Wine Tasting

It's no secret that the Woodinville area has become a destination for wine lovers. We've been coming here since the mid-1980s (maybe earlier) when the only winery was Chateau Ste. Michelle. Today there are 4o wineries, each with their own style and appeal. I admit to loving the experience of traveling through the vineyards, stopping by to visit each winery in turn, surrounded by the fruit that makes wineries (and wine) possible.

But something's changed here in the past few years. Wineries have figured out how to provide the winery experience, and great wines, without the vineyards closeby. And if this formula works in Woodinville, why not Covington? Or Maple Valley?

Our Fall wine club shipment is ready to pick up at at DiStefano, one of our favorite wineries in Woodinville. It's a family business, as so many of them are. We love their reds, and also their Sauvignon Blanc. New this summer is an outdoor patio built up on pavers, with tables made from old riddling racks. It's a great place to sit and enjoy our samples.

Today we brought home a treasure: an oak wine barrel that's outlived its usefulness as a storage container for wine. It will have a new life--the base of a table in our wine cellar.

Afterwards, we headed for another favorite, Matthews Cellars. It's a small winery, with a wonderful country location in the Woodinville valley. The people are friendly, the wine is excellent, and we love being able to wander around in the cellar room, inhaling the grape-infused air.

Apple Red

Or, "In Search of Corn." Take your pick of titles. After a morning of gardening, potting plants, sweeping, ironing, laundry, it was time for the great corn and apple search. Dave gently inquired whether I was going to the farm stand in Enumclaw, the last best place for the perfect ear of corn. Hadn't thought of going so far, but I was heading for the library, which was halfway there. So why not?

This sounded like a great chance to take the wee MX-5 for a spin in the country. I quickly revised my route to include Thomas Road to Auburn-Black Diamond Road, which got me to Green Valley, which is probably the perfect sports car road (if there aren't any Sunday drivers in front of me). Today is a beautiful top-down day, not too hot. As I turned onto Green Valley, I spotted a huge sign advertising a produce stand, right there in the valley. Perfect! I'll get corn and apples, and whatever else they have that looks good (baby yellow potatoes, rhubarb for a pie, garlic), then drive the rest of my favorite road.

Multi-tasking was never so fun!


Moving target

Outside my kitchen window is a big camellia bush. It's covered with bright magenta blooms in early spring, and the rest of the year, it provides shelter and food for a variety of birds. The chickadees are especially entertaining. Hung from a branch is a small feeder, which I made from a round Glad container, hung by pale green ribbons (my sister's design).

Today, there's a group of young birds trying to figure out how exactly to get to the seed. The small feeder moves whenever birds feet touch it, a bit of a moving landing pad. Plus the three ribbons are close together, so they can't just fly in and land.

I watched one bird hop from branch to branch, trying to get to the food without actually having to touch the feeder. He gave the closest leaf a couple of jabs, then flew off in disgust.

But by the time I finished washing the dishes, they'd figured it out.

Rocking Chairs

I love rocking chairs. The Windsor-style chair that was always in my parent's house, for as long as I can remember, stood squeezed into the corner by the woodstove, and was my favorite place to sit in the winter. I bought my own, much more modern (and not nearly as well made) at a yard sale just before my marriage. It was more upright and not very comfortable, but I still have the chair. It's now in the cabin. A decade or so later, I found a perfect white wicker rocker, creaky and comfortable, at a yard sale for $5.00. It's also at the cabin, dueling rockers in the upstairs loft bedroom.

When we started traveling in the MX-5 Miata was when we first ate at Cracker Barrel restaurants (which for some inexplicable reason have never spawned stores into Washington). I love the rocking chairs at the Cracker Barrel. Each time we have breakfast at one of these charming restaurants, I threaten to bring home a couple of chairs. Since the nearest restaurant is in Boise, Dave knows he's safe. We're usually in a loaded Explorer heading off on a road trip, or we're in the MX-5 (can you picture the wee roadster with a rocking chair lashed on the trunk?) This trip, we flew to Denver. Sigh… no rocking chairs for the deck at the cabin.

But wait… you can order them online. And shipping is a mere $15 per chair. All you have to do is assemble them. Easy for a guy who builds furniture! Maybe those chairs will grace my deck after all!



Suzie is my aunt's oldest child, born 6 years ahead of me. I can only imagine the delight of my aunt and my mom when I was born on the same day as Suzie. Probably similar to my delight, when I met William, my cousin Mike's grandson, a vibrant redhead who threw his arms around my knees and shouted "Hi!" when he first laid eyes on me. William was also born on "our" birthday. I love this photo of the three of us!


Farm stands

I love the fresh produce stands that crop up all over in the summer. On the weekends, you can find small roadside stands selling fresh fruit from Eastern Washington. Lots of neighboring towns have a Saturday market, where you can buy produce, crafts, and fresh flowers. Once the stands open up, I don't buy fresh produce anywhere else until the weather turns cold.

