We had quite a time out on the Pawnee grasslands, on two group sites with a bunch of families, lots of kids, and plenty of bird watchers. There were plenty of kids for Jet to play with, lots of migratory birds, Miller moths in plentifulness, and the wildest weather I've been in for camping in quite some time.
The Pawnee grasslands are all high desert grassland, that, for a while, were part of the Dust Bowl. Turned sod dried up over years' worth of drought and blew away in the Black Dust storms of that era. 100 million acres were affected. The US Government bought back 4 million acres and turned them back into native grasslands, for grazing and ranchers to lease.
Grover, a tiny town nearby, had t-shirts that said, "Beautiful Downtown Grover -- Conveniently located in the middle of nowhere."
It's no wonder that the Grasslands have the lowest population density for all of Colorado.
And we got a lot of wind all the days we were there. Friday we arrived in the late afternoon, got Jet's tent set up, unpacked everything from the Eurovan, and cloud scudded by so quickly you could nearly see vapor trails behind them. Sprinkles rained down in quick waves, a short bit here, a long wave there, and you could see the breaks in the banks of clouds.
Folks arrived as they could, and John and I managed to get a quick spaghetti dinner together, with garlic bread and salad just in time for a downpour. Luckily we'd also put up a shelter that served as a cover from the rain, and the mesh would have kept the mosquitoes off me, but the wind was blowing so hard, all the bugs had just disappeared.
When full dark finally fell, the wind let up and the clouds opened, and we could see the myriad of stars above in vast array. So bright they seemed close enough to touch, as there were no lights, whatsoever, to dim them. That was amazing.
We had a good campfire going, big enough to shoulder through the rain, and the coals were perfect for s'mores. The wind and the wet combined to be pretty cold, but when I finally settled in my mummy down sleeping bag, in the back of the Eurovan, on memory foam cushions, I found that I was actually quite comfortable compared to other camping trips. The sound of the rain, outside the van, lulled me to sleep just fine.
The hike itself was just fine, as while we were moving, we were warm enough. And the initial downhil took us out of the worst of the wind. I'd brought five layers, and wore three of them, on top of shorts, to start, and started losing them as I went down into the gully. The trail was well-maintained, twisty at the top, and it went through various washes in order to get to the other side and keep going toward the buttes.
It was strenuous enough that I was warmed through, but not so hard that I really felt pushed by the hike. I really enjoyed it.
There was a whole group of people out there lying on the ground, studying the flowers with magnifying glasses, and there was one guy lecturing them as to the genus and species for the various blooms they found. That was pretty fun.
The walk back was very entertaining as Jet and Sage devised a game where they pretty much ran the whole way back. It was nearly a 3 mile hike, but the two boys were playing a mini version of tag and they ran and ran and ran. I was very impressed with their energy, but was also pretty happy about mine. All the miles that John and I walked over the winter really paid off, and my legs weren't terribly sore or angry about the whole thing. It was also nice that the majority of the downhill was to start and the way back was mostly uphill, which was much easier on my knees.
The gist of what happened with the knee thing was that the expert recommended physical therapy, but both of the therapists he'd recommended in Longmont had gone out of business. So I really should probably ask for another couple of people or something, but given that the only real fix was to strengthen the joint, I've mostly been just keeping up with the exercise for them and doing some of the PT I had from when I injured and had surgery on the right knee. It seems to be working, as the hike was pretty easy and I wasn't that stiff the rest of the day.
On the way back to the campground we stopped in Grover *laughs* It was a nice little grocery/deli/hardware store in the middle of town, and they had a lot of variety. Amy and Karina managed to get a lot of what they needed, and John picked up his t-shirt with a nice picture and the saying along with a pound of ground coffee as our drip system for camping brought a lot of people that liked it better than their instant coffee. *laughs* It was a fun stop and we saw a little museum.
The rest of the day turned colder. Windier. So windy that when we all had our potluck dinner together, and everyone brought their dishes, every time someone tried to serve themselves some of the salad that John and I made, the leaves would just blow away. All the hot food went fast, and everyone tried to eat it quickly so that it stayed warm. That was pretty amazing. It was so cold and so windy that a plate of hot stew went cold in minutes. But the hot food really felt good to eat, too, as we were all so chilled to the bone that anything warm just felt good, and with all the exertion, we all were hungry. So the potluck cleared quickly.
