Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Westcliffe Wrap

Howdy, Friends and Family.  Home again.  Here are some notes on the end of our stay in Westcliffe:

Lake Isabel.

Friday's outing du jour was a mountain backroads drive to Lake Isabel -- about 45 miles SE of Westcliffe.  Our motorcycle-riding neighbor had recommended the drive and the restaurant at the lake.  So we headed there for lunch.  The road climbs from the Wet Mountain Valley into the Wet Mountains.  (Isn't it interesting, the difference between the names given the two mountain ranges that encompass the Valley - Wet on one side, Sangre de Cristo on the other.  I suspect the Sangres (which extend south to Santa Fe) were named from the other (west) side - glowing red at sunset.)  We topped out at 10,700 ft.  First two-thirds of the journey was through mountain ranch land, with a scattering of remote cabins thrown in.  Here are a couple of pictures:

A lot of the road was pretty washboarded.  It's hard to find an optimum speed on that type of a road.  Susie didn't like 60 mph.

Last third was through the San Isabel National Forest.  We finally connected with the highway near Bishop's Castle and proceeded to the lake and its restaurant. Menu touted a Tex-Mex theme, but I went Okie with chicken-fried steak and Susie had fried spaghetti - tasted good, but very garlicy.

The Wikipedia link above says Lake Isabel served two social purposes: it was considered "placation" for the Ludlow Massacre (we visited that site last year) in which 18 civilians were killed by the CO National Guard in 1914. That sort of reparation is rather unusual.  Also, the lake was an early effort by Teddy Roosevelt to set aside national forest areas for public use - for tourists, in other words.

We took a route home that was mostly paved highway.

Chuckwagon Dinner and Show.

Saturday's big event was a chuckwagon dinner followed by a Sons and Brothers show.  This was held at a ranch in the valley called A Painted View Ranch - really.  I'd guess it means that the view from there is as good as a painting.  The goal of the owners, as stated by the manager/emcee, is to keep the West in Westcliffe.  The ranch has a large arena and accompanying facilities, of which there's a nice picture at the ranch website, that is used for various equestrian events.  This past week it was the scene of a cutting horse competition.  I went out on Saturday morning and watched some of that - kids in the 9 - 11 years-old category, from all over the west.  Junior and adult divisions later in the day.  Fascinating, but to a novice viewer, gets a little repetitive.  The horse makes lots of acrobatic moves to prevent a separated calf from returning to its herd.  The rider hangs on for dear life, though I suppose he or she may be communicating via knee pressure and body language.

Anyhow, the ranch also puts on a summer series of chuckwagon dinners and shows.  We didn't know about these dinner shows when we made our RV reservations to encompass three weekends, but bought tickets when we found about the show.  Thus, we book-ended our Westcliffe vacation with Sons and Brothers concerts.  The emotional highlight was when they did a John Denver song to celebrate the birthday of his uncle who was in the audience.  Here's the Youtube link to John Denver performing the song, Wild Montana Skies.  The song's chorus:

Oh Montana, give this child a home
Give him the love of a good family and a woman of his own
Give him a fire in his heart, give him a light in his eyes
Give him the wild wind for a brother and the wild Montana skies

You don't have to be from Montana to feel the emotion of this song.

The uncle and his wife were sitting in the row in front of us and they were very touched.  Next to them was a couple from La Veta, CO - about an hour and a half from Westcliffe.  They (in their 70s, I'd say) identified themselves as Sons and Brothers groupies, so we had a good visit at intermission.

Book Report.

I like travel books and on this trip I picked up an unusual one  - The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman.  You know it's not infrequent to see news reports about travel disasters, mainly in the third world: ferry sinking in Bangladesh, train crash in India, bus runs off road in South America, tourists kidnapped in Africa, ... .   Besides these sorts of risk, there's general squalor and filth to deal with.  (One of the scariest  scenes for me was riding rush hour trains in Mumbai.)

