There are a lot of things to like in Colorado. One of them is definitely not
the annoyingly bureaucratic way the fee system for their state parks is handled.
Ok, I'll be the first to admit that part of the reason it bothered me so much
was that every time (2 so far) I pulled into a state park, I was really just
trying to find a place to sleep ASAP. Still, every other place I've visited
so far would put their entry fee into their camping fee (for those camping),
only making you pay the one time. "What's the big deal" you're probably
thinking, "the total cost is still the same, isn't it?". Yeah, but
there's still the other payment logistic, "exact change". Example
- at the first park I stayed at, the entry fee was $4, and the camping fee was
$14. Now, I've been making a point of having small bills at all times, and I
could easily have managed a 10, a 5, and 3 ones, for a grand total of $18. But
Nooooooo. Their system required me to have eight one-dollar bills. Obscene,
I tell you. I ended up just putting a 5 in the entry fee, and a ten and a five
(being 1 bill short of exact change) in the camping fee, essentially pissing
away $2. The next place I went to at least accepted checks.
So, what about the good parts of Colorado? When I started my drive from Grand Junction to Boulder (I basically just did it as a straight shot across the state), I was less than captivated. It was kind of pretty, sure, but it was kind of like going on a date with your former homecoming queen the day after returning from your Caribbean vacation with a supermodel/novelist - sure, she may have a lot to offer, but all you notice at first are the shortcomings. This feeling passed pretty quickly, fortunately, once the highway dipped into some riverside valley (I'll try to find the name). Then the oddest thing happened, and I was suddenly very struck by thoughts of Japan. It had a very similar feel to some of the mountainous areas I visited there. The colors of the trees had started to change, but really it was something about the way the air felt. It almost tasted like Japan (not Nagoya, more like Okazaki, Koraanke, places like that) (for those of you who know the same areas). I found myself suddenly craving a cup of amazake, or perhaps a nice seafood doria (since I've never found a place in L.A. that serves either).
"Who do you know in Boulder?" one of my friends asked when hearing of my travel plans. "No one", I replied, "but a number of people have told me they think I'd like it". As I was now on the road to Boulder, it occurred to me that it would be a wise idea to call one of these people (a former Activision co-worker) and ask for some recommendations on places to go, etc. Definitely a good call on my part (no pun intended, but none actually avoided, either). First place he recommended to me, after hearing that I was still on the road there (note: 8,000 feet seems to be the point at which my vehicle performance really drops. 11,000 feet really doesn't do it any good, though), he recommended I stop in Idaho Springs and visit a place called "Beaujo's pizza". "They have the best Mountain Pies you'll ever taste", he informed me. Obviously, as they have the only Mountain Pie I've ever tasted, his prophecy is still holding true. The main thing that makes it a Mountain Pie seemed to be the crust. The outer rim of the crust was very large and puffy. They also give you some honey to eat the "bones" with (fun with typo's - I just looked back at that sentence and saw that I'd written "They even give you some "homey" to eat the bones with. Nice that they don't make you dine alone :-) . Very tasty, and I had a decent microbrew as well. Also notable were the napkins on the walls. Not so much for themselves (pretty common for kids to write on napkins and put them on the walls of some establishments), but there were two that really caught my eye. The first one just said "OZZY RULES!" (a child after my own heart), and the other had a pretty good picture of an eyeball with the words "I Am Watching".
After dinner, I made my way into Boulder. Just sort of made my way to downtown by pure luck. Parked, and walked around their outdoor mall area. Was really looking for a movie theater, didn't have much luck. Decided then that I wanted to find a dive bar. I knew there had to be a one somewhere around there. Something that didn't feel like a bohemian brewpub (which are cool, but not what I was in the mood for). Sure enough, I found the "Sundown Saloon". Place had a great jukebox, a big stack of "The Onion" (print form), and they even had Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap! One thing I discovered in Nevada (where we went to many dive bars), it is very difficult to find a place that serves PBR on tap. Stayed there for a few drinks, then decided to head out, as I still needed to figure out where I was going to park for the night. Once I got back to my car, I noticed that they didn't start checking the meters until 9:00 am, so I just set my alarm and slept there (I have only done this a few times, actually. I have no problem being parked outside of a friend's house and sleeping there, but I'm never as at ease sleeping just somewhere random (even if it's a good neighborhood). Always afraid I'll have overlooked some city ordinance and find myself waking up at 4 am being towed away, or ticketed, or just having the cops bust me for some sort of vagrancy. College towns seem to be decent ones for breaking this rule, as you have a largely short-term population in the first place, making any one vehicle less obvious, and also making people less concerned as a rule (if you're parked in front of "the apartment complex they happen to be in this year", as opposed to "MY house!")).
