Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park

You will find the tallest sand dunes in North America in Colorado in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Sand too heavy to rise with the wind is blown northeastward across the flat desert floor of the San Luis Valley til it comes to the Sangre de Cristo Range, where sand deposits have piled up for around 15,000 years.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve covers 130 square miles, including the 39 square miles of sand dunes, plus land surrounding the dunes. Great Sand Dunes National Park was originally designated a National Monument. President Bill Clinton signed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, with the ultimate goal of National Park status achieved by act of Congress on September 13, 2004.

A National Park visitor center has exhibits explaining the natural and human history of the Great Sand Dunes area. There are self-guided nature trails, plus camping and picnic facilities. Naturalist conducted walks and, in summer, nightly amphitheater programs are presented.

Longtime local legends have told of wagon trains lost in the dunes, along with strange creatures living in the inner reaches of the dunes.

There are several streams flowing on the edges of the dunes. Water is carried downstream, and then when the stream runs dry the wind picks the sand back up and re-deposits it on the dunes.

Of the streams in the park the most notable is Medano Creek, which borders the east side of the dunes, near the Visitor Center. Medano Creek's streambed is constantly meandering. Sand will form dams, which then break, causing mini-floods, which look like waves of water rolling across the sand.

Visitors can play in Medano Creek, as long as no motorized equipment is used. Medano Creek fun includes sand castle building, making sand sculptures, skimboarding, wading and even surfing.

Great Sand Dunes National Park's sand dunes rise as high as 750 feet.

With the help of the National Conservancy, when the National Monument was expanded to a National Park, parts of Baca Ranch were included. The size of Great Sand Dunes National Park is about 3 times bigger than when it was a National Monument. Included in the National Park is Kit Carson Mountain at 14,165 feet in elevation.

Inside Great Sand Dunes National Park you will find 6 peaks over 13,000 feet in elevation, forests of cottonwood and aspen, plus spruce and pine forests, along with grasslands and wetlands providing habitat for diverse plant species and wildlife.

According to a study made by the National Park Service, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is the quietest national park in the lower 48 United States.

In addition to being quiet, this national park is also very windy. You can easily witness the dune building process as you hike on the Sand Dunes being pelted by blowing sand and small rocks.

For detailed current information about conditions at Great Sand Dunes National Park, including the water flow of Medano Creek, visit the National Park Service's official Great Sand Dunes National Park website.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is about 38 miles northeast of Alamosa via US 160 and SR 150. The map below will give you an idea of where the National Park is located in Colorado...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taking a Roadtrip to Telluride Colorado for the Film Festival and Bridal Veil Falls Hike

Telluride, Colorado is in a box canyon on the San Miguel River on the west slope of the Uncompahgre Range of the San Juan Mountains.

In 1875 mining claims started being staked in the area around a supply camp called Columbia. Soon the name of the supply camp was changed to Telluride, named after tellurium, the non-metallic matrix in which gold and silver appeared.

By the 1890s Telluride began to try to gain some respectability to counter its reputation for being a bit on the wild side. The luxurious Sheridan Hotel and next door opera house were built in 1891.

Famous people such as Lillian Gish, Sarah Bernhardt and William Jennings Bryan appeared at the Sheridan Opera House.

In 1889 Butch Cassidy impressed Telluride with the unauthorized withdrawal of around $30,000 from the San Miguel Valley Bank in what is believed to be his first bank robbery.

Telluride did not turn into a ghost town when the mining began to slow down. Instead Telluride's main industry became tourism. Hippies started showing up in Telluride in the late 1960s.

Telluride Ski Resort turned Telluride into a major skiing destination. Other outdoor activities turned Telluride into a year round tourist attraction with mountain biking, hiking and river rafting.

The Telluride Film Festival, held over Labor Day Weekend, has become an internationally significant film festival.

About 2 1/2 miles southeast of Telluride, Bridal Veil Creek drops 365 feet over Bridal Veil Falls. On the edge of the cliff above the falls sits a renovated 1907 building which housed one of the oldest Westinghouse generators in existence. The generator has been restored and is providing hydro power to Telluride.

Hikers and mountain bikers can take a mining road built in the late 1800s to the power station and Bridal Veil Falls. Another dramatic hike up the canyon begins on the edge of town and climbs 1,100 feet to Bear Creek Falls.

In the Telluride Historical Museum you will find exhibits that chronicle the history of Telluride from the early mining days to the present.

Telluride is at an elevation of around 8,750 feet. The Roadtrip to Telluride involves some mountain driving. From the west, Colorado Route 145 is the main way into Telluride. There are two passes into Telluride, both of which require 4 x 4 skills. Imogene Pass is the less treacherous of the two. Black Bear Pass is considered by many to be Colorado's most dangerous pass. Black Bear Pass can be driven in only one direction due to a tricky stair step section.

The map below shows you were Telluride is located in the San Juan Mountains....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Taking a Roadtrip to Leadville Colorado & Baby Doe's Matchless Mine

Leadville, Colorado, high up in the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 10,350 feet, is the highest incorporated city in the United States.

Gold was discovered in California Gulch in 1860 bringing a stamped of prospectors to what was then called Oro City.

The gold miners found themselves hampered by heavy black sand that clogged their sluice boxes.

By 1870 only a few people remained in Oro City. One of them was H.A.W. Tabor, who was to become part of a famous American saga of romance and rags to riches, immortalized forever in the opera "The Ballad of Baby Doe."

