Rocky Mountain National Park – Day 1

Recently my friend Dia and I took a long weekend to visit Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) near Estes, Colorado.  We have talked about going there for about 5 years.  Finally our schedules came together and we were able to go.  I have long wanted to visit this national park.  The photos I’ve seen from there are just stunning.  Water everywhere!  (Unlike New Mexico LOL!)

It took us about 10 hours to drive there, due to the many stops made at Starbucks 🙂

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Kelly and Dia getting their Starbucks fix!

We arrived at the entrance sign to Estes Park late in the day.  Of course, we had to take a pic there of us in our matches dresses.  🙂

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We made it!  Don’t you love our matching dresses!?  🙂

There were several Black-Billed Magpies around and one was happy to pose for me on the sign.  I guess they are no longer a nemesis of mine LOL!

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Black-Billed Magpie

We knew it was going to be crowded every day there as we were visiting during peak season.  So we made plans to go to bed early and get up very early to beat the crowds.  It proved to be a great plan as we found when we were leaving the trails that’s when most people were heading out.  Doing this allowed us to visit the spectacular park with minimal intrusion of other people.  There’s nothing more discouraging to a photographer than to have a beautiful setting for a photo crowded out with masses of tourists.

Dia has been to RMNP a few times in the past.  I had never been before.  So I followed her lead on what to see first.  Her favorite drive is up Old Fall River Road.  A one-way dirt road that climbs to the highest point in the park.  When I looked at the map, I realized a couple of the waterfalls I wanted to photograph were on this route.  Yay!

Our first stop was at the Allivial Fan Falls.  This waterfall was created by a major flood due to a failure in a dam upstream.

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Alluvial Fan Falls

Heading up Old Fall River Road, we saw so many beautiful sights.  Everywhere you looked, it was a Kodak moment. Dia drove my Jeep so I could take photos.  She loves driving my Jeep – especially off road.  🙂 At one point, Dia almost ran over a marmot who had no fear of the Jeep.  Evidently he’s used to tourists feeding him as they pass.

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Kelly and her Jeep (not her husband’s Jeep) 😉

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Dia and Scarlett enjoying the drive up Old Fall River Road

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Marmot

I especially loved this little waterfall at the beginning of the drive.  There was no formal trail, just enough of a path to view the water closer.

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Further up the road we came to Chasm Falls – another waterfall on my “must see” list.  What a beautiful waterfall coming through the narrow canyon.

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Looking downstream

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Scarlett, Kelly & Dia

Scarlett loves water – so of course we had to let her play a little before hitting the road again.

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Scarlett enjoying the falls in her own way 🙂

Soon we were climbing higher and higher.  The views expanded.  Just glorious!

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Gorgeous views from Old Fall River Road.

We eventually rose above the tree line.  Beautiful!  We came across patches of wildflowers.  Everything was so green – way different from New Mexico.

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Just before reaching the RMNP Alpine Visitor Center, we came across more marmot.  I liked how this one posed nicely for me.

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Marmot

The views at the visitor center overlooking a glacial cirque were truly breathtaking.   The grasses were so lush and the snow provided a beautiful contrast to the photos.

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Glacial Cirque

There is a hike from the visitor’s center that takes you to a peak.  It was tough going considering there was very little oxygen at 12,000 feet above sea level.  The views from the top were amazing.  I love exploring!

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Trail from the visitor’s center.

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Breathtaking views!

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Dia

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Where’s Starbucks???!!!!!

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Views of the visitor center from the top of the trail.

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Dia, Kelly and Scarlett at the top!

After a brief stop at the Visitor’s Center, we decided to take the drive to Grand Lake.  We wound our way back down the other side of the mountain.  At the bottom we took a short hike to stretch our legs and enjoy the beautiful weather.  I saw several sparrows in this area but only managed to get one pic of a Savannah Sparrow.

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Such a lush valley of green

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These squirrels found a good home.

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Dia happy with her Starbucks! 🙂

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This was the only butterfly I saw that day. Terrible photo as I didn’t have my birding lens.  I believe this is a Mormon Fritillary

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Savannah Sparrow

As we made our way toward Grand Lake we saw a turn off for Lake Irene.  What a serene little lake.

