Friday, May 18, 2007

An American Quilt, Part 6- The Springs

For those of you who might not be familiar with what a hot springs pool is, let me elucidate:

A spring is basically water that flows from the ground. Well a hot spring is just a spring that is produced by the emergence of geothermally-heated groundwater from the earth's crust. And a hot springs pool is just a collection of said water. Thank you, wikipedia.

What's the big deal? First of all, they are warm. It's kind of neat to sit outside in hot water when it's snowing. Secondly, they are thought to have healing powers. Because they are warm, they can hold a variety of dissolved minerals and elements, from lithium (mmm... mind bending) to sulfur (mmm... smelly). There's quite a bit of evidence to suggest that soaking in this mineral water can help with a variety of ailments, from stress (my ailment) to arthritis.

Even a monkey knows that!

To be fair, they can also hold a variety of bad things, such as the naegleria fowleri amoeba, which lives in warm waters and soils worldwide and can be a cause of meningitis. Several deaths have been attributed to this amoeba, which enters the brain through the nasal passages. Thanks again, wikipedia.

While the above is an extreme example, hot springs do kind of contain their own ecosystems. Time almost seems to stand still around them. Not only do the seasons not matter- I once watched a snake sunbathe in the dead of winter- but neither, it seems, does evolution. Ants the size of nickels march around the edges of the pools and dragonflies as big as grapefruits flit from palm frond to palm frond (and palms don't grow in Colorado). I digress.

I've had some great experiences with hot springs. Several times, I've visited the Orvis hot springs in Ridgeway, Colorado (a good ten hour drive). This is a "clothing-optional" facility (read: "nudy") where the water is perfectly warm and does not smell sulfurous and is chock-full of calming, soothing lithium. Massages are given in yurts and health is the word of the day.

And then there is Mount Princeton.

I was told that there were two options for hot springs soaking. The first option was the man-made pool, which I could see was crowded with children. The second option was to actually sit in the creek that ran alongside the resort. This was the option that appealed to me. There was something romantic about the idea of sitting in a warm river at the foot of the mountain. Plus, there was enough light for me to continue reading "Naked." Plus, I was still kind of drunk and was romanticizing just about everything.

I think "hillbilly" describes the situation more than "romantic." It suddenly dawned on me that I was essentially sitting in a warm, dirty puddle. This epiphany came about the same time that I realized that this place was apparently a hot spot (pun intended) for spring breakers (boy, this is just full of double entendres). I found this somewhat ironic, since it was also spring break at the university where I worked and the last thing I wanted to do was actually follow the students to a place where they felt they could be even louder than they are on campus.

Sex-crazed college students chased each other through the water (splashing, of course, my book). A group of guys was having a contest to see how far they could throw large boulders into the creek (splashing, of course, my book).

I decided to head to the man-made pool.

Let me take a moment to say here that I love kids. I adore them. But when a twelve year old does a belly flop five inches from my face and then emerges from the water to say "holy shit, ma! Did you see that belly flop I did?" To which "ma" replies, "yes, honey." I begin to find them less endearing.

The kids were on crack! They were kicking strangers, running around the pool, cannonballing everyone in the water, and ma did nothing while pa just rolled his eyes. I'm guessing that "yes, honey" might be a common response for ma.

"Ma! I have head lice."
"Yes, honey."

"Ma! Can I light the baby's diaper bag on fire?"
"Yes, honey."

Sitting in warm water in a pool full of kids makes one cringe a little. My idealism began sobering up. I decided to head back to the room and attempt to sleep. On my way back, I stopped by the front desk to ask if there is any chlorine in the water, wondering if it mattered one way or another. I stood by the desk and waited to ask my question. I waited. And I waited. You see, the towel boy was busy making out with his girlfriend.

I could empathize with my fellow travelers, sure. Yes, we like to party in America. We like to eat steak and drink beer and sit in restaurants with fake and/or dead versions of things stapled to the wall. We like to drive SUVs, RVs, wear stupid hats, have things our way and...

You know, I live here too! It was time for me to join in. I decided to exercise my right as an American to demand a refund...

We interrupt this story... bring you some sweet springtime images. The geese who live next to my office had babies recently. There's a family of four little goslings and one of an only child. These photos were all taken with the high end camera we just got (click on the images for the full-sized versions):

Ain't they just the cutest?
And a macro image of a flower, for good measure:

Monday, May 14, 2007

American Quilt, Part 5- Fine Dining

A bad sign: "Do Not Play the Piano!"

