Sunday, November 20, 2011

"West of Pecos"

We have a gallery for the Swink High School drama class production of "West of Pecos" up on's Galleries page, under Other Events 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park 10.29/30.2011

Last weekend we went to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We stayed over in Montrose Friday evening, then spent all day Saturday hiking over hill and dale in the park. On Sunday, we visited the Cimarron and Morrow Point dam site of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, as well as stopping along the Blue Mesa Reservoir, and then various points along the Arkansas once we crossed back over Monarch Pass.

When we entered the park Saturday morning, we found the usual cheerful and friendly ranger at the entrance point. She directed us to the road that takes visitors down to the river level. It's a 16% grade, all the way, both ways. We spent some time down at the East Portal and Crystal Dam section of the river. We were the only vehicle going down or coming up. There was one small party of tent campers in the campground, and we saw one other vehicle along the river.

We missed the big fall foliage scene, but we still got some very nice shots.

We then took the south rim road to all the overlook sites and hiking trails along the rim. As you can see from the photos, it was quite hazy, even though the sky was very clear, at least during the morning and early afternoon. Our haze filters and polarizers cleaned up some of that, but not all.

We saw several peregrines, especially in the area around the Painted Wall. Mule deer were cluttering up the roadways and roadsides. We saw several other bird species but didn't get any photos of them, as we were shooting with wide angles rather than telephotos. At the Painted Wall, peregrines were soaring in the updrafts. It was quiet enough that we could actually hear the air flow over the wings of the falcons.

Sunday, we stopped at Cimmaron/Morrow Point dam right at sunrise. The canyon was, of course, heavily shadowed because of the time of day, and it was really chilly. A brisk hike down the trails along the river took care of the chill.

We stayed in the Days Inn in Montrose. Though this seems to be an older, refurbished motel, it was quite presentable, and very clean. When we checked in, the young fellow at the desk recommended a number of restaurants. We had looked some up before the trip and found that several had closed down. We ended up going to the Camp Robber, which was excellent. Leece had the Sonora Steak burrito, which was stuffed with perfectly grilled medium rare sirloin, while I had the chicken Florentine-stuffed crepes. The eats were first-rate, as was the service. This one is a definite on the 'let's go there again' list.

Back at the motel, we found that the room was very clean. There were a number of nice touches, including a yellow rubber duckie that Leece thought was really cute. I thought it was a rather unremarkable rubber duckie and would have been more impressed with a rubber AFLAC duck, but that's just me. The motel had complimentary bottled water, tea, coffee, and popcorn (the rooms have a refrigerator and microwave). Leece found the shampoo, conditioner, and soaps to be well within her ... standards.

Breakfast was typical motel 'continental' breakfast, with the usual waffle iron and other goods, nicely arranged and laid out with lots of room. The breakfast room was spacious and brightly lit by the morning sun.

After our return from the park on Saturday, we tried the Red Barn, an allegedly award-winning eatery across from the motel. We were not overly impressed with the eats; Leece had a small steak and I had the bacon/blue cheese burger, and both were a bit overdone and dry. Not so much that it was worth throwing a hissy fit, but not award-winning, either. The service was very good, the place was clean, and presented a very pleasant atmosphere.

We'd highly recommend the motel to anyone passing through or staying a few days in Montrose. It isn't one of the upscale outfits, but it was very good value and the staff were pleasant and helpful. We'd highly recommend the Camp Robber, and while we wouldn't give the Red Barn a thumbs down, our experience was such that either the 'award-winning' was overstated, or we were just there on a less than perfect day for them. It seemed clear to us that Montrose businesses make a concerted effort to welcome visitors.All of the employees of all the businesses we visited were friendly, helpful, and well-versed on what was going on in town that out-of-town visitors might find interesting.

As for the national park, it was, as we have found with all of NPS's facilities, a truly great experience. If you haven't been there, you are missing one of the nation's great treats. As Leece said, as we stood there in the shadow of purple mountains majesty ... "We are truly blessed in this nation ...".

And we are.

We have a photo gallery up on, under Galleries | Road Trips 2011.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

So last Friday at lunchtime we loaded Steve-O, Tookie, and Ethan into the van, along with a cooler full of hot dogs, s'mores fixins, water bottles, root beer, and Pepsi Maxx, and headed over to Great Sand Dunes NP.

We had to detour through Pueblo, of course, as our tax dollars are still being invested in CO 10 to Walsenburg. Despite the detour, it was still a very pleasant drive, at a very pleasant time of the year.

The aspens are turning, though they weren't at peak. We turned off US 160 to take CO 150 up to the park. We got to the visitor center about 3-ish, and to the dunes about 3:30.It's about 18-20 miles to the high dunes from US 160, but they glistened in the distance like pinkish silk, ruffling on the valley floor.

Mount Herard rose in the background as the kids took off across the flats in front of the dunes to at least try to make it to the top. They didn't. It's too much fun sliding down the slopes. About 6 we went to our motel; we stayed in Great Dunes Lodge, a couple of miles up from the park entrance.

The kids enjoyed a swim in the heated pool, while Leece and I got the hot dogs and other dinner goods going. The motel has several gas grills on a patio overlooking the dunes. After all the hiking and the swim, there were no left over hot dogs, and the s'mores Leece put together were well received by all.

We stayed up for awhile star-gazing. A spectacular meteor streaked across the sky at one point. We saw a satellite go overhead. And the Milky Way, of course, was almost beyond description in that clear night air with no city lights murking it up.

The kids passed out and slept soundly till dawn, when Leece and I got up to watch the sunrise over the dunes.

Then we packed up, and went hiking along the lower reaches of the Mosca Trail till nearly noon. We have a gallery of photos of the park trip up on's galleries page, under Road Trips.

Leaving the park, we went to Alamosa for the Swink Lions v. Mancos Bluejays game, which was played at Adams State's Rex Field. The Lions won, 50-0. We have a good gallery of photos of the game up on Shutterfly. You can get to the Shutterfly link on's galleries page.

