Today was our big day, big because we made it to the highest elevation of our entire trip: 14,000 feet in the air, at the top of Mt. Evans. It'll take a minute to get there, though.
We awoke to find that Mark was with Rachel and Aaron at a soccer tournament. The kids are just like their old man: fitness fanatics, and in incredible shape. It's really cool to see kids that love to run and exercise and have fun, especially when you look around at the rest of America, as we get fatter and fatter and more like Weeble-Wobbles every day. (By the way, both kids won each of the two matches they played).
Denise and I got in my van and headed off (remember, David was visiting his friend in Denver; more on him tomorrow). On our way to Mt. Evans, we passed by an old cemetary on a hillside: the Idaho Springs Cemetary. Being fans of cemetaries, we turned around and drove in. It quickly became apparent just how old it was. Grass was overgrown everywhere, and we didn't see any graves with a death date later than the 1950s. But the really incredible thing was just how steep of a hill this cemetary was built upon.
Granted, it was in a beautiful setting, with the trees and the clouds and the grass. But it made me think of the ruined mansion we had seen the day before. One of the tombstones we saw read, "Gone but not forgotten". Really? Who remembers him? Or them? I don't know which is sadder: seeing the remains of someone's dream, or sensing nothing but a dream where lies a person's remains. At least with the mansion, there's something tangible there. But even that will be gone in a few centuries, maybe less. Those tombstones don't even have that.
But enough of mortal thoughts. We did see some amazing tombstones, ones like I've never seen anywhere else. Like this one, for someone named "Dunton", who was evidently an outdoorsman. From the side:
And head on:
Here's one shaped like a log, which was very, very cool.
On the side, it said, in letters that were already starting to fade, "Here Rests a Wood Man of the World". That is a fascinating thing to have on a tombstone! Usually tombstones look beyond the world, and certainly don't trumpet the connection of the deceased to this life. I guess he was one hell of a lumberjack. Notice that he died in 1909 at the age of 39, which would correspond to a period, I believe, when logging was very much a going concern around here.
Another thing I've never seen in any other cemetary: a family tombstone and then individual tombstones. There were many of these in the Idaho Springs cemetary. You'd see something like this:
This was like a little fenced-in area for one family. This one was the most distinctive, with bright white walls and a nice little stairway making it easy to enter the family plot. When you looked in the plot, you saw a large family tombstone, listing everyone's name and important dates, in this case the members of the White family.
Then, perpendicular to the large family tombstone was a neat row of small tombstones for each of the individuals listed on the bigger one, but instead of names, you just saw initials. It was like the larger stone was a key to the smaller stones.
How very interesting. Why did they do this? It was not just the White family. We saw it repeated several times around us. If anyone knows, email me.
Of course, it wouldn't be a stop if I didn't look up at the clouds. If you've been reading this journal, you shouldn't be surprised. The cloud above curved and twisted in the sky, allowing only a thin sliver of sunlight through. It made a fitting cover to the cemetary below.
On our way out of the cemetary, driving on a very narrow, very unkempt dirt road, we passed the main office for the cemetary. It was on a small hill adjacent to the tombs, and a row of large logs propped it up. Attached to the logs was a fitting western symbol for a cemetary. I rather liked it, and I wished that all cemetaries had something like it affixed to their entrance and exits, as a reminder of the decay that all life comes to.
We left Idaho Springs' cemetary and headed onward to Mt. Evans. Why were we going to Mt. Evans? In the whole world, there are around 60 mountains that are 14,000 feet tall; 50 of those are in Colorado. I'd never been on a 14,000 foot tall mountain; better, Mt. Evans is one of the few that you can drive up. So it was our goal.
At the foot of the mountain, we stopped by Echo Lake. It had been raining steadily for about 20 minutes or so, and now it began to slack off a bit. In spite of the sunny clouds at the top of this photo, if you look closely, you can see the surface of the lake nipped by the last rain drops.
We finally reached the entrance gate to Mt. Evans. It cost us $10 to enter, which wasn't bad. I noticed the informative sign next to the ranger taking our money.
We took off up the mountain. My poor little van was whining, but it did a good job, and I have to give it credit. After about 20 minutes, we stopped for a picture of a lake nestled in a valley. It looked collllllld, and very desolate, and very beautiful.
