Thursday, October 27, 2011

Telluride Mountain School Descends into Dark Canyon

Telluride Mountain School got the chance to travel into Dark Canyon once again, this time with their 7th grade class. The week-long adventure was one of the many fantastic experiential education trips the Telluride Mountain School takes its students on every year.

Traveling into Dark Canyon is like stepping back in time. The canyons are silent minus the sounds of ravens overhead and the river below. Few people ever go there.

That the Telluride Mountain School is able to take middle school kids to such remote places is truly amazing. Students learn desert ecology and backcountry skills such as working together as a team and taking care of their basic needs of food, water, shelter, and companionship.

But perhaps what is more amazing is the self-awareness that students gain. After a challenging descent into the canyon, one 12-year old, Aidan Green, put it this way:

"The hike down into the canyon was a struggle for all of us. People fell, slipped, and tumbled. It was one of the steepest hikes I have ever done. The beating hot sun that felt like I was being thrown into a furnace. It took every thing out of me. The 35-pound backpack on my back weighing me down made everything more difficult. I felt dead, but I kept on going. 

When I made it to the bottom, I removed my pack. My body felt so light that I could float. Then I took off my big heavy boots that were now damp with sweat on the inside, and I felt delighted because my feet could breathe."

Telluride Mountain School's trips aren't just about seeing great places. After a backcountry trip such as this, students learn that nature is another kind of home for them. Esme Fahnestock, another student, said this of the trip: "Now I know a place where I can go to escape the stress of modern life. I slip on my backpack and walk. In nature, I find a place that's my home."

If you want to go too, check out this brief write-up at

Thursday, October 20, 2011

8 Ways to Get Outside More

There’s so much talk in this country about how much time children spend watching TV and playing video games. We hear the statistics—four to six hours a day, a quarter of their childhood spent on screens.

Rarely, however do we talk about the alternative: getting kids outside more. Recent studies show that children ages 6-13 spend only 6% of their week outside alone. Children ride their bikes less (down 31% since 1995), and Aquatic Adventures in San Diego discovered that 90% of inner city kids did not know how to swim, and that 34% of them had never been to the beach.

Author Richard Louv has spoken often about the nature deficit in this country and the value of getting outside: happy, healthy children, kids with ADD who find that nature becomes their Ritalin, and children who gain a sense of place.

Often, however, it’s hard to find the time to get outside. In addition to increased screen time, our kids’ days are packed with extracurricular activities.

Author Kim Painter offers suggestions for 5 simple ways to get outside with your kids—taking homework out of the house, tracking the seasons, carving a pumpkin, going outside after dark, and leading the way.

Here are a few more:

1.    Take your meals outside. Even if you’re only sitting on the front steps with a plate in your lap. You’ll feel more relaxed. Plus your food will taste better.
2.    Go on a hunt. Have your kids find a rock, a leaf, a cloud that they love.
3.    Exercise with your kids. I’m guilty of this. So often my time exercising is my only time to clear my head. But recently on a sunny day, I ran while my kids biked. It was a rare light beaming into my life as a parent—we could all play together.

Happy Fall-- Get after it outside.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Canyon Cookies: Exploring Comb Wash, Utah with Some Sweets in Tow

Last weekend, we decided to slip out of Telluride and go to Comb Wash and the Cedar Mesa Plateau in Southwest Utah. We weren’t ready for summer to be over and all the glorious things that go along with it—camping outside, time together, and good weather.

Utah is this little added gem for those of us who call the West home. The weather stays good longer than it does in the mountains, and it has fabulous places to explore. Comb Wash, just southwest of Blanding, is one of our favorites.

There are fantastic ruins to check out, and the camping is easy and beautiful. Hikes in Comb Wash are also very accessible with kids. We did a 3-mile loop to one the best ruins, Fire House, and everyone, even our 2-year old, had an awesome time hiking.

That said, we did find that these granola and chocolate chip packed cookies helped to motivate everyone along. I adapted this recipe for Canyon Cookies from one I found in Gourmet. I’ve included my own granola recipe but if you’re short on time, a commercial granola like Cascadian Farms will work just fine! Enjoy.

Canyon Cookies

makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
¾ cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups granola
¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mix, in another bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture and stir in remaining ingredients.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart onto buttered baking sheets and bake in batches for 7 and ½ minutes. Cool cookies on racks.
Serve to tired children (and their parents). Goes well with red wine after children are hopefully sleeping.

Em’s Granola

Makes about 12 cups

4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cup whole almonds, halved
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1-cup raw cashews
2/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
3 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons honey

Add after you bake granola:  2 cups chopped pitted dates, raisons, dried cherries, or cranberries

Preheat oven to 300∞F. Mix first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Melt butter with honey in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Pour over granola mixture and toss well. Spread out mixture on baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, making sure to stir often. Add dates; mix to separate any clumps. Continue to bake until granola is golden brown. Cool and add dried fruit.

