Author Archives: Drea

October: A Month of Travel Reflections on Nola Studiola

I’m guest curating Nola Studiola this month, a New Orleans-based collaborative project for artists founded by the fantabulous Alison Barker. Biweekly posts will cover snippets of the creative life on the road (okay, and rants). First up: the sensation of hanging out in an actual house for the first time in months. Here’s the teaser blurb:

There are two ways to look at the world when you’re a permanent traveler. (Yes, I know that in a sense we are all permanent travelers, through time and life, but I’m not going there until I hit an existentialist moment. Which should be any day now.)

Read more.

13 Things I Learned in 2013

New Year’s resolutions are nice, but life doesn’t cycle in neat periods of 12 months at a time. Rather than listing resolutions at the head of the new year, I tend to push the reset button when life demands it, or when  procrastination happens to disappear as a viable option. Plus, if you sign up for a gym membership in March, you miss battling the New Year’s resolution crowd for equipment.

The idea of the year in review, however, I like. Each experience brings a lesson. Each lesson becomes a point on the compass I draw in the sand for the coming year. Many of these insights are deceptively obvious. Some will change. I’m glad that I got to live them this year, understand them with my full being. And I’m grateful to everyone–friends, family, frenemies, enemies, acquaintances, buddies, colleagues, clients, strangers–who helped bring forth and nurture these experiences.

Here are 13 things that experience taught me in 2013:

1. The simplest goals take the most persistence to reach.

2. Each dream, when pursued, comes with its own conditions. These conditions, in turn, demand that you change as a person in order to pursue—to live—that dream.

3. Patience is letting go of the way things should be.

4. If you change your habits in one area of your life, that change spills over to other areas like rings in a pond.

5. Sometimes you have to trust the process more than the people. Maybe always.

6. Dance is an enlightened way of moving through space and time.

7. Good mentors are like gold. They help you find the stepping stones to your dreams, and make sure you keep walking in the right direction.

8. A short story can take a year or two to finish writing. Along the way, it unravels worlds, teaches you the craft of writing, forces you to look at regions of your own psyche that you don’t dare explore in everyday life.

9. Capitalism takes advantage of free will. There’s always someone who’s willing to be paid less—or willing to pay you more.

10. We live on layers of sand, gravel, stone and manufactured materials. This is called landscaping, and the Earth is always taking it back for herself.

11. Climate disasters are normal now. In the long term, it is the community that repairs the damage, to the land it lives on and to its own psyche.

12. Technologists really do want to build robots that take over the world, and are actively doing so. Questions of human will and freedom are currently less regarded than pride (of invention) and profit.

13. Most often, on a given day, 20% of people are trolls—either virtual trolls or real ones. 80% of people are nice. You can’t change the trolls, but you can thank—and be among—the nice ones.

Happy 2014!

Colorado Floods: How to Show Support

I’m excited that Salon chose to publish my op-ed on the Colorado floods about the indifferent reactions I experienced, initially, to the news. Media numbness aside, the Colorado community has come together in amazing ways during this disaster. First responders, friends, family, neighbors, volunteers, nonprofit workers, businesses: THANK YOU for continuing to jump in and help. You’re making recovery happen.

Since it’s now clean-up time, I wanted to list some helpful resources.

Andi O’Conor has excellent tips on how to help disaster survivors.

If you can offer hands-on help and donations, the Boulder Flood Relief Facebook page is an awesome resource.

If you have a room in your home or can take a pet, visit the Colorado Flood Temporary Homes Facebook page.

Here’s a list of organizations that are accepting donations.

GoFundMe is a great site for crowdfunded donations; fundraising efforts for Lyons and Jamestown are already underway.

The Colorado Office of Emergency Management has statewide updates.

Please let me know what else to add, as I know there are tons of relief efforts right now.

And thanks to everyone who checked in!

Behold! Bishop Castle and the Frontier Pathways Byway

Too bad more + more everything is about money.

The masses, today, are begging not to be free.

You, citizen, don’t need a driver’s license.

-Jim Bishop, as seen scrawled on signs at Bishop Castle

Ever hear about the guy who built an entire castle all by himself? There are a couple such fellows, it turns out. Florida has its Coral Castle, a monument to lost love. Ohio’s Loveland Castle was handbuilt for a class of Sunday school boys. And on the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway, Jim Bishop built Bishop Castle because he felt like it.

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In 1969, after paying $450 for 2.5 acres of mountain land, Jim Bishop and his father began building a stone cabin. Skilled ironworkers both, father and son were nearly done with the cabin when they ran into trouble installing running water. They forged a water tank from a 40-foot-high metal cylinder and built stones around it.

