Tag Archives: Outdoors

Camping with Kids at Pearl Lake State Park, Colorado

Camping with kids, Colorado

Each summer as a kid, I could always count on at least one family camping trip to Pearl Lake State Park north of Steamboat Springs. It would usually be the highlight of my summer break. Deep in the woods where the cranes call at dusk and dawn —and the only thing that could wake you up at night was the call of a great horned owl — I found my family at its happiest. Dad could fish as much as he wanted, Ben could capture crawdads all day, Mom could look for birds or identify wildflowers, and I could venture off down the sawgrass-laden shore and play pretend.

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The Moment: The Matterhorn Eclipses the Moon

A nearly full moon passes behind the Matterhorn's summit.

It took nearly an hour to discover what was happening.

We had hiked up to this meadow just outside Zermatt, on the trail that eventually leads to Zmutt and the North Face of the Matterhorn. It was getting hot, and Varenna was inspecting the gravel on the trail, handing her best specimens to Mom, and then pushing her stroller like the big girl she was proclaiming to be (“bick guhr! bick gurh!). We were all content, and not planning to go too far. After all, this appeared to be it: the iconic view of the Matterhorn, the one that conjures visions of alpenhorns and men yodeling “Ri-co-la” into the crisp glacial air.

But as we turned to head back to town, the moon was suddenly quite noticeable and on a very interesting course.

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Alpenporn: Hardcore Swiss Mountain Vistas

A lone hut beneath the Jungfrau, Berner Oberland, Switzerland.

(Click on images for a larger view)

Go ahead. Ogle all you want.

The Jungfrau emerging from the mist, Berner Oberland, Switzerland.

Words often fail me. They fail me the most when it comes to mountains. Grandeur. Majesty. Magnificence. Please: those words are chumps when you are beneath the Jungfrau (above two images), a hulking mountain that towers over the Lauterbrunnen Valley like a glacier clad bully. It’s name (roughly translated as Young Girl in German) is hardly worth dissecting. It makes little sense. This peak is a beast.

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The Road to Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park

Red dirt cascade descending from the Waimea Canyon area, Kauai.

On the Friday morning before Thanksgiving, I had a feeling my brother was trying to talk us out of going to Waimea Canyon. It was a long drive, he noted. Time on Kauai was precious, and Varenna — our 8-month-old daughter — would be facing backwards for the whole ride. Poipu had a baby beach.

But I acted like the typical younger brother: the more he discouraged it, the more determined I was to go. This was a verdant miniature Grand Canyon, and at the end of the road was a window to the Na Pali Coast. Yes, time on Kauai is precious. But for me, that meant not letting a week slip by without seeing this magnificent sight.

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6 Photography Tips for a Kauai Helicopter Tour

Aerial photos of the Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii.(Click on images for a larger view)

While on Kauai, Hailey and I took a 90-minute helicopter tour of the island with Jack Harter Helicopters. The tour was billed as a photographer’s tour because it went slower and took its time with each section of the trip. Because of this alone, I highly recommend it. Kauai’s interior and much of its coastline is inaccessible (to most of us) and seeing it by air is really the only way to truly get a sense for the island as a whole.

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10 of Kauai’s Best Beaches

Footprints in the sand at Kalihiwai Beach, Kauai(Click on the images for a larger view)

So remember how a few posts ago, I said that I wasn’t much of a beach person?

Well, I’m back from Kauai, and you can consider me converted: I love beaches … if by “beaches” you mean the stunning, drop-yer-jaw, how-could-God-design-such-a-perfect-thing beaches that seem to be nestled into every corner of the Garden Isle. In fact, after visiting Kauai for eight days, it may be safe to say I’m forever spoiled. The bar will be high for any future strips of sand I encounter (sorry, Chatfield Reservoir).

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Fall Color at the Maroon Bells

The Maroon Bells in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado(Click on images for a larger view)

I’ve struggled to photograph the Maroon Bells in the past. Struggled because of two things: (1) everybody has photographed them and an original angle is getting more and more rare, and (2) they perfectly face to the east and, as a result, are often 2 stops more bright than their surroundings, making an even exposure especially tricky.

A six-month-old girl plays near the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

But then my wife took our daughter there for a day trip this past October (I was attending the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism in nearby Snowmass) and she returned with a series of astonishingly original photos of the Bells. How did she overcome my two stumbling blocks?

Solution #1: visit the Maroon Bells with an adorable baby and let her eat the dirt on the shore of Maroon Lake — original photos abound — and …

Solution #2: visit in the fall when the sunlight is slanted and the exposure is more even.

The Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado

Our daughter’s middle name is Autumn, and this being her first fall, well, it was especially meaningful to have the two of them join me in Snowmass for the conference. After the day’s sessions, I’d take Varenna off of Mom’s hands for a little bit, and go for a short jaunt through the aspens with her near the hotel. She’d squeal and kick with delight at being outside, at facing forward in the Baby Bjorn carrier, and at the sights and sounds and smells of the woods. She’s a Coloradan by birth, and already she is acting like one.

Enjoying the Maroon Bells in autumn, Aspen, Colorado

So when the conference ended and I had a little freedom to wander, we returned to Maroon Bells as a family and spent a few hours in the aspen glades and along the lake shore, watching a blizzard of leaves flutter over the lake as autumn had one last gasp before winter.

Close-up of the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

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Graspin’ Aspen 2010 – Steamboat Springs

Since 2007, Hailey and I have made a special long-weekend trip in the fall to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Yep, the same Steamboat Springs that seems to grace every other post on this blog. I know. We go there a lot. However, it just keeps revealing itself to me in new ways, each time.

Each time we go there, whether its in July, the dead of winter, or even mud season at the tail end of April, this wholesome little cow-town with a massive ski resort glued to its hip seems to get more and more nuanced for us. With all due respect, I don’t think many other Colorado towns would stay fresh after so many visits.

This trip, however, had a different complexion to it, and that’s because of three ingredients: 1) our six-month-old daughter Varenna (now eight months old); 2) our good friends Tim, Lexi and their 19-month-old daughter Cora; and 3) our friend Jenny, who is expecting her first in March with her husband Matt, my best friend. This made September’s trip — dare I say it — a “family friendly adventure.” God, what a hideous cliche, but that’s the new reality. We get excited about places where our rambunctious little girl can be her most rambunctious, and playmates are an added bonus.

For the previous two falls, we’ve done this fall color trip with the Jordayzerton crew — the aforementioned folks, plus Stu and Shannon Kilzer. Unfortunately, this year, it didn’t quite work out that we could get everyone to come. Matt had a fencing tournament, and Stu and Shannon had a family emergency. Even the Lambertons had to head back early, but all was not lost. By Saturday afternoon, we did our traditional drive up Buffalo Pass to drink in the endless expanse of golden aspens that drape across the Zirkel Mountains.

We’ve had better years for color, in particular, the 2008 trip when every tree was 100% vibrant yellow, gold and red all at the same time (must have something to do with the dry spell we’ve had since July). But whatever we lacked for in this trip was made up for by our two girls, Varenna and Cora.

Their curiosity and enthusiasm for being outside was infectious. Varenna even figured out what my camera does. At one point while she was in the Baby Bjorn carrier, we ran down a road while I held the camera out and fired shots back at the two of us (third from top). She quickly picked up on how her face appeared on the camera back, which inspired only more giggles. Daddy’s little girl …

Tim and Lexi parted ways with us from Buffalo Pass, with their Saturday night of driving back to Denver in front of them. Through Monday, it was just us and Jenny, hanging out at the condo, going for walks, and letting Varenna explore things like aspen leaves with her fingers … until they ended up in her mouth. Such is travel with an infant, but if this weekend was any indication of the future — of seeking out other kids, other new parents, and laid back activities like going to the bookstore for two hours — that’s fine with me.

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Mesa Verde National Park – Balcony House

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The last day in Mesa Verde began with our last breakfast at the ARAMARK cafeteria. After this day, we’d at least have options for food, but up on the mesa, it was compromise, compromise, compromise. The day before we tried the “world-famous” Navajo Taco for lunch. It was an utter joke. For ARAMARK, fossilized shammy = flat bread. And I won’t even go into the toppings…

Despite the bleak food situation in the national park, we weren’t looking to skadaddle too quickly. The dwelling tours were captivating, and we had to complete the trifecta with a morning climb/jaunt/crawl/tour of Balcony House.

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

While Cliff Palace overwhelms you with its grandeur, Balcony House moves you with its intimacy. There is no easy overlook off the road, no dramatic viewpoint on approach — just a nestled little community that you don’t really see until you’ve entered it via a 32-foot ladder. In fact, to leave the dwelling you have to crawl on your hands and knees through a narrow dusty passage before ascending two dramatic ladders back up to the mesa top. Not once do you have a stand-back-and-survey-the-whole-dwelling moment. It’s pretty cool because of it.

Upon entrance, to the right of the landing where the first ladder delivers you, is a small stone arch enclosing a pen of some kind (above). Archaeologists believe that the Ancestral Puebloans kept their turkeys in these pens, an ingenious construction that was part meat locker and part ADT security alarm. Spend any time among live turkeys and you quickly understand how frantic and nuts they are. If anything or anyone approached Balcony House, the turkeys would let the whole community know.

