Tracing a Path to TRACER!

ARM sites around Houston for TRACER. Courtesy the ARM User Facility.

Good morning readers. I have been quiet for some time. This Blog has been very good to me; it has connected me to the media, it has been a wonderful tool for science outreach and it also has made some wonderful lasting records of my adventures! Well it is time to resurrect this blog! Why? for the first time in 11 years I am going into the field for a field campaign! I am a co-investigator on the deployment of the ARM User Facility’s Mobile Facility (aka AMF) for a deployment called the TRacking Aerosol Convection interactions ExpeRiment or TRACER! This quote from the ARM article featuring Brookhaven’s Mike Jensen says it best: “Ultrafine liquid and solid atmospheric aerosol particles are needed to form cloud droplets. In Houston, aerosols come from a variety of sources, including factories, car exhaust, rural soils, and sea spray.”

Data from one of my favorite instruments. The Argonne mentored (by Paytsar Muradyan) Micro Pulse LIDAR. Which can detect those tiny particles we are so interested in!

We are in TRACER to study these interactions. I have a number of roles in the campaign. With Mike, TTU’s Eric Bruning and NASA’s Alex Kotsakis I lead the forecasting efforts. I am also one of the rotating Mission Scientists who make operational decisions regarding the facility’s operation. Sunday I will be flying to Houston for a seven day tour of duty. In addition to being Mission Scientist for that time I will be fully immersed (operationally aware to use an old Bureau of Meteorology (Australia) forecasting term) in the weather of Houston. I also want to draw attention to the amazing instruments ARM deploys in my new role as ARM’s Workforce Development Coordinator (WDC).

Stay tuned as I head south to get my head in the clouds. More DOE Climate Science and ARM geekering coming soon!

Bending It!

Salem to Bend, the long way around.

So since many folks who read this blog find it through social media it will come as no surprise that we randomly decided to head to Bend, Oregon, for the Christmas break this year. We wanted to go somewhere we we could ski if the conditions were right but the trip did not have to be completely about skiing. Of course we looked to one of our favourite states first: Colorado. Early research showed us Colorado during winter peak was VERY expensive. So we cast a wider net. I first thought of Bend because I had been interviewed by a journalist who lived in Bend and during idle chit chat that surround the interview process that this guy was a digital nomad and chose Bend for its lifestyle. I also have a collaborator at the University of Oregon whom I queried. He mentioned his Son went to UO Cascades in Bend and, as is common in the USA got a tuition rider BUT my friend said it was probably more expensive that out of state due to frequent trips to the local ski hill, Mount Bachelor.

Time of booking versus time of writing. My height in snow later. Webcam images courtesy of Mt Bachelor.

Well that perked my interest and we found a nicely priced room at the newly built Residence Inn in town. Come December 1st and I was resigned to this being a hiking, biking and relaxing trip as there was anomalously little snow on the ground at Mt Bachelor. Well the snow dance worked and a series of atmospheric rivers dumped over 100 inches of snow (254cm) in 20 days. Yes, 10cm a day on average (for you metrically inclined). Some clicks and a significant amount of River’s college fund spent (kidding) and lift tickets were bought. Come the day to fly from Chicago I was worried Omicron and associated snarling of the aviation industry would scuttle our plans.

So, now let me address the variant in the room. Yes, we are flying and participating in activities that require congregant settings during a pandemic and amid a lot of uncertainty around Omicron. We discussed it as a family and came to the conclusion we had done everything right (vaxxed boosted, careful, masking etc) and we NEEDED this vacation. High risk, high benefit. After 2 hours of delays (well communicated and handled by United) and we were off. We had booked a night in Salem, OR, planning on passing through a lower pass in the Cascades. A helpful Facebook group helped us find a much longer but safer route (heavy snow still and an unfamiliar rental car) via the Dalles and through the desert west of Oregon. Our Christmas day drive was scenic, relaxing and fun.