Yesterday we stopped at a farm stand in Enumclaw to get fresh-picked corn. This semi-permanent stand boasts fresh-picked corn, produce of all types, fruit from Eastern Washington, and homemade fudge. The stand is surrounded by produce gardens, and the corn fields are a stone's throw away. While I chose my tomatoes from an outside table, two employees were picking produce to replenish the tables. Another stand I like is near Covington. It's on a side road and not visible from the main road, and it's entirely self-serve. They post the prices, you choose what you want, and leave money in the jar. It's a great place for local tomatoes and zucchini.

My favorite produce stand is Carpenito Brothers, which has been in Kent for decades. In summer, I stop there on my way home from work to buy fresh corn, potatoes, and produce. Their corn fields are on the other side of town, and several times a day they haul in corn by the trailer-load, towed behind a John Deere tractor, right through the heart of town.

But Carpenito isn't just a produce stand. In the spring, it's the place for annuals and perennials, and beautiful baskets for Mothers Day. Their towering hills of bark and topsoil are a Kent landmark. In fall, you'll find pumpkins, squash, and chrysanthemums of every color. In winter, they sell Christmas trees and wreaths. They close down only in the early months, then the cycle begins all over again.



Whew... finally finished logging my cache finds from our recent vacation to Colorado (and New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming). Caching is a big part of our lives, especially when we go on vacation. I can still hear Dave saying, "If we rent a car and do this loop road trip, we can add 8 more states to our caching map." Hey, why not? And while we're at it, let's try and do an earth cache in each state, too. So in addition to a conference in Denver, spending lots of time with my cousins, and sightseeing, we also managed to put 2500 miles on a rental car, and travel through 6 states I've never set foot in before. Is this a great hobby, or what?


I love blackberries. Crumble, slump, cobbler, pie, cheesecake, jam... It's a good thing I like the fruit, because my little farm is fertile ground for the thorny brambles. Blackberries grow rampant in the Pacific Northwest, as anyone who lives here can attest. (I'm always amused to get gardening catalogs from the East Coast and Midwest, and see various types of blackberry vines for sale. Come here, and you can have all the plants you want for free.)

I spend 10 months of the year digging blackberry plants out of my flower beds, pulling the vines out of the trees and shrubs, and trying every method known to man to kill them off. But come August, no one touches my vines. In August, and for the next two months, the tiny green berries swell and turn dark purple. Each evening before dinner, I walk out the door, container in hand, and in a few minutes my bowl is overflowing with ripe fruit, warm from the sun. Doesn't get much better than this.


Quail in the Cedar

For the past few months, we've been seeing quail on our place. We'd see the male, or the female, but rarely would see them together. First, we'd see them in the barn. Eventually, they moved into the wild patio garden, just 20 feet from our front steps. Last night when I drove in the driveway after work, I stopped dead at the sight of both adult quail, surrounded by a dozen of the tiniest baby quail you've ever seen. They were flitting here and there, and the parents' heads were snapping back and forth, trying to keep them in sight (a tough job, as they're only about 2 inches tall, and disappeared in the grass). I pulled out the cell phone and called Dave, who was already home. He crept out the front door and along the back of the garage, and we both watched the miracle of baby quail.

Tomorrow I'll take my camera and zoom lens, and if lucky, will post photos.


Monday Morning Came Early

Should be a song title (maybe it is, but I can't think of one). I stayed up too late last night, and 4:30 came very rudely (although waking up to Carbon Leaf wasn't half bad). First day back after a grand 2-week vacation means only one thing: slogging my way through about 350 e-mail messages. I'll come up for air around noon...


Back home, and the place is a mess!

I've caught up on e-mail, work e-mail, and unpacked my suitcase. Laundry is piled on the floor; I'll get to it eventually. I posted my upcoming events on the Club Miata website. Still need to log the geocaches we found on our 8-state tour, and download the 600 or so photos I took. But it feels good to just sit and relax, so that will probably be my goal for the rest of today.

On the Subject of Mountain Height

According to one website, Colorado boasts 637 peaks over 13,000 feet, and 58 peaks over 14,000 feet. The natives refer to them as 13ers and 14ers, and there's actually a book for each, with photos of each peak, and a checklist where you can keep track of the ones you've visited. That's pretty cool.

But I still think Washington's Mt. Rainier is the more impressive. At 14,410 feet, it towers above the nearby Cascade mountain range, and is snow-covered year-round. What really sets it apart, though, is that it rises from close to sea level, and is taller than anything else around it.

In the Rockies, these 13ers and 14ers rise from at least a mile in elevation, so they don't have the same impact as the massive snow-covered peaks of the Cascade range, from Shasta in California, Hood in Oregon, and the four peaks in Washington: Baker, Rainier, Adams, and St. Helens.