The fires, after, were also pretty exciting, as the wind really whipped up the flames, and John built the fire so that the wind blew the flames into the new wood, so that it would be consumed steadily and easily. It was really amazing to watch, and we all went through packs and packs of s'more makings, quickly. I ate two of them myself, thinking that the calories just weren't going to count in the cold. It was so cold by the time night fell that I actually started up the Eurovan's engines so that I could run the heater in the van to warm the interior up enough to stand undressing enough to get into the sleeping bag. The only thing that made it all bearable was the lack of rain, and a few sprinkles late in the evening, made me rue even saying that.
I'll admit, though, that it wasn't nearly the coldest night I've ever spent in the van. There was the time up in the Rockies when it snowed while we were asleep, and a time down in New Mexico when it was well below freezing and we only hand blankets. I was very grateful for the down bags.
Suzy planned to make pancakes that morning, and three other people joined her with their recipes for pancakes, including Mimi and Paul's gluten-free blueberry ones. Four different pounds of bacon were cooked, another couple pounds of sausages were added, and several people brought along fruit. We provided several lovely carafes of coffee, going through the entire pound of Grover ground coffee.
Then the weather turned spectacularly warm and clear! While it was still overcast and cloudy, Bonnie used her smartphone to look up the weather and was utterly incredulous when it said a high of 83! But it got there, eventhough the sunnier it got the windier it got as well.
Folks played ball, read, did stuff, and when it was sunny and not too windy we went out on a walk just by the campsite to see the farm equipment and what we could in the cow pasture. With several birders in the group we had plenty of authorities about what we found.
We also saw cedar waxwings, red-winged blackbirds, a yellow warbler that was startlingly bright, swallows of all kinds, and a red-headed woodpecker! With it's bright red hood. There were nighthawks floating up in the air, staggering as the winds picked up, and striking other small birds from the sky. It was such a gorgeous day with the sun, too. The walk was a lot of fun and reminded me why I really love talking with Bonnie and Fred and their kids.
When we got back to the site, I climbed up into the upper deck of the Eurovan with my notebook and a pen and outlined a lot of what Rishi is like, as she grows up here as an adopted East Indian girl, taken in by a conservative Army family that lives in Colorado, probably Colorado Springs, but she escapes out to the plains as a high schooler and loves it during the summers when she can just roast and play out here. The wind picked up and started rocking me up in my perch and I nearly fell asleep.
The wind got much worse than it did Saturday night, and Marion came into the campsite with the forecast that said that we were getting 25 mph gusts now, but that it would be 60 mph gusts by morning. So all the folks that had tents took them down, and packed up after a dinner where we had to build shelters for the stoves, had to hold down everything so it wouldn't blow away, and ate with our backs to the wind just to keep our food.
I have to admit that camping really makes me grateful for shelter, heat, and running water. *laughs* The pit toilets were far nicer in the wind and cold; however, after a week going down the Rogue River where certain camping spots didn't even have pit toilets, I was just very grateful for clean seats and plenty of toilet paper.
The odd thing was that there was this haze all to the north, and it looked like falling thunderstorms out there as well. I love the picture of this road all the way to the horizon. At least there were other cars on the road. *grins*
The interesting thing was that the weather calmed when we got a lot closer to home. The winds weren't nearly as bad, and the skies cleared. But it was full night when we got to the house, and we unpacked what we had to to go to sleep.
Most of Monday was John finishing the unpacking, and us getting settled in again. But we're out of here on Thursday again to go to San Diego. The garden held up all right, though the spinach looks unhappy with the lack of water and the heating up of the weather. I'm just happy it lasted this long and we've had bowls and bowls and bowls of fresh spinach salads and stir fries and all that. I came down with a cold for most of Monday, too, sneezing and aching and unhappy; but I napped for a good two hours and felt the better for it.
I'm doing much better today, which is very good. I managed to dye some wool for yarn that I'm hoping to get spun before we leave. *laughs* And Jet's been really into his Pokemon cards, and asking me to play test a bunch of his decks as he tries to balance them for play. Not that he puts it that way, but having experienced some pretty unbalanced decks he knows the importance of doing it right now. I'm pretty proud of him.
I think that, on the most part, I'm grateful for the chance to see the things I saw, and even more grateful for shelter, warmth, food, and all my things. *laughs* Happy to be home, but happy I went on the adventure, and even happier that we had to set up the sprinkler system for while we were gone and don't have to do it now in a rush for San Diego. So... all's good.