Full of interesting towns, rivers and a huge gorge. Our first full day in bend (Boxing day) was a relaxed event with ~2 inches of dry pretty snow in town (and over a foot on the mountain) of enjoying craft beer and ensuring we had all we needed for our first day of skiing! The 27th (2nd full day in Bend) saw us heading into the Deschutes national forest to the mountain for our first day skiing since 2019 during “The Before”. It was a powder day! River was introduced to powder for the first time and I think they liked it. Downside: COLD. Wind Chills of -30 (at those temperatures Celsius ~ Fahrenheit). Gear worked well but there were a few failure points. After one journey above the treeline we stayed low. River did a lesson and came out linking turns well. We skied from open to 10 mins before close. A great day! Writing this on the 3rd full day in Bend (now a rest day before skiing again tomorrow) I can say I like Bend! Funky geology (volcanoes!) super friendly people and a real outdoorsy vibe. Yeah, I could live here 🙂

A Career at Argonne National Laboratory

We are hiring! Adam, Nicki and Myself are looking to hire two new folks to fill a variety of roles. And I imagine most people who are looking at the job postings are “So what kind of jobs are these?”. I’ll be blunt, America (the USA) has a terrible hang up about describing what a job is and what it pays. We post a job saying “RD2” with no indication as to the renumeration etc… And yes, Americans are very funny about money. So I can’t post salaries or even discuss them here but I am happy to discuss.

Argonne, a lab in a forest!

So, what is a career at Argonne like? First, Argonne is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center or FFRDC. For those of you in the atmospheric sciences NCAR is a FFRDC. Unlike NCAR, Argonne’s prime contract is to the US Department of Energy (NCAR’s is to the National Science Foundation). So as an Argonne employee you are an employee of UChicago-Argonne LLC. This has a slew of advantages and disadvantages compared to being a Fed. Biggest advantage is we can hire foreign nationals a disadvantage is we don’t have the same retirement benefits and security that federal service offers. But we do have a very generous benefits package.

Argonne has a dual classification system. You have a classification for your “working role” and “leadership role”. For example as an Atmospheric Scientist and Department Head I am RD4 + LD2. On the 4th rung of the Research and Development track and 2nd rung in terms of leadership. Most employees are effectively LD-Zero. Within the work role there are a variety of different classifications but the two we are hiring are “Professional Technical” or PR and “Research and Development” or RD. Most of the time, and this is one of those times we onboard at RD/PT level 2.

For the RD role RD2 is somewhat equivalent to hiring at the Assistant Professor level. The lab has a requirement that those who are hired at RD2 get promoted to RD3 in five years. There are two reasons I say “Somewhat”: The process is far less onerous than gaining tenure. And there is no such thing as tenure at Argonne. For example my RD3 promotion case was built around Py-ART. I published one very nice first author paper in 5 years, one two author paper I was second author on and a large number of nth author papers.

The other position is at the PT2 level, although we may hire two RD2s if we get a candidate who is suitable. The main difference between PT and RD is the lack of the aforementioned promotion requirement and the PT path, while highly valued by the lab is in support of R&D.

The other question I get asked is “What is the funding situation like? Will I need to find my own funding?”. To a degree this depends on how you are being hired. Say, for example you are what we call a “Strategic hire”. Here you would be given a year or two of funding to find your legs and build your own program. These are not strategic hires we (Adam and Myself) have more work than people to do it. My philosophy is a RD2 should be focus on building their reputation and science in service of the DOE mission (science for the nation!) and around the time we are looking at RD2->3 be actively involved, with guidance from a mentor, in program development. It is very rare for PT classified staff to be involved in proposal writing.

ARM’s deployable C-Band radar in Argentina. You will be working with data from this amazing radar!

When I started at Argonne I was funded only by the ARM program. Over my 11 years here I have diversified the funding I am supported by (and my team). This both opens opportunities and comes with headaches. A successful scientist or professional at a national lab must be flexible.

Here are some other questions and answers for these positions:

Can folks in other countries apply?: Yes! Suitably qualified candidates are encouraged to apply. Argonne has a great office that supports foreign nationals in getting visas etc. We will have to prove that you can do the job better than applicants from within the USA. When we are looking for the best scientists in the world, often it ends up being a foreigner (like me!). You will also be subject to a background check.

