My New Favorite National Park

I’m interrupting the Ireland Series to talk about last weekend’s Colorado Scampabout, which is a more traditional Scampabout since Sadie actually got to go.

Plus, I have a new favorite National Park, replacing last year’s spectacular Chiricahua National Park, and I wanted to share it with you.

My New Favorite National Park  It was a four-day trip, just Sadie, Sam the Wonder Pup, and me. My mission for the weekend was simple: knock off four more National Parks, take long walks with Sam, do some writing, and read.

(Which I realized is all I ever really want to do, every day, so I’ve made that my three-year plan, to get that life. I’ll keep you posted.)

We took 25 north to Colorado Springs, then cut west to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. I’d share pictures, but honestly, it’s tough to take an engaging photo of giant petrified tree stumps sitting under protective awnings.

Nearby is the Hornbek Homestead, sitting humbly by the side of the road. It seemed to have some sort of inferiority complex, sitting there so polite and quiet, like next door’s ancient dead trees had bullied it over the years.

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Makes you wish for the olden days, doesn’t it? All that wide open space, a new life? The hard labor from dusk to dawn, disease, and early death? Oh, wait.

The homestead kicks ass. Adeline Hornbek built it with her first husband (she had three) in the 1860s, and ended up a single woman raising four kids in the midst of Indian tribes and harsh conditions.

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This pantry is way bigger than Sadie’s.

By the time she filed her final homestead papers in 1885, she’d increased the value of her property by five times. (She’d also married a third husband who was 21 years younger. Adeline had it going on.)

That night Sam and I roosted on a mountain overlooking Salida.

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Not bad.

The next day we took Highway 50 west through Curecanti National Recreation Area, which is a gorgeous drive dotted by pristine lakes.

Instead of boating and fishing, like everyone else was doing, Sam and I splashed in the water. When Sam runs his ears flap and his front and back halves seem to move separately, as if he has a hinge in his middle. This apparently scares fish, since he didn’t catch any.

I should have got gas in Gunnison, because I was low but thought I had enough to get to the next town, plus the stations were on the other side of the road, and apparently turning left would have been far too taxing. (That thought actually entered my mind: Well, the stations are on the left, so I’ll wait. Jesus.)

I ended up white-knuckling it 30 miles out of my way, watching my fuel gauge drop to E, and was totally gouged by some guy with one pump out in the middle of nowhere. (I’ve done this before – you think I’d learn.)

After pumping half a tank of gold I handed him my AmEx, which a sign claimed he took. He winced and said, “Can you give me another card? American Express is really greedy.”

He didn’t see the irony.

I seethed but got over it – it was my fault for not stopping earlier. Stupid tax. Move on.

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Sam is appalled at my stupidity and won’t even look at me.

We stayed the next two nights at Crawford State Park, which sits on a lake and has a lovely walking trail. There’s nothing as pleasant as a dusk walk with a dog. Random sniffing stops and ears perked for sounds, the leisurely pace, the cool air and darkening sky. Perfect.

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Also not bad.

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The view from my office where I wrote every day.

Crawford is only a few miles from – Ta da! – my new favorite National Park, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

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“Hurry up!”

You walk a short trail and come out of some pine trees to see it, and I’m not kidding, I teared up, it’s that spectacular. There’s a 2700’ drop from the highest cliff, and if you don’t have vertigo now, try leaning over the sheer wall and looking at the river below and not feeling woozy.

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270 stories down.

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Pictures don’t do it justice.

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You can hike into it, but you need a permit. Next time.

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This dollhouse sat in someone’s yard near Black Canyon. I’m guessing a 3′ drop from the top.

I’d also wanted to see the Colorado National Monument, but it would have been too much driving in addition to the long day going home, so we skipped it.

Sunday we headed out early to Montrose, then south on 550. Note: A town that looks nothing like its name? Cimarron. I expected spicy and inviting, and got bland and cold. It was very near the gas guy who gouged me (alliteration alert!), so now I fear I’m prejudiced toward that whole area.

On the way home we witnessed Colorado humor. South of Montrose there was a sign for someone running for commissioner that said, “This is Colorado, not California.”

I realize the guy who’s running is dead serious, but I thought it was funny. And if you say it out loud in a stern dad voice, it’s even better. (Yes, I did this a few times in the car. I thought it was hilarious, but Sam didn’t laugh.)

Here’s the sign as you come into Ridgway: “What we lack in wineries, we make up for in whiners.”

And a motel sign in Durango: “Free rooms. Just kidding.” Those wacky Coloradoans!

Let’s talk about Ouray. This tiny town is ridiculously adorable with steep, sheltering mountain walls and a charming downtown. In fact, I bet the people who live there are really, really smug because their town is cuter than a bunny-ears-wearing puppy tucked into a Christmas stocking.

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Like a movie set.

From there we drove the “Million Dollar Highway,” and man is it. I have no pictures because I didn’t want to kill us by stopping (or taking pictures while moving) – the road is winding, narrow, and steep.

Plus I was behind an old guy in a camper with no brake lights who thought it was a good idea to hit the brakes randomly and hard at every curve.

What I learned on this Scampabout:

No more than 6 hours in the car. That last day was nine hours and it was way too much, especially with all the mountain driving and scary old-guy drivers.

It’s tough to hitch on an angle. I had pulled Sadie in to the small, narrow campsite and got cocky, thinking, I’m so good at this now, and the hitch is round, who cares if I’ll have to back up the Pilot on an angle to rehitch. How hard can it be? Um, hard. Like, four-times-as-long-to-hitch hard.

I don’t miss the Internet. As long as I have email, I’m fine.

Here’s perhaps the most shocking lesson: Doritos aren’t as good as I remember. This is practically heresy coming from this chip-loving girl. Are my tastes changing? Are they, dare I say, getting more mature?

Nah. The ice cream Drumstick I had later that day was AWESOME.

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2 Comments

  1. Deborah Dash April 2, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    You may be too young to remember the 1976 #1 hit song “Convoy” by C.W. McCall (real name Bill Fries). Fries was mayor of Ouray from 1986 to 1992.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convoy_%28song%29

    And you’re right about hitching on an angle. It’s well nigh unto impossible.

    • deonne April 3, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

      Deborah – I remember that song, and it’s funny that he was the mayor of Ouray. Beautiful place to be in politics!

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