Saturday, February 28, 2009

Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds – Plenty to keep us busy Saturday

This morning Zack and I awoke and decided that we were going to do something different. Around 9:00AM we hopped in the car and headed south on I-25. We went past our normal stomping grounds on the Palmer Divide, over the peak of Monument Hill, past the silent B-52 guarding the entrance of the Air Force Academy – we kept going until we arrived at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The Garden of the Gods is a set of unique rock formations on the western outskirts of Colorado Springs. This area was established as a Colorado Springs City Park in 1909 as a bequest from railroad tycoon, Charles E. Perkins. The original bequest was 480 acres which has been added to over the years by land purchased by the city of Colorado Springs. The thing that makes the rock formations of the Garden of the Gods so dramatic is their shape and the coloration of the rock from which they are made. Ancient sedimentary rock of white and red sandstone, conglomerates and limestone gives these massive formations exquisite character and beauty. Many of the formations seem to be in recognizable shapes – such as the famous “Kissing Camels”. All of the rock that makes up the Garden of the Gods was originally laid down when what is now Colorado was at the bottom of a prehistoric sea. The rock was raised up and went from being horizontal to vertical when the great mountain building forces that raised up Pikes Peak and other mountains of the Front Range where taking place. There are many miles of trail throughout the Garden of the Gods. Zack and I chose to hike on some of the less traveled trails. This park is one of the most visited places in the whole state of Colorado. It is frequently overrun with people, so we definitely wanted to get out of the crowded heart of the park. We chose a route that took us around much of the periphery of the park. We couldn’t resist visiting some of the spectacular formations. I got plenty of pictures of Zack climbing on the rocks and with Pikes Peak in the background.

The hike was somewhat rugged as we kept plunging down into ravines and gulches and then having to climb out of them. Though we only covered 4 miles on the hike we did get in a pretty good workout. We spent about 2 hours at the Garden of the Gods before we moved on to our next destination. Since we drove to Colorado Spring I figured we might as well do a couple of things. Our second stop was the Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs. This is a historic area that is just west of Colorado Springs. The Cave of the Winds is a large cave complex that has been eroded through the limestone of the high walls of the canyon in which it is located. The cave was first discovered by two boys in the 1880’s when they heard the sound of wind whistling over the cave entrance. This became a popular tourist spot for people from Colorado Springs in the last 1890’s and early twentieth century. We arrived at the Cave around noon and bought tickets for the next tour group. Our group left right after we purchased our tickets so there was no waiting around. The tour takes about 45 minutes and leads you through some of the more accessible chambers in the complex. Much of the cave has been excavated from all the mud and muck that made it a difficult journey in the old days. There are many steep grades, low ceiling and narrow passageway, but in general, getting around the cave is fairly easy. There are a number of impressive stalagmites and stalactites located throughout the cave. Zack was very afraid that we were going to get lost during the tour. He constantly wanted to stay at the front of the group to keep the tour guide in sight. It was kind of funny to me, but I think he was a little scared. I wouldn’t let them little man out of my sight as I didn’t want him getting scared and freaking out. Despite being a little bit afraid Zack was excited and definitely enjoyed the tour.

After completing the tour we had to spend some time in the ubiquitous gift shop. I don’t think I will ever be able to take Zack to a place like this WITHOUT visiting the gift shop. We then took a drive through Manitou Springs itself as neither of us had ever been there. McDonalds for a quick lunch was the next required stop as it was nearly 2PM and both of us were famished! Our evening doesn’t hold any great events. Zack received a video game today as a reward for his good parent teacher conferences this past week. When I am finished posting this I will be calling Big Bill’s New York Pizza to order calzones for dinner. Big Bill is a friend of ours so in recent years we have switched our pizza allegiance to him. (His wife was a patient in the Bone Marrow North Unit at the same time as Patty. So I got to know him during those tough days.) As of now we don’t have any major adventures planned for tomorrow – Sunday. We’ll see if we figure something out to do – I am sure we will or Zack will be bursting at the seams! Until tomorrow – thanks and peace to all!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday’s Goings On and another Story from Long Ago