On the way home, we stopped several times along US 160, including at La Veta Pass, to take photos of the fall foilage.

A good time was had by all.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Florissant redux

We took another trip to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument back on 09.10.2011, to do some wildflower shots. We have a gallery up on's image galleries page under Road Trips 2011.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

High times in The Smile Hi City

I stopped by Vanhook's earlier today, and scarfed up on some Jonathans, and some Galas, and some really nice peaches and plums. Didn't have the camera with me, but here's a post with some photos from back in 2008:

Market Time

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Old buildings, Johnson Mesa NM

Here's a few shots of some old barns, and the Johnson Mesa Methodist Church (built in 1897).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Local Road Trip

On the way back from Manzanola, we went south from Knapp's, and got these shots.

A thunderstorm in the far distance, the other side of the Oakley Indian Mound. The Mound is one of the largest repositories of human artifacts in southeastern Colorado.

Horses along County Road 18, between US 50 and CO 10, near CO Road BB.

Leece shot this tree, with the rather dramatic sky. She was shooting almost directly into the sun.

Looking to the east northeast, toward The Holy Land and The Smile Hi City.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ark Valley Fair

We went over to the fairgrounds this evening, visiting the fine arts/photography exhibit, the quilts and needlecraft, the 4-H swine and goats, and generally wandering around.

We have a few shots up here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

Look under Events.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Smoky grilled corn salsa

We recently tried this recipe from Country Woman magazine:

It was the grand prize winner for the magazine's Corn Contest. It was submitted by Alicia DeWolfe, of Gloucester, Massachussetts.

6 plum tomatoes, halved
4 medium ears sweet corn, husks removed
2 medium sweet yellow peppers, halved
2 medium green peppers, halved
3 jalapeno peppers, halved and seeded
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Grill the tomatoes, corn, peppers and onion, covered, over medium heat for 10-12 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally. Allow vegetables to cool slightly. Remove corn from cobs; transfer to a large bowl. Chop the remaining vegetables and add to corn.

In a small bowl, whisk the cilantro, oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, sugar and pepper. Pour over vegetables; toss to coat. Serve warm or cold. Yield: 6 cups.

We subbed chunked Early Girl tomatoes for the halved plum tomatoes, and we subbed real Vidalia onions for the red onions. Texas 1015's would work too. The peppers and cilantro came out of the garden.

We grilled Peaches and Cream corn, then shaved the kernels off the cob.

While this is really good warm, we liked it better after an overnight in the refrigerator.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A nice basketful ...

We got another load of tomatoes and peppers out of the garden this evening. Cayennes and Anaheims on the peppers.

The work we put into building up the soil is paying off. This spot used to be a parking spot next to the garage. It was covered with pea gravel. The lads shoveled all that off the ground three years ago. We have been mixing in all the leaves from the fall, and a trailer load of horse manure from Tab Ramsey's corrals over on Road BB and 23. This has had a very good effect.

Our pasta sauce this evening was full of chunks of our squashes and tomatoes, with a bit of Italian sausage. It was most excellent. Steverino cooked the pasta to a perfect al dente.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

We were in Pueblo today, and had the opportunity to stop by the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart just before the noon Mass.

It's a beautiful church. If you get the chance, it's worth a visit.

We took some photos, which you can see over on, linked from our galleries page:

Mike and Leece's galleries

under "Road Trips."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mount Capulin Volcano National Monument

Saturday we took a road trip down to Mount Capulin Volcano National Monument, just across the state line in New Mexico.

We have a gallery of images up on Mike and Leece's image galleries under "Road Trips."

We followed CO 109 down through Kim, then on US 160 to CO 389 down to Branson, and from Branson, across the New Mexico line, picking up NM 551 to its intersection with NM 456, the "Dry Cimmaron Highway," to NM 325 in Folsom, which took us to the National Monument.

You can find the official info about the site here: Mt Capulin Volcano National Monument

We stopped several times along the way for photos. We'll have a separate gallery up on the road trip down to the site.

The park is easy to find and easy to get into. There is a small visitor's center, where we found that the NPS staff was - as we have come to expect - helpful and friendly. This included the staff at the center as well as up at the parking lot on the edge of the crater mouth.

We had lunch in the picnic area, which is about 200 yards up the volcano road from the visitor center. There was no shortage of tables, and the picnic area was clean and well-maintained.

There are a number of trails available at the site, including a wheelchair accessible nature trail near the center. You can find more about these trails here. We did the trail down into the crater, and the rim trail. Neither would be very challenging down at altitudes we are accustomed to, but the rim is nearly 4,000 feet higher than The Holy Land. Flat land cycling leaves a little to be desired for conditioning for these altitudes, as we discovered on our visit to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. We found that taking some of the steeper ascents more slowly than we would have down lower helped considerably. The view was well worth a bit of huffing and puffing, however. Actually, the view was more than well worth the huffing and puffing; the view was spectacular. It was a magnificent day for the trip.

Capulin is part of the Raton-Clayton volcanic field, about 8,000 square miles worth. It's larger than the state of Massachusetts. From the top of Capulin, you can see many other cones in the varying distances. You can get a better feel for the extent of the field by using Google maps and examining the aerial view of the area.

After leaving the volcano, we went over to Des Moines, about 9 miles away, for gas. We looped back up through Folsom and then on 72 across Johnson Mesa. We'll have more on that as well as a gallery of images. This leg of the trip was an adventure in its own right, but more on that in a following post. Capulin is also known for its wildflowers, but most of Leece's best flower shots came from the Johnson Mesa excursion.

