Friday, September 19, 2014

On the Road Again... Part 12

Newlyweds Ross and Farrah. (Photos by Bonnie J. Schupp)

A Rocky Mountain high,
and we never even saw a pot shop

Nearly four weeks into the journey,
celebrating a wedding in Aspen

 ASPEN, Colorado – This Great American Road Trip was inspired by my nephew’s wedding in Aspen, and after nearly four weeks and 5,120 miles of wacky travel we finally got to Colorado. We could have dropped in from Wyoming on the rugged western side, but wanted to catch up with an ex-pat Baltimorean living near Estes Park. And that meant driving past Denver.

Not that there’s anything wrong with seeing Denver, but I’d been to a baseball game at Coors Field a decade ago and saw a bit of the city then. Big cities consume a lot of time. We even stopped in Golden back then, and took a tour and tasting there at a brewery – and not the Coors plant. It was , would you believe, a Japanese saki brewery.

So we drove past the big city and arrived in Estes Park – gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park -- and had a nifty time during our one-night stand. It has a reputation of being an expensive town, but I found online a nice motel, Discovery Lodge, for just under a hundred bucks. And Bonnie found a barbeque restaurant online that had good food and was truly inexpensive.

And we found Jason Wilder. The last time we saw him was nearly a decade ago, when he sang a few of his songs and played his guitar on our back deck. Then he moved west hoping to make a name for himself, and some money, as a singer-songwriter. ( I’d been communicating with him on Facebook, and let him know we were coming. But getting in touch proved to be tricky, since he’s been living in a camper in boonies so remote that he had no cell phone or computer connection. He drives into town to connect with cyberspace.

Turned out that Jason had a secret life, spending more time blogging about the outdoors and roughing it than he was devoting to his music. He wasn’t getting rich, but  he was surviving – and told us his blog had about 2 million hits. (I’ve been blogging since 2008, and have had a tad over 70,000.) His guitar was in storage.

He took us to a bar where its weekly Wednesday Open Mic Night was about to begin, and borrowed a guitar to perform a few of his songs while I shot a video of the brief performance. I’ll add the link here when Bonnie uploads it to YouTube – and maybe the performances of a few others. Particularly Doc Larry – local neurologist Lawrence Meredith -- with the looks of an ‘America’s Got Talent’ jaw-dropping surprise, a serious blues habit and hot hands on a guitar.

Then we walked with Jason back to his car to chat a little more, before wishing him well and heading off for the next morning’s adventure – driving across the Rockies. But we had not even gotten out of town before our attention was diverted by a large farmers’ market. A very high-end farmers’ market, with all manner of unusual and expensive goods. Bonnie bought the smallest container of an organic, non-chemical bug repellent for $15, and we sampled lots of food. It was like grazing the samples at a Costco store, only the food was a lot better. Elk sausage, for example... excellent!

For what it’s worth – and I never really contemplated this before – the Rocky Mountains are, in fact, rocky. So kudos to whoever thought up the name. They’re also high. But I still wonder what kind of “high” John Denver was singing about in that ubiquitous song.
Clouds below us nestle between mountains.

The beautiful mountainsides are not without their problems. One is the obvious large patches of brown amid the forests of green pine – trees killed by a ravenous invader, the pine beetle. Those critters have eaten uncountable thousands of trees, but so far the attack appeared much heavier on the eastern slopes. It seems a matter of time before the same thing happens on the western side.

Scenery like this is, however, intoxicating. And you have to force yourself to keep eyes on the road, traversing the mountains at elevations as high as 13,000-plus feet on a two-lane switchback highway.

Chip checks out Bonnie's camera.
 The sight of a couple of elk munching greenery alongside the road was a traffic-stopper, and at one overlook chipmunks were checking out the tourists and begging for handouts.

We took two days to reach Aspen, arriving at the Gant condominium complex several hours before the Friday night rehearsal dinner hosted by the mother of the groom, my sister-in-law Natalie Ettlin. (The Gant was our priciest lodging during the road trip, but that’s understandable considering the real estate prices -- $650,000 for a one-bedroom, and a million bucks-plus for two-bedroom.) We were splitting our two-bedroom with James, a friend of the bride, who has a tech job and managed in minutes to fix our laptop’s settings.)

The bride and groom, after cutting the cake.
The next afternoon, Natalie’s son Ross Ettlin, proprietor of Rocky Mountain Pet Supply in the center of Aspen, wed Farrah Fry, a dog trainer who grew up in Aspen and Ohio. There were about 40 guests, but just half a dozen from the groom’s small Baltimore-area family – including Ross’ sister, Carol Clabaugh of Naples, Fla., brother Greg from Pikesville, and Carol’s son, college sophomore Jadon Axe.

It made us feel good just to be there, but even better when we saw that another was there, in spirit. A memorial display, with a photo, had been set up at the Gant rooftop wedding site for Natalie’s late husband, Larry Ettlin, my brother, who died in 2009.
Memorial tribute to Larry.
And at the dinner-reception, projected photos of the bride and groom and their families included one of Ross’s parents taken a few years earlier at Aspen’s prettiest viewpoint, known as the Maroon Bells. As Ross had the obligatory dance with his mother, the image of Natalie and Larry briefly appeared on the wall behind them. Jadon and I both wiped away tears.

We could have stayed home, of course, and enjoyed that Saturday’s celebration of the Star-Spangled Banner bicentennial. But as I have said about this trip, family comes first. And that moment during the dance will stay with me forever.

On Sunday, the bride’s parents put on a brunch, and then it was time to head home. Mapquest indicated it was a tad over 1,800 miles away – not including the two miles above sea level for the first part of the return journey.

Elk with an attitude crosses road in Rockies.
Rest assured, the drive will not be boring. 

Coming soon: Leaving Colorado, crossing Kansas and meeting a state trooper in Indiana.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

I wish I'd known you'd be in the Denver area. I would have suggested you visit the Garden of the Gods. I believe you would have liked it.