Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mesa Verde National Park

After we left the Sand Dunes, we headed to the far southwestern corner of Colorado, to Mesa Verde National Park.

Mesa Verde is basically a big, free-standing mountain with its top lopped of, on and around which members of the Ancestral Pueblo cultures lived from around AD 550 to the late 1200s.

During the last few generations before they disappeared, the Ancestral Puebloans build impressive stone homes under alcoves eroded into the cliff sides.

These cliff dwellings survived surprisingly intact (and some have been partially restored).

There are hundreds of archaeological remains in the park, including cliff dwellings, rock art, storage areas, and the mesa-top homes build prior to the cliff-dwelling era.

I spent part of one summer after I graduated college in this part of Colorado on a volunteer project for an organization that studies, preserves, and educates about archaeological remains of the Ancestral Pueblo, so this area and this history holds a special place in my heart.

We visited a few of the cliff dwellings, both on guided and self-guided tours.

Saw gorgeous sunsets.

And sunrises.

E and Z were sworn in as Junior Rangers.

(Self-portrait with heart-shaped rock.)

We took a nice, long hike and the boys tried out cliff-dwelling.

Bits of history everywhere.

The goal of the hike was this: pictographs.

Just stunningly beautiful. Is it art? A message? A story? A Map?

And the views!!

Another place I'd love to go back to and spend more time, especially in the back country.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Big Cut

Z requested a haircut Saturday. After years of having it long, I admit I was surprised, but I wasn't too hesitant, either--the combing battle had become too exhausting and he and E have been going around looking like Dickensian waifs all summer.

He opted to keep one lock in a Padawan braid on the side.

At first, E did not want his cut--we were just going to let it grow into a big, nasty snarl until right before school starts.

But a few hours after Z's cut, he decided he wanted one, too--even shorter--complete with Padawan braid.

Z's hair was long enough to donate (E's might be, too, depending on what organization we send it to), so it will hopefully go to good use.

The biggest irony of all is that, during the 24 hours since their cuts, they have combed and brushed--not to mention gelled, and styled--their hair more than in the whole last year.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Gear Review ~ GoLite Shangri-La 5 Tent

It's a bit pointless to review this tent, since the company that made it went out of business not long after I bought it, but I figure I should let my voice be heard in case some other company is thinking of riffing off a similar design and the feedback would be helpful.
I bought this tent for one reason only--it was the only lightweight backpacking tent advertised to hold five people. I ordered it just before our May camping trip last year, planning on trying it out car camping before backpacking, but it didn't arrive in time, so we applied another layer of duct tape to the poles of our dome tent and used it. Then, when we went backpacking, we had a lean-to and didn't need a tent. I planned to set it up in the yard to test it out, but never got around to it, so we broke one of the cardinal rules of camping this past May, and took a tent we'd never set up before. By then GoLite had gone out of business, and I was terrified the tent would be missing some vital component or have a major defect, but it was fine, and we really put it through its paces during our 17-day Colorado road trip--of 16 nights, we spent 12 in the tent.
The pros:
  • Super easy to set up--I missed out on the first half-dozen or so set-ups because I always seemed to be delivering our camping registration while C was setting it up, but when I finally witnessed/helped with a set-up, I was amazed. No fussy pole sleeves, velcro tabs, color-coded webbing, or other engineering nightmares associated with free-standing tents--just stake out the corners, slide in the one aluminum pole, slip on the fly and boom, you're done.
  • Great design--I love the pyramid shape (I call it "Giza"). I've been watching "The Crimson Field" on PBS and I see echoes of this tent in old military tents. People passing by comment on its tipi appearance.
  • Waterproof--I was doubtful about this tent's ability to withstand rain, with the thin nylon of the fly, but we got rained on almost every night of this trip and not one drop came in. Even when it didn't rain, and the inside of the fly got coated with condemnation, the droplets somehow stayed outside of the internal screen shelter.
  • Windproof--on our last night at Rocky Mountain National Park, the wind whipped all night long, while our tent barely let out a flutter. All the next morning, we watched other people's free-standing tents toss and buck in the wind (one woman's tent lifted up onto two stakes), while ours sat as solid as if it actually were a pyramid. (We did add guy lines and stakes that did not come with the tent--but the guy line points were there).
  • Color--The gold of the fly does not cast a sickly light inside like a blue or green tent does.
  • Lightweight--while ultralight backpackers would scoff, at five pounds, this tent is a little sausage next to our previous two-person backpacking tents, and divided over five people, it weighs only one poundeach (granted, we haven't actually backpacked with it). 
  • Ventilation--on all but the hottest, most humid Iowa camping night, the tent always felt full of fresh air without being drafty.

