Colorado, When Can I See You Again?

On Monday, July 13th, Doug had to go to Denver for two days of oral exams to move from the training/apprenticeship stage of his job to full-fledged Field Engineer status. The company would have paid for his flights, but we got the go-ahead to drive there instead (only 5 hours) and so set off around noon from Green River, WY on the I-80 eastbound and then headed south at Laramie for the more scenic drive down to Denver through Fort Collins.

The company had us (and the other candidates) set up in the downtown Sheraton, smack dab on the 16th Street Mall, an open-air pedestrian mall that stretches for over a mile. We were on the 16th floor (lucky number?) with this incredible view of the downtown core and the Rockies beyond. Our first day in town, Doug had a full day of interviews so after we had breakfast at the Delectable Egg I went for some much-needed pampering at the Body Massage Wellness Spa a few blocks from the hotel, then grabbed some lunch at Cook’s Fresh Market, a gourmet deli/grocery store, before heading out to my hair appointment (more pampering!) at Shear Productions. Then I walked the 16th Street Mall from one end to another, stopping in at some of the stores for some air conditioning and big city fashion.
Doug had told me he was to have dinner with the company people, so I took myself to Earl’s upstairs patio for mojitos, food, and people watching. Soon afterwards, though, Doug called me to let me know his group were headed my way, so I saved tables and got to meet some of the other folks.
The next morning Doug had his final round of chats and a wrap-up session, so I decided to hit the streets while it was still cool for some exploring. Right around the corner from the hotel are most of Denver’s museums, art galleries, and civic buildings. They weren’t open yet, though, so I didn’t make it inside but I fully plan to check out the Colorado History Museum, Denver Public Library, the Molly Brown House Museum, and the haunted Brown Palace Hotel on my next trip to Denver.
I did make it to one museum, though, the Black American West Museum, about a 30-minute walk from the hotel. It’s off the beaten tourist track in the Five Points neighbourhood, often called the “Harlem of the West” because of its proliferation of jazz clubs in the 1920s-1940s where Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington played before integrated audiences. Now it’s got a more hispanic flavour, but the museum is a testament to the neighbourhood’s, Denver’s and the West’s Black past. It’s housed in the former residence of Dr. Justina Ford and gives a great overview not only of Denver’s first Black doctor, but also Buffalo Soldiers, Black cowboys and settlers in the West, and the utopian Black colony of Dearfield, Colorado. This is an area of history not often taught and my knowledge is sorely lacking. My visit was very enjoyable and I picked up a copy of Charlene Porter’s historic novel, Boldfaced Lies, about race relations, the KKK, and identity in Colorado which I can’t wait to read.
That afternoon Doug slept while I enjoyed the roof-top pool and then we headed out for dinner at Ling & Louie’s, where the spring rolls are divine and they serve up cool twists on classic cocktails like the Ginger Cooler (sake, ginger beer, lemon and lime and crushed mint). After walking off our considerable dinner by heading over to the Tattered Cover Bookstore in trendy LoDo (Lower Downtown), we went for dessert at The Cheesecake Factory where they have 20+ different kinds of cheesecake on the menu. Yum!!
The next morning, our final foodie stop was for breakfast at Sam’s No. 3 restaurant, which has been around since the 1920s. If you’re ever in Denver, you need to stop here: their early-bird (before 10am) specials are around $4 and you will get enough food to last you to lunch and beyond! Then we packed our stuff into the Mini and got on the I-70 west for a four-hour drive through the Rocky Mountains past all those ritzy ski areas of Golden, Vail, and Aspen and into the wine and fruit-growing region of The Palisades, just east of Grand Junction. There we bought a couple of the juiciest peaches ever from a road-side vendor, and sampled wines at the Grand River winery.
By this time, it was 5 p.m. and the car’s thermometer said it was 38 degrees celsius. The original plan was to go to the Colorado National Monument and hike into a primitive camping spot. We were melting standing still, though, so there was no way we were going to load up our packs and head to a lower elevation with higher temps. So we decided to wing it and jumped back in the car, headed north toward Rangely and agreed that when the temperature dropped under 30 degrees we’d start looking for a place to camp (it’s mostly public lands up the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway).
This happened around 6:30pm at Douglas Pass, where the elevation was about 8,000 feet. After climbing a gravel road switchback, we stopped the Mini by a clearing where we startled a mule deer. We walked 10-minutes down to the spot and set up camp right over where the deer had been bedded down.

The view from our tent – and no bugs either!
Colorado is known for its microbrews (not just Coors anymore!) and so we picked up a mixed case of Denver-based Great Divide beers in Grand Junction, which just happened to still be cold when we set up camp. Nothing goes better with freeze-dried curry than a good beer!
Friday morning, after sleeping under a blanket of stars (well, a lot of tossing and turning for me. Were there bears here? I couldn’t remember!) we continued north to Irish Canyon – named for the three Irishmen who robbed a saloon and stopped at this location to consume part of the take – for a little hike. We didn’t go for long, though, as it was high noon and the sun was beating down on us!

