Category Colorado

Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Even More Dinosaurs

sunburn and bugs day four (74 of 76)

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.

sunburn and bugs day four (30 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (31 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (32 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (33 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (35 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (58 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (60 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (61 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (38 of 76)

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

sunburn and bugs day four (41 of 76)

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

sunburn and bugs day four (43 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (44 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (46 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (47 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (48 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (49 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (50 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (52 of 76)

sunburn and bugs day four (55 of 76)

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

sunburn and bugs day four (56 of 76)

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.

sunburn and bugs day four (62 of 76)

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.

sunburn and bugs day four (66 of 76)

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.

sunburn and bugs day four (68 of 76)





The Phoenix Gold Mine in Idaho Springs, CO


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.




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


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.



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


Nope, not unsafe at all. Nosir.





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.


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.


…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.


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.




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.


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.


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!


Where the buffalo roam?


  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.