Brushy Creek State Rec Area – Middle Network

Brushy Creek Google

Brushy Creek State Recreation Area is located in west central Iowa, just southeast of Ft Dodge.

In terms of state green spaces, it is relatively young. Like many places in Iowa, everything about it is man-made. It was once what it’s name suggests, a creek running through a canyon. Then in 1967 the Iowa DNR proposed damming it up and creating the lake. There was nearly 20 years of kickback before it was finally approved. Today Brushy Creek consists of the lake at the northern end of the park, and a large network of equestrian trails to the south. In fact, if you look at the larger trail map of the Lake Trail below, you can see where the original Brushy Creek wound through the canyon that filled up to create the lake.

Brushy FullIn total, they have about 45 miles of trails to walk. While I have completed my exploration of the park, I did not do it in one outing.

The focus of this post will be on the middle network of trails between the turquoise Lake Loop, and the southern “legs.”

This was my second trip to the park, so I had an idea of what to expect. The weather was pretty hot and humid in early August, so when there was a momentary drop in both I jumped on the chance to get outside.

The day was beautiful with clear skies, comfortable temps, and low winds.

I parked at the campgrounds and the first thing I noticed was  just how busy Brushy Creek is! When I hiked it the year before with Jessie, there was barely anyone else around.

Every camp site was full, and the majority of them had horse trailers. As I found during my hike, this is a pretty popular spot for equestrian traffic. The morning started out with almost no one else on the trails, but by 9 AM I started running into riders on a regular basis.CJP_5421

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As I mentioned, I parked at the entrance to the campground in the center of the map (Red Star). I opted to travel in a clockwise direction like usual, and the path I ended up following is the orange line. I knew it was going to be a good day when the first image I saw as I crossed the road to the first trailhead was the scene I used for my featured image. The bright morning sky, with the remnants of the fog rising from the creek was a real mood setter (here it is again).

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Immediately I saw that this section of trail was going to be different than the Lake Loop. The Lake Loop is a graveled path where you spend most of your time walking in the open. This network is a hard-packed dirt trail, wandering through a thick wood.

Like most lake area trails, they are pretty flat and flow well over the rolling hills. Now personally, I’m not a big fan of spending a lot of time on an exposed trail, so I intentionally skipped out on Pond Trail. Recognizing on the map that it is an exposed trail, mostly for equestrian use, with a good portion of road walking, I wasn’t excited to try and work it into my loop. So I stuck to the trees.

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I was definitely enjoying my hike in the woods, but I noticed that there was very little animal life to capture with my camera. As I exited the Clay Hill Trail and hit the southernmost portion of the Lake Loop I finally caught this fawn, who saw me well before I was able to get within range for a close up shot. Shortly after I was able to get her in frame, she bounded away into the tall grass. Aside from a toad and a couple bugs, that was the extent of the wildlife that trip.

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The sun was burning strong over the prairie grasses during this short walk before I returned to the woods. If you attempt to string together the multiple sections of the park, this is the connector between the Lake Loop and the middle network.

From there I entered Preserve Trail and began heading back south. The point of note I’d like to chat about is a potential rest area that could be improved a slight bit (Yellow Star). At the first curve of the trail is a little bench, looking down to the creek. Now as it is, it is a good place to take a pause if need be. The bench is a little worn, but it is functional. Now what could be nice, is to drag in a picnic table, replace or clean up the bench, and clear up the view a bit by cutting down some of the foliage. Now that could create a desired picnic spot.

CJP_5408Not too far from that point I ran into a little guy climbing his silk. I made a valiant attempt at getting it nice and sharp without actually having a lens designed for that close up macro view point. It was a fun little break in the hike regardless.

The next point of note was a creek crossing along the Meadow Trail (Blue Star). Originally I had planned on following it north to the Lake Loop again, then road walking down to Big Rock Trail where I’d have to cross again. Honestly, I didn’t notice there was a creek before I set off. However, after I ran into it, it became clear that it was on the map. I just wasn’t looking for it.

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You might have to look close, but that is a swarm of mosquitoes. Also, there aren’t really any stepping stones to help hikers across, so you’ll have to get your feet wet. I do like it when they place ways to cross streams to help keep your feet dry though (hint hint DNR…). In this case, since it was only going to be about 1.5 – 2 mile loop (Yellow Loop) and come back to this point, I chose to avoid the swarm and wet feet.

Continuing on the trail I found it to remain pretty consistent. The only portion of the network that I was unsure about as I planned my trip was the upcoming Bridge Trail. It looked as though you had to cross the road and then walk alongside it for a bit, which isn’t overly normal for a marked trail. Once I got to that point though, I realized that the trail actually went under the bridge, then you walked trail on the north edge of a fallow field, before taking a gravel drive south where you can re-enter the tree line.

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If you want to stretch it out a bit more for mileage, you can continue along the road as it turns into Cemetery Trail, but it is an exposed trail that goes around the septic treatment pits.

The Bridge Trail that I stayed on terminates at a 4-way intersection of trails, a place where Bridge, Cemetery, and Creek trails all meet. I was originally going to take Cemetery at this point, but a pair of riders where heading down that direction and their horses where acting pretty skittish at sensing my presence. So as you can see on the map, I went straight and looped back around to cross over my previous path instead. After that it was a short walk up Creek Trail, then through the campground and back to the car.