Well, Hoffman decided to spend a few months traveling as many such dangerous, undesirable modes of travel as he could.  His thesis was that there's a big difference between travel-for-pleasure (like motor homes to Colorado) and life-necessitated travel by millions of the world's poorest people and we need to know more about those people and the risks they take in order to survive.  He never felt threatened or in danger, in part because, in spite of language and cultural barriers, he usually found, or was found by, someone who took him under their wing.  Yet, at the end he felt he never really connected with the people he met.  But, then, maybe he shouldn't have expected to in his relatively brief opportunities.  It was fascinating reading.

And In Conclusion

In all our visits to Westcliffe, I've driven by the Custer County Courthouse many times, but never took a picture.  Doesn't quite have the grandeur of Texas or midwest courthouses, but here it is.

As I look back over this year's Westcliffe postings, I see I haven't inserted some pictures from my early morning explorations.  So, here are some.

A local photographer has a gallery in Westcliffe and his picture of this next barn is one of his featured shots. He told me where the barn is located and I made several morning pass-bys waiting for the sun to break through morning clouds.

This one I think I've done before.

(I could just insert pictures from previous years and hope/expect that nobody would know it, but that would be journalistically wrong.)

Here are a couple of pictures of the historic Beckwith Ranch, located just north of Westcliffe.

The first influx into the valley of European settlers was generated by silver and gold finds.  The mining boom didn't last long, though, and was followed by ranching interests.  Two brothers from Maine, the Beckwiths, built a large ranching empire in the state and their farm buildings have been preserved and are being restored.  As the website says, Elton and his wife, Elsie, gave the ranch the air of an English country estate with cottages and a ballroom. Not far away was an area known as The English Settlement, but no buildings remain of it.

One more picture - approaching the valley.  Autocorrect may have outdone itself on this one, but I'll go with it.

Our drive home on Sunday was uneventful and we were later treated at home to a thundershower and substantial rain.   I should note that the Wet Mountain Valley is not very wet this year, as you can see in several of our pictures.  Thundershowers threatened several times during our stay, and danced around the mountains, but not much came of them down in the Valley. 

I also want to say a word about the Grape Creek RV Park where we stayed.  The owners had just taken over the park when we were here a year ago.  They've done a lot of work since then to improve the park - added a clubhouse, added tons of gravel to the parking sites and roads, spruced up the grounds, etc.  When someone leaves, the owners (husband and wife) are out there immediately with rake and broom to prep the site for the next arrival.  We greatly enjoyed our extended stay this year.  May do it again some time.

Stay tuned.  It's not a TuziTrip, but we're going to Ireland and England in mid-August and will be posting that adventure.

Rob and Susie

Friday, July 22, 2011

Westcliffe - 6 - Problems and Solutions

Some people enjoy hearing about our 'problems' encountered along our travels.  Two so far:

1. My CPAP machine failed just after we got to Westcliffe.  There was a power outage one night, and after that the CPAP wouldn't power up.  Coincidence?  I don't know.  Spent some frustrating time on the phone (frequently dropped or nonexistent connections out here in the wilderness) trying to find out if I could get a repair or a replacement somewhere nearby in CO.  After a couple of days I found out that Walgreen's is no longer my supplier, HME is.  In between we drove to Canon City because a person in the Westcliffe Clinic told us about an agency there that provides their respiratory equipment.  The C Canyon lab, though, told me that they couldn't do anything without a prescription, which I don't carry with me. (Note. next time)  A follow-up call to the Walgreen's supplier in CO Springs led to the discovery that I wasn't their patient any more.  So, I started over phoning the new supplier.

Without the CPAP I snore - loudly.  Consequently, I’m sleeping on the couch – my choice.,,, (Susie,here: absolutely his choice…methinks he likes it that way….and, hey, who am I to complain!)  Susie says I don't stop breathing, though, so I don't think I'm killing off too many brain cells in the meantime.  And who would notice?  We get home Sunday and I've got an appt. to get new machine on Monday

2. At church Sunday we visited a couple who were on their way to a family reunion in Buena Vista (I think I mentioned this).  We decided to drive to BV on Monday.  About 20 miles north of here, the Explorer's engine died.  Wouldn't re-start.  A nice family heading to Westcliffe stopped and offered to help.  I was going to give them our AAA info and ask them to call when they got to phone service (naturally, none where the car quit).  Decided to try car again - it started.  Decided to press on, because that would take us closer to Salida where we could get mechanic help, if needed.