The Rockies are impressive, don't get me wrong. The sheer number of peaks is impressive! And I think it's cool that you can actually hike these mountain peaks (and even drive to the top of a fair number of them). Which makes the mountains accessible to all, not just to mountain climbers.


Rocky Mountain moose

Good luck charm? I'm thinking Dave's gift of a moose pin brought us luck. Not long after we headed south, out of the park, we saw a couple of people standing on the side of the road, with cameras pointed toward the trees.
We (and everyone else) slammed on the brakes, and in about two seconds, we realized they'd spotted a huge cow moose, grazing in this small meadow. Dave pulled over, pushed me out, and I walked carefully to the shoulder, trying not to move too quickly. I got about a dozen photos before she got spooked by being watched and trotted off to the trees.
I walked back to the car with a big grin on my face. I love the moose, and we've rarely seen one in the wild. The road was a traffic jam. A ranger was walking up the road telling people to move on. Some people had simply stopped right in the middle of the road, so anxious to get a look at wildlife. Dave said the ranger was just telling those people to move… now.


Cheyenne's art boots

Seattle has its pigs (you have to live here to understand… well, actually, I live here and don't understand). Cheyenne, WY has cowboy boots.

You'll most likely find the significance a lot more understandable, what with Wyoming's huge ranching industry, not to mention its place in the history of the Wild, Wild West. We passed through town recently, and the boots are one thing that jumped out at me. Although I didn't have time to search out all of them, I did get photos of a few that are at the Depot Square. The boots are well over my 5'5" height, and each is colorful, and different.

There are 18 of these 8-ft. tall boots throughout the Cheyenne area, five of them at the Cheyenne Depot Square (two of them are shown here). They were part of a 2004 public art fundraising campaign, and if you want to do a boot scavenger hunt and look for all of them, you can pick up a map at the museum.

Steaks By State

The title is Dave's idea. We figured since we were traveling through the heart of cattle country, we should sample steaks where they truly know how to cook them. So starting with Texas, we had steak each night (except for SD; it wasn't on the menu), finishing up with Wyoming. In each place, we queried the concierge (or facsimile thereof) about the absolutely best steak to be found in their town, and took their advice. If you're a vegetarian, just plug your ears or move to another blog entry.

In Amarillo, my strip steak was absolutely lean, with nothing to trim off, and was probably the perfect steak when you considered everything: it was perfectly cooked, there was no waste, it was melt-in-your mouth tender, and full of flavor.

In Dodge City, I tried the Kansis City strip steak. Of the four steaks, this one had the most flavor, and it tasted like it was rubbed and marinated before it went on the fire. It was also a huge steak, not the 12 oz. advertised. I had to take about half of it "home." (It was good cold the next morning.)

In Nebraska, I tried my old standby cut of steak, top sirloin. It was good, but the strip steaks were definitely a cut above.

In Wyoming, I went back to the NY strip. My Wyoming steak was not as flavorful as the one I had in Dodge City, Kansas (my dad's birthplace), but was the most tender of the three (it was also the most rare).

What I've learned:
  • The best steaks are tender and juicy, so from now on I will always order medium rare
  • New York (or Kansas City) strip steaks are the most flavorful

Table Mountain Ranch

Today was as fun as a treasure hunt! Our goal: to find the ranch my grandmother's family once owned. We grew up on stories of the ranch, which spanned the Wyoming-Colorado border between Laramie and Virginia Dale. For fans of the Mary O'Hara books: My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming, this is the same area where these books were set. My favorite books as a horse-crazy kid.

In the family genealogy was a photocopy of a brochure advertising the ranch, which told the approximate location and milestones where the original entrance was. What we didn't know is that the ranch is intact today, the same as it was in the 1940s when it went out of the family.

Imagine my surprise (and delight) when we found the Pioneer Trail marker mentioned in the brochure, and right next to it, a dirt road heading into the hills with this sign. Wow! I took a lot of pictures, to share with the rest of the family. As far we we know, no one of our generation has set foot on the ranch. We were brave and drove in, and asked permission to drive around.

This is the main cluster of ranch buildings, where the ranch manager lives; looking generally southwest. The main ranch house is about 3 miles north of this spot. Near the big house is this water tank, probably the original water tank built for the log ranch house. The log house burned in the 1940s; it looks like the house was rebuilt on the original rock foundation.

Virginia Dale

I've always wondered about the history behind the name of this town. It's in north central Colorado, close to the Wyoming border, and (I believe) was the nearest "town" to the ranch my family once owned.

Established in 1862, Virginia Dale was a home station on the Overland Trail, meaning that passengers could disembark, get a meal, and stay overnight in a hotel if the stage was delayed by weather or nightfall. Thirty to fifty horses were kept at the station which was located in a pleasant, grassy glade (or dale) along a clear bubbling stream, later named Dale Creek. Station manager Jack Slade probably named the post after his wife Virginia. Slade was an excellent stage manager as long as he stayed sober. Many stories credit him with outrageous actions from shooting up a saloon in LaPorte for serving his stage drivers whiskey to robbing the stage of $60,000 in gold which disappeared. Slade was fired as stage manager in November 1892 after a drunken shooting spree at nearby Fort Halleck and left with his wife for Virginia City, Montana where he was hanged in early 1894 by angry miners.