Since I mentioned the connectors to the Lake Loop, I should comment that where Cemetery terminates into Day-Use Trail is where the connector for the southern trails is. With such a large trail network, one thing that is nice about Brushy Creek is that their trails are very well marked, with only one hiccup on the SW leg I’ll discuss in that upcoming trail report. So that being said, make sure to take a map with you just to verify you’re on the right path.

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Overall, a really enjoyable little hike. The route I ended up finishing netted 8 miles and took a little under 3 hours. It is a fairly smooth trail that most anyone can tackle, with plenty of options so you can stay within your known limits. On the other side of that, with that extensive network, it also offers opportunity for those looking to really crush some miles to build a hefty hike for themselves. I know this hiker is looking to challenge himself with an attempt to hike all three sections in one day. I’ve estimated it should be roughly 34 – 40 miles for the entire attempt…

CJP_5397Make sure to check the DNR website if we’ve been having some wet weather since the trails are dirt. Last year the only available trail was the Lake Loop as the middle and southern sections were closed. I know Volga was pretty much taken out of commission for a while due to riders not adhering to the postings and riding anyway.

So check out the video on YouTube, stuff your pack with water, snacks, and your map, and enjoy your walk!

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Madera Hammocks

CJP_6864So I took opportunity of the great weather today to get out for some snowshoeing down at Lake MacBride State Park. The lake was quite frozen and I used it to take a shortcut back to the car after I got the photos that I set out to capture. Besides, my camera battery was dead… 180-some shots and my favorites are the pano up top, and two close ups of the snow.

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While I was looking for some nice winter shots to capture, they weren’t the actual intent of the hike.

CJP_6865The actual intent was to get some pictures of the new Madera Hammock I just got the other day. Now this one is Cheryl’s, the one I ordered for me is a pre-order and isn’t expected to ship until the end of February. Now this is my first hammock experience, but I have been researching them for a while now. Like a couple years “a while.” The construction seems to be pretty solid, and the cost wasn’t too bad. This was just a simple taste test for practice’s sake. I’ll have to post a review after I get more experience with it.

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So far I’m starting to understand where the draw to hammocks comes from. Even though it was cold, it was quite nice to lay in it and just… chill. lol

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Now the other reason I wanted to get out and take some product shots was to be able to announce that even though I don’t have any experience with hammocks, the company thought my passion for the outdoors was a good fit for their ambassador program.

So periodically I will post about their brand, offer discounts for their products, and provide reviews. In return, if you decide to purchase through the links I provide, like this one:

https://maderaoutdoor.com?rfsn=1032101.b36bfd&utm_source=refersion&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=1032101.b36bfd

I get a small commission.

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So if you are curious about hammocks and don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars on your first one, they are almost always running sales. I got Cheryl’s for about $50 with the tree straps.

As always, I hope you enjoy your walk!

New Intro and Outro Video

new-youtube-logoSo a quick post looking for feedback. I’ve spent the last several weeks working on improving my YouTube videos with adding an intro and outro. I’ve finally finished them and posted them on YouTube for review.

Brave I know. However, if you’re someone who watches my videos I would appreciate your input on ways to improve them. After all, if I add these to the beginning and end of every video, and they annoy you, you’re less likely to watch more videos right?

So please give me some honest criticism.

Thank you in advance!

https://youtu.be/g_SNWl34f2M

https://youtu.be/-ZQ2rd31Ugk

Brushy Creek State Rec Area – Lake Loop

Brushy Creek Google

Brushy Creek State Recreation Area is located in west central Iowa, just southeast of Ft Dodge.

In terms of state green spaces, it is relatively young. Like many places in Iowa, everything about it is man-made. It was once what it’s name suggests, a creek running through a canyon. Then in 1967 the Iowa DNR proposed damming it up and creating the lake. There was nearly 20 years of kickback before it was finally approved. Today Brushy Creek consists of the lake at the northern end of the park, and a large network of equestrian trails to the south. In fact, if you look at the larger trail map of the Lake Trail below, you can see where the original Brushy Creek wound through the canyon that filled up to create the lake.

Brushy FullIn total, they have about 45 miles of trails to walk. While I have completed my exploration of the park, I did not do it in one outing.

The focus of this post will be on the turquoise-ish lake loop trail on the north end of the map.

My first trip there was an impromptu trip in August of 2016. The summer was waning and Jessie and I still hadn’t completed our annual “Kill Jessie Hike.”

IMG_2880We had planned on heading up north to Volga, but at the last minute Iowa happened and the weather forecast went from sunny, to severe thunderstorms.

I scoured the map, my database, and weather forecasts for a minimum of a 10 mile trail (’cause that’s the rule to try and kill Jessie), we could get to, hike, and get home before supper.

The storm front was moving swift and I found that by the time we would get to Brushy Creek, the storms would have already rolled through the area. So I called Jessie, and we agreed that it was the best option. So we prepped our gear and left before the sun came up.

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Due to the weather we both opted to leave the cameras at home as they aren’t weather sealed and we didn’t fully trust that our hike was going to stay dry. So photos are limited for this one.

We arrived just after sunrise and parked in the lot near the campground (red star). There wasn’t a whole lot of activity at the park that day, but a few fisherman were out on the lake throughout the hike. All of the other trails were closed due to a pretty wet summer, but the Lake Trail is gravel and was pretty much the only available trail in the state it felt like.

