My son loves trips to visit his grandparents. Many times, whenever we have a few days off, he asks to go up to Walden, CO to visit them. Walden is a small town of about 700 people in the middle of a high desert plain surrounded by mountains, known regionally as North Park.
For the most part people who stop in Walden are on their way to some other place. More commonly, they are here to get fuel, stretch their legs during the midpoint drive between Steamboat and Ft. Collins or Laramie and anything south. On nearly every side of town is a 12,000+ ft. mountain range and some of the clearest night skies you can still enjoy in this part of the world. A few hundred people aren’t just passing through. This is where they live. A place they know as home. For the few of us who grew up here, it will always be home.
In the wintertime, the kids usually like to go sledding, but being March, we were a little skeptical there was much left. That was until March decided to come in like a lion. The second snowstorm of the month was known as the Bomb Cyclone or Arctic Vortex, or some other razzle-dazzle name the weather people could come up with to scare the populace into stocking up on all the bread and milk in a hundred mile radius. To North Parkers, it was known as March. This is the month that gets more snowfall in the Colorado Rocky Mountains than nearly any other month. This year, we beat the storm by 12 hours. And as a result, we were snowed in for the next three days.
On the Colorado Front Range, people were freaking out. Even though I had taken the week off for the day job, work had been cancelled for a few days due to blizzard conditions. People were stranded. The news was issuing winter storm advisories, and the infrastructure of a modern civilization had ground to a halt because of blowing snow.
I dragged out of bed the first day of the storm and discovered that my dad had taken my son with him to help plow roads around town. In an old 4WD pickup with a snowplow blade on the front end, they spent most of the morning clearing roads and pulling cars out of snow drifts.
Once they got back, I was recruited to help my son build a snow fort. We built it in the same spot I used to build mine when I was his age. The perfect spot where the snow drifted nearly over the fence due to where the wind caught the front of my parents’ house. There were many years I would start a snow fort by tunneling into a four foot drift and then fortifying it with a tower of cut snow and ice blocks like an igloo without a roof. Sometimes those forts would last until the spring thaw in April. By then, long since yellowed by the family dog marking his territory, and long-since abandoned by its builder, who was already sick of winter by then.
My son spent the afternoon making essential oil concoctions and soaps with his grandma. We spent time together, visiting, watching YouTube videos on Tudor England farming, and just getting to know each other more. Sometimes getting out more is staying in and getting to know family. My own grandparents weren’t always in the picture and now that they are all gone, I don’t want my son to miss the chance to get to know his better. I think we are all too disconnected from family outside the nuclear unit. I think people had a better understanding of themselves a generation or two ago when they learned more about their roots and the people they came from.
On the second day of the Snowpocalypse, we went sledding. Nearly two feet of fresh powder had fallen, and so we were making new runs on the sledding hill as the local kids were stuck inside the school, their Spring Break still yet to come, and for a place where snowstorms like this are common, they did not get the same reprieve from school as their Front Range counterparts.
We did a few runs on the hill and called it quits after getting whitewashed one too many times. There is probably no other feeling like a face full of icy snow, freshly sprayed onto your skin by a dragging boot as you attempt to slide down a hill on a piece of plastic. I highly recommend it, but also, too much of a good thing isn’t always that great. Day two, and we were both ready to go home and sleep in our own beds.
But that wasn’t going to happen just yet. The roads in and out of town were still closed, drifted over in some places on the Wyoming plains. By morning, they would be cleared and we would be able to venture forth across the frozen wasteland, through a realm where hordes of scavenging nomads raided hapless travelers for their bread and milk.
We waved goodbye the next morning, having gotten our fix of family, internet videos, Fox News, and other staples of family get togethers. Once we got to the Laramie Plains, something strange happened. The roads were all clear and dry. Hardly any snow had stuck on the plains. We fueled up in Laramie and went over Sherman pass, past the visage of Lincoln’s head which solemnly watches over the rest area at the top of the I-80 high point between Laramie and Cheyenne.
Where were the raiders? Where were the ice beasts? Where were the tauntauns with apprentice Jedi sleeping inside, waiting for the Imperial Walkers to attack Echo Base? While we were hunkered down in Walden, the snow had fallen and melted off, as is also typical for Colorado and southern Wyoming in March.
We stopped at Little America for the Prime Rib and Seafood lunch buffet. With linen napkins and table cloths, my son thought it was perhaps the fanciest restaurant he had ever eaten in. We piled our plates high with rare hunks of beef and piles of shrimp, strawberry shortcake, and warm bread pudding until we could hardly breathe, much less walk.
We visited the giant penguin that came from the Antarctic station, Little America, which gives the truckstop wonderland of I-80 its name. We reached Colorado in the early afternoon, seeing little remaining of the March 2019 Blizzard-palooza. We both slept soundly in our own beds once again, the last run of the sledding hill and perhaps the last blizzard of the season now behind us.
It might not be Disney or ziplining over the Grand Canyon, but these kinds of trips are sometimes the best you can make of your time, especially in a family that is still puzzling out what it wants to be. Kids don’t always need the waterslides or ski-vacations. Sometimes they just need time. Time with Dad. Time with the grandparents. Really, time with loved ones is all they ever ask for. The rest is just window dressing.