Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Colorado Day 2: In Which Our Fearless Family Ascends A Mountain And Descends Into A Cave

Somehow, I managed to set the alarm clock wrong, so instead of waking up at 7:30a.m., I somehow woke up at 5:30a.m. but thought it was 6:30a.m. Did you follow that? Yeah, I have no idea what happened, but somehow I woke at the buttcrack of dawn thinking it was later than it was and I couldn't get back to sleep. I decided to take an early morning walk while the rest of the family snoozed. Our house, you see, backed up to the Pike National Forest and so I decided to see what I could see.I walked uphill--alot--through the frosty forest relishing the fresh air and the quiet. All I could hear was the sound of my own breathing. Well, if I'm honest, I was panting. The altitude, it made everything harder. I was enjoying the view in general

and the wildflowers like these

and then I came upon this fellow. I made a deal with him; I told him I would shoot him, but that it wouldn't hurt.

He was quite obliging, standing there watching me while I took several photos.
After wandering a little more, I decided that I should get back and make some breakfast and rouse the family as we were going to drive up Pike's Peak.

We got ourselves moving and soon wound up at the gate to the Pike's Peak Highway. The ranger took our money, gave us a map, and told us to enjoy ourselves. Maggie was having a mild panic attack at thought of driving up the mountain--she is not a fan of heights. I was doing my best to act calm, but I'm not a huge fan of heights myself, so I was surreptitiously texting a couple of my friends asking them to pray for our safety and simultaneously wishing that WalMart would hand out free samples of Xanax.

The scenery was gorgeous. We stopped around mile 6 at this reservoir. We got out, took pictures,

looked in the gift shop, availed ourselves of the facilities (porta potties which my offspring declared "gross") and then made general nuisances of ourselves to the people that were trying to catch fish from the reservoir. I guess fish don't much like rock throwing and water splashing. But I say that if you are looking to find a quiet place to fish, perhaps the lake next to the highway ascending "America's Mountain" really isn't the best place to do that.

Soon enough we piled back into the truck to keep moving on.We kept winding up and up and up. And then someone noticed the cars much higher up the mountain than we were and pointed out that we'd be the ones up there soon. That brought Maggie to tears. I convinced her to look out her window which was the "wall" side of the mountain rather than out my side which had not only spectacular views, but also the sheer drop offs.

As we drove along, I would periodically call out "everybody drink!" It was our own little non-alcoholic version of a drinking game with the idea being that we wanted to keep everybody well hydrated so that none of us would suffer altitude sickness. I remember one of my brothers and my mom, and me to a lesser extent, suffering this when my family vacationed here when I was younger. It was no fun and I didn't want it to ruin the trip for my kids.

Finally, we hit the treeline. Soon after that we were in snow. The kids thought it was fun that people had carved their names into the snow that was on the mountain rock, but nobody wanted to stop and get out and do it ourselves. Then I made a comment about staying away from the yellow snow which necessitated an explanation to Mary about what that meant. Sometimes I really miss the filter I lack between my brain and my mouth...

Soon we were at the summit. The kids couldn't believe there was a building there. Mary was excited about the snow. Everyone was startled by the stiff winds. We arrived about the same time as the cog train, so there was a mad slippery dash to the overcrowded, overheated bathrooms. I was a little lightheaded, but felt better after leaving the bathroom's heat. We admired the views, I took some pictures,
and then the kids headed into the gift shop. It was there that James hit the wall.
After being on the summit for 15 or 20 minutes, James was experiencing a horrid headache. He clutched his head in his hands and began to cry. Given that I experience head-clutching headaches that have been known to make me cry, I was sympathetic. I herded the kids to the car to give them some more water and some food. Patrick paid for souvenirs.

Then we headed back down the mountain.It was a more relaxing ride than going up and everyone started to feel better as we descended. We stopped at the reservoir again to have a picnic lunch and then finished the ride down the mountain. My children now tell everyone that they have been to the top of a "fourteener" and they will spout off the elevation. James says that his head hurt but it was still very cool. Maggie says it was scary, but beautiful. Mary says it was cold but she liked it. Sean says he hated it. There's always one, isn't there?

We then made our way back to Cave of the Winds for our second try. The road winding up to the cave wasn't nearly as scary this time. We got our tickets and loitered around the gift shop while we were waiting for our tour number to be called.

When they finally called us, we met our guide and started in.

Our guide was a young man with a dry sense of humor who made us all laugh during the tour. Our favorite formation? Cave bacon! Because who doesn't love bacon?

We also learned what happens when people touch the rocks. They look like this:

This is damage. These rocks are not wet, they are shiny because of the oils from peoples' hands and the formation would no longer "grow" because of it. They mentioned at the start of the tour that it was a $2,500 dollar fine for littering in the cave or touching the formations. You can bet your bippy that I was being the Cave Nazi with my children.

At one point, the guide turned the lights off. (I may or may not have groped my husband. Then I may or may not have grossed my children out by telling them about it. That kind of stuff is always good for making my children wince. I call it payback for any whining and arguing that happened in the truck.) It was absolutely, positively the darkest place I have ever been. There was no light anywhere and I was grateful that this event happened at the end of the tour rather than the beginning, because it kind of freaked me out.

Anyway, we came out from underground and I asked everyone what they thought. James thought it was very cool, and loved when he got to hold the guide's flashlight and threaten to hit anyone that crossed a line. Maggie thought the guide was very funny and that the cave bacon was pretty neat. Mary liked the "bridal chapel" and thought it was weird that people actually got married in a cave. Sean, finally, finally (!) liked something and he was smiling as we left. It only took seeing dinosaurs, ascending a mountain, and descending into the earth to get him to find something he liked more than the air hockey table at the cabin.

It's a good thing my children are so easygoing and easy to please...
**By the way, Life List #47 "take a picture from the top of a mountain" is accomplished!

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