2 Comments

  1. Declan Kenny September 26, 2017 @ 3:21 am

    What a place! Also, love the inclusion of ‘cha’. It’s a word most Irish would be very familiar with. Our ‘English’ is quite an eclectic mixum-gatherum from all over the globe, partly due to our colonial past, and also the regular influx from abroad over the millennia. Not sure how many would identify ‘cha’ as Chinese though.

  2. Risa Aratyr September 26, 2017 @ 1:17 pm

    Hey, Dec! “Colorful Colorado” (their slogan, not mine) is one of the loveliest states in America. Summer is Spring, Fall is exquisite, and the elevations and dry air make Winter a remarkable mix of solid white (when the snowstorms come in) and shirt-sleeve weather (when the sun comes out again). High-country culture has probably changed a lot, but back in the day, one of the joys of living in Conifer was the clear-headed, goodhearted, earth-loving mountain-folk. The only thing CO is missing is ocean. Aspens in their autumn plumage is definitely worth a gander. Give us a mo’ to depose the tyrant-in-chief, then come see for yourself.
    As for my tea vocab, I learned to talk about tea where I learned to love it — the British Isles. I’m sure cha, chai, char, brew, cuppa, spot-of, biscuits/bikkies are words that adorn the conversations of all tea-loving Americans. What I don’t get is how “cha/chai” became tea. Was it one of those arbitrary Brit usurpations of language, like “Bombay” for Mumbai and “Warsaw” for Varshava?

Rocky Mountain High

Write-Minded Comments (2)

I have history with Colorado.

When Babs and Joe met in Chicago, sparks definitely flew, but it was in Denver they fully ignited.  I was well into my teens before my sister clued me in that the photos of my parents’ romantic stay at the Greystone Ranch in Evergreen had been taken before they were married.

via Tom Ostrowski (ebay)

When I was nine-going-on-ten, our parents picked Colorado Springs and Wind River Ranch (9,200 ft/2,804 m) at the base of Twin Sisters for our annual end-of-August family road-trip.  After a long, hypnotically dull drive across the pancake prairies of Kansas, a low purple border appeared on the western horizon.  The hours passed and the border grew until – suddenly, it seemed – an endless range of jagged, purple-blue-green-gray-white peaks brought the monotonous flatlands to a halt.  I had been to the Catskills and the Smokies.  The Rocky Mountains were on a whole ‘nother level.  I didn’t know I was looking on Precambrian formations, some of the oldest rock on the planet.  I just remember thinking, this is where I want my soul to go when I die.

In 1978, my sister and her hubby briefly rented in “mile-high” Denver while they built a home in much-higher Conifer (8,277 ft/2,523 m), where they lived for the next five years.  Flat broke when I returned from my great European adventure in February of ’79, I showed up on their doorstep, landed a hostess gig at the bar/restaurant in the center of “town” – then just a pit-stop at the junction of 283 & 73 – and crashed with them for three months while I got my life sorted.

Fast-forward to our present-day Colorado connections, Lila and Brad met and were married in Denver (we went to the wedding!), and have a grand old house just around the corner from City Park.  Brother Mike (Lila’s dad) owns a condo in Frisco (9,075 ft/2,766 m).  And December last, Eleanor (soul-sister and a bestie since high school) moved to Denver as well.  Triple-happiness!

Or it would have been, had I not arrived under-slept, emotionally fried, and socially over-exposed.  The grand plan to hit town Sunday, stay the night with Brad and Lila, and go to Frisco with Mike and Maria first thing Monday was not working for me.  I needed some time to replenish our depleted travel items and my severely depleted personal resources.

A few frantic texts to Eleanor, and we had a new plan in place, a plan time-tested by legions of women, a sure-fire strategy guaranteed to repair even the most frazzled female psyche.  The mountains could wait.  First thing Monday we were getting mani-pedis.

I am sore tempted to spend the rest of this post raving about Tip to Toe Nails – but no.  I’ll show restraint and simply say, THIS is the place to take care of your tootsies and mitts.  (No website; the link takes you to Facebook for a peek at the interior).

A comment on the Tip to Toe FB page claims the nail technicians are Korean.  Unless there was a complete changing of the guard between the commenter’s visit and mine, she got it wrong.  I’m no linguist, but thanks to Crunchyroll, Netflix, Hulu, and a Sifu who spoke only his mother-tongue, I’m pretty solid at recognizing Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai.  The Tip to Toe technicians weren’t conversing in any of these.  I had to ask.

They were speaking Mongolian.

