Addendum to My Summer Log:

My Trip to Colorado

by Sharon Goldwater


The following is a rather detailed description of a week-long vacation I took this summer (1997). I went with my parents and my brother, Dan, to visit my mother's sister, Judy, her husband, Norbert, and my cousins Ethan (who's 20) and Walden (who's 22). They have a house in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, which Norbert designed himself (he's an architecture professor) and which they have been constructing, with professional help when necessary, for the last 4 summers.

Friday, August 8

Today we left Amherst and arrived in Albuquerque around dinnertime. Dan arrived separately, having come direct from Providence. This is his first vacation with us since St. John, I think-- about 7 years. He hasn't even been on a plane since then. It's kind of crazy considering all the places I've been-- Russia, the Yukon, Quebec, Israel, Washington state, California, and out here three times. Albuquerque is getting pretty familiar. We went to the folkdancing at UNM, as usual, though for some reason we had trouble finding it. I still can't figure out if we parked in the same place as usual or not. I think the problem is they redid the parking lot so it looked different and we got confused.

Saturday, August 9

Headed out of Albuquerque this morning. Dan acted just like I did the first time I ever came to the Southwest-- he sat in the car with his camera pointed out the window, snapping pictures of the spectacular scenery. I found it pretty funny, since he's never been one to do that sort of thing-- also because I could act all blase, though I did the same thing 3 years ago. We stopped in Santa Fe for lunch, which we ate in the plaza. Dan took one look at the area around the plaza and pronounced it a big tourist trap. Which I suppose it is, though it's the sort of tourist trap I like-- expensive and yuppie. I would rather look at beautiful things I can't afford than cheap tacky souvenirs any day.

After Santa Fe we stopped at the Echo Canyon Amphitheater, which hasn't changed (surprise). The only difference was that this time the weather was much cooler so we didn't die of heat walking the 100 yards in from the road. It's amazing how much nicer it is around here at 95 degrees than at 105. 95 degrees with zero humidity is not bad at all.

We got into Pagosa Springs around dinnertime, and were met by Judy, Norbert, and Ethan. Walden had gone into town to get some ricotta cheese, because Judy was making lasagna, but apparently he got stuck (probably in the library reading magazines), and Judy decided to just use cottage cheese. He finally got back about halfway through dinner.

The house looks a whole lot more finished than it did two years ago. Last time we were working on putting in the plumbing (actually only half the plumbing—either the inflow or the outflow, I can't remember), and now they have two full working bathrooms. The wiring inside the walls is all done, and the drywall is up and painted. The wood stove they ordered last time is installed and working, and the kitchen is fully functional. There are still extension cords running all over the place, though, because even though the wiring is done inside the walls, the outlets and switches haven't been hooked up yet.

Sunday, August 10

It rained almost all day today. Apparently this summer has been extremely wet and cool, and it's been raining almost every day for the last two weeks. This makes hiking rather difficult, but (as I discovered on our walk after dinner) makes for a profusion of wildflowers. I had forgotten how amazing the scenery is around here. They really picked a great spot, and it's so beautiful just walking along the road.

I started reading "The Island of the Day Before" by Umberto Eco, which Mom gave to Walden for a birthday present, but which neither he nor Judy has read yet. So she told me to read it so I could encourage her to read it so she could encourage Walden to read it. Unfortunately it's 513 pages, so I doubt I'll be able to finish it before I have to leave.

Dan went into town this morning to pick up the mountain bike that he's rented for the week. This afternoon he tried to test it out, but instead of going along the gravel road, he picked the dirt road instead. He got about 100 yards down the road before the bike was so completely covered in mud that he couldn't continue. The mud around here is crazy. The soil is really clay, and when it gets wet, it sticks to everything, including itself. So if you walk through it, it starts to build up on the soles of your shoes until you have a 2 inch layer of mud and rocks stuck to your shoes. And in Dan's case, it collected on his wheels until it got so thick that it couldn't pass under the brakes, and then it glommed into a huge ball around them. So he had to come back and spend quite a while cleaning off the bike.

