Saturday, January 30, 2016

How to avoid the crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park

The tourism in our national parks has skyrocketed in the last few years. Millions of people from other countries (and a few from our own) visit these locations to take in the breathtaking scenery and enjoy the great outdoors. Rocky Mountain National Park is no exception. It is not unheard of to spend an afternoon in R.M.N.P. driving around looking for a parking spot rather than going for a hike. Below are a few simple tips to bypass all the tourist congestion:

# 1.  Stay away from the Bear Lake area

Bear Lake

...and the town of Estes for that matter. Rocky is a huge place. There are multiple entrances that can be used to gain access. Bear Lake is beautiful. There's no question about it. Some of the most amazing mountaineering adventures can begin from the Bear Lake trailhead.  It's well maintained.  It's easily accessable. It's bang for your buck scenery, and EVERYONE knows it.  If sharing your experience with thousands of other hikers isn't your thing, drive a few miles south on the peak to peak highway and use the Wild Basin entrance. The scenery in this area is equally stunning, but lesser known. Or, if you're willing to drive a bit further, do some exploring in the Neversummer mountains on the west end of the park. You will have to drive farther but the reward is worth it. Plus, Trail Ridge Road is a cool trip of its own.
wild basin entrance in rocky mountain natioanal park with aspens
The Wild Basin entrance

On the other hand, if you do want to spend some time in the popular areas, follow steps #2 and #3. 

# 2. Go during the off season

The Never Summer Range in winter

The summer months are the busiest and can be the most congested. The weather is nice, schools are out, and people are on vacation. However, once the aspens have shed their leaves in the fall, the attendance drops off dramatically until late spring. Now's the time to grab some snow shoes and head to the park! Besides, the mountain peaks look better with snow on them anyway.

# 3. Visit during the off hours

Bierstadt Lake before dawn

As far as what time of the week to go, Monday - Friday are almost always better than weekends. If your schedule is like 90% of the rest of the country, you can't do a weekday. There's still hope! Even on a weekend you can find solitude. As a general rule, arrive early or stay late. If you're willing to get there before the sun rises, there's a high chance you won't see another soul. It's amazing the difference a 5:00 am start can make verses a 9:00 am start!

# 4. Climb any mountain not named "Longs Peak"

McHenrys Peak and Black Lake

Climbing Longs peak is a feat many aspire to. It's long, difficult, and dangerous. On any given day in the summer, you can find an ant-like line of people marching toward the highly esteemed summit. There can be literally hundreds of people at the top creating traffic jams along "the narrows". Longs is a 14er. All the other peaks here are 13ers or below in elevation. There are few who know or care about making it to the top of one of these "lesser" mountains. I would say that many of the 13ers, 12ers, 11ers, etc. in Rocky Mountain National Park (and Colorado for that matter) are just as fun (or more so) to hike. They really give you the feel of an adventure. Rarely will you share a 13er summit with another party.

# 5. Hike farther

The farther away from the trailhead you hike, the less people you will see. It's that simple. (Unless of course you are doing a loop and hiking toward another trailhead).

This principle is the same when it comes to overnight camping. Campsites that you can drive to are hard to get. You have to reserve them ahead of time. You will not be the only ones camping here either. However, if you don't mind backpacking in a ways, there are a good number of back-country campsites you can reserve throughout the park as well as cross country areas to explore. You do have to buy a permit and go through a few loopholes, but it can be a lot less crowded than the former option.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How to make a paper mache eagle mask

Our school has a mascot named Ace.  We needed a mask for the mascot to wear at our jog-a-thon.  So, I thought it would be fun to make one (since we're doing a paper mache unit anyway).  This process would work for making just about any kind of mask of just about anything if you teak it a little bit.


wire cutters
paper mache paste
acrylic paint
elmer's glue
tennis ball or something round
screen for the eye holes
masking tape

Here are the step-by-step instructions:

Step 1: Build the wire frame

Build the wire frame to fit your head.  start with a couple of rings that fit over your face.  Then add wire by bending it and wrapping it around the circles.  You'll want it a little larger than your head to leave room for the paper, tape and what not.

Keep adding wire to reinforce the design and make it stronger.  Add a beak shape to the front of the face.  Keep placing it on your head to make sure it's the right size.  Adjust as needed. 

Finished frame. 

Step 2: Paper Mache!

 Use newspaper strips and dip them in a bucket with art paste.  We use the Elmer's brand called "Art Paste."  It's also possible to make your own art paste using flour and water.

Cover the entire mask with paper mache strips.  Add a layer to the inside of the mask as well.  I would do at least 2-3 layers total to make it strong.  Wait a day or two for the mask to dry. 

Step 3:  Add Features

I used a tennis ball cut in half for the eyes.  You can use anything round or even roll up newspaper into a ball.

Use masking tape to hold the ball in place at the eye.  Add rolled up newspaper to make eyebrows/feathers.  attach everything using masking tape.

Do the same for the nostrils, or just cut a hole in the beak for the nostrils. 

Fold newspaper into triangle shapes for the feathers in the back of the bald eagle's head and attach using masking tape.

Next you want to cut out a hole for the eyes of the mask using an exacto knife.

Once the holes are cut and you've tried it on to make sure you can see. You will need to paint your screen the color the rest of the mask is going to be so the screen blends in.  Paint it with a watered down acrylic paint so that it changes colors, but doesn't clog up the tiny holes in the screen (blocking your view).  

Attach the screen over the eye holes and test again to make sure you can see out the mask.  Tape the edges of the screen to the mask.

Step 4: Cloth Mache

 The next step will be to cover the entire mask (minus the screen) with cloth mache.  It's the same process as paper mache other than you are using cloth rather than paper and using Elmer's glue rather than art paste.  This process makes the mask good and strong so that it won't break if you bonk into something while wearing the mask. 

Cut strips of cloth to add to the mask.  You can use bed sheets, pillow cases, or any other thin cloth material.  Dip the strips and cover them completely in Elmer's glue.  Add them to the mask at different angles and cover all the newspaper.  Rub it down to get rid of wrinkles.  Don't forget to add a layer of cloth mache on the inside of the mask as well so that wires don't poke your head.

Once the mask is covered, you will need to let it dry for a few days.  Once it's a big solid form, you are ready for the last steps!

Step 5: Painting

Last step is paint the mask.  For this one, we painted it white (even though it already was white) so you can't see the newspaper through the fabric.  Then, we painted the beak, eyes and other details to match our school mascot. 

The kids love "being" the mascot!