Back in the dark ages, when I was a kid living in Colorado, my parents owned a Viewmaster. Insert a circular card with tiny images on it into the Viewmaster and voila, sights from all over the world appeared before your very eyes.
My favorite Viewmaster card was the one of Mesa Verde. It looked so cool, so mysterious. Now, decades later I finally am at Mesa Verde along what seems like all of the Midwest. Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois, states whose license plates dominate the car landscape. I seek out Iowans whose license plate holders say they’re from Fort Dodge to see if they remember my old man or his father. They don’t.
We opt for two Mesa Verde tours, which at $3 per tour are a steal. The first one takes us to that iconic of Anasazi site-Cliff House. Our tour guide is Bill Slotter. Bill, like me, fell in love with Mesa Verde when he was in grade school.
“I was looking at this magazine,” he says, “and there was this picture of Mesa Verde and it had a tremendous impact on me.”
Bill gives a lively Cliff House tour. Later, after a picnic, we link up again with Bill guiding a group through Balcony House.
Balcony House requires some mental and physical fortitude. There’s the 37-foot, airy ladder climb from one portion of the cliff dwelling to another at the tour’s start. At tour’s end, there’s the crawl through a ten-foot long, twenty-four inch high tunnel cut through solid rock followed by a wire cable handrail assisted climb up a shear rock face followed by a 15-foot ladder scramble. It’s one exciting hour.
Mesa Verde exceeds my expectations held since my Viewmaster youth and proves equally inspiring to the granddaughters.
After a night at the Mesa Verde Lodge where I meet and have a stimulating conversation with two retired art teachers from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, the grandparental/granddaughters contingent heads for the singularly grandfatherly part of the trip- a reunion with a childhood friend Rory in Durango, Colorado.
Through Facebook, Rory found me. Friends since third grade, we lost track of each other in 1959 when my family left Colorado to move back to California.
And despite being 52 years older than when I last saw him, Rory is much the same from his wicked sense of humor to his ready smile, warmth and his love of drink and gab. After hours of talk about old friends, he reminds me of how his father courted his mother in Dublin when they were teens. Then they were separated when her family immigrated to New York state. Later, Rory’s father’s family immigrated as well and the rest is two people finding each other is a tearjerker worthy of a Lifetime movie.
When Rory was young the family moved to Colorado where the high dry air was considered better for the tubercular patients Rory’s dad doctored to. He and I ran a camp together one summer, a camp that would have never passed OSHA standards of the sharp eyes of legal eagles today. We made a bundle and spent most if it traveling to the East Coast one September on a grand road trip in his ‘58 green Chevy.
That reunion over, the road trip was soon off to another reunion. This time one in Ouray, Colorado between our older granddaughter and her great-grandmother. Getting to this reunion over 11,000-foot plus Red Mountain Pass is spectacular what with record snowfall and the waterfalls and rushing rivers along the route pulsating with crashing waters.
The Ouray great grandmother is 85 and in failing health yet still writes a weekly newspaper column. She alerts other local family members of our being in the area and the next stop is nearby Montrose for a grandmother visit with more family.
Next stop, Fruta, Colorado, a spot in the road noted for its proximity to great mountain biking trails and budget motels, lousy food options and hard-to-get-onto Internet services. The ensuing day is daunting because of hours of driving to get to and around the hellhole known as Salt Lake City. Salt Lake is still booming and we surmise that all the Southern Californians moving there have done so because they love the traffic congested freeways that ring the city.
Hellhole past, we roll into Ogden, Utah and head for the Salomon Center. A bit of background on the Salomon Centre is in order. Back when the city of Ogden was courting ski and outdoor gear maker Salomon, they promised to build a “state of the art sports facility” to be called the Salomon Center. Salomon liked the idea and the town and moved their American headquarters from Portland to Ogden.
When the Salomon Center announcement was made, I called and later visited with Ogden Mayor Bill Gottfreid who painted a pretty picture of the proposed facility. Years later that world-class sports facility is nothing more than a bad arcade and bowling alley topped with a big Gold’s Gym and all sorts of other tacky stuff. But to be fair, the bumper car rides are excellent.
Down the street we shale the tackiness at one of the best ice cream shops in America where they use nitrogen to freeze all sorts of creams and goodies into artistic taste treats.
But there are miles to go and the objective in mind is a motel in Burley, Idaho, with a green grass courtyard full of happy birds, a Japanese-inspired hot tub pavilion and a huge swimming pool.
We soak, we swim, we relax and prepare for the next day’s goal-the Roaring Springs waterpark in Meridian, Idaho. Roaring Springs is just off I-84 and worth a visit as it’s huge, well run, scary, fun and worth five hours of the girl’s time.
The girls even get us ancient ones to ride some of the scary slides, to endure the fast, and expensive, food, to bake in the relentless sun. From Meridian we head straight to Bend with a mandatory stop at El Castillo for Mexican grub in Burns.
Arriving in Bend I realize that while I am not of the “Bend as paradise on earth” cult, it’s the best place I’ve seen in weeks. My wife says, “I didn’t see a place I’d rather live.” As for the girls, they offer their final report cards that are, surprise, the same for every category.
Best Adventure/Best Place
1) Mesa Verde
2) Roaring Springs waterpark
3) New York-New York rollercoaster
4) North Rim of the Grand Canyon
1) Alexis Park-Las Vegas (check it out-no casino as it’s run by the LDS church...great swimming pools…great service…great rates.
2) Best Western-Burley, Idaho. Who woulda thunk it
3) My pal Peter’s house in Squaw Valley, Ca
1) The way hip sushi joint in a Las Vegas mini-mall.
2) Beans and franks over the campfire at the North Rim
3) Dinner at my pal Peter’s house the night before the trip began.
For me, it was seeing an old friend first, Mesa Verde second and being talked into riding the really scary ride at the waterpark third.
3,000 miles and I realize that the only adventure that I’m really good at these days is sitting down to a brew at a local pub and yapping with Bend locals.