Thanks Jon Cornforth for sharing the fire house ruin shot.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Picking Apples in Telluride

Today the snow finally cleared, and Andy, Siri, Quincy, and I got out and picked apples. We had to wade through the snow but the effort was worth it: we filled our bags with apples from a neighbor's tree.

We discovered this tree years ago by accident. On a grey day, we wandered out to the eastern edge of town and there it was, a tree we'd wandered by a thousand times before and never noticed. We'd filled our bag that day and continue to every fall about this time of year.

We eat them as is and make apple sauce. When we're lucky, Andy uses some of those apples to make one of my favorite dishes: baked apples with sausage, cheddar cheese, and maple syrup. I’ve included the recipe below. Happy Fall.

Andy’s Favorite Fall Breakfast

1/2 lb bulk breakfast sausage
Mess of apples (about 4 cups) cored and cut into bite sized chunks
1/4 cup maple syrup
6 oz. white cheddar, grated
1/4 t. cinnamon, allspice, ginger (optional, to taste)

Sauté the sausage until the it begins to brown.  Add the apples and continue until the apples are golden.  Add maple syrup and spices, cover, turn down and simmer until the apples have fully softened (about 10 mins.).
Just before serving, stir in the grated cheddar

Serve as a topping for pancakes and waffles or enjoy by itself.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Winter Arrives Today in Telluride

Last week in Telluride it was summer. Yesterday it was fall. Today it was winter. Siri, who’s five, stood over my bed at 6:50 this morning squealing “My pumpkin’s covered in snow!”

At first I was cranky at being woken up early. Andy’s chili last night had been hotter than a steel rod in full sun, and all night, my gut had turned as if the rod had found its final resting place in my intestines.

But when I looked out the window with Siri, it was hard not to smile. Our little town had been transformed into a snowy hamlet over night. Snow dripped from the aspens still full with the green leaves of summer. The tips of the mountains had vanished, and all that remained were the bands of yellowed aspens glowing like a fire beneath the heavy mist.

And for now, they were the only thing glowing. The power had gone out as it often does in Telluride when a storm blows in quickly. The house was dark, as dark as I imagine miner’s cabins were when they first moved here in search of gold. I lit a candle to find my way to the shower, frustrated that I wouldn’t be able to use my computer all day. Power outages in Telluride like to stick around all day. Sometimes, all week.

Siri meanwhile rushed downstairs to dig out her snowpants and boots. “Can I go outside? Can we go ice skating later? Please, please, PLEASE?!”

I looked at her and once again, threw off my bad mood. Winter had arrived, at least for today. How could we not celebrate? After all, all of us here choose to live at close to 9000 feet. Might as well enjoy it. But ice skating? Siri will have to hold off a few more weeks.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No Money? Get Outside.

Richard Louv’s recent article on the value of getting outside during tough economic times is important on many levels. So often when we’re stressed about money, we focus only on how to fix that problem. I will work more, spend less, cook more, etc.

All are fine goals but when we focus solely on them, we become unhappy and lose sight of what matters. Kicking through autumn leaves at the bus stop, sitting outside with a glass of wine, packing a picnic and heading to the local park can help us to reset and feel more like ourselves.

In doing so, we’re happier. In turn, we’re better parents and better at tackling the economic goals before us.

Getting Outside with the Little Ones

We are parents who like to believe we can still play outside even though we have little ones. We recognize that preparing for the adventure can take as long as the adventure itself and that to many more rational parents, the effort just isn’t worth it.

Sometimes, we, ourselves, wonder why we’re going through so much trouble. Backpacking was one of those experiences. Did I really notice anything while carrying an 80 pound backpack stuffed with diapers and backcountry gear? Andy and I still debate this one. The only thing we do know is that everyone is happier when we at least try to get out, even if we fail.

Chapter one was the jogging stroller. Chapter two: the chariot—a device that opened the world of biking and nordic skiing. Chapter three: the strap-on skis—key to getting your one-year old on downhill boards. And now, we enter chapter four: sea kayaking.


I was nervous about sending Siri, my 5-year old, out in a kayak until Andy posed this question: on a calm day when everyone is in lifejackets and we’re ten feet from shore, what’s the worst that can happen? And I couldn’t think of anything.

Siri had a blast. Here are some things she did in thirty minutes: observed seagulls landing on their marine nests, watched scores of ducks shuttling home, felt the wake of a lobster boat, came to understand that lobster buoys were not toy balls that we could take home, and most importantly, ran her hands along the side of the boat and felt the cool, jade water.

Andy discovered things as well, mainly how difficult it is to paddle a double-kayak in headwinds around the point. Yet he also found a new sailboat he covets in the harbor and got to be proven right: it really isn’t that big a deal to throw our little one in a kayak. And in fact, look how thrilled we all were. That is until the wheelies on the kayak trailer broke and we had to lug the kayak through some poison ivy.

