Taking a little break from harp guitar news…

Greetings, all. As more and more of my friends and family seem to be dropping off Facebook, I feel compelled to post some of my personal posts here in addition to the quick “please like my photo” posts I normally do there.

We had a free Delta companion fare to use or lose, so my wife Jaci and I booked a quick trip to Denver just for fun. Highlights from Thursday eve to Monday AM:

Stephen Bennett recommended the Buckthorn Exchange – a historical landmark, open since 1893, with the walls stuffed to the gills with stuffed souvenirs of seemingly every mammal, bird and reptile served there since opening. I’m exaggerating, but yeah, it’s a game restaurant and not for the squeamish. Besides ranched bison and elk, we had their fried rattlesnake appetizer (though an ex-herpetologist, my first time…I’d describe it as a cross between pork and clams, and no, that’s not exactly a recommendation.

Friday was a drive north and up to 7500 feet to the town of Estes Park and then further up to do the complete drive through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Beautiful sun, then cold and drizzle, and by 9000 feet where we reached the “road closed” sign in a little rental Kia, we were in a full-blown snowstorm. Exciting! The cleaved wall of snow on the uphill side of the road was taller than the car.

We stopped for a relaxing hike around Sprague lake, once a popular resort before being sold to the Parks in 1932. Spectacular views of the Continental Divide.

We did well with wildlife sightings: lots of elk, two moose (caught them just as they disappeared into the thickets), mule deer, ground squirrels, a large woodpecker of some sort, lots of the beautiful large black and white magpies, and wild turkeys, a solitary one of which hogged the median strip of the road for some time. (Left: selfie with elk herd in wind and rain)

Almost adjacent to the park entrance is the Stanley Hotel, of Stephen King fame. We had forgotten the specifics – no,  it wasn’t used for the Jack Nicholson Shining as we had thought, it was where King stayed for inspiration while writing his famous novel, then used to later film his own TV mini-series (with that guy from Wings, remember?). We snuck around the place before eating in the restaurant (but eschewing the souvenir “REDRUM” T-shirt).

We stopped by Boulder on the way back, but it was already dark. I joked “OK, ready?”, rolled down the windows, and sure enough – an immediate miasma of weed filled the car. This went on for a mile as we drove into town (the only place on the trip we smelled it, actually).

Saturday was a beautiful day outdoors that we mostly spent at the Denver Zoo. We rarely do zoos anymore (and I’m an ex-zookeeper) but this one is rated #9 of the top 10 zoos in the States, so worth checking out.

Many animal training/feeding sessions are shared with the public. They do very well with a small herd of Indian bull elephants – the largest (shown) is 49 years old.

A recent Komodo dragon successful clutch hatching, the holy grail for monitor fanatics like myself.   Here’s a brief clip of this little jewel.

A pair of mated hornbills sharing a large private exhibit, with viewing at tree level. I caught them perfectly in “mid-kiss” during a sudden fruit-sharing bonding moment.

Next was the Molly Brown house, a pretty cool historical landmark and museum – home of that most famous Titanic survivor, Margaret Brown (turns out that during her life, she was never referred to as Molly).

Despite its various change of hands, it has original wallpaper, built-ins and many furnishings (the silver tureen), though the fancy Broadwood grand is a replacement.

Dinner that night was an overpriced restaurant at the beautiful Union Station.

Sunday we spent at the excellent Nature & Science Museum. By dumb luck, it was a free day, with the special Da Vinci exhibit hugely discounted.

Above: full-size models of Da Vinci’s mechanical war drum and portable piano with a hurdy-gurdy style mechanism.

My favorite was the elaborate Mona Lisa exhibit, detailing the incredible new scientific scanning of the invisible underlayers, and recreating the four Leonardo artworks it actually is (and who is who and not). So interesting I got the book on the project.

The museum has an excellent gem collection, as well as a huge Native American Indian exhibit representing the major tribes.

A view towards the city from the back of the museum

Heading out, we caught this incredible walk-around T-rex puppet that every kid (and many adults) couldn’t wait to get eaten by.

Upon leaving, someone tipped us off that there was an immense prairie reserve a few minutes away (the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge). Surrounded by the city, coliseums, airports, etc., this huge expanse hosts a herd of 185 wild bison, 80 re-introduced black-footed ferrets (once though extinct until 18 were discovered, captured and bred to save the species), and over 50,000 prairie dogs the ferrets prey on. We saw (and heard the warning chirps of) hundreds of the latter, but no BFFs, other than rare photos in the visitor’s center.

Afterwards, we drove south to the small town of Castle Rock, just to see what else the area might have to offer.

At the last minute, we learned that the nation’s first stand-alone, dedicated insect zoo (est. 1995) was just 5 minutes from our hotel – so Monday morning we ran over there for an hour visit before dashing off to the airport.

I hold to the theory that one should always avail themselves of any opportunity to hold a tarantula.

Jaci and I lost ourselves amidst the jungle of butterflies (the stunning Caligo sp., or “owl butterfly” is one of the few species self-propagating continually at the facility. Several dozen other species are delivered weekly in their cocoons from farms and breeders all over the world to emerge daily in front of visitors’ eyes.

And this was a completely impromptu trip. What might we accomplish next time with an itinerary?!

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