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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

BEAR OH MY!

Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Deadwood, and Sturgis all come to mind when one thinks of South Dakota.  Those are great places to visit and should be on every bikers list, but another place that is worthy of a visit when you are out riding in southwest South Dakota is Bear Country.
Bear Country is a drive through animal (primarily bear) park with 20 species of North American mammals.  While planning the trip I called and found out that Bear Country would provide a loaner car for those of us showing up on motorcycles.  Bear Country is about 8 miles south of Rapid City, SD on US 16.

 10 of us rode up on seven bikes to the front gate of Bear County at approximately 1:00 pm.  We were warmly greeted, but told that they were down to one car and it was out.  I explained that there were 10 of us and we all wanted to go at the same time.  The young lady made a phone call and reported back to us that the  owner would prepare the bus they have and use during the Sturgis Rally and he would take us at one time.  We would need to visit the walking portion of Bear Country first for about 45 minutes while he got the bus ready.  Normally one would drive through the park and then visit the gift shop and Babyland (zoo like exhibit with various animals, most young, but some adults.

We purchased our tickets and then rode up to the gift shop and Babyland.  There were two adult grizzly bears in one exhibit.  They were huge!  Very impressive,
There were exhibits with bobcats, raccoons, porcupine, baby bears, and other critters.  Babyland is not very big, but the exhibits are nice and it was enjoyable watching the baby bears chase each other and play.  The gift shop was big and had a large selection of items.
While in the gift shop we received a call informing us the owner was ready with the bus.  The bus was similar to ones at an airport, however; the glass in the side windows had been removed which made viewing the animals a lot better.  The owner was a wealth of information and he gave us an awesome tour.  He told us many stories about individual animals and how the animals are cared for.  Having him drive us made the experience exceptional.
The areas for the wildlife were separated by tall fences and cattle guards.  We saw reindeer, elk, artic wolf, Big Horn sheep, Rocky Mountain goat, buffalo, and of course bear along with other animals.  Here is a complete list of animals at Bear Country.
Elk were the first critters in the tour.
The owner actually stopped the bus and went over the small hill 
to herd the Bighorn sheep where we could see him.
Reindeer just like Santa uses!
The owner told us that the bear are feed 6 times a day near the road so that visitors can see them up close.  He explained the various personalities of some of the bears and how they handle any bears that become overly aggressive.
Feeding time.
Big boy!
There was even a rare young white buffalo in the herd.  The owner gave my son a small tuft of hair from the white buffalo.
American Bison with rare white buffalo.
You can't ride you bike in Bear Country, but it is worth ride to Bear Country.  We had a great time and my son really loved it.  It is worth the time to stop and visit.  I give Bear Country an A+

Monday, February 15, 2010

CO State Hwy 5 a.k.a. Mount Evans Scenic Byway


Rarely do I find a road that I enjoy riding so much that I turn around immediately and ride it again in the opposite direction, but when you take Colorado State Highway 5 everyone must ride/drive it back.  After reaching the end of CO 5 just short of the peak of Mount Evans at 14,264 ft. above see level there is no where else to go, but back the way you came!
This is a great road with some awesome vistas.  CO 5 holds the famous distinction as being the highest paved road in North America (not to be confused with Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park whick is the highest continuous paved road in North America).  CO 5 also is unique it that it does not through any cities, town, or communities.
CO 5 on the way up
At almost 15 miles CO 5 is a short road, but full of curves, vistas, and opportunities to see wildlife.  CO 5 starts by intersecting CO 102 near Echo Lake Park and ends just shy of the peak on Mount Evans.

After reading about Mount Evans and the road a group of five men and my son (9 years old at the time) decided to ride up before heading south as we made our way back toward Texas on one of our summer trips in June 2006.    We road CO 103 from Idaho Springs to the Echo Lake Lodge where we purchased some snacks and paid the access fee ($3 for motorcycles).
The road had a steady the incline as we road up the mountain towards Summit Lake.   The grade of the road was between 2-6%, but at times it felt like more.  As we continued up the mountain more of the surrounding area became visible.  We could see CO 103 and Echo Lake far below us.

The curves were run and at times a little scary.  The sides of the road away from the mountain has some pretty good drop offs! :)

We stopped at Summit Lake at 13,001 ft.  The lake is filled with rain and/or snow melt.  There were wildflowers growing and snow was still plentiful in the shaded areas.
CO 5 as seen from summit of Mount Evans

Once we reached the parking lot at the top we were amazed at how far we could see.   We hiked up the very short trail from the parking lot to the actual peak.  The 380 degree view was spectacular!  Denver to the east, Longs Peak to the North, and mountains and valley all around.

At the east end of the parking lot were the remains of Summit Lodge, a restaurant and gift shop that was built in the 1940's, but a propane explosion in 1979 destroyed it. (See photo of group on part of the remains at the bottom of the post)  We walk around and through the remains and that is when a mountain goat strolled up and was licking the salt on the side walk.  He was accustomed to people and he tolerated people getting pretty close.  This was my first siting of a mountain goat in the wild.  Of course many people would stand as close as possible and then get their picture taken with the goat.  Including my son.  See photo below.

The Meyer-Womble Observatory is also at the east end of the parking lot.  The observatory is operated by Denver University and is the "highest operating observatory in the West" according to their website.


