Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
We are staring a new state and, it seems, a new phase of our travel. Deserts and rocks are no longer the mainstay and, to an ever increasing degree, pandemic protection is fading away. We are eating inside. Masks are almost optional, depending on the preference of the shops we frequent. Hopefully, everything works out.
Wednesday, May 19, Drive to Steamboat Springs
The drive from Green Valley to Steamboat Springs was a long one, at least by our standards. We have never been hard-pushers when it comes to travel, so a five or six hour drive is about our limit.
Colorado welcomed us with a highway sign and a welcome center where we looked through all the brochures these places offer. We now have a Colorado map, Colorado and Steamboat Springs brochures, and assorted other guidance. That should be enough. The welcome center also had a fancy memorial in honor of Butch Cassidy and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, courtesy of the E Clampus Vitas organization. We have run across other monuments erected by this oddball organization, but this was the fanciest.
We needed two stops at Tesla Superchargers for our long day. At Grand Junction, we were able to go to Starbucks for our first "regular" coffees since back home in Fresno. I have to admit we missed the taste of corporate coffee. At the Craig stop, we were joined by several old timer cars all polished and heading to a gathering of some sort. I like people who like their cars, even old-fashioned ICE cars (internal combustion engine).
We drove on Interstate 70 and then Colorado Highway 13, with the Colorado river alongside most of the way. From the state border on, the land was greener and the communities more prosperous than we had seen leaving Utah.
As we approached the town of Steamboat Springs, we could see the melting ski runs of Steamboat mountain. Colorado has over 200 ski resorts and that may contribute to some of the prosperity we see.
We had booked a one-room suite at the Sheraton resort that sits right at the end of a ski lift. This is the "mud season", between winter snows and summer warmth, so it is actually pretty economical. The hotel also has Tesla chargers, so we should be happy.
As soon as we settled in, we tuned in to a music concert from Niwot High School to see grandson Rich and his classmates put on their first and final band and orchestra concert for the school year. The stage was crowded, and the computer screen was pretty small, so we had a hard time picking our our kid, but we claim we did! Congratulations to him and everyone associated with keeping music going during the pandemic.
Thursday, May 20, Happy Birthday Geoff
A diary-writing start inside Starbucks, just like the old days. Maybe this is part of what suggest the pandemic precautions are over. Although the coffee crew have reportedly all been inoculated, they continue to wear masks for now. Like the rest of us, they are uncertain on proper protocol.
After our regular breakfast of a "protein box" and egg-white egg-bites, we drove into Old Town Steamboat to see what we could learn. Mostly, we noticed how quiet the town was, at least in terms of active shops and restaurants. Many places were closed, some permanently after the pandemic complications and others simply because it was a quiet season. Nevertheless, there were enough t-shirt shops and Western paraphernalia stores.
We also put art galleries on our list of must-see's for any new town. In Steamboat, we started with the Steamboat Art Museum, a large space featuring landscapes, including a large assortment from four artists-friends who have been painting together for 30 years. A video featuring their story explained the joy of plein air painting in the hills and mountains in the neighborhood. Nice story. Nice paintings.
Our next art fix came at Pine Moon Fine Art, a gallery of 14 local artists including Sandi Poltorak, who was manning the shop. These co-op galleries often have one of their members on the floor and Marianne always gets them talking about painting or, in this case, the artistry of "paper on edge" by Paulina M. Johnson. It's always a good sign when artists talk about the works of someone else and say things like "How does she do that?"
With art behind us, we investigated sports and, in Steamboat, that starts with skiing. It seems that recreational skiing was invented locally by Carl Howelsen over a century ago. In 1912 he retired from Barnum and Bailey circus, where he was billed as the Flying Norseman, and started ranching and building ski jump hills. Howelsen Park, on the hill opposite Old Town, still holds five ski jumps where brave sorts can learn the sport. Good for them, but not for us!!