Interesting footnote: Capulin erupted in a rather spectacular display some 60,000 or so years ago. Of course, that is incorrect, since we all know the entire universe was created in the wee hours of Sunday morning, 23 October 4004 BC. Huh. I guess if we elect someone like Bachmann or Huckabee or Perry as president we can kiss the NPS goodbye, hmmm?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Romans 1:20 - High Plains Summer

Saturday Leece and I went up to DIA to pick up Froggers. On the way back we stopped at the Rush Creeks and other places along CO 71 for some photos.

Go to:

Mike and Leece's image galleries under "Road trips."

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

It was that kind of day. Who needs this nonsense?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Then sings my soul ..."

On the way in to The Holy Land this evening, I could not help but notice the wonderful quality of the evening.

I had to stop and take some pictures.

Almost every evening is worth some pictures, but for some reason it was quite special this evening. Michelangelo would have loved this light:

Looking north from County Road CC. If you were to travel on a line directly north, you would come across no human habitation other than the odd farm or ranch house, until you hit the Canadian border, and maybe not even then or past then.

The southern reaches of the Wet Mountains, which run from approximately US Highway 50 down to Walsenburg. The distant peaks are about 80 miles away as the crow flies.

You would be able to see Pikes' Peak in this shot, were it not for the distant storm.

Looking south from Road CC.

This is from a couple of hundred yards east of the intersection of Road CC and Road 21, near the Hirakata place on CC. Looking to the southeast.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Leece's "Summer in the Arkansas Valley" card set

Here are the images Leece is using in her note card set, "Summer in the Arkansas Valley:"

Summer in the Arkansas Valley

Leece's Bent's Old Fort card set

Leece has a note card set for Bent's Old Fort. You can see the images she is using for those cards here:

Leece's Bent's Old Fort card set

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Down East Churches card sets

While Down East, Leece and I noticed that the church buildings are quite impressive. Some of them are actually quite old and could probably tell some stories if their walls could talk about what happened inside those buildings.

We liked the buildings so much that we have been taking pictures of them on our last two visits and while we were visiting this last time Kim, the owner of Davis Shore Provisions, where "A Day Down East" card sets first sold, suggested that she thought cards with local church buildings on them would sell.

We thought the same and spent a day taking pictures of church buildings Down East, which Leece has developed into a set of ten note cards with envelopes which come in a folder made from a recycled file folder.

We really like these. The colored pencil feature in Photoshop made them look especially nice.

Here is a picture of the folder. The cover is one of the steeples Photoshopped in the Fresco filter.

And here are the images in the card set:

Down East Churches set 1

The card set includes pictures of

Williston United Methodist
Smyrna United Methodist
Davis First Baptist
Hunting Quarter Primitive Baptist
Cedar Island Pilgrim's Rest Free Will Baptist
Davis Free Will Baptist Church
Davis Original Free Will Baptist Church
Harkers Island Pentecostal Holiness Church
Sea Level Missionary Baptist Church
Stacy Freewill Baptist

and set number 2:

Down East Churches set 2

which includes

Atlantic Methodist
Atlantic Missionary Baptist
Cedar Island United Methodist
Harkers Island Free Grace
Sea Level Free Union Free Will Baptist
Harkers Island Grace Holiness
Harkers Island Huggins Memorial
Sea Level United Methodist
Smyrna First Missionary Baptist
Straits United Methodist

These card sets can be purchased through Etsy, but we can certainly sell single cards of one church in bulk if a pastor, outreach coordinator or layman is interested in using them. Contact Leece through or her Etsy store for more information.

We will also have some other sets with New Bern and Beaufort churches as well.

A Day Down East note card set

We haven't been sitting on the pizer much at our house. Leece is busy putting together card sets that she is selling on Etsy and at Davis Shore Provisions in North Carolina. We love vacationing in North Carolina. It's fun to lay on the beach, visit the islands, national seashores, and state parks, pick up shells,  and eat fresh seafood, so we thought we'd share our love for Down East with everyone.

Here is what she is doing:

This is a note card set featuring our photography of places "Down East."

Here is the folder the cards come in. It's made from a recycled file folder. Leece painted the background blue because it reminds her of the Carolina blue skies. The brown corrugated paper reminds her of the sand dunes that grace the beaches.

And here are the cards in the set:

A Day Down East

The set is available for $20.00 plus shipping and handling. You can order through Etsy, or for multiple sets, contact Leece through the Etsy site or through

More cards are on the way. We've got another church set in the making and we are also developing cards sets with a Colorado theme.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Down East churches

"Down East" is a part of eastern North Carolina. Depending on your point of view, it extends from either Harkers Island or the North River bridge at Bettie, out to Cedar Island. There are roughly fourteen little towns and villages that make up "Down East." I say 'roughly,' because in some definitions of "Down East," you may or may not have Harkers Island included, and in some definitions you'll see Diamond City - an old whaling town which ceased to exist back around 1900, give or take a few years - and Ocracoke and Portsmouth Village, and even some of the towns on Bogue Banks. Portsmouth Village has also ceased to exist, though not with the drama of Diamond City's demise. It is on the National Historical Registry, and can be reached by small boat ferry for a visit.

Here is a website that has some background on these villages:

Down East Tour

There is a great deal of history "Down East," much of it linking as far back as the early English explorers and settlers, and the occasional Spaniard. Down Easters, the people who are native to the area, speak with a distinct accent that carries overtones of the language of those early English pioneers and settlers. A properly tuned ear can even distinguish from which village a speaker comes, just by the dialect. There is even one school of thought that supports that the Lost Colony was really on Cedar Island, not up in the Roanoke area.

They are all fishing villages. As commercial agriculture is a mainstay part of the economy here in southeastern Colorado, commercial fishing is a mainstay Down East. You'll notice I say 'a' mainstay in both cases, rather than 'the' mainstay. Times change, and just as agriculture has faded here, so commercial fishing has faded in importance Down East, and for many of the same reasons. Much of our produce is 'hechoed' in Mexico, while restaurants are getting their seafood from Malaysia, Thailand, and other foreign sources. And like the produce, the imported seafood is not nearly as good as 'the real thing.' This economic 'transition' is one more turd in the economic punchbowl, for there never was, nor will be, a Malaysian farm shrimp that can come anywhere near a wild Core Sound shrimp for color, flavor, texture, and all-round 'eatibility.'

