Thursday, June 25, 2015

R.I.P Brownie the Ashley Pond Goose

R.I.P. Brownie the King of Ashley Pond

It's a sad day today as my good pal "Brownie the Goose" was seen early this morning being carried away by a big coyote.

My wife and I walk past Ashely Pond nearly every day and I never failed to greet Brownie and Homer with a squawk and a bow.

Brownie was a pretty aggressive goose and was often seen terrorizing kids. That was his nature. I was once told that if you bow at a goose, they consider it a sign of respect. I tried it and it worked. He stopped chasing me and we became good pals.

Brownie's companion goose at Ashley Pond was Homer. They were inseparable. Each day as Karen and I approached the pond, they would spot us from a distance and start squawking up a storm. It was nice to have such an excited greeting.

I felt like Norm on Cheers, where every goose knows your name!

We were always glad to see Brownie and Homer and I think they were glad to see us.

I noticed this year that Brownie and Homer were spending a lot more time up on the grass near the waterfall. It didn't seem like a smart thing for them to do with all the coyotes that roam around downtown.

I would usually try to herd them back down to the pond when I saw them up there. I guess a coyote got lucky and caught Brownie unaware up on the grass. Brownie was getting older and his legs would shake as he stood on dry land. Maybe he was just not quick enough this morning to get back to the safety of the pond.

I'm really going to miss Brownie and I'm certain Homer will be very sad too. It just won't be the same without Brownie.

Thanks to Carl Maxx for keeping the ducks and geese happy and feed on a nearly daily basis through good and bad weather.  And thanks to Sallye Sibbett for all her work running Duck Buddies for many years and feeding them often.

Carl and Sallye are two of the unsung heroes of Los Alamos.

Brownie in attack mode.
Brownie and Greg greet each other.
Brownie and friends wait in a cage at Pajarito Cliffs while Ashley Pond undergoes reconstruction.
Carl Maxx feeds Homer some tasty lettuce.
Brownie and Homer return to a beautiful new Ashley Pond after many months in a cage.

Greg says hi to his pals.
Homer, Brownie and Greg up on the grass at Ashley Pond.
Not a very safe place for geese to be, it turns out.
Homer and Brownie in happier days.

Wish I had thought to video sooner when Brownie ran up the hill to greet us (OK probably to greet Greg Kendall) enjoy this video of Greg and his geese buds.
Posted by Karen Kendall on Saturday, April 19, 2014

Goodbye Friend.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mt. Rushmore Trip - Part 4 - Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado then home to New Mexico

Heavy rain makes driving difficult in Nebraska.
After a great time at Custer State Park, South Dakota, it was time to head south back hotento New Mexico.

I (Greg) checked the weather and things were getting really crazy along the path I had planned to take us home. My original plan was to head down through Nebraska and into eastern Colorado to a town called Brush that has a city RV campground that allows you to stay one night free.  The campground has electricity and water.  The basic idea was to stay far away from I-25 through Denver. We absolutely hate driving through Denver. That traffic is just too crazy for us simple country folk!

So originally we were going to try to stay out in the plains of Colorado, east of Denver, but the crazy weather forced other plans.

We read online that there had been a damaging tornado in the Denver region just a few hours ago. (We lived in the Minnesota Twin Cities area for a few years and we absolutely hate hate hate tornadoes.) I looked at the radar/satellite images and things looked pretty nasty along the front range of Colorado.

It appeared we could shoot down through western Nebraska and hit a little rain and then we could crank west towards Cheyenne, Wyoming and then up towards Laramie in order to get away from the worst of the looming weather system.

This plan worked out pretty well. We hit one really bad rain blast near Berea, Nebraska. Other than that, we were golden with the weather. We stopped at Scottsbluff, Nebraska for a late Taco Bell lunch. It was sunny and beautiful there.

Scottsbluff is named after its namesake, a prominent bluff that rises out of the Nebraskan plains. The bluff was an important landmark for folks crossing the country in wagon-trains on the Oregon and Mormon Trails. There is a Scotts Bluff National Monument that we will have to explore on a future trip.