Speaking of brave, we stopped and watched some young folks surfing the Yampa river. The snow-fed river was cascading over rocks with enough force to set up a stationary break where the most skilled could stand on their small boards, at least for a few seconds. All I could think of was how cold their faces and hands must be, but they seemed to be enjoying the repeated dunks in the icy icy water. Another "good for them, but not for us."
From Old Town we drove south for several miles, noting how many homes there are in the Steamboat suburbs. Many of these places were large, luxurious, and empty at this time of year. There is a level of wealth evident here that compares to the area around Lake Tahoe, where Silicon Valley money end up in vacation homes. I wonder how many places are like this in America?
We returned to the Sheraton and paused for a beer and wine at the only place open around the ski-lift area. It's easy to imagine the area in winter, filled with snow, skiers, gondolas, and activity, but in mud season, it was rocks and empty windows.
Friday, May 21, Another Day Kicking Around
The day started with breakfast downtown. We chose to eat outside on a sidewalk table, because we are still conflicted with indoor gatherings. We know that the CD has said that inoculated folks like we are can eat inside, but a year's precautions don't fade easily. The bad news about our decision was that we discovered how busy Steamboat's main street, Lincoln Avenue, can be. Half the vehicles were noisy diesel-engined monsters. The world needs to shift to quiet electric!
Despite the gray skies, we decided that we needed to take a hike. We looked in the tourist guidance and chose trails identified as "easy" or "medium". Fish Creek Falls Recreation Area was just what we were looking for and we ended up doing two-and-a-half of the trails: The Falls, Overlook, and Uranium Mine (partly). These were indeed easy paths, more walk than hike, but good enough for us.
For pictures, we have the 260 foot falls, a 1927 bridge (rebuilt in 1988), a rock with a petrified tree piece, and lots of little wild flowers. Nothing too spectacular, but enough to remind us of a pleasant morning stroll.
After exercise, we went into town to explore a bit before lunch and found the Tread of Pioneers museum. Part of the museum was devoted to the pioneers in Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley. In Europe, we used to call these small town museum displays "bones and shards", but in America it's more "pots and furniture". Interesting ... enough. More interesting was a small display of the role Steamboat has played in the careers of modern winter Olympians, from Billy Kidd in the 60s up through today.
The rest of our day was very quiet. Lunch was at a nondescript "Cafe Bar". This was not a great meal day.
After lunch we returned to our room and I read while Marianne wrote her own diaries. To get some exercise, we walked around the neighborhood, noting that this is a ghost town in "mud season".
Saturday, May 22, Go for a Drive
We have settled into a routine: breakfast, diaries, and one or two activities. We are not ambitious travelers. Our big activity for Saturday was a loop drive south of Steamboat Springs, just to see what we might see. First, we passed by fancy homes (vacation homes?) that range from big to huge. Then, there were ranches with verdant pastures and occasional volcanic cones.
Further along we passed through coal mining towns, not as prosperous as the ski areas or ranches. We turned off the highway at the town of Yampa to look closer at one of these not-so-fancy villages. Several of the homes had yards filled with old machines and junk. Yampa's main street is gravel lined with a handful of old commercial buildings. One of these said "Bakery" and that stopped us.
Bearpaw Bakery was a real gem. Inside, the bakery smells were addictive and the displays of baked goods most tempting. Owner-baker Brittney had opened her shop just a few weeks ago with the goal of providing neighbors with high quality goods and a friendly atmosphere. An Air Force veteran who discovered a zeal for baking with cupcakes for her troops, she and her husband came to Colorado where she completed the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder and then "interned" at bakeries in the area. We can attest that she should succeed with goodies like we had.
By the way, Yampa's gravel main street? It is left unpaved so that the annual Cowboy polo match can be played each July 4th. One never knows all the background.
From Yampa, we headed up the mountains, through Gore Pass first and then to the Wolford Campgrounds and Mariana for pictures of the Rockies.
