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Monday, June 27, 2011

Weekend with the Dills

     This weekend revolved around the family of Jim and Joette Dill.  In 1970 my father knew the Dill family and heard that young Jim was interested in going to the Air Force Academy.  At that time I was home on leave from my faculty job at USAFA.  A meeting was arranged between Jim and me at my folks' house in Athol, MA.  Jim then spent a year at a prep school prior to joining the class of '75 in July of '71.  We became his sponsor and surrogate parents during his plebe year. At the end of his second year he came to my office in Fairchild Hall and declared that he wanted to major in Electrical Engineering.  I was very skeptical.  His cumulative GPA was 2.09 which did not bode well for the EE major.  I felt that since I was the only faculty member with whom he had a personal relationship, he was letting that influence his thinking.  He was persuasive enough that I went to the department head to obtain permission to sign him up as an EE on a probationary basis.  Long story short...he finished with a 3.8 in EE and a cum GPA comfortably above 3.0.  He was on a roll with orders to go to pilot training at Williams AFB with an subsequent expectation of F-15s when, during a game of team handball, he suffered a concussion which cost him his flying status.  By then I was at Wright-Patterson AFB when he called and said,"Help!"  I arranged for him to come work for me, and he did a great job as a communications engineer on the B-1A.  I then went to Hanscom AFB for my last USAF assignment before retirement.  The fickle fates stepped in again.  Carter canceled the B-1 and again I found Jim a job at Hanscom initially working for me.  Once out from under my wing his career blossomed.  He had three base commander jobs, Thule, Onizuka and Edwards where he was the only non-rated wing commander they ever had.
     That's probably too much information, but this weekend Durelle played golf with him Saturday, and Sunday we went to his handsome home in Colorado Springs for a barbecue with his extended clan.  There must have been twenty pounds of marinated skirt steak grilled for fajitas with all the usual Hispanic accessories.  Jim makes a mean guacamole!
     The first picture is Jim and Durelle on the 18th green of the Blue course at USAFA.  The second is a repeat picture of the USAFA ladies golf trophy showing Durelle's name as their tenth champion (she missed by a stroke on an earlier one).  The third picture shows a large part of the extended Dill clan.  Jim is seated.  Durelle is in pink.  Finally, I went to their deck and took a picture of Pikes Peak.  It was too late to have the sun behind me and too early for a sunset, but you can see that they enjoy quite a view.
     The weather has been hot.  It got to 96!, and we had to use an air conditioner, but the humidity is low and we can open up all the windows at night.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cripple Creek

     Today we took advantage of a free day and great visibility to head up into the hills.  The plan was to put the Jeep in four wheel drive and drive the Gold Camp Road from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek.  That little city claims the title of "the World's Greatest Gold Camp".  Back in its heyday the Springs was its base of logistic support.  The lifeline was the narrow, winding gravel road that crept its way for thirty miles or so from one mile above sea level to two miles above.  It supported an endless string of mule drawn wagons up those switchbacks and through the one lane tunnels hewed out of the rock.  Among the tales I remember were those that dealt with the transportation of explosives up to the mines.  Dynamite and black powder was dealt with rather cavalierly, but nitro-glycerin was another story.  Apparently the preferred approach utilized a wagon with a stake at all four corners.  Suspended on ropes from the four stakes was a wooden water barrel.  Suspended in turn inside the water barrel was a smaller barrel of the nitro-glycerin.  The compound shock absorption of the two sets of suspension ropes and the barrel full of water seemed to be the best solution.  Still, when traversing the rougher sections of the road, the mule-skinners dismounted and controlled the mules with a long set of reins!  
     At any rate, there was a closure on Gold Camp Road after about an hour of four wheel driving.  There may have been a detour, but I didn't find it.  So we headed back down from the Cheyenne Canyon Park and back to the Springs and Route 24 west to Manitou Springs, Cascade, Woodland Park and Divide where we picked up 67 south to Cripple Creek.  It is a majestic, high altitude area as the picture shows.  Today there are mine tours, ("descend 1000 feet below ground level"), narrow gauge railroad tours to Victor and back, and a large collection of casinos large and small.  There are many small shops and cafes.  We had planned to eat lunch in one of them.  We assumed that at 10,000 feet it would be cool enough (Durelle had brought a sweater) to leave Baxter in the Jeep with a dish of water and the windows partly open. Unfortunately, it was 88 degrees and no shade.  We were effectively above timberline.  By the time we got back to Woodland Park, we were hungry and did justice to a couple of chicken sandwiches in the Wendy's parking lot.
     On the way back we drove through the Garden of the Gods in western Colorado Springs.  I didn't stop for the iconic pictures of the balancing rock or the kissing camels, but I did get a couple of shots that I may use later.  Now it is time to grill a steak.  Life is good.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cool Colorado

