Durango, Colorado: Cascade Falls, Trimble Hot Springs, Hermosa Valley

The past three days have been a whirlpool of memories and places and people, all coming back to me in a new light. This town is not much different than it was when I was living here: the places are strikingly still the same, the people haven’t changed much at all. I drive down the streets and highways as if I’m driving through a dream, yet I’m taking it all in with a new set of eyes. The dreams that I have had about these places (cascade falls, my old neighborhoods, places and trigger points and emotions attached to my mind) have been realized now; I’ve made a list and I’ve been slowly, easily crossing off the items. People that I needed to meet have crossed paths with me organically, downtown, easily – the perk of a small town.

And now, I think of the drive: a fifteen hour straight shot through southern California and then through Nevada, with the desert sunset in all it’s glory setting in a thick fervent pastel glow in my rear view mirror, the smell of rain, light desert rain coming through my cracked windows, my a/c. And then a long haul through Arizona, close to the Grand Canyon, the windows rolled down as I let the cold night air rage into my car’s cockpit, the smell of pine and cool nature night, a wild natural high, like a pure deep breath of oxygen, exhilarating, the wind deafening, the music blaring. I push onward; I’ve brought with me three shirts, two jeans, four socks, some toiletries . . . I haven’t brought my guitar – this trip is not a musical one. My monkey George sits shotgun, buckled in with my mag-light. I have a bottle of natural diet pills, hardcore energy that keeps me awake and focused, driving on at a set eighty five miles per hour. I stop four times for gas on the eleven hundred mile run – my car’s thermostat goes high, and my heart rate follows, down the deserted night roads of Arizona; my pulse raising and falling with the fluctuating needle, which finally settles down into neutral, and I ride on.

Ten miles from Durango and my excitement is at fever pitch – the rain comes down in hard sheets, my wipers moan back and forth at their highest rate. I pull into town, spinning a bit in my head, taking it in at 6am (5am California time). I call Ann, head out to her house, drive up the steep dirt road to her modern adobe mansion on the ridge outside of town, near Hermosa Valley. The house is immense, large and grand, with heated floors, views that take my breath away. I feel at home immediately; Ann is family. We go to the diner downtown, although I’ve taken my sleeping pills – I took them when I got into town, figuring I’d fall asleep as soon as I arrived at Ann’s; however, upon my arrival, I have a burst of fresh energy, the sun rising over the majestic mountains that have their full view obstructed by low hanging sheets of fog from the rains. Clouds move and the day starts.

Shopping for food after the diner, then I go home and sleep for two hours. Deep dreams of frantic motion that wake me up for a sharp split moment before I fall back in almost immediately. Go to the lookout at the top of Ann’s house, surrounded by mountains and swaying deep green pine trees, the sun is close and the air is clean and thin outside. The clouds are mammoth and whiter than I’ve seen; the fringes of the cirrus clouds morph and change like cream being poured into coffee. Then the rain comes, light at first, but steady, so I go back inside. Another nap, then dinner: I cook filet mignon, with shitake mushrooms in a red wine sauce; a salad before with grilled tomatoes, goat cheese, and balsamic vin.

Earlier in the day Ann and I visited Apple Orchard Inn, down the road, where I used to work as a kid. I’m a little loopy from the drive and the pills, but I’ve had so many dreams about this place that I can’t pass up the chance to relive it all once again. Familiar faces in the small supermarket aisles. I haven’t told anyone that I’m in town; no posts on social media, no excessive phone calls or texts – this trip is for me and me only. And the days that follow, I drive downtown, walk the streets, take in the smells, the sites, the old feelings that I once worked so hard to forget, but couldn’t. I drive to the valley, into the playground of my old neighborhood, by the creek where I’ve had dreams, under trees that I would climb as a kid, breathing in the smells, taking in the memories and making a new connection with my current present moment sensations. I hike to the place where I camped for an entire summer, the place where the songs “Pasadena” and “Upper Hermosa Mtn. Blues” originated from. I take pictures fervently, from all angles, for the book that I wrote. I drive by houses where I lived, places I’ve worked; not a moment goes by where I’m triggered and snapped back to strange far away sensations of another life – every building, every passing house and store and park and tree and road and mountain is a connection to a story, a memory, and I take it all in, completely open. I have not been here in more than five years.

I eat at old favorite restaurants; I cross everything that I do off of the list I’ve made. Trimble, with it’s hot springs and sauna, I spend all day there, my haven, my safe place, roasting in the waters, more relaxed than I’ve been in recent memory, which actually says a lot. I breathe in the air, the smells, the sensations of the valley, the trees and lush greenery, the mountains, my eyes drink in the sky and the surrounding nature. I drive to Dalton Ranch, the bridge, walk out of my car and stand on the outside of the railing, looking down thirty feet in the deep green waters of the Animas river. My nerves get to me; it’s nearly twenty minutes before I launch myself off of the bridge: the green water comes rushing towards me, and then I’m immersed in it’s cold green moving current, the sound of impact is deafening before I plunge completely under, where the dulled sound of bubbles and the hum of the river fills my ears. I swim in the river and let the current take me to a small section of rapids; lying straight on my back, my feet up in the air, I’m taken down the rapids into a mellow spot, where I climb out. My throat hurts from swimming, my breath is hot fire in my throat as I wander back to my car, nearly naked, my body cold but alive in the hot Colorado sun. Back to Trimble, the hot water again; I stay until close.

