Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mt McKinley Viewed Up Close

I love all kinds of excitement and flying around the summit of Mt. McKinley in Alaska was an amazing adventure that was beyond my wildest imagination. The views from the small plane window were heavenly.

With the first snow fall here in the Denver area this week, it made me yearn for another look at the magnificent snow covered mountain that I was privileged to view up close.

Mount McKinley has the bragging right of being the highest point in North America. It has a summit elevation of 20,320 feet or 6194 meters, above sea level. Measured from base to peak, it is also the world's tallest mountain on land.

The day before my plane excursion I had been on a tour of Denali National Park. The scenery was exquisite and my first sight of Mt. McKinley was when it revealed itself in the distant mountain range. At first I thought it was a cloud but when I realized it was the famed Mt. McKinley I was thrilled. So often the mountain stays hidden from anxious viewers. Below the arrow points to the snow capped mountain in the background. When I saw this I had no idea that the next day I'd be circling it in a small aircraft. 

Because of weather conditions the original reservation for another excursion was cancelled. Weather in the area is like that. To my delight this flight to the Summit was still taking off and there was room for my daughter and I.  Our adventure of an up close look at Mt. McKinley began at the Talkeetna air strip where we climbed into a twin engine, oxygen equipped aircraft.  

Inside the plane we put on our ear phones and checked where our oxygen lines were.

The aircraft was not insulated so we felt the air getting thinner as we gained altitude. We put on our winter coats as the air got chillier and our pilot gave us the word when  to put on our oxygen masks, although I think we all were aware "it was time." Wearing our oxygen masks was definitely a photo opportunity. 

Mt. McKinley, known locally as Denali, meaning "The Great One" in the Athabaskan language, stands as a challenge to high altitude climbers who seek to reach the summit.  In the lodge where we stayed there was a board reporting how many climbers were currently on the mountain. As we flew around the summit we could see the base camp and the pin points of individual climbers on their route.   Below you can see an aerial view of the paths of the climbers as they make their way to the summit.  Climbers take two to four weeks to scale the mountain.

The pin dots you see in the center of the picture below is another view of the base camp for the climbers.  On average there are 1,275 climbers each year. 51% of them reach the summit. 

Permanent snowfields cover over half the mountain. Five giant glaciers, icefalls, spurs and buttresses add to the huge snowy mass seen in these pictures.

A panoramic view of the mountain range as we approached the summit. 

Soaring high around the summit I used my camera to take a bird's eye view of our flight

The summit...20,320 feet right outside my window.

The views were constantly changing as we surveyed the area.

In the 1890's the mountain was named after President William McKinley by a gold prospector in political support of the president from Ohio. The Alaska Board of Geographic Names later changed the mountain's name to Denali. In 1975 the Alaska State Legislature attempted to get the name officially documented but it was blocked by members of the Ohio congressional delegation. Therefore, Denali is the correct name according to the Alaska state board while Mt McKinley is the correct name according to the National Board of Geographic Names. This explains my comment earlier as to why Denali is the local name.

The mountain is recognized as the "coldest" mountain in the world. Temperatures are recorded at an automated weather station at 18,700 feet. The lowest temperature recorded is a minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit (-73 degrees Celsius) with a North American record windchill of a minus 118 degrees Fahrenheit (-83.4 degrees Celsius). The freezing temperatures are cold enough to flash freeze a human. I don't know what the outside temperatures were when I was there but I do know inside the plane is was so cold that my camera on my phone froze and never worked again. 

Seeing this great mountain in all it's splendor was an amazing travel experience that I dearly loved.   

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” 
― Leonardo da Vinci

Sunday, October 21, 2012

London Bridge moved from England to Arizona

I was very excited to visit the world famous London Bridge that had been moved block by block from London, England to Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

 As a child I remember playing London Bridge is Falling Down with my friends. We would choose two of us to face each other and join hands and lift our arms up forming an arch. The other kids would run under our arms while we recited the generation old nursery rhyme London Bridge. The words are London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. London Bridge is falling down my fair lady. Our friends would hurry through our arch and circle around us to go again until at the last of the words, the two  of us holding hands, forming the arch, would drop our arms capturing one of the friends. We then would swing them between our arms singing Take a key and lock her up, lock her up, take a key and lock er up, my fair lady. There are many more verses but we didn't know them so we just kept going over and over till everyone was caught.

Over the centuries several bridges have been built over the Thames River in England. The Old London Bridge that is of the nursery rhyme notoriety was built between 1176 and 1209.  It was built to replace an old timber bridge. By the end of the 18th century, after 600 years, it needed to be replaced. During these years it needed frequent repairs that were blamed on uneven construction. 