About four miles later, the engine died.  At this point we are on a road that is descending to the Arkansas River canyon and US 50, so we coasted on down – not easy with no power brakes or steering – another three miles and ended up behind the Cotopaxi Store, safely parked, not embedded.  This is a combination general store, cafĂ©, gas station, civic center – historic.  They even have live music on Thursday nights.  And a friendly owner.  And enough fame that there is a YouTube video about it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7L88rU6YaiM).  Says it’s the store that "has almost everything, in the center of everything."

Still no cell phone access, but the owner pointed me to the store’s rotary-dial phone (pastel blue!) and I called AAA and in due course a tow truck came and picked us up and hauled us in to Salida.  Meanwhile, we had lunch, Susie bought a book to read, I read the Denver Post and did the crosswords, and we watched the flow of humanity through Cotopaxi. 

The tow truck driver, it turned out, had lived for a while in Albuquerque and it wasn’t long before we got his life story and philosophy – 26 miles into Salida.  He was a nice, intelligent guy – proud Army veteran and the son and grandson of Army vets, former Salida policeman, devoted father to 2-yr. old daughter and surrogate father to his girlfriend’s three daughters, and very helpful.  I had suggested taking car to Ford dealer, but he said that would be bad idea – they wouldn’t get to me quickly and wouldn’t do good work.  He took us to another mechanic who did diagnose the problem right away – fuel pump failed (and after only 166,000 miles).  He could get replacement the next day, Tuesday, and perhaps get it installed then.

So, what should we do?  We asked about rental cars – so we could drive back to Westcliffe.  Jason, our tow truck driver called Salida’s car rental place.  They didn’t have a car available.  Well, guess we’d stay in Salida.  Jason called Hampton Inn for us and then drove us down there.  We weren’t looking forward to 24 hrs. in the Hampton Inn with only the (sweaty) clothes on our backs and other regions and no way to get around town, but what choice did we have?  As we were about to check in, the desk clerk asked if we might prefer to go back to Westcliffe.  Turns out his girl friend does some informal taxi driving.  She could take us “home” and come get us when the car was ready – for about the same cost as one night in Hampton Inn.  Sounded good to us, so a little while later Jentle (pronounced Jen – Tell) picked us up and we headed for Westcliffe (about 60 miles).

Susie sat in the front seat and soon got Jentle’s life story.  Here's her report:  Jentle lived in Florida until she was eight years old (I think with her biological parents---maybe foster parents). Anyway, her new foster parents loaded up all their biological children as well as their foster children in two vans and moved to Salida for a new job for the father…..the kicker is that at that time they had about 20 children.  When they got to Salida they took in six more children…..Jentle says they never could refuse a needy child.  Well, the social workers decided that they had too many kids so they removed eight of them from the home (one being a three year old boy that they had had since he was born).  She  said they all were taken care of…..all finished high school and two in college (a few young ones still at home)…so her adoptive parents were devastated when the eight children were taken away.  I understand that most of the children have now been legally adopted so she says she has 27 brothers and sisters.  A sweet girl who is making something of her life and so appreciative of the people she calls Mom and Dad.

When we got back to RV park, I told park owner about our car situation.  Also asked her to let us know if she hears about any park residents planning to go to Salida on Tuesday.  It occurred to me on the way home that it would be more convenient and cheaper if we could catch a ride than to have to call Jentle and have her come out.  Meanwhile, Susie talked to RVers parked near us and they said they were going to Salida on Wednesday, if it turned out that we needed to go then. On Tuesday other neighbors offered to take us to grocery store or wherever, if we needed something. (Susie was actually happy, I think, that I couldn’t plan an outing.)  Also, I talked to the couple from Sioux City that we had met at church (see, it's good to go to church!) and found out they were planning to go to Salida Tuesday p.m. – no particular schedule.  I wheedled invitation from them to hitch a ride.  About 2 pm, though, I talked to mechanic who was working on car, but said you’d better plan on Wednesday.

