Aspen Or Bust

September 1


I could spend weeks in Colorado Springs seeing friends and going to all my old favorite trails - some of the folks I wanted to see were away Labor Day weekend -  but really Colin would be robbed of seeing  what else the state has to offer, which is voluminous.  So, on with our touring plan.

The Great Sand Dunes are among the odder terrains this state has to offer.  As best as I can understand it, winds pressing in from dual directions throw sand from several mountains into this one cool looking place.  Between altitude and shifting sand beneath your feet, hiking here very far is inadvisable for any but the more fit than I. 

We manage to set up the tent and go for a walk across the stream before sunset, but that means cooking in the dark. Sunset on endless dunes of white sand, surrounded by mountains the color of dusk   Now why won't the charcoal stay lit?  How come the bison   meat keeps falling through the cracks?  Why is there sand in my rice?  Was that a taco? 

And now our reward for camping in the middle of nowhere, in the cold; we get to see the Milky Way.


September 3

Mesa verde

All right, now that we are showered and "clean,"  we are ready to face the ancient Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde. place is really cool, no other way to describe it.  Some guys chasing some cows a hundred years ago discovered living spaces built into the stone of these grand mesas, where people lived hundreds of years ago. 

More and more dwellings have been found, each more mysterious than the last.  Why did these ancients move from the top of the mesa, where they farmed corn, squash and soy together (soy grows up the corn, and they use different  and complementary nutrients from the soil, as I get it - and then squash grows nicely underneath.)  If it took a person one day to build a brick, how was the labor for these structures even begun? 

Easy, says our guide, according to every twelve year old boy who raises his hand on his tour - aliens.

Aliens or no, it's hot, and we've done a guided tour, waiting in the heat for  dozens of huffing, puffing tourists to ascend rustic ladders, and another, unguided walk along the best preserved site in the park.  Still there's another hike I'd like to to - really want to do - a 2.5 mile challenging hike with a view of petroglyphs - at the end.  No seeing any petroglphs, say a quarter mile in and turning back.   I have to do the whole thing if I want the "reward.".

My body says I should sit in the shade and let Colin do this one solo.    But I really wanna see those petroglyphs.  And I haven't been on a  really nice, hefty mountain hike in such a  long time.  And what about Colin, who recently twisted his ankle?  Without cell service, he'd be alone if he were injured.  I may be slow, but I could go back for help in an urgent situation.

I did this one by a method I call Catastrophizing for success.  OK, what's the worst thing that could happen?  I get exhausted, my lightheadedness takes over and I fall off a precipice.  First of all, a miss-step could happen to anyone.  Second, if I die on a hike, wouldn't that be the way for me to go, really?

But that's a very unlikely scenario.  The more likely worst-case scenario is that I grow exhausted and must stop.  After which, based on previous experience, I will be able to go on again in a few minutes, right?   We have plenty of water, some snacks, and plenty of time before sundown for me to take it slow.    And peeing in the woods?  My specialty.  2.5 miles, even if some of it's steep, shouldn't take more than 2-3 hours, and there are 4-5 before dark. 

Colin is a mountain of patience, himself.  "We've already seen a lot of really cool things today..."  he says, trying to make me feel like I’m not raining on his party though I know he' d really like to do the hike.  The option of me not going lingers there, disappointing but real.

Decision dawns.  I dig deep into "reserve chi,"  (known as part of kidney chi in Chinese medicine,) and set out on the hike.  I set a fast pace on the rocky mountainside trail, trusting my feet to take care of my heart as I relax into curves, loose rock and tiny places cut into the side of the mountain.   The whole trail is littered with absolutely gorgeous views of the valley and craggy walls below.   Not a trail for anyone afraid of heights. 

I love the feel of my feet on pine-needle encrusted dirt and pebbles.  The rock feels like home under my toes.   How long ago were these worn steps cut into the red stone?  Who and how many came here, and for what purpose?  What were they thinking?  I can't wait to see what they carved in the flank of the mountain.   (Picture of petroglyphs below.)

Exhilarated after the hike, I know I've also over-used my energy reserves.  Though the original plan called for camping over an hour away, I suggest we look into negotiating a rate at the Far View Lodge, right up here on the mountain.  We'd looked into it on the internet from home, an upscale lodge featuring rooms with individual balconies and a dining room all with views to die for, but decided it was an unnecessary luxury.

