Sunday, October 12, 2014

One Last Time into the Mountains

Fraser and Winter Park in the early fall with the Hermansens

Before I left for Kuwait, I got a four-day pass. Rather than go home and say goodbye again and do house chores, Alita and I decided to go to a third space. We did not want to spend most of our precious time driving, so we opted to check out Fraser and Winter Park (Outside of ski season, it’s a little under 2 hours from Boulder or Denver).

Like most towns off of this stretch of I-70, Fraser and Winter Park are more popular as winter destinations (and after than probably summer destinations). Without really planning to, we have found these and similar towns to be fun to visit in the quieter fall.

Hiking, Camping and Fishing

With the logistics of a baby and a 4-day pass, we only managed one of the three. However, we were really pleased to find that in addition to the stunning vista afforded by more rigorous hikes, the area has quite a few hikes that are friendly to those carrying kids (and someday soon enough, slightly more mobile ones). The Winter Park & Fraser Chamber ofCommerce website was the best resource that we (Alita) found. There you can find two pdfs: one of descriptions of good day hikes and a second rough map of the trail system. I say rough map because the trail lines are pretty thick and some of the trailhead locations seem approximate to me.

Vasquez Nature Path

One-way distance: 0.65 miles
Trailhead: 39.901846°, -105.804645°
Elevation gain / loss (south to north): 60 ft, 160 ft

South to North Elevation Profile
While we accessed this trail from the Twin Bridges Trail, it also terminates at a road that can be easily reached and appeared to have parking. While there are a few boulders here and there, the trail is pretty smooth walking.

Bella clears the path of dangerous animals
Vasquez Creek is a small affair but with the path never far from the stream it would be perfect for a future family trip where I might only have an hour or two to fish. It has a few nice shoots and pockets of water that look perfect for doing two to three drifts and moving on.

Alita adds to the beauty of some already good-looking pocket water
Nice little pool on Vasquez Creek
The trail also had what appeared to be two campsites. While I am not sure how official these are, they did look like rather pleasant (and free?) places to stake a tent.

Nice creek-side campsite

Twin Bridges

One-way distance: 0.5 miles
Trailhead: 39.908388°,-105.799972°
Elevation gain /loss (west to east): 150 ft both ways

West to East Elevation Profile
There is space for about three cars about 150 ft past the trailhead. The trail goes down quickly and with some loose gravel, but is not hard walking. The first of the twin bridges comes as the trail crosses Vasquez Creek. Then there is some nice easy walking – although we did go by some curious wood piles and a clearcut.

Some odd little wood piles

Easy walking on the Twin Bridges Trail
The Twin Bridges trail basically ends at the second bridge over Little Vasquez Creek.

Knud Peter checks out Little Vasquez Creek

Discovery, Challenger and Jim Creek Trail

Trailhead: 39.881942°,-105.754783°
Discovery and Challenger Trail Loop: 1.25 miles, 320 ft of gain
Jim Creek Cut-off: 39.881889°,-105.745369°
Jim Creek Trail: 1.9 miles, 840 ft of gain

Counterclockwise Elevation Profile of Discovery - Challenger Trail Loop
Jim Creek Elevation Profile (from the Discovery Trail cut-off)
The Discovery Center features lots of boardwalk and flat wide paths. The trail is shaded for most of the way but also features so great view of the valley. According to the sign at the entrance there is also fishing a short ways off the far side of the Challenger Trail (39.883104°,-105.745955°).

Bella inspects the boardwalk for safety
Wide paths of the Discovery and Challenger Trails
Getting water across the divide to the thirsty front range
We got about a mile (or just under halfway) up the Jim Creek Trail. We did not make it to the meadows which the Winter Park / Fraser Chamber of Commerce touted to have excellent views; we did still get some great view of the other side of the valley which was just beginning to show some fall colors.

Fall colors from Jim Creek. Little man laments that he cannot see them.

Fraser – Winter Park Trail

This bike path parallels Route 40 between Fraser and Winter Park. It would be great if you wanted to use bike transportation, but we skipped it since there were so many great options that got away from the highway.

Eateries and Breweries

Hideway Park Brewery

This place is a new (June 2014) nano-brewery right the Route 40 downtown of Winter Park. True to its nano designation, space is tight and I suspect it will be standing room only come ski season. But in the shoulder season we were able to belly right up to the bar.

