The one place outside the city that seems to be on everyone's bucket list when they visit Sydney is the stunning Three Sisters sandstone rock formation in the Blue Mountains about 40 miles (60 kilometres) inland at Katoomba on the Great Western Highway.
The Three Sisters Rock Formation in the Blue Mountains
Me by the Three Sisters Rock Formation at the Echo Point Lookout
The Jamison Valley and Blue Mountains
According to legend (and immortalised by statues outside neighbouring Scenic World) the three rocks are three sisters from the local Katoomba Tribe who were turned to stone by their tribe's sorcerer to protect them from the unwanted advances of three young men from a neighbouring tribe but that the sorcerer himself was killed in battle before he could turn them back to life again.
Statues of the Sorcerer and the Three Sisters outside Scenic World
Me beside the statue of the Sorcerer outside Scenic World
Scenic World itself began life as a coal mine in the 1880s. In 1928 a funicular railway was built to transport miners down the Jamison Valley side to the mine in the rainforest below which turned out to be the steepest passenger railway in the world (52 degrees contained within a total incline distance of 1,316 feet - 415 metres). When the mine closed in 1945 the funicular railway remained as a tourist attraction which became the Scenic World Railway we see today.
The Scenic World Railway about to leave its Top Station for the Rainforest floor
On our way down to the Rainforest floor aboard the Scenic World Railway
Coal Mine entrance on the rainforest floor at Scenic World
The walkway through the Rainforest on the valley floor at Scenic World
Since then the railway has been upgraded (including quite recently in early 2013) and the Scenic Skyway across the valley and Scenic Cableway back up from the rainforest floor added. The Skyway passes across the Katoomba Falls and includes a glass floor that defrosts as you set of so you can look down on the tree tops of the rainforest below.
The Scenic World Skyway making its way across the Rain Forest
The Katoomba Falls from the Scenic World Skyway
The floor of the Scenic World Skyway defrosts to reveal the Rain Forest beneath us
Looking back at the Rainforest on the way up to the Top Station on the Scenic World Cableway
On the way back to Sydney we stopped at the Featherdale Wildlife Park, an award winning zoo that opened in 1972 containing the world's largest collection of Australian native animals. Many of them such as Quokkas, Kangaroos, Emus and New Zealand Blue Penguins I had already encountered earlier during my round the world trip.
A pair of Quokkas at Featherdale Wildlife Park
An inquisitive Kangaroo at Featherdale Wildlife Park
An Emu on the prowl at Featherdale Wildlife Park
The Penguin enclosure at Featherdale Wildlife Park
However there were plenty of other types of Australian animals at the Wildlife Park I had not yet encountered including the ever adorable Koala, Swamp Wallabies, Dingoes and the Tasmanian Devil (and a lot more besides).
Koala at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Swamp Wallabies at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Dingoes at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Tasmanian Devil running around his enclosure at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Of course this time the animals were up close and personal so you were often also able to pet and feed them; although like my previous encounter with one outside Perth I still did not trust the Emu!
Me with a Koala at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Me with a friendly Swamp Wallaby at Featherdale Wildlife Park
This Emu was so enthusiastic pecking the food I gave I feared he would get my hand!
In addition to the native Australian mammals there were also native Australian birds such as Pelicans standing still like statues, brightly coloured Macaws and impressive looking Sea Eagles.
Pelicans at Featherdale Wildlife Park
A pair of Blue and Yellow Macaws at Featherdale Wildlife Park
White-bellied Sea-eagle eating a fish at Featherdale Wildlife Park
When we left Featherdale Wildlife Park the Sydney road network was totally gridlocked. To avoid spending the evening stuck in traffic we managed to get on a ferry near the 2000 Olympic Stadium and travelled down the river for a hour and a half to Darling Harbour in the centre of Sydney. As it got dark, the views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour all lit up were amazing.
Approaching the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a ferry at night
For the first few days of my stay in Colorado we travelled up to my cousin's mountain house at Keystone in Summit County high up in the Rockies. On the way up into the mountains we stopped to visit Mother Cabrini's Shrine near Golden just off the I70 Freeway. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850 and originally planned to do missionary work in China but the Pope asked her to go to the USA instead. The religious order of nuns she founded provided a lot of support to Italian immigrants and after her death she became the first American citizen to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church.
The main building at Mother Cabrini's Shrine at Golden
Inside the Chapel of the Mother Cabrini Shrine
Mother Cabrini is credited with founding 67 religious institutions across the USA and Americas. Her national shrine is in Chicago where she was based with this smaller one on a hill top on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. It amused me seeing my name in large white letters on a nearby hilltop although I am sure they should have spelt FRANCIS the female way with an 'E' rather than the male way I do with an 'I'.
The steps up to the big statue at Mother Cabrini's Shrine
Close up of Mother Cabrini's Statue at Golden
'ST. FRANCIS' written on the hill on the way up to the shrine
Bison (also known as American Buffalo) roam right up to the fence beside the I70 Freeway out of Denver. We didn't seen any last time I visited a few years ago so I was keen to try and see them again as we made our way up into the mountains. At first it looked like I would again be disappointed but just as we decided to give up looking any further - there they were! Then a bit later it was bonus time as we passed some Bighorn Sheep on the hard shoulder, again something rarely seen.
