Tag: Colorado National Monument

Meeting Our First Grandchild

Meeting Our First Grandchild

Fruita, Colorado – November 21, 2018

Our first grandchild, Michael, was born at virtually the same time as when I landed in La Paz, Bolivia for the first time.  He was born while his father was at sea.  On Veterans Day; father, mother, and baby were finally reunited.

Shortly before Tyler returned from deployment, he said he and his family planned a trip to Colorado around the Thanksgiving holiday.  With that knowledge, I was able to make arrangements to leave work for a little over a week and head to Colorado.

The anticipation was enormous! I had not seen my wife for nearly four months because she had been in Colorado. I had not seen Tyler, Hillary, or the rest of my family for close to 15 months. I had never met Tyler’s wife, Victoria, and, of course, I had only seen Michael in photographs.

A very comfortable, sleeping baby.

My countdown for my Colorado homecoming finally made it to mere hours as I sat at home on the evening of November 19.  My taxi was due to pick me up at about 00:15 on the morning of the 20th.

Right on time, my taxi arrived. I was tired because I had only dozed while waiting. Regardless, I wheeled my luggage, laden with Bolivian gifts, to the curbside, and placed it in the rear of the car. The woman who was my driver spoke virtually no English. But even with me being 90 percent illiterate in Spanish, we were able to communicate. One of her first questions to me, in Spanish, was whether I wanted her to go via the Llojetta route or take the Autopista. I said I did not care, and it was up to her as the driver. She selected the Llojetta route.

When we turned off of Avenida Costanera onto Avenida Mario Mercado, we began our climb to El Alto. We went up and up. In fact, there seemed to be no end to up. The only difference in our climb was when we encountered a speed bump or a sharp hairpin turn. Other than that, it was all up! Because of the steep road, much of that part of the journey was in second gear.

Our house in La Paz is at 11,180 feet (3,408 meters).  The El Alto International Airport is at 13,300 feet (4,054 meters); quite an altitude gain.

We finally crested onto the top of the El Alto mesa.  There were still several more kilometers to go to get to the El Alto International Airport, but at least it was all reasonably level.

It was around 01:00 when we arrived at the airport.  I paid my 200 Bolivianos (US$29), took my baggage, and went inside the terminal.  By 01:40, my check-in was complete.  Ten minutes later, I was at my gate, waiting patiently for my 04:30 flight to Lima, Peru.  That flight was right on time.

About an hour and one-half later, the plane landed at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru.  Since I was merely transiting Lima, I did not have to go through passport control.  However, I did have to go back through security screening.  I left the screening area after a very brief wait and made my way to Friday’s for breakfast.  I must have been hungry because it tasted so delicious.

Departing the restaurant, I made my way to the gate for my flight to Orlando, Florida. I arrived early. I watched as the security and airline personnel set up another security screening area at the gate. This is standard practice for a flight departing an international location, heading to a United States airport. Once again, I had no issues and a very short wait for the screening.

Soon after the screening, the airline employees began to scan the passengers’ boarding passes and allow us onto the waiting bus. When the bus was full, we rode to the waiting Latam aircraft. Onboard the plane, I settled into my seat and waited for the five and one-half hour flight to begin. It ended up being a comfortable and uneventful flight.

Passing the Florida coastline on the way to Orlando.

Once I was off the plane in Orlando, Florida, I went to passport control. As usual, that was a breeze. I waited in the Customs area for my one bag to come off the plane. My customs form dutifully filled out in detail, rested in my pocket. I lifted my bag from the carousel and went to the exit. I did not see anyone collecting the Customs forms. I asked a passing Customs officer to whom I should give my paper. She said they no longer use those forms…

To get to my next gate, I had to exit the terminal. That meant I had to go back through a security screening. I usually have TSA Pre-Check status on my boarding pass. The boarding pass issued by Latam in Bolivia did not have that notation as the lady at the TSA Pre-Check line pointed out to me. She said I could go to a nearby kiosk and try printing another boarding pass. I declined. That ended up to be an error in judgment.

I entered the line for security screening. Today was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in Orlando, Florida. By the way, Orlando is home to Disney World. The screening area was absolutely packed with holiday travelers and many, many families sporting Disney World attire. The line snaked back and forth for a distance at least equal to the steep road to El Alto.

I found myself sandwiched in the line between two of the Disney World families. The family behind me had a child in a stroller. I lost count of the number of times the stroller bumped into the back of my legs. The family in front of me was a husband, wife, and two children in the eight-year-old range. I am not sure just how much of their home they brought with them or how much of Florida they were trying to take back to their home, but I did not know TSA had that many plastic x-ray bins. I pictured myself finally approaching the x-ray conveyor, looking wistfully at an automaton TSA employee, and merely shrugging my shoulders because there were no more bins in the entire zip code. Somehow, additional containers did show up. When I could finally approach the conveyor, I placed my items in the bin (note that word is not plural) and stepped through security. At this point, I request the reader to stop, take a deep breath, sigh, and revel in my successful trip through the Orlando security checkpoint. I celebrated the fact that there was no bruising on the back of my legs from the stroller.

Quite blissful, I made my way to Ruby Tuesday for a well-deserved glass of sauvignon blanc and chicken sandwich.

My last flight of the day was to Dallas, Texas. I quickly boarded the plane and had a relatively quick trip to DFW. The flight arrived in Dallas at about 23:05 Bolivian time. I could not make it to my final destination because there were no more flights to Grand Junction that day.

I waited at the baggage carousel to collect my bag. With my suitcase in tow, I walked to the lower level, called the Marriott for a shuttle, and waited. I made it to the hotel at about 00:00 Bolivian time. That meant I had been traveling for about 24-hours. I was delighted to lie down and sleep.

Early the next morning I got back on a shuttle and went back to the airport. I checked my bag, grabbed some breakfast, and found my gate, D14. While I was sitting at the gate, I saw a plane arrive. The plane stopped short of the jet bridge because the ground crew was not there to guide the aircraft. After 10 or 12 minutes, the ground crew arrived and guided the plane to a proper stop. Just as that happened, I received a text on my phone. With about 45 minutes left before my flight was to begin boarding, the departure gate changed to Terminal C. That was disheartening. However, it turned out to be ok because I did not have to go back through security.

