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city girl out west.

Posted Apr 21 2011 12:00pm

sweet potato “falafel” with lemon-tahini yogurt; sea scallops with plantain hash, lemon-habañero tartar sauce, and crispy onions; mussels in thai curry broth; banana creme brulee pie with chocolate peanut butter crust and whipped sour cream.

My plane is coasting through partly cloudy skies, and my eyes are glued to the window as we descend into midwestern America. I always request the window seat for any type of travel – plane, train, bus, it doesn’t matter much. It makes standing up more of a hassle, but the view is worth twenty times the inconvenience.

I’m fascinated by this landscape. I keep wondering, “Where are the houses? The roads? The…civilization?” From thousands of feet above ground, for miles and miles in every direction, all I see is space. Green grass, beige hay, evergreen trees, and a single road snaking its way through the untouched earth. I’ve done my share of traveling, but I’ve never seen a sight like this.

A day and a half later, I am seated with my close friend and her husband at a table in the bar section of a restaurant called Root Down , situated just outside Denver. The lights are dim, the food local and seasonal. The butter is scented with miso and vanilla, the bread warm, the flavors in every dish ripe and intense. These plates are by far the best that I will sample on this trip, and yet, they will be far from its highlight.

Far more striking will be the next morning, when I scarf a 7:30 AM bowl of microwaved banana oatmeal and almond butter to fuel a hike up Boulder’s Mount Sanitas . More striking will be thirty minutes in, when my friend will call out to me, “Stop for a sec, Les,” handing me a water bottle and suggesting I turn around. The expanse, the quiet, the natural beauty will catch the sound “wow” in the back of my throat.

Thinking back now, I know: though I’d hiked in the Israeli desert and made my way to the highest tip of Switzerland’s Alps before, I’d never seen nature quite like this.

Later that same day, we three, along with a dog and a cat, will pile into a truck for a three and a half hour drive through the Rockies. Our destination, at the end of a winding, two-mile dirt path, is Strawberry Park Hot Springs . In late April temperatures of 23 degrees, we will shed our layers and step into steaming pools.

I have no idea how long we three waded in those hot springs. We stayed until the sun’s rays had been replaced by the light of the moon. In swimsuits, we watched the sun dip behind the evergreen trees and disappear beneath the snowy hills. I’d never seen nature quite like this.

Unlike me, my friend in Colorado is not into food. As she prepared herself a smoothie after our last hike together, she even commented that she simply doesn’t like eating all that much – hence her yen for a blended meal in a glass to refuel, while I requested, “Can I have real food, please?”

Food was hardly the point of my short stay out west.  It was all about the land and the beauty my eyes got to see.

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