Family vacation. Day 3. 61 degrees. Mostly sunny.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Grand Lake. Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Hot sulfur springs. Grand Lake. Winter Park.
Things I ate today: Half an everything bagel with cream cheese. Half a turkey sandwich with avocado, lettuce, onion, on wheat bread. Potato chips. Chicken salad. Ginger beer. Caramel corn. Popcorn. Fudge. Salt water taffy. Ahi tuna poke tacos. Fried plaintain.
My mom grew up in Colorado. She loves it here. She thinks it’s perfect. Ask her about the snow and freezing temperatures, and she says, “Oh, it’s just a little snow.” What she remembers is the 300 days a year of sunshine. What she remembers is that all her best friends live here, and especially her best friend, whose family had a cabin in Grand Lake.
We pretended we might not go to Grand Lake this trip even though we are fewer than 40 miles from it. We went twice. Today. I went this morning with my mom and dad while my sister slept in with a headache. My brother-in-law got up at 5:30 and went to the gym. Then he went mountain biking. Then jogging, maybe? Then more mountain biking. As far as I can tell he worked out for 7 hours. I hope he isn’t sore for our horseback ride tomorrow.
We went again this evening so my sister and brother-in-law could see it. “Katie and Matt want to see Grand Lake,” my mom told my dad.
“We’re going back?” my dad said.
“Imagine that,” my sister said.
“What if we’d left without you seeing Grand Lake?” I said.
“Who knows,” my sister said. “Not worth risking.”
This morning, the sun and clouds chased each other across the sky. The lake was rough and dark. “Let’s rent a boat to go see the old cabin,” my mom said. “Let’s drive to look at it,” my dad said. “Oh, sure, I guess so,” my mom said. We don’t give her enough credit for being a tough negotiator.
When we got there, a for sale sign swung out front. My mom walked right up and rapped the door, trying the handle as she did. My dad headed around front, claiming he didn’t want to get shot. “Don’t be silly,” my mom said. “We know the family.” The cabin was built by my mom’s best friend’s dad and his brother. Between them, they had 17 kids. Summers, they’d all drive up there and the kids would spend all summer in and out of the freezing glacial lake.
These are the stories I know:
All 10 kids from my mom’s best friend’s family would pile into a station wagon with all the clothes and food they’d need all summer long. They’d drive without stopping into the mountains. Every time a kid would throw up on the winding mountain roads, their mom would pull a paper bag out of the glove compartment, hand it back, and then toss it out the window.
The dads would drive a speedboat all summer, towing whoever wanted to water ski behind. Both carpenters, they built the cabin themselves. They were friends with all the priests from Denver, because they’d renovated the cathedral. The priests would come up to visit, all best friends, hanging out in swim suits and drinking beer.
My mom and her best friend would lay out on the roof of the boathouse all summer, tanning and talking about boys. They’d lay tin foil under their faces to strengthen the rays and never wear sunscreen. When they got too hot, they’d jump off the roof into the lake and then climb up and do it over again.
When my mom’s best friend was 18, she said she was going to get that handsome cowboy who worked in the stables in town. She found him in a bar one night and kept him close. When he tried to kiss her, she pulled his cowboy hat down over his face. They got married a year later and lived in a cabin without running water, where they chopped through the ice in the winter.
My sister and I stayed in the cabin once on a family vacation. I must have been about 6; Katie says she was about 10. My dad sent me to look at the giant moose head in the living room, and when I got real close, it suddenly spoke. Peering through the windows today, I saw him hanging there on the wall and felt my skin crawl. My mom and I climbed up the stairs to the roof of the boathouse. I took a picture of my mom and dad on the cheerily painted red-and-white bridge that crossed from the lawn to the floating dock. I swung out over the shore on a swing hanging down from two giant fir trees. When I said I hoped it would hold, my mom laughed. Thousands of kids and adults, she said. Thousands. I looked up to see not a branch but a thick steel beam between the two thick trunks.
I didn’t go in. Do you know how cold that water is?
We bought fudge—chocolate and peanut butter—in town and I bought a mug with a moose on it. We picked up lunch on the way back to the ranch. In the afternoon, the whole family reunited, we went to the nearly sulfur springs.
I always pictured sulfur springs as being naturally forming springs and streams and ponds splashing along a sweet mountain ridge. These were more like hot tubs and man-made rough-pebbled pools over a marshland. The water was warm, though, and you know they were healing pool by the
rotten eggs sulfur smell. We splashed in and out, wandering through.
We’re a strange mix of active and sedentary on vacation. I noted earlier that we’re not “activities” people. (My mom actually said as we went through Grand Lake, “There’s not that much to do here.” She meant besides water skiing, camping, hiking, swimming, diving, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, inner tubing, sailing, biking, jetskiing…) But we’re also not likely to spend hours in hot springs or at the spa. The beach, maybe. With good books, maybe.
There was some debate over how many pools there were. The woman at the desk said 19. The brochure in front of her said 23. The sign coming in said 24. The website said 29. We didn’t count. My dad skipped all the fiberglass tubs. I skipped all the pools with other people in them.
Then we went back to Grand Lake. The salt water taffy stand was open. We asked if they sell by flavor. They don’t. Only mixed bags. They tried selling by flavor one summer, and they had too many leftovers of the flavors that no one likes. Why keep making the flavors no one likes, one might ask, rather than offloading them through mixed bags? There was one watermelon in our bag, and many creamsicles. These were good. Some neapolitan. These were ok. Many yellow taffys that we hoped were lemon but no one would try for fear they were banana. My favorite flavor is vanilla. Salt water taffy is the only sweet where vanilla is the best.
Grand Lake is charming. It’s picturesque and heaven on earth for young children and teenagers. Boardwalks run in front of cute tourist shops and galleries on either side down a main street, the lake just a block behind. There’s bowling and pizza and bars. There are two miniature golf courses within six blocks, each a full 18 holes, no discernible differences as far as the eye can see.
On the way to dinner, I turned Tinder back on. I had turned it off for Colorado, but it seemed worth doing a survey of Fraser Valley.
“A lot of ski bums,” my brother-in-law predicted. “And fishing guides.”
“Are you on Tinder?” my mom said. “Did they like the picture of you on the swing? I’m going to look at it later.”
“That’s on Instagram, Mom,” my sister said. “You’re not on Tinder.”
“I’m not?” my mom said.
We ate dinner at a place called Pepe Osaka’s Mex-Asian Fishtaco Tequila Bar and Grill. We have never put quite so much faith in stellar Yelp reviews. We were dubious at best and downright suspicious at worst.
It was perhaps the best meal we’ve had. But that, as my mom would tell you, is because Colorado is perfect. It is magic.