We set off from the parking lot and hiked in a clockwise direction. The trail is mostly open with little tree cover. It skirts either prairie or corn/bean fields along the outer edge of the lake the majority of the time. Now and then it would dip into the trees and give a brief escape from the wind and sun if they happen to be particularly harsh, which we did have some good winds during our trek.

IMG_2888The first note is marked with a green star. Here we found that there was an unmarked path that allowed us to bypass the campground. It was just a farmer’s access road for the most part, but by the amount of road apples, it was a common shortcut.

The biggest treat on the trail for me were the points in which there were bridges that cut across some inlets (blue stars). The old trees that once grew in the canyon are still there, and the surface of the water was completely green with algae at a couple.

Eventually we did get rained on, but it was only briefly. After that shower passed, the sky opened up and we finally got some great blue skies for the rest of our hike. The trail didn’t claim Jessie, he walked away with some sore feet though.

The trail overall was pretty flat and we made good time. Given your confidence with the number of miles you can hike in one session, this trail would definitely be accessible to pretty much anyone. I found that throughout the park the trails are marked pretty well. I found that I never really had to reference the map, other than to just check on our progress.

One thing I found interesting was that the park is one of the designated grow sites for the prairie recovery program in Iowa (orange star). I actually knew nothing about this until I saw some signage and looked it up. From what I understand, they grow native species of prairie flowers and grasses, let them go to seed, and then distribute the seeds across the state to encourage more growth. A nice little surprise to unexpectedly come across.

After a little bit more hiking we came to an open area where it appeared that they may have discontinued trail maintenance on the outermost portion since it appeared to be very overgrown (purple star). We just crossed the road and took the campground trail back to the parking lot.

IMG_2873That is the down and dirty of the Lake Trail. I have found that Iowa lake trails tend to be pretty similar. Few overlooks or scenic views, but that doesn’t mean you should skip them. If you are a mileage muncher like me, most tend to give you around 10+ miles. Even though this hike wasn’t jam-packed with scenery, it does have those inlets that I really enjoyed. I’ve been kicking around the idea of getting out on the water in a kayak with my camera for a different perspective. This is one place that would be very interesting to check out from the water.

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The trail ended up being 12.5 miles and took about 5 hours to finish. So be sure to take plenty of water and some snacks before you decide to tackle the whole loop.

Also, please check out the video over on YouTube as well!

I hope you enjoy your walk!

Another year may be down, but more adventure awaits!

Well I guess it is that time of year where I do a write up on the past year of getting my shoes dirty. I have to say 2017 was a pretty good year. Even though there were a good number of miles that my feet didn’t get to walk, I achieved a lot of the goals I set for myself.

2018 Mileage

Every year I set the goal to cover at least 100 miles of trails. For 2017 I went super ambitious and tried to include the remainder of the state parks I’ve researched, the hikes my wife and I like to do each year, and my return to Yellow River for redemption. In total I set myself on a collision course with 212 miles of ground pounding (2016’s 140 miles is the most I’ve ever done). As you can see from the screen shot of my spreadsheet… I didn’t make it. I did make my annual goal of 100 miles by 12.75 miles, so it’s still a win.

dsc03528If there was a negative to be found with this year’s hiking; it would have to have been not getting to do the winter icefall hike at Starved Rock, and the Halloween hike that my wife and I enjoy doing every year. This year looks to correct the icefalls at least… -46 with windchill last week.

Two of the best hiking achievements of the year were beating Yellow River, and finally experiencing the outdoorsman mecca of Colorado! It’s been six months since our family adventure and we still can’t stop thinking about it. Of course I did just finish posting about it a couple weeks ago, so there’s been a constant reminder.

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Looking over the website, I think I have been improving on my ability to produce better trail reports and blog posts. I love the map addition! Some of my early posts were quite short with limited information. My more recent ones I feel give you, the readers, a better picture of what to expect. To everyone who has messaged me, I do appreciate all of the compliments you have given, I sincerely thank you. I hope to continue improving upon the resource I’m building here.

One way I have been improving the posts has been through my photography. I have been upgrading my gear to better capture what my eyes see in order to share it with you. I have several more upgrades I still want to get in order to make them even better, but for now I will continue to capture the best images I can. (In other words, they ain’t cheap!)

img_4606What started out as something to record my hiking journeys for memory’s sake, has turned into a real passion. I started with nothing more than a mid-level Sony Cyber-shot point-n-shoot camera. It got the job done, but the more I started to enjoy the craft of photo and video, the more I desired to upgrade.

Then one night Cheryl and I were lying in bed in a hotel room outside Starved Rock… waiting for Titan and Odessa to finish getting ready for bed so we could icefall hike the next day (dirty minds…). We had been married for just under a year, and we had recently just decided to try for my first child. We hadn’t told anyone, so our conversations were in hushed tones and secret code around the kids. However, that was the night that we made the choice to invest in a nice mid-level DSLR camera to capture the future life of our little CJ. I have since increased my inventory from the simple Sony point-n-shoot, to a Nikon with 2 lens, to uh.. a lot more…

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On the topic of upgrades, see the PC on the left with the glowing colors and 3 monitors? Yep, that is the Edi’nator! The one on the right is the 9 year old darling that is still a strong PC when it comes to most functions. However, it finally hit a point where it was starting to lag on photo edits, and video was just too frustrating. So Edi’nator was built to edit the heck out of some Iowa Hiker media. Which means I can finally get back to making videos. The first video it edited was CJ’s second birthday video. Not even a slight hiccup.

