Monday, August 27, 2012

Kansas, Rockies, Whiskey and Natives

August 20 - 26

Jesse and Family, Kansas hosts
It was two full days to get through the great state of Kansas.  Big thanks to Jesse and his wife and kids for hosting me midway on Sunday evening through this straight... and I mean no curves...straight journey. Jesse offered up a very scenic camping spot on his property. He has some lovely acerage near Salina, Kansas with rolling hills and prairie grass pasture.  They plan on building their house INTO the hillside for both aesthetic and geo-thermal reasons.  Very cool.  I can't wait to see the progress.

waking up in Jesse's yard
The next morning I awoke bright and early and headed straight for Denver. Jesse recommned an alternate route to avoid the highway for a few hours. By taking smaller routes you can really appreciate the landscape as you pass through small towns and terrain that you would not normally see via a highway.  The eastern and middle part of Kansas is lovely, with rolling hills and grasslands. As I entered the western part of Kansas I had to get onto I70 and things got blustery and boring.  I traveled over 8 hours before I arrived into Denver proper and  needless to say I was wiped out.

Did you know Paradise is in Kansas?
I have been visiting Colorado for the better part of 10 years. Some of my oldest friends live here. It's always a treat to see familiar faces after 16 hours of motorcycle riding especially over some beers.  My friends Corey and Sarah hosted me in Golden for two nights and I got to spend the next day in Denver running around, sorting out motorcycle things and visiting one of my old dear friends and artist, Tara aka Toughy T.  I was hoping to get to the botanical gardens so I could explore some native plants, but it closed early for a concert, which was probably best because I was really wiped out from the past two days of riding and didn't have a lot of energy to, well... learn.
Colorado Rest Stop

Lucky for me Corey and Sarah have a sweet hot tub and after a soak, I was ready to roll onto my next destination... Buena Vista, Colorado where the soon to become infamous Deerhammer Distilling Company is located... and subsequently owned and operated by one of my oldest and closest friends, Len and his wife Amy.

Len has been the main reason I have been visiting Colorado all these years. We were college roommates in Philadelphia for four years and have been close ever since. We have both worked in the graphic design / web world for years.. A long time home brewer / distiller, he and Amy made the leap to open a Whiskey Distillery and Tasting Room last year.  I couldn't be more proud of his success. You will never meet a more humble, passionate and driven person. And dayum does he make some good whiskey. Check out the movie below for a quick look into Deerhammer Distillery and Tasting Room!

 Check out his website for all the details.  I might mention that Len also outfitted most of my camping gear for this trip.  Tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad.  Basically I am sponsored by Deerhammer.

Len and I have been riding motorcycles for years. In fact we both took the motorcycle safety course together in '98 in Philadelphia. In anticipation of my arrival (so I like to think) Len upgraded his dirt bike to an adventure bike, Kawasaki KLR.

riding with the aspens
 I arrived in Beuna Vista around 11am on Wednesday morning, a 2.5 hour trip from Golden. Len hasn't had a break from the distillery all summer so no sooner did I get there, did we make plans to do an overnight camping trip into the Gunnison Forest in the Rocky Mountains on the bikes.  We left around 2PM and headed out on dirt roads through some of them most gorgeous mountain scenery you can imagine.   Of course I made us stop quite often to take pictures and document native plant specimens (at least I thought they were native!).  We arrived in Crested Butte before sundown and made camp at Oh Be Joyful camping area.

After setting up camp we headed into town for a slice of pizza and brew. Back at camp, a less than impressive campfire was made and a cantina full of whiskey was passed between us.  I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of rain pitter pattering on my tent.  It took me a few moments to realize all my gear was left out on the bike and was now getting soaked.  I ran out and covered everything up.  Len was less than fortunate and awoke with his gear a bit wet.  Ah well, the 8 hour ride through the mountains we were about to embark on would dry things off.

one of many views
This was the first time on my trip I rode along with someone, let alone a friend, and there is nothing like it. Checking out scenic views, swapping stories of close calls on the bike and generally having someone to talk to while gassing up makes all the difference. I knew this trip would get lonely at times but you only realize it when you have the experience of riding with another. After two days of dirt roads and scenic views, we rolled back into BV where Amy had an amazing meal prepared for our arrival.  Doesn't get much better!

native or not? ... not.
Now, let's talk native plants. The Colorado Rockies are one the eco-regions I'm looking to document native plants specimens. There doesn't appear to be a shortage of native plants you might experience when you are near a big city.  Other than Denver and surrounding areas, urban sprawl is at a minimum and Colorado is vast with wilderness. So on our ride, I documented quite a few specimens I thought to be native. However when I arrived back to civilization, I was hard pressed to find them listed in my native plant guides / database. Arrgg.

Then the serendipitous moment happened. Frustrated about the lack of native plant findings, Len remarked about a gentleman named Garry who specializes in local grasses and seed who happens to have a nursery right behind Len's house.  Oh right I thought, I met this guy a few years ago while visiting.  We were there because Len was interested in buying grass seed for some land he had just purchased.  I recall this guy having a lot of knowledge so I figured, it doesn't hurt to ask. I went over and met Garry.  After explaining to Garry about my project he was excited to talk to me about all the native plant species through-out Colorado and gave me a walking tour of what is considered to be Colorado's largest native plant nursery. OH YEAH!  It was like finding the holy grail in your (or your friends) backyard. Garry has acres of native plants, shrubs, trees, etc. and could very well be Colorado's leading expert in native plants. We talked for a while and he allowed me free run on his property to explore, learn and photograph. And over the next few days I did just that.

Unfortunately, most of the people buying plants in this area are not very interested in planting natives in their backyard and Garry's business relies mostly on non-native ornamental, etc which makes his retail business a struggle as he specializes in natives. You could almost hear the sadness in his voice when he pointed out a row of native shrubs that he would soon have to pull because they were beyond the point of full propagation.  To drive the point of my project home even further, I showed Garry some clippings of the specimens I found on the mountain pass and 4 out of 5 of were non-native. Here I thought the Colorado wilderness was free of human interaction.

Now, it's true that not all non-natives are growing wild because of human interaction as birds and other animals could have brought them here.  And it's also true that not all non-natives are invasive. But, when 80% of your findings are non-native, well.... just goes to show you don't need a huge populated city to impact the loss of bio-diversity in your area. That is to say, the more non-native species found on your land, the less birds, bees, insects and wildlife that will be flourishing.

Needless to say, Beuna Vista has much to offer in terms of education.  Between learning how to ride my new cycle in dirt, learning about Colorado's native plants, and learning how to distill malted barley and rye to make whiskey, my mind is on overload.... and I'm loving every second of it. Not to mention I didn't even have the change to visit the goat dairy, the organic farm and all the other amazing things this small mountain town has to offer.  There's just not enough time as I need to be moving on.

Today I am waiting for UPS to deliver ink jet cartridges for my printer so I can continue making custom postcards and I am waiting for new motorycyle tires as well.  Even though I probably have about 1000k miles left on my stock tire tread, it's a good idea  to change them now while I can.

Tonight I will print and write postcards and organize my bike, tomorrow I will have the tires mounted and then head off to my next destination, Portland, Oregon by way of Utah and Idaho!  I can't wait to visit the old growth forest and explore what that eco-region has to offer!