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Now in our third calendar year
PCR #116 (Vol. 3, No. 24) This edition is for the week of June 10--16, 2002.

La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
La Floridiana Goes West (on vacation!) Part II

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From the Mountains to the Great Plains to the Land of Magic

Up, Up And Away!
Big Thompson River
Up, up and up we go following the Big Thompson River along US 34 west of Loveland, Colorado.
After spending the first three days of our vacation close to the Great Plains/Front Range area of Ft. Collins, Colorado, Anita Clardy was good enough to drive my wife and I to the Rocky Mountain National Park. We picked up US 34 in Loveland, Colorado in order to start our 40mile westward trek to the mountains. Loveland is at about the same altitude as Ft. Collins, around the 5,000' mark. Almost immediately west of Loveland the landscape begins to change. Buttes adorned with red rock and generally devoid of vegetation, rise out of the otherwise level plains. From that point westward US 34 climbs upward toward Estes Park following the Big Thompson River. The plains begin to give way to foothills populated with western tree species such as Ponderosa Pine, Colorado Blue Spruce and Lodgepole Pine. Plains Cottonwoods give way to their willow relative the Quaking Aspen.

Estes Park
Deer Mountain
View of Deer Mountain from Estes Park, Colorado.
Estes Park is the last town of size before one enters the Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a delightful resort town very similar to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which instead borders the Great Smoky National Park. The three of us had lunch at literally the last restaurant before entry into the National Park. Estes Park is at around 8,000 above sea level (The highest point in the eastern U.S. is Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684' above sea level). The view of the lower peaks of the Rockies (Deer Mountain 10,013' above sea level) was breathtaking, and your intrepid author had Buffalo Chili. Buffalo is similar in taste and texture to beef, but does not have as much fat contact. Estes Park is also home to the Stanley Hotel, named after the British entrepreneur who invented the Stanley Steamer. The horror movie based on Steven King's "The Shining" was also filmed at this grand structure. It was 80 degrees when we entered the Fall River Visitor Center--things can change drastically in the Rocky Mountains.

Rocky Mountain High (Colorado)
A herd of elk foraging along the Fall River in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Mt. Ypsilon
A view of the snow-capped Mt. Ypsilon (13,514' above sea level), Rocky Mountain National Park.
Immediately upon entering the park we were treated with observing a herd of elk foraging along the banks of the Fall River. This portion of the Fall River would be the only level land in the Park. As those snow-capped peaks came closer, I never in a million years thought a road could take us up there--I was wrong.

As we began our upward trek the tree population began to increase as clouds bring increased precipitation to the mountain slopes. At 9,000' the pines give way to Douglas-Fir and Aspens. At 10,000' the Douglas-Fir and Aspen gives way to Engleman Spruce and Sub Alpine Fir. At 10,000' it was also 40 degrees and we noticed snowdrifts in the shadows of the trees. We continued our climb to 11, 200'--at this altitude trees capable of growing 120' tall some 1,000' lower were reduced to windswept specimens 1' tall and 50' long. At 11,500' the trees can no longer sustain life due to the harsh conditions, and the ground is limited to small plants no larger than 1' tall--it was also getting real cold--about 35 degrees with 3' tall snow drifts. The views down to the Fall River Canyon were incredible, like looking at it from an airliner, and the views of the now closer snow-capped peaks were both breathtaking and strange. Since no vegetation grows above 12,000', it looked like a moonscape with snow.

Approaching blizzard
Approaching blizzard as seen from 12,183' above sea level at Gore Range, Rocky Mountain National Park.
The blizzard makes contact at 12,813 feet on the Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34), Rocky Mountain National Park.
A Late May Blizzard
The clouds rolling in from the Pacific Coast were dark, menacing and brought a blizzard with them. We were dusted with the white stuff at 12,183' , the highest point of the Park's Trail Ridge Road. At this point we decided to take the trek 7,183' and 60 miles back down to the Front Range city of Ft. Collins, where it was 90 degrees. Like I say, things can change real quickly in that neck of the woods.
Cheyenne, Wyoming
Unique boardwalk feature at the Cheyenne (Wyoming) Botanical Gardens.
40 miles north of Ft. Collins is the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The 40-mile trek up Interstate 25 showcases the Front Range at its most desolate. Cheyenne is very different than Ft. Collins. It is a major railroad center with an Air Force base and active Wyoming Air National Guard wing at the city's regional airport. In just that 40-mile trek, spring had already sprung in Ft. Colorado, where trees were just leafing out in Cheyenne. It was cloudy and cooler. The most interesting thing in Cheyenne was its Botanical Gardens where Wyoming Air National Guard C-130 Hercules almost literally skims above tree top levels doing touch and goes. Another interesting feature was a windmill turbine farm just south of Cheyenne. The turbine structures can be seen for miles and look surrealistic in the Plains landscape. The most sobering thing about Warren Air Force base is what you don't see--one of the country's largest arsenals of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. After Cheyenne, I was ready to head back to the land of sunshine and high humidity.
The Crop Circles of Colorado and Kansas
After a bumpy and nerve wracking take off out of the Denver Megalopololis...er, International Airport, I noticed verdant green circles interspersing the dry brown floor of the Front Range. These green circles of varying sizes were farm crops where large irrigation devices on wheels water in a circular direction. As headed eastward over Kansas I thought that somewhere down there was fellow NCPCR writer Mike Smith. As we changed headings southward the Mississippi River with its barges came into view. We would pass over St. Louis and Nashville before beginning our final descent into Atlanta.

I'm Goin' Back to the Gator Country
Once the ground came closer in Atlanta I smiled from ear to ear--I was back home in my beloved South. And below was that lush southern forest with its tall trees and its red clay; bit by bit we're getting closer to Florida. After a rush through terminals at Atlanta, my wife and I were on the last leg of our journey. The Delta MD-88 flight to Tampa was flawless.

Florida's Magnificent Mountains
Bet you didn't know that the most magnificent mountains in the country are in the Sunshine State! Those mountains are the cumulonimbus clouds that are a part of the Florida skyscape in the summer. Through their rain they nourish our lakes, rivers and aquifers--they keep this part of the world from being a desert that would make the Front Range look like a bread basket by comparison. Yes, these magnificent mountains rise up between 40,000 to 80,000 feet and contain incredible energy. From the air these mobile mountains were hovering over Orlando while we were on our final descent into Tampa. With the pink columns of cloud to the east, and the Interbay peninsula below us, my wife cheerfully raised her hand and said; "Wave to Nolan!" as we neared Gandy Boulevard. (I saw that!--Nolan)

The Magic Is Back
Although I enjoyed the "dry" heat and cold of Colorado, it was great to get back home to the beginning of the rainy season of Florida. The smell of the land, the lushness of the landscape all filled my senses with the magic that is Florida. In addition I would find out that Tom Bowles was back among the living (See PCR # 114.---N)--a wondrous magic in itself. Colorado is a beautiful state, but there is a unique magic to this State and to the crazed fan community that is an essential part of it. (Of course, I couldn't agree more.--N)

"La Floridiana" is ©2002 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.