Category Colorado

Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Even More Dinosaurs

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I second-guessed myself more often than normal on this trip. I mean, sure, I pretty much constantly live in my head anyway, but as the person who picked out all of the stuff we were going to see and do along the way, I was feeling some pressure. If I picked a bunch of stuff that made me and no one else happy, I ruined two thirds of the trip, wasted two people’s money and vacation time, and that would probably do a sizeable blow to our friendship. I knew that The Dinosaur Musem in Blanding, UT, would be approximately the jillionth dinosaur thing we’d done on the trip, but I felt pretty passionately about it when I put it on the list, though I couldn’t remember exactly why as we rolled up to this warehouse-y building in the middle of nowhere. I tried to tell myself that if it was terrible, at least we could leave, though that probably wouldn’t make up for me telling Emily she couldn’t browse the Moab shops for earrings.

Dudes and dudettes, this museum was awesome. It was possibly the best dinosaur exhibit I’ve ever seen, and you know I’ve been to many a dinosaur museum. The admission is dirt cheap (possibly cheaper than dirt) at $3.50, and the AAA discount cut it down to three bucks even. But this inexpensive entrance was really just a bonus. The collection here was top-freaking-notch, and there’s good reason for it. The museum was founded and the exhibits were done by one Stephen Czerkas, paleontologist and preeminent paleo artist, who devoted his later years to correcting our misconceptions about dinosaurs–namely concerning their appearance. The feathered dinosaurs I saw here were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They have one of only four pre-Cambrian logs in the world. And they have a full Edmontonsaurus complete with some areas of fossilized skin! AND the world’s largest collection of dinosaur movie posters and other dinosaur movie memorabilia! The woman working there was awesome as well–within a minute of entering the building, she’d already told me a new-to-me fact about the T. Rex, and while we shopped around in the gift shop, she told us about how she used to fossil hunt in the area before it became illegal. We all loved her and wanted to take her with us, but since she had museum duties and we would be traveling home on a different route, we sadly parted ways, but not before buying a dinosaur mascot and naming her Feminist Killjoy.

sunburn and bugs day four (27 of 76)The aforementioned log, found in San Juan county.

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sunburn and bugs day four (40 of 76)Dinosaur or skeksis?

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sunburn and bugs day four (42 of 76)I so hoped they’d sell these in the gift shop.

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sunburn and bugs day four (54 of 76)Obvs my favorite poster.

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Our last stop before we hit Santa Fe was Four Corners, because even though it’s totally cheeseball and everyone and their brother has already done it, I wanted to do it. I also wanted to do it because it’s totally cheeseball and everyone and their brother has already done it. I mean, come on: if you’re passing on a road thisclose to Four Corners, how could you not stop?

sunburn and bugs day four (75 of 76)You should probably also stop for horse crossings.

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Four Corners is pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be: an almost unreasonably hot tourist attraction with a long line of people waiting to take photographic proof that they were in four states at once, sweating and squinting, and looking miserable. But since there’s a three photo limit and a limited number of poses that could array all one’s limbs into even state distribution (at least for your average tourist, I have no doubt a contortionist could manage a few more), the line moves quickly. Also, any part of your body that comes in contact with the ground that’s not covered in a protective shoe will probably immediately regret it as it starts to cook, so that doesn’t encourage tarrying. Afterward, you’re free, freeee to browse the almost 60 kiosks spread among the four states, selling jewelry, magnets, knives, and again, pretty much what you’d expect. So browse we did, and buy we did, and I think the afternoon’s jewelry shopping possibly made up for the morning hustle. Possibly.

