WarBird Auto Show

The WarBird Auto Show is a combined car and air show. I’m not sure how long it’s been going on. I think this is the third year. This is my first time.

They wanted us registered cars to be there by 7:00, but I shot for more like a quarter after. On I-70 I passed a Model A Ford that was doing about sixty. That’s certainly as fast as I’d want to go in one of those. Automotive safety hadn’t been invented yet. The tires, the brakes, no seatbelts. As I got closer to Front Range airport, I found myself a few cars behind a line of Jaguars. When we got onto the apron, the Jags were sent to the left and I got sent to the right.

I found myself parked with about twenty other cars between two hangars. They left a big open area here, only parking cars along the east and south edges. The were running a shuttle bus from the parking area and this is where it turned around. All the other cars were between the hangers and the taxiways. I would rather have been out there. This was sort of out-of-the-way.

Of the twenty or so cars, only two were imports: myself and the mid-60’s Karman Ghia on my immediate left. We were also the only non-front engined cars. There were several mid to late 60’s GM cars – a few Chevy Impalas, a Pontiac Tempest. The 1931 Model A I passed on the interstate, a 2016 Saleen Mustang, a few other modern cars.

Next to the Model A was a 1965 Chrysler Newport. When I was a kid we had a ’64 Newport, so I recognized it right away. The car was straight but needed some care. The light blue paint had no shine, the steel wheels were rusty, but all the parts looked to be there. It could be a nice car, given a bit of TLC. But I must be the only one to like this era Mopar car. I never see them anywhere.

At the end of the row were three Shelby replicas. One had a nice wrap that simulated an airplane: aluminum panels with rivets and seams, pinup nose art, and pilot’s, co-pilots, and mechanic’s names “painted” on. I watched him fire it up and drive out of his spot. He never returned to our cul-de-sac but I did spot him later.

Being out-of-the-way wasn’t without its advantages. We were close to the food trucks but out of the traffic. Porta potties were also close, but not too close.

The cars were lined up at the east end of the apron and a swap meet was on the west end. I made one pass through the swap meet but didn’t find anything that caught my interest.

I’d say there were perhaps 175 cars there. Most were classic American iron, Ford, GM, and Chrysler cars from the fifties and sixties. There were a few antique cars and several hot rods. Not many exotics and not many imports. A vinyl wrap outfit had a couple of Lamborghinis. I didn’t see any Ferraris, Astons, or Alfas. One or two Minis, less than a handful of BMWs. There was one other Lotus: an orange Elise.

I asked several people if they’d been to this show before. Quite a few had. The consensus was that the earlier shows had more cars but fewer planes and there were fewer people this time. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I was expecting a good number of planes and may have been disappointed had there been fewer. And I liked that the crowd wasn’t too bad, but I have no idea how many people have to attend to make it a going concern.

Some of the planes were there when I arrived. Others flew in over the next hour or so. Until all the planes where there, we had to remain behind the rope. Once they were all parked we had free run of the place.

The star of the show, I think, was the B-25 Mitchell. I’m not a good plane spotter. I know only the most common WW II planes. There were two P-51 Mustangs, two T-6 Texans, a French jet with a tail like a Beechcraft Bonanza, two biplanes, and a P-40 Warhawk that didn’t fly today due to a mechanical issue.

There were a couple of Russian Yaks. One of the owners wore a t-shirt that said, “YAKs Don’t Leak Oil – They Mark Their Territory” I’ve seen similar on shirts for British sports cars.

During the little time I spent by my car I let several people sit in it. Usually it’s just little kids, but today none of the kids wanted to. But about six guys did one after another. One guy asked, and I agreed. Then I couldn’t really refuse the others. Everybody got their picture. One of the plane owners was letting “civilians” sit in cockpit. It was quite a production. Certainly a lot more involved than my simple instructions for getting in and out of my car.

I didn’t know they had sunroofs

I saw a fellow reading a small plate on the tail of the French jet and making notes in a journal. I asked him what caught his interest. He’s an FAA inspector. He wasn’t working, he’s just a plane geek. He keeps a log book of all the tail numbers he sees. We talked for quite a while. We compared and contrasted inspections of cars (for HPDE events and sanctioned races) to the FAA aircraft inspections.

While we were talking, we wandered towards the F-40 where we met the owner of that plane. The two knew each other, and the FAA inspector had done the inspection for this plane. They wouldn’t be flying the F-40 today. They brought it in last night, but it was not running right so they’re not going anywhere until it’s fixed. I believe the plane is newly restored. He said the engine had less than a hundred hours on it.

The air show, if you want to call it that, consisted of about half the planes going out in twos and threes to do passes over the runways. Each plane did two or three or four passes. Some of the pilots better at showing off their planes than the others – give a side view on pass, show us the top on the next. Some were hotdoggers – taking off in a short distance and putting wheels up within a few feet of the ground.

