Monthly Archives: May 2014

Brilliant Bushcraft at Earth Knack!

Image

We arrived in the afternoon on the Tuesday with plenty of time to set up our tent, arrange some dinner and settle in. But the place was deserted! Certain we were in the right place on the outskirts of hippy-ville, (otherwise known as Crestone, which makes our home town of Lostwithiel look positively un-hippyish!), we waited a while to see if our host, Robin would appear. We made a fire and as all Brits do in such circumstances… we had a cup of tea. Eventually my phone graced me with the ability to make a phone call (a rare luxury with an iPhone!) and we got through to Robin’s voicemail which confirmed she had been delayed in her journey from California which should have seen her return the night before. So we pitched our tent, found the compost toilet, made dinner and when to bed, optimistic that our new warm sleeping bags would keep us toasty warm.

campfire at Earth Knack

A fire is an important moral booster for outdoor living!

After a long night freezing our butts off we rose to find Robin had arrived home in the night and after introductions and explanations we settled in. Later that day some other people arrived for their “internships” learning primitive skills. We spent the day getting to know each others stories and learning the ways of the Earth Knack camp… how to empty the buckets of “communal compost”, how to avoid a bear trying to share your tent and other such delights.

Earth Knack, Crestone

The communal camp area with the outdoor kitchen in the background

Earth Knack

Bridge over carefree waters

As family wwoofing goes, this is spot on. Robin is like a child whisperer and instils calm and respect from all three of our increasingly feral children. She believes strongly in including the children in the adult work and they are encouraged to stoke the fire, partake in the primitive skills and ask questions. As such the work is arranged so that the while family can join in. We are mainly digging over and weeding a set of flower beds to be planted next week and there is a communal garden in the town where we are all pulling, digging, chopping, rotorvating and generally getting filthy. Other tasks include collecting wood and preparing the communal evening meal.

Image

Collecting firewood as a family affair – Orla is in her element!

Image

Family wwoofing at it’s best when we can all join in

After a couple more freezing nights we obtained a couple more blankets, found our warmer winter clothes from the roof box and have learned how to wrap ourselves in such a way that the last couple of nights have seen us warm and cosy and sleeping just lovely.

After watching the interns, Grey and Susanna, learning to use a bow drill, Alfie has been utterly determined to have a go. So last night Rob and he worked hard preparing their bow drill set and set to practising the technique – with huge success! Fire from friction surely has to be one of the most satisfying skills one can learn.

Bow drilling

Alfie learning to make fire by friction with a bow drill – aged 6

As the weeks go on we’ll be learning more about the edible plants in the area, Alfie will have a chance to make a bow and arrow and I’m hoping to have a chance to learn some basic flint knapping techniques to take home. Talking of home…. You’ll have to wait a little longer to hear….

Image

Bird Watching in Monte Vista

Image

We decided to head to Monte Vista in advance of our wwoof placement which starts tomorrow (or today for UK readers). On arriving in this small town (supposedly a City although I have no idea how they differentiate between towns and cities here – this place is small!) to find that the whole place is a rather run down dump of a place, with an appalling Mexican restaurant I hope never to go to again.

However, after paying too much for luke warm fajita’s and far too much for some crappy accommodation we awoke the next morning to discover the area has an outstanding wetland nature preserve. We spent a few hours there in the morning watching incredible White faced Ibis, shovellers, ruddy ducks, marsh wrens (pictured above), yellow headed black birds a northern harrier, mule deer and a coyote and decided to return at sunset to try to spot owls and other birds of prey.

We passed the afternoon with some bowling and a hotel picnic dinner (which we’re getting pretty good at although still feel exacerbated by the waste created). A quick swim in a freezing pool and we got the kids in their pyjama’s for some late evening bird watching (or in Orla’s case Sponge bob watching).

Image

Yummy hotel floor picnic – chicken salad and strawberries!

It paid off – in addition to a couple of muskrats swimming silently through the water we also saw a stunning clarke’s grebe and a Swainson’s Hawk. Although by the time it was dark and we were heading out of the preserve we had yet to see an owl… “Go slow Rob, there’s no one behind” I said in the hope of spotting one on a telegraph pole… and for once he listened! And when I said “stop!”, he actually did! And sure enough there was the owl, perched on a pole. With no one around we watched for a while and then he flew off right past the car. A great sight, but sadly too dark to identify more precisely than as an owl.

When we got back, reeling from our bird watching, I submitted my book to the publishers and it’s a huge weight off before our wwoof placement in the morning – we are sipping champagne now. I’m not sure how much internet connection or laptop juice I’ll have for the next two weeks so if I’m silent that’s why, but I’ll be sure to fill you all in on my return to civilisation after that.

We’ve also just been through the photo’s from today and I seem to have got a setting wrong or something because, bar this reasonable marsh wren, they were all completely rubbish. Although I must admit I prioritised my binoculars today so I didn’t put a lot of effort into the camera and sorting out it’s blur… you’ll just have to look all the above birds up for yourselves I’m afraid.

