I picked up the wooden block.  No key.  I looked all around the floor, thinking perhaps it had slid off.  The floor was covered with dead bugs and spider webs, but there was no key.  Now what?

I had been so excited for this trip.  Nestled in a valley among soaring 13,000-foot peaks, I thought of Ouray as a mini-Switzerland.  The one thing I regretted about moving to the Front Range eight years ago was not being able to visit Ouray as often.  The 7-hour drive from Nederland made it impossible for a weekend trip.

When my friend offered her condo to us, we finagled an extra day off to make the trip.  We had visions of climbing Mt. Sneffels on a cloudless day in September and enjoying the hot springs after.  It would be great.

A Small World Moment

We took our time getting there, enjoying the fall colors along I-70 and stopping for wine tasting in Palisade, our home from 10 years ago.  Pulling into the parking lot of Grande River Vineyards, it seemed crowded.  What were all these people doing here?

We had a small world moment while talking with our server.

“So where are you from?” she queried.

“We live in the foothills on the Front Range.”

“I used to live in a small town in the foothills too.”

“Which town?”


“That’s where we’re from!  Which road did you live off of.”

“Ridge Road, and before that Cougar Run.”

“We live on Cougar Run!  Which house?”

“877 Cougar Run.”

“That’s Susan’s old house.  We live two houses down from that.  That’s amazing!”

Then the couple standing next to us chimed in.

“We live in Boulder and have been to Ned several times.  Are you here for the festival?”

“What festival?  We’re just driving through on our way to Ouray.”

“The Wine Festival is this weekend. “

That explained the crowd of people.  They had come to imbibe in wine, and sample great food on this perfect fall weekend.

“That’s so funny, because we used to live here, and all that time we never went to the wine festival.  Sounds like fun, though.”

We bought three bottles of wine, and were on our way.   A bit later, we stopped to take a walk with the dogs along the Colorado River.  Our 8-month old puppy, Logan, loves the water.  Before we could even grab a stick – SPLASH!  He sailed through the air, doing a giant doggy belly flop and started paddling around in circles.

The Stinker Store

Grabbing a bite to eat at the local pizza joint, we hit the road again, driving Highway 50 further south to the San Juan Mountains.  As the sun sank below the horizon, we stopped to gas up one more time at the Stinker Store.  No joke – the Mini-Mart and gas station had a big sign with skunk blinking in neon lights – STINKER.  The cheerfully greeted us.

“That’s an interesting name for a gas station.”

“We’re based in Idaho.  Would you like some stickers?”

He handed me a strip of stickers with grinning black and white skunks.  My favorite, though, was the one I paid 50 cents for.  “Stinker – I’m proud of my gas” had the same grinning skunk with red sunglasses and red boxing gloves.  Who comes up with these things?  Only in Colorado – land of Stinker gas and Kum and Go.

As we neared Ouray, I carefully read instructions off my iPhone, and Bryon drove down a dirt road along a creek.

“That’s it – pull in the driveway.”

The condo looked nice and I anticipated enjoying a nice sleep before our climb up the big peak tomorrow.  I entered the code on the keypad outside the garage.  Whirr – the door rose steadily to reveal a garage that looked more like a storage unit.  An old end table, a pair of skis, and at the back, as promised, the water heater with the wooden block on top.

No key.  We tried texting, calling, emailing and waited.  Nothing.  We searched under the door mat, looked around the garage some more, but no key.

Now what?

No Room at the Inn

We had two dogs with us, so if we were going to stay at a motel, we needed a pet-friendly one.  I turned to my smart phone, searching “BringFido” for a pet-friendly motel around Ouray, Montrose, and even Grand Junction.  It was slim pickings.  Finding a couple of options, I called to check if they had anything available.

“I know it’s late notice, but do you have any rooms available for two people and two dogs.”

“We’re entirely booked for the Air Show.”

“We’re full because of the Wine Festival.”

“We do have a room available for your dogs.”

Finally – success!

“It’s a smoking room and it costs $180.”

Yuck!  I didn’t even know any motels still allow smoking.  Gross.

“That’s ok, we’ll pass.”

Bryon and I sat in the mini-mart in Ridgeway, pondering what to do.

“Even if we find something, we’d have to leave the dogs in the car for the day, while hiking Sneffels.  It’s supposed to be really hot tomorrow.  We’d have to leave the windows way down, and we’d have our computers and our stuff in the car.”

Thank God for Red Bull

After mulling things over, we decided.  We would drive back to Nederland.  At this point, just the thought of our soft, comfortable bed seemed so appealing.

But the biggest issue – we’d be driving in the wee hours of the night, with an expected arrival back home at 5 a.m.  I hadn’t stayed up until 5 a.m. since I crammed in college.  At 11 p.m., my eyelids were already drooping.

“I’ll drive as long as I feel awake.  But I don’t think I can drive the whole way.  You should try to sleep now so you can take the final shift.”

I worried so much about Bryon falling asleep, or hitting a deer, that I couldn’t let myself doze.  The swaying of the car along the winding ribbon of black didn’t help either.  I didn’t see how we would possibly make it back to Nederland.

Finally, we made it to Glenwood Springs and to I-70.  Stopping at a gas station off the highway, we looked for coffee.  Then I spied something even better.  Red Bull.

“Have you ever had a Red Bull?” I asked of Bryon.

“No, have you?”

“Once, it tastes like a melted lollipop – super sweet and syrupy.  But it definitely wakes you up.”

We grabbed two and checked out.  I took a big chug from the blue and silver can.

“Look, it says it gives you wings!”

Suddenly I felt alert and hyper-focused.

“I’ll drive.”

Bryon handed over the keys and I jumped in.  I felt really focused – noticing the few truckers that rambled by the other way.  So few cars were on the road, I could use my high-beams most of the time.  Before I knew it, we were approaching the Central City exit.  I heaved a sigh of relief – we would make it home in one piece.

I glanced at my phone as we rolled into the drive way – 4:50 a.m.  Round trip to Ouray and back had meant 17 hours being on the road with a few breaks along the way.

What an adventure.