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sunburn and bugs day four (63 of 76)These cacti were attracting dozens of hummingbirds, zipping and divebombing and generally making people wonder what it would be like to be impaled with a teeny tiny hypodermic beak.

sunburn and bugs day four (76 of 76)Also a fair number of hummingbird size bees.

sunburn and bugs day four (64 of 76)Rachel, Feminist Killjoy, and me in four states! Ok, Feminist Killjoy is in four, anyway.

sunburn and bugs day four (65 of 76)Yo blogger’s butt’s so big! How big is it? It’s so big it can be in four states at once!

sunburn and bugs day four (67 of 76)Shipwreck rock

The ride from Four Corners to Santa Fe was dismal. The most direct route is through these tiny backroads with nothing to look at but prairie dogs. There was no place for food (it may in fact be the longest stretch of road in the United States without a Starbucks, but that’s just a wild guess), there was approximately one place to gas up, and we arrived at the hotel late, after pretty much every restaurant had closed, starving and miserable. But I had my own room while we were there (the rooms were too small for three unless someone was up for sleeping on the floor, which, surprise, was not something any of us was enthusiastic about) so I was able to eat a protein bar in bed, totally pantsless, while finally watching the previous week’s episode of Game of Thrones, so it wasn’t all bad. And the following day was the big day, the entire reason for our trip: Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. Now that it was so close, I could hardly wait.

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The Phoenix Gold Mine in Idaho Springs, CO

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There are a number of gold mine tours available in Colorado, tours being the only way for the majority of them to make money as the old way of extracting ore turned out to be somewhat ruinous to the environment and the legal way is potentially more expensive than the ore inside is worth. Seeing as how our tour of the Phoenix Gold Mine cost us a paltry $10 apiece and the bumper of the mine owner’s car was held on with a C-clamp, I’m going to reconsider my use of the phrase “It’s a gold mine!” when referring to something really valuable.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Where’s the dog?” “Oh, he’s been dead for at least ten years.”

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The Phoenix Gold Mine was originally discovered in the 1870s, and has been worked on and off since then, amassing a fortune for at least two separate owners. Only a small portion is open for tours, the rest being too dangerous for public access. Apparently one portion involves squeezing through narrow tunnels on your stomach and I’m panicking a little just imagining it, so even if that part was accessible, there is no way my fat ass would go in there intentionally, because I don’t want to get involved in some sort of baby Mellzah situation. After all, I only packed one extra pair of pants.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese support beams are the original timbers used in the 1930s and didn’t make me feel unsafe at all.

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Nope, not unsafe at all. Nosir.

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The process of removing gold and silver ore was explained by our tour guide as “scraping the peanut butter and jelly out of a sandwich.” When it’s in the ground, gold pretty much looks like gold as it doesn’t oxidize, but the silver tarnishes and looks black, and copper takes on a greenish hue. What they would extract was not huge nuggets of gold like you might expect, but quartz with embedded gold, which would then be processed to extract the gold, involving breaking it up in drums  with heavy balls and shaking it across triffles with mercury to reduce gold loss. Unfortunately, that mercury escapes and contaminates groundwater, which is why it’s now banned.

Speaking of water, one of the biggest dangers a gold miner could encounter in a life basically rife with danger (mercury poisoning, getting stabbed over claims, tunnel collapse, evil dragons being attracted to your wealth) was the potential of drilling into a vein and striking water, as water doesn’t fuck around and will flood the tunnel and kill everyone. I asked about canaries and I learned that underground fumes are only an issue in coal mining, not gold mining.

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When it’s not still basically winter outside, you can pan in the river for gold; a number of people have found enough gold while panning to make exciting life changes. Our tour guide told us of one little girl from the Chicago area who found a chunk worth something like $30,000 (I don’t remember exactly), and who insisted upon buying herself a pony. Her father instead worked out a deal with someone in the suburbs to rent a pony and act like it belonged to this little girl for a number of years. When she got older, he admitted what he’d done, but then used the money to buy her a horse as she had outgrown a pony, so she didn’t stay angry with him for long! He said that if we were to pan for gold, instead of looking for large chunks, what we should keep an eye out for is a little glint of light, around the size of “grandma’s stud earrings”, and that once a woman starts panning, she needs to tell herself that she can’t stop until she finds said earring or grandma will be pissed. He said that women are naturally better at finding ore because we’ve been trained to look at jewelry from toddlerhood onward. I don’t know what kind of childhood other women have had, but the only thing I can spot off in the distance is a burger king.

