Friday, August 22, 2014

Grand Junction, Colorado (part 2)

A sparkly vampire hiding out in the Catholic Dorm rooms.

(You'll probably benefit from perusing PART 1)

Wednesday, August 6th

The day after Mom's big operation I was in her ICU room by 7am. I was finally able to drop off her duffel bag, after dragging it around with me through all of the 14 waiting rooms yesterday.

It looked like she wouldn't rummaging through her luggage anytime soon though. She had lots of tubes and wires coming out of her now, and she couldn't have cared less about any of them.

Carolyn was nestled deep in the tender arms of Morpheus, and a small smile played on her lips as she enjoyed one hell of a party out on the astral plane. Sleep well, little Mother. Enjoy the Class A happy juice. Say hello to the 3-headed, Shakespeare-quoting giant ground sloth in the sailor suit for me, K?

That's it, upper right: The Grand Junction.
As always, the answer is: pancakes. I ended up downtown at a 50's theme diner, and since I was dining alone I had plenty of bandwidth to concentrate on the Early Rock-n-Roll classics that Pandora was serving up alongside the maple syrup.
  • Did you know that "Mack the Knife" was an Assassin?
  • Were you aware that "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" is about a woman lamenting an upcoming One Night Stand?
  • And apparently the life expectancy of the "Leader of the Pack" was about 10 seconds after Betty kicks him to the curb?

Now I just see 'em all as
giant chickens.
I finished breakfast in a bleak mood. Geezooks - did they have Goths back in the 50's?

Help me, Nature!

I rode the borrowed bike from Watson Island down to the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers. I wanted to see the eponymous Grand Junction. It was cool, if not exactly 'grand'. But I was diggin' on the energy of a big river.

The day was warmin' up - time to justify a car trip, so I could cool off in the A/C.
Dinosaur Journey also has an 'Earthquake Pad', because
dinosaurs were um.....whatever. Anyway, almost all of the
pictures up on the wall there are of Santa Cruz.

Let's go visit the audio-animatronic dinosaurs in Fruita! I had been to "Dinosaur Journey" before, but I always love the kids-eye view of the terrible lizards. Bonus - I finally found a worthy mascot for my travels. I named the rubber dino "Noddy" because his head bounced when you placed him on the dash of Mountie.

Fruita was also the back door into the Colorado National Monument, so I might as well take the long way back to Mom's condo, where I needed to take care of Stubby the cat.
Noddy, agreeable as always.

It was a perfect afternoon: sunny, hot - but not blistering, slight breeze and hardly anybody there on a Wednesday. I ran around on a bunch of the shorter trails up on top of the mesas and took a bunch of pictures. It felt like I was filling up my senses.

As I happily sat under a bush and watched the sunlight play across
Independence Monument
Independence Monument far below, A couple of questions came to me:
  1. How cool would this place be at NIGHT, and
  2. How do I get DOWN THERE, to the floor of these wild canyons?
I mean, its cool to see these things, and take pictures and marvel at the wonders of Nature. But it's quite another thing to go down (or up) TO these scenic places and be with them, close up.

I didn't just want a picture of Scenery across the room. I wanted to cross that room and give Mother Nature a big sloppy kiss.

Rimrock Drive, 'Junction, and the Bookcliffs
in the distance.
But not this day -  and not in an old, slick pair of Birkenstock sandals!

I drove the road all the way through the National Monument and ended up driving right past the Ridges on the way down. I let Stubby the non-wonder cat out to play while I changed his food, water and cleaned the litter box.

I stopped in at the hospital on the way home, to see if I could steal some of those surgeon masks - I thought they  might make the scooping of the cat poop a little more bearable.

Mom was still dancing with George Clooney at the Cotton Club on Alpha Centauri, so I didn't stay too long.
You can order yours at

Besides, everyone at St. Mary's was giving me dirty looks that day. Hours later I realized that I was wearing a t-shirt that says: “Thomas Aquinas: The original Deep Fat Friar.” and maybe you shouldn’t wear a shirt like that in a Catholic Hospital.

Come to think of it though, having eaten in this town for a week now, it seems they worship deep fat fryers just as much as they worship Jesus. Double social faux pas for bonus points!