Doug, doing his best Spiderman impersonation in Irish Canyon, decided to climb up a sheer rockface and hide from me. As every hiker knows, though, it’s always harder to get down than it is to get up. Don’t worry, I guided him to safety….
After Irish Canyon we drove to Browns Park, a nearby wildlife refuge along the Green River near the borders of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. It also has a one-vehicle swing bridge which Doug thought was pretty cool (and so had to drive over).
Then we headed home through Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, with a quick stop in Manila, Utah for sandwich fixings and an ice cream treat. Now Doug’s back at work for the next two weeks and I’m settling into a post-book/new project schedule. But Colorado, you and I will definitely meet again….

The London Leg

I realize I’ve been home for a week and still haven’t written up the final leg of my UK journey. Here goes!
The last couple of days I was in the UK I spent with my lovely friend, Emily, in north London. Emily and I met while I was on university exchange in Leeds in 2003-4. She is another fellow history geek and we immediately hit it off in our Victorian England class and soon had a standing Thursday lunch date. We’ve stayed in touch and she was foolish – I mean, nice – enough to offer me a place to stay during my trip.
By this time I had developed a sore throat and was getting a little tired of all the travelling, but it was great to catch up with old friends. The first night we met two of my other British friends, Caroline and Suz, for dinner at the very exotic Gallipoli, a Turkish restaurant, on Upper Street (apparently a hip, posh area). Then the next morning Emily filled me up with good strong tea and showed me King’s College, where she’s doing her Ph.d. in History. We had a quick bite to eat at the cafe in the Courtauld Gallery but skipped on the art. And then we wandered around some beautiful courtyards where you couldn’t hear all the traffic and construction noises, and went into Temple Church – recently made famous by the DaVinci Code. I really felt transported back in time, trying to imagine what 17th century London must have been like…

The courtyard by Temple Church

We escaped the drizzle into The Old Bank of England, which is now an impressive pub that serves an afternoon tea that is to die for: finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, little tarts and cakes with fruit. And, of course, a pot of your choice of tea (I really believe you can profile people by the tea they drink. I’m Earl Grey and Emily is Traditional English Breakfast. What are you?)

The next day we went to see Slumdog Millionaire, an incredible movie set in India, before she drove me to the local grocery store to stock up on British goods I can’t get in the area: curry, naan bread, Dark Chocolate McVities Hob Nobs biscuits, Revels, Alpen cereal bars, scones. Into the duffel bag they went for a taste of England while in Wyoming!

And then we were off to the hotel I’d booked – no sense waking her household up at 3:30am the next morning – so I stayed at the Sheraton Skyline near Heathrow. After a lovely dinner, we said our goodbyes and I tried not to obsess about the weird tv-alarm thingy not working. But my subconscious didn’t trust it, and so I woke up pretty much every hour until it was time to get up and catch the airport shuttle.

The flight from London to Washington Dulles was longer than the way out – damn you, headwind! And when we arrived I was pretty out of it. So out of it, in fact, that I managed to lose my beautiful engagement ring somewhere between my seat and the security wicket, when I noticed something was missing on my left hand. The security agent was very understanding and sent me over to get help retrieving it. Despite valiant efforts by United Airlines and U.S. Customs we did not recover the ring. What I did manage to do, however, was miss my connection to Denver, although my bags did not.

What ensued was a lot of bleary-eyed running around to the United desk, being put on stand-by for the next flight to Denver which would have gotten me in on time for my connection to Rock Springs. But I was too far down the standby list, so was bumped to the next Denver flight, which landed there at the exact moment my Dash-8 took off for Wyoming (with my bags on board). As you can imagine, Rock Springs is not the most popular travel destination, and so there are only two flights per day. The next one was at 11:30am – the next day.

So it was about 6:30pm in Denver when I landed (1:30am England time) and I’d been travelling for what felt like a really long time. This also happened to be the first time in a long time that I had not packed a proper overnight bag for the trip, mostly because my duffel bag was now packed with British goodies and so I’d checked it. Luckily the nice people at United gave me a toiletries package but I decided I really needed some clean clothes to be able to change into the next morning. When you’re exhausted you don’t make the best choices, and I ended up buying a $10 pair of socks and a $30 shirt that is the most ill-fitting thing you could imagine. But you know what, I will wear until they are in shreds for those prices!

I ended up at the Aloft hotel, a trying-to-be-hip, techno-music-in-the-lobby, Wired magazine in the rooms, kind of place. It was all a little much, but after a slightly soggy wrap, a shower, and an episode of What Not to Wear I almost felt human. And then the most amazing thing happened: I found the plane-issued Twix Bar that I thought I’d lost along with my engagement ring. And you know what? In that precise moment, I think I was happier to see the chocolate bar!

Uber-hip Aloft Hotel in Denver, CO

After sleeping for twelve hours I got up, grabbed some breakfast and headed back to Denver airport, which is quite a pretty one when you’re not drop-dead tired. Feeling giddy, I got onto the Dash-8 with my minimal luggage, and was so happy to get my bags (which were patiently awaiting me), get in my car, and go home to Guinness and Riker.

Denver Airport, looking like it might sail away

Postscript: Still no sign of the engagement ring and it turns out it wasn’t insured. As Doug (who perpetually loses thing) said to me, this is his get-out-of-jail-free card for the next twenty years. Yup!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.