Colorado (1/2) – Couldn’t get much higher

written by Marc E. Check July 21, 2017

Sunday – July 9, 2017
4:55am Mountain Time
Keystone, Colorado


Sunset from Alma, Colorado

Sunset from Alma, Colorado

Apologies for the far overdue update from the road…

I’m sitting on top of the world, or at least the U.S.A., in Keystone, Colorado.  Andie and I are currently high as fuck… slightly over nine-thousand feet above sea level to be exact, although it seems like a slight relief from yesterday when we were at ten-thousand, three-hundred-plus feet, in the town of Alma, which has the distinguished honor of being the “highest incorporated municipality in the United States with permanent residents.” 

Our ears are poppin’, our breath is shortened, and we are constantly in awe of and humbled by the sheer scale and majesty of the upper Rockies. This land is magical, no doubt, and just what the doctor ordered for a couple of road-weary explorers like us that needed a slight pause in the narrative and alignment of souls. We are somehow already more than two months into the first leg of our self-defined travel itinerary with less than four months to go – less than four months(!) – until we reach a critical decision point:  continue on or throw in the towel (and return to normal lives.)

Garden of the Gods on Independence Day 2017

Garden of the Gods on Independence Day 2017

On a good day like today, inspired by the Colorado scenery and having reached an important milestone in my current work plan, returning to a traditional career and sedentary lifestyle seems as impossible and unreasonable to me now as it did the day I decided to begin this journey. Other days, I stress about the progress made to date and all of the work that needs to be done (and luck that needs to help us along) to ensure that the latter option is not an option.

I set out on this journey with a handful of specific goals that will either improve the overall groove of our lives, or at least improve the likelihood of sustaining the groove for another leg of our journey.  I am finally completing my first edition photography portfolio (now available here) which should be a significant step in the right direction.  

I’m also happy to say that I’ve learned a lot about a lot of things over the past sixty-six days and have made huge strides towards my goals.

I’ve certainly learned much more than I ever thought I could about photography in such a short time, including

Umphrey’s at Red Rocks – July 4th 2017

compensation techniques for low-light/high-action scenarios during a dark concert shoot, the existence of (and fixes for) many common color and light anomalies, and most important to my work – the most effective methodologies used to strap a telephoto lens to your girlfriend’s inner thigh with medical bandages to avoid detection during the sexual molestation-like pat down of concert security staff (who are doing it for our own safety, they assure us). 

 

Colorado is an amazing place, and we have some truly amazing friends in and around Denver. Reconnecting with these friends and these natural surroundings inspired us in countless ways.  We took away some huge epiphanies and memorable experiences that I can only touch on briefly here, but even in brevity will hopefully give our readers a taste of how inspiring and special this area of the country is..

First – a little about Colorado’s LIVE MUSIC VENUES…

Umphrey’s & Fireworks – Red Rocks 4th of July 2017

Colorado has ruined us for any other live music venues.  What a breath of fresh air it was to see the series of shows we saw in and around Denver after seeing a string of concerts ranging from the fairly standard enjoyable amphitheater shows in places like Pittsburgh and DC to some more cluster-fucked scenarios like Saratoga, where Live Nation’s presence and mismanagement rendered a classic and enjoyable old amphitheater into a barely tolerable concert experience. 

In Colorado, we had an agenda beginning with Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison for three nights of the already incomparable Umphrey’s McGee.  This was expected to be a great experience, and it didn’t disappoint.  This was, after many years and half-hearted attempts, my first visit to Red Rocks for an actual concert (I had visited before during open park hours).  One downside for the weary traveler (especially one who also smokes and works out irregularly at best) is the climb. 

Del McCoury at Copper Mountain

Del McCoury at Copper Mountain

Ohhhh, the climb, the never ending climb…first to the venue itself from parking, then up the venue steps, then up into the venue….but despite the throbbing calves and several nights of restless leg syndrome, it is decidedly worth every bit of the sweet, cramping pain.

I tried my best to capture through my wide-angle lens the view from the top of Red Rocks, but nothing can do justice to the scene of thousands bathed in psychedelic lights, surrounded by ancient rock and stone, with the lights of Denver and surrounding cities twinkling in the distance.  As this string of shows led up to Independence Day, the Saturday night show (second of three) featured a second set that started and continued on through at least half of the set with fireworks popping over the stage, adding a surreal new layer to an already captivating and densely layered backdrop.

Following the holiday on the 4th we planned to spend the following weekend with a day at the Breckenridge Brewery Festival and a Sunday day-trip to Telluride for the Ride Festival. These plans were happily cast away as we learned of two events happening within a mere  few miles of our temporary home in Keystone, Colorado (up in the 10,000’+ mountainous area),both being a complete surprise to us. The first, a very welcome surprise for lovers of all things New Orleans, was a free concert by Dr. John in the neighboring town of Dillon. 

Dr. John – Dillon, CO

The second, fitting like a puzzle piece in terms of time and proximity was an event one town over, only a few hours before the Dr. John performance, and another free show: bluegrass legend Del McCoury at the Copper Mountain Ski Resort.

