Nico’s not from here. Colorado, anyway. If you’ll recall, we had her shipped (like a mail-order bride) from Virginia. So over the past several weeks – while in our own home state – we’ve taken the opportunity to show Nico around.
After an extended stop in Fort Collins to catch up with family and friends we headed south east to Chico Basin Ranch. It’s hot there. The earth crunches beneath your feet and crumbles into the rutted earth, criss-crossed with ancient tire tracks like gaping wounds too dried out now to be stitched back together. The sun was relentless and chased us from pond to pond where we swatted flies and casted lines to insatiable fish. We rode out on horseback with the Chico team to wrangle their cattle, moving them from pasture to pasture, chasing bleating calves and kicking up so much dust. It’s sweaty work, but at the end of the day we watched the sun set behind Pikes Peak in the western distance, and a Strawberry Moon rose and glowed more peach than red over our shoulders. The colors blended and faded and mingled with the mountains until the peaks were mere silhouettes; lavender shadows across the dry plains.
We made a quick stop near Salida for some Elevation Beer and to escape the heat. We found higher ground and cooler temps at the Venable Lake trailhead outside of Westcliffe. The trail, though deceivingly long for our we-just-rode-horses-for-five-hours-sore-legs, was gorgeous. It took us through lush trees and cut across the mountain with lines and lines of yellow wildflowers. A river chattered alongside us as we climbed up and up to a plateau with stunning views and alpine lakes. Just over the next ridge, then, following the “MEEEEP!” of marmots, we found Venable Lake sitting calm and cold.
Heading south-ish again, we rolled into Medano Zapata Ranch, right at the base of the Great Sand Dunes. The best way to see Great Sand Dunes National Park? On horseback. You feel like you’re in Arabian Nights. Or Aladdin. Climbing up and over the dunes, watching the horse’s hooves sink as the sand spreads and slides with each challenging step and feeling the enormity of her strength as you press on is other-worldly (we may have referenced Star Wars a few times). The Sangre de Cristo mountain range loomed behind us, elegant and cool blue as we trotted through Medano Creek; and we kept asking ourselves, “are we still in Colorado?”
We drove Nico over Cottonwood Pass and took a wrong turn somewhere near Taylor Reservoir. This may have been our favorite mistake yet. At the end of the twelve mile dirt road (literally, it ended) we found ourselves surrounded by powdered mountain tops and hills of evergreens. A shallow and rocky river wound down and away, interrupting the otherwise silent, sparkling sunny view. We parked. We stayed. We soaked our dirty toes in yesterday’s snowmelt and cheered our happy happenstance.
We took Nico to Crested Butte next for pizza and drove her through her first river (killed it!). We paused for tea on Paradise Divide and marveled at the clarity a deep breath of crisp mountain air will fill you with.
We hiked to Hanging Lake, where Colorado’s at her most tropical, and soaked in the steam of the Glenwood Springs vapor caves.
We took Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park and shot time-lapse videos of the dancing clouds in a bloated, sullen sky.
We rolled into Steamboat Springs on the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks over the Yampa, then paddled the river’s high, swift waters with heaps of adrenaline pushing us through the next rapid. We floated in sheer relaxation under the stars and an absent New Moon at Strawberry Park Hot Springs (clothes optional after dark – heeeeeey girl).
The trail to Devil’s Causeway took us over fields of periwinkle columbines, through Aspens on Aspens waving their glittering leaves like so many jazz hands rooting us on.
And on the last day of our Colorado Interlude we did three of my favorite things: We drove through the Poudre Canyon, got our Zen on at the Shambala Mountain Center and stopped at the Mishawaka to have a Colorado beer with our feet in the Cache la Poudre River.
This, darling Nico, is where we come from.