Slipping from winter into summer in Lovely Ouray is like slipping from your starched Sunday best into a ratty old pair of "sweats. It is our season of comfort, a time to pack away itchy wool and sticky Gore-Tex till October, and embrace the soft caress of loose-fit cotton. In most places, "Spring" means planting flowers and seeding gardens in a pair of shorts. Spring around here means 8 more weeks of winter.
Winter can be quite beautiful here; it makes a purdy-postcard out of Lovely Ouray, for sure. But summer...ahhhh, summer, it's a juicy watercolor, suitable for framing. Only problem is, as I alluded to in the opening paragraph, it's still a long ways off. Summer is a lot like Bobbie and I at a party, always last to arrive and first to leave.
Soon, too soon, actually; already, in fact, if you include me, anxious townies will/have begin to don teeshirts, shorts, and hiking boots...sundresses will come out of closets...all topped off with polyester parkas. It's how locals squeeze a couple more weeks into summer, by freezing to death.
Come summer, real summer, like June, tourists in Ouray are easy to spot. They're overdressed "to the nines," dapper, sporting Columbia, L. L. Bean, Patagonia, and a host of other name brand garments made is sweatshops in third world countries. They hold an ice-cream cone in one hand and a cell phone in the other...craning their necks upward at still snowcapped mountains...shooting video, snapping selfies, and generally stepping out in front of four wheel drive vehicles driven by suburbanites who don't even know what a "stick shift" is. What's not to love; they've got pasty white skin and two-week's vacation to burn, and we've got all summer.
Set in a box-canyon at the pine-scented feet of notably "rugged" San Juan Mountains—old-time Swiss Victorian charm oozing from architectural details—Lovely Ouray is easy on the eyes. Steam wafts from hot-bodies (and some not-so-hot) soaking at our world famous hot springs, while dogs chase frisbees and run over toddlers in Fellin Park, right next door. Nearby, under a shady canopy of cottonwoods, adults kick back, relax, and nibble at picnic goodies. The altitude makes them drowsy. Naps are easy in Lovely Ouray, especially after a two hour soak in 105 degree mineral water.
Come mid July, townies and tourists alike are drawn above timberline to view alpine meadows that teem with wildflowers. Melting snow gushes, tumbles, and free-falls—celebrating its liberation after five long, sub-freezing months held captive in suspended animation.
But I'm getting ahead of the calendar, here. Trees have yet to leaf out, daffodils struggle, shocked by hard freezes nearly every night. And, of course, it still snows every few days...a 10 incher just last week. Pansies and petunias set out before Memorial weekend are a waste of hard earned tips (yes, most Ouranians are in the food service industry, cause you can't "eat the scenery"). But were so anxious, so we go outside, wearing our shorts and parkas, and turn soil still soggy from snowmelt, glean flower beds, rake last fall's snow-matted leaves from a few shoots of early grass...finally getting cold, muddy, and discouraged, and going back indoors to wait, wait, and wait some more, on summer. Corn will be knee high in Kansas long before summer comes to Lovely Ouray.
I've toughed out a few winters in Ouray, even worked outside as a Lifeguard at the Hot Springs Pool a couple years. We seem to be in the bullseye for angry storms that form in the Bering Sea. They line up nuts to butts like Siberian prisoners in a chow line, little gifts "from Russia with love." It's a Jekyll/Hyde relationship I have with winter in the mountains. There are times when falling snow makes a Hallmark Card out of this place...flakes as big silver dollar gently swirling to the ground like autumn's leaves. Then there are times when it snows horizontal in blizzard fashion, little shards of ice that sting and cut exposed skin, and soon enough, drifts so deep you can't find your car...buried deep under drifts and the snowplows inconsiderate wake.
Five months is a long time to embrace "Mr Hyde." The romance of mountain living fades when the sun finally comes out, only to reveal six-foot drifts, waiting to be shoveled. So if you see what looks like an Arizona raised tender-loin wearing shorts and a parka, and he's got a snow shovel in one hand and a bag of ice-salt in the other, offer to buy him a scrap cookie and a cup of coffee down at Mouse's Chocolates.
I'd appreciate it.
I make no chilled-bones about it: I am the Winter Wuss-Man...Coo coo ca choo!
Now for some nice sunny days just a few week ago up on Cedar Mesa, Utah...