I spent most of last week decompressing from the recent geekfest in LA, and making a feeble attempt to catch back up on the assignments that have been allowed to lag as the result of either my presenting at, or attending, various tech conferences over the past few weeks. My brain has been so overloaded with the technical information for the past month, I think the 1’s and 0’s were literally pouring out of my ears and littering the floor around my workstation all last week. By Friday it was definitely time for a break.
Late September is the prime time to view the Rocky Mountain aspen trees in their full glory, so Loretta and I headed up to Estes Park for the weekend to enjoy the autumn scenery. We stayed at the historic Stanley Hotel – I can’t believe I have lived here over 25 years and had never stayed there yet. The place was built in the early 1900’s as a therapeutic retreat by F.O. Stanley (inventor of the Stanley Steamer), and is known as one of America’s most haunted hotels – mainly because it was the inspiration for Stephen King’s book, "The Shining," which he started writing in October, 1974, while staying there as a hotel guest in Room 217. Contrary to popular misconception, the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film starring Jack Nicholson was not shot at The Stanley (it was actually filmed in England, and they used a place called the Timberline Lodge in Mt. Hood, Oregon for the external shots); however, the 1997 ABC mini-series was filmed on location at The Stanley. It is a beautiful old Victorian hotel though, and the ghost stories reported by staff and guests abound.
The Stanley Hotel
Friday evening after we arrived, Loretta and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the hotel restaurant, then we had some after-dinner cocktails by the firepit on the patio before we retired to our room to wait for the ghosts (we didn’t get room 217 unfortunately). The plumbing did make some weird noises, but nothing I’d really have to classify as "other-worldly," so we soon gave up on visiting with any ecto-plasmic beings and did the next best thing. We put a "director’s cut" version of the Kubrick film into the dvd player and plopped ourselves onto the bed and had ourselves a great time spooking each other as it played. Well, I guess you could call what we were actually doing "spooking" if you really use your imagination. *wink*
Saturday morning arrived as a bright and glorious fall day in the Rockies. And I had a big surprise in store for my Miss Loretta. She had never been horseback riding before, so I thought I’d treat her to a 2 hour trail ride into Rocky Mountain National Park. Now, Loretta gets nervous just standing on a step-stool, so she was more than just a bit edgy even thinking about getting up into a saddle for the first time. She was so worried about falling off that she thought she might want to opt for wearing a helmet on the ride. I’d explained to the wrangler that Loretta had never ridden before so he had a little fun with her when he brought out the horse she was going to ride. "This here is ‘Widow Maker’ – but don’t worry, he hasn’t bucked anyone off in at least two weeks." The look on Loretta’s face when they first met was just priceless, but that was very nearly the end of our trail riding adventure right there.
Then she was formally introduced to "Widow Maker," who, in reality, is a 25 yr. old, flea-bitten gray gelding answering to the name of Jackson. They like to tease that his nickname is actually "Action Jackson" but they weren’t fooling anybody. He was about the most docile and gentle creature anyone could hope for; and was a perfect choice to carry our first time rider. I don’t think Jackson ever actually lifted any of his feet above the ground on the entire ride – he just sort of shuffled along the whole trail. You could tell that he was aware of the fact the Loretta was new to the whole horseback concept, so anytime the trail got even a little steep he’d stop dead in his tracks and wait for Loretta to gather enough courage to urge him along. She loved it. Soon she was talking to Jackson, patting his neck, and just totally enjoying the experience. About halfway through the ride she’d already decided she wanted to do a longer trip the next time (now that she is an experienced horse-woman).
My mount was named Lydecko, although I have no idea if I spelled his name right, or what it is really supposed to mean. He was a nice looking dark chestnut gelding. He was a good boy but I could tell that he still had some spirit to him. I had to keep reigning him in to prevent him from running over "Action" Jackson and Loretta on almost the entire ride. Jackson probably needs one of those "If you can read this, you’re too close" stickers on his rump. And any time we came to any steep steps in the trail where Jackson and Loretta would stop, he’d want to try to go right around them, even if it meant trying to rub me off on the trees to get it done. What I really think is that poor old Lydecko is probably just a bit bored with his job. Michaela (our guide), even said that Lydecko has been known to fall asleep on the trail, and occassionally will wander off until he bumps into a tree while sleepwalking.