Down Easters are no strangers to hardship. No one is, who wrests a living from the land or from the sea.

The churches of these little villages have for generations served as a foundation for village life. They have suffered their own storms, as we see in Davis, where we have three Baptist churches - there is the First Baptist church, and then there is the Free Will Baptist church, and then there is the Original Free Will Baptist church. - all the result of various theological dustups and melodramas over the years. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But all that aside, these churches remain a port for souls in the storms of life, and they go far in holding their communities together.

Some of them go back almost beyond memory. The Hunting Quarters Primitive Baptist church, for example, could trace its rolls back to the 1600's. But like most of the primitive churches in this area,  that one has closed up and is no longer active. Still, it represents a wonderful bit of history of a wonderful part of these United States.

We have a gallery of many - but not all - of the Down East churches up here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries under the Eastern North Carolina June 2011 heading.

And more from our 2009 visit, here:

North Carolina 2009

We'll post more on the histories of these churches as we find out more about them.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

From "The Fleshpot"

Steverino did up the burgers for Sunday dinner.

He used a recipe from one of the Taste of Home magazines, somewhat modified by mom, who served in an advisory capacity.

These are a mix of 80/20 ground beef, ground turkey, Vidalia onions, chopped jalapeno, chopped mushroom, garlic, coarse black pepper, grilled over a slow fire. The topping is no-fat cream cheese with Great Value fiesta mix cheese and chopped baby 'bellos, melted over the patties just before removing from the grill. They are served with the usual accoutrements and condiments, on toasted-on-the-grill Kaiser rolls.

And we had a very nice salad of Romas, sugar peas, corn, Vidalias, baby 'bellos,  fresh yellow squash from the garden out back, with an Italian dressing, fresh basil, and coarse black pepper.

Who says there's no God?

Blood of the Lamb Laundry Detergent

So there we were, sitting in church today, and they started that Power in the Blood hymn. You know, the one that goes ...

... There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the blood of the Lamb ...


... Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood ...

so I leaned over to Leece and whispered, "That would make a good laundry detergent."

"Blood of the Lamb" laundry detergent; gits yer wash and yer soul whiter than snow with its wonder-werkin' pow'r, pow'r, pow'r ...".

Leece giggled. And giggled some more.

I moved closer to her. God's targeting instrumentation is pretty high grade stuff, and though he's usually - I think - careful about collateral damage, nonetheless if there were to be any instantaneous smiting, I wanted a human shield.

It was probably unnecessary; after all, you can argue that it was God that taught Kafka a thing or two about humor.

Then they started the refrain from How Great Thou Art, this version:
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Yeah baby. I love that one. I think most hymns are generally a bit on the simpleton side, but that one really works for me. You can ride down a country road here in The Holy Land and belt that refrain out like you really mean it. And then the parts about the stars, the rolling thunder, birds and lofty mountain grandeur ... yeah baby.

These are some of the ones that move my soul:

How Great Thou Art
Amazing Grace
Eternal Father, Strong to Save
Mansions of the Lord

And Mighty to Save ain't too shabby, either. Of course, Hillsong could put one of Paula Deen's recipes to music and make it sound good.

This is a nice one from the communion service today:

My Hope

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bent's Old Fort

We visited Bent's Old Fort for their Fourth of July festivities.

We were able to observe the fort's surgeon amputate the toe of a kitchen wench, who had suffered injury to the digit when a couple of drunks caused her to drop a coal scuttle or some other heavy pail-like utensil on her foot. It was difficult to determine, what with all the shrieking, wailing, and screaming, with pauses for a few slugs of 'anesthetic', exactly what had happened. There was not much sympathy on the part of the rest of the kitchen staff, who seemed to feel that the patient needed to get her act together so as to be able to pull her load.

The surgeon amputated the toe and pitched it o'er the ramparts we watched. A couple of mangy curs fought over it before devouring it.

The surgeon also seemed unfamiliar with the terms 'Medicare,' 'Obamacare,' or 'health insurance,' but did seem to think that a sheep or goat would be fair exchange for his services. This idea, like drying your clothes on a clotheline rather than in a dryer, seems to be making a comeback in some places.

We got some shots of the blacksmith working in the forge, as well as some scenes around the fort.

The Koshares eventually showed up and did some of their dances. These were well-received by the audience.

We then retired to Dairy Queen in Las Animas, for Blizzards (most of us) and corn dogs (Froggy).

A patriotic time was had by all.

Gallery's up over on

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under "Events."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Manitou Springs

So Friday we went up to Divide to pick up The Jonster from Golden Bell, where he had spent the week at the Naz Camp doing biblical things like white-water rafting and otherwise finding himself. He says he had a great time. I expect he did. Golden Bell's a well-run outfit.

Then we stopped in Manitou Springs while Leece visited The Silver Sparrow bead and jewelry shop, for some supplies. Leece had a good chat with Michele, the owner, about jewelry making. It's a pleasant shop, and quite crowded at the time we were there.

We also went to The Poppy Seed for some hemp twine. The Seed was interesting, with discreet whiffs of incense oozing out the door,and Bob Marley t-shirts. I like Bob Marley's music. Marakkesh Express flitted through what passes for my mind as well.

On the way home we stopped at Rudy's for some brisket and turkey. The meats are pretty good, though not nearly as good as mine. The cole slaw leaves much to be desired, but the creamed corn was quite tasty, and Steverino reports that the nanner puddin' was very good.

We took a few shots of downtown Manitou Springs. There's a lot more to do and see there, but we weren't there for sight-seeing, not this time, so we didn't do the place justice in the photographic sense.

It was also a madhouse. Tourists were swarming about, spending money like water, and bolstering the local economy.