Not long after my chat with the FAA guy I found myself in conversation with one of the volunteers. We were interrupted by another volunteer who wanted help marshalling a car into place next to the B-25 for a photo. It was the Shelby replica from earlier. It was a good match. Clearly, the Shelby is meant to look like a bomber and not a fighter as I originally surmised.

A nice pair

It immediately occurred to me to ask if I can bring my car over for a picture. It can’t hurt to ask, can it? So I did. “Does your car have nose art on it?” No. “What kind of car?” A Lotus. And I’d like to park it next to either of those green planes there. “If the owner says it’s okay, we’ll get you in here.” Cool!

Unfortunately, festivities were coming to an end. They were clearing the area and moved the crowd back behind the ropes. They fired up the French jet, which had about half the people putting fingers in their ears. It warmed up for quite a while before it taxied off. This may as well have been the ending bell, as the cars quickly packed up and departed.

During the flybys, I ran into Mike. We visited quite a bit for the rest of the day. We were just about the last ones there. We sat by my car while he had a late lunch. He might have been the last to buy a hotdog; they’d already stowed the condiments. Mine was the last car in my whole section; pretty much everybody but the food trucks had gone. The last few spectators came by to take snapshots.

I’d like to do this show again. I’ll ask if I can get a picture of my car next to a plane. It probably won’t work. It was that guy’s nose art on his car that started the process, I was just the afterthought. Even if there were a Spitfire in the show, I can’t think of a good reason my car should get special treatment. But it can’t hurt to ask!

Snow Lake

I’ve been wanting to do this hike for a few weeks. Although the hike neither starts nor ends inside the park, it’s in Foster’s guide. And we did make a short side trip to walk a few paces inside the park, so it goes on my list of RMNP lakes.

Saturday, July 15

The trailhead for this hike is up a dirt road a few miles on the west side of Cameron Pass. Google tells me it’s two and three-quarter hours from my house. It’s a fairly short hike, 3.9 miles to Snow Lake, so we didn’t have to leave too early. Not knowing what condition that dirt road is in, I arranged with Genae to take her car. But when Chad got here, he volunteered to drive. We hit the road in his Pilot at 6:30.

The hike is in the Colorado State Forest State Park. Yes, two “states”. It’s a fee area. There’s a box after we turned off the highway with a place for envelopes and a drop slot. You put your money in the envelope, take the carbon copy and deposit the envelope in the slot. But there were no envelopes, other than one that wouldn’t fit through the slot because it was full of quarters. So I Just chucked the money in the slot.

When we got to the parking lot we find another box, this one with a good supply of envelopes. I put the carbon in the window, scribbled “put cash in other box” on the envelope and put it in the slot.

The trail looks like it used to be an access road to the Michigan Ditch. It clearly hasn’t been used as such for quite a while, but it probably could still serve that need if required. I haven’t researched it, but I assume the Michigan Ditch is roughly the same vintage as the Grand Ditch a few miles south. The Michigan Ditch diverts water from the Agnes Lake drainage to the Cache le Poudre River.

We can assume the former access road the trail follows was built to provide access for the construction of the ditch. This would be roughly a century ago. I can’t help but wonder how big an operation it was. What sort of equipment did they have? How many men doing earthwork and how many more to support them in this remote area? How long did it take to build these ditches?

I’ve been to Grand Ditch twice. It was dry both times. Michigan Ditch was carrying quite a bit of water today; clear, clean, cold. Above the ditch, no longer an access road, the trail narrows and switches back a few times as it climbs. There are abundant open views of the surrounding mountains: all rounded and smooth, with no cliffs and very few rock outcroppings. The Rocky Mountains aren’t so rocky here.

There were a good number of vehicles at the trailhead, and a corresponding number of people on the trail. Being a state park, dogs are allowed, and the majority of hikers had dogs with them. When we arrived at lower Michigan lake, we met three hikers with a dog. They were sitting on the stone blocks that make the trail, stepping stones across the outlet instead of a bridge. They got up to let us pass, but the dog growled and barked at us, protecting the bridge from us.

Lower Michigan Lake

My map indicates the trail to Snow lake goes to the left, where it junctions with the trail to Thunder Pass and into the Park. So that’s where we went. We soon encountered a hiker who told us there is no junction, this trail goes over Thunder Pass. The map is old; today the trail to Snow Lake is on the other side of the lower lake.

Looking north from Thunder Pass

Knowing now that we’re on the trail to Thunder Pass, we make it a side trip. We cross a shallow trickle of a stream and about forty yards of snow. Signs at the top of the pass demarcate the Park boundary. The view to the south is quite nice, if unspectacular. With our backs to Michigan Lakes, all the mountains in sight are rounded tundra. The lower hairpins of Trail Ridge Road are visible in the middle distance. Longs Peak is not visible.