Car was ready Wed. morning, so we rode to Salida with Dick and Jane -- Nash, from San Antonio.  (Our RV park has quite a few TX rigs and their owners all say, Had to get out of the heat.)  They were moving to a Salida RV park for three days, then on to other stops in CO.  Dick and Jane had a dog named Spot (even though he was spotless) and another dog named Maggie. (Susie's late cousin, Jane, was married to Dick and they had a spotted dog named Spot.  What a coincidence!)  We had a good visit - he a retired AF guy, she a retired mid-school teacher -- and went to lunch with them after we got our car.  (The place we went was across from the Hampton and recommended by Jason - that's why he picked Hampton, so we could walk to good restaurant.)

After lunch we drove about 25 miles further north to Buena Vista where we checked out the possible site (Rainbow Lake Resort) for a future family reunion (also wanted to stay in an area that had mechanics and cell phone service)  There’s a lot to do in that area: white water rafting (best in the state, they say), hiking, mountain biking, fishing, 4-wheeler driving, horseback riding, zip lining, … .  My sister, Connie, wants a reunion in 2014 when she retires after 100 years of homeschooling her six boys (actually 78 boy-years: 6 boys times 13 years, K-12, but I'll give her extra credit).  I’m not sure they’ll let Susie and me ride a zip line at the ages we will be, so we’d like sooner.  We’ll see.

Made a Wal-Mart stop in Salida and came on home.

Hope there are no more problems to dutifully report.

Oops.  Handle on TV antenna broke before we left home, so we can only watch satellite channels – no major networks.  We're gettin' by, though.

Wednesday evening we were treated to good omens:  rainbow and colorful sunset

Susie and Rob

Westcliffe - 5 - Music Pass and Lower Sand Creek Lake

Greetings, Family and Friends:

I've been wanting to do some hiking in the Westcliffe area and our neighbor, who has been spending all summer here for several years (from Texas, you might guess) - he and his wife go on motor cycle excursions in this area and beyond - recommended Music Pass.  So, that's where I headed early Thursday morning.  I had a goal of hiking to a high mountain lake and this trek had the advantage of being the shortest hike from trail head to lake that I could find in the area.

The trail head is about 15 miles south of us, 9 miles of pavement, 3.5 of washboarded dirt road, 2.5 of pretty challenging (for me) jeep trail.  But, the Explorer handled it well.  Couldn't help thinking - Boy, sure glad I have a new fuel pump, and, Good thing it didn't wait until now to fail.  Got to the trail head soon after 8 am.

The trail to Lower Sand Creek Lake (there's also an Upper lake), in round numbers, consists of a mile and a quarter hike to Music Pass, climbing about 700 ft., a one mile, 400 ft. descent to the Sand Creek basin, then a one mile, 500 ft. climb to the lake (which is at an elev. of 11,500 ft.).  Some might call it "rolling terrain."  I called it a more than adequate challenge.

This website: Music Pass, says the pass got the name because the wind in the mountains here can sound musical.  You know, Julie Andrews said it best: The hills are alive with the sound of ... .  A forest service sign at the pass says Zebulon Pike crossed here, back in the day when he was exploring Colorado and finding the peak with his name on it.

Here are some pix:

Pastoral scene on the approach.  I'm a sucker for cattle ranches backed by soaring mountain ranges and dramatic skies.

Approaching Music Pass.

I took this picture because I assumed that was the pass ahead.  Typically, though, that was false impression - still a little further to go.  At one time you could drive a jeep to the top of the pass, but not now.

When you cross Music Pass you go from National Forest to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.  The trail down the back (west) side of the pass takes you to the Dunes.  It's a popular hiking locale.  In the meadow in the Sand Creek basin there were several backpacking groups and tents.

Here's the Lower Sand Creek Lake.  I believe the peak in the first picture is Tijeras Peak.

After I got back to the pass I took this picture looking across at the valley in which the lake is situated, beneath Tijeras Peak.

