Saturday, July 2
From Salt Lake City, my drive to Colorado began at 3am. I wound through Emigration Canyon in darkness and silence, finally passing into Wyoming just as the morning’s first glow and sounds arrived. At Laramie, I took US-287 to enter Colorado. As it had in Texas back in December, the familiar highway provided beautiful vistas - this time the landscape looked like Jurassic Park.
About 50 miles into US-287, I began to feel nervous about fuel. There had been no “Next Services: 100 Miles” sign, so I had (stupidly) passed by gas stations an hour before and now I was in a very rural part of Colorado with nothing but dregs in the tank. I had no cellular service, so I couldn’t look up when the next gas station would show. The not-knowing was what made me nervous. I have an iPhone, so I’m not used to not-knowing things.
I had been coasting carefully for some time when I eyed a maintenance truck stopped by the next exit. I decided to stop and ask if he had a gas can. He did not. “Where is the next gas station?” “Around 40 miles further.” Damn. He seemed kind, so I asked him to remember my car. If he saw it parked by the side of the road on his way back into town, would he please give me a ride so I could get some fuel. He agreed, and I continued my slow roll towards the oil oasis.
About 10 minutes later - cars honking in annoyance behind me - I saw a fuel icon on the upcoming exit sign. Excited, I took the exit and parked at the old-fashioned fuel pump. It didn’t take credit card, so I walked to the office to pay in person. The office was closed. I went across the street to the tiny post office to ask when the gas station would open again. “Never. That station’s been out of service for years now.” I was annoyed but not too worried. At least I knew how far away the gas station was and that I would be picked up if I ran empty. So I set out again.
After what seemed like an eternity, I spotted a Chevron. It was teeming with cars thirstily drinking up. I filled up and was on my way out when the maintenance truck from before turned into the Chevron. Its driver and I exchanged friendly waves, and then I pulled onto the highway. My phone vibrated - I had a voicemail waiting. Cellular service was back! Once again, I was wrapped in the warm comfort of a full tank of gas and a usable iPhone. Superman would feel less secure than I did at that moment.
Rocky Mountain National Park
After picking up some groceries, I drove to the campground where I would be meeting some friends. I arrived earlier than them, so I set up camp and took a nap.
After they arrived, we built a fire and made dinner. We would build many fires over the next three days - each time with such ease that I foolishly began to think of myself as a skilled outdoorsman. Trying to build a fire during our fourth night at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, where the wood was thin, wet, and not store-bought would return my humility to me. More on the hot springs later. First, here is a pictorial summary of the first three days of camping:
Cooked our meals on fire.
Hiked to Cub Lake.
Deer trespassed in our campsite.
Tuesday, July 5
On the fourth day of our trip, we drove a few hours to Strawberry Park Hot Springs - naturally heated pools embedded in the lush Routt National Forest.
In the daytime, the pools look like a small, boring children’s water park. There are no rides or slides, and the water is too hot for children (or adults) to stay inside for very long. But after dark, the pools are closed to all visitors besides those camping overnight (which we were) and clothing becomes optional. The result is that the pools are nearly unoccupied by 10pm. They are also entirely unlit - both out of respect for the nude and as a profound courtesy for everyone else.
We hiked from our campsites to the pools around 11pm. We couldn’t see anything, and we didn’t know the layout of the area well enough to walk blindly to the water’s edge - it would be very painful to accidentally fall into the hottest of the pools. So we walked close-together and nervously - only using our headlamps when absolutely necessary. Finally we reached the medium-temperature pool and stepped into the blissful water. We let ourselves soak for an hour, while we gazed at the magnificent night sky.
Photo by Kao Wen Sheng
“How do you feel?”
“Amazing. Like I could write an entire book right now.”
“Just empty pages, but it would be brilliant.”
We took another dip early the next morning, had a simple breakfast, and then went our separate ways. The rest of the group went on to Boulder. I spent a day working from a local coffee shop, camped another night (not at the hot springs but nearby), and then left for Omaha, Nebraska.