A new bridge was built and referred to as the new London Bridge. It was completed in 1831. The new bridge had not been designed to carry the 20th century automobile traffic and as time passed, it began sinking until one side of the bridge was lower than the other. In 1967, The Common Council of the City of London put the bridge up for sale.

The winning bid for the bridge was awarded to Lake Havasu City founder, Robert. P. McCulloch on April 18, 1968. The bid was for $2,460,000. The bridge was dismantled and every block was carefully numbered. The blocks were then shipped through the Panama Canal to California and then transported by truck from Long Beach to Arizona where the bridge was reconstructed over the Bridgewater Channel. 

The bridge was rededicated in a ceremony on October 10, 1971. The entire cost including transportation and reassembly brought the total for the bridge to $5.1 million. One interesting fact about the bridge is that when it was rebuilt almost 60 feet of it's original 1005 feet were removed and it's now shorter than it's original version. 

Now after the reconstruction of the London Bridge, it is definitely not falling down. When it was reconstructed it was built with the knowledge that automobile traffic needed to be accommodated. With this is mind, a steel framework was used in the granite rather than using solid granite blocks. It is built to be in place for a very long time. In fact the bridge has become home to hundreds of bats who now live in the nooks and crannies of the hollow interior.

Near the London Bridge is a delightful English Village. As you enter you will see this statue.

The plaque on the monument reads: The boundary of the City of London, England, established in Roman times, is marked by a heraldic dragon at each entry by freeway. This dragon marks the boundary of the City of London Land in Lake Havasu City.

When I wandered around the village, one of my favorite shops was the Candle Factory. I brought home some  fun drip candles to entertain the granddaughters. They were a big hit as we watched the neon colored candles drip down the bottle.

The water around the bridge is a lovely clear blue and it's filled with lots of ducks that people come by to feed.

The trees are filled with  birds that add a lovely ambiance to the whole area. 

Note the vintage lamp on the bridge. These lamps are made from melted down cannons of Napoleon Bonaparte's army. A nice historic touch to the famous bridge.

With such historical bragging rights is should be no surprise that the London Bridge is said to be haunted. Visitors have claimed to see a British police bobby patrolling the bridge and a woman in black roaming during the night. Since I was there only in the daylight hours, I didn't have an opportunity to stand watch to see what might appear.


There is a 45 minute, half mile walking tour of the bridge or a one to two hour segway tour. You can schedule your tour through the Visitor's Center. The London Bridge is Arizona's second largest tourist attraction after the Grand Canyon. It's a delightful, pleasant stop on your Arizona visit. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall Colors in Colorado

Fall Colors in Colorado are always a reason for bringing your camera on a road trip to the mountains.  I grew up in Nebraska where the colors were bright reds, oranges and yellows. I used to love soaking up the views. Now in Colorado we have the quaking yellow aspens that glow in groups among the pine trees on the mountain slopes. There are a few red leaves mixed in and some rare red aspens even present themselves. This week I want to give you a tour through some colorful Colorado beauty. Enjoy your trip through the trees! 

I enjoy looking at the contrast of the dark tree trunk with the golden leaves.

I especially delight in finding the red leaves on trees.

Aspens in a grove of reds above and golden yellows below.

Another close-up of the quaking red aspen leaves from above.

A mix of yellow and green leaves as the trees are changing colors.

On our mountain ride the golden aspens lined the road.

Rocky Mountain aspens all aglow.

Panoramic views of golden aspens in the mountains.

I marvel how the sunlight shines through the trees illuminating the leaves.

Red leaves were found just around the corner at a neighboring home. 

These trees, above and below, are the neighbor's tree that fills our driveway with leaves every year.  They are beautiful on the tree, not so much on the driveway. 

This red maple leaf, below, is a very special one. When I found out my youngest son would be going away to college in Iowa, I knew he would be seeing gorgeous colored leaves. I asked him to pick up a red one for me. On my first visit to see him at parent's weekend he handed me this red leaf. He had attached it with clear packing tape to a piece of copy paper. I was so delighted I've kept it all these years. He was a freshman 7 years ago. It's held up well, hasn't it?


The leaves start to hint that they are not going to be around much longer but rather will be gracefully falling into a crunchy carpet below. 

Eventually the beautiful leaves gather in piles to be raked.

