About Rayn Case

Searching for a mindful, self directed life, good health, and happiness.

Summer job: done!

Where: On a repositioning cruise to Ohio!

Our last week of work went by so fast, between lots of cabin checkouts to keep us hopping at our job, and getting through our pre-flight checklist. I watched the weather perhaps a bit obsessively, monitoring a large front that had the potential to dump tons of snow on the passes we needed to cross. We found a small window between our last day of work and the start of some real dumping later that same evening. So, after lots of hugs and goodbyes, we headed out for Monarch Pass as soon as we finished on Sunday. The pass was clear and dry, and the precipitation didn’t start until we were safely on the other side, and camped in the Walmart in Salida, CO.

I’m not usually a Walmart overnighter, but we had a specific destination in mind for the next morning: the private hot tubs at the Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center. Just $18 gets entrance for an hour in one of the tubs, plus access to lovely hot showers–heaven after the weeks of cold and rain we’ve been in.

Our next stop was a few nights just outside Colorado Springs, at Mueller State Park. After working the last couple summers near 10,000 feet, I should know how fickle early October can be in high places, but I booked anyways, with the hopes of decent temperatures. Instead, we got a high of 33, fog and snow! Our site had a direct sightline to Pikes Peak, but we couldn’t see it until sunset, when the clouds suddenly lifted.

For a respite from the snow, we headed down to the comparatively low Colorado Springs, and visited a truly unique city park, Garden of the Gods.  It’s like a little slice of southern Utah, right on the Front Range.

This was the not-for-RVs-route through the park:

Balancing Rock:

Dramatic fins:

Compare and contrast the picture of the site we on a sign at the visitor center with what we actually saw.  Hey, who moved the mountains?

The next morning, we wanted to get an early start, but the weather had another idea.  There was an inch of new snow, and the mountainous park roads were an ice skating rink, so we turned on the furnace and just enjoyed the views. A couple hours later, things had melted out, but we had a real show in the meantime.

Up next: we tackle I-70 through the midwest and hopefully make it back to Ohio!

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Mountain Harvest Festival

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

There’s a lot we love about living in the mountains, like hiking, and grand scenery, and opportunities for solitude.  But, at the same time, we also miss some of the facets of life in a big city.  In particular, we used to love to go to a huge non-profit festival of music and art, held every June in Columbus, Ohio–Comfest.  When I heard about the Mountain Harvest Festival in Paonia, CO, it sounded very similar.  I put the dates in my calendar, but I was sure there was no way we were going because we always work weekends.  But then, the fates of cabin bookings around here changed completely, and we had this past Saturday free!

For a town of only about 1,400 people, Paonia is awfully cool.  It’s a “Certified Colorado Creative District”, home to many artisans.  It’s filled with orchards and vineyards and the largest concentration of organic farms in the state. (Supposedly, it’s the birthplace of the farm-to-table movement.) Unlike many small towns, it feels busy and vibrant, and has a real sense of community.  We passed through once a couple months ago, and I knew I wanted to get back to this quirky, adorable little town.

The festival was great.  We browsed the artist booths, bought some local Honeycrisp apples, and listened to a country/yodeling music set while we enjoyed the best people watching we’ve had all summer.  (Colorado fashion tip: skirts, boots, and space buns–you know–like hair parted into two ponytails which are tucked into buns.)

We traveled back and forth over dirt Kebler Pass Road, which is known for huge overlooks of aspens.  It was an excessively dry year, so many areas were more brown than yellow, but we still caught some stellar views.

Marcellina Mountain:

Views around Lost Lake Campground, which looks so much like the Sierra that it made me feel homesick!

We have only 4 more days of work to go, and then we start heading east.  We’ll spend a couple weeks in Ohio, before we start at Amazon in Indianapolis for the holidays.  In the meantime, the weather here took a giant nosedive, changing from lovely days in the 70s to a giant snowstorm that’s supposed to last a couple days.  We’re scheduled to leave right in the middle of it–here’s hoping we can get over those mountain passes!

