Posted June 29, 2020 – Narrated by Carmen
America! America! God shed His grace on thee Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought By pilgrim foot and knee!
– from the poem America The Beautiful
by Katharine Lee Bates
Inspired from her visit to Pikes Peak, Colorado in 1893
The air is cleaner and the water is clearer. The open road has never looked better – a silver lining of The Great Anthropause.
As we entered Colorado the halcyon skies buoyed our expectations for quiet wilderness camping and maybe even some outback kayaking.
Now, twenty days in, we are fully acclimated to the elevations. However, learning to heed erratic weather will take us much longer. On the Western Slope, the thrill of being caught in a rogue thunderstorm, far from shelter, is always on the table.
Spending quality time in Colorado is new to us. Autumn of 2016 we ducked into Fort Collins for emergency Beast repairs, then in 2019 we zoomed through on The Cannonball Crawl.
But this hot covid-summer chased us out of the fruited plains and up into cool and breezy mile-high country. Here, we’re basking in the hospitality of good friends and purple mountain majesties and taking what refuge we can from the weariness and stress of this pandemic.
Ever since we pulled into Mancos – as the delighted overnight guests of Mancos Brewing Company – we haven’t needed the air-conditioner.
After months of staying mostly to ourselves, we were jonesing for company. Outside at our patio table – a proper covid’s distance from local patrons – our spirits lifted and anxieties melted away. It’s lovely how submitting to life’s “new rules” binds community.
The sun slowly set, the beer flowed, and from our six-foot wide invisible trenches the patio-people began to talk – sharing glory-tales and patriot dreams. The tone was hopeful, reassuring. Friendly conversation and great Colorado brew are one of those sweet gifts from the gods of travel.
Early the next morning, we were the first customers to break in the day at Absolute Bakery & Cafe (AKA, ABC).
We grabbed the table beside the river and ordered to-go. While waiting we sloshed back grogs of black death and took a solemn vow to, someday, return to charming and friendly Mancos and embed for a season of “more of this.”
After much deliberation we took the Lizard Head route up into Telluride.
The views were spectacular and the two-lane mountain highway was plenty wide with a good shoulder and frequent pull-outs.
On the way, we stopped to visit some crazy-wonderful friends who live in an Airstream down by the river.
Driving a rig through Telluride is not recommended. We did our research, twice, and it did not pay off. We still missed the turn.
Somehow, we made it through town, turned around, and found parking beside the highway. From there, we enjoyed a brisk two-mile garden walk through the bloomin’ sweet little village where we had a posole and burrito lunch on the patio at La Cocina de Luz.
Later that afternoon, we arrived to our campsite on the Uncompahgre River in Ouray and unhitched. In the early evening we drove up a steep, narrow, unpaved switchbacking mountain road to Denise’s house. An old saying I just made up is, “Coronadans never die, they just move to Seventh Heaven.”
Our beautiful friend, Denise, infected us with a serious case of cabin envy when she and her champion Newfoundland Hound, Sir Blake, toured us around their private mountain paradise. We had wine, grilled some chicken and veggies, and reminisced about Coronado, the old neighbors, and the Concerts in The Park foodie group Denise blogged about in Newf In My Soup.
After-dinner entertainment began promptly with the stealth entrance of a sassy summer blizzard that dusted us with the mountain spirit.
We spent two days in Ouray, enjoying the breweries, the shopping and reading real estate billets …
Blue Mesa Reservoir – Gunnison National Forest
Leaving Ouray, we drove Highway 550 North to Highway 50 East into the Gunnison National Forest.
Jim navigates these trips. I describe places I’d like to see – usually wilderness with water – and he charts the journey. It’s his way of delighting me with the gift of discovery.
The drive into Gunnison National Forest to Blue Mesa Reservoir was both thrilling and terrifying. Seven miles of inching along unpaved washboard road past working ranches and cow pastures took almost an hour.
But it was worth it. We spent four serene days at Ponderosa Campground.
And due to COVID-19, they waived the camping fee.
Jim needed this place to heal. He fell in an unmarked drainage trench at the KOA in Ouray and made a bloody mess of his knee. Grounded with a book, he and Pico stayed home with the view and the hummingbirds for company …
… while I took to the water.
Blue Mesa Reservoir is not only a scenic paradise, but it is the largest body of water in Colorado – and it’s accessible from the campground.
Our souls waxed fair with earth and air.
Whenever possible, I like to sing when I paddle. In this place of solitude, I could sing loud as I cared to and I also prayed for the best America to emerge from these present troubles.
God shed His grace on thee Till selfish gain no longer stain, The banner of the free!
Time well spent …
But a storm was moving in.
America! America! God shed His grace on thee, Till souls wax fair as earth and air And music-hearted sea!
An epic downpour was predicted. Reluctant to leave our solitary mountain retreat, but wise to the perils of weathering a storm here, we packed up and pulled out.
Our destination two days away, Cheyenne Mountain State Park in the suburbs of Colorado Springs, where Jim miraculously scored a four-night reservation. But where would we spend this wet and windy night?
Brothers and Sisters, can I hear a Hallelujah for those amber waves of grain?
Breweries, with their large outdoor gardens and open-air decks are ideal LIB overnight digs. Feeling hopeful, we pulled into Elevation Beer Company in Poncha Springs and asked the owner if we could spend the night.
Permission granted, Jim ordered their flagship IPA, First Cast No Coast IPA, while I whipped up a batch of hot spinach/artichoke dip. Then, we rendezvoused on the cozy patio and watched the storm blow in.
On my personal list of life’s simple pleasures, sleeping under an aluminum roof in a mountain thunderstorm is rated, “pure bliss.”
Cheyenne Mountain State Park
Next morning, we pulled out and drove about sixty miles to Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
Oh, the disappointment. Here we were in – according to Campendium – the best State Park in Colorado, but we had only four days. And, this truly was the best camp site we’ve ever had. But the rig was a disaster. Hiking and sightseeing would take a back seat to cleaning and prepping for the next leg of our Colorado adventure.
So, Jim did the correct thing and ordered take-out sushi.
Before we pulled out of beautiful Cheyenne Mountain, we met with our old friend K.K. and her husband, Tim at Miguel’s Mexican Bar and Grill where we caught up on fifty years of backstory while enjoying a delightful outdoor reunion. It’s a miracle of aging how the spark of youth is revived in the presence of old friends. We felt like kids again.
Garden of the Gods
On K.K’s recommendation, we pulled out early in the morning and stopped at Garden of the Gods – a place we’d never heard of.
When confronted with the impressive infrastructure, enormous visitors center, and vast but empty parking lot, we learned how out of the loop we are. We parked the rig and toured just a small area of these world famous red rocks in near solitude – a rare experience.
No. These are not America’s best days. Our alabaster cities have a way to go before they will be undimmed by human tears. But on the bright side, we’re discovering – at least for the present – the “thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness” is kinda-sorta wide open.
So, we’re just gonna stay outside, cover our conks and cake holes, keep our distance, and have a blast while it lasts.
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.