6. Southwest Adventures…April/May 2017

day 24…5.5
I was going to spend the day in Santa Fe looking around at the art, the buildings & maybe having a Margarita to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  My favorite store near the Plaza is called “Doodlets”…just a combination of super fun gifts, toys, kitchen stuff, art, jewelry…very random but bright, colorful, fun & quirky.  I made one purchase from a Native American woman selling at the Palace of the Governors…an unusual pair of earrings she designed & patent.  I have so many photographs, some enlarged & framed at home from my last trip to Santa Fe, I tried taking photographs of new things I missed last time.  

Then I walked down to Canyon Road…the artists road.  It’s about a mile long with little galleries lining the streets as well as side streets with artists work as well.  As busy, active & fun as the Plaza is, Canyon Road is quiet & beautiful as most of the places have some art outside.  One of the artist, Barbara Meikle, paints & sculpts colorful donkeys, horses, bald eagles, owls & other animals.  She has live animals come to her shop three times a year & part of her art supports rescue efforts for different kinds of animals.  She happened to be in the gallery painting when I went in & stopped to visit with me.  She was fascinating & told me all about her work, the animals, the sculpting process (her sculptures are really colorful!) & about being an artists in Santa Fe.  She had no cards for sale…or I probably would have bought one!

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It was getting pretty warm out, but I walked back to the Plaza & went to Thunderbird for a jalapeño Margarita…Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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I once again, paid for a place to camp…I don’t like this trend.  I thought it would be easier to find dispersed camping around here, but tonight’s $12 will get me a campsite at a rather ugly Corp of Engineers campground called Cochita Lake.  It has a massive ugly dam (boo) & looks like lots of brown water filling the lake.  The campsites are pretty bare of trees & anything that can separate you from your neighbor.  The area I’m hiking in tomorrow is close to here, but surrounded by Reservation.  I’m always very careful to  not camp anywhere that might be Reservation rather than National Forest, so I wasn’t going to push it tonight & paid the fee.  To make it all more entertaining, there was a cranky old woman checking me in.  Listing all the gazillion rules, including ‘no alcohol’, never smiling once & wanting to check out ‘what I was sleeping in” (as in vehicle, not pjs).  She must be pleasant to be around!  As I drove to my concrete spot, I notice a shower building.  I made my dinner, read for a bit, did a bit of cleaning up the 4Runner, then took off looking forward to my 3rd shower of the trip.  I was clean afterwards, but there had been no hot water.  It wasn’t ice-cold, but it was cold!  I was sure I hadn’t wasted any water on that shower…it was a fast one!

The sky was beautiful tonight…before sunset & during!

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day 25…5.6
Today is my Mother’s birthdate…I miss her everyday.  This hike wasn’t even on my radar, until a friend posted a photo on Instagram a couple of days ago.  Then I started looking into the park, the hikes & if it was possible on this trip or not…and it was!  Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a small but busy park just southwest of Santa Fe.  There’s a slot canyon trail & a loop trail that goes at the base of the rock formations.  I put on my pack & headed for the slot canyon hike, knowing it would get more busy & crowded as the morning turned into afternoon.  I’ve always said I wouldn’t do a slot canyon by myself, but this is my fourth one…(I’ve done them all by myself).  This, however, is a short trail, a busy trail, & most important, no intersecting trails (at which someone could get lost!)  This was such a fun hike!  At the end of the slot, is a 750’ climb to the top of the overlook.  One step was about 3’ high…that was a challenge, both going up & coming back down, but other than that, it was great!

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After I’d hiked back from the slot canyon, I took the trail around the formations…including by the tiniest ‘cave’ I’ve ever seen.  If ancient people lived in it…there must have only been one to occupy the small space.