Washing, waxing, and wowing photo essay

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

Every 6 months, it’s time for the two day fun-filled extravaganza of washing and waxing the RV.  I suppose it beats chores like raking leaves or cutting grass, which we had to do over and over when we rented a house, but it’s still in my top ten most hated tasks.  Since the weather has finally cleared up, it was time to get the job done before it gets too cold.  The good news is that we get faster every time, and the whole project only took one afternoon and evening and the next morning.

The smiles belie the bickering:

My supervisor:

When the side of the RV acts like a mirror, you know you did it right.

Soupy mainly helped by licking the water puddles after we washed.

Even though we’re busy getting ready for our cross-country journey to our holiday job, I wanted to be sure to see some of the world famous aspens on Kebler Pass.  We were still a bit early to see peak color, but our hike on Horse Ranch Park Loop had some gorgeous bright patches.

One of the strangest things I’ve seen on a hike: a small herd of loose horses, clearly owned since they were wearing halters, just munching away at the start of the trail. Where did they come from?

Marcellina Mountain is one of my favorites around here.  When this sea of trees is all golden, this is an awe-inspiring viewpoint:

Hope you have a bright, sunshiny day!

The real end of summer

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

We may have had the all-employee end of the season party a month ago, but it’s only recently that it’s really starting to feel like fall around here.  Last week, I walked out of our RV and saw a very strange sight: all the cabins in our row were empty.  The weekends are still hopping, but on weekdays, the 3 workamping couples have this part of the resort all to ourselves.

Plus, at 8,000 feet, the trees are already starting to change, and everything is taking on a golden glow.

The owners of the resort are generous folks, and always take the Workampers and managers out for a dinner near the end of the season.  We ate at in Crested Butte, at Secret Stash Pizza.  Should you find yourself there, we recommend the New Potato Caboose, with french fries, sour cream and bacon on top–like a loaded baked potato!

JJ with the other workampers,: Andrea, Rob, Jerry and Carol:

The owner of the resort, Mark, is standing in pink. The folks across from us, Dennis and Judy, were retiring from the resort after working here for 14 summers!

My classy babe:

And then, because we know how to roll, we suggested we move the party to the local homemade ice cream joint:

This is probably the only time this group has been out after dark all summer!

And since we’ve been talking about it all summer, we finally got together with our neighbors, Jerry and Carol, for dinner and game night.  We made Carnitas bowls and Carol made the margaritas.

After we were all good and soused, we taught them the best game ever, Monopoly Deal.

The piece de resistance was Carol’s delicious ice cream pie, with a layer of homemade chocolate pudding and gluten free cookies smooshed up as the crust.  We had so much fun that we’re going to have an ice cream sundae party with them next!

We also finally got around to getting some repairs done on the RV, in anticipation of our big cross country trip to Ohio.  While our home was getting the works (new shocks and a tune up) we took Soupy for a day at Hartman Rocks, just south of town.  The wide open spaces are quiet and practically devoid of people, save a few hikers and bikers.  I went for a nice long walk, Soupy frolicked in the rocks, and we all sunbathed and lounged in the shade of some willows next to a small pond.  I’m so glad we have such a cool little adventure cat, who was perfectly happy to just chill outside all day.

Scenes from Hartman Rocks:

The season is so short at this point that I’ve moved to counting down our remaining time as days, rather than weeks.  Only 13 more workdays to go!

When life gives you lemons (far away drug test), make lemonade (road trip!)

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

First, lest you think we’re some kind of degenerates, let me explain the title of this post. See, after a couple years away from it, we decided to work for Amazon.com again for the holidays. We spent the last couple holiday seasons in Tucson, paying for a regular RV park and working non-RVing jobs, and we just never made much money at it. So, we will do another round as elves, this time in Indianapolis, IN. The application process for Amazon is super easy, especially as a returner, until you get to the drug test part.