Visiting friends pointed out that the water tank looked like a turret. The seed of Bishop Castle had sprouted.

 

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Jim, still in his early twenties, decided to built the cottage into a castle. His father, unwilling to commit to an entire castle, dropped out of the project. Undeterred, Jim continued, hauling rocks from nearby highway ditches, cutting down and milling his own wood, mixing mortar by hand, building arches from railroad ties. He deployed a pulley and come-along winch systems to lift heavy objects, like the tree trunks that are now floor supports for the multi-story castle.

It was, in the Bishop Castle website’s official words, a “massive re-organizing of the scattered granite in the Rocky Mountains into the form of the Bishop Castle.”

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A static journey of sorts, Jim’s experience enticed him to explore his own philosophies around freedom and God.

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He wrote a book, Castle Building From My Point of View. His wife Phoebe started the Bishop Castle Non-Profit Charitable Foundation for New-Born Heart Surgery, so the castle could legally  fund itself through voluntary donations. The castle itself is now a fairytale edifice of ironwork and spires, complete with an 80-foot-high, fire-breathing metal dragon. It’s open to anyone who wants to stop by, and oftentimes Jim Bishop himself emerges to chat with visitors.

If nothing else, Bishop Castle makes you think. If this guy can build an entire castle all by himself, what can you do? Is there an activity that’s so absorbing, so creative and educational, that you’ll come back to it day after day, even in the most trying of conditions? I’m willing to bet that everyone has something like that. Their muse. Jim’s might just be more obvious than most. Indeed:

“[His] belief in America being a Free Country made up of Free Persons has fueled his passions in building the castle to represent the American Dream in an undeniably tangible and awe inspiring form!”

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Bishop Castle is just one of the many things you’ll discover on the historic and less-traveled Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway. To get the full lowdown, grab a copy of the second edition of the Backroads and Byways of Colorado

Mt. Evans: The Perfect One-Day Getaway

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Image: Seth K. Hughes

If you:

  • Have family in for the weekend and they want to see the mountains
  • Want to take a date on a beautiful picnic
  • Are in the mood for a stunning, high-elevation day hike
  • Would like to brutalize yourself via a 30-mile road bike ride with a 6,724 gain in elevation
  • Need to climb or boulder some granite
  • Are looking for nearby fishing opportunities
  • Want to get out of Denver for a day

 Then:

  • Pack up your stuff and go drive up Mt. Evans

The highest paved road in North America, the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway is an ideal day trip out of Denver. An hour’s worth of driving gets you to the base, by way of Idaho Springs, where you can grab a bite, a drink or a soak before (but preferably after) snaking up this somewhat precarious drive.

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Image: Jim Lawrence/Flickr

Laned and guardrailed at the bottom, the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway sheds protective barriers in favor of jaw-dropping views as it coils to the top of the 14,264-foot Mt. Evans. If you want to hike up the mountain, or at least along its base, park at Echo Lake and head for the Chicago Lakes Trail. There are also rainbow trout in the lake.

If you’re in a car, pay the $10 toll. It costs $3 if you’re on two wheels; a Golden Eagle Parks Pass also get you in. Meander up to the Walter Pesman Alpine Garden, where ancient Bristlecone pines, some of them nearly 2,000 years old, hug the flank of the mountain.

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You’ll soon find yourself driving through a vast alpine tundra, speckled with wildflowers and the occassional mountain goat or Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

Park at the 13,000-foot-high Summit Lake, where you can view crystalline waters and sheer granite cliffs. There’s good climbing here too.

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Images: F. Delventhal/Flickr

At the top of the mountain, park and take a quick stroll to what’s left of the Crest House. This souvenir shop burned down in 1979 and was never rebuilt. Today, you can crawl around the ruins and, if your blood oxygen is up for it, have a quick lunch as you take in views of mountain ranges hundreds of miles away.

To learn more about the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway, including where to stay, rafting opportunities and how to best prepare for your 14er adventure, check out the second edition of The Backroads and Byways of Colorado

The San Juan Skyway: Worth the Million Bucks

If you only have one chance in your life to drive in Colorado, this is your byway. From mountain views reminiscent of Heidi to sacred Ancient Pueblan cities to a working 19th century coal-fired train, the San Juan Skyway is Colorado on steroids. The stretch between Ouray and Silverton alone, known as the Million Dollar Highway, will stun you into a kind of scenic ecstasy.

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Yeah, it’s that good. So how do you drive this 233-mile loop?

