Colorado! Part IV: Breckenridge

Reading this week:

  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
  • Engineering in Plain Sight by Grady Hillhouse

Sunday, our final full day in Colorado, we headed to Breckenridge. Finally used to the new time zone we woke up a bit late and rushed over to A&A’s house, where we picked up just the one A (my super amazing girlfriend’s sister) and head out to the mountains so as to double our altitude. Our goal for the day was to go on a hike. A&A are both avid hikers and outdoor adventurists, and while my super amazing girlfriend and I have spent time outdoors we were not prepared mentally and physically for an arduous hike and were shooting for something more in the goldilocks zone.

Unfortunately, we were thwarted. We drove to the trailhead, admiring the jawdropping views that are just workaday in that part of the country only to find that no parking was allowed at that spot. There was another parking spot we could have used, but besides the fact it was apparently in the middle of a passive-aggressive (though on the aggressive side) feud between some Trump-loving locals and what they appeared to think was the personal malice of the Biden administration, it was several miles away and A found the thought of hiking up several miles of dusty road just to then begin the actual hike unappealing. Fair!

Lookin’ cute!

So we drove to another place where parking was allowed and found something that resembled a trail. It quickly morphed into a steep rock scramble, and of all the choices in the goldilocks story none of them involved rock scrambles. We instead were left to do the only sensible thing: take numerous extremely cute photos on the edge of the parking lot so it didn’t look like we were in a parking lot but had hiked to the panoramic valley we found ourselves at. No one needs to know! We did look cute too.

Unmarred by sweat, we went into Breckenridge proper, first saying hello to the troll. There is a troll just outside Breckenridge named Isak who is quite popular. He is located 400 feet down a lovely trail from a convenient parking lot, with the last 40 feet or so of the trail consisting of the line of people patiently waiting to take a photo with him. One of the guys ahead of us took a picture just of the DVD of Morbius with the troll, saying he had driven 10 hours just to do so. I admired his dedication. We too took our picture, though A was worried about the optics of hanging out in a troll’s crotch, a solution to which we never came up with. We looked cute in front of that valley though, and our cuteness was certainly not dimmed here:

From there we walked into Breckenridge proper where we enjoyed lunch and looking at various shops including, you guessed it, a used bookstore. I bought two books and might have bought more if I had dug deeper into the stacks; it is a chaotic bookstore where the treasure is buried. Seeking slightly more oxygen, however, we went back to Denver where we went straight to the Denver Cat Company, because if there is anything we can’t resist (besides yarn shops and used bookstores), it is a Cat Café! This was a lovely little chill cat café with plenty of friendly cats and we had a lovely hour hanging out with the cats. Of course the experience made all three of us yearn to be back with our own cats, and while A had only to wait for us to drive back to her place my super amazing girlfriend and I had to wait a whole day to be reunited with our sweet baby angel Tink.

And that wrapped our time in Colorado, just about. We had dinner at an Israeli place that night which was delicious (I should make hummus at home) and then next morning had a perfectly smooth time at the airport and traveling home. Colorado was a lot of fun and perhaps I should make more time to explore the American West more. I’ve been to many chunks of it, like I mentioned in the first post, but this is a big country we got and there is tons to see. It was also fantastic to hang out with A&A and spend time together. There is lots more to see in Denver and hopefully one of these days we get to go back.

Colorado! Part III: Boulder

Reading this week:

  • In Small Things Forgotten by James Deetz

Day 3 of our Colorado adventure was when we finally broke free of Denver. But not before breakfast! Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and we had already had a fantastic breakfast the previous day, we really needed to go all out if we were going to improve on the breakfast experience once again. So we went to Good Bread. Good Bread is the dream of every Instagram baker realized: the woman opened up a bakery. You gotta get there early because they sell out, and we managed to arrive a few minutes before they opened. There was a line and we waited patiently for it to move but we eventually got in and got our baked goods. Since both A&A and my super amazing girlfriend were talking about following this woman who opened her own bakery, and about seeing all her stuff, I had imagined that I would find one harried woman running around selling baked goods but she had a whole operation with several dudes running around baking and selling those baked goods. A whole bakery empire! It was fantastic.

Inside the teahouse.

Fueled up, we headed to Boulder. Boulder is a lovely town but the main draw for us was the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. It has a fantastic backstory but as far as my super amazing girlfriend is concerned, you had her at “teahouse.” She had visited a few years ago, last time she was in Colorado, and I think would have been perfectly satisfied if we had gone to Colorado only to visit this place. It is indeed gorgeous and they had pretty excellent tea and brunch to boot. The day we visited it was surrounded by a farmer’s market, where we bought a variety of items which all went into an absolutely delicious dinner that very night. After the tea house we poked around Boulder more. We checked out every place which you should at this point expected us to have checked out, including a bookstore and a yarn store. Then we did a photoshoot in the various combinations of our crowd against the stunning backdrop of the Boulder mountains in order to prove we were there and show off our smiles:

And with that we packed up and headed back to Denver, tuckered out by the sun and shopping. The ladies cooked a fantastic dinner for us and we relaxed in A&A’s lovely back garden. Tell you what though man. A&A’s friend came over to hang with us. He was fantastic. But I complained in the first of this Colorado! series that I have become an east coast liberal elite. I don’t know if anyone gatekeeps that, but I have for sure become a DC type. I didn’t know what to talk about in Colorado. I am used to a DC conversation, where everyone says hello and then you start talking politics. We solve all the world’s problems in between trivia rounds, or at least complain about them. Easy! But Colorado man. I didn’t manage to nail down what they talk about on this trip. Hiking trails maybe? How beautiful the stars are? How those poor DC saps must suffer in that humidity while all they have to do in Denver is drink massive amounts of water and continually apply lotion so they don’t shrivel up like a sun-dried tomato? Maybe I do need to get out of my bubble.