I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent developing better and better content (literally everything in those pictures is to deliver better photos and videos to you). So much so that I’ve decided to put a concentrated effort into building a landscape photography presence. One reason for the decrease in my online presence over the past several months has been because I have been putting most of my focus on setting myself up to move into a professional photography capacity in 2018! dun dun dunnnnn!

Now I’m not quitting my job and risking it all, I like my job, and it affords me plenty of opportunity to get outdoors as it is. This is more of a long term, slow developing… (pun intended), retirement plan. I haven’t launched an official photography website yet, I’m waiting until I feel it looks right. So far I’m just not satisfied. I acknowledge it’s the perfectionist in me that I regularly attempt to suppress because he holds me back. Although he did reward me with a Summa Cum Laude on a BS in Psych thanks to a 4.0. (Slavedriver ID…) Regardless, I’m excited. As far as honing my skill, besides shooting everything I can when I hike for repetition’s sake; when you have such an adorable subject that knows when the camera is on her such as I have, it makes practicing easy!

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So 2017, work promotion, 100 miles, MOUNTAINS!!!!!!, snowshoeing, new gear, professional photography, an amazing wife and a heart stealing 2 year-old.

I’m not sure I would have noticed if it could have been better. I hope your 2018 is going to be filled with happiness and dirt. So far my rough itinerary is up to 204 miles… 😉

The next upgrade; this logo my best man made for me. I really like the idea behind the design, but I feel it needs more umph… and Notre Dame… lol not really, but it’d be cool for a game day t-shirt. My wife actually had one made for me before we were married where the t-shirt is navy and Iowa is gold. She’s the best.

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May 2018 be dirty and awesome for us all!

Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, CO

DSC_4898The Colorado Adventure: Day 7 (The End)

(Cheryl was very happy for her new Jeep, so she had to have a couple gratuitous Jeep shots 😉 .)

Thanks to shifting around the schedule we were able to free up an entire day. Once we got to the hotel we snagged a bunch of tourist pamphlets to see what there was to do around town. There were a lot of attractions around town, but eventually we came to the conclusion that we were just trying to find a way to spend more money. After a week of being on the road, we were ready to head home. We had two attractions left on this adventure that we still needed to complete. So we prepared ourselves to get some sleep, hit our two stops in the morning, and be on the road by the afternoon.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

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Stop number 9: the other Pikes Peak. You know, the one that stole our Pikes Peak’s thunder… Pikes Peak has its own road that takes you all of the way to the summit. The “toll” to start the climb is not the cheapest fee out there, so be prepared for that. To be honest, by the time we were half way up, the fee was already gone from my mind. Pikes Peak is the tallest mountain on the front range at 14,115 ft., and best of all you get to drive to the top! You can also take a train from Manitou Springs, or hike to the summit if you wish. Cheryl and I have already agreed that next time we are going to hike it, starting with the Manitou Incline! A straight up challenge where you gain 2,000 ft of elevation in 1 mile, then you have to hike another 12,000 ft to the summit! (Not really, since you already start well above sea level, but it sounds good. Really it’s only another 3,500 ft or so.)

IMG_4062The road was full of switch backs as you travel higher into the clouds. Along the way they have several little shops and plenty of overlook spots. They do recommend taking your time to try to ease into the elevation gain, and many of these stops were designed to help facilitate that. Also, make sure to be drinking plenty of water, even if you aren’t feeling thirsty. However, we (well I) decided that we should power up to the summit and use the stops on the way down as a way to help keep the brakes cool. There was a solid understanding that if anyone was feeling the effects of the altitude that they needed to say something. We had already had that happen during our Rocky Mountain National Park visit, so I wasn’t worried that someone wouldn’t speak up.

For the most part everyone was fine on the way up. There is a stop about halfway up where they check your brakes on the way down. We did take a little stop there to use the restroom and stretch our legs since it does take a while to get to the summit. Here is where we first started to notice the thinner air and that the clouds were hanging pretty low. Our fingers were crossed that by the time we made the summit they might dissipate, unfortunately that wasn’t going to happen.

It was interesting driving in the clouds. It was like driving in a super dense fog, that was relatively dry. It was chilly up on the summit for certain, and the view, well there wasn’t one that day. However, I was on top of a mountain, and that was all that mattered.

After being at the summit for a little while, the altitude finally started to get to me. There is a gift shop and eatery on the summit, so I went inside. The train was currently on the summit, so the shop was packed! It cleared out quickly once the train announced it was leaving though. The kids wanted to have a couple of novelty doughnuts before we started back down, and I’m pretty sure the littlest one got more than the big kids did.

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The trip down went quicker than I thought it would. I ran the Jeep in manual and used the brakes as sparingly as I could. They didn’t have the brake station active since the temps were still chilly, but we still stopped at a couple of places to make sure they stayed cool, as well as to get some pictures and use the bathrooms. The sun eventually came up and started to burn off the lower cloud cover, allowing for some scenic views, but the peak remained covered.

While we didn’t get the epic peak view we were looking for, we know that next time we will be in the area for several days and can watch the weather to hopefully catch a better day to make the summit. They do have live stream cameras on the peak so a person could wait and keep checking in until the peak looks clear.

Please head on over to YouTube and check out the accent video!