Monday, August 11

This morning it rained again, but then it cleared up so we decided to attempt our first hike. Judy and Norbert suggested Piedra Falls because they said it was really beautiful but the hike was pretty easy and would get us acclimated to the altitude. Mom, Dad, Dan, Ethan, and I hopped in the car to drive to the trailhead. Actually hopped is a considerable exaggeration, since anytime we go anywhere it takes us forever. Ethan says the Lechners by themselves are bad enough, but when you combine them with us, and especially with Dan, it gets ridiculous. We seem to end up actually driving away from the house about an hour after someone starts saying "okay, we're leaving in five minutes." Luckily I have the Eco book, so I just get ready and then get a good 45 minutes of reading done.

In any case, the five of us set out for the trailhead, which was almost an hour away. (Judy and Norbert both have work that they need to do, and of course Walden doesn't go on hikes unless coerced). It was a nice drive, but when we got to the turnoff from the main road, we discovered that the 8 mile road up to the trailhead was unpaved and ungravelled. We started to proceed along it, driving through large patches of mud with deep tire ruts in them, which kept getting larger and deeper. Dad insisted that in this situation the best thing to do is to drive through the existing ruts, because otherwise you end up making your own ruts, which takes much more energy. (He has this on authority from the survival guide they had in Africa). However, we argued that although this was true if you were going to make your own ruts anyway, we thought the mud surrounding the ruts was much firmer than the mud in the ruts (which had water sitting in it), so we wouldn't have sunk in much at all. But since Dad was driving, he got his way. In any case, we kept going and the mud kept getting worse and worse, and then we started arguing about whether to even keep going or not, with Dan (naturally) in vehement support, and the rest of us rather doubtful. Ethan was, I think, somewhat amused and bewildered by the whole thing, and admitted that his family would have turned around long ago. In any case, we continued in this way for about 3 miles, and then we got stuck.

Luckily it wasn't too bad, so the four passengers got out, and Dad drove out without too much difficulty by alternating between forward and reverse until he rocked himself out. Unfortunately he ended up on the far side of the mud, so he had to turn around and come through again. Of course Dan was still trying to convince us to keep going, but considering that the next quagmire was only a hundred feet down the road, and was even worse than this one, we overrode his objections. By this time Dad had decided that avoiding the ruts really was the better idea, so he turned around and drove back without too much trouble.

We thought it was a shame to just turn around without any hike at all, so we walked up the road for a mile or two until we got to a little lookout, then turned around and came back. I managed to step in a spot that looked solid but my boot actually sunk up to the ankle. Oops. Anyway, by the time we got back to the car, everyone's shoes were completely encrusted in the clay mud that is impossible to get off. We made a valiant effort but it didn't really work, so we ended up getting mud all over the inside as well as the outside of the car. All I could think was how much the rental car place was going to love us.

After that little adventure, we made our way home. In the afternoon Ethan showed me how to wire an outlet (Norbert showed him yesterday), and I helped him finish them. Now only the switchplates are missing.

Tuesday, August 12

This morning all eight of us set off for Wolf Creek Pass on the continental divide. We put Dan's bike in the back of the van, and let him off several miles from the trailhead so he could ride up. By the time the rest of us had had a snack and figured out what to put in our packs, he was already at the top, altitude (about 12,000 ft.) notwithstanding. The trail is actually part of a much longer trail which runs along the divide through the whole state, so you just go as far as you want and then turn around. We walked for a mile or two (passing a patch of snow on the way), then left the trail to climb up a nearby peak. The view from the trail was pretty good, but the peak was completely conical with no trees on top, so it gave a 360 degree view of the entire area. We sat up there admiring for a while, but it was awfully windy and we eventually got cold and came down.