Another work week is complete. I am very glad for the weekend and time to not think about work. Today has been a busy day filled with lots of work and trying to keep Zack occupied as he had school off today. I don’t understand the Cherry Creek School District scheduling policy, as the kids in grades K – 8 had two days just two weeks ago and once again they have a 4 day weekend. It must really be hard for families in which both parents work outside of the home. I am very glad that I have a job that allows me to work from the majority of the time. During my lunch break we went to the bank and pulled Zack’s birth certificate out of the safety deposit box. From there we headed to the post office in Highlands Ranch to have Zack’s passport application processed. I submitted it on an expedited basis, so we will have it back in our hands by March 13th. Zack is very excited to get his passport! We have tickets to the Nuggets versus Lakers game this evening. We are planning to leave the house around 5:45PM to catch a train into downtown. Though the train ride is expensive - $14 for both of us round trip is worthwhile as I don’t have to worry about parking and if I have 1 or 2 beers at the game I don’t have to worry about driving. I thought I would post another story from long ago today. When I used to travel all the time for work I would spend countless hours on airplanes. Most of the time I would spend my plane flights either reading or sleeping. Sometimes however I would write. I wrote a lot of stories about my past. These stories were written to eventually be shared with Zack. I will be sharing all these stories with Zack, but some of them I feel are good enough to post here and share with the world. Today’s story is about my childhood living out in the middle of no-where in Norvelt, Pennsylvania and the adventures I had in the woods behind our house. The pictures with this post are just some random pictures of me as a kid. They aren't anything fancy or anything - they are just some pictures to break up the story. My family’s home in Norvelt was located on the edge of a large wooded area. At one time the wooded area had been part of farm. Once you left our house walking to the west you crossed our field and then came to the woods. First you went down a small grade. Then there was a flat section maybe fifteen feet across. This flat section had once been a road that ran to various farms throughout the area. After the flat section there was another downhill grade at which time you came to our stream. The stream was very small, maybe only a foot or two across. After you crossed the stream there was a large hill. The woods sloped upwards for the next ½ mile until you came to a tar and gravel road that marked the boundary of the woods. Located throughout the woods were the ruins (foundations only) of a farmhouse and barn. Near these foundations and in the stream I would constantly find the remains of porcelain plates, cups and other things. As a kid I constantly dug in the ground and in the stream to uncover these “treasures”.
Further up the stream from the foundation of the house were the remains of a mine railcar. This wasn’t a large railroad car. It was simply a steel cart with wheels by which miners would haul coal and slag from the mine. I always assumed that this car had come from the remains of a small mine that was found high above on the hillside. When the mining operation closed this car was probably let go or rolled down the hillside. Eventually it came to rest in the little valley through which our stream ran. Over the years it filled with dirty and sank into the soft soil. I can only ever remember it as a steel frame with a cross bar sticking up from the dirty. I suppose in the intervening 25 years or so since I last played around this cart it has probably sunk totally into the ground. A man named Fenton had planted trees throughout a large portion of the woods decades before. He had intended to turn it into a park. At the top of a large hill he built a stone pavilion that could be used for picnics. (I later found a picture of this area and found that it was called “Reservoir Hill”.) When I was a child the pavilion was still in relatively good shape. There were a few holes in the roof but nothing major. During a trip back to Norvelt in November 2000 I drove by this area and noticed that the pavilion had collapsed. The only things that remained intact were the floor and the chimney.
In addition to the pavilion a reservoir had been built on top of the hill. I believe the reservoir was built to aid in fighting fires in the area. However it had been many years since this reservoir had seen any kind of activity. This reservoir wasn’t that large but it was very deep and the sides were lined with concrete. If some one were to step into it they would plunge to the bottom. In the past water had been released from the reservoir down the hillside. This had caused a very deep and ragged gully to form down the side of the hill. Unfortunately there was a tragedy associated with this reservoir. Two kids from the area were killed in this reservoir in the early 1970’s. They had been out riding “mini-bikes” when one of the bikes caught fire. To put out the fire one of the boys dipped his riding helmet into the reservoir. The helmet, which was lined with foam, became very heavy when filled with the water. This caught the boy off guard and he lost his balance and fell into the reservoir. The second boy, Eddy Yakobishin jumped into save the first boy. Eddy was a great swimmer but the first boy who could not swim panicked and wrapped his arms around Eddy’s legs. Both boys drowned. Needless to say these woods provided me and my siblings with a playground of unlimited possibilities. Though typically it was my brother Tim and I who would be out in the woods – at least that is what I remember. Fall was always a special time of year to play in the woods. Dried weeds with long thick stocks would provide us with “truncheons”. We would use these “truncheons” as spears and swords and fight imaginary battles across the woods. Besides the “truncheon” battles, building dams was another huge activity for us. The stream I mentioned above flowed the length of the property. It originated in the many natural springs that were found throughout the woods. We built countless dams across the stream over the years. We would usually start with a large flagstone that we would position in the muck and clay at the bottom of the stream. This flagstone would usually block the majority of the stream. We would then add more rocks of various shapes and sizes, logs and then mud to chink the holes between the rocks. Eventually we would end up with a dam that would hold back a pool of water ten to twelve feet across. Sometimes the dam would stand for a couple of days. Usually we would tear it down ourselves so we could see the “huge” wall of water surge down the stream. Another fun thing to do was to topple dead trees. In one section of the woods there were mostly pine trees. A lot of trees had died and provided us with a lot of fun by pushing them to the ground. The problem was of course that this could be really dangerous if the trees were really big. To push them to the ground we would start by pushing on the tree to get it swaying back and forth. Sometimes this would result in the top section of the tree coming crashing done on top of us. Numerous times either Tim or I were nearly impaled by the tops of these trees. It was always fun to do but dangerous. We ended up getting banged up a bit but nothing major. The woods were also great fun for us with our B-B guns and shotgun. Each of us had a B-B gun of one type or another. Tim had a CO2 powered Daisy B-B gun that ran off the little CO2 cartridges. I had a pump B-B gun. We would go throughout the woods shooting at trees and leaves. We never tried really tried to kill birds with the B-B guns. However, one time I did kill a Robin by shooting it in the eye with a B-B. After that episode I made sure I never shot anywhere near birds again, because I felt so bad that I had killed the Robin. We also had a 12-gauge shotgun and 22 caliber rifle. These were used exclusively for target practice. We would mount targets of one sort or another (mainly cans) at the edge of the woods and then shoot at them from the field. We were always very safe with these guns – no Dick Cheney kind of accidents. (I added the Cheney part in 2009 just for the blog.) We realized the danger they presented to us and handled them in a safe manner. Other people who lived near us weren’t always so safe with their guns. The woods were a very popular place for people to go small game and deer hunting. I would always be very cautious between October and January because there were usually hunters everywhere. Fluorescent orange was a distinct requirement for any time I spent in the woods during these months. Needless to say people were careless and I was shot at on at least one occasion. The shooter was shooting at sound as opposed to visual confirmation of his target. Thankfully, it was only a small gauge shotgun and I was not hit by any of the pellets. Once the rest of my brothers and sisters had gone to college, I began to spend more and more time in the woods by myself. I would wander through the woods for miles and miles on the weekends. I knew every trail that ran through the woods. The woods connected into a much larger area of open land used for farming and other large wooded tracks of land. Much of the land had either been farms in earlier times or had been used for coal mining. The mines had all stopped operating 40 – 50 years earlier during the Great Depression and the area was over grown with trees and scrub brush. However, a lot of the mining equipment and structures still remained hidden under the cover of the trees and brush. This provided me with a great opportunity, though very dangerous to find new and exciting areas to explore and play. In the hey day of the mines a railroad line had run the whole way through the area. In the late 1970’s, the rails and ties that made up the railway were removed for re-cycling. This opened a huge path through the old mining areas and more desolate areas of the region. The railway had run next to the largest creek in the area called the “Big Sewickley”. There were swamps and desolate areas were no one lived for long distances around the railway line. Prior to when they took the railway line out, these areas had been total inaccessible to me. When the railway line was removed this opened these desolate areas up for my exploration. I spent countless hours and days exploring these areas. I found any mining area of interest. I collected countless railroad spikes and small pieces of mining equipment. To reach the railroad tracks, I would walk from behind our house through the woods until I reached the top of the hill above Hubert’s farm – one of our neighbors. From there I would cross the top of the ridge above farm and then cut down through their farm to reach the Big Sewickley creek. The railroad berm ran along the Big Sewickley. I would then walk on the rail road berm in either direction for miles and miles. Frequently I would walk as far to the west as the little town of Armburst. Or going to the east I would walk as far as old Mammoth mine slag heap. There were a couple of really neat bridges that were left intact when the railroad was taken out. The first was near a small development called 20th Century Estates off the Brinkerton road. This bridge was a stone arch bridge that was no problem to cross. The other was the remains of a steel span bridge that was located not too far behind Jay Hoffer’s funeral home. This bridge was a little scary to cross as the steel slats that made up the bridge were only 4 or 5 inch wide. The fall to the stream below wasn’t that far, but it sure would have hurt to fall. I never had a problem crossing that bridge except for a couple of times when I was out late at night and I crossed it in the dark. That was a little bit scary. Another fun thing I did in the woods was build myself a major “campsite” area. I never camped there per say, but I created a nice area with fire circle, log seat, lean-to and an elevated fire table. My campsite was built on the flat area that had been a road directly behind our house. It first started as simply a fire circle where I could build a fire and hang out. I then added a bunch of log seats by splitting several choke cherry logs in half length-wise and then putting them on smaller logs. I put my lashing skills together to build my elevated fire table and my lean-to. I hammered 4 hip-level wooden branches into the ground as the starting point for the fire table. I then lashed 4 more branches around the ones I hammered into the ground to form a frame. To create the table I lashed lots of other branches across the frame to form a table. To complete the fire table, I dug up a bunch of sod and placed it on top of the wooden table. This allowed me to have a fire without having to bend over to work with it or to burn through the framed table I made. The lean-to was pretty simply, just a frame lashed together. I thatched it by harvesting long swamp grass from the swamps next to the Big Sewickley. There were many slag heaps or “bony piles” located throughout my roaming range. These “bony piles” were the result of “coking” operations near the mines. As the coal was dug from the mine, it was carted to the “beehive” coke ovens nearby, put in one of the ovens, lit on fire and then bricked over. The resulting slow burning fire would cause the impurities to separate from the coal and the final product – a high carbon, cleaner burning fuel called coke would be shipped off to the steel mills of Pittsburgh. Of course by the time I was wandering these woods, the coke oven operations were a thing of the long ago past. The ovens and bony piles remained but that was all. As a little kid I never attempted to climb them. But as I became I teenager I climbed every single one of them. Some of these heaps were 200 – 300 feet tall. Most of them looked like the long drawn back of a whale due to the way the slag had been dumped on them. Besides going up the long gradual incline to the top, I would also scale the steepest parts of these piles. There were many close calls for me during those times. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it my parents never realized how far a field I was roaming. They assumed that I was staying close to home in the woods right behind our house. I do remember once explaining to my mom how far I went and she was amazed. I don’t know that she really like it, but, I wasn't getting into any trouble so it was OK. The woods provided me with a wonderful place to play and imagine. I remember those times I spent in the woods with happiness and joy. Even today whenever I go back to Norvelt I try and spend time in those woods. They will always be special to me. Please check for updates later this weekend. Zack and I plan to get out and about tomorrow and do some hiking. My head needs some serious solitude of the wilderness. Thanks and peace to all!

A Blog Update

Yesterday was the first day in a while that I didn't update the blog. I just didn't have the time as the day was crazy with work and I just wasn't quite in the mood.
With that said - I am going to be working to update this blog everyday. I have found it fun to write about things and write about what is going on around me. I hope that there are people who follow this blog on a regular basis and who enjoy my writing.
If you have thoughts or comments about anything I write, please do leave a comment or send me an e-mail message as I would love to hear what you have to say.
I am going to keep this post short for now as I need to get to work. I will write a longer post later today. Zack is off of school today so I will be balancing work and the Z-man. He is off because Cherry Creek School has the day off for conferences. During my lunch hour we are running out to the bank to get his birth certicate out of the safe deposit box. With that in hand we are heading to the post office to get his passport application processed. We are both quite excited about this!
Til later - peace!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Gore Range and Happenings on Wednesday