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My next stop was to visit the area that was home to Georgia O’Keefe.  I didn’t know much about how the tours worked, I knew I wasn’t going to get to go horse back riding, but that was about it.  I started to pass the Abiquiu Inn, but was able to turn into the parking lot just in time.  I went to the desk & asked what there was to do, & they sent me next door to a ‘tours’ office.  The woman there was super nice.  She told me they offered tours of the Abiquiu home everyday for $45.  Wow…that was more than Frank Lloyd Wright’s tour.  I asked her what else there was to do.  I could drive up & look at the outside wall of her home, but that was about it.  O’Keefe had another home about 15 miles up the road at a place called Ghost Ranch.  But that home, like the Abiquiu home is just as O’Keefe left it when she died, but unlike Abiquiu, there are no tours allowed at Ghost Ranch.  I asked her to describe the $45 tour again…what would I see?  She was very nice & informative & it sounded great, so I decided to go on the tour.  They had one spot left for today, for the last tour that would start in about 45 minutes.  I pulled out my credit card to pay for the tour & she smiled & said…”Oh  you don’t need to pay today”  then she went on to explain that someone had double booked tours for today & instead of asking for a refund, they told the woman just to give the tour away to someone else…yay!  I wasn’t the first person she’d tried to give it to, but I was the lucky last one & so grateful I took it!  Trip Magic for sure!

We watched a video about O’Keefe & her paintings, then about 10 of us boarded a little bus that took us up the hill about a mile away to her home.  Wow!  It was such a wonderful tour!  Our guide was so knowledgeable, & grew up in the tiny village of Abiquiu.  The home has such an interesting history, but mostly I loved how O’Keefe added huge big windows when she turned the inhabitable buildings into a home.  All her ‘stuff’ was interesting, most of it in the kitchen, because most of the other rooms were very sparse…it was tranquil & peaceful, but the views were big & magnificent!  I took a gazillion pictures outside; no photos allowed inside.  I took one of the black door that she has made paintings of several times.




I was just blown away by this tour & her home.  After the tour, we were bussed back to the Inn.  I went into the cafe & had a green chile burger for my meal & a local beer that was soooo very very good!

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Our tour guide had encouraged all of us to take the drive up & go see Ghost Ranch.  It’s a conference center these days, but there are also hiking trails & visitors are welcome.  I knew they offered rooms as well as camping there, but didn’t know how much or if they had any sites available.  

I started the 14 mile drive, passing the lake as well as the flat topped mountain in some of O’Keefes paintings & the place where her ashes are spread.


But then I saw this…I literally was saying out loud to myself “Oh My God…that’s gorgeous!  Wow, look at that!”  It was breathtaking!



The Visitors Center was closed when I got there, but I followed the instructions to call an attendant.  A guy about my age came walking up the porch & said they had some open sites for camping.  But it was $30 a night.  He tried to tempt me saying they had HOT showers, ice, microwave, wifi, etc, but my camping budget could not be swayed tonight.  However, we did end up talking for about an hour.  He told me his wife had come here several years ago & taken a landscape tour…when they got back to their home in Indiana & she told him she wanted them to move there.  As these stories frequently go, they both got jobs at Ghost Ranch & are living happily ever after.  Love these stories!  Go dream! then do it people!!  

Id heard about a Forest Service campground down the road, but Paul told me not go thereit was known for a place for lovers to meet & criminals to go (romantic criminals?) but he told me about a place that was 7 miles down a bad road that was good, unless it rained, then most people get stuck, but I might be alright in my 4Runner.  The conversation moved on to camping equipment, then I asked about the hikes here.  He told me I should come back in the morning for their Sunday breakfast.  I said maybe.  As I pulled out from Ghost Ranch, I decided Id go to neither of the places he suggested (criminals & possible stuckness?  the skies looked like it was going to pour rain…no way!) & I went back down the way I’d come, oohing & ahhing past the colorful rock formations to the Lake Abiquiu Corp of Engineers campground.  The booth was closed, so I drove to the host site.  The woman was super nice, even telling me all the rules…somehow they came across nicer the than when Ms. Crankypants told me the same thing last night.  And, you couldn’t see the dam, the water looked blue & nice & the views all around were wonderful!  Another $12, but this place had HOT showers!  There were trees in between campers so you felt like you had some privacy…& this was the view from my spot!


day 26…5.7
I took  a nice hot shower before I left the campground heading back to Ghost Ranch.  The colors were just as spectacular this morning!



