Sunday, December 6, 2015

Christmas at Bent's Old Fort

First, here's a picture taken several weeks ago at our first visit to Bent's Old Fort, operating from about 1833 to 1850 along the Santa Fe Trail, near present day La Junta, Colorado. We heard that there was a candlelight tour at the Fort in December so we made our reservations and waited with anticipation, hoping it wouldn't be a snowy night.

We arrived early on a cold, frosty, clear night and joined groups of folks standing around outside the Fort waiting for their turn to go inside. This roaring fire kept us warm and we were treated to several booms from the old cannon nearby. Men and women dressed in period costumes kept us entertained with chats as though it were really 1846 and we had just arrived to do business with the Fort.

Finally we were ushered inside by our tour guide. Each room in the Fort is furnished as it would have been during the days of travel and commerce on the Santa Fe Trail. The room closest to the big entrance gate was used to do bargaining with Indians and Hispanics. Here the Fort employee and interpreter used words and sign language to seal the trade for rifles, blankets, beads, and necessities.

The Blacksmith's shop was of vital importance to the Fort. This feisty old smithy told us he earned $125.00 per year while his helper earned $47.00. They also received board and room and all the food they needed. The ring of the blacksmith hammer, and the noise from the wagoner's shop were incessant to the ears of the Fort residents. 

Here is the Fort doctor. He showed us his medical supplies, which included instruments for drawing blood, leaches for the same function, his bone saw for amputations, plus whiskey and laudanum for pain. He said that most illnesses could be cured by bleeding, puking or purging! He was quite proud that he had graduated from a two year course in medicine at a Pennsylvania medical school. Each room we entered was warmed by a cozy fire. My camera flash made the rooms seem brighter than they actually were. Most were quite dim, lit only by the fireplaces and candlelight.

The man in the center said he was with a large group of migrating Mormons who had run out of supplies and he needed the Fort to help him and his families out with food, blankets, guns and some lumber for building shelters. The superintendent in charge of goods was glad to help and assigned his men to gather the supplies and load them onto wagons. We toured many other rooms in the Fort — the dining room and kitchen, the carpenters' shop and the trade room, plus a couple of private rooms housing employees, all with folks dressed in the period costumes and full of conversation.

Last, we were directed to hot cider and cookies where we warmed up and were greeted by one of the resident cats, all cozy on his trade blanket up on a shelf. We felt this evening back in history was one of the most interesting and fun times we've had recently. I know that if we lived in La Junta permanently I would love to be a volunteer at Bent's Old Fort!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Royal Gorge & Canon City

 With temperatures dropping almost to freezing in La Junta lately, we knew we needed to get up into the Rockies to see the Royal Gorge Bridge before the snow came. We chose a bright and sunny day, but it was still very cold and quite windy up there. We were a little shocked to learn we had to pay $14.00 each, even with our discount, but there were lots of activities and displays to go along with the the main attraction, the bridge and the deep, deep canyon it spans as the highest suspension bridge in the world.

 I was quite disappointed that I couldn't get many good photos. The sun was so bright and right in our eyes, and the canyon was so far down and very narrow. That is the Arkansas River below, as well as a railroad track. It is difficult to imagine how they built it. You can get an idea how far down the river is if you try to picture a train down there on the track.

 The Park furnishes vehicles one can ride in to cross the bridge as well as Gondolas swinging out over the abyss. We chose to walk across, but by the time we reached the other side we were so cold we decided to chance the scary, swaying Gondolas on the way back.

 Every state was represented along the Bridge. Washington was at the far end, of course! Right about here I was really wishing I'd worn something warmer! The winds howled up furiously through the gorge.

 Another vantage point with the Rockies in the background.

 I love the colors along the Front Range of the Rockies. This was snapped just outside Canon (pronounced Canyon) City.

 After our tour of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park we ventured down into Canon City for lunch and for some sight-seeing. We noticed on the way to the city that there were at least 3 huge prisons built into the side hills, and then there was another large and older one just at the edge of the city! I liked this old building outside the walls of the prison. It looked unused. The prison walls to the left and behind were heavily lined with barbed wire. No escaping from this place!