I've hated this sign all my life- hated the fact that it is usually hanging on a piano. What else is a piano for, if not to play? They ought to stick a different sign on it: "Reduced to Furniture." This was the first thing I saw upon entering the restaurant.

The second thing I saw was a series of grotesque, stuffed animal carcasses, all of which were posed to look tame and smiling. I stood by the brass "Please Wait to be Seated" plaque and waited, staring at their vacant expressions. And I waited to be seated. And waited...

I finally grabbed my own menu and sat myself at the bar. Most menu items contained one or more forms of beef and cost $15 or more a plate, so I settled on a wine dinner. I asked for a wine list. Of course, there was no wine list. The waitress pointed at the bottles on the bar.

Now, I'm fine with cheap wine. Some cheap wines are very good. I try not to be a snob about such things, but when the fanciest wine on the menu is Kendall Jackson, you know you will not be drinking anything spectacular (and the dinner prices had given me false hopes). I pointed at "red" and she poured me a glass. And I mean a "glass." Think of a glass of water. Take the water out. Replace it with wine. It was a good 16 ounces of cheap, red wine! I'd never had a pint of wine before (though I can no longer say that). I happily lapped it up in an attempt to calm myself. I cracked open my new book and began reading.

David Sedaris is an amazing writer. He has a way of turning any awkward situation into a humorous, thoughtful, and touching story. Like I said- a perfect traveling companion for a vacation like this. My mind was in tune with his long before I opened the book. Opening the book helped, though. As did the wine.

Suddenly, I found my situation... charming. The smiling mountain lion on the mantle, propped (quite unnaturally) next to a fake fern was... sweet. The elk head, turned in a gaping smile, tongue wagging was... quaint. Why, even the curling iron plugged in by the cash register behind the bar made a quirky sort of sense! "Of course," I thought, "what better place to curl one's hair?"

My fellow diners with their screaming children suddenly endeared themselves to me. These people probably worked very hard for their vacation. We all work hard here in the U.S. of A. After we work hard and earn our vacations, we just want to go someplace where we can eat a fancy steak, let our kids run wild, and sit under the gazing eyes of a murdered animal. Not exactly my idea of "vacation," but I was happy for my fellow travelers. They seemed very satisfied (though to be fair, they probably weren't staying in one of the six remaining so-called poolside rooms). The family in front of me found it somehow... cultured to pass around the plastic toothpick dispenser after their meal. Their children crawled on the floor, moving from table to table in search of... something.

"Up, Mitchell! Up!" the mother commanded brightly, as if Mitchell was a pup in training.

High on wine and compassion, I walked out to the lobby where I would simply inform the woman behind the desk that my phone didn't work. She began every sentence by trailing off as if she'd hoped they would finish themselves.

"Oh! Oh... I'm... oh... so sorry... um..."
"Not a problem! I was just calling to complain about the dog next door..."
"No, no. It's okay, but I also wanted to book a massage. Can I do that from here?"
"Oh, yes! Yes, by all means. Oh..."

She offered me the phone. I smiled and took it from her, feeling guilty that I had mentioned the dog (she was clearly concerned), and called down to book my massage. The woman on the other line asked me if I wanted Carol or Sue. I said that I knew neither, but I'm sure that they were both just fine.

"But which one do you want?" she insisted. "I have to put you down for one or the other!"
"But all I know about them is their names," I replied, defensively.
"Fine. Nine A.M. with Carol."

And with that, she hung up. Just another odd employee, I'd guessed. In the back of my mind, I was somewhat fearful of what a massage was, if "customer service" was such a foreign concept. But I couldn't be bothered by that now. I was heading out to do what I came here for: soak in the hot springs! Surely that would melt away all of the day's headaches...

Friday, May 11, 2007

American Quilt, Part 4- The Arrival

Tired and sore, I turned onto the winding road leading to the hot springs resort, eager for a nice, hot soak. My first view of the place took my breath away. Not because it was awe-inspiringly beautiful, but because I almost passed it, thinking it was a construction site. Actually, it kind of was.

A bit hesitant (I am NOT up to date on my tetanus shots), I exited my red Chevy... car thing, pushed the remote control buttons to announce to everyone that my car was LOCKED, so don't even think about stealing my snack foods, and approached the check-in desk.

The woman at the desk was very friendly and animated:

"Oh! Hi there. Checking in? How exciting! Oh! Let's see. Hmm. Oh. So, I see... you are upgrading to our cliff side room on Sunday? Oh. Um. Oh. Okay. That will be nice. The pool side rooms haven't... really ... been upgraded yet. It's too bad you can't stay in our cliff side room all weekend. The pool side rooms really aren't as nice. You will love it, though! Oh, and check out time is eleven o'clock, but you won't be able to check back in until three, but I'm sure you can find something to do for that time. So. Okay!"