The day we showed up they had six offerings on tap – two IPAs (one wet hopped with Colorado hops), two reds, a rye stout and a golden ale. The rye worked really well in the stout – I like it better than I have liked rye in other styles. The Bru Brew IPA was both Alita’s and my favorite although the Pocket Rocket Red was a close second for me. Overall though it was a solid line-up. No food, but they had some popcorn with a fun selection of spices to throw on them.

Looking good

Elevation Pizza

The strip-mall like location of this pizzeria did not set my expectations too high, but I left realizing that Alita had found a great place to pick up a pizza to take back to the cabin. They have pretty good specials for each day of the week, so check it out when you go in or ask when you call. I ended up getting a half-and-half of the Adam Bomb (green chilis, pepperonis and cream cheese) and the Ranger (pesto sauce, spinach, garlic and chicken). Both were amazing even without the days hiking under the belt.

Smokin’ Yards BBQ (Idaho Springs)

While not in Winter Park or Fraser, this was a nice halfway point between our start and our destination that had come highly recommended. If you pass by around a meal time it's worth a stop. You can get to it easily from the first Idaho Springs exit as you head west. The outdoor seating afforded some great views of Clear Creek. We both tried the Carolina Pulled Pork which was a wise choice. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Postcards from Kuwait

For those who don’t know I am hanging out in Kuwait for a little while as a soldier and an engineer. This is not an assignment that will make a good book or movie, but it is one where I have a job where I feel more useful and that I find more satisfying than other jobs I have had overseas.

I will not post much about my day-to-day job. Yes, there is the whole "operational security thing", but more than that, like any job, the stories that come from the daily workings take a while to set up and are probably not that interesting to those outside (unless you really enjoy the process of military construction work orders).

When I deploy, people often ask if I need anything. In truth, the answer is not much – as far as stuff is concerned. Our food and lodging is provided (thank you for paying your taxes). Wonderful organizations send enough Girl Scout cookies and other goodies to give diabetes to ever Soldier, Arab and Filipino in the country. It also still regularly cracks 100 here. Once in Iraq a well-meaning family member sent gummy bears – or at least that’s what the writing of the packet said the fussed gummy block used to be. However, I will put up any postcards or pictures and read all letters.

My room in Iraq with pictures from friends and a giant letter from an elementary school class

In absolute Bliss

We started our journey at Ft. Bliss, Texas. This little post is right next to the west-Texas town of El Paso (and yes, you do find yourself singing Rosie’s Cantina quite often). It is located in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert. While this does not sound that appealing, it has its own beauty. The mountains were still to the west and it’s at close to 4,000 feet so it was a half-way house of sorts between the front range of Colorado and the Arabian desert (An improvement in realistic training from the pre-deployment exercises that prepared us for the mountains of Afghanistan in Ft. Riley, Kansas).

Franklin Mountains: Helping lieutenant at Ft. Bliss find "west" since 1854

Low scrub brush of the Chihuahuan Desert at the M9 range

Energy Efficiency in the Army

The energy engineer in me was also excited to see some of the neat things that Bliss is doing as it bumbles towards the goal of becoming a net zero energy post.

Rooftop solar

Perfect display of window shades done right. Taken at high noon.
Putting the oppressive western Texas sun to use heating water for the dinning facility
If you look closely you can see the occupancy sensor on the thermostat
Shading the cars and getting some power

And for the grand finally: rooftop solar, hot water heating and window shading

One Last Scamper in the States

Our training wrap-up coincided nicely with a race. Ft. Bliss trains air defense soldiers from all of the world to include the Germans (and Japanese). To start Oktoberfest the Germans put on a fun little 5k and 8k. I had a solid run with nicely even splits. While a few young ‘uns rounded out the overall podium, I took 1st in the male 30-39. From the age group award you would think I won the whole shooting match – the German’s take their age group awards seriously.

Heading to the sandbox

Our trip over was unremarkable, but I would be remiss if I did not note the Pease Greeters of Portsmouth, NH. While I would have loved to spend some time with the Bangor greeters, these guys were truly amazing.

These guys are pretty awesome. If you're wondering where all the uniforms are, we had a lot of DA civilians on  our flight.
Best dog coat. Ever.

See you all in a little while.