We were feeling hungry by the time we made it off the mountain. Since our 10th and final stop, Garden of the Gods, was only a few minutes away and had a cafe, we headed straight there.

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CJP_5142Garden of the Gods is a grouping of red rock that sits basically on the border of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. Many of the outcroppings have earned nicknames from their shapes, like Kissing Camels. There are several parts to the park, but in the center is the main section with a paved walkway. It’s a good-sized loop, that has most of the more scenic rocks. The rest of the trails in the park have gravel walkways.

After we got a bite to eat, we headed out to take a look around. I was super surprised to find parking a real challenge. Everywhere we looked the small little lots were full. Eventually we were able to find a place to park and get out for a walk in the rocks. It was actually challenging to try to get photographs without other visitors in them. Rock climbing is active in the park, so many tourists take this as fair play to just scramble around and hang out on the smaller ones. We did see a good number of legit climbers scattered throughout the larger climbs though.

The formations were quite neat, and I do wonder if there are points in a day where one could capture the images without people in them. The rocks just stick out of the ground in a such a way that it almost feels unnatural to be honest. I’d like to go back after a fresh snow and see what kind of clean images I could get. In all, it was a pretty neat place.

I wish we had more time to explore Garden of the Gods. First, we didn’t realize just how big it was, and weather was starting to move in pretty fast. There was lightning on the horizon, so having the knowledge that we’d be back, we chose to cut it short for safety.

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We departed from the park and jumped on the road toward Denver to meet up with a friend of Cheryl’s for dinner. From there we said a sad goodbye to Colorado, and began our drive back to Iowa. We will forever be fond of Colorado, and if for some reason we just had to move there I don’t think we’d be too sad, but for now Iowa is home.

 

 

 

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, CO

CJP_4961The Colorado Adventure: Day 6, part 2

The next stop on the list was Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. We initially had the zoo on the list for the next day, but we decided to try and tack it on after the bridge and drove straight there from Royal Gorge. This did cause us to be in a slight time crunch since it was an add-on, so it was all business getting there.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

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Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is located on the southern outskirts of Colorado Springs, on the side of Cheyenne Mountain… (You know, the base of the Stargate Program where MacGyver went to work after he left the Phoenix Foundation 😉 ).

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Zoo MapI was surprised to find that the zoo was basically located in a residential neighborhood. As we were driving toward it, we kept questioning Google’s directions, but eventually we rounded a corner and found a sign that told us we were going the right way.

The zoo is pretty small and compact, with limited parking. We arrived a couple hours before closing and had to park in the road. It closes at 4 pm, which was the main reason why there was a sense of a time crunch. It seemed like 4 pm was a little early for it to close, but I looked around and found that most zoos do actually close around 4 or 5 pm. Anyway, we made it with plenty of time to see everything the zoo has to offer.

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We chose to travel in a counter-clockwise direction starting with the African animals. First up were the giraffes, including their newest member; Rae! She was born only a few months before we visited. There were a good number of giraffes in the exhibit, and like most zoos, they had lettuce for sale so you could feed them. CJ thought it was neat, as long as she wasn’t the one doing the feeding.

As we moved along they had a large variety of your standard animals that you’d expect to see in a zoo; meerkats, zebras, lions, elephants, rhinos and a good number of other animals that I don’t know the names of! It was a warm day and most of the animals were trying to keep cool, or just simply relaxing.

At the end of the African exhibit were a couple of active animals, the elephants. There were two milling around outside, eating and spraying sand to help cool themselves off. The rhinos share the same area with them, but they were inside. I’ve seen elephants at other zoos, but it seemed like this was the closest I’ve been able to get to them. The skin was far more wrinkly than I had ever realised.

Next on the tour was the Australia exhibit. There were some wallabies, alligators, weird birds, and more unknown animals. They do have quite a large reptile exhibit with many snakes and lizards that looked pretty neat. I liked how the snakes rested on bright colored glass beads that helped you to see them. Most of the time you have to search all over their cases to try and see snakes at other zoos.

After CJ had her fill of giggles looking at all of the wriggling lizards and snakes, we moved on to the Asian Highlands and Rocky Mountain Wild sections. We were only able to see one Asian animal, a tiger chillin’ in the standard cat pose for the day. All of the other Asian animals were hiding in the rest areas unfortunately. We scored better animals in the Rocky Mountain section though. The bears were out and active, checking out the people on the other side of the glass. There were a couple bald eagles making a lot of noise, and then there was a massive moose people-watching.

We’d been walking a bit by this point and decided to take a short break. Basically we needed to use the bathrooms… I let the kids hold my camera when it was my turn.

The central section had a lot of common animals most of us know; chickens, frogs and toads, turkeys, turtles, goats, and miniature horses. There was also an insect/arachnid building near the bathrooms. This is where the food plaza is located with its very expensive snacks… oh, and the peacocks roaming around. Cheryl and the kids did get some ice cream, but first CJ got to ride another Carousel!

Our final stop in the zoo was the primate area. The orangutans had a new little addition to their group that had just woken up from its naps, there were a few other little monkeys playing in their holding areas, but it was the gorillas that stole our hearts. lol

Now the above primates were fun, and CJ liked them (even though one did posture up to the glass that spooked her). However, there was one gorilla that stole the show. He knew exactly what the people wanted. Thinking back on the zoo, the first comment anyone still makes, “that gorilla…”

We got our pictures of the star and began heading to the exit for your standard overpriced souvenirs and the next hotel so baby girl could get her pool on! (Maybe some sister beating as well.)