Copper Mountain was beautiful with mountains and clouds looming in a blue sky to every side of the stage, the show was free, food and drink excellent, affordable, and accessible,  security non-existent (and frankly not necessary), and Del and the boys played a happy and inspired set of music to a very happy and grateful crowd.  Despite a flat tire mitigated quickly and efficiently in the parking lot of Copper Mountain, we arrived at the breathtaking Dillon Amphitheatre just in time to hear Dr. John pulsing out the Bo-Diddley beat of Iko Iko.  This public amphitheater is situated facing the Dillon Reservoir with a chain of mountain peaks behind to the left and the Silverthorne mountain peak to the right.  I simply cannot imagine a better place to spend an evening watching the sun set and listening to soul-stirring music with family and friends. 

Colorado has it right in many ways, and now I’ll be adding  outdoor music venues to a long list of what the Centennial state has going for it.  

Second – brightly colored things that follow us everywhere!

Alma, CO - 11k high rainbow

Alma, CO – 11k high rainbow

We’re being stalked by two entities across the United States:  Rainbows and Animals.  If you’re going to be stalked by something I guess these are generally desired things to be stalked by (our animal stalkers do not have a taste for human flesh), so I’m not complaining at all…In fact I’m thrilled that the Universe is tossing these positive signs into our path as what I can only interpret as a, “Keep going, you’re on the right path” message of guidance and positivity.  Neither Andie or I had seen a good rainbow in a handful of years and at eleven-plus-thousand feet we smacked right into the second one we’d seen in as many weeks (the first at the Saratoga, NY Dead & Company show during the first set “Lost Sailor/Saint of Circumstance” sequence).  Rounding the top of the mountain coming into Alma, we could see the end of the rainbow plunging into the trees just ahead of us, and the bow expanding upwards and over the mountain top to our left.  It was the closest I’d ever been to a rainbow’s end, and I readied myself for beating the serious shit out of a Leprechaun (yes, I know it’s an optical illusion.  Let me have this). Since then we’ve seen two more full-on, bright as hell rainbows in our direct paths in Indiana and Ohio, and if you count a low-to-ground “Rainball” then we’ve seen a couple more in Nebraska. I’m counting five altogether so far. 

Keep ’em comin’ Universe.  

Elk in North Platte, Nebraska

As for animals, the theme coming into and leaving Colorado, and fitting nicely with the rainbow motif was…Peacocks.

This was a  particular bird I never thought I’d see a lot of in Colorado (never crossed my mind I’d see them at all, actually), yet we seemed to be surrounded by them throughout the journey.   About eighty miles or so before entering into the Colorado Northeast corner we stopped off for a rest in North Platte, Nebraska.  It was simply an oasis of something amongst a large area of Nebraska nothing, offering gas, restaurants, and a rare green swath of land at the north end of town signifying a park of some sort where we could stretch our legs and maybe breathe in some air not filtered through the Dodge Durango’s AC systems.  ‘

Andie Swings

Andie Swings

It turned out this park had camping areas for tents and RV’s, a few playgrounds (yes, Andie had to swing for a while), and a live animal habitat that included one majestic elk, ducks, geese, a few buffalo, donkeys, and about a dozen or so peacocks and peahens.  I of course insisted on doing some live animal photography and unexpectedly became enamored with the peacocks.  I’m not sure what the mating cycle of pea-birds are, so it may have been time of day/year, or maybe someone drove by with a little Marvin Gaye blasting from the radio shortly before we arrived, but the Peacocks were in full-on plume displays and doing their signature vibrating, slow circular turning, tailfeather-shaking rituals of “Look at me! Look at me! Pretty fucking hot, huh?” to the visibly curious and maybe interested, but yet unconvinced peahens.  Standing on the top of the trailer with a telephoto lens, I took a series of shots that I thought at the time were beautiful, but I didn’t think anyone else would find them as interesting as I might.  

Peacocky

When we arrived at our first host’s home in Arvada, CO, we unpacked into a guest room I had stayed in previously.  What I hadn’t noticed during previous visits (although I should have) was the entire decor of the room, in peacock colors and feathers. Andie remarked about it and I surveyed the room, surprised I hadn’t noticed it before. After a couple of days I broke down and looked up the significance of seeing peacocks, and the results were not entirely unexpectedly spooky, given the issue bearing weight on my mind at the time…

The Hindu god Murugan…rides a peacock and wields a bow in battle.

His peacock mount is a symbol of the destruction of the ego.

Native Aborigines believed that birds carried stories.

It was therefore no further surprise when we showed up to our next hosts house where Andie pointed out the one piece of decor in the bathroom – a huge peacock feather sticking out of a single vase.  When the universe tells you something, sometimes it simply screams it…over and over.

Point taken. 

I’ve read that the spiritually awakened connect  with nature and animals in a much deeper manner, and the animals sense a calmness and safety in the awakened.  Perhaps I was the “peacock Viagra” that got them going, just so I could have my attention drawn for the universe to deliver a message.  Perhaps not.  One event that occurred at the Garden of the Gods shortly after the peacock stalkings reinforced the fact that maybe there’s something to this “animal connection” theory.

 

…to be continued in Colorado (2/2) – Couldn’t get much higher

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