After a few more minutes, we noticed that the treeline had suddenly stopped. One minute there were trees—trees in abundance!—and the next there was nothing except rocks and some sparse grass.
We were not the only people heading up the mountain that day. There were other cars, but not a large number. More amazing, though, were all the bicyclists. These folks were riding their bicycles in that thin mountain air, up a 14 mile road, up 14,000 feet in the air, up a mountain! Incredible! But even more incredible was the man we saw, slowly pushing himself up the mountain road in his wheelchair. Yes, in his wheelchair. He was working so hard, and his face showed his effort, and it was such slow progress, but up he went, revolution by revolution. We just shook our heads in amazement and silently wished him luck.
Suddenly I noticed that a car in front of mine had stopped on the very narrow mountain road. "What the …" I asked. Then I saw it. In the other lane was a statue of a goat. Now why the hell had someone put a statue of a goat in the road? I pulled up next to the statue and looked at it. It moved! It turned its head and stared at us. What a dork I was. A statue? Yeah, a statue.
The mountain goat stood there for a moment longer, and then slowly walked away. We continued driving, and then I said to Denise, "You know, it would be really funny for someone to actually bring a goat statue up here and leave it standing on the road. I wonder how long it would take people to quit taking pictures of it? Hours?" Denise just sighed.
As we got closer to the summit, we stopped again to take a photo of the area. You can see the gorgeous setting, and also get an idea of just how curvy the road was as we slowly made our way up 14,000 feet to the top of Mt. Evans.
And then we made another very sharp turn, and we were there. We had finally reached the summit, or at least as far as cars could go. We stopped the van amidst other vehicles and got out. Whoa whoa whoa … we were 14,000 feet up, and now it wasn't just a bit harder to breathe. We were feeling some slight altitude sickness. We were a little dizzy, and movement required concentration. You had to focus on what you were doing, even if it was just walking in a straight line. It was a bit like having a couple of drinks, and then realizing that you need to do a task. You try to sober yourself up and focus, but you're always aware that you are trying your hardest to focus, which becomes an object of focus itself.
The first thing we saw was the remains of the gift shop, which burned down a long time ago. It has been cleaned up so that it's now a place for tourists to rest, read about the mountain, and use the restroom. Even if it's just the remains of a former building, it's still pretty neat looking.
We walked overto the gift shop, and I suddenly realized why I was so damn cold. Never having been on a mountain, I hadn't dressed for it, so I was wearing sandals, shorts, a t-shirt, and my favorite flannel shirt. It was cold, but it was windy on the top of that mountain, so my hands and knuckles were red and raw, and my ears were a bit painful.
Remember, that thermometer was in the sun, and out of the wind. It was definitely colder than 45 degrees. I felt it.
As we walked around, looking at our rocky surroundings, we saw the man in the wheelchair. He had finally made it. My God, but he was amazing. It was impressive enough that people ride their bicycles all the way up Mt. Evans, but for someone to wheel themselves up in a chair! His strength of will is inspirational!
We suddenly realized, in our slightly slowed-down thoughts, that there was an additional summit, one reachable only by foot.
It wasn't that far, really. Maybe a 200 yard walk that circled back and forth on its way up to the top of the mountain. But it looked like a near-insurmountable journey, the way we were feeling. However, I really wanted to do it. It seemed silly to drive all the way up and not make it to the actual top. Plus, I wanted to say that I'd done it, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this. You may be laughing wherever you are, reading this and thinking, "How silly! It was 200 yards!", but let me assure you, it was hard work, and we actually had to will ourselves to make that little climb. The final reason I wanted to do it: I love climbing on stuff, even when I'm half-loopy, and those rocks looked pretty inviting.
So up we went. Take a couple of steps, thinking about each step, focusing on walking straight and keeping your balance. Breathe in, and out, fully, and then in, and then out. Keep going. Step, step, step, step. Think about your goal, but don't look up at the summit. Just focus on the next few steps, right in front of you. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Keep going.
Finally we reached it. We were there. We made the summit of Mt. Evans, and we were 14,000 feet above sea level. The view was spectacular, in all directions.