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a nice little zoo with an amazing view. There are far more creatures than I could possibly try to describe within this post. We’ll be back to the Colorado Springs area without a doubt in the future and make a return trip. Don’t forget to pop on over and check out the video on YouTube!

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When you make your visit to the zoo just know, CJ approves of the ice cream.

Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, CO

CJP_4855The Colorado Adventure: Day 6, part 1

If you’re afraid of heights, this one could make you a little anxious. After all, the tallest pedestrian bridge in the US means that it is a long way down! None of us had heard of Royal Gorge Bridge and Park before watching a video about it, but this little place on the map was worth checking out.

If you’re new to this string, keep reading. If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

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If I’m fully honest, day 6 of being on the road was starting to be felt by everyone on this little journey. Not that we were burned out, only that it was a good idea to start with the hiking, and then end with the sightseeing. When we set out that morning we had 4 must-see stops left, and 3 days to do them in. Next up was stop 7: Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, near Cañon City.

Royal Gorge MapRoyal Gorge Bridge and Park is located just south of the center of Colorado, a little over an hour southwest of Colorado Springs. It was originally constructed in 1929, spanning the flowing Arkansas River over 1,000 feet below! In 2013 there was a fire that ripped through the area and destroyed 90% of the area around the bridge. The bridge escaped without any real damage, and almost everything around it was rebuilt. The biggest loss was that the elevator that would take you to the bottom was abandoned. Even the water-clock was rebuilt to the specs of the original.

There is more to the park than the bridge, so lets take a peek.

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When I first started looking into the park I found that they have a good number of attractions to check out and make the trip more active than just walking across a bridge. Which is good because tickets aren’t exactly cheap… So the first thing you notice when you pull into the parking lot is one of the locomotives that used to run on the tracks the run along the Arkansas River down below.

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It looked weathered and worn, which I thought added to the atmosphere that this bridge is from an age that has long since passed. From there you come to the visitor center where you get your tickets and you can get something to eat. On the back side of the restaurant/food court is the deck where you get your first glimpse down into the canyon, and just how deep it is. However, that view is nowhere near as impressive as the one you get once you are actually crossing it.

This is also where you jump in line for the gondola ride to the other side, and the zip line ends from the other side. Since we got there at open, we got to watch one of the employees conducting the daily inspection of the line. Imagine if that was your job… “Hey Mitch, go see if the cable is still good enough to hold a person’s weight…”

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Even though I knew I was going to be passing over it a couple of times that day (ride the gondola over and walk the bridge back), it was still impressive to actually see how high you were once you were over the center. (Of course a fisheye lens will also exaggerate it a little more as well.)

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Once on the other side you have access to the bulk of the extra attractions. The Royal Rush Skycoaster is basically a giant swing that sends you out over the edge (but it wasn’t running that morning), and the zip line that I just mentioned both require extra fees that we decided to skip. They do look like they would be fun, but the price was a little too steep for us.

We walked down the road to the newest attraction for little ones, Tommy Knocker Land. This is where we discovered CJ’s first passion… carousels! Holy cow does she think they are the greatest thing on earth. Luckily we were early enough that there weren’t really a whole lot of people around and the guy operating it let her stay on the ride for a few turns. I think she rode it 4 or 5 times after the near wave of complete sadness engulfed her once we started to exit after the first go round. She was still quite sad after her final ride, but they had bubbles, crisis averted.

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A touch further down the road we came to the Plaza Theater where they have a gift shop and the magic show. The magic show is every couple of hours and we had just missed it. We debated on hanging out and waiting for it, but we were also considering getting on the road ahead of schedule if we didn’t wait. If we chose the latter, we’d be able to make it to the zoo later that day, rather than just heading to our hotel and hanging out in the room. We decided to move on to the bridge and try to get ahead of schedule.

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Now time for the main attraction of this destination. The bridge itself. I would start off by saying, make sure your keys are secure in you pockets, because it is a long way down and there is enough of a gap between the boards that they will drop right through on their way to the river below. It was interesting to see the construction of the bridge up close. The support cables are so massive with a more wire build than I expected.

The bridge is 1,260 feet long and a solid conclusion to your trip to the park. As you walk across, the flags from every state lines sides. Cheryl liked looking for the Iowa flag and her Idaho flag as we progressed across.

There were a couple of points on the bridge where they pointed out “fun facts.” The first was that someone had made a record-breaking rappel from the center point of the bridge, and the second was that from the bridge you can see a mountain that looks like is in the shape of JFK.

Of course, like I mentioned before, the view from the center is quite impressive.

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Even though we skipped several items, it was still satisfying to conclude our day by crossing the bridge on the way back to the visitor center. Now I will say for a park where you’ll likely only spend 2-3 hours, it is a little pricey. That being said, it was definitely worth visiting once. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves during our visit, especially CJ!

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If you make your way to the Colorado Springs area, see if Royal Gorge Bridge and Park can fit into your itinerary. Take an early morning trip, or maybe make a lunch excursion out of it.

Don’t forget to hop over to YouTube and Check out the video!

Happy adventures!

