the Flatiron Range - Sunday July 15 2001

setting: Boulder, Colorado

This morning Gretchen, our host Jim and I walked the dog Mashed Potato around the swampy development. The other two talked about mysterious Oberlin stuff while I mostly marveled at the vegetation, which was unexpectedly Eastern North American in character. The most common variety of grass was the very same as the kind that grows on my parents' farm and there were plenty of teasles, cattails, milkweeds and asters. I asked Jim why the ground was so moist in what I'd thought was an arid country, and he explained that the moisture came from melting glaciers high in the Rockies. There was so much soil moisture in fact that in order to build a development here, a system of drainage pipes had to be installed, centered around a lake serving as a sump. We walked around this lake while the bright sun beat down hot through exceptionally clear skies. Being a mile high in elevation meant there was a mile less of atmosphere to adulterate the ice of sky and the fire of the sun.
Next we were joined by Jenny and drove into Boulder, to a café called the Chautauqua Dining Hall directly at the feet of the Flatiron Range. The Flatirons are a series of reddish-brown mountains that jut abruptly out of the Great Plains in massive nearly-vertical slabs of solid rock. As an introduction to the Rockies, it comes as a spectacular contrast with all the terrain stretching nearly two thousand miles to the east. At the Chautauqua Dining Hall we each ordered the brunch buffet, which Gretch and I, lushes that we are, augmented with bloody marys. I looked up from my sausages, biscuits and bacon for just long enough to see the unappetizing vision of a tiny whippet dog barfing an amorphous creamy-grey blob of puke the size and shape of a Snickers Bar over a woman's shoulder as he sat in her lap.
Powerful storm gusts began to blow through the trees as we finished out meal. We could see storms forming off in the distance at various places across the plain, but not over the Flatirons themselves. So we piled back into Jim's car and went for a little drive on a winding road that clambers through them via a series of switchbacks. At the very highest point on the road we found ourselves atop a low pinacle of the Flatirons. When we got out of the car a powerful and cold wind was howling monotonously from one direction. After taking in one of the spectacular views nortward along the range, we couldn't take the cold and so headed back down the mountain to a more sheltered place to climb.
Jenny had to do some work at Boulder Shakespear festival, and while she did so, Gretch, Jim and I explored downtown Boulder. I was already feeling sleepy so I made us go on a coffee run. Jim took us to a place called the Trident Café where the coffee was so strong and hot we felt compelled to dilute it with ice cubes found in an icemaker in the back of an adjacent bookstore.
Like many towns and small cities (Santa Monica, Charlottesville and Winchester, Virginia come to mind), Boulder is centered around a brick-paved pedestrian-only street called a "mall." Boulder's seemed to be typical of such malls, featuring your usual assortment of musicians, magicians, bums and weirdoes, although nearly all of them where white. There aren't even many Asians in Boulder. While we happened to be in such a commercial area, Gretchen kept ducking into Pottery Barn type places in pursuit of her vision of the ideal coffee mug, one featuring cows, dogs, cow-patterned dogs, or some combination of the three. We also left the mall briefly to check out the famous Mork and Mindy house, which we were able to find. We had more difficulty finding the Jon Benet Ramsey house, which is in one of Boulder's many fancy neighborhoods.
What with the spectacular view of the Flatirons, the collegiate atmosphere, and a system of zoning ordinances sharply restricting development, Boulder has a highly-pressurized real estate market. Consequently, prices and rents for homes are utterly insane. This accounts for why Jim and Jenny reside in a swampy development just outside of Boulder.
To escape the heat, if nothing else, Gretchen, Jim and I ducked into an Irish pub for some cold Black & Tans. Guiness by itself isn't an ideal hot weather beer.
We did happy hour out in the mallside patio area of a downtown restaurant. I ordered margaritas and calamari when I saw it was on the menu. Eventually we were joined by Jenny and one of Jim's old students. Jim is a video studio teacher working in the Boulder school system. The fact that he can't afford to live in Boulder is, he said, typical of Boulder teachers.
After happy hour was done, Gretch and I decided to hit the road. We headed northeastward down I-76, Gretchen driving at first but then I took over when we stopped for gas near the Colorado town of Crook. Colorado seemed to take forever, just from the sheer monotony of its flatlands in the daylight. Periodically I'd turn around to see if I could still see the Rockies to the west, trying to put my mind in the mode of a pioneer traveling westward. I could still see the peaks even past Fort Morgan, a good 75 miles to the east. While the Rockies were still in view, I was a surprised to observe that the local terrain didn't look very different from Northern Ohio. Farmers were growing corn and water was evidently abundant even if it didn't often fall from the skies. Farther east, though, there was a brief horizon-to-horizon swath of some form of prairie featuring grazing cattle as the crop. The terrain was comprised of low rolling hills for about 40 miles of the western plains, but then the hills flattened to nothing and stayed that way well into Nebraska.
A short way into Nebraska I noticed for the first time dead insects accumulating on my windshield, indicating the presence of abundant supporting agricultural habitat. This must have been related to the sudden proximity of the Platte River and increased use of irrigation.
In the darkness the dullness of Nebraska wasn't quite as distracting. Gretch and I were on Adderall and talking up a storm about all sorts of things. After we were off the west page of the Gousha Roadmap of Nebraska, we decided to turn in for the night at the Budget Inn in Kearney.
As she had two nights before in Utah, Gretchen handled the inn transaction while I waited in the car. The night desk clerk of the Kearney Budget Inn had a big blob of Port Wine Syndrome on the left half of his face and he wasn't content when Gretchen simply put an "N" in response to the question "Do you have any pets?" "Okay, then I'll just put a little O right here next to the N," she said. Our room was a dreary faux wood-paneled place but the beds were comfy and bug-free.

Mashed Potato the Dog, Boulder, Colorado.

The Punch Buggy Rust in Boulder.

Bumpersticker seen near Boulder.

Clouds over the western Great Plains.

Mountains in the Rockies, viewed from the Flatiron Range.

The western Great Plains as viewed from the Flatiron Range.

Distant patches of ice on the Rockies.

Gretchen and Jenny with a semi-forested slope of the Flatirons in the background.

Gretchen in an Irish Pub in Boulder.

Someone with a dorky Qualcomm tee shirt in the Boulder Irish Pub.

Gretchen and Jim on Boulder's downtown mall.

A juggler on Boulder's downtown mall.

A strange cloud formation off to the north of I-76 in northeast Colorado.

A big thunderstorm somewhere over south-central Nebraska, viewed from northeast Colorado.

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