Rather than backtracking to the outlet of the lower lake for the trail to Snow Lake, we head cross country on a route that will take us gently up the slope to the top of the bench that holds the lake. I thought it was a pretty easy climb. I paused at one point to get my bearings and take in the view when I heard a noise at my feet. It’s typical to find marmots in these jumbles of rock. Usually they bark or chirp to sound the alarm then scamper under a rock. This guy came out onto the rock at my feet and posed for us.

We had to cross the outlet stream, but that wasn’t a problem. The water was mostly running underneath the rocks. Where it was on the surface, it was easily stepped across. There was no krummholz to deal with. The only willow in the area was only inches tall. Wildflowers were varied and abundant, but not particularly dense.

Just before cresting the bench we came across the trail from the lakes below. Here we found columbines covering the ground in front of us. There was a patch of white columbines. I’d heard of white ones, but had never seen any.

From there, it was just a few hundred feet to the lake. The lake sits in a rocky bowl, some snow still draping the rocks on the southern shore. The rocks on this side were two to six feet across, with many that might make nice picnic spots. We worked our way a short distance from the top of the trail where the other hikers tended to congregate.

We stayed at the lake for about an hour. Chad spotted a marmot maybe a hundred yards down the shore. The marmot soon started on his way toward us. He made pretty good time. He was on a mission. It wasn’t until he got fairly close before he worried about staying out of sight.

Two hikers arrived at the lake a minute before us and four or five came and left while we were there, the last leaving just a few minutes before us. We followed the trail down to the lower lake. Or, tried to, anyway. We lost the trail coming down the steep slope. This was pretty much straight up and down the slope; I much preferred the way we went up. I think we lost the trail after wading through waist deep willow. Approaching upper Michigan lake, we cross a talus field. Here, it turns out, the trail splits to a high road and a low road. We took the high road, not really noticing. We were on a trail that went along the top of a ridge line; the other path went beside the lake shore.

Below the lakes we came across three women standing on the trail. They’d spotted a cow moose. We paused briefly and when we continued slowly down the trail the moose was working her way parallel to us a ways off the trail. When we got a bit ahead of her she bolted the opposite way. The three women were behind us, one asking “Was that a moose?”

Back near the ditch we encountered some bicyclists. They had been riding the service road beside the ditch and evidently decided to take a little side trip. Their gear and clothing all looked brand new and they seemed out of place to me. I suspect they didn’t get far up the trail before turning around. I suspect they were much more comfortable along the ditch.

We were back to Ft. Collins by five, where we tracked down first some beers, then tacos. It was a most pleasant day.

La Junta, July 8

This year, CECA’s track day calendar features an event in La Junta. I’ve been wanting to go there for a while. I had considered attending a Porsche Club event there, but I never put much effort into making it happen. A CECA visit there makes it easy.

Scott wanted to go, too, so we caravanned on down. It takes about three and a quarter hours to get to La Junta from my place, so we left Friday afternoon and spent the night in a motel. You can either head south to Pueblo and take a left or head east to Limon and go south. I figured it was better to avoid Friday rush hour traffic on I-25, so we took the Limon route.

We caught up to a thundershower approaching Limon. When I drove through southeastern Colorado last month I passed through a bunch of small towns I’d only known from weather reports. Those reports generally involved hail or tornadoes. It occurred to me that there’s a small but real chance we’d find ourselves in such weather. My tires handled the rain easily, but Scott’s tires were more suited to the track, so we slowed down quite a bit.

We stopped for fuel and dinner in Limon. Without particular dinner plans, we took a target of opportunity: Oscar’s Bar and Grille was next door to the gas station, so we went there. The parking lot was pretty full, and the dining room and bar were packed. We found ourselves a seat at the end of the bar and got some menus.

The place was movie themed, as the name might suggest. They have an old 35mm movie projector by the hostess station when you come in, and movie posters adorned the walls. All the menu items were given the names of movies. The bacon cheeseburger is Grease. Halfway through our meal we got to watch a little scene as the bartender ejected a customer.

Dinner over, we headed back to the parking lot. There we met a father and son. “Are these your cars? We’ve been checking them out.” The father said, “I see you have GoPro mounts on your car.” I now have three of them glued on. One has been on for several years but this is the first time anybody has ever commented on them.

“I have them all over my truck. We’re storm chasers.” Amateurs, true, but storm chasers nonetheless. They’ve gotten as close as a hundred yards from twisters. He showed us pictures on his phone. “Here’s a tornado: see the striations in the funnel cloud? The debris flying through the air? This one was anti-cyclonic, fairly uncommon.” This is just another little example of how driving this car has affected me. I’d never have met these guys if I’d been driving the Chrysler.