Do I need a PhD?: For the PT role, no. But it does not hurt! For the RD role, also no, but it really helps.

Can I work remotely (ie interstate)?: For the PT role (instrument role) no as it requires working on instruments on the Argonne site. For the RD role, “Maybe”. We want to be competitive with other institutions offering remote work however we know the value of being part of a team in person. Many opportunities come from internal to Argonne over a coffee or beer. If you want to work remotely you will have to a) make regular trips to Argonne and; b) convince us that you have a great network already you are bringing to Argonne such that difficulties networking with Argonne staff will not be an issue.

Can I telework (have some work from home days interspersed with office time)?: Absolutely. In fact we are all mainly remote at the moment.

Why would I want to work at Argonne?: World class computing facilities. You will have amazing access to computation resources. Access to a 36,800 core cluster with a simple application. Great benefits including 401K match, health care etc… Real mission orientated science. A great campus that is in easy distance to Chicago and all it has to offer BUT in the suburbs with a lower cost of living. Argonne is in the middle of a forest preserve with great running, cycling etc… Oh and, once the whole COVID-19 thing is done we have O’Hare which can get you to just about anywhere you would want to go…. And, finally, you get to work with us!

Here are the positions:

We want to hire ASAP. If you want to be judged in the first round of applicants please apply by mid September.

Looking back and thinking of the future


I am a day behind. This post is coming from Lincoln Nebraska on our way home across the plains (BTW kudos to Courtyard Marriott for providing what I consider to be my first “good” Marriott service post COVID-19). Today’s post is mainly about yesterday. In planning our journey home, we decided to spend two nights (a full day) in Fort Collins for a variety of reasons. One: I have been to FoCo and Louise and River has not. Two, River really enjoyed a short tour of CU Boulder and I have good connections to CSU and would be pretty happy if they ended up there.

3 in 3 Aussies agree.. This is the real deal.

Three: Pies and beer. The day dawned smokey but fresh. Louise had work to do in the morning, so I worked on photos and generally catching up with my own work with the decent internet back down on the Colorado foothills. After that we headed to campus for the self-guided tour after a chat in admissions. They had a mockup dorm room which was a clever move by CSU as it allows students to imagine life on campus. We then followed that with an app guided tour. CSU is very impressive, amazing facilities. In Australia we do not get the same level of “fringe benefits” like the rec center at CSU. I know I would very much like access to the climbing wall, gear rental and swimming pool. River did accuse us of enjoying the tour more than themselves a few times (they may have been right). Tour done we headed to a place I was introduced to by my good friend and collaborator, Brenda: The Waltzing Matilda. GREAT pies. I checked with Louise, and we agree this is the most authentic Aussie pie experience we have had outside of Australia (and that is a good thing). What pleased me more was seeing how River wolfed down their pie. You can take the kid out of Australia, but you can’t take the Aussie out of the kid. Next stop, albeit recently commercialized by a corporate takeover, was New Belgian brewing. I love the beer garden set up they have. So communal, beer, dogs, kids, and open space. Very Colorado. Back to the Residence Inn for a last night in Chicago. Catching up on email, writing yesterday’s blog and getting my head back in the game.. And, again, more looking at properties in the Lake County are.. Yes.. I think this thing may happen.

Goodbye Colorado.

Touch the sky

Goodbye Thomas the tank!

We decided to spend two nights in Fort Collins to give our Child a self-guided tour of the CSU campus. This also mean pack up day at the cabin could also include taking the longer route from above Twin Lakes to our hotel in Loveland. The quickest way to Loveland was the way we came from Boulder, along the major artery that is I70. But how could a trip to Colorado be complete without visiting a National Park? So We discussed our plans Tuesday night and decided to take the long way around. Going via Granby and up via the Trail Ridge Parkway in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I did not know it at the time but this drive would take us through the absolute gem in the National Park system (and yes I capitalized that on purpose), the trail ridge parkway, or US highway 34

Goodbye Twin Lakes!