Preserving houses through photographs

I always have a strong urge to photograph old houses. Farmhouses in the country, city houses in a historic neighborhood, all styles and sizes. In the back of my mind, I've thought about taking my photos home, and one day either sketching the houses, or painting them.

But it occurs to me that perhaps my desire is really to capture them forever in photographs, so they'll never disappear. Or is this the outward sign of a genetic link to my father, who was an architect, and loved buildings of all kinds.

Laramie, Wyoming has several historic building tours, both residential and commercial. We took the time to check out a couple of them; Dave says we found the best two houses in town. Look at the details on this house. Beautiful, isn't it?


Big Sky Wyoming

On the home stretch, still with much to add and photos to share. Today's highlights included checking out a wild horse ranch, my third day of a flaming allergy attack (juniper, most likely), we both took a ton of photos, and we saw wildlife from eagles to coyotes to bison. Wyoming is home to more grazing horses than I've ever seen (and believe me, I look for them!). Wyoming is also home to a branch of the family tree, who grew up on horseback, thanks to the family's cattle ranching business.


What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I'm looking forward to posting photos to go with the blogs I've started while on vacation. I have a lot of writing to do, too... keeping a pencil & paper journal, which I'll pull from when I have more time at the computer. Today we saw old (mid-1800s) cemeteries, saw a woman hop off a motorcycle in full leathers and walk up to a huge bison to take a photo, walked through caverns 24 stories below ground, and saw America's most famous National Memorial. Much more soon...


Signs, Signs...

I've been collecting state signs as we travel, welcome signs if I can find them, state highway signs, too. I figure these will be great to introduce each day's photos in my Shutterfly site. But in Valentine, Nebraska I saw the best signs. Their street signs were red, with white lettering. How cool is that?

Nebraska Sand Dunes

Neither of us really knew what to expect of Nebraska, but assumed it would be much the same as Oklahoma and Kansas. Boy, were we wrong. Western Nebraska is drop-dead gorgeous. And from a couple of confirmed Northwesterners, used to mountains and salt water in our vistas, that's saying a lot.

Of course, we didn't expect ancient sand dunes in Nebraska, either. But the rolling hills covered with prairie grass are the legacy of the ancient seas that once covered this land, and they're beautiful. I snapped a lot of photos out the window, to remind me as I wrote my journal. We kept looking for a good place to stop, and finally found a scenic overlook for the Dismal River, and a short walk up the hill brought us to great views of the hills, with the Dismal River winding through. There were even a couple of groups of kids floating down on inner tubes. We spent too much time there, but loved it. Took lots of photos, then drove down to the river level, and waited for the kids to float by. Loved the cooler wedged into its own inner tube!

We spent time driving the back roads, found a very old cemetery, flocks of wild turkeys, and a waterfall (tallest in Nebraska as it turns out). The water is frigid cold, about 57 degrees, which didn't stop a pack of teenagers from wading right in and standing underneath it. Girls posing for boys, and vice versa. A bit of a dare going on here, but it probably felt good in the 95 degree air temperature!

Heading back to Valentine, we had to stop to photograph a Nebraska state road sign, then noticed that Valentine was underneath the biggest thundercloud we've ever seen. The occasional lightning bolt shot out of it, and you could see it was raining… somewhere. As we drove toward it, it loomed bigger and bigger. We can't do this at home—our thunderstorms fetch up against the Cascades, and there are no roads there.

We checked into our hotel, got directions to the only restaurant that's open on a Sunday evening. Steak Number 3 is on the menu, but we were mesmerized by the severe storm warning on the TV, in a scrolling banner across the bottom of the screen. It was warning people about the severe thunderstorm, and to get indoors immediately. "If you can hear thunder, you're in range of being struck by lightning." Yikes!!

The thunderstorm blew through about 17 miles south of Valentine, NB, with torrential rain, quarter-sized hailstones, and lightning. Not far, actually, from our idyllic scenic overlook, and those kids floating down the Dismal River.


Looking for Corn

I was promised fields of corn, stretching to the horizon on both sides of the highway. Flat we found. The Texas panhandle has a lot of flat. There are also huge arroyos and canyons, called breaks, where the Canadian River has cut through the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain. This land is as flat as any surface in the world, according to our Lake Meridith/Alibates Flint Quarries brochure.

One you get closer to Oklahoma, there's a lot of corn, and a lot of dirt. Looks like a wheat crop was recently harvested, and they're ready for the next crop. But circle irrigation has changed the wall-to-wall corn image forever. You get corn on both sides of the road, but only a short stretch of it, before the wall of corn curves away from you.