The geology of the bluffs area is really striking. There are no campgrounds at the monument but the city has one nearby: The Riverside Campground with full hook-ups and 43 pull-through sites that get good reviews. (In a park with a city Zoo and a bike trail.)

Greg at the Vedauwood Campground entrance in Wyoming.
A double rainbow was a good omen!
What cool rock formations this campground has.
We were surrounded by rockolicious sights.
And great boondocking nearby.
A balancing rock.
Balancing rock.
More folks boondocking nearby.
OK, I won't camp in there or do fireworks!  (But I did eat at Taco Bell so, really, no promises!)
Mushroom Rock Love.
Just Wow. I want to so climb those!
A recreation map of the area (Click to enlarge). Lots to explore.
After leaving the Scottsbluff Taco Bell, we made our way to La Grange, Wyoming, and down to Cheyenne. We were just ahead of the nasty weather that was heading north from Fort Collins, Colorado.

On Google Maps, I noted a highly rated campground called Vedauwoo 15 miles southeast of Laramie, Wyoming just off Hwy 80. We headed there and arrived just before sunset. It was a Friday night and many of the sites had RVs already in them. We found two side-by-side parking places for a couple of walk-in sites. They were level, so we parked there.  It was $10 for each RV. (My parents paid $5 with a senior discount.)

We cooked up a soy dog dinner on the portable fire pit and enjoyed a colorful double rainbow that was off in the direction of Cheyenne.

Karen and I took a walk around the entire campground before it was completely dark. There were nice vault toilets and lots of great sites for even larger RVs.  There was also a lower section for tent camping.  The host told us we could have parked our RVs in the tent area parking if we wanted to.

After dark, the bad storm had reached into the Cheyenne area and we enjoyed a night sky of fierce lighting coming from that direction. In our area, the weather was good.

Below: A 360 Degree Google Photosphere. Click into it and hold to move around.

Vedauwoo is popular with rock climbers. We saw some young folk bouldering. There is also a nice day use picnic area with BBQ pits and tables.

The name Vedauwoo is Indian for "earth-born." Explorers would ask the Indians, what do you call this place and the Indians would look at each other, scratch their heads and say things like, well, "this is the land," or "this is the earth," or something like that (in their own language) and the explorers would write down what the Indians said and that is how we got a lot of the names of places.

In the morning, Karen and I walked over to the adjacent boondocking area.  We saw lots of RVs out there enjoying the unusual rock formations for free! 

We were very impressed by this campground and definitely want to come back, climb and explore sore. Such a cool place!  My Mom loved it too. (Dad stayed mostly in his Pleasureway as he was tired and didn't feel all that great.)

The cell phone internet connection was not very good even though we could see a tower not far away. I told Karen that we need to get a cell booster. We were close to the freeway so there was some road noise, but it wasn't bad.

Inside the Prairie Rose Cafe, Laramie.

Mom reacts to screaming banshee kids!

Dad coming out of the Prairie Rose Cafe in Laramie with a full belly.
Our next objective was to get a hearty breakfast in Laramie.  I checked Yelp and found a top rated breakfast at the Prairie Rose Cafe. It was as good as reviewers said it would be.

There was one problem that got my Mom's nerves dusted up. It was Saturday morning and a couple of local parents had brought their screaming banshee kids to breakfast and they were seated on either side of us. It made my Mom pretty crazy. My father just turned down his hearing aids.

Our two vehicles parked in Laramie viewed through a mirrored window.
After breakfast, we trucked down Hwy 230 into Colorado and made our way to Frisco, which is next to the Dillon Reservoir. We blasted past Breckenridge and climbed over a 11,500 summit near Alma and then dropped down into Fairplay, where we saw South Park Characters on a sign and noted a marijuana store right on the main street.

Our goal for the night was the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and RV Park, so we moved swiftly through central Colorado and on to the San Luis Valley. The pool is just north of Alamosa.

When we got there, all the RV park had left was one spot in the $20 dry camping area. We took it. We bought dinner at their tasty grill and carried our food to tables in the new adult greenhouse area.

