Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Journal Entry Twenty three: Gemstones in the Valley

The Arkansas River valley is also provides a surprising wealth of natural gemstones. Mt. Antero is one of the 14ners, 14,269ft. and number ten on the list of over fourteen thousand feet mountains in Colorado. It is located between the towns of Buena Vista and Salida. It was first prospected in the late 1800’s, as were mot of the rest of the mountains in the state. Most men were after gold at that time, but what they found here mostly were aquamarine crystals, beautiful sky blue to sea green colored variety of gem beryl. Another interesting note is that all known gem deposits here occur above timberline, making this mountain the highest known gem locality in the United States. The aquamarine occurs in pockets or bubbles in the granite rock. There are both patented and un-patented mining claims in the area, but most of the land is considered open for hand-digging. Mt. White, one of the off peaks of Mt. Antero is seeing renewed activity as new mining claims have occurred since a large aquamarine was found by a man named Steve Broncato. He found his own large pocket of aquamarine crystals, which would up totaling somewhere around 2,000 of them. Steve filed a claim there and in the summer can usually be found there camping in the high country to protect his claim. He later found the largest aquamarine ever discovered there and sold it, I was told for a very impressive amount.

There are a lot of other gemstones to be found besides the aquamarine; jasper, topaz, smoky quartz, turquoise, amethyst, and lapis lazuli.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hagerman Tunnel

Journal Entry: Twenty three, Hagerman Tunnel Hike

This is one of the hikes we repeat every year because we enjoy it so. My hiking buddies and I always marvel at how we never grow tired or bored with some of the repeatable hikes. This is one of them. This is also a generously climbing rail bed that crosses the Continental Divide. This hike is labeled easy and is 5.5 miles round trip. This tunnel was the highest railroad tunnel in the world at the time of its completion in 1887 and it was 2,161ft. in length. The tunnel itself sits at an altitude of 11,528 ft. This hike starts on Hagerman Pass road, very near Turquoise Lake outside of Leadville. The trail of to the tunnel follows the old railroad grade for part of the way. The beginning is a wet trek, stepping over old embedded railroad ties that still lie there. This was the Colorado Midland Railroad that was the first standard gauge railroad to traverse the Colorado Rockies. This venture though, like many others like it, was never profitable and did not last long. The hike ascends into an old ghost town, Douglass City. It is not really a town anymore, just remnants of it with signs posted that describe what life was like then. This settlement was mostly full of the Italian workers who built the railroad. It was a very vivacious community with eight saloons, a dance hall, and a post office. From Douglass City you climb up about 0.5 miles where you will reach the Hagerman Tunnel. One of the interesting things about this train tunnel is that the entrance is still open. Hikers can walk right up to the mouth of the huge tunnel. There is however, a large “glacier” or sheet of solid ice that covers the bottom flooring. This sheet of ice looks like it is about six feet deep and the top layer is a snowy, slush.

It is obvious that at this altitude, this ice never melts. Jazz, walked into the opening as far as she could go and exited with her shirt front full of snowballs she had created and started to pummel us all with them. We of course, responded in return, and picked them up to toss at her and continue the fight. When was the last time you had a snow ball fight in the middle of July?

Friday, March 28, 2008


Journal Entry: Twenty two, ATV’s

Make no mistake about it; I like to ride on my red ATV with the white lady bug decal firmly implanted on the right fender. I love the feel of the wind in my face and the experience of that raw, vibrating engine between my legs. But, I have found out the hard way that I cannot keep up with the men on high country, very steep, climbing enormous boulders, ATV excursions. No matter what we say, most women do not have the upper body strength to fight the bouncing and jarring handle bars of an ATV as it climbs a high country pass.

Take my word for it, those ATV’s will flip and go tumbling down rocky gullies in the flash of an eye. But anyway, this is still another wonderful way to experience summertime in the mountains. In my opinion, this is one way that the non-hiker can join in the experience of the real high country. There are a lot of places in the valley to rent an ATV, or a jeep, or a similar vehicle.

On the other hand, several of my friends have co-founded a group named the Quiet Use Coalition (QUC). Noise pollution is their greatest concern. They ascertain that places of quiet are becoming more and more difficult to find in Colorado. Most Americans live in urban areas. They further state that the places sought to escape noise; natural and undeveloped open spaces, forests and wilderness areas, have been recently invaded by an explosive growth of personal motorized recreational vehicles. They are correct with this. But since I like to do both, hike in the quiet hushed high country; I also like to ride my ATV. I propose that we find a way to live harmoniously so we can all enjoy the beautiful outdoors of Colorado.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fly Fishing

Journal Entry: Twenty One, Fly Fishing

There are more numerous sites to fly fish in Colorado, than there is time to name, my Amateur/Professional Fly Fisherman son informs me. The Denver Post now rates the Arkansas River as one of the state’s best places to fish for brown trout. The Arkansas River provides some of the best brown trout fishing in the west.