It's also hot, very hot. It was 98 degrees before noon on this fine August day.

Getting Out Of Dodge

Today, Dave asked me, quite innocently, "Is this THE Dodge City?" We hadn't originally planned to divert to see it, but when he found out my dad was born there, he changed our route. I'm sure glad he did. It's a pretty cool town.

He also started saying, "Get out of Dodge" whenever we were leaving one place and heading another direction, whether we were walking or driving, walking out of a building or into it, whatever. It got to be pretty funny.

Today we drove from Amarillo to Dodge City, in 100 degree+ heat. I've never been in Kansas before, and after dinner at a local steakhouse, we had fun exploring the town where my dad was born. Much of the hill above town is still home to turn of the century homes, and most of the streets are paved with brick. The town I grew up in had brick streets, but the city fathers asphalted over the top of them. Not Dodge City. Blocks and blocks of gorgeous brick. I loved it.

We drove the hill several times, exploring. We saw old brick schools, and some beautiful churches. My favorite structures were the 1881 stone home that is now the historical museum, and the original Carnegie (library?) that is now an art museum. I especially loved the rotunda, and all the stained glass windows. I took a lot of pictures.

My dad's family moved to Denver when he was five, so he never went to school here. Beautiful schoolhouse, isn't it?

"Boot Hill" was an obvious attempt to draw in the tourists, but since it was closed, we got free use of the parking lot. Cool! I took photos of the old church, and the guardian bunny rabbit.

Across the street (brick, of course!) was an old train depot and steam engine, which Dave made a beeline for. He explained the configuration of the engine to me, a Prairie Class engine with large wheels suited for speed over flat terrain (but not for hill climbing, which is why we don't have these in Washington). We made one more drive through the brick streets, took photos of the wonderful bronze statue of Wyatt Earp, then headed west toward Garden City. We drove straight into the sunset, heading west toward Mountain Time.

I read somewhere, I think at breakfast the next day, that this statue was done by a local woman artist who didn't begin sculpting until she was in her early 80's. Look at the way his coat is flipping aside as he's pivoting and reaching for his six shooter.

Alibates Flint

At dinner last night, we scrolled through the list of nearby attractions on Jeepers, our Garmin GPS. And that's how we learned about the Alibates Flint Quarries.

This unique flint attracted people to the dry and windswept plains of the Texas Panhandle as long ago as 12,000 years. Before the Great Lakes even formed, Indians of the Ice Age Clovis Culture used Alibates flint for spear points to hunt Imperial Mammoth.

Now, isn't that an image to grab your imagination? So we plotted our course, and first thing this morning, headed out. And this was definitely one of the more interesting things we did on vacation: visiting this one-of-a-kind site where Native Americans of many tribes came to harvest their flint, later used to fashion arrowheads, spear heads, scrapers.

Lake Meridith and the fling quarries are pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, and when we arrived at the national park site, there was no one there. Hmmm... we drove to the end of the road, and enjoyed meeting a Box turtle on our way back. This time, there was someone at the visitor center. As the man unlocked the door, we asked about a tour. Lucky for us (since you had to book tours in advance), he was there to meet a couple of men who'd booked a tour, and let us tag along.

If you're ever near Amarillo, I highly recommend taking a couple of hours and doing this nature walk. It's pretty amazing, walking in the footsteps of so many who've been here over the centuries. We got to handle the different colors of flint and see several different pits where they dug down below the limestone cap rock to access the thick layers of agatized dolomite. The ground is littered with discarded bits of flint, gorgeously colored, from pale striped to purple, to reds and greens. We were told it's unique in the world.

In this photo, the red piece is a bit smaller than my fist, about 3 inches across.

They have one ranger on staff who has learned the fine art of crafting arrowheads and spear points from this flint. He can sit and chat with people on his tours, while striking out an arrowhead, right in front of their eyes. That would be cool to see!

Only in Texas

I suspect I could use this title for a great many observations about the great state of Texas, but since we barely scratched the surface (Amarillo, then north through the panhandle), I figure I'm off the hook.

One thing I noticed is that in Texas, road numbers in the four digits mean it's a farm road, and there are different sign designs depending on whether it's a farm road or state road. Interesting, if you care about such things...

Another thing? You can get a great steak in Texas... more in a future blog.


Hitchhiking Isn't What It Used To Be

Driving east toward Capulin Volcano, we were amused by the sight of two hitchhikers just out of town. One was sitting on his backpack, his thumb jutted out in the generational direction of the highway. The other guy was leaning on the handle of his wheeled suitcase. Things have changed, no?

Capulin Volcano

We've not been to this part of New Mexico before, and it's quite beautiful. A friend of mine from IBM grew up around here, and always told me how pretty it was.

I don't have my notes in front of me, so will have to revisit this entry. But I will post a few photos of this beautiful place. Who would have thought there'd be volcanoes in New Mexico?

