Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Camping near Chambers Lake

After dire (and, as it turned out, incorrect) predictions for rain in the Crested Butte area, Joker and I called an audible and changed our weekend plans.  It was just about the only weekend remaining in the summer when Mima and Boppie were free to camp with us - and after the fun we had at Long Draw two summers ago, we didn't want to let another year slip away.

Since we were making last minute plans and weren't able to reserve a campsite, we decided to meet at the no-reservations Tunnel Campground, about six miles north of Chambers Lake.  While the campground wasn't empty, there were plenty of trees and enough space for us to be comfortable.  Plus, we had access to nearby beaver ponds, and the girls enjoyed hiking and spotting wildflowers in the adjoining paths.

Chambers Lake

Mima and Boppie brought their canoe so we were able to hit Chambers Lake each day for boating and fishing.  Other than that, the agenda included a leisurely bike ride with Joker, and a whole lot o' nothing else.  It was super relaxing - great to just hang out and be outside together.  And the real highlights were the other wildlife we saw!!

We saw this handsome fella several times!

On a short hike around the nearby beaver ponds the first evening, the Bug spotted a male moose in the brush just yards from us!  Sunday we saw a mother moose, and we saw *where* her baby was, though none of us actually laid eyes on it.  We got to see a bald eagle swoop down over the lake and snag a fish.  Twice.  And a giant nest just off the road housed another (presumably) juvenile eagle.
Look closely at the brown thing in the middle.  It's mama moose.
What a great time, just hanging out together and enjoying Colorado!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kickin' wildflowers, butterflies and a hummingbird's nest

With the success of our hike last week at Three Sisters, and with the incredible thundershowers that have been hitting us every single afternoon, we decided to take the girls out for a hike this morning.  We picked another destination we'd not yet visited: O'Fallon Park, which is part of the Denver Mountain Parks system.  Located less than a mile east of Kittredge, it's easy access from Evergreen.

Purple flowers along Picnic Loop trail
While the trails are very well maintained, we (along with the other hikers we encountered) didn't find them to be well marked.  There are also no trail maps at the trailheads.  Next time, I'll print out a map at home before we take off.  

We parked in the third lot, and started off heading uphill on Picnic Loop trail.  From there we caught the lower side of West Ridge Loop, and took another left onto Meadow View Loop to bring us back to the parking lot.  The hike clocked in at 3.1 miles, and both the Bug and the Bunny handled it with ease.  We lucked out by it not being a hot day, and the trails have abundant shade.

As for the highlights.... this is the easy part.  The entire park is currently a giant wild flower garden.  Everywhere you look there are pinks and purples and yellows and whites, flowers of all shapes and sizes.  Some we see all over the mountains; others were new to us.  We saw butterflies galore; from the big yellow swallowtails to the small orange, white and yellow ones, they were everywhere.  They flew between us as we hiked, nearly brushing the girls' cheeks as they passed.  We saw a couple of deer up a hill from us, one with small velvety antlers.

Thistles in a meadow

But the real highlight?  We saw a female hummingbird flitting around a tree right off the trail.  Then we saw her land in a nest.  I've never, ever seen a hummingbird's nest before - it was incredible!  And, as if she knew how cool it was, she sat back in the nest and posed for me.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hiking with the kids in Alderfer/Three Sisters

I've spent a lot of time in Elk Meadow, the Jefferson County Open Space park nearest our house.  But we somehow missed out on Alderfer/Three Sisters, though, until Frankie and Pop-pop were here last week.

Rock formation along the Ponderosa Trail

This park, located just west of Evergreen, has over 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, including the well-known summit of Evergreen Mountain.  Trails are well maintained and well marked, and there are maps at the trailheads.  We chose a fairly easy path for the kids - a 2.7 mile loop that passed the landmark Three Sisters rock formation. 

We parked in the west lot and took the Sisters Trail until it looped around and met up with the Ponderosa Trail.  There were a few steep spots, but the kids did great.  This park boasts a ton of cool rock formations - magnets for kids who want to climb.  Our pace certainly would have been faster without the numerous climbing detours, but it would have been a far less fun hike.  At the Three Sisters, Joker, Frankie and the Bug even called down to the Bunny and me from some vertigo-inducing heights!

