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Boulder mountains Trees

July, 17 2012 …. tumbling water

I couldn’t live here, but I can see why people write songs about the place.

Yesterday, Mary had to work (attending the conference) so I meandered around the city of Boulder for a while, and found that quite pleasant, even though the temperatures were soaring. On returning to my car, I drove up Canyon Road into the canyon that gives it its name. Boulder canyon did, in fact, get a mention in John Denver’s “I guess he’d rather be in Colorado”.Boulder creek rushing down the canyon

Whatever you think of John Denver’s shortcomings, musically or personally, no one could doubt his love of this spectacular state. Boulder Canyon is one of Earth’s magic places. Tumbling waters, steep shattered rock walls, clean clear air … it is truly beautiful.

river, rocks and treesshattered rock

I got to the town at the top of the canyon. The origin of its name is a bit of a mystery, or some kind of local joke. Its 1,700 or so occupants live 8,228 feet ASL. The highest point in the country from which its name is borrowed is 1,059 feet ASL.

On the way back down the canyon, I picked up a hitchhiker. He was the stereotype of every old cowboy I ever saw. Though probably no older than me, he had that “rock of ages” look … lean, grey-bearded, hat, boots, denim, and slowest, deepest drawl I have ever heard. He was some sort of mineralogist and told me a lot about the structure of the canyon, and the health of its river and forest. And he has a daughter-in-law from Christchurch, and knew all about our earthquakes. He was a pleasure to ride with.

My final scenic spot of the day was Table Mesa and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (thanks for the tip Neil Gordon). It is situated high on the hill overlooking the town, and as I neared the NCAR premises I was getting more excited about the view. Unfortunately there is little or no view from the publicly accessible part of the place because of pine trees grow up to block it off.  So I trudged around one of the many walkways until at last I came to a clear space. Boulder from Table Mesa

Why could I not live here? Well, as beautiful as the place is, and  as friendly as most people are, the cultural disconnect is just too unsettling.

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Animals Birds Boulder Landscapes

July 15, 2012 … mountain grandeur

Yesterday we enjoyed a touch of Rocky Mountain magic.

With a clear day before Mary’s conference started today we went to Estes Park about 38 miles to the North and West of Boulder, across some wonderful mountain roads  mainly highway 36, in the “Front Ranges” of the Rockies. Just a little short of the town of Estes Park, there is a pleasant spot which affords a very nice lookout over the valley.Estes Park, Colorado from high on highway 36

Not only that, it seems well known to the local wild life as a place exempt from the stringent National Park prohibitions on feeding wildlife.  These were not mountain lions, bears or coyotes, you understand, but small creatures like ground squirrels and chipmunks. What’s the difference? To us outsiders, not a lot, but knowledgeable locals put us right, and the Colorado Division of Natural Resources have an authoritative page.

A ground squirrel

We bought some lunch in the town and then went to the Beaver Meadows entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Us and about 10,000 others. We did find a quiet place with a pleasant view to eat and enjoy the peace. Some birds, mainly Jays and cuckoos were seen.Identification uncertain ... perhaps an Oriental Cuckoo

While we were eating or having a siesta other people were out and about and I loved the group (or was it a posse) of horse riders in the distance?Riding across the wide open spaces

And then it was back home again via the very much quieter and even more spectacular South St Vrain Road to rejoin highway 36 at Lyons.

More tomorrow,

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Aviation Boulder Colorado Landscapes Light Weather

July 14, 2012 … must refrain from singing John Denver songs

I am not a relaxed traveller.

I tend to foresee all the things that might go wrong. They rarely do, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying about them.

We decided to leave Santa Rosa early, around 7am for an 11:30 am flight. It was as well we did. The traffic on 101 to the city was flowing smoothly, though it was reasonably heavy. I blew it after we crossed the Golden Gate. Instead of taking the bypass though the Golden Gate park, and thence to 280 and the airport, I missed an exit and ended up on Marina Boulevard which would take me in the direction of downtown morning chaos.

Having some familiarity with the street names in San Francisco. I turned into Divisadero planning to rejoin 101 on Lombard. Alas, no left turn allowed. Plan C was to continue to Geary and rejoin at Van Ness. This worked, though it took me through every steep intersection and four-way stop sign in the city. By now, we were in the utmost morning traffic, all of which had unfortunate side effects on my nervous system, and I made it to the “Alamo” car park at SFO with seconds to spare to avert disaster, and had to flee the car at high speed leaving Mary to settle the paperwork.  Happily Alamo have one of the slickest check in systems I have ever seen and I rejoined Mary at the car to in time to move the bags. I am still wondering why there were no urinals in that toilet facility.

Then came ticketing and security. As I said yesterday, we packed in a panic and had not distributed the heavy stuff properly. Thus my bag as 2 kg over the allowed weight, and United wanted $150 to carry it to Denver. We backed out of line and shifted cords, power bricks and transformers to Mary’s bag, and were back to the “normal” domestic bag fee of USD$25.

This was my first departure from a US airport since 9/11 and I feared the worst. It seems that whatever the horror stories that emerge from LAX, they don’t necessarily apply at SFO. The process is tedious but conducted with good humour, and one of the agents even engaged in a discussion with me of the relative merits of Canon’s 5DII as opposed to the new 5DIII.

The plane departed on time, arrived on time, but most of the flight was above cloud. However, as we descended towards Denver I discovered where Pacman went when he retired.Pacman in retirement

On arrival at Denver, we negotiated their people mover system, the baggage claim, and then the shuttle bus to the Alamo depot where the computer system crashed just after the agent had entered all our data but before he pressed enter. So it was all done again, manually, with a pen.

I may have been conned but he suggested that a 1.2litre Corolla was not going to cut it for any travel in mountains at this altitude (we were a  mile high to begin with). I upgraded and drove away in a Chev Impala. I am still a little baffled by the thinking behind a foot operated parking brake. Oh, and if you press the little red button on the rear view mirror, someone outside the car calls you through the electronics to check if you are OK because you just pushed the emergency button.

And so to Boulder. On the way there I paused at an overlook area to catch the receding planes of the foothills of the Rockies. No doubt the shades were accentuated by recent forest fires. The temperature was in the high 80s and seemed very warm.  Towards Boulder and the Rockies

I am very happy to say that the hotel we are using is excellent and just a 10 minute walk from Mary’s conference venue.