Friday, October 21, 2011

Nikki Post: Cave of the Winds

Sorry that Claire's been so insanely bitter the last two posts. I think she's feeling left out of all the excitement. But let me tell you, while I was wandering around in the mostly-dark, trying to keep myself from banging my head against low rock ceilings, I kept feeling VERY happy that I didn't take Claire with me. Trying to juggle her and my lantern (candle inside a sideways bucket) would have just ended in fire and banishment from the caves forever. See....Claire's scared of the dark. Not normal, night-time levels of darkness; she's fine with those. But super-dark spaces, where you're not sure what's up and what's down? Claire's terrified of those. That's why she likes riding in the car instead of being packed away in a suitcase (like my other stuffed animals were). At one point in the tour, our tour guide had us blow out our candles and just be completely in the overwhelming, all consuming darkness. It would have been really great if we weren't on a tour with three idiotic teenage girls who watched waaaaaaaaay too many horror movies and a seven-year-old boy. (More on that later.) God, I could just imagine the screaming Claire would have done and how much worse that moment could have been. So yeah...there's a separate tour where the cave path is lit with electric lights; I'll take Claire on that one...maybe.

The Lantern Tour at Cave of the Winds is just that: a tour through specific parts of the labyrinth-like caves using only small candles inside buckets for light. The path doesn't actually take you through CotW, however; instead, you travel through Manitou Grand Caverns. They're both connected, but the difference is a matter of ownership. There were some shady land dealings going on back in the day, and that story adds to the "frightening folklore" promised by the tour's display case (above).

That sign isn't lying - there really were parts of the caves where even *I* had a hard time walking! Poor Steve...he hit his head a couple of times. Our tour guide told us to yell out "Rock is Hard" if we bumped something so the people behind us in the mostly-darkness could be prepared. ...we heard that A LOT. Of course, there were also PLENTY of parts of the caves where the only two people standing upright comfortably were me and the seven-year-old. :P Hooray for being short, I guess...

While in the cave, I took some video to get the different stories out to you, my faithful public. Warning: this is amateur videography on a Droid 2. In a cave. So some parts of the videos will be in darkness, and the ones with light will be jumpy. Since there's really nothing to "see" per se, it might be best to open the videos and listen to the stories while you do other things, like pay your bills or browse Facebook. Maybe check and see how your Fantasy Football team is doing. Fair warning.

Once you enter the caves, you have your photo professionally taken by your tour guide. Steve and I have our photo on the fridge. When his scanner stops being a fartface, I'll scan it in and share it with everyone. :) It's really cute, and totally worth the cost. (Plus, we had a coupon!) The tour guide (total stoner dreamboat that High School Nikki would have dated) told us that there's a few reasons why they take your photo BEFORE going into the caves.
1. It's a nice gift and a good way to make a little extra money.
2. It's an easy way to get a head-count. Count the number of photos/people in the photos against the number of people outside the caves. If the numbers match, hurray! If they don't...
3. They can use the photo to identify you when they have to go back in the caves looking for you. If they don't find you...
4. It's a lovely last gift to your loved ones back home.
(Yes, those are ALL reasons given!)

This is the walkway/ramp down to the bottom of the caves area (still in CotW). This area is lit with small electric lights (and my flash, obviously). The small child in the middle of the photo is the aforementioned annoying kid on our tour. I get that you want to do something cool with your family, be a cool parent, take your kid inside a cave, but DAMN! Think about the fact that a) this kid is going to ask every annoying question in the world, whether the tour guide is speaking or has already answered that question or not; and b) that he might be, oh I don't know, REALLY AFRAID OF THE DARK! Kerry, Dan, Steve, and I spent a lot of the tour rolling our eyes in the dark and trying to stifle the urge to swing our lanterns at him. Since this is sort of a "ghost tour," he got all amped up every fifteen minutes if he thought he felt something brush against him. While Dan admitted to poking him in the shoulder fairly often, I bet he wasn't the only other member of the tour to do so. ;p

I filmed this video during our walk from the main part of the caves to "our" part of the caves. Nothing really to listen to, but I wanted to be able to set the scene and let you see how low-hanging the ceilings were.

Entrance to the Caves
Going up....

The first photo is to reinforce the law that you should NOT do ANYTHING to harm the cave. If you're falling and need to reach out and grab the wall to stop yourself from hurting yourself, then yeah, it's okay. Otherwise, you're not supposed to put your hands/skin on the cave walls, as the oils can cause long-last damage to the rock. The fine for "vandalizing" the cave is actually much steeper these days. I think the guide said it's something like $1200, and they can take your license?! But yeah. They're not joking around.