A wishbone sculpture in one of the DFW terminals. It seemed appropriate for Thanksgiving!
The D14 jet-bridge at DFW airport.
An American Eagle plane arriving at D14. I mistakenly thought this would be my plane to Grand Junction, Colorado.
The pilots waiting patiently for a ground crew to guide them to D14.
Stopping on the mark at D14.

At the new gate, I boarded the plane, sat back for a smooth ride, and was in Grand Junction by 10:30 local time, Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

Leslie and Hillary met me at the airport.  Soon we were in Fruita, Colorado, Lorraine’s home, the base of operations for this high-level visit.  I began eating my way across Colorado with some Gardetto’s Snack Mix, one of my favorite things on this planet.  We busied ourselves with last-minute preparations for Tyler, Victoria, and, of course, Michael.

Enjoying time on the patio with Bella.
Mother and daughter.

On the morning of Thanksgiving Day, we drove to the airport to pick up the newest members of our family, Victoria and Michael. We quickly caught a glimpse of the proud papa, Tyler, carrying our very first grandchild, Michael. We very happily saw, met, and hugged our new daughter-in-law Victoria too. It was so lovely to have them at the same place on Earth as Leslie and me.

Once we were back in Fruita, poor Michael was passed around like a rugby ball…well, we did not toss him around; but he indeed found his way to many people at the house! Hillary and Shane stopped by so, now the only couple missing was great-grandma and great-grandpa Juvera. That was remedied the next morning when they arrived at the airport. Suddenly Michael had two more fans to whom he could be passed.

Grandma and Michael.
Great-grandma and Michael…oh, and Bella.
And this grandpa loves this boy!!
Great-grandma J.
Great-grandpa J.
Asleep after a feeding.
Auntie and Michael playing like a boss!
Just a little tired.
Grandma holding her dear, sweet grandson.
Time for his close-up.
If one wants a good selfie, don’t let the grandpa take it!!
Father and son.
Auntie Hillary with her newest nephew, Michael.

Since everyone was finally together, Friday was Bolivian Santa day.  I had brought gifts from Bolivia for everyone.  There was Bolivian chocolate for each family.  The guys received wallets, alpaca socks, t-shirts, key chains, a refrigerator magnet, and a Marine Security Guard Detachment coin.  Everything was from Bolivia.  The women received hand-woven, baby alpaca shawls.  The remainder of Friday was spent visiting with all of our family.

It was also an Ugly Christmas Sweater day. Hillary had purchased ugly Christmas sweaters for all of us. I set up the tripod, and we captured the moments.

Gifts from Bolivia and happy recipients.  These are mantillas or shawls.
The family reunion photo with ugly Christmas sweaters provided by Hillary. From left to right is Lorraine, Victoria, Tyler with Michael, Terry (your humble writer), Leslie, Hillary, Shane, Joleen, and Claude.
Great-grandma Joleen and great-grandpa Claude joined in the photo.
Great-grandma Lorraine joined in the photo.
Grandpa and grandma with number one grandson, Michael.
Modeling our ugly Christmas sweaters…

Saturday was a day for more visiting with relatives.  Early that morning, Tyler, Victoria, and I stopped at the Aspen Street Coffee Company to get some go-juice.  Later in the day, Tyler and I went to the barn to sort through some of his stuff.  In one of the boxes, he found his baby blanket!  That is now 25 years old!  It seemed strangely appropriate now that Michael is on the scene.

Inside the Aspen Street Coffee Company in Fruita, Colorado.
The proud papa displaying his newly discovered baby blanket from a quarter-century ago!

Just as important was the preparation of our Thanksgiving meal. That evening, I took the opportunity to take a selfie of the group. It may not be the best photograph, but it will forever mean a lot to me. Michael is just off-camera in his bouncy chair.

The Thanksgiving feast!

On an evening trip through the town center of Fruita, I was struck by the beautiful Christmas lights on display.  I had never seen that before.

The Christmas lights in downtown Fruita, Colorado looking west.
The Christmas lights in downtown Fruita, Colorado looking east.
A Christmas bicycle in Fruita, Colorado.

Sunday morning, Leslie and I took great-grandma and great-grandpa Juvera back to the airport for their return to Colorado Springs.

One morning in Fruita, it was cold and foggy. I looked outside and saw there was a beautiful frost on nearly everything. That meant it was a great time to go out with my camera.

View of a fence post with frost in Fruita, Colorado.
Fog, fence, trees, and a paddock in Fruita, Colorado.
Fog, fence, and trees in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of frost on a top-rail of a fence in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on the top rail of a fence in Fruita, Colorado.
Fog as seen through a very frosty and somewhat symmetrical gate in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of a very frosty and somewhat symmetrical gate in Fruita, Colorado.
Looking toward a barn gate in Fruita, Colorado.
Another frosty plastic hay bale tie in Fruita, Colorado.
A frosty fence at a horse paddock in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of frost on a plastic hay bale tie in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on a plastic hay bale tie in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on a fence and weed in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on the bare branches of a globe willow in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of frost on the bare branches of a globe willow in Fruita, Colorado.
A frosty water spigot in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost, fog, and trees in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on an evergreen tree in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of frost on an evergreen tree in Fruita, Colorado.

Once the fog lifted, one could see that the Colorado National Monument had received some snow.  I was very picturesque as seen from Fruita.

A view of snow on the Colorado National Monument.
Looking toward the Colorado National Monument, one can see the Independence Monument.
A closer view of the Independence Monument.

Since Victoria had never been to Colorado, we had to take her to the Colorado National Monument.  At the entry station, the ranger told us no Desert Bighorn Sheep had been spotted that day; however, we should stay alert.  There was a chance we might see some.