We were not about to be deterred by a mostly frozen river surrounded by snow, as I had visions of ponies cantering across my eyes, so we grabbed a rusty pan and went off to freeze our fingers in the river.

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…about five minutes was all I could take before my pants were soaked and my fingers were numb. “Grandma is just going to have to deal with it,” I thought, as I waded through the snow back to the road. Then I saw some light glinting off of a rock wall across the road, and the visions of ponies came galloping back. When I got closer, I saw that it wasn’t gold, but it did appear to be metallic silver, so I grabbed a larger rock and elegantly grunted as I bashed it out of the wall. When I brought it back to show off what I’d found, the other tour guide cast a terribly sad look, told me I’d found mica, and gave me a pity rock with gold inside. I didn’t take the hint, and went chasing after the next bit of glint I saw.

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It turned out to be trash. Cigar wrappers, to be more precise. I guess I really don’t have what it takes to get rich in five minutes on someone else’s property.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAM’ris and her rich gold strike.

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They have a number of chipmunks and ground squirrels that live nearby and which get bolder as the season goes on in terms of taking food from tourists. Apparently around summertime, they’ll crawl all over guests to get at the sunflower seeds in their laps. The day I visited, they were having none of it and fled every time I gently moved the pan toward my leg. They really aren’t dummies, I think they sensed what I had planned if I managed to catch one.

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After our tour and ineffective mining, we stood around and chatted with the owner and our tour guide for a while, both of whom relished telling stories. In addition to the aforementioned pony story, we heard about a mule that killed chickens for fun, about a woman who had sat on and nearly crushed a chipmunk, another kid who found a giant chunk of gold, and flying bombers in World War II. I will generally sit and listen to stories as long as someone has stories to tell, but it was cold out and we were all getting hungry, so we departed to Beau Jo’s for some Colorado-style pizza for lunch. If you haven’t heard of Colorado style before (I hadn’t), it’s a pizza with a large hand-rolled edge which you can eat with honey, essentially making it a meal and a dessert in one.

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Should I find myself in the area again during more pleasant weather, I am definitely going to try my hand at panning and chipmunk-wrangling again!

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Where the buffalo roam?

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  After spending his life slaughtering them for food and for fun, Buffalo Bill decided to try to preserve the American Bison (yes, bison, the buffalo is a wholly different animal) by starting a protected herd. As many as 60 million bison once roamed the plains, but greed and pleasure-killing took its toll on the species, and by the late 1880s, no more than 1,000 remained. In 1913, the city of Denver began a bison herd at Genesee park; the parent stock being the few remaining wild bison in Yosemite National Park.  I can only imagine that they’ve since evolved to become invisible, because all we saw were bison-patties dotting the enclosure. But the herd is out there somewhere, munching, pooping, and biding their time until the next time they’re provided an opportunity to rip someone’s arm off through a fence.

The Buckhorn Exchange

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The Buckhorn Exchange is Denver’s oldest restaurant, running continuously for over 120 years. More importantly to the hard drinkers, they also were issued Colorado’s first liquor license. It actually used to be known as the Buckhorn Restaurant; the “Exchange” part was added a bit later owing to the owner’s standing offer to exchange railroad worker’s paychecks for gold and silver plus a free beer and lunch. It became such a popular practice that the railroaders practically stampeded the restaurant every Friday…and the renamed Buckhorn Exchange didn’t lose anything in the bargain, because the thirsty workers were exceedingly unlikely to stop drinking after their free mug was quaffed.

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Located as they were at the heart of the frontier, a lot of historical figures have rubbed elbows at their white oak bar. We were seated in a section with a significant amount of Buffalo Bill memorabilia and I noted the “Buffalo Bill” drink on the menu, so I ventured to ask our waitress if he’d actually dined at the Buckhorn. She informed me that he was a regular…at least at the bar. His drink of choice? Bourbon and apple juice. Brown liquor and the least tasty of the juices? That’s a hard pass from me, I’m gagging a little just thinking about it.

