The Mother Lode

Hikers and campers strike gold on Conundrum Creek Trail

I’m what you’d call a recreational backpacker. I’ve got the moisture-wicking socks, the convertible pants that zip off into shorts and the REI shirt with more SPF protection than I’ll need in a lifetime. I’ve never felt the need to own the titanium cook stove, the four-season tent or the sleeping bag that weighs less than a bag of cotton balls.

But when our friends Chris and Gabby called to plan a trip, I knew I had to step it up a notch. This is the Washington D.C., couple that spent summers trekking through Thailand, South America, and Mexico. They own the hardcore backpacking gear I don’t, plus some I’ve never even heard of.

I needed a trail to impress.


X Marks the Spot

Stephanie Powell races through the woods on a high-speed scavenger hunt.

Standing in a boulder field in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, I turn my compass in circles in my palm. According to my map, I'm supposed to see a cliff face due west and a dirt road just north. But everywhere I turn, all I can make out are rocks — no sign of the orange and white flag that marks my destination. I jog frantically from one side to the other until I'm almost out of breath. I am officially lost.


Pack Animal

Traveling light through Salida's golden-hued leaf-peeping country.

Reagan's breath, which I can feel hot on my shoulder, leaves something to be desired in the freshness department. But then again, Reagan is a llama, which means I probably shouldn't expect anything different. The fact that Reagan's attitude doesn't match his sour aroma is, however, a pleasant surprise. In fact, he makes the perfect partner for scouting Colorado's fall foliage. Patient and methodical, he lets me lead him along the trail at the pace of my choosing, and together we meander through dense autumn woods. Dry pine needles crunch underfoot while mountain bluebirds play tag in the shafts of sunlight shooting through the branches overhead. None of this appears to impress Reagan. I, on the other hand, am mesmerized.

A group of friends and I had decided to forgo our annual fall road trip to Summit County and instead signed up for a guided llama trek through the Sawatch Range. It was a conscious choice: Rather than join thousands of other eager leaf peepers on crowded highways and frontage roads, we would get to hike deserted trails and view autumn's display atop serene mountain peaks. The best part? The llamas would lug all our gear.


Super Man

I first discovered the white boxes while crouching in the closet of our spare bedroom. It was early June. James and I had been married for just over a month and I was sorting through our now-joint belongings in an effort to arrange, combine and rid our household of duplicate items. At first sight of the boxes, I sighed. More stuff to go through. But on second take, I determined the contents were probably harmless. Unlike most of the boxes I’d sorted through that afternoon, these eight boxes were stacked in neat tight rows, each topped with its own matching lid. In fact, they looked like they belonged in a law library or a museum. Like whatever was inside them deserved to be painstakingly preserved.

Even after three years of dating, I knew marriage would still teach me a lot about James. But these boxes intrigued me. Did my husband have a collection of precious museum artifacts he had failed to mention? Was he a purveyor of rare art? While my mind wandered in Fantasyland, my eyes caught sight of a logo on one of the boxes – a red and black balance scale with the letters CGC printed on the side. I was still dreaming of exotic treasure and priceless gold coins when I glanced at the words printed below the logo: www.CGCcomics.com.


Cave Inn

Head to northwestern New Mexico for a Fred-and-Wilma-style weekend

I’m standing on top of a mesa outside of Farmington, New Mexico. The plateau below me sprawls for miles in every direction before climbing into various mountain ranges: the Chuskas, the Utes and the San Juans. To the West stands Shiprock, the neck of a dormant volcano rising nearly 1,800 feet from the high-desert plain. In the cloudless sky two hawks are circling and diving. As I turn to follow their mid-air performance, I catch site of my husband, James. He’s holding a suitcase and two bags or groceries… and looking at me as if I’ve gone completely insane. I’ve promised him a weekend getaway at an out-of-the-way bed and breakfast. And right now he’s thinking I meant out in the middle of nowhere.

Before I can explain, Lindy Poole, the manager of said B&B, chimes in. For the last half-hour she’s been explaining the local flora and fauna, the history of Farmington, the oil and gas wells dotting the land and, more importantly, the specific piece of land we’re currently standing on.

“This is the roof,” she says, thumping her heel into the sandstone.

James and I scan the surroundings. Our tiny rental car parked beside a scraggly piñon tree is the only vehicle in sight. And apart from the hawks, the landscape appears devoid of life. Is Poole joking? No, she’s not. Kokopelli’s Cave Bed and Breakfast is built into the side of a cliff, seven stories underground. And the three of us are currently standing on its 70-feet-thick ceiling.