The problem is that we’re always working summer jobs in the middle of nowhere, and Amazon only uses Quest Diagnostics, which are generally found in bigger cities. The first time we needed to get our pre-employment drug test, we were on our way up the Eastern Sierra. We dutifully reported the ZIP code where we’d be for a few days, and we received the email telling us our location: Fresno, CA, which is only about 40 miles away as the crow flies. However, because there’s no roads though the majority of the Sierra, we had two choices–225 slow miles through Yosemite, or 336 freeway miles around the southern part of the mountain chain. We made a hell of a day of it, driving it as a loop, eating sushi and mochi, and seeing Yosemite Valley, but it was way too much driving for one day. (The real groaner was when I learned later than we could have informed Amazon about the geographic conundrum, and they would have chosen another location that was technically further away, but on our way to the job location.)

So, armed with that info, when we got the email asking for our location, I did some googling.  I picked the Quest location in a direction that could be part of a nice day trip, rather than the one in a yucky town with nothing to see all around it, and specifically stated where we wanted to go. And that’s how a chore turned into a lovely drive on highway 550–the Million Dollar Highway!

Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton is a stunner.  The road is cut into the side of mountains, so one side of you is a sheer cliff and the other is a steep drop.  There’s no guard rails, and the road is nothing but twists and turns.  We each drove one direction, so that the driver could keep their eyes firmly on the road.

After our drug test in Montrose, the next stop was lunch in Ridgway.  It’s a teeny tiny town, but known as a real foodie destination, with tons of locally owned restaurants.  Our choice was the fancy taco place, Gnar. We had pork belly, korean short ribs, and homemade chorizo tacos that were (as my sister always says) THE BOMB!

The homemade ice cream at Cafe Ridgway was excellent, too, and only the second place I’ve ever found avocado ice cream.

Ouray is called the “Switzerland of America” and is ringed by mountains.  It’s know for a huge hot springs complex where you can soak year round–how gorgeous would this be dusted in snow, as you blob around in a hot tub?

Heading south from Ouray, the road got really serious, with lanes tight and twisty as we neared Red Mountain Pass, elevation 11,018.  Note the traffic sign in the next picture.  They weren’t kidding around.

We eventually made it to Silverton, where every tourist in Colorado had convened for the day.  So, rather than join the hordes, we just turned around to enjoy everything in reverse.

I liked this section so much more when we were on the inside lane, and away from that infernal chasm:

On our way home, we stopped to look out over cerulean Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Til next week!

Colorful Colorado

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

All around the Colorado border, the highways sport iconic signs that say “Welcome to Colorful Colorado”.  I can personally attest that after about one million miles of Interstate 70 through Kansas, those signs were such a wonderful promise of things to come, in stark contrast to the flat prairie.  (One fellow likes these signs so much that he’s traveled to all 42 of them just to take a picture!)

One of the areas most deserving of the description of “colorful” are the Elk Mountains, and in particular, the subset inside them–the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness. Unlike many of the other mountains in Colorado that are made of granite or limestone, this area has behemoths made of mudstone–sedimentary clays and mud that hardened into rock to give the Bells their bright reddish color.  We can get to these trailheads by heading north, through Crested Butte, and taking dirt roads up to the base of the mountains.  These trails were packed all summer, but are finally quiet now that school is back in session.

First stop up Gothic Road was the Visitor Center at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.  The lab was founded on the ruins of a former mining town (Gothic) in 1928 to study topics like ecology, climate change, and (my fave) the yellow bellied marmot.  Fun fact, which I saw in the visitor center, but can’t corroborate online: the town of Gothic was founded by two dudes from Ohio!

Our hiking destination was Rustlers Gulch Trail, which starts in one of two places.  One option is to park on Gothic Road and then dance across a logjam over the East River.  The other option cuts off about 2 miles round trip, but requires driving through that river, just after you pass a foreboding sign warning that 5 vehicles have met their maker at that spot this year.  Yeah, we did the logjam cha-cha, while our little Subaru stayed high and dry on the road!