 After lunch on historic Main Street we toured the town. I was especially intrigued with the many churches we found.  A good antidote for all the prisons maybe? This magnificent edifice is the Presbyterian Church. And we were pleasantly surprised to see that we hadn't missed too much of the beautiful Colorado autumn colors!

 And here is the Baptist.

The United Methodist was especially exquisite. Main Street was being torn up for reconstruction so this was the best I could do for this church. Mr. Keith and I agreed that it would be worth the 110 mile drive from La Junta to Canon City once again to do some more in depth exploring here. Colorado has so many great old towns up in the Rockies!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Bent's Old Fort

One of the first attractions we wanted to see when we came to La Junta was Bent's Old Fort, which we managed on our 3rd or 4th day here. It lived up to our expectations, and is a place we will want to return to many times. I'll touch briefly on the origins and use of the Old Fort. Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, both seasoned traders and trappers, entered the famous Santa Fe trade in 1829. It soon became evident that a headquarters for the lucrative Mexican and Indian trading should be situated near the border with Mexico, then along the Arkansas River, and in the midst of the southern tribes of Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Sioux, Comanches, Kiowas, and even Blackfeet and Gros Ventres Indians. Actual building began in 1833.

The main items for trade were buffalo hides, horses and mules, and whiskey. We enjoyed seeing this restored merchantile, complete with sleeping cat!

Here is the inside of the fort, a large courtyard in the midst of the two story walls. Though it was a hot day when we visited, we felt a deep coolness inside each room because of the very thick adobe walls.

This is one of the upstairs rooms. 
The fort did a brisk business until the U.S. declared war on Mexico in 1846, and the fort became headquarters for awhile for the army. Charles Bent was appointed governor of the new province which included New Mexico, but was killed in the revolt of the Mexican people. This spelled the end of the era and of the company.

Each of the thick walled rooms inside the Fort had its own fireplace. Very cozy!
Within a few years of Bent's and St. Vrain's deaths, the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and other tribes that had frequented their adobe trading post would all be confined to reservations, and the buffalo herds driven to virtual extinction on the southern plains.
Here we see the restored Doctor's office, on the second floor. You can see the huge logs used for the ceiling. These same big logs were above the bottom floor, supporting the second story. The fort had various uses for the next few years, including as a stage station, a post office, and a cattle ranching headquarters. By the early 1900s the fort had fallen into ruin. The site was transferred to the State Historical Society of Colorado in 1954, and complete restoration was begun in 1975. Because of the volumes written by various traders and occupants of the fort over the years, and the artifacts that were dug up, the restoration is quite accurate.
Being a cat lover, I had to revisit the merchantile to see if the cat was still sleeping there. He raised his head to thank me for the pets, very content in his old fort. He was not the only animal we saw there. The Fort had a corral in the back with chickens and a few cows and at least one horse. The adobe walls had cactus planted all around the top, thus discouraging thieves from breaking in.

Before we headed back to La Junta we went a little further east to the small town of Las Animas, and there we found this gorgeous Bent County Courthouse in the middle of the dusty, sleepy town. I believe this town is also along the old Santa Fe Trail, which runs through La Junta, too. There is so much history in this area, and we intend to explore it wherever we can! I hope to go into more detail about Bent's Old Fort on future visits.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Missoula MT to La Junta CO

 After a year and a half in one place, our longest stay since our workamping years, we are on the road again, heading east and south from Missoula MT to La Junta CO, 1,000 miles. This is super exciting for us! We wondered if our rig and our BigTruk would remember how to roll. They did! This scene is somewhere between Missoula and Bozeman.

 Mr. Keith and I were anxious to stay at the Bozeman KOA, where we worked in 2013, and to see our former managers there. The park has been expanded and improved, which was fun for us to see.

 Here's Robert, enjoying some coffee with us and catching up with our families' news. The best part of our RVing lifestyle is the people we meet and have met and stayed in touch with. We may not ever see some of them again, but some we do, and it's always a pleasure.

 Somewhere on the road to Hardin MT.

 The Hardin KOA is a small, but pleasant park out in the middle of a farming area. We enjoyed our stay here. At this time of year, autumn, there are not many RVers staying. We thought about visiting the Monument to Custer's Last Stand, but have seen it several times, so we reluctantly passed it up this trip.

