Sunday, September 24, 2017

More fishing, new friends, and Eleven Mile Canyon

While I was on a walk Monday morning I spied an interesting kayak rack at the back of someones trailer so I stopped to inquire.  Naturally this called for a detailed description of the construction.

After giving me the run down of how he combined odd pieces of bike rack, PVC pipe, rachet straps, and one secret ingredient, he mentioned that he was here for the fishing.  This opened the door to a speedy friendship with he and his wife.

Barbara and Glen Doran from Tallahassee, FL

Barbara and Glen are from Tallahassee Florida.  They are both retired and travel in a tow-behind camper that they affectionately call the Taj MyHaul.  Needless to say, since her background is journalism, they have fun playing with words.

After quickly establishing their mutual quest for the elusive fish, Glen and Marlin took off every morning at 8:00, lunch and pole in hand, to torment the innocent trout in several different locations.  Barb and I did some walking, but mostly talked about projects, our history, grand children, and life in general.  Lots in common, hope to keep in touch with this fun loving pair.

Several times, the second week we were at Eleven Mile, Glen and Marlin fished in Eleven Mile Canyon where Marlin and I had explored on  non fishing journeys  The catching here was almost as good as the fishing, but the beauty of this location was the best.

This canyon meanders from below the dam that creates Eleven Mile resevouir.  "Bottom water", named because it comes from the base of the dam, is a favorite of trout because of the cold temperature.

The reservoir itself is in an open basin with grassland topography, but the canyon is a lush,  forested, rocky pathway holding the dam outflow of the South Platte.

The narrow, eight mile, dirt road is actually the remains of the Colorado Midland rail line.  It was the first standard gauge railroad built over the continental divide and ran between Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.  It ceased operation in 1918 and the entire line was scrapped by 1920.  The dam was build at the head of the canyon in 1932.

As I walked along the road I noticed several places where large parts of it had washed down the hill.  You can see from the tire tracks that if you veered very close to the edge, you might end up in the canyon below.

The road now runs through three tunnels, blasted from the canyon rock walls for the track bed.  It is hard to believe that they are wide enough or high enough for a locomotive to pass through without scraping the sides and roof.   You can also see that this tunnel is in the middle of a curve.

Two tunnels in a row

Not a lot of wiggle room.

I saw many faces in the rock outcroppings.  What do you think?

Long nose, popped out eye.

The river makes a serene exit after tumbling over the rocky floor of  Eleven Mile Canyon.  A  must see if you are any where near Colorado Springs.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Back road weekend wanderings

For the weekend, fishing was put on hold and we wandered along some of the back roads. This favorite activity of ours always produces something of interest.  Operating with only my phone camera, since my Nikon has decided to revert to an unexplained error message again, the pictures are less than great, but better than I expected.

 Being without my camera was especially painful because there were dozens and dozens and DOZENS of Mountain bluebirds flying everywhere and on every fence post.  I even tried putting the phone camera lens onto the  binoculars.  This is all I could produce but not bad for the technique.

We saw some herds of wild horses in the distance.  (Same technique-through the binoculars)

Lots of untold stories in the abandoned buildings along this dirt byway.

What happened to the family that occupied this home?  Why did they leave and where did they go?

Looks like the foundation was hand made from local rocks. These deserted dwellings make me think that for all our efforts, we really are only ashes to ashes, after a very short time here on earth.

The gravel road we were on ended at Route 24 and a tiny village called Hartsel.  What a fun eclectic collection of buildings clustered here.

The local school

The library

A local, active, and busy garage, complete with cars being worked on in the driveway

The corner Saloon and grocery store

Great way to advertise.

Not sure if this is for real or a joke

The return trip on Highway 24 took us over Wilkerson Pass at 9,507 feet

I believe that is Pikes Peak in the background.

