Day 43

Thursday, July 7, 2005Denver, CO
Miles: 5258Blech, altitude sickness
We woke up early, as the sun comes up and it gets super hot very quickly on the plains. We had camped in the shadow of Scott’s Bluff, a huge rock formation along the Oregon Trail, and today we were going to check it out up close and personal.

Shortly after the gates opened, we arrived and were told that a shuttle was available to take us to the top so that we could take the hiking trail back down. This sounded like an excellent plan, so we piled into the NPS van an headed up to the top. The driver/tour guide was a science teacher during the school year and gave us a little bit of information about Scott’s Bluff, as well as some information about the building of the road to the top. Built by the CCC during the Depression, the road is the same concrete that was laid in 1933. The CCC also put a post into the ground at the summit when they completed the project. In 1933, the top of the post was level with the ground. Since then the sandstone has eroded about 18 inches and the post sticks up. Hopefully, it’s in there really deep.

After walking around on the summit trails for awhile, we headed down the 1 ½ mile trail to the bottom. It wound its way around the bluffs and gave us a chance to check out some cool geology, including little drips of sandstone that had come away with the rain and then rehardened lower down on the mountain. This was unable to be caught on film, but trust us, it was cool. We made it to the bottom without seeing any dreaded prairie rattle snakes (which the staff uses to scare people into staying on the trail) and watched a brief slide show about the area. The bluffs were named for a guy who was abandoned by his party after he was wounded in an Indian attack and subsequently died at the base of the bluffs. How nice that he has a lasting memorial made to him.

Since we hadn’t been following the Oregon Trail, we missed out on the tedium of utter flatness that was experienced by the pioneers and then relieved briefly by the rock formation in this part of Nebraska. Of course, it also marked the beginning of their ascent into the Rockies, which I’m guessing was not fun in a wagon. Or actually walking beside the wagon, barefoot. Once again, being born in the 1970’s is a very good thing. We walked out on a little bit of the Trail, and imagined walking alongside a creaking wagon with all our worldly possessions in it. Between the sun and the prickly grasses, we decided that the front seats of Vantom were even more comfortable than previously believed.

After leaving Scott’s Bluff, we continued our way to Colorado. We even took a picture of the rustic sign, but only after some very complicated reversal and turning. We had (foolishly) believed that the Colorado border would mark the beginnings of the mountains, but northeast Colorado is just as flat as Nebraska. Topography doesn’t follow state lines, go figure.

It took us awhile to see the Rockies, since it was, of course, very hazy and cloudy. When we did see them, we first mistook them for kind of pointy clouds. But the views driving into Denver were amazing nonetheless, since on either side of us were flat plains, while huge mountains rose from them miles away. Cool. Of course, around the time we could see the mountain, Ceridwen began to feel dreadful. Short of breath, dizzy, sort of nauseous. Oh goodie, altitude sickness!

Once in Denver, we settled into the REI parking lot and logged on to try to find a suite hotel to stay in, since Keath will be working full time this coming week, and will need wifi. Our need for a restroom led us into REI, where we were soon parted from some money. But in exchange, we got a backpack, which will make backcountry camping much easier. We also got a little tiny stove that runs on little tiny fuel pellets so that we can make little tiny dinners in the backcountry.

After our outdoorsy purchases, we went to the TownPlace Suites and settled in to our suite, mostly by lying around on the comfy bed, watching the extended cable and playing with the internet. This lasted until bed time.