High Mountain Doings

From 8200 feet along one side of the Upper Arkansas River Valley in central Colorado, my blog is about many things: travel including river and bicycle trips, and other experiences as well. The focus is on photography, not lots of text.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Tracks in the Snow

On Friday, I was looking around outside and came upon some very interesting tracks. I'm not a tracker at all, but this looked to me a lot like a cat. Not a house cat, either. Way too big, plus my cats won't go more than a nose-length outside when it's real cold!

The unknown animal continued between my house and my northmost shed, leaving a good series of tracks. Each print was, of course, the size of the one above.

Additionally, some animal had dug a burrow into the snow and under some wood that's out there. The opening shown here is probably about five inches in diameter. A few feet away, there was another one of these.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Winter Days

Snow on my woodpile on Thursday, December 21, 2006, when Denver, Colorado Springs, and the eastern plains of Colorado were in the second day of a huge blizzard.

Here in the Upper Arkansas River Valley, 120 miles SW of Denver and due west of Colorado Springs, we'd gotten six inches of snow on Tuesday night, no new snow on Wednesday, and just a piercingly cold north wind on Thursday. In the cities, snow had started on Wednesday and continued through Thursday. Our wind was from the north because of counterclockwise rotation around the low pressure area, which by then had moved eastward near the northeastern corner of New Mexico.

We had only wind that day because we're in a rain shadow from every direction except south. In other words, we had escaped the big blizzard that shut down Denver and eastern Colorado on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. This is my shed, and the base of Mt. Princeton beyond, late on Wednesday when the blizzard was at its peak in Denver.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Navigation at a Distance

My friend Anrahyah picked up her son at the Denver airport last evening, and they headed for Colorado Springs with the idea of dodging the worst of a coming storm, while also finding a place for the night. She'd been awake since four in the morning, and it would have been around five hours home. Buddy the dog was along.

I was concerned about them, and they kindly checked in with me from Castle Rock, which is south of Denver toward the Springs. And then again from Colorado Springs. At that time, Anrahyah asked me to go online and find them a Motel 6 she thought existed in that part of town. This chain is dog-friendly. I said I'd call back to her borrowed cell phone.

Finding a Motel 6 online was harder than I anticipated. I kept getting lists of many kinds of hotels, mostly expensive ones. Fortunately, one of those lists yielded the sought-after establishment, together with confirmation that the place was dog-friendly.

There was a map online, but it wasn't detailed enough to show the names of smaller streets. But when I called Anrahyah back, she was just passing the street on which the motel was! She turned around.

She'd already been down that street, but it had looked unpromising. However, I could see on my computer screen where it went. We hung up, because she needed to drive her car. A few minutes later, my phone rang.

"We scored!" she said. Just what she needed, with no more energy to have driven anywhere else that night. 17 hours of wakefulness takes a toll.

Online mapping and cells phones to the rescue! My small part in this felt good.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Road up to Monarch

The view west toward Monarch Pass on Highway 50, Chaffee County, Colorado. When it works out, I've enjoyed driving up there on Friday afternoons since my friend is up at the ski area then with a group of her students.


It's about a 40 minute drive, and I normally find some photographs to make along the way. I am, after all, working on a book illustrating Highway 50 across the country! It's only another mile or so from the ski area to the summit of Monarch Pass.

This time, I didn't take my cross country skis. But I should have. The snow was better than I thought. The Old Monarch Pass road would have been good.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

On Monarch Pass

This is the Old Monarch Pass road, which crosses the continental divide about half a mile north of the newer pass on Highway 50. It's a popular place for a short cross country ski trip, and that's what I did today.

A photograph I took this afternoon from the summit of Monarch Pass, looking northeast toward the southern end of the Collegiate Peaks. Some of the ski runs at the Monarch Ski and Snowboarding Area are visible from here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Flying Again!

After a 15-year hiatus, I started flying again this morning. Pictured above are flight instructor Jill Vandeel and her 180 hp Cessna 172 at the Buena Vista Airport after our flight. Altitude here is just shy of 8000 feet.

I didn't know that Cessna 172s could have 180 hp engines. Apparently, this modification was approved while I was out of aviation. I can say for certain that the extra 20 hp (with a constant speed propeller) makes a vast difference in the 172s performance!

After a very long preflight inspection and a cup of tea inside (while waiting for ice to melt off the wings), we climbed in and I started it up. Jill had already run it for a few minutes earlier--balky then in the cold, it started right up at my command.

My run-up took more time than it needed to, but I was still getting used to this aircraft, and to aircraft in general again. Takeoff was brisk and climb was good. We departed straight-out, and I turned toward the west near Nathrop for some Dutch rolls, steep turns, and slow(er) flight.

Dutch rolls, in my opinion, are one of the best ways to get the feel of an airplane. You bank back and forth while holding the nose of the airplane on a point with the rudder pedals. I had picked a point near Chalk Creek somewhere.

Steep turns felt reasonably good--first at about 40 degrees of bank, and then more at 45 degrees. You have to hold back pressure during a steep turn (or really, any turn) because the wing needs to produce considerably more lift then, since lift acts toward the top of the airplane instead of against gravity. The upward component (alone) of the lift is what's holding your altitude, as the horizontal component pulls you around the turn. Jill pointed out that by rolling in some nose-up trim, the Cessna will maintain altitude very well. This sure worked!

I didn't fly the airplane real slowly, but I wanted to experience approach speed with a notch of flap. I wanted to experience this at altitude, not down near the ground.

So with the airplane slowed and the flaps at 10 degrees (they go to 40 degrees), we turned north toward the airport and I called BV Unicom that I was on a six-mile final approach for Runway 33--the one that goes north and a little west, or 330 degrees.

The airplane floated a bit right above the runway, probably because I overestimated the amount of power that would let it settle onto the ground. But touchdown was smooth, if a bit off the centerline.

Runway centerlines are holy things. That's where your nosewheel goes. But I missed that a bit, so there's room for improvement.

I had a reserved seat at the dentist's in half an hour, but we had time for another takeoff and landing. These were a marked improvement, smoothly accomplished but still with room for increased precision. Next time, I want to do some simulated short and soft field landings and takeoffs. This means pushing the limits a little, and I've found that this improves normal landings as well. Reason? It gives you a better feel for the airplane, and how it handles under various circumstances. A screaming crosswind is good practice, too, though nervewracking.

So flying felt good today! I'll do this again, and before long hope to be "signed off" to fly the airplane solo, or with passengers. The FAA wisely requires a "biennial flight review" and that's what's happening here.

I'm not a newcomer to aviation. I hold a commercial pilot certificate for airplane single and multiengine land and sea, instrument-airplane, rotorcraft-helicopter, and glider. I used to have a Piper Tripacer. But fifteen years off sure makes you rusty! I intend to shake that off, and resume this part of my life.

Should I go check out in a helicopter, too? Now there would be some real rust! Gliders? Well, I've got my eye on a Pipistrel Virus motorglider.

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