Yesterday I wrote about Red Buffalo Pass which is located in the Gore Range of the Rocky Mountains. Today I figured I would write a little bit about the Gore Range. There are many “ranges” that make up the Rocky Mountains. According to Wikipedia, “a range is a chain of mountains bordered by highlands or separated from other mountains by passes or valleys. Individual mountains within the same mountain range do not necessarily have the same geology, though they often do.” Here in Colorado you will frequently hear about a number of different ranges. Some of these ranges are: the Front Range, the Elkheads, the Wet Mountains, the Sangre de Cristo, the San Juans, the Mosquito Range, etc. The weather forecasters here in Denver frequently refer to these mountains ranges to describe what sections of the state are going to receive snow storms or rain showers. The Gore Range runs for about 60 miles from the northwest to the southeast. The northern most point of the Gore Range starts at I-70 near Silverthorne, Dillon, Frisco and Copper Mountain. The topology of the Gore Range looks very different than the typical mountain range in Colorado. Many of the mountains are very sharp and jagged with long ridges running between the peaks. There are no 14,000 foot mountains in this range. The tallest peak in the Gore Range is Mount Powell at 13,566 feet. Above: The Gore Range from Ute Pass Many of the tallest peaks in the Gore Range are not easily accessible. Most of these peaks are not even named and are represented on topo maps simply as “Peak A”, “Peak B”, “Peak C”, etc. To reach the highest peaks requires lengthy hikes as there are no roads or 4x4 tracks that traverse the range. Due to this, the mountains of the Gore Range are often lonely, desolate places that are infrequently visited by people. There are even reported to be some peaks in the Gore Range that have never been climbed/hiked by people before. The geology of the Gore Range also separates it from many of the other mountain ranges in Colorado. The geology of this range is described in the following manner on the website SummitPost.Org. “Geologicaly the Gore Range is a fault-block mountain range. Similiar to the Sangre de Cristos of Colorado and the Tetons of Wyoming in that these ranges are bounded by faults that broke and shifted, thrusting up the mountains while downdropping the valleys. Although the rock is similiar to the Idaho Springs Formation of the Front Range, the rugged Gore's contrasting orogensis makes these mountains look quite different from the glaciated folded anticline that makes up the Front Range. Glaciers played an even more extensive role in carving the cirques and spires that abound in the Gores compared to adjacent ranges. Many of the drainages are choked by large terminal moraines at their lower reaches and cut by successive headwalls higher up. Many headwalls are graced with gorgeous waterfalls. The most dramatic summits and aretes are often located at the head of multiple glacial cirques.” Our “mountain house” is located on the flank of one of most prominent of the mountains that make up the Gore Range. Buffalo Mountain is on the northern most part of the Gore Range. This humped back mountain is a familiar feature to anyone who frequently travels I-70 through the mountains. Its appearance does make one think of the hump on the back of a buffalo. The mountain is huge with flanks that spread out for miles on every side. Our condo is located in the Wildernest sub-division will is built on the northeastern flank of the mountain. Though the highest peaks in the Gore Range are not easily accessible, there are several scenic hikes that are near convenient trail heads. My favorite is the Lower Cataract Lake Trail. This trail winds its way around Lower Cataract Lake. The lake is named this because it is the lower of two lakes are that connected by a stream that flows down hill over a very lengthy in course in what is essentially a waterfall. The connecting stream between the two lakes is probably 2 – 3 miles long and the majority of its run is over waterfalls and cataracts. As soon as you arrive at the Lower Cataract Trail Head you can hear the waterfalls. The sound of these waterfalls fills the entire valley within which the lake is located. The lake is beautiful and the water is freezing and crystal clear. There is a wooden picnic table situated right near the lake for afternoon picnics over looking the water. The trail around the lake is a good trail and for the most part keeps you out of the “swampy” zone at the edge of the lake. Once you are half way around the lake you come to the place where the stream empties into it. The water pours down over countless small waterfalls in the midst of a heavily wooded glade. There is split wood beam bridge that crosses over the stream. It is a great place to hang out and take pictures or just a place to watch the water and enjoy the solitude.
Above: Lower Cataract Lake
After crossing the bridge you cross over a series of flat meadows that were obvious once part of the lake but have now silted over. The ground here is covered in a rich thick, deep green grass. As long as the ground is reasonably dry it is a wonderfully soft place to lie down for a nap. After passing through the meadows, the trail ascending a series of steep slopes as the eastern side of the lake shore is made up of a steep cliffs that plunge straight down into the lake. This section of the hike is the only strenuous part, but thankfully after one mile of these slopes you return to the starting point for the trail.

Above: The Cataract that earned Lower Cataract Lake its name.

There are other hikes like this in the Gore Range. Some of them are my favorite hikes and I will be sure to write more about them in future blog postings. The goings on for the day were the same-old, same-old. It was Wednesday so the cleaning ladies - Kathy and Kelly came today so we have a nice clean house. Work has been very strenuous and tough these last couple of days. Zack had a great day at school from what he said. He had tutoring at Sylvan this afternoon. I managed to get out of a walk after I was done with work before the sun went down. We had omelet’s for dinner – egg, ham and cheese with a bunch of cantaloupe. For the rest of the evening we are going to sit around and watch a show we DVR’ed on the History Channel. The show is called “Universe” and covers various topics about outer space. This evening we are going to watch an episode called “Light Speed”.

On another note.... Today was my late wife's birthday. I can't say that it has really effected me. In fact I haven't felt bad at all, as I have remembered the good times we hard. What has been weighing heavily on my mind recently is the situation with a friend. I did said something stupid that has effect our relationship. I wish I could take it back and have things go back to the way they were between us. Til later – thanks and peace to all!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Red Buffalo Pass - and Today's Happenings

Located ten miles to the north west of Silverthorne, Colorado, Red Buffalo Pass is a paradise of high alpine splendor in the midst of the Gore Range of mountains. This pass - though not particular well known played a minor role in the US environmental movement. In the late 1960’s the Federal Government was in the process of completing the Interstate highway system across the United States. One of the biggest areas that had yet to be spanned by highways was the planned I-70 corridor through the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. As the highway planners looked for a likely route from what would become the Eisenhower tunnel and Silverthorne to Vail, their interest fell upon an isolated mountain pass called Red Buffalo Pass. This pass provided the most direct route from the town of Silverthorne to Vail. However this pass was located in an area of pristine wilderness that had not been substantially exploited during the gold and silver rushes of the late 1800’s. As the plans started to be discussed as to where I-70 would go, opposition began to mount concerning the proposed route over Red Buffalo Pass. The public outcry lead to a Federal Transportation Department decision in 1968 to route I-70 through Ten Mile Canyon along the route already used by US 6. Ten Mile Canyon, while scenic in its own right had been heavily mined and exploited during the late 1800’s. At one point in the 1880’s it was reported that over 10,000 people lived and mined the area in Ten Mile Canyon. Today Red Buffalo Pass sits in the midst of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area and is forever preserved in its pristine condition. The name Red Buffalo Pass comes from the fact that the pass is located in a “saddle” between Buffalo Mountain to the south and Red Peak to the north. The hike to Red Buffalo Pass is long and depending upon the route it can be quite difficult. This hike is better taken as an overnighter as opposed to a day-hike. Regardless of how difficult the hike to the pass is, the view and the wildflowers are well worth the effort.
I last made this hike in the summer of 2005. I started my hike from the trail head access point at the top of Ryan Gulch Road in the Wildernest development. The hike starts with a very steep climb that is followed by ¾ of mile of scrambling over boulder fields as you make your way around the side of Buffalo Mountain. Unfortunately, during this scramble you are losing a lot of elevation as the trail is generally heading down hill. You break out of the forest in a dramatic fashion as you come across a wide and very long avalanche run on the northeastern side of Buffalo Mountain. The trail re-enters the forest and crosses South Willow Creek and intersects with the Gore Range Trail. About ½ miles after the trail intersection, you come upon one of the hidden gems of this hike – South Willow Falls. The falls are made up of several narrow plumes eroded in the rock through which the water tumbles downs. The volume of water forced through these narrow plumes is pretty remarkable and the falls are actually quite impressive as the water falls over 50 feet. After the falls you enter an area of thick scrub willow and scrub oak through which the trail winds. This part of the hike is difficult and you are constantly being snagged by the trees. During my passage through this area, I saw 3 marmots gorging themselves on as much food as they could. The growing season at this altitude is so short that the animals that live there use every hour of the summer to bulk up and prepare for the long brutal winters. There were signs of numerous avalanche runs descending from both Buffalo Mountain and Red Peak in this area. I know people snowshoe/cross country ski into this area in the winter, but to me it appears too dangerous. Finally after what seemed to be ages you break out of the scrub willow and oak and emerge into a wonderful world of high alpine meadows filled with small lakes and wildflowers. The pass itself rises up from the “bowl” that forms in the junction between the two mountains. When you are finally at the top of the pass you can see a trail snaking downward into the forests below. If you were to follow this path you would eventually reach Deluge Lake and Gore Creek – from which you have easy access to Vail.
It took me the better part of the day to reach the pass and to return to the trail head. According to my GPS I logged over 15 miles of hard hiking that day. It was very tiring day that left me exhausted but as you can see from some of the pictures posted in this entry, it was well worth it. I took these pictures with my 35mm Digital SLR. As for what is going on today – not much except for a lot of work. Things at work are very busy and hectic. Zack had a good day at school and we managed to fit some out door activity after I was done with work and Zack was done with his homework. Before the sun went down we head out and took a couple mile hike on the Lee Gulch Trail in Littleton. I even persuaded Nancy to go out to dinner with us. Nothing fancy we just went out to IHOP, but nonetheless it was the first time I have managed to get Nancy to go out to dinner with us in ages. Going to IHOP was a bit of a mistake as it was “National Pancake Day” and you could get free pancakes – so the place was packed. Zack did a nice thing when we were there. He had a dollar that Nancy had given him for having a good day at school. (She gives him 50 cents per day that he doesn’t get in trouble.) He took the dollar and put it in the donation kettle for the Shriners who were collecting donations there tonight. How thoughtful was that of the little boy! I am so proud of my little man! On another note – today is my sister Stephanie’s birthday. Happy Birthday Stephanie! Thanks and peace to all!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Parent Teacher Conferences

