The Homeland: Colorado
Colorado Proud, Colorado Strong
I was really excited to get up yesterday and make, shoot, and share this new recipe I brainstormed up last week. I set my alarm for 8:00am, got my camera and everything ready, prepped the stuff I needed to put in the freezer overnight, and settled in to sleep.
Well, life had other plans for me. I woke up to an absence of sound; my fan had turned off and wouldn't turn back on. Since it's four years old, I didn't think much of it, I just figured it had worn out. But then my lamp didn't turn on. Neither did the light in my room. And I noticed the wifi on my phone was mysteriously....not present.
Turns out, Gonzaga lost power, lost wifi, lost function. Lights were shutting off in university buildings, classes were being held in naturally-lit lobbies instead of pitch-black classrooms, and to top it all off, we had a freak fog that eventually burned off (yay, sun!) but between the fog and the lack of power, our apartment was drenched in darkness. Like, we had to use Heather's headlamp from when she studied abroad in Panama to even be able to see in the bathroom. So naturally, I didn't shoot the new recipe (we couldn't open the fridge anyway, since we didn't want to let the cold air out!). So get pumped for this new, super springy recipe in the future, but in the meantime, I thought that this week would be a good time to get started on the "travel" side of The Sagas....kind of.
Sure, Colorado isn't technically travel for me, so it won't be a typical travel post. It's my home. But where better to start talking about adventure and travel and wanderlust than Colorado, which is basically an adventurer's paradise? And I have a native's knowledge of this most beautiful state in the United States. :)
To be honest, I don't even know where to start talking about Colorado. How do you discuss the place where you've lived the majority of your life? The place that holds your best memories, your worst memories, your entire childhood, the most significant pieces of your present? I could write a book about everything that Colorado means to me, but you all didn't sign up to read a book--so I'll try to keep it to one (albeit long) blog post!
To do that, I'm going to rely heavily on pictures to guide this post. So, so many pictures. Some of these are old, shot with old, old cameras (so excuse their quality!) Some of them are new, shot with my DSLR. Believe it or not, I eliminated thousands of photos to come up with the ones here, the ones I think are most representative of my life in Colorado.
So, here goes. Take a deep breath, and let's dive into Colorado....
The seasons in Colorado are all over the place. It's normal to have all four seasons in one day, starting the day off with sun which breaks into snow which melts into rain and then returns to sun, only to begin the cycle over again, and throwing in a sprinkle of hail here and there. Snowing while the sun is out is common place. I've come home the past three years from college for "summer" break to be greeted by a May blizzard the day after I return.
But growing up in Colorado, I became accustomed to snow from September through May. We planned Halloween costumes so that they would allow for coats, and usually boots as well. The Ugg trend was a disaster because Uggs have zero traction, which made hiking from the parking lots in the high school up the hill to the actual high school absolutely treacherous. The winters are long, and normally swallow up spring so that I didn't really know what spring was until I moved to Washington. To me, spring was just a slightly wetter version of winter, as the snowiest months that I remember always tended to be January, February, March, and April.
Though long and tedious, and often dangerous when it comes to driving our curving mountain roads, winters in Colorado are gorgeous. Everything is blanketed by sparkling snow, and the on-average 300 days of sun per year in Colorado means that the snow melts and is replaced regularly--so there isn't a build up of nasty, dirty, car-exhaust snow. Everything is fresh and clean and blindingly white. In the winter, the towering mountains are stark shades of white and gray and blue, the evergreen trees are frosted with snow like powdered sugar, the lakes and rivers are frozen into crystalline pathways, and sharp icicles hang from every structure. Hot chocolate becomes a necessity, and you can see your breath hang in the hair and hear the crunch and squeak of snow under your boots in that otherwise muffled silence that only snow can create. It's a Hallmark Christmas movie heaven--actually, it may just be heaven.
As much as Colorado gets all the credit for its breathtaking winters, summer in Colorado is just as beautiful. Some years, unfortunately, it's bone dry, and wildfires break out across the state, leaving destruction in their path. There are so many places where all that remains are blackened skeletons of trees and brittle, yellow grass. But some years are super wet, and thunderstorms rage across the state, flashing lightning and roaring thunder, leaving green wild grasses and bright wildflowers to vibrantly dot the ground. Birds nestle in the trees and deer nibble on the grass and shrubs, and little marmots of some sort peek their heads out of the lakes and ponds. The rivers bubble along, curving through the mountain canyons, and hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, whitewater rafters, campers, and rock climbers leave civilization and voyage into the mountains by the thousands. Everything is so passionately, vividly alive; Colorado in the summertime is the most potent elixir in the world.
And then, at some point in August or September, a crisp note can be felt in the air. There's a slight chill on the breeze. Sometimes, you swear you can smell snow. And then the brief, magnificent Colorado autumn is here, signaling its presence by turning every lime-leafed aspen tree brilliant shades of gold, orange, and ruby. The mountainsides are bathed in gemstone colors, the ever-present forest green of the coniferous trees interspaced with brightness. It doesn't last long, as the aspen leaves fall to the ground in brown husks and are swiftly covered by the first snows of the season, and winter returns.
