"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cruising Some Altitude in Telluride

Telluride, Colorado is not on the way to anywhere.  There is only one way in and out, because the tiny mountain town runs right into a huge canyon wall at the end.  Being nestled in a narrow valley with towering peaks in every direction gives this place a very safe feeling (which is ironic because people die here every winter from avalanches, more than anywhere else in the U.S.)

I have been lucky enough to couch surf with Crystal, who grew up here and has lived here most of her life.  She made the Junior National Snowboarding Team as a teenager, competed in Europe, and then snowboarded professionally with sponsors.  She moved around a bit but is now back in Telluride snowboarding, waiting tables, and showing me around!

Crystal on the steps of her steep, alpine apartment complex

Another shot of Crystal's apartment on the side of the mountain

Shortly after I arrived, I went on a hike with Crystal and her friend, Kelly.  This was not only a great opportunity for me to see the valley from above, but for me to begin acclimating to the 8760 feet altitude upon which Telluride sits!  My headache is finally beginning to go away after two days of huffing and puffing and gulping ridiculous amounts of water.

Two shots from our hike:

Crystal's parents still live in a small mountain village nearby, in the same house where Crystal grew up.  After the hike, we found out that their poor dog, Lexi, had been quilled by a porcupine and they needed Crystal to come over and help pull the quills out.  This was unfortunate for Lexi, but fortunate for me, because I got to take a beautiful drive and see her parents' amazing house!

Crystal's parents each came to Telluride separately from the midwest to ski (which is why everyone comes here) in their early twenties.  They met here, got married, and have lived here ever since.  Her father built their house almost entirely by himself, using rocks and trees that he harvested himself from the property directly around the home.  He actually cut down the trees, treated the wood, designed the home, and built it, complete with stunning details and a very unique floor plan.

Some shots of the house:

The house from the outside.  Notice the beautiful log detail.

The living room.  Notice the ceiling!

The greenhouse, which sits directly attached to the
kitchen and also has a small hot tub in the corner

The stairs.  Notice the gorgeous support beams.

Crystal's father telling us about his paintings.
(Yes he's also a painter and an author.)
Lexi, the poor quilled dog, ended up having to be taken to the vet because the quills were too deep for us to pull out with pliers.  On the way back from her parents' house, I asked Crystal, "Do you see much wildlife around here?"  As if scripted, she pointed out the window and I saw this:

Herd of elk
Today, we rode the free gondola over the mountain to Mountain Village on the other side.  This is a totally free, green form of transportation that reduces the need for cars to drive between the two towns.  You can even bring your pets, bikes, skis, and snowboards on board.  This breathtaking ride is part of Crystal's daily commute to the restaurant at the top of the mountain where she waitresses!  Mountain Village on the other side boasts the winter homes of Tom Cruise, Kid Rock, and too many other celebrities for me to even remember naming right now.

Telluride from the top of the Gondola

One view from the top of the gondola.  These are the peaks on
the Coors Light can.  (Tap the rockies. . .)

Yikes!  No wonder I'm always out of breath!

Mountain Village from the gondola
This place is crazy - like nothing I've ever seen.  Every single person skis or snowboards.  The town is built on it.  Every job in town provides daily ski breaks during the winter season.  This means you can either come in late, leave early, or take an extended lunch to get on the slopes at least a bit every day.  And it's all paid.


A few fun facts to leave you with:
  • Each house is unique and colorful; no two are alike.  
  • No chain restaurants or stores are allowed in town; everything is local.  
  • It is a very small town.  Crystal's graduating class was 40 - and that includes students from the smaller, surrounding towns that came to Telluride to go to high school.
  • There is a hydroelectric plant up one of the mountains on top of a waterfall.  This used to provide 100% of the power to Telluride, but as the town has grown, it now only provides about 20%.
  • Bears frequent the town so regularly that all residents are required to have bear-proof trash cans that lock.  Crystal has seen black bears when walking home alone on her street - more than once.
  • There is a "free box" on one of the streets full of well-organized clothing, shoes, books, and sporting goods.  You can leave things or take things as you need to.
  • The risk of dying in an avalanche is so great on these peaks that most people wear inflatable backpacks when they ski, snowboard, snowshoe, or hike on the mountains in winter.  If they are caught in an avalanche, they can inflate the pack and hopefully "fly" down the mountain without getting buried in snow or banged against trees and rocks.
I'm so grateful to Whitney and Nikki, my Durango hosts, for insisting that I stop in Telluride on my way up to Denver!  It has been a worthwhile visit, and it's not even over.  

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