While I know that many people read this blog to hear about our travels, there are four individuals reading to make sure we’re taking good care of their dear grandson. For those four individuals (who happen to be four of Van’s favorite people in the world), here is a series of recent photos that are bound to make you smile. To everyone else, please enjoy the photos of the little guy that makes every day of this adventure that much more fun and that much more dirty.
It’s mid-summer, which makes it the perfect time for another installment of Lessons Learned. I’ve been thinking that this would be a great habit for me to keep up long after I stop traveling. It will motivate me to keep living the type of life that allows me to fill pages of a book with interesting, funny, and sometimes hard-earned lessons and give me time to reflect as I navigate my way through life. I certainly have no shortage of entries as we continue our travels living in 80 square feet of tent each night.
- The earth beneath our feet is made up of many colors and shades, not just brown. I knew this, but it didn’t register completely until we began traveling in Utah. Utah must have soil that spans every color in the spectrum. I’ve seen brown, red, orange, pink, white, blue, green, you name it! Even with all the colors of the rainbow, deep, rich brown is still my favorite.
- I am not as dependent on a water spigot as I had thought. Early on in our travels, we moved along from a campground after one night because it didn’t have any water. We both felt that access to water from a spigot (even if there were no flush toilets or showers) was indispensable when traveling with a toddler. Almost every other place we camped, through Nashville, had running water and hot showers. Since camping in Nashville (oh so long ago), we have not camped in a single place that has had free showers. Most have had no showers and often no running water except for a spigot to fill water bottles. The few that did have showers have had pay showers. We’ve learned to make do quite well by showering (when we feel like it) with our dromedary bag. It takes some creativity, but it actually works really well. So well, that we successfully camped for three nights in Canyonlands National Park at a campground with no water at all. The nearest potable water was a mere ten miles away, but the power for that well actually went out one day, so potable water turned out to be a fifty mile drive away from our site. And we did just fine. In fact, that was one of the very best places we’ve camped on this trip. As long as we make sure to keep all of our water fully stocked when we think we may run into a dry spell, we have absolutely no need to camp with running water.
- I acclimate to the heat much more quickly when I live outdoors. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not a hot weather gal. This, despite the fact that I’ve lived in the DC area for the past eight years. We just got through with a long day in the sun filled with several hikes and limited shade, and I felt great. And it was 102 degrees! Granted, humidity in Utah is just not the concern it was back home, but 102 is 102. I realize that since I’m not living and working in climate controlled locations, I’m able to adapt much more easily to the weather around me, making my days (and nights) outdoors that much more pleasant.
- The only conversation starter better than a toddler is a toddler in a Yankees cap. I must admit that neither Alan nor I are big into baseball. The cap was a gift to Van from his Gran, who happens to be the Yankees’ number one fan. I understand that people might dispute this, but I’m willing to take on that dispute with anyone. As for the hat, Van gets comments on it wherever we go, and quite a few passionate ones. There are Yankees fans and Red Sox fans EVERYWHERE!
- I’m happier outside. This isn’t anything new, but it’s never felt more true.
- Van is even more flexible than we thought. We knew that for this adventure to be fun, Van needed to be flexible. He was already a flexible kid, not too bent out of shape if his nap was a few hours later than usual or even if he had no “usual” nap time as long as he took a nap. But we had no idea that he’d take so well to living on the road and the irregularity that naturally ensues. A nap at 11:30 one day and 5 the next? No problem. Packing up a campsite every few days for a brand new one? No problem. In fact, if we’re not heading out on a hike or a road trip every day or so, we have a little taskmaster on our hands who begs for the next road trip and hike. And at the end of each, we often get a round of applause and hear our backseat driver/hiker say “good hike” or “good road trip” not too long before requesting more. This kid cracks me up!
- Busyness does not equal stress. For most of my life, I was under the impression that when you’re busy, there’s a certain amount of stress that naturally hangs on for the ride. After the last few months on the road, I now realize that while busyness is sometimes (or maybe even often) accompanied by stress, it is not an automatic passenger. When we describe to folks that we’re traveling for an indeterminate amount of time, I think that there is the misperception that we’re living a life of leisure with nothing to keep us busy. While I can’t argue that we are living a certain type of person’s dream life and there is a fair amount of leisure involved, it is also an incredibly busy life. We’re constantly thinking about where we’re going to sleep that night, where we’re going to buy food, how we’re going to get water, do laundry, get the oil changed, take a shower, get reception to check voicemail and email, calm down a boy who’s had too much sun and too little sleep, and the list goes on and on. There are many things that become much more complicated when you don’t have a home – especially when you have a two-year old along for the ride. This is all a long way of saying that I’m busy, not the busiest I’ve ever been (I did work in biglaw), but busy nonetheless. And it’s not stressful! It’s a beautiful thing to realize since I thrive on being busy – but now I know that the stress is entirely optional. Of course, the key is being busy with things you’re in control of, that you enjoy, and that you have enough passion for that you don’t burn out or get bored.
We spent three nights camping just above the Black Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti National Recreation Area. On our first full day, we explored Crested Butte and partook in one of the most magnificent hikes ever. On the second day we decided to stick closer to home and explore the surreal landscape of Curecanti. Although not far from the prototypical Colorado mountains, Curecanti is a beguiling landscape of desert plants, mesas, reds, oranges, and a large blue pool of water that looks just as out-of-place as it is. The juxtaposition is right out of a storybook or a fantasy movie. What was once an arid area with a fertile valley where the Gunnison River once ran is now a boaters’ paradise.