I’d be hiking one of the most popular hikes at Ghost Ranch called Chimney Rocks…see the pic below.  You hike 750’ up to the flat mesa-like to the right of the rock formations.  It was a fun hike & I thought there would be more people on the trail this beautiful Sunday morning, but there were just a few others that I saw.


A little ‘selfie’ on top!

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Once I’d completed the hike, I turned around & looked up & saw some other hiker had made it to the top.  It was fun to look back up to see where I’d just been!


I put my pack in the car, drank a bunch more water, ate some lunch from the back of my 4Runner, then took a self guided tour around Ghost Ranch.  The pic below is of a cabin O’Keefe stayed in until she bought her home here at Ghost Ranch.


I wistfully looked at the riders on horseback, but then remembered my cool new shoes I’d be getting in August (but sometimes I wish I could do both!)

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It was time for a new direction.  I kept driving north past the Taos plateau then found Highway 64.  Danny had suggested this scenic route that somehow I’d missed while looking at the map.  I’ve been trying to avoid snow & ice on this trip, not wanting to drive in either.  All I knew about the upcoming road was that it was dotted, through the forest & I thought there might be camping to find for the night.  It was only about 3pm, so I knew I could take a leisurely drive.  The map never said how high the road went though, & I soon found myself on an isolated, bad asphalt road for about 50 miles.  I never saw one other car going my way, & I’d only been on the road about 4 miles before it started winding up & up & up.  Then there was snow alongside the road, then deep in the trees.  It was really pretty with either several feet of snow in meadows, or massive amounts of water breaking through snow & flooding those same meadows.  Then it started raining lightly.  So, here’s the thing.  I really hate driving in ice & snow.  I’ve been up on passes before in Colorado, where at the bottom the weather was fine, but by the time you climb your way to the top, it’s sleeting or hailing or snowing & can be white knuckle driving.  This was not that…not even near that.  My friend Talie says the worst thing we do to ourselves is freak out about all the ‘what ifs”?  That those thoughts stop us from doing things…it’s okay to be scared when there is actually something to be afraid of, but we shouldn’t let our thoughts make us afraid.  I know this, but I didn’t know if the road was going higher or lower or about the weather.  This is exactly what Talie is talking about.  I could make myself crazy, but I told myself to look around at the pretty snow, the water raging through several feet of snow still in the meadow, to breathe & to make my mind quiet & just drive.  Of all the roads on this trip, this was the one to make me nervous.  But, then the rain stopped, the road started going down hill & all was good.  I’d seen tons of camping spots…but mostly the roads that went off from the one I was driving, were either still covered in snow or mud.  These are the times I ask myself, if Danny were with me, would we enjoy camping up here all alone, in the quiet, in the snow?  Since I’m mostly always alone, I don’t know the answer.  But for today, I knew I wouldn’t be camping up on top of that pass, in the snow, in the mud & with who knows what weather conditions.

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Then Welcome to Colorado!  And right about then, my phone rang & it was Peter.  I pulled off the road & we talked for about an hour…love it!  He’s doing great & really busy with his new job, cross fit, pickle ball & soccer.  I’m so happy he is happy!  

I love this state…even though I’m not a snow person & avoid the place in the winter, I do feel at home here. I just kept driving, taking a new route into this state that I’ve been to so many times.  I finally stopped in Poncha Springs at one of our fave brewery’s to buy some beer to take back home.  Then I drove into Salida then had tacos & a margarita at the Boathouse Cantina.  I drove back north, as dark was approaching, & out to a road I’ve camped off of frequently.  The temps were dropping fast, so I snuggled in the for the night, only reading a few pages of my book, then staring up at the ‘almost’ full moon.