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Image: Byways.org

If you only have one day, a leather cap and driving goggles, go ahead and power through it. But when you check into your Budget Inn at 10 p.m., drenched in sweat and full of blurry memories, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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The best option is to give yourself three days to a week. Here’s my dream version of the San Juan Skyway:

Start in Durango. Hit up Seasons of Durango if you’re hungry. Fuel up with a Blonde or two at the Ska Brewing Company. Jump on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train (advance tickets required) and disembark at one of the designated wilderness stops. Enjoy one of the pristine San Juan National Forest and Weminuche Wilderness backcountry hikes available to you. Once finished, flag down the train and ride back to your car in Durango. (Family options for this trip: Ride to Silverton and enjoy a day there. Or sign up for one of the organized wilderness adventures http://www.durangotrain.com/packages/adventure-packages.)

Drive to Silverton. After a breathtaking climb up Molas Pass and ridiculous views of the San Juans, dip into Silverton. This is the town where 19th-century miners, fatigued from hollowing out the stone bowels of the surrounding mountains, would loosen up with liquor, gunfights and ladies of the night. The grit of the era remains embedded in Silverton’s antique downtown, the painted facades of its restored saloons. Experience it with a funnel cake in one hand and a Montanya rum in the other.

Onwards to Ouray. After a gut-clenching series of swerves past city-sized mines and burnished cliffs, the “Switzerland of America” will beckon you in for a soak. Tucked into a steep-walled canyon, Ouray is known for its annual ice climbing festival and its hot springs. Set up camp at the forested, view-flanked Amphitheatre Campground and rumble down to the Ouray Hot Springs. These large, family-friendly soaking pools that will imbue you with a pleasant mineral buzz. Grab a meal at the Bon Ton Restaurant in the St. Elmo Hotel, dessert at Mouse’s chocolates, and bed down for the night.

Ridgway and Telluride. If you’re in slow mode, make Orvis Hot Springs of Ridgway your next stop. Hike around, soak for half a day, grab Costa Rican cuisine at Land & Ocean Restaurant and drive to Telluride.

Or just drive to Telluride. Time it right, and you’ll hit the Film Festival, the Mountainfilm Festival, the Bluegrass Festival or any one of the endless festivals in this cliff-hugged global village. Despite having hosting fifth homes for the likes of Tom Cruise and Oprah, Telluride has stayed true to its free-living roots, liberated, perhaps, by its remote location.

Telluride is where you chill out and savor, in case the hot springs weren’t enough. Mountain bike, listen to music, grap a cuppa at the Steaming Bean, wolf down some organic south Mexican cuisine at La Cocina de Luz, walk in the park, hike, live free. Note also that you may run into celebrities. Colin Firth made fun of my mountain biking outfit here one year.

Take off your jacket and put on some good music, because next up is the high desert. Swoop out of Telluride and greet the ridged faces of the San Juans as you climb to Lizard Head Pass, your final big mountain pass before you descend into farmland and, eventually, the high and ancient deserts of the Four Corners region. Roll through fertile valleys and small towns to land at the Anasazi Heritage Center, a deep dive into all things ancient Pueblan. To learn more about this hands-on museum, as well as how best to experience Mesa Verde and the rest of the Four Corners region, read my Trail of the Ancients post. (Note: Cortez, the Ute Mountain Ute reservation and Mesa Verde are both on the San Juan Skyway and Trail of the Ancients).

Once your finished with Mesa Verde, the route takes you back to Durango. If you feel like exiting via US 160 towards Monte Vista, note that there are some nice hot springs at Pagosa.

For in-depth coverage of the San Juan Skyway, including best places to stay, eat, drink and have fun, grab a copy of the Backroads and Byways of Colorado—Second Edition.

Trail of the Ancients: A Living Mystery

Epic mysteries and lost civilizations. That’s what you’ll find in the southwestern corner of Colorado, on the Trail of the Ancients.

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On December 18, 1888, two cowboys trotted up to a stone city built inside of a cliff. Labyrinthine and built with stunning attention to detail, the Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde has fascinated and confounded visitors ever since.

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It’s one of the key attractions on Colorado’s Trail of the Ancients, which takes you to the palaces, kivas and residences left by the Ancient Pueblans when they mysteriously abandoned their homes en masse in the late 1200s.

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On the Trail of the Ancients, backstory is everything. Nobody to this day can figure out exactly why the ancestral Pueblans abandoned their homes. Maybe everyone ran out of food or water. Maybe there was a war. Some believe in a conspiracy. In any case, they disappeared within a generation or two. Moved onto better pastures.

