Thursday, October 4, 2012

Autumn in the Rockies

WOW! WHAT A CRAZY WEEK I'VE HAD!! Nikki's mom Diane, grandma Shirley, and aunt Charlene all got into town on September 22nd and left October 1st. Nikki spent the weekends with them, as she couldn't get off work (except Monday to drive them to the airport), but she left me with them to go adventuring. We went to more places in Colorado in one week than Nikki and Steve have visited in one year! [Nikki Note: To be fair, my family members didn't have to go to work and plan their adventuring around 8-hour work days and long (for Steve, anyway) commutes. Although I really AM jealous of them.] Combined, the ladies took over 700 photos (mostly of me) during the week. Nikki says that she'll have enough blog material to last at least two months, if she spaces everything out right. If she starts getting lazy and not posting on time, don't worry; I'll whip her back into shape. ;)

The first Sunday we were all together, Nikki took the ladies up to Rocky Mountain National Park to drive along Trail Ridge Road and see the aspens changing color. This is one of the things Colorado residents love best about autumn. Frankly, I think the colors Baltimore trees turn are more spectacular, but the way the bright yellow aspen leaves were scattered among the green pine trees WAS really pretty.

To get up to RMNP, we drove through Lyons, which is just a few miles outside of Estes Park. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Mom, Grandma, and Aunt Charlene go geocaching, which is a treasure hunt using GPS coordinates and clues. People all over the world hide these caches, which can be as tiny as a tube of chapstick or as big as a 2-gallon bucket, and other people find them. When you find a cache, you have to write your name in it on the "log," and if you want to take/leave a little toy (if there's room), you can. They also have these things called "travel bugs," which are little tokens people take from place to place and "check-in" online so the original owner can see where it's been. Kinda reminds me of me! Mom and Aunt Charlene said that there was a cache hidden near this little park, so we pulled over to investigate.

There were a bunch of these engraved pictures on the ground in the middle of the park, commemorating Lyons' history.

This awesome water fountain was also in the middle of the park. The artist who made the weird egg-thing in the middle has a business in town.


How cool is this?! Nikki would be 108 years old by the time the capsule would get opened. She asked what I would put in a time capsule to show the future what life was like in 2012. At the time, I said I'd probably put in a DVD of season one of Jersey Shore, with a note apologizing for that show ever being on the air, but now I'm thinking I wanna put that weird corncob armadillo in the capsule. No explanation. Just this weird little figurine of an armadillo dressed as a corncob.

Aunt Charlene and Mom (a.k.a. "the girls") were using Mom's new GPS/geocaching smartphone app to try and figure out where the local cache was. Grandma, Nikki, and I were kinda bored of waiting, so we took some more pictures (hers will be coming later) and hung out by the fountain.

Grandma used to go square dancing all the time when she was younger. She told me that she even had special outfits and dresses she would wear!

Finally, the girls found the right coordinates and set off to find the hidden treasure. Grandma went back to the car because her ankle was bothering her, but Nikki and I followed Mom and Aunt Charlene, eager to see where their search would take them. Turns out, the cache was hidden on an electrical transformer near some dumpsters. Not that glamorous. :p Mom found it, but Nikki said that she'd suggested it was on the transformer. (She's terrible at geocaching.)

Mom and I celebrating her find. I'm holding the cache. (Doesn't she look JUST like Nikki in this photo?!)

The log inside the "micro" cache.

All "professional" geocachers have "handles" (user names) that they use on the website and in the logs. Aunt Charlene is "Caviar" because her husband raises fish and caviar. Grandma is Creampuff. (Her boyfriend Bill is "Sweet Man.") Mom is "Lil Creampuff." Nikki is "Baby Creampuff." And I just got to be Claire. Little do the geocachers of the internet know that this mysterious "Claire" is actually an armadillo travel correspondent!

Next we drove up to Estes Park, which is a town right on the edge of RMNP. Nikki's car Becky had some trouble getting up the big hill leading towards the town (it's a hybrid, which means it has a small engine), but it was smooth sailing down. If you haven't been to Estes, you should totally go! The landmark sign outside of town has one of the most gorgeous views of the valley below. Naturally, we pulled over for a photo shoot.

Mom and I get all meta and take a picture of Nikki taking a picture of us.

Three generations and an armadillo (Note Nikki's stupid hair/sunglasses. She really should stay on the *other* side of the camera!!)

We had our first taste of Colorado wildlife while taking tourist shots: wild turkeys!! They were just wandering all over the place, being ugly and eating food. I've never seen a wild turkey before (just the ones on a Thanksgiving dinner table!), so this was pretty cool.

gobble gobble

We also saw the prettiest bluebird I've ever seen in my life: a Stellar's Jay. (Thanks to FlickrHiveMind for helping with the ID!)

Some of the tourists were getting a little too close to the wildlife, feeding them peanuts and trying to get them to eat out of their hands. I wanted to scold them and let them know that feeding wildlife is NOT a good idea, because you could accidentally poison the animal or make it too used to humans or get rabies or something, but Nikki told me to stay out of it. I told her that it's all cute and photo-worthy until someone gets a finger bitten off.

Of course that didn't stop me from taking a picture.

We drove down the hill to Lake Estes, which is a gorgeous, HUGE lake near town. We were just going to show the family how pretty the lake was, but as we were driving to the parking lot, we saw a giant elk, just chillin' under a tree! Obviously, we stopped to take pictures, and then MORE people stopped to take pictures. It was super cool. Everyone was stoked to be so close to an elk.