We finished our loop drive by passing through the twin passes at Rabbit Ears and the snow fields between them. I'd thought we see more snow at the 9,000+ foot elevation, but it is late May after all. (Despite being late May, our Tuesday trip to Estes Park will not be able to be via Highway 34 because 11 miles of that road are above 11,500 feet and still closed by seasonal snow. It looks like we will miss opening by less than a week.)
We made it back to the Sheraton in time to rest before our big night out. We had made a 6:30 dinner reservation at Sauvage, reportedly the finest restaurant in town. We had not gotten dressed up for dinner since Fresno (and it was rare there!), but we did our best with what traveling clothes we had with us.
The restaurant offers two fixed-price menus: five courses ($90) and three course ($60) and we opted for one of each option. The food was ... interesting. Each course was elaborate and imaginative, from ingredient selection, to preparation, and presentation, but imagination might not make up for tough meat or unremoved fat and membranes. Service was attentive, too much so, in fact. All in all, an experience, but we won't be back.
Sunday, May 23, No Plans, Not Yet
Our travel pace has been slowing down and we needed to step it up, I suppose, but that's hard to do in mud season. To make it worse, the skies are overcast instead of their normal brilliant blue with white puffy clouds. The most ambition we had was to find a place for breakfast. On the basis of its cute name, we tried "The Egg Steamboat Springs" and wondered why we had not gone there every day. The menu is extensive and the dishes we ordered were well prepared. Even the coffee was good, not always a guarantee in coffee shop places.
After eating we came home and relaxed. Tough morning. I read Ken Follett's "The Evening and The Spring" and felt like I was learning some medieval British culture from Follet's novel. He's good about that. What I learned, convinced me 10th Century England was not a nice place to live and raise a family, for royalty and especially for others. Marianne tried reading too, but was soon sleeping. Her book had less blood and gore.
After so much rest, we decided we did need to take a walk, cloud cover or not. The easiest destination we knew of was the Yampa River Botanic Park. I'm always up for flower pictures. The park has a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and plants that manage to survive at 6,000 feet, buried in 180 inches of snow annually, and only 2 months per year free from "killing frost". Despite the challenge, the staff and volunteers created an oasis.
The Yampa River runs alongside the park and a broad walking and bike path makes an easy stroll. The river itself was full and rushing, threatening to go over its banks, but not quite. A fisherman drifted past with his wife on the oars and their young son in the captain chair in front. It seemed a picture-postcard moment for the fly-fishing industry, but I hope no one falls in when they hit the icy-cold rapids downstream.
After a nondescript dinner, we returned to the hotel for more time-killing. To help, we walked in the neighborhood and remarked again that being at a ski resort in mud season is like wandering through a well-maintained ghost town. Lesson learned.
Monday, May 24, New Plans
We have had time during our slow stay in Steamboat to try to set up our June travels. The original idea was that, after Rich's high school graduation in Longmont next weekend, Marianne and I would head to the famous National Parks in Western Wyoming, The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Despite time to make arrangements, and not being particularly cost-sensitive, we have struck out getting places to stay anywhere near those goals. Of course difficulty getting space also predicts crowds at park entrances, special features, and restaurants. It has been discouraging.
This morning we returned to The Egg and threw away our penciled-in old plans and tried to come up with something else. We succeeded, I think. June will now have us visiting friends in: Buffalo, Wyoming; Hamilton, Montana; Priest Lake, Idaho; Bend, Oregon; and back to the grandkids in Truckee, California. That's assuming all the friends and family agree, of course. And assuming we can find places to stay and see in between all these towns.
By mid-afternoon, we'd heard from most of the friends whose homes we invited ourselves. Nobody said "Yikes, NO!" Exact dates for each place are not determined, but June will see us wandering around the West. We look forward to it all, friends and new small places.
The rest of the day was spent washing clothes and repacking. Carla was programmed to be charged 100% by the time we leave.
Tuesday, May 25, Leave Mud Season
We both slept well. That's a good sign about our change in plans. Now it is on to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
We had not known what we would do in this, our longest, stop. It was not too remarkable, mud season and all, but we are pivoting. Stay tuned.
John and Marianne