Socially Distant Without the Stir-Craziness

Sunset at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis (photo by John Daly)

Last week, my son and I saw our first movie at a theater in months, and boy was it a breath of fresh air. Of course, it wasn’t a typical theater… being that nearly all of those are still closed, and it wasn’t a new movie… being that production companies aren’t currently releasing anything outside of digital and streaming services. In fact, the aforementioned fresh air was of the literal sense, flowing through our open car windows at a drive-in theater about 45 minutes from our house.

Yes, there are still some operating drive-ins in this country, and they’ve even seen a surge in popularity in the socially-distant era of COVID-19. After all, they’re outside (where the virus has a harder time spreading) and it’s easy to stagger parking spots to give each car about 10 feet of separation.

At the Holiday Twin in Fort Collins, CO, we watched one of our all-time favorites, Jaws (which incidentally turned 45 years old this year).

The ambiance was really pretty special, and it went well beyond the nostalgia and timeless aura of the film (which ironically displays some remarkable parallels with today’s crisis, and how people are treating it). Just seeing folks enjoying and reacting to a shared summer experience from the back of pickups and hatchbacks was a treat. I’d even describe it as rejuvenating, which I suppose makes sense considering how socially limited we’ve become.

The restrictive nature of the coronavirus is something we’ve been grappling with as a nation since March, and as it lingers on and intensifies in some states, even those lucky enough to have kept their jobs and preserved their livelihoods have felt isolated and grown a bit stir-crazy from the monotony.

People need a break from the repetition, and a good remedy is to get outside and enjoy a change of scenery. It’s summertime after all, and with the season comes opportunities that didn’t exist in the early days and weeks of the health crisis.

A drive-in movie is a great distraction (which I highly recommend), and in downtown areas across the country, restaurants are being allowed to extend their dining areas to sidewalks and even roped off streets in front of their buildings. These are good (and relatively safe) escapes, but a longer more sustainable kind comes compliments of nature itself.

Weeks ago, when my family recognized that flying out of state and staying in a hotel probably wouldn’t be a viable vacation option this year, we took a step back and finally pulled the trigger on buying a pop-up camper. The one we found (on Craigslist) wasn’t anything fancy. It was over 20 years old, and had some expected wear and tear, but it was nothing we couldn’t live with. Over a few weekends, we spruced it up, and made our maiden voyage in early June with a simple, socially-distant overnight in Colorado’s high country.

Things went well (that’s another way of saying nothing broke and no one got hurt), so we got back on the road this week (packing some extra masks), and headed for the rugged, dryer, southern part of the state for a few nights. We set up camp near the Royal Gorge, a deep canyon of the Arkansas River that supports the highest bridge in the United States. Since it’s a suspension bridge, it rocks a bit from the wind as you walk across it (which I wont lie, was a little unnerving).

 

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We then headed farther south to a little-known place called Bishop’s Castle. This amazing, one-man, lifelong project (started in the 1960s) is surrounded by the mountains of the San Isabel National Forest. It’s an unorthodox, artistic, housing-code-violating, true testament to power of individualism and personal dedication. And frankly, standing in the wind on top of its highest, uneven tower (which can’t be more than 8 feet in diameter) was more breathtaking than peering over the railing at the Royal Gorge Bridge.

Making our way east, we spent a night at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve, which I’d heard a lot about as a kid, but had never been to. Immersing ourselves in such a surreal, middle-of-nowhere landscape (nearly 30 square miles of tall dunes) was an experience we’ll never forget. The sunset alone (pictured up top) may have been worth the trip.

And since the area down south is also known for its extraordinary number of unidentified flying objects, we of course felt obligated to check out the “world famous” UFO Watchtower (which I’m still trying to make sense of).

 

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There’s more I could share, but the point I’m trying to make is that it was a cheap getaway, it made for a much-needed scenic change, it was good exercise, and I can count on one hand the number of times we came within 6 feet of another person.

In other words, you can stay safe without letting COVID-19 call all the shots.

It’s been a few years since I’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing, so my memory could be slightly off, but I believe he makes the point in the novel that the ability to travel is its own form of personal property — something that others can’t take away from you, not in a country like the United States. Of course, there are limits to this, especially in the modern era, but generally speaking McCarthy has a point.

Travel isn’t a luxury only afforded to rich people. A tent, some food and water, a little extra time on your hands, and the means to get from one place to another is really all it takes. There’s ownership in that.

Right now, in this troublesome era we’re slogging through, getting outdoors and going somewhere new (as long as you can do it safely) is perhaps one of the more liberating experiences you’ll find.

It sure was for my family.

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