Before I talk about the amazing part of the trip let me first say the trip from Silverthorne to Granby was really no more than a race across rolling plains like Iowa and Nebraska. Albeit with some amazing geology but the landscape had been raped and pillaged. Not an issue unique to America form my world traveler point of view.

Anyhoo, back to Highway 34. This unassuming tarmac starts as a turnoff near a gas station in a dry valley just before Granby and climbs to reveal a massive reservoir replete with signs thanking fire services (stop burning carbon if you want to thank them, did I say that???). It is clear the residents had much to thank folks, professional and volunteer for. Scorched earth backing up to verdant green surrounding property. Something very Australian about this scene.

Our route.

RMNP started with burned out fee stations and trees burnt and bent by fire forced winds. The underbrush was not spared, and it was clear parts of the park were in for a long recovery.

Turn outs and picnic stations taped off like a crime scene (like? Perhaps as a crime scene). Grassy glades were spared and provided a lush contrast against the black. Made all the more inviting for the death and destruction around. Fortunately, dear reader, things did change. First I will talk about something more pedestrian, the speed limit. In RMNP the speed limit ranged from 35 to 45mph (56 to 72 km per hour for my antipodean (and the rest of the planet) friends). With the overwhelming majority being at the former lower limit. This lower limit protects the wildlife, allows stopping for roadside safari and generally creates an atmosphere that encourages savoring rather that gluttony. As you may perceive I wholeheartedly relished this state-imposed slowdown.

Just after we finished though the sad burnt forest, we did a sharp right had turn with a 20mph warning sign with a number “1” denoting the first of many switchbacks. We climbed, stopping occasionally for wildlife, the views got better and better with glacier scarred valleys and peaks. In the end we had company of fellow travelers including a wonderful group of bikes who allowed locals and immigrants to pose on their bikes for photos, completely heartwarming. We hit the continental divide at Milner pass where we were treated to an alpine tarn full of anglers on floats. We thought, at 10, 759 feet (3279 meters, a full 1051 meters or 3448 feet than the highest point in Australia’s mainland) we were done with climbing… Oh no. The road pushed on to the tree line and above. What followed was the US Government’s attempt to introduce the public to the awe and majesty of nature. Successful I do hope and if not those whose hearts are not touched by this unique landscape are truly lost. Majestic peaks, resilient tundra, ice fields, crepuscular rays.. We hit 12,209 feet. Higher than the 12,095 of the Independence pass. Out highpoint for the journey. I could go in. It’s all there! A John Muir sampler box.  I could go on but it is nearly 9pm the day after and I have 500 miles plus to put in tomorrow so I will let the numerous pictures in this post to the talking for the miraculous journey we had yesterday. More to come!

Sometimes cabin days are the best days

A slice of paradise.

Last full day in the cabin. We will be eternally grateful to our friends for letting us stay here. No, more than that, offering the cabin to us when they heard we were planning a Colorado trip. They have managed to find a slice of heaven up here at the top of this nation. I will not go into details as I wish to respect their privacy but there are some awesome stories about this land dating back to the gold rush.

Disney Princess.

Our last day here dawned ominous. The radar showed heavy rain above the Sawatch range. Of course, radar coverage is pretty terrible here in the Rockies, one reason the Department of Energy is deploying its atmospheric observatory to Crested Butte (I’m an investigator on that!). Anyhoo, I digress. Radar and satellite showed current rainfall moving away from us, but new storms were popping up and we decided to scrub our walking plans and really enjoy the cabin and our friend’s property to the fullest. First task was to clean up our wood pile. We had all been enjoying scavenging fallen dry timber from the 5 acres we had been staying on. While a lot of the wood rots and you should leave this alone a lot of it is suspended on rocks and other trees and is just fuel for a fire, be it intentional or unintentional.

UAV Crew.

Fun around the cabin.

