Monday, May 30, 2016

In the Merry Month of May

We have had many beautiful blue sky days in the merry month of May.....for many reasons!

My husband and I have been busy raking, weeding and planting in our gardens.  We have a large front lawn with a slate walled flower area near our house that we have been slowly filling with perennials. Each year we take note of what survives the winters and snowy springs that we have here on the Front Range of Colorado, and what also survives being nibbled by daily visits from deer and rabbits. My backyard has a large retaining wall and we have also been slowly filling that each year with new shrubs and perennials. This year we added some annuals to each garden to add some color.  Notice the new scarlet pink "Knock Out" roses rimmed with chicken wire? It's the only way to ensure my deer visitors don't devour them all!  I really love seeing our gardens come alive in May!

May has been a busy month....we went to a Colorado Rockies baseball game in Coors Field in Denver, with my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. We sat in the "Rock Pile" bleachers just for the fun of it.  It was my three year old granddaughter's first baseball game and she enjoyed it.

We also celebrated the end of the school year in May for our grandchildren! My oldest granddaughter's preschool had a beautiful and adorable "Continuation and Graduation Ceremony. My granddaughter is only three, so she'll continue in preschool next year. She loves the Pastor and teachers.  She really learned so much this year and enjoyed all the play time and friendships with other children. The teachers made a beautiful slide show of all the year's activities, as the song " Let Them Be Little" played in the background...that brought tears to my eyes! Click here to listen to that song on Youtube.  Children grow so fast, grandchildren grow even faster!

We also attended my oldest grandson's flag football games, horseback riding lessons, and the youngest grandson's soccer games. My granddaughters had fun playing together on the side lines.

My youngest five year old grandson began karate this year and was thrilled to receive his yellow belt in May!

My daughter and son-in-law went on a vacation trip to celebrate their anniversary and their daughter stayed with us for a week. We had lots of fun with her and she loved being with Grandma and Pop Pop!  Early one morning I took her to play in a community playground.  As you can see it has really greened up in my area!   Do you see the brick house in the distance in the last photo?

Only the stone walls stand, but this is a National Register of Historic Places!  It is the Bradford-Perley House. It was once the residence of Major Robert Boyles Bradford, a prominent Denver pioneer who founded the Bradford Wagon Road.  That wagon road was a principal route for gold rush pioneers in the 1860's to take from Denver to Leadville and South Park.  You can read more about this historic house on this Denver Post link.  My husband and I are members of our community's Historical Society, and we often do volunteer work to help maintain the house and apple orchards that were planted in the 1860's. On this day our granddaughter helped too!

The red rocks near the house are also of archaeological significance as they had been used by the paleo people who lived and hunted on the Front Range of Colorado for thousands of years. The Denver chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society did many digs here years ago and found many interesting artifacts. You can read more about their discoveries on this link.

The last week in May we saw our youngest grandson graduate preschool!  He will now enter kindergarten this summer in the new school year.  The teachers asked each student what they wanted to be when they grow up.  There were a lot of bakers, fire fighters, scientists, police, and athletes, but our grandson surprised us all by declaring he wanted to grow up to be in the US Coast Guard!  PS--the shirts my youngest granddaughter is wearing says" Crazy hair--don't care!" She has been blessed with big blond curls and wears them well!  This little miss will be celebrating her first birthday soon--where does the time go?

Of course, at the end of the month of May, we honor and remember those in our armed forces that made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our country's freedoms on Memorial Day. Above is a photo of the National Cemetery in New York where my Father and Mother are buried together.  My Dad was a veteran of World War II and Korea, but was fortunate to be able to come home to his family. So many veterans did not.  May we always remember and honor those that served and gave all.  Prayers that there will one day be peace and an end to all wars....for our children, our grandchildren and all that follow!

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Mount Blanca--A Navajo Sacred Mountain

When my husband and I left the Great Sand Dune National Park (see part one blog post here, and part two blog post about these amazing sand dunes here) we traveled CO 150 South on our way towards the town of Alamosa, about 38 miles away from the park. (All photos in this post will enlarge if clicked on)

I love roadside "places of interest" or "historical markers" and often stop to see what they say. I was very glad to have stopped at this one which pointed out that the tall mountain peak in the distance was Mount Blanca.

Click on the photo to enlarge it to see what was written on the placard.

Mount Blanca is the fourth highest summit of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. At 14,351 feet (4,374 m) it is the highest summit of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

The Navajo Native Americans called this mountain Sisnaajini (White Shell mountain). The Navajos believed it was one of the four sacred mountain peaks of the Navajo Land and a sacred mountain placed in the east, the doorway to Navajo Land because the sun rises in the east and the day begins there. They believed the First man and the First Woman, together with the Yei'i (Holy People) made the mountain with white shells, white lightning, and rain clouds and gave it positive thoughts. You can read more about the Navajo beliefs about Mt. Blanca on this link.

It was named Mount Blanca by the Spanish explorers in 1598.  By then the Navajo tribes had moved further west and the predominant Native Americans living in the area were the Utes. They entered this region with their domesticated dogs pulling their belongings, and found the San Luis Valley rich hunting grounds for bison, elk mule deer, fish, and plants. When they first saw the Spaniards riding on horses they thought the horses were "magic dogs."  When the Utes acquired horses their warriors became skilled riders and they fought off  European conquest in the San Luis Valley of Colorado until the early 19th century.

Another historical placard at this road pull-off site told about the Southwestern expedition led by Lt. Zebulon Pike in 1806-7.  He and his men were captured by the Spanish in this area and held captive in Chihuahua, Mexico for a while until they were released in 1807.