Lunch at Arby's (again). "No, not a Coke. A Sierra Mist. SIERRA MIST. Yes, really: the logo is right there on your menu."

Siesta at the motel home. Shower and strategic changing of shirts. My evening appointment was with Fawn, a next door neighbor of my Mother's.

Fawn is my age, 25 years younger than my Mom, and yet I was still out on the road again by 8pm. What is it about this town that everyone keeps Farmers Hours around here? Does everybody have secret cows to milk in the morning or something?

Downtown art
Dinner at Kannah Creek Brewing, which stubbornly refused to begin serving waffle fries just because I kept showing up and asking about them. The Rockies were playing baseball on the big screen - they were even winning! - and yet no one was paying any attention.

Back home in my little motel room I began to make plans. I don't need to spend hour after hour in Mom's ICU room. Just watching her sleep made me feel like a Sparkly Vampire anyway. And besides, she looks like she's having way more fun than I am.

The hospital has my cell phone number if anything changes. It was time to broaden my horizons. Hmmmm......

Thursday, August 7th

at 6am I was back in ICU where I got the update from the night nurse, who was very sweet (as were all of my Mothers caregivers). I was stopping in at odd hours to try and snag a 'white coat' (Doctor) who could give me a more definitive prognosis, as my time here was running out.

I used the Superior Wi-Fi to catch up on my emails and do my Community Seed homework for two hours.
Biking Glenwood Canyon. Zoooomm!!

8am found me back at the condo to restock the cat needs, and by 8:30am I was on I-70, heading East......

My destination was just East of Glenwood Springs, where my family had vacationed many times when I was a tweener.

And for that madcap thrill ride, you will need to jump over HERE. (It opens in a new window.)

I had dinner that night at the high-tech gee-whiz Hospital cafeteria. It looked promising; there were stations for “World”, “Sizzle” and “Salad Bar” but alas, these were only signs above unstaffed, clean, empty stainless steel expanses.

The only station boasting a real live hu-man was below the sign that says “Fried Crap You’d Find at a County Fair”. Fine, whatever, gimme the beer-battered Twinkie with the deep-fried twizzlers on the side. I will wash this down with a bottle of “juice” which somehow manages to have 10 ingredients in it.

A sample of the entrees currently
available in the cafe.
And afterwards I will throw every single item in the same trash can, because Styrofoam, high fructose corn syrup and iceberg lettuce are all made from the same stuff anyway, and none of it is recyclable, let alone edible.

Seriously, all of the pre-made (God knows when) salads had, as an ingredient, “Lettuce”, because there was only one pale species in this part of the world, where “Arugula” is the sound an old-fashioned car horn makes, and “Romaine” is what your cell phone does when there are no bars (which is most of the time).

The only dark green leafy plant I saw for sale in the Grand Valley was marijuana.

And yeah, the same waste bin. In two weeks I only saw three recycling containers, and none of 'em were at the Hospital. In America. In 2014. 

I spent the evening at the Cruisers bar, which was now completely packed with rabid Broncos fans who were getting all exorcised about a pre-season football game.

I had a pitiful text conversation with Admiral Karen about my tenuous situation
and how much of an outsider I felt here.

I mean, I know I am kinda of a statistical anomaly, being a red-haired, left-handed witch with long hair and an earring and everything. And I do say "Dude" a lot.

But from what I could see (and this was backed up by a friend later) of the 60,000 people in Grand Junction, half of them were
  • Guys aged 20 to 60
  • 30 to 40 pounds overweight
  • Working blue collar jobs
  • Wearing enormous board shorts
  • A grungy T-shirt
  • A worn out baseball cap (but not a Rockies cap)
  • Why-even-bother-having-hair haircut
  • Smoking
  • Driving an over-sized American-made truck
  • and probably named 'Mark'.

High-Tech-Gee-Whizziness. (Also, Jesus!)
Friday, August 8th

I had breakfast at the Motel and chatted with Alyssa the barista during a smoke break. She was sporting rainbow dreads and with a smile she corrected my impression of the men in this town: "Many of 'em are named 'Greg' too."

It was rainy again, so I wrote in my room until 9am, when I hoped to catch a shift change at the hospital. Sure enough, I finally snagged a white coat: Andrea the ICU Doctor.