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Lake Irene

As we left Irene Lake we saw a bunch of folks looking into the dense brush along the road.  We figured they’d spotted something good.  And indeed they had – a moose!  Actually two moose – a mother and calf.  They were a ways away and in dense brush, but I managed to get a couple photos.  I’d never seen a moose before!

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Moose with calf

We also saw some nice bull Elk along the road.  One was really enjoying the good life of summer.

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Very healthy bull Elk

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Enjoying summer

Near Grand Lake I spotted an Osprey nest.  It’s always a good day when you see a bird of prey.

 

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Osprey

Grand Lake was very touristy and actually not in RMNP.  So we turned around and decided to drive the Ridge Road back to Estes Park.  Once again we were in store for more stunning views way above the tree line.

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Click, click, click….I took over 5,000 photos on this trip! Yikes!

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Expansive views

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I love the high alpine meadow flowers – so small and delicate.

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Dia and Kelly

At one point we saw a nice herd of elk.  They were grazing in the high meadows well above 11,000 feet.  They have a very picturesque home.

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Scarlett was enjoying all the sights and smells.

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So many smells!!!!

We stopped at one pullout to view a glacier.

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Hmmmm…look at my Jeep keys precariously dangling from Dia’s hand….

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Glacier at 12,000 feet.  I love the blue pool of water in the lower right.

While taking photos, Dia noticed a little brown bird hopping just below us.  I quickly got my birding lens and was happy to see it was a Brown-Capped Rosy Finch.

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Brown-Capped Rosy Finch

Further down the road we stopped at another pullout.  There were lots of folks feeding the birds and squirrels here.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take close up photos of the rather tame squirrels.

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What a cutie!

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excuse me…you have something in the corner of your mouth…

But I was thrilled to see a Clark’s Nutcracker here looking for handouts.  I’ve only seen this bird once before several years ago in Santa Fe.  I’ve heard them a few times since then, but never saw them for a photo.  So it was great to see this bird close up!

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Clark’s Nutcracker

The views from this location were beautiful.  You could see the entire valley below.  You can even see the Alluvial Fan Falls area we had visited in the morning.

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It was a full day of fun!!!  Off to bed early for another full day of exploring!

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These flowers were extremely tiny!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20th Anniversary Trip – Day 1

For our 20th anniversary, my husband and I decided to take a long road trip and visit some places we’ve never seen.  Our trip would last 8 days, travel through 5 states, drive more than 2,400 miles, visit 5 different national parks, pass by several more and I would take 3,499 photos.  Whew!!!

Day 1 we left Albuquerque, NM, and headed north. The weather was perfect for a road trip.

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You gotta love those southwest skies!

We briefly passed through the southwest corner of Colorado.  We drove through Cortez, CO.  My grandparents used to live here, and we would visit them most Christmases.  The scenery here really looks like backdrops on those old western movies.

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Chimney Rock

We passed our first national park called Mesa Verde just outside Cortez, CO.  But no time to stop! A couple years ago Valerie and I took a photo road trip, and we visited Mesa Verde.  It’s a fabulous place to see.  Here’s a photo I took on that trip.

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Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park

We then turned northwest and headed into Utah. In the southwest, we have the funnest roadside stops.  🙂

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Roadside stop just before Moab.  It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed the photos that I realized there was a 4-wheeler on the top of the rock above the tourist trap.  🙂

We stopped in Moab for a bite to eat.  This was a great small town and very outdoors oriented.  After a great BBQ dinner, we drove to Arches National Park.  I have always wanted to visit here.

We knew we were getting close to the park when we saw this arch off the side of the highway.

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Arch just before Moab, UT

We arrived at the park very late in the day.  The visitors center was going to close soon and the sun was going to set in just a couple hours.  I collect the National Parks Passport Stickers.  I was torn between stopping for a sticker and getting to the sights before sundown.  Tim asked me, “Do you want a sticker or shutter time?”  Of course I opted for shutter time!