But thankfully, that’s where grandparents come in handy, once again, watching our children while we tugged and heaved the boat to dry land. Someday, the pre and post-work of an adventure will be shorter that the actual trip. Until then, we’ll keep trying. The adventure’s still worth it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Telluride Leaf Peeping

Fall in Telluride can mean many things. Rain. Snow. Or both with some mud thrown on top. But last weekend was grace. The leaves on the aspens had just turned to gold, and the weather hovered right around 75°.

Salon’s recent story on leaf peeping should include Telluride next time round. Our display of colors—the fire reds, the cinnamon oranges, the Tuscan yellows-- has been outstanding this year.

Our friends Ellie and Jim had the good luck of picking last weekend to get married. Everyone stood outside with the sun shining on the backs, glancing around at the local peaks, and drinking Colorado Boy beer.

Andy and I still hadn’t had enough of being outside and so took the girls biking the next day. Weekends like this are fleeting. Case in point: it’s pouring great waterfalls of rain outside today. Summer is rushing away as quickly as it came. Glad we got outside last weekend.

A Utah Escape

The four of us, a family alone in the desert, wander up the slot canyon to the Double O Arch in Arches National Park in Utah. Andy carries Quincy in a backpack. She squeals with delight, ugg booted legs swinging with his every step. I hold Siri's hand and carry the camera. I want to remember this moment forever.

Andy tells Siri about Terry Tempest Williams and her caution that “everything is prickly” in the desert. He tells Siri that to him the desert is like a book that we can crack open and read. Siri takes this in, looking around at this world we've entered, her blue eyes shining against a blue sky. Then she stops to gather some wildflowers beside the path.

I feel as if we breathe for the first time all day. The dry heat works its magic on a shoulder that’s been aching for days, Andy’s chest pain goes away--- all around us, the red rock is so vivid against the deep blue sky. The day slips away quickly. Golden light slips up higher, higher up the arches we pass and the canyon grows darker.

Siri starts to get cold. We hustle back. This is the other side of traveling in the backcountry, we whisper to our girls. This is the fable tucked in the back of the story. Spectacular beauty, spectacular days must always be backed by spectacular caution. Without it though, we wouldn’t find the natural world so precious.

Animal Instinct

It took a few seconds before I noticed him standing there. I was busy huffing and puffing at the top of the Jud Wiebe, a local Telluride trail, angry with myself that once again I was stepping into the Imogene Pass Race without much training. Earlier in the spring, I’d had dreams of shaving a half an hour off of previous Imogene times. Now I’d be lucky to beat that elusive 4-hour mark.

I bent down to tighten my shoes for the descent and wished for a moment I could just lie there and look up at the early morning clouds. Home life was exhausting.  Siri, my 5-year old, had decided that throwing a tantrum was a good reaction to anything I requested of her, whether it was putting on her shoes or going to the bathroom. Quincy, the 2-year old, had decided that sleeping through the night was not for her. Andy was pulling long hours at the Telluride Mountain School, getting things ready for students to arrive, and to elevate our spirits the night before, we’d decided to split a bottle of Chianti. None of which was helping me on this run.

Still, animal instincts have a way of cutting to the core when something’s wrong, even if in this case, my layers of self-absorption coiled around me like a boa constrictor. Something was with me. I looked behind me. My initial thought was bear. There had been several sightings recently, and for the past few nights, we’d heard bears toppling trashcans in the alley. I started thinking about how I could make myself look large. Should I take off my camelback perhaps and swing it around? This sounded ridiculous but according to some bear article I’d stumbled upon, this was exactly what I was supposed to do. I looked behind me. There was nothing.

I looked forward again, and this time I saw him, a deer, his black nose a perfect match for aspen tree knots. His antlers were still covered with a brown velvet, looking all the more like the branches by which he stood. Nothing in his body moved. Not even his breath was perceptible. Had we not been where we were, I could have mistaken him for a statue. We looked at each other for what felt like was minutes but was really only a second, and then I turned.

I wished for a moment that I could tell him—look you have nothing to fear—don’t waste any energy on me. I’m just a mom, sometimes writer, sometimes teacher, and less often traveler, out for a morning jog. But trying to talk to deer is reserved for either those more tapped into the natural world than I am or for those who’ve lost any scrap of sanity, and I’m hoping that I’ve got a grip on the latter. Besides, my iPod had just died, leaving me with more important things to work out like: how was I going to finish this run without music?

My initial reaction was one of frustration—how could I have forgotten to charge this thing? That question was soon followed by one far more practical: when do I ever charge this thing? It’s about time it died.

I yanked the plugs out of my ears and picked up the pace. I decided to enjoy what I was doing instead of beating myself up. I was just a mom/writer/ teacher. But at that moment, I was also a runner. Seeing the world at its best. At 6:30 on a Wednesday morning as the full moon sank and the sun rose and the deer came out to nibble some grass and check out the world. Who the hell but me cared how fast I was moving?

Thanks Melissa Plantz for these beautiful fall shots and for the background shot on the home page.