Small Towns, Creature Comforts, Great Friends

Posted August 19, 2020 – Narrated by Carmen
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“If I had a day that I could give you

    I’d give to you a day just like today.

If I had a song that I could sing for you

    I’d sing a song to make you feel this way.”

            – John Denver

Under watchful Aspen-eyes we packed up and drove away from the cool columbine beauty of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The temperature rose 30 degrees as we headed south, about 125 miles. We stopped in Gypsum on the Eagle River and spent the night at Stoneyard, a unique distillery.

This was a good place to organize the pantry after the huge Costco haul we made a couple of hours earlier.

While passing through the Eagle-Aspen area we spotted a brand new Costco off the highway, near the airport. The first time in months that we’d seen corporate shopping. We screeched to a halt and stocked up on provisions for our upcoming entertainment plans.

For the next three days, we would have neighbors! Our Airstreaming friends, Ronnie and Joe Harris were joining us at Crawford State Park.

Interfacing with friends – even friends we adore – had me tethered between feelings of excitement and dread.

Six months without extensive contact with anyone other than Jim and Pico made me feel a bit skittish about my conversation and entertainment skills.

Seems, I’m thriving on this isolation thing. Social distancing has provided a windfall of time to write, exercise, take pictures, and to practice my experimental style of home cooking.

I’ve also gained a sense that, if necessary, I could travel indefinitely in semi-quarantine. Dodging microorganisms in our shiny escape pod may be an addiction. But, I fear this ongoing pandemic has made me socially awkward. But, maybe I’ve always been a bit … off.

Thank goodness for Jim whose glittering charisma lights up the room. Well, not a room – not these days – but you know what I mean. So, for very different reasons, Jim and I both needed some normal time with friends who shared the same concerns we have about the virus and were willing to visit while adhering to the new rules.

Stoneyard Distillery – Gypsum, Colorado – Elevation: 6,300′

Speaking of this strange new world we’re living in, how does beet moonshine grab ya? When we spent the night at Stoneyard Distillery, a very tall masked man with a crazy blue-eyed dog presented us with a flight of fine American beetroot liquor. We hope our friends at Stoneyard are safe from the wild fires this week.

Hey! Beet-liquor is real good. One would be negligent to turn up their nose on the humble beet. It is highly probable that the original Red Velvet Cake was crafted with these crimson subterranean beauties.

After a great night’s sleep, we set out for the beautiful village of Carbondale in the spectacular Roaring Fork Valley on the south bank of the Crystal River where Mount Sopris reigns over all. 

We stopped for breakfast at Village Smithy Cafe. The lawn dining area spaced the tables about twenty feet apart. While we were not yet acclimated to the heat – which was in the high 90’s – we still enjoyed the coffee and spicy Mexican brekkie. We walked the long way back to the truck through Carbondale and fell in love with this cheerful valley community.

As we drove south on Highway 133, two identical young bucks – twins perhaps? – crossed the road about a meter in front of us, tongues dangling pitifully, panting for a drink in the river flowing on the opposite side of the highway.

The deer crossed as we were slowly pulling out of this pull-off near Mount Sopris.

We uttered a prayer of thanks that this was merely a close one and continued our off-the-beaten-path Colorado journey into the North Fork Valley and our headquarters at …

Crawford State Park – Crawford, CO – Elevation: 6,600′

Our first sight of gorgeous, turquoise, Crawford Lake gave us some hope that we could deal with the heat wave hitting this region in Summer 2020.

We spotted Ronnie and Joe’s Airstream Interstate as we pulled up to our campsite.

I stepped out of the truck into a thick billowy breeze that felt like a dozen hot demonic pillows fresh from the dryer pummeling me, head-to-toe – reminded me of all those summer bargain vacations in Palm Springs we took during our child-rearing years. Heat dominated everything. With the walkie-talkies, I guided Jim as he backed into the site and shortly, Ronnie and Joe came over to greet us. 