Four Corners and Aztec Ruins National Monuments, UT, AZ, CO, NM

CJP_4789The Colorado Adventure: Day 5

Ever stand in four states at one time? We did! (Kinda, the monument is actually 1800 feet to the east of the true mark…) Changing our schedule around during day 4 really helped make day 5 far more relaxing, and it was just the thing we needed. We made two short stops that day as we first headed west from Cortez and stopped at Four Corners National Monument, then circled back east toward Aztec Ruins National Monument on our way to Alamosa for the night.

If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

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Aztec mapFor stop number 5 we weren’t too far away from Four Corners National Monument, and since they didn’t allow visitors until 8 am it allowed us to have a little bit of a relaxed morning. In fact, the sun was already up by the time we hit the road. It was a slightly dreary morning, overcast with the remnants of rain still sitting on the ground as we approached the entrance. The surrounding terrain was pretty stark, which was a big difference from being surrounded by mountains like we had been for the past several days.

Even though we had a late start for us (me mostly if I’m honest), there were only a few other early risers in line to be let into the monument when we arrived. From what I had heard of Four Corners from others, it was definitely far more built-up now than it had been previously. It isn’t grand by any means, but there has been a good amount of effort put into the structure. You have the plaque embedded in the center, surrounded by platforms to help elevate you to get a better view. Then surrounding the entire thing are quite a lot of stalls where the local Native Americans sell their trinkets and souvenirs.

CJP_4785There is a 3 photo limit to help move the crowds along, but we found that everyone was pretty accommodating. While we had issues at other places with people stepping into photos, or not moving along once they got their pictures taken; at Four Corners everyone seemed to be very courteous, offered to take each other’s pictures, and moved out of the way as soon as they got their shots. Now granted, it was a bunch of us early risers and the bulk of the visitors would be arriving later. Only a fraction of the vendors were even there yet. From what I understand though, that is just how it works at Four Corners.

Overall, Four Corners is kind of one of those places you just have to try to divert to if you’re going to be in the area. Since it is in the area of Mesa Verde National Park, which is a must-see, you should just calculate this into your trip. Even though this survey spot is off by a little under 1800 feet, Congress still recognizes it as the symbolic monument to the location of the Four Corners. Overall, other than getting your picture taken and eating a funnel cake (I think that is what the little shack was selling…), there isn’t much else to see or do there.

So we got our shots and moved on down the road toward our next stop.

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Even though Four Corners was a neat place, we all had actually been to three of the four states before. Shortly after Cheryl and I had met in 2011; I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Arizona (Fran likes to comment on these posts 🙂 ) and a week prior Cheryl and the kids where there to visit her brother before he moved his family back to Iowa. Then in 2015 we took the road trip to Idaho for Cheryl’s bi-annual family reunion (a retroactive travel series has just been thought of) and share the news with her grandma that CJ was on her way. For the return trip I designed the route to go through Utah and Colorado. Then of course we were in the middle of a Colorado vacation adventure. So that left New Mexico as the new state of the Four Corners.

Aztec mapWell I didn’t like the idea of using Four Corners as a way to count New Mexico as a state we have visited. So I searched for a way to visit something in New Mexico, and found stop number 6, Aztec Ruins National Monument, that was sort of on the way back toward Alamosa from the Four Corners… It would have been quite a bit quicker to have just turned around and stayed in Colorado, but meh, we were close and needed to check off New Mexico so I worked it in.

There isn’t much in between the two locations, so plan accordingly if you also desire to stack the visits. Aztec Ruins is on the outskirts of Aztec, NM where New Mexico State University is located, with Farmington just down the road. So once you get there, there are plenty of places to stop for food, drink, and fuel.

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I had never heard of Aztec Ruins prior to trying to find some reason to go into New Mexico. Turns out it is actually historically connected to Mesa Verde. Originally discovered in 1859, it consists of the ruins of what I would call a small compound that was almost completely buried. It took until 1916 before restoration truly began, and almost two decades after that before they called their work complete. There are more ruins under the sand surrounding Aztec Ruins, but there aren’t plans to uncover those.

The Monument has a small gift shop where artifacts are displayed before you watch a short movie about the history of the site. Apparently, it was once theorized that the Aztec people of Mexico migrated north after their civilization began to decline. After the discovery, this was one of the places they were thought to have landed, and therefore the name Aztec Ruins. It has since been revealed that this was a home of the Hopi people after they departed from Mesa Verde. They have a narrative that prophesied Mesa Verde and Aztec Ruins as stages of the Hopi civilization’s life-cycle (as far as I understood it anyhow). I think they currently believe they are in the third of the four stages??

Once you complete the movie, the exit leads right to the path that wanders through the ruins. It starts with the restored great Kiva, before moving on to the living quarters. It is still neat to me to see how historical people lived, especially the nomad civilizations. Maybe it’s just the part of me that desires to have the freedom to roam and experience the outside that gets drawn to it, or maybe it’s my inner nerd craving to absorb more knowledge. Either way, I’ll keep doing it. Both Mesa Verde and Aztec were interesting in that the Hopi lived in a settlement, but everything was compact. Almost like they developed the first apartment complexes where you might have to walk through someone else’s home to get to yours. lol.

In the end, Aztec Ruins was a neat place to check out at least once. Similar to Four Corners, if you can divert the time, it is close enough to Mesa Verde that you should try to. In total we walked roughly 3 miles around the grounds, got some pictures, watched CJ have a blast, and moved on down the road.

IMG_3964Up next, a huge bridge and animals!