Capulin Volcano is just off the highway, and is considered to be extinct. There's a great visitors center, and you can drive to the rim, park, and hike around the rim or down inside the crater. Probably would have done that, if it hadn't been a hundred degrees, and if we hadn't needed to be in Amarillo by suppertime.

But we had time for an earth cache, a short hike, and lots of photos.

No Free Lunch

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch. I think this is even more true of breakfast, which many hotels are offering these days, to sweeten the pot (or make you think more kindly of the high room rate you just paid). But not all free breakfast is the same…

Take the hotel in Trinidad, NM. Dodgy. We got to sit in the restaurant next door, and had a choice of two kids meals, both of which were undercooked and unsatisfying, and did not include coffee. Then we had to wait at the register for what seemed a lifetime, before one of the four employees would stop and take our money (we had to pay for coffee). Dave finally grabbed one of them, and said they either waited on us now, or they wouldn't get paid.

In contrast, most of the other hotels we stayed in had a buffet or cook-your-own setup, with food ranging from yogurt, fresh fruit, cold cereal, bagels and toast with jam and PB, waffles, coffee and tea, and two kinds of juice. A couple of them had scrambled eggs and sausage patties, and another even had biscuits and gravy along with the eggs and sausage.


Bishop's Castle... castle building the hard way

Hot, hot hot… we bolted for lower elevations, and stopped in Manitou Springs. This is an old town that's full of historic buildings and cold mineral springs, with fountains and monuments. It was probably once very charming. Now it's just touristy and crowded, with not enough parking (Get those cars off the main road and things will be much better!) We stopped for an earth cache and a cold drink, and more allergy pills, then headed for New Mexico.

We headed south again, and took a scenic drive recommended by a Colorado visitor's guidebook, called "Frontier Pathways." It took us west out of Pueblo across the prairie toward the mountains (which are much farther from I-25 in southern Colorado. After the extremely straight-as-an-arrow highway running due west (my grandfather would have been proud), we began to see tall rock formations, the road began to curve around the geology, and things began to look interesting. and into Hardscrabble Canyon, and the Wet Mountains. Lots of wildlife pathways, but we didn't see anything but antelope. The canyon was gorgeous, though.

The most interesting thing along the way was Bishop's Castle. We swung around a bend in the road, and blew right past this fantastic stone castle. I recognized it from our scenic drive print-out, and we did a U-turn and went back.

It's a fantastic structure made from stone, with a glass roof and stained glass windows, fanciful wrought iron balconies and railings, plus ornate trim. It even has a working fire-breathing dragon. No entrance fee, just a box for donations (a local woman later told us that he brings in about $1000 a day during tourist season). But it was worth the $5 we pushed into the box. We spent an hour there, trying to photograph it all. It's so big, even with my camera set to wide angle, I couldn't get the entire structure in a photo.

People were clamboring all over the structure; I kept hearing parents calling to their kids about where they shouldn't go, but it was pretty futile. This place is like the ultimate amusement park feature, with no padlocks keeping you out of anything. (There is a prominent sign about a required signing of the liability waiver, however.)

The stained glass windows were gorgeous. We found it interesting that the interior is unfinished. There are a couple of spiral staircases to get you to different levels, and there are antique kitchen fixtures in one corner. But no sign of plumbing or wiring. I was particularly taken with the wrought iron work, and have since read that custom iron work is the family business.

14er Number Two

Pikes Peak. Pretty darn impressive. A big bare rock mountain from the flat land around Colorado Springs; wonder how far east you can see this monolith? My second 14-er. Dave's second also, but his record is more impressive than mine. He hiked to the 10,000 ft. level of Washington's Mt. Rainier, then roped up and climbed to the 14,410 ft. summit. Getting there on your own two feet is much more worthy of documenting, don't you think? But since mountain climbing is out of the question for me, I'll continue to list my two feats: Mt. Evans, and Pike's Peak.

It's a long, slow drive to the top, impressive to look up and ahead, and see the switchbacks in front of you. Once we reached the top, we did a quick geocache, joined by a couple from Germany, here on holiday. And we were lucky—the cog train is already here, bright red and very photogenic.

Windy and chilly on top, but we stayed quite a while, enjoying the views. And we were lucky enough to be there when the cog trian headed back down the mountain. I was on an upper platform, my camera thrust between the bars, trying to hold it steady in the wind. But this shot turned out pretty good, especially since there were no people on the lower platform. Sometimes you just get lucky!

Suzie & Tony

Heading out on the next phase of vacation: a geocaching road trip. Last night we were doubly entertained. First, dinner with Suzie and her boyfriend, Tony. They suggested The Chart House, a restaurant in the hills above Golden with views down the canyon toward Denver. Second, with a stupendous storm that broke outside our picture windows, complete with torrential rains and a two-hour lightning show over the valley. Not common for the Denver area in the summer, except for this year, apparently.