We began our exploration with a several mile hike to the Dillon Pinnacles. It was a beautiful day and the trail was deserted. It appears that almost everyone that frequents this park does so with a boat and/or the inclination to get on the water. That leaves the trails blissfully empty. As we were hiking to the scent of sage and eventually pine, I was checking out the footprints of the hikers that came before us. Apparently, many deer like to hike the trail, as well as a few people. When we were almost to the turn-around point, Van started making his cat noise. He almost never makes his cat noise unless he sees a cat, so we immediately start asking him if he saw one. A cat out here on this deserted trail almost assuredly means one thing – a mountain lion. They’re not frequently seen, but Van has a way of spotting things that is uncanny. I often think he should be a tracker when he gets older.
As two-year olds tend to do, he will not answer our question about whether he saw a cat. I’m not sure we’d believe him one way or another anyways. So, we continue down the path amongst the pines and the pinnacles until I look down and see the unmistakable print of a large cat. We’ll never know if Van actually saw a mountain lion or if he was just making sounds for fun, but we knew that it was time to turn around and not find out for ourselves. On the return leg of the hike, Alan commented on how much faster of a hiker I am with the threat of a mountain lion in the vicinity.
After a morning in the full sun and a sprinkling of adrenaline, we found a rare shaded picnic spot, right next to the boat inspection station. Van was in heaven. He loves boats, so to get to watch boat after boat pull up while he ate lunch was a real treat. We spent the afternoon hiking down into a narrow canyon and along the water, and then later, playing along the shore of the Blue Mesa Reservoir. We, however, did not get decked out in white mud like the gentleman we saw making an escape through the grasses.
Our last and final day in the area was spent in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s hard to see in photos, but this canyon is DEEP and narrow. We couldn’t even get a good gauge of how deep it was when we were looking right into it. I was shocked to learn, as I teetered on the edge of the deepest portion, that the Empire State Building would only come up halfway. We hiked around the rim a bit and marveled at the sheer drops and the beautiful cliffs, before heading off to find our next camping spot. This turned out to be a bit more difficult than we anticipated, but we eventually found a great (but not cheap) spot in Ridgway State Park. It’s in an ideal location, centrally located so that we could explore Telluride and Ouray on different days without having to pack up camp. More on our fun in those locations in a future post…
And off we are, once again, with the open road before us and no home awaiting our return. We drove west from Denver, heading over the Independence Pass to check out Aspen. The drive over the pass and to Aspen was gorgeous and looked to be a hiker’s paradise. If we were planning to stay in the area for the night (we weren’t), we definitely would have checked out a couple of the trails in the area.
Instead, we headed to downtown Aspen to find a spot to picnic and check out the town. Alan predicted I wouldn’t think much of Aspen. He was right. So on we drove to Carbondale, a town we visited briefly a few weeks earlier. As we got out of our car, we heard the not-so-distant sounds of a funk band. Following the music through some backyards and alleyways, we found our way to a park with a large playground for Van. He played and played and clearly got over his temporary fear of slides while we listened to the funk band warm up for the evening’s concert. After Van was thoroughly played out, we walked out of the park between a heated croquet game and about fifty or sixty folks doing yoga. It turns out you don’t need to cut through backyards and alleyways to get to the park, so we took a much more direct way to the main street and did a little wandering before getting back in our car.
Our original plan was to camp for a night just south of Carbondale, but given Van’s mood (it was good), and where we wanted to get the next day, we decided to make today a long driving day and just drive all the way to Curecanti. We arrived just before the sun was setting, set up a quick camp, and feasted on a smorgasborg of hard-boiled eggs, cheese, crackers, and raisins. Living the high life, I know! The campground left some things to be desired for tenters, but it was practically deserted and overlooked the Blue Mesa Reservoir, so we couldn’t complain.
After our first of three nights in Curecanti, we hit the road to check out Crested Butte. How do I describe this area in a blog post? Shangri-La comes closest, but it’s hard to describe in words or in pictures – you kind of just have to go there. The day after we were in Crested Butte we met a family who had been there the same day as us. As we were sharing our stories of the hikes that we each took, our new friend told us that if she had seen a unicorn, she wouldn’t have been surprised. This, my friends, is the perfect description of Crested Butte. Crested Butte: the native habitat for the elusive unicorn.
We started our day in Crested Butte hiking along a river, through wildflower meadows, and up a hill to aspen groves. Every few steps I proclaimed this to be the most beautiful hike I had ever taken. And then it would proceed to get more beautiful. This is the Colorado of postcards and magazine advertisements. I wanted the hike to go on forever. But, as all things naturally come to a conclusion, so did our hike. But not before we waded into the river to a gravel bar in the middle to play and eat lunch. It was a perfect morning.
We spent the afternoon poking around town and checking out the library, both to entertain Van and to read up on how to change the light that went out on our car just hours after leaving Denver. The town did not disappoint. The people were friendly, the architecture was perfect for the location, and the sun was shining. Now I just need to find someone who has a vacation home in the area and needs a caretaker.
I’m so happy that there are folks out there following along on our journey! Since I’m now getting an audience beyond friends and family (!), I’ve made a few updates to the blog over the past couple of weeks. If you haven’t yet had a chance, check out the updated “Our Route” page and the new “About Me” and “Links” pages. Also, if you’re not already receiving copies of my new blog posts via email and you’d like to, you can sign up by just entering your email address under the heading: Follow Our Journey via Email, which is on the right side of the page.
One more thing before I go, my blog was recently added to the many great family traveling blogs on www.familiesontheroad.com. If you’re interested in checking out other families doing something similar, there are many great blogs listed on the site.