Sunday, July 24, 2016

DESTINATION: Caddo Lake State Park, Texas

While visiting the historic town of Jefferson we could not pass up the opportunity to make a short visit to Caddo Lake State Park.  The park sits near the small town of Karnack, in east Texas.  The name of this park is a bit deceiving as the park doesn't sit on the shores of Caddo Lake (the only natural, fresh water lake in Texas) but on Big Cypress Bayou.

Entrance sign

Entrance signs to Caddo Lake State Park

Big Cypress Bayou from boat ramp (west)

Big Cypress Bayou looking east.  Follow the bayou east to reach Caddo Lake.

Like most Texas state parks the structures within Caddo Lake SP were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Company 889 began the work, in June to November of 1933. Company 857 continued construction from October 1934 to March 1937.

One of the cabins that can be rented at the park

CCC workers converted 15 U.S. Army barracks and an Army mess hall into the nine log cabins and group recreation hall that can be used today.  Other facilities built by the CCC include picnic sites, a pavilion, Park Road 2 and trails.

Fishing pier at the park

Bald cypress trees draped with Span­ish moss tower over the maze of bayous, sloughs and ponds of Caddo Lake State Park. Under these big cypress trees visitors can fish, paddle, hike, picnic, camp or stay in a cabin, or go boating.

Another view of the fishing pier in use

Although we did not see one, alligators live in the park.  When obtaining your park pass at the park's office you will be informed of alligators.

Another fisherman

Saturday, July 23, 2016

DESTINATION: Lake O' The Pines, Texas

Our next camping adventure was approximately 12 to 15 miles west of Jefferson at the beautiful Lake O' The Pines.  Lake O’ the Pines (formerly known as "Ferrell's Bridge Reservoir") was created by the construction of the Ferrells Bridge Dam on the Big Cypress Bayou approximately 81 miles upstream from the bayou's confluence with the Red River The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the dam in January 1955 and the dam was completed on December 11, 1959.

View of Lake O' The Pines dam

This 18,680 acre lake spreads out over Marion, Harrison, Upshur, Morris and Camp counties of east Texas.  The lake is surrounded by gorgeous pines trees that stretch up to the sky like a fortress that guards the lake.  Fishing species include large mouth bass, spotted bass, catfish, white bass, crappie, sunfish and chain pickerel.   

View of lake from our campsite at Alley Creek

Park entrance sign

Campsite E223 in Alley Creek

There are seven parks spread out around the lake and four of them offer camping.  We chose Alley Creek Campground because half of Alley Creek's 67 sites are for RV only.   This time we made our reservations through the website.  Like Reserve America, allows you to select a campsite from either a photo or map.  We picked a campsite that was on the shoreline offering lake views. We were not disappointed with how clean and level the site was.  A closed fire ring, picnic table and trash/lantern pole made this campsite complete.

Tall pines dwarf the RVs camped at Alley Creek

Another view of pines

Buzzards rest on resting boat in cove of Lake O' The Pines

Around 5:00 in the afternoon a summer thunderstorm moved in.  The pines surrounding our camp began to sway but not our Forest River! Inside the trailer you would never know that there was a storm going on outside.  After the storm passed we had a front row view of a rainbow.  The setting sun, filtered by the clouds, lit up the orange east Texas dirt shoreline across the lake.  Maybe that rainbow led to a pot of gold? 

Rainbow and pot of gold?

DESTINATION: Jefferson, Texas

It was a hot and humid July day when we decided to make our way to the historic east Texas town of Jefferson.  Located along the Big Cypress Bayou, Jefferson dates back to around 1841 when it was founded on land ceded from the Caddo Indians.  

Map of Jefferson, Texas, 1872

Steamboat on Cypress Bayou
At the time Jefferson was formed a log jam on the Red River, in Louisiana, acted as a dam raising the water levels of Caddo Lake and the Red River several feet. The corresponding rise of water in the Big Cypress Bayou permitted commercial riverboats to travel to Jefferson from ports such as St. Louis, New Orleans, the Mississippi River and Red River. Thus, Jefferson became known as "The Riverport to the Southwest."  Many attempts were made, but failed, to clear the log jam until 1873, when the discovery of nitroglycerin allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to clear the jam.  This lowered the level of Caddo Lake and Big Cypress Bayou to the point that riverboat traffic to Jefferson was no longer commercially feasible. 

Near Jefferson on Big Cypress Bayou

Jefferson now considers itself, "The Town that Time Forgot." Almost every commercial building and home along the old water front has a historical marker. 

Confederate Civil War Memorial outside of Marion County Courthouse

Tourists come to Jefferson to enjoy the ambiance of the past, stay in the many bed and breakfast inns, shop, enjoy boat, train and surrey rides or to hunt for ghosts or Bigfoot. Every weekend ghost tours of Jefferson (the most haunted town in Texas) are available and every year the Jefferson Visitor Center hosts the Original Texas Bigfoot Conference.