  • To say this is a five-person tent is quite a stretch. We had to do some fancy finagling to fit all five of us, and there was no room for our duffel bags inside, so we had to run out to the car for a change of clothes (which would not be an issue backpacking, since you use your clothing stuff sack as a pillow--and take a lot less stuff). Plus the pole in the middle limits the possible arrangements. I had kids encroaching on my pillow and mat all night long. I can't image five adults sleeping in it comfortably. Maybe five dwarves who sleep mummy-style (not windmill-fashion like three of our number).
  • The door opening required a long crawl/reach through the "vestibule" area to get out. this was the only time the tent would get you wet, either from rain or condensation, when the door flap flopped on you. The last day we figured out we could unzip it from the top and step over the lower part, which eliminated the awkward crawl, and might even reduce the wet flopping.
  • Is that metal pole in the middle a lightning rod?

Overall, it's a great tent and C and I were both wishing we'd bought a second one before GoLite went out of business. I hope it's durable enough to last for the next eight years, until we don't need quite so much room in our tent anymore.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

I'm not going to write much about our trip out or back--we took three (very long) days to drive each way. The way out there was fun, full of anticipation of what lay ahead and the novelty of the scenery (even though it was all cornfields). The air conditioning worked three times for about 20 minutes each, but it wasn't terribly hot (until the last stretch of Nebraska into Colorado, stuck in road construction). M, being a teenager, spent most of the time sleeping and listening to his iPod. On the way there, I engaged E and Z in reading, looking at the atlas and talking about the places we were going through. 

On the way back, they focused on the iPads for the 12 to 16 hours of driving each day, I read a depressing book, M slept again, and we all sat in stony silence, sweltering in the heat and humidity, and (me anyways) dreading the return to real life. I only took a few phone pictures during the trip there and back--my camera was safely tucked away in the car--which you can see in my Instagram feed over there on the right side bar if you're really curious.

BUT, before all that, we had an amazing time in Colorado.

We spent a couple of days in Denver, visiting with family, and then we headed south, to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

The Great Sand Dunes are formed from sand from the San Juan Mountains and coarser grains and pebbles from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that washed into a huge prehistoric lake that covered the San Luis Valley. As the lake receded, winds piled the sand against the Sangre de Cristos, forming the tallest dunes in North America.

It had rained shortly before we got there, so the sand was somewhat packed and relatively easy to walk on.

We climbed to a false peak or two below the High Dune (C went back and climbed to the high point the next day).

Everywhere we looked, we were confronted by just stunning scenery, so pardon my excess of photos.

Last time I was here, C and I came in May, and it was cold and windy, so I don't remember appreciating it nearly this much. The time before that, I was 13 and had stomach flu. The time before that, I was three or four and only remember having sand EVERYWHERE after playing in the stream.

I love this big, shaggy juniper.

Our second day, we took a short hike along a back road.

I hadn't adjusted to the altitude yet, so I was perfectly happy hiking on a nice flat roadbed.

But someday, I'd love to go back and hike into the backcountry.

C makes fun of me for seeing the world through dead trees.

Mushrooms growing out of the sand? It must be a wet year.

I can't even estimate how high this wall of sand was. Looking at this picture, I think how lucky I am a chunk of it didn't break off and fall on me, but standing there, I felt no fear.

Water over sand...it looks amazingly like beach water over beach sand.

Our country has done a lot of terrible things to its great wealth of natural wonders (that's what the depressing book I read on the way home was about), but once in a while it gets something right. Rather than turn this unique place into a rich man's playground, or mine the dunes for silica, we did the right thing and preserved most of the dunes (~90%) as a wilderness area.

One gratuitous picture of me, after I handed M my camera and ran down a dune.

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