Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z: Zebulon Pike

Sorry, metal fans. This post is not about Zebulon Pike, the rock band. Not being a metalhead myself, I didn't know the band existed until very recently, and frankly, I'm none the better for it. But if metal is your thing, Z day might be the perfect time to bang your head a little. (Who knows, maybe we all feel like doing that at the end of the challenge!)

No, this post is about the man Zebulon Pike, 19th century soldier and explorer of the American West. His second expedition, known as the Pike Expedition, brought him from St. Louis through Kansas into Colorado. As Pike and his men traveled west in search of the source of the Arkansas River, they faced significant challenges and hardships, including inhospitable terrain and weather, and Native Americans who weren't exactly thrilled to meet them. They got lost, they were captured by the Spanish, and when Pike finally returned from his grueling journey, he had to defend his character against accusations that he was a spy. He did so successfully and went on to serve honorably in the war of 1812. He died in battle in 1813.

Pike's most enduring connection to Colorado is the mountain which bears his name. Located ten miles west of Colorado Springs, it rises to an elevation of 14,114 feet. Though Pike and his men were forced to turn back before reaching the top, he is credited with documenting the first "American" sighting of this majestic peak. According to its website, Pike's Peak is the most visited mountain in North America and the second most visited in the world, after Mount Fuji. It is known as America's Mountain.

The Pike Expedition did not venture as far north as Fort Collins, but we can--from certain locations and on a very clear day--see his "grand peak" more than 130 miles to the south. And it does, as he wrote, rather resemble a "small blue cloud."

Congratulations fellow A to Z'ers! The challenge we faced this month doesn't quite compare to Zeb's, but reaching the end is still worth celebrating. Enjoy! I know I will.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y: Yogurt

Yogurt...it has been eaten all over the world for hundreds of years and has many health benefits, but you either like it or you don't. I happen to like it very much. But you can keep the artificially-sweetened, corn-starch-thickened, 'lite' varieties. Instead, I'll go for the plain Greek variety and drizzle a little real maple syrup on top. When I want more of a treat (and here comes the local spin), I'll indulge in the Noosa Yoghurt, made Aussie Style at the dairy that delivers my milk--the one I blogged about two Mondays ago in M: Milkman. It's very creamy and rich and delicious.

And how about that frozen yogurt? It was popular years ago and has made a big comeback, with one important difference: it's now self-serve. Fro-yo sounds like it should be much healthier than ice cream, but fill up a bowl the size of a batting helmet and cover it with candy, and...not so much. (I always think of the Seinfeld episode where everyone starts gaining weight eating what they think is fat-free frozen yogurt.) I still love it but have to be careful not to love it too much.

One more post tomorrow for this year's A to Z!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X: X in the Sky

Sorry this is late! I left it as a draft instead of publishing...

On March 31, as I was anticipating the next day's start of the A to Z Challenge, I stepped outside and saw these crossed jet contrails overhead:

I took a picture, just in case I didn't come up with a better post by the time X day rolled around.

Obviously, I didn't. 

I feel a little better knowing that a picture is worth a thousand words. But seeing as how there are fewer than three hundred English words that start with X, I'd have to get pretty creative to make it all the way to a thousand. 

Enjoy your day off tomorrow. Two more letters to go! 

Friday, April 26, 2013

W: Wintry Weather

I had a different post in mind for W, but having gotten three feet of snow at my house in April--more than we got during the entire year of 2012--has inspired me in a new direction.

The willow may weep for spring:

The resident squirrel has had a hard time traversing the fence:

Sporting events and repair projects are postponed left and right:

But the snow means much-needed water, which will hopefully mean fewer wildfires. And with 70F temperatures in the forecast for this weekend, we can all quit our whining about winter and welcome the warmth.

Hope you have a wonderful W day!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V: Volunteers

V is an under-appreciated letter, I think. So many wonderful words start with V--velvet, vortex, vixen, vanilla, velociraptor, vestibule. But I want to use today's post to send some love out to all the people who give freely of their time to make my hometown--and the world at large--a better place.

Fighting fires, facilitating festivals and races, maintaining parks and open spaces, providing meals and transportation for the elderly, knitting baby blankets and hats, fostering abandoned pets, sorting donations at the food bank, collecting supplies for the homeless, helping out in schools and museums...the list goes on. This community would not be what it is without volunteers, and I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

Fort Collins Volunteer Fire Department--July 4, 1887
Fort Collins History Connection

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U: Utility Cabinets

As part of the Art in Public Places Program, the city works with local artists, schools, and non-profits in transforming industrial-blah-green utility cabinets into mini-murals. One of the benefits is the reduction of graffiti on these otherwise blank canvases. But the biggest benefit, in my humble opinion, is having something fun to look at in areas that don't normally lend themselves to visual arts, such as alleys, parking lots, and busy intersections. Some are abstract, some are realistic, many are whimsical. All are colorful and make me smile.

