Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ

Two things impressed me most about this book: the warmth and engaging call of the gospel in every chapter, and Keller’s skillful way of handling complex theological topics with wonderful precision. Keller’s treatment of the favorite Christmas passages is complete with God’s sovereign grace, man’s corruption and sin, the need to respond in faith, the fact that faith is something only God gives, the Lordship that salvation demands, and on and on. I’ve never seen it put so humbly, so gently, so clearly, so accurately, so concisely. But the average reader won’t even know he’s reading a theological tour de force—it’s just the Christmas story, well told, suffused with the gospel. Keller writes like a modern-day C. S. Lewis, wrapping profound theology in the language of Everyman. There is no jargon in this book.

Keller manages to get beyond the matters that divide in our current social scene and strikes right to the heart of our brokenness and sin. You can hand Hidden Christmas to the most radical leftist, or to a Constitutional conservative, and neither will be offended by anything but the presentation of the cross itself.

I’ve read a few, not all, of Keller’s books. This is the best so far, which is saying a lot since the others have been so good. In Hidden Christmas the author takes the Christmas texts from Matthew and Luke and carefully unfolds their meanings. A Liberty and Westminster grad, I’ve been preaching and teaching since 1978, and in every chapter Keller is writing about things I’ve never noticed in these passages of Scripture, and they are powerful and profound!

Hidden Christmas is the gospel presentation you’ve been waiting for. Get a copy, enjoy it yourself, and then pass it on to a loved one. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past

Organized around decades from the 1860s to the 1950s, Historic Tales is a delightful, anecdotal account of the goings-on of beautiful Park County, Colorado. From mines to murders, gold strikes to graveyards, Van Dusen’s work is full of the colorful characters who comprised the landscape of the past. She writes with the historian’s penchant for research and the journalist’s eye for the story. The book brings to life the hardships and heartaches of the pioneers, miners, and families who settled this beautiful high valley of Colorado, as well as their extraordinary good fortunes in mining discoveries, the cattle business, and other business ventures.

If, while wandering Colorado’s high country, you run across the remains of a cabin and find yourself thinking “I wonder who lived there, and what their story is,” this book just might have the answer. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Colorado Adventure, Part 7 (Last)

When we got up yesterday in Rinker Cabin at Mount Elbert Lodge, the weather report said it was 13 degrees in Leadville, but felt like 7 because of chill factor. Oh, boy. Do we really want to attempt Mt. Elbert today?

We both got our daypacks ready. Multiple layers of clothing, water, food, and all the gear you bring for the unexpected. We wore international orange vests: big-game season is underway, and I really wouldn't want some hunter mistaking my bald head (white, round) for the backside of a big horn sheep (also white, round). Doris is not susceptible to that sort of problem, but I am.

We probably had way too much stuff, but I've done enough in these mountains to know that when you get careless, you often wind up regretting it. Plus, neither of us are in the best condition and we don't move too fast.By the time we left the cabin it had warmed up to 23 degrees, a nice, reasonable temperature.

We had explored the 4WD road to the trailhead several days before, and concluded we couldn't get all the way up and would have to park below and walk to the trailhead. Much too rugged, rutted, rocky, and just plain undo-able.

That was before we did Weston Pass. Having done Weston Pass, I looked at the road with new eyes. No problemo. We went all the way to the trailhead and did not leave any oil pans, axles, differentials, bumpers or mufflers on the road. Success. Sweaty palms, but success.

Next problem. We got to the trailhead sometime around 10 AM. It's four miles up. That also means it's four miles back. I do not want to drive this road in the dark. So we've got to keep a careful  eye on the clock, and turn around with enough time to get back the car and down the road before dark.

After an easy half-mile on the Colorado Trail, we got to the South Elbert Trail. It took off to the west and immediately began climbing steeply. Really steeply. Really, really, really steeply.

We ascended through multiple stands of aspen trees; the floor of the forest was carpeted in the gold leaves that had fallen. It was beautiful. And, really, really steep. Some sections of the trail had a trace of snow.
There was very little, almost none, of the trail that was flat. It was a steep climb all the way up. Think about the stairs in your home. Then think about them being four miles long, a virtual unbroken climb. Then think about them being up from 10,000 feet to 14,000 feet, where the air is thin. Now you've got the picture. Needless to say, we were in granny gear the whole way.

Okay, enough belly-achin', complaining, moaning and whining. The flip side of the coin was that every step was drop-dead-beautiful. (I actually thought I would drop dead. Several times, in fact.)

Under the brilliant mid-day sun (temp was now high-40s, low 50s, very comfortable), the mountains looked like burnished silver.

