Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Colorado Springs Balloon Festival

This past weekend was a long holiday weekend in the United States.  We celebrated Labor Day which is the traditional celebration of the American worker.  In the past this holiday seemed to mean something, though now a days it is the "unofficial" end of summer holiday.

Our original plans for this weekend were to journey to the mountains and spend the weekend at the condo.  Work interceded as we finally went live with the project I have been working on for the last 3.5 years this week.  To support the go-live activities I needed to be available in the Denver Metro area and so the trip to the mountains did not happen.

Since we didn't go to the mountains Shelly presented us with another option - The Colorado Springs Balloon Classic!  This festival takes place every year on Labor Day weekend and showcases dozens if not hundreds of hot air balloons.  In years past the Classic was a race to see which balloon could reach a destination near Pueblo first.  Today the Classic is all about a massive balloon launch shortly after dawn.

To arrive at the Classic in time to see the balloons inflate and take off, we got up around 4:00AM.  Given that I am not an early riser this was a very difficult thing for me to do!  But given what we were going to see if was well worth the pain.

We were on the road to Colorado Springs around 5:20AM.  The night was at it's darkest point as we set off on I-25 to the south.  Within a 15 minutes of hitting the road the eastern sky started to become illuminated with the slow glow of dawn.  As we traveled south we passed through and over the Palmer Divide.  The beauty of the mesas and bluffs outlined by the rising sun was breathtaking.  I had a hard time driving as I continually wanted to look to the east and look at the wonder of the rising sun!

The sun was just starting head above the horizon when we arrived in Colorado Springs.  Shelly being a Colorado Springs native provided us with the most direct route to Memorial Park where the Balloon Classic was taking place.  We paid a small fee to park in a lot close to the park and we were out among the multitude by 6:20AM.  As we walked into the middle of the park we got a fabulous view of Pikes Peak glowing orange and red from the rapidly rising sun.

When we arrived none of the balloons were even blown up.  Most were still packed away in the trailers and support vehicles.  A few were lying flat on the ground waiting to be inflated.  There was a ton of activity for 6:20AM!  Vendors were there selling every kind of food and drink that you could imagine.  We decided that we needed a little bit of energy to pick us so we had an early morning funnel cake!  Who would have thought having a funnel cake at 6:30AM would be so enjoyable.

We met up with a good friend of Shelly's and then set about watching the balloons.  Takeoff was originally slated for 6:40AM, however there were some significant winds aloft and they held off inflating the balloons until 7:15AM.  Once the balloon pilots got the green light it was amazing to see how quickly the balloons were inflated and took to the air.  From the time the balloon was laid out on the ground until it was inflated and took off was only 10 minutes or so in most cases.  And as soon as the balloon was inflated, the pilots immediately took off to prevent themselves from being swept along the ground and hitting bystanders.

It was a wonderful sight to see each of the balloons reach for the sky and take off.  The rose like a small child's balloon set lose on a windy day.  Quickly they rushed towards the sky and then were caught up in the wind and disappeared over the horizon.

At one point during the launch the sky above the park was filled with 20 or more balloons taking off all at once.  It was a beautify sight and presented many opportunities for great photos.  Within an hour or so all the balloons were airborne and had floated out of sight with one exception.  A monster sized balloon of the Energerize Bunny was inflated and then stood silent in anticipation of it's dash to the heavens.  That dash was not to happen as the winds above were too great for this 7 story giant.  Instead the Bunny sat still while all the smaller balloons floated away.  In the end the Bunny was deflated and put back in it's truck as the high winds above would have destroyed it.

By 8:30AM the launch was all over and we were off to get a decent breakfast and spend some time with Shelly's friend.  After breakfast we went back to the park and everything was quiet - everyone was gone.  It was like the beautiful balloon launch was just part of a dream.

I hope everyone is having a great week so far.

Thanks and peace to all! ~ J.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

South Platte and Clear Creek Bike Ride

This summer hasn't been the biking riding summer I had hoped it would be.  For whatever reason I just didn't get out and do a lot of miles this summer.  And now that we are starting to feel the chill in the air in the morning, I know I only have a limited amount of time left to ride this year before the snow starts to fall.

So this morning I got up out of bed determined to do a good ride.  Normally, I will gear up here at home and then head out the door and hit one of the trails near home.  Instead of doing my normal ride I decided to throw my bike on the top of my car and ride some new trails. 

Despite the fact that today is the big Rocky Mountain Showdown (CU vs CSU at the Invesco Field) I figured I was going to head to downtown Denver and leave the car near Confluence Park.  Even though I was on the road and reached down town by 8:20AM, there were already people parking near Invesco Field tailgating.  Amazing!

I ended up parking in a free lot near the Flagship REI store.  I quickly geared up and got my bike off the roof and headed on out.  My goal for the day was to ride as far north as the South Platte and Clear Creek Trail junction.  I estimated that this would give me about a 20 mile roundtrip ride.

(My car with bike on top in the parking lot near REI.)

 (View looking towards REI from the Confluence Park parking lot.)

At that hour of the morning there weren't that many people on the trail yet.  In some ways that is good in some ways that is bad.  It is good in fact that I the trail pretty much to myself.  The bad part is that I had the trail to myself - LOL!  The South Platte trail goes through some rough areas and their are lots of homeless people along the trail.  So in that respect being by yourself isn't the best thing.  Thankfully I didn't have any issues!

The first 2 or 3 miles of the ride is through some very heavy industrial areas.  The trail goes underneath numerous rail tracks bridges as much of the area surrounding the trail is the Union Pacific marshalling yard.  Once clear of the marshalling yard the trail goes underneath I-70 and then emerges into an area that has some industrial development but also a far amount of open space. 

(A BNSF train on one of the many railroad tracks near the bike trail.)

At one point while on this section of the trail I came across 3 wild turkeys sauntering along the ride.  I was absolutely amazed and shocked to see wild turkeys there!  Once they realized I was there they took off one-by-one flying across the river.  Yes I learned that wild turkeys can indeed fly!!

(Not my wild turkeys but some wading birds in the South Platte.)

I continued heading north along the trail, crossing until I-270 and I-76.  Shortly after I crossed under I-76 I came across the junction of the South Platte Trail with the Clear Creek Trail.  Instead of continuing on the South Platte trail, I decided to head west on the Clear Creek trail.  I often see the Clear Creek Trail as I am driving back from Boulder. The trail passes underneath the junction of Highway 36 and I-25 and I have always wanted to ride there - so I decided today was the day.

Riding your bike underneath the intersection of some of the largest highways in the state of Colorado is an experience.  There are countless trucks and cars whizzing by at 60 or 70 mph about 10 or 12 feet above your head.  It makes you realize how busy our interstates are!

After going underneath I-25 I rode for another 3 or 4 miles further up the Clear Creek trail.  This trail goes through a much less developed landscape.  For most of the ride I was coasting through groves of cottonwoods and aspens that grow along the banks of Clear Creek.

I decided to turn back when the odometer on my GPS reached 11 miles.  This of course meant that I had another 11 miles to get back to Confluence Park and my car.  As I headed back toward the city I was treated to wonderful views of downtown and surrounding area. 

(A view of downtown Denver in the distance.)

 (Now I know where much of our electricity comes from.  This is an Xcel Energy plant near the trail.)

 When I arrived back at the car, the partying and tailgating for the CU/CSU game was in full swing.  There were people every where, so I decided to continuing going South on the trail for a bit until I got near Invesco Field.  It certainly looked like everyone was gathering for the game and that they were having a good time!

I hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Thanks and peace to all! ~ J.