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day 27…5.8
I’d gone from sandals & hiking skirts & 80’s & 90’s to much colder weather.  I knew the days might warm up, but the nights & mornings were still going to be cold.  Colorado’s springtime can still look like winter.  When I originally planned this trip, I knew Colorado would be iffy.  I want to hike…everyday & had done that most of this trip.  I know it’s too early to do much hiking here, but I knew weather would play in a big factor in whether I chose to stay here or not.  I’d been checking the forecast for the past few days, & now checked it again.  Rain & thunderstorms in the forecast for the next 4 days.  For a few hours, my plan was to head directly to Colorado Springs, my least favorite town in this wonderful state.  The Incline is a 1 mile, 2,000 steps, 2,000’ elevation grade on an old railroad bed that went up to Pikes Peak.  It’s hard, & to kick you in the mind, there’s a false summit near the top.  The Incline has been ‘repaired’ & ‘redone’ in the last few years; they now charge just to park your car in the lot.  After you reach the top, you find yourself 4 miles up on the Barr Trail…the one that goes up to Pikes Peak.  I’ve done the Incline twice, but I was in my forties.  I’ve hiked down from Pikes Peak…a killer 14 miles down on the knees, along a mostly forested trail. But I wondered if I could tackle the Incline now?  But to race away from the area I was in, to hike up the Incline trying to beat thunderstorms, suddenly didn’t sound like something I wanted to do.  I had skies that were turning blue as the early morning sun rose & this place feels good…I’ve traveled through here so many times driving back & forth to Crested Butte…who BTW, was supposed to also be getting rain & possible snow this week.

I went to the Brown Dog cafe as soon as they opened & got a cup of coffee & warm scone.  The young girl cooking came around & started chatting, since there were just the two employees & myself at the counter.  She was telling me about her solo backpacking trips all around the area & through Colorado & we compared trails.   I watched her eyes light up as she talked about hiking & the high that comes with long scenic walks in these majestic mountains…I know the feeling well.  Then we had a interesting conversation about wildlife in the area & the concentrated number of mountain lions up behind the area I camp in.  I don’t hike there, just camp by the road, but I didn’t know this fact.  All of this made me not want to ‘rush away’.  The skies were bright blue now & for this moment, the weather looked good.  I can get really sentimental about these mountains & on the verge of ending my trip & going back to the mundane of life & a place I don’t love, makes me want to cling to these moments.  

I changed my “Incline” plan…there would be another day to it.  With coffee in hand, I drove up towards Cottonwood Pass.  I knew most of the road is still gated & covered in snow & avalanche debris, until later this month when the road crews will start tackling the clearing & opening of all the passes.  But, this left me on the road with no one, surrounded by big, tough, snowy beautiful mountains, with the melting snow raging in the stream that runs next to the road.  I slowly drove up the road, taking it all in, then turned around at the gate & drove back. 

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Then I drove up to Twin Lakes, stopped at the lake for awhile, then up that road towards Independence Pass, until another locked gate turned me around.  But on my way up the road, I got a little ‘trip magic’ when three Bighorn Sheep ran across the road, then jumped up a rock outcropping & just stayed there…me looking at them & them staring back at me.  And we all just stayed there.  No one else was on the road, so I backed up a little & turned the car off & just watched them for a bit.

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As I got back down off the road, still in the woods, but nearer to the lake, my phone beeped; I had service once again.  It was Luke.  Calling just at the perfect moment & place to catch up.  I pulled off the road, rolled down my window, so I could still hear the birds & called him back.  We talked for about 45 minutes & it was great…I miss my kids so much & always enjoy hearing about what’s going on in their world, which feels so far away from mine.  May is always a month that’s filled with a little extra emotion…it’s both my  Mom's & Grandmother’s birthdays the first week; then comes Mother’s Day.  Being a Mom has been the best part of my life, but now I’ve spent more Mother’s Days without my kids than with them, & no “Mom’ of my own for many, many years.  The past two years I was fortunate to spend road tripping in California & spent the holiday with the boys…which was great!  Then, knowing my trip is coming to end…well, I relished the info we shared & the laughs we had on the phone. Then I drove back to the lake, pulling into the parking area & just looking around.  I changed from long pants, warm socks & down jacket, into shorts & tee shirtit was warming up, but the skies were growing dark too.