I had no problems with my leg at all (remember the stress fracture?). Felt great, was very pleased. Until the walk down, Doris had no problem with her knees. But we were moving slowly and the clock was not. Mount Elbert was getting closer, but we were still two miles to the summit, and according to the hikers that passed us going down from the summit, the hardest part of the trail was ahead of us.

A look at the clock, our condition, and remembering that we still had a very steep walk down (if you've done much hiking, you know that a steep downgrade can be as tiring as a steep upgrade--uses different muscles), I made the call to stop for a late lunch and then turn around. Conquering Mt. Elbert will have to wait for another year.

But the view from where we were was amazing. We were just under 12,100 feet up (the summit of Elbert is around 14,440). Click any of these pictures for a larger view.

We could see forever, even into South Park in one direction. The farthest distant mountains, faintly visible above the landbridge between the lakes, are actually the mountains bounding the far side of that section of South Park.

In my Part 3 post, I included a telephoto picture of the trail up Mt. Elbert. While eating lunch on the shoulder of Mt. Elbert, we were sitting in that photo, just below the horizon on the right side of the picture. Here's a telephoto of the Dexter Cabin from where we ate lunch.

I made the right decision to turn around. The shadows were long and our legs were rubber when we finally got back to the vehicle. I wish we could have gone all the way, but neither of us were in adequate shape to do so. But it was a GLORIOUS walk, and I'm so glad we did it.

In a few minutes from now, we'll be starting to pack up the cabin for an early getaway tomorrow morning. Hats off to Mount Elbert Lodge, and Scott and Laura, for a wonderful, refreshing stay. I love this place!

Tomorrow night, Kansas City. The next night, Greenville, Ohio. It has been a fabulous vacation, and it makes me realize how blessed I am. I serve a great Creator God who has redeemed me thru Jesus Christ, I have a wonderful wife, and I serve a great church. It is far more than I deserve!

Colorado Adventure, Part 6

Ghost towns. Not the silly, phony paranormal stuff. No, these are the little towns that sprang up around gold and silver strikes, from about the Civil War through the end of the nineteenth century. They flourished briefly and then disappeared after the mines stopped producing. Colorado is full of them, both marked and unmarked. Colorful characters, instant wealth, dashed dreams, tragedy--the ruins drip with all these elements.

Nothing seemed to stop the men determined to make their fortunes through mining. It was a dangerous livelihood. This defunct operation (the Hungry Five Mine, I believe) was clinging to sheer cliffs in Buckskin Gulch. It was shot with telephoto under low light, so I had to do some tinkering to make it more visible.

The first question is, how on earth did they get up there? The next question is, how did they get the ore down? The answer to the first: haven't the foggiest. Someone might say, "Ah, but I see a road!" Yes, friend, but the road was built to get equipment to the mine. The find came before the road. What possessed them to go up there before the road was there? The talus you see (the loose rocks comprising the lower portion of the slope) is pretty much at the critical angle, meaning, you step on it and it starts to move. Rock slide!

The answer to the second: they built an aerial tram with steel cables and bucket cars that brought the ore down to the Paris Mill, a stamp mill, from where I was shooting the picture.

 As a backpacker I've run across many mine works, cabins and graves marked on no maps. Some of the old towns persist with year-round residents, such as Fairplay, Alma, and Leadville. One of the things I learned on this trip is that active gold mining continues, with both old claims as well as new discoveries. The Colorado residents I spoke to insisted that there remains much mineral wealth and ore yet to be discovered.

Dor and I left our cabin on Tuesday morning, determined to explore four ghost town sites that are on the map. As we drove up Clear Creek Road, we ran across a herd of maybe twenty-five big horn sheep.

The females and the young run in herds, the adult males are loners (apparently don't play well with others). Female adults have horns, but not as large as the males. All these were adult females or young.

First stop was Beaver City (the beavers are still there, by the way).

Some of the cabins have been/are being restored. Some you can actually rent from the Forest Service to stay in. Further up the road was Vicksburg.
It was set up as kind of an unstaffed museum. Many of the cabins had been restored, and some were still owned and used by the descendants of the original miners.

After Vicksburg was Rockdale.

There was very little of a "ghost town" feel to this one, it looked more like a modern summer camp with the restored cabins. There is a great and commendable interest in Colorado to preserve its heritage. Unfortunately, some of the restoration efforts leave the cabins and structures almost indistinguishable from a modern rustic structure. To that degree, in my mind, they fail to preserve the historic character.

Our last stop was Winfield. Fascinating little town that has managed to preserve the historic feel of its founding.

The next morning we set our sights on St. Elmo, a ghost town about twenty miles SW of Buena Vista. Before we left, however, had to deal with a little ice on the windshield. Because of the very low humidity the temperatures change rapidly up here. When the sun goes behind a cloud, it gets chilly quickly!