We enjoyed getting to know Tony, and he and Dave found a lot to talk about: aviation, working on cars, hunting. It was a great way to end the first part of our vacation, and kick off the road trip.


Littleton Roots

This morning I had an appointment at the Littleton Museum to do research on my grandmother's family. This was a first for me, as my sister is the genealogist in the family. But I thought since I was going to be in town, it was a good chance to see if they had any information we didn't have. And it was really fun to see books, deeds, certificates, ditch logs, water rights documents, all sorts of things related to my great-great grandfather, John G. Lilley. Thanks to my sister Laurie, I was able to correct some errors in their documentation, and the museum would like us to send them a more complete history than what they currently have. They were able to locate more photos than those we saw on our visit in 1989. Took notes on all the photos; prices have quadrupled since the last time we ordered copies, so I couldn't get everything I wanted.

When my sister and I were here a couple of decades ago, we visited the cemetery where several of our Lilley ancestors are buried. It's a beautiful day, and I wanted to linger, so I walked through the cemetery and looked for the oldest section, and was lucky. I found the Lilley section there, and in between cycles of the impact sprinklers, managed to take took pictures of all the headstones. One of our ancestors has the dubious distinction of being the first burial here. Her date of burial is some time after her death; the historical society people suspect she was buried on the family ranch, then moved to the cemetery at a later date.

The old section of Littleton is beautifully restored, and after scoring the only parking spot on the street, I walked the short Main Street and found the building that my great-great grandfather built. The cornice on top of the brick building is different from the original (I'd just seen photos of the block when the buildings were new). I ordered a copy of the photo that showed the building, with the family's livery stable next door. The stable is long gone, replaced by a small, single-story building.

I loved this old town, beautiful surroundings, great Main Street, very inviting. I also loved the antique stores, the first I've visited since arriving last weekend. When you fly someplace, you can't go crazy in an antique store. But I did find a treasure: a 1940s green hatpin-style flower frog for my collection.


Single Malt

Tonight we had dinner with a friend of Dave's, who is also at the conference. We decided to walk to the 16th Street Mall and stop when something looked good to us. We liked Marlowe's, but thought we'd try something new. We walked the mall, and chose Katie Mullen's, an Irish pub. Good food, excellent beer.

Afterwards, I suggested walking to the Brown for a drink at the Ship Tavern. I wanted Dave to see the place anyway, the inside is too spectacular to miss. So we walked the couple of blocks on a perfect summer evening, and through the side door into the center of the hotel. First, I had them look straight up to the stained glass ceiling. Then I pointed out the iron balconies, and recounted the story about the soldiers who liked to rapel down to the main floor. As we walked to the Tavern, we stopped to look at the elevator mural, and the antique mail drop. But their jaws dropped when we walked into the Tavern, and they saw the paneling, the ceiling, the triangular shape, the braced "mast" coming through the floor and continuing through the ceiling. Plus all the scale models of sailing ships, displayed around the room.

The Ship Tavern has a great atmosphere. Even though it was crowded, it wasn't loud and noisy. The television wasn't blaring. We could have been in a British bar, surrounded by people, but able to talk and enjoy ourselves. Mike was right—they have a great single-malt menu here. We each chose a different one to try, and also sampled each other's. My first whisky tasting!


My First 14er

This was an experience I didn't expect: driving to the top of a 14,000+ foot mountain. Mt. Evans is one of many 14,000+ foot mountains in Colorado, but usually lands on top of the list because the road to the top is the highest paved road in America.

Suzie told me that this was one of her mom's favorite places, and she could have come up here every day without getting tired of it.

This was only my second day at mile-high altitude, so climbing another 8,000 feet was faintly disturbing. But oh so worth it! Even on a partly cloudy day, the views were amazing. At the first stop there's a small lake at the foot of a scree slope, hiking trails, and an old stone mountaineering hut. A crew is busy building two new structures, which will be stone like the older one. Construction is tough here--everything has to be lugged up the mountain, tools run by generator, and the weather can change in a heartbeat.

When Suzie thought I was acclimated a bit, we tackled the last part of the road, which switchbacks through tundra to the summit. Just up the first slope, she spotted a big herd of goats, and we stopped for photos. And just down from the summit, we saw another herd. Both groups had pristine white kids, and adults that looked a bit worse for wear! (We also saw clumps of shedding goat hair everywhere, on buildings and guardrails, and on the ground.)

Finally at the top, small parking area, the remnants of the restaurant that burned, and the standing walls reconfigured to create an obervatory of sorts, with openings toward the views. And what views they were! You can look east to Denver and beyond, southeast to New Mexico, and northwest to the peaks of the central Rockies. There are signboards that explain the natural history here, and the old restaurant provides a handy shelter from the gusting winds. It's wide open and bare up here, true tundra landscape. And, it was snowing.

We stuck it out long enough to enjoy the views, took some photos (including this inquisitive little guy who climbed the mountain of boulders to spy on us), then headed down. I was fairly out of breath after an hour at elevations you can't drive to in Washington State, but loved every minute of this day!

