Between Blizzards

Considering that the birds are singing, the snow is melting, spring thunderstorms are popping up, and it’s warm enough to have the door to the balcony fully open, it seems odd to talk about such chilling subjects and not go outside and enjoy the Spring that has resprung.

But here I am, typing out a tale of snow.  This tale is a whirlwind in more ways than one, but mostly of snow in the fact that there were winds of 55 mph that quickly carried snow while driving down Interstate 70, and for once, there were not people doing 90 or passing ballistically.   As a matter of fact, not many passed, but once they caught up with the next car, they carefully followed that car and, I imagine, watching carefully through the snow for brake lights.  The worst leg of the trip was from Colby, KS to just until Limon, CO. Visibility at times was very low, aside from all the snow flying past horizontally.  I will admit that I did indeed pass someone out there, while my wrists were straining to keep the car straight against the crosswinds and my eyes struggled to stay open due to lack of sleep.

Styrofoam transport braving 55 mph crosswinds

Indeed, someone needed styrofoam boards so much so that they were willing to risk it all against Mother Nature’s road rage.

Not sure about this...

I don’t know how far he made it and I don’t know how safe that brilliant idea was…

But we finally made it to our destination! I’m not sure who does the calculating for the amount of time it takes to get from Wichita to Colorado Springs, but they obviously have never driven that route. Any of those route calculating websites will say 7 hours and some change…I think the time warp must happen out there somewhere on I-70…like a midland Bermuda Triangle. It has taken us, all three of the times, 9 hours almost on the dot, whether or not we stop and with no mind to the weather…I can’t figure it out. It defies physics as we understand it.

Pikes Peak

Anyway, we made it and while feeling a little like Pike himself, we gazed at his mountain and embarked on the other whirlwind part of our trip. There wasn’t a ton of snow on the Peak, but they were due for a blizzard in a few days, precisely the day we planned to depart. We visited with four generations of family, the oldest being a 103 year old and the youngest my “double-first” cousin in his mid-twenties. That would be an 80 year span of life….pretty amazing. Of course, they are all amazing people with amazing and unique talents and niches.

View from grandparents' house with Cheyenne in the background

Grandparents' house with Cheyenne in the background

We eventually found ourselves with a half day to spend, and after some pondering, ended up at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. If you happen to find yourself in Colorado Springs, it is well worth your time to take a jaunt up there and learn about the area as it was 34 million years ago. Now, while passing through Woodland Park, don’t get the wrong idea, please, for the rangers’ at Florissant sake. There are no [*NO*, just for emphasis] dinosaur fossils present. They didn’t live 34 million years ago. I made this mistake 18 years ago, almost to the day! I can still feel the burn of disappointment, the type that an 8 year old feels when they can’t comprehend the value of fossilized trees and insects over the thrill of massive and vicious dinosaurs…

But this visit was different, perhaps due to maturity and probably more due to the relationship with the Badlands. You see, the Badlands and Florisant, while around 600 miles, or almost 10 hours of driving, share a very linked past. They have geologic deposits from the same time period–34 million years ago. Some of the same creatures that roamed South Dakota also roamed Colorado. The oreodont is a good example. But that is where the congruencies end. Florissant’s previous environment boasted large redwoods with bountiful plantlife whereas the Badlands might have looked more like it does today with sparse foliage, maybe some patches of trees, but nothing to write home about. This is reflected in the fossil record. Florissant has a plethora of fossilized plants and the Badlands was thrilled about finding the lonely hackberry seeds as their rocky claim to flora.

Giant redwood at Florissant

Petrified Redwood at Florissant

Aside from the talking rocks, there are also historical entities at Florissant. Hornbeck Homestead, before you reach the Visitor Center, is worth a gander. This homestead was established by a single mother with four [?] children and is a bit odd due to the size of the home. Two stories was apparently not that common back then.

No one is home at the Homestead

I remember the wagon being on the other side of the house

So, with all that typed, I won’t spoil any more. I recommend a visit there, just remember a jacket. It can be chilly at 9,000 feet. While you are visiting, there are plenty of trails to hike, a wonderfully film that explains the turbulent past, and a very helpful staff. If you are visiting during the summer, there might be someone at the homestead as well!

View of the valley at Florissant

So we finished up our visit in the Springs and headed reluctantly back east with another blizzard on our heels. We managed to stay ahead of the weather for the most part, aside from the wind from which there is no hiding place deep enough in the Plains. On one of those desperate acts of trying to salvage the last thread of sanity while traveling the most boring ribbon of Interstate numbered 70, we decided to see what Castle Rock was all about. This seems to be as ubiquitous as Wichita. All across the Plains, you will be within 200 miles of some Castle Rock or another, I am willing to bet.

This Castle Rock almost did us in. Of course, they advertise for it on the Interstate, and as unsuspecting travelers seek it, they find the roads degrade, the miles lengthen, and time slips away. And what lies ahead is plotting against you. As you approach ‘the rock’, you find that it’s not the troll under the bridge that is there to gobble you up, it is the cattle guard that attempts to steal your car! In the mass panic of you and your passenger, you aren’t exactly sure what hits you. One minute it is like any other cattle guard that you have passed over a thousand times with its metallic clang. The next minute, your car falls down into an abysmal dip from which you are picked up by the gravel road itself. If you happen to be so unlucky as to drive a low clearance car, your thoughts immediately go to the nasty though of bottoming out and being beached Out in the Middle of Flatness and Boredom, Kansas. I think, luckily for us, we had too much speed to stop on the hump of doom, so after recovering from the shock, we continue on. In this case, we went straight, but I think it would be better to go to the right, it might be safer and less windy!

So we noticed that the two-track [yes, the road degraded more] splits in two parallel tracks. Follow the one on the left! As we approach the climb of the hill, the road [that’s being generous] is no longer deemed passible by our Saturn and we go afoot. The view at the top is wonderful, a full panorama of the flatness that is Kansas, the High Plains with its cohort, the unstoppable wind. I’m not 100% sure of what is dubbed Castle Rock. I assume it was the odd finger-like projections, but the whole mesa structure could be castle-like, I suppose.

Castle Rock?

The Iron Gate?

The area seems well-travelled foot traffic-wise, and I for one would like to venture back knowing that it is better to stop at the cattle guard or carefully cross it. The tangle of rock that occupies that space looks like an interesting maze Mother Nature decided to create while waiting for some larger event to occur. Like a scale model of some amazing rock fortress that Zeus might inhabit. Indeed, I believe it is limestone, but I’m not certain. Either way, the oceans that were Kansas and the erosional forces conspired and made an interesting artwork.

We were pressed for time, so after running back to the car and getting lost on small roads to the east of Castle Rock [return the way you came!], we headed back to Wichita and settled in for our blizzard. Turns out, the snow was forgotten for a while and the blizzard was actually a sleezzard consisting of sleet for a number of hours, at least long enough to accumulate two inches of it. Then the freezing rain came followed at last by the four inches of snow. Spring didn’t like that icy hand tinkering with it’s creations.

Brrrrr!

Redbud with blooms encased in ice

Redbud blooms trapped in ice

Luckily, within two days, the temperatures have reached the 60s, storms are exploding just to the east, and there is only slight damage to the flora. The forsythias were nice while they lasted.

So with that tale of snow over and done and that whirlwind of a trip winded out, I’ll close here, pondering the blizzard raging in South Dakota and hoping it gets it out of its system before I return!

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