Temps will go down into the upper 30's tonight, and I know how cold I get when tired.  I enter into friendly negotiations for a room rate with a blonde, motherly woman at the front desk of the lodge, she telling me that if we "pretend to have triple A, " (wink-wink-nod-nod)...  

...and for under a hundred bucks we luxuriate in a second night of warm beds and showers, this time overlooking mountains and mesas fading into a purple and red sunset.   

Now we definitely have to camp the rest of the trip or below our budget, which is exactly $625, or what we’re getting for renting our place in Park Slope to a guy we found on Craiglist named Tim.  We’ll see.  

And when that's done, the stars don't disappoint us of a view of the Milky Way another night.  Traveling on the shoulder season is definitely a good idea.



September 4

The difference Between Cats and Mountain Lions

I'm bound to do a lot of sleeping in the car today, recovering from yesterday's hike.  I'm glad the seats are more comfy than the bucket seats of my Saturn  - I can actually lean back and sort of doze while being driven through weaving mountain passes by my chauffer, Colin. 

I wake up enough to see truly amazing views coming down off Mesa Verde, drink a bit of coffee while checking email at a deli in Durango, and read educational placards at Coal Bank Pass, where the air begins to chill considerably.

 We consider camping at the absolutely stunning Mountain lake at Molas Pass, but upon grilling from us, the grizzled camp "hosts" let us know it frosted this morning, and  - they casually add, an afterthought - there will be construction equipment bleeping very early in the morning. 

As for the cold, I've now tested my new bag down to lower 40's,  but not lower 30's.  I'd rather a gradual new-bag experiment, upper 30's, maybe, before plunging down to freezing out here in the middle of nowhere.   

As for the promise of noisy construction in the morning?  That pretty much seals the deal.  Though we'd both love to return to this site, dubbed "the most picturesque campground in America" by the author of the campground guide book we’re carrying around, maybe it would be better in late July. 

It was a good thing we didn't stop for the night - I'll tell why later.  (Working on my story-telling skills.)

For once we arrive in a campsite well before dark.   Colin scoped out a most excellent campground.  600 feet above the picturesque town of Ouray, (which Colin likes to pronounce “OOO-ray, but is actually said, “yer-AY”) we find a site we call “the tower” because while the picnic table and fire pit are  down on level with the shared vault toilets, the site has an unusual feature - a set of groomed steps leading up to the tent site.    Excellent!

Setting up the tent, even leisurely, at altitude with those steps requires some oxygen.  We do that and start unpacking the food.  Suddenly I notice Colin’s head deeper in the car’s trunk than usual.  “What are you looking for?”  I ask.  “My sleeping bag.”  His voice is muffled under several cubic feet of other gear, including his suit coat.    “I can’t find my sleeping bag.”

Well, needless to say, we rummage through everything.  Lows in the upper 30’s are expected here tonight, though he thinks he can tough it out (“I’ll just sleep under a few blankets...”  he starts.)   But I will not permit it.    First of all, he would freeze his ass off.  Second of all, he would try to rectify first of all by crawling under my blanket with me, and everyone knows I DON’T share blankets.  The sure result would be him not sleeping, thus me not sleeping, thus reaching the tipping point for my already wavering energy for the remainder of the trip, probably followed by Colin not being able to drive when i need him to most, and starting sick on his gig which, given how little sleep is planned into these things, a  very very bad idea.  

But no, really, it’s gone.  We take everything out of the car, look under the seats.  It’s in a  black bag, so it could be anywhere.  Nothing.  Shit!  Where could we have left it?  The last time we camped was two nights ago, at the dunes.  Probably one of us was re-packing the car, took it out and never  - put it back in.  

“OK,”  I say, trying to think tactics.  “It’s 6:40.  Ouray has got to have an outdoors supply store somewhere.  Maybe it’s open ‘till 7.”  

But we can’t leave all the food out on the table.  Bears and lion cubs and bees and chipmunks, among others, are likely to find a meal of uncooked buffalo meat quite enticing, and our camper neighbors would be none too pleased.    There’s nothing for it but to heave it all back into the car, willy nilly, and then - haul ass.