Today was another “d-day” for Zack. I had 2 different parent teacher conferences today. The first was with his 4th grade teacher at Willow Creek and the second was with the education director at Sylvan. The conferences went pretty much as expected. His teacher has seen a lot of improvement in him since the first parent teacher conference back in November. I believe that he has pretty well dealt with a lot of the issues that came out of Patty’s passing and we are now just dealing with normal Zack issues. (In regard to that, Zack’s psychologist doesn’t feel that she needs to see him every week. We are going to keep up the every week thing until Spring Break just because the sessions are already scheduled, but after that we will go to once every other week.) The Sylvan conference was pretty perfunctory. Zack is progressing well with his course of study with them. I can see some improvement in his overall writing skill so I am pleased with what is happening with Sylvan. After Sylvan we came home and quickly got into the swing of things here. Zack had some math homework to do and I had dinner to get ready. I had planned on making a large dinner tonight of chicken stir-fry, however, I am feeling like I am picking up another illness – the stomach bug. So I ended up making Zack some pierogies for dinner and I had nothing. I am hoping that I am not getting sick but if I am, I don’t want a lot in my stomach! Then again - it could be stress, as I am feeling anxious about a particular issue right now. Between work and Zack’s parent teacher conferences, I managed to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store at lunch time. Zack and I are going to attempt to make some beef jerky this week so I picked up a beef roast. We are going to experiment with the different spices we put on the beef to see what kinds of tastes we can get. I am sure we will drive the dogs crazy as they are going to have to smell this drying beef for about 12 hours while we make the jerky. We are just going to use the oven for this attempt but if we like it we have talked about buying a dehydrator. Zack and I are both big fans of beef jerky, but it is so expensive to buy in the store. So if we can make it for ourselves it will be fun and it will save us a lot of money I am sure. Our evening doesn’t hold any major plans. Right now I am on the couch with my laptop while Zack plays his “approved” 30 minutes of Wii. He had a good day at school so he can play some video games. We will then spend sometime reading together and then I will get the little man into bed. Anyway – that’s it for the day. It is time for me to put down the laptop and relax for a little bit before it’s Zack’s bed time. Til later – thanks and peace to all!

Something on my mind...

When I started this blog back in November, I set it up as a specific place where I would talk about the life that Zack and I were leading since Patty left us. Rarely have I referred to Patty in this blog except in passing reference or when I have posted a story from the past – like the story about Devon a couple of days ago. Today I have something very specific on my mind that I want to share regarding the last several years. This will probably be one of the very few times that I specifically address this kind of issue on this blog. I am writing this because of several things that have happened in the last week or two. I am only going to relate one of these things. The other things that have occurred have weighed heavily on my mind and I don’t wish to post them here. The one event that I will relate is a conversation that took place last Friday with Zack’s psychologist. Dr. J (as we call her) had to cancel the last several appointments with Zack because her mother was very ill and in her last days. Last Friday’s appointment was the first time we had seen her in almost a month. The first thing that both Zack and I did when we entered the office on Friday was offer our condolences upon the passing of Dr. J’s mother. In the conversation that followed, Dr. J expressed her thanks and said that her experience of the last 2 weeks had made her understand better what we had been through during the last 2.5 years with Patty’s illness. She said that the week while her mother had been in hospice care was so exceeding hard. I could definitely understand what she was expressing! Dr. J then went on to say, she could not possibly understand how Zack and I had survived what we had enduring from March of 2006 when Patty first became ill. As a psychologist she couldn’t understand how both Zack and I had survived the level of trauma we had and yet had held things together as well as we had. I was taken aback by what she said in a lot of ways. I have never viewed either Zack or I as victims in this situation. I have viewed as participants in the life of a person we loved dearly, but not victims who should be traumatized. Though I was shocked by the depth of her feelings what we had been through – I was proud of myself. I was proud of myself in the fact that I have survived this trauma and I have pulled my child through it relatively intact. It was one of the toughest times in my life and I had to make some horrible choices and decisions along the way. I am not happy about all that occurred during those 2.5 years. But I can’t change the past. I am not happy about the thoughts that raced through my head. I am not happy about all the actions that I took. But I did what I could to help Patty and to help myself survive. Would I do it differently if I had to do it again – that’s a tough call. But I can’t change where I am now. I made the decisions I did, said the words I did. It is all in the past, I am stronger for it and I am going to go on and I am going to thrive! So with all that said… what is the point of this post? The point is this – I fought a horrible battle during those 2.5 years. The details of that battle are horrific and I want to put it in my past. I hope those people around me who care about me – will understand this and accept it for what it is. I am sure this post does not make sense to most people – but it was something I had to write and put out there as it important to me. I will post another update this evening. For whatever reason, I am in a “bloggy” mood. I just have this need to put a lot of stuff here on the blog. Thanks and peace to all!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Passport Pictures for Zack

Unlike Saturday we did not have any major plans for outdoor activity. The day was a little warmer, but overcast and gray and we decided it would be a perfect day to stay low-key. One activity that I was determined to complete today was getting Zack’s passport photos taken. I want to get his passport in hand so that if I have to travel overseas for work again I will be able to take Zack with me if I chose to do so. I will be filling out the paperwork for the passport this week and then getting sent off on an expedited basis. Prior to my trip to the UK two weeks ago, I had to renew my passport as it had expired while Patty was ill. It only took 2 days to get it processed and back in my hands. We are still planning to go overseas for his spring break. This is a trip that we have talked about for a long time and I really want to make it happen for Zack. We are planning to go to France with the intent of spending most of our time in Paris. Now, I haven’t finalized all of our travel plans as of yet, but I am the kind of person who frequently does these trips by the seat of my pants. A couple of years ago I was working in Grenoble in Southern France and I decided at 5:00PM on a Friday night that I was going to go to Paris. I didn’t have train tickets or a place to stay. I managed to get back to my hotel – throw a few things in a back pack, catch a taxi to the Grenoble train station and get on board a train leaving for Paris by 6:10PM. When I arrived in Paris around 9:30PM that night, I had no idea of where I was going to stay or even what I was going to do. It was so exciting wandering around the city late at night finding a place to stay. I met a lot of interesting people along the way. Basically, I like traveling by the seat of my pants, as you never know where you will end up. Given that Zack will be going with me, I will have a plan and I WILL have a place to stay. I don’t mind sleeping in an airport, train station or on the street if need be, but I will not subject Zack to that! My tentative plan is to fly from Denver to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and then take the train to Paris. I like flying on Lufthansa as when I have used them in the past they are very reliable and I like the fact that there is a direct flight from Denver into Frankfurt. From the Frankfurt airport we can easily catch a train and head to Paris as there are several trains a day that with connections will allow you to reach Paris that afternoon. Getting Zack’s passport picture done was quite an effort! The person at Fedex/Kinko’s taking the picture had to take it about 8 times as Zack kept closing his eyes. Finally we got it done and it does indeed look a lot like a mug shot. Other than that we didn’t do too much today. We had lunch at Burger King and Zack got to play in the play area for a while. We also spent a ton of time bouncing on the trampoline. Now I am being beckoned by the Z man to come and join in a rousing game of Super Mario Galaxy. Umm… sometimes you just got to play the kids game! We hope everyone had a great weekend. Thanks and peace to all!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