When I looked up at the high peak of Mt. Blanca I thought about the many eyes who marveled at this sight over the thousands of years before me, and the many who will gaze at it in the future. It sits as a silent and majestic sentinel of time. 

One last look at the beautiful Sangre De Cristo Mountain range in southern Colorado. It is another area that has won my heart in this great state.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Great Sand Dunes National Park, Part Two

In my last post (click here to read that post) I brought you to our recent visit to The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, located in southern Colorado.  It is one of four national parks located in Colorado. The others are the Rocky Mountain National Park, which we've visited multiple times, Mesa Verde National Park, and The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parkwhich we have visited once, but hope to also see again many times.  Each park contains magnificent beauty and diverse geologic and ecologic features, while Meas Verde showed the marvels of ancient native civilization structures in a vast canyon's walls. My husband and I have visited many other USA National Parks over the years, and many more are on our list to see. We are happy that our country has preserved these wonders of nature for future generations to see! (All photos will enlarge if clicked on)

The Great Sand Dunes National Park has to be one of the most unusual parks to visit. It is far from large cities and accessibility can be challenging. There is a visitor center on-site with bathrooms, and there are limited motels/hotels near the park and some campgrounds in and around the park.  We drove from the Denver area to the park in about 4 hours and after visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park we stayed the night in a hotel in the town of Alamosa, around 38 miles away.

The visitors center for the park is at 8,200 feet elevation at the base of the dunes, so not only do you have to prepare for the elevation, but the fact that weather in the park can be very variable. There are often high winds in spring, and March and April are the snowiest months. In summer, the air temperature can reach 80 degrees F, while the temperature of the sand on the dunes can reach 150 degrees F. In summer after the sun goes down, the air temperature can drop to 40 degrees F.

But don't let these challenges defray you from planning a visit to the park. Probably late spring or early fall are the optimal times to come, and if you come in summer plan on an early morning visit before the heat of the day. You can check the park's weather on this link.

The Medano Creek that runs in front of the dunes is only seen in early to late spring, as it is the result of snowmelt in the mountains. Our visit was at the end of April, so the creek was still shallow enough for us to walk across with our shoes on, but it increases in-depth as the season goes on and children often delight in swimming and playing in it.

I ended my Part One post with our reaching Medano Creek, and now I'll take you forward as we approach the dunes.

It was interesting to see the different qualities of the sand as we walked toward the dunes.  The sand close to the creek was full of rocks and pebbles.

A close-up

This sand is made up mainly from the close to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and therefore between the wind and water, larger particles of sand and pebbles accumulate.

The closer you walk to the dunes the sand becomes fine-grained and very deep and soft. You can see how people's footprints sink into the sand.

Most of the 30 miles of sand dune field are made up of sand originating from the far westerly San Juan Mountains. From there it was washed by streams into the vast San Luis Valley. From there southwesterly winds blew, bounced, and pushed the grains up against the Sangre de Christo Mountains, where they formed the tallest sand dune formations in North America!

I was excited to begin our hike!  Here the dunes are ahead...

....and from the same point is my husband with Medano Creek behind him.

In the distance, you can see the tops of the 14,000-foot the San Juan Mountains in the distance to the left, and the vast sand dune field all around us.

 People in the foreground look like tiny specks on the sand.

As we climb in elevation the challenge of walking on the dunes becomes more and more apparent to us.

There are many hills and crests to conquer and we begin to feel defeated by both the soft sand grabbing at our ankles like quicksand, and the constant wind whipping around us

The elevation of the dunes seemed never-ending.

I would catch glimpses of people reaching the top, which would spur me on...

But my husband and I were beginning to realize we probably would not be able to reach the zenith of the top dunes, as we were struggling with fatigue.

At that point, we stopped and just took in the beauty of the height we reached.

We looked in all directions and felt exalted by this wonder of nature!

Mountains were all around us, both far and near.

So, how far did we hike? If you enlarge the photo above you can see I marked the dune we stopped on with an "x"  It took us about an hour and a half to reach this point.

Here I am at that point--my face is red from the intense sun, wind, and exertion of walking in soft sand.  Below is a video I posted on my Mille Fiori Favoriti Facebook page from that place on the dunes. Click here to go to the Facebook page if you do not see the video plugin below.

As you can hear in the video, the wind was strong on the day of our visit and it was one of the factors that inhibited our hike. I was worried about sand blowing into my eyes and lungs. I think I'd be better prepared if I return again by wearing more wrap-around sunglasses and bringing a face mask and tie on sun hat.  Although the park claims it is less windy than the city of Chicago, Spring is often the windy season.

Still, I was thrilled that we made it as far on our hike as we did and that I enjoyed these magnificent sights!

It felt like we were in another world, and seeing sights I never dreamed I would see!

On our way back toward the bottom of the dunes, we stopped for a few minutes to watch both children and adults use special sandboards to ride down the dunes, both sledding and sandboarding.

Sitting on the board to ride down a dune looked like fun! The special boards have to be rented or bought at nearby retailers--they are NOT available in the park. Click here to read about rentals.

I took one last look at where I had hoped to hike, as I knew that the entire dune field could be seen from the very top of the highest dunes.  Maybe on my next visit, I'll be able to get there.

We were still very happy to have accomplished what we did and enjoy our first visit to The Great Sand Dune National Park and Preserve. They are ever-changing, but always staying the same, totally unique and unexpected.

After our overnight stay in Alamosa, we journeyed east towards the vast plains of Colorado, where we wanted to visit two more National Historic sites. More about those interesting and poignant places in a future post!

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