We drove up to the visitor center, stopping periodically to view sights from the various overlooks.  At the visitor center, we stopped to go inside and explore.  We also stepped out to the Canyon Rim Trail to look down into the adjoining canyon.

Looking across the Colorado River Valley from the Colorado National Monument.
Tyler and Victoria at the Colorado National Monument.
A jet passing by the Balanced Rock formation in the Colorado National Monument.
A closer view of the Balanced Rock in the Colorado National Monument.
Pointing the way to the Canyon Rim Trail near the visitor center in Colorado National Monument.
A view of a cliff from the Canyon Rim Trail overlook.
A twisted cedar tree in Colorado National Monument.
Detail of the sandstone bricks used in the construction of the visitor center in the Colorado National Monument.
A red sandstone cliff near the visitor center of the Colorado National Monument.

Back in the vehicle, we continued toward the East Entrance to the Colorado National Monument. I was driving and focused on the road. Suddenly Leslie shouted there was a sheep alongside the road! Sure enough, a Desert Bighorn Sheep ewe was lying beside the road, casually chewing her cud. I stopped immediately. Tyler, Victoria, and I piled out to take photographs. Just as we finished, I saw another vehicle approaching. They were slowing to take photos as we had done.

A Desert Bighorn Sheep along the road in the Colorado National Monument.
A closer view of the Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Colorado National Monument.
There was an inch or two of snow in places at the Colorado National Monument.
Looking across the canyon to the Canyon Rim Trail.
View of the Independence Monument from Otto’s trailhead in the Colorado National Monument.
A closer view of the Independence Monument from Otto’s trailhead in the Colorado National Monument. The Grand Mesa is in the distance.
Snow, cedar, and pines in the Colorado National Monument.
Mountains in the distance as seen from the Colorado National Monument.
Detail of a cedar tree in the Colorado National Monument.
A dead cedar tree in front of a Mormon Tea plant in the Colorado National Monument.
Independence Monument and the view looking north and west from the Colorado National Monument.
A closer view of the Independence Monument in the Colorado National Monument. The town in the background is Fruita, Colorado.

Continuing our eastward journey, I was surprised at how much snow there was on the road.  By the time we got to the East Entrance, the road was completely dry.

When we left the Colorado National Monument, we called Hillary and Shane to tell them we were on the way to the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita.  They met us there.  For the meager entry fee, a visit to the museum is a must if one is in the area.  The interpretive and interactive displays help put the prehistoric history of the area into perspective.

The truck outside the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado.
One of the displays in the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado.
In the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado. This is where the work of exposing fossils takes place.
A rather gruesome depiction of mealtime in the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado.
A depiction of a stegosaurus in the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado.

Our time in Fruita coincided with a full moon.  I was able to get a reasonably good photograph of the moon one night.  It reminded me of the pictures I took of the moon while we were stationed in Islamabad, Pakistan.

A full moon visible in Fruita, Colorado.

No trip to Fruita is complete without a visit to the Main Street Café in Grand Junction, Colorado.  When we go there, we always try to get the table that is in the display window.  The day we went, that table was open, so grabbed it quickly.  It had been eons since I had a milkshake.  I corrected that oversight with a strawberry milkshake.  It was absolutely everything I thought it would be!

Yep! That is a strawberry shake! You too can get one at the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Ready for lunch at the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
He just finished his lunch at the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
A Marilyn Monroe advertisement in the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
One of the “window display” seating areas in the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
An art installation just outside of the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado. The cafe is visible in the background with the checkerboard sign.

After lunch, we walked along Main Street; stopping at the Main Street Minerals and Beads shop and then the Robin’s Nest Antiques and Treasures store.  That antique store is one of our favorite stops in downtown Grand Junction.

The Main Street Minerals & Beads shop in Grand Junction, Colorado.
The building housing the Main Street Minerals & Beads store in Grand Junction, Colorado dates from 1890.
Our favorite antique store in Grand Junction, Colorado. A Robin’s Nest of Antiques & Treasures.
A partial view of the Reed Building in Grand Junction, Colorado. It dates from 1908.
An artfully disguised utility box along Main Street in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Wednesday morning after Thanksgiving, I was up early as usual.  I could tell the sunrise was going to be good.  So once again, even though it was cold, I grabbed my camera and headed outside.  I think the results speak for themselves.

Looking across a paddock in Fruita, Colorado watching the sunrise.
A closer view of a lone tree in Fruita, Colorado during a sunrise. The Grand Mesa is visible in the distance.
A wider view across the paddock in Fruita, Colorado.
A lone tree in Fruita, Colorado silhouetted by the sunrise.
The sunrise was very pretty on this cold fall morning in Fruita, Colorado.
The home in Fruita, Colorado.
A globe willow tree in front of a barn in Fruita, Colorado.
Looking across a paddock in Fruita, Colorado toward the Colorado National Monument.

Later that morning, we took Tyler, Victoria, and Michael to the airport so they could begin their 11-hour journey home.  They made it home about an hour late, but safe and sound.

When we returned from the airport, Leslie and I finished packing our baggage.  We were due to the leave Grand Junction the next morning.  We had so much stuff we had to ship some items to Bolivia to keep from having overweight baggage.

That next morning, we drove to the airport.  We left the vehicle in the parking lot for Lorraine and Hillary to retrieve later that morning.  We went inside the airport, checked-in, and went to our gate to await boarding.

We boarded and left on time.  It was a very smooth and uneventful flight to Dallas, Texas.

On the final approach to the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas.

Once we were in Dallas, we had enough time to get breakfast at Chili’s.  It was particularly marginal, but it was food.

When we got to our gate, we only had a short wait before we boarded the American Airlines plane bound for Orlando, Florida.  Once again, that flight was comfortable and uneventful.  We had a row of three seats to ourselves, so we were able to spread out.

A happy passenger waiting to depart from DFW in Dallas, Texas.
While our plane was taxiing at DFW airport in Dallas, Texas, another plane was landing.
A runway marker at the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas. Our plane ultimately took off on runway 35L.
A Delta jet at the DFW airport beginning the takeoff roll.
The passengers on our plane at the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas waiting for the takeoff.
An American Airlines jet at the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas beginning its takeoff roll.
Another American Airlines jet at the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas beginning its takeoff roll.

