Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Driving home from Colorado

On my way home from Colorado, I stopped at a rest stop, and laughed when I walked back to my car to discover a big Airstream trailer had pulled up next to me.

They say T@Bs are Airstream wanna-bees because they're both made by the same company (Thor) and both are silver.

I just thought it looked like "Me and Mini-me"! Maybe one day the little T@B will grow up to become an Airstream!

I decided to try camping at Wally World for the first time. Wal-Marts allow RVers to park in their lots overnight, and at this Wal-Mart in North Platte, Nebraska (only about a 1/2 mile off the interstate), there were plenty of RVs staying that night.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


After leaving the snow of Colorado, my instinct was right--- Utah was clear and dry. I reached Moab just as nightfall was approaching, and after finding most of the RV parks full, I found one pothole filled site in a BLM campground along the Colorado River in the marvelous canyon just east of Moab.

The next morning, I went to Arches National Park to take all these photographs. The sunrise created a very neat donut hole shadow in the section of the park called "The Windows"

I then hiked the trail up to Delicate Arch. Not the long, strenuous trail that takes you directly to the arch, but the slightly shorter, moderately difficult one that leads you to a point directly across a canyon from the arch. You never see this canyon until you reach the summit of the trail, and then, boom, it reveals itself in this amazing scene!

Here's what it looks like a little lower from the summit (where you can't yet see the canyon). A couple of us photographers sat up on the summit to rest and take in the spirituality of this wonderful place. This was the last thing I saw before walking back down the trail to start my long drive back home to Chicago.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What are the chances?

On my return drive of Hwy. 550, I had stopped to take some photos, and as I walked back to my car, this hippie hiker asked if I'd take his picture. Sure, why not! He gave me a business card, and asked me to email the photo to him and said "God Bless You!". Well, I didn't think to much of it, until about a week later when I got home and was preparing to email him his picture.

It turns out, he was on a mission to WALK coast to coast to raise money to help kids with cancer. He wasn't some hobo or hippie, but a married man with 6 children, one of whom had cancer. So, I made a donation to his site.

Well, here's the weird part---- we actually had quite a few similarities. Our last names were nearly identical (Barden and Braden); he was originally from Libertyville, IL (where my company is located), and we both share the same birthday--- March 11.

How weird is that! I bet we probably had other similarities had I taken the time to stop and talk to him a while longer. I'll stop to read the book next time rather than just judge it's cover.

This was the scene I had stopped to photograph:

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Snow in September?

The first morning I woke up at Ridgeway, there was a light dusting of snow on the camper. "Oh how cute! Snow in September!" I thought. "I'll take a picture of it". More snow had fallen in the higher elevations (my drive of hell on Hwy 550 the previous evening). But the day cleared up, so I did the Hwy 550 drive again. This time, some beautiful snow and fall aspen scenes:

I assumed that the snowfall had been a freak occurance and that the rest of the week would be nice, as it said in the last forecast I'd seen a few days ago. Well.... the Rockies can be very unpredictable in September. The next morning, I woke up to 6 inches of snow on the camper, and the snow was continuing to fall at a very rapid rate!

I was unable to get any radio or TV reception, but one of the fellow campers had a satellite dish and he said they were calling for continued heavy snow all day at elevations above 4,000 feet. Hmm, the campground was only about 5000 feet, and I had remembered that the town of Montrose about 30 minutes away was at 4000 feet. So, I quickly decided to pack up and leave camp a day early to head down to lower elevations. A couple of the retired men near the campground said "you're going to drive a trailer in this???" But I had a good feel for what I was about to do. I knew my trailer towed well without swaying, and knew Montrose was an all down hill 30 minute drive. So I went for it!

As the weather report predicted, by the time I got down to Montrose, it was all rain. I continued to drive northwest to lower elevations, and by mid-afternoon, made the snap decision to drive out west a couple hours to Moab, Utah where I was hoping it'd be clear and dry. Turns out, I made a VERY wise decision! I found out later that day that Hwy 550's upper elevations near Silverton, had received 36" of snow, and at Ridgeway where I'd been camping, they received 18" of snow. Had I stayed, I would have been snowed-in and stuck for days!

Friday, September 22, 2006

A bit of heaven and a bit of hell on Hwy 550

Perhaps the most spectacular and frightening 25 miles I have ever driven in my life is Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado. The mountains in this region are giant and literally vertical (unlike the mountains near Denver and Vail that are much more spread out). My brother said Ouray reminded him of the Alps in Switzerland. Ouray is rich in history and architecture with lots of historic mining buildings, hotels, and shops.

The road to Silverton ascends to 10,400 feet, mostly while hugging sheer rock cliffs with no benefit of guard rails. Some gorgeous aspens along these cliffs--

At the top is an old mining camp at Red Mountain Pass. Another spectacular spot for photos.

So, the first time I drove Hwy 550, it was raining on the bottom and lightly snowing on the top of the pass. By the time I turned around to drive back, however, it had started to get dark, with blinding snow and fog, and very slick hairpin turns. Even though I had 4WD, I drove about 10mph the whole way home....scared to death!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Experiencing the San Juans

After a few days in Vail, it was time to get to my photo destination--- the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado. Millie and I hooked up the T@B and drove to Ridgeway State Park just south of Montrose to set up camp for the next few days. The weather forecast was for sunny or partly cloudy days in the 60's with lows in the low 40's, with a chance of rain on Friday.