So, clearing clean fallen timber is a good thing. Of course, with 5 acres we barely made a dent! Today was also prime hummingbird watching day. Over the course of our stay, we had learnt more about our tiny, bejeweled friends and they had become more accustomed to us. I wanted to document the different species and, unlike earlier in the week knew they would let me get real close. So I affixed my very well used (20 odd years old) Nikon 105 macro lens to my not so well used Nikon Z7-II camera. The mechanical lenses do not autofocus with the new range of mirrorless Nikon bodies so it was full manual! The Macro lens allows a very close focus which is essential for these cicada sized birds.. Suffice to say I am super happy with the results. Louise got a batch of work from back in Chicago, so I continued to re-stock the cabin with firewood when I noticed a drone overhead. I followed it back prepared to ask the flyers, politely, not to fly over private land. Turns out they were hired by a local utility using LIDAR to look at what corridors needed clearing of fire hazards. Naturally I say, “carry on” and offered help. Louise’s work done the rest of the day was consumed with cleaning and making the cabin cozy for the next, very lucky occupants (and a little more real estate speculation!) Tomorrow. Off to Loveland!

Not every day can be bikes, paddling and mountains.

Visitor at the cabin on a rainy Sunday.

Both Louise and I knew that leaving Chicago for two weeks would mean doing some work on the road. We are both at stages in our careers where, unfortunately, work can not go un-monitored for such a long time. I supervise a team at Argonne and always have on-going projects with deadlines. Louise, in her work, has a regular rhythm of deliverables for her employers main client, the US Postal service.

Posing with Sheriff Mannie Kin

So, we were almost glad when the North American Monsoon (NAM) kicked into full gear yesterday. Gave us a chance to do washing, some cleaning and packing at the cabin and, today, a good hour plus at City on a Hill Cafe drinking coffee, eating cake and getting some work done.

And…. maybe a little real estate speculation on the side. Staying at a friends cabin has us wondering what the cost and logistics of owning our own little piece of Colorado would look like. We have fallen in love with the Twin Lakes and Leadville area. Of course we are completely spoiled as the place we are staying has an amazing slice of land. All dreaming at the moment but enough to leave our details with a realestate agent. Washing done, cleaning done and work done its time to head out for lunch! More soon.

Planning around the mountains

Combi with a view.

It’s monsoon season in the mountains. Warm August sun heats the high peaks where the atmosphere is cold. This leads to unstable air and clouds and, if the upper atmosphere is not too dry, storms and rain. And the atmosphere is not to dry at the moment. This is good on so many levels, primarily it allows the high country to flourish and blossom. And it puts a damper on the fire danger. For visitors and locals alike, it means one needs to plan around the weather. I am no expert in Leadville local scale meteorology but through a 5-day in-situ study it seems that clouds build shortly after 8am, get taller and spread on ranges west and east of the Arkansas headwaters valley at around 10am, precipitation can start at around 11am with storms moving in after noon. The NWS had upped its wording for today (Saturday the 31st, last day of July) with stronger terms. Good forecast as it validated nicely, albeit later that forecast which seems to be a recurring theme, or, more on point, accurate with the probabilities assigned (a topic for a later post perhaps). Well, enough weather geekery! Seeing the forecast and discussing priorities with Louise and River we decided today was Kayak Day and we needed to go as early as possible. A call to Mt Elbert Kayak (can’t recommend highly enough) and we were booked in at open at 8. We made it to Twin Lakes at 7:30am, enough time for a Coffee and breakfast out of a WV camper. Delicious and a great view. Paul at Mt Elbert Kayaks was amazing. He made safety fun! He showed us the ropes (almost literally) and got our rental watercraft strapped to the Subaru. We were doing the full-on mountain life! The benefit of being up and out so early is the water was glass. The plan was to launch at the “Red Rooster” (no idea) boat ramp and paddle across the Interlaken “ghost town” resort for a snack. The same place I took some MTB photos earlier in the week! I suffered from some geographic embarrassment, not realizing we were in the west basin not the east of twin lakes.  

Different sky and a different lake.