The Buckhorn Exchange today is first and foremost a steakhouse; they offer most of the standard cuts you’d expect. They additionally offer a variety of exotic meats and what they call “the big steak”, which is specially cut and can be ordered to feed between two and five people. I’m generally of the opinion that a steak is a steak is a steak unless you’re getting a really high-quality piece of beef, and so I usually decide not to pay inflated restaurant prices for steak unless I’m at a place where I’m certain their cows died of happiness (like John Howie). I decided this was a much better opportunity to try something new, so I ordered a split plate of elk and ostrich, with a side of bison bean soup. I would have started us off with some rocky mountain oysters, but there was no way I’d be able to eat even a half order by myself and Jason said there was absolutely no way he would eat even one, so I had to save ingesting balls for some point in the future. That’s right, the thought of apple juice and bourbon makes me gag, but not the thought of eating a testicle. Go figure.

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Shortly after our entrees arrived, a large party was seated near us; one of the members was a strong contender for biggest hipster douche on the planet. As his friends arrived, he’d loudly make a point of saying “Oh my god, did you see all of this stuff on the walls? I know, it’s so awful! And I’ve eaten here before and the food is TERRIBLE.” There aren’t words for how much I loathed him. I wanted to give him a wedgie that was so hard that it would split him into two hipster halves, only attached at the glasses. Thankfully, our waitress noted his obnoxiousness (or perhaps saw that I was sculpting my mashed potatoes into his likeness and stabbing it with my steak knife) and asked if we’d like to be moved elsewhere in the restaurant. Yes, yes we would. No fewer than two managers came to our table and apologized for moving us; they comped our drinks and dessert, and gave us a Buckhorn Exchange postcard, all of which was unnecessary–they did us a huge favor by moving us, they didn’t need to comp us further!

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P3230743Plus, they moved us to directly underneath the two-headed calf!

P3230731While nothing tastes as good as free dessert (hot dutch apple pie ala mode with cinnamon rum sauce), the rest of the dinner was good as well, especially the bison bean soup. Neither cut of meat was preferable to beef (and Jason felt the same about his bison steak), but they were both interesting in their own way, particularly the elk, which had an unusual slight cedar flavor. Stuffed to the gills, we made sure that we’d seen everything there was to see in the restaurant, including the original bar, which has been moved upstairs to accommodate diners on the lower floor. P3230730

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P3230792 Before we left, I hit the restroom and was startled to discover the above deer peering into my stall. It looks much too excited about watching humans do their business. Stop it, deer. Stop it. You’re gross.

The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave

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Sometimes it takes visiting a museum dedicated to another person to realize that you don’t have enough items in your home with your face and name emblazoned on them. For me, that museum was the Buffalo Bill museum. I’ll admit to not knowing much about Buffalo Bill prior to my visit, other than he was shot during a poker game at Deadwood….which wasn’t Buffalo Bill at all, it was Wild Bill, so let’s go ahead and say that I had a baseline knowledge of zero as pertains to Buffalo Bill.

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William “Buffalo Bill” Cody was one of the more well-known figures (barring my ignorance) in the American West. He was born in Iowa, and like many Iowans, couldn’t wait to leave*; from there he covered nearly as much land as a person could cover in those days, traveling across the West as a scout, a Pony Express rider, a ’59er, a trapper, a hunter, a showman, and even as a founder of a town. The Buffalo Bill museum was established by his foster son, Johnny Baker, four years after Cody’s death.

I bore that fact in mind as I toured the museum; while every museum of this type has a vested interest in making the subject as appealing as possible, by being opened by his son, there’s an undeniable bias and some potential truth-twisting.