     This morning the temperature was 46 degrees!  It was in triple digits in Charleston today.  It's nicer here even if we had to use the quartz auxiliary heater to take the chill off this morning.  The pictures were not today's.  One shows the B-52 up the hill from the North Gate.  That snowy peak just aft of the quad fifty stinger in the tail is Pikes Peak.  There is a shot of a sailplane being towed aloft, and there is another view taken on Pikes Peak looking northeast.
     Yesterday we shared in Father's Day with the Catalfamos.  Phil and the twins, David and Brian, played golf at USAFA in the morning , and, of course, we watched the end of the US Open.  By the way, I have to report that this past weekend Phil (age 78) shot 83-84 at a tough, high altitude course...and he walked.  I'm impressed.  Durelle would initiate divorce proceedings if I mentioned her Saturday score (which she did not share with me).
     Tonight I'm going to make a shrimp jambalaya.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pikes Peak

     Today was my day to do Pikes Peak.  Yes, I drove it.  Times change.  Durelle wasn't particularly interested, and, besides, the US Open was starting.  I had some other errands to do, but the first thing was the peak.  It took an hour to get to the toll booth, and another hour to navigate the nineteen miles to the summit.  We have been there before, of course.  One year on 3Jul70 we pulled our Coleman pop up up the road to a point above the "W's", a dramatic series of switchbacks above the timberline.  At that time July third was the only day of the year you could camp on the mountain.  On the fourth is the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb.  As I remember, the motorcycles came up in clusters and the various classes of autos came up one at a time.  There are a few dented guardrails now, but there weren't any forty years ago.  Only a few drivers slid through those gravel corners spraying gravel over the edge to land a thousand feet below.  Most were a lot more cautious than they would have been on a quarter mile dirt track.  The road is now paved all the way to the summit, although a mile or so was gravel as they were in the process of repaving and "re shouldering" the road.  As I approached the summit, I could tell that I was not getting my normal supply of oxygen.  I moved slowly and sat down often.  I spent a bit of time in the Summit House gift shop and snack bar.  Lunch was a foil wrapped cheeseburger from the steam table, a fruit cup (mostly peaches), and a glass of lemonade for $11.51.  Of course everything has to be trucked up there.  While going up, I met three concrete trucks coming down.  That must be fun.  Although it was clear, hundred mile pictures still look a bit hazy.
     On the trip down I stopped at a few turnouts to take a few more pictures.  Forty years ago I descended with the Jeep in low range, four wheel drive.  Now that the road is paved, I couldn't use the four wheel drive with all four locked together.  I used first gear almost all the way down.  At the halfway point there is a Ranger with a remote IR temperature sensor to check the temperature of your brakes.  The sign says,"If your brakes are over 300 degrees, you must wait in the parking lot until they are not."  I remarked to the Ranger that forty years ago they checked the brakes with their fingers.  He allowed as how he had scars to prove it.  He said, "You're at 155, good job".
     Then I made a stop at Walmart to exchange some sandals and at a Whole Food  store.  From there I checked the Post Office and picked up a package from Cindy.  It was a good day.  I may add some of the pictures to future blogs.