Back on the road, a pretty sunset to our right, we headed south. The storm had continued its way to the east as we ate and our road was dry but for the occasional puddle. Lightning strobed the storm clouds to our southeast for the remainder of our trip.

We checked in to the Red Lion Hotel. It took us a while to track down somebody at the front desk. There was no doorbell, no bell on the desk. Eventually the clerk arrived. “The wifi password is written here. But the storm knocked out the internet.” Our room had no pictures on the wall, no mirror in the bathroom, none of the four lights above the beds worked, and there was a funny smell in the bathroom. Is it mold? Urine? Moldy urine?

In the morning we went in search of the track. My phone said it was just a half mile away. Even after Google Navigator has led me to believe it wanted me to dispose of my own body off a dirt road in Death Valley, I keep trusting its guidance. This time it led us to an automotive shop in a residential neighborhood. I knew as soon as we turned down the street that we weren’t in the right place. Scott got us on the right track, though, when he found something called “La Junya Raceway”. It looked to be adjacent to the airport, which confirmed for me that it was the right place.

I later learned from Alan, the track manager, why Google sent us to his shop. Google needs a mailing address. Evidently, they send a postcard to verify the address, and there’s no mail delivery to the track’s actual address so he used his shop’s address. I didn’t think to ask him about “La Junya”, though.

The registration email for the event indicated that entries for the day would be limited to forty cars. We fell far short of that with only fifteen cars by my count: a Miata, a Viper, a Camaro SS, a Mini, two recent Corvettes, a 2016 Challenger (Plum Crazy), a Corvair, a Porsche GT3, a recent Mustang and two classics, and three Lotus (me, Scott, and Ryan).

The track is built from some old airport assets – an apron and taxiways. As such, it’s flat with perhaps as much as five feet of elevation change. It’s also pretty short, at 1.2 miles. The track map indicates seven turns, but you could easily say turns 1 and 2 are really just one turn. They are all right-hand turns but one. In the drivers meeting, they characterized it as “easy to learn, difficult to master.”

I don’t know that I’d say it’s difficult to master, but it is more interesting than the track map might indicate. Turns one and two, as I said, are one big arc, with a transition from asphalt to concrete that is accompanied by a significant bump. The concrete isn’t exactly smooth, so the car is jittery under braking. Early on, I decided it might be possible for me to take the turn flat out, on the gas until the transition. I was able to do this several times, but typically found myself feathering the throttle.

I again failed to get fully successful in capturing video and data for the event. With the older GoPro, you can start recording immediately after turning it on. With the newer one, you have to wait several seconds before pressing the shutter. I was evidently impatient once as I missed getting a forward view for the second session. And, even though I retethered the OBDII dongle to the phone I again failed to get telemetry from the car.

Generally, CECA runs in three groups: green for novice, blue for intermediate, and red for advanced. I had signed up for blue (for people who have driven on a track, but not this specific track) but because there were so few cars switched to red. Also because there were so few cars, they combined the blue and green groups. With just the two run groups, we’d get something like a twenty minute session each hour. In the end, we got six sessions and everybody had had enough by three o’clock. The last session was just us three Lotus. I think other cars may have started the session, but it wasn’t long before I realized we were the only ones left.

I was prepared for the extra sessions – I brought extra gas. After lunch I went to pour it into the car but found the nozzle was malfunctioning. It’s one of those where you have to hook the end of the nozzle on the edge of the filler tube in the car and press down for the fuel to flow. The nozzle was stuck and every time I tipped the can up to pour, gas spilled all over the outside of the car. Scott let me use his gas can, so I poured his five gallons into my car then decanted my gas can back into his can. I managed to not spill much more gas.

The other notable event was when I blew my exhaust. After the fifth session, Ryan asked me if I thought my car was louder after the session than before. I said I didn’t think so. He said, “When I was behind you, you blew a big wad of packing out your tailpipe.” Reviewing the video, I can see that some packing is coming out the tailpipe in the first few sessions. Just a flash of white fiber every now and then. But in that fifth session, two big wads blew out. The camera is mounted very close to the exhaust and you can hear it happen. But it wasn’t audible to me inside the car, with my helmet on.

Luckily, I have the stock exhaust in the attic. I’ll put that back on while I research muffler repairs. I’m thinking I can get this one repacked cheaper than I can replace it. Michael will help me with the swap. Then I don’t need to feel under any deadlines to get it repaired. Let’s just say the budget was busted with the camshaft repair.

There are practically no facilities at the track. There’s a building with bathrooms and a classroom. There’s a small control tower and a flag tower at start/finish. Lunch is available from a concessionaire trailer. On the menu are “Magic Potatoes”. With a name like that, they must be good. And they were – baked, buttery, cut into chunks, with spices and a bit of bacon. They broke when stabbed with a fork, hot and delicious. Bill and Heike invited Ryan and I to sit in the control tower with them and enjoy the air conditioning. It was a capital idea, as the day was a bit warm and none of the picnic tables has shade.

