Readers-

Twas a good week for ol’ SheSpoke, whatwith her post on road biking Colorado National Monument being Freshly Pressed last Tuesday, September 27th. It was eerie watching my shespoke@gmail.com inbox fill up with comments, subscriptions, and likes. My first clue that my blog had been picked up and featured somewhere came with the comment from PCC Advantage, who congratulated me for being Freshly Pressed. The afternoon was punctuated by a series of low bells emanating from my Smartphone (not that smart, really), announcing the latest like, subscription, and comment, and sometimes all three.

But ya know, I kinda promised my editor a story on the very same topic, Colorado National Monument. That post went up today where I write about cycling for TrailsEdge, and what I’ve done is digitally remaster my memories and the facts I picked up along the way to come up with basically the same conclusion:

If you want an epic weekend of road cycling, head over to Colorado National Monument in western Colorado.

Read about SheSpoke’s epic kayak adventure in Rhode Island this summer.

Advertisements

Sniff, sniff. It’s the first time the snowboarding season is ending and I’m actually going to miss it. Out here in Colorado we still have a few weeks left, but nary a few good days. The snow is turning to rain, even in the high country.

What’s a girl to do? How about head for the hills. Of sand. With a board.

My Denver Snowboarding Examiner piece on transitioning from snow to sand gives the goods on how to get started in sandboarding and how to make it down the hill, sense of humor intact. Because nothing says Earth Day like sand between your toes…


People find out I sandboard and ask me a ton of questions, like I know what I’m doing or something. Let’s get one thing straight: I only sandboard every couple of years and only do when when my legs refuse to go on another mountain bike trip or I can’t afford to fly to some coast somewhere to go surfing.

Same thing with golf. When I tell folks I’m going golfing they always respond, “I didn’t know you golfed.” That’s because I don’t. Except on that particular day.

I’m no expert on the sand with a board. I use a cheapo plastic promotional board from Dannon and wear my Salomon snowboard boots, sweatpants, and some kind of warm windbreaker. Lucky for me the Great Sand Dunes National Park is only four (Annie leadfoot) hours from Denver and there’s some amazing hot springs at Joyful Journey on the way home.

So, I go. Last week I had the good fortune of 36 hours (pretty much) off, so I packed up Subi II with camping and sand/snowboard stuff.

I hiked up for about two hours, then sandboarded down the steepest lips of sand I could find. At one point I miscalculated, and the angle was too acute to gain momentum, and there I am, jumping up and down, pathetically trying to push myself forward. I unclipped my bindings and walked to a steeper, albeit shorter, lip.

Pictorial highlights below:

The road in from the south, near Alamosa

The road in from the south, near Alamosa

PA150088

Nature's optical illusion

Nature’s optical illusion

Optical illusion 2

Optical illusion 2

First time in my life I've been tall and thin

First time in my life I’ve been tall and thin

The Sangre de Cristos in the background

The Sangre de Cristos in the background

Tall and thin twice in one day

Tall and thin twice in one day

Grasses in the wind

Grasses in the wind

Brilliant color at sunset

Brilliant color at sunset

No, I don't own Photoshop

No, I don’t own Photoshop

Walked up that

Walked up that

Dannon and Sky

Dannon and Sky

SheSpoke poses and readies

SheSpoke poses and readies

Dannon's ready

Dannon’s ready

Steep, short, and safe

Steep, short, and safe

Boarding this lip was the day's highlight!

Boarding this lip was the day’s highlight!


Some people wake up at the crack of crack when camping. Not me. I prefer to rouse only when the cold hard ground ceases to comfort. Somewhere around 10AM. Middle-of-the-night disturbances are not a problem: I’ve slept through fire alarms, thunderstorms, hurricanes, and nearby breakins. In fact, I think I’ve found a new, deeper level of REM. Eat it, Sleeping Beauty.

