Category Archives: Day Tripping

Climbing Mount Pisgah and Creating Suspense: An Author’s Adventure – by Guest Trekker Karen McCullough

Please welcome my guest today, Karen McCullough, an author of mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy novels who will share how a personal adventure played a part in one of her books. Karen is one of my fellow authors from the new e-book 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror, 52 Authors Look Back. I hope you’ll also check out our stories in that essay anthology, a collection gathered to warm your heart, raise your spirits, and compel you to examine your own life. But first, here’s how Karen’s hike up Mount Pisgah helped her create suspense:

Climbing Mount Pisgah
by Karen McCullough

When our kids were younger, our finances were tight. Not desperately so, but we just barely paid the bills and there was no money for fancy vacations or even much traveling. Still, we wanted to give the kids the experience of different places and interesting adventures, so we looked for things we could do at low cost. We were fortunate that a relative owned a summer cabin in Asheville, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and she was happy to let our family use it. We live within easy driving distance of Asheville, so we took her up on it often.

Our most adventurous outing occurred the day we decided to climb 5700-foot Mount Pisgah.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is magnificent in spring and fall, but wonderful even in summer, and there are lots of things you can do with an adventurous family for little money. Fortunately we all liked walking and hiking. (Still do.) We set out from the cabin every day with a cooler full of drinks, sandwiches for a picnic, a first aid kit, and a map of the parkway. Our most adventurous outing occurred the day we decided to climb 5700-foot Mount Pisgah.

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Hiking Mount Audubon: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Colorado

To me, late September means it’s time to hit Colorado’s high country to see the Aspen turn the Rocky Mountains into shimmering gold. I love to drive the Peak-to-Peak Highway to see the show, and that makes a hike at Mount Audubon convenient. I’ve hiked this particular thirteener before (for non-Coloradans, that just means a peak over 13,000 feet). But the first time I didn’t have a video camera, so I thought I’d treat you to a brief video of my second visit.

If you want to visit Mount Audubon and throw in a good fall-foliage drive on the way, I recommend taking Coal Creek Canyon Road to Nederland, then taking the Peak-to-Peak Highway to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. You’ll need to pay $9 for a pass. The hike starts at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. It’s about 8 miles round trip, but relatively easy as high-altitude hikes go, and the views of the Continental Divide are a spectacular reward for the effort.  If you’d like a bit more information, check out my post on Indian Summer at Indian Peaks. But if you just want to see what makes this hike worth it, check out this video:

Hiking Mount Audubon: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Colorado from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE CANDY – But That’s Not the Candy Factory’s Fault

When my sixteen-year-old sister comes to visit, it’s a challenge figuring out what we might enjoy together without breaking my bank, because her favorite thing to do and my least favorite thing to do – is shop. This time, I was sure I had a winner: a free tour at one of America’s oldest candy factories.

In 1920 candy-making apprentice Carl T. Hammond, Sr. created his first original recipe: Honey KoKos, chocolate candies topped with coconut. With that, he founded Hammond’s Candy Company. At first, Carl did it all: developing candy recipes, making candy, and selling candy.

His business flourished in the Roaring Twenties and survived the Great Depression. In fact, the 1930’s is when a friend of Carls’ invented Hammond’s signature candy: a bite-sized marshmallow covered in caramel. Carl named it after his friend: the Mitchell Sweet, and it’s still Hammond’s most popular sweet today. Today Hammond’s Candies is a wholesaler that sells to such retailers as Nordstrom’s, Dean & Deluca, and William Sonoma.

Miraya and I enjoyed watching candy makers pull, twist, and shape by hand the hot confections that would become candy canes and lollipops. When I saw a packager pulling chocolates off a conveyor belt, it reminded me of the I Love Lucy episode when Lucy and Ethel worked in the candy factory and the manager yelled, “Speed it up a little!”

I was disappointed that we could only watch from afar through glass windows. But it was still entertaining, and even educational. For example, I didn’t know:

The longer hot candy spins on a mechanized candy puller, the lighter the color.

Hard candy is made primarily from sugar, corn syrup and water.

Hammond’s Candies goes through 30,000 pounds of corn syrup a month.

Candy-makers work in a kitchen that reaches up to 110 degrees.

Hammond’s cooks train from 1 ½ to 3 years before they take charge of making candy batches, because they have to learn to roll and pull it just right.

I learned something else: there’s no such thing as a free candy factory tour. This one has an old-fashioned candy shop at the end, where Miraya finally hit on the kind of shopping I do like: buying chocolate. We bought a half-pound, plus souvenirs. How’s the candy? As Miraya put it, “It’s good, but it’s not as good as See’s.” But then See’s doesn’t have a Denver factory and doesn’t offer free tours.

So if you’re a candy lover whose looking for some lazy fun in Denver, I’d say the Hammond’s Factory Tour is an interesting, tasty way to while away an hour. You can always hike it off tomorrow.

