historic Hotel Colorado, the same hotel President Teddy Roosevelt had frequented often. We sat out on the veranda overlooking the region’s red-rocked mountain and sipped a cocktail. It was a view unlike the backyard at home and we felt like we had been somewhere. The trip was like hitting a refresh button and we were enchanted by the experience.


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