Saturday, November 2, 2019

Reaching the finish line, the last front door

Climbing the final switch-backs up to my final destination, I passed through a burn area of the massive 2012 High Park fire that came perilously close to destroying my construction.  Everybody was evacuated for three weeks.  Some returned to nothing but ashes.  259 homes were destroyed.  The one I built was one of the lucky ones.

It's done - a nine year trek laying down an unbroken path to the front door of every address the post office has ever delivered mail to me – 21 of them – plus some other special and significant places.

It ended at its high point, both emotionally and in elevation, at the house that I built between 1976 and 1980 in the foothills of the Rockies, an address that was, back then, simply

P.J. Wetzel
Rist Canyon
Bellvue, CO 80512

Here are some 'then-and-now' shots of the house, of the garden-rock/rock-garden with embedded tree (that has gone from a spindly thing to a great natural bonsai in the past 40 years), and of the spectacular hundred-mile view (which hasn't changed at all):

Each of the last six walks, covered in this long post, was truly an adventure, each very different.  As I've been doing lately, I'll cover them one at a time in chronological order:

Day 119:  Temperature 75 degrees.

I got to walk five miles with my major professor Dr. Bill Cotton, who was a fresh hire when I 'recruited' him to be my advisor.  He's just 8 years older than me, still walking, jogging, sometimes kayaking, on a regular basis.

His wife Vollie and son Bill joined us.  The younger Bill is a photographer for the university, and the above photo is credited to him.  Here's the gang, along with Kobe.

We were hiking the Poudre River Trail--a bike trail with plenty of great river views that runs from Greeley to Fort Collins.

In Greeley I walked through downtown, passing the Weld County Courthouse and the historic adobe Meeker House.  Here's the GPS Track:

Day 120:  Temperature 22 degrees, with snow coming down all day, but little accumulation.  I hiked the Poudre River Trail and a road walk through a gap in the middle.

Day 121:  Temperature 17 degrees rising to 28 after a few inches of overnight snow.

Today I visited two of the three rental homes in town where I lived as a college student.  Bill walked with me again, for a mile or so in the middle.  I was on streets, and park trails and briefly back on the Poudre River Trail.

Day 122:  Temperature 11 degrees, wind chill below zero, seven inches of snow.  It was a truly nasty day, but I decided to venture out (not in my crocs - for the first time in several years) to hike almost nine miles and visit the last of the rental homes in town.  It's now abandoned, probably has been for years, and looks basically the same as when I lived there 1971-2.  It was a dump even back then.  Hiking into the stiff breeze for two hours, I reached the house with a big ice 'bib' or halo on my beard.  Here's the resulting selfie of me in front of the house.

Later I was able to get rid of the goggles and face mask as I walked down-wind.  Took this video walking through Warren Park:

Finally here's the track.

Day 123:  Temperature 30 degrees, bright sun, calm wind.  Landmark day, as I left the Great Plains, which I had hiked across all year, and entered the foothills of the Rockies on Rist Canyon Road.  As mentioned in the headline photo, the area suffered a major fire in 2012, so half the wooded landscapes I remember are now covered with the skeletons of the dead.  But the mule deer have proliferated since I was here.  They were a rare sighting in the '70's. Today I saw three different groups.

Here's our homely, friendly, familiar landmark, Whale Rock.  She's had dozens of coats of paint and lipstick over the years.  When I left in 1980 somebody had recently painted her silver.  Now its blue.

Finally, here's the day's track:

Day 124:  Temperature 28 degrees.  It was a short day, making the 2.3 mile climb on the private, unmaintained roads up to the final front door.  Then a visit to a stone house so full of memory I almost cried.  I spent four years of my spare time gathering the native rock from the property, mixing mortar, and laying the stone, one by one.  I did all the work myself except for a brief three-week visit by my dad.

The current owners have lived there 35 years and could not have done a better job of lovingly decorating and maintaining it.  Photos already posted up above.

So what's next?  Well I was interviewed by Jayme DeLoss, media guru for the Department of Atmospheric Science.  So you'll just have to read her article for the answer.