Our first stop in Jefferson was to the Jefferson Tourism and Visitors Center where we were allowed to park our truck and trailer in the parking lot.  We spent the afternoon roaming the streets of Jefferson, antiquing, and catching up on Jefferson's history by reading the historical markers.

Excelsior House Hotel

The Excelsior House Hotel (above) opened in the late 1850’s. Famous people registered at the Excelsior House include Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde, Rutherford B. Hayes and Lady Bird Johnson to name a few. 

Jefferson Playhouse

The Jefferson Playhouse (above), once a Synagogue, was added in 1876 as an addition to the now Ruth Lester Memorial House. It is a transitional building between Victorian and Greek Revival designs. The Jefferson Playhouse is now used as a local theatre that includes seating for 92 guests, stage and lighting systems. The Playhouse is available to rent for theatrical performances, meetings and events.

Joseph's Riverport BBQ

We ate a delicious BBQ lunch at Joseph's Riverport BBQ located on the corner of N. Polk St. and W. Lafayette St. We then made our way to Auntie Skinner's Riverboat Club located on Austin St. for a cold adult beverage. 

Auntie Skinner's River Boat Club

Outside the Jefferson General Store

Feeling revived from the oppressive heat we headed to the Jefferson General Store. In the store we spent some time shopping for souvenirs and reminiscing about our youth at the candy bins.  

Although there was much more to see in the historic city of Jefferson it was time for us to hit the road and move on to our camping site at Lake O' the Pines.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

DESTINATION: Ludlow, Colorado

Many times during our travels to Colorado we have passed a historical sign that read, "Ludlow Massacre." We've always been curious as to what events transpired at the location so this time we stopped to investigate.

Coal car used by miners

The Ludlow Massacre site sits 18 miles northwest of Trinidad, Colorado. A granite monument, in memory of Colorado coal miners and their families who died on April 20, 1914, has been erected by the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America).  The site of the Ludlow Tent Colony, where 1,200 striking coal miners and their families once lived, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Ludlow Tent Colony before fire - City was referred to as "White City" 

On April 20, 1914, some two dozen people, including miners' wives and children were killed when they were attacked by the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel & Iron Company camp guards.  The chief owner of the mine, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was widely criticized for the incident.

Pit of death - one of the storage cellars beneath a tent

Between nineteen and twenty-six people lost their lives during the bloody massacre. Some death tolls vary but include two women and eleven children that were asphyxiated while hiding in one of the storage cellars beneath a tent.  The deaths occurred after a daylong fight between militia and camp guards against striking workers. 

Memorial erected by the UNWA

The strike was organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) against coal mining companies in Colorado. The three largest companies involved were the Rockefeller family-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I), the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company (RMF), and the Victor-American Fuel Company (VAF).

In retaliation for Ludlow, the miners armed themselves and attacked dozens of mines over the next ten days, destroying property and engaging in several skirmishes with the Colorado National Guard along a 40-mile front from Trinidad to Walsenburg, Colorado. The entire strike would cost between 69 and 199 lives. Thomas G. Andrews described it as the "deadliest strike in the history of the United States".

Leaving Ludlow Massacre Site

Friday, June 24, 2016

DESTINATION: Estes Park, Colorado

After our tour through Rocky Mountain National Park we headed into the town of Estes Park, Colorado.  Estes Park is the headquarters for RMNP.  Many people visit Estes Park as a summer resort but our trip was to collect the final geocaches we needed for the Across the Divide Geo Tour.  Little did we know that in collecting our caches we would get a quick tour and history lesson of the town!

Fall River

We drove into Estes Park on Highway 34 which is also known as Fall River Road because it follows the Fall River.  This beautiful, narrow, road is lined with tall pines, cabins and lodges.  As Fall River comes into town the name changes to W. Wonderview Ave.  

Our first stop in Estes Park was a scenic over-look known as the Knoll-Willows Open Space.  This 75-foot rock outcropping sits south of W. Wonderview Ave. and east of MacGregor Ave.  We took a short hike to the rock outcropping and from there we could see the famous Stanley Hotel and the ruins of a burned cabin that was built in 1908 by Albert Birch, a city editor for the Denver Post.  The cabin was placed on the State Register of Historic Places in 2001.  Leaving the cabin we hiked along a path that follows Black Canyon Creek. The creek is a willow-lined stream that provides habitat for trout, beaver, elk, great-horned owls, red-tailed hawks and a host of migratory songbirds.  We tried but we did not find the geocache hidden at this location.

View of Stanley Hotel from Knoll-Willows Open Space

View of Long's Peak from Knoll-Willows Open Space

Ruins of Birch Cabin built in 1908

Stone fireplace inside Birch Cabin ruins

Heading north on MacGregor Ave. we stopped at the corner of MacGregor and Devils Gulch Rd. at the entrance to the MacGregor Ranch.  The ranch was established in 1873 but now the main ranch house now serves as a museum, displaying the original furnishings and personal memorabilia of three generations of the MacGregor family. Visitors to the museum can take a guided tour of the 1896 ranch house and a self-guided tour of the historic outbuildings, including a milk house, root cellar, smokehouse, blacksmith shop, and antique farm equipment yard.   Sadly, we did not visit the museum but we were able to find the geocache we needed very near the ranch entrance.