The comfort ended at Orlando.  A wheelchair attendant was at the door of the plane to collect Leslie.  He pushed her to the desk at the gate, said he had to go clear the plane and left us there.  We did not quite understand that.  In all of our travels, once the wheelchair arrives, we are off to our next destination with no stops.

The young man finally returned and began walking with us down the concourse.  I asked to confirm that he knew where we were going.  He replied yes, to baggage claim such and such.  I said no, we had a connecting flight to Lima, Peru.  He stopped, checked his iPad, and said we had to leave the secure area to check in with our carrier, Latam Airlines.  That was disheartening since I already knew how challenging the security screening was at Orlando.

Regardless, he got us to the Latam desk. I showed our tickets to the woman at the counter. She said we were all set and we could go to our gate. Since Leslie and I had not originally planned to travel together, we had different itineraries. That meant our seat assignments were not together. I asked the woman if she could seat us together. She flatly said no. That surprised me. She said we might be able to change seats at the gate. I pointed out that Leslie needed assistance. She told us to wait at a designated point, and someone would take us to the gate shortly.

We waited at the designated spot for nearly ten minutes.  Finally, I asked another Latam employee how we were supposed to get to the gate.  Ultimately, they called someone, and we began our journey to gate 82.

As we got to the security screening area, we entered the wheelchair assistance line. I thought that meant we would be expedited through the queue. Boy was that an incorrect thought. I could have sworn that some of the families in line wearing Disney World attire were the same families I had seen a week earlier. Even though we were in a short and “fast” lane, it took an excessive amount of time to get through security.

Departing security, our attendant got us to the gate reasonably quickly.  Just as we arrived, they started boarding.  By our way of reckoning, we just barely made it to our plane.

We boarded the plane, and Leslie took her seat at 18J, an aisle seat. I continued to 26C, another aisle seat. The boarding was somewhat chaotic. I kept an eye on Leslie. I saw the middle seat next to her remained open. As it so happened, the middle seat next to me also remained open. When it appeared boarding was complete, I asked one of the flight attendants if I could sit next to my wife. She agreed, so we were able to sit together.

The flight from Orlando to Lima, Peru was uneventful but lengthy. At only about five and one-half hours, it was certainly not the longest flight we have taken, but it is still a long time to be cooped up in an aluminum cigar. We eagerly awaited the in-flight service and a glass of wine…wait a minute…Latam airlines do not serve alcohol…what?!?! We may never fly them again…

I was ever hopeful that when we arrived in Lima, we would have enough time to go to Fridays and get something to eat and drink…wrong.  The airport was bustling.  We made it to our next gate with about 20-minutes to spare.  The only good thing is I asked the gate attendant if Leslie and I could sit together.  She moved us to the front of the plan, row 2, and seated us side by side.

The pilot making preparations to depart Lima, Peru on the way to La Paz, Bolivia.

The flight from Lima to La Paz, Bolivia was one of our shorter trips.  We arrived in La Paz at about 03:15 Bolivian time.  One of the Embassy employees was there to meet us and help us through customs.  When we had retrieved our luggage and got in the vehicle, it was nearing 04:00.

Our driver selected the Autopista, a not-quite-finished highway. WOW! After taking that, if another driver ever asks if I want to take the Autopista or the Llojetta route, it will definitely be the Autopista! It was much quicker, and fewer hairpin turns, no speed bumps, and travel was at a reasonable speed.

We made it home at about 04:30, after nearly 24-hours of travel. We had that long-awaited glass of wine and crashed into bed. We were together and at home!!