Diane Findley
Ren Burke

Barry Quinton Lee
Gale Whitman

Amelia Caruso

Michael Allison

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T: Trolley

The official name is Birney Streetcar 21, but everyone in town calls it the trolley. Streetcar tracks were built in Fort Collins in 1907 by the Denver and Interurban Railway. The original route ran east and west on Mountain Avenue, to transport riders to what was then the county fairgrounds. By 1918, the system was losing so much money due to the increasing popularity of those new-fangled automobiles that the streetcar line was closed down. But the people of Fort Collins missed it so much that they bought the operation and ran it until 1951.

After that, Birney Car 21 sat outside the museum until 1977, when a group of volunteers began to restore it. The repairs to the streetcar and the track from City Park to the Avery House were completed by 1986, and the trolley has been giving rides almost every year since. Volunteers from the Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society serve as motormen and conductors. 

In spring and summer, the trolley carries passengers along the original track for a small charge. Most families can ride round-trip for less than ten dollars. It has long been a favorite activity for us. This (underexposed; sorry) picture of my younger son and me riding the trolley was taken almost ten years ago, although (say it with me) it seems like yesterday:

Monday, April 22, 2013

S: Seasons

Welcome to the last full week of A to Z!

Even though I don't enjoy being too cold or too hot--my ideal comfort zone is about 70 degrees F, plus or minus five degrees--I'm happy to live in a climate that has four distinct seasons. I like watching how the plants and animals adapt to the changing of the thermometer. I like having both flip-flops and furry boots in my closet. I like watching my sons swimming in the pool or making snow caves in the back yard. I even like how the seasons occasionally get a little mixed up, as last week when we had about two feet of wet spring snow. I think that when I'm older, I won't want to deal with Old Man Winter. But for now, seasons make me happy.

Here's a photo collage of seasons that I did for a blog challenge last year:

Thanks for stopping by on S day!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R: River

Like so very many communities, we have a river. It is the Cache la Poudre, as it became known in the 1820s when French explorers, overcome by a blizzard, had to bury some of their gunpowder along the banks. Most of us just call it the Poudre. It winds through town from west to east before joining the South Platte River 5 miles past Greeley, Colorado.

For hundreds of years, water from the Poudre River supported Native Americans, trappers, traders, soldiers, homesteaders, farmers, and ranchers. These days, the river is frequented by fly-fishermen (and women), rafters, kayakers, and anyone who just wants to splash around, which is my favorite thing to do. Ten miles of multi-use trails alongside offer many opportunities to enjoy the river without getting wet.

The river is different in every season. Because so much of its flow is determined by snow runoff coming from the mountains, it tends to run higher and faster in the spring and slower and mellower in the heat of the summer. Forty-five of its 126 miles are designated as a River Corridor National Heritage Area, the only one in Colorado. 

I hope you are able to enjoy some rest and relaxation tomorrow before we pick up with the letter S on Monday! 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q: Quarry

Happy Q Day, the first of the tricky trifecta of Q, X, and Z. If you've chanced to see any of the pictures of historical buildings I've posted this A to Z, you may have noticed that they are made of sandstone, like this:

Avery Building

The stone came from the Stout Quarry, in the hills (known as hogbacks) just west of town. In addition to the many building projects in Fort Collins from the 1860s on, the stone was used by the Union Pacific Railroad for construction of bridges, stations, and roundhouses on the Oregon Short Line, which ran from Wyoming to Oregon. 

Stone was hauled out by wagon four miles to the railroad tracks for delivery to Denver and beyond. The three-block-long Canyon Avenue in downtown Fort Collins was so named because it was the route used to bring the stone into town, which also explains why it runs on a diagonal in relation to the north/south and east/west streets.

Horsetooth Reservoir

The little town of Stout grew out of quarry workers' camp, where it remained until the construction of Horsetooth Reservoir in 1949. Many of the buildings were sold and moved. Others were demolished, and their remains are under the reservoir. 

On a separate note: Happy Birthday to my sister! I hope she feels like a Queen today.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P: Panhandler's Pizza

Flashback to high school: My then-boyfriend-future-husband and I sitting in a little restaurant eating pizza before heading back to school (maybe in my awesome...ly  embarrassing blue-and-white Ford Pinto wagon) for our afternoon classes.