The second photo is of the "coffin" of George Snider, the man who thought to bring this awesomeness to the masses. Obviously, there's no body in it, and they just do it for spoooOOOooooOOOOOoky effect. These two pics were taken in the "waiting area" right before we entered the passageway that would lead us into the first "room" of the caverns. Our tour guide (I can't think of his name right now, and it's bugging the hell out of me!) gave us some history of the cavern and gave us our lanterns here. Then he sent us off into the tunnelways to the next big room.

Unfortunately, because I hadn't yet shoved my way to the front of the group, the audio for this first part of the tour is almost inaudible. :( I also can't find any good information online about the land ownership fight between George and his former business partner, so I guess you'll just have to visit the caverns and hear the story for yourself. ;)

This next video is of the first large "room" of the cavern, the Scallop Dome. In this room, our tour guide gives the story of George and his awful first marriage. Main problem: he lived in the caves, while she lived in Manitou Springs. She thought that wasn't very "proper," so they ended up getting an annulment, divorce being uber-taboo in those days.

This is a little video I took while waiting for everyone to catch up to one another. It just shows what our group looked like walking around in the dark with our lanterns.

Ooooh...look at the pretty lights!
Marble Hall

George was quite the trickster. Some workmen were excavating not too far from his cave and came across a Native American mummy. George bought the money for $5 (a lot back in the day), and inserted it into his mine. He covered it with a sheet and used to bring his tours to that spot to show off his prized possession...

The opera hall! A very large space with lots of different levels of rock formations. As our guide will tell you, old George actually wanted to make this part of the caverns into a performance space. HOW COOL WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN?! I'd totally go see an opera if it were several miles underground in a cave. :)

Speaking of performance places, check out the Great Concert Hall, the largest cave in Colorado! Learn all about cave organs, which is basically one of the coolest concepts I've ever heard of.

This is the last video I was able to film before my phone died. :( It shows a wall of school IDs, business cards, and other random forms of identification that people left behind in the cave as a note that they were there. George used to have his visitors do the same thing back in the day for publicity reasons. (You'll hear what I mean in the video.) Kerry and Dan left their business cards behind. Unfortunately, I didn't have any spare ID cards to leave in the cave...well, I had my college ID, but I really like having that because it makes me giggle.

So there you have it! Your own, grainy, slightly hard-to-hear tour of the Manitou Grand Caverns. If any of you come out to visit, I highly recommend stopping by here!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Cave of the Winds...the part I got to see, anyway.

I'm going to keep my hilarious wit and comments mostly to myself for this post, as punishment to Nikki (and, inadvertently, all of you) for not being allowed in the caves. Nikki kept promising "Oh, maybe next time when we do the lighted tour..." BUT WHO KNOWS WHEN NEXT TIME WILL BE?! I mean, yeah, we're basically spending the next several years out here, so it's not like I have to do ALL the cool stuff RIGHT NOW, but...pfft. Armadillos are not known for their patience.

These next few pictures are of the view from the Caves' parking lot.

Aw, look at the cute couple! So in love! <3

"Please" tell me "why" you put "please" in quotation "marks"? (Also, it is SO TEMPTING to throw rocks here! You'll see in the next picture, but man, a crazy sign only makes it more tempting!)

The view looking DOWN into the canyon! The Caves' visitors center has two levels of balconies with scenic overlooks. Nikki kept looking at me funny the whole time she and I were standing on the bottom-most balcony, looking out below. I finally asked her what was up, and she told me that she REALLY wanted to throw something over the side, but all she had was her super-expensive camera, her shoes, her purse...AND ME. I told her we should catch up with the group, and luckily, she took me with her instead of chucking me over the side!

This last one is directly across the canyon from where we were standing. Those hole are other cave mouths. Nikki and I agreed that it'd be SO COOL to go over there and go exploring! Then she pointed out that if we managed to do that, we'd probably die, as neither of us has ever been caving before. If you look, you can kinda see how the rocks and tree form a creepy devil monkey face!

Hanging out with the #1 Threat to America. Rowr!

This statue's....FOR THE BIRDS. yuk yuk yuk

What IS this awesome jungle gym-like creation? It's only the COOLEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN:

$20 and you can climb and hang over the side of a mountain. You're three stories up...ON THE SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN! We saw a guy who was harnessed in scaring the hell outta some girl friends by leaning backwards OVER THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. Nikki wanted to go. I wanted to go. But no one else did. They poo-pooed the price and were all, "Oh, yeah, you're over the mountain, but there's no guarantee you'll fall to your death because you're super strapped-in." NIKKI'S FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES ARE INSANE. So once again, I was denied a cool experience. Anyone reading this who wants to come out to Denver and grow a pair, please let me know, and we'll climb all over this monstrosity!