At the pass I met a couple of men who had driven up from Raton, NM to do some hiking and fishing and we had a good visit and hiking discussion.  There's a sign at the pass saying Lower Sand Creek Lake, 3 mi.  The map I  was carrying indicated 2 mi.  I hiked back from the lake to the pass in one hour and I know I can't do three miles per hour in that sort of terrain.  Besides, I stopped to take pictures, like this one of purple-hued pine cones.

Here's a picture of the road down from the trail head - doesn't really do the road justice, though.  Lots of big humps, erosion control I think, where I really expected to drag, but didn't.

One more shot of the ranch lands below.

There's something very poignant about abandoned farms.  You wonder about the tales those walls could tell - the labor and dreams that went into establishing a homestead and the heartaches when the dreams died - the day the music died ... .


Rob and Susie

Monday, July 18, 2011

westcliffe - 4, Rodeo weekend

Another weekend, another parade.  Actually, it'd been 12 days since the Creede July 4 parade.  This one featured lots of fire trucks, all of them belonging to the Wet Mountain Fire District.  Hope you like fire truck pictures.

We were here two or three years ago for the rodeo parade and then all of the trucks were spraying the crowd.  Things have changed.  We had this:

Here's the scene after the parade: teams of kids spraying each other with fire hoses.

Incidentally, lots of smoke in the air on this Saturday.  Were told that it was probably from NM.

As mentioned previously, famous fiddler and accomplished equestrienne, Heidi Clare, was in the parade.

Her horse is doing a trick - waving to the crowd.

Our second Westcliffe weekend continued Saturday afternoon at the Westcliffe Stampede rodeo.  You know what rodeos look like, but here's a picture.

Sunday we attended the local Methodist Church.  The preacher was new this summer.  In fact, this is her first assignment as a pastor.  She joked about having a severe case of dry-mouth a couple of weeks ago on her first Sunday, but so far seems to be loving her opportunity here.  She lived and raised a family in Tucson, then decided to go to seminary and embark on a second career.  That's a common route for entering ministers these days.  Anyhow, sanctuary was well-filled and the folks were friendly. 

We picked up a possible lead on a family reunion site near Buena Vista that we'll check out - not too far from here.  We also visited with a couple who happened to be staying at our campground.  The couple were here  because they have purchased property in this area to build a home in a year after he retires: He is a Methodist minister in Sioux City.

We finished the day watching the exciting women's World Cup game - tough loss for USA, but Japan did what they had to do.

Have a good week.  Should be a quiet week here. We're heading home next Sunday.

Susie and Rob

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Westcliffe - 3, Bishop Castle

Over the years we had seen mention of the Bishop Castle in Guides to the area, but had never gone – it’s about 40 miles SE of Westcliffe.  So, on Thursday we went.  Amazing!  It’s this very  unique one man project. 

Since 1969 Jim Bishop has been building his castle on a site in the Wet Mountains that he bought when he dropped out of high school.  For a time he also worked in the family’s decorative iron business, so there’s a lot of decorative iron in the castle, but now he subsists and finances construction from donations from visitors.

He has signs around the property explaining his views of and battles with government and how he won the right to keep the Castle open 24/7(daylight hours) and not charge admission.  By signing the guest book, I think you sign away the right to sue if injured – and the potential for injury is great.  There were a couple of very nervous grandparents climbing around when I was, shrieking at their grandchildren – DON’T GO THERE!  Or, "I’m standing here so I can take a picture to show your mother how you fell."

The tallest tower is 160 ft.  Here I’m standing on wire-mesh catwalk between the towers.  However, the catwalk dead-ends just to the left of where I am – there is no connection to the next tower, yet, but there is a roped-off ladder supporting the unfinished end.

Tight circular stairways wind through the towers.

Bishop’s current project is building a moat around the castle.  I heard someone mutter, If I was building a place like this, one of the first things I would do is put in living quarters.  Living quarters are in a separate building that houses a gift shop and residence.  That started out to be a family cabin, but Bishop had other ideas.  And, yes, Bishop is/was married.