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I’ve visited the Botanical Gardens in Denver the past two years, which had wonderful exhibits at the time.  But, no such exhibit was there now, & I knew most of the flower beds would still be brown, plus who wants to walk around there in the rain?  I headed east & got on Highway 24 towards the Springs.  I have a fave place I love to eat at in Denver, (it gets the AAA+ rating for Cuban sandwiches & one of the best selections of craft beer in the State) but it’s closed on Mondays, so no need to drive all the way up north.  I had some rain & very dark skies along my drive, but went directly to Shuga’s for lunch.  A little bistro just off of downtown, that brings back good memories of when Luke lived in the Springs & one of his best friends, Adi, who first introduced me to Shugas.  Adi is no longer part of this physical world, but always, always will live in our hearts & minds & I think of him & his family so often.  

The food was fabulous!  I had a cup of their Spicy Brazilian Coconut Shrimp soup & a side of the Jalapeño Gouda Mac & Cheese…yum! yum! yum!

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The bartender told me of a couple of places to go have a beer, so I drove a few miles to 503W & had a beer from Dry Dock.  That bartender told me of a small brewery, on my way out of town, that has several barrel aged beers.  Nano 108 would be my next stop about a 20 minute drive across town.

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I tried three & bought a crowler of beer for Danny.  My last two stops were at the gas station & for coffee…an extra shot of espresso, please.  There was no ‘looking back’ at the mountains, even the huge & towering Pikes Peak was covered in thick white skies as they grew grayer & darker in my rearview mirror. I was heading back to Kansas.

I was hoping the 60 or so miles along 24 would fly by as I know the road has many deer & antelope & didn’t want it to get dark until I was off this road on the big highway.  I turned my 12 hour road trip playlist on very loud & sang & drank coffee.  While most people love returning home after a trip, that is not me.  I really look forward to seeing Danny, the animals & my friends, but the place & the monotony of it all make me crazy.  And the drive back is mind numbing.  However, once I hit I-70 I had a lightening show in front of me for the next 75 miles.  Between that & the music, I was doing fine.  Then I drove ‘under & into” the storm with rain & lightening all above me.  The music played on & then I was out of it, with bright white flashes in my rear view mirror that made me keep thinking a cop was pulling me over.  At some point, I’d crossed the Kansas state line & got a 'Welcome to Kansas' text message from Danny…his texts are always so good, this one made me smile.  

The skies eventually were just dark & cloudy & then they finally cleared so I could see the beautiful moon.  I pulled into a rest stop about 1:30am, tucked myself into my camp bed for the last time on this trip & slept like a rock for 4 hours.    

day 28…5.9
The skies weren’t even light yet when I continued my trip east.  But one thing about this flat state, is it has great sunrises & sunsets.  So, with my music up loud & watched the sun come up.

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I knew I wouldn’t make it home before Danny left for work.  I pulled into the driveway about 7:30am, backed in the 4Runner & went to find the cats…who were as glad as cats can be to see me again.  I made some coffee & spent the morning, unpacking my car, cleaning my gear, changing my closet from winter to summer clothes & throwing in a load of laundry.  

I’d had a wonderful month on the road!  I’d hiked almost everyday.  I got to meet two new babies in the family, that I probably won’t see again for a long, long time & my cousin & his wife... Gary was so great to hike & visit with.  I’d seen so many magnificent & beautiful places & met new people that would probably never have crossed my path anywhere else except at that moment.  There are times when I’m driving in amazing places, with my music or a book in the background, when I think I could just drive forever like this!  I never get tired of camping in my car or going from one place to another (of course, it helps if you have great weather & awesome scenery is a must).  Hiking everyday was fantastic!  It was part of this trip’s plan & I love it!

