Bad Weather & The Drought

We Coloradans never object to the perpetuation of the misconception that it’s always cold and snowy here, because it’s generally understood to be the only reason everybody in the world doesn’t move to our glorious state. But now this shit is happening. I’m not even complaining about the rain, because we need it. But what’s up with Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday? Shit, that’s what.

No. This shit makes me feel kind of depressed and then angry, the kind of angry normally reserved for people who drive like assholes. Hey 25-degree Wednesday in mid April! How about you use your goddamn turn signal?!

I like winter, more or less, when it actually is winter.  But now it’s spring and we had a few nice, sit-outside-with-no-jacket-well-into-the-evening days but apparently those were just a tease and now it’s back to winter and covering up the poor little vegetables who have had the misfortune to start growing already. (Let’s not even talk about the poor little vegetables still inside or the gigantic edamame beanstalk that’s about to take over the house.) My skin is so dry my hands have those awful cuts you get when your skin is way too dry despite copious lotioning and I just want to be outside, enjoying life. I want to be outside! I want it to be nice! This unreasonably cold weather has gone on for too long! I’m sad like Margarita from The Master and Margarita (currently re-reading, which is why I’m obsessed) before she applied the cream and became a naked witch, flying on her broom in the moonlight outside Moscow.

Speaking of needing rain, we’re in a Stage 2 drought and there’s going to be some pretty hard-core enforcement of watering restrictions this summer. (More info. here.) (FYI: It’s okay to water annuals and vegetables any time with a hand-held hose or drip irrigation.) Can I be blunt? I’m already judging everybody who lives in the area and has a green lawn this summer. If you want a green lawn, you probably shouldn’t live in Colorado. It’s such a waste of water and I hope green lawns become totally unfashionable and widely regarded as a symbol of the kind of me-first-screw-everybody-else mentality good and enlightened people hope to avoid. Xeriscape! Grow food not lawns! I’m gonna have to write a Wesley Willis style song about conserving water! Rock over London! Rock on Chicago!

The Truth About Camping


All the really good things about camping can be done at home, in your yard. Camping was very much an up and down experience for us — some things were awesome and some things were awful. I’m still recovering from the lack of sleep. Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Camping Food

We’re planning a very short (one night) camping trip (tent, no amenities or fancy shit like potable water, electricity, or plumbing) and I’ve been thinking about what we should eat. It shouldn’t be much — just a snack, dinner, and breakfast. Maybe dessert. We have some stale vegan marshmallows so we could make s’mores, but s’mores are always better in theory than they are in reality.

You’d be amazed by how much time I can spend thinking about two meals to have while camping. The thing is, I like having something to look forward to, however small, and I like having a little project to plan. So let’s roll with it.

For a snack, do-it-yourself faux Jiffy pop, or “campfire popcorn satchels,” which sounds much more awesome. (Instructions here.)

Photo: David Tsay/Real Simple

For dinner, I’m not sure. I’d love to do grilled pizza, which we’ve made at home with good results (and I love this guy’s instructions), but Ben (who, to be fair, does most of the cooking and pretty much all of the grilling) was all, slow your roll homegirl, let’s just do veggie burgers and maybe corn or something. That sounds reasonable.

For a side dish, if there’s room for a side dish, we’ll have campfire baked feta, because holy crap can you imagine anything more delicious? (Instructions here.) Campfire brie, maybe with nuts or some kind of fruit? Is that possible? (Yes.)

Photo: Travis Rathbone

Oh, as you may know, I’m a nacho person. I love the idea of fire-roasted nachos, but I know we’re getting into way-too-much-food territory. We’ll save that one for an evening at home with the fire pit in the yard one day when you can use a fire pit in your yard in Denver.

And of course there will be beer.