The Way Home

The Way Home

Grand Junction, Colorado – September 7, 2013

The day started quite early as is always the case when leaving Guyana. My flight was the 05:35 Caribbean Air flight. Usually, the motor pool driver would pick me up at about 02:30 or a little earlier. Today, traveling on the same plane was another colleague, so the driver talked me into a 03:00 pick up. The driver and the other passenger arrived at 02:50. As the driver was loading my luggage, he told me we had to pick up one other couple. That got my stomach tied up in knots because it usually takes about an hour to get to the airport.
At about 03:00, we arrived at the other couple’s house, as the driver backed into the driveway, he said, “Oh shucks! I’m getting a flat!” He got out and opened the rear hatch. Now I started to get nervous since the time was ticking. The driver closed the hatch and got back in the Suburban. He told the guard to let the residents know we would be right back. He said to us the tire was not completely flat, so he was going to drive back to the embassy and switch vehicles.
Off we went! Luckily it is only about two miles from where we were.
When we arrived at the embassy, the driver parked the Suburban in front. He walked into the compound to get another vehicle while we stayed outside. By this time the left front tire was completely flat. We removed our bags and waited. Soon the driver emerged from the compound. We loaded up and began the drive back to the house.
We arrived at the house and picked up the residents. As we departed, I nervously glanced at the clock on the dash, 03:28.
Even though our progress slowed because of the occasional large truck doing 25 mph, the driver got us to the airport in just about 40-minutes.
As I walked into the terminal building, I was astonished at how many people were in the small airport. That was due to the relatively short time before departure and the fact that Caribbean Airlines had two flights taking off within 25 minutes of each other. I went to the shortest line and got checked-in reasonably quickly. About 40-minutes later I was on the plane.
We took off right on time. We landed at Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago a short 55 minutes later.
There are many things in this world I don’t understand. One of them is the handling of passengers arriving at Port of Spain from Georgetown. In Georgetown, to get into the waiting area, one must pass through a full-body scanner. Also, shoes and bags must go through an X-ray machine. That is very similar to the U.S.; however, upon landing at Port of Spain, all Georgetown passengers go through the same routine again. That is what I don’t understand.
After getting off the plane, one is in the concourse area of the airport. That is the “secure” portion of the airport. But, instead of being allowed to sit and wait for the connecting flight (which is always the same plane parked at the same gate) one is forced to be screened again. One could argue that it is a security flaw since the screening only consists of a metal detector and an X-ray machine. Since there is not a full-body scanner, there is a possibility that dangerous, non-metallic items could be introduced to a passenger and be brought into the secure area undetected.
When I made it to the end of the screening line, I was surprised that it was easily 100 meters to the screening area. That did not count the zig-zag portion of the line. The line inched along at a painfully slow pace. By the time I got back into the concourse, I only had about 25 minutes to wait to board the flight to Miami.
The flight from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago to Miami, Florida was scheduled to depart at 08:30, so one would think boarding would begin at about 08:00; it started at 08:18. By 08:36, everyone was on board. Regardless, a flight attendant did not close the door, nor did we push back from the gate until 08:53. “We just completed the final paperwork,” was the explanation from the captain. Oh well.
About halfway through the flight, when I looked out the window, I found myself feeling almost disoriented. Looking down at the ocean, it was just as blue as the sky. In the distance was a small thin layer of clouds. They appeared to be at about our same altitude. It was difficult to tell if we were flying upside down or right side up when focusing on the clouds! It was beautiful, though.
As we neared Miami, flying over and near the big island of the Bahamas, it struck me how crystal blue the water was. It was a beautiful shade of turquoise.
Landing at 12:35, little did I know there was another travel surprise coming. Leaving the gate where the plane parked, one has to go up an escalator and then walk to immigration. When I got to the top of the escalator, in between me and the first moving sidewalk, there was a large crowd of people just standing there. I thought it was some tour group, so I began to walk around. Then I noticed it was three lines. At the head of each line was a Customs and Border Protection officer. They were checking everyone’s passport. I went back to the end of a line and waited for my turn.
On my customs form, I wrote that I had been to Guyana and Suriname on this trip out of the United States. When I handed my passport to the agent, he did not look at it at first. He pulled out the customs form, looked at it and then at me. He asked why I had been to those two countries. As I began to answer his question, he saw that my passport was a diplomatic passport. He immediately said, “Oh, never mind. Have a good day, sir”. Off I went to immigration.
I passed through immigration and customs quickly. As I exited, I found myself in Terminal H. I had to go to terminal D, but first I had to re-check my baggage and get my boarding passes. That all took about an hour. Luckily I had a three-hour layover.
Of course, my gate could not have been D2 or D3; it was D42! What a hike! When I got near the gate, I had a quick chicken Caesar salad and waited to board.
The flight to Dallas, Texas, was uneventful. Upon arrival, I made my way to gate B10. Directly across from B10 is a TGI Fridays, so I decided to have dinner. I had the Dragonfire Chicken. It was particularly marginal.
Emerging from Fridays, I discovered my gate was now B24. Once I got there, it was only about 20 minutes until we boarded.

Gate B24 at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
The flight to Grand Junction, Colorado was pretty. We were flying almost directly toward the setting sun. There were quite a few clouds. The sunlight hitting them was beautiful. Unfortunately, none of my photographs did the sight justice.
About two hours later, I was on the ground and heading for Fruita, Colorado.
During my time in Fruita, I was able to relax by pursuing my passion — photography. The following are some of my favorite shots from this trip.

A dragon fly lit on Tyler’s hat for a while.
The water spigot.
Cattle in a nearby paddock.
A wider view of the cattle.
A cow and her calf stopped to see what I was doing.
A freshly cut paddock.
A hummingbird and wasp in competition for a sugary drink.
Maybe a little too close for comfort?
A dandelion ready to blow away.
The Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
An old mixer in the Main Street Cafe.
A woman walking by The Main Street Cafe.
Detail of a water fountain outside The Main Street Cafe.
The Independence Monument in the Colorado National Monument near Fruita.
A canyon wall in Colorado National Monument.
Detail of a canyon wall.
A dead bush provides contrast.
Layers of sand that are millions of years old.
Prickly pear cactus.
Prickly pear cactus II.
A rock formation in Colorado National Monument.
A lizard sunning along side the trail.
In places, the sandstone seems almost liquid.
Detail of the sandstone.
Another lizard sunning by the trail.
A rock formation in Colorado National Monument.
The trail leads to the far rock formation.
Clouds gathering over Colorado National Monument.

