Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fri, July 5 to Fri, July 12, 2013: Nawlins in the Summer

Fri, July 5th - Denver, CO to Gainesville, TX
I headed off on my usual I-70 East route that seems ingrained in my brain at this point in my travels.  In Salina, home of the gorgeous emerald green of the Flint Hills, my route turned south and took me through Wichita.  It was strange being in the city again, knowing that some horribly damaging tornadoes had ripped through the city just weeks after I traveled through there last time.  (Even scarier were the tornadoes that came through the Dallas area, almost on my heels when I returned home last year!)  This time, at least I was traveling through Tornado Alley off the peak spring season.   (Let's not mention that I was traveling into Dixie Alley during its busy time, ok?)

My drive was peaceful and uneventful and easy.  My favorite surprise, once again, were those gorgeous rocky hills in central southern Oklahoma.  I wish that I could have been a passenger in the car to capture a few pictures, or that I could have taken a couple of days to explore the land around there.  It seems like this beautiful oasis of rocks and trees and lakes in the middle of a grassy wasteland.  I couldn't touch the cool water or smell the tangy scent of green, but my eyes were content drinking in the subtle hills that manifested and faded as I rounded each curve.

Sat, July 6th - Gainesville, TX to New Orleans, LA
It always seems to me that the states I expect to feel endless don't, and the states that I think I should pass through quickly feel like they take forever to traverse.  Florida was one of those states, and so is Louisiana.  I passed miles and miles of flat thickly wooded land, white herons dotting the swamps and drainage ditches that lined the roadsides.  

Landmarks from my previous trip called to me: crossing the Mississippi in Baton Rouge, miles and miles passed on elevated roads that raced across swampland, and the bridge that skirts the shore of Lake Ponchatrain and allows me passage to the Crescent City.  

When I visited last spring, my friends were living out of their motor home and were about to move into an apartment within walking distance from the French Quarter.  This time, they were packing up their apartment to move back into their motor home, but I was glad that I got to see their place.  They live in a sprawling basement near Esplanade and Rampart, with arched windows and cool tile floors and the constant air conditioning that seems to be a requirement for summers in the south.

One of the reasons that this post has taken me a while to compose is that this wasn't really a "traveling" trip but more of a "visiting" trip.  For the rest of the day, Becky and I hung out in her home while her husband Chris was working, and I was reacquainted with their older daughter and got to meet their youngest for the first time.  Sometimes it can be so strange, but so comfortable, reuniting with old friends, and I really didn't care much about getting around the city if I could just hang out with them.

Sun, July 7th
Spent more time hanging out with Becky and her daughters. :)

Mon, July 8th
Way back when we used to live outside, Becky and I both got into learning about the medicinal properties of plants, though it's something I think she's done a better job of keeping up with since.  There is a small local herb shop near her place, Maypop Community Herb Shop, that she likes, and I asked her to take me there.  The store was small and quiet and filled from floor to ceiling with jars of dried herbs and teas and tinctures and oils, and I felt in awe of the wonderland of plants around me, and a bit overwhelmed by how much I don't know about them.

I love that about life: there's so much to learn... but not enough time!

That evening, when Chris was home from work, he walked with me down to the French Quarter.  It was HOT, like the middle of a sunny summer afternoon, even though it was completely dark and around midnight.  I wore jeans, thinking for some reason that the heat would have abated.  I suppose it did cool down a bit, from the steamy 110+ of midday to somewhere around 90 maybe, but that's not exactly cool.

I loved strolling along in that swampy, soupy air, feeling that strange sensation of steaming as I walked in night's darkness, with nature tricking me by offering something that differed so greatly from my expectation of her.

We headed to a local coffee place on Decatur Street.  My brain was still so convinced that it would cool off (because everywhere cools off in the night time just because Connecticut and Colorado do, right?) that I ordered a hot chocolate.  It was of course delicious, but it didn't do much to help me cool off!  We strolled down to the cathedral area as we sipped our drinks, chatting about the city as my eyes followed every enormous palmetto bug that crossed our path.

There is a small lookout area between the cathedral and the Mississippi River, and from there we could see the lights of the boats on the river and the bustle of a midnight French Quarter around us.  I love that about New Orleans: despite being a big city, it somehow gives the feeling that there are all these little places to discover.  Most cities don't feel like that to me, but New Orleans just feels so inviting of exploration.

