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Wholesale Observations: Rafe Semmes goes to Denver
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

My wife and I have been lucky to have visited Denver, Colorado, two times – a year apart, as it happened The first time was for my wife’s job with a local newspaper, for which she won several awards. One of those was to be presented at a formal event at a national conference in Denver, for which we had to wear formal attire. (It was only the second time in my life that I had to wear a tuxedo.)

We were only there a couple of days, and did not have time for much exploring. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt downtown, as I recall, and I got to walk around a bit while she was in sessions. We had initially hoped to take a side trip south, to visit America’s iconic Pike’s Peak, but wound up not having the time to do so.

Then, my office sent me back there, the next year, for our national association’s annual convention. That year, we both had a little more time for exploring.

This time, we stayed at the Adam’s Mark Hotel, a good bit south of the Hyatt where we stayed, downtown, the last time.

A different area, a different Denver.

Both times we were there in the spring or summer, so did not have to deal with the winter snows. I cannot imagine the snows they get there.

One thing that was memorable, the second year we were there: My conference had, as its closing banquet, a dinner at a “dude ranch” some two hours west. We all got on buses which took us there. Our driver informed us, after we got out of Denver proper, that we “might have to stop for elk on the road.”

I was surprised to hear that. But, sure enough, less than half an hour later, a large herd of elk wandered into the interstate, and took their time crossing the road. So we sat and watched as they moseyed across the road, paying us no mind.

If I had not seen it, I might not have believed it. The other surprise about that trip was, the air was so clear, you could easily see the Rockies in the distance, as we left Denver, heading west, and it looked like they were only two hours away. However, after a two-hour ride, they still looked like they were two hours away!

That second trip, we tacked on two days afterward, and took a side trip to Pike’s Peak.

We could not pass up the opportunity to see it. As a school boy, I had read many times of “Pike’s Peak or Bust,” the rallying cry of those attempting to settle our West in the late 1800’s.

It turned out a bit differently from what I had thought. We got on a “cog-wheel train” at Manitou Springs, at 8,000 feet, about half-way up the mountain, and took the two-hour trip up to the peak. We then had 45 minutes before the return trip back down the mountain.

There was only one track up that mountain, with a circular bypass in the middle. Two trains ran simultaneously, one up, one back, on a strict schedule. There was a gift shop and restaurant at the top, so you could get something to eat and drink and shop for souvenirs. But the warning given was clear: if we missed the return trip back down the mountain, it would be a four-hour wait before the next train came. So we did not dally!

The train used a gear mechanism to climb the track, with cogs in the gears engaging the horizontal bars of the track.

That was to keep us from slipping if the rails got iced. I had not heard of that before, but it made sense.

When we got to the “fall line,” about twothirds if the way to the top, we saw no more trees or scrub bushes; it was too cold and rocky to support vegetation from that point on. All we saw was rocks, which kept getting smaller, the higher we went.

The reason was that, as moisture seeped into cracks in the rocks, and then froze, freezing expanded the water, causing the rocks to crack and then break. Repeated seepage and freezing eventually caused larger rocks to break into smaller ones.

I had not heard of that before, but it made sense.

I could not imagine the old-time prospectors trying to cross over those mountains, with only pack mules! Hardy folks, indeed.

What an interesting trip!

Rafe Semmes is a graduate of both Savannah High and the University of Georgia. He drives through Richmond Hill frequently from his home in Liberty County.

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