St. Elmo sits just shy of 10,000 feet elevation, and was founded in 1880. It grew to a population of about 2000 people in its heyday. One of the mines produced over sixty million dollars of gold.

St. Elmo has permanent residents to this day. Although it is a combination ghost town/tourist trap, with people still living there, they have done an excellent job preserving the historic character of the town.

The building on the right is sided in some sort of sheet metal.

I am guessing that this was done to protect the structure from fires. In these tightly packed main streets in which all the buildings are made out of a very dry wood, if a fire broke out it would spread swiftly to neighboring structures. Many early mining towns were wiped out repeatedly by fires. For some towns, it was the end of the road. For others, if there was still an economic justification, they rebuilt. Fairplay's entire business district was wiped out by fire in 1873. I picked up a great anecdotal history of the area by Laura Van Dusen, Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past. The author, in addition to writing, works  at the South Park Ranger District office in Fairplay. One of the many interesting stories was about the Fairplay fire.

We spent two fascinating days exploring some of Colorado's history through the medium of ghost towns. Tomorrow, we're finally going to attempt to climb Mt. Elbert. We're half-excited, half-dreading the attempt. Supposed to be very cold tomorrow morning. Stay tuned for the update.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Colorado Adventure, Part 5

Okay, look, the last time I went four-wheeling I was in Geology school at Colorado State University, and I hung my Ford Maverick in the middle of a stream while I was on the way to check out an old mine. "Wait a minute," you protest, "the Ford Maverick wasn't a 4WD vehicle!" Right. I suppose that could have something to do with why it hung up in the stream.

Anyway, Doris has heard the Maverick story. Wonder if that was why she was a little nervous when I announced we were going to head for Kite Lake via Weston Pass? Let's just say the road ain't paved, and leave it at that. Speaking of leaving, I was concerned that I might be leaving my oil pan or differential on this little drive, but last time I looked under the car, they were still there. You want a high-clearance vehicle for this little trek.

The pictures don't do it justice--it's a very steep grade. And no, Doris isn't walking because she's afraid to ride with me--she's just shooting a few pix.

There were multiple places where it was so deeply rutted with large rocks sticking up in inconvenient places, I didn't think we'd make it. It wasn't until I was crawling carefully through a boulder field masquerading as a road that I realized, "There's no cellphone service up here. If I get this baby stuck, I can't just call AAA. Nobody will find us until June!"

Kinda sharpens the concentration, ya know?

I reckon this fella got his wagon stuck, and decided he'd just go ahead and stay, build himself a home.

The colors, the clouds, the sky up here are just knock-your-socks-off beautiful. The glory of God on display.

Just shy of the pass I took this panorama,  probably about 180 degrees. Click it to enlarge.

Finally, after passing through much fear and many deep valleys we finally gained the pass. Okay, they were really just deep ruts.
Temp was in the low 40's, and it was very windy. Flat out cold.

After many difficult  roads that tried the soul, the AWD, and the clearance (my Vue has 8"), at long last we arrived at Fairplay, from whence we traveled straight to Alma, our sights set on Kite Lake. Kite Lake would be our final stop on the Henry Marshall Tour portion of our trip.

Actually, we stopped first at the District Ranger Office in Fairplay where we were once again informed that the Kite Lake road was really more of a high-clearance-vehicle road. Oh, joy.

The road started off pretty tame, the scenery beautiful.

There's some active mining going on near the lake. The red is iron, there's a lot of yellow coloration as well, probably some sulphur minerals. I found some samples of iron pyrite in the area (an iron sulfide also known as fool's gold).

 The road didn't stay tame. We actually had to abandon the Vue several hundred yards shy of the lake--the ruts were too deep, the rocks too big.

It. was. COLD!!!! The wind was blowing hard, the temp in the 30's. Brrrr! Click to enlarge the image. Kite Lake appears in The Candidate, in a little episode Henry Marshall had there. It was fun to visit in person something I'd only visited in Google Earth up to this point.

On the way home we took Highways 285 and 24. Did not want to try Weston Pass in the dusk--no, thank you!

My next update will involve some Colorado ghost towns we've been haunting the last couple of days.

Tomorrow we are going to attempt Mt. Elbert, using the easiest walk-up of all the routes (the South Elbert Trail). We're going to get as far as we can, but neither of us are expecting to summit the peak--we just aren't in good enough shape. But we'll have fun no matter how far we get!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Colorado Adventure, Part 4

Friday was a planned cabin day, with a side trip to Buena Vista so Doris could do a software download using the free Wifi at The Roastery. Here’s a couple of nerds in their cabin, glued to their laptops. We are both enjoying downtime.

It was a beautiful day. This is the scene from the deck.