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I had visited the restroom prior to entering the museum, and inside each stall was a short Buffalo Bill story. The one in my stall said that Cody was a great believer in women’s rights, had given Susan B. Anthony box seat tickets to his show, and when she arrived, he made a point of bowing to her in front of the entire audience. “Wow, what a great guy!” I thought. But when I saw the bit above about how his family was anti-slavery, and elsewhere in the museum that he was one of the first to call Native Americans “Americans” and recognize their rights as citizens, and that he didn’t even kill that many bison so he can’t be held accountable for their brush with extinction, I began to wonder how it was that he ended up on the right side of history in every major issue of his time. Given the caption of the above illustration, I figured there had to be a first-person account of this incident somewhere, and as it turned out, it’s free on Kindle. Cody’s father was stabbed at a public meeting regarding slavery, but his stance wasn’t quite as noble as the museum depicted:

“Gentlemen and Fellow-citizens: You have called upon me for a speech, and I have accepted your invitation rather against my will, as my views may not accord with the sentiments of the rest of this assembly. My remarks, at this time, will be brief and to the point. The question before us to-day is, shall the territory of Kansas be a free or a slave state. The question of slavery in itself is a broad one, and one which I do not care at this time and place to discuss at length. I apprehend that your motive in calling upon me is to have me express my sentiments in regard to the introduction of slavery into Kansas. I shall gratify your wishes in that respect. I was one of the pioneers of the State of Iowa, and aided in its settlement when it was a territory and helped to organize it as a state.

Gentlemen, I voted that it should be a white state–that negroes, whether free or slave, should never be allowed to locate within its limits; and, gentlemen, I say to you now, and I say it boldly, that I propose to exert all my power in making Kansas the same kind of state as Iowa. I believe in letting slavery remain as it now exists, and I shall always oppose its further extension.”

The autobiography cuts off before his Wild West show days, so a number of my questions are unanswered, but if his own book is to be believed, he certainly did kill a hell of a lot of bison: there’s an account of killing sixty-nine in a day in a killing contest, he attests to killing 4,280 over the course of his 18 month stint with the railroad, and it seemed like every time he spotted a herd, the entire thing was doomed. This isn’t the work of a conservationist, and I don’t know why the museum would attempt to portray him as such. No one is infallible, and I think the truth ultimately serves the public (and his legacy) better. When you see a few small not-quite-truths, it throws everything else that’s actually true (like the Susan B Anthony thing) into question. He was an interesting man, and it seemed like he was the Forrest Gump of his time, having a hand in just about everything of note during that time period–he even helped Marsh during the Bone Wars! There’s really no need to tell any half-truths to make him more compelling. Besides, it’s not like he was otherwise unlikeable from a modern perspective–I particularly enjoyed his bits of self-deprecating humor sprinkled throughout:

“Had the villains captured me they would have undoubtedly put an end to my career, and the public would have never had the pleasure of being bored by this autobiography.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis issue included no fewer than 17 new sex tips involving pemmican and hard tack.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI want–no, need a lamp with my face tastefully painted on it.

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One of my favorite parts of the museum was the “Kids Cowboy Corral”, where I ignored the “kids” part entirely and tried my hand at lassoing a plastic calf. As it turns out, even when your “mount” and your target aren’t moving, this is really difficult to do, and I only succeeded in roping the calf’s ear. Jason cheated, and placed the lasso around the calf’s neck before taking a seat on the horse. In the Old West, they might’ve stabbed a man for that.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t know why I find having little locks of hair on display so creepy. I just do.

An entire section of the museum was dedicated to Buffalo Bill artwork, and they left it to the viewing public to decide whether each was an example of folk, fine, or funky art.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt first, my attention was grabbed by the horse being shot in the forehead. As I look back on it later, I have to wonder–where is that guy’s neck?!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADefinitely fine art.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could also use some really badass personal stationery. Wax stamp with my face on it mandatory.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart of Buffalo Bill’s storied spoon collection. Supposedly, he hired a guy whose sole job it was to polish them. So where are the rest?

At the end of the museum, they offer up an area for you to vote on your preferred museum experience–guided tours, audio tours, self-guided, etc. I took one look at the general public’s remarks and became incensed on behalf of the museum.

