Last nights in Colorado

I wish I could possibly put into words what this weekend has meant to me, but I don’t think I can. I want to write down enough to remember it by but not too much to damage the memory with over-description.

Tonight marks my last night in Colorado for the time being. I’m sitting on the bed in my uncle’s basement, listening to the sounds of the laundry machine and a shower somewhere above my head, Lacey curled up to my right. We arrived perhaps half an hour ago after having dropped Mel, one of my closest friends, off at the airport.

I’ll start at the beginning of this weekend.

Mel arrived Thursday evening and David and I drove to the Denver airport to pick her up. It is always incredibly joyful to meet up with someone you haven’t seen in a while, someone you love, and this time was no different; we headed back into Boulder talking quickly and laughing about the plane trip and everything else. The three of us and Lacey, all stuffed in the already overfull car, stopped by Black Pepper Pho for dinner then headed to the Laughing Goat for music. As soon as we walked in we heard these harmonies… harmonies are the keys to our inner self, I swear it. We stopped and listened, quickly sitting down with our coffees and teas and watching the couple lose themselves in their voices.

It was their last song, though and they made fun of us for walking up right as they ended. We laughed and got cozy in our table to await the next act, which was another couple — a young woman named Sunshine, dressed in a loose fabric reminiscent of a gypsy and wearing a sunhat which fitted her bright smile perfectly and a wild-haired man with crowsfeet betraying long days grinning in the sun. They played banjo and guitar, stomping their feet loudly in time with the music. We listened raptly, and Mel commented on their love, so obvious through their eyes and their music.

We snuck out after 10 o’clock because David still had work the next day. Driving back to Lyons, Mel and David talked quietly as I dozed in the back seat with Lacey. Arriving back at our tent, the four of us somehow fit into the two-person tent (it was surprisingly comfortable) and listened to a Harry Potter audiobook as we passed into sleep.

Friday morning we awoke later than we’d meant to, knowing we had to pack up the campsite that morning. But David and I had become very efficient at breaking camp and we had the entire site stuffed into the car and were driving to the Barking Dog Cafe before long. There, we each got coffee and breakfast (and conversation with Harry, a man we’d met at the cafe each morning and talked with while sipping morning coffee) then drove into Boulder. Mel and I left David at work, promising to pick him up at 4:30, and after a few quick errands began the drive toward Nederland.

I’d decided Mel’s first Colorado hike would be in Ned, partly because of the heat of the day and also because most of my truly incredible experiences among nature had been around that city. Thus we found ourselves at a small espresso shop around 10 am and asked for recommendations on hiking; the barista there, kind and interested in our adventure, offered his advice: Fourth of July hike, the trailhead only 4 miles away from the Hessie Trail (the one I went partway down with Mom and Maggie).

We were soon at the “trailhead” although a sign said that the true trailhead was 1 mile further for the Fourth of July hike. We tried driving the PT Cruiser further toward the trailhead but the road was far too bumpy and precarious for the car; we turned around and found a parallel parking spot, then began to foot it toward the trailhead.

After a few minutes (which were apparently much more than that) I was feeling the altitude more than I’d ever felt. Mel was fine; she was chatting and hiking, her breath not even a little fast while I was puffing and dizzy. I stopped and ate the most questionable burrito I’d ever bought — somehow we’d decided these super spicy burrito things from Whole Foods were what we should take on the hike and something about them definitely didn’t sit right from the beginning — then we continued. At this point we were wondering how much further would be a mile; we had been walking along the road for what felt like much more. It was nothing short of beautiful, though; the road followed a stream, and Lacey kept bounding into the woods or down to the stream (one time she did, we followed her and met a woman reading at the creekside)… but when a car passed which we’d seen pass the other direction quite a while ago, Mel waved them to stop.

“How far to the trailhead?”

“Oh, you’ve about a mile left.”