Manitou Springs, Colorado

Image

It’s been a slightly odd week for us. We’ve holed up in a particularly nice Days Inn, visited various tourist attractions, dealt with some admin issues, watched lots of TV and split our time with the kids so I could get the book I’m working on finished.

First up we had to swap our hire car having now travelled well over 10,000 miles. The process of swapping meant we had the chance to upgrade to an SUV and we took it… we’re now in a 4×4 Chevvy Suburban. We also bought new, warmer, sleeping bags for camping next week. The Bass Pro we got them at also had a bowling alley so we had our first family game of bowling.

Bowling at Bass Pro, Colorado Springs

Orla’s first ever go bowling!

Manitou Springs is a funky little historic town on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. By ‘historic’ I mean it’s over 150 years old, which by American standards is positively ancient, whereas to us it’s like a toddler aged town. It has great restaurants, shops and a whole host of fascinating, geology and history based attractions.

Our first stop was the intriguing cliff dwellings, which demonstrate delightfully that the human history of the continent didn’t in fact start with the European settlers. These impressive feats of architecture date back around 800 years and demonstrate the highly sophisticated nature of the societies and cultures in this stunning and abundant region.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings

Manitou Cliff Dwellings

Next stop was a ghost town with interesting displays of the various shops, homes and workshops of the old frontier towns. Live wasn’t really very different to today really. The biggest difference was the pharmacy, which was full of basically utter nonsense that did nothing to prevent serious illnesses from killing their victims. The lotions, potions and poisonous pills of yesterday truly makes one thankful for modern medicine.

Ghost town, Colorado Springs

Lotions and potions… all utterly useless if you were actually ill. They did use a lot of morphine in those days though so if you were doomed anyway at least you weren’t in pain.

ghost town, colorado springs

The old stage coach – Calamity Jane eat your heart out!

And it’s that thanks that I worked on for the next few days as I would likely have died during pregnancy had I lived during the pioneer era in America. So while I focused on finishing the book I am authoring about hyperemesis gravidarum, Rob took the kids out to play parks and the Zoo, where they fed giraffes and watched grizzly bears catching fish from under the water.

Colorado Springs Zoo

Patrick feeding a giraffe

Colorado Springs Zoo

Face to face with a grizzly!

The book finally complete, ready to go to the publishers and me significantly more relaxed we went to visit the Cave of the Winds. An impressive maze of tunnels and caverns deep inside the mountains. Hundreds of stalactites, stalagmites, ribbon formations, cave corral and all sorts of interesting and beautiful cave features. Admittedly they would have been even more beautiful had our irritating tour guide not have thought he was a comedian rather than a tour guide.

Cave of the Winds

interesting geological features at the Cave of the Winds

Today we headed over to the gold mining town Cripple Creek. This un-politically correctly named town appeared almost overnight and at the height of the gold rush had a population of around 35,000. Despite being burned to the ground the town thrived and had three rail roads leading to it. But when the gold rush came to an abrupt end the people left and the population dwindled to just 300 residents. Now it is a major tourist attraction and has a host of fantastic museums and, like most of America that we’ve seen so far, a bizarre number of casinos.

The Heritage Centre and the Jail are both well worth a visit with brilliant interpretation and personal stories of the towns residents. But our favourite by far was The Old Homestead Museum. It was the towns most prestigious brothel, charging up to $250 per night (about $9,000 in today’s money). Pearl DeVere, the original proprietor was clearly an entrepreneurial beauty and knew exactly what she was doing when decorating the house in the finest, most expensive furniture and decors from around the world. The house now contains rare and beautiful furniture, lamps and clothes from the era and fascinating history of the town and it’s residence. Sadly Pearl DeVere wasn’t so cleaver when it came to taking morphine as she died very young of an overdose after a row with a wealthy customer she was clearly more than fond of. Her funeral was the biggest in the town to date after the gentleman in question donated $1,000 after her death, along with a ludicrously expensive gown for her to rest eternally in. The brothel was then taken over by one of the other girls and continued successfully until all the people left the town. Without the demand for services the girls left too and the house became a boarding house and then a private residence until it was opened as a museum in the 1950’s.

Thanks to the private ownership the interior has been preserved beautifully with original, vastly expensive wall paper and much of the furniture. There are dresses found in the property and the rooms have been recreated perfectly thanks to the help of one of the original residences who married and remained in the town.

The pair of ancient old ladies who gave the tour were brilliantly knowledgeable and enthusiastic, which infused the house with a sense of care and love. Sadly I couldn’t take photos due to the potential of damage from the flash to the old artefacts and I didn’t have the tripod for non-flash indoor ones – you’ll just have to visit for yourself one day!

On the way back to Manitou Springs we tried to go the mountain track route through a National Forest but discovered the road was closed 16 miles in along the dirt track. So we had some fun trying out the 4×4 skills of the car and got to go through an awesome tunnel before head back to the main road. We were hoping to spot a bear, which as yet has proved elusive to us, sadly it remains so.

Bridge on the old railroad track between Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs

Tomorrow we are heading down a little in Colorado, towards Crestone, where we have our next wwoof adventure at Earth Knack, a stone-age living skills centre. We’re really looking forward to it!