 

We only had a short time before sunset to see the park.  So we quickly drove to the furthest end of the park.  The views from the road were amazing.

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Beautiful view at Arches National Park

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You can see this arch from the road

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Unique rock formations

From there we had to hike about a mile to the arches.  There were four arches on this trail but split down two different trail ends.  The trail itself was very picturesque.

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View from the hiking trail to an arch

We finally made it to the arches.  I couldn’t believe how delicate this arch looked.  The sun was setting behind it, which made for challenging photography.

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Landscape Arch

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In front of Landscape Arch with Partition Arch on the far right

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My handsome husband

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Uniquely shaped juniper tree

We then heard from other visitors that we needed to hurry and get to the Delicate Arch for sunset photos.  So we quickly headed back down the trail.  We  briefly stopped at the arch near the road for  a quick photo.  Then back in the car to see Delicate Arch.

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Skyline Arch

When we got to the trail head for Delicate Arch, we realized it was a 2-mile hike to the arch.  We knew we didn’t have enough time to make it to the arch before sunset.  So we hiked an alternate trail that gives you a distant view of the arch.   We made it just before sunset!  The trail was steep but well worth it for the view.

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Delicate Arch – we laughed because if you look closely you can see people lined up along the ridge behind the arch.  We thought it looked like an old western movie where the indians are along the ridge looking down at the cowboys in the valley below.  Ready to attack the unsuspecting cowboys.  🙂

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I love this photo of Tim and I!

Daylight was quickly disappearing.  We had just enough light to photograph Balanced Rock.  The lighting was glorious for photography.

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Just stunning!

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Tim and Kelly – still in love after 20 years of marriage!

Tim took the camera to get some photos of me.  This is what he took.  I quickly realized we needed to talk about “mergers” in photos.  LOL!!!

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Tim purposely framed the rock above me.  LOL!

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This is me taking a panorama photo with my phone. 

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This is the photo I was taking. 

I only had enough daylight after this stop to get a couple more photos before dark.

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Beautiful sunset on the red rocks

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Low light hiking down the last trail made for a beautiful landscape photo.

After touring the park, we got back in the car to drive to Provo, UT.  We went through a lot of road construction which really slowed us down.  We didn’t get to the hotel until 11 pm.  We were pooped!

Stay tuned for Day 2!

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to Denver: Part 3 Garden of the Gods

I can’t believe I’m just now finishing up my trip to Denver (which occurred the first week of October).  Between lots of traveling the month of October and then catching up on work and then more recently a three-day stay in the hospital, I’m really behind on my blog. But thankfully I’m finally on the mend and clear headed enough to write some more.

Our last day on our trip we stayed the night in Colorado Springs. After all that hiking and climbing of stairs at Seven Falls, we were ready to head home. But before leaving we wanted to see the Garden of the Gods. The day dawned cloudy and gloomy so we weren’t optimistic about great photos.

Even though it was dreary, the rock formations were still beautiful.

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As soon as we started exploring the trails, I realized there were birds everywhere. I was in birding withdrawals by now, so I immediately put on my birding lens. Because of the low light conditions, I wasn’t optimistic about great photos. But it was still wonderful to see so many birds.

Mostly seen were robins. They were everywhere. But I was surprised to see a Blue Jay. He was extremely shy though and only managed one poor photo.

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Blue Jay on the left and American Robins with him

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American Robin

The Townsend Solitaires were singing loudly.

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Townsend Solitaire

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Townsend Solitaire

There was a Northern Flicker poking around the cracks in the rocks looking for breakfast.

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Northern Flicker

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Northern Flicker

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Northern Flicker

I saw a few other birds among the bushes.

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Scrub Jay

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White-Crowned Sparrow

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Spotted Towhee

But the highlight of the bird sightings was coming up. I kept noticing this flock of pigeons that would fly off then land only to fly again.

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Rock Pidgeons

I figured there must be a raptor of some kind hanging out. Sure enough, I walked around a rock formation and saw him.  I was very excited because it was a Merlin. A new bird for me!