First Colorado Trail Hike of the Season

Our plans to hike the Colorado Trail this morning (Saturday) were almost derailed by the snow that fell over night here in Colorado. We awoke this morning to 2 inches of fresh snow on the ground. This made me reconsider the hike as I figured the area we were going would have much more snow than we did here. But both Zack and I were willing to give it a shot. We figured regardless of the snow situation we could do the hike. Additionally, Lex was coming with us and he knew something was up from the moment we woke up. So had I decided not to go, I would have had one very upset dog! We headed off for our hike around 9:20AM, but first we had to make a stop for gas and a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. We did the Krispy Kreme drive through and we devoured our doughnuts as we drove. We took I-25 South to Happy Canyon Road. From there we hoped on Route 85 until we reached Sedalia and then we needed out into the middle of nowhere on Colorado 67. This road is very twisty and narrow and the speed limit is only 30MPG. On top of that the snow was still on the road and it was quite slippery in places. Thankfully, as we journeyed further into the mountains the amount of snow that had fallen was actually less than what we had at home. After about 15 miles on Colorado 67 you get off onto a dirt road that leads right down to the South Platte. This road is extremely hazardous as it is all dirt and at points there is a 15% down hill grade. I hate driving over that road! We finally reached the trailhead which is located right next to the bridge by which the Colorado trail spans the South Platte River. Both Zack and Lex were immediately drawn to the bridge. They had to cross it!
Thankfully there was very little snow on the ground. The temperature was only 23 degrees according to the thermometer in the car, however with the sun blazing down upon us, we both felt comfortable heading out with just long sleeve shirts on our backs. After both Lex and Zack were done playing around on the bridge we set out on our hike. We were headed to the east – so we won’t have to cross the bridge to start our hike – needless to say, Zack was bummed. From the trail head, the trail winds through a series of open meadows and broken forest all the while gaining altitude. The elevation gain is pretty significant in a very short period of time. We were both huffing and puffing within a short amount of time as we climbed upward. Lex was off the leash so he was running free and doing laps around us. After about ¾ of mile the open meadows gave way to thick forests of pines and the steepness of the trail began to level out. Frequent switchbacks began and the trail wound around the north side of the ridge in a gulch. Since we were now on the north side of the ridge we were in constant shadow and the trail was cover with snow. Of course underneath the snow was a thick layer of ice and we were constantly on guard to prevent ourselves from slipping and falling. To make the hike easier for Zack, we hooked Lex up to his leash and I let Zack hold the leash. This allowed for him to be partially dragged by Lex up the hill. I am sure Zack would have appreciated lower on the mountain where it was steeper; however, at that point Lex was just too wound up and would have pulled Zack over. By this point, Lex had expended the first massive surge of “puppy” energy and was a little calmer. It felt like we were on those switchbacks for a very long time, but in fact it was only about 1.5 miles of back and forth across the mountain as we slowly gained elevation. Switchbacks are very critical in terms of maintaining the health of the forest and the trail system. When a trail heads straight up a mountain, it becomes prone to erosion and the forest as a whole suffers. Though the switchbacks may make a trip up the mountain much longer, in the end run it benefits the forests. We finally reached the top of Russell Ridge and were treated to a wonderful view to the west and north. Zack was amazed by the fact that we could see so much. He loved sitting on the edge of several rocks that faced towards the west and from which there was a 20 or 30 feet vertical fall. Thankfully, with the way the sun was this morning we couldn’t really see that much of the Hayman fire damage from 2002. Damage from the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire however was right in front of us. It is hard to believe how stark and blighted the environment looks from that fire – even though it was 13 years ago. I personally think it will take another 80 – 100 years for that section of the forest to grow back. We enjoyed a break at the summit of Russell Ridge for a while before we decided it was time to head back down. The trip back down to the car was quick and easy. The worst thing we needed to watch out for was to make sure we didn’t slip and fall on the ice – which we both did several times. Today was a great hike and it will set the tone for many of the hikes we plan to take this spring and summer. We covered a total of 5.3 miles and gain over 1900 feet in elevation from the trail head to the summit of Russell Ridge.
I love getting out for these kinds of hikes and today was no exception. This week has provided me with a lot of food for thought and I certainly used this time to do some thinking. (At least when Zack wasn’t yapping away at me – which come to think of it isn’t that frequent!) I didn’t answer the things that I was thinking about but it sure did bring some clarity to the situation.
After we got home we got cleaned up and had some lunch. We plan on having a relaxing day and just taking it easy. I know that Zack and Lex will be sleeping well tonight!
We hope everyone is having a great weekend! Thanks and peace to all!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Colorado Trail

I am in a very “bloggy” mood today – as this is my second post of the day!
Zack and I are planning to do some hiking this weekend on the Colorado Trail. So I thought I would do a post about the trail. The Colorado Trail is one of the outdoor “gems” of Colorado. It is a series of trails that traverse the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango. The total distance of the trail is 430+ miles. (The exact mileage varies a little bit every year due to trail closures and detours.) The eastern starting point for the trail is just outside of Denver in a place called Waterton Canyon. This canyon is where the South Platte River emerges from the mountains and begins flowing across the Great Plains. Waterton Canyon is also the source of Denver’s water. Water from the reservoirs in the mountains is channeled through the South Platte River and is then extracted from the river at diversion points in Waterton Canyon.
(The picture above is of bighorn sheep on the sides of Waterton Canyon.)
From Waterton Canyon, the trail heads to the southwest as it journeys over the first ridges of the Front Range mountains. This section of the trail, though close to the cities of the Denver Metro area I have found is not well traveled. Once the trail reaches the South Platte River again at a point 15 miles north of the town of Deckers, it journeys through the burn areas created by the Buffalo Creek fire of 1996 and the Hayman fire of 2002. Once through this desolate, foreboding section the trail begins it true journey through the alpine glory of Colorado.

(The picture above is from the top of the ridge above the South Platte River prior to the Hayman Fire of 2002.)

Along the way to Durango, the trail crosses some of the wonderful “Wilderness Areas” of Colorado. (A wilderness area is a federal designated area in which there can be no development and in which all motorized traffic is prohibited.) Additionally, access to some of the states highest 14er’s is just a short way from the trail itself. The trail runs across the flanks of both Mount Massive and Mount Elbert – the two tallest mountains in the state. Hiking the trail the whole way through without stopping is quite a feat. It normally takes people between 1 and 2 months to complete the journey. However, timing your hike is a difficult proposition. Due to the elevation of much of the trail, it does not become snow free and passable until late June at the earliest or mid July at the latest. Given that snow begins to fall at the higher elevation again in late August to mid-September, the window of opportunity to clear some sections of the trail is very limited. On top of the issue of timing, storms and lightning are another constant issue that needs to be dealt with during any Colorado Trail hike. Since the elevation is so high, much of the trail is above tree line. Any human out on the high alpine terrain during a storm becomes a constant target for lightning. Many hikers rise very early to get done with their day’s hike before noon to avoid the worst of the almost daily thunderstorms. Additionally, it is advisable to journey several miles off the trail to find a suitable campsite that is BELOW tree line. There is nothing worse than being in your tent above tree line when a huge thunderstorm comes upon you. From my own personal experience I will tell you it is one of the worst things you can face – nature at it’s wildest. Anytime you experience this, it reminds to be careful where you camp! Zack and I are planning to hike a section of the trail from the bridge over the South Platte near Deckers to the east on Saturday morning. Our hike will be characterized by a very steep and long climb up to a ridge call Russell Ridge that is high above the South Platte. From there we will have a fabulous view up and down the river for many miles. Unfortunately when we look to the south all we will see is the tremendous damage done by the Hayman fire of 2002. I doubt that we will go much past Russell Ridge as the hike there and back will be between 6 and 7 miles. At this point, Zack loves hiking with me and the one thing I don’t want to do is turn him off to it by taking him on one of my 10 or 15 mile long “death marches”. So for now – 6 or 7 miles per day is the limit! Through hiking the Colorado Trail is one of the goals on my list of “lifetime” goals. Of course being able to do that will ultimately depend upon what happens in life. If things continue the way they are now, I am hoping to do that hike in the summer of 2013 or 2014 when Zack is 15 or 16. I am sure it would be a wonderful experience for the two of us. Other than our hike we have no major plans for the weekend. I think we are just going to be hanging around the house. I have a couple of major cleaning projects that are underway but that is about it. The weather is supposed to be good on Sunday – so that may give me the opportunity to get out the bicycle and do my first ride of the season – provided I go and get a new inner tube today and mount it. But I need to get going as Death Ride 2009 is only 4.5 months away! I will be sure to do another post over the weekend with a report about how our hike went.

Til then - thanks and peace to all!

A Good Report Card!

Today was D-day at school. I was quite worried about it! Today was report card day. In my opinion - Zack hit a home run out of the park with the grades he got! Zack's first report card of the year came in early November. I can't say that I was very pleased with that one. But some times I need to step back and realize that report card came a little less than 5 months after Patty had died. To be honest, I guess I should be glad that his report card that time was as OK as it was. It could have been much worse. Both Zack and I worked very hard these last 3 months to get things to improve. Zack of course is responsible for it all. He is the one who achieved. All I did was nag. I am so proud of my son. As a parent I sit here looking at his report card bursting with pride and love for my one and only son. I am continually amazed by the strength and capabilities that my son exhibits. I know how much everything that has occurred since March 9, 2006 (when Patty - his mom first exhibited the real signs of leukemia) has effected him. But yet he has gone on and he hasn't just survived - he has thrived! All I can say is - I LOVE YOU ZACK AND I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!!!! I hope everyone has a great weekend! Thanks and peace to all!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Story from the Past - Devon

I was going through some of my old writing last night and I came across this story that I wrote over 6 years ago. It's the story of a dog called Devon - I thought it was worth sharing as it brought a huge smile to my face as I remember the soul of a wonderful friend!

This is the story of a little black Labrador Retriever/Gold Retriever who was a loving member of our family. Little “Devie” was born on February 11, 1997. At the time we had no idea that we would end up owning her. She was part of a litter of puppies born to John Zicing - one of Patty’s co-workers. Originally when we found out about the litter and saw the puppies for the first time we selected one of her littermates, a golden colored puppy to be ours.

However, on April 8, 1997 - the day we came to pick up the puppy we found out that we would not get our pick because of some situation with another family having “pick of the litter”. So we instead decided to take little Devon, the runt of the litter to be ours. Though she was small she didn’t seem afraid when we put her in the car and drove her home. Unlike our other dog, Bailey who had whimpered the whole way home, Devon was quiet and seemed content. She seemed to understand that she belonged with us and we would love her unconditionally.