Architectural Roots

I wish I'd visited Denver earlier in my life, to walk the streets and enjoy the historic buildings, when it was still possible to talk with my dad about architecture in Denver. I spent the morning walking the downtown historic area, enjoying the buildings and ornate carvings, the native granite and sandstone, the massiveness of the building styles. All the while, wondering whether I was walking in his footsteps. Where did he learn to love architecture, and decide to pursue it as a career? Did he walk these streets, and love these same buildings? Were there any he particularly liked? I wish I knew.

The Ship Tavern

Today I planned to meet my cousins for lunch at the Ship Tavern, a 75-year-old pub located in the corner of the historic Brown Palace. Today is the first day of Dave's conference, and my first day on my own. I spent a couple of hours walking through the nearby streets, taking pictures of the 16th Street Mall, and enjoying the historic buildings. I was early for lunch, so took my time walking through the Brown Palace. The inside atrium lobby is stunning, a 6-story space with wrought iron balconies, and a stained glass ceiling. They serve high tea here during the day.

This is one of those historic buildings with great stories associated with it. The hotel has been open every day since its opening on August 12, 1892. Every U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt has visited, except for Calvin Coolidge. The hotel still uses its original artesian well, 720 feet deep beneath the lobby floor. Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, who first trained on Mt. Rainier, stayed here. They scorned the elevators, and often rapelled to the ground from the lobby railings.

The Ship Tavern is just as amazing. It's paneled floor to ceiling, in fact, the ceiling is also paneled. In the center is a mast that vanishes into the ceiling, giving the feeling of being below decks in the captain's dining room. The room is filled with models of ships, and outside, there are three curved glass windows, each protecting a scale model of a ship.


Our First Taste of Denver

Today was our first day in Denver, Colorado. Leaving Seattle was reminiscent of my last trip to Dallas—our Alaska Airlines jet was one of about 10 jets in line to take off, and we taxied north, then south, then north again while we waited our turn. Seattle is getting too crowded! I love that Denver is only a two-hour flight away... why haven’t I come here more often?

Once we landed and picked up our rental car (a spiffy Mazda 3), we headed off to explore and pick up a few geocaches. It’s been years, too many years, since I’ve been here. My folks both grew up in Denver, and I still have two cousins here, so I’ll always have sentimental ties to the mile-high city. Today we had lunch in old-town Golden, drove up to Red Rocks, then north to Boulder. From there we did a loop drive up Boulder Canyon, then south through Black Hawk and back to Golden, with lots of stops along the way.

We’re staying at the Hyatt Regency in downtown, just across the street from Bubba Gump Shrimp. I thought this was an urban legend, but no... it really does exist. We wanted to check our dinner options, so wandered east toward what was obviously a restaurant sign, and found nightlife central. Denver has an entire pedestrian boulevard, lined with shops and restaurants, lit by gaslight-imitating streetlights, bricked with the real thing. No cars, just peddle-cabs, horse-drawn carriages, and the occasional hybrid-electric bus.

We chose Marlowe’s, in the beautiful and historic Kittredge building, which was built in 1891 and once boasted a rooftop beer garden and amusement park. It was Denver’s tallest and most modern office building, with iron columns, steel beams, electricity and steam heat, elevators, and faced with pink granite and rhyolite.

Marlowe’s has inviting wide-open windows to the street, lots of outdoor tables, and a huge list of wines (many of which are half-price after 7:30 pm). Our Caesar salads were terrific, so was our South Australian Chardonnay. It was fun to sit and enjoy the show as it walked past out windows, and we loved being just a couple of blocks from the hotel.

Welcome to Colorado

On our first day in Colorado, we were drawn to the Front Range like a magnet. With just enough time for a drive before checking into our hotel, we drove north to Boulder, then into Boulder Canyon. I love how you're instantly in the mountains. This is something that made a deep impression on my last visit to Denver, and I've never forgotten it. We don't have this kind of mountain access here in Washington—there are only 5 east-west mountain passes, and most of the land is national forest or wilderness or national park, with limited access by unpaved forest service roads.

Once through Boulder Canyon, we headed south, still deep in the mountains. Enjoying the twisty roads and views, we suddenly rounded a bend and I said, "Stop!" We're well acquainted with the yellow caution signs about curves ahead, but this is one we've never seen before. I actually got out and photographed it, and plan to share it with my Miata friends. (From here on, whenever we'd see this unique sign, Dave would ask if I wanted another picture of it.)

Have you ever noticed how wildly at odds the suggested speed limits can be to the actual road geometry? There's one near our cabin, just a single curve that drops down a hill, that has the slowest speed I've ever seen—15 mph. Even in the truck, we don't need to slow down this much!

Sports car drivers seek out these awesome twisty roads. And I've heard some of our Miata friends say that when you're driving a sports car, just double the recommended speed and add 10!