Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vacation, Part 2: Newfound Respect for Rocks

Mesa Verde is phenomenal.

I don't use that word often, or actually ever, but really: it's this gorgeous place with gorgeous park facilities, and it deserves "phenomenal."

As I was saying, we checked into Far View Lodge a little before sunset, when the mesa was drenched in golden light. You'll just have to excuse the purple prose, because that's how it looks in my memory. We were given an unsolicited free room upgrade, and I was initially disappointed and upset by that because I'd just spent 12 tense hours in a car and it had made me crazy, and also because after booking our room, I learned from a guide book that the older, cheaper rooms were simply furnished but had spectacular views of the mesa. Like this:

Our room, on the other hand, featured more luxurious hand-crafted furniture on the inside and a view that included a parking lot, some lodge buildings, and a tuft of trees. It took me a few hours and some sleep to get over this, but it turned out that we didn't spend that many waking hours in our room anyway, and for our purposes when we were there, a little bit of luxury was nice. Besides, it's not as if the view was bad.

The restaurant in the lodge was fantastic, and we started both of our two full days at Mesa Verde by glutting ourselves on the delicious buffet-style breakfast (scrambled eggs! fresh fruit! three kinds of meat! good tea!). Then we spent the rest of the time working it off in the hot, dry sun. On Wednesday, we started easy by touring Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling in the park.

Then we ratcheted it up a notch or ten by taking (on nearly empty stomachs) a 2.5-mile hike along the rim of a canyon. We saw only a handful of other people on the trail (compared with droves at all the cliff dwellings), and couldn't understand, as Eric put it, "how anyone in their right mind could come here and not take this hike." The views were incredible and the trail, which led up, down, across, and between huge rocks, was challenging and fun. It was also the only way to see the largest petroglyph panel in the park.

On Thursday we toured two cliff dwellings, starting with Balcony House, which was by far the most impressive and fun. We were able to get farther inside the structure than on the other tours, and getting in and out meant climbing tall ladders, crawling through a tunnel, and navigating narrow spaces between the rock face and ancient walls.

Later in the day, we walked through Spruce Tree House, the best preserved of the dwellings, and one of the few that visitors are allowed to tour without a ranger. We also went on another long hike, this time along the bottom of the canyon and back up to the mesa top. After our hike the day before, this one was kind of a letdown--just a stroll through a sparse forest followed by a huffing, puffing, high-altitude, uphill trek. But, like everywhere else, there were cool rock formations along the way.

Our last stop, late Thursday afternoon, before the gift shop and ice cream counter, was a trail amidst some older ruins on top of the mesa. These structures were left before the Ancestral Puebloans moved down into the natural alcoves in the cliff faces, and they're less awe-inspiring than the cliff dwellings. But they were also less crowded with people, totally free of rangers, and mostly open for us to walk through.

The last structure on the trail is Far View Tower, which we crawled into through the little window on the front.

And that's where Eric asked me to marry him.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vacation, Part 1: Headed Toward Wonderment

This morning, I am green. Filled with jealousy almost to the point of spilling over. I'm jealous, crazily enough, of myself. My past self. Because my self of one week ago, exactly 168 hours ago, was in the car on her way into Colorado. She was in a great mood, and she knew this was coming, one week later. I may be crazy, but at least I'm consistent.

Last Tuesday was the second day of our road trip. On Monday we left early, drove through Iowa and most of Nebraska, and stopped for the night in North Platte, where I'd reserved a room at an old but extremely clean two-story motel.

I'd heard bad things about Nebraska before we left, but it turned out to be not so awful. The landscape reminded me of parts of Minnesota, but with more cows. North Platte is a major railroad town, and more attention has been paid to its architecture than we were expecting. We walked through downtown on our way back to the motel from dinner, and were impressed with the intricately carved stonework on most of the buildings. Even the bases of the lampposts were decorative. Even so, it was very much small town America: my meal of lemon pepper chicken linguine (at a restaurant that claimed to have "the best food in town") was so terrible and ugly that I hardly ate any of it (Eric's chicken-fried steak, on the other hand, was very good); we watched a man in a pickup truck rev his engine loudly and squeal away in challenge to a friend standing by his motorcycle in a parking lot; and there were two poems, one patriotic and the other religious, tacked to the wall in our motel room.

That first night, we took a cold, dark swim in the outdoor pool, slept heavily, and woke up early for another day on the road.