Gallery is up on:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under "Road Trips"

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bent's Old Fort 4th of July 2011

A press release from the National Park Service (see our BoF image galleries here):

Celebrate the 4th with a Bang at Bent’s Old Fort

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site will commemorate our country’s birth
with a bang during an afternoon celebration on Monday, July 4. A cannon
firing at 12 noon will kick off the festivities.

“Bent’s Fort was known as a ‘cultural crossroads’ where U.S. citizens,
Native Americans and Hispanic peoples came together in business,” said
Chief of Interpretation Rick Wallner. “One visitor in the 1840s wrote of
hearing seven languages spoken within the fort walls.” To honor that
multicultural aspect, the fort’s 4th of July celebration will include
American, Native American and Hispanic traditions.

Besides cannon firings at 12 and 2 p.m., other scheduled events include the
Koshare Dancers interpreting Native American dances in the plaza at 1 p.m.;
a raffle at 2:15 of an 1846 flag that has flown over the fort ramparts; an
1840s frontier burial at 2:30; a debate on issues of the day in the dining
room at 3 p.m.; and a piƱata break in the plaza at 3:45. A final cannon
firing at 4:20 will signify the end of the celebration.

All during the afternoon demonstrations will be ongoing throughout the fort
including cooking in the kitchen, games in the billiards room, and traders
in the trade room.

Regular fees of $3 for adults (13 and over), $2 for children (ages 6-12),
free for children 5 and under and all National Park pass holders will apply
during this event. Visitors are advised to be mindful of the heat this
time of year and bring sun protection and water.

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site is located 8 miles east of La Junta
or 13 miles west of Las Animas on Colorado Highway 194. The site is open
from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through the summer. For more information,
go to the park website at or call (719) 383-5010.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

After we dropped off the red-headed stepchild at Golden Bell (where he did in fact pass his louse-check), we took a side-trip over to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. It falls under the National Park Service.

We were sitting there snuffling our Walmart deli roast beef sandwiches. Leece had also packed some grapes and Ranier cherries. I started pitching cherry pits and stems at a squirrel (see the gallery) when ... a ranger materialized next to us.

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to stop throwing refuse on the ground."

"Huh? Hey. They're cherry pits and stems. Natural vegetable waste," I protested. But not too vigorously.

"They aren't natural to the site, sir. You're going to have to cease and desist."

"But the squirrel ... he's gobbling 'em up. There's no litter ...". My protest sounded lame even to me.

"Don't feed the animals, sir. They can become dangerous when overly acclimated to humans.I'll have to ask you to step away from the cherry pits, sir. Please keep your hands where I can see them."

Nah. It wasn't like that but my imagination was running wild. The Florissant rangers were as we have experienced at every National Park Service site: friendly, professional, helpful, and quite well-informed.

We had a good time though we didn't have much time. We hiked over to Big Stump, the fossilized remnant of a redwood estimated to be at least 230 feet tall at the time the volcanic outbreak got it. This is not one of those 'dinosaur' parks. These fossils are from a period well after the dinosaurs shuffled off this mortal coil. The fossils are of plants and insects.

There are 14 miles of hiking trails here; it's well worth a visit. There's a slight fee but we had our America the Beautiful Old Farts' pass (you can get one out at Bent's Old Fort). Picnic areas are well-maintained and clean, as are the outhouses. There's a flush toilet and running water sinks in the visitors' center.

Florissant is 8400 feet above sea level. The air is thinner than you think. Drink lots of water, and take it easy, even if you do think you're in pretty good shape.

Hornbek Homestead is on the grounds of the national monument; it's an interesting side trip. There is a small parking lot near the homestead site, just off the highway.

We have a gallery up here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the "Road Trip" heading.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sweatin' it out ...

So while Leece was working on her sermon for tonight, I took a ride out through The Holy Land.

It's hot. 103. Africa hot. Well, maybe not that hot; the humidity's down to 5%. You can feel your bodily juices being sucked out like in a Grade B mummy flick.

I pedaled out to Road CC, then over to 24 and to CC.5, there by the Newdale Pheasant Pharm and the Newdale School (built 1914). From there, straight across to 22, stopping for a swill. The water, which had been ice cold leaving Swink, was warmer than blood now. Then, south to CO 10. Back to 23, and down to the intersection of 23 and BB, the corner where Tab Ramsay lives. Nice horses there in the pens right by the road.

Due east on BB to 24.5, and north on that back into Swink and the homestead, for a 10.5 mile toodle.

There were some military aircraft droning back and forth between well south of us, to north, on a northeast/southwest track. They were pretty far out and it was hard to tell, but the larger of the two may have been a C-130 variant. They seemed to be doing aerial refueling training.

The distinctive odor of growing corn permeated the air. Lots of birds; no shortage of red-winged blackbirds in the alfalfa and wheat fields.

The heat was a serious beat-down. I've been guzzling ice water since returning.

Felt good, though. Real good. Um hmm. Ooorah.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ted's Lemon Pie

So on the last trip to eastern North Carolina, we were treated to several versions of this lemon pie while we were in Davis. All of them were excellent, especially the one where the chef included some pulp from the lemons in the pie filling.

This one is "Ted's Lemon Pie," from the "Ladies of the Church" cookbook, a compilation of fine cooking from the ladies of Davis First Baptist Church, published by Morris Press. The recipe was submitted to the book by one Becky Smith:

  • 2 cans sweetened condensed milk (we used Carnation rather than Eagle, it was a buck cheaper a can and worked just as well)
  • 1 can 100% lemon juice (we wondered what '1 can' was; we finally ended up using 1 cup)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crumbled
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted

The meringue requires 2 eggwhites, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon of real vanilla extract.

The process: To make the crust, mix the crumbled crackers and the butter. Press into a pie dish (we used a 9-incher). Stand whole crackers around the edge.

