RMC: Rocky Mountain ChristmasbyBenLong©
"... and in the Colorado Plateau we are expecting a slight warming trend with lows only down to ten below and the highs will actually be above zero for the next few days. That's a major warm up from just three days ago, where several places had record low temperatures. Moab, Utah yesterday checked in at thirty five below zero, and with a late report from the previous day -- Creede, Colorado was minus 36, the coldest temperature in the contiguous US in the last three years! A weak northern low is bringing the warm up, pushing the extreme cold east into the plains states and with the warm up will be a few snow showers but we're not expecting any significant accumulations.
Further west a trough of subtropical moisture is moving across Southern California and heading into Arizona. While San Francisco will have an unusually cold but sunny weekend, the Southern California coastal areas will receive up to two inches of rain in the next 24 hours, while the coastal mountains could receive three to six inches. Flash flood warnings have been issued for the burn areas and canyons below the areas that burned in the October fire storms. In the higher mountains a winter storm watch is in effect; Big Bear could get from 18 up to 36 inches of new snow. By tomorrow even Phoenix could get up to three quarters of an inch of rain, but it should remain well to the south and there will be only a dusting of snow in the Northern Arizona ..." I reached over and turned the radio and the Sirius weather report off. I'd heard the same report three consecutive times.
Ahead the double ribbon of Interstate 70 dropped over the crest of the hill, disappearing between the parallel grooved cliff faces where 40 years ago blasters had planted their dynamite so I could have a smooth trip today. I tapped the brake shutting off the cruise control, the Suburban gradually slowing, as I headed for the off ramp to the scenic overlook
The reds and browns of the Utah sandstone were highlighted by pockets of the December snow that had arrived overnight. One rounded boulder sat on top of another, the pocket between them, under the top boulder, trapping just enough of the snow flurries that it looked like a goblin with an evil white grin. We were stopping atop the very lip of the sandstone badlands known as The Waterpocket Fold, a twisted, warped landscape tortured by nature to provide some of the most scenic land in America. The lowering gray clouds were dropping even more flakes from their bottoms, and had been for the last several hours. I eased into the parking lot, not because I was tired of driving -- I never seem to tire of driving -- but because I needed to stretch.
Tendrils of snow drifted across the parking lot as I pulled in, a few ghosts of wind moving the barely accumulated snow and telling me it wasn't completely calm. Despite my gradual slowing and easing off the freeway, the cessation of movement as I stopped in the otherwise vacant lot awakened Bug who'd been curled up in a ball facing the door, asleep in the bucket seat next to me. She'd been a trooper, staying awake during the pre-dawn hours, but she'd fallen asleep shortly after we'd entered Utah, where we'd encountered our first snow flurries. There had been a full blown snowstorm for maybe half an hour going over the mountains near Cedar Breaks National Monument, but the road department had been keeping ahead of the accumulation and I'd had no problem.
Looking over the edge of the cliff, the lowlands ahead faded rapidly into obscurity. The usually unlimited visibility today wasn't so great, the gently falling snow obstructing the view and turning the normally breathtaking landscape into dull grey with streaks of snow white, and only splashes of red-brown ochre intermixed.
"Where are we?" Bug mumbled, stretching. I glanced over at her again as she reached behind and hitched her sweatpants up from where they'd ridden down exposing her thong and part of her bottom to me. I'd had virtually unrestricted observation of the top of that beautiful bottom for the last couple of hours. She'd shifted and adjusted her pants a few times, but within a few minutes part of her bum had again been exposed.
Bug was just her nickname. She'd been Bug as long as I could remember; actually I'd had a good part of creating her nickname. Back when she was just a toddler, she'd always come to me when I was visiting, crawl up in my lap and curl into a ball. Often she'd stay there till she fell asleep, and I'd put her in her bed. I called her "my Snugglebug." Later, when she was older, and I came around I'd just call out "Where's my Snugglebug?" and she'd come running -- usually with a squeal of delight, tackling my legs; a bowling ball of little girl attacking me, her favorite adult play toy.
She was a floor kid; she never sat in a chair when there was a perfectly good floor available, and so she became "Rug Bug."