When we arrived home that first day, she was eager to come inside but shortly after she came inside she decided to pee on the carpet. But that was as it should be with a little puppy that was new to her home. Bailey was quite interested in this interloper that we had brought home. He came running up to Devon with his hackles raised. He sniffed her from head to the end of her tail. He was not necessarily sure of what to make of her and Devon wasn’t sure of what to make of him.
Devon’s first night with us was a little difficult as she did cry and whimper for a good part of the night. We had set a kennel up for her in our bedroom so she would be close to us. She did manage to fall off to sleep and the 4 of us all ended up getting a good nights sleep. Bailey and Devon quickly bonded together. Bailey was very tolerant of the little puppy that was always at him. They learned to play very well together - though we did see lots and lots of roughhousing going on between the two. In one memorable incident we saw Bailey carrying Devon across our back deck by the scruff of her neck.

During this time Devon learned lots and lots from Bailey. Devon quickly became house trained and followed Bailey outdoors every morning for the “morning routine”. Besides bonding with Bailey, Devon quickly bonded with both Patty and I. She became our “little princess” who loved every bit of affection we gave her. Devon’s personality totally matched that of Bailey. Like Bailey she was happy, gregarious and totally and completely excited by life. Though I don’t like to use the term, some people classified her as being a total spaz. But the most important thing was that she was happy and every day she got to enjoy the fresh clean air and outdoors of Colorado.
In September of her first year with us, we began to notice that she was limping a little bit after vigorous periods of play and running. We took her to our vet at Companion Animal Hospital. After a series of x-rays, we were informed that she had hip dysphasia in her left hip.

We were referred to an orthopaedic specialist in Fort Collins by the name of Dr. Erich Egger. Devon had her initial appointment with Dr. Egger on November 24th, 1997. He offered us several options to think about what we could do for Devon. We could simply do nothing, have her hipbone removed or have an artificial hip inserted. The artificial hip was the most expensive option but would give Devon the best chance to have a normal life. We decided to take this option. However, due to the fact that Devon was still growing the operation could not take place until she was close to a year old.

Devon’s first surgery was scheduled for her first birthday – February 11, 1998. I took the entire week of February 10th off from work as I had just returned from a long term out of town assignment. On February 10th, I left the house shortly after noon to take Devon to Fort Collins. We didn’t go straight to the animal hospital, instead we went to Lory State Park and took a hike before hand. I managed to take some wonderful pictures of Devon as we hiked. She appeared to be very happy and enjoyed our hike very much. After our hike we went to the Animal Hospital.
Devie went with the technicians very nicely and did not show any fear. Devie’s surgery took place on February 11th. I spent the day out hiking with Bailey and then eagerly awaited word of the outcome. I received a call from Dr. Egger in mid-afternoon saying the surgery had gone well and Devie should recover with out any problems. Patty and I were quite happy that everything had gone well. The next day I drove up to Fort Collins to pick Devon up. The technicians went on and on about what a sweet and wonderful puppy Devon was. My meeting with Dr. Egger went well and he indicated that he thought Devie would make a full recovery.

As soon as we got home, Devon was eager to get back to her normal life. She chafed at the confinement she had to go through during the first several weeks after the surgery. But she did recover quickly and by early spring was back to her normal self. The next several years were wonderful for Devie as she was in prime and she didn’t experience any pain from her legs. She developed a personality that was strictly Devon. In Patty’s words she became our “mon petit kisser” due to her delicate little kisses that she would give us unlike the giant face washings we would receive from Bailey. She didn’t give many kisses but each one was delicate and conveyed a ton of love.
She loved to chase birds and squirrels even though she never had any chance of catching them. When we were out for walks she would stalk any other creature she could see. Even though she never caught anything she never, ever gave up. She would silently stalk the birds. When she exploded into a full run, the birds would simply fly off before she came anywhere near them. The relationship between Devon and Bailey blossomed and the 2 of them became inseparable. They developed a relationship that was based upon the pursuit of “puppy fun and mischief” at every turn. Their “grab-assing” became a favorite entertainment for Patty and I as we would sit and watch them play. They would lie next to each other with their mouth’s open as wide as can be and make large growling noises that would leave Patty and I laughing until our sides split.

Occasionally, the “grab-assing” would take a turn for the serious. This would normal occur when Devie would do something that would accidentally hurt Bailey or would just piss him off. For instance, the time we observed Devon biting Bailey’s penis was one of those times the “grab-assing” took a turn for the serious. When this occurred, Devon was in for a good thrashing by Bailey. He would chase her all over until he got her. He would then proceed to give her some serious nips. This kind of activity would usually end with Bailey doing his dominance dance (i.e. humping) over Devon. By that point, Devon simply wouldn’t care and would let him do what he pleased. Despite these little frays, Bailey and Devon really did love each other.

Devon and Bailey also developed a unique system for fetching buoys when they went swimming at Chatfield reservoir. They would both swim wildly to reach the buoy. Bailey would always get there first as he was the stronger swimmer. He would grab the buoy and begin to swim back to shore. However, once Devon reached him, he would drop the buoy and let her swim with it back to shore.

Besides swimming together they also loved to play “fetch” with a soft doggy Frisbee. They really didn’t end up fetching that much though. The fetch was simply the beginning of game that they would play. After you would throw the Frisbee, Bailey would usually catch it. However, he would never bring it back to me to throw again. Instead, Devon would run at his side and they would both have their mouths on the Frisbee and be running in lock step. When they stopped running they would enter in a viscous game of tug-of-war over the Frisbee. Eventually, one or the other would win and they would go running off. However, if Devon got the Frisbee you could be sure that Bailey would be hot on her tail trying to steal it away from her. And he always did.

Devon established a very thorough morning routine that she did every day. Her routine of course started when she had breakfast. Her normal breakfast was 1-½ scoops of puppy kibble. After eating her puppy kibble she would go outside and do her “business”. Then should would inevitably take a seat at the top of the stairs on our back deck. She would then proceed to sit there and survey her world. She would watch every coming and going on the greenbelt behind our house. She would watch the squirrels and birds as they went about there business in our backyard and on the greenbelt. You could always count on seeing little Devie in her spot on those stairs.

Besides just sitting on the deck, Devon had another activity that she just loved. Whenever it would snow, she would go onto the deck, or out into the yard and find the deepest snow and plunk down in it. She loved being out in the cold snow. Given her thick furry coat and her overall size, it must have felt very comfortable to sit there in the snow. Whenever we had a good snowstorm, you could count on Devon to do this. When it was hot in the summer you could always count on Devie to find a comfortable place to sleep under the deck in our back yard. She would work to scoop out a little indentation in the soft ground underneath the deck. She would then sprawl out in this indentation and let the earth and shade keep her cool during the hot summer days. She would spend hours and hours under the deck during these days. Bailey would lay there with her for a while, but then eventually he would crawl out from underneath and go find some other place to sleep.

Like a human, Devon established complex relationships with the other dogs in the neighbourhood. One of the most interesting relationships was that with a dog named Blossom. Blossom lived 2 houses up the street from us and we would normally go by this house every time we went out for a walk. Any time Blossom was in the back yard, Devon would have a freak out. She would run along the side fence of Blossom’s yard, barking her head off. Blossom would do the same on her side of the fence. Combined the two of them would make enough racket to awake up everyone in the neighborhood. But when Blossom and Devon would meet in person, they were the best of friends. They would run around like fiends and play with each other. It seems so amazing that they could be so different when a fence separated them.

Kirby the dog next door also had a love-hate relationship with Devie. They would frequently spend long periods of time across the fence from each other barking at one another. However, at other times they would still stand there and sniff each other through holes in the fence.
Whenever we could we would take Bailey and Devon out for a daily walk. Devon’s favorite walk was down to the Willow Creek Park. We would walk along the greenbelt behind our home and then down the hill to Willow Creek. (This of course was preceded by a barking fit at Blossom along the way.) Once we reached Willow Creek Devon and Bailey would take a nice long romp through the water. Once they were done in the stream we would proceed to the park. At the park there was all kinds of mischief to get into. Of course the favorite activity was meeting and greeting other dogs.

Devie was strongly protective of her home and Patty, Zack and I. She had a very, very deep and fierce bark that served to scare anyone who came near by. Whenever, we had work men come to do some work, she would make a big fuss and have her hair standing on end. But despite the bark she was very friendly with any one who came to visit. There was only one exception to this rule, which was my parent’s dog Puni. During the last year of my Mom’s life, she spent a considerable amount of time living in Denver. During that time, my parent’s dog, Puni lived with us. Puni was a nice puppy, but she was 11 years old and very set in her ways. One Friday evening we gave all 3 dogs chewies to eat. I am still not exactly sure what happened, but Devon and Puni got into it over one of the chewies. Puni tried to bite Devon and Devon reacted. Devie grabbed onto Puni’s neck with her teeth and won’t let go. In the end, Patty and I had to pry Devon off of Puni. Puni was left with several puncture marks in her neck that required attention from a vet.

