After 2 weeks in New Mexico, I gathered up my camper and the dogs to explore Southwest Colorado on Monday June, 18th. The drive alone would’ve been worth the trip as the Red Rocks and Desert of New Mexico slowly transitioned to the Mountains and Green Trees of Colorado. All the towns along the highway were small, quaint, blue collar communities nestled in between pristine mountains and pine riddled forests. I pulled in to Durango after five hours and made my way up to my RV spot just outside of town. The RV park was right on the Animas River and was split by railroad tracks for the Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad, which provides scenic train rides into the mountains of Durango. The first night the dogs and I set up and camp and did a quick walk down the railroad tracks, but stayed pretty low key as we settled in to home for the week.
The next day I left the dogs at the trailer and went to town to check out the lay of the land and find some open mic nights. I stopped at the department of tourism and was informed that all the hiking trails and the tourist train were closed due to fires, but that there was a lake a few miles away that was open to the public. At this point, I realized why I’d seen so many thank you firefighters banners and posters throughout the town. It turned out they’d been on fire for a couple weeks and the firefighters had gotten the fire 95% contained with no lost or damaged homes, which is quite a feat. After visiting the tourism center and getting the bad news, I relegated myself to finding other sources of entertainment in town (which is code for drinking beer and chatting with the locals). After picking up my first ever pair of Teva sandals (to fully embrace my hippie lifestyle) I went to check out a bar called The Balcony Bar and Grill to have a beer and do some recon. I ordered a beer and chatted with the bartender who said there was an open mic night down at Moe’s Starlight Tavern just up the street that evening. As I finished my beer and headed to Moe’s, I saw a man my age pulling a guitar case out of his car, so I decided to see what he was up to. His name was Max Flinn, and it turned out he was playing a show at the Balcony in a couple hours. Max had quit his job to travel and pursue his shared passion to play music with his girlfriend Brittney, who was a teacher and had the summers off. After confirming Moe’s was in fact having an open mic night, I returned to the balcony to support Max and his girlfriend Brittney as they serenaded the bar patrons with some beautiful, soulful country tunes.
Feeling energized from the awesome tunes and a couple beers, I headed back to camp to feed and exercise the puppies. Once the pups were placated, I drove back downtown to Moe’s to sign up for the Open Mic, not really knowing what to expect. I showed up early and met the man who was setting up the open mic night (feel like a real asshole, but I can’t recall his name, I know, I suck). This Open Mic Night boasted a full drum set, but they were happy to let me set up my CajonAlone and play solo. I ordered a beer and started chatting with the other local musicians who’d come out to play as we all waited our respective turns to play. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming, which helped sooth my nerves as I waited to play (note: we were in Colorado, so it may have been quite literally something in the air, haha). I played the CajonAlone well and had lots of little side conversations with curious musicians who enjoyed my song selection and the novelty of my invention after my set. One of the musicians I met was a young man named Chris from Texas, who was just getting out of the army and was traveling the country to play music before he headed to France to attend a college there. I ended up playing some songs with Chris later on in the evening, which eventually turned in to a free for all, with musicians from the audience jumping on and off stage, performing impromptu collaborations together and switching instruments as we went. As other musicians played I met a young lady named Heather who was out to see one of her friends play at the open mic. Heather and I had lots of common interests, and seemed to be kindred spirits in our worldviews and passions. Heather works for a major hotel chain, but she has also created her own Not for Profit called Death Row Rescues to foster and rehome pit bulls at high rate kill shelters throughout the US. I was immediately fascinated as an “adopt don’t shop” advocate and pit bull enthusiast, but also because I literally had the same idea, with the same rescue name, a year before! We hung out at Moe’s till close, exchanged info and said our farewells for the evening. I still keep in touch with Heather and enjoy watching as she continues to help puppies from all around the country escape death row and find their forever homes; and in general, just be a vibrant, caring, amazing person who makes a positive impact on the world around her every day. Check out her rescue on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/DeathRowRescues/