Also fun: there are a ton of geocaches hidden along these trails, if you're into that sort of thing.  We found three, dropping a TravelBug into one and getting little kiddie prizes in the others.  There were several along these trails that we passed up - so next time, still new things to discover.

What a fantastic place for Frankie's very first hike!  Great views of the mountains and of Evergreen.  Fun rocks to climb on.  Plenty of shade (and spots to stop for snacks).  A few tough uphills that result in nice easy downhill payoffs.  What more could you ask for?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

This is where milk comes from, kiddos!

While Frankie and Pop-pop were here, we took them to Mima and Boppie's farm for a little tour.  Standard stops include a paddle across the lake pond overgrown mud puddle, driving the tractor and the loader and a ride in the bed of the pick-up.  This time, though, we got a special treat - something that even my parents and I hadn't seen for years.  We got a tour of a dairy farm.

The farm is run by J.R. Pennington, a good family friend (and Boppie's golf buddy) with whom I went to high school.  They have a few hundred cows - small compared to the newer commercial operations, but big enough to make it a 24/7 constantly moooo-ving (sorry!) milk factory.

First stop was technically, I suppose, a glimpse into where the magic begins.  One of the cows was in the chute, ready for her insemination.  The Penningtons used to keep bulls, but there are a couple of major drawbacks.  For one, small bull selections can lead to inbreeding.  That's bad, even for bovines.  Secondly, they are a gigantic pain in the ass.  They're unpredictable, they can be very dangerous and, if I recall correctly from my childhood, they stink.  So now dairy farmers peruse the latest Holstein Magazine, select their donors based on beefcake (sorry again!) photos and stats and keep tubes on dry ice until ready to use. I thought the kids would be freaked by the demo, but the Bunny and the Bug actually scooted around to our fair friend's caboose for a better viewing angle.

The Bunny and the Bug (oddly enough) really want to see this action.

I was struck while walking through the corrals by just how friendly these girls are.  They weren't frightened of any of us, and we were able to pet their fat flanks as we passed.  They followed me while I was taking their glamor shots, and I'm pretty sure they would have nose-print-kissed my camera if I'd let 'em!

"Now get my close-up, honey"
Next we went into the milking building, where the ladies line up three times a day to have their udders emptied.  Each cow's tag tells the milker what to expect - where she is in the cycle, how much she's been delivering daily, and if there appears to be a problem that needs review.

From there we saw the feed.  The kids jumped between the huge hay bales.  Boppie felt sugar beet mash for the first time in years.  But that's not the highlight.  How exciting can feed be, really?

The highlight: the calves.  These sweet little things start off around 80 or 90 lbs. and grow from there.  One was just hours old.  Like the cows, the calves were super friendly - we scratched their sides and they sucked on our hands, and the Bunny wanted to pet every single one.  Especially the white-faced ones.  

This was the Bunny's especial favorite!

Thanks for the tour, J.R.!

Bonus photo: Frankie behind the wheel!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Big cousin, big visit

While it's hard to complain about our Colorado life, we dearly miss the family and friends who are still in NY and CT. 

So for our oldest nephew's tenth birthday, we brought him out to see us.

Frankie and Pop-pop arrived in DIA last Monday, and stayed with us for a very, very action-packed week.  He saw his first elk and deer (including plenty of new babies), hummingbirds and mountains.  He drove his first tractor, went on his first hike and ousted Joker and me as the Bug's partner-of-choice for the roller coaster. 

Perhaps most importantly, the girls got to really know their big cousin, probably better than they had before we moved here.  The three of them played together incredibly well - they shared, they didn't argue and the girls now know that boys (even big boys) can be really cool.  I played Monopoly with Frankie and the Bug, we all watched a movie or two together, Joker and Frankie played catch.  The kids splashed in creeks, unearthed fossils, ate watermelon, jumped in the pool.  Together.  Great memories for us all.