Wine, Alpacas, and the Colorado National Monument

Trip Start Aug 29, 2013
Trip End Sep 15, 2013

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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Monday, September 9, 2013

We got up at 7:15, had showers, ate breakfast and then boarded the bus for the tour of the Grande River Vineyards.  We were supposed to walk to the brewery which is just across the vineyard from the Hotel, but it was raining so we went by bus.  Only about 20 of us went.  It was the first time any of us had been on a winery tour.  We went first to the fermentation vats where they had freshly crushed Sauvignon grapes.  It had fruit flies in it and it wasn't pasteurized but it was very sweet and good.  Next we went out on the loading dock where the owner told us more about the history of vineyards in Western Colorado where the weather is similar to Bordeaux, France.  We learned a lot about how wine is made and about the wine industry.  Next we went into the tasting room/gift shop.  Larry, Derek and I tasted the semi-sweet white, Meritage which is the same as Ten Acre Red bottled for the Inn, and another one that tasted like a dryer Zinfandel.  I bought a vacuum pump and rubber corks to keep the air away from the wine in an open bottle.

We picked up the rest of the people at the Inn and headed for Sunset Orchard Alpacas.  It took us a little while to get there.  As  soon as we got off the bus, we could see the alpacas in their pen.  They were so cute and quiet and well behaved.  Mike and Cindy, the owners, got into the pen with them and Mike picked up a 5 day old male and let us feel his wool.  It was so soft.  While Mike was telling us about the alpacas and how he came to raise them, one alpaca spit at another one and two of the ladies in our group got spit on too.  Mike has grown up raising livestock but when he and his wife bought the farm from his parents, they knew they couldn't raise regular livestock because Cindy was deathly allergic.  So they did a lot of research and decided to try alpacas.  They now have about 30.  When Mike got laid off several years ago they decided to try and make a living from them.  Mike makes money from meat, stud fees, selling them to other people and from the wool.  He purchased the equipment to set up a mill for processing the wool.  He rigged up four washing machines to do the first step which is 3-3 /12 hours of washing at precisely 140*.  They purchased an on demand water heater that does just that.  He gets wool from people all over and they ask that each alpaca's wool be process separately so they can put "grown by fuzzy" and a picture of fuzzy on the tag for marketing.  The next machine then pulls the fibers apart and he uses a vacuum to suck the fibers into a big room.  The fibers have a lot of static so they hang in the air and stick to the walls and ceiling until they lose their electric charge.  Then they go through a machine that filters out the plant material and sorts the hair by size.  Alpacas have three different length hairs growing out of each follicle.  You also have to separately process hairs from the head and neck, from the legs, and from the body.  Then there is a machine that cards the wool and arranges it into workable strands.  These strands go through another machine that stretches them to double the original length, another machine that spins them, another machine that puts two strands together, and another machine that puts them in a circular batch that makes a skein.  Each skein is then twisted into shape by hand.  I tell you all this so you know why I paid $45 for a beautiful brown scarf hand knitted of their alpaca wool.  Mike figured out that it takes about 63 hours to do one batch and at $20 a skein of yarn, he is making about $2.00 an hour.  He mills yarn from all kinds of animals like bison, llamas, and some dog breeds.

But he is dedicated to making this work.  He told us about how industrial hemp is allowed to be grown in Colorado now.  He has a friend who has been researching staff infections in hospitals.  They have proved that staff infection is spread by cotton on the sheets and in the uniforms of doctors and nurses.  Staff stays in the cotton for 2 1/2 months even if it is washed with bleach.  In a blend of 40% hemp and cotton, the staff is dead in 4 hours because hemp is a natural antibiotic.  But of course, the cotton industry is blocking any publication of the research.  So if you have athlete's foot or other fungus, buy hemp socks!  He sold them in his store.  Derek bought two pairs of alpaca socks for work because they wick the water away from your feet without the itchy feel of wool.

We stopped at Anita's Pantry and Produce, just a roadside stand.  We bought Peach Preserves and Peach Salsa and Larry got a Palisade Peach to eat.  Then we drove to Grand Junction for lunch.  The downtown has the largest collection of outdoor art in Colorado.  There were lot of statues and sculptures.  We had lunch at the Rockslide Brewery.  Larry had Kokopeli Cream Ale and Derek had Big Bear Stout.  We shared three sliders and nachos for lunch. 

After lunch Bonnie joined us as our guide for the Colorado National Monument.  The Monument is made up of 32 square miles of plateau and canyons.  From the valley floor we went up over 2000 ft.  We started the tour at West Fruita Entrance  and immediately began climbing up the plateau and passed Balanced Rock which was a huge boulder poised on the edge of the plateau.  Then we went through 2 tunnels blowing our horn as the bus was too big to allow two-way traffic.  We went into the campground to Book Cliffs View but we couldn't see the cliffs very well because of the rain.  It rained almost all day, just a steady drizzle.  Next we stopped at the Visitor's Center where we walked down to the cliff edge and took some pictures.  Then we watched a movie which was mostly artsy pictures and not much information.  The exhibits were very informative however.  We stopped at Independence Monument View.  Next Monument Canyon View to see the other "monuments" which were tall free-standing pillars of rock formed from wind and water erosion.  All the while Bonnie is telling us about the history, the plants and animals and the geology of the park.  She told some great stories.  We stopped at Coke Ovens View where the rock formations looked like the ovens where coal was turned into coke in pioneer times.    Our last stop on the Rim Rock Drive was Cold Shivers Point which was a sheer cliff of over 2000 ft.  We drove past Devils Kitchen.  Originally we were supposed to have supper on the rim while we watched the sunset.  Plan B was to have the dinner at Devils Kitchen Pavilion which was built by the CCC.  It's roof leaked and it was muddy, so we had to go with plan C.  The caterer for this meal was the Convention Center in Grande Junction, so we ended up at the Convention Center for supper.  We were warm and dry but it just wasn't the same.  Our meal consisted of cole slaw, macaroni salad, corn, roasted potatoes, and barbecued beef brisket.  For dessert we had apple crisp with cinnamon whipped cream.  We sat with Bonnie for supper and had a great conversation.

Then we headed back to the Inn.  I stayed in the room to do the blog.  I also talked to Erin on the phone.  Larry and Derek went down to the bar and sat with Mark, Bonnie and her husband.  They had Dirty Hippie Dark Wheat Beer from Palisade Brewery.  They each had a beer from Revolution Brewery in Paonia north of Black Canyon.  Larry had a Miner's Gold Ale and Derek had Jessie's Garage Pale Ale.  Early up tomorrow as we head for Silverton and Durango.
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