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What are the odds that the majority of these were from one giant illiterate asshole family? Really, you and your shitty children were bored from too much reading? They had two videos, a dress-up station, a place to rope a calf, and a place to touch all sorts of animal pelts that you would probably otherwise never be able to touch. That’s not interactive and entertaining enough? What else do you need? A bank of game consoles so they can play “Grand Theft Stagecoach”? Someone walking around in an anthropomorphic bison costume? Maybe try the water park next time if you can’t handle all the reading at a fucking museum. It really irritates me when a museum that was this well-done gets slammed for not pandering to the lowest common denominator. I walked into the museum knowing nothing about Buffalo Bill, and from all the (gasp) reading I did while there, I left knowing quite a bit and wanting to know more. That’s a success, and I’d be very sorry to see it change format and lose some of the information contained therein.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s like they knew I was coming.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABetween these plateaus is the Coors plant, where they turn water into tinted water and can it.

Buffalo Bill was so immensely popular that multiple states battled over his corpse, each claiming that they should have the right, or that Buffalo Bill had stated his desire to be laid to rest there. Ultimately, he ended up in Golden, and Denver parked a tank near the grave while it was covered with over ten feet of concrete to prevent anyone from stealing the body.

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The gift shop had a lot of your standard gift shop crap–snowglobes and t-shirts and pins and generic Colorado/vaguely Western stuff, plus an entire wall of creepy collectible dolls. I would have liked to have seen more Buffalo Bill-specific merchandise, more poster replicas, lasso kits, old West weapon replicas…things that you wouldn’t find at the very next gift shop down the road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause if there’s one thing we need, it’s more armed kids walking around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the door of mixed messages.

If you have any interest in the Old West and don’t mind doing some reading, the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave is one of the better museums I’ve seen. It was definitely among my favorite activities on our jam-packed Colorado trip.

*According to a recent (2013) poll, this is a lie, Iowans generally speaking have a lower than average desire to move elsewhere.Damn facts, messing with my hack jokes!

Spotted on the Roadside: Blucifer, the Murderous Mustang From Hell

bluciferPhoto by Lori Greig, they don’t let you get near it anymore, and this picture is miles better than the one I took from the rental car shuttle.

As you drive into or leave from the Denver International Airport, the blazing eyes of 32 foot tall Blucifer will haunt you. Apparently they originally envisioned people being able to picnic under his terrible hooves, but airport security and/or common sense put a stop to that right quick. This piece of public artwork killed its creator and looks like it would like to kill you.

Keep an eye out for Blucifer on Peña Blvd.

Walking With Dinosaurs: Dinosaur Ridge

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If you’re into dinosaurs and paleontology, Colorado is an excellent place to visit. The Morrison formation has been one of the most fertile sources of Jurassic fossils in North America, but more than that, it was one of the main sites of the Bone Wars between Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope in 1877.

Cope and Marsh loathed each other with a passion that made for excellent stories but terrible scientific method; not only would they rush to be the first to name new species (resulting in misidentifications like the Brontosaurus), but they’d also sabotage each other’s sites, bribing, stealing, destroying fossils, and each trying to ruin the other’s credibility so as to cut off his funding. Basically, if these guys were around today, we’d ask them to celebrity box or kiss and get it over with. Or there’d be a reality show: EXTREME PALEONTOLOGY. As it stands, they made both enormous contributions and did substantial harm to the field, discovering species while yet reportedly blowing up others with dynamite; their lasting animosity left both destitute, and yet they still would not yield. Before his death, Cope issued a challenge to Marsh by donating his skull to science, his desire that Marsh do the same so that their brains could be measured to “prove” which was more gifted. Though as we know, brain size is not an indicator of intelligence, and they’d both be dead anyway, so I suppose it was just a matter of getting it in the fossil record. Marsh never took Cope up on the bet, but Cope’s skull is still hanging out at the University of Pennsylvania today.