I signed some papers, followed her finger across the map (ice machine, pools, rooms, restaurant...), and collected my room key. I returned to my car and drove to my room.

I wouldn't exactly place this getaway spot in the "spa resort" category. I would place it more in the "motel" category. In a further sub-category, I would identify it as "the kind where bad things happen to people." I've been to spas. You get to walk around in a bathrobe and slippers all day and breathe in the scents of eucalyptus and chamomile. I've also been to crappy motels. You sleep fully clothed and hold your breath when walking past certain "stained" parts of the room so as not to breathe in the toxic mold spores. This was clearly the latter.

Although I had requested a non-smoking room, I could tell that "no smoking" was a fairly recent rule, enforced, perhaps, sometime in the eighties. I determined this from the scent and color of the 1950's wallpaper that was peeling off of the wall. "You're here for the hot springs," I reminded myself, "not the room."

I'm a pretty happy-go-lucky gal, so I let it go. I began unpacking my bags and said hello to my neighbors who were on their way out. I actually found the motel to be somewhat charming- one of those old "Americana" type places sprung straight from the pages of "Lolita" or the frames of "Psycho." You know, a family place? My neighbors even had an old hound dog in their room...

...who immediately began baying when its owners drove off.

"Okay, okay," I thought. "This is not a problem. You brought your entire MP3 collection with in-the-ear headphones and foam ear plugs for sleeping." My getaway had suddenly degraded from "relaxing at a hot springs spa resort getaway" to "hiding in a dirty motel room with crap stuffed in my ears." I tried watching the television (the only nice thing in the room) to drown out the noise. Despite the fact that I was watching one of the loudest scenes from "Zathura" (very good movie), I could still hear the dog. I turned the television off.

"I'll schedule a massage," I thought. "And while I'm at it, I will inform the front desk of the dog." I picked up the phone and dialed the front desk. Nothing. I hung up. Picked it up again. No dial tone. I did the "trick" (which never seems to work) of rapidly pushing the little button that hangs the phone up. Nothing. No phone.

Okay. Fine. I will just drive back down to the main desk. I was eager to begin a new book ("Naked" by David Sedaris, which turned out to be perfect for this trip) and have a glass of wine, so I figured I would just grab dinner while I was down there. I opened the door to leave my room, and for the first time, really took in my surroundings:

Kids ran wildly around the campground, music blasted from most of the rooms, construction workers yelled on cell phones (very spotty service up there at 12,000 feet), and the water slide that the happy young lad surfed down on the web site was in pieces, all of which were strewn about in a field in front of my room. The pool (which my room was apparently "aside") was just a concrete hole. I held out hope that the cliff side room would be better.

"You're here for the hot springs... You're here for the hot springs..."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

American Quilt, Part 3- Pit Stop in South Park

I drove through South Park to get to the hot springs. This is neither as cool nor as funny as one might imagine. There is nothing particularly exciting about the real-life town aside from its name, and most of its inhabitants (from what I could tell) weren't very geometrical or funny and didn't speak in strange voices.

In fact, I took a photo, but was driving through rather quickly, so I didn't get a chance to focus on anything. Still, I've looked at it and I see nothing strange, funny, or copyright infringing about it (click to enlarge):

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

American Quilt, Part 2- Getting There

(in stupid blog style- part one is beneath this post, so scroll down if you haven't read it)

Because I am a member of Mensa, I get a significant discount on car rentals. I'm not sure exactly how this relationship works, but I'll take it. Mount Princeton is a good two and a half hour drive from Boulder and I didn't want to leave my significant other without a car for the weekend.

I arrived at the Millennium Harvest House Hotel, eager to pick up my car. There is something exhilarating about renting a car. It is one small way a person like myself, who would spend $20,000 on film stock before buying a new car, can participate in the excitement of American consumerism. For a mere $40, I get an entire weekend of "owning" a new car, with all of its smells and none of its monthly payments. To boot, they even gave me an American car! A red one with a remote control to lock the doors, beep the horn and flash the lights!

But before I got my car, I got a little sidetracked at the hotel. The signage for the car rental company led me to a dead end. I had to make my way back to the front lobby. I suddenly found myself at the annual regional sewage conference (ahem, I mean water and wastewater plant operations conference). As if this wasn't funny enough in and of itself, it just so happened that I had helped design their web site just a month prior. While it was tempting to sit in on "Why Chlorine?" "Biosolids," "Advanced Activated Sludge," and the other tantalizing classes I had fantasized about while updating their web content, I had a date with a swanky hot spring resort and didn't want to sully it with memories of sewage (for those who have never been to a hot spring, most of them smell like sulfur).