USAFA Scenery

     My morning routine is to feed and walk Baxter, let him back into the bus and then drive up to the Community Center to make use of the nearest newspaper vending machine.  Yesterday morning was a bit earlier than usual and the air was the clearest it has been since we arrived so I brought the camera.  When we were stationed here forty years ago, the number of deer in the herds of mule deer must have totaled over a hundred.  They have 18,000 acres of protected, irrigated grazing rights.  Hardly a day went by without seeing some.  If an approaching motorist flashed his headlights, it wasn't alerting you to a radar trap.  It meant that there were deer in the road.  For some reason, the numbers have declined greatly.  They are still here, as the picture shows, but this was the first one I've seen.
     I also took a shot through the trees into the cadet area.  The field house and athletic facilities are in the foreground with the academic buildings and chapel in the background.  Last evening, classmate and friend, Buzzy Glenn, joined us for supper as Brita was spending time with her mother in California who was undergoing some surgery.  We had a big meal of grilled steaks, Durelle's rice pilaf, a salad, and a pan of sauteed zucchini, squash, onions and garlic. Then we watched the Bruins win their third straight seventh game to clinch the Stanley Cup.  The Red Sox are leading the division.  Along with the Patriots and the Celtics, Boston is a pretty fair sports town.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


     The phone rang at 0605.  It was Phil Catalfamo to tell Durelle that they had an 0715 tee time on the silver course.  We had had a wonderful dinner at their place last night, and the game plan was for them to meet at the course at 0730 to use the waiting list.  Then...the phone call.  I dropped her off by 0700, and met them for lunch at the clubhouse by noon.  The first picture is taken from the deck of the clubhouse.  The second is a clubhouse plaque showing past champions.  Hopefully you can read the name on the plaque three down in the second column.  Durelle was the club champ 39 years ago.
     Weather is nice, occasional sprinkle, and a forty degree swing between the day's high and the overnight low.

Thursday, June 9, 2011 week

     The first picture should have been used when we arrived a week ago showing our current location.  The second picture shows the new house that was built on our old site in Douglas Valley three years ago.  We moved in there 42 years ago.  The big building on the hill in the background is the hospital.  The rocky promontory behind it is called the Eagle's Nest.  It tops out at 9300 feet.  Some of you have heard the story of how the kids and I would load up our packs and walk out the back door and arrive at the peak several hours later.  We'd roll out our bedrolls, grill a steak or two and, at an appointed hour, flash a flashlight at the house, and Durelle would respond by flashing the porch light.
     We arrived here on 2 June, and the maximum stay is 30 days.  That has us leaving on Saturday of the Fourth of July weekend.  We wanted to stay in the area for a bit longer and Cheyenne Mountain State Park was booked.  We were unsuccessful with our attempt to extend here, so today we took a ride from here to an RV park in Falcon and then north to another in Castle Rock.  Castle Rock is on I-25 about halfway between here and Denver.  We made reservations there for 2-7 July in Castle Rock.  We are still tweaking the itinerary.  After Castle Rock we will do Estes Park and/or Francis E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, WY.  When it solidifies, I'll post it.
     We still have some of Arizona's smoke which has cost me some photo ops.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The air has cleared

     As you can see, the air has cleared.  The first picture was taken this morning when I drove up to the community center to get our morning paper.  Yeah, I know...old school.  The building is the commissary and the rocky mountain behind it is Blodgett Peak.  As I recall, it is at about 9500 feet.  Forty years ago the family, Cloutier, climbed it with the help of Dan Buehler.  I asked Durelle if she wanted to try it again.  Fortunately, she said,"I don't think so".  The second picture was taken on the way back to the campground.  You can see the upper part of Falcon Stadium, the same Blodgett Peak, and to the left, Pike's Peak with the snow on it.
     The temperatures have been in the low nineties during the day, but down around fifty at night.  With everything open and the fans on, we have not used the A/C.  The Arizona fires continue unabated, but the wind has shifted to westerly, so the smoke has diminished significantly.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Colorado, Day 4