Bison grazing on a hillside next to the Interstate 70
Bighorn sheep on the hard shoulder of the Interstate 70 on the way up into the mountains
We then passed through the 1.7 mile (2.7 kilometre) long Eisenhower Tunnel to go under the Continental Divide and entered Summit County. Summit County with its well developed ski-resorts such as Breckenbridge and Keystone is the busiest of Colorado's mountain areas. Although the local ski season had largely ended with spring just around the corner there had been a heavy fall snow only the week before I arrived so we weren't quite sure what conditions to expect.
Entering the Eisenhower Tunnel under the Continental Divide
Lake surrounded by mountains in Summit County, Colorado
Mountain view over Breckenbridge with the Colorado Flag flying above a building in the foreground
Mountain view in Summit County, Colorado
The epicentre of Summit County is Lake Dillon (a reservoir which supplies Denver with fresh water) which was still largely frozen. Avalanche tracks could be seen on the nearby mountains where they had crashed down flattening trees in the forests below. Unfortunately there were a lot of felled trees since the last time I visited that had been lost recently to a pine beetle infestation which will take decades to recover but many had been saved by spraying. One thing that hadn't changed however was the beauty of the alpine meadows.
High mountains and a frozen lake in Summit County, Colorado
Avalanche tracks on the slopes of Buffalo Mountain near Dillon, Summit County
Alpine meadows in Keystone, Summit County, Colorado
While in Keystone we went for a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad from Devil's Gate Station to Silver Plume and back again. The railroad was originally built during the local silver mining boom of the 1880s but closed down in 1939 before being re-opened by railway enthusiasts in 1984. During the summer the railroad runs 1920s steam trains which would have been a sight to see but unfortunately we were several weeks too early in the season to ride on one of them.
Train crossing the High Bridge on the Georgetown Loop Railroad
Our train makes its way over the High Bridge on the Georgetown Loop Railroad
At the back of the train there was an open boxcar
We were in one of the comfortable parlour cars instead of the open boxcar and had a very enjoyable ride through the mountains as the track gained more than 600 feet (183 metres) in elevation over a distance of 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometres) twisting and looping through trees and across several bridges to cope with the steep gradient. On the return trip to Georgetown we stopped at a small halt for a visit the Lebanon Silver Mine.
Our train makes it way around a bend in the track
We cross one of the railroad's four bridges over Clear Creek
Our train stopped at the little halt for the Lebanon Silver Mine
Work on the Lebanon Silver Mine began in 1869 and by 1876 there were 76 miners with 19 lodes under development although the really big seam it was originally excavated for 1,110 feet (335 metres) from the portal (entrance) wasn't reached until 1881. Our tour lasted about an hour and a half and took us over 900 feet into the mountain during which time we had many of the working practices and superstitions of the mine described to us and saw naturally occurring “silver pearls”, calcified hobnail boot prints and stalactites from over 100 years ago.
Me stood by the entrance to the Lebanon Silver Mine
The mine shaft into the mountain
Winch down to the lower levels of the mine
Naturally occuring 'Silver Pearls' on the mine floor
A lot of the miners came from the tin mines of Cornwall back home in the UK and I particularly liked the story about how the crusts of the Cornish Pasties they took down with them to heat up and eat were superstitiously left behind for the "knockers". Traditional Cornish Pasties were made by miners wives filled with beef, potato, onion and swede. They had thick crimped crusts which served as a means of holding them with dirty hands without contaminating the meal and were then discarded in the mine.. as an offering to the "knockers" or little people to not cause mischief and watch over the miners.
Black bleeding on the side of the tunnel indicates a silver lode (seam) close by
An abandoned drill inside the Lebanon Silver Mine
A colapsed tunnel inside the Lebanon Silver Mine
Daylight and a mine truck as we emerge from the Lebanon Silver Mine
Afterwards we looked around Georgetown itself which is an elegant little Victorian mining town that feels like it has been left behind in time. It was founded in 1859 during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush and started to grow rapidly following the discovery locally of silver in 1864. Georgetown's main shopping street is 6th Street and the whole town is peppered with heritage listed buildings many of which have painstakingly restored such as the Town Hall/Police Station with its white bell tower, the Hotel de Paris and a couple of firehouses.
6th Street, Georgetown, Colorado
Town Hall/Police Station, Georgetown, Colorado
Hotel de Paris on 6th Street, Georgetown, Colorado
Alpine Hose No.2 Firehouse and Tower, Georgetown, Colorado
The Snetzer Tailor Shop and the Grace Episcopal Church on Taos Street
The following lunchtime before we made our way back to Denver on the I70 Freeway, there was just enough time to add another brewery to my list and sample the ale at the local brew-pub, the Dillon Dam Brewery.