Along the way back to their apartment, we saw this cool little lizard hanging out in a doorway:      
Tues, July 9th
Though I wasn't particularly touristy on this trip, I did ask Becky if we could see one thing I regretted missing on my last trip: a cemetery.  There are a couple that are visible from Route 10 when you're driving through the city, and I was completely fascinated by the strange little house monuments that are built to house bodies.  They have to do things this way down there, with the ground being so swampy and the city being so prone to flooding.

Becky took me to St. Louis Cemetery, just north of where they live on Esplanade.  I loved being a passenger in the car for a brief time, looking out at the boulevard shaded by massive old live oak trees.

When we got out of the car, it was like slamming into a wall of hot Jello.  I have never experienced anything like it in my life.  It had been rainy and partly cloudy for the past few days, so Tuesday was really the first day I experienced in full sun.  
It was so strange, seeing these old monuments all lined up in neat little avenues.  Becky said that cemeteries in New Orleans are called "Cities of the Dead", and it's not hard to see why.

This picture I took with my phone, but I like it a lot. :)
We walked along the rows for a bit, probably less than 5 minutes, before Becky and I turned to each other and decided that it was entirely too hot for walking around.  We headed back to the car and Becky drove us around a bit, up and down the rows and rows of tiny monument houses.
I'm so grateful that I got to see the cemetery and that I experienced that heat, but I was perfectly content to stay in the air conditioning for the rest of the trip. :)

Weds, July 10th
Becky and Chris were wanting to get into their motor home to start cleaning it up for their upcoming move, so we spent some time in their new-old home on Wednesday.  Becky wanted to install wooden floors in their kitchen and living room area, so we started experimenting with ripping up the carpet to see what was underneath.  Chris and I ended up pulling up most of the carpet while Becky vacuumed the rest of the place, and it was really fun helping my friends out with their project. (The AC was blasting the whole time so it was entirely tolerable!)

We went out and saw a movie (Despicable Me 2), hit up Target and a couple of thrift stores, and had dinner at a little restaurant that reminded me of Chipotle.  Again, it wasn't very "travely", but it was peaceful and perfect.

Thurs, July 11th - New Orleans, LA to Clayton, NM
For some reason, my GPS likes to take me to New Orleans by bringing me across Kansas, then down into Oklahoma and Texas.  But when it calculates my route home, it takes me across Texas to Dallas, then up to Amarillo, then into New Mexico to pick up I-25 back to Colorado.  I enjoy the change of scenery so I didn't mind, but I find it funny that I had a different route home.

Dallas seems to be an environmental turning point in Texas, at least from what I could see.  Roughly east of Dallas, Texas is full of green grass and trees and water in the form of small streams.  To the west, especially the northwest as I headed to Amarillo, the green seems to quickly fade away as the water dries up, revealing a relatively barren desert landscape full of gorgeous deep red soil and mesquite trees.

I wasn't sure how far I would get that day, but figured if I could at least make it to Amarillo then I'd be in good shape.  When I reached Amarillo, though, it wasn't even time for sunset and I couldn't justify stopping and wasting all that time.

Plus, I really love driving and watching the sunset change the colors all around me, and seeing the stars start popping out of the darkening sky.  How could I pass that up?

I continued through the barren hills of northern Texas (which probably only seemed like hills compared to endlessly flat Louisiana!), and the sky greeted me warmly with a beautiful sunset show.  With eyes conditioned all my life to the rich brown color of the earth in Connecticut, it's still always so amazing to me that soil can come in so many colors.  The dirt and rocks around me were painted by orange and gold and pink light, softly shifting as the sun marched past.

As the sky grew dark, I passed massive white windmills with the last fragments of daylight still clinging to their flawless forms.  The stars began to shine... so many stars, so far away from the city.  My eyes scanned the sky for the constellations that are familiar to me, those little points of light guiding me home.

Fri, July 12th - Clayton, NM to Denver, CO
I woke up well rested and excited to head back to one version of home.  Knowing that I had only a few hours' drive ahead of me made me feel pretty buoyant as I headed north that morning.  As I crossed the mountain pass between New Mexico and Colorado, I found myself thinking of times I have made the trip in the past, and how frightening some of them have been (with this one being the most intense by far).  I enjoyed every second of the gorgeous sunny weather around me and was grateful not to have to navigate the pass through the snow.

Denver.. picking Kaylee up from my friends' house and reuniting with her after a week away... then heading back to my place and reuniting with Pea and Severus after a week away... my animal family and I were together again, in the place where we live, and it felt good to be Home.