I had a nice chat with Fred, who drove the Camaro SS. He has a number of track stickers on the side, mostly from around here but also including Laguna Seca, COTA. the Nürburgring, and Spa. I asked him if he’s driven this car on all those tracks. He said, “The kills follow the pilot.” He says he participates on some sort of car event, generally a track day, about twenty five times a year. I’m not sure why I find it reassuring when I find people who are more extreme about things than I am. If what I do is somewhat crazy, it’s good to know I’m not the craziest person around.

Ryan’s BFW

While Fred and I were chatting, a fellow and his four boys were interested in my car. Two were his kids, the other two were nephews. They were golfing nearby and heard the cars. “Put those sticks away, we’re going to find out what all that noise is about!” I had the kids take turns sitting in the car. I offered to take dad out for a few laps if he could find a helmet. Then, during lunch when they’re running parade laps, the youngest kid ran up to me. “My dad says I can ride with you on a parade lap!” So I belted him into the car and off we went. He could hardly see out the windshield, but his brother and cousins saw him. That made his day.

Lake Haiyaha

Saturday, July 1

It has been a while since I visited Lake Haiyaha in the summer. I have been there many times, and the last three or four visits were in winter. For me, winter and summer trips to are so different that they may as well not have been the same place.

In winter, I follow a route that I’ve proven I’m unable to find on my own. I’ve successfully navigated to ninety lakes in the park, and I’ve spent a lot of time around Bear Lake. It doesn’t bother me that I haven’t been able to get there without a guide. On the contrary, it makes a common hike unusual. On these winter Haiyaha hikes we don’t encounter many other hikers, which is unusual for so close to Bear Lake.

And, of course, in winter the landscape is totally different. Some gullies get filled in, some drifts are twenty feet deep. You take different routes. In winter, at Haiyaha, the water level drops so much, massive shards of ice make volcano shapes around large no-longer-submerged boulders. So although I’ve been there four or five times in the last ten years, it’s been maybe ten years since I’ve been there in summer. It is time to face the crowds and go in summer.

It’s a short hike, so I didn’t need to be early. I’d park at the park and ride and shuttle to Bear Lake. The line for the bus was the longest I’ve ever seen it, but the wait wasn’t too bad. I was on the trail by 9:15. The route I always take is Bear Lake to Nymph and Dream, then to Haiyaha. The return is down to the Loch Vale trail junction, then either the Fire Trail or by Alberta Falls to the Glacier Gorge bus stop.

Between Bear Lake and the trail junction at Dream Lake, a distance of 1.1 miles, I passed over a hundred people. This is people were standing or sitting trailside or hiking in my direction. Not many people going the other way. Conga-line hiking.

From Dream to the bridge over the outlet of Haiyaha it was much better. I could still hear the voices of people on the trail below. My original plan was to go above Haiyaha a little way up Chaos Canyon. Michael and I did that last time we came here. You get a nice view of the lake, but eastern views are not the most dramatic here. With that in mind, I came across a family sitting on a log, taking selfies. They were right next to a fairly obvious trail, which I followed.

The trail petered out after a while, but I easily traversed a small ridge and made my way to the northern shore of Lake Haiyaha. I’d never been on this side before. The trail dumps you into a large pile of boulders. There’s no shore. Here there are many places one could dip their feet into the water, and there is shade, if you want it. I worked my way a bit farther to the west and found a nice spot with a view of Long’s Peak, a much more interesting horizon than up the canyon above the lake. And, best of all, no neighbors.

Spiders construct substantial webs between the boulders. Sometimes they can be hard to spot. One day, traversing a large talus field, the light was just right. I could spot them from several feet away, and see the spider scramble from the center to safety on the rock as I approached. To say that Lake Haiyaha features a rich insect life might be to understate it. Here, today, the spider webs were easy to spot – they all had dozens of captured insects.

I found a nice spot to relax, a seat in the shade and three feet away a seat in the sun with the flank of Otis Peak front and center, the top of the canyon to the right, capped with heavy cornices of snow, and the erect nipple of Long’s Peak to the left. There was a cloud of gnats not far to my left, but they stayed where they were and didn’t annoy me. The occasional horse fly or curious bee made a visit, but no mosquitoes.

I brought both GoPros with me and the cell phone but not the SLR. I tried to get a picture of the laden spider webs but the cell phone isn’t up to it. I was game to get some nice time lapse footage but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Pretty blue skies, but just a shade on the hazy side due to wildfires in Utah. But it was clearly particulate matter and not water – passing jetliners’ contrails spanned fingers only a few inches apart, held at arms length.

