Traveling During a Pandemic

Hey everybody, how are you all holding up? It’s been a little while since I’ve checked in, and the funk I was in when I posted last time is stubbornly hanging on. I’ve done painfully little writing, I can’t do much in the way of photography (although people more determined and creative than myself have found ways to keep creating within the confines of their home, conducting photo shoots with action figures or whatever else they can find), so I’ve gone back to a hobby that I suppose never really went away: playing the guitar. I’ve been slowly shaking the rust off my old fingers, learning some popular songs and practicing scales and whatnot, and I must admit I’m getting bitten by the bug again. It feels good, and if I had the time and we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic, I’d love to think about forming or joining a band again. Someday, I suppose…

Speaking of pandemics, that’s the point of this post. After all, it’s in the title :). I’ve been working and commuting as usual since we went on lockdown, but my wife has been working from home for around two months now. And since I’m already out and about (and because she has asthma and is immunocompromised), I do pretty much all the shopping and running of errands. Still, even getting to leave the house like I do, it’s frustrating not being able to do anything, you know? The last few weekends has found us taking drives to get away from the house, the city, and people, naturally. We’ve gone to a couple small lakes around my neck of the woods, and out into the country a time or two, but it seemed like we needed more. We needed to get farther away. So, over the course of a day or two, we decided to get a couple of days off work and take a long weekend trip to Denver! How was it? I guess you could say we got some lemons but made some pretty damn good lemonade.

I know, I know…where are the mountains?

Clearly, the virus is still of paramount importance and we took (and are taking) it seriously. Colorado got hammered in the early days of Covid-19, and the city of Denver was NOT messing around. Although many businesses had been allowed to reopen, masks were mandatory for anyone out in public, and most businesses were also cleaning and sanitizing nonstop. Truth be told, we felt safer there than we do here in Wichita. Despite the toll the virus took on the city early on, it was actually a bit of a relief to see people taking it seriously, even if some of them were only doing it because they were being forced to.

The plan as we crossed into The Centennial State was simple: find wide open spaces, preferably high in the mountains, breathe some fresh air, and let the toddler run around somewhere other than the backyard or the local park (which are both fine, but we felt he needed more stimulation). Our first stop was Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. Now, obviously we knew there were no concerts going on, but the park is spacious and it seemed like a good place to get off the beaten path, right? Yeah, no. Nope. Nuh-uh. Bad idea for two reasons:

  1. Everyone and their mother decided to go to Red Rocks
  2. The road leading into the park was closed

People were parking at the barricades where access to higher elevation was blocked and hiking around and goofing off everywhere. Social distancing? May as well be speaking German. And since Red Rocks isn’t actually in Denver but in the town of Morrison, the mandatory mask rule was not in effect. We never even stopped the car, but simply drove back out and changed plans, to go somewhere further away where hopefully there would be a) less people, and b) access to the area for which we were headed. What we got instead? Enough rain to make me consider changing my name to Noah.

The skies opened up as we were about halfway to where we wanted to go, when we decided to go ahead and head back to Denver. We figured that even if we got to where we were going, it was raining too hard to even get out of the car. We made the right decision, as the rain did not let up for several hours. Instead, we got some really good Italian food and local beer to take back to our hotel, and we commenced with Operation: Unwind. We let the boy bounce off the walls of the room (ever so slight exaggeration), and sat and talked until late, then slept until we could sleep no more. We got up the next morning and had a light breakfast and a metric ton of caffeine, and headed back for Echo Lake Park, where we had been headed the day before.

Unfortunately, we encountered the same road block we’d hit at Red Rocks, literally. The road was closed beyond a certain elevation, so we had to turn around yet again. This time, however, we stumbled across something extra special and super neato: The coolest freakin’ cemetery we’d ever seen.

Nestled into the side of a mountain, Idaho Springs Cemetery is breathtakingly beautiful, and maybe a little creepy at the same time. Once you enter the cemetery, narrow winding roads lead you further and further up the mountain. It became so narrow, in fact, that we didn’t feel entirely comfortable proceeding in our mid-size SUV. We stayed on the lower levels, marveling over the age of some of the tombstones and wondering how awesome it must look on a foggy morning. If you are a morbid weirdo like us and ever find yourself about 45 minutes west of Denver, be sure to check it out.

Headed back toward Denver, I suggested something I had seen online that I knew was open, to a point, anyway: the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, located in Commerce City, just east of Denver. While the visitor center was closed, the drive thru (maybe not the best term?) was open, allowing us to take a scenic drive through preserved land rich with various species of animals.

The wildlife drive is off to a promising start!

With a parks employee at the gate to keep track of how many cars were coming and going, we crept along, laughing at the plethora of prairie dogs who seemed as interested in us as we were in them. Eventually we made it to the bison area, though being there during the mid-afternoon meant not a lot of activity from said bison. When/if we get the chance to go back, we’ll make sure to go closer to sunset, when they are more active. Still, it was a very scenic drive, and was actually quite refreshing.

Naturally the best photo I got of a bison was of its backside

Due to a last minute change in our trip, the final night in town was spent in Aurora. No mask ordinance there, and a completely different feeling through the city. I became a little paranoid there, since almost no one was covering their face or practicing any kind of social distancing. It wasn’t too hard for us to keep away from people, but it was off-putting nonetheless.

Oh! One last story. When we left to get dinner, we saw a fire truck and an ambulance pulling into our hotel. Uh-oh, someone is having a bad night. But when we came back? Two ambulances, Two fire trucks, and four cop cars clogged the parking lot. What the hey? As we walked toward the hotel we could see someone already loaded up in one of the ambulances, and we could see police in what we assume was that person’s room, looking around (investigating?). Some pretty dark thoughts went through my head about what might have been going on, but the desk clerk said we were fine to go up to our room, which is what we did. We checked the local news on social media and never saw any mention of all the hubbub. Who knows?

So all in all, the trip was a wee bit disappointing but we made the best of it. We didn’t get to any mountains, and the rain largely ruined any chance for the boy to run amok like we wanted him to, but we saw the awesome graveyard, drove through the wildlife refuge, and more importantly, got away for a change of scenery and a recharge of the old batteries, which was really the whole point for us adults. And as for the toddler, he had a magnificent time and was incredibly well behaved in the car for the almost eight hour drive each way. And when you get looks like this, you know you’ve got to be doing something right.

I know this whole situation still sucks, but keep taking it seriously. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, check in on people you haven’t heard from in a while. If you miss someone that you haven’t gotten to hang out with, let them know. Hell, talk on the phone if that’s your preferred method of communication. Above all, just be kind to each other.

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