I eventually found the car rental booth, and before I could say "limited liability," I was on the road. I made a brief stop at a local Target to buy an adapter for my MP3 player (the radio doesn't work very well in the mountains), fully intending to exchange it for a set of knives upon my return. "It didn't work," I'd lie, "but I do need a new set of kitchen knives."

About 15 minutes into my trip, I sadly realized that I would not have to lie. It didn't work. It worked better than the radio, but it wasn't the experience I had been hoping for. Without the music to drown out my voice, it became painfully obvious to me that I knew very few of the lyrics to Beck's new album. "When the in-for-mation comes you'll know from the bacon!" is most likely not what he's singing.

This was not the road trip of my dreams. It wasn't even as pleasant as the road trips of my past. My bag of chips exploded due to the change in altitude, causing me to scream and swerve before realizing that I had neither a flat tire nor a gunman in the back seat (but pathetically, this almost ALWAYS happens to me on road trips- someday I will learn to open all of the bags before ascending). Despite the slick sexiness of my brand new car, I never seemed to be going fast enough to satisfy the other drivers on the road. Junk food and cans of Red Bull were flying through my car with every dangerous mountain turn, but my fellow drivers were still passing me left and right. There must be some unknown law of Physics that I do not grasp. Or maybe they were just using cup holders.

One thing was certain: they all had big cars. Vacationers like myself stuck out like a sore thumb here in rancher country. We were all driving cars, minivans or VW buses. The locals had SUVs and trucks. "Heavy duty" and "super duty" were two silver decals I saw passing me on many occasions. Saying "super duty" out loud always makes me giggle and consider proposing a new course for the wastewater conference. But I'd never tell them that...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

American Quilt, Part 1- Reservations

So a few weeks ago, I decided to take a four-day weekend and spend some quiet time in the mountains. I eventually got my wish (more or less), but the path leading up to it was pretty damn funny, so I thought I would share it here:

Like many adventures of our time, it all started with a web search. A search for "hot spring resort colorado" yielded several results. After sorting through the reviews, clicking on web site images, and comparing prices and distances, I chose "Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort." Their web site featured pictures of a happy lad of nine or ten, joyfully slipping down a hot springs water slide, glistening bare backs of pronate women receiving luxurious massage services, clean, well-lit bedrooms overlooking the mountains, and happy couples enjoying brunch on a wood deck. Perfect.

One day before my departure, I received a phone call from Mt. Princeton resort. The woman on the line informed me that there was a slight problem with my reservation. "You chose the poolside room for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights," she questioningly scolded, "but the room is scheduled to be remodeled on Sunday."

I apologized and informed her that I didn't consciously pick a "poolside room" and would be happy to change my selection. I simply took what the web site offered. She responded by informing me that there were no more rooms in my price range and suggested that I either cut my vacation short by one day or pay to upgrade my room to one of the "cliffside rooms."

Annoyed, I told her that I appreciated her suggestions, but the option that seemed best to me was that the hotel give me an upgraded room, free of charge, or shove it (though not quite using those words). After all, they were the ones who both chose my room and scheduled it for remodeling. After much sighing, she told me that she would "get back to me" after she spoke with her manager to see what they could do.

Two hours later (I guess it was a tough decision), the woman called me back and told me that I would need to switch rooms in the middle of the weekend because they were overbooked and couldn't find a room that would be available for the duration of my stay. While the prospect of packing and unpacking four times in as many days did not seem appealing to me, I reminded myself that my real reason for going was the hot springs, not the room, and accepted her offer.

I should have taken this as an indication of things to come, but at the time, it seemed like a small snag. Perhaps the woman who called me was just a little... untrained in customer service techniques? How was I to have known that my resort getaway was secretly planned out by John Hughes?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Yet another competition

But this one is really cool! This is one that I actually hope I win and have no reservations about entering. Bjork's new album, Volta, comes out next week. I'm excited for a variety of reasons. The first reason is that I always look forward to a new Bjork album. She is one of my favorite musicians. The second reason is that I have front row, center tickets to her concert at Red Rocks. The third reason is that she is hosting a music video contest for one of her songs: Innocence!

Apparently, she will hand pick the winner. If I had to imagine a musical counterpart to my visual rhythms, Bjork would be at the top of my list! Here's hoping she might feel the same way...

Oh, to hear the song, you can visit my MySpace page. Or Bjork's.