The road trip last week didn't go exactly as planned. They never do, do they? That's the allure of a road trip. The spontaneity. The flexibility. The freedom of seeing the open road stretch before you for miles under an endless expanse of blue sky. I feel like I can finally breathe again.
As my son's school break loomed closer, I envisioned a grand road trip. I wanted to travel up the length of the Colorado Rockies visiting places that I remembered from my childhood. Old ghost towns and abandoned gold mines. The craggy peaks of mountains so high that breathing becomes a chore after just a few minutes, but the views will take your breath away even faster. The magnificent Great Sand Dunes, where towering mountains of sand eternally rise and fall with the changing winds. The stunning Denver skyline at twilight when, for a brief moment, the setting sun turns the Mile High City golden and paints the clouds above fuchsia and lavender, before quickly sinking behind the dark mountains to the west. Can you only imagine?
Yes the plans were grand, but the week turned out better than anything I could have planned.
We spent the first part of the week traveling through the southern mountains and eventually made it to the Great Sand Dunes. The look of joy on my children's faces was indescribable. C, who spent his first two years playing on the sandy beaches of Florida, was in complete awe. Dune after dune stretched out before his sparkling eyes, each one higher than the one before. He climbed to the top of a very steep one and went rolling down on his side. Faster and faster he tumbled, sand flying up behind him like some sort of dust devil. When he finally reached the bottom he sprawled on his back in the fine, warm sand and softly giggled as the marshmallow clouds whirled and spun in the blue sky above him. Priceless.
I apologize to any future Sand Dunes visitors, as the dunes will not be quite as large as they were that day. C brought a good bit of them home in his pockets and socks. He also left with some huge memories that I know will make him smile for the rest of his life. I smile, too, as I recall my first visit to the Great Sand Dunes with my grandparents nearly thirty years ago. The sand is ever blowing, shifting, swirling, changing, yet the Dunes remain exactly as I remember.
Later we had a picnic under a gnarled and scarred old tree. Its ashy trunk thrust through the rocky sand and divided like the twisted fingers of an ancient hand. If this tree could talk, what marvelous tales he'd tell!
I packed a simple picnic lunch: Aglio e Olio Pasta Salad with lots of crisp vegetables and a couple of different cheeses. The kids ate quickly, then ran off to explore a nearby trail.
Driving east again through the mountains, I was flagged down by the sweetest old man. Suntanned and weather-beaten, and wearing a tattered cowboy hat, he was searching for his lost mule. He wondered if we'd seen it wandering on the road. We told him no, but that we'd keep an eye out for it as we went along. (Though I don't honestly know what I'd actually do with the lost mule had I come across it.) His kind eyes crinkled into half-moons as he smiled and thanked me over and over again. A tangible joy seemed to emanate from his bent and crooked body. That joie de virve that is so hard to grasp; that so many people try to feign. This was the real deal.
He left me contemplative but happy as I drove away. As odd as it may sound, these random encounters with strangers are one of the reasons I love traveling like I do. We are all connected in some way with everyone else. I love finding the connection. The trip wouldn't have been complete without this kind stranger.
I could go on and on, but I'll save the rest for another day. Until then, here's the recipe for the Aglio e Olio Pasta Salad.
Aglio Olio e Limone Pasta Salad
190g mini Conchiglie (shells) pasta, (about 1/2 box)
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 Tbsp capers, drained
1/4 cup cubed mozzarella cheese
1/8 cup cubed Parmesan cheese
3 - 4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
zest of one lemon
salt and pepper
handful of Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
Boil the pasta to al dente, in the last four minutes add the frozen peas. Meanwhile heat the oil and garlic together slowly for 8 -10 minutes until the garlic is fragrant but not yet brown. Remove the oil from the heat and add in the zest of one lemon. Set aside to cool and infuse.
In a large serving bowl place the pepper, tomatoes, capers, and diced cheeses. When the pasta and peas are done, drain and run under cold running water until cool. Drain very well for several minutes until quite dry. Add to the veggies in the bowl. Pour the oil and garlic over top and toss well. Stir in the parsley and season well with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Shared with: hearth and soul, slightly indulgent tuesday, naptime creations tasty tuesday, tuesday's tasty tidbits, full plate thursday, feed your soul, mangia mondays, melt in your mouth monday, monday mania