On this trip, Eric and I learned that a full day of driving, when you're braced for it and it's part of something worthwhile, isn't all that hard to do. But the second day of our trip was not a good example of this. On that day, we drove into Colorado, where they have mountains. I don't know if you've ever driven through mountains in a Saturn sedan, but I think it's safe to say that they weren't designed for that kind of driving. During the four days we were in Colorado, we saw one other Saturn. One. And it had our sympathy. Going up, we had trouble maintaining a speed of 45 mph. And going down, especially on curves, the anti-lock brake system kicked in and made us worry that our brakes (which we checked shortly before leaving) were not working they way we needed them to. The drive to Mesa Verde was harrowing, nerve-scraping, and about two hours longer than we had planned. Pretty, though:

After finally arriving at the park in a flood of relief and paying the ranger for our vehicle pass, we discovered that the lodge where we were staying was still 15 miles away. Up a mountain. To the west. At sunset. Eric was driving, and for all 15 miles, I clutched the door handle next to me, breathed studiously, and tried not to look down.


It was all worth it.

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Monday, June 23, 2008


Last night, Eric and I returned home from a very successful vacation. I have a lot of things I want to write about here, things I spent most of the past week writing about in my head, but tonight I'm still too tired and disoriented to sort through the internal notes and the photographs and create a piece of writing worthy of our trip.

So my goal--and be warned that I might not quite make it; the next several days will be full of cleaning (when you leave two cats mostly alone in an apartment for a week, I guess it triggers some kind of cat hair world domination sequence), writing money-making stuff, evening shifts at work, and weekend plans--but my goal is, over the next week, to recount our road trip (with major stops at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and Badlands National Park in South Dakota) in a trilogy of blog posts.

Stay tuned.


Friday, June 13, 2008

The Gods of Bad Timing Must Be Very Proud

Two days ago I began to develop a cold in my chest: tight lungs, wheezing, loose cough, awful sore throat. Tonight I can feel it gradually encroaching on my sinuses.

Next week, Eric and I are going on our very first real vacation ever. There will be untold amounts of hiking. I would so much rather stay healthy right now.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On the Flowing of the Juices

Don't be misled by the title of this post: it's not just more complaining about my neighbors' raucous sex. I'm making an effort to ignore them and not dignify their inconsideration by letting it seep into my daytime consciousness. Even if they have woken me at 4 a.m. twice this week. Even if one of those times, her screaming was so over-the-top, it made my cat growl.


This post is about writing.

Turns out, I haven't written anything (except a few blog posts) in a month. That's pretty much unacceptable, though not entirely my fault. Life has been exceptionally demanding lately. I'm sure a more disciplined writer would have made time to write, but discipline is one of the things I struggle with, and forcing myself to sit down and stare at the computer monitor for the hour between finishing breakfast and leaving for my 11 a.m. shift at work is not going to magically turn me into a writing Jedi. But it might make me crazy. So instead I read a book. That's called caring for my mental health. It's important to me. And to Eric.

Shortly before I stopped writing, I started a new article for the website, on the inspiring topic of getting rid of crabgrass. Since my life has started to resettle into its natural rhythms and I'm trying to reclaim my writing routine (along with my eating routine, my exercise routine, and my cleaning routine), I've pulled that article back up a few times, fully intending to resume writing it. I've even placed the cursor on the next line to be written. Where it sat, blinking at me cheekily, until I realized I'd forgotten to look up who did the voice of the villain in Kung Fu Panda. (Ian McShane of Deadwood.) Which led me to spend all my writing time looking at pictures of celebrities online.

But today, I have nothing but writing time. And there's no way I can spend an entire day looking at pictures of celebrities. They just aren't that interesting. So I have to actually write. But suddenly, staring at that stupid cursor, it dawns on me that I don't know anything about crabgrass. Or the English language.

So I reread my notes. I feel like I know a little bit about crabgrass now, but I'm still stumped by the problem of forming thoughts into words and words into sentences. And the best way I know to solve that problem is blogging. So I blog. I blog long and hard and not very interestingly, I'm afraid. And it works, a little. I can feel the grease seeping in amidst my brain's moving parts. I think I might be able to write productively now.

Thank you (yes, you) for your help.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Ye Olde Stone Temple Pilots

They give you your money's worth. The show tonight was theatrical and sexy and totally rocktastic.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Still Alive. More or Less.

The two-week vanishing act was unintentional. In that time, I finished moving into our new apartment (there are just a few random things scattered on the floor that need to be shifted into permanent places) and cleaning the old one. I also attended two out-of-town graduation parties (both for cousins who will be attending my alma mater next year). And I've been working a few extra hours during the week. So I haven't had much time for writing, and when I have had time, I've been uninspired or afraid that anything I write will come off as relentless complaining. (For example, our new apartment, though it is in many important ways better than the last, comes with an upstairs neighbor who walks laps around her bedroom in heels at 7:30 in the morning, when I'm still trying to get another half hour of sleep, and who has sex noisily and often.)

This week will be busy, too, with an extra shift at work and a groom's dinner and a concert and a wedding. So I'll probably disappear again for a while. But I'll be back. I always come back.

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