After dark we decided tonight was the night for a demonstration of Dan's super-duper-deluxe UFO--I mean Frisbee. He took the idea for a lighted Frisbee from that one we had once and improved upon it. There are four LED's around the rim-- two red and two yellow-green. They are wired to a small battery in the middle and a little dial. When you turn it on, they flash rapidly at a rate which you can adjust with the dial. So then when you throw the disc, the flashing lights spin and make patterns in the air. We all walked down the road a ways from the house to a field, and Dan and Ethan and I tossed the disc around for a while. I think Dan was the only one who ever actually managed to catch it. It's a lot harder to catch spinning lights than it is to catch a Frisbee. Probably a combination of the intimidation factor and the fact that, being dark out, you don't want to run around on uneven ground too much for fear of tripping.

Wednesday, August 13

Mom, Dad, Dan, and I went to hike at Opal Lake today. We did the same hike two years ago (except Dan). I got sort of annoyed when we were leaving, because as usual, Dan was holding us up with all his fiddling with the bike (cleaning, oiling, etc.), and Mom kept waiting for him even though we weren't even giving him a ride anywhere. He was just going to ride the entire way on his bike. I finally convinced her that we should just go, though by that time Dan was probably only about 2 minutes behind us. Anyway we got to the trailhead, which was about 20 miles away, and left some food in the car for Dan, and then hiked up to the lake.

When we were almost to the lake, we came to the stream with the log over it, but either the log has gotten more tilted since last time, or the stream was more intimidating (probably, since it's been raining so much), or I've gotten wimpier, because I started trying to walk over the log and realized I didn't want to do it. So we all went around to where there's a much fatter and leveler log and crossed there. On the way back, since the log was tilted up rather than down, and I was trying to prove that I really hadn't gotten wimpy, I decided to try the small log again. Bad idea. I took a few steps and then realized I didn't want to go any further. Unfortunately by this time I was already past the bank so I couldn't jump off. It occurred to me to just back up, but walking backward on a tilted log is not my idea of a good plan. So I just sort of stood there balancing precariously 4 feet above the stream thinking about how stupid and/or wimpy I was. Finally I managed to sort of crouch down and grab the log without losing my balance, and then I scooted back to the bank. My excuse for the whole incident is that my backpack was too big and threw off my balance. Yeah.

The rest of the hike went uneventfully until we got to about a quarter mile from the start, when suddenly Dan appeared, still going after the twenty miles uphill on the road. He wanted to get all the way to the lake, so Mom and Dad decided to turn around and go back again with him. I didn't feel like it, so I went back to the car and read Eco until they got back. The trail is short, so it didn't take more than an hour. (Judy pointed out that there aren't any mid-length trails around here-- they're all either quite short or many many miles.) Dan emerged about 20 minutes ahead of them and rode off towards home, where he arrived shortly after we did. I think he rode about 40 miles altogether.

Dad seems to have something against Eco, or maybe just this book. He keeps wanting to know whether I'm *really* enjoying it, and whether it's got any emotional interest, or is purely intellectual. In fact the second question is somewhat pertinent, since for the first part of the book I didn't really find it emotionally interesting. That part was all about war and politics and philosophy. But then it started getting into science and philosophy, which is much more interesting, and also has more of a plot. Granted, there are entire chapters devoted to, say, the symbolism of the dove (I guess that's what happens when a semiotician writes a book) or the thoughts and feelings of a rock. Some of these are more interesting than others. But the stuff about the Powder of Sympathy and calculating meridians and whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa are really fascinating. I particularly enjoy reading the arguments of the Jesuit because of his views on the relationship between religion and science. Assuming Eco is being accurate, it seems that many people of that time tried to integrate knowledge and discovery of the physical world into their religious beliefs and vice versa, and that the beauty and complexity of each gave inspiration to the other. Quite the opposite of fundamentalists today who completely deny certain scientific findings.

In any case, after we got home, Ethan and I started working on building some shelving for the pantry. The shelves themselves haven't actually arrived yet, but we had to make supports for them. First we had to cut the beams to the right length. And, wonder of wonders, we got to use a power saw! The last time I sawed anything here was three years ago when we were making the sawhorses and putting up the shed, and we sure didn't have any power tools (or electricity) then. Of course Mom had to come out and take her requisite "Sharon and Ethan working together next to the house" picture. This is the third one.