On the way to BV we decided to take Lost Canyon Road. In this country, if you see a dirt road, and it’s not posted, you can take it. So I did. It ended at a gate and a barbed-wire fence. This was the view down the road we’d just come. Click on the picture for a bigger view.

This sign was posted on the gate.

We decided not to enter the gate.

On the way home from BV, we encountered a herd of about 40 mule deer, including quite a few bucks.

Saturday was a cabin day as well, because we wanted to watch the Iowa-Perdue game (Iowa won! Yay!). I spent most of the afternoon sitting on the cabin’s deck reading Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix.

“Why,” you ask, “would you read your own book?” I know—it might seem a little odd, but I had to refresh the characters in my mind in order to begin work on Outlander Chronicles: Icarus. And, no, I have not done any writing yet. 

Sunday we went to a great church: ClearView Community Church. Really enjoyed worshiping our mighty God with this group of believers.

After church it was time to do laundry. We found a laundromat through Google called “The Missing Sock,” but managed to get lost finding it. Apparently they have multiple streets named Antero Circle. After finding the wrong one, we kept looking and found the right one.

Does the view from your Laundromat look like this?

Didn’t think so.

Well, Monday is the great 4WD adventure over Weston Pass to Kite Lake. But that will have to wait for Part 5 . . .

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Colorado Adventure, Part 3

Tuesday morning dawned with solid overcast, wisps of clouds on the mountains, drizzle at our elevation and snow above the timberline. It was cold! This was taken from our deck.

Anticipating that we’d both experience a touch of altitude sickness, Tuesday had been planned as a cabin day—a day to get settled in and just enjoy being here. Eventually the weather cleared and the day turned gorgeous.

Both of us had mild symptoms of altitude sickness, headaches and mild stomach troubles. But the day turned so beautiful we decided that we’d try to hike a mile or so up the Black Cloud Trail just to check out our gear and to help our conditioning. We loaded up our daypacks with everything we’d be taking on longer hikes. By the time we were ready to go it was drizzling again. No problem—we brought rain gear! We decided to do the hike in the rain. As we gained elevation the rain turned to alternating sleet and wet snow. It was a great hike, the rain gear worked well, and when we returned to our cabin we were still dry—though it was still raining.

Wednesday was beautiful. We threw our packs into the car and drove down to the trailhead for the path to the historic site of Interlaken. Interlaken was a late 1800s resort for the well-heeled of Colorado. Click the link to read about it. It is an abandoned site accessible only by boat, or by hiking several miles in the wilderness.

On the way, around every turn, we had a good view of our nemesis--Mt. Elbert.
 Here and there we'd run across an aspen tree that still had its golden leaves.
We finally arrived at the Interlaken Historic site.
Various groups have banded together to do the work of restoring the site, but no work has been done on it for the last 5-6 years. It was deserted (though a few other hikers passed by occasionally). The Dexter Cabin, shown above, was unlocked with a sign encouraging visitors to enter. The restored woodwork inside was beautiful. 
After poking around the various abandoned buildings on the site, we ate lunch outside, and I took the opportunity to glass Elbert with binoculars. Managed to find the South Elbert Trail, which we will be attempting in several days. The first picture below is of Elbert. Notice the bald shoulder on the lower right, just above a dim grey stand of aspen. You can barely identify the trail we'll be on by the wisp of snow outlining it. The second shot is of that shoulder with a telephoto, and you can see the trail easily.

Interlaken was a great little hike, with a fascinating bit of history.

Thursday we hiked up the North Fork of Lake Creek, right below Independence Pass. In the distance you can see the road to the pass.

Although it was a short walk (a little over a mile) it was a little more rugged than the day before. We were both glad to stop for lunch.
I carried my fishing gear, to attempt some fly flailing. I mean, fly fishing. My dad was a master fly fisherman. I never attained to his level. The three pictures that follow, Doris shot. Family members will notice a resemblance to some shots we have of dad years ago. It was completely unplanned. I am wearing dad's fishing vest, though.

 Let me say a word about my feet. I had removed my hiking shoes, and was wading in a pair of sandal-type open footgear. It. Was. FREEZING! After a few minutes of fly flailing, I felt like I had blocks of ice attached to my ankles, instead of feet. OH, that was cold!

Ya wanna know how cold that water was? Take a gander at this photo, shot a mile downstream of where I was fishing. And YES, that white stuff is EXACTLY what you think it is! And I was wading in this water, essentially barefoot.

Anyway. Could not buy a strike on any of the flies. But a little later, further downstream, I did pick up a nice ten-inch brookie on a spinner, and threw another, smaller one back.

Frozen feet notwithstanding, it was a beautiful day.

Stay tuned for Part 4 . . .