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To Denver, with Love

Updated: Jul 29

Resident Inn in the business district was not the plan for Denver. The plan was to stay in the suburbs with friends, and hike, and enjoy adult conversation and maybe a few cocktails after a very dry and sobering few weeks.

But we needed instead to quarantine. And a kitchenette for dishes, a hot shower with white towels, and beds with sheets. And laundry. So much laundry. I love camping and wandering in the wild, but creature comforts are everything when you’re tired and two of your party are sick, and everything is soggy.

With a fever spiking over 102 in the back seat we left the campground and headed back north and then east. We were making good time, the views were still beautiful and we would be clean within a matter of hours. We passed through towns called Rifle and Silt and then somewhere around Glenwood Springs the traffic on Highway 70 came to a complete standstill. We were diverted and then immediately lost in this roadside town. No detour signs. No indicator of what happened to a perfectly good four lane interstate. I finally stopped in the middle of an intersection to ask the guy operating the Highway Closed sign what was up.

He told me it was closed due to a flash flood warning. Could be an hour, could be until tomorrow. It all depends on the weather, he said, pointing at a blue sky. I could feel myself starting to unravel.

I asked at a hotel how to get around the closure, and they told me the only detour was an added four hours. At that moment, four extra hours on top of the six hours I already expected to drive, wasn’t an option for me. Nothing but a shower and a bed for Mason was an option for me.

Cue the curse words that the kids know we can only use at home. Cue the tears behind the sunglasses. Cue the prayer to have another adult arrive to the scene and parent me through what to do next. Since my husband wasn’t in the car to pick a stress-fight with, I called him in California, and asked if he could find us another way around. Yes! It would be an added two hours on a scenic Highway, but we would get to Denver by bedtime.

And so I started to drive while also trying to manage myself around another curveball. And with three pairs of watching eyes, I also knew this had to be another touch-point in my surrender. Another reminder that I am just occupying a lead roll in a drama over which I have little control. That the consummate planner who always finds a way to be in control, was firmly no longer in any real control.

But dammit, couldn’t I just have a day go as expected? Nope. I needed another day to bring me closer to enlightenment. Careful what you wish for.

And boy, was I ultimately so grateful for that. The alternate highway, it turns out, cut straight through the town of Aspen, where I had never been. Has there ever been a prettier place nestled right in the most beautiful section of the Rockies? Maybe not.

And as we rolled through town and back out onto the twisting mountain road, I started to see that the detour was a gift. John Denver, I hear you. What a Rocky Mountain high. Around every curve a yet more beautiful view. More stunning meadows of wild flowers, another bend of river that was begging to be floated on or fished.

And at the top, an amazing surprise, the Continental Divide right there in the middle of the mountains. With Mason asleep, The Bigs and I hiked to the top of the hill and took in the view from the line that divides North America in half. Side note: the air is very thin up there.

From south to north. From down to up. From bottom to top. I’m sure there’s symbolism there, and when we arrived to a hamburger joint in beautiful little Leadville, on the other side of the Aspen range, I certainly felt I had climbed a mountain, for real.


Denver itself was fun, lonely, too much city. We had been wandering for so many days out where the energy in the air is pure, and the rhythm of the day is dictated by weather and hunger pains, that the city energy came at me like a hurled brick, and then balled itself up and landed in my lower back. I couldn’t sit up comfortably. I was having trouble sleeping. I couldn’t easily pick up things that dropped on the floor without paralyzing pain.

I sound fun, don’t I?

This was about the time that it might have dawned on the kids that mom, while capable, was only one person. Dad isn’t here to hold up the other half of all that needs doing in a day. And this is also when I started to see again the stuff that makes up my kids: helpful, supportive, contributing, grateful. Hallelujah.

When the covid fever broke and we were set right again, we did some fun stuff. An afternoon in Golden, where you can inner-tube down the river in the shadow of the Coors Brewery. A drive through Rocky Mountain National Park, and a much-anticipated zip line adventure where we did the longest and then the fastest lines in Colorado.

From Denver we headed south following the historic Santa Fe Trail into New Mexico, across untouched prairies dotted with wild groups of mule deer, and for hours, a road that offered not so much as a pit stop or a gas station to help along the way. I have not seen such open and untouched land like that in maybe ever.

Santa Fe welcomed us for a quick few days filled with sopas and tacos and the wacky genius of a museum called Meow Wolf, and a stroll around the labyrinth at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis de Assisi in the center of town. If you know not of Meow Wolf, find one in a city near you. Alice in Wonderland meets Twilight Zone meets X-Files. The wildest experience we’ve had in a long time.

When we left Santa Fe we were over halfway done with the trip, and the last leg of the part where we would log huge miles by car. Our last stretch of road was straight across the top of New Mexico and into Arizona. A long, long day of driving across Ute and Navajo territory, through massive rain events and distant bolts of lightning. Tucking just south of the Grand Canyon and into Williams, we headed up into the Arizona mountains to Prescott, where we landed in the arms of my parents and that cocktail (or two) that had evaded me for weeks.

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