I was off-my-rocker thrilled.  I inherited a wee dose of Tatar blood from my dad’s side of the family, and only just discovered that I may have a double dose, as half my maternal ancestors hail from a corner of the world where the Crimean Khanate held sway for centuries.  Follow the DNA trail, it inevitably leads to the Golden Horde, the horsemen of the steppe, or – who knows? – even Temüjin himself.  He is credited with having fathered more children than any other male in history, after all.  This isn’t a great pic of my dad (80th bday), and his Asian monolid is masked by his wide-eyed stare, but tell me you don’t see the similarity between my pop and Genghis Khan.

In addition to fabulous foot-care and an absolutely brilliant job on what had been splitting, broken fingernails (these gorgeous babies lasted six weeks with no chipping, breakage, or rough edges at the base!),

I learned my first five words of Mongolian.  In the clip below, I repeat each word three times.  The first two are “hello,” formal and informal.  “Thank you” won me their hearts; it includes a sound that is difficult for most Westerners, but as it is identical to the Welsh ‘LL’ (as in llyn – lake), I nailed it.  Next word is “yes.”  The last is “no.”  I made the recording just outside the salon; there is tons of traffic noise, sorry.

 

The trip to Tip to Toe provided me something else I desperately needed and had been without for weeks:  five minutes alone.  While Kendall and Eleanor finished up, I went out solo to complete one of the missions of my day.  My “me” time was brief, but the stroll downtown was grand, I succeeded in finding an ATM and restoring our cash-in-hand balance, and got back to the gals by hopping aboard the 16th Street Free MallRide tram (shades of KCMO!).

Kendall stuck with us for lunch at the Denver Central Market, a huge, enclosed (but with an open feel) historic building now filled with food shops/restaurants.

There were way too many enticing choices.  I finally went with a customized Thai-style salad from Green Seed.  It was absolutely scrumptious.  (That’s Eleanor in the not-great pic above; click HERE for the Market’s official website and far better images.)

After lunch, Kendall went her merry way, while Eleanor and I went on a fruitless search for my preferred brand of hair-care products – a brand ubiquitous in most parts of the nation, but oddly non-existent in Denver.  The Jimenezes were waiting, the mountains were calling . . . I settled for something similar, and we headed back to Lila and Brad’s.

Took just a few minutes to borrow a heavy, waterproof jacket and cozy scarf, hat, and gloves from Lila (even June can be cold in Frisco), and we were on our way.  We’d had a standing invitation to visit Mike and Maria’s condo for years, but this was our first opportunity to take advantage.  And while I’d (briefly) lived in the mountains, I’d lived 800 ft/243.84 m closer to sea level on the eastern slopes.  Spending real time in the high country west of the Great Divide . . . I was ever so grateful.

Stretching from the Northern Rockies (sub-division of the Canadian Rockies) to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico, the Rocky Mountains are 3,000 mi/4,800 km long, range between 70-300 mi/110-480 km wide, and cover about 300,000 sq.mi/777,000 sq.km of the planet.  They are known for their steep, dramatic peaks – but when you’re actually among them, you are likely in a high valley, which serves to soften the vertical drama.  Here’s looking over the municipality of Dillon (9,111 ft/2,777 m) at a corner of the vast Arapaho National Forest (trust me, it’s worth it to click on the pics to enlarge).

And here’s the view off the back balcony of the condo.  O.M.G.

The place was lovely, and the welcome – a combo of Mike’s always generous nature and Maria’s sweet southern hospitality – could not have been warmer.  In anticipation of the evening meal, I had been doing the verbal equivalent of hand-flips all day.  Were I capable of such athleticism, I’d have been doing them fer-reals, because Maria was making us her all-star, to-die-for étouffée.

It must be noted that the entire Sottile family (Maria, her relations, and their various significant others) are all exceptionally good cooks.  When we were in Baton Rouge for Mike and Maria’s wedding, clan members took turns amazing our palates with their signature dishes, like green chili corn bread, jambalaya, gumbo, and dirty rice.  But while most everybody in Louisiana makes étouffée, it is well and widely known that nobody makes it like Maria.  Hers was my first, and I long for no other.

Perfect finale to the day, we grabbed our bathing suits, went down to the condo-complex clubhouse, and relaxed in a huge, luxuriously steamy hot tub under the Rocky Mountain stars.

The centerpiece of our time in the mountains was the (easy) hike we took next day.  The weather is super-changeable at those heights.  It swung from brisk and mostly-cloudy, to kinda-hot and sunny, to pretty-cool and rainy in the space of a few hours.

To get to the trail, we drove along a lake,

up a sloping mountainside into realms beyond cell service, past this breathtaking spot where it seems someone actually lives,

to the Cataract Loop trailhead

in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness area of the White River National Forest.