What makes Colorado so awesome for paleontologists, aside from apparently easy-access dynamite? Well, it was above water during the Jurassic and underwater during the Cretaceous, which means that it has an astounding diversity of fossils–dinosaurs, plants, and marine reptiles. The area was then uplifted by the formation of the Rocky Mountains, and at the Morrison formation, a creek carved through it, exposing the strata of Mesozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. Excavation is no longer happening at the Morrison formation, but you can tour and see all of these things for yourself: it goes by the more tourist-friendly name Dinosaur Ridge. You can do a self-guided tour and hike up Dinosaur Ridge, or you can pay a nominal fee at the visitor center and take a guided tour on a shuttle bus. We elected for the guided tour, and you can decide for yourself whether it was laziness or the thirst for knowledge that drove that decision. P3230639

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P3230648I don’t want to spoil the story, but we only saw one of these things. And we saw a LOT of them.

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We arrived just in time to hop aboard the next shuttle bus. Unfortunately, so did several families with a veritable herd of children around the age of two. I believe that the scientific term for a gathering of children around that age is “a terror”. We should have waited for the next bus. It’s not that our shuttle guide wasn’t fantastic–she was! She was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, she was quick to point out photo opportunities, and she deserved every cent of the tour fee and tip we gave her.

Unfortunately, however, it was incredibly difficult to hear anything she had to say over the reverberating screams of that many children. I’m not saying this as an unreasonable kid-hater, I’m saying this as one of the only two people on that bus trying to hear the tour guide, the other being Jason. Literally no one else was paying attention to her. Not the screaming kids, not the parents with glazed-over eyes. She’d ask a question hoping for a response and get “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” shouted back at her for her efforts. Hostage negotiation and traffic control are notoriously difficult jobs, but I’d put this at a close third. At least in those first two professions, you don’t spend any portion of your day hoping for the sweet release of death. I’m sure there are things I would have liked to have learned about whatever it is going on in the below photos, and I would have been happy to share that knowledge, but when I think back to this tour, I mostly just hear “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” which is really only helpful if you’re looking to memorize some of the vowels.  Sometimes I think it would be helpful to travel around with a little notebook so I don’t forget important details, but in this instance, I think all that would have come from it was a series of furious scribblings of increasingly angry faces.

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One thing I did learn is that one way paleontologists quickly determine if they’ve found a fossil is to lick it, though the tour guide recommended that we not lick any of the fossils on site as they’ve been touched by many many many hands. I don’t know whether I’d rather lick a stranger’s hand or a coprolite, personally. Preferably neither. I also learned that the bulk of Allosaurus remains have come from this area, and that Allosaurus may have been a more badass dinosaur than the more popular T.Rex. T. Rex is widely believed to be a scavenger and carrion eater. Allosaurus is believed to have been more involved in active predation; with their incredible expanding jaws, they could eat a chunk out of live prey and run away, and even if they took a beating for doing so, they often lived to see another day.  Plus: usable arms.

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P3230659Dinosaur ridge needs to update their signs! Though “Apatosaur Bulges” doesn’t sound as pleasing to the ear.

P3230663The area the tour guide is standing in originally contained a fossil that was cut out by some modern-day fossil-wrecking buttwad, possibly a descendent of Cope (Marsh never married). It was eventually found (I am not making this up) propping open a door at the University of Colorado.

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The next bus that rolled up the hill only had two adults on it. Damn, we should have waited.

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Spotted on the Roadside: Giant Milk Can

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Who doesn’t like ice cream served out of a giant milk can? Little Man Ice Cream drew a crowd even on a cold March evening. You may ask yourself: “Self, even in this relatively large milk can, how could one possibly fit all of these flavors?” The answer is: they don’t, so I may never know what a Space Junkie actually tastes like, though Salted Oreo was at least interesting if not life-changing.

Spotted on 16th St in Denver.

Why’d they build this ghost town so far away?