Here I am in the bubble at the top of the shorter tower:

I'm sure you realize that Susie stayed on the ground and took these pictures of me on high.

And, here I'm at the very top, inside that little cone.

One of the panicked grandparents I mentioned said her grandson was hanging outside the cone.

One more picture.

There's a fireplace in the massive ballroom in the castle designed so that the smoke comes out of the dragon's mouth. The clouds kind of look like that here.

So, if you're ever in the area, go see the Bishop Castle.  I know several of you make occasional trips to Denver.  Northbound, take the Colorado City exit off I-25 and take CO 165 to the Castle. Southbound, exit at Pueblo. Beautiful mountain scenery along the way, too.

Don't think I've shown you the traditional Sangre de Cristo shot from the Grape Creek RV Park where we're staying.  Here's a recent moonset.

Barn pictures to come.

Rob and Susie

Westcliffe - 2, Jeff and Malia visit

The week started when Jeff and Malia drove down Monday to spend a night with us, bringing their own tent so Malia could find out what it's like to go camping (and Jeff could find out what it's like to go camping with a 5 yr. old).

It started out like this - watching a video in Tuzigoot.

But, Malia soon tired of that and we got into other genuine camping activities like walking around the campground and playing in the dirt.  She and I wreaked havoc on the ant population on our site.  Susie had given her a plastic bowl and a kitchen spoon so she’d fill the bowl with dirt, then dump it on an unwary ant.  If that didn’t do them in, hitting them with the spoon generally would.  When we'd walk, which was pretty often, she'd "sneak" up on Tuzigoot, hoping to scare Jeff and Susie who were calmly sipping coffee and visiting. 

(When sneaking, she’d act as though she could hide behind this site marker.)

Malia had hoped for a campfire, but those are outlawed right now - serious fire north of Westcliffe, now contained but with controlled burning continuing, and very dry - so we did microwave Smores.

This week is County Fair and Rodeo week in Westcliffe and I'd read that exhibits would be open on Tuesday.  Thought Malia and even the adults would like to experience a county fair, so we went.  We got to the fairgrounds and the only activity going on was in the horse arena.  We watched one rider enter the arena, then ride her horse in a prescribed course around some cones.  There was no second rider.  The PA announcer, after a short pause, announced the first prize winner in the senior division of controlled riding (or some such category) and that was it.  Only one rider in that class!  I should have realized that the number of entries was pretty small when I heard only two places announced for winners in the junior division in some other category as we entered the arena.  When the riders were called for the junior division and we only saw two horses, we decided it was time to leave.  This is not the sort of county fair I remember from my youth in Kay County, Oklahoma.  I looked it up.  My road atlas says the population of Custer County is 3503, 2000 Census. That's about what the population of Tonkawa, OK was.  Guess county youth, though, aren't much into livestock.   

Postscript.  Fair schedule said Friday was the day for showing beef cattle.  Susie and I went out for that.  I mean, we see lots of cattle from our RV park.  Surely, there are a few kids around to show them.  We found out that there were only three (!) beef cattle entered in the fair.  We couldn’t stand the suspense so left and went to lunch.  Had fish and chicken.

Continuing our search for something exciting for Malia to do in Westcliffe we went to the city park   

As Jeff said, this must be one of the last merry-go-rounds in the country that the lawyers haven't had removed yet.

Then we went to lunch at the bowling alley, after which Jeff and Malia headed back to Highlands Ranch, their big camping adventure was over.  We had a good time.  Glad they came.

Next up - an account of our visit to Bishop's Castle.  Stay tuned. You won't want to miss that.

Susie and Rob

Westcliffe - 1. Bluegrass

As long-time, avid readers know, we've been coming to the Westcliffe High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival for several years now.  Well, we're here again.  But first a sad note - friends Bill and Connie Lacy have often come, too, in their motor home.  If I recall correctly, Bill was in cancer treatment last summer and couldn't come then.  He succumbed to cancer in January.  We really miss him.  He could sit through eight hours of bluegrass with the best of them.

