Sitting here at Lake Tahoe, we decided we better let everyone know how we got through the rest of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. We clearly got sidetracked by adventure (and procrastination) these last few weeks. July 2nd we were still in Buena Vista mustering up the courage to hop into a raft and plunge down the white waters of the Colorado River. The particular section we chose for our tour includes class IV and V rapids, in other words, we were about to get very wet; The basic rules were “don’t fall out” and “if you fall out, try not to die”. After hitting the water we didn’t have much time to think about what rules we should or shouldn’t be following, we just rowed when we were told. Luckily for us, our guide Zack from Brown’s Canyon Rafting Co., directed us flawlessly through all seven “numbers” without incident. We splurged a bit on the half day rafting trip but with every exhilarating crash of water and surge of the raft, we knew it was money well spent.
Continuing our tour of the great Ski towns of Colorado we turned our sights to Aspen. One of the wonders of navigating through the flat page of an atlas is discovering the vast changes in elevation with no warning at all. This particular stretch of hwy 82 had us asking “are we still going up?!” over and over as the valley dropped quickly away in a series of switchbacks. Little did we know we were driving ourselves right over Independence Pass, and just in time for Independence Day! This drive was really beautiful if only just a bit horrifying.
We are happy to confirm there really ARE aspen trees in Aspen! Although clearly built for the tourist traffic, this is a charming area to explore. One of the most impressive sights is the little airport with airplanes landing and taking off on the shortest stretch of runway we have ever seen and veering off at extreme angles to avoid a mountain or two. We got lucky on the 2nd with a very nice family who had booked an extra spot in the Maroon Bells, then, with the 4th of July crowds swelling campgrounds to capacity, we felt the urge to escape as far into the wilderness as possible. Erik’s birthday is the 3rd so we started off the morning with a family tradition, locks and bagels, before driving deep into the White River National Forest. You know a perfect camp spot when you can hear the rushing of a river, the sway of trees, the crackle of a fire, and nothing else. There is something nice about a quiet birthday in the woods and the seclusion has a romanticizing effect that has inspired poets for hundreds of years. In fact, it inspired Oshá into writing a poem for Erik that invoked such an emotional reaction there must have been other forces at work. This spot in White River will always be special to us.
Along came the 4th of July! Normally an incredibly social holiday, we were content expressing our patriotism by enjoying the natural beauty and freedom of our great country; We took a hike, breathed the fresh air, listened to the forest, and were proud to be American. In lieu of fireworks the wind gave us its own crashing booming show of falling trees; Less color but more danger!
Usually we ignore advice given to us by shady bikers but they sure know some cool spots. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is overshadowed by larger, deeper canyons but as the narrowest and steepest it makes for an unforgettable view. Random biker dude had recommended we hit the north rim and he was absolutely right. A long dirt road empties into a quaint campground just a few yards from a sheer black cliff. Even in the peak of summer the area was so scarcely populated we could sit for hours on the edge without the intrusion of another human. Without paved walkways, visitor centers, or museums, you could almost imagine the awe of those first explorers as they came upon this place. This ended up being one of our most memorable stops. There may be more facilities on the south side but listen to the guy in leather, visit the north rim of the Black Canyon.
Ouray was on the tip of every person’s tongue. Countless people raved about this old Colorado town and we can see why. Not quite the massive cliffs we were imagining, Ouray is certainly in a narrow valley. The best part is that you can actually hike all the way around the town on the Perimeter Trail. The few hours along this trail kept our jaws on the ground in wonder. Multiple waterfalls cascade down the mountains, one ending in a box canyon that plummets into the rock with intense power. The river creates ravines you can hike through splashing through shallow pools and over smooth boulders. Even the extensive water collection system is an interesting sight. Thousands of gallons of spring water feed natural hot springs all over town.
We stayed the first night at the R.V. park but after a lunch at the Western Hotel we couldn’t resist booking a room. With most of the building and furnishings preserved from the late 1800’s this hotel oozes history. The creaking wooden floor depicts a painting of an artists long-lost love, untouched and fading. The long dark hallways are just daring a ghost to show itself. The single bed and dresser $49 rooms share a bathroom across the hall, and by bathroom we mean a room with an ancient claw-footed tub and rickety iron bench. We loved this place and the owners. All character and kindness, we were so sad to hear they would be selling soon. We would hate to see this place remodeled and fixed up and were so lucky to have the pleasure of staying here before something so disastrous happened. Ouray Brewery and The Outlaw were our go-to checkpoints. We missed out on The Outlaw’s roasted garlic multiple times, their low supply a tribute to the town’s seclusion from regular shipments of fresh produce. I guess we’ll have to come back sometime soon!
After a quick drive through Durango our last stop in Colorado was Mesa Verde. We looked out from the top of the mesa across the valley and to the mountains of New Mexico. Always interrupted by trees and buildings it’s easy to forget how powerful the human eyes are and the sheer vastness of the desert is an underappreciated beauty. Also underappreciated is the immense amount of work archeologists have put into this area. Across the park there are pit houses and cliff dwellings that have been delicately uncovered and preserved so that others can study and understand the roots of our own human nature. To see the developement of basic building technology and toolmaking is like taking a peek into your own brain. Our ability to share information, inspire innovation, and create solutions beyond the abilities of any other creature is represented so clearly here. It also shows the long process and pattern of change within a community. As humans, I think it’s natural to repeat mistakes over time but it is reassuring to know that ultimately we learn and move forward. We would encourage anyone to go to Mesa Verde and just think for a while.