This was the highest I'd ever been on foot, and it was incredible. I know that Mt. Everest is 29,000 feet tall, and that we weren't even halfway up that height, but this was still really awesome. Of course, Denise and I posed for a picture. We've got goofy grins on our faces, as much from altitude loopiness as from happiness at being there.
We turned around and saw our van below. It's right in the middle of this picture, and it gives you an idea of how far we had to walk to get to our final vantage point.
By this time, we weren't as affected by the altitude sickness as we had been. Oh, we still had to focus, but we didn't feel slightly confused constantly, and we also didn't feel like laying down and going to sleep, another symptom which we had experienced, especially as we climbed up to the top.
Suddenly I saw something: there was a rock formation about 50 yards away that no one was standing on. It was just a bit higher than the rocks where everyone else was, and you couldn't just walk over to it. You would have to climb down some rocks, without a trail, and then climb back up some other rocks, some of them very big, so you would have to pull yourself up by your fingers and toes. It would be mildly dangerous to make such a little climb. Being a person who loves climbing on things, and always has, and who also loves a little danger, and who finally loves being places other people aren't, I decided that I had to get on those rocks. My goal was the one on the top on the left, shaped just a bit like a horses' saddle.
So I was off. "Denise, I'm going to climb over there," I warned her. "Ooh, you really shouldn't," she responded. I was already gone. Okay, over just a bit, and climb down, and watch your footing, and then down just a bit more, and then onto that rock. Whooops! That one's a bit loose. Be careful. Good, good, now put your weight on that one. Good. And now slide over, and keep sliding. Now grab that rock and pull yourself up just a bit. You've gone about halfway.
I looked straight ahead, and found that I was looking through a natural "V" in the rocks. My left foot was against one rock, my right on another, and my back leaned against a third. It was a good solid position. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my camera, and snapped this picture.
Now I found myself at the foot of the rocks I had to climb. They were large, very large. I had to reach up, find a grip, and then pull myself up. And then do it again. It got a bit easier as I reached the top. One more, and I was there. I was standing on the tallest rock in the area. I had about the same amount of space to stand on that you have to sit on in a car, or maybe just a bit bigger. To my back was my van, to my left were Denise and other visitors, to my right were some more rocks below me, and straight ahead was a pretty sheer dropoff. It was very windy, and I felt very cold. I took my camera out and pointed it down and out, and once again I made a panorama movie, but this one was 360 degrees, a complete circle. It's pretty shaky, but that's because I was watching my footing very closely, and also because I was cold and fighting the wind.
Mt. Evans 14,000 foot summit panorama
(Warning! 4.5 MB QuickTime movie! Do not try to view over a dial-up connection!)
It was time to leave. I climbed back down the rocks, found Denise, and we walked slowly down to the van, concentrating. We got in the van, with me driving, and took off. On the way down, I discovered something I didn't know about Denise: she can make very interesting noises. See, on the way down, her side of the van was, more often than not, next to a sheer drop off of hundreds and hundreds of feet. So I'd be driving along at about 50 miles per hour (I'm kidding … it was more like 20 miles per hour, if that), and I'd approach a left turn, and all of a sudden Denise would be not really saying anything, but instead just emoting. "Ayiyiyahh! Aaboobooahboo!" would be shortly followed on the next turn by "Hasibahbibahbah! Hoobeehoobeehoo!" and then, finally, I got to hear her go "Shwahsiwahsi! Ahhasiboohoohah!" I wish I'd recorded her. I could have used a sample of her outcry in a hiphop song.
It wasn't all just babblings from Denise. On the way back down from Mt. Evans, something really special happened. We were just a few minutes from the summit, when I saw that cars had once again stopped in the road. I expected a mountain goat, and sure enough, we weren't disappointed. But it wasn't just one mountain goat—it was a herd, including little babies. Up in front of us, just a few feet away, was a herd of wild goats! Notice the little ones in the middle. Also notice how calm they all were, even though there were probably 6 or 7 cars sitting there idling, watching the goats do their thing.
But then the wildest thing of all happened. While we were watching, one of the goats detached himself from the herd and started to walk towards our van on the passenger side. He walked up as close as he could get, and then he stuck his head in the window!