It had been more than two years since we’d last seen this wonderful couple in The Florida Keys but within moments the time gap closed. It’s easy to relax into the company of self-reliant people who know the road, respect its mercies and its dangers, share its wisdom, and draw energy from both the glories and the disasters.

We first met Ronnie and Joe in Ashville, North Carolina in Autumn 2017. Mutual friends, Debbie and Frank DiBona introduced us and we all hit it off.

Francophile Floridians from New York with homes stateside and in Provence, Ronnie and Joe and their two adorable Biewer Terrier companions are perpetual world travelers.

Their whiz-bang Airstream Interstate is their home for at least six months of the year. Three years ago, Joe recruited us to the Wally Byam Airstream Club. They are also members of the European chapter of the club.

As former New York executives, Ronnie and Joe have formidable organization skills.

Three years ago, after a tour of their van, Jim and I saw the light. It took us about two years after we hit the road, but using The Harris Method, we finally downsized our gear by almost half and completely reorganized the rig.

Ronnie – who could double for Helen Mirren – is an excellent cook.

Every night her refreshing homemade Limoncello made the heat much more bearable. 

“It’s a good life all in all …to have a chance to hang around.
and sit there by the fire and watch the evening mellow
while my friends and my old lady sit and pass the limoncello around.”
-inspired by John Denver’s Poems, Prayers and Promises.

The next day we all embarked on a winery tour.

There are twelve boutique, family owned and operated vineyards in the Paonia-Crawford-Hotchkiss area – and all are very good.

This is rustic, crunchy, organic farm country with artisan everything from fresh local eggs, cheeses and baked goods. Homemade signs along the highway coaxed us down narrow unpaved drives where we could purchase fresh vegetables and fruit from hundreds of local farms and orchards. 

So, yeah … there was no need to stock up at Costco. 

Ah, well. Live and learn.

On that first day we went to three local tastings …

Azura Winery

and Stone Cottage Cellars

and Qutori Wines …  

Happy Hour and Sunsets

For the remaining two days, Ronnie and Joe took off in their rental car to see the sights and, in the evenings, we convened for Happy Hour, sunset viewing and conversation.

On Day Two, we observed the most impressive atmospheric display any of us had ever seen. At first we thought a wildfire was heading straight for the campground but the air didn’t smell of smoke.   

 In 1985, John Denver testified before Congress to defend the lyrics of his song, Rocky Mountain High:

“Obviously [some people have never seen] or been to the Rocky Mountains, and never experienced the elation, celebration of life or the joy in living that one feels when he observes something as wondrous as the Perseid meteor shower on a moonless, cloudless night, when there are so many stars that you have a shadow from the starlight, and you are out camping with your friends, your best friends, and introducing them to one of nature’s most spectacular light shows for the first time.”

But breathtaking skies are all part of the average day in The North Fork Valley.

Everywhere, at all times, day and night, the sky could not have been more beautiful than if we were standing at heaven’s portal. 

Saying goodbye and on our own

The day Ronnie and Joe said their goodbyes and pulled out, eager to cruise up toward a cooler climate, we had a mind to follow them … but then the heat broke. It rained hard and then the temperature dropped fifteen-to-twenty degrees. We switched off the air-conditioner and for the rest of our time in Crawford, the climate was perfection.  

Now, our only problem was limited connectivity … the worst we’ve experienced in the three years since we upgraded to the booster. It’s very frustrating to pay top-dollar for services and to be dead in the water for weeks on end. We had to drive into town just to send a text. The Crawford Public Library – only a mile away – wasn’t much help. Due to COVID-19 they were only open two days a week and – unlike so many other public libraries – the router was turned off when the doors were closed. So, we were reduced to begging for passwords at pubs, cafes and wineries.

Oh well … we made the best of it.

Chrysalis Barrel Aged Beer featured the best sours we’ve ever tasted. We brought a homemade picnic and hung out on their deck catching up on email and letting our family know we were alive. Situated alongside the railroad track, we sipped beer and watched the train go by. God, I love trains. And we both love sour beer. Fabulous pairing for Wifi Hobos.