I reached my spot at 10:10. I didn’t have any other plans for the day, so in theory I could sit here for something like four hours and still get home by 5:00. Surely in the next hour or hour and a half, some clouds would start bubbling up along the divide.

There was nobody on my side of the lake, but twenty or thirty at any given time on the other side. When the wind was calm, or a light breeze blew across the lake to me, I could hear snippets of their conversations. They were a chatty bunch.

At 11:30 I saw a tiny wisp of cloud above Half Mountain so I started up one of the cameras. This little wisp struggled only a short while, lived only a few minutes. I let the camera run, in case it might make a comeback. Alas, it was the only cloud I saw until I was off the trail at 1:45.

Shortly after noon I decided it was time to pack up. Nothing was happening in the sky. Normally, I sit at a lake for thirty minutes to an hour. I’d been here two hours and enjoyed every minute of it. But now I was hearing voices on my side of the lake, somewhere to my east.

On the way to the trail I found the people I’d heard a few minutes before. I surprised them when I greeted them on my way out. As usual, I headed out the back way toward the Loch Vale trail junction. I wasn’t sure yet whether I’d go by Alberta Falls or take the shortcut. I had this section of trail, from the lake to the junction, all to myself. My solitude ended as soon as I hit the main trail again. Any doubt I had as to my way back evaporated like that tiny wisp of cloud. I’d take the shortcut and avoid the hundreds of people on the trail.

I’m happy that I can hike to a place I’ve been to many times before and still get some pleasure out of it. I’m reluctant to take these shorter hikes in summer because of the crowds. Today was probably one of the busiest days of the year. On my way out of the park, the line of cars at the entrance station stretched to just a few yards short of the Beaver Meadows visitor center. Cars were parked illegally along long stretches of Bear Lake Road, and all the parking lots and pullouts were full. And yet, I was able to find a few yards of quiet trail in the busiest part of the park.

Just another beautiful day in the park.

COTA On Reflection

It’s confirmed. I’m no Lewis Hamilton. And I’m no Martin Scorsese. And I present videographic evidence.

This is the first time using two cameras. I kept the Hero 4 in the usual spot and used the suction cup for a rear facing view. I used the rear facing camera for the sound, as it’s right on top of the engine and a bit out of the wind.

I was using DashWare to render the gauges and data, but it quit working. I installed the latest version, no help. So I found another one, Race Render, but haven’t paid for the full version yet. So it’s demo mode – can’t do more than three minutes.

This is basically my entire third session. Rolling through the paddock, onto pit lane and onto the track. Then every car I saw, whether I was passing or getting passed. Then exiting the track and returning to my spot. But there’s not a whole lap in there, so I added my fast lap of the day.

Thursday I was notified my photos were available to download. This is the fourth time I’ve bought pictures. It’s the first time I didn’t drive away with the pictures. The photographer (PhotoMotion) did a good job, not the best of the bunch, not the least. I guess that doesn’t sound too complimentary, but the truth is I’m happy with the results and feel I got good value for the money.

No doubt where this picture was taken.

If I’m in front, that means I’m winning, right?!

I’m not real happy about the taped numbers.

From the third session.

The Austin Hill Climb?

When I travel to these tracks, I’ve been asked how wherever I am compares to other places I’ve been. This is my twelfth track, so it’s a fair question.

The Facility

This is the sixth track I’ve lapped that has hosted a major league race. Others are Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca, and Elkhart Lake, which were perennial entries in the ChampCar calendar, and Sonoma and Pikes Peak International Raceway, which hosted NASCAR. This one’s Formula One. It doesn’t have that patina of age yet, and only time will tell if it gets it. (Does anybody talk about the F1 track at Indy?)

Circuit of the Americas dwarfs the others when it comes to infrastructure. It’s on the biggest piece of land, has the biggest grandstands, biggest parking lots, the most and best appointed garages, biggest meeting rooms. It can handle the most spectators. It has large video screens and the best public address system. Plus, it’s all still pretty much brand new.

This is the best facility I’m ever likely to visit for a track day.

The Track

I enjoyed driving on this track. A number of other folks talked about how smooth the track is compared to others they’ve been to. It’s smooth, but it’s not without its undulations and bumps you have to account for under braking.

My favorite tracks feature interesting elevation changes, a combination of fast and slow turns, with some blind or otherwise challenging apexes, and lots of run off. I really don’t like walls anywhere near my car. COTA does have elevation changes, but it basically boils down to one hill to climb, then slalom down. Perhaps I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to run on tracks that have a lot of terrain. COTA falls squarely in the middle of the road by this metric.