Here’s a quick peek to show you what I mean:

Free Candy Factory Tour – Hammond’s Candies from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

HIKING RED ROCKS & MORRISON SLIDE LOOP – Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, Morrison, Colorado

The last time I hiked Red Rocks Trail, I started at the Matthews/Winters Park trailhead. But on Monday I wanted to focus more on Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the world’s coolest natural outdoor amphitheatre – except for maybe that floating movie theatre in Thailand. So this time I started from the trailhead at the Lower North Parking Lot of Red Rocks Park. I took Red Rocks Trail to the second junction with the Morrison Slide Trail, making a three-mile lollipop loop. If you do the same basic hike from the Matthews/Winters side, it’s about four miles.

Afterward, I rewarded myself with a short walk up to the amphitheatre. Even when no band is playing, the astonishing gathering of giant, red sandstone slabs rocks! They inspired me to buy tickets to take my teenage sister to see Gotye at Red Rocks next week. I only know a couple of Gotye’s songs, but I like them…and I can’t imagine a bad night at Red Rocks.

If you live in Denver, you probably know how to find Red Rocks. If not, you can go a few ways, but I prefer this one: Hampden/285 South, turn onto CO-470 toward I-70, take the Morrison Road exit, turn left, and follow the road through town as it changes names. When it becomes Highway 93, follow the signs to Red Rocks. You’ll need to wind through the park to hit the lower north lot. To start from the more hikerly trailhead, take 6th Avenue to I-70 to Highway 93 south, to Matthews/Winters Park. Here’s my promo for the amphitheatre trailhead: I saw a couple of deer there, which you’ll see in this video:

Hiking Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre – Red Rocks & Morrison Slide Loop from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

HIKING GEM LAKE – Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and you don’t even have to pass through the official park entrance to reach many a lovely hike. Gem Lake is an easy-ish uphill walk of about 3.4 miles round trip, with rewarding views. Boulders and trees open up to show off 14,259-foot Long’s Peak and a range of 13ers, as you hike from nearly eight-thousand to nearly nine-thousand feet. The lake at the top is really more of a pond, but it’s surrounded by stunning granite formations. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic, if you don’t mind being harassed by small gangs of thieving chipmunks. I recommend going on a weekday for peace and quiet, and a chance to see raptors. We went on Monday, July 16, and even then we passed plenty of tourists.

The Gem Lake Trail is easy to find. Take US 36 to downtown Estes Park. From there, head north on MacGregor Avenue, which turns into Devils Gulch Road. Go less than a mile past the gateway to MacGregor Ranch, and turn left at the sign for the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. The parking lot isn’t far off Devils Gulch Road. Here’s a short video of a few things you might see along the trail, and yes, that sound at the end is a small afternoon thunderstorm:

Hiking Gem Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

HIKING BARR LAKE WILDLIFE REFUGE: Easy Walk to a Wealth of Animals

If you like easier hikes, this is a good summer to watch my Colorado hiking videos. In January, I had surgery to remove part of a herniated disc that put pressure on my spine, but not before it damaged the nerves in my left foot. I expect to get my strength back, but nerves can take up to a year to re-grow. So for now, I’m discovering that flat or rolling hikes are not only easier on a weak foot, but can also be a delight to the eye. Case in point: Barr Lake WIldlife Refuge, where my husband Dale and I went on Monday, and saw more animals than we usually see on our hikes.

Barr Lake State Park is only 40 minutes from Denver, yet it’s a trip into the wild. We saw: deer, herons, egrets, pelicans, rabbits, red winged blackbirds, and many sherbet-colored birds we couldn’t identify. If you don’t go during the hottest part of the day like we did, you might also see: badgers, foxes, bald eagles, falcons, and hawks. All that and more on a flat, three-mile round-trip from the Nature Center to the Gazebo, including boardwalks and nature blinds.

To visit Barr Lake from Denver: take I-76 east 16.8 miles to Bromley Lane, turn right onto Bromley/East 152nd, go about 1 mile to Picadilly Road and turn right again. In 2 miles, you’ll see the entrance on the right. A day pass for your car is $7. Don’t forget binoculars, to get a closer look at animals like the ones in this video. Keep your eye out for the killdeer that plays dead to lure us from her nest:

Hiking Barr Lake Wildlife Refuge from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

GETTING KICKED BY ROUTE 66: Part Five – American Gothic & Tiny Dots of Art in Chicago

Saturday, May 3, 2008

In keeping with our Route 66 theme, I have a less than highbrow goal in visiting the Art Institute of Chicago: I’m here to see that creepy icon of nostalgic Americana known as American Gothic. So I figure hitting the museum an hour before closing will give Steph and me plenty of time. We lose 15 minutes buying our tickets and navigating a vast maze brimming with more classic enticements. No problem. I do what I always do at museums: head straight to my must-see choices first, and don’t deviate until that task is finished.

I’m amused to learn that the artist’s models were his sister and his dentist.

American Gothic is more interesting than I expected. I planned to stand here, tongue firmly planted in cheek, and chuckle to myself while adding one more bit of kitsch to our Route 66 checklist. But in truth, Grant Wood’s painting is a work of real skill. Seeing the actual paint, I find myself appreciating the crease in the old man’s brow, the lock of hair slipping from his spinster daughter’s severe bun, the folds of his sleeve, the cameo at her throat. The description educates me to notice the houseplants arranged in the window behind the daughter as a symbol of her feminine domesticity, and to recognize the father’s pitchfork as a symbol of his masculine role as a worker of the field. I’m amused to learn that the artist’s models were his sister and his dentist.

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