Then we had to figure out where the studs were in the wall. Since Norbert doesn't have a stud finder, he said we should just do it by trial and error, drilling holes along the wall until we found the first stud and then measuring the rest from there. All the holes didn't matter because the beam would cover them up. Seemed kind of silly but there wasn't any other way to do it, and I was just happy to finally have power tools! Ethan managed to pick exactly the wrong spot to start, so we ended up drilling holes for a full 15 inches before finding the stud. Then we found the others, and measured and marked the height of the beams. Then Norbert came over and said "Hey, why don't these line up?" referring to some other marks that had been made earlier on another wall. It turned out that he had given us the wrong measurements, and we had not only drawn big pencil lines all over the wall in the wrong place, but the zillion little holes for finding the stud weren't going to be covered up either! I found this all pretty amusing, probably because a) it wasn't my fault and b) I wasn't the one who was going to have to patch all the holes and repaint.

The rest of the job went smoothly after that.

In the evening, we all went into town to the hot springs (except Ethan, who doesn't like them). It's weird that we've been here twice before and never gone. They have a whole bunch of small pools outdoors next to the river, and each one is a different temperature, ranging from 97 to 110 degrees. We started at 99 degrees, which was very nice and bath-like. Then I moved on to 104, which started out fine, but after a while I had to get halfway out and sit on the edge because I just got too hot. It's really amazing what 5 degrees can do. I cooled off for a while (interesting that it didn't feel cold out at all, even though it was probably only 65 degrees and I was wet) and then I decided to see what the 110 degree pool was like. Answer: pretty darn hot. However, this pool is located right next to the river, so you can get boiled and then go dunk yourself in the river to cool off. Which is exactly what I did. I never really trusted those people who are always telling you that "it's really great to sit in a sauna and then go run outside in the snow" or whatever. But I think now I believe it. The river felt really nice after 110 degrees, and I sat in it for a minute or two without getting cold.

Thursday, August 14

Well. Today was rather eventful. It all started off perfectly well; All eight of us drove up to Silver Falls, dropping Dan at the Windy Pass trailhead. He was going to bike up that trail and then down the Treasure Mountain trail, which intersected it and came out a mile or two down the road from the Silver Falls trailhead. The funny thing about Silver Falls is that the stream actually flows across the road at one point. And I really mean across the road-- you have to drive through the water to get to the base of the falls. It was only about 6 or 8 inches deep, though, so we all got out of the car and crossed on the stones, while Dad and Norbert drove the cars through. I took a picture of Dad crossing (since I missed it with the mud before) but I don't think it will come out very well.

We parked at the base of the falls and walked up to it (about 10 minutes) with the food and ate lunch up there. Then we felt a few drops of rain so we decided to head down before it got worse. Actually Norbert said "We'd better get going so it doesn't rain," which reminded me of all the Powder of Sympathy business in the book, and I remarked that the waterfall was probably sympathetically attracting the rain. In any case, it was a good thing we came down, because just as we got to the bottom it started pouring. We stood under a little shed to wait for it to let up, and Mom said she hoped Dan wouldn't get hypothermia, because he had rainpants, but no raincoat. I said she was being silly. Then it started to hail. The hail pellets were about the size of peas. It stopped hailing after a few minutes, but kept raining. Then it started hailing again. Then it was just raining. After 10 or 15 minutes, we decided we better just make a dash for the cars. We all arrived safely, though rather wet.

Our original plan had been to eat lunch, then come down and explore the Quartz Lake trail, which was just down the road. But since it was raining, not everyone wanted to go, so we sent Mom and Dad to wait for Dan, and Walden was just going to sit in the van and wait for Norbert, Judy, Ethan, and me, who still wanted to take a look at the trail. By this time it was barely raining, but the trail wasn't very clearly defined, so we sort of wandered around trying to find it. After about 15 minutes we had just succeeded in finding what we thought was the trail when Judy and Norbert insisted we go back to where Mom and Dad were; I'm still not exactly sure why-- I think maybe they thought Dan would be back and they didn't want to keep them waiting. But Dan wasn't back, so we said we'd go for a half hour walk and then come back. So we went back again, and headed along what seemed to be the trail. I think parts of it were the trail, but we definitely got off the trail at a certain point. It didn't really matter, though. It was a nice walk across a field and through the woods and along the riverbank. But since we weren't really on a trail, we had to walk through grass and underbrush and our feet got soaking wet. We also heard a strange sort of honking and couldn't figure out if it was a car horn or an elk or what. Then on the way back through the field, which was populated by cows, we realized it was a cow! It was making these terribly loud bellowing sounds which were echoing off the mountains.