As luck would have it Ouray is only 5 minutes away.  We drive slowly down the main street, heedless of any cars behind us.  C’mon, c’ us the sleeping bag store!  show us...  There it is.  It’s across the street is it open?  Yes!

There is one outdoors store in Ouray.  It is now 6:45pm.  The store is open ‘till 7.

Never picked a sleeping bag so fast.   20 degree bag.  Extra long.  Whaddaya got?

Of course what that happened to be is the twin bag to mine - the North Face Big B - if he’d gotten the left zipping we could have zipped them together for a nice, coordinated green and gray quilt.  Only weeks ago we actually got matching luggage.  Which we share.  Both are a matter of practicalities regarding money and space, but this is a little much.  The store manager looks sorry.  “No, really, it’s OK, they don’t need to zip together, I won’t share, anyway, just thanks!”  We bow out.  

Budget now duly blown, we return to our site, me sighing that, once again, we’re cooking dinner at least partly in the dark.  It is yummy, though.  Why does everything taste better in the woods?

Just as I’m about to turn in, Colin says he want to scope out a trailhead for morning.  That’s for his hiking pleasure, not mine.  We know Niki needs her mountain rest.  A little stroll would be an excuse to use my new LED light headlamp and stretch my legs, and I hate to be left behind when it comes to exploring in the dark, in an unknown forest, so naturally I follow along.

As we get to the trailhead, I shush us both.  “Do you hear that?  I ask.

Now, Kyle instructed us well as to the answer to that question before  we left.  No matter the circumstances, says Kyle, if your camping buddy, at any time, under any circumstances, asks you, “Do you hear that?”  at night in the woods, the answer is always, unequivocally, absolutely, “NO.”  No matter what you heard.  

“Yeah,”  says Colin.  “Sounds like growling. “  He didn’t listen well to ranger Kyle’s lectures.   Too busy with the video games.

I, on the other hand, used to live and hike in the mountains every day.  And I suspect those sounds issue from the throat of a Mountain Lion.

But no, now Colin wants to play “let’s see if we can walk without our lights on!”  I’m telling you, it’s pitch black,  you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and I believe the only thing keeping that mountain lion from racing in on us like a  couple of penned chickens is the fact that we’re bigger than her, and she can see that in the lights!  

“Keep them ON!”  I grunt to my camping “buddy” and move ahead.  The growling disappears into the twiney trees.

Until after Colin was asleep.   Snug in his new sleeping North Face Big B, twin to mine, same colors and all, damn him.  I half fell asleep with three layers plus all my polartech on, knowing I’d have to get up to go and pee within the hour.   

“Grrrrr...”   I hear from in the woods near our tent.  ”Grrrrrrrrrrr.”    Like a purring cat, only bigger.  “Grrrrrrr.”  

I remember the first time I heard a house cat purr.  I thought it was mad at me.  The adult conversation having grown stale (and for some reason all the older kid tormentors were off doing something else that night) , I was upstairs at our neighbor’s house, sitting on someone’s bed, alone with the cat.  I liked petting it, it was so soft and furry.  We didn’t have pets at home, everyone was allergic, and I really wanted it to like me.  

“Grrrrrr,”  it said slowly as I stroked its gray and white fur.  “Grrrrrr.”  

I went downstairs and told them the cat must not like me, it was growling at me.  

Oh, I know what this cat wants.  I know what’s making her happy.  She’s playing  a game.  Stalk the human.  She likes that game very much.  As unlikely as it is she’ll attack, it makes me nervous.  

I unzip the front flap of the tent.  Loudly.  Slip into my shoes, which wait under the flap and feel cold.  I shine my LED headlamp right into the woods directly in the direction from whence the growling has emanated.  

No response.   I proceed.  I didn’t get a great night’s sleep that night.  But Colin was rarin’ to go in the mornin’.


September 5, 2008


It was clear I needed a “down” day today, and I liked our camp site so much so I spent much of my time reading there while Colin went searching adventure on the trail.  For breakfast we fought bees off while painstakingly making gluten-free  pancakes, each one taking about  a half hour in the burning pan.  I suspect how anal Kyle is about his pans  (ugh now I have to add steel wool to our list ...did I mention we scratched the car and need supplies to fix that, too?)  and after that I was pretty much done.  