A&A’s fantastic garden, a wonderful bubble outside one’s own. The bees agree.

Colorado! Part II: Denver Art Museum

Reading this week:

  • Archaeology from Space by Sarah Parcak

Our second day in Denver dawned bright and early. This was because of timezones and such. After hanging out until a socially reasonable hour, we drove ourselves back to my super amazing girlfriend’s sister’s house. Her initial is A, and her fiancé’s initial is also A, so as shorthand I will henceforth refer to them as A&A. Anyways. The previous day they had provided us breakfast, so to appropriately thank them for their graciousness my super amazing girlfriend and I went out and got us bagels at a convenient delicatessen. These were real New York bagels, boiled in real New York water, which is what makes them New York bagels. How often do you think they change out the water, at the bagel shop in Colorado? But with that adventure over and with A&A both having to work (it was Friday), my super amazing girlfriend were on our own to explore the great city of Denver. We decided to hoof it this time since A&A live conveniently close to downtown.

During this whole trip I couldn’t quite put my finger on Denver. I think a major thing I have learned in our trip out there is that I have become quite firmly an East Coast kinda guy, potentially even an East Coast Liberal Elite type person. This is hard to admit. I was born in California and long cherished a notion that I was the bohemian type that you imagined living out there as a Maryland-raised youth. But instead, faced with the trendy stores in Denver stuck between the boarded-up store fronts, I just felt a little out of place. But maybe it was just the lack of humidity. It dried me out man. I like my air moist and my wet bulb temperatures high. This was not a popular stance in Denver.

Shaking Out the Bed by Dana Schutz, 2015

Also not a particularly popular stance, from the people we spoke to anyways, is that the Denver Art Museum is stunningly fantastic??? This is where my super amazing girlfriend and I chose to spend the majority of our Friday. I referenced it last post, but since we have the National Gallery in DC, I just assumed the Denver Art Museum would be a two-bit hokey thing focusing exclusively on cowboy pictures or something. Good thing I got out of my coastal bubble because this place was great! I spent the rest of the weekend talking up the museum only to be met with a general reaction of gentle bewilderment (super amazing girlfriend aside, because she agrees), like maybe I was a little bit off my rocker. Maybe these Denver people are too busy applying chapstick (because of the dry air, you see) to notice.

As to the museum, we were under the initial impression that the entire museum was housed in the shockingly angular building pictured at the top of the post. It certainly looks like an art museum. Woe betide the poor office worker that has to suffer in a corner office in a building like that. We were to find out that building only housed by my estimation about a third of the museum, but even that section alone would have floored me. I have held myself to only about three pictures of art in this post just to keep things reasonable. I took dozens of pictures and that was me trying to hold myself back.

The angular building contained a lot of more modern and contemporary art. I took the picture of Shaking Out the Bed, above, because I admired it size, audacity, and colors. It is like a 6- or 7-foot tall painting. The closeup on the right is me trying to take a picture of the brushstrokes. One thing I’ve come to enjoy about looking at these paintings in person is getting up close and at an angle so I can admire the brushwork that goes into them. There is nothing too crazy in Shaking, brushwork-wise (as far as I can tell), but it’s something you don’t get in the print. Though I do like how Dana clearly managed to pull off in one stroke the essence of the sprinkle or whatever covering that donut. Someday maybe I, too, will be able to paint a donut.

After getting our fill of angles and realizing there was a whole other building to the museum, we took the bridge over to the second part. Turning the corner I stopped in my tracks when we suddenly found ourselves facing down several massive totem poles. We explored this floor and then kept on going up and up and up and slowly came to terms with the scale of the museum. It is big! They have a lot of art! And a lot of different kinds of art! These sorts of art museums are the most overwhelming to me. It is one thing to go to a contemporary art museum or whatever, and get in the contemporary mindset and see a lot of that art. You can categorize it all and the mental load required for analysis isn’t taken up just with grounding yourself. But there was so much stuff and so many different kinds of art that it is taxing just to keep up. So we had a break in the lovely café they have there and my super amazing girlfriend eventually bought one of the mugs they used because she liked it so much.

Puebloan Mug, 1150-1300

Meanwhile I was admiring the above mug. One thing this museum did well was mix different ages of art when appropriate. They had a large section on indigenous art, including a huge wide range of ceramics. Pots on pots on pots man, ancient and modern. I was blown away by the above mug because it looks like something I would use. Like, I’m going to keep an eye out for it at the next art fair we go to. They should have sold it in the gift shop. But nonetheless it is at least 700 years old! Some Puebloan dude (or woman) was enjoying, um. I guess I don’t actually know. Not coffee I guess (bummer for them). Beer maybe? Anyways it is super cool. Art! This is what brings us together!