     I haven't had any classic scenery shots yet because the persistent south wind, although it has eliminated the need for air conditioning, has raised dust and has brought in some smoke from the wildfires in Arizona.  The classic, cobalt blue, Colorado sky has not appeared, so I have included some small local pictures.  Two of the three are self-explanatory.  The third one is a dark haired, tufted ear, squirrel that has always been common here.  I don't know the species, but I don't think it has a large domain.  We haven't yet seen any of the larger wildlife that are so prevalent.  Tonight we had a grilled steak, baked potato, and a Caesar salad.  It doesn't get much better than that.
     I spent some time on the ladder cleaning the windshield and the front of the bus.  Durelle did several loads of wash.  We are gradually getting back to an appropriate level of relaxation.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Colorado, Day 2

     For the last nine days we have been running one or both air conditioners continually.  It makes the bus seem smaller and more enclosed.  Last night we shut them both down, opened all the windows and turned on the fans.  Guess what?  We had to get up at 0200, put on a blanket and turn off the fans.  This morning the outside temperature was 54 degrees.  Today was a wash day and commissary day.  For lunch we went down to find the Mission Bell, our favorite Mexican restaurant from forty years ago and which was still operating in 2008.  They had a hitching rail out back for the Sunday morning trail riders to tie up while they came in for breakfast.  Today the immediate vicinity is paved and the building is for sale.  The north end of Academy boulevard was one lane each way, and now it is four.  We found another Mexican restaurant for lunch (excellent).  Halfway through the meal up walked Jim Dill.  I was his faculty advisor at USAFA in the early 70's, and he later worked for me at Wright-Patt and Hanscom.  I attended his retirement ceremony when he retired as the first non-rated Base Commander at Edwards AFB.  What a surprise that was.  I had alerted him that we were in the area, but the meeting at "On The Border" was completely unplanned.
     I still plan on some good pictures, but today was still dusty and hazy.  Our weather center says that the humidity is 24%.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


     As you can imagine, This place is not short of photo-ops, but they'll have to wait.  We pulled in here after 1500 having spent eight of the last nine days driving.  We got set up without all the accessories that accompany a thirty day stop.  We are going to crash for a few days until we start connecting with our C'Springs friends.  The winds today had to be gusting to forty.  When I refueled,   I had to lean into the wind.  The resulting dust blocked our view of the mountains until we got onto the Academy grounds.  The winds and the climb to 6600 feet conspired to knock the day's mileage down to 7.3.  Today was a thousand dollar day; four hundred for diesel ($3.949) and six hundred for thirty days at USAFA.   
     After some rig rocking winds and rain during the night, we got away from Garden City about 0930.  We headed west on US50 to Pueblo, CO (about 225 miles).  Again, it was mostly one lane each way.  The difference was that there were more towns that required decelerating to 30 or 35...memorable places like Deerfield, Lakin, Syracuse, and Coolidge in Kansas and Grenada, Lamar, Hasty, Las Animas, La Junta, Manzanola, and Pueblo in Colorado.  
     So, here we are, happy to settle in one spot for a while.  All systems are working fine.  Keep in touch.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Garden City, Kansas

     The Great Plains.  Draw a line straight north from Shamrock, TX to Garden City, KS generally following route 83.  That was the bulk of our day.  The pictures were taken in the north end of the Texas panhandle during our lunch stop.  It is flat with the horizon ten miles away in all directions.  For the most part the road is one lane each way with a 65 or 70 mph speed limit.  One must squeeze right when a semi approaches because the gusts between two large vehicles passing in opposite directions at those speeds require one's full attention.  We have been in this sort of terrain before, but it is still impressive to see the extent and the desolate nature of most of it.  There are still scattered pockets of activity: large feed lots with thousands of cattle, clusters of huge grain silos, and oil wells with about half of them still pumping.  I think we saw two(!) other RVs on the road all day.  Colorado tomorrow.
     We hope that our friends and relatives in central Massachusetts are managing the rare tornadoes that are blowing through this afternoon.