We skipped visiting town to go straight to the park. Grandma got us a senior discount (which is good for life!), so we only had to pay $10 for a weekly pass instead of the usual $20. The park ranger who helped us was suuuuuuuuuper dreamy, as are most of the park rangers I've met here in Colorado. (Like most female armadillos, I love a man in uniform.) We first stopped off at a meadow area because there was a virtual cache that the girls wanted to check out. (National and State Parks are off-limits for physical caches, so virtual ones make you answer questions about the site and/or take a picture proving you were there.) Grandma and I stayed behind and took pictures. (Prettier ones are on Nikki's Facebook fan page. See link at the end of this entry to check them out!)

This is only a sliver of the beauty the Rockies had to offer us that day!

As we continued to drive around, we saw other signs that told about the animals that live in the park. Nikki was especially interested in the Bighorn Sheep, because it's the only "Colorado" animal she hasn't seen yet. She's seen a moose and a black bear and elk and pronghorn, but no sheep. (Spoiler alert: She still hasn't seen one.)

I'm always interested in seeing how big my paws are compared to the paws/feet of other animals.

My favorite stop of the day was at the Alpine Tundra, waaaaaay up towards the top of the mountains (starting at about 11,000 feet above sea level!). It's the highest you can go in ANY national park in the US. The tundra is cool because it's so high up that trees can't grow there anymore, just these tiny little flowers and lichen, which is a kind of moss. There are still some animals that live up in the tundra, but not many because it's COLD and WINDY!! We didn't have heavy coats with us or hats (well, Mom did), so the hoodies had to do. It was so pretty up there though that I didn't mind. Plus, Nikki's a really good heat source. ;)

You can see in this picture that the tundra is a pretty bleak-looking place. A lot of rocks and small plants and not much else. If you clicked on the link about the tundra, you would've read that plants STILL manage to grow up here, but it can take 100 years for them to grow back if they're stepped on. Nikki gently told a nice lady not to walk on the tundra and told her why, and the woman was SO EMBARRASSED!! Her husband even walked away from her like he didn't know her. I felt bad for her, and Nikki did too, but the woman said she was really grateful that Nikki said something before she destroyed too many of the plants. The lady also said that she'd let other people know too so everyone can enjoy this awesome place for years to come.

Protect the tundra!

Info about the tundra and how it's formed

Full disclosure: I am an animal, and I love when people feed me. However, I'm not a WILD animal, so it's ok when people feed me. When you feed a wild animal (like the little girl towards the beginning of this post), you make it too used to humans. Then it always gets really close to humans and lets its guard down, and what if there was a human who wanted to kill or hurt it?! It wouldn't suspect that! Plus, when wild animals get too used to getting food from humans, they stop hunting themselves, and that OBVIOUSLY causes problems. Plus, maybe the food you're giving them isn't good for them. Like, what if that chipmunk has a peanut allergy?! (Probably doesn't, but you get my point.) So, the moral of the story is - don't be a jerk. Let the animals be animals and feed your armadillo friends instead.

The marmot: one of the animals that braves the tundra's cold and lives there anyway. We didn't see one. :(

Glaciers are really awesome. They're these (usually) huge things of ice and snow that never melt and move veeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy sloooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwllllllllllyyyyyyyy, carving out valleys and canyons. You should totally check out the site I linked to if you don't know much about glaciers.

I don't see too many glaciers out there, but the ones that ARE there are moving. very. slowly.

Just below the tundra is the subalpine forest. This is the last place trees can grow before they get to the too-harsh climate of the tundra. A lot more animals live there too, and even though it's still pretty high up above sea level (9,000 - 11,000 feet), it's a lot easier to hike there too!

The weather in Denver can be really unpredictable. The morning could be really cold, but by the time afternoon rolls around, you're sweating because temperatures are in the 90s! And it'll rain, but only in a few places, so you could drive three blocks and have rain-not rain-drizzle. So imagine how crazy it must be up in the mountains, where weather is pretty much MADE!

I can totally see why they call it "Cloud Factory," can't you?
Ok, enough learning! It's time for tourist pictures!!

Here I am enjoying the gorgeous views from the tundra. Just off-camera, Mom is at the ready to grab me in case the wind tries to blow me off the mountain!

Mom must've had Nikki take, like, ten pictures of the two of us with different views of the mountains behind us. I chose the three I liked best.

She was holding onto me tight! Dang wind.

Ok, this is totally my paws-down FAVORITE picture of me and mom. Look at that view!

Our last stop of the day was at the Alpine Visitors Center, where you can buy cool souvenirs to prove you were at the Rocky Mountains (tee-shirts, key chains, stuff like that) and awesome jewelry and Native American art and other stuff. Nikki bought her dad some jams and bought herself a bumper sticker, and Mom bought a picture frame. Grandma bought a magnet. (She collects them from every state she's been to. I think she's been to all of them!) I don't know if Aunt Charlene got anything.

They had a book section, and when I saw this, I BEGGGGED Nikki to buy it for me, but she doesn't like talking about poop, so she said no. >:P I made her take a picture of it for me though, so I could share it with all of you and make you laugh.

How great is this?!?! I mean, the idea that you can say, "Oh, yeah, this is a bear" just by looking at its poop and what's in it is SUCH a cool idea to me!

Nikki found a book that SHE liked, but I told her that she had enough books that she hasn't read yet, so she'll just have to save this one for another time. Plus, I don't think its subject matter is very appropriate.

GREAT title though!

So that's our family trip to the Rocky Mountains. The ladies and I went back later in the week without Nikki, but she hasn't been able to sort through all of those photos yet. In the meantime, check out the pictures of this visit that Nikki posted on her Facebook fan page so you can get a better idea how pretty the mountains are when the aspens are changing colors.

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