Whatever you're looking for, you can find it in Colorado--I like to say it has everything except for the ocean, and as Colorado used to be an ocean, you could even argue for that if you wanted to. There's prairie and grasslands to the east, foothills in the center, sweeping plateaus and pueblos to the southwest, and even a giant desert at Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. And of course, the Rocky Mountains cut straight through the west, sprinkled with forests and alpine tundra. There's city, there's suburb, there's small town, there's rural, and there's just nature. And oh, how there is nature. From big to small, plant to animal, there is so much life in Colorado throughout the seasons. At my house alone, our yard has been graced with: deer, elk, several different types of foxes, bobcats, lynx, mountain lions, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, coyotes, bears, hawks, falcons, eagles, and all kinds of smaller birds like chickadees and hummingbirds. Like I said: anything you're looking for, you'll find. And yet, for everything in Colorado that I've seen and experienced, there's plenty more that I haven't yet.
Speaking of experiences, Colorado boasts some excellent food (and on a food blog, isn't this what we're all really interested in?!). I'm not talking about Rocky Mountain Oysters (steer clear, you have been warned), I'm talking about all kinds of delicious restaurants and even chains that were started in Colorado. Einstein Brother's Bagels, anyone? Chipotle AND Qdoba? And my personal favorite, Noodles & Company!
Moving away from fast food, let's address the food-based elephant in the room. Casa Bonita is one of the most famous (infamous?) restaurants in Colorado for sure, but definitely not for food quality. The food is Mexican, and mediocre at best (Colorado has excellent Mexican food options, and Casa Bonita is not on that list at all). What Casa Bonita is, is an experience. How often can you sit in an indoor restaurant and watch cliff divers perform while you eat your food? And if you get tired of the whole indoor jungle/waterfall thing, head down to the area that looks basically like you're in the dining hall of the Titanic, all glitz and glamour. Or maybe into the cave. Or into the arcade. Basically, it's a restaurant turned amusement park.
But as for actually good food--scratch that, GREAT food....have you heard of a little joint named Beau Jo's Pizza? This place made dipping your pizza crust in honey famous, turning pizza into a full meal, dinner + dessert. They have a "Mountain Pie" and a "Prairie Pie" (mountain pie all the way. More crust = more honey, which = more smiles), plus "The Challenge": two people eating a 14-pound pizza in one hour, and thus finishing a very different type of fourteener. The Evergreen location is just a tempting 30 minute drive from my house (which, where I'm from, is not actually a long drive), meaning that Beau Jo's is the restaurant I've eaten at more than any other. There's nothing better than eating pizza with thick, doughy crust and rich sauce while sitting on a deck next to a rushing river, watching ducks swim along with their babies as the aspen trees whisper overhead. While people in New York and Chicago battle bitterly over whose pizza is better, those of us in Colorado just sit back, watch smugly, and chomp down on our Beau Jo's Colorado-style pizza (which would blow both New York and Chicago out of the water in seconds).
I don't think you can grow up in Colorado without being more outdoorsy than the average Joe. I mean, we had a mandatory week-long wilderness camp in the dead-of-winter as a required part of my public school curriculum, so I think that says something (shoutout to Outdoor Lab at Windy Peak in December! Frozen hair on the hike back to the cabin from the shower, anyone?). And I'm not even outdoorsy compared to so many of my Colorado friends. I don't ski or snowboard (I know, I know, I'm a monster), I don't camp often, and I still haven't hiked a fourteneer (for those who haven't heard that term, that's summiting a mountain over 14,000 feet, which Colorado has 53 of, by far the most of any state with Alaska coming in second at 29). I really need to get on that fourteener thing, but guys, that's a long hike. And you have to get up super early to start! I need to mentally prepare.
On the other hand, I did do plenty outdoorsy to earn my Native Colorado status. I went boating in the summer, riding the inner-tube behind the boat on Chatfield Reservoir. I did at least learn to ski, gracing Winter Park with my presence for a few years. I've been hiking all over the state, (I mean, Staunton State Park is five minutes from my house! C'mon.). I rode horses, went sledding, built snow tunnels during blizzards, played lacrosse, pretended to play soccer for a year, and spent hundreds of hours running marching band drills outside during the summer and the fall, just to provide a few examples. Colorado and time outdoors just goes hand-in-hand; I think it has something to do with those bluebird skies. If 300 days of the year are lit with a bright blue, clear, vibrant sky, how can you stay inside?
Let me leave you with one last image, now that we're talking about the Colorado sky. From sunrise to sunset and from dusk to dawn, Colorado's sky is as of yet, the most awe-inspiring I have ever seen. The sunrises and sunsets are unparalleled; they are lit with so many colors, from sorbet oranges and pinks, to royal purples and navy, to baby blues and fluffy whites. The moment the sun rises above or sets below the stony peaks of the Rocky Mountains, there is silence and soft light and a strange feeling I've come to understand as the soaring of my heart. Especially up in the mountains where I grew up, light pollution isn't an issue. Even at night, the sky isn't black, but instead is navy, lit by thousands and thousands of tiny pinpricks of light. These stars twinkle in every direction, and the Milky Way galaxy splashes across the night sky like a wayward stroke from a paintbrush. You'd think it can't get much more beautiful than that, but during the day, Colorado bluebird skies give an entirely new definition to the color blue. Stark, vivid, uplifting, and dashed with cotton candy clouds, I can and have laid back and watched Colorado's sky move and brighten, shift and darken. The only thing more splendid than the massive mountains, roaring rivers, and waving grasslands is the bluebird sky that rises above it all.