So we got back to Treasure Mountain where Mom and Dad were, and still no Dan. By this time it was a little after 3:00, and they couldn't figure out why he hadn't come out yet. They thought maybe he had decided to scrap the whole thing and had turned around and was waiting at the Windy Pass trailhead, where he started from, even though they had told him that if he couldn't make it up, he should just ride around on the road and meet us in the same place. They figured they'd go check at Windy Pass just in case, which meant almost an hour round trip, and we had to sit and wait at Treasure Mountain. They came back at 4, with no Dan. At this point they started getting rather concerned, because the trail was only about 12 miles long, and a lot of downhill. And Dan had been going really fast on everything else this week. So they thought something must have happened like either it was just so muddy that he couldn't ride and had to walk, or that the bike had broken, or that he had slipped on the mud and gotten hurt.

So they decided it was time to call in the authorities. This meant we (Mom, Dad, Ethan, and I) had to drive into town to the ranger station while Judy, Norbert, and Walden still waited by the trailhead. We got to the ranger station and first called the house to make sure Dan wasn't there, which he wasn't. (Although Ethan pointed out that the house was locked, so how would he get in even if he was there?) Then Dad was on the phone for quite a while talking to various people. First he called the county sheriff, but it turned out that the trailhead where Dan started was actually in the next county over (Mineral County) and the two counties don't have any cooperation agreement about this sort of thing, so he had to call the Mineral County sheriff. Eventually he got off the phone and said the Mineral County sheriff was coming to meet us at the Windy Pass trailhead but it would take him 45 minutes to an hour because it was way on the edge of his territory. So we stopped at Circle K to get some food (it was 5 o'clock by now) and then headed towards the trailhead. On the way we dropped Mom off to wait by the turnoff for the Treasure Mountain trailhead in case Judy et al. came out with Dan. We said we would go and pick her up again as soon as the sheriff came.

Dad, Ethan, and I proceeded to the Windy Pass trailhead to wait for the sheriff. We got there a few minutes early and waited till 5:50, when he should have showed up. Then we waited some more. And some more. He didn't show up until almost 7:00, when it was already starting to get dark. (We had picked up Mom by this time and called the house again.) Also, we were sort of expecting him to come with some other people so they could go up the trail, but he was all alone. It became clear that he still wasn't convinced Dan wasn't going to come walking out any minute, because he said that in good conditions, it would take 6 hours to walk the trail. Since it wasn't even good conditions, if Dan had to walk, he really wasn't very late. But Dad was now quite concerned (and I admit I was getting a bit worried myself), and convinced the sheriff that we really did need a search party. The sheriff said that meant he had to call in the horses, or possibly the chopper... At which point Dad jumped on the chopper idea; hang the expense. Ethan and I exchanged glances. I was now thinking, rather than "Cool! Helicopter!", that the horses seemed at least as good given the failing light, and a hell of a lot cheaper. But Dad clearly was not thinking this. It took a few minutes to determine that the nearest helicopter was in Durango, and that it would take half an hour just to get it off the ground, plus maybe 20 minutes or so to get over here. With luck they might have 10 minutes of daylight left. Seemed pretty silly to me, but Dad was insistent.