Later I found coffee, a marvelous view AND internet access at a coffee shop in Ouray and hiked down to some waterfalls, a nice moderate walk for the day.    

It’s a mystery how the windows of the real estate brokers on Main Street are like a magnet.  Somehow we keep finding ourselves peeking through the glass, wondering how much, say, a three bedroom house would cost in Ouray.  Purely speculative,  you know, just for the hell of it, we would never really actually BUY anything... Wait, isn’t that how the Catskills venture began?    Wait, no, this time we really have no money.  Wait, we didn’t then. either.  

Oh.  That’s why the country is in crisis.  

We had dinner heated by outdoor heat lamps in a brick courtyard nestled between tall rocky mountain peaks.  Somehow at the end of it we still hadn’t gotten to the Hot Springs.  Something to put on our list for next trip...when we come back as real estate moguls and own the whole town heh-heh hehhhh!

There’s something incongruous and special about typing on your laptop by campfire.  Thanks for the new Powerbook, dad - loving the lightup keys!

September 6, 2008

On the Road Again

Is it possible we have to be in Aspen tonight? 

Oh dear, there went the “plan, ”  down there in Ouray.  The luxury of staying in one place two nights cost Colin the night he had scoped out at a campground on the Edge of the Black Canyon.

At this point Niki’s toast.   She doesn’t care where she is or where she’s going, as long as she doesn’t have to drive.  The  

canyon goes by in a blur.  (Just like it did for you just now.)  I’m tired, I feel dehydrated and weak.  Maybe Colin can fill you in on this part of the trip, because I don’t remember it very well.

Yup, time to get me to that rumored 5 star hotel in Aspen.  

So, onward.  But not before a quick dip in a reservoir to relieve the sore buttocks from driving.  We weren’t sure if swimming was allowed, but then we heard voices, way down there, from a turnoff on the road.  

OK, not assurance that it’s legal, but folks had blazed a trail - crude, sandy, and very steep - from the road, and from there maybe a half dozen people scrambled over rocks to skinny dip in the near-freezing water.  We see immediately why they’re jumping in from tall rock overhangs - the shore is slick and muddy.  There’s nothing for it but to jump in.

My lungs seized as soon as they were surrounded by water.  I made my way back to shore while I still had use of my arms and legs, and a warm rock to lie on.  Colin managed a few chilly minutes before he shimmied back up on the rocks.  

Well, that was fun.


September 7, 8, 9


While Colin works his lighting magic in hard hours at the St. Regis, my life is not all sitting in the hotel and eating bon-bons.  Oh no.  I have duties.  My list:

  1.  Fix the scratch on the trunk of the car.  Scratch-ES.  Like 20, actually, small ones.  Yeah, we set Kyle’s cooler up there and reeeeek!  

  1.  Find restaurants in Aspen which are not “per-diem-busters.”    A very tall order.

  1.  Clean Kyle’s pans so it doesn’t look like we even used them.

  1.  Re-organize.  We’re a mess.

But I have three days to accomplish these things.  Think I’ll avail myself of the pool and hot tub.  

September 10, 2008

The Long Road Home

The road back to Colorado SPrings is not without sounds, sites and tourist attractions.  At the end of the day yesterday we managed to go to the famous “Maroon bells,” apparently the most photographed mountain scene in America (who figured that out and how, I have no idea.)  

Here’s where the weather turned against us, though.  


That’s pretty much it.  We spent one more night at Kyle’s, where we had dinner in nearby Manitou with him and his lovely girlfriend, Laura, who appears to be about as irritated with Kyle as I was after dating him a few years.  

Being in Manitou brought the trip ‘round full circle from my perspective.  Kyle and Laura gave us  a tour of the old Spa building, which used to be the home of the the Stress Massage Institute,  (now the Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy, or CIMT) where we attended massage school.    Kyle, a man who doesn’t like to travel much,  used to  work at the restaurant on the first floor and live on the third floor, where I once saw a ghost.  

Chief Manitou’s springs no longer flow into the foyer, the walls of which were once painted with murals and echoed the sound of constant bubbling.   And the building is being converted into condos.  Change.  

We dropped off the car (held my breath until it became clear  I’d sufficiently buffed out the scratches...I’d added a little dirt to the design for good measure...)   and then hopped a plane back to the Big City.  

© Niki Naeve 2015