Breakfast: eat camping green chili omelettes and ham, drink percolated camping coffee, and enjoy solitude of the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. You’ve never really exhaled unless you’ve done so drinking weak coffee made with tinny campground water while sitting in a $10 canvas chair from Target and planning the day’s activities.

This day, we had decided over onion-and-garlic marinated buffalo burgers (paired with the excellent Black Bridge Red we picked up in Paonia) the night before, we would hike out to Inspiration Point and back, about three miles roundtrip. The trail meanders through desert flora, occasionally offered shade and amazing vistas, and is labeled as moderate. I concur. We walked from the campground to the trailhead, which is located near the Visitors’ Center. On the walk to the You pass the Inner Canyon trailhead of SOB, but according to the ranger, Yogi, that trail is fraught with poison ivy.

We passed, literally.

This tree greeted us near the trailhead.

Follow the brown dirt path, tra la la

Follow the brown dirt path, tra la la

You can see the canyon peeking out of the corner.

I’m no dendrowhatever, but I was surprised that lichen actually grows in the desert. Takes an uninformed New England to be surprised at such things.

Lichen

While this tree marked our first overlook.

High desert sky

High desert sky

We frolicked along in the hot desert sun and took a hard left out to Inspiration Point after 1.5 miles. We parked ourselves on a rock, made friends (or at least tried to) with the largest ants on the planet, and enjoyed the view of the canyon.

Water runs through the deep canyon

Water runs through the deep canyon

A closer look at Inspiration Point at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

A closer look at Inspiration Point at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Inspiration Point truly inspired.


Friday A and I made a mad dash to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Well, it wasn’t exactly a mad dash. We found ourselves truly enjoying all that is south of Aspen, and I began taking pictures as we approached Mt. Sopris, just outside of Glenwood Springs.

Paonia is one of those small rural towns that has a New Age influence and overpriced real estate. A and I didn’t know we were driving through Colorado’s wine country, and we took advantage of our early Denver departure and sampled from the local fare at Black Bridge Winery, which is conveniently located just off Highway 133. Everything produced there – from the wine to the produce – is organic. After a little sampling, I decided upon a meritage, I believe it was called Black Bridge Red, a robust wine that complemented exquisitely the bison burgers we had over the campfire that night.

The photos of the drive to, through, and past Paonia tell a story of dark clouds and rain. Such weather is always welcome in Colorado. Especially when it dries and warms up just in time for outdoor activities. Which it did.

Day one of the four-day road trip was a blast of shopping, talking to folks, and getting excited about the canyon that lay ahead in wait for us. (In a good way.)

Mt. Sopris with a moat of cloud

Mt. Sopris with a moat of cloud

P8150105

Obligatory self-portrait shot

Obligatory self-portrait shot

The black bridge next to the Black Bridge Winery

The black bridge next to the Black Bridge Winery

Paonia graffiti on the black bridge

Paonia graffiti on the black bridge

Room for one only

Room for one only

Even the wind couldn't stop this picture

Even the wind couldn't stop this picture

Or this one...

Or this one...

More Paonia graffiti. I hope the trains run on time...

More Paonia graffiti. I hope the trains run on time...

Finally we made it here - the Black Canyon

Finally we made it here - the Black Canyon

More canyon photos to follow…


I’ve got a pile of excuses as to why I didn’t get out camping sooner than this past weekend. Maybe they sound familiar: too busy, bad weather, no one to go with, too crowded, not physically up for it, yada, yada, yada.

Well, the spectre of not camping and not getting outdoors has been haunting me since the spring equinox. Memories of my very successful solo trip to Moab last Thanksgiving had me wistful for sleeping, eating, and breathing the great outdoors.

Last weekend was the last weekend of free admission to select National Parks in this great nation of ours. Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a mere four hours from my house, beckoned me with its thousand-foot high canyon walls and unspoiled views of some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth – 2 billion years old!

The Black Canyon is a climbers’ paradise, a sport I am not currently interested in taking up. My next sport will be scuba diving.

