Fourth of July 2020 Backpacking Trip – Engineer Mountain

Fourth of July 2020 Backpacking Trip – Engineer Mountain

As the fourth of July approached, we weren’t feeling very enthusiastic. All the fireworks shows were cancelled and honestly, we weren’t feeling terribly patriotic and didn’t have much of a desire to be around people who were. We decided it would be best for us to get away from everyone and enjoy some of our nation’s natural beauty.

Before we got out of town though, we had a bunch of things to do. The mint at the school garden was out of control so we picked a bunch and decided to try our hand at homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream. I think I went overboard on the mint (thinking more was better) and it kind of tasted like you were brushing your teeth with ice cream. I also had a work meeting about reopening. The gym was going to be a very different place. Every other cardio machine (treadmills, bikes, etc) was closed for social distancing. Anything that promoted socialization (couches, benches, etc) had been removed. Time slots to use the equipment needed to be reserved in advance and only 20 people would be allowed to workout at once. In between sessions, everything would be cleaned and sprayed down with disinfectant. The highlight for me, was my boss letting me take home some older dumbbells. Dumbbells are still in scarce supply and I’d never bothered to build up much of a home gym since I worked at one.

The next day, we packed the car for what seemed like hours. We’d been packing for days, but it was still so much work to get out the door. We saw a random hamburger restaurant with an outdoor pickup window around 5 o’clock and impulsively stopped for dinner. It was a good choice as there wasn’t much in between that stop and our final destination. We were starting to get a little testy with one another so it’s good we stopped to refuel. After that stop, we continued on to our final destination for the day: a hotel in Durango.

In the morning, I taught my HIIT class with the prettiest background since we started virtual classes. One of the things I feel we haven’t been able to take much advantage of during this virtual period is the ability to work from anywhere. (The dangers of traveling have kind of put a damper on that.) After showering, we grabbed some breakfast and headed to our trailhead.

There are a lot of places to hike in the San Juan mountains. We’ve only explored them a bit, but everything we’ve seen is absolutely gorgeous. For this trip, we looked up popular hikes/trips in the area and immediately ruled those places out as options. Then we looked up forest service maps and made some calls to the Forest Service before deciding on this loop. It was an 18 mile loop around Engineer Mountain that we would split into three days. We did the majority of our climbing on day one. We climbed almost 3,000 feet during those first 6 miles. There was a lot of crying/whining about general discomfort, but we did it.

We camped in one of the most beautiful camping spots ever. 360 degree mountain views, wildflower fields, a rainbow, and a gorgeous sunset. Everyone quickly forgot how hard it was to get there. The kids roamed and played. Noel and I chatted about current events and how the contention in our nation is frustrating, concerning, and hard to not jump into. It felt so good to be removed from everything and be reminded of bigger forces. Sometimes, I feel like God speaks louder in nature. Or maybe, he’s just easier to hear.

There was an equally beautiful sunrise in the morning. That day was July 4th and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast watching people try to summit engineer mountain. It looked a bit treacherous, so we just enjoyed watching – silently encouraging the ones who attempted it and understanding those that turned around. Eventually, we packed up camp and hit the trail.

The first half of day two, morale was really good. We saw beautiful scenery and the terrain wasn’t too difficult. We may have given each of the kids a caffeinated gummy which may or may not have contributed to the energy level.

We stopped for lunch at a small waterfall. While we were there some ragged looking cyclists asked for directions. I guess they got caught in a hailstorm and were not having a great time.

We continued along the trail. We stopped to look at another waterfall as clouds gathered overhead. As we continued hiking it began to rain. Just as it began to pour, we came upon a very established campground for the back country. Noel had read that there was a “very nice” campsite on this stretch, but didn’t realize it would come with a picnic table and horseshoe pit. We made for the trees and huddled together. When the rain didn’t seem to be letting up, we fished the kindle out of the backpack and read some Harry Potter (we’d recently started the book). That significantly helped morale.

The rain let up 30 or 40 minutes later and we set about drying out and setting up camp.