I remember times, when she was really small, and I was over visiting she'd come running out after a bath with a big towel wrapped around herself. I'd take the towel and wrap her so her legs and arms were pinned and then tell her she was "Snug as a Bug in a Rug." Other times I'd paddle that cute little bottom, calling it a "Bug Bottom." I'd tell her I was the exterminator and I was there to take care of any bugs I could find. She'd squeal, and run away -- but if I didn't chase her, she'd soon come back -- wiggling her cute little Bug Bottom until I reached out and swatted it, which got an even bigger squeal of delight.
Eventually it got to where I just called her "Bug," and somehow everyone else did also. Officially her name was Kristen, Kris to her college friends, but to all her close family and friends she'd always be Bug.
She also just happened to be my niece.
As a kid, Bug had been all arms and legs; a skinny, gawky kid who'd been just as happy dressing up as a princess with her girl friends indoors as chasing the soccer ball with her cousins outdoors. The tomboy won more often than the girly-girl, and she'd spent years on soccer teams. The long skinny legs had taken on well defined, athletic, muscular curves, the Bug bottom had rounded out slightly below her slender waist while a pair of medium sized breasts had grown to complete the natural augmentation, changing her little girl's body into the slim, beautiful young woman beside me now.
Bug seldom wore much make-up and was one of those girls that didn't need to. Her mom had been all girly-girl when she grew up, and had taught Bug early how to dress and use make-up to accent what she naturally had rather than cover up what she didn't. Her blond hair was naturally lightened from years in the sun from its natural color which she'd gotten from her mom, except that Bug's had more red and brown to it; her green eyes she'd gotten from her dad.
I'd looked over multiple times over the last few hours, admiring the perfect curve of her bottom accidentally exposed to my eyes, before it suddenly dawned on me that her bottom was tanned. It occurred to me only when her thong had been twisted out of position to show me where her flesh was white, accentuating that her bottom had -- at least occasionally -- been bare in the sun. I'd never seen her wearing a thong bikini, but had no problem imagining that she would. She was, by even an uncle's biased view -- a real hottie.
Bug had been my favorite of all the kids, almost from the beginning. Not having any daughters of my own, she'd taken their place. And I knew I was her favorite also; my wife Debs being a very close second, at least until her death. Whenever I'd show up at the house, my sister would call out "Bug -- Uncle Jimmy's here" and she'd come running. Whether it was naked and dripping water from the bath or covered with finger paint from head to toe, she'd always come running. I'd grab her, give her a big bear hug which she'd return, and then gently paddle her bottom several times as I set her down. I'd pretend that my hand had "stuck" with that last paddle and as she ran away I'd run behind her with my hand "stuck" to her bottom. I'd tell her she must have a magnetic bottom because my hand always stuck. She'd squeal and laugh, returning for more if I didn't follow her. Sometimes later on, when I didn't seem to be paying enough attention to her, she'd mention offhandedly that she was pretty sure her bottom wasn't magnetic anymore. I'd grab my right wrist with my left, pretending to hold my right hand back, and then take off after her until my hand "stuck" to her bottom again.
Then one day she'd grown up a little more, and that cute little bottom of a six year old was still just as cute, but I knew the child's play wasn't appropriate anymore. I guess it just sort of ended by mutual agreement; she didn't offer her bottom to be spanked and I sort of realized we'd both grown out of it. But even until she was an early teen, she'd come and curl up in my lap. I had a favorite spot on the couch, she'd come curl up in my arms, melting against me. And then one day, she was just too big, too lanky, too gawky, and that too came to an end.
"Just stopping to stretch my legs." I answered.
"Want me to drive?"
"You can if you want -- but I'm good. Just need to stretch." I opened the door, the bitter cold instantly expelling the warmth of the car. I grabbed my jacket, before shutting the door. I walked across the parking lot -- and by the time I got there it was time to go back. The trouble with driving in heated cars is that when you get out of the heated car, it's damn cold.
A quick walk-around inspection of the Suburban and the skis mounted to the roof rack showed everything was good to go. Sliding back into the driver's seat, Bug was now sitting upright, still on the passenger side, her jacket across her lap. I pulled my jacket off once again, putting it within reach in the back seat. Nothing worse than getting too warm while driving in the winter.
