Hip Hip Ouray!

Last week, we took a family vacation. We’d done day trips before, and the occasional overnight, but this is the first time we traveled far from home and stayed there for an extended period. We drove to Ouray, Colorado (pronounced YOO-ray, much to our surprise), and stayed 3 nights there in a vacation rental condo. Laura and I have both lived here for decades, and always heard about how beautiful Ouray is, but never quite made it there — it’s about a 6-hour drive from Denver.

Well, the place lived up to its reputation for beauty. It’s nestled in a small valley with dramatic mountains all around, and all day long there’s the most incredible play of light on those mountains. Different parts get spotlit as the clouds shift and change, so that one moment you’re seeing a stand of trees outlined in dazzling clarity, then a little while later it might be a cliff face, or an outcropping, or one of the rivers that flow into and through town.

In fact, one of those rivers flowed directly past our condo, which worked out great for Dante. See, when Dante was littler, Laura would take him on day trips to the mountains, and the way she enticed him to be excited about the outdoors was with the promise that he would get to throw things into water. They would always find a river, a lake, a stream, or what have you, and then scout up a bunch of rocks and sticks, which Dante would delightedly toss into the water, reveling in the splashing and floating.

So now, the boy is simply obsessed with throwing rocks and sticks into water whenever we’re out of the city. Anytime we drive past a lake, or a river, or anything, he’ll say, “I want to throw rocks into that!” We generally have to ration out the splash activities so that we’re not stopping every 5 feet. This time, though, he could throw rocks from our balcony, and they’d land in a river! He made trip after trip to gather rocks from the surrounding area, haul them up to the condo balcony, and hurl them into the water. He would also often share his spoils, generously offering Laura and I some prime stones to throw.

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He’s similar with playgrounds — anytime we drive by one, he’ll say, “We should go to that playground sometime!” In fact, as we drove through Gunnison on the way to Ouray, he saw an awesome one with a really tall slide, and immediately was lobbying us to bring him to it. My approach was to say, “Yes, that may happen sometime!” As in, sometime in his lifetime. Open to the possibility, but not promising anything. Well, thanks to clever Laura, we timed our trip home so that we ate our lunch in Gunnison, right next to that playground.

Side story from that playground trip: part of the equipment there was some tunnels that all led into a kind of “bubble” structure, with a clear dome on top. Dante went in there and Laura, standing outside, heard this exchange between Dante and a kid inside the bubble, who was probably something like 6 years old:

KID: [to Dante] You can’t come in here!
DANTE: [taken aback] Why not?
KID: Because this is for boys only!
DANTE: Well, first, I can come in here, because I am a boy, but if you’re going to exclude people on the basis of gender, I don’t want anything to do with this anyway.

And then he turned and left. That’s my boy. Nevermind that this kid was unlikely to follow the anti-discrimination argument, especially the way it was phrased — Dante just said his piece and moved on. Made us smile and shake our heads at the same time.

Also, he is constantly mistaken for a girl, but this does not bother him in the least, and I suspect he kinda likes it. We were playing Apples To Apples Junior that weekend — a game in which you try to find the best fit for an adjective from a handful of random noun cards — and the adjective to match was “perfect.” Laura played “egg” (playing off the “nature’s perfect food” advertising they’ve sometimes had), I played “brains” (which was roundly shouted down by the other similarly imperfect-brained people in the room — hey, it was the best of a bad hand), and Dante played “long hair.” The judge awarded him the point.

Anyway, back to Ouray. Dante’s room had 3 beds in it — a full-size bed and bunk beds. He was so excited by the range of possibilities for sleeping arrangements. He rolled a die to decide which one he’d sleep in first — top bunk was the winner! So he slept there the first night, bottom bunk the next, and full bed the last. He was very excited to show us all the features of the various beds, and their various pros and cons.

He brought a bunch of Star Wars action figures on our vacation, which really reminded me of myself on family vacations when I was his age. I’d always bring a bunch of those guys along so they could see the sights and have adventures in exciting new landscapes. In fact, it may have brought back memories for them too, because Dante’s Star Wars action figures are my old ones, preserved from my own childhood and handed down to him, Darth Vader carrying case and all.

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We took day trips during the days, visiting the breathtaking Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park, and the equally astounding Box Cañon Falls Park in Ouray itself. Having visited and loved Mammoth Cave a couple of years ago, these unbelievably majestic rock formations really did it for me. Dante’s reaction was a bit more muted, which was not a big surprise — swooning over gorgeous landscapes seems like more of a grownup thing. Also, the Falls are loud, and we’d forgotten his headphones for that outing. Oh well, it was awesome anyway.

Our condo was also within walking distance of the Ouray Hot Springs, so we visited there a few times, soaking in the mineral pools. In the same facility there was a pool given over to turtles and fish, ranging from tiny to quite large. You could buy little pellets to feed them, so we bought some and let Dante give the marine life a feast. He watched them and we watched him.

As we returned home, we stopped at the top of Monarch Pass, which has a great kitschy gift shop and a ski-lift tram to the top of Monarch Ridge. We rode the tram to the top and looked around at all the peaks we could see. Dante was fine with the view and all, but really dug the tram. He also got into the spirit of having his picture taken.

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All in all, a really fun vacation. And now we know we can do it. I wonder what we’ll do next year?

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