((Just a quick aside, I can't believe how far behind I am right now on these posts!  I've been happy and busy and I promise I'll catch up. :) ))

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tues, June 25, 2013: Castlewood Canyon, From The North

When I headed down to Castlewood Canyon a couple of months ago, I went to the main entrance by accident.  It had been so long since I was there, I forgot how to get to the hike I really wanted to take!  It ended up being a great hike, of course, and I loved seeing new parts of the canyon that I had previously never explored. 

But one of the most fun things out here, to me, is coming back to the places I've loved before.  And entering the canyon from the entrance that winds down from the north  was what I really wanted to do, because that's the place that I love.

The Black Forest fire was finally contained several days earlier.  I wondered if I would see any signs of it, but I think it was farther south than where the canyon is located.  This was just fine by me, as I've seen my fair share of forest fire damage, and I was relieved to find that the canyon was unharmed and open.

Did I mention lately that I love prickly pear cacti? :)
The ruins of some old structures sit beside the parking lot.  I love imagining the people who used to live there, wondering what their lives were like and what they did every day. 
The beautiful prairie, wedged between the Black Forest and the creeping sprawl of the Denver metro area.
Looking down on the dam, or what remains of it, from high on the rocky canyon walls. 
I love looking down into the canyon, at all the tiny trees and rocks and the tiny stream running below, then knowing that in a while I will be down there myself and dwarfed by those tiny things.
It was HOT outside!  I was dressed for it, slathered in sunscreen and carrying plenty of water for me and Kaylee, but it was still so hot.  Sometimes I forget that I live in the desert and I can't do things the way I used to in Connecticut. :)
It was so peaceful, though, in the middle of the day on a random Tuesday, with most people at their jobs or hiding from the hot summer sun. 

We have thistles here, which I don't remember ever seeing in Connecticut.  I love them because of this.

Ponderosa bark:
We hiked at the bottom of the canyon, tiny ants to the people perched on the tall rocky walls above us.  Cherry Creek sang and danced beside us, her water levels low but flowing.  Kaylee ran into the creek every chance that she had, and I loved seeing her standing belly-deep with that big doggy grin on her face. 

I spent a large part of my summer away from Colorado, but it's days like this that remind me why I have chosen to continue living here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sat, June 22, 2013: Birthday Moon Hike

Way back in February, when I last visited White Sands, I learned that the park hosts several full moon hikes during the summer.  As I looked over their list of moon hikes, my mouth dropped open when my eyes lit on one date: June 22nd.  My birthday!  I told myself that I would return to the park on my birthday and treat myself to a full moon hike.

As the spring progressed, I made plans with my friends Becky and Chris to visit them in New Orleans in July.  I came to the realization that I wouldn't be able to make both trips, and gave up my hopes of spending my birthday in my favorite White Sands.

So, when I went to Roxborough with Jen and her kids, I was delighted to learn that they host full moon hikes too!  I signed myself up for a June 22nd moon hike and felt it was a good compromise.  I would have preferred to spend my birthday with my friends, but they were busy - one of the hazards of having a summer birthday, I suppose!

There were two rangers leading the hiking group that I chose, and the younger of the two happened to be some sort of Colorado plant expert.  A moon hike combined with a surprise wild plants lesson?  Yes please, best birthday present ever! (ok, I may have received a better birthday present earlier in the day in the form of a first date I went on with a guy I'm still seeing, but time will have to tell me how that one pans out. :) )

The light...
I don't think I ever knew how much I've always noticed light until I moved out here and started getting into photography.  Some of my favorite pictures I've ever taken are my favorite because of what the light does to the landscape, or a flower, or colors, or the water.  I love that photography has made me so much more aware of the quality of light around me and the effect that it has on what I see.
We walked in a completely different direction than Jen and I explored just a few days before, and it was amazing to see the rock formations across the rest of the park.
There was a lookout area where we stopped for a time, and I messed around with my camera quite a bit, drinking in the scenery around me.

I'd say Colorado is pretty nice to return home to, don't ya think? :)
Another member of the hike spotted this doe, grazing on a hillside and completely unconcerned about our presence.
This is one of my favorite Colorado moments I've had in a long time.  The air was warm with just a touch of evening chill carried on a soft breeze, and the hills around us were a riot of greens as the sky above shifted between pale watery blues and oranges and pinks.
I messed around with some moon pictures, but failed to hold my breath well enough!  I included this one anyways because I absolutely love the colors, the brilliant rich moon, the illuminated wisps of clouds, and the silvery gray green of the grasses before me.
This is another imperfect one, but I love how spooky it looks!
I'd say it was a pretty excellent birthday.  I felt warm and awake and curious and alive, some of my favorite feelings.  Happy anniversary of being alive, me!