Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Ghosts of the Plains & Black Hills

There is something intriguing about old Western Ghost Towns, dilapidated windswept barns, and old mining camps, I get a real sense of adventure hunting down these historic relics of the past. Perhaps watching Western TV shows of yesteryear have painted a romantic picture of the Old West, or maybe it's the sense of isolation and peacefulness you feel when you come across these "windows to the past".

The Cheyenne & Black Hills Stage

Perhaps one of the most famous Stagecoach Routes in the west was Cheyenne, WY to Deadwood, SD, known as the Cheyenne & Black Hills Stage. This Stage Route operated between 1876-1886 during the Gold Rush period in the Black Hills, it was notorious for being attacked due to the Gold carried on the Coaches. By 1886 the railroad had finally pushed into central Wyoming and the Black Hills, and the demand for the Stage was no longer there.

There is little evidence left of the Stage route today, but a few reminders do exist. The Stagecoach Museum in Lusk, WY has on display one of the original Stagecoaches from the Cheyenne & Black Hills Stage, there is another one on display in Cody, WY, Buffalo Bill Cody bought one for use in his Western show.

Original Cheyenne & Black Hills Stagecoach

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Black Hills, SD (Northern Half)

On my previous travel post I covered the "Southern Half" of the Black Hills, the Southern half contains 5 of the 8 "Great" sights that made South Dakota famous (Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Jewel Cave, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave). The Northern Half of the Black Hills only contains 1 of the 8, that is Historic Deadwood, but there is plenty more to see than just Deadwood.

Deadwood is at the very northern end of the Black Hills, about 55 miles due north of Custer. This famous gold rush town was first established in the 1870's on what was Native American land, the town was renowned for lawlessness, gambling, prostitution, and plenty of murders. The most famous characters that called Deadwood home were Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, both are buried in the historic Mount Moriah Cemetery that sits above the town.

Wild Bill Hickok Grave

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Black Hills, SD (Southern Half)

The Black Hills of western South Dakota rise up out of the surrounding brown treeless prairie, like an oasis appearing in the middle of a desert. This small area of mountains rise up to 7,244 feet and get their name from the dense evergreen forest that covers them, the mountains remind me of a western equivalent of the "Blue Ridge Mountains".  The Black Hills have long been associated with the Native Americans, but the discovery of gold in 1874 by settlers brought in miners by the boatload, and the gold rush was on.

From my home base in Colorado, the Black Hills are a manageable 300+ mile drive, unfortunately, 250 miles of that drive is through the brown featureless wind blown prairie of Wyoming. You can break up the drive though and stop at some interesting historical points on the route, such as Fort Laramie and the Guernsey ruts (click for info from my blog). Entering the Black Hills from the south you would either be travelling on Highway 18 via Edgemont, or Highway 385/18 via Hot Springs. Edgemont is a very small town built around the railroad, it serves as a change over point for BNSF drivers, there is not much to the town, but the small museum is worth a quick stop, and the wonderful George S. Mickelson Bicycle Trail begins/ends here.

Covered Bridge at the Edgemont museum

Monday, September 11, 2017

Annual Scotfest, Estes Park

This festival is an annual tradition/pilgrimage in our household, or has been since the early 2000's at least. The Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival is now in its 41st year (as of 2017), and is the largest of its kind in the USA. The Festival is held annually over 3 days in September, costs $25 per day/per person, a real bargain!.

Celtic style entertainment

Monday, August 28, 2017

Rugbytown sevens

2017 marks the sixth year the annual Serevi RugbyTown sevens competition has taken place at Infinity Park, Glendale, Colorado. 20 teams take part in this 3-day event, including military teams from the USA, UK, and international teams from Fiji, UK, Cayman Islands, and US league teams.

RugbyTown 7's, Glendale, CO

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lory State Park - Arthur's Rock

Lory State Park is hidden almost out of view, a few miles west of Fort Collins, and directly adjacent to Horsetooth reservoir. The park is 2,591 acres of former ranchland and can be enjoyed on foot, mountain bike or horseback. There are a variety of trails in the park, ranging from an easy 0.1 mile, to a more difficult 4.2 mile climb upwards.

Being our first visit to the park, we decided to tackle the popular "Arthur's Rock Trail", a moderate to difficult out-n-back 3.4 mile round trip hike (1080 feet gain over 1.7 miles). Of course, I mainly just looked at the distance and thought "Oh how hard can this trail be, it's only 3.4 miles", well there is a reason for its difficulty rating as we found out, but it is worth every step!.

