I stepped into the Rocky Mountain for the first time since August of 2013 and took a deep breath. When I left last September, I had no clue when I’d be back again, a feeling I’m often faced with. Crisp air laced my lungs, it was pure and wonderful.
In Phoenix that morning while waiting to board the plane to Denver, it was some 80 degrees and I was surrounded by cowboy boots, people talking about calving, and roping that evening. That’s what I think of when I think of Colorado. I wanted to pipe in that I was going out to the ranch too, where the calves were being born, I might get to tag one or two, out there where I’d get to ride the plains again.
Whenever I leave Colorado for a while, I notice how friendly the people are. People are genuinely friendly, they say thank you when someone opens the door for them, they smile at you for no other reason than because they want to, they ask random people how they are doing. On my very first day back, it was a Thursday, we went to a local Mexican food restaurant, where no one was Mexican. It was the local farmer/oil field worker joint of choice, clearly, as the whole table behind us was crammed with at least 7 large men, slightly covered in dirt, their jeans stained with black and a tan leather exterior. Which, if they pull of their sunglasses exposes kind blue, green and brown eyes. They are often young men, whose exterior looks older than their interior. Their big rough hands plowed through burritos, beans, rice and full Mexican dinner plates. They were polite, talked about the things that men talk about, about work, and building things. They laughed in good humor.
As we drove down the familiar driveway that night to the ranch, the long stretch of dirt road leading out into the Rockies spread far out behind us, I felt home again. I put my bags in the room that I always sleep in, with the fancy dark wooden bedposts topped with a blow up mattress and an expensive comforter, in a nearly empty room. That’s my room at the ranch. That first night the wind howled and shook the house, it rattled the windows behind my bed so hard I thought the half of the house that I was in might detach from the other half of the house and blow away. I got up for a glass of milk, then made it back to the bed. Ranch coffee (and local honey) awaited me in the morning. I like to call it cowboy coffee, even though its not near the likes of the black stuff that was poured for me by a few good cowboys I’ve met in life, specifically some trick ropers who lived in Flagstaff, I had a full lecture on cowboy coffee that day. They made coffee so thick the chunks of coffee grounds linger on your tongue and in your cup and flies can walk across the top. That’s not what we drink out here.
I was excited to get back on a horse again. The horses were out on their 80 some acres, they heard us drive up and high-tailed it to the north, towards us, snorting and thundering away. I pulled a handful of apple treats from the tack room and shoved them in the fleece I had to borrow because none of my jackets were heavy enough for the 45-50 degree day. We drove up along the fence line where the horses had gone, I had a bridle and a halter slung over one shoulder, my stale boots wrapped stiffly on my feet. Hawk was happy to see me, as usual. He threatened the rest of the horses; baring his teeth and kicking his hind end towards them with a snort. He even kept the little white mule Gatsby away from me. I don’t like that mule much, it looks more like a white donkey than a mule and I told it so one day, he kicked me with one precise kick straight in the thigh and we haven’t spoken since.
Hawk nearly grabbed the bit out of my hand while Joyce put the halter on her horse, Rocky, and then gave me a leg up onto the full wooly winter coated horse. He lost a sweater’s worth of hair onto my pant legs as his winter-fat covered body sweat onto my jeans. I do love that horse. A young bay stallion followed us along back to the barn. I was bareback and tugging Rocky lazily along behind me. I buried my knuckles and fingernails into Hawk’s hair and winter fuzz. He was squishy beneath my knees. No better way to get back on a horse after last sitting on my own horse, my childhood horse, who died last August.
It may be awhile before I let another horse into my heart, she’s had all of it since I was 12, and always will. But there is no better way to get back on, and ride, than to hop on bareback and feel the horse again. A young stallion pranced and nickered along beside us, leaving the rest of the herd behind. They were more interested in the new Spring grass. He circled around in front of us and snorted and kicked out, slicing through empty air towards the mountains. If he got too close, Hawk gave him the stink eye, but Rocky ignored him completely. For some reason he felt his place was alongside these two, well-behaved geldings. The wind rustled through my hair, and the view off to the Rockies miles away was as clear as the sun was bright that day. Their snow-covered peaks hovered off like royalty in the distance, their purple crowns the lingering clouds above them.
The next day I would greet those mountains again. We hiked high up into their 8,800 feet, up past Estes Park. I hadn’t been there yet after the floods that happened in September 2013, when the freak floods demolished the little town of Glen Haven among others, and plowed through parts of Estes, and put towns like Loveland, and Boulder, under water. My friend’s homes had been turned into islands; they were holed up for days with the water to deep to cross in many places. That canyon road up to Estes had been wiped out in many places but Estes itself although a bit dirt covered and battered coming out of the winter that covered the flood debris, was bustling as usual. Crowds of people were out with ice cream cones and caramel apples and taffy, just as they always had been. Since September crews have been working around the clock to build new roads, to re-route the river, to pick up the pieces of people’s lives and homes that were carried down with the flood, as if this was a rare, freak occurrence.