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The dwelling takes its name from a 30-foot balcony attached to the second floor of one of the structures. You can see it in the middle left side of the top left photo of this blog post. Our ranger speculated that residents of the structure used the balcony as a hallway between rooms more than anything. Standing there, seeing 5-foot-9 tourists standing next to this balcony, you quickly begin to realize just how short the Ancestral Puebloans were. I asked the ranger about this, and sure enough, they averaged anywhere from 5-foot to 5-foot-3 in height, but then again, she noted, so did most people in 1300 AD.

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

I’ll be honest: I’m not one for tour guides in any scenario. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that they show you a place in the way they want you to see a place. The focus of a tour is never in sync with my eye, and 75% of the information goes in one ear and out the other. It’s just how I’m wired.

Plus, I think there is something lost when your questions are answered. I know very little about Siena’s Duomo, about the history of the Pantheon, and about the symbolism of the Good Friday Parade in San Miguel de Allende — but I understand them in a very different way that is visceral, emotional and full of curiosity. That’s because I approached them through the lens rather than through a tour guide. I’m not saying my way is better than their way. Not at all. I’m just saying their approach doesn’t suit me.

At one point, the ranger scolded me for moving five feet to the right to take a photo while she was talking. She said it threw off her concentration. My first instinct was to feel bad, but in hindsight, I think it was a bullshit thing to do. Bullshit because the only way to see Balcony House is by guided tour. The least the guides can do is allow for silent periods of five minutes here and there so that you can process the mystery of a place, or see it with your own eyes. But in the end, they have 45 minutes to tell you everything there is to know about the Ancestral Puebloan people, and like I said, with me, a lot of that goes in one ear and out the other.

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Mesa Verde National Park – Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Three days to see Mesa Verde was plenty, but considering that the main cliff dwellings are in canyons, where shadow and sunlight conspire for extreme contrast, we had to carefully plan which sites to visit when for fear of getting the wrong lighting conditions. This meant that we’d save the biggest and best cliff dwelling — Cliff Palace —  for the end of our second day.

Cliff Palace and Sun Temple, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

This massive complex — North America’s largest cliff dwelling — hangs in an alcove tucked above Cliff Canyon, where evidence of the Ancestral Puebloan people is everywhere. Our first view of Cliff Palace was from the opposite side of the canyon rim, at a place called Sun Point View. Overlooking two forks in the canyon, the vantage is the one place in Mesa Verde where the whole of the Ancestral Puebloan civilization comes into view. Dwellings, ruins, and jumbled-up archaeological sites emerge from the walls and forest … the longer you look, the more you see.

Ultimately, a network appears — a civilization that was once interconnected and thriving. My imagination went wild standing there on that sun-baked overlook, visualizing the Puebloans as they traveled from dwelling to dwelling.

Sun Point View overlooking Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

(Click on panorama for larger view)

The castle of this fiefdom is Cliff Palace (above center). Tucked in its protected corner of the canyon, it is massive in size — 150 rooms, 23 underground chambers (kivas) and an estimated population of 100. Considering that most dwellings from this era consist of 2 or 3 rooms, its an especially significant site.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Our ranger tour guide was more like a drill sergeant than a docent — his narrative on Ancestral Puebloan family life was barked more than recited, but he was fantastic, devoting extra attention to the infant mortality rate and day-to-day challenges of children (malnutrition, etc.).

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

From the main overlook next to the dwelling (photo above) he led us down a series of stairs, than down a ladder, and onto a trail that delivered us to the foot of the dwelling. In evening light, the walls and towers of Cliff Palace were absolutely radiant. Despite being in a group of 40 people, it wasn’t hard to imagine what this, the most magnificent dwelling in the park, must have looked like when first discovered by European descendants in 1891.

Square Tower House and Sun Temple, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The tour went quickly, and 45 minutes after setting eyes on Cliff Palace, we ascended a series of ladders through a rocky crevice, climbing our way back to the car, where we tucked our tired little girl back into her car seat. Despite our better judgment (i.e. “get dinner, get girl to bed”) we made a run for Square Tower House before the sun set. Back around and across to the opposite mesa we rushed, reaching the overlook just in time to capture the three-story structure before it submerged into shade (above left).

The next morning we’d tour Balcony House and then leave for Pagosa Springs to conclude our trip. As much as I was enjoying the guided cliff-dwelling tours and short nature hikes, they paled in comparison to the joy of watching how well our five-month old girl was doing. This little one travels well.

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