The Arkansas starts just north of Leadville. The first 150 miles of the river, from Leadville to Pueblo, is prime trout water. Conditions vary widely along this section so the river is broken up into 4 sections; Leadville to Buena Vista, Buena Vista to Salida, Salida to Canon City, Canon City to Pueblo. The Arkansas drops over 5000 feet in elevation over this 150 mile stretch from Leadville to Pueblo. The Arkansas boasts high catches of browns and rainbows up to 20 inches. The brown trout and the sea trout are fish of the same species. They are distinguished chiefly by the fact that the brown trout is largely a freshwater fish, while the sea trout shows anadromous reproduction, migrating to the oceans for much of its life and returning to freshwater only to spawn. The high dietary reliance upon insect larvae, pupae, nymphs and adults is what allows trout to be a favored target for fly fishing.

The spring and summer are prime seasons for the voracious mackinaw, the larger species of trout found here. But early spring is one of the most eagerly awaited seasons for fly fishermen in that the caddis fly is hatching and the trout literally go crazy, swarming to be the first to dine on them.

Just being a spectator of fly fishermen and fisherwomen, one witnesses a beautiful showing of

elegance and serenity. There is a hushed expectancy, as the fisher people, ceremoniously arc

their colorful lines high over their heads and suddenly cast their flies into the fresh water

hoping to see the mouth of a trout jump out of the cold liquid river to meet them. I have

learned that this type of fishing is not for the person who wants to bring home a large cache of

fish fillets. A large amount of Colorado is catch and release.

Most people are standing in the rushing river with their hip waders on for the serene experience. This is not a team sport with high fives and a lot of loud locker room banter.

This sport takes a person with patience, who appreciates the quiet, serene beauty of being in attendance with Mother Nature, not to take from her, but to join her.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Valley Restaurants

Journal Entry Twenty: Restaurants in the valley

There are a surprising amount of excellent eating establishments in the Arkansas River valley. Eating out is a favorite form of socialization in the valley. What I like a lot is the relaxed atmosphere you can find at all establishments; unlike the rushed and always hurried “soccer mom” mentality found in large cities. A word of advice; don’t ever get in-between a rushed mom and her mission of getting her prodigy to a sporting event on time. This woman knows her personal player is the only thing sent from God that can save the team, so she takes her mission to heart. Anyway, most eateries in the Arkansas River valley subscribe to the “no worries” attitude found in most of Colorado. No one will hurry you to finish and leave. Slow, leisurely eating, good libations, and interesting conversation are what is on the menu every night. You can find a complete list of restaurants on this website: www.arnaksasvalleyliving.com.

My current personal favorite place to eat is Laughing Ladies in Salida. This is a gourmet food restaurant. The owner/chef moved to Salida with his wife from Ft. Worth, Texas. He has an infectious smile with little squinty eyes and deep dimples. One of his favorite stories to regal his guests with is the story of why he named the restaurant Laughing Ladies. The street his place in on is located just one block from the raging Arkansas River and is row houses with upper apartments. The miners would come into town in the 1800’s and rent one of the rooms “for the hourly” rate. Thus, there were a lot of “laughing ladies” who resided in the upper apartments.

You will find this restaurant on the lower level of one of those apartment houses and if you listen real closely, you might hear the ghost of one of the laughing ladies. Gerard’s favorite dinner to order is the roast duck. Duck is very hard to cook and keep moist and tasty. The chef here says the secret is to never freeze the meat. He claims that freezing duck causes it to be dry and tough. I believe him.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mother's Bistro

Journal Entry Nineteen: Mothers Bistro

The newest gathering place in Buena Vista is Mothers Bistro. They boast of having “light” fare, so if you are craving a hot, chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, and pie a la mode, Mothers is not your place. But if you are hungry mostly for rich, friendly conversation in an outdoor courtyard, under a cool Aspen tree, this is the place for you. In the evenings during the summer weekends there are a lot of intimate, interesting musical entertainers to be found here. My hiking buddy/concert pianist’s husband has been known to frequent here and grace us with his stunning playing of his flute. Their daughter is also a regular here with her rich, warm cello. One of the more unusual set of nightly entertainers though, played a variety of unique instruments. This husband - wife team were a part of the local farmers in town. They have a small farm where the locals love to order fresh cow’s milk, yogurt, butter, and various vegetable and fruits. But, unlike the rest of us, their evening entertainment is to sit around the farm and sing and play instruments together. This night he played several instruments. One was a delightful white Aspen didgjouridou. This is an Australian instrument that is usually four to five feet in length and cylindrical in appearance. It is commonly spelt ‘didgeridoo’ and is called a yidaki of the local Aboriginal people in Northern Australia where it originated. It has been part of the Aboriginal culture for thousands of years.