Denise proceeded to give the little guy some Cheetohs and a sip of her beer, and it was really cute. OK, she didn't. Kids, NEVER EVER give human food to any wild animal. It's really bad for the animal. We know that, and so we just looked at the goat's head in our car, and never even thought of giving him any of our food. Denise actually kind of jumped away from him while letting out a little "Ayee!" at the same time. After a moment, the goat continued on his way. But then, a minute later, another goat stuck her head in the window! I don't know why we were so popular with the goats.
After about five minutes, something startled one of the goats, and they slowly galloped up the side of this very rocky, very rough mountain. Just took off up the side. Even the babies were skilled at this. I guess that's why they call them "mountain goats". By the way, notice how hard it is to see the goats against the rocks. It was weird, because you could see them clearly against the road (seeing as how that's not exactly a mountain goat's natural habitat), but they moved ten feet and became almost invisible. It was an obvious lesson in natual camouflage.
A little later on the way down, I stopped and took a picture of a hill against the clouds. It wasn't until later that I noticed that there was a goat, silhouetted against the sky. If you look hard, just a bit to the left of center you can see him. They were everywhere, but you couldn't always detect them. To capture one like that made me wonder what else I had missed.
We finally reached the bottom of the mountain, but instead of turning back to Denver along the same route we'd taken, we turned the other direction for a gorgeous drive through the forest. It curved and curved through trees green in the summer heat. After about an hour or so, we reached our last goal for the day, a town recommended by Denise's brother Mark: Evergreen.
Evergreen is a very small town nestled in among the trees, with a small creek running right alongside main street. There are several shops along that main street, and one particularly interesting bar.
We parked and looked for someplace to eat. At first we thought of stopping in the Little Bear. But it was very dark, very smoky, and very loud. And outside the front door, next to the bouncer wearing a leather vest, was this sign:
Now, granted, we weren't wearing any of those, but just the sign, coupled with the profusion of motorcycles parked outside, made us a bit nervous. I was afraid we were going to go in, someone would offer to trade Denise for a carton of cigarettes, and I wouldn't be allowed to refuse. So down the street we went to BeauJo's, a pizza place. We sat on the outdoor patio, next to the bubbling brook streaming across the rocks.
It was a lovely setting, and we had a great meal. The pizza was unique and I enjoyed every bite. We later found out that Mark and his kids were very familiar with BeauJo's, and were glad we'd eaten there.
After eating, we walked slowly down the boardwalk, taking in the sights in Evergreen. We saw a business called "Marrakech" advertising "Drums, Rugs, & Henna Body Art". Good combination. We saw a cafe and sushi bar with the most unusual outdoor seating.
I don't think I've ever eaten sushi on a bench made out of a wooden log before.
We saw a shop advertising both "Shoe Repair" and "Knives". An even better combination!
Of course, I had to get a closeup of the sailor, holding both a shoe in one hand and, yes, a humongous freaking knife, or rather cutless, in the other.
That is the weirdest and best mascot I've ever seen. His face, the outfit, the shoe, the cutlass: awesome. I mean, we've all had that happen to us, right? We're walking down the street, and we suddenly realize that our shoes need repair. And then we think to ourselves, "Well, dammit, why can't I buy a knife while I'm getting my shoe repaired?" Right? You know you have.
The best was last. As we walked on the creaking wooden boardwalk past the Evergreen Hotel, we heard music coming out of the lobby. Not just any music, but a good ol' foot-stomping barrelhouse blues tune, played fast and hard on an upright piano. We walked in, and there was a man in shorts and a t-shirt, wearing sandals and a white beard, banging away on the piano and singing a song about his woman leaving him on a train. It went on for several minutes before he played the final trills, and then we all clapped and hooted. He was just a passerby who came in, saw the piano, and started playing! He was great! What a cool ending for our day out and about.
After this we drove back to Mark's house. The kids were home, and we were all tired. We all sat around and talked, and then watched "Ali" on television. It's a good movie, and it was fun watching it with Rachel and Aaron, since they'd heard of Muhammad Ali but really didn't know much about him. The movie ended, the kids went to sleep, we conversed briefly with Mark, and then it was off to bed for us. What a great day.