MacGregor Ranch sign & entrance

View of meadows at MacGregor Ranch

One more cache would lead us to the middle of an intersection at Highway 36 and Highway 7 where a bronze statue has memorialized a very famous Estes Park citizen, Samson.  This 1,000 pound, 9 point, bull elk was a mascot, of sorts, for the town of Estes Park.  He was frequently seen in town, sometimes at the YMCA, and had no fear of humans.  Tragically, Samson was killed by a poacher looking to harvest a trophy wapiti (elk).


View from deck of
Estes Park Brewery
Hiking and geocaching is hard work!  We decided we needed refreshments so we headed to Estes Park Brewery on Prospect Village Dr.  There we shared a delicious burger and a local micro brew from the top of their patio.  From this height we had views of the Big Thompson River flowing through Estes Park, and Fun City, another stop on our geocaching tour!

Feeling revived after a good lunch we headed to Lake Estes and the Estes Park Museum where we picked up more caches for our tour.  The historical center archives the lives of early homesteaders with restored buildings, displays & tours.

Estes Park Museum

Reconstructed buildings of Estes Park pioneers at museum

View of Lake Estes near Estes Park museum

From the museum we hit a few random tourist sites to pick up the remaining geocahes we needed to complete the Across the Divide Geocache Tour for Estes Park.  With ten caches under our belt we stopped in at the Estes Park Visitors Center located on Big Thompson Ave. and near the Estes Valley Recreation District.  We claimed our prize and then walked around the recreation district which sits near the Big Thompson River. In this area many people were working on their fly fishing skills.

Estes Park Visitor Center

View of Big Thompson River along the river walk in Estes Park

After a busy day in Estes Park it was time to head back to our base camp at Grand Lake. Instead of leaving Estes Park the same way we came in we chose to take Highway 36 to the Beaver Meadows entrance of RMNP.  At Deer Ridge Junction Highway 36 connects onto Highway 34 or Trail Ridge Road and winds back through RMNP.

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center of RMNP (built in style of Frank Lloyd Wright)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

DESTINATION: Trail Ridge Road Summit, RMNP, Colorado

After a brief stop at the Alpine Visitor Center we continued on Trail Ridge Road to the Gore Range Overlook.  At this point we stopped to get more information, from the interpretive signs, for one of the geocaches needed to complete the Across the Divide Geocache Tour.

Must get geocache, must get geocache!

From the Gore Range Overlook one can see Long's Peak, Stone's Peak, Terra Homah, Mount Julian, Mount Ida, Forest Canyon, the Gore Range, the Never Summer Mountains, the Crater, and Specimen Mountains - all evolving from volcanic explosions or carved out by Ice Age glaciers.

Gore Range Overlook

Traveling on from the Gore Range Overlook we hit the summit of Trail Ridge Road, went through Iceberg Pass and stopped again at the Lava Cliff's Outlook for more geocaching information.  Once we had the information we needed, it was back on the road to the Tundra Communities Trailhead, not to hike, but to get a few photographs of the furry marmots popping up out of the rocks and the elk grazing in the meadows.

Yellow Bellied Marmot

Mama elk and her calf

Elk, elk and more elk!

Bull elk rests among yellow snow buttercups

Rock Cut

Continuing on Trail Ridge Road we drove through Rock Cut then stopped again at Forest Canyon Overlook for a short, windy but scenic hike to an overlook.  Forest Canyon has to be the prettiest part of Rocky Mountain National Park!  At this overlook we were really able to view the alpine tundra.  The Alpine Tundra Ecosystem starts between elevations of 11,000 to 11,500 feet, depending on exposure.  Strong, frequent winds and cold temperatures limit what plants can grow there.  Staying on the trail is showing respect for this fragile ecosystem. 

Panoramic view of Forest Canyon

Forest Canyon from overlook

Beautiful, but fragile Alpine Tundra

Another shot of the Forest Canyon

Alpine lake in distance from Forest Canyon Overlook

Our next stop on Trail Ridge Road was Rainbow Curve where we photographed some seriously cute chipmunks begging for food. Obviously, the chipmunks, nor TK, read the sign that said, "Don't feed the wildlife!" Who knew chipmunks love Chex Mix!

"May I have some food, please?"

This Clark's Nutcracker wanted his picture taken too!

Thinking park rangers might be on our trail we hit the trail - Trail Ridge Road, once again, and made our way to the Beaver Ponds for more geocaching information.

At Deer Ridge Junction we turned north on to Fall River Road and made our way to Sheep Lakes Information Station for, you'll never guess, more geocaching information! We seriously wanted the prize at the end of the tour!

"Kettle" ponds at Sheep Lakes Information Station

From Sheep Lakes we continued on Fall River Road passing the Fall River Visitor Center and on into the town of Estes Park, Colorado.