The thin air carried the roar of the distant cataract to our ears, though the distance softened it greatly.  (The cataract is on the slope across the lake, that brush-stroke of white just left of center.)

Lagging behind to take pics of the gorgeousness gave me a great vantage from which to take pics of our little party.

Turnabout is fair play.

Early June in the high country is spring.  The wildflowers were in bloom.  The dandelions, btw, were gi-normous.

The terrain was endlessly varied, from forest,

to scrub,

to groves of aspen,

to fecund bog,

to tranquil pool.

At one point, the path was seriously underwater, too soggy even for hiking boots – which I hadn’t brought anyway.  I was wearing my multi-purpose mary janes.  We moved uphill and tromped as delicately as possible through a slightly less-soggy marsh.  Back on the trail again, we discovered the source of the liquefied banks – beavers!  (Credit to Roy for this super pic of their lodge.)

The cataract kept growing more prominent in our view,

and its roar louder.  At last we left the lakeside and followed the feeder streams to the base of the falls.

In winter, the cataract freezes and the streams run dry.  For us, the streams were in spate.

Completing the loop on the far side of the lake, we traversed the beavers’ preferred logging grounds,

watched a flock of Canadian geese paddle about, found more beaver lodges, and stood in awe of this –

and this –

and this.

Leaving the cataract far behind,

we watched the rains sweep by,

we tarried on the wooden bridge as the lake waters flowed beneath us and on down the mountain,

and we basked in our Mother’s beauty.

That night’s meal fit the natural tone of the day.  Mike is an avid and excellent hunter and fisherman; when they lived nearer to us, he spoiled us rotten with his elk-venison feasts.  Here, he’s pan-frying some of his catch (trout he brought up from Louisiana), while Maria makes yummy salad.

I left them to it and went to write on the balcony – but instead of writing, I watched the swallows swoop to their nest in the eaves and feed their noisy babies.

Next day Roy and I strolled down to Frisco proper and toured Main Street.

Frisco is a charming town boasting a full range of shops, restaurants and bars, realtors, banks, bakeries, and a nifty Frisco Historic Park and Museum.  Here’s my photo of Frisco today paired with Roy’s photo of one of the museum’s old-Frisco dioramas.  Seems not that much has changed.

For me, Main Street’s finest was Next Page: books and nosh.  Next Page is a beautiful, well-stocked bookstore and café, and the café specializes in fair-traded teas that they actually know how to brew.  The gracious owner wants you to wander in, snag a book from the shelves, and peruse it in comfort with a pot of cha at your side.  I was happy to oblige her.

End of the week, we had a social engagement in Denver – Eleanor’s birthday dinner.  Mike drove us down, which was totally kind of him . . . so maybe I should have bit my tongue when the conversation turned to the politics of poverty?  Ah, well.  At least one topical argument is de rigueur for a Jimenez family reunion, n’est pas?

The other not-happy part of the drive was realizing all the gray trees on the mountainsides were dead trees.

Climate change is slated to decimate the state’s gorgeous, but drought-intolerant aspens by 2060.  The native conifers (lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, ponderosa pine) aren’t fond of drought either, but less they like the mountain pine beetle.  This little creature

is wreaking havoc on evergreen forests from Canada to Mexico.  It takes hard winters and cold temperatures to kill the beetle eggs and larvae sheltering under a tree’s outer bark.  Warmer temperatures and lower precipitation have spurred a massive outbreak of mountain beetles and, simultaneously, weakened the trees’ resistance to the threat.  It is an epidemic with no cure.  If you want to see the glory of autumn in the Rockies, better get there soon.

Birthday dinner was delightful.  White sangria and light tapas outdoors under a rainbow sunset that went on forever.  Soup and salad, then prosciutto-wrapped cod for the main course, good wine, and great company.

We rose early next morning to catch our train.  Brad and Lila rose with us.  Brad gave us a ride to Union Station.

We could have slept in.  The California Zephyr did not depart Union Station at 8:05am as scheduled.  Or 9:05am.  It was more like 10:30-11:00am, if I recall.  We had time for a lovely breakfast at Snooze: an AM Eatery, time to browse the bookstore and buy a pen, time to hang out in the stunning station and read the paper . . .

. . . and time to find the right platform (it was less than obvious).

At last it was time to board the Zephyr.  I mounted the steps to the sleeper car in a great mood, eagerly anticipating the ride ahead – famously one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.  Eager to add more “peak” experiences to my history with Colorado.

Risa Aratyr @ September 25, 2017

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