The next morning was sunny as expected. I drove just west of Ridgeway to the Dallas Divide to shoot a "postcard" mountain shot with aspens in the foreground. This northern edge of the San Juans was on the border of western Colorado's arid high mesa region, so the fall colors here were still a bit spotty, but still breathtakingly beautiful.

Later in the morning, I decided to drive the Last Dollar Road to Telluride. What an incredible 4WD drive! There were a couple nearly-impassable large mud puddles, but otherwise, the road was in fairly good shape. It took me way up to the top of the moutain range shown here and after about 40 miles ended up in Telluride. By the time we reached Telluride, it was starting to cloud up and get colder so I didn't take many pictures, but Telluride is a gem of a little skiing village with lots of historic buildings. Well worth another visit!

By afternoon, it had started to rain steadily in the lower elevations. I decided to drive the spectacular Hwy 550 from Ridgeway to Silverton. In the upper elevations, it had snowed a little as the clouds slowly passed across the mountaintops and this was just perfect for photography.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

With Randy in Vail

Randy manages the Christy Sports ski shop in Vail. He had to work one day, so Mom, Dolores, Millie and I decided to pay him a visit. This was the first store other than Petsmart that Millie had ever been to, so she kept seeming to hunt around for the store for milk bones. Randy tried to sell her a pair of ski boots, but she wasn't buying, and was much more interested in continuing her milk bone hunt!

On another day, our Dad's cousin Dorothy came up the mountain for a mini-reunion. Dorothy has been a life-long Coloradoan and still skis even though she's nearly 80! I snapped a quick pic of her, Randy, and my mom. Even managed to capture camera-shy Dolores in the background.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Vail Oktoberfest

Everybody in Vail seems to have a cool laid back dog that calmly walks amidst the crowded streets or calmly waits outside the restaurant while their owners eat lunch.

That is, except for my dog. She wanted to run up and kiss all other dogs and children, and generally wanted to keep a 10 foot distance from any man, that is unless the man happens to have beer (her real name is Miller, after all!).

One couple came to pet her and I was surprised to see her quite pleasant to the man. His wife then mentioned that he had just spilled a beer all over his hands, so that certainly explained why Millie was lavishing him with slobbery kisses!

Vail was celebrating their annual Oktoberfest, so the streets were pretty jammed with beer-toting cheerful singing and dancing folks. Since it's a skiing mecca, there were real Germans and Austrians leading their Oktoberfest (as opposed to the less authentic fests we have in the Midwest).

Good music, food, and beer was had by all!

Monday, September 18, 2006

At the Boarding House

My brother Randy doesn't have a guest room/bed at his house, but fortunately has some well-heeled friends with rarely-used mountain condos. He arranged for Mom, Dolores, and I to stay at one friend's condo in Edwards, in the next town over from Randy's. The condo was beautifully decorated and right on the banks of the Eagle river looking at a mountainside.

The second night there, Randy had come over to go out to dinner with us. When we returned to the condo, we noticed someone had come in and put a bag of golf clubs in the middle of one of the bedrooms! Randy called the owner to see if he might know what was going on. The generous owner had apparently gotten his lending dates mixed up and thought he'd leant the condo to one of his golfing buddies the week after us, but alas, the guy was in town now and had apparently just dropped his clubs off before going out for a bite to eat.

Fortunately, the young man, Angelo, could not have been a nicer guy, and we all had a great couple of days as gypsies at "the boarding house." Angelo was a golf club pro from Montrose who had come up to Edwards/Vail for a golf tournament. He had left his wife at home with the two small kids while he was surely looking forward to some peace and quite at his buddy's condo. Instead he got mothered by Dolores and Mom for two non-stop evenings of stories and jokes. The only one who didn't seem to like Angelo too much was Millie. She decided to put on her "I hate men" act and quietly growled or shyed away from him almost the whole time. Maybe it was the golf hat, or maybe the big shoes and low voice....who knows what that demented little dog was thinking!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Indian food in Omaha

Millie and I started on our first big trailer trip out west to see my brother, Randy, and photograph the fall aspen colors. We were tailed the whole way by my mom and one of her friends, Dolores, who were also wanting to drive out to Colorado. We decided to spend the first night at a hotel in Omaha.

I was last in Omaha back in 2001 doing a software installation project for a physician practice there. The customer was a real dud, but I enjoyed the visits there with the other consultant I was working with. He was originally from India and introduced me to Indian food for the first time in Omaha of all places.

We used to frequent a great Indian restaurant downtown in Omaha's Old Market district (a very cool historic/trendy area with lots of restaurants and shops---, so when my mom and I started planning to spend the evening in Omaha, that was the first place I thought about going back to.

The restaurant (Indian Oven) was the same as I remembered. It was a warm evening, so Mom, Dolores and I decided to eat at one of the sidewalk tables beneath the tin-roof canopies that cover all the sidewalks in the Old Market. We ordered the things I'd remembered my Indian friend ordering for me (samosas and tandoori chicken) and a few other things the waitress recommended. A greenish sauce came with the samosas, so all of us being adventurous, decided to dunk our samosas right into it. It tasted great at first....but then some kind of chili or curry kicked in and Dolores claimed not be able to feel her lips again for another hour or so. Where was my expert Indian guide when we needed him?!! Well, the rest of the meal was great, and I've yet to eat Indian food in any other town except Omaha, Nebraska!