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An oral culture, these first Pueblans didn’t leave archives describing how they lived, either. Anthropologists have learned the most from the trash they threw away outside of their cliff dwellings.

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We know that a group of hunters first settled in the area around 550 A.D. Dubbed the Basketmakers for their woven craft, these former nomads cultivated farms and found rich hunting grounds. Over hundreds of years and generations, their dwellings, farming methods and craftsmanship evolved. The roofed kiva, which stays 50 degrees year-round and only needs a fire to heat it in winter, is an example of their architectural ingenuity.

In the late 1200s, something happened, and it was time to go. Their legacy is in their architecture, which fuses beautifully with the surrounding desert. Dozens of books have been written about the ancients—how they lived, what they did, theories about their disappearance. But no written text can depict the majesty and visceral intrigue of visiting these places yourself.

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For a mile-by-mile journey into the all that the Trail of the Ancients has to offer, including a little-known, but equally majestic, alternative to Mesa Verde, grab a copy of the Backroads and Byways of Colorado—Second Edition.

 

7 Must-See Sites on the West Elk Loop

Sometimes stunning, other times serene, the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway is the ultimate tour of Colorado’s Western Slope. From Paonia’s bursting peaches to the massive aspen grove on Kebler Pass, this slice of Colorado makes me wonder why I live in the Front Range at all. Here are seven places on the West Elk Loop where you should spend at least an hour or two.

Crested Butte

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Some affectionately refer to our state as “Condorado,” based on observations of massive developed ski towns like Vail and Beaver Creek. Crested Butte retained its alpine soul, and remains one of the prettiest mountain towns in the state.

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Drive through Colorado’s largest aspen grove on Kebler Pass, the unpaved road between Crested Butte and the Paonia Reservoir. Stop frequently and soak up the experience of being 10,000 feet high and inside of a single living organism.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

You’ve heard of the Grand Canyon. The Black Canyon might just be the most stunning stone crevasse you’ve never heard of. Deep and dramatic, this marbled canyon could swallow the Empire State Building whole. Drink in the steep, dark cliffs; watch golden eagles ride up thermals or even hike the river-carved bottom of this lesser-known national park.

Curecanti National Recreation Area

In Colorado, every lake is special. That makes the 96 miles of shoreline around Blue Mesa Reservoir, the biggest in this triad of man-made lakes, especially impressive. Boaters, fishers and beach types, take note.

Redstone

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A sculpture garden on a river, picturesque antique buildings and colorful coke ovens define this quick stop. Stop in the Redstone Manor for a dose of the history of this Historic District.

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Farms dot this pastoral and progressive town, which prides itself on its lack of stoplights. Paonia is an especially pleasing stop during peach- and cherry season.

Marble

Marble Mountain

Image: Alan Levine/Flickr

Ever wonder where the marble for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier came from? Even if you never asked that question, the answer is Marble, Colorado. At the end of what looks like a dirt road to nowhere, you’ll find this sleepy town and its Yule marble quarry. Flanked by Fourteeners, this photogenic quarry features an old mill, a museum and 10,000+-pound marble chunks stacked high. Explore by foot and absorb the adventurous feeling of being here.

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Image: Byways.org

You can find detailed, mile-by-mile information about this byway and 11 more in the Backroads and Byways of Colorado—Second Edition. This spankin’ new edition features color photos, maps at every byway and extensive updated listings.

Thank You, Tattered Cover

I was honored to be able to speak at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver last week. Here’s a really blurry mobile picture of the talk. Bottom line, the Tattered Cover is one of America’s most regal bookstores, with a spacious events hall that has hosted everyone from Buckminster Fuller to Barack Obama, and it was a real treat to be up there sharing my Colorado experiences with readers.

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I can’t tell you how happy it made me when audience members approached me afterwards to share their enthusiasm for the state and all it has to offer. For the first time, I experienced the magic that catalyzes between an author, her material and a receptive audience. A writer’s work is, after all, a living creation. Our words exist to be heard. In the right conditions, the author not only delivers words, but transports her audience to a new place and time.

I think the Tattered Cover realizes the sacred nature of this transmission. From the well-worn signing desk in the events hall to the careful stewardship of each reading event, our grand dame of Colorado bookstores continually sets the foundation for writers and readers to bond.

I am humbled to have experienced the Tattered Cover in this way. I come out of it with a new appreciation and reverence for readers, and a deepened love affair with the bookstore.

Thank you for attending, and thank you for reading.