It ended up as a happy mistake (vale Bob Ross) landing on an isolate beach for a rest break. Not a soul in sight but a screech from the trees alerted us to a predator. We were treated to what I think was a kestrel or some other hawk or eagle. Magnificent against the backdrop of the high Rockies (and uncapturable on an iPhone or all but the most expensive camera gear so this one is captured in our memories). Realizing our (my) mistake we headed out to the channel between the two lakes (Twin Lakes.. it is what it says on the tin) and headed towards the old town of Interlaken, made up of cabins of the well-to-do who wanted to enjoy mountain life (history, it seems, repeats). Now home to bats and a welcome rest stop for hikers, bikers, and paddlers alike. There is something special to a place that cannot be reached by vehicle. Pardon my arrogance, but the filter to the lazy means only those that put in the effort can reach the special places and this keeps them quite and nice. We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch of salmon bagels, cliff bars and water and boarded our craft for the paddle back. It was close to 11am and, as predicted there were some impressive clouds developing on Mt Elbert. Only a matter of time until they have overcome mid-level dry layers and “gone deep” producing rain and, much to my worry, graupel inside the clouds and lightning. Also, as those clouds were rising, they were sucking in air along the Saguach range (of to which Mt Elbert belongs) creating winds across the lake. So we headed back with a cross tail wind and some fun waves (but no mirror surface).

2 Mile high brewing. Beer with altitude.

Back towards the channel with the full fetch of the wind across the east basin we had some small waves that were sometimes a hindrance and sometimes a fun benefit providing a bit of a surf.  Through the channel the waves ceased to be part of the picture. Just as we approached the boat ramp the rain was starting on the southern shore of the Twin Lakes. We quickly hauled out and dropped out kayaks back in Twin Lakes. A highlight of the trip and as you, dear reader, can see from the photos, a spectacular, indelible memory for life. Arms sore, souls, again, very full we turned to fulfilling of the belly. And, boy, was the weather turning! Our luck was amazing (funny how clever folks are lucky). Back into Leadville and on the race across the Arkansas headwaters valley the atmosphere let off some fireworks with storms exploding all around us. With a couple of stops with Louise and River enduring the fact that, when the sky delivers, I am always on the clock we headed into Leadville for some chores and some great beer, food and company at 2-Mile-High Brewing. Don’t go looking for bowing and scraping service at this establishment. Beer was good. Not a fan of the larger, that need some work. All the ales were excellent, and food was great grub. Atmosphere was kind of the “Anti-Aspen”. I hope Leadville continues to value the down to earth nature of places like these. It attract folks like me who seek an authentic mountain experience.

Pure Mountains

Seriously, the best pic of a bike I have ever taken.

Today was a sampler of some of the best of the high parts of Colorado. Pure mountain biking, pure Colorado “highways” and Aspen, a pure (albeit touristy) mountain ski town. First, the mountain biking. Herein follows a review of the Turquoise (LINK) lake single track just out of Leadville. MTB project touts that the reviews and rating are submitted by local riders. I do not doubt this is the case for the blue rated out-and-back 6 mile (so 12 mile if you do it out-and-back) trail along the north shore of Turquoise lake but it shows a rider who considers themselves to be “blue” (intermediate) based out of Leadville are far more skilled than us flatlanders from the midwest.

The trail starts very easy, some rocks to navigate but plenty of space to prepare and recovery from the feature. I say this is mountain biking (specifically XC MTB) at its purest as, even though the trail is maintained (no erosion etc) zero attempt has been made to make the trail “flow”. Totally un-artificial and I rode it to see the amazing landscape unfold as it can only do on a loop. Some parts were a joy to ride, and some parts were technical, some other parts got gnarly where you did not have a clean run at a feature and you had rock gardens followed by rock gardens so you could never really get back on balance and some part were hike-a-bike for all but living legends. If you take at the MTB project link above you will see the peak in the middle, that is where most of the hike a bike is. The rest is ridable by any solid intermediate rider who is used to the trail and elevation. This intermediate rider is NOT used to the elevation and was riding it blind so more than a few flubs of a run up to a rock garden forcing a walk to get started. Louise will be happy to learn that there were no spills today. So, to answer the question: Was it worth it? Do you like technical rocky sections? This is for you.