Dad got in Sheriff's car, Sheriff taught Dad how to use the radio so when Sheriff went up in the chopper, they could talk. Dad and Sheriff went to wait for the chopper, dispatching Mom with me and Ethan back to Treasure Mountain to let Judy and Norbert know what was going on and make sure Dan still hadn't shown up. We got there around 7:45. Dan was not there, and Judy said Norbert and Walden had set off up the trail at about 5:30, and were supposed to return at 8:00. We dropped Ethan off to wait with Judy, then went back to report to Sheriff. On our way out, we ran into Sheriff coming in. Turns out they cancelled the helicopter after all (too dark), and called the guy with the horses. Told me and Mom to wait at the turnoff from the main road for the horses, which should arrive about 9:00. I have to say, waiting there was a pretty terrible time. By now, even I was awfully worried, especially because it was not only dark out, but had also gotten very cold. The horses thankfully arrived right on schedule, and we started driving ahead of them back to the trailhead. It's only about 6 miles, but we were going about 15 miles an hour because of the horse trailer, and it was taking forever. About halfway in, we ran into the Lechners on their way out. Sheriff thought it was still possible Dan had just gone home, so he sent them home to check. They asked if I wanted to come. I said yes.

So I got in the van and we continued on home. At about 10:30, we finally pulled into the driveway, and-- the lights were on in the house. Unbelievable. There was Dan, sitting in front of the computer, checking his email. He looked, I may say, particularly sheepish. Nevertheless, I admit I was pretty darn glad to see him.

One might ask exactly what his story was. Well, it turns out that he started up the trail at 11:30, walking most of the way because it was steep and slippery. When it started raining and hailing an hour later, he didn't have a raincoat and began to be very cold, so he turned around and came down again. Then he started riding down the road, but when he got to the turnoff for the Treasure Mountain trailhead, it was still raining, and he was still freezing. He didn't know if we would be waiting there for him already or not, and didn't want to wait in the open, so he kept riding until he got to a store, where he stopped to wait out the rain. He also called the house and left a message. Since it was the last day of his bike rental, when it stopped raining he rode into town to the bike rental place to return the bike. He called again from there and left a message telling us where he was and to come pick him up. This was about 4:00. Then he waited in town, wandering around a bit, for a couple of hours. By this time it was pretty clear that we were not coming, and he had figured out what was probably going on on our end of things, but he couldn't do anything about it. So he started walking back to the house. It took him about three hours, but he finally got there at 9:30. As I mentioned before, the house was locked, but, resourceful boy that he is, he simply broke in. He says it took him a little while to figure out how to do it without damaging anything.

When we finally got back and found him there, we called the sheriff to let him know, then had something to eat and got ready for bed. We were all totally exhausted. Mom and Dad finally got back an hour later, and we all went to bed.

It's amazing how whenever you're in a situation like this, you get more and more focused on what you're doing and less and less willing to entertain other possibilities. I actually asked early in the afternoon if Dan might not have gone home (which is why we called), and Judy says she suggested checking the bike store, but later on these ideas just got completely subsumed by all the other stuff going on. I think the real problem was that the answering machine was pretty new, and Judy and Norbert didn't know how to check the messages remotely. But it's pretty useless reanalyzing everything; everything is always obvious in retrospect.

Friday, August 15

This morning we got ready to leave, which in my case meant reading like mad trying to finish the Eco book. I had started the week thinking I wouldn't even come close to finishing it, but last night I only had 120 pages left. Unfortunately, although I had all morning to read, I still came up 30 pages short. How irritating. I'll have to get the book out of the library when I get back.

We headed out around 3:00, and were about 2 hours along when Dan suddenly announced that he wanted to get "one of those Indian woven tapestries". Why didn't he say so before? "I saw some in the store yesterday, but I forgot." So we did a quick change of plans. Rather than going all the way to Albuquerque before dinner, we stopped in Santa Fe to eat and do our required bit of tourist shopping. (I guess it would have been too unheard of to go through an entire vacation without buying anything to bring home). Dan got a weaving to put on his computer table, and I got a small one for Laurel's belated birthday present and a blanket-sized one to cover the hideous couch in my room.

Saturday, August 16

Today we left the beautiful, sunny, and dry 90 degree morning of Albuquerque, stepped into the climate controlled sterile environment of the airplane, and disembarked in the humid, hazy, and sticky 90 degree dusk of Hartford. Sigh. Back to reality.


Sharon Goldwater