See you down the trail.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hiking the Home Stretch: There be Mountains Yonder

Long's Peak looms on the horizon, as if watching me as I make my way westward at 2 1/2 miles per hour, step by step.

The finish line is in sight now.  Literally.  My final destination, the house I built on a four acre lot in the Colorado Foothills west of Fort Collins has an expansive view of the plains to the east.

From where I'm hiking, I can probably see that property, or at least the hills in the vicinity.  I've been following the South Platte River westward from Nebraska, and this report covers the last of that portion of my hike, into the city of Greeley.  From there I'll be following a major tributary, the Cache la Poudre River, which comes down from yon mountains and through Fort Collins.  Once again, I present my experiences in chronological order, day by day:

Day 113:  from the artistic main street display in Merino to the cute little button of a town named Hillrose.

The highway crossed the South Platte River and began following the old Overland Trail route more closely.

I came past the site of Fort Wicked, so named by the Cheyenne for its dogged and unrelenting resistance to their efforts at driving White Man back to where he came.

Day 114 took me from Hillrose, through the city that calls itself "Brush!" with exclamation mark included ...

… to the east side of Fort Morgan.

Day 115:  Fort Morgan to Wiggins.

Most of the day I walked a frontage road beside busy Interstate 76, but also came through the town of Fort Morgan on the old highway, still sporting signs of a pre-freeway past.

I remember these gas prices, under 30 cents a gallon, back in the 60's.

Day 116:  Coming out of Wiggins I was crossing a long stretch of highway without any towns.

Well, except for the unique historic African American settlement called Dearfield, established in 1910, suffered a reversal in fortune during the dust bowl, became a virtual ghost town by the 1940's, but is now beginning to show signs of revival.  Well, not in this photo--the historic buildings are in need of a good deal of TLC, and pretty quick.

Other sights on this day included a mile-long industrial-sized dairy farm operation,

and a rare grove of trees amid the empty plains.

Day 117 continued the trek across the empty quarter.  All that was here was a lot of new oilfield activity.  New tech -- Fracking -- has revitalized this very old oil field.

Day 118:  This was the day I said farewell to the South Platte River, crossing it on the Weld County parkway, where great flocks of cliff swallows have a nesting colony on the bridge.

I arrived in downtown Greeley, near the eastern terminus of the Poudre River Trail, a scenic paved bike trail -- enormous change of experience from all the recent walking on the shoulders of busy US highways.

Stay tuned for the final hikes.  At this point there are just five or six hiking days left.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Following the Overland Trail into Colorado

Map of the old trails in and around NE Colorado in the 1860's.  My route, along the Overland Trail, is highlighted.  LaPorte is near my final destination. An important stage stop at the time, it has now been largely absorbed as a 'suburb' on the NW edge of Fort Collins.

Here's a quote about the Overland Trail from the introductory brochure for the Overland Trail Museum in Sterling, Colorado (see inset in the map above).
"It is said that the Overland Trail was the heaviest traveled road in America, maybe even in the world, between 1862 to 1868."
The more famous Oregon Trail couldn't compare.  It followed the south side of the Platte River through Nebraska, and where the river split into North Platte and South Platte, people following the Oregon Trail had to ford the South Platte.  There were four main crossing points in Nebraska and extreme northeast Colorado.

But when gold was discovered in Colorado, near Denver, in 1858, many more travelers began to bypass those fords in order to continue up the South Platte.  The Colorado Gold Rush, with its famous motto "Pikes Peak or Bust" was the second largest gold rush after the famous 1849 discovery at Sutter's Mill in California.  It is because of that gold and the opening of Colorado Territory to homesteading, that the Overland Trail became a safer and better-supplied early wagon route, even for people heading on to Oregon and California.

And that's the trail I've chosen to follow on my own "Colorado or Bust" trek.

I've reached Colorado, now, so its time to be more specific.  My final destination is the city of Fort Collins, at the end of the orange line on the map above, where I lived at four different addresses between 1970 and 1980.