For breakfast, I want to go all out and have camping pancakes. This recipe for 5 Spot Banana Pancakes sounds awesome — we can mix the dry ingredients together before we go (including powdered egg replacer instead of an egg) and then add milk and butter (which I hope we’ll have room for in one of our coolers, what with all the beer), a tiny bit of water (for the egg replacer), and bananas in the morning and slap these puppies on the old frying pan we don’t mind using on a grill or over a campfire (which, fortunately, are currently allowed where we’re going — Colorado has had lots of fire restrictions this year).

Photo: James Carrier

Also coffee — grind the beans at home, heat water in a teapot over the grill/campfire, and use the French press.

I haven’t been camping since I was a kid and back then we didn’t cook at the campsite, but holy crap I’m so excited about this. It’s going to be awesome.

Swamp Coolers

Or evaporative coolers if you want to be correct and less, um, swampy.

evaporative cooler

We live in a 124-year-old house that does not have central air conditioning. In the past, we made do with one or two old window-unit air conditioners, but for how much it cost to run those things, they didn’t do a very good job of keeping our drafty house cool.

So on a 90+ degree day a few weeks ago, we bought and installed an evaporative cooler (we got this one). All I can really say about it is that it’s the greatest thing in the history of the world. (Please note: This is not a sponsored post. Sorry if it sounds like it is. I’m in love with an appliance.) (Also if you want to learn more about evaporative coolers, check out the Wikipedia page.)

Within an hour, the swamp cooler (Ben and I both independently determined that he should be called “Bob,” which is weird and annoying and I promise we are not in the habit of naming household items) cooled the temperature in our living room/dining room from 81 degrees to 70 degrees. We left Bob (sorry) running all night and woke up to a 60-degree living room (brrrrr).

Unlike our old air conditioners, Bob cools the whole house. The trick is — and this seems weird — to leave doors and windows open in the areas you want to cool. Generally, we leave our back door and bedroom window open, which helps to distribute the cool air throughout the house.

Another awesome thing — in Colorado, our electric company (Xcel) offers rebates when you buy an evaporative cooler (more info. here). We’ll be getting $250. When you add that to what we’ll save in energy costs this summer (running a swamp cooler is way cheaper and more environmentally friendly than running old, inefficient air conditioners), Bob will have almost paid for himself (sorry, that’s just weird but now I can’t stop) by the end of summer.

If you’re not familiar with evaporative coolers, there’s one thing you should know. They smell when they’re running, at least for a while. At first, the smell was really strong and bothered me. Since then, it has mellowed and now it’s either gone or I’m used to it and don’t notice it. According to Ben, the smell comes from the cardboard filter, which is made from aspen trees. So it’s nothing chemical/unhealthy/creepy — it’s just a little different.

At least now we’re ready for this shit, which, as I am wont to say, WTF.


Memorial Day Weekend

Do you want to see 1,000 pictures from our Memorial Day weekend? There’s something about summer (and, well, almost summer) and being out doing stuff that makes me kind of not want to sit down and write anything. That’s usually the same time I want to take lots of pictures.

Ready to go!
Idaho Springs
Idaho Springs
Idaho Springs
Idaho Springs
Idaho Springs
Idaho Springs
Idaho Springs
Idaho Springs
Idaho Springs
Idaho Springs
at Tommyknocker

I used a muffin tinnecklace

Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens


(These are not sponsor or affiliate links — just some good stuff.)

1,027 Miles

I get kind of nostalgic in September. There’s something about the way fall starts sneaking in with its almost-chilly evenings. It gets you thinking about all those times you went back to school or moved into a fresh apartment — things that are new even though you’re at a time of year that’s kind of anything but.

In September 2003 (specifically, September 28, 2003), Ben and I moved to Colorado. That went something like this.

driving directions

The trip from Oak Park, Illinois to Nederland, Colorado is 1,027 miles. Most of those miles are pretty boring, although from the cab of a rented truck where you sit wedged between three cat carriers and the door, you can tell that Iowa is pretty, with rolling hills past the interstate. Nebraska, on the other hand, is not your favorite.