The next morning, I took the dogs to explore Vallecito Lake, which yielded yet another breathtaking drive and some fetching fun for the pups. The rest of that day was spent working, and the next day I decided to stay in Durango for a few more days instead of moving up the road to Moab. Moab was over 100 degrees already and I didn’t think my pups would be able to get out and do anything fun in that extreme heat without burning their little paws. We went on another little hike along the railroad track, but this time made it down to a nice spot on the Animas River, where the dogs were able to swim and fetch to their little hearts’ content. We headed back to camp, and I found a trail that looked like it should lead back to camp, and would be much more scenic than the railroad ties we walked down. As we walked down the trail I stopped in the shade to check a phone message, and after a moment I heard a loud scuffling in the trees in front of me. I looked up to see two black bear cubs scrambling up a tree, as their HUGE mother was reared up on her hind legs eyeballing the dogs and I just 10 yards away. I hurried the dogs off down the trail to avoid confrontation with the large bear, only to find that the trail ended another 30 yards up. Seeing no alternative route back to my camp, we had no choice but to backtrack up the trail to the area we’d encountered the black bear to get back on to the railroad tracks. I blasted music on my phone in hopes of scaring the bear and its cubs away, but as we approached the shady treed area the mama bear once again stood on her hind legs and eyed us menacingly. At this point I figured we’d probably tested our luck enough with this huge mama and pulled the dogs through an off-trail adventure through the trees as we bushwhacked our way back to the railroad tracks. Full of fear and adrenaline we hurried back to camp, had lunch and relaxed for a couple hours.
Later in the afternoon my friend Casey (see previous blog about New Mexico for his pedigree) and his friend Cassie came up to Durango from Albuquerque to hang out for a few days and go check out Telluride. Their first day in town, we hung out downtown, had drinks, made friends, and set up for some late-night busking on the streets of Durango. We made a few bucks in a couple hours and ended up back at the camper after the bar patrons went home and continued playing music till the wee hours of the morning.
The next day we got up early, jumped in my truck and made the 2.5 hour drive up to Telluride for the day. I’m not kidding when I say that I literally had times during the drive where I couldn’t believe how beautiful the terrain was around me. Lush forests, jagged peaks, waterfalls… you name it and we saw it on the drive to, and while in Telluride.
Telluride was jam packed to point they were stopping cars on the way in to town to let you know that you weren’t allowed to stay for more than 4 hours at a time (which we got around by leaving after 4 hours and coming back in). We walked around the small mountain town flooded with tourists, enjoyed some local music and rode a gondola to the other side of the mountain, where Telluride was being added on to since they ran out of room in the valley proper. After exploring the town, we drove to a breathtaking waterfall up a rocky road, then set up on a busy street corner for a busking session as fellow tourists explored Telluride around us. As Casey and I played on the street corner, a man in his 40’s stopped with his kids to watch us play and talk to me about my invention. After a couple minutes of chatting with this gentleman, Casey says to the guy, “excuse me, but is your name Jason?” The man affirmed he was indeed named Jason, and it turned out this random guy who stopped to talk on the streets was Casey’s cousin, who grew up in Idaho Falls Idaho! Jason lives in South Carolina now, and just happened to be on vacation with is family in Telluride for the week. He just happened to walk by that street corner, was interested in what I was doing, stopped to talk to me, and ended up seeing his cousin he hadn’t seen in 15 years, who now lives in New Mexico. Too crazy to call coincidence if you ask me, but then again, that happened my entire trip. We talked with Jason and his family for a few minutes, and after playing a couple hours, packed up and drove back to Durango for the night.
The next day Casey and Cassie headed back to ABQ and I packed up to continue the last leg of my Journey to Salt Lake City to stay with one of my dearest friends, Katie Stiel. Durango was an amazing little town, and featured truly picturesque beauty, the likes of which I’d never seen. The people were friendly, the local food was delicious and the local beers were robust and ice-cold. This area was one of my favorite stops of the whole trip, and I highly recommend it for a peaceful mountain getaway. The universe keeps speaking, so I'll just keep listening!