[Note: Both of the people in this story are named Sara(h). It’s only confusing if you read aloud.]
“We’re definitely going to get murdered back here,” Sara said as we walked to our hotel room at the very far back corner of the Holiday Inn Express in Snowmass Village, CO. It is pretty dark, and I mean that in every sense of the phrase. The beauty of being this far out is you can see lots of stars; night falls fast and hard when the sun drops past the mountains.
We’re staying outside of Aspen because, even in the summer, Aspen is ridiculously expensive. Also, because ambiance. And Priceline. Note: the reviewers were not wrong on the ’60s decor. In lieu of A/C we have two oscillating fans in our room. FANS.
I’d imagine it’s cute and quaint against the backdrop of snow, but the fact that nostalgia has robbed us of air conditioning diminishes my esteem of our hotel room. I grew up without A/C, so I’m not above using fans, but it’s one of the creature comforts I could count on when we traveled as a kid, along with swimming pools, bad wall art, and cable TV, which we do have. It’s mid-century meets 21st century, with WiFi and a giant flat screen.
Hello, Vin Diesel.
We’re on our way to a dude ranch, which Sara found on Travelzoo, because this is how we travel now. We did Costa Rica on a Living Social deal a few years ago; last summer we traveled to Peru on a Groupon. So far, so good. In fact, the drive out of Denver reminded us a lot of Peru: the dry air and high altitude, the steep dark and clear sky when the sun sets, the flat open areas that take an abrupt upturn (abrupturn?) at the mountains, as if Mother Nature decided to pay homage to Brad Pitt’s chiseled jaw.
Except for the trees. Colorado has 1000% more trees. I think that’s their slogan, actually. “Colorado: Peru, but with 1000% more trees.”
As fans of the TV show “Hey, Dude,” a throwback from our childhoods, this trip fulfills a semi-lifelong dream to visit the wild, wild West and ride horses on an actual dude ranch. And possibly meet our own Teds.
I noticed our first “Mind Body Spirit Dispensary” somewhere outside of Idaho Springs, which, according to the signs, is where the gold rush began. It was in a place ironically named “Downieville.” Hence the dispensary. Idaho Springs has come a long way since the gold rush. They now have a Starbucks. And a Carl’s Jr.
“New Mexico!” I said, marking it down in my notebook. We found 30 of the state license plates our first day. Somewhere around plate number 20 I asked Sara to guess what the next state would be.
“Umm, Alabama,” she said with more conviction than I thought was warranted, considering the state she had chosen was not only a southern state but not one known for its travelers. I found out later this was her first time playing the license plate game. Amateur.
“Ooh, I was going to pick Utah,” I said, realizing we had gotten almost all the other neighboring states. “But now I want to pick something bolder. I’ll say Maryland.”
“Go big or go home,” Sara said. Two minutes later, we passed our first Utah.
But that’s the nature of road trips: going outside the norm, flying by the seat of your pants, not playing it safe. Like when I almost crashed into the side of the mountain on Highway 82 when the lane narrowed down to one and there were cars coming from the other direction.
“I think this road was built when cars were much smaller,” I grumbled.
There were runaway truck ramps every so often, and I didn’t press the gas pedal for several miles. We almost hit a few squirrels. A sign read “Truckers You Are Not Down Yet. One More Mile of Steep Grade.” There were no guardrails. I got dizzy at one of the scenic overlooks, forgetting how much the altitude matters. That may be why we’ve got death on our minds.
“Okay, I’ve been wondering this for a while,” I said. “Do you think there are serial killer animals out there? Like, some squirrel is going on a rampage, killing a bunch of other squirrels? Or a raccoon is killing other raccoons? Not for food or in self-defense but just because they can.”
Sara is not an animal behavioralist, but she does have a cat. So.
“I don’t know,” she said, seriously considering my question. “I wonder if they’ve got the brain capacity to think that way.”
I bet if there was a serial killing animal, it would be a cat of some kind. I didn’t tell Sara that, though.
We counted three more Utah license plates before we stopped at the Leadville Antique Mall (Pro tip: they have nice bathrooms). Among the vintage flatware and skeleton keys, they had dozens of brothel tokens: “Good for One Screw” or “All Night Long” or “Anywhere, Anytime.” This is not the wildness I was anticipating.
“Hey look, Sarah,” Sara said, pointing to a license plate on the wall behind the knick-knacks and doodads. “Utah.”
In case you can’t read it, the painting above the beds says “LOOK OUT THE WINDOW,” which, considering it’s in large capital letters and we have to sleep with the window open because no A/C and we’re far out and we’re probably going to get murdered, feels ominous. I’d still prefer it to a Thomas Kinkade painting, though.
We got some good tips on where to go in Aspen from the friendly bartender (we had a Wisconsin connection) so look out, Colorado.