Ghost town.

Somehow, a week in Colorado wasn’t enough.

Regardless of how many days we set aside to spend in Durango, I always feel like I’ve spread myself too thin. The 7-hour drive home is full of “could-a, should-a” thoughts- I could have found an hour for this old friend, I should have gone on a hike that morning. Wishing I’d had more time for someone or something, I tell myself that on our NEXT trip, we’ll plan ahead. We’ll schedule time to try this new restaurant or finally make it to the hot springs. Often, despite the fact that the days are filled with people I love, I feel tuckered out at the end of the trip. Home is a relief. But within minutes, I’m looking at the calendar to plan our next Durango visit.

I’ve written before about my love-hate relationship with Durango. It’s not that I don’t adore it- it’s a part of me.  It’s just that it’s haunted. There are ghosts everywhere. I feel them as I walk by places I once lived, see them in once-familiar faces I pass on the street. The sound of the train early in the morning, the smell of roasting green chiles in the fall, the sight of the elk herd in the valley. So many reminders of a past life I once led, of a different version of myself– that fun-seeking bohemian girl with a constant smile, full of the naiveté that comes from being young. Truthfully, I sometimes miss that girl, blindly forging ahead into dreams without enough true life experience to give her pause. I cling to the memory of my carefree days there, shuddering at the realization that I haven’t lived in Colorado for over 12 years.

The best thing about Durango is that, though the faces might be different and the names on the storefront signs might have changed, it feels exactly the same as it did a decade ago. My parents live there again, after a few years back in California. Many friends I made in my 20s still live the Durango life, welcoming me with hugs upon each return visit. The same small town characters fill seats at the bar or stroll Main Street’s sidewalks, and the town’s whole vibe is comfortably familiar. I have roots there.

The drive from Park City to Durango is lovely, over mountain passes and through rolling farmland. My only companion on the first leg of the trip was Cholula- John would be meeting us there in a couple of days. My co-pilot snoozed as I sang along to a new iPod playlist.  Whether I was coasting across the open road of the desert or counting minutes at the back of a road construction line, I knew I’d be sipping wine with my family soon.

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Upon my arrival, Cholula became acquainted with the newest family member, Lucky, while Pops grilled up some ribs. One weekend before Memorial Day meant summer was creeping up on spring. The backyard felt like a park- endless green grass, pops of colorful flowers on the patio, and the 30-year old Adirondack chairs I remember from my childhood.

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I inherited my desire to wander from my parents. In the morning, we packed up the dogs and took a drive to Vallecito Lake, where we munched on take-out and sipped PBRs by the river. I spent the afternoon with Sarah, Cordell, and little Macy, who showed off almost-walking skills before we dined al fresco on their patio. TGIF.

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On Saturday, Cholula kindly reminded me we needed to pick up Papa from the airport. We stopped in town for lunch, then popped by to say hello to Sarah and Cordell. We ended the day catching up with my folks. My dad fired up the grill, and we beat the slight chill in the air around a happy hour fire on the patio. Summer preview part one.

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The annual Taste of Durango event was on Sunday. Along a big stretch of Main Street, restaurants and pubs set up booths full of yummy food and drink, purchased with tokens. The event is a fundraiser for a local charity, and was quite the social scene. We sampled delicious bites of food and sipped various cocktails, stopping to chat with friends along the way. As we meandered through the crowd, those “ghosts” of my old life weren’t hovering near-by, out of sight. They were right there, smiling in my face, hugging me, asking how I’ve been. Reconnecting with so many pieces of my Durango past was simultaneously overwhelming and energizing. The town really never changes.

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Later that afternoon, my folks hosted Sarah’s family and our friend, Shane, for a pre-summer grill-out. John put together a batch of his famous spicy BBQ chicken and my mom whipped up a strawberry-rhubarb crumble, using rhubarb from her garden. The weather was ideal for entertaining outdoors, and the food was delish! Summer preview, part two.

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Monday morning meant an early start for John. While he worked, I spent the last couple of days of the trip exploring dirt roads, hiking, and picnicking with my folks, stopping in to see friends, walking along the Animas River, and soaking in the beauty of Durango in late May.

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And then, time was up. Shane caught a ride back to Utah with us, and I shared the back seat nest with Cholula. As the boys chatted about work and sports, I gazed out the window at the blurry farmland we sped past. How did 6 days go by so quickly? How did I run out of time? Why didn’t I spend more time with this person, that person? How am I so exhausted after a week of fresh mountain air and love from friends and family? As Durango faded into the rearview mirror, I felt little pangs of sadness. It’s hard to leave my family behind, hard to hug dear friends and regret not having more time together. But the closer we got to Park City, the more anxious I felt to be home. We had a garden to work on, a new deck to enjoy. We had grilling to do and al fresco meals to enjoy. We had friends to see and trails to explore. As is if on cue, the yard had exploded into lush greenness and vibrant flowers while we were away. Home felt good.

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I realized this week that for me, Durango’s ghosts will always linger. They’re the stories of life, a chapter in my book that helped create who I am today. The days of making memories there aren’t over- we had a week full of new ones to add to the pile. The town may spook me now and then, but it’s those shadows of the past that build my history with Durango. That’s why I will always yearn to return.

Durango may be haunted, but I’m pretty sure those ghosts are nice. 

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12 replies »

  1. I lived in Durango for five years and I miss it so much, especially the festivals like Taste of Durango and my walks along the Animas. Sigh. Thanks for sharing your ghosts.

    • Durango is great about creating a real feeling of community with events like that. Only in a small town! I hope you get back to D-town sometime soon to make friends with your own ghosts again. 🙂

  2. I love the photos of Cholula in the driver’s seat and the baby pulling apart the flower!

    I too, have not lived “back home” for years (14 years, actually). Part of it still feels like home, but parts of me feel like I don’t belong there anymore. I think my hometown is closer to where I live now than yours is, but the distance is measured in more than kilometers. I often get simultaneous feelings of “I’m glad I left / I wish I was still here.”

    • I always think, “I’m glad I left/I’ve got to get back.” Luckily for me, my dearest friends and my folks live there- I have reasons to visit often!!
      I love those shots of baby Macy, too- “he loves me, he loves me not…”

  3. Beautiful pictures! Beautiful mountains! Although I only spent a few years in Africa, I get those same pangs when I see Namibia on a programme on the TV or look at photos. And as it’s so hard to visit (I’ve only been back once), I sometimes forget. Then something small reminds me and my heart aches for the me I was back then! Like you said, young, excited, smiling, ambitious…. O, to be 18 again….

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