This report covers ten hiking days, each one book-ended by a small town.  Here's the day-by-day report:

Day 103: Paxton to Roscoe, Nebraska:

I was still following the Lincoln Highway, US 30, on the north side of the South Platte River.  My parking place at Roscoe was on an old bridge over the river, now closed to traffic, and offering this morning view of the meandering sandy river.

Day 104: Roscoe to Ogallala, 'Cowboy Capital of the World':

The little hamlet of Roscoe has suffered from its proximity to Ogallala and from the loss of traffic after Interstate 80 was built in the early 1960's:

Kind of the way the old wagon trails, Overland and Oregon and the rest, rapidly declined after the opening of the transcontinental railroad a century earlier, in 1869.

Day 105: After a day off for snow and cold and strong wind, I headed from Ogallala to Brule.

The snow amounted to just a trace.

Brule was one of those towns where the original Lincoln Highway ran long-ways through the town.  Here's one of the original concrete highway markers next to a monument celebrating the 1886 dedication of the town park.

Day 106: Brule to Big Springs:

Today I continued along the original Lincoln Highway, leaving US 30 behind, passing the old Oregon Trail wagon ruts still visible on California Hill (see map up top for marked location), passing the site of a Pony Express station marked by a monument along the highway, and continued southwest along the South Platte river valley.

Photo highlight for me was one of those long-suffering old trees that is just dripping with character.  I call this fellow the 'Dancing Ent' after the ancient tree herders of Tolkien's Middle Earth.

Day 107: Big Springs, Nebraska to Julesburg, CO.  Crossing the Colorado State Line

In downtown Big Springs, the Phelps Hotel, established in 1885, is still in business as a Bed and Breakfast.

It is in Big Springs that I bade farewell to the Lincoln Highway, which had been my companion and hiking route since Iowa.

Day 108: Julesburg to Sedgwick, Colorado:

It is just east of Julesburg where the last of the four Oregon Trail route options crosses the South Platte at the confluence with Lodgepole Creek, and heads north to Chimney Rock.

Day 109: Sedgwick to Crook:

The town of Sedgwick features the widest main street I've seen anywhere, which is accentuated by the tiny, almost toy-like buildings that line it.

Day 110: Crook to Iliff:

Iliff's 'town square' is an old hand water-pump.  No signs explaining its significance.

Day 111: Iliff to Sterling, and the Overland Trail Museum, where they provided me with the map up top of this post.

Day 112: Sterling to Merino, a little town with a great artist (who works at the town's main business, a carnival rides manufacturer.  He was commissioned to fill their main street gap created by the demolition of a building:

Featured on the individual panels are wonderful likenesses of people who once lived in the missing building.

On the western outskirts of Sterling, I stopped in at a small business called Ag Teck Repair, Inc. (shown in the background of the photo below) because they carried a line of tractor equipment with an orange color scheme.  The brand name is Kioti, pronounced 'Coyote' and they have the picture of a coyote as part of their logo.  It's a Korean based manufacturer, but the Kioti equipment is built in North Carolina.  Anyhow, I'm a collector of blaze-orange hats, and often these outlets carry hats and even shirts as promotional materials.  Well, I was in luck.  The owner was happy to *GIVE* me one of these hats, completely free!

Thank you, Ag Teck Repair, Inc., 18921 US-6, Sterling, CO 80751, Phone: (970) 522-7849.

I now own my own 'Coyote Hat'.  The significance would be obscure to anyone who hasn't read my 'Eden's Womb' novels.  Coyote Hat is the name of a key character in a critical battle between a distant future version of  'Cowboys and Indians.' It happens in the third novel, the "Copper Curse".  The corrupt 'cowboys' had subjugated the 'indians' and defiled their sacred shrines.  This battle was to restore their independence and dignity.  Yes, the good guys win.

How did the character get his distinctive name?  As a kid of age four he found a white man's felt hat, stolen, chewed, and then rejected and left in the desert by a young coyote.  The boy found it, put it on, and refused to give it up.  You'll have to read the novel for more detail.

And I hope you'll also check in here for the next update, as I come closer to finishing my Colorado trek.  Once I've finished, one of the next items on my agenda is to do a full revision and update of the seven-book Eden's Womb novel series.