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When I saw the brochure for “Ghost Town Wild West Museum” near Colorado Springs, I was under the impression that it was actually a ghost town with a wild west museum inside, something along the lines of Cripple Creek, only with something to do there other than gamble and be depressed. Now, the thought crossed my mind that it was awfully close to a major-ish city to be a ghost town, but my pressed penny-loving lizard brain pushed that thought away. When we pulled into the parking lot and saw one building, I knew I was right to be suspicious.

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The Ghost Town Wild West Museum is essentially a small-scale wild west town built inside of a warehouse. This isn’t to say it’s bad, it’s just not an actual ghost town, no matter how many times it says “authentic” in the brochure. It reminded me a lot of “The Streets of Yesterday” in The House on the Rock, but on a much lesser scale. After we paid our entry fee, I asked the employee if they had a pressed penny machine. She looked at me as though I had just sprouted a second head and said snottily, “We don’t have anything like that here.” I felt embarrassed until I walked in and saw that HALF THE DAMN PLACE WAS COIN-OPERATED. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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All of these machines, the shooting gallery, EVERYTHING cost extra and was coin-operated, but no, I could see how they’d be above something like a pressed penny machine. What bothers me is that they don’t have the decency to tell you outside that you need another ten dollars in quarters to see the attractions inside. House on the Rock also had a mess of coin-operated items, but they tell you in advance that you’ll need tokens and they even give you a handful. The Ghost Town Wild West Museum doesn’t even have an ATM if you wanted to withdraw cash to do these things, and then they have the audacity to have an animatronic prisoner who begs you for money to (I am not making this up) buy a gun.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo on this “authentic” sign, we learn that old-timey miners used backwards letters to evoke a sense of false whimsy, like the ‘r’ in Toys ‘r’ Us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlso note the old-timey, authentic christmas lights.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOld timey authentic ghost town or hipster’s living room? YOU DECIDE.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI told Jason to rob the bank, and with each progressive photo, I told him to make a meaner face. Meaner. MEANER! MEANER!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis animatronic guy claimed to have a cure for everything except baldness in men and “the gossip habit” in women. Fuck you, old timey asswad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlease tell me this is the etymology of the phrase “horse pills”: human and horse-shared medicine.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you get the used soap, just consider that you’re getting pubes thrown in FOR FREE.

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Old timey town or a hipster’s living room? YOU DECIDE.

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This little girl is going to learn an important lesson about co-pays and deductibles, because this old timey doctor doesn’t work for free.

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I am going to install a skinny mirror in my house and use it exclusively. I’d better eat ice cream for breakfast again, I just can’t seem to gain weight!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI really like Chester A. Arthur’s taste in bedroom sets, but his taste in quilts was apparently ghastly.

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Garden of the Gods

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  As I drove into Manitou Springs, the change in landscape was so astounding that I could have been convinced I was driving on Mars. Red, bulbous cliffs suddenly rise up and tower over the road, with fingers of silvery brush clinging to them. While you can see this landscape anywhere in the Manitou Springs area, the best place to be awed by nature is in the (free!) city park, Garden of the Gods. Its 1300 acres contain an abundance of plant and animal life, as well as a number of enormous sandstone rock formations, many of which are over 300 million years old! The Garden of the Gods was originally purchased by Charles Perkins in 1879, and upon his death, it was gifted to the city of Colorado Springs to be used as a park, with the stipulation that it remain free for all visitors.  Sadly, their Segway tours are summer-only, so this won’t turn into a story of me careening off a cliff…this time. Near the entrance to the park is Balanced Rock, which shares a name with another, more famous balanced rock in Utah. I can only hope that one day these two rocks will have a balance-off, so as to determine which is the balancingest so they can change their names to “Most Balanced Rock” and “Not Quite As Balanced As the Most Balanced Rock,” respectively. The important thing is that it makes for a fine photo opportunity.

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Only a couple of these photos accurately reflect the sandstone’s redness; my camera basically looked at these walls of red and said “No, ma’am!” so you’ll have to take my word for it. It probably didn’t help that we were there on an overcast day that was threatening to snow–I bet the colors are even more dazzling in bright sunshine. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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