The next morning, I headed up Boulder Canyon to a town called "Nederland". My source (Jason) had told me to go to "Bob's Bakery" and get something called "bugles" (a tasty pastry, so I'm told). He'd also told me that the whole canyon area was beautiful. The road up was a bit of a bear, as it passed my 8,000 feet problem point, and apparently had a 10% grade in some places (according to the signs on the way down). Well, when I got to where he described "Bob's Bakery", I found a place called "Laura's Bakery", with a sign that was clearly a good 20 years newer than the building itself, indicating a fairly recent change of name. No bugles, either. I ended up getting an apple turnover and a cup of coffee and heading a short distance back up the road to where it overlooked the reservoir (Nederland is just behind a damn). Turned out there were some picnic tables on a path right by where I parked, so I got out my computer, sat down by the "lake", drank my coffee and at my turnover while working on my journal. One additional important note for setting the scene was the music. The album "Birds of My Neighborhood" by the band "The Innocence Mission" was the first thing I listened to, and my feeling that it would be the perfect album to complement the environment was not wrong. Very mellow, folk-y sound, excellent for a brisk Rocky Mountain morning (hell, there's even a John Denver cover on it). For the record, personal favorite song on it would be "Lakes of Canada".
Had a nice, peaceful morning there by the lake, then when my laptop battery ran out, headed back down into Boulder to take care of some errands. Still needed something to fix the roof with, needed to do laundry, etc. It was then that I made an interesting discovery - Boulder's streets have one of the worst numbering systems I've even encountered. Maybe that's an exaggeration. Not that it's one of the worst, but that it is a system in the first place ("Do you find my methods 'unsound'?" "I don't see any 'method' here at all" - Apocalypse Now). Generally, when a town has a row of streets that are all numbered, it makes it very easy to find your way. "2525 Canyon", for example, will be between 25th street and 26th street. Not so in Boulder. It could be between 29th and 30th, or it could be between 13th and 14th for all you know. But that's not the worst of it. If it were an actual system, even one as screwed up as I describe, you would at least be able to apply this knowledge once you had acquired it. "Ok" you would say to yourself", I just need to remember that the 2500 block in after 13th, and the 3500 block is after 42nd, then I can interpolate and extrapolate to get myself at least close to the mark all around town". *BZZZZT* I'm sorry, thanks for playing. Turns out, that parallel streets do not have their numbers on the same blocks! So, while the 2500 block may be after 13th street when you're driving on Canyon, it could be after 17th if you're on Arapahoe! Made it almost impossible to find things based off their address in the phone book. (The only town I can remember to have rivaled Boulder was Gainesville, FL. There the building numbering systems made sense as I recall, it was street numberings that were screwy. You might be passing by 5th street, then 6th street then 7th street, everything seeming to make perfect sense, when all of a sudden you pass 28th avenue. All the ones with the same word for "strip of land going between buildings" followed a sane numbering system, but then there was this other universe overlain upon Gainesville where they had a separate, equally well ordered numbering system, and you didn't know which one you were approaching. Particularly hell on an out-of-towner.)
Luckily I discovered something else that day - occasionally, someone else will think along the same lines as I do. Just a day or so earlier, I'd found myself thinking "What someone needs to do is to have a Laundromat where you can surf the web while your clothes are washing". Sure enough, what do I find while I'm looking for Laundromats in the yellow pages? Yep, you guessed it, and only 3 blocks from where I was (meaning it would take me approximately 15 minutes to find it, of course). Had a very productive day, and managed to slip in a screening of "Apocalypse Now Redux". Drove back up the canyon and a bit past Nederland to camp at a state park (so that I could be in that area when I awoke). Spent most of the next day up there, and found I really liked the feel of the town. It seems to have done something quite rare, in that it has actually struck a reasonable balance between catering to the tourist trade (people visiting the lake, or passing through to somewhere else) and having a good "existing for the locals" feel to it as well. I could easily see myself living somewhere like that (considering its proximity to Boulder, another important factor), except for the whole "It gets really stinkin' COLD there in the winter!" part. I'm not a cold climate person. I can visit them, but I'd lose what little mind I have after 3 winters, maximum.
Today I went on a seriously kick-ass hike! What I mean by this, of course, is that I went on a hike that seriously kicked my ass! Decided to try my hand at a "Fourteener", i.e., a peak that is over 14,000 feet. Specifically, I decided I would try Yale Mountain, 14,126 feet. The trailhead is just below 10,000 feet (like 9800, 9900, in there), so the total change in elevation was just over 4000 feet. That was tough, but I really think the killer was the elevation at the top. Once I got above the tree line, the going got really slow. Of course, the trail also got a lot steeper at this point. The main thing convincing me it was the altitude causing me the main problems was how easily I got winded when starting on the return trip. It was fairly level at that point, and I'd had a bit of time to rest, but I still tired a lot more easily than I ended up doing once I got back down to the tree line (I couldn't stand still for fear my legs would give out, of course, but I wasn't tired ;-) .
Skipped a bit back there. One minute I was in Nederville, the next I was at 14K. Didn't really skip much, except for my visit to some friends' grandma. Plural possessive used there as she is the grandma to more than one friend of mine. They're all siblings (not a requirement, as they could be cousins). Anyway, I'd ever met her before, but it just seemed like it would be a kick to visit someone further up the bloodline of a family I know pretty well. It was. Found out a lot about their maternal family history. Also got directions to the trailhead for Mt. Yale, which would come in handy the next day (or on the previous paragraph, depending on your perspective).
And, well, that was pretty much it for Colorado. Headed down south that evening, and in the morning crossed over into New Mexico.
On to New Mexico .