Fruita Again

Fruita Again

Fruita, Colorado – April 28, 2013

As is typical for us, we were on the road before the sunrise. We made a quick stop in Woodland Park to get an Egg McMuffin and coffee for the way. As we left McDonald’s, the sun was starting to peek over the horizon.
Shortly after passing through Lake George, Colorado, we saw a herd of deer near the highway. I estimate there were about ten does. Our wildlife spotting continued as we drove across South Park toward Hartsel. Leslie pointed out a herd of some 14 or 15 antelope. There was not a male anywhere around. A little farther along the highway, we did see a male. He was between the road and the fence. I slowed just in case he decided to run across the highway in front of us.
As we continued, we saw another group of antelope on the opposite side of the highway. The herd was smaller and included at least one youngster. A little past that point, we came to another male. This one was on the same side of the fence as the last herd. He was standing still, looking in their direction.
We continued to Hoosier Pass. Up to the summit, the road was completely dry. In several places on the descent, there were some treacherous icy spots. We went quite slowly over those.
The towns of Breckenridge and Frisco were both asleep. We went through both cities with zero traffic. We turned west onto I-70 toward Fruita, Colorado.
As we approached Copper Mountain Ski Area, we passed a sign warning of an accident five miles ahead. We had planned to stop at the rest area on top of Vail Pass. Shortly before the exit was a State truck with a flashing warning sign indicating the left lane was not open ahead. From that point on the Interstate, one can look across the lanes of traffic and see the rest area. Due to the amount of snow, the authorities closed the restrooms.
As we continued, we began to see some emergency vehicles in the left lane. Then we saw the accident, a light blue Jeep on its left side. It was in the snow in the median facing westbound traffic. It was easy to tell what had happened. Just before the accident scene is an overpass, that is the crossing one would use to get to the rest area mentioned above. On the Interstate below the bridge was a relatively large patch of ice. The Jeep had hit the ice, lost control, rolled at least twice, and came to rest as noted above. We could not see anyone standing around that we would identify as the driver or passengers. We could only assume the driver, and any passengers had already gone to the town of Vail, Colorado, for treatment.
That patch of ice was the only one we saw on the way up Vail Pass. On the way down, there were two or three other ice patches, but no other accidents.
At Edwards, Colorado, we got some gas and made a pit stop. It just so happened to be at the same gas station we had stopped at on the 15th; only this time there were not eight inches of fresh snow.
On our way through Glenwood Canyon, Leslie pointed out a Bighorn Ram grazing along the side of the Interstate. As we passed, we could see he had the latest in Bighorn fashion, a radio collar.
Several miles east of Rifle we were driving along at 75 mph, the speed limit. I saw a black SUV quickly approaching from the rear. As the vehicle passed, I estimate it was traveling at near 90 mph. I commented to Leslie that the driver had better be careful or the police would like to have a chat. Just after that statement, I saw another SUV, brown, approaching. That vehicle was going fast, but not as quickly as the first. Behind the brown SUV was a car. Then I noticed the car was a State Patrol car.
Just ahead of us in the right lane was a car. As the brown SUV passed us in the left lane, the State Patrol car was right behind him. Finally, the Patrol car switched on the overhead lights. I am confident the heart of the brown SUV driver just sunk. The brown SUV pulled into the right lane, one vehicle ahead of me. As soon as that happened, the overhead lights were turned off, and the Patrol car sped on after the black SUV.
At this point, the topography was such that we could see the Interstate going downhill in front of us and gently curving to the left. Because of that change in elevation, we could still see the black SUV way ahead and the State Patrol car closing ground. Finally, we saw the vehicle stop. As we passed by, the State Patrol officer was out of her car and approaching the driver of the black SUV.
We did not have any other wildlife sightings or other excitement for the rest of our trip. Shortly before 11:00, we arrived at our destination.
I occupied some of my time on this visit to Fruita with photography. Some of my favorite shots follow.

The globe willows really stood out against the Colorado blue sky.

A line of globe willows.
The side of a weathered barn.
The barn has been around for a long time…
A lone tree just beyond the barn.
Detail of a trailer.
Corral panels and shadows.
The wood on a barn door seems to be pointing to a tree.
In this shot, the tree is the focal point.
Barn door latches.
In this shot, the spigot is the focal point.
In this shot, the house is the focal point.
Clouds blanketing the Colorado National Monument.
Some of the clouds dissipated.
A beautiful paddock waiting to be cut for hay.