I'm gonna end this blog entry with two pictures of silly hats:
Me (thanks, Kerry, for the helping hands!)

Colorado Springs

I'ma just throw this out here at the top of the post, and sorry to the people of Colorado Springs if you disagree with me. THERE'S NO GOOD REASON TO GO TO COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO. Maybe they were just having an off-day or something, but there was NOTHING going on! A bunch of funny statues, a GREAT view of the mountains, and a really tasty Mexican-fusion restaurant, but that's about it. The streets were dead on a Saturday (!), and too many of the stores were closed forever. I think it was Steve who pointed out that people LIVE in Colorado Springs, but they work and play elsewhere. Since we were only stopping through on our way to/from Manitou Springs and the Cave of the Winds, I guess his point was made for him.

Cave of the Winds is this awesome natural wonder of a cave system. Two little brothers were out in the mountains trying to scare each other silly when they found a cave. They did a little exploring, heard what sounded like ghosts, and freaked out. They told people in town that they found a haunted cave, but adults never believe kids, so they laughed them off. Except one man, who explored the cave, realized it had the potential to become an AWESOME tourist trap, and bought the land to make it an attraction.

Sorry that's not a very detailed description. I only got this story second-hand from Nikki because ONCE AGAIN I wasn't allowed to participate in an awesome attraction! This time, it was Nikki who made the discriminatory call. "I'm going to want to take pictures AND I have to carry this lantern AND I might need to prevent myself from falling down onto sharp rocks. I can't carry you." Pffft. So I got stuck in the hot car AGAIN.

My job in this entry is to show you some silly pictures of me in Colorado Springs.

Behold! The beauty and splendor of the mountains, as seen from quiet Colorado Springs, Colorado!

Ooooooooh! Aaaaahhhhh!
(Special thanks to Dan for holding me up.)

I'm pretty sure this is the Colorado Springs Visitor Center. Or...Pioneer Museum. Or...?

Why, who is this dashing and handsome fellow in whose company I've found myself?

With a name like "Zebulon," you know he got allllll the ladies back in his day. ;)

While I've always been a sucker for men in uniform like Zeb, there's just something about the ruggedness and manliness of a cowboy. Enter Hank, every cowgirl's dream. (And every armadillogirl's dream too!)

Look at his strong hands, his confident, laid-back stance...he's so hot! Literally! It was, like, 85-degrees that day in the sun, and my man Hank is made out of metal! Scorched!

This is a literal, artistic interpretation of how big my love for Hank is.
Just joking! It's this statue:

And now, some art that doesn't make sense:

That's, like, Hampden-level crazy right there. I half expected a giant, metal flamingo and a Christmas tree made of hubcaps to be around the corner! (Sick Baltimore-in-joke!)

Probably the coolest thing in Colorado Springs. I wanted to take a peek inside, but apparently, no one had time to humor a stuffed armadillo. >:P
(Thanks again to Dan for the help.)

Right before we left Colorado Springs to go to the caves, I made a "friend":

I was utterly convinced that she was going to eat me, and when Nikki asked her owners if we could take a picture together, I was thisclose to smacking the camera out of her hands and running away! But luckily, the pooch's owners had some cheese and apple bites off-camera to keep her drooling maw away from me, so we took the picture, and then I bolted back to the safety of the car.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Interlude: My Relationship with Tasha

Tasha and I have a...complicated relationship. For some reason, she enjoys kneading me, rhythmically, with her claws. She purrs the whole time, goes into a kind of trance. Nobody - not Nikki, not Steve, not even Cocoabob the Bear and Eeyore - will stop her.

But when she's done, she's calm and not so whiny and loud, so I guess it's ok. After all, I love her. :P

OUR APARTMENT!! Part 2 (friggin' FINALLY)

It's raining pretty hard today, which is completely unusual since it's been sunny and clear almost the entire time we've lived in Denver. While the gloom is a little lame, I can tell that Nikki likes it. Seems to remind her of gloomy days in Baltimore. She's a strange bird. However, the nice thing about rainy days and Nikki is that she's more inclined to do things she's been putting off for a editing photos and helping me update the blog! The first one I wanted to post was the "thrilling" second half of the apartment tour. Once everyone sees how SWEET our place is, maybe they'll be more inclined to visit! So without further ado, I present to you: OUR APARTMENT!! Part 2 (friggin' FINALLY).