Despite her fierceness, Devie could certainly exhibit a lot of “puppy qualities” where she really needed her Mom and Dad. Devie was particularly afraid of thunder and loud noises. During the summer whenever a thunderstorm would come up, you could always count on Devon running up the stairs as fast as she could and curving up in a ball near our bed. This was her refugee whenever she was really scared by loud sounds. The same thing would occur on the 4th of July and on News Year Eve when our neighbors were shooting off fireworks and firecrackers. Even despite her large size and fearlessness she was still a little puppy at heart!

Another activity that scared Devie at first but then became a favorite game with her was Patty’s Darth Vader act. Patty would change her voice to sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars and would say “Young Princess Devon” and other things. At first, when Patty started to do this to Devie it scared her something silly. However, over the years this became a favorite little game to play with Devon. Eventually, every time Patty did this to Devie, she would come up to us with her tail wagging a hundred miles a minute. The game stuck and one of the nicknames that Devon picked up as a result of this was “Princess Devie”.

We had many other nicknames for Devie over the years. We would frequently call her “little piggy” because of the way in which she would attack her food. Devie loved her food and when presented with a treat she would snarf it up as quickly as she could. Whenever we would give a treat to both Bailey and Devon, if for some reason Bailey would miss his, you could be sure Devie would pounce on it before Bay ever got the chance. However, Devie would usually gentle take the treats out of our hands unlike Bailey who would sometimes almost take our fingers off.
Besides “little piggy” we would also sometimes call Devie “snarfage” or even the “snaugage”. Though these names might sound a little harsh, they were only meant to show Devie’s love for her food.

Devie loved Zack very, very much. When Zack was first born, Devie kept her distance unlike Bailey who immediately started almost laying on top of Zack. Devie was a little bit wary of this little man. But as Zack got older and began to move around, the relationship between them became much more close.

As Zack began to crawl and walk, he found that Devie was a particularly interesting object to crawl/walk over. She was exceptionally soft and furry, so she made for fun crawling. Unlike Bailey who would immediate get up and walk away if Zack started crawling on him, Devie would just lie there and let Zack crawl all over her. As he got older, Devie became more and more protective of Zack. Particularly when we were outside for walks, Devon would constantly be on the look out of what was happening with Zack. She would never let him get too far away from her. She was Zack’s little puppy guardian angel!

Devie loved to take hikes with her Dad. Over the years, she covered many hundreds of miles on the trails of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. One of the areas that we frequently hiked was the Colorado trail starting at the South Platte River. Devon loved the opportunity to get out in nature and just run. I often let both Bailey and Devon hike with me off leash. This was usually never an issue and neither one of them ever ran off. However, Devie always like to run much further a field than Bailey ever did. She would frequently be a ¼ mile or more from me. Because of her desire to do this, and to protect them from mountain lions I equipped both Devie and Bailey with bells that they would wear when we hiked. This would allow me to keep track of them as they ran through the forest.

Devie was also an accomplished mountain climber. She climbed 2 fourteeners will me over the years. They were Mount Bierstadt and Mount Democrat. The hikes up both of these mountains were long and very hard. But Devie was a trooper nonetheless and she made it up both of them with out any major problem. To this day I have many pictures taken on the tops of these mountains with both Devon and Bailey at my side.

The hiking style Devie employed on these long hikes was quite unique and resulted in her doing double the distance I normally did. If I was hiking with any one else, Devie would continue go back and forth from the front of the line of hikers to the back of the line. As a result, for every step I took, I am quite certain that Devie took two. Even Bailey did not hike in this tiring manner! But nonetheless, Devie had the strength to do it and always made to the top with me.

Rocks and heights did not bother Devie at all. On the tops of many of mountains we hiked and climbed, the trail would become lost in the jumble of rocks and boulders that make up the summit. Bailey would usually become quite intimated by these and often I would be required to help him over some of the rocks or boulders. Devie never needed help. She seemed to be an excellent judge of how best to navigate these fields of giant boulders and rocks. She was fearless in her approach to getting through these things. And unlike Bailey, she never ended up scratched or with sore paws as a result.

In the evenings, Bailey and Devon would frequently do a favorite activity of my. They would “book end” me on the couch. I would sit on the couch watching TV and they would both get up on the couch, one of either side of me. I would sit there watching TV with one hand petting Devie and the other petting Bailey. This was always a wonderful feeling to sit there with my pups on both sides of me! When the puppies were not sleeping on the couch next to me, they would frequently vie for the most favorite position in the entire house. This was the huge chair in the study. The pups would curl up in a ball on this chair and step for hours. Devon and Bailey would do mischievous things to try and get one and another out of the chair so that they could each get in it.

Both Patty and I would frequent sit beside the chair when the puppies were sleeping there and pet them. It was a wonderfully luxurious spot for our puppies to hang out. In January of 2002 we drove across the country to Pennsylvania as my Dad was very sick and in his final days. We took both Bailey and Devon with us in the back of the Explorer.
Little did we know that this trip would herald the beginning of the illness that would eventually take Devon’s life. After a marathon 28-hour drive from Denver to Pennsylvania, we noticed that Devon had begun to limp. It wasn’t marked at first but it was certain something that bothered her. After our return from Pennsylvania we didn’t think too much about it and we went about our normal business.

However, at the beginning of April the limping was pronounced enough that we decided to take Devon to the vet to see what was going on. From the initial x-rays the vet couldn’t tell us anything and so we made an appointment at Surgical Referral Services in Loveland. Dr. Egger at Surgical Referral Services really could not figure out what was going on. There was some separation of the artificial joint from the bone but he didn’t think it was something that would be causing her a lot of pain. We all thought we would let it go for a while and see what happened.
On Friday May 31, 2002 I took what was to be my last hike with Devon. I got up early in the morning and took Bailey and Devon out to hike along the Colorado Trail near the South Platte River. We parked right near the bridge that crosses the South Platte River and we hiked to the east up the steep ridge towards Bear Creek. We made the top of the ridge and then spent a considerable amount of time sitting there looking out over the wonderful landscape. (Little did I know that this would be the last time that I would hike with Devie and the last time I would see this landscape untouched by fire. One week later a massive fire would start – the Hayman fire, that would eventually burn over 150,000 acres along the South Platte drainage.)

After we returned to the car, Bailey and Devon took a quick swim in the South Platte River. The river was moderately high with the springtime snowmelt. (What little snowmelt there was during the drought year of 2002). Both Bailey and Devon were taken by the current and swept down stream into the rapids. Bailey managed to quickly get out of the dangerous situation, but poor little Devie was pulled into the middle of the river and had to endure a serious dunking through a series of rapids before she was finally able to break free. Despite the drama both dogs had a lot of fun.

In June Devon’s limp was worse so Patty took her back to Surgical Referral Services in Loveland. After examining her x-rays, Dr. Egger determined that her left artificial hip needed to be removed because it had separated from the bone. Devon’s surgery took place on Tuesday July 2. Everything with the surgery went as planned and Devon came home on Wednesday July 3. We had lots of instructions as to what to do to get Devon back to using her left back leg.
Patty worked hard to rehabilitate her and get her using her legs properly. Patty would walk her every day to help her build strength in her leg again. As much as we worked with Devon it didn’t seem as though her strength returned. Finally at the beginning of September we decided that she needed to go back to Surgical Referral Services to see what was going on.

Devon’s appointment was on Monday, September 16th. After a brief examination, the news was not good. Dr. Egger found an unusual swelling in her left leg. After a quick x-ray he was convinced it was cancer and he referred Devon to the Animal Hospital at Colorado State University. Two days after the 3-hour round trip drive to Loveland, Patty and Zack took Devon up to CSU for an assessment. Our worst fears were realized. The doctors at CSU confirmed that Devon had cancer and it was worse that we imagined. The cancer was located in her leg, her lungs and her right eye.

They didn’t offer us any hope and informed us that they felt Devon only had 2 weeks or so to live. We were all devastated by this diagnosis. Patty and I resolved to make Devon’s final days as good for her as possible. Most of the responsibility for this fell upon Patty as I continued to work out of town in California. Patty went to great lengths to do whatever was needed to make Devon feel comfortable.

There were countless trips from our house to Fort Collins for chemotherapy and supplies of morphine. Patty and Zack worked really, really hard to do whatever they could for Devon. Devon did seem to enjoy the days and weeks of September and October. She was treated like the “little Princess” that she was. She loved all the affection and special treats that she got during this time period.

At the same time we were also in the process of taking possession of our condo in the mountains and Devon enjoy every trip we made to the mountains. She relished the opportunity to get out in the woods of Summit County and she seemed energized every time she did. At times she was her playful old self. She would go get her favorite old green and blue toy and bring that out to play. Or she would snuggle up to Bailey and rest against him.