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Merlin hanging out up high

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Merlin

Soon after I spotted him he was off chasing those pigeons.
I also saw a white-throated swift – another new bird for me. I got one terrible photo for my bird book but other than that they were flying too fast and high to get a decent shot.

After birding for awhile, I switched lenses to photograph some of the beautiful scenery.

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After exploring for awhile we decided to drive to another part of the park called Balanced Rock.  Its a neat formation.

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Valerie decided to climb up to it for a closer look. She was being very silly.  Thinking she could play around with this huge Balanced Rock.

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Sadly….I had to finish our trip home alone. She just had to go up there and push on that rock. She couldn’t leave well enough alone. I will miss my crazy friend…..

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Valerie trapped under the Balanced Rock

Just kidding! She’s alive and well!

We had a wonderful long weekend. But it was time to head home. We needed to rest up for our next adventure!

Trip to Denver: Part 2 Seven Falls

A while back I wrote Part 1 of my trip to Denver. I traveled so much in October that it’s taking me while to go through my photos and write my blog.

After visiting Bishop’s Castle we drove on to Denver to attend a Scrapbook Expo. Valerie and I had a lot of fun shopping, attending workshops and scrapbooking each evening.

After 2 days of the event we decided to drive up to Fort Collins to visit Valerie’s niece attending college there. The day was dreary and misting rain. On the way there we stopped briefly at the Fossil Creek Reservoir. I had hoped to do some early morning birding but the conditions were terrible.  It did make for a neat scenic photo.

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I walked a short paved path to reach the lake. In the trees I heard a Swanson’s Thrush. Sadly the conditions were so bad that I couldn’t see it in the thick foliage it was hiding in.  That’s too bad because it was a new bird for me.

Also along the path I saw a couple birds that were willing to be seen.

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When I reached the lake I saw a flock of cormorants feeding. If you look closely several of the birds have fish in their mouths.

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I also saw an Eared Grebe. A new bird for me! It’s a terrible photo but it counts!

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As you can see the light was extremely poor for photos. It started to rain instead of drizzle so I had to quickly get back to the car. It was so disappointing that I only got to bird here for 15 minutes.

After visiting Valerie’s niece over breakfast we hit the road to go to Colorado Springs. While driving there I checked the internet to see what we could do since we were going to arrive around 2:30 pm.

I found Seven Falls. Looking at the photos online it looked like a great place to visit.  There’s a staircase that follows the waterfalls that consists of 224 steps. 224! We said “let’s do it!”

When we got to Colorado Springs we needed gas. Now we have noticed there’s one main gas station brand you see in Colorado. We couldn’t help but take a photo……

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After a quickie fill up at the gas station (hee hee) we arrived at the falls. You walk up a paved path that follows a stream to get to the falls. It’s very scenic.

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When we arrived at the base of the falls we saw a tunnel leading to an elevator. I’m not sure how many floors we rode up but it takes you to the top of the mountain so you can see the entire length of the falls.

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If you look closely at those photos you can see the stairs along the falls. Yup! We are going to try to climb all those steps!

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So we rode the elevator down and headed to the stairs. The sound of the falls was loud but beautiful. We don’t have a lot of water in New Mexico.

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We made it half way. Very beautiful!

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Only 112 steps to go…

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Almost there….

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We made it! Just spectacular!

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We walked up the path a little ways and found a little bridge that crossed the creek. The view upstream was very pretty with the fall colors.

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It was getting late so we decided we better head back. I had hoped we would have had time to hike up to the Midnight Falls upstream but there just wasn’t enough daylight left for the hike. Oh well…maybe I will be back someday to see the rest of the sights.

I took a few more photos on the way back down. Trying out different settings for smoothing the water.

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We had made dinner reservations at the restaurant at the base of the falls. It’s a beautiful building. With the dying light I captured a few photos of the creek and restaurant.

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Dinner was absolutely delicious! I had prime rib that was seasoned and cooked to perfection. With potatoes and sautéed zucchini. I’m not sure how they seasoned the zucchini but it was amazing. I totally stuffed myself!

By now we were tired and full and happy. So we headed to our hotel to kick back.

Tomorrow we are visiting Garden of the Gods before heading home!