Next Stop was to stock up on dry beans because who knows when there’ll be another lockdown, or even a potential quarantine. So, we set out toward Delta for Big B’s, a produce stand Ronnie and Joe discovered on one of their drives.

For the life of me I can’t find a link to this awesome roadside stand – but trust me, Big B’s is right there on the highway just outside Delta. You can’t miss the painted plywood cows. 

Endless Endeavor, a stealth winery on Pitkin Mesa just a mile outside Paonia has some of the best reds we’ve tasted. A retired navy captain and his wife run a B&B with alpine views backdropping the vineyard. Endless Endeavor is an ideal place for non-RVers to stay while visiting The North Fork Valley … and they have great bandwidth.

At Capt. Wegner’s suggestion, we stopped by Western Culture Farmstead and Creamery in time to watch the afternoon milking. We made our selections and couldn’t wait to get home … Old World-style wine and silky textured french-style cheese and rustic bread for dinner. Heaven!   

I’ve heard winemakers say it takes a lot of beer to make a good wine. Capt. Wegner, our concierge for the day, directed us to Paonia United Brewing Company, a local establishment in an old church building.

Word has it that, at one time, Paonia held the record for the most churches, per capita, of any municipality in North America. If that folklore is true, it is no longer the case. Now, many of the small neighborhood churches on charming tree-lined streets serve as residences, law-offices, breweries, pre-schools and restaurants.

Paddling Crawford lake is such a joy.

Jim knows when I say “my lake,” I’m talking about Crawford Reservoir.

Though this seasonal pool is quite small, it’s visually stunning with blue diamond water surrounded by golden hills studded with emerald green foliage

Sadly, the 2020 Spring Flow was low, and the water was being drawn off at about a foot per day to sustain the farms, orchards and ranches. When it was too difficult and unsafe to put-in we thought about pulling out. 

But there was still plenty more local sights to keep us busy for two more days …

Like, hiking Needle Rock … 

… and viewing the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park    

And, on our final night, we went to Paonia for a scrumptious dinner a’fresco at The Living Farm Cafe …   

And, for dessert, we walked to the corner Ice Cream Shop for a freshly made gluten-free waffle cone and the best gluten-free ice cream on the planet at Ollie’s.  

Exiting Colorado

The next morning, we hooked up and headed toward Palisade for our last overnight stay in Colorado. But, on the way, we stopped in Delta, The City of Murals.     

We had a great time until something in Jim’s leg snapped when he leapt off a curb. I wrapped his leg and put it on ice and he stayed fairly comfortable as I drove forty miles to Palisade.

When we arrived to Sauvage Spectrum Wines, he managed the short walk to the tasting room where he happily selected a few bottles of exquisite sparkling wine.

That evening, we sat outside in the vineyard, Jim’s foot elevated, and strategized this medical evac situation.  

Next morning ended our 48-day tour of back-country Colorado.

Later that morning, I dropped Jim off at the door of Moab Regional Hospital in Moab, Utah where he was diagnosed with a ruptured right achilles tendon. After four hours and excellent care by the robust team of doctors and the top-notch medical staff, Jim walked out with an orthopedic boot and instructions to see an orthopedic surgeon in six weeks.

So, yes, our last full day in Colorado could have gone better, but we’re grateful it wasn’t worse. The last time we had a major traveling injury was August ’98 in Yosemite when – on the first day of our two-week family vacation – Jim fractured his left foot on the Mist Falls Trail. He refused to go home.

He hasn’t changed much over the years. Our next stop that day: Dead Horse Point State Park – sweet digs for taking it easy … to rest, heal and marvel over the canyon views.

Final Note: As we pulled into Dead Horse, Joe texted from Steamboat Springs to ask how we were doing … Joe said “Not to worry. Ronnie had to wear an orthopedic boot and she walked all over Italy in the thing.”


Airstream just published an article about Living in Beauty.

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.