Mesa Verde National Park, CO

DSC_4728The Colorado Adventure: Day 4, part 2

As I looked over the plan for our adventure time after time over the course of a month or so, I couldn’t help but get nervous for our 5th day of the trip. No matter how I tried to tweak it, it was going to be a very long 15-16 hour day, with the end of that day consisting of 3-4 hours of driving after sunset. After a discussion with the family, we decided to adjust the schedule and push on down to Mesa Verde National Park after the Ouray hike, instead of starting with it on day 5. It was a gamble that worked, but just barely…

If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

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Mesa Verde google map

Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwestern high desert area of Colorado, just outside the town of Cortez. The park is famous for the cliff dwellings that are scattered throughout it, and the mystery as to why the inhabits abandoned it. (That’s pretty much been answered by this point, but that is where to story of Mesa Verde kinda begins.)

Now I commented that our decision to adjust the schedule barely worked. Let’s elaborate. In order to fit Mesa Verde into the same day as the Ouray hike we elected to cut out a tour at the Old Hundred Mine near Silverton. Now, you can visit the park anytime during hours of operation, but the three marque dwellings; Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House all require tickets to visit, and those tickets are limited to help lower human impact on the sites. Here is where it started to get tricky, you can buy tickets at the park or at the visitor in Cortez for the day of, or the next day. So we shot down to Cortez and gambled that they would have more tickets as your average person would most likely just go to the park. Here is me informing you that the theory was not correct… they are digital and work off of a database so it doesn’t matter where you buy the tickets from.

You may only buy tickets for two of the three sites per day and we wanted to visit the most popular Cliff Palace, and since it is in the same area, Balcony House. We didn’t make it to Cortez until late afternoon and most people must have had the same idea because they were both sold out. In fact, the only thing left were four tickets for Long House, and the tour started in an hour. There were four of us, and I heard a lady walk up and ask about tickets as I ran out to the car to consult on a change of plans. It took a few seconds for everyone to decide Long would do, I hustled back inside in time to snag that last four tickets, learn that it takes an hour to get to Long House from the visitor center, muter S.O.B. in my head, and get us on the road!

Mesa Map.JPGHere is where I discovered just how big Mesa Verde is. The entrance is at the northernmost part of the park; Cliff, Balcony, and several other dwellings are in the south central part (blue star), and Long House is in the farthest southwest corner (red star), and all throughout are trails and various other points of interest. Cortez is only 15 minutes from the entrance, and when the ranger selling the tickets said an hour he meant it! However, I will say that I was kind of impressed with how sporty my wife’s new Jeep Cherokee felt over my Ford Edge… we made it in 45 minutes… just saying. Not only was there like 1000 foot of elevation gain along the route, but look at how curvy that road is, impressed.

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DSC_4731When the time for the hike came the ranger turned out to be a retired school teacher drawn to the area by the mystery of the park who stayed for the scenery. I have to admit, I’ve seen my share of deserts, but Mesa is quite pretty. A fire ripped through the area several years back and everywhere you look are the remnants of trees covering the landscape.

The hike itself was about a mile to the descent to the ruins, then roughly a mile of visiting them, then a mile back. The whole way the ranger was a great storyteller discussing what history has taught us. I truly wish I was recording him as he was great and I’d love to relive it with CJ once she’s older! Unfortunately, I was still at a point in The Iowa Hiker that I didn’t want to put others on the spot like that.

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The walk to the descent was along a blacktop path that makes it easy for most everyone to venture down. They do give plenty of warning about the elevation and heat, and joked with us about being from Iowa as he pointed out what mountains were. We all chuckled a bit, I didn’t want to inform him that we’d already been at double the elevation or that hiking was kinda my thing. 😉

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Finally we made it to the descent, and that view was quite impressive. The closer we got, the more I understood the mystery of the pueblo people. After all, this was a harsh landscape to think of living in, albeit beautiful. As we approached the ruins of Long House I can honestly say I was very surprised at just how large it was, or dare I say, long… (I had to).

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Once we arrived the ranger took us around discussing the different aspects of the dwelling and what life would have been like. I was honestly surprised to hear that they estimate that the average lifespan for women was in their mid-20’s, while males were in their mid-30’s. However, once you consider their living and eating habits it does make sense. Toward the end he revealed that evidence has lead them to realize that the original inhabitants were the ancestors of the Hopi people of northern New Mexico. When interviewing the Hopi elders, they were able to describe the ruins of Mesa Verde in detail, even though there was no way for them to have ever visited or know about what existed there. Everything was continuously passed down through the generations. At one point the ranger asked everyone to remain silent and take in the view. The silence was pristine, and the view was golden.

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Eventually we had to head back as I’m sure the ranger wanted to head home for the day. Good thing too as weather was starting to move in. On our walk back the storms in the distance created a brilliant contrast with the dead trees and bright green grass.

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While at first we thought that just visiting Long House would be good enough, we all agreed we were wrong. There is so much to Mesa Verde National Park that we have to go back. Next time we have to make it at least a 2-3 day adventure so we can not only visit all of the dwellings, but also get our shoes dirty hiking the trails scattered throughout the park.

So while our visit was hurried, winged, and frankly lucky; it was great. Yet another reason to love what Colorado has to offer. If you find yourself looking at Mesa Verde National Park, plan for multiple days if you want the full experience.

Don’t forget to swing over to YouTube to check out the video!

See you at the next stop on the Colorado Adventure of 2017!