What makes a great vacation?
So many factors go into a fabulous trip. Is it the location? The timing? The things you do or the people you see? The break from routine? The FOOD? John and I have traveled a lot together over the years. Our best vacations have included magic combinations of all of those things I just listed. But for us, a fantastic vacation is less about the big stuff, like an exotic location or off-the-hook accommodations. What we treasure are the moments. The people. The laughter and shared special experiences. That’s the stuff we talk about after we’re home. That’s the stuff memories are made of. And our recent weeklong road trip into Boulder, Utah and Durango, Colorado had a lot of those amazing moments.
Packing for 7 days on the road in Utah/Colorado during March is no easy feat. One really has to be ready for any weather conditions. From fuzzy sweaters to never-worn sundresses, wool socks and boots to flip flops- my suitcase had multiple personalities. So did the roof of the Subaru. Ski tour? Mountain bike trails? Maybe both! Sweet Cholula sensed that my back issues were going to make LAP TIME impossible on this trip, and settled into the back seat nest we created for her. (Side: Thank you, Lortab.) We grinned at each other with anticipation of what might come our way over the next week on this first road trip of the season. And then we hit the road.
The scenery on the way to Boulder, Utah changes continually. Desert flats. Snowy peaks. Red rock. Sagebrush. Pine trees. Bare aspens. We were treated to a little bit of everything! The only constant was the glorious, expansive blue sky. It was a spectacular day to be on the road.
John and I are no strangers to this part of Utah. When we first started dating, we stayed near Torrey at the lovely Red River Ranch. I waved to my buffalo friends as we passed, smiling at the memories from that trip. We giggled as we passed the decoy police car with a stuffed cop in the driver’s seat. We stopped at Larb Overlook, where the stellar view goes on forever. We made it over the still-snowy pass and headed down into the sleepy little town of Boulder.
We’d stumbled upon the Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch online accidentally, while searching for another Boulder accommodation. When we saw that we could stay in our own cabin WITH Cholula for less than the other places, it seemed like a no-brainer. I’d scrawled the directions on a piece of scrap paper (no cell service or GPS out here!)- ‘sharp right at Mile Marker 83.’ Three and a half bumpy miles down a dirt road (ominously titled, “Hell’s Backbone”) brought us to our home for the next three nights.
A little slice of Heaven exists in the middle of the barren Utah desert.
We checked in at the main lodge and headed for our cabin. Now, some people may not appreciate the remote location of the Ranch or the rustic/minimally appointed accommodations. There would be no turn-down service here. But for the couple who’d joyfully shared a 13-foot shoe-box for 8 weeks one summer, our adorable little cabin was perfection.
There was a sun-filled front porch with a side table that begged for an afternoon glass of wine. There was a chubby little cylinder stove and a pile of wood that guaranteed crackling coziness. The bed, covered in a worn quilt and super-soft linens, was tucked between two windows through which our delicious solitude was displayed. We had a basic kitchenette, with a mini-fridge and coffee maker, and a dinette area that we put to immediate use for cheese and crackers. I didn’t notice the lack of a TV or even a telephone. We had everything we needed, and more.
We made quick work of settling in. We took a moment to savor the view from the sunny porch before deciding to make our happy hour mobile and explore the grounds. We had the Ranch to ourselves, really. It had just opened for the season last week, and the first guests had left before we arrived. We walked past a huge dome, greenhouses, and garden sheds that were just being reopened after winter’s hibernation. I imagined a garden full of fresh veggies and flowers where the dirt was now still just thawed and chickens pecking around their coop in the sunshine. The only animal enjoying the sunshine now was a rambunctious half-pint German Shepard/Lab mix who was happy to finally be out of the car. Cholula ran in circles, her quivering nose, crooked ears, and wagging tail working overtime in this incredible new paradise.
We walked past a communal firepit and through a gorgeous field, the green grass beginning to provide some color to the landscape. We’d heard there was a short trail to a waterfall on the property, so we followed wooden arrows and hoped the sunset would wait a few extra minutes for us to find it. We found an underground storage bunker with beautiful wooden doors. We found in-progress industrial art pieces made of metal. Our stroll was cushioned on both sides by the soft hues of springtime in the Utah desert– sage green, dusty mauve, burnt orange, periwinkle gray-blue.
Some overambitious beavers had created a small pond that covered the trail to the falls, so we turned back and bid adieu to the sun from our porch chairs. Luckily, between our walk and my glass of wine, my soul was warmed– because as soon as the sun dropped behind the bluff, the temperature followed suit.
Before our trip, I’d looked up the menu for the Ranch’s restaurant- Sweetwater Kitchen. The food had sounded incredible– fresh ingredients with unique “cowboy-ish” additions (braised rabbit, anyone?). But, being so early in the season, we weren’t sure what to expect. We tucked Cholula into the cabin with her own supper, grabbed a tasty bottle of red wine from our collection, and walked the 100 yards to the main lodge. As we approached, it felt like we were arriving at a friend’s house for dinner.
We weren’t the only guests at the Ranch, after all. Friends of the owners and manager were staying in the main lodge, and were just finishing up their meal as we sat down. A purring, one-eyed Calico cat was overseeing the quaint dining room. Jerry Garcia crooned the last few stanzas of Sugaree from a laptop on the counter. The two resident heelers greeted us with intense curiosity before deeming us harmless and retreating to the great room. Again, some people might not like the bohemian, homey vibe– but we were completely content.
A small corner table with a view of the garden area was set up for us, and our host opened and poured our wine. The phrase, “Food is Love” made me smile as I read over the limited but varied supper menu. I gave Project Reduce Gluten the night off and ordered the pasta carbonara with roasted poblano peppers and a farm fresh egg. John opted for a pork dish with apple/fennel quinoa. I pulled a cookbook from the bookshelf called “A Girl and her Pig” and happily sipped wine while John reviewed some maps in preparation for tomorrow’s yet-unknown adventures. The high voice of my beloved Neil Young wafted through the air from the laptop. A candle flickered on our table. I felt a relief– a peacefulness I hadn’t realized I’d needed.
After a surprisingly fresh and delicious salad course, our dinners arrived. Both plates were beautiful, fragrant, generous- and scrumptious. I was completely impressed that these two dishes came out of that small kitchen on a ranch in the middle of nowhere.
Fat and tipsy and happy, we held hands along the trail back to our cabin abode, the light of the half-moon and occasional solar lamp showing the way. Cholula helped John start a fire in the stove and then the three of us snuggled up on the family bed with books, reading by headlamp before being lulled into dreamland by the crackle of the fire. Pure contentment.
And it was only the first day of vacation.
**Up next: Desert sunshine, dusty trails, purple cactus, a 125-foot waterfall, a ball of snakes, my favorite restaurant, Mars, Egypt, a cliffside happy hour, and many odd references to Hell in Mormon country.
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