Fast-forward to the present: my then-boyfriend-current-husband and I sitting in the same little restaurant eating pizza and telling boring stories to our two sons about how we used to eat there in high school.

There aren't many restaurants around town that my husband and I have been able to eat at in the same location for thirty years. Panhandler's--or Pan's to the cool kids--hasn't changed much in that time. Near the university, it draws a college crowd but also lots of families and nostalgic too-young-to-be-old-timers like us. It's not the place to go for a fancy big salad. (That always makes me think of Elaine from Seinfeld. "Do ya have a big salad?") But the pizza--thick crust or thin--and the atmosphere are always great. We will eat there forever.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O: Overland Trail

In the 1860s, the Overland Trail served as an alternative route to the Oregon Trail through Wyoming. Beginning in Atchison, Kansas, it crossed into Colorado before veering north into Wyoming to rejoin the Oregon Trail at Fort Bridger. It was considered a safer route during the Civil War when fewer soldiers were available to safeguard the Oregon Trail. Under the ownership of Ben Holladay, who purchased the bankrupt Pony Express, the Overland Stage Company used the trail to take mail and passengers to Salt Lake City, Utah. Holladay sold the mail contract to Wells Fargo in 1866. After the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, stagecoaches were no longer needed for mail delivery.

There are still a few remnants of the old trail around my neck of the woods. One is nominal, in the form of a north-south road called Overland Trail. There is also this historical marker north of town, which reads: "In 1862, this log house was used as a station house for the Overland Stage Company. Erected by Cache la Poudre Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1916." And below that: "This monument marks the site of the Overland Stage Station destroyed by fire January 8, 1928. Remarked 1962." That station may be gone, but anyone willing to drive a ways farther can visit the Virginia Dale Stage Station, as I did last year. (You can find that post here.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N: North Shields Ponds Natural Area

Some of you may remember me mentioning that our Natural Areas program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. As part of the fun, the city has drawn up a natural areas passport to encourage interested citizens to get out and visit 20 of our great natural areas before November. I'm trying to make it to a few every month. North Shields Ponds is the only one that begins with N, so I thought it would be a nice idea to take my sons there for a visit when they had a day off from school on Friday.

This area has a little history for me. Before it was an official Natural Area, back when it was just ponds by a road, my sister and I would ride our bikes there to throw rocks and pick cattails. I've driven by many times since those days, but I rarely--like every ten years--stop. So it was fun to take my sons there and watch them do the kinds of things my sister and I did there more than 30 years ago.

As a bonus N for today: not far from the pond is a large raptor nest on a utility pole. I'm not sure what kind of birds they are, but they're fascinating.  

Have a great 'N' day!

Monday, April 15, 2013

M: Milkman

Happy Mid-point Monday! We're halfway through A to Z, and I'm having a lot of fun visiting new blogs and old favorites. Everyone is doing such a creative job working through the alphabet. I'm impressed, as usual.

Coincidentally, Monday is also milk day for my family.

When I was a girl, we had milk delivered to our house in the wee hours of the morning. My sister, who is two years older, considered being awake for the milkman a triumph of childhood. Kind of like catching Santa Claus in the act. So of course she would wake me up to share in her moment of pre-dawn glory. All I can remember is the sound of his boots on the porch (very Santa Claus-like, as a matter of fact) and trying to focus my bleary eyes out our bedroom window for a fleeting glimpse of his green truck. It has become a fond memory, which we still laugh about.

These days, I get milk delivered from a different local dairy, whose name, Morning Fresh, also conveniently starts with M. They've been in business since 1894, grow their own alfalfa for feed, and make sure their cows are happy and healthy. 

Our delivery happens in the afternoon, which is much less magical and mysterious, but it made it a whole lot easier for me to snap a photo of the milk truck in front of my house.

Moo, everyone. I hope your third week of A to Z is off to a magnificent start!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L: Lifestyle

Linden Hotel, Old Town
Today's post is a little peek into our lifestyle in Fort Collins. For you numbers folks:
Population: about 146,000
Altitude: 4,984 feet
Location: 60.3 miles north of the state capitol of Denver; 46 miles south of Cheyenne, Wyoming's state capitol.
Temperature: Average summer highs are about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (July); Winter lows average 13.7 (January)
General weather: We enjoy about 300 days of sunshine a year.

Other random tidbits:
We're pretty casual people. Lots of blue jeans and outdoorsy apparel.
Public transportation has traditionally been frustrating and inconvenient. (Hopefully that's changing.) So we go most places in our cars, but we tend to not be the most courteous drivers.
More than 23 miles of walking and biking trails criss-cross the city.
We once had a topless donut shop. It didn't last very long but made a big splash while it was here.
We still have a two-screen drive-in movie theater.
We're known as the Napa Valley of microbrews.
Old Town Fort Collins was the inspiration for Disneyland's Main Street.