On May 2, our flight from Grand Junction was scheduled to depart at 06:10. We arrived at the airport two hours ahead, just like good travelers are supposed to do. The airport building was open; however, the check-in counter did not open until 05:00. We did get the process started by using the self-service kiosk. Then we waited for an agent so that we could check our baggage.
With the check-in behind us, we made it through security quickly. We treated ourselves to our first cup of coffee of the day at Subway. We carried it to the gate area and waited to board our plane.
We boarded the plane and took off right on time, just as the sun was rising. We took off mostly to the southeast. The Colorado National Monument looked terrific with the sun splashing it with various shades of red. Out the right side of the plane, we could see the La Sal Mountains in Utah. A little later, we flew over the San Juan Mountains and the Uncompahgre Mountains in Colorado. The early morning light mixed with the fresh snow made for some stunning views.
The closer we got to Dallas, the more our view of the ground was obscured until there was nothing but clouds below us. Regardless, we arrived at the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport on time.
When we got off the plane, an electric cart was there to meet us. We got on with a single lady and another couple. We went to one end of the terminal to drop off the lady. As we drove along, I was surprised how cold it was going through the conditioned air of the terminal.
We went to a different terminal with the other couple. That ride even included two elevator rides, cart and all. The other couple was dropped off at their gate and then we at ours. Then we stopped at the nearby T.G.I. Fridays for our breakfast.
Once again, we boarded and departed on time for our flight to Miami. We were above or in the clouds for the entire journey. The trip was very bumpy, one of the worst I have been on in quite some time. Because of those storms, we were re-routed a couple of times by air traffic control. That meant we would be late arriving. We did not think that was going to cause us any problems because we had a two-hour window.
At one point the co-pilot announced we were going to be in a holding pattern because of closure at the airport due to the severe storms. The pilot also broke the news that we would only be in the holding pattern for about 20 minutes because that was all the fuel we had. As if that were not enough “interesting” news, he floated the idea that we might have to divert to Ft. Meyers.
Shortly before we were going to have to head to Ft. Meyers due to low fuel, the announcement came that we were clear to land at Miami. We did so in a driving rainstorm. We arrived at our gate, D-38, just after 17:00, about an hour late.
We located our next gate, D-45. Not far away was the Islander Bar and Grill. We stopped in for a snack and a glass of wine. As we made our way back to our gate, we were surprised to see it empty. We discovered our gate was now D-33. I flagged down an empty electric cart so Leslie would not have to walk. Unfortunately, that was not a cart for the general public. After a short discussion with the driver, the vehicle went on its way. Much to my surprise, in about a minute, the driver returned and picked up Leslie. Since it was only a two-seater, I had to walk.
When I arrived at D-33, I found Leslie standing there with what looked like 1,000 people. All of the chairs were full, so there were many, many people standing. I approached the gate agents to check-in. When I did, an agent told me they were going to board the plane for Orlando first. I did not understand why they were referring to an Orlando flight when the board behind the agents read “Port of Spain,” our next destination. That sign also showed a new departure time of 19:00, about an hour later than the first time.
The other thing I did not understand is why the Orlando passengers were not boarding since there was a plane at the gate. One of the waiting passengers explained there was not a crew on that plane. They were waiting for pilots that were flying in from California. We were there until shortly after 19:00. The Orlando flight did not depart; neither did ours.
One of the agents announced that our flight would now be going out of gate D-49. We could not find a cart or wheelchair, so we began walking. As we passed a gift shop, I saw a wheelchair. The attendant was in the store. I went in and asked him if he could wheel Leslie to our new gate. He agreed.
At gate D-49, we sat and waited for our flight. We finally saw a plane arrive at our gate; I believe it was from Honduras. The board showed a new departure time of 20:00. As soon as all of the passengers were off, a maintenance crew boarded. There was some problem with the plane. By the time they finished, it was coming nearly 20:45. That was when we began the boarding process. As Leslie and I stood at the ramp door, we heard the gate supervisor questioning why we were being allowed to board. He said the current crew would be illegal as of 21:00. He did not think there was any way the plane could be loaded and pushed back in 15 minutes. They allowed us to board anyway.
On the plane, one passenger was helping with the boarding process. He asked people where they were sitting. Once they told him, he took their carry-on bag, dashed to their seat and stuffed the bag overhead. He repeated that numerous times. Thanks in part to his help, everyone was on board and seated by 21:01. At 21:03 the flight attendant said we must deplane because the crew was illegal. When we made it to the gate seating area, the gate counter was swarming with upset passengers.
To calm everyone down, the gate agent announced that the search was on for a new crew. They needed to find two pilots as well as four flight attendants. The latest departure time was listed as 00:00. That was enough to calm people down and disperse them from the counter.
A few minutes later they announced they would give each of us a meal voucher for dinner. I ended up being third in line. I got our coupons and motioned for Leslie. We walked directly across the concourse to the Islander Bar and Grill again at nearly 21:40.
When we sat down to order, the waitress said they were only open until 22:00. We quickly ordered our wine and a chicken sandwich. That more than used up our $24 worth of vouchers. Once we received our order, we downed the sandwiches quickly, switched our wine to plastic cups, and went back to the gate area.
As we sat there, it was easy to tell when a member of the new crew arrived because of the whistles, applause, and cheers from the waiting passengers.
Shortly before 01:00, the last crew member arrived. Not long after, we began boarding again. This time the other passenger did not help with the process.
We pushed away from the gate at about 01:10. As we were taxiing there was some commotion near the front of the coach section. We could see a couple of the flight attendants get a first-aid kit and tend to one of the passengers. The plane turned around. By 01:15, we were back at the gate, waiting for the paramedics.
The paramedics did arrive, and they attended to the passenger. We could not tell what was going on, but the activity was not very hectic. Next, we saw two ladies come onboard wearing surgical style face masks. After a few minutes, the ladies and paramedics left sans the passenger. The door closed, and finally, we were in the air by 01:45.
It was another bumpy flight. It got so rough at one point that the flight attendants suspended beverage service.
Even though we left Miami for Port of Spain at virtually the time we should have been landing at Georgetown; we were at least glad to be making some forward progress. We each snoozed a little, even with the bumps.
It was around 05:00 on May 3, when we landed at Port of Spain. Within the hour, after getting our baggage, I was standing at the Caribbean Airlines counter trying to get us to Georgetown. The ticket agent told me the next flight was at 10:30. She said we could go standby on that flight. However, she said she could not ticket us until I paid any fees due at counter 1. She continued by saying I could not do that until 09:30. So we sat down and began marking time.
We waited for about 45 minutes. When I looked at counter 1, I did not see any passengers, so I decided I would try my luck. I explained our situation. After a lot of typing, she said we did not owe anything. However, she said she could not check me in. I had to stand in the regular line to check-in.
With tickets in hand, we went upstairs to the waiting area for our flight home. Just before it was time to board, we changed our seats. From the new location, I could see the sign at the gate. I saw our flight number, but the destination noted Barbados. I just about died. I walked up to the counter to inquire. That is when I learned our flight home was not direct. We did indeed have to travel to Barbados first. Luckily, the agent said we would not have to deplane in Barbados.
When we took off, it was still a little rainy and bumpy. In 40-minutes we were on the ground in Barbados.
Virtually all of the passengers got off. We waited for about 15 minutes, and new passengers began filing on board. Quite frankly, I was surprised at how many people did get on. Regardless, the plane was not full.
The one and one-half hour flight from Barbados to Georgetown seemed to be the longest of the entire trip. We landed at Georgetown at 13:30, some 12 hours late and after nearly 37 hours of travel.
As per usual, it took us just over an hour to get home from the airport.
When we finally went to bed that night, we were both out like rocks.
The next morning I did receive a nice e-mail from American Airlines apologizing for the delays. They also credited my frequent flier account with some additional miles, a nice gesture.
Hopefully, it will be a long, long time before we have another such trip!

Independence Monument Hike

Independence Monument Hike

Grand Junction, Colorado – April 14, 2013

They say the longest journey begins with the first step. This morning, Hillary and I made our first step at Judy’s Restaurant at about 07:10. It is a good-ol’-boy, country restaurant. Hillary ordered a half-order of biscuits and gravy. I opted for the Monument Special; which consists of a half-order of biscuits and gravy, hash browns, two eggs over medium, and two slices of bacon. Just the way to prepare for the day’s impending doom. All of that and two cups of coffee was only $14.
Following breakfast, we drove a few miles on Colorado Highway 340 to the parking area for the Lower Monument trailhead. When we parked, there was only one other car there. We saw that man head out on the trail.
Hillary and I gathered our things and headed out. The first thing I took a photograph of was a sign depicting Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. At the time, I had no idea what an omen that was.

The feature photo on this sign depicts Desert Bighorn Sheep. Little did we know we would actually see some sheep on our hike.

The sign indicates the trail is a 2.4 mile (4.3 kilometers) one-way, two-hour hike. Quite frankly, when we first started, I had no intention of walking the entire distance to the Independence Monument. The first half-mile or so skirts behind some gorgeous homes.

The sign at the trailhead. We took the Lower Monument Canyon to the Independence Monument trail.
A modest home alongside the trail.

Since we began our hike at about 08:00, the lighting was beautiful for taking photos. Probably my two most favorite subjects were the rock formations and the twisted cedar trees.