She gave me the bad news I had been expecting: Mom was still too weak to be breathing on her own. Rest and nutrition was what she needed and what she was getting, but nothing was going to happen until Sunday at the earliest. If all went well then they would unsedate her and take the ventilator tube out.

Cuz you can't spell 'hospitality' without 'hospital'.
But really, if I want to see her awake and talk with her, I'd better extend my stay in this two-bit cow town.

Oh, Bother.

I told her that my weekly rate at the Motel was about to run out. And Doctor Andrea made my morning: "Motel? Why aren't you staying at our Hospitality House? Its right across the street and its free."

She made a quick call and got me a room. Shazam! In two minutes everything had changed for me. Suddenly my day was chock-full of chores:
Um, yes please!
  • 10am: I toured Rose Hill Hospitality House, which is a suburban ranch house with a couple of awkward wings added on later. I am shown a spacious corner suite that is twice the size of my Motel room - at 0/40th of the price. Thank you, Jesus!
  • 11am: I checked out of the Mesa Inn and packed up my two carry-on bags. Checked-in at Rose Hill. How long will my stay be? Ummmm......6 nights? (Jesus.)
  • 11:30am: Called my extremely understanding job at Whole Foods and explained my extending circumstances. Take me off next weeks schedule, kids!
  • Noon: Stopped in at the Amtrak depot to exchange my tickets, but I just happened to arrive when the East Bound California Zephyr was there, and only two hours late! (Jesus.) So, no employees available. I'll come back later.
    I could get used to this.
  • 12:15pm: Gassed up Mountie - again! (Jesus, Mary and Joseph the Carpenter!) This gas station had an adjacent drive-thru only Weinershnitzel, because the two stenches are pretty similar. "Corn dog, curly fries and a SIERRA MI - wait, you have PEACH SHAKES?! Oh, Jeeeesusss....."
  • 12:30pm: Back at the train depot. There is only one person ahead of me in line, and they were simply buying a ticket to Denver, so I had pa-lenty of time to go back to Mountie and eat my hot dog and curly fries. Sure enough - lunch complete I sauntered back to the double-wide depot just as the guy is finally handed his ticket. Wow.
    Stubby. (And no, the crop didn't cut off part of his
    tail. Somebody else did, many years ago.)
  • 1pm: After a call to Tech Support (I.E. The next train station down the line), the conductor finally manages to switch my return tickets from Monday to Thursday. Departure time is 4:10pm. "But call this station on the day of, and we'll let you know how late the train is going to be." (emphasis mine.)
  • 1:30pm Back to the Ridges to feed Stubby the non-wonder cat. I also
    dropped off the borrowed bicycle, as it would be against the rules to store it at the new place. (Really? Jesus!)
  • 2pm: Back to Wal-Mart (shudder) to buy a pair of socks, a $10.00 pair of sneakers and a car charger for my phone. The Customer Service was predictably lousy, but hey, shoes for 10 bucks!
    Cheap at half the price
  • 2:30pm: Following the directions of Alyssa the rainbow-haired breakfast barista I finally found THE natural grocery store in town. Sprouts is surrounded (literally and figuratively) by Wal-Mart, Chick-fil-a AND Hobby Lobby. (Jesus......) I loaded up on real food, berries that don't spoil once you leave the parking lot, and excellent service.
  • 3pm: Nap in my new 'home'. Aaaahhh.....
Rose Hill is like a 19th Century Boarding House: There's a LOT of rules, a den mother behind a desk who watches you come and go, no food or drink in the rooms, and they want you in by Midnight.

Waiting out The Eye in the dining area.....
(and yes, that IS a Barbie saddle salt-n-pepper set)
I took some of my food out of my assigned drawer in the kitchen and ate some fruit in the designated dining area, under the watchful eye of Big Sister. But I only drank half of my Diet Sierra Mist - what to do? Each of the three fridges here is a free-for-all. I don't have my messenger bag with me to hide it. Hmm.

So I play on the interwebs (best Wi-Fi in town!) and wait her out. Sure enough, it isn't too long before she has to take a necessary - and predictable - smoke break. Turns out that ALL of the dorm mothers/volunteers/penguins/nurses are smoking fiends. (And the largest building in town is the 10-story hospital......)