What makes this device unique is how hard it is to play. The musician must use circular breathing, which is very hard to learn. This ‘circular breathing’ is a technique in which the mouth cavity is filled with air and closed at the soft palate to sustain the sound while a quick breath is taken in through the nose. This process allows for the sound of the instrument to be continuous. This man also played the fiddle sticks on the neck of the banjo his wife was playing. It took a lot of courage and trust on her part, as his fiddle sticks came dangerously close to her nimble fingers. The one instrument he played that I had never seen was called a Limber Goose.

This was a wooden musical instrument which consists of a goose with loose joints on the end of a long stick, the legs of which the performer causes to tap rhythmically on a thin wooden board as if clogging. There are different versions also, instead of a limber goose. Sometimes you may see a limber jack, or limber horse or a raggedy man. These are all percussion instruments used in folk music to tap out rhythms, often played with old-time string band music. The realistic dancing motions produced by these instruments were a pre-cursor to “clogging”, both of which are popular dance styles in the Appalachian region.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Stevie and the Rough Riders

Journal Entry: Eighteen, Stevie and the Rough Riders

One of my Texas neighbors, Stevie, is a weekend warrior bike enthusiast. That means he and his band of merry friends are bankers, salesmen, business owners, and doctors in their every day lives. But on the weekend, you can see them in their leather clad bodies, head bandanas and boots; cruising their low riding “Bikes” along the highways and byways. This group decided to cruise from Texas and Oklahoma into Colorado. The chosen route for them in Colorado was the Million Dollar Highway. This highway stretches for 75 miles in western Colorado. It follows the route is US 550 between Ouray and Durango. Though the entire stretch has been called the Million Dollar Highway, it is really the first twelve miles south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass which gains the highway its name. The origin of the name Million Dollar Highway is disputed. There are several legends of its origin from “it cost a million dollars a mile” to build; or built back in the 20’s, that it contains a million dollars in gold ore in the fill dirt. This highway crosses three mountain passes; Red Mountain Pass, elevation 11,018 ft. (3358M), Molas Pass, elevation 10, 910ft. (3325m), and Coal Bank Pass, elevation 10, 640 ft. (3243 m). I convinced this group to stop by my mountain retreat for lunch, as part of their trip was bringing them down Hwy. 24, south from Leadville, through Buena Vista, and into Salida. They were traveling only a few miles from my house.

Although these extremely educated professionals were equipped with the latest and most modern GPS devices, I still got the call from their cell phones that they were at a hotel in town and needed assistance in finding my house. I jumped into my trusty jeep wrangler and drove down to town to be of help. There was Stevie with his dusty bandana on and his four compares. Introductions were made and hand shakes exchanged by all but one man. He explained that once he strapped himself into and onto his large example of bikery and saddlebags and wired for sound and communication, it would be near impossible to stand and shake my hand. I assured him that it wasn’t necessary, but thanks for the thoughtfulness. This group then proceeded to follow me to the house. I somehow forgot to inform them that two thirds of the way up to the house was dirt, gravel road; and that my actual driveway is a steep, curvy, gravel driveway. When I turned on the dirt road, the first biker following me slowed to a stop. I stopped, still watching him in my rearview mirror. It was obvious to me that they had probably not been prepared to have a dirt, gravel road. He slowly started to follow, very slowly as did the other men. They all decided to just park their “bikes” down on the road and walk up the driveway for lunch. Only two of the five drove up. Stevie drove up and parked, he said he felt comfortable taking the gravel because his bike was lighter in weight than the others. The second one to ascend the driveway did not have a choice, as he had broken his “kick stand” and needed the hard concrete floor of the garage to put down his “center stand” so his bike would be stable.

The first biker walked up and informed me immediately that their “bikes” were “crusing” bikes, not mountain bikes, hence their hesitation to follow me on the dirt, gravel road. But they were all good natured about their side trip and the lunch and mountain/valley view proved all worth the effort.