I believe it’s the fastest track I’ve been on. I’m over 100mph three times each lap with a top speed of 120. Each of these straights end in second gear left turns, so it’s a heavy braking track, too. (I wasn’t in the Lotus at Road America. It’s possible RA may be as fast.)

There is a lot of run off here, and most of it’s paved which is new for me. I never put a wheel off. HPR, ORP, and Thunderhill are in wide-open spaces where if you go off you’re just going to mow some weeds. You do some agricultural driving. Here, when you go off you may as well be in a parking lot. Obviously, the surface is in excellent condition. Although none of the other tracks I’ve driven were better, all the newer tracks have nice surfaces. So I was pretty comfortable pushing a bit.

And there are some fun bits to push through. I found the esses challenging and I enjoyed the carousel (almost as much as the one at Road America).

The Track Day

Edge Addicts ran a very professional operation. It was well organized and well staffed. The event ran on schedule but for a slight delay late. I never lost any track time due to an on track incident. There was an outfit there to help you with tire pressures and other services. A professional photographer was on hand to get good photos for everybody.

I didn’t ask for a car count. I’m assuming they want more cars than I want, given the price of operating the facility. There were a lot of cars there, but it didn’t feel crowded. The track day fees for one day would pay for three days at HPR (but I’m spoiled; it’s more like two days at a California facility). There were a lot of nice cars there. Didn’t see anything like a Lemons car. Everybody was well-behaved.

Sessions were short, about twenty minutes each. I’d rather have four twenty five minute sessions than five twenty minute ones – it also means fewer in and out laps. I got five “fast” laps each session, so more than a quarter of my track time was either an out lap or an in lap. A side effect of the short sessions is that cars are released onto the track nose to tail. Immediately you’re in a train of cars. At one point I was tenth in a line of fifteen cars. The flaggers just held up their blue flags for the whole string. With the shorter sessions they’re pretty much forced to get everybody out quickly.

For my California track days, at least, another side effect of the shorter sessions is the need to hustle people back to the pits when the checkered flag is shown. At home the in lap is done with the idea that you don’t use your brakes, let them cool off. Here, like on my California trip, we kept going fairly fast. But I was able to not use my brakes until making the final turn into the paddock.

The Bottom Line

I had a good time. I’m happy to have done this.

 

Bluebird Lake, Almost

Sometime last year my Eagle/Box trip got a few dozen hits in just a couple of days from a MeetUp group, the Grey Wolves. So I joined. I figured if there was a group that went to Eagle Lake, they’d likely go somewhere new for me.

Sunday, June 18

The original plan was that Chad and I would head to American/Michigan Lakes near Cameron Pass. His plans changed. Then I saw an invite from the Grey Wolves for a Bluebird Lake hike. Bluebird Lake isn’t new for me, but could make for a good test drive for joining the group. I’ve been there a couple of times, and will need to go again to collect my last two Wild Basin lakes: Junco and Isolation.

The first time I tried to get to Bluebird was in mid-June of a snowy year. I didn’t make it much past Ouzel. I walked into an avalanche debris field. The avalanche could have happened two days before or two weeks before, I had no idea. The snow was like a giant pine sno-cone. Trees were reduced to their elements – tree trunks, snapped like toothpicks, with no limbs and all the bark stripped off. Branches and twigs of all sizes. All mixed up. The entire forest smelled like a lumber mill. Water coursed down the slope, everywhere, audible under the mass of snow and rubble. It was almost alive. Over the course of eating my picnic, the debris pile visibly settled.

A once in a lifetime experience, no doubt.

Prior to the debris field hike, I attempted Ouzel in mid-June. That time, the section from the Thunder Lake/Ouzel Lake trail junction to the top of the ridge was snow, and the entire meadow below Ouzel was a complex of drifts. So I had a pretty good idea we’d have to hike four or five miles of snow, given the heavy late spring snows this year. Anyway, Bluebird sounded like a nice hike for a June day.

We met at Lyons and carpooled to the trailhead. Got there just in time, as we got the last few parking spaces. We were on the trail at 8. We maintained a nice pace on the trail, although we stopped more than I generally stop. We went through the little bypass for Copeland Falls, which I normally skip. But that’s okay, it’s a pleasant day. The water was running very high. Not the highest I’ve ever seen it, but close.

The lower part of the hike follows the river closely. The sheer volume of water demands attention. It roars. The amount of water was truly remarkable. We leave the river for a while when we cross it at Ouzel Falls. This is the first time I’ve been here since the 2013 floods. The bridge was out for a long time. I’m not sure when it got reopened, but it’s open now. They moved it a few yards downstream. And based on how high the old bridge was, I tried to visualize how high the water had to be to carry it off.

The new bridge is obscured by trees. The old bridge was sited to the left of the tree stump and the trail ran on this side of the log on the right.