Then downtown for a moment, but only a moment, because upon entering a bar where my friend is, I am immediately reminded why I left this place, and what I hate the most – the drunk dirty hippies dancing to deafening robot music, dumb sluts and douchebag guys that are constantly in your way. I help my friends load up their musical equipment (they had just finished their set when I arrived), and then I leave, back to the adobe mansion on the ridge. Make a steak for dinner, relax and listen to jazz, and eventually fall asleep.

Now it’s today. I sit on the bed in the adobe mansion writing this all out, waiting for Ann to return from Santa Fe (where she was at the opera; I took care of her dog while she was away. I spent the night walking around her house naked). We’re going to have dinner tonight, her and I. Earlier today, I met with an old friend, friend being a tentative term, because this is a girl that I had somewhat dated for three months or so before initially moving to California. Years have passed, and we meet downtown by the train station. She’s still the same little cute blonde girl with beautiful blue eyes and a beautiful face, and her body is still nice, except she’s pregnant, so that’s different than when I saw her last. Her baby is due in January. She says what all the girls from my past say to me: “You look exactly the same.” Which to me, is the best compliment I could ever receive. I’m happy to be in Durango, sober and healthier, both physically and mentally, than I’ve ever been in my entire life. We go to a pizza place, where I find my old best friend and bassist Dustin works, and his new wife, is also there. It’s easy seeing them both; there’s nothing there. I feel nothing, and it feels good.

Mean leaves, another person with another life now, and I drive north. North, past Baker’s Bridge, past the ski resort, past million dollar houses set up against the backdrop of mountains with oceans of aspen trees, mountains with a Monet sea of deep green pine trees that go seemingly on forever, and I arrive at Cascade Falls. I’m alone, my excitement and nervousness are competing for my full attention as I hike down into the canyon wearing nothing by my shorts and my shoes. The rocky thin path leads to the creek, running calmly (at first) over smooth colorful rocks and boulders and pebbles. I begin to trek into the water; it’s frigid, clean as crystal, bright and thin, rushing at an easily moving pace. And then I drop further into the canyon; the stone walls on each side of me are incredibly tall sheer straight cliffs that echo the roar and slap of the approaching challenge of the falls. I reach the first level of the falls; a cliff of smooth shale rock that I stand on, and I barely hesitate at all before I leap and plunge into the icy pool of clean clear water, where there is a rush and roar of the currents that pull you with the unrelenting and uncaring power of nature, of rushing water. After the first cliff jump, you’ve committed yourself to running the entire falls. There is a section of the run that once you’ve passed it, it would be impossible to go back. Once you’re in, you’re in.

I’ll be the first to admit that it was stupid of me to go alone. Had something happened, anything, there would be no one there to save me, and my body would have been found later in the day by a group of kids running the falls themselves. But I have run Cascade countless times (though always with friends), and this trip was focused exclusively on my own journey. So there I stood on a boulder, cold water rushing over my soaked purple and black Vans, and I take a breath and leap in. The water is frigid and deep, I touch bottom, but not hard – it feels amazing. I feel alive. The run has begun. I pass through the canyon’s levels with it’s sections of raging water, cascading and flowing furiously down boulders and into deep clear pools. I make sure to jump in where it looks deepest, making sure to not get my feet caught up in any rocks, not to get dragged under by the cold currents that swirl and move with intensity. Muscle memory kicks in; each level of the falls goes deeper and deeper into the canyon, and I’m reminded of the little tricks: where to jump, where to climb, how to jump so not to hurt myself or drown. The whole time, I am high on adrenaline, my body is not cold, I’m focused and real – on the second to last cliff, I’m up about fifteen feet over a pool. I look up at the sky, the trees overlooking the deep thin canyon, I breathe in the air, and I jump. My shoes are heavy, soaked, filled with water and pebbles that have snuck in them. At last I reach the waterfall, the end of the falls. I look around, and jump it, landing in the big pool. I swim to shore, and trek back up into the trees and rocks and plants, all the way back to the car. The entire run lasts only around half an hour. At the car, the inside of my ears are icicles, my head is frozen in a high dull whine. I am alive.

I find myself at Trimble again, in the sauna, sweating heavy, dunking myself in the creek behind the building (no one knows about it), sitting in the hot water, floating, holding myself under. Peace . . .

Ann and I have dinner at a nice restaurant. She’s one of my favorite people in the whole world, so smart and fun. We really have a great connection, like best friends. I sleep heavy at night, fulfilled.

I leave the next day, after breakfast with Ann. I take off into the early afternoon. Fifteen hours passes by like melting wax. Once again, I make the drive in a steady shot, arriving back in San Jose around three am.

I won’t be back in Durango for a very long time.

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