Turns out it was four, and not one mile to the trailhead from the beginning of the road. The man who was driving offered to take us to the trailhead. Mel at first thanked him but refused, but when he offered again I said “Yep, thanks,” and laughing, we piled into the car.As we drove back up the trail (for the man and his son had been heading back down), we chatted with our drivers. They were locals, and had just dropped a family member off at the trailhead. I became lost in the conversation and let Mel carry it on while I made friends with their dog, who took great pains to lick every single inch of my face while I couldn’t escape in the small space of the car.


When we made it to the top, Mel and I hopped out and thanked our drivers. We began to walk on the actual trail… although the road was nice, trails are simply made for human feet. It was a relief to be away from cars and to meet and chat with other hikers, letting our dogs hop happily around us and our feet guide us forward. Soon, though, time constraints and mild tiredness led us to seek a turn-around point. I’ve developed the habit of finding turn-around points that feel right, that seem like an ending point somehow and allow a few minutes of quiet gazing. So when we found a space where the trees opened up and we could see the great expanse of mountains below and around us, we sat down on chosen rocks and breathed. Then we turned around and made our way back down.

Instead of hiking the road down Mel and I planned to hitchhike… but when it came to actually attempt it we couldn’t figure out the thumb part. How does one hold the thumb, like a thumbs-up? When we practiced with each other it just looked like we would be basically telling drivers they were doing a great job and to keep on doing it. I think the altitude was, at this point, carrying total dominion over logic but finally we got the nerve to stop a car. Two young women were driving and offered us their back seat if we didn’t mind being stuffed with their 2 dogs; thus ensued the most comfortable and furry 20 minutes of my life. Mel got the side while I was amidst all three dogs and I was pretty blissful. We talked with the girls and learned they were living in Boulder for now, although one was headed to Oregon soon; we talked Boulder culture and politics and dogs, and it was absolutely wonderful.

 

 

Once we made it back to Boulder, got some food, and drove to pick up David it was a bit past 5 but David is, and has always been, deeply patient. As soon as we picked him up we began to drive into the mountains, headed vaguely toward Glenwood Springs.

We only made it halfway before we had to stop in a little town called Frisco because it looked warm and inviting. We walked around, checking out a few stores and letting Lacey stretch her legs. By the time we were ready to go it was dark and we were tired; I asked a pair of local boys who were playing Pokemon Go if they knew of any camping locally and they gave us directions: “Head toward the Frisco Adventure Park, take the second sign, follow the signs for camping and it’s in a meadow.”

After a very long Walmart run (long because I really couldn’t figure out which snack I wanted — a problem I’m a bit embarrassed of) we followed the boys’ directions and found ourselves in the midst of hundreds of campfires. Winding our way through them we didn’t find a single open campsite and decided to keep driving.

At least an hour later, we were somewhere deep in mountain roads and still hadn’t found a site so, exhausted, we decided to continue driving toward Glenwood Springs. Just a few minutes into the drive Mel and I debated sleeping in the car, decided it was our best bet, and Googled where’s best to car sleep — and found Walmart on top of the list. Well, we didn’t really want to do that based on the people we saw in Walmart so we finallyyyyyyyy found a rest stop, pulled over, and got as comfortable as we could with the car brimming with gear and three people and a dog. We finally fell asleep but all woke up when a tow truck beeped repeatedly behind us. We all assumed it was towing us but none of us cared enough to fully wake up and fell back asleep… in the morning we weren’t towed so it was definitely not us.

Needless to say, when we woke up around 7 am and I crawled into the driver’s seat we were all groggy and in desperate need of coffee. It was also pretty darn cold, being deep in the mountains and the car didn’t hold heat as you’d expect. Soon enough, though, we found a cafe called Loaded Joe’s and stumbled into a booth to order sustenance.

It was the warmest experience I can remember, compared to the night before, in both physical and mental ways. When I think of our breakfast there I see the color brown, with some reds, and smell coffee. I see David sitting beside me and Mel across, and remember the simple pleasure of the entire situation. Our lives had quickly become surrounded by joy in the basics, which I now realize could have been the opposite, complaining about the tough parts… these small decisions and choices of perspective change everything.