We didn’t get to snow until we arrived in the area of my avalanche debris field. Somehow I was in the lead after we all deployed our micro spikes. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at a large rock outcropping. Water was cascading off it. Waterfalls everywhere. The sound of water was ubiquitous, torrents flowing beneath the banks of snow. Watch where you step in the low spots – snow melts from the bottom, often making delicate bridges.

In a few short weeks this area will be a riot of blue and yellow and red and white wildflowers. There are only yellow ones now, though, in bloom inches away from the snowbanks.

Leaving the outcropping we climb a gully to a large talus field. I’d forgotten about it and was thinking we were already approaching the lake. We had one more gully to climb. This final one is narrower and steeper. There is snow in it even into August. Today it’s a wall of snow maybe sixty feet high. I’ve been to the lake before, so I didn’t feel compelled to climb up it.

A few went up, but most of us had our picnics here. The narrow, steep gully on the right leads to Bluebird. The broader, shallow gully to the left leads to Junco. It’s still not clear to me the best route to Junco and this view of the terrain wasn’t terribly helpful, as it all looks so different with the snow.

After lunch we split up. Larry stayed at our picnic spot to wait for those who went all the way. I was in the early group to head back. Around Ouzel I kept my eyes peeled for moose. On the way up, hikers coming the other way reported moose nearby, but I don’t think any of us saw them. I was thinking there’s be a good chance they were still in the neighborhood. I didn’t spot them, but some of the others did.

I had both GoPros with me, but didn’t bother setting them up. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky until after 3pm. There weren’t even any jetliner contrails. The sun was brilliant but even on the exposed ridge wasn’t harsh, as it was still a cool, spring day.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I don’t normally do the same trail twice in a season, but I’m thinking I should try to get to Junco this summer. I’m thinking that the talus field below Bluebird Lake might be a good place to leave the trail and look for a route to Junco.

 

COTA Blitz: The Road Home

Sunday, June 11

In general, I don’t like going the same way, to and from. I prefer a loop. A loop for this trip would be impractical. What I ended up with, though, was nearly as good: a dumbbell. Different routes for about two hundred miles on the Austin end and between home and Amarillo on the Denver end.

It was sunset when I approached the wind farm near Sweetwater. The windmills were in silhouette in darkening amber. There’s a red light on top of each turbine. The light flashes on and off; a few seconds on, a few seconds off. That rhythm gets interrupted depending on which way the wind blows. If the blades are facing you, they pass in front of the light.

These things are laid out in rows. Generally, due to the route the road takes, it just looks like a random assortment of the things. But every now and then you get to look down a row of five or six of them. Groups of thirty or forty had their lights synchronized such that they’d all go off and on at the same time.

Arrived at the motel and went to check in. No reservation. Hmmm. They asked if I had the right motel. I have gone to the wrong place before but pretty sure I got the right place this time. I checked my phone. Here’s the record of my phone call: I called this number last night. “Yes, that’s us.” How is it I can make reservations two different ways and still not have a reservation? I’m glad they weren’t booked up.

Monday, June 12

Just out of Snyder they’re erecting a windmill just a couple hundred yards off the highway. Shortly after I passed the site, I passed two blades on transporters. Probably not for the same site, as they only had a short section of the pylon completed. Near Lubbock I saw another piece of pylon heading the same way. Makes me wonder how many they’re still building. I also can’t help but wonder why they’re all white. I’m guessing they’re not painted, as that would seem to be a big maintenance nightmare. Is it a law that they’re white, or a result of an engineering issue?

North of Lubbock on I-27 I think a train honked at me. It was going the other way on a line with no grade crossings for miles. One quick blast of the horn and done.

I stopped at Boise City for lunch. When I got back on the highway, a sign indicated it was 287 miles to Denver. That was the only sign with mileage to Denver the entire trip until I got on I-70 at Limon.

I didn’t like the road in Oklahoma. The expansion strips were wide and drummed the car with a staccato beat.

I think this is the first time I’ve ever changed time zones by traveling north.

On the map, the road is arrow straight though there are some small variations. But it does rise and fall, and the horizon is no longer razor sharp. We’re crossing grassland, prairie. Not farmland, and doesn’t appear to be ranching, either.

I’ve lived in Colorado for about forty years. I’ve never been to about a quarter of the state – everything east of I-25 and south of I-70. Kit Carson, Eads, and Lamar were just names in weather reports. They’re still pretty much just names in weather reports to me, but I’ve driven through them!

There was a lot of truck traffic. It looked like most of it was going the other way, as I caught and passed only a few tractor trailer rigs. But southbound it was not uncommon to see trains of five, six, seven rigs.

I didn’t get rush hour traffic until Northfield, which was better than I expected. Only six or seven miles of it; much less unpleasant than ninety miles of I-25.

I’m happy to be home. Now it’s time to get the bugs off the car.