There are two host bands for the festival: the Dry Branch Fire Squad and Sons and Brothers.  I heard Dry Branch back in the 70s and 80s in a different incarnation in the Washington DC area.  The leader both now and then is Ron Thomason who, around 10 years ago bought a ranch in the Westcliffe area and moved out here. His experience has really helped to attract top bands to the festival. He’s a horseman of some renown as well as being a great musician and story teller.  I moved some of Dry Branch's recordings to the top of the Tuzigoot playlist so you can hear them, if you’d like to.   

Dry Branch traditionally starts the Sunday morning festival session with a gospel set.  They do some old-time numbers with old-time passion that always choke me up.  Thomason says that the litmus test that separates hard core bluegrass fans from casual fans is whether you like gospel music.  A member of another band mentioned Dry Branch’s YouTube recording of The Little Old Church By The Road and you can listen to it here.  Little Old Church By The Road.

Sons and Brothers is a band that started by a Westcliffe family, who also launched what has become the High Mountain bluegrass festival.  The band consisted of Dad and his three sons.  Dad died tragically a couple of years ago of cancer but the band has continued.  They added Uncle Fred and a (brother-in-law) drummer, so it's still a family band.  Uncle Fred plays an electric guitar and they like to kid him and say that they have to keep him on his meds so he doesn't get out of control.  The emcee threatened to remove all frets above the fifth from his guitar, saying there's just no need to go there at a bluegrass festival.

The band plays music with country, western, and bluegrass elements, but have moved well beyond to hard-driving, fast, loud, electrified and drummified, but I still like it.   I couldn’t find a video or recording to link to.  Sorry about that.  Turns out they are playing at a chuck wagon dinner here in the Valley next week so we bought tickets.

As always the Festival lineup included a good mix of music styles. One of the groups was a duo who call themselves The Moron Brothers – good ole boys from Kentucky who told stories and corny jokes and played down-home music.  I think we heard them here a few years ago because some of the jokes seemed familiar.  Like the one about the guy who bought a parakeet, but it wouldn’t talk.  Took it back to the pet store and was told, You need to file his beak a little.  Came back a week later and said, The bird died.  Well, did you file his beak off like I said?  Yep.  Well, what happened?  I think he was dead when I took his head out of the vise.

Anyhow, the more moronic of the brothers talked about driving to Westcliffe from Pueblo (which he pronounced Poo-ba-low):  Saw a sign saying Watch for Elk.  Watched.  Didn’t see any.  A little bit later, saw another sign saying Watch for Falling Rocks.  So, they were looking up at the mountainside for falling rocks, when Bang.  They ran into an elk!

I made notes so I could tell you more of the Morons’ stories.  One note is water/mouse.  Wish I could remember what that one was about.

Couple goes to Wal-Mart.  Man wants to buy some beer, but wife says, No, we can’t afford that.  Times are tough.  But, she buys some make-up.  He says, Why’d you do that?  Thought we couldn’t afford such things.  She says, I just wanted to make myself look good for you.  He: That’s what the beer was for!

Take my wife.  Please!  The Brothers had one more version of that classic line.  Man robs a bank.  He knows he's been recognized by bystanders, so he goes to one and asks: Did you see me rob that bank?  Man says Yes.  Bang, Shoots him dead.  Goes to a second man.  Same thing. Bang.  Goes to a third man.  Did you see me rob that bank?  Man: No, but my wife did.  A bit gruesome (my apologies to all wives out there), but funny in the right situation.
Here's a picture of the Moron Brothers..

You can see and hear the Moron Brothers here.  They have a rather unique houseboat.

 Another Kentucky group was the Roan County Hilltoppers.

 The woman and the seated man are original Hilltoppers.  According to Wikipedia, the group attained some fame back in the 80s and were visited by Boy George and the Sex Pistols - to learn about pitch and harmony, I guess.  The other band members above were recruited for this gig.  The woman plays a washtub bass - a stick and rope attached to the tub - and did the talking.  The seated man (I think these two are husband and wife) plays fiddle, banjo, and guitar left-handed - but not with the strings reversed.  He taught himself to play this way, she said, because when he told his Dad he wanted to play left-handed, Dad said, Nobody ever played a fiddle left-handed, so it was a challenge.  He showed 'im.

