My husband and I left our adult sons behind while we took our first “empty nest” vacation out to the gorgeous American West. We explored areas in Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. We also finished–unsuccessfully–our search for Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure that we’d begun during Easter weekend, when we were foiled by three feet of snow.
Outside the ghost town of St. Elmo, Colorado, we visited the Iron City Cemetery, which gave a poignant glimpse into the hard lives of those who settled in the old mining town.
A directory provided details about the people buried there:
- Iver Gilbertson, who was “injured at the Decorah Mine at Grizzly Gulch by a premature powder explosion. He had been thawing dynamite by the fire at his forge” and died in 1884.
- Greisser Severn, who died when “the shaft house caught on fire, while he was in the tunnel. He was smothered by the smoke” in 1886.
- Tom Rupp, who was “killed by falling timbers in the Mary Murphy Mine” in 1889.
- William E. Brown, who “fell 75 feet down a mine shaft at the Mary Murphy Mine” in 1891.
- Robert Gaebner, who “became snowbound, probably was starving and finally froze to death. No one had seen him since November until his body was discovered in January of 1909.”
We next toured the ghost town St. Elmo, with its well-preserved main street and houses scattered throughout the area. (People still live there, too.) At one point, a hail storm broke out, and we took shelter under what looked like an old railroad car.
As we got into our car to leave, a semi passed us, laden with building materials. We watched for a good 15 minutes as it tried to back into a housing lot. With anxiety, we told each other that he was going to get stuck and block the only way out. And that’s exactly what happened, trapping us for hours, along with eight school busses on a field trip and some other cars. Finally, a resident cut the lock on a gate to a rocky dirt path, and we four-wheeled our way out of there. I don’t know how long the others were stuck, and it was hard to imagine how they were going to get that huge truck out of there.
Leaving the mountains, we traveled south to the iconic desert landscapes of Monument Valley in Arizona. We toured the area by car before hitting the desert for a hike to and around West Mitten Butte.
As we hiked, the sun sank lower and lower until it hid behind the buttes we were walking among, changing the landscape from orange to brown.
The next day, we took a guided tour of Cathedral Canyon in Arizona, passing through a few narrow slots and climbing a ladder to reach the “Cathedral.”
Finally, we visited Arches National Park in Utah on a hot and beautiful day, hiking to some remote arches and touring the rest of the area by car.
While I’ve never been one to fantasize about sudden wealth, I’ve caught myself imagining over the last few months how our life would change if we found a treasure valued at $2-5 million. As I left the West, I let that dream go, and I imagined this new “empty nest” phase of my life stretching out before me, no treasure chest stuffed into my duffel bag, but the path ahead strewn with gems just the same.
- More photos on Flickr
- The Daily Post: Tourist
- Have you gone out of your comfort zone? Send me a postcard.