We had no reason to move to Colorado. We just sold a condo (at exactly the right time, it turned out), quit our jobs, and headed west. That’s some cliche shit right there, but I can’t make the story more exciting now. That’s what happened.

Moving from Oak Park, Illinois to Nederland, Colorado is as weird as you might imagine. We settled in with all the other people from Illinois who move to Nederland for a year or so before going somewhere else, wherever that might be.

Because I get kind of nostalgic in September, we went to Nederland today. We hadn’t been there since September 2009, when I was 8 months pregnant and thinking about how, next time we walked around Nederland, Ben would be able to carry Soren and I wouldn’t have to do it all myself while worrying about where I’d be able to pee five minutes later when I’d have to pee again. We waited long enough to go back so that, for the most part, Soren could walk around by himself.

Nederland is mostly the same as it was, and I love that about it. It’s quiet and beautiful and rocks get in the Birkenstocks you wear because if you can’t wear Birkenstocks in Nederland you can’t wear them anywhere and who cares what shoes you’re wearing, anyway. There are hummingbirds everywhere. And dogs. If I didn’t ever have to go to an office, I’d move back to Nederland right now, although I’d get annoyed when we wanted to order dinner after 9 p.m. (rare) or when I tried to make baked goods that never turn out right at 8,240 feet even with extreme high-altitude adjustments (more likely).

Ned is mostly the same, but two major improvements have been made since we lived there. First, there’s a carousel now. Second, there’s a brewery. You should go to both if you’re ever in the area.

Pine StreetPine Street
Our first house in CO
Carousel of HappinessCarousel of HappinessCarousel of HappinessCarousel of Happiness
Wild MountainWild MountainWild Mountain

Hiking the Colorado Hell’s Hole Trail

To have some free (it was day 1 of the spending fast) fun yesterday, Ben and I decided to go for a hike. The Mount Evans Wilderness Area is a favorite of ours because it’s free, so close to Denver (just outside Idaho Springs), and dog friendly.

Unfortunately, our most normal dog (Peaches, the Rottweiler) is also the dog who gets carsick. Still, going hiking with a dog for the first time ever was incredibly awesome.

Our original plan was to do the Chicago Lakes trail, but we heard it’s a long trail and there’s a good chance there’s still snow on the trail. (Update: Our friends hiked the Chicago Lakes trail two days after we did our hike. They said they didn’t encounter any snow but the trail was very muddy.) So instead, we took the Hell’s Hole trail, because I thought it sounded good.

The trail wasn’t just good. It was awesome!

Getting there was easy. Exit 70 at 103 in Idaho Springs. Take 103 south and, before the first major switchback, turn right on West Chicago Creek Road. Follow this road for about 3 miles, until it ends. The road is unpaved and incredibly bumpy toward the top (rough but doable in a Honda Civic). You’ll pass the West Chicago Creek Campground on the left. Keep going — the trailhead is just past the campground and has its own parking lot and bathrooms. There were a few cars when we arrived at around 10 a.m. and plenty of room for more. The trailhead is clearly marked.

The hike starts out easy as it goes into a pine forest and then an aspen grove dotted with tiny yellow wildflowers at this time of year. It’s gorgeous! There are 3 stream crossings early in the hike — the first by way of some pretty skinny logs and the next two by way of log bridges. After this comes the hardest part of the hike. I’d say it’s roughly a mile of pretty steep uphill. It’s pretty rocky. Eventually, the aspens start to give way to pine trees. Past the aspens, there’s a section where the trail gets very rocky, but the whole trail isn’t rocky (some internet accounts say that after the first mile, the trail gets rockier and more level — it does get more level but, aside from the rocky patch, the trail actually gets much less rocky as you get to the top).

At about 1:20 into the hike and after a good uphill (I’m giving times because I don’t know how far this was), we hit a ridge or crest where the view is incredible — we had an unobstructed views of distant mountains. On the way up and the way back we encountered people sitting here enjoying a meal.