After dinner, we broke out the glowsticks we’d brought for the kids. They put on a light show for us. Then when we were all too cold, we played cards in the tent. After the kids went to bed, Noel and I stared at the stars for awhile and talked about this beautiful land we are blessed to live in and what hopes we have for our country. The moon was full so it was really bright.

Waiting for my watch to talk to the satellites.

The next day, was our final day. The morning went by fairly quickly and we made it to another fantastic waterfall by mid morning.

We took a break to check out the waterfall and then headed on. We’d told the kids today would be mostly downhill, so every time there was an uphill everyone was disappointed. Even the adults (whose tired legs were carrying heavier packs) were disappointed. When we started to see day hikers with kids, we got excited assuming we were close. And we were close, kind of. There was another trail access that was closer than the trailhead we’d started at. When we reached that, it took some coaxing to get everyone going again, but we knew we didn’t have much longer.

Just as we could see our car, it began to rain. We ran towards the car as it began to downpour. We threw all the gear inside the car and clambered in ourselves. Everyone was pretty proud of what we’d accomplished and also tired.

We stayed at a Rustic Airbnb that night. It had goats, which the kids really liked. Ellen even named all of them. The cabin had a tiny kitchen sink and sparse kitchen utensils, which I wasn’t fond of. We’d planned to have hamburgers and steak fries thinking it would be really easy, but the cabin didn’t have an knife, any cookie sheets or pans and only small skillets. Instead of being easy, it was like Cutthroat Kitchen and took a really long time.

Thankfully, they’d upgraded the plumbing from this – ha, ha.

When we’d booked the Airbnb I’d had all these grand dreams of getting away to peaceful mountains where we could still accomplish a few unavoidable work tasks. The cabin had wifi, but it was pretty spotty. I had a virtual class to teach Monday morning and was really worried the wifi wouldn’t work for it. Just in case, I typed the workout up and screen shared it the entire time in case I froze. It’s probably a good thing because what was happening on our end was a total disaster. In addition to occasionally freezing, someone started shooting round after round in the distance halfway through and all the goats started bleating. Then at some point, a bird flew into the 2nd story window and plummeted to its death on the porch where we were working out. Luckily, the people that come to that class are my regulars so they weren’t like, “What is this unprofessional circus?”

Noel had a meeting later that day and the internet was even worse. We can be totally fine without having wifi or cellphone reception, sometimes it’s even a perk, but we’d specifically chosen this place because it had wifi (I’d even asked if the wifi could handle video calls) so we could do these two things so it was a little annoying that it didn’t work. Basically, my dreams of taking our virtual jobs anywhere was a fail.

After a morning of fighting with the internet, and kind of sort of fulfilling our work responsibilities, we decided to go on an adventure. We went to check out Chimney Rock National Monument. We saw some cool ancestral Puebloan ruins. It was really hot, but we were very diligent about our mask wearing when around others. Others were hit and miss. Most of the park rangers and volunteers wore masks, except for one who wore his around his wrist (very effective). A person who we think may have been his wife sat on a nearby bench watching movies of Trump rallies on her phone. He was very friendly though and did stay 6 feet away which was appreciated.

We got lunch at Sonic and then bought a few groceries in town (including a throwaway pan). One of the things that is fascinating about COVID is seeing how different towns are reacting. In Durango, there was a mask ordinance and minus a few exceptions, pretty much everyone was wearing masks. In Pagosa Springs, it was a coin flip whether people would be wearing masks. Part of me wanted to take a poll and ask people if they were visitors or residences to get a clearer picture, but I refrained. The rest of the afternoon we lounged. It was quite hot and the cabin only had ceiling fans. Cooper tried relentlessly to get the Roku to stream something, but it would just spin and never load anything. I think we were all a little tired of vacationing and wanted to be home.

The next day, we said goodbye to the goats and hit the road. We made one stop where we had a tailgate picnic along the side of the road, but mostly just drove and drove. At home, we picked up pizza for dinner from a great local restaurant that does take and bake. The kids watched TV on our Roku and we were all so appreciative for good internet.

I’m really glad we were able to get away and enjoy some of America the Beautiful’s purple mountain majesty. We worked hard, saw beautiful things, bonded as a family, and learned its best to single task work and play.

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