Initial views were disappointing, because of all the fires burning throughout the West and making a thick haze:

As we neared the Wilderness boundary, thing began to look a lot more clear, and we could see the distinctive pinks of the range.

The only wildflowers we saw in the first mile were different versions of little sunflowers, but then we saw a clump of something we hadn’t seen all summer: Rainier Pleated Gentian:

We turned a bend and got a clear view of those Colorful Colorado promises.  The smoke seemed to be all behind us, and the sun was too, to make the colors really pop:

Our friends, Carol and Jerry, did this hike at the peak of the flower bloom a couple months ago, and they warned us that there were tons of water crossings.  We may have missed out on the carpet of flowers, but we didn’t have to take our shoes off once.  It’s been a dry, hot summer, and the creeks were all really low.

This trail was also an absolute madhouse of humanity when tour friends went, but we only saw a couple other groups.

On our way back down, the wind had picked up and really cleared things out.  Pink, green and blue–it doesn’t get any better than this!

Feuds, festivities, and a hike in a fortress

Where: working our summer job at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

I’d like to paraphrase the famous Princess Bride quote “Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line” and officially state ” Never go in against Rayn when ICE CREAM is on the line”.  I thought we had settled this debate early in the season, when I beat out Alysha and Callie in an ice cream eating contest, but my co-workers Alyssa and Maddie insisted on taking me on, even knowing the backstory.

The final verdict: I was the victor of the ladies, but JJ trounced us all, by eating almost the whole half gallon.  Still, I was awfully proud of my showing, even if it meant that I had a touch of a tummy ache for the next couple days!

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Although we still have close to 2 months to go before our contract is up, mid-August is the end of the summer season for most of the crew at Three Rivers. Last week, the store and restaurant closed down for the evening, and the owners threw a huge party for the 2018 staff.  We were treated to a huge Mexican buffet, complete with margaritas and beer.  Next was the traditional awards ceremony, where honors–both serious and silly–are handed out.  Every department gave accolades to their own.  The most touching was a tribute to a workamping couple who have been here for 14 summers, and are retiring to travel full time.  The funniest was the rafting guide who won the honor of most people who fell out of his boat this summer.  We won “Cutest Couple”, and were gifted a crown and tiara.

Housekeeping crew at the party.  Jamie, the head of the department, is between me and JJ, and Allie, the assistant manager, is in the Colorado tshirt behind me:

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For a close-to-home outing, we went to the West Elk Wilderness, just outside of Almont.  It’s a very lightly visited area, with no 14ers, and not very many access points.  The volcanic breccia of the canyon walls stands like a fortress above you, and many of the trail and place names reflect this: Castle Pass, Castle View, Castle Creek.  We hiked just a short portion of the 25 mile long Mill-Castle Trail, but we felt like we were about a million miles away from civilization.  In the several hours we were out, we didn’t see a single other person.  A co-worker told me that their friend was on the same trail earlier in the same week, and hightailed it out of there when she spotted a mountain lion.  Thankfully, we just enjoyed lovely views and solitude!

There were a few cabins on the edge of the Wilderness boundary.  How would you like to live here?!

Using his keen eyes that can detect 4 leaf clovers, JJ spotted raspberry bushes with the tiniest berries on them–no bigger than your pinkie nail:

Between a cloudy day and smoke from the fires west of us, the views weren’t so clear.

In contrast to the berries, we saw the biggest rosehips we’ve ever seen–bigger than your thumb!  These will be good eating in a month or so.

The first part of the trail was through dense forest.  When we popped out, the view into the canyon reminded me a bit of the classic Yosemite Valley shot:

Most of the wildflowers were done for the season, but there were still meadows full of fireweed:

The sun tried, for about 5 minutes:

Loads of aspen, some of the biggest I’ve ever seen:

Not saying that summer is over, but this does seem to be an early harbinger:

Til next week!