 I love this "fence" at the Hardin KOA. There were old bicycles circling the entire perimeter of the park, a unique and humorous idea for a fence. South of Hardin we passed through some very beautiful country, at least till we reached Buffalo WY and exited I-90 for I-25. Unfortunately, I couldn't snap pictures while traveling down the highway behind the 5th wheel.

After Buffalo the scenery changed to dry, mostly flat and treeless, not so pretty. Douglas WY is a nice little town known for the famous "Jackalope". Their town center features this cute statue. We stayed at the Douglas KOA, a fairly large, very well kept park.

 We were excited about visiting the Denver East/Strasburg KOA where we worked for two winters. After battling some pretty tough traffic heading south towards Denver, we got off on a toll freeway skirting the metropolis, then onto I-70 going east. It was almost like home, getting to Strasburg, especially when we found we'd been assigned Space #68, the very spot we occupied both winters, a fact unknown to the gal who put us there. For dinner we ordered chicken wings, which we had cooked numerous times, along with pizza, at the KOA when we were employed here. Yum! The next morning we had a joyous reunion with our former boss Tracy, breakfast and a wonderful visit at her house. We were sad to leave, but we were ready for the final leg of our 1000 mile journey.

The last leg of our journey was the shortest, and also the hardest, south from Limon on Hwy 71. The road was bumpy and things inside the RV spilled all over! This was a desolate road, but we came out on Hwy 50 and on to La Junta, our winter abode. Here we are at the KOA, in our spot for the next several months. We toured the town, population about 7,000, and found it to be neat, clean, and very attractive. We will love it here!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Psalm 23 in Pictures

 The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
(Upper Rattlesnake Greenway)

 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
(Packer Meadows, Lolo Pass)

 He leads me beside still waters.
(Upper Rattlesnake Greenway, Williams Water Ditch)

 He restores my soul.
 (Power Park, Rattlesnake Creek)

 He leads me in paths of righteousness..
(Nez Perce Loop. Pattee Canyon)

 for His Name's sake.
(Greenough Park Trail)

 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, for He is with me. 
(Glade Creek Loop Trail, Lolo Pass)

I am comforted.
 (9 Mile Ranger Station, Grand Menard Trail)

He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
He anoints my head with oil. My cup 
runs over.
(Power Park, Upper Rattlesnake Greenway)

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, 
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
(St. Ignatius)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Camas Flowers at Lolo Pass

We waited eagerly for news about the camas flowers this spring, a yearly event not to be missed if you are a wildflower aficionado as I am. There is a website that gives updates, and, finally, the time of blooming was announced, and I had a day off at the right time. We drove up to Lolo Pass, on the Montana - Idaho border and found lots of other fans of the camas flower already at the Visitor Center. We had planned to find a trail to hike on in the area, and did that before going out to Packer Meadows where the camas grows.

There were so many other kinds of wildflowers blooming all along the trail and everywhere. I was especially happy to find a Jacob's Ladder, one I've seen pictures of, but not ever found for myself.

At last, a lake of blue!
The quamash, an Indian word, was a food source for many native peoples in the western United States and Canada. After being harvested in the autumn, once the flowers have withered, the bulbs were pit-roasted or boiled. A pit-cooked camas bulb looks and tastes something like baked sweet potato, but sweeter. When dried, the bulbs could be pounded into flour. Native American tribes who ate camas include the Nez Perce, Cree, Coast Salish, Lummi, and Blackfoot tribes, among many others.

A close-up! I was reluctant to squash any of these gorgeous flowers, but I did carefully get on my knees to snap this photo.

Lewis and Clark, we read, who followed the Lolo Pass trail along with the natives, also camped in Packer Meadows in 1806 and learned from their Native American friends to dig and eat the bulbs.

I think everyone else was also reluctant to make paths into the sea of blue, but there was this one well used path out into the middle of the meadow. It was like we all couldn't get enough of the beauty surrounding us!

I am drowning in this stunning profusion of flowers, on my knees here. We were so happy that we got to see the blooming at its height. I read that a mere few days later the flowers had begun to fade.