Clouds forming over the ranges on either side of the Arkansas headwaters valley near Leadville.
Pure mountain driving.

Do you prefer flow but are willing to suck it up for world class views? It’s worth it but judge your risk tolerance carefully. Good news, the whole trail has cell service for your significant other to send the authorities your way, as always set a “no contact panic time”. Are you familiar with the world class views Leadville has to offer and love the flow and think pushing your bike is for chumps? I would say avoid. Let me put it this way: I chose not to do the out and back again, opting to take part of the Leadville 100 route and then turn off for a mad descent to the dam wall and where I parked. Strava file here: Link .

Best pizza! Worth the steep bill.

Arriving back at the cabin we discussed priorities. The weather was forecast to close in so we opted that this afternoon would be Aspen. We climbed the Independence Pass again (discovering it was named for the, now ghost, town of Independence. This time, instead of stopping and turning around we descended the other side. The road down on the Aspen side is very different. It starts a lot mellower than the Twin Lakes side but quickly narrows, a lot! The story on the Twin Lakes side was avalanche scars. On the Aspen side it is rock falls. This means the road narrows in several spots to a one lane road with some unwritten rule making it work. Crazy there are not more issues (perhaps there are but we witnessed none today). Aspen sits at around 7,900 feet, the air felt so thick! First impressions: Wow, parking is a challenge. Asking a local he directed us to a road on the edge of town which connects to Aspen’s wonderful walking trail system. The forecasted weather was arriving so we hot-footed it to our destination: Aspen brewing and tap. Great beer, amazing pizza, phenomenal WIFI and pretty steep prices. Yes, Aspen is not Leadville.

It caters to the well-to-do. However very nice for a treat. And it was great watching the storm rage outside over the mountains enjoying the best pizza I have had in ages. All that was left to do was wait out the storm, head back to the car and enjoy a spectacular drive over Independence pass watching the clouds roll off the pine-covered slopes back to the cabin. We asked and the mountains derived pure majesty today.

Campfire Curry and High Alpine

For our third full day in the high country the main goal was outdoor cooking. We love cooking on open fires. In the Rockies this comes with special responsibilities as the area is very prone to wildfires. Dry air, a preponderance of downed timbers, landscape and winds all mean it is everyone’s responsibility to prevent fires.

Campfire naan at 10,000 feet!

This meant always having water on hand, dousing the area around the fire pit with water and always keeping an eye on the fire danger (high) and attending the fire. The preponderance of timber also was a fun opportunity: making our favorite butter chicken on a fire made entirely of scavenged downed timber (added benefit of, even if insignificantly, reducing the fuel load. I use the New York Times recipe with some twists, and I also greatly increase the cooking times in the Dutch oven. This means the chicken thighs start to fall apart.

Soon highway 82 was replete with aromas of turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin etc… To top it off Louise prepared dough for naan which we threw in a cast iron pan on the coals. They were perfect. And while lunch (plus dinner, plus what will be snacks the next day_ was cooking I wandered around and snapped macros of the amazing wildflowers on Lois and Bob’s property.

Tummies full and the fire well and truly out (and hands washed after touching the coals to make sure it was truly out) we jumped in the car and headed for today’s outing: Independence Pass! When we were in Breckenridge a few years ago we discovered Louise is particularly prone to altitude sickness and her “line” is around 12,000 feet. So heading up to the pass at 12,112 feet, 3692 meters for the metrically inclined, we took it easy. This meant stopping at many of the turnouts to enjoy the view. It was worth it!

The view from the pass is spectacular. On the way back down, we stopped at a trail head and did a very short (~2km) hike enjoying alpine flowers and bubbling streams. I find it amusing that a quick trip to 12,000 feet somehow makes the air at 10,000 feet seem that much more breathable!