Karen and I have stayed at the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool before.  You can read about it here: LINK.

My parents haven't been to the pools yet and we though a nice soak in the adult area and a swim in the big hot pool would be relaxing after a long day of driving, and it sure was!

The next morning, we drove over to the Sand Dunes National Park and stopped for a short visit and tour of their campground.  The park was really crowded with tourists so we headed out quickly.  I can't handle a lot of people and the resulting lack of parking, so we got out of there as soon as we could after a short break in the picnic area.

We headed into New Mexico and we were hit by a huge deluge of rain as we approached Ojo Caliente.

Along the road we saw a pair of bicyclists. They were crazy to be out in that weather. They were along the side of the road holding each other for warmth.  We called the cops and they dispatched a car to check on them.

We got home to Los Alamos just before sunset.

It had been a very enjoyable vacation. My mom checked off her Mt. Rushmore bucket list item and we saw a lot of great scenery and majestic animals. It was a lot of driving but we all thought it was well worth it.

We shall return!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mt. Rushmore Trip - Part 3 - Custer State Park, South Dakota

Our Campsite at Blue Bell Campground, Custer State Park, South Dakota.
French Creek near our campsite.
Our plan in South Dakota was to stay in Custer State Park in the Blue Bell Campground and explore from this base. We stayed in sites 31E and 34E which are connected to each other and provided a large and fairly private area.  There are electric hookups.  There was a water spigot in the center of the campground.

Below a 360 degree Google Photosphere of our campsite. Click into it and hold to move around.

Custer State Park has national park level beauty. South Dakota must have snatched up this area before the Feds could get a hold of it.

Blue Bell has gas, a store, a laundry, and a lodge with a really nice restaurant.  There are also small cabins for rent.  Pretty French Creek meanders around the area. There are nice shower stalls in the bathroom with plenty of hot water (no quarters needed).

The camp hosts were super friendly and came up to talk to us about the area as we arrived. The hosts also came by twice to warn when bad weather was approaching, which got us into our vehicles before heavy rain and winds hit.

The nice restaurant at the Blue Bell Lodge.
The cool bar stools in the bar at the Blue Bell Lodge.
We had a couple of great breakfasts and a couple of very tasty dinners at the Blue Bell Lodge restaurant. The service was really good and the prices were reasonable too. We highly recommend it.

The park hires a lot of RV campers to work in the park.  The campground had a row of parking spots for the work campers with full hookups. We talked to a couple of them and they really enjoyed their time in the park.

French Creek.
A Pronghorn.
Mom and Greg feeding the wild burros.
A young burro.
A bison mom and baby.
Up close with the Bison.
Bison Mom and Baby.
After a day of pleasant rest at Blue Bell Campground, we loaded my (Greg's) parents up into our van and headed out for the drive to Mt. Rushmore.  We took the wildlife loop around to Iron Mountain Road and then up to Mt. Rushmore. After Rushmore we completed the circle with a stop at the Crazy Horse Memorial and then back to Blue Bell.

The wildlife loop is well named. We saw a LOT of wildlife. We saw a few Pronghorns first.  Next, we came upon a group of wild burros. We came prepared with a couple bags of carrots. You are allowed to feed the burros carrots and they just love them. They aggressively try to eat the whole bag, if you let them. My mom really loved feeding them and seeing their young.

Back on the road, we could see groups of bison in the distance up on the hills. We stopped at a pull-out in order to see the bison through binoculars. As we watched, a women from another vehicle walked up to our van and told us that there was a large group of mom and baby bison just up a dirt road behind us.  It was so nice of the lady to give us this tip and we headed up the dirt road for a couple miles.

We were amazed to find hundreds of bison and babies on both sides of the road.  We drove slowly through the field with the van door open so we could view the bison up close.  It was pretty amazing and my mom really loved it.

I noted to my Mom that these guys were quite tasty at the Blue Bell Restaurant the night before! She was not amused.