Now, combine the condensed milk, lemon juice, and egg yolks, and stir until well blended. Pour this onto the crushed cracker crust. Hang on to the standing crackers as they tend to get away during the pouring and flowing.

Beat the egg whites until fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue beating until peaks form. Spread over the top of the pie.

Bake at 400 degrees 8-10 minutes or until lightly brown.

This is really good. As you can see, it's another heart-stopper, what with that condensed milk and butter. Sweetened condensed milk runs 1300 - 1800 calories per can depending on brand, and butter ... well, it's butter, what else can we say. And the egg yolks, of course.

But it's really good. Restraint is a must, unless you have a fatalistic view about cardiac health.

It's really good.

Burrell's Shady Wildflower Mix

We were out doing some grilling this morning. While the goods were cooking, I did some weeding in Leece's wildflower garden. It's coming along nicely, with some of the plants beginning to bloom.

We use Burrell's Shady Wildflower mix. It's ten bux for a quarter-pound package of seeds. That covers a lot of ground.

Burrell's also offers dryland and other wildflower mixes. You can find them listed on page 76 of their catalog.

Burrell's is our favorite seed supplier. Their website is here:

Burrell Seeds

and you can download their catalog in PDF format here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jalepeno Popper Burgers

Here's another Taste of Home recipe that we tried this evening:

Jalepeno Popper Burgers

This one took 2nd place in the Taste of Home "Blaze of Glory" grilling contest. It's a heart-stopper worthy of Guy Fiero's meatily choleric snuffling on "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives." You know where he puts away ten or fifteen thousand calories per visit to said eateries, causing cardiologists across the country to either cringe in horror, or send him a business card in anticipation of some serious medical business.

We couldn't keep the grill lit with the wind howling out of the north as it is this evening. WeatherUnderground says the wind is puffing at 6 mph, but it has our cottonwoods bent over like Kevin Bacon getting whacked in Animal House.

So we broiled them.

These are some seriously tasty works of culinary art. We served them on whole wheat ciabbata rolls. We didn't put the pepper jack cheese or the guacamole on top, in the interests of healthy dining. I did consider some extra sharp cheddar, since the real reason, in my case, is that I just don't like pepper jack. But Leece the Conscience won out ...

We had them with some red potatoes fried in the bacon drippings. The potatoes were especially good, since they were left over from a Low Country Boil (Frogmore stew) we did up last week. We can thank Louie for that, since he introduced Leece to this culinary wonder on our recent trip Down East.

This is definitely a do-again.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fusion Burgers and Camel Dung

We tried a Taste of Home recipe this afternoon. "Fusion Burgers." They are a light turkey-based burger served with crispy veggies over a piece of nan bread.

Nan bread is found throughout southern Asia and into the Indian subcontinent. Here is an article about it.

It's traditionally baked on a tandoor (Afghanistan, similar in some respects to the horno, which you can see out at Bent's Old Fort.

In many parts of the world, camel dung can be used as fuel for a tandoor and for baking nan. In his novel "Caravans," James Michener describes this.

Leece mixed the turkey patty ingredients, and I grilled 'em. The patties are quite soft and mushy compared to ground beef, and even plain ground turkey without the added items. This made grilling them a challenge, but with some care they turned out well. Next time we'll use some foil on the heat. Indirect heat works pretty good, too.

Goat cheese is a bit too 'muttonish' for my taste. I would have preferred feta cheese. But that's a small point. The finished product was delicious and is a definite do-again.

Leece substituted broccoli slaw for cabbage, as America's Favorite Place to Shop was out of cabbage slaw. Perhaps the truck was held up at the border with the 'hecho in Mexico' cabbage variety. In any case, we think broccoli is a better choice.

It was a gas grill, BTW, and we skipped the camel dung, though Leece was thinking about some horse poop from one of our neighbors ...

Friday, June 17, 2011

New Bern churches

We have a gallery up for some of our favorite churches in New Bern.

Here are the church histories from their websites:

First Presbyterian

Centenary Methodist. Francis Asbury preached here several times. Asbury Theological Seminary is named after him.

Christ Episcopal, where George Whitefield, the great evangelist and founder of Methodism, preached in 1765. He had previously preached in New Bern, at the courthouse on Christmas Day, 1739: The Rev. George Whitefield, (1714-1770), the famous Methodist divine, “unequalled prince of pulpit orators,” arrived in New Bern on Christmas eve in 1739. On Christmas day he preached in the courthouse. An account of his visit related that “Most of his congregation was melted to tears. Here he was grieved to see the minister encouraging dancing, and to find a dancingmaster in every little town. ‘Such sinful entertainments,’ he said, ‘enervate the minds of the people, and insensibly lead them into effeminacy and ruin’.” - "Crown of life; History of Christ Church, New Bern, N. C., 1715-1940", Gertrude Sprague Carraway.

Old St Paul's, North Carolina's oldest Catholic church.

Temple B'nai Sholem

And the gallery is up here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the Eastern North Carolina June 2011 heading.

Willow Pond

Willow Pond is part of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harker's Island.

Here's a slide show about the pond, how it used to be, how it was more or less destroyed, and how it was brought back:

There's a flock of American white ibis that hang out just to the left of and across from the blind that has been set up for bird watching and photography. Every time we've been to Willow Pond, the ibis have been there. There's no shortage of egrets, herons, blue herons, little blue herons, gulls, and other birds, including, of course, the usual selection of ducks and geese. Some of these are seasonal depending on migratory habits.

Willow Pond is almost at the eastern end of Harker's Island. The only thing further down the road than Willow Pond and the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum is the Cape Lookout National Seashore visitors' center.

There's a set of trails, short ones, around the pond. You can pick up the trail by going out the back door of either the museum or the visitors' center.

The museum also has a Facebook page.

Our gallery of Willow Pond photos, including some shots of a Little Blue Heron, is up here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the Eastern North Carolina June 2011 heading.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fort Macon

Fort Macon state park is the second most popular state park in the North Carolina parks system.