And as after all Colorado’s disasters (following a slew of fires last year) Mother Nature never lets us forget her overruling power. Colorado rebuilds. Because of those fires the floods became a hurling mass of black dirt and mud mixed together with waste, porta-potties, trees and debris down the canyon into the towns along the Front Range. A humbling reminder of just how fragile our world is compared to the mountains. The bottoms of houses perched along the river had been ripped off; washers and dryers were hanging by mere cords out the bottom of houses that now looked like they were on stilts, ready to fall in any seconds like a child’s doll house thrown into the river. There were bridges placed parallel to the river, sitting, as if dead along the river, no longer serving their purpose. And because it was the weekend, people were parked up next to the buildings or piles that were once their homes, seeming to be picking up pieces of what was left.
We turned onto the twisty back road that goes into Glen Haven, which is usually a favorite back road for cyclists and fast cars to whip around. It’s become a dirt road, destroyed by debris and trees, and dirt and we were alone. There were public restrooms from the rest areas on their sides, barely still upright tipping towards the water, and more bridges that didn’t bridge any roads. The little yellow and blue houses near Glen Haven were gone, it seemed that all that was standing was the General Store, a lone ranger standing tall amongst a ghost of the town. Flipped and crushed cars sat along the side of the road, and trucks with shattered roofs and windshields hovered along the road. Just last summer that General Store was full of a frenzy of people buying their home made sandwiches, cinnamon roles and snacks. An orange and black sign now hung on the wooden building now, “KEEP OUT,” it said, the insides of the store empty. As we drove slowly through the small town, staring at the damage, a woman started bopping and dancing a sign around in the middle of the road ahead. She held a large Fire Fighter’s boot in her hands with a sign asking for help, for donations, to help rebuild her town. Josh and I started scraping up all of our change, and $1’s, and dumping it into her boot. You too, can help here.
By Tuesday we were back up in Denver, the biggest city I’d ventured around since I left Madrid Spain last September. I wanted to see the museums but the plans changed and we ended up at REI Denver for a few hours. I had needed to replenish some of my outdoor essentials, something I can’t do back in Yuma.
To get a real jacket, Colorado is necessary. We made a loop around the downtown area to find my favorite NOVO coffee, the coffee that Maynard James Keenan purchased to put his own label “Mocha Jahova” on for Puscifer coffee, which I’d stumbled upon a few months ago. I had to track that flavor down and after running out of “Mocha Jahova”, I stocked up on Novo’s Four Leftys, and tucked it up in my bag to make its way down to the deep desert. We ate lunch at Freshcraft, where I was quickly reminded of my love for the local craft brews and fresh produce.
On Wednesday it was time for Boulder. Even though I lived in Fort Collins for 9 years, Boulder has always had a special place in my heart, and I will probably always kind of want to live there. There is a heavier concentration of weird people in Boulder, but I appreciate that. I had another thorough tour with my brother who lives there again, and had my first Chemex experience at Ozo coffee before moving on to CoWorking spaces around Boulder, a concept I hadn’t yet experienced. The sun was shining for a bit and everyone was out, spring was taunting us all.
On Thursday I was back in Fort Collins and out in the sunshine with a Spring Blonde from New Belgium brewery with a massive slice of Pizza Casbah’s small bit of heaven on a pizza. Everyone was out on bicycles, smiling behind their beards and rolled up pant legs. Of course nostalgia got the better of me and I had to wander over to the CSU campus, which I’ve only been away from for 7 months, you’d think I’d be sick of it by now. I wanted to walk through the oval. That night was followed by adventures back to my old digs, where I used to work, and an outing to my favorite old hangout, Crankenstein, the café/bar/bike shop in Old Town. Friday began at 11:30am with Einstein’s Bagels and then a New Belgium Brewing brewery tour, which we rode to on bicycles, followed by O’dell brewing, and Fort Collins brewery. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day in Fort Collins.
Saturday in Fort Collins the sun came out with confidence on my cold shoulders. Josh and I picked up picnic provisions to take up to the Poudre Canyon for my last time in the Rockies. Those twisty Mountain roads never get old. Back in my college days my best friend Keith and I would head up in the evenings to star gaze, to get away from the city and forget about school for a bit. I was up that canyon a lot in my life, camping and hiking trips, fishing and mind clearing.
I was also lucky enough to meet a cousin I’d been meaning to meet for many years in life, and only first met for coffee in Greeley Sunday morning. It’s been a neat adventure slowly getting to meet that side of the family. I’ve always felt a bit of a secluded child having grown up out in the desert away from the rest of the family, and not having met much family on either side. I love each one I meet. I’m always amazed at the musicality of that side of the family, everyone sings and plays an instrument, even if they don’t admit it.
On my way out of Colorado in the Denver Airport I finally found, sitting in the airport, the soft pale blue Colorado t-shirt I’d been searching for all week. Everyone has Colorado tees, as if they’re a “thing” now, but no one had had the right size, style or texture for my taste. I found one. Strolling through the airport back in my blue jeans, old boots and with a probably faded tan, I felt I had fully acclimated back into my other home, Colorado. I fit in there well, and am once again torn between desert roots, my inner lizard, and my inner, hippy mountain girl. I am both, and I have two homes. But on the plane facing West, I’m looking forward to stepping out into my sunshine.