Wide Lands of the Navajo by Maynard Dixon, 1945

Earlier up at the top I mentioned how I expected this museum to just be cowboy art. Well, they did have a good chunk of cowboy art, and other western art inspired by the American west and southwest. I bought a postcard of the above picture in the gift shop. I liked the colors. But there were lots of dudes on horses and all sorts of cool looking things. But that was the very last section we looked at and by this time we were pretty pooped. So finally we left the Denver Art Museum, blinking in the sun. But our day was not over!

No, the next thing we did was the thing you gotta do when you visit Denver: we poked around the Colorado State Capitol building. This was not quite what I was expecting. You can visit the Maryland State Capitol building and it is sorta museum-like, they have displays and stuff. I was expecting the same in Denver but mostly you just have the run of the building. There are murals and a lot of brass. So that was interesting. But the most interesting part is of course outside, which is the marker that is a mile above sea level, which is important to the mile-high city. Since it is so important we took a picture next to it:

And at that point our day was in fact finally over. Not really, we went to dinner at a lovely Asian fusion restaurant and had more good times with A&A, but the touristy part of the day was over. Eventually we collapsed asleep.

Colorado! Part I

Reading this week:

  • How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

My dad once sagely told me that “you can’t choose your relatives, but you can choose your in-laws.” I know what he meant but in the context of my dad being a married man with in-laws, I’m not sure what exactly he was trying to convey. Anyways this was years before I started dating my super amazing girlfriend of course. She has one sister, and her sister and her sister’s fiancé live out in Colorado. They’re absolutely great and so we went to go visit them over Labor Day weekend!

Back when I was a wee youngin’ (Middle school, specifically), my family undertook a couple of cross-country roadtrips. This means, for most any particular place in the United States, I can say I have been there, though most of the time that is about it. I don’t remember if we did anything in particular in Denver. Getting there this time around was much smoother than driving all the way from Maryland, with our flight landing 45 minutes early and an easy train ride bringing us right into downtown. My super amazing girlfriend’s sister picked us up from there, gave us some coffee, and then loaned us her car and sent us on our way because she had to work. So we went to Wings Over the Rockies.

There was no particular reason we went to Wings Over the Rockies. Perhaps you can tell from the name, it is an aviation museum. The rocket ship it has along with the display on NASA makes it more specifically an air & space museum. My super amazing girlfriend has expressed interest in looking at planes and currently works at NASA so it seemed appropriate. On the particular day we visited it was also hosting a retirement ceremony from the Space Force to lend credence to its space bonafides. It is strange that the Space Force exists and it exists in such a capacity that you can retire from it.

As an air & space museum honestly it was a lot better than I thought it would be. As will be evident in this and later posts, having grown up in easy driving distance of DC I am under the impression that the Smithsonian is the best museum there can be and other museums that cover the same topics are but shallow imitations. But Wings Over the Rockies is very robust and dedicated to its mission of explaining the history of Colorado-based aviation.

One of the particular strengths of the museum was in showcasing call signs. Unfortunately for the public at large, movies such as Top Gun have made the uninformed think that callsigns are cool. In the harsh, cold light of reality, call signs are almost invariably insulting and Wings Over the Rockies preserved them in their full glory. I guarantee LCDR “Manbag” Connor would have preferred to be called something like “Maverick,” but instead that like one time he carried around a carrier bag or whatever has been immortalized forever in this temple of Colorado aviation. I thought it was hilarious and spotting the various call signs was worth the price of admission alone.

I guess to step back for a moment the museum itself wasn’t too large but managed to pack a lot into it. It is housed inside one of two original aircraft hangers from the former Lowry Air Force Base. The main floor of the hanger is packed with a multitude of planes. My favorites tend to be the tiny ones I can imagine owning, though they also had an F-14 and some more exotic historic aircraft which was cool. They also have a series of side-rooms with more in-depth exhibits, like a room full of historic radios and another of very nice aircraft models. Discovering that it is on the home of the former Lowry Air Force Base went a long way in explaining what a giant aircraft hanger and a museum was doing in the middle of is otherwise a quiet suburban community. It also led to the appalling discovery that I was standing in the original home of the Air Force Academy, certifiably the lamest of the service academies:

Those poor zoomies. Anyways. It was a lovely museum and after carefully inspecting all the planes we went across the street to the other old airplane hanger which housed the Lowry Beer Garden. We had some drinks and some mini cheese sticks, marveled at the magic of time zones and early mornings which made us feel very tired despite it only being mid-afternoon, and wondered why all the other people at the beer garden on a Thursday afternoon weren’t at work. We basked in each other’s company and the warm glow of the Colorado landscape, and then went to a bookstore to round out the rest of the workday. Then we had a fantastic taco dinner courtesy of our hosts before checking into the Motel 6 and collapsing asleep, our first day in Colorado successfully and fruitfully completed.