I've been going out to Fort Macon since the late fifties. Maybe before that; I just don't remember. Over those decades, the state has done a fine job in restoring the fort and improving the public beach access and services. On our trips to eastern North Carolina, the park has become one of Leece's favorite spots as well. The park offers good, clean beaches, which though sometimes crowded on weekends and especially on holidays, are generally much less so than other public beaches during the week.

The park also has a very well done new visitors' center.

Back in the day - Blackbeard's day - the port of Beaufort and the surrounding area was quite vulnerable to attack from the sea, by either pirates or enemy naval forces. Not much was done about fortifications that far back, but by the early 1800's, the threat from the Royal Navy (remember that War of 1812?) was looming large. So a small fort was built out on the tip of Bogue Banks. Too far out, and not very well constructed, since it washed away by the mid-1820's. You can see a diorama of that fort in the park visitors' center.

The current fort was constructed between 1826 and 1834. But they had problems with erosion along the beach which threatened the stability of the fort, so along came Captain Robert E. Lee of the Army's engineers. Yep. That Robert E. Lee. He constructed a system of jetties which are still in use today, and that greatly relieved the situation. Those jetties are a popular fishing spot, and I've caught more than a few bluefish from those rocks.

The fort was the scene of a battle in April of 1862 - all part of a larger campaign beginning at New Bern the month before - and was taken by Union forces after a short siege. This was one of the first uses of rifled cannon against such fortifications. The brick structure proved no match for this new weaponry. The fort's armament also included some rifled cannon. Today, donations are being sought to purchase a Parrott for the fort. As a side note, you can find a listing of surviving Civil War artillery pieces here.

The fort served during both world wars. Coastal artillery was emplaced there as late as the World War II era. That may see odd, but remember our posts on Cape Lookout and Operation Drumbeat. No one would have been surprised then to have seen a U-boat come sailing into Port of Morehead City to pot a few freighters. If Gunther Prien could sink HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow, why not expect to find another enterprising young submariner in the Beaufort inlet shipping channel, which was far less challenging.

Here is a more detailed history of the fort.

We have a gallery of images of the fort, and a couple of the beach area (but not the beach access itself, which has a large parking lot, a well-maintained bath house, and boardwalk beach access), here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the Eastern NC June 2011 heading.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shackleford Banks

Shackleford Banks is one of the barrier islands that protects the North Carolina mainland from the sea. On one side of the island lies the open Atlantic Ocean; on the other, a shallow sound. That sound might be considered an extension of southernmost Core Sound, but it's "Back Sound" on maps.

The sound is full of seafood: blue crabs, shrimp, jumping mullet, flounder, oysters, clams, Norfolk spots, croakers, and closer to the inlets, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Some fairly hefty sharks find their way into the sound as well; you should not be overly shocked to see the odd 8-10 foot bull shark paddling around. On our visit last year, Leece was treated to a very nice specimen of a bonnethead shark swimming by just a few feet from the soundside beach.There is also this gallery of photos of dozens of what appear to be bull sharks just off Carrot Island and Bird Shoals, inside Beaufort Inlet, in August 2009.

The island is named after John Shackleford, who was deeded the property sometime around 1713-1723. The land was transferred among the Shacklefords, eventually leaving their hold around 1805.

Now, it's part of Cape Lookout National Seashore, and lies in close proximity to the Rachel Carson National Estuarine Reserve. Rachel Carson, you will recall, is the author of "The Silent Spring". She did much of her research here.

The westernmost end of the island forms one side of Beaufort Inlet. The other side of the inlet is formed by Bogue Banks, with Fort Macon State Park and a Coast Guard station right at that end. (That link is dated - the cutter Chilula was decommissioned in 1991 - but the history is interesting.) The Newport River empties into the inlet; with the river outflow and tidal changes, the water is often very "active" even without wind stirring it up. There is a shallow bay on the sound side of the island, just up from Beaufort Inlet. This is a great place for wading and finding and observing critters, though at low tide is it is mostly out of the water. At the eastern end of that bay a maritime forest begins to rise, growing into extensive forest growth in the middle of the island. Leece has some great shots of moss-covered oaks, yaupon, and other vegetation in this forest.

The principle wildlife feature has to be the wild horses. We got a lot of pictures of these beasts. If you go to the gallery about Cape Lookout, you'll see some of the horses swimming in the sound. These photos are from the other end of the island, near Barden's Inlet, on the east end of the island. The horses are descended from Spanish mustangs, possibly survivors of shipwreck or failed colonies.

At one time, a whaling community existed at what is now the eastern end of Shackleford Banks. The island was connected to Core Banks, as one island, until the hurricane of 1933 cut the island, forming a new inlet. Barden's Inlet is named after the state senator who obtained funding to dredge a boat (if not a ship) channel in the new inlet. Diamond City was essentially destroyed by the hurricane of 1899, and by 1902 was pretty much abandoned.

Today, you can get to Shackleford in the same manner as you get to Cape Lookout - small craft ferries, or private boat. We used Outerbanks Ferry Service in Beaufort, across from the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

Here is a good map and satellite shot of the Cape Lookout/Core Banks/Shackleford Island area.

We walked from the ferry drop off point along the sound side to the maritime forest, through the forest to the ocean side, and back down the beach to the ferry point. That route is about 7 miles, factoring in all the detours and side trips. It was a good hike, with lots of picture-taking opportunities along the way.

And our gallery is here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries under Eastern North Carolina, June 2011.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cape Lookout National Seashore

No visit to "down east" North Carolina would be complete without a visit to Cape Lookout.

There is a great deal of history there. Blackbeard the pirate used to roam those waters; in fact, his ship 'Queen Anne's Revenge' is sunk not far off Fort Macon, which lies just across Beaufort Inlet from the western tip of Shackleford Banks. Blackbeard met his untimely end up at Ocracoke, but he was well known in the Beaufort area.