That's all for today!  Enjoy your day off.

Friday, April 12, 2013

K: Key Lime (aka Ogre) Pie

There's a fantastic restaurant downtown called Tasty Harmony that serves the most delicious Key Lime Pie made of avocado. Even if you're not raw-vegan-y, which I am not, you'd be in harmonious heaven with this pie. Unless you have a major problem with avocados. Or deliciousness. I so wanted to share a piece with you for today's post, but they only serve it on their summer menu, and apparently April is not quite summery enough. (Tell me about it. It's snowing and about four degrees outside right now.)

So I decided to make my own Avocado Key Lime Pie. Of course, there are dozens of recipes out there in Google-land. Some call for yogurt, some tofu, others sweetened condensed milk, lecithin granules, agave, raw cashews, and a whole slew of other things I don't have in my kitchen. So I chose the simplest recipe I could find: avocado, key limes, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla, and salt.

I have two confessions: I didn't want to drive all over town looking for key limes, so I used regular limes. (Technically, I made "Lime Pie" and should use it for tomorrow's post.) And I used a pre-fab crumb crust, the kind that comes in a flimsy aluminum pie pan, instead of making my own out of macadamia nuts and dates per the recipe, because--guess what--I didn't have those, either.

I tossed my six ingredients in the food processor, and...

The picture doesn't lie. It truly was the color of something Fiona and Shrek might eat out in the swamp. And sadly it wasn't sublime like Tasty Harmony's. Edible, especially with whipped cream, but not wonderful. A little too sour (like Shrek's temperament) and a little too soft (like his belly) it will forever be known to me as Ogre Pie. Maybe it needed the lecithin granules after all....

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J: Jax Mercantile

I'm sending some local love today to a home-grown business that will turn 60 this year. From the Jax Mercantile Company website:

"Jax began in 1953 as humble structure built on the edge of the Dreher family pickle farm boarding  (bordering?) Highway 287 in north Fort Collins. The Dreher boys constructed it out of steel once used to hold up steam engine water tanks and wooden ammunition crates. The boys sold military surplus items they purchased after attending a government sale."

The Dreher family owned Jax for 33 years before Jim Quinlan bought it and began expanding. These days, Jax has moved way beyond surplus and is one of those fun stores that sells everything for real outdoors-y people and pretenders like me. And Jax is community-oriented and donates to many local causes. There are six stores now, five in Northern Colorado and one in Ames, Iowa. The original store still stands on the site of that first "humble structure." But the pickle farm is long gone.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I: Ice

Today's post celebrates ice in some of its many forms.

There's this kind, of the frozen fountain:

This kind, aka rocks:

The winter recreation kind (Is that me or Tonya Harding? Impossible to know!):

The sporty kind (As in the indoor football team based in Fort Collins.):

And who doesn't love this kind? (Not mine, but I wish.):

But my favorite kind of ice these days is this kind:

because for the first time ever, I have a refrigerator with an ice maker. That's right, ice at my fingertips, with no refilling and twisting of those drippy, stubborn trays. I'm feeling pretty spoiled, my friends, I must say. And Dr. Oz (who may or may not live behind a curtain in the Emerald City, I'm not sure) says that drinking eight glasses of ice water a day boosts metabolism enough to burn off 70 extra calories. At that rate, I'll have to drink a bathtub of it to burn off the chocolate I just ate, but I suppose every little bit helps.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H: Hospitals

This is the historic McHugh House in Fort Collins, also known as the "House of the Mayors," because, ta-daa, a couple of mayors once lived there. (Now it houses a fly fishing shop.) Construction began in 1885 but was not completed until 1888. The second owner added a carriage house behind. Two later owners, Jessie Harris and Peter J. McHugh, were the mayors in question. McHugh was also a doctor and converted the carriage house into a hospital. The carriage house is still standing, too:

Fast forward a few years to 1925, when our modern hospital system began as The Larimer County Hospital. It had 40 beds and sat adjacent to 40 acres of farm- and ranchland. After World War II, the capacity more than doubled to 86 beds. In the 1960s, the hospital was renamed Poudre Valley Memorial Hospital and started growing by leaps and bounds. "Memorial" was dropped from the name in 1982, resulting in what we residents call PVH. I decided to include it in this year's A to Z because I was born there (back in the "Memorial" era), and so were both my boys. Yeah, I'm sentimental like that.

The "old" side

The "new" side