Splashes of gold all along the road

We spent the weekend in a non-electric site because- again- electric sites were all reserved.  Not bad, but it is back to electric hookup on Sunday night.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Eleven Mile State Park, Colorado

Leaving Nebraska behind, our intention was to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes, Colorado.  Our last visit to that park was in the late 60's as we traveled from California toward Massachusetts, meeting my parents at a campground there for a few days.  I was anxious to relive that episode as well as marvel at how the park had changed over the intervening years.  Not to be.  Every camping spot we called, within a 75 mile radius, was full. Who knew September would be such a popular camping time.   The next stop on our list took us straight into the mountains west of Colorado Springs.

Several years ago we stumbled onto Eleven Mile State Park, found the fishing and hiking superb, the campground nearly empty, and the big sky setting spectacular.   This trip we had to stay at an RV park for the weekend, because all the sites at Eleven Mile were full. There was a fishing derby being held at the lake and families were getting their kids outdoors.  Seems Colorado camping is very popular in September

Monday morning this was our  campsite at Eleven Mile State Park, Colorado

Eleven Mile is one of Colorado's largest reservoirs, located within in a high alpine meadow at an elevation of 8,600 feet.

Not many trees, but lots of sweeping vistas, with the high Rocky Mountains in the distance.

The best part of camping is cooking and eating outside.  Sometime a bit tricky finishing your meal before the wind cools it off.

It may be the time of year, but the sunsets have been brilliant.

When we arrived, a friend asked if the Aspens had begun to turn yet.  I had not seen any at that time but within a few days, gold began to show up on hillsides.

A little here, a little there.

By the second week the brilliant yellow and gold was everywhere.

This is an area of Colorado called South Park.  South Park was a favorite trapping spot for Mountain men in the 1820's until the 1840's when beaver hats fell out of favor.  Several notable men, who not only trapped beaver, but extensively explored the west, were Kit Carson, Joseph Meek, John Smith and Dick Wootton.  I only know about this because of Marlin's long term interest in these men and the Mountain Man era.  They called these valleys "Valle Salado" for the salt flats used by tribes of Ute and other native groups.

Today the major attraction seems to be fishing.  There are several sections of the South Platte River where trout are abundant, pieces of the river are open to the public access, and, under State ownership, are protected from development. These are known as "Gold Metal" waters.

One such section contains a dedication to a man called Charlie Meyers, a sports writer and avid outdoors man, who wrote for the Denver Post. He actively championed making the "Dream Stream" between Eleven Mile and Spiney Dam, open for public access.

The South Platte River "Dream Stream". This is the view I enjoy.

But, This is why Marlin is here.  Glad he brought me along.

Different day, same activity

After a full week of fishing these bountiful waters, it was decided to follow it up with a second week of chasing trout.  I told Marlin to take advantage of this time and place because he probably would not return here again.  Now I am not so sure of that.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Bailey train yard, North Platte, Nebraska

At a roadside rest stop Marlin picked up a brochure about Union Pacific Railroad's Bailey Yard, "the largest classification yard in the world".  Who could pass that by!

The Golden Spike Tower is the place where you can get a panoramic view of the rail yard.

To be honest, I was not sure what a "classification yard" was, but it sounded interesting and the tower looked cool.

The Visitors Center video explaining the "classification yard" concept left me still unclear.  I did get that this is where trains are put together, which cars go where, with what engine.  The brochure explains it as "..simply a switch yard where trains enter, are taken apart and sorted, then sent out to new destinations".  That doesn't begin to describe what happens at this yard.

First off the statistics are boggling. The yard covers over 2,800 acres with a length of 8 miles and 315 miles of track.  Eighteen million gallons of fuel, each month, goes into the trains stopping at the yard. Union Pacific employs 2,600 people in North Platte, working either in the yard and shops or operating over-the-road trains.  There are 10,000 rail cars through the yard every day, with 3000 of those cars being sorted onto different trains and tracks.

It was impossible to get pictures to clearly illustrate what the yard is all about.  Below you can almost make out a raised track, slightly left of center, to the left of the smoke.  This is called the east bound "hump"  There are two separate yards, an eastbound and a westbound.

The hump is actually a mound of 34 feet high for eastbound and 20 feet for westbound. When a train is 20 miles away, a computer reads a chip on the car that identifies where they are coming from and where they are going.