We begin the second half of our tour with the master bedroom. The French doors are especially cool, I think. The beads hanging from the door are Nikki's "Ravens rally beads." She wears them in public along with a Ravens jersey'll see in the next pictures...

Nikki here. This is my prized possession as far as furniture is concerned. It's an antique dresser in the most gorgeous shade of mint green you've ever seen. The top part folds down to reveal four drawers and a shelf where I keep things like my memento boxes and underthings. It's made of this great hardwood and is just scuffed enough to feel worn in. I got it for free from a crazy woman when I lived in my first apartment. She had a bunch of furniture to get rid of, and as long as I could get it out of her apartment and over to mine, I could have it. I especially love it because my mom wants to own it BADLY, but I refuse to give it up. Along with our TempurPedic mattress, this was the only other piece of furniture I insisted we bring across the country with us.

Ok, see the weird panda thing behind that picture of Nikki and her mom? That's what Nikki calls her "pandahatmittenscarf." Her friend Genny bought it for her because Nikki has a pandahat that she wears to football games (and around the house for no other reason than to embarrass me, I think). I've included two photos below of Nikki in her get up so you can see what I have to live with during football season. (The pig, by the way, is a humidifier. In this dry climate, without one of these, you wake up all cotton-mouthy. ...Hee hee. I always wake up with cotton mouth!)

Picture One:

Picture Two:

This is Nikki with her friend Tia IN PUBLIC at a Ravens game last year!! She tells me that everyone in the stands loved the hat, but I don't believe her.


Back to the apartment. This is the master bathroom. Tons of storage space, and Tasha does her business under the counter top.

Across from the counter is a bathtub, which makes Steve very pleased. He's the type of guy that likes to soak his weary bones from time to time, and having the option to either take a shower (behind that door in the back) or a bath makes him happy. Nikki always says that she doesn't like baths because, like the Gypsies/Roma, she believes that sitting in a tub of water of your own filth is gross. I just think of it as a small pool. I've tried to get Tasha to take bubble baths with me, but she doesn't like water. :(

Nikki's jewelry corner. She wants me to let you know that 95% of her jewelry is made by her "awesomely talented friends."

The master bedroom walk-in closet. Smaller than some closets, bigger than most. A great place to play hide-and-seek. Tasha runs here (or under the bed) in the rare instance there's a thunderstorm.

Back in the living room. Nikki's had this bookshelf since college, and it shows, in the back of it is only held on with two nails. :P Selected reading: The Collected Poems of Pablo Neruda, The Origin of the Species, The Poisonwood Bible, and The Art of War. Can you guess which are Steve's books and which are Nikki's? Steve's friend Jess Knowles drew that picture of him back in college. He says that it was her first ever commission. Who knew he was such an art lover (and an egoist)?

I showed you the kitchen in the first apartment blog post, and now Nikki's gotten a chance to decorate it a little! She took the photo of the cone flower on her first trip to Colorado, and she won the bamboo, fish-shaped cutting boards at a green wedding raffle.

Speaking of new decorations, the bar got a bit of a facelift since the last time. The pineapple keyholder is for Steve's keys; the basket is for Nikki's keys. The bird is actually a foam puzzle that Nikki got from a (now-closed) store in Rehobeth, DE when she was in middle school. I took it apart and tried to put it back together again, and let me tell you, that tail is a lot harder to figure out than it looks!

And now, the artwork that is currently gracing our walls. I'll let Nikki give you the specs.

This was a page from a fairy calendar I used to have. It's based on the play A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is my favorite play. (I've acted in it at least four times.) I had a coupon for a steep discount on custom framing at Michael's craft store, so I decided to have it professionally framed.

My Baltimore photo collage. All photos are Nikki originals. From top left: Stieff Silver factory, Broadway Market in Fells Point, Bertha's Mussels in Fells Point, Domino Sugar factory, The Cat's Eye Pub in Fells Point, rowhomes in Waverly, and Locust Point, as seen from across the Inner Harbor. I had originally tried to sell the piece, but not having any takers, I decided to keep it to remind me of home.

This print is one of a set of two. My brother James, a chef, has the other one. When I lived in Cockeysville, MD after college, I saw a middle-aged couple put these two paintings gently on top of the community dumpster. Then then loitered a bit in the parking lot, as if waiting to see if anyone would take them. Being Italian and poor, I thought that the pictures would make an excellent addition to my apartment's decor. So I reached in and grabbed them, dusted them off, and took them home with me. To this day, I don't know if they were alarmed or pleased that someone dumpster dove for their discarded artwork.
I'm going to end this entry with a picture of Steve playing Rock Band, because it makes me laugh.