The Hilltoppers almost didn't go on.  The airline lost her stick.  Luckily, the local hardware store came up with a post-hole digger handle and that seemed to work just fine.  Not exactly Yo Yo Ma equipment required.

The rest of the festival lineup was more conventional bluegrass except for one three-woman band who seemed entirely too impressed with themselves and their arrangements.  Seeing them once was enough.  Susie and I knew when to schedule our breaks the rest of the time  Incidentally, Susie spent quite a bit of time at the festival because, for one reason, the fact that we'll be in Westcliffe two more weeks means she'll have plenty of time to browse the stores, etc.

One more performer I want to mention is Heidi Clare (a stage name, I think, as in, I declare it shore is good to see you).  She's one of the best fiddlers ever, I'd say, and several years ago she was in a band that hit it big, The Reel Time Travelers, playing old-time and old-time sounding music.  They toured with performers from the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?  The band came from NE Tennessee and played in a couple of High Mountain festivals and I think Heidi and other members even joined Dry Branch on stage for a few numbers.  Then, the band broke up.  I don't know anybody who could give me the inside scoop.  A year later, Heidi showed up alone here and sitting in with Dry Branch and, especially, doing a set with Ron Thomason of that band.  That's continued, so now, it's pretty clear to us that they're an item, but we're not sure whether to blame Heidi or Ron for the breakup, not only of the Travelers but of her marriage to a guy in that band.

More importantly, though, she really plays the fiddle - a very physical, even athletic, style.  She also clogs - that's a dance, not something you do to drains.  A YouTube video that includes both fiddling and clogging is here.  Gotta see and hear it to believe it.

[Note added a week later, 7-16.  Heidi rode a horse in the Westcliffe Rodeo parade, all decked out in formal riding gear.  Didn't see Ron.  More on the parade in a later posting.]

I'll leave you with a picture of downtown Westcliffe with the festival tent at the end of Main Street.

See, what you do in the early morning here in Westcliffe is stop by the filling station and pick up a Denver Post, then you go to the Amish bakery and get some orange juice and pastries and sit out front and read the paper.  Then, you go back to Tuzigoot and tell Susie, Time for bluegrass!

As I write this, this week we're finding out what Westcliffe after Bluegrass is like.  Stand by.

Rob and Susie

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Royal Gorge

Wednesday we followed the Arkansas River for about an hour to Royal Gorge.  Sterling and I walked the bridge and rode the inclined railroad down to the river level and the aerial tramway across the gorge.  Plans are to string zip lines across the gorge, whenever they can overcome various permission issues.  Should be quite a thrill, says one who has never done a zip line.  Susie doesn't do heights, so she relaxed in Tuzigoot.

The bridge is nearly 1000 ft. above the river and about a quarter-mile across.  Here are some pictures:

It's not easy fishing from 1000 ft. above the water, but if you're so inclined, please note the warning.

 Looking down.

That RR track used to carry regular rail travel.  Now, it's just for a tourist train from nearby Canon City and an occasional freight train.  At the Cotopaxi KOA I had asked, When do the trains come by?(I wanted the dramatic picture.)  Son, there hasn't been regular service for eight years.

Looking up.

 The inclined railroad, for those inclined.

Looking up.

Looking down.

We continued on Wed. p.m. to Chatfield State Park, near where Jeff Easterling and family live.  Had a nice evening with them, then safely delivered Sterling the next day into the hands of TSA in DIA for his flight back to hot Oklahoma.  'Twas great to have him with us for a 10-day visit and Colorado trip.  Good memories and experiences for all.

We got back to Chatfield early enough that we decided to hook up Tuzigoot and head for Westcliffe and actually got there early enough to hear most of the evening's bluegrass festival session.  For several years we've been coming to Westcliffe for their bluegrass weekend (the weekend after July 4) and have thought about, maybe yearned, to stay longer.  This year we are.  Will be here through two more weekends.  We'll be in touch.

Susie and Rob