I digress. Colorado boasts two other major National Parks – Rocky Mountain National Park and the Great Sand Dunes. I have spent considerable time down at the Sand Dunes, both hiking and sandboarding, and have flitted in and out of RMNP a few times. But with the Black Canyon I was looking for an escape – a place without crowds and with beauty.

I found it. Check back this week for photos and commentary on a magical, overlooked place.


I don’t hate Thanksgiving.  I just don’t celebrate it.

During my grad school years I worked three jobs and ninety hours a week.  I bartended to pay for school and taught and tutored to gain experience–never enjoying more than eighteen hours respite.  Destined for burnout, I strung a few days’ vacation together and hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday.  By myself.

My mother was aghast: “Spending it by yourself?  Come home.  Spend it with your family.”  The problem is, family are people, and I’d had my fill of them–from my annoying bar customers to know-it-all college kids.  I needed a few days.  Alone.  Or at least around strangers who didn’t want another beer or a higher grade.

An ex-boyfriend had told me about this place in northwestern New Mexico.  He likened it to Mesa Verde on steroids or something, about ten hours from Denver.  This remote canyon held the remains of Anasazi/Puebloan city with a perfectly straight centuries-old road system that made the Appian Way look like a backroad.  His voice message from there was simple but poignant: “I’m in Chaco.  This place is beautiful.”  Then he hung up.

Six months later, I wended my way through colorful canyons and small towns (pop. 75) on my quest for solitude among Anasazi ruins.  I stopped at a Subway for Thanksgiving lunch–a cold cut combo.  I can still see the mayonnaise glopping onto my lap as I spoke to my mother, whose depressed tone was in stark contrast to my cheery embrace of freedom from the grind.  Nearer to Chaco, the landscape becomes a high desert plain and vegetation becomes more scarce.

Deserts are places of extreme:  Still air acquiesces to blustering winds with no foliage or landscape to lessen its intensity; parched ground erodes under flash floods; and day scorchers blithely turn into freezing nights.  Chaco greeted me with wind, drought, and cold.  I don’t know what shook more that night–my tent or my teeth.

The next day, an overcast ominous one, I explored.  I had brought my mountain bike but Chaco lends itself more to hiking and frolicking among the ruins.  The ancient city was eerily quiet but inviting.  I scampered around the great buildings of Penasco Blanco, Pueblo Bonito, and Una Vida, marveling at the expanse and architecture.  I gaped at the petroglyphs etched into the canyon’s walls and was puzzled by the Weatherill cemetary.

I inhaled deeply and looked far along the road system and up the canyon.  Remote. Alone.  The only people I spoke to on this trip were cashiers.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanksgiving in New England means pathetic Pilgrim-Indian re-enactments.  New Englanders are proud of their history–that they were the first settlers outside of Jamestown and Roanoke (well, except for Santa Fe, but no one talks about that), and that they traded with the Indians.  When the Pilgrims landed they came in contact with the Wampanoag tribe, headed up by Massassoit and later Metacom.  All that remains of this tribe are names of streets, malls, and colleges.

I don’t doubt that the pilgrims sat down to dinner with the Wampanoags towards the end of some November.  I also have no doubt that both sides were grateful to have food.  But that random Thursday back in the seventeenth century has morphed into a ritual of two deadly sins: gluttony and sloth.  Some people even have Thanksgiving Day pants with elastic waistbands so they can eat like they’re at a Roman orgy.  Then, they sit down to eat some pie and watch the Lions lose.  The last few times I deigned to celebrate this holiday, my dinner guests scoffed at my suggestion that we share with everyone else what, exactly, it was we were grateful for.

So I ditched it.  I just said no to Thanksgiving.  Experiencing an ancient culture that has not been glassed over or roped off was too much for me.  I sobbed with emotion as I drove away from the Pueblo ruin, weeping for a lost civilization.