"Man is it cold out there," Bug shivered, pulling her jacket a little higher in her lap. I reached over and turned the heater fan back on, instantly feeling the heat spreading through the cab once again. I didn't like to have it set too high -- too easy to get sleepy. I'd usually drive in the winter with the window cracked open to keep me awake, and the heater on high to keep my feet warm -- but with Bug along I'd kept the window closed and the heater on low for the most part.
"Supposed to be getting warmer. Might get a little snow -- but doesn't sound like it'll be very much. We'll just have to hope they've already gotten some good snow."
The trip had been planned for months. Just recently plans had changed so that Bug and I were the front runners -- taking the majority of the ski gear and everyone's snow clothes, and driving to the "cabin." I suspected there were probably a few special Christmas presents smuggled in, but we'd agreed the gift exchange would be in a couple of weeks when we got home.
Bug's mother, my sister Gayle, worked for a company whose wealthy owner had a second home in the mountains. He called it his "cabin" or "hunting lodge", but from the description, and the pictures we'd seen, it sounded like more of a mountain mansion. He'd let my sister, and by default the rest of the family, use it for a two-week Christmas and New Year's ski vacation in Colorado.
I'd volunteered to take the majority of the gear and drive. Everyone else was planning to fly to Denver the second day following and drive across from the other side, but this way they could travel fairly light -- and we'd have the big Suburban along with the rental cars to haul most everyone and gear around.
Bug had been late getting to my house -- several hours late. Now noon Utah time -- it was obvious that my thoughts of getting there before dark were long gone. Truthfully I'd planned an extra day, we could always stop and spend the night somewhere if the weather really turned bad or something happened, but I'd just as soon get there tonight. I mentally shrugged my shoulders; I don't think Bug had ever been on time to anything in her life. I had to admit to myself, having grown up with my sister, she'd learned that from the best.
"We'll stop in Green River, get gas and some lunch. That should get us by until we get to the lodge, don't you think?"
"How far is Green River?"
"Don't know for sure -- but the sign back a bit said "No Services Next 112 Miles," which I suppose means it's about a hundred and twelve miles more."
"What's that then, maybe an hour and a half?"
"Closer to two, if the weather holds, we've still been making pretty good time, although I was worried back there for a while. Hit a real snowstorm at one point."
The Colorado River valley on I-70 after we left Glenwood Springs was pitch dark in the falling snow, an occasional car heading the other way the only indication of life most of the time. The snowfall continued light to moderate, the accumulation on the road just barely enough for the snowplows to move. I didn't see any plows going my way, but could tell they'd been there just shortly before. Several times I saw them on the other side, presumably making round trips between off ramps.
We left the freeway, following the directions which took us on the old highway towards our turn off, a still narrower road running up the side valley. Here the snow was maybe a couple of inches deep on the road; obviously the plows hadn't been by recently. Bug was reading the directions for me and watching, but with the lack of lights and the falling snow, we still almost missed the county road where we were supposed to turn.
I stopped in the middle of the road and backed up a few yards before I was able to negotiate the turn onto the yet even narrower canyon road, shifting into four wheel drive before I did. Essentially a single lane road, I would have had to pull over to let any oncoming traffic by - if we had met any. While the old highway had at least had a snowplow go by sometime in the last few hours, this obviously hadn't been plowed even once since it started snowing. Also unlike the old highway, there were no other car tracks; no one else had come or gone on this road recently. Leaving the main roads at night in a snowstorm where you've never been before isn't normally a good idea -- but our directions had been good so far, and we'd had no trouble finding the place.
"Follow the road 2.2 miles until the hard right switchback and the steep uphill -- but instead take the dirt road straight ahead for another 1.2 miles to the garage." The reality of the drive perfectly matched the directions we'd been given.
I got out and poked the code into the electronic opener and watched the door slide up, the lights inside and out coming on automatically. Inside, two snowmobiles sat waiting.