 As we started down the mountain we got a different perspective of the surroundings.  I always find it easier riding up a mountain than down a mountain.  After we had passed Summit Lake we had to stop in the road as a second mountain goat crossed in front of us and grazed at the side of the road.  We cautiously passed.  (See photo below)

Once at the CO 5 & 103 intersection we visited the Echo Lake Lodge gift shop before heading east on CO 103 - that is another great road to ride.

If you are in the Denver area and can make the time I highly recommend riding up to the top of Mount Evans. You will need to check with the Department of Transportation to make sure the road is open.  The road is closed from late fall to early spring.  Check before heading that way.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Patriot Point - Charleston, SC

I really prefer to ride the country roads, but sometimes I have to venture into cities to visit places that I want to see.  One such place was Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Musuem in Charleston, South Carolina.  I had read about Patriot Point so while on  our way from Charlotte, NC to Savannah, GA my son and I stopped in Charleston to look around and visit Patriots Point.

Patriot Point lies on the northern side of Charleston Harbor, just off of I-17 on appropriately named Patriots Point Road.  Patriot Point Naval & Maritime Museum opened January 3, 1976.  There are four vessels in the harbor including the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, destroyer USS Laffey, "The Ship That Would Not Die", submarine Clamagore, and Coast Guard cutter Ingham (which has since been moved to the Miami Dade Historical Maritime Museum).  There are numerous war planes on the deck of tthe USS Yorktown.  Patriot Point also houses the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Medal of Honor Museum.

We bought our tickets (currently $16 for 12 years old and up, $13 for 6-11, Free for active military in uniform, $13 for seniors and active military w/ ID) and proceeded towards the ships.  We stopped and looked at the anti-aircraft gun near the start of the pier leading to the ships.
The pier leading to the USS Yorktown was lined with US flags.  It was stirring sight and really made both of us feel very proud of our armed forces.
We were amazed how big the USS Yorktown was.  On board there were numerous exhibits explaining life and battle on the carrier.  We were able to tour many levels of the carrier.  While descending to lower levels I could sense the closeness and teamwork a crew must have to be successful.  There was not a lot of place for "alone time."
We toured the deck and saw many war planes and looked at the take off/landing area of the carrier.  It is an impressive ship.
A helicopter on the deck of the USS Yorktown
From the deck we had a great view of historic Fort Sumter.

After touring the carrier we visited the submarine.  I don't think I would do very well in a sub!  Not enough space.  It doubled my appreciation for our submariners.  The Clamagore is just a little longer than a football field and less than 30 feet wide at its widest point.
Door on the Clamagore.  That sure is a small door.
Next we visited the famed USS Laffey - The Ship that Would Not Die.  We spend a good amount of time exploring the Laffey and reading the various exhibits.  The exhibits on all the ships were very informative and interesting.
The Coast Guard cutter Ingham was docked right beside the USS Laffey and is a neat ship to tour.


We spent about 3 hours at Patriots Point, but one could easily spend a lot more.  We were constrained by time.  I highly recommend that you stop by Patriots Point if you are near Charleston. 
The Yorktown as seen from the bow of the Laffey.  Note all small the people are, this is one large boat!

The photo below is of the sleeping quarters on the SS Laffey
I salute all our military veterans and current members of our armed forces.  Thank you for your service to this great country.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ride to see a shuttle launch

Having family in Orlando has given me great opportunities to witness three shuttle launches.  My brother-in-law has never seen one and he wants to watch one live & in person.  Sounds like a great idea for a road trip, so he and I are riding to Orlando in March to watch the launch scheduled for the 18th (Wife and son will fly in). Should be a great trip.

In July of 1999 my wife and watch our first launch.  It was a midnight launch of Columbia with the first woman shuttle commander, Eileen Collins, at the helm.  It was spectacular!   We viewed the launch from  Titusville, Florida.  I did not have a good camera so instead of posting one of my pictures here is a link to a night launch in 2008 filmed from Titusville.  This will give you an idea of the awesome sight - Link.  My son was 2 years old so he stayed home with Pappa & Grandma.

Our second launch was in the morning, July 2005.  We once again viewed it from Titusville.  Titusville is a good location because there is a lake between the launch pad and the town, so the view is unobstructed.  The day was perfect, the sun was up, and the launch went off without a hitch.  Once again my photos did not really do well, but I just created my first You Tube account and uploaded the video I shot of the launch - Link to video.   The photo is of the trail after the shuttle is out of sight.  My son was 8 and he watched this one with us.

The third launch we saw was once again in July, 2009.  This time instead of fighting the traffic we drove to Coco Beach and viewed the launch from the top level of the Coco Beach Surf Company parking garage.  We listened to the count down on the radio.  We could not see the launch pad, but we saw Endeavour as she cleared the buildings.  Even though the view was not as direct the pride of America still was evident by all the applause and cheers.

With the scheduled retirement of the current shuttle program individuals have only a few more opportunities to witness these historical events.  I highly recommend seeing a launch in person.  It is a sight you will not forget.

If you visit Orlando make sure to go by New York Pizza - 7800 U.S. 17, Fern Park, FL ((407) 830-8585.  These guys make a great pizza and awesome Italian food.  We eat there 2-3 times during the week of our visits.  This is a small shop and everything is fresh.  You will love it.