This information is correlated in the command center  If a car needs sorting, the command center directs it to the correct "hump", where it is pushed to the top by a switch engine. Gravity then pulls the car down,  its speed is electronically controlled so that it arrives at its destination moving at exactly 4 miles per hour so it does not damage the car it is coupling with.

As it is descending the hump, one of  985 switches then divert the car to the correct train on the right track. This amazing  process is all initiated by computer at a control center in the heart of the yard.

Below is an illustration of the yard layout, with the westbound yard on the top and the eastbound yard on the bottom.

Most of the trains that come through have all the cars going to the same place and  do not need to have any cars sorted, or changed to different engines. They are serviced and refueled quickly and go on their way.  An average day sees 300 locomotives serviced.

This is the locomotive repair shop.  Employees repair 750 locomotives each month.  There are eleven tracks with elevated service bays and remote controlled overhead cranes. The building is as large as three football fields.

The long line in the background shows some of the eight miles included within the yard.

There was a docent at the top of the tower pointing out what was happening with all the trains that were moving around within our view.  His explanations helped put all the pieces together, somewhat.  I think I would need several more visits to really understand how it worked. Well worth a stop here if you are anywhere near North Platte, Nebraska.  You should skip the gallbladder removal part.

 Quite a marvel of modern technology, and something to add to my motto of learning something new every day.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sandhill Crane Trust

Five days of recovery from Marlin's unexpected adventure, allowed enough energy for an afternoon of tourist activity.  We learned about the nearby Crane Trust Nature Center.  The Crane Trust, was established in 1978 as part of an agreement negotiated between interested parties when the Grayrocks Dam in Wyoming was proposed and constructed.  Their mission is to provide leading scientific research, manage critical habitat for cranes and other migratory birds, and to advance outreach and education.

 Nebraska is a critical staging area for birds migrating on the Central flyway, especially Sandhill and Whooping cranes.  These large birds use the shallow waters of the Platte River, nearby corn fields, and open meadows to feed and roost before continuing their journey to Canada, Alaska, and even Siberia.  Every spring, from the end of February through the first part of April, over 500,000 Sandhill Cranes, and  small flocks of Whooping cranes stop to replenish their energy and strength before continuing their journey.  Eighty percent of all Sandhill cranes stop on the Platte River during spring migration.

A beautiful building that greets you outside with the sound of honking cranes.

The cranes use the shallow waters of the Platte to roost at night, where they are protected from predators. The braided channels that flow around sandbars make ideal places for the large concentrations of birds.  Cranes usually travel in small family groups, but while they are here on the Platte, they intermingle with many other groups.

 Most of the day, cranes spend in in the fields and meadows near the river.  They feed on corn left in the field after harvesting, plant tubers in the wet meadows, and snails, earthworms and insects that come to the surface in the wet spring fields.

The walking trails at the Crane Trust include viewing towers and bridges that cross the river and side channels.  I can only imagine what this looks like with 10,000 cranes roosting along this stretch of river.  I bet there are also that many viewers.

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest and most endangered birds in North America.  There are approximately only 300 in the wild migratory flock.  Whooping cranes use the Platte River to stop, feed, and recover in the wet meadows.  They will spend 2 to 3 days here before continuing their migration.  A few whooping cranes have spent more than a month in this area.  These are usually individuals that migrate with flocks of sandhill cranes.

As part of their mission to research Platte River habitat, the Crane Trust has established a bison herd. In 2015 the  Crane Trust acquired a herd of 75 genetically-pure bison.  Historically large herds of bison migrated throughout the planes. The bison graze on native grasses and disturb the soil with hooves, which allows other plant and animal species to grow.   The Trust is monitoring, through long term studies, how their addition to the ecosystem can  benefit the habitat for cranes and other birds.

We were lucky enough to see about 40 of the herd resting near one of the trails, especially since they have 10,000 acres to roam.

Being here at the Platte River in March must be an extremely exciting event.  Make your reservation now!