As the calendar slowly moved into November, Devon’s condition worsened. She lost all sight in her right eye as a result of the tumour there. She frequently ran into corners and objects that she couldn’t see because of her eye. The tumour in her leg grew to a very large size and her whole leg became swollen. She began to pant constantly because of the tumour in her lungs. But despite it all she still seemed to enjoy life.

She loved the affection we showered upon her. When she didn’t feel well, the affection Patty showed to her got her through the rough patches. At night when she didn’t feel well she would come up to Patty in bed and nudge her for the affection and love she needed. After Patty sat down on the floor and held her and petted her, she would eventually fall into a restful sleep.
The weekend of November 16 and 17th found us in the mountains at our condo for the first time in several weeks. On Saturday Devon seemed to be doing well and she ate a ton of lunchmeat and kibble for dinner. Sunday, November 17, 2002 started out like normal as I took Devon and Bailey down to the courtyard to do their business. At first I didn’t really think anything was wrong, but Devon had a hard time walking through the deep snow and she fell twice. Each time I had to pick her up to get her going.

Later that day as we packed to go back down to Denver, Devon had a rough time getting up and walking. As she descended the stairs from the condo to get into the car, she collapsed several times. She just could not coordinate her actions to walk down the stairs. In the end, I had to carry her the whole way down the stairs and then assist her the few short steps from the stairs to the Explorer. She appeared to be comfortable throughout the ride from the mountains to our home.
However, once we got home we quickly determined that she was not able to walk without assistance. For a while she lay out in the cool air of the night in our front yard. Over the next 12 hours Devon steadily got worse until by early Monday morning she was not able to move much at all. She could barely lift her head or open her mouth. Patty called me early that morning as I had flown back to California for work on Sunday evening. At that point we decided that the time had come for Devie to have a peaceful death. Patty made an appointment at Companion Animal Hospital for 6:30PM that evening. I quickly arranged for a flight to come home.

That afternoon, the whole family spent hours just lying beside Devie on the floor of our study. We petted her, kissed her, tried to make her feel comfortable and we cried. At about 6:10PM we got Devie positioned on to a blanket and we carried her out to the back of the Explorer. We drove to Companion Animal Hospital with Patty in the back with her. We arrived at about 6:25PM and several members of the staff of the Hospital helped us in. Patty and I spent another 10 minutes with her, holding her and crying before Dr. Benson came in with the hypodermic. At about 6:35PM, Devon died with both Patty and I holding her close.

The following morning, I picked up my precious little Princess puppy and drove with her to Evergreen Memorial park in the mountains. In a high mountain meadow, next to the graves of many other dogs and cats, with a tremendous view of the mountains in front of her, I laid Devie to rest on her favorite bed with her favorite toy by her side.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hiking at Indian Creek

This past Sunday I decided I had to go out for a hike. It had been over a week since I was out doing any kind of major physical activity and my body was telling me it really was time to get in gear. Unfortunately for me, Zack would have none of it. He was determined to stay at home in case of one his friends who had been staying nearby at her grandparents recently decided to stop by. My hiking partner for the day was going to only be Lex. I didn’t want to go alone so I figured crazy boy was better than nothing. My starting point for this hike was the Indian Head Campground in Douglas County. This campground is located about 11 miles west of Sedalia on Colorado Highway 67. The great thing about the trails starting from this campground is that they link into a series of trails that run through Douglas County open space. Additionally, the terrain covered by these trails is very isolated and desolate. A perfect place to get out and let Lex run! I arrive at the campground with my slobbering, panting compatriot. Lex was in the front seat with me a majority of the drive as I had taken the Civic as opposed to the Explorer. Given that I don’t have any kind of dog restraint system in the Civic, he was sitting in the passenger seat right next to me for the majority of the drive. That is always interesting let me tell you! We hit the trail and quickly let Lex off leash as he was going to pull my arm out of it’s socket. After we had gone about 3/10 of a mile, Lex got pretty far ahead of me and then I heard a lot of screaming. I was afraid Lex was terrifying some one on the trail ahead so I took off at a run to catch up with him. I managed to catch up with him after a few hundred feet and he wasn’t anywhere near the screaming. At this point, I really started to wonder what was going on ahead of us. We finally caught up to the people the ahead of us and we found 2 teenage girls huddled by the side of the trail. The one girl was rubbing her left leg with her hands and look very scared and flustered. I of course stopped to see what was wrong and if I could help. It turned out that the girls were out on their horses with their dad. The girl who was rubbing her leg had her horse slip and fall and go down. The horse had landed on her leg and she was definitely sore – though she was OK. Their dad had taken the horses further up the trail to ensure that they were not hurt. I caught up with him in about 3 minutes and stopped and talked to him for a bit. Thankfully, everyone was fine – including the horse that fell. He said that the horse just had its hoofs come out from under it because of the layer of ice on the trail. When they set out on their ride they had not expected any kind of trail conditions the way they were. He was going to turn around and he out before either his kids or their horses got hurt. That was just an example of how icy the trail conditions were. I certainly had not expected the trail to be as icy as it was. There was a fresh coating of snow on the trail from several days earlier but underneath it the snow had been packed into total and complete ice. Once around the horses Lex and I moved into some very remote and desolate country. There wasn’t one sound of people anywhere to be heard. Through the trail is probably heavily used in summertime, it obviously had not seen much use this winter. We came across numerous deadfalls of multiple trees that were covering the trail. I actually like crossing the deadfalls as long as they aren’t too messed up. It is really enjoyable to see Lex run and jump over them. Man – can that dog jump! I always get a smile on my face watching a dog do some serious jumping like this.
We continued into the wild for about 2.5 miles until we reach a point that the snow was starting to get pretty deep. At that point I figured it was time to turn around and head home. I hadn’t brought snowshoes with me and I didn’t want to get too wet or cold so I decided to leave the remainder of the trail for another day. (If I continued east and north on the trail, I would eventually have ended up at Roxborough State Park. This summer I plan to do that hike – I’ll have some one drop me off at one of the trail heads and then hike my way out to the other. All told it will be about a 14 mile hike though some great terrain.) Lex and I headed towards home and another adventure. Since both Lex and Bailey are shedding so much, I decided I was going to wash them. That was a nightmare! Zack even wanted to get in the shower with me and the dogs…. That was NOT going to happen!! I washed Lex on Sunday and then Bailey on Monday morning. Oh my gosh – now I remember why I don’t do this very often!! I am sure we will have some adventures to write about later in the week. Til then – peace!!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Oh haggis, oh beautiful, tasty haggis!

Yes – I have been smitten! I have been smitten by the taste for haggis. Over the last 5 or 6 years I have traveled around a good part of the world. As I have visited different countries I have always tried to experience the local culture and the local cuisine. I was determined to make sure that my brief trip to Scotland was no exception to the norm. As such, it was a requirement that I had the opportunity to taste haggis – the national dish of Scotland. Through the 3 days of meetings both Martin Borch – a colleague from Denmark who was leading the meetings and I had firmly said that we wanted to have the experience of eating haggis. Two of the local Greenock staff who were involved in the meetings – Dave Clementson and Gordon Boyd, were gracious hosts and helped us fulfill this experience. After work on Thursday evening about 10 of us packed into Gordon and Dave’s cars and headed off to a small pub in the town of Greenock. We started the evening with a few drinks – in my case I had a Tennent’s Lager. Tennent’s I was informed is referred to as the Budweiser of Scotland. Apparently, there isn’t anything fundamentally great about it, but it is just the beer that most people drink in Scotland. Shortly after we arrived, Gordon went and spent a few moments talking with the proprietor of the pub. He really didn’t let on to what was said, but he came back to the table and told us that we would definitely get to have some haggis. About twenty minutes later a waiter proceeded to bring out 2 large dishes of an interesting looking dish. It kind of looked like a pastry roll surrounding an indescribable filling. Half of the pastry rolls were filled with a brownish looking paste, while the other half was filled with a black looking paste.
Though we were all a little apprehensive having heard what haggis was made of, we still dug into the dishes with gusto. I was amazed and surprised by the taste explosion that filled my mouth. It was great! There was a definite taste difference between the “brown” haggis and the “black” haggis. I didn’t realize it at first but the “black” haggis was actually a form of blood pudding – and yet it was good!! If you are wondering what is the big deal with haggis and why I would be surprised that it tasted good – here’s the definition of what haggis from Wikipedia. “Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish. There are many recipes, most of which have in common the following ingredients: sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours.
Haggis somewhat resembles stuffed intestines (pig intestines otherwise known as chitterlings or the kokoretsi of traditional Balkan cuisine), sausages and savoury puddings of which it is among the largest types. As the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique puts it, "Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour.””
I was very thankful to my Scottish colleagues Gordon and Dave for making this experience happen. All of us involved in this series of meetings from around Europe and the US owe Dave and Gordon a big Thank You for the effort they put into making the week great! Til later – peace to all!