That heavy black sand turned out to be carbonate of lead and was full of silver. By 1878 Oro City had become Leadville and was again a boom town of over 30,000, with the now wealthy Mr. Tabor the town's mayor. Tabor bought up as many mine claims as he could in the Leadville Mining District, including the Matchless Mine, which brought in around $100,000 a month at its production peak.

Tabor become a money spending machine, thoroughly enjoying his wealth. This annoyed his austere wife, Augusta. Soon Tabor took up with a young beauty named Elizabeth McCourt Doe, more popularly known as Baby Doe. Tabor divorced Augusta and married Baby Doe, then moved to Denver to begin his career as a public servant.

H.A.W. Tabor lost his fortune in the Panic of 1893, but held on to the Matchless Mine. On his deathbed, in 1899 Tabor told Baby Doe to "Hang onto the Matchless." And so she did, til Baby Doe died in abject poverty in 1933.

While visiting Leadville you can get out of your vehicle and take a scenic, narrated railroad trip through Colorado mining country, from Leadville to Climax, on the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad Company train.

If you want to learn more about mining you can visit Leadville's National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, located in a Victorian style school built during the silver boom. Exhibits trace the history of mining all the way back to the ancient Egyptian forward in time to large scale mechanized modern mining operations.

When it was built in 1879 the Tabor Opera House was billed as the "largest and best, West of the Mississippi!" The Tabor Opera House retains the look of its "last show," when wealthy miners were willing to spend a lot of money to experience the talents of famous performers from New York City.

All the highways in Lake County, of which Leadville is the county seat, are part of the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway. You have a couple highway choices to Roadtrip into Leadville. US 24 takes you to Leadville from the Minturn exit from Interstate 70. Colorado State  Highway 91 connects Leadville to Interstate 70 near Copper Mountain. This would be the route you'd take to Leadville if you were coming from the Denver direction.

The map below shows you where Leadville is located, south of Interstate 70....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taking a Roadtrip to Cripple Creek Colorado's Casinos

Cripple Creek, Colorado was a town that had seen its gold mining days long gone, like Deadwood, South Dakota, with its tourist attraction attribute centering around its historic past and being a sort of ghost town.

And then legalized gambling came to both towns, turning both into tourist attractions for entirely new reasons.

Casinos now occupy many of Cripple Creek's historic buildings, bringing revenue and economic vitality back to this area of Colorado located about 10 miles southwest of Pikes Peak, as a bird flies.

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad
In addition to casinos, in Cripple Creek you will also find the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, next to the Cripple Creek District Museum.

For a reasonably priced fare you can take a 4-mile, 45-minute train ride behind a coal-burning steam locomotive, taking you past abandoned mines.

You can also go 1,000 feet underground on a tour of the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine. It gets cold underground, so the mine tour supplies a jacket if you need one.

Cripple Creek's gold boom began in the spring of 1891 when Bob Womack realized the color on the ground at Womack Ranch was gold. Womack took a supply of gold to Colorado City (now Colorado Springs) where he had a fine time going on a binge, spending his gold. Womack then made the mistake of selling his claim for $500. That claim eventually produced more than $350 million in gold. Womack died broke on August 10, 1909.

You can Roadtrip yourself to Cripple Creek by driving from Colorado Springs on US 24 and State Route 67. If you are adventurous and your vehicle can handle it, you can take Gold Camp to Cripple Creek. The Phantom Canyon Road heads south from Cripple Creek to US 50, 7 miles east of Canon City. Only experienced mountain drivers should attempt the Gold Camp and Phantom Canyon routes.

The map below shows Cripple Creek's location in relationship to Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument, established in 1933, is located off Utah State Route 14, between Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar City, is a 3 mile wide natural limestone amphitheater eroded to a depth of almost 2,500 feet. Translated into English, the local Indians called Cedar Breaks the "Circle of Painted Cliffs." The elevation of the rim of the canyon is over 10,000 feet above sea level.

The eroded rock of Cedar Breaks is similar to formations at Bryce Canyon National Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park, with differences which make Cedar Breaks unique. Snow often makes Cedar Breaks National Monument inaccessible to vehicles from October through May. the Monument's visitor center is open only from June through October, although park headquarters is open the rest of the year.

Cedar Breaks National Monument is not as heavily visited as some of nearby Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. This makes Cedar Breaks National Monument a less crowded place to visit during the heavy touristing time of the year, when Bryce Canyon and Zion can be a bit crowded.

Cedar Breaks National Monument is the location of the headwaters of Mammoth Creek, a tributary of the Sevier River.

Below the Cedar Break's amphitheater's rim the "breaks" slope sharply downward in ragged walls, spires, arches and columns, colored shades of yellow, orange, purple and red. The colors come from the mineral oxides in the rock.

Bristlecone Pines are among the oldest plants on Earth. You will find the pine trees clinging to the windswept ridges above the rim.

You will find hiking trails throughout Cedar Breaks National Monument, including along the rim. Also on the rim you will find camping and picnic facilities near Point Supreme.

In summer the Cedar Breaks meadows and slopes have added color due to wildflowers. There is also wildlife habitat in the form of mule deer, which you may find grazing on the meadows in the early morning. A self-guided trail takes you from the Chessman Meadow parking lot to Alpine Pond, which you will find to be a beautiful spot to take in the view.

If you are Roadtripping through the Utah National Park and Monuments, you will want to add Cedar Breaks National Monument to your list of what you want to visit.

Click on the map below to get a closer look at where Cedar Breaks National Monument is located in relationship to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.