Iron Mountain Road Tunnel.
Cool "pig tail" bridge and tunnel on Iron Mt. road.
We finally made it to Mt. Rushmore.
Next, it was on to Iron Mountain Road. This road was specifically designed for very slow travel in order to soak it all in.  It was made intentionally curvy. There are a couple of tunnels that are fairly narrow and short, so check if your rig is going to fit before you attempt it. There are a couple of "pig tails" that curve completely around over a bridge in order to traverse the beautiful terrain. The pig tails were pretty cool as I called out "PIG TAIL, PIG TAIL" as we traversed each one.

There was construction on the road and we waited a while behind a flagman, but the area is so beautiful that we hardly even noticed the wait. The road is definitely worth the trouble to take. It was design to be a great scenic ride, and it definitely was.

As you come out of the tunnels you can see Mt. Rushmore off in the distance, a nice touch by the road designer!!!!

We made it to Mt. Rushmore a little while later.  My mother had told us that Mt. Rushmore was the last thing on her bucket list.  After she said that, we didn't have much choice but to get her there.

When we arrived on a weekday, we found Mt. Rushmore fairly crowded with RVs and cars.  The place is pretty well designed to handle many vehicles. There is a very large parking structure and special areas for RVs. It's all designed so you don't have to walk too far to get to the main visitor area.

Below: A 360 degree Google Photosphere. Click into it and hold to move around.

My whole life I had seen photos of Mt. Rushmore and it was nice to actually be there in person.  In one way I thought that it was a shame to have defaced these beautiful mountains with faces, while on another level I had to marvel at the fine detail that went into these sculptures.  It is impressive in person.

North by Northwest movie trailer screenshot (public domain).
In the movie North By North West, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint crawl all over the faces of the mountain trying to escape James Mason and his henchmen. It was clear that it would be impossible to crawl around the faces in real life. It's too steep. Hollywood, go figure!

A nice cafeteria at Mt. Rushmore.
My Parents enjoy some ice cream at Mt. Rushmore.
Karen and I took the trail that takes you closer to the base of the faces while my parents took in the museum and a visitor center movie. We meet up in the large cafeteria for some ice cream and snacks.

Karen at the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Crazy Horse sculpture plan.

We continued on our big circle drive of the area and arrived at Crazy Horse Memorial.
A sculptor started work on the memorial in 1948 when a group of Native Americans talked to him about having a memorial to one of their great heroes in the defeat of Custer.  It's been a family project ever since.  There is now a foundation that manages the sculptures progress and related tourism businesses, but a lot of the family is still very involved in managing the organization.

The sculpture is a huge project that will continue into the very distant future. It will be fun to return in future years to see how much progress they are making.

The visitor center is a sprawling set of connected building that contain a lot of memorabilia donated to the foundation. We found it all very interesting and well worth the stop. At night there is a popular laser light show against the mountain, but we didn't get to see it this trip. Next time.

Twice a year the foundation holds a hike to the top of the memorial. I'd love to do that someday.  It happened to be going on the weekend we visited, but we didn't know about it until too late.

Enjoying Evans Plunge warm pool at Hot Springs, South Dakota.
Hot Jacuzzi's at Evans Plunge.
Evans Plunge warm pool with rings.
Weather Underground was reporting that the next day would be stormy, so we decided to drive south for an hour to Hot Springs, South Dakota to enjoy indoor Evans Plunge.

Evans Plunge has a huge indoor warm pool with slides and rings to play on. It's kinda of an old fashioned place. The water is heated by natural springs and doesn't need chlorination as the water is replace in the entire pool naturally 16 times a day.

The plunge is a historic place and you can read about its history online.

Below: A 360 degree Google Photosphere of Evans Plunge warm pool.  Click into it and hold to move around.

My parents loved the huge warm pool.  My father especially loved it as he swam all around. He's a little unsteady on dry land these days, but in the water he is like a freaken fish!

I tried to swing out on the rings but fell into the water on the first one. I'd love to go back and practice a little more and see how far I can get. A lot of the local young bucks could make it all the way across on the rings. It was fun to watch everyone trying.