After breakfast (during which we found campsites for that night and the next) we drove toward Glenwood Springs. Before doing anything else we found our campsite and set up the tent. It was a gorgeous area, our tent directly next to a quick-running stream. We found a shower, cleaned up, and reveled in the feeling and smell of hygiene. Then we got back into the car and drove into Glenwood Springs.It was a smaller town than we’d expected. We found a coffee shop, the Dharma Brew, and ordered drinks then asked the barista what he’d recommend we did for the rest of the day. He told us, “Well, my favorite place around here is Marble; they have church and barbecue.”


Thus began our adventure in Marble.

When we got there (it was an hour drive away) we were most surprised by the amount of raw marble all over the place. It was in people’s yards (not many, though — the population is 84) and scattered next to the road. We made our way through the town then followed a sign toward “restrooms” which actually took us up a mountain and to a trailhead. I still don’t understand if the sign was a joke and you’re supposed to just go in the woods, or if there really were restrooms… but we nodded to fate and laced up our hiking boots, then took the trail.

We didn’t walk far, only far enough to find a creek which I could draw water from and treat, then drink (I’m really into drinking creek water, now that I have a purifier — it just tastes better, trust me). We walked back down the mountain, and met two kids and their dog toward the bottom, spending time throwing stones for our dogs, chatting, and eating wild raspberries. We finally drove back down to Marble and found the barbecue our barista had told us about; it was the only place in Marble we actually saw people. And it was packed. Marble was at least an hour from neighboring towns but they truly are known for the barbeque; we sat down and ordered the mac and cheese which was beyond delicious. We each got dinner and it was the best barbecue I’ve ever had (and I still think a caprese counts, since it was on Texas toast). We got pie for dessert (which had been baked by our waitress’s dad) and left after bonding with the waitress over dogs and, of all things, farts.

We left Marble full and happy, heading toward “Penny hot springs” which the locals had recommended above the other commercialized springs. After 15 or so minutes of driving we pulled over to make sure we were headed the right way, meaning to ask two fishermen. When Mel asked, the one closest to us exclaimed, “Oh, the Hippy Dip! Yep, right on down the road.” He winked. Mel paused, and he continued, “Oh, I went there when I was a kid. People don’t wear nothin’ there.” He winked again. We all looked back and forth at him and his friend, his friend looking extremely uncomfortable. The man continued, “And back then I didn’t have gray hair, neither.” His friend cut in, “Nooo, you can wear clothes. People wear clothes.” He said it so matter-of-factly we all laughed. We thanked the men and drove away, shaking our heads and laughing.

We found the hot springs soon after and quickly parked, making our way down the rocks toward the steam. A few people lounged in the first couple of rings of stones (which kept the hot water separate from the cold stream water) and asked their advice; “Don’t step in the little rivulets,” they told us, “Those are 160 degrees.” We then worked much harder to avoid stepping into the mini streams and hopped toward an unoccupied stone circle.

It was achingly hot. I couldn’t keep even my toes in the water for long, while Mel sank her entire body into the pool telling David and me to just do it, it’d feel okay after a bit. David shook his head and began to work on opening the stones to let some of the creek water in and I worked on convincing myself that two toes is just fine, maybe three… Finally David’s plan worked and we were all able to comfortably sit in the pool, swirling the water to mix cold and hot. We sat there, smelling sulphur and letting our thoughts wander as the sun sank to our lefts.

Eventually we were awoken from our evening-dreams when a group of young people walked into our circle and said hello. We all introduced ourselves, and we warned them about the heat but showed them our stirring stick, which we’d found near the stone circle. They laughed at our method for a balanced temperature and got into the water; it was an extremely cramped space. The entire situation was hilarious, with the taller guy stuck with his knees to his chest, every so often grabbing the stick to stir the water and flinching from the heat and all of us telling stories of camping and traveling (which are generally funny, the only options being to find things funny or go right back home). We must have talked for hours until Mel, David and I couldn’t stand the heat any longer and said our goodbyes.

We made our way back to the campsite and fell gratefully into bed.

 

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