The Carolina capes were also known as "Torpedo Junction" during World War II, as German U-boats ran amok in the early days of the war with "Operation Drumbeat," torpedoing with near impunity tankers and freighters within sight of shore. Several wrecks of torpedoed ships lie in the vicinity of Cape Lookout, including the Papoose and W. E. Hutton. The ships - 2 of 48 sunk by U-124 - were torpedoed the same night.

Cape Lookout and Core Banks are also famous for loggerhead turtle nesting, birding opportunities, and some seriously good fishing.

Access to Cape Lookout is by private small boat, light aircraft, or ferries. Small vehicle ferries operate from Davis. Small people ferries operate from a number of places, including Harker's Island and Beaufort, as well as some of the villages east of Harker's Island. We use Harker's Island Fishing Center.

Our gallery of this year's visit is here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the Eastern North Carolina 2011 heading.

We have a lot of lighthouse photos.

Footnote: What has long been called the Papoose wreck is actually the Hutton, and vice versa. The Papoose/Hutton is known for its sand tiger shark population. The actual Papoose wreck was broken up some time ago as a hazard to navigation. Here is a list of diveable shipwrecks near Cape Lookout, and here is a site that shows maps of wreck locations:

Wreck diving off the North Carolina coast

Update: Here's a link to our 2012 visit to Core Banks and Cape Lookout.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

USS North Carolina

We visited the USS North Carolina on June 7.

"The Showboat" is in Wilmington. You can see a photo gallery here:

 USS North Carolina: BB-55 

The ship is done up in a 'dazzle' paint scheme, based loosely on Measure 32 Design 18D. The main difference is that the dark bluish gray on the vertical surfaces of hull and superstructure should be dull black, and in her 'museum' scheme, she is done up the same on both sides. She 'wore' these colors from September 1943 till sometime in 1945. She would have been in this configuration at Okinawa, where she stood off kamikaze attacks and supported the landing operations there. BB-55 was a victim of 'friendly fire', when a destroyer, shooting at a kamikaze, hit one of the ship's aerial gunfire directors, killing three sailors and wounding another 44.

Earlier, during the Guadalcanal campaign, she was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. That torpedo had actually been fired at the carrier Wasp, but missed. Six crewmen were killed.

During the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, she cranked out such a volume of anti-aircraft fire that Enterprise queried her, "Are you afire?"

Here is a YouTube video with WWII clips

She carries nine 16"/45 caliber naval rifles, 20 5"/38 caliber dual purpose (anti-aircraft/naval gunfire) guns, 60 Bofors 40mm "pompom" anti-aircraft guns, and 46 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns. Here is a ten minute USN training film from 1955: 16 inch gun turrets

She's a technological marvel, especially considering when she was built.

The aircraft is a Kingfisher OS2U, used as a scout plane. The ship actually carried three of them.

The memorial staff are friendly and helpful, particularly the maintenance crew. One maintenance man noticed Susie mopping sweat from her face - it was a really hot day - and fetched some towels for her.

The ship is very well-maintained and is a must see for any visitor to eastern North Carolina. There is stark contrast, however, between the ship and the gift shop. Here we have the state's memorial to all North Carolinians who died in World War II ... yet the gift shop is filled with trashy souvenirs made in China, almost all of Central America, Pakistan, and other Third World nations of less-than-sterling qualities. That includes ball caps for retired service members, and  t-shirts. It's actually something of an embarrassment, considering the nature of the memorial.

But she's a beautiful ship, and the staff does a fine job of keeping her up ...

Useful references:

US Battleships: An Illustrated Design History

USS North Carolina Squadron at Sea

USS North Carolina Technical Reference (this one has a nice set of drawings, but does not have nearly the number of photos as USS North Carolina Squadron at Sea)

USS North Carolina (Ship's data)

"Oh, that's good fish!"

We had come off Core Banks a few minutes earlier, having spent the morning and early afternoon on the beach, in the lighthouse, and in the maritime forest. We were sitting at a table in the Fish Hook diner, on Harker's Island, and chatting about our adventure. We had opted for the Spanish mackerel special. Leece was going on about shelling as the waitress brought our order.

Leece absently broke off a piece of fish as she talked, and nibbled it.

"Oh! That's good fish!" she exclaimed.

And it was. It was lightly breaded, and perfectly seasoned, and perfectly fried.The fish was moist and juicy without being greasy. It was, in fact, perfect.

I love Spanish mackerel. It had been a long time since I had snuffled some. This was high up on the list of the best I have ever eaten. I asked Miss Faye where she gets her seafood; she told me from "Mr. Big's Seafood", just down the street. That would be Eddie Willis. So her seafood is very, very fresh goods indeed.

The cole slaw and hush puppies were as good, too.

We went back a few days later for the clam chowder and crabcake sandwich special. Miss Faye doesn't skimp on the clams in her chowder, and the crabcakes were big enough to use as curling stones, though far more tender. The place was packed that day, and we had to park down the street. That seems to be par for the course.

Fish Hook Grill is run by Miss Faye:

It's not fancy dining. The tablecloths are black and white checkered plastic, and you'll be served on disposable tableware. There's a reason for that; it has to do with the Harker's Island waste water system. There isn't one. Everyone uses septic tanks, which in Fish Hook Grill's case limits the amount of waste water that can be properly handled. And the kitchen is right at the front of the place, just as you walk in.

We didn't find any of that objectionable; the waitstaff was friendly and provided excellent service, and Miss Faye is a downhome hoot. She's in her 80's, and recently left the Captain's Choice across the street to start up as the new owner of the Fish Hook. There are a number of stories about why she left Captain's Choice, and one or two of them may even be true.

One thing for sure ... if you want a really good seafood meal and can handle a bit of informality, you won't go wrong at Miss Faye's place. Her fried chicken is equally as good. We had some of that, picnicking at Shell Point on Harker's Island.