My husband and I have been in many different parts of the United States, yet during our vacation in Colorado two weeks ago I was awed to find something new, something interesting every day.
Before we left Kansas, a road sign that read “The Cathedral of the Plains — 8 Wonders of Kansas” caught my attention. Following the arrow, we stood before a gigantic cathedral with twin bell towers built 102 years ago in a small farming town named Victoria. It was built by the Capuchin Franciscan monks with the help of church members using mostly native limestone, some weighing more than 100 pounds. I wondered what the other seven Wonders of Kansas would be. Was the Abilene home of 34th U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower one of them? I hoped it was.
I made a mental note to myself that someday, travelers will see “Home of Chaplain Emil Kapaun — 9 Wonders of Kansas” and find themselves in Pilsen, Kan.
Father Emil Kapaun was a Korean War hero who died in a North Korean prison camp along the Yalu River in 1951, when he was 35. The fact that I had read about him as a youngster living in Korea isn’t important, but that President Obama awarded him with the Medal of Honor last spring for the exceptional courage and piety he had shown to his fellow American inmates, as well as his captors, is very important.
Entering Colorado, we worried we might be hit by the rainstorm that had devastated Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins a day earlier, but we weren’t. Instead, we saw many different expressions of Heaven above that changed from somber charcoal gray to soft gray, then to patches of blue with white clouds. We only had misty rain once or twice on the road.
Near our destination, Twin Lakes, we rested on a spot overlooking the wide expanse of the Arkansas River Valley. We were 10,000 feet above sea level, a sign indicated. Humans arrived here 11,000 years ago, after warm temperatures had melted the glaciers and plants began to grow. In 1895, gold was discovered in Leadville 25 miles north, and men from all areas of the world came with dreams of getting rich. But gold vanished quickly and so did the dreamers.
As the name implies, the town of Twin Lakes got her name from the two lakes lying parallel, reflecting the picturesque Mt. Elbert and its pines, Aspens and willows. During our boat tour of the lake, our tour guide, Captain Jim, gave a history lesson. When the Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago, he said, the melting glaciers deepened the valleys and bulldozed boulders, rocks and debris to the lower areas, forming lakes and ponds surrounded by all sorts of rocks. The surrounding mountains — as tall as 14,000 feet above sea level — provide homes for deer, black bears, mountain lions, goats and all sorts of birds, not to mention humans who come to camp, boat, hike and water-ski.
“See over there?” he pointed toward a wall of pines before us. “There’s an osprey nest about 4 to 6 feet wide and 2 or 3 foot tall, and I see an osprey sitting on a branch nearby. Keep looking, you’ll see it. Ospreys are big birds, with a wingspan of about 6 foot.”
Before I could even find the nest, a large, dark bird sprang from the mass of green and kited in the blue expanse above as if saying, “I am who your guide is talking about!” Then, a small black bird appeared from nowhere and joined the show.
“That’s a crow,” the captain said. “Crows are ospreys’ nosy neighbors. They always chase Ospreys away from their nests.”
Though the two birds could have been in a territory dispute, from the surface of the lake, they seemed to be enjoying one another’s company, making circles in the sky.
The rest of the days, my husband and I hiked, walked around the lakes and took time to relax. During our last hike together on a remote trail, I found several different kinds of mushrooms growing under a canopy of pine branches and was elated. One was white with round heads, like the ones I buy at our neighborhood Price Chopper. Picking one up, I said to my husband, “Watch me eat this and see if I die. If I’m OK, you can have one, too.”
He didn’t think it was funny. Rolling his eyes, he said, “I rather take you home alive, OK? Do you know how much it’d cost me to haul a body to Kansas City, without mentioning the headaches I’d have to go through?”
I ended up not eating the mushroom. What decent wife wouldn’t try to help her husband save money and headaches?