Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

Days 334-340 – Ouray, Colorado

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August 29 – September 4, 2013

Ouray calls itself the “Switzerland of America.” Being compared to Switzerland seems to be the highest praise a mountainous area can receive as there are other places in the U.S. that proudly adopt a similar name. Is it the pristine beauty, the jagged peaks overhead, or the cozy quaint town center nestled among mountains that bring the Swiss Alps to mind?

I first visited Ouray back in 1980 and remembered it as unusually attractive so I was glad to return. The hot springs in the center of town obviously also added to its appeal. A short distance from the village is the national forest’s Amphitheater Campground (a reference to a natural formation in the mountain wall created by a long ago volcanic explosion). It is accessed by a winding, switchbacked road that ascends the mountainside above Ouray. From the campground were exceptional views across the valley and down into the town. Luckily, we were able to snag one of the few non-reservable sites still available for the Labor Day weekend.

We had everything we needed here. Cell reception to power our MiFi internet connection, hiking trails fanning out from the campground, mountain biking trails nearby for Chris, trees to hang a hammock on for gently swaying meditation. A short drive into town led to ice cream, a bookstore and the aforementioned Ouray Hot Springs. The weather was unstable, often bringing dark clouds and intense thunderstorms that twice close the hot springs while we were soaking. (They gave us lightening checks, like a rain check but for lightening.) Fall was coming to the Rockies and the trees had hints of color. Mushrooms were appearing in greater quantities replacing my focus on wildflowers.

Nearby is the small, scenic town of Telluride, home to the famous Telluride Film Festival that offers world premiers for many important movies. I casually looked up the dates of that annual event and, to my delight, discovered it was happening that very weekend. We were here at just the right time.

We spent Saturday in Telluride and after searching for scant parking, getting our bearings in the town, finding the information tent, and attempting to decipher the complex film schedule, we chose to see the East Indian film “The Lunchbox”. Another film having its debut here was “All Is Lost”. Robert Redford was in town to attend its showing and to receive a career achievement award.

After a long trek across town from our peripheral parking spot to the theater venue, we found “The Lunchbox” had sold out. Suddenly the heavens let loose with what seemed like solid sheets of water. With one small umbrella between us we were soon completely soaked. Hoping to get a bus ride back to the center of town we discovered – too late – that we are standing in the wrong spot to be picked up. Once the deluge abated – still sopping and disappointed – we hiked back to our car for a change of clothing. Flash flooding filled the streets of Telluride with waters dyed milky red from the iron rich dirt. The sun again shone brightly again and a rainbow appeared.

With dry clothes on, we picked a nearby theater this time to see another world premiere, “12 Years a Slave”. We, of course, had no idea that this film would win the 2014 Academy Award for Best Picture. Finding ourselves at the end of a long line, it was uncertain if we would make it into this film either. The people at a nearby display promoting Turner Classic Movies, gave us free T-shirts because they felt sorry for us, assuming we were too late. But we were eventually ushered in and found two of the last remaining seats on the far side of the balcony. Anticipating the film’s start, Chris – who happened to be reading a novel about slavery at the time – said solemnly, “there’s gonna be a lot of whippin’s’” and there were.

It was a mesmerizing and harrowing experience. Although I though it was an excellent film I wondered how popular it would be at American theaters because it was so painful to watch (I often closed my eyes). Afterward, it’s director, Steve McQueen, came to the mike and spoke eloquently about the making of the movie and his gratitude to the actors and producers. Several of the primary actors also came onstage including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Micheal Fassbinder, and Lupita Nyong’o, all of whom would later be nominated for Academy Awards with Nyoung’o winning for Supporting Actress. (Apparently, at the showing of the film the previous day, Brad Pitt was also there. I was disappointed to miss him!)

As evening approached we were hungry but discouraged by the expensive and crowded restaurants. We would wait to make our dinner back in Ouray. The sun was setting and the light played strangely on the clouds. The moist atmosphere glowed an eery yellow all around us, unlike anything I had seen before. A few miles out of town we were blocked by a landslide across the road. Returning to Telluride, low blood sugar at a new high, we bought prepared food at the grocery store eating it quietly in our truck. When we tried to leave town again, one lane had become passable and we returned home tired, depleted and still deeply affected by the brutality, betrayal and pain depicted in “12 Years a Slave”.

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