An old cedar tree along the trail.
A red sandstone formation almost looks like it is in motion.

Prickly pear cactus is prevalent along the trail. At one point we saw some partially eaten plants. I am sure other creatures eat cactus, but the only thing I am aware of that eats cactus are desert tortoises. I don’t know if those live in this area or not. Even if they do, it seems unlikely they would have been out in the chilly 42-degree weather.

Partially eaten prickly pear cactus.
Freshly chewed prickly pear cactus.

Off in the distance, as we continued along, I could hear a noise, but I did not know what it was. We rounded a bend in the trail, and I saw what was responsible for the sound; the man that had left the parking lot before us. He was running up and down a sandstone formation that I estimate had a 20-degree slope. That was his idea of exercise. I had no intention of using up my fuel from Judy’s in such an endeavor.
Shortly after seeing the runner, we caught our first glimpse of the Independence Monument. It was breathtaking. Even though the rock was nearly two miles away, it was impressive and precisely why I had wanted to hike into the Colorado National Monument. I have been to the Monument several times. On each trip, I have seen the Independence Monument, but always from an overlook off of Rimrock Drive. Seeing it from ground level provided a new perspective.

Our first glimpse of Independence Monument, some two miles away.

The theory is that Independence Monument got its name from John Otto, the “founder” of the Colorado National Monument. Every July 4, a group of climbers scales the 450 foot (137 meters) rock to place an American flag on the top. Legend has it that John Otto first did that on July 4, 1911. Otto carved handholds into the rock that are still in use today.
As I gazed upon Independence Monument I was reminded that our trail would take us up 500 feet (152 meters) in elevation to the base of the rock — maybe I should have had a lighter breakfast!
At this point, we encountered a sign-in station. Right at the top of the page was a visitor from France. We completed the page at the bottom by listing Georgetown, Guyana as our hometown.

The trail register near the beginning of the hike.

While there are some igneous rocks at lower points in the valley, the spectacular rock formations, including Independence Monument, are red sandstone. If one looks closely, one can see the different layers of sediment that were laid down over millennia. Due to the shifting earth and the forces of erosion, they are now visible in these eye-catching forms.

In the rock, one can see the layers of sand deposited over millennia.
I was not exactly sure which way to go…luckily Hillary knew…
Detail of a cedar tree along the trail.
Walking in the canyon, as opposed to looking down from Rimrock Drive, one gets a much different view of the cliffs and rock formations.
Some small reddish flowers along the trail.
A panorama of our view along the trail.
An immense cliff. Independence Monument is barely visible at the bottom left.
Detail of a dead tree along the trail.
The view southwest along the trail.
The view east along Monument Canyon. In the distance, one can see Grand Junction, Colorado and Grand Mesa.

The previous night had seen an intense rainstorm blow through the area. One result was a “fresh” trail devoid of any tracks. At one point, I saw what I thought were deer tracks. Upon rounding a bend in the trail near the cliffside, I saw what was responsible for the imprints; Desert Bighorn Sheep. No more than 20 yards in front of us, right at the base of the cliff, were four ewes surrounded by five lambs. In the brush, we could see several others, probably a total of 12 ewes and 12 lambs. We could not see a ram. The four ewes just laid there, chewing their cud and watching us. When we finally took our next step, they got up and scrambled higher. That was a real bonus!

Tracks of the sheep on the trail.
A herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep. These were ewes and lambs.
A closer view of the sheep. There were nine sheep in this herd.
Three more sheep a little farther along the trail.
Looking up the side of the canyon.
A dead tree among the rocks.
Still a long walk to Independence Monument.
…inching ever closer…
Even though the Monument is huge, it is dwarfed by the nearby cliff.
We made it…almost..!
Hillary knew exactly where to go!
Some unique features in this rock.
Detail of the “holy” rock.
A panoramic view of Monument Canyon.
A large rock formation seems ready to fall from the cliff.
Prickly pear cactus alongside the trail.

Not long after the sheep encounter, we came across several lizards. They were not quite as exciting to see, but still lovely to see.
As we got close to the Monument, we saw a rock that came to a point, arching out toward the Monument as if to say, “you must be this tall to be an Independence Monument.”

A rock must be this tall to be an Independence Monument.
The Independence Monument rises from the floor of the canyon.
Deja vu…we made it…almost..!
Even though we were getting closer, it seemed as though we would never arrive.
A dead cedar tree.
Two tourists looking down on us. In the center of the horizon, one can barely see two figures side by side. Those are people! It is a long way to the top of the canyon!
Supposedly we will get to the end of the trail…
A split rock formation.
The north side of Monument Canyon.
A panoramic view of the canyon.

Finally, after nearly two hours, we made it to the base of Independence Monument. It was quite impressive. Hillary decided to go up the last 50 or 100-feet to touch the “butt” of the Monument. I stayed where I was to document the moment, the best decision I made all morning! As soon as Hillary started back down, a couple made it to the base too. That meant Hillary and I were the first to arrive at the Monument that morning.

Hillary making the last climb to the base of Independence Monument.
Waving back at me…I was smart enough to stay behind!
A closer view of the mountaineer.
A rock formation in Monument Canyon.
Sliding back down from the Monument.
The Independence Monument is certainly impressive from the floor of the canyon.
The two hikers!

As we began our return to the parking area, the trail seemed to turn into an Interstate. People were going uphill like salmon upriver; including one man with his young son in his backpack and one woman that was running. The view of the Grand Valley and the Colorado River valley were stunning.

Walking back to the trailhead.
From Monument Canyon, looking across the Colorado River valley to Grand Junction.
A boundary marker.

When we got back to the area where we had seen the sheep, we saw them again. This time they were on the downhill side of the trail. As we approached, the sheep scrambled lower and went over a ridge out of sight. I did not try any photos at that time because they were so far away.
After nearly three and one-half hours, we made it back to the parking area. There were cars everywhere. We were both exhausted after our five-mile march. Regardless, the hike was a lot of fun.