So I made it back to my room with my soda. Whew.... (Later in the evening I
Mt Garfield, 6,800 ft.
was hungry again and with the help of my roomy messenger bag I was able to reheat and smuggle half-a-pizza back to my room. Bwa-ha-ha!!)

Saturday, August 9th

This morning I decided to test out the new sneakers and climb Mt. Garfield, the huge 'bookend' at the end of the Bookcliff range the forms the North side of the Grand Valley.

It didn't go well.

This is actually a fairly typical sign in Grand
Junction. It all makes sense when you've been
there for awhile.
Just finding the trailhead was quite the exotic tour: "Take the first paved road past the canal and look for the intersection of G 7/10ths road and 36 3/10ths road. Turn right when the road does and take the drainage culvert under the Interstate. Park anywhere."

It was 6am and I thought I would have the place to myself, but lo-and-behold another car lumbers out of the drain tunnel and parks next to mine.

A serious young blonde woman gets out of her coupe and gathers her gear. I ask, politely, from a distance, if this is the trailhead for the summit of Mt. Garfield.
Uh, yeah. Sure. I'll probably fit through that.

She nods curtly and waves in the direction of some enormous sand stone 'fingers' that were cascading down the sides of the mountain in a mute avalanche of erosion.

I explain that it is my first time here. She shrugs, grabs her Camelbak, says "Good luck" in a Scandinavian accent and jogs away towards the trailhead.

And I see one old shadowbox sign that mostly points out how poisonous old mine shafts are. Beyond that there is a small sign that points at the mountain in the distance and says "Trail".
Little sign post on the right there says "Trail",
which then splits in a 'Y'. 

Gud lucke!

There seemed to be two of these long 'erosion fingers' that were suitable for climbing. I chose the farther, less steep finger and leaned in for some serious ramp inclining.

I chose the farther 'finger'.
I chose.....poorly.
Near the top of this, center frame, you can see the steep
section that thwarted me.
About 15 minutes in I was covered in sweat (at 6:15am) and I braced myself against a large rock to catch my breath. I looked around and I spied the Swedish Goddess over on the other finger trail - and far above me. And she's jogging.


Well, nothing to do but shoulder on. I continued on up the steep incline another 15 minutes until I reached a blank area where the angle moved from 30 to 45 degrees. I gamely dug in to this hard, crusty dirt and worked my way up.

My nemesis. Curse you, Gravity!
60 yards into this I stopped and looked around and saw my Swedish Spy high above me and just disappearing over the lip of her 'finger' without a glance in my pitiful direction.

Thank you for the all the helpful advice to a First Timer! Hope you jog right into a toxic mine shaft!

And, I am stuck. The dirt crust here is just too unstable to get any footholds into, and I have no climbing gear with me and its a looooong way down to either side of this steep finger and I am up here by myself and I didn't tell anybody where I was going today and oh..........shit........


View from the fail. To the left is the trail I should have taken.
Easier said than done. It took me a full half-hour to descend those 60 yards, using a precise 3-point climbing procedure, and fighting to keep myself from panicking.

Eventually I found myself keeping my focus and positive attitude by chanting. And Jesus - how old is that technique? I soon settled into an endless loop of:

"A little bit flatter / Almost there / A little bit flatter / Almost there"

And when I finally found a decent foothold back at the 30 degree slope I did the only thing we modern humans can do in these treacherous situations: I made a movie!

(I provide breathless narration too, over the howling wind.)

Back on level ground I took stock of myself and decided that that was quite enough adventure for one morning. (although I did go back and tried it AGAIN.)

Let's go find some pancakes.

Don't stop now! You're almost at THE END.

Angus McMahan

Note: All photos are mine. I asked, and gave myself permission in writing, to use 'em.


  1. Great story; am looking eagerly forward to part 3. And WOW! about hospitality houses! I had no idea such things existed, but will remember in future if I'm ever in a similar situation.

    1. I think its a similar concept to the Ronald McDonald houses. There aint a whole lotta laughs there - given everybody's similar circumstances - but its clean and comfortable and there's no ants (because nobody ate in their room, right?)