Our next natural event will be snow. Already we've had a light dusting and the beautiful leaves survived. By the next snow fall the trees most likely will be bare.  I love the changing seasons.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Giant Pumpkins

Rocky Mountain Giant Vegetable Growers has snared my son. He is an active, participating member of growing giant pumpkins. I would never have guessed it of him and I continue to be amazed at his new hobby. I have always maintained that I've learned more from my children than I would have in another four years of college and this is no exception.

Every year a large section of my son's backyard is filled with huge pumpkins leaves and stems as one or two giant pumpkins are carefully groomed until it's time to cut and weigh them at the Jared's Nursery Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off & Festival. This year the festival was held September 29, 2012. 

Giant pumpkin growing starts out with plenty of preparation. I was amazed to hear what a precise science is used. First, there is a need  to use the right seeds.  Seasoned giant pumpkin growers are wonderful in sharing their seeds with the new growers to encourage them to get started. Next the soil where the precious seeds will be planted is tested. If the pH isn't between 6.7 to 7.0 additives are mixed into the soil. If soil doesn't measure up I happen to know a brother is likely to send his youngest brother out for a truck load of manure. Hint: this does become a family or neighbor  project sooner or later. After getting the seeds and soil ready, the only things left for growing a special pumpkin are good luck and good weather. My son says "good weather helps but that might go along with luck." The seeds are planted after April 15th (tax day) depending on the weather and the growing season begins.

Support from your family is very important. Once the pumpkins start growing, they have to be protected from the cold nights, wind and hail in Colorado My dear daughter-in-law, Sarah, has been known to run out in the rain, while my son was at work, to protect the growing pumpkins from the heavy rains and possible hail. 

There is a time to train the main vine, a time to water, a time to spray pesticides and finally the time comes to cut the pumpkin from the vine.    This big event of cutting the pumpkin free announces the end of the growing season after all these months. The pumpkins are carefully monitored to determine when they have quit growing and the cutting off the vine is a major decision. Below is Sarah, making the momentous cut on their second pumpkin of the 2011 season.

The weigh-in of a giant pumpkin becomes a long anticipated reward for all the love and efforts poured into the squash that has become a backyard family member. By taking measurements, a grower can estimate the weight but until it's hoisted upon a scale, the weight remains unofficial. 

I have found  that moving these giant pumpkins is not an easy project. It takes borrowing a brother's truck and enlisting brothers and neighbors to help load these heavy pumpkins. Mom likes to be there with her camera as well. Like I said earlier, it becomes a family project. 

Excitement builds at the weigh-ins  as the pumpkins are gathered from far and wide. A variety of colors, sizes and shapes are on display. This year there were 32 pumpkins  at Jared's weigh-in as well as many other vegetable varies. Below is Andrew with this year's pumpkin. Both ready for the weigh-in.

Pumpkins ready and waiting.

Pumpkins are seen here on pallets with a lift nearby.

Sometimes the pumpkins are lifted with heavy canvas and strong men on each side. 

How ever the pumpkins get there, it's quite a sight to see.

Do these beauties make you want to grow one in your own backyard? Warning, it becomes addictive.

The ultimate goal is to get bragging rights of having the heaviest pumpkin. There are a few different places to lug a giant pumpkin for competitions. Jared's is the first one in the area but another popular one is at the Arvada Giant Pumpkin contest at the Festival of Scarecrows. Last year, Andrew's first serious giant pumpkin growing attempt, he came in second place with his biggest pumpkin being 176 pounds and he got an honorable mention on his second pumpkin. 

The goal of the growers is to out weigh their heaviest pumpkin from the year before and to aim for the biggest one over all. This year, at Jared's, the first place pumpkin was grown by Joe Scherber weighing in at a mighty 1,225 pounds.  Isn't it a beauty?

This was a good year for growing a record breaking huge pumpkin. A pumpkin grown by Ron Wallace of Rhode Island, broke the one ton record last Friday at Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts with a 2009 pound pumpkin. Click on the link to see his win.

More pumpkins at Jared's.

Andrew's pumpkin this year outweighed last years so that is exciting. This year it came in at 230.5 pounds. When I asked him if he planned to take it to the Arvada Festival he said "no, it's too much work moving it." Can you even imagine what it takes to lug one of those things around? I couldn't even budge one of Andrew's pumpkins, I've tried. 

I asked my son what all this pumpkin activity means to him. I loved his answer. He said, quoting Howard Dill, "pumpkins make people smile."  Howard Dill is a four-time World Champion pumpkin grower. He patented the seeds that are grown today.  Andrew said driving the pumpkins to the weigh-in got lots of attention and, of course, plenty of smiles! I know they make me smile and the bigger the pumpkin, the bigger I smile! Keep on growing Andrew, your family cheers you on!