Arthur's Rock Trail

Friday, July 28, 2017

South Park City, CO - Part 2

The area around Fairplay sprung to life after Gold was discovered in 1859 in Tarryall Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. Mining camps sprung up all over South Park, but the "Gold Rush" was short lived, and hard-rock mining took over for the next 30 years. When the mining heyday ended, most mining camps were left to decay, except for Fairplay, Alma and Como.

South Park mining history

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

South Park City, CO - Part 1

Nestled in the centre of Colorado lies "South Park City", a historical collection of original buildings from the gold mining heydey of the mid-1800's, opened as a museum to the public in 1959. This museum is actually an extension of the historic main street in the town of Fairplay, which was established in 1859 during the Gold Rush. Fairplay only lies 15 miles east of the town of Leadville as the crow flies, but 72 miles by modern day road, or 85 miles south-west of Denver along highway 285.

South Park City

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wyoming Territorial Prison

Laramie, Wyoming, does not naturally spring to mind as a destination from Northern Colorado (no offence intended). The City of Laramie sits just north of I-80, 50 miles west of Cheyenne, and is perhaps fair to say more of a "Gas Stop" for visitors heading west to the Snowy Range Mountains or Yellowstone, East to Vedauwoo, Gurt Gowdy etc.

Laramie however, is home to a really interesting historic museum, the "Wyoming Territorial Prison", well worth the small $5 entrance fee. This historic prison was built in 1872, and operated for 30 years as Wyoming's only federal penitentiary, its most famous inmate was "Butch Cassidy".

Wyoming Territorial Prison

Thursday, May 18, 2017

London to Brussels - Day 6 (Euroexit & Conclusions)

Day 6: Brussels to London (May 11th, 2017)
3.21 miles, 89' Elev Gain, 6.9% max grade, 11.2 mph Avg (click for route map)

Technically the bike tour was not 100% over, we still had 3.2 miles left to cycle to drop the bikes off in London. Our Eurostar train back to London did not depart Brussels until 12:52, so we had the morning to wander and explore. Brussels is a bit of an odd city, to me it felt like it lacked an identity, the Grand Place and museums are about the only "attractions". It was still pleasant enough to wander around though, and check off the list.

Grand Place

London to Brussels - Day 5 (Flemish to Francais)

Day 5: Ghent to Brussels (May 10th, 2017)
45.9 miles, 646' Elev Gain, 6.7% max grade, 12.4 mph Avg (click for route map)

Ghent was probably the most surprising city we visited on this trip, may be because I had never visited it in the past, and was very pleasantly surprised. Onward to Brussels though, our final day of cycling was upon us. It was another 8am start, mainly just to leave us some leeway for stops, and to be sure we arrived at Eurostar baggage drop off with plenty of time spare to transport all 11 bikes back to London (2 riders were continuing onto Amsterdam).

It was another nice sunny morning, but a chilly 48f (9c). We were all dreading the possibility of having to tackle Tram tracks again, but the worst obstacles we came across getting out of town were cobblestones and a construction site (no health and safety here, we walked the bikes right next to rotating cranes and construction vehicles).

For the first 20 miles we followed the canal and route LF5 again, as we had on Day 4, this was flat and easy going, a good way to get some miles under our belts.

Very peculiar sight along route LF5

London to Brussels - Day 4 (Short and Sweet)

Day 4: Bruges to Ghent (May 9th, 2017)
28.9 miles, 165' Elev Gain, 6% max grade, 14 mph Avg (click for route map)

Day 4 I had originally planned as a full day off in Bruges, with perhaps a short jaunt out to the Dutch border; but after going over routes, distances and timing, I instead opted for a half day off, and a short ride to Gent for an overnight stop.

That extra bit of sleep was definitely welcoming, as was the clear blue skies. First stop was the breakfast bar at Martin's Bruges hotel (included in our room price), this is probably the most lavish breakfast spread I have ever seen at any hotel (full cooked breakfast, fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, freshly squeezed orange juice, cereals, chocolate sprinkles....). Fully loaded with food, it was time to wander for an hour or so, then back by 11am to check out. Most people wandered on their own, or split into small groups, which was not a bad thing.

Beautiful morning

London to Brussels - Day 3 (il Fait Pleut)

Day 3: Dunkirk to Bruges (May 8th, 2017)
59.7 miles, 187' Elev Gain, 4% max grade, 13.4 mph Avg (click for route map)

Another early start, since our longest ride day lay ahead. The hotel breakfast was lacking the heartiness of a good old English fry up, and it appeared some other hungry guests had wiped out most of the cheeses and meats on offer, c'est la vie!. Unlike Day 2 through Kent, the landscape was going to be as flat as a pancake (note only 187' of elevation gain!), but the weather outside looked to be a little damper and heavily overcast.