The other enjoyable thing about this ridge is that the hard part of the hike is over. There are a few more uphill portions after this, but it’s much less of an incline than the lower portion of the trail. It’s also less rocky and there were a few good stretches of my favorite kind of trail — pine-needle-covered dirt. The trail goes into a valley, which is beautiful and a nice change from the forest below. It was actually kind of weird, too — I’m not used to mountain hikes where you end in a valley.

Hell’s Hole itself is quite expansive. There’s what I guess could be considered a pond, although it was mostly mud with just a little water. Just past that is what I refer to as the “alien tree.” We sat kind of between the pond and the alien tree, by a log on the ground, to have lunch and lots and lots of water. I was feeling a little wonky by the time we got to the end of the trail (apparently Ben was, too, but he didn’t tell me that until later). I got lightheaded, I think from not drinking nearly enough water on the way up (well, and the elevation of 11,540 feet). Don’t do that! Drink lots of water and remember that this trail is sparsely used so that, um, if you have to pee somewhere, you totally can. Feeling a little lightheaded tends to make me a little panicky, and this occasion was no different. Ben’s theory is that the Hell’s Hole area is a little disconcerting because it’s kind of on a weird slant, so this might have contributed to my wonkiness, as well. It’s an absolutely gorgeous area but I’d agree that it’s kind of disconcerting. It’s weird to end an upward hike in, well, a big open hole-like area, where you’re looking up at a mountain. The landscape is dotted with alien trees, which are actually bristlecone pines (I didn’t know about these until after the hike). They’re incredibly eerie and, as I learned from the internet, can be 1,000+ years old. That’s crazy!

I think it’s safe to call this hike 8 miles round trip (the internet refers to it as 7 miles, 8.6 miles, and 9.3 miles — people who did the hike using GPS seem to agree on something close to 8 miles) with about a 2,000 foot elevation gain. It took us 2:05 to get to the top and 2:02 to get back down. Normal people probably take more time going up than down — I’m very slow and cautious on the way down because I’m a little clumsy and don’t want to fall. I did this hike using poles like you’d use for snowshoeing. Ben didn’t use anything. We saw people using nothing, one pole, a walking stick, or two poles. I’m a dork but I couldn’t imagine doing this hike, especially on the way down where it’s all rocky and slide-y, without poles.

I’d say the trail was less-than-moderately used. We encountered maybe 20 people, tops. It was just the right amount of human contact to have on a hike — every once in a while, we saw one, two, or a few friendly people, most of them with dogs. There were two guys at the end of the trail when we arrived. They left shortly after that and while we were eating, one other guy came through.

The trail was easy to follow. There was one spot where it wasn’t clear which way to go, but somebody stacked a bunch of rocks indicating that we should go left. On July 1 when the Denver high temperature was 85, the weather was awesome — we brought sweatshirts but didn’t use them. There was a little mud toward the end of the trail but no snow.

As with all Colorado mountain hikes, you’re better off to go as early in the day as possible. We were on the later end of things hitting the trail at 10:15 a.m. — most of the people we encountered were on the way down by then. In the early afternoon, clouds started to roll in but thankfully, we didn’t get any rain. Although I tried to do a good job applying sunscreen, I got a killer sunburn on places I missed, including the top of my head and the backs of my calves.

Last thing — if you have a dog who is in reasonably good shape, bring him or her on this hike! Peaches did awesome and seemed to have a great time, and she’d never been hiking before.

For more on the Hell’s Hole trail, check out:

I didn’t take a ton of pictures, because I was more focused on hiking than photographing, but here’s what I do have (you can see the whole set here). Ben took some of the ones at the end of the trail while I sat around feeling wobbly for a few minutes. Even with the wobbliness, I highly recommend this trail.

Hell's Hole mosaic