We had a great time on the ride though, and it was over way too soon. Afterwards we grabbed a late breakfast and then decided to go up into Rocky Mountain National Park to view the fall colors and see if we could spot any wildlife. We got a free bonus when we arrived at the entry station and found out it was customer appreciation day or something, and there was no entry fee required. It’s pretty rare that the citizens of Colorado get any kind of price breaks for living here, so getting to save 20 bucks at the ranger station was a real treat in that regard.
We meandered our way through the park and took quite a few breaks just to stretch our slightly saddle sore lower extremities and soak in the awesome views. It was absolutely beautiful. The trees were in their full splendor, the chipmunks and marmots were begging for handouts, and the birds were everywhere. But the elk were suspiciously absent. It’s rutting season for the elk, and they are normally as thick as flies in RMNP, so I found it quite odd that the only two we saw during the day were grazing by a pond at least a half mile away ("Eagle Eye" Mike spotted them while we were enjoying cocoa in the snack bar at the Alpine Visitor Centor). We continued our descent down Trail Ridge Road into Grand Lake Village and found ourselves right smack in the middle of their Fall Folk Music Festival in town square. So we pulled up a piece of the grass to park ourselves on and enjoyed some nice music and a couple of refreshing adult beverages in the summer sun. Between artists we wandered around downtown a bit, snooped in the
tourist traps trading posts, and just sat and watched the world go by while we ate some ice cream.
Around 6:00 they started rolling up the sidewalks in Grand Lake, so we decided it was time to head back through the park to Estes before it got too dark (Trail Ridge Road is exhilerating enough in full daylight, thank you very much). Our timing was perfect. The elk that were so suspiciously missing during the day had decided to make an appearance in a big way now that dusk was approaching. The Kawuneechee Valley was literally swarming with Wapiti. The first herd we saw was right beside the road about 2 minutes into the park. There was one large bull tending his harem of about a dozen cows, three or four calves, and a couple of spike males. We stopped and watched them for about 5 or 10 minutes and heard some other males bugling off in the distance. We could see a couple of larger herds off to the north so we set out in that direction to check them out. There we found more elk than you could shake a stick at. There were at least 5 males bugling and competing for the affection of who knows how many cows in various groups.
It was awesome. The males are usually the ones that are competing for the right to mate, but this group was so agitated that I actually saw my first ever elk bitch fight. These two cows were really going after it too; biting, rearing up, hooves flashing, the whole nine yards. There must be some really impressive bull associated with that group to get the females so fired up. All the males in the meadow even stopped their vocal challenges to each other to pause and take a look. Loretta had never heard the elk bugle before, and it is an impossible noise to describe to someone that has never had the privilege. Even though we’d already had a fantastic time, it really made our day that we got to share these sights and sounds together at twilight in the park.
But the day was not quite done. We still had to head over the pass and go back into Estes Park. After only seeing two elk during the day, we couldn’t swing a dead cat without banging into a herd now. They serenaded us all the way back to town. By this time we were both starving so we headed downtown to see if we could scare up some Mexican food. It wasn’t looking very promising – the place was infested with other fall revelers (it seems Estes Park was also having their own end of summer festival so everyplace downtown was packed – who knew?). We eventually blundered into this little place on the outskirts of town and decided to check it out even though there was only one car in the parking lot (not generally a good sign). In we go, only to have the waitress apologize and tell us that they were closed. Bummer.
So I asked the gal if there were any other Mexican food places to try that were A: nearby, and B: not downtown. She says she knows a couple, but she also thought they all closed at nine too. Nine? But it’s only a quarter to eight. She goes over and looks at the clock, turns, smiles sheepishly, and says, "Well, I guess we’re still open then." We were starving so we decided to stay despite my fear that our wait staff might be under the influence of controlled substances. The food was pretty good, the authentic Mexican fare and not the Californicated variety that is all lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. They need to change their oil in the fryer though as the batter on my chili relleno had a bit of a fish taste to it.
By the time we got back to the hotel we were both pooped so we just kicked back in front of the tube for awhile before bedtime. As far as days go though, this was one that was definitely worthy of my personal highlight reel.