We were all ready to roll close to 8am, we were starting to get more efficient at packing the Apidura bags, and attaching them to the bikes!. A light mist was in the air, and a breeze began to kick up, it was looking like a rain jacket and helmet cover type of day.

Immediately after setting off, a light drizzle set in, this would be with us all day, off and on, with about a 50f (10c) temperature. The going was easy though, it almost felt like sitting and spinning in your lowest gear, quite the contrast from the Kent hills. We reached the first French town at mile marker 13 in under an hour, this is the pretty walled town of Bergues and was worth a 10 minute stop to take some snaps.

Clo Posing for a pic

London to Brussels - Day 2 (Downs, more like Ups)

Day 2: Rochester to Dover to Dunkirk (May 7th, 2017)
49.7 miles, 3215' Elev Gain, 13%+ grades, 12.6 mph Avg (click for route map)

The morning of Day 2 arrived a little too soon for those who decided to camp out at the local pub the previous night (this would be a re-occurring theme for a few of us during the tour). We had planned to meet for breakfast at 7am, and get on the road by 8am, today we had a deadline to make Dover by 3 pm for our ferry connection to France. The Youth Hostel breakfast consisted of the usual suspects (cereal, yoghurts, fruits, and of course a hearty English cooked breakfast), hot breakfast was the only way to go when you have a calorie burning hilly ride day ahead.

YHA Medway - Image from YHA website

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

London to Brussels - Day 1 (The long lunch)

Day 1: London to Rochester (May 6th, 2017)
38.5 miles, 1792' Elev Gain, 10% max grades, 11.4 mph Avg (click for route map)

2 years almost to the day had passed since my first European cycling adventure when myself and 2 friends leisurely cycled from London to Paris, it was an adventure that had me yearning for more. After a year in the planning, cycling adventure numero deux had finally arrived, I was going to be guiding 12 other riders (9 Americans, 3 Brits, 1 Irish woman) from London to Brussels. Most of the non-European citizens had been to Europe before, if only once, but this journey would still be an experience of a lifetime for most.

Arriving into London on Friday, May 5th, I felt pretty excited to be guiding 12 other cyclists across 2 international borders (UK/France and France/Belgium) over the coming 5 days, the 2015 adventure had certainly given me some useful insights, confidence and UK/European route planning skills.

The iconic Shard building in Southwark

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Golden Gate Canyon State Park - a winter workout

Golden Gate Canyon State Park is 1 of 42 Colorado State parks, and only lies 16 miles north-west of Golden, and within an hour of Denver. The park has more than 12,000 acres of land to enjoy, and a variety of mountain scenery ranging from sweeping views to green meadows, to groves of aspen. Since the park is so close to Denver, it does get a lot of foot traffic, and the campsites get booked in advance at peak season.

The park can be enjoyed in all seasons whether you are on foot, bicycle, horseback or snowshoes. The first place I recommend stopping at is the Visitors Center, the center houses a small exhibit about the park and the wildlife, has free maps and brochures, and they can issue the $7 daily park fee.

Our first visit to the park was during winter with the intention to snowshoe, but traction devices were all that was needed on the compacted snow and ice, and we virtually had the trails to ourselves. The park volunteer recommended heading for the Horseshoe Trailhead to get a first taste of the park, this Trailhead is the beginning of the Horseshoe trail, a moderate 1.8 mile steady climb up to Frazer Meadow.

Start of Horseshoe Trail

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rocky Mountain NP - a Park for All Seasons

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, was established as the USA's tenth park in 1915, the National Park is approximately 80 miles north of Denver and sits between the town of Estes Park to the East and Grand Lake to the west. The park encompasses 415 sq. miles of protected wilderness and natural beauty, and boasts the highest continuously paved road in North America "Trail Ridge Road". The park elevation sits between 7,860 feet and 14,259 feet, and for those coming from sea level the altitude can make you feel light-headed and long for more oxygen.

The park is open year round (fee required), and each different season has something new to offer the visitor, late May through to late September sees the most amount of visitors.

The snow starts falling in the park in late Fall (or sometimes earlier). Trail Ridge Road closes typically mid-October, the crowds thin out, and wildlife and solitude return to this wilderness. I love visiting the park in the winter, you really get a feel for the harshness that winter brings, but at the same time, you get to feel a peacefulness without the crowds.
Depending on how harsh the winter is, you can easily explore the park still on foot or in the car, hiking may require snowshoes or traction devices, and backcountry experience if venturing off the beaten path.

Moraine Park is a large open meadow area close to the Beaver Meadows entrance and is a great place to spot wildlife year round. Cub Lake and Fern Lake trails start from Moraine Park and are both accessible during winter.

Windswept Moraine Park