Although there was a road from here up the mountain, we'd been warned that it was summertime use only for automobiles. Winter required snowmobiles, or a long snowshoe hike. The garage kept the snowmobiles when nobody was here, and gave a place to keep the cars out of the snow when someone was. Thanks to the heated and insulated garage, the snowmobiles both started easily. It took only a few minutes to transfer the gear and food and a few supposedly hidden gifts from the Suburban into the snowmobile trailers, don two of the awaiting snow suits, and then put the Suburban into the garage.
It had been calm the whole time we were getting ready, the light snow putting a dusting on the snowmobiles after we got them out of the garage. However just as we finished unloading the gear a blast of wind swept down through the canyon shaking great billows of dry powdery snow from the overhanging branches. It was as if we'd awakened the mountain from its slumber; it had looked down at the noise that broke the otherwise pristine quiet, shrugged its shoulders as if to say "why are you bothering me," and then gone back to sleep.
It was Bug's first time on a snowmobile. If we hadn't had enough gear to fill the two small trailers I'd have suggested we ride together but she was eager to play -- even in the almost pitch dark conditions. The snow had momentarily stopped, a full moon was playing peek-a-boo through the storm clouds, occasionally breaking out and making it seem bright as day. I told Bug I'd lead, and to just follow in my tracks as it would be much easier to turn if she kept in them. We started up the well-defined path; someone had been up the road shortly before the snow had started as their path was still clearly visible. It certainly made for easier riding, the headlight easily picking out the track. Following the existing track was easy - but the snowmobile was much more difficult to control in the unbroken powder just a foot away. On the flatter places the definition of the road sometimes just disappeared in the unbroken snow. If someone hadn't broken the trail earlier it would have been almost impossible to find our way.
John, the owner, had told me he'd told the caretaker to check the place out earlier in the day; I presumed the track that was making our trek up the hill a little easier had been made by him. I was especially thankful that he'd cleared the driveway in front of the garage with his skip-loader. Without that, we would have still been fighting to just get the Suburban into the garage. But there had been no fighting; everything had gone exactly as planned.
We twisted upward through the canyon; in and out of the trees while the moonlight sporadically turned the valley into a winter wonderland. I wasn't sure exactly how far we'd gone, however I knew we'd traveled several miles and several hundred feet, probably much more than a thousand feet higher than we'd been in the valley, without leaving the canyon we were following upward. We'd nearly reached the crest of the mountain before we turned a corner - and there it was.
"Wow!" Bug said as I turned the inside light on. I stopped dead, looking past her into the sumptuously outfitted, log cabin style, main room. The pictures hadn't done it justice.
The main room appeared to be almost T shaped as we viewed it from the front door. An entry vestibule with two large couches and a couple of chairs gave an area for removing and storing outdoor clothing. At the opposite side of the entrance, a floor to ceiling stone fireplace was the highlight of the main room. Two more couches and several stuffed chairs made this the center point of the "cabin."
To the right, a full size kitchen was completely open to the room. In the center, a granite-topped cabinet provided ample workspace; a rack with pots and pans hung above it. It turned out the T image was incorrect; the right wall actually separated what would have otherwise been a huge room into a front room and dining room. The large oak table seated 16 -- I know as I counted the comfortable oak chairs.
"Good Lord!" I said to no one in particular, "Not exactly what you would call a cabin is it?" This was no "cabin" but over 7000 square feet of mountain chalet. They'd left the lights on for us -- but this was no Motel 6.
"Here are the bedrooms," Bug called from beyond the open kitchen in the right arm of the "T" where a short hallway led away. I followed her down it, finding a bathroom and a couple of bedrooms. One appeared to be the master, a king size bed and another adjoining bath defining it. The other bedroom we decided must be for the "kids" as it had two bunks and a queen size bed making it capable of sleeping six more as well as another adjoining bath.
"Ooh. I could like this!" Bug said from the door of the bathroom in the master suite. I didn't answer, looking around, counting in my mind.
"I thought there were beds for 16?" I stated as I opened the door beside the hall bath, finding a small laundry room complete with washer and dryer. A large closet off the laundry room turned out to be a ski and snowboard locker, complete with boot warmers.