Karen and I rode down the indoor waterslide (there is also an outdoor pool and slide but it is much steeper then the indoor one). The indoor slide was fast and fun.

Evans Plunge is a kind of a throwback to a bygone era.  Some might consider the place a little dangerous with the rings and the high pool walls, but I thought it was really cool.  I've read about parents complaining about their kids getting hurt at the plunge, in some reviews, but heck, watching TV too much is more dangerous for kids. Kids need to experience things like this and discover their limits. I would totally bring kids here, unless they are the kinds of kids that get way out of control and can't deal with common sense situations.

We had a great afternoon at the plunge.  We enjoyed the pool and we liked the hot Jacuzzi.

Our time at Custer State Park was fantastic.  We saw Elk, Bison, Wild Turkey, Burros, Pronghorn, Prairie Dogs, cool birds and Tics. (I got bit by a Tic after an off trail hike, but so far I am OK). We had great meals, nice hikes and relaxing times.  I highly recommend a visit.

We didn't have time to see the Wind Cave (in its own National Park), which is just south of Custer State Park.  We would like to return and check it out as it sounds really interesting.  We also didn't have time for the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, which we would like to see on our next visit.

Well, it was time to turn around and start heading home.  The weather was getting kinda wild and so I planned a return trip that would try to avoid the worst of the coming bad weather. (Climate change ... what are you going to do?)

Next up: We cross through Nebraska and then into Wyoming and find a totally cool campground near Laramie before hitting the Rockies of Colorado.

Mt. Rushmore Trip - Part 2 - Wyoming

Black Beach Campground, Alcova Reservoir, Wyoming

Our site at Black Beach Campground

A boat launches and Canadian Geese at Black Beach Campground
After Jordonelle Reservoir State Park, we were headed to South Dakota.  I (Greg) planned a stop in Wyoming for the night.  I had scoped out the Alcova Reservoir that had a few campgrounds on it's shores. It's in central Wyoming near Casper.

We arrived at the reservoir in the evening and found a really pleasant campground called Black Beach. Black Beach is a Natrona County facility.  There were about 12 sites along the shore. We found a really nice one right away. There were not many campers. There are no hookups or water but there are a couple of vault toilets and a nice camp shelter with a fire pit at each site. We were right across from two boat ramps and we saw about five fishing boats pass by.  It was $10 for each RV at a site.

A 360 degree view of our site at Black Beach.  Click and hold to move around:

Our campsite was on a small cove on the lake.  There is another campground just up the road on the Reservoir called Cottonwood Beach that is probably just as nice. There are two more campgrounds just down the river from the dam and on satellite it looks like there might be a couple boondocking opportunities below the dam.  We will have to check it out sometime.  There is also a new full-hookup RV place behind "The Reef" fly fishing shop in Alcova.

I also spotted a nearby Wyoming visitors center where we could have stayed overnight.  It is called Inspiration Point and there was a big rock hill where pioneers carved their initials and arrival dates.  It has a fascinating history display about the Mormon handcart tragedy where a group of Mormon's, trying to get to Salt Lake using handcarts to carry their supplies, got caught in a snow storm and many died at this site.

Jack enjoying some grass and shade at Black Beach Campground.

My parents, Karen, Jack and I really thought Black Beach was a really nice spot to overnight. It was very quiet and the lake was beautiful. There were lots of interesting waterfowl to watch.  We were there on a weekday and it was little used, but we guessed that on weekends it was not quite as peaceful.

Picnic at the Lusk, Wyoming town park.

After a great nights rest and a tasty camp breakfast, we saddled up and headed out.

For our late lunch break, we stopped in the town of Lusk and had a picnic in the town park.

The next day we read that a huge rain storm had caused the main bridge in Lusk to split in two and all roads in and out of Lusk were flooded for days, cutting Lusk off completely.  We dodged a bullet by one day.

After Lusk, it was on to the Wyoming-South Dakota border then up to Custer State Park.

On our way back home (in a later post) I will describe a great campground we stayed at near Laramie called Vadauwoo Campground.

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