And always, always, always…grateful for the opportunity to go, to do, to see & to experience!

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One of my very favorite things about traveling are the people you meet & this trip was no exception.  Most people are nice, they love their families, care about the world, & all have a story to tell.  I’m always open & glad to hear them…even when they break your heart a little.  We live in a big world & briefly connecting with others, outside of my day to day world of family & friends, is one of the most awesome experiences.  In this crazy time in our country when everyone wants to seem to fight, argue, & convince you with their closed mind how right they are & wrong everyone else is, the very best antidote is to connect with someone that walks a very different path than you do.  When you break situations down to one on one & get to know the person, even briefly, they become a name with a heart & mind & their own story.  The ‘labels’ we all want to pass out to this ‘group’ or ‘those kind’ don’t attach so easily when you have a conversation & realize, while maybe somethings are different in this other person, there is much that is the same.  We all need to work on finding the things we have in common rather than those things that separate us.

While hiking everyday in the beautiful red rock country of Sedona, the beauty was always accompanied by the “thwamp, thwamp, thwamp" of the tour helicopters that would start before noon & on & off all day.  Must be a great view from up there!

I met two different people on this trip…one in Sedona & one in Prescott that gave me suggestions of companies to contact for jobs that might work well with my travel dreams & plans…we’ll see after the summer’s over, but I’m not looking until then.

I love how Albuquerque’s over passes are all painted the flesh color of adobes with bright turquoise strips.

While everyone in my family would not agree (that being Danny & his Mom), I love having Verizon instead of Sprint for my phone carrier.  It was definitely worth the money & the time sucking phone calls & trips to the store to get this changed (all of which I did; not either of them).  Last year, I barely had any service…I was always on someone else’s network & couldn’t get map quest, weather or anything internet related on my Sprint phone.  Dealing with that company was a nightmare…even up to the point of dumping them earlier this year.  This trip, I had service most everywhere I went…yay! (Having said that, I’m having one little issue with my Jetpack (internet connection) at home & was on the phone with them an hour yesterday & it’s still not resolved but I can live with the problem for now).  Phone carriers have you ‘by the ball’s’ so to speak, no matter who they are.  And while a lot of people like to complain about technology (not naming names), that’s not me.  I would hate it if I couldn’t Face Time with Claire or anyone in my family.  I love getting photos attached to text messages (I’d never get any otherwise…how many people do you know who still print & send photos?)   I always have a paper map but love having my British assistant tell me which directions to go & where to turn (even though some days, she likes to send off into outer space) & people who love it the old fashioned way?  Talk about distracted driving…how do you follow a paper map while in traffic or on a highway…or do you just pull over a thousand times to ‘check the map’?  Anyway, this traveler is as happy as can be (with any utility who can do whatever they want —we all sign these one-way contracts that we know THEY can change at any time) with Verizon & sooooo happy to have gotten rid of Sprint.

And speaking of phones, WOW, was I so grateful for the Maxboost screen protector I had on my new phone.  When I was in Bisbee, I slammed the big heavy back hatch door down on my phone only realizing it when the door wouldn’t lock & then with a sick feeling when I saw my phone.  And while the screen protector was a mess, it saved my phone, which is in perfect condition. I had an extra one at home (they sell them as two packs), so I replaced it this morning.  So grateful my stupid mistake didn’t end in a broken screen.  Note to self:  don’t ever set your phone in that spot again!

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Wow!  Dark Skies!  I camped under some of the darkest skies in our whole country on this trip.  And because I had amazing weather most of the time, I saw millions & millions of stars most every night.  There’s just something about looking up at that big expanse of sky, that gives us pause, peace & reminds us of how very small we are.  Just perfect!


I drove around 4,400 miles
I took about 1,800 photographs 
I paid less than $50 total for lodging (4 nights paid camping)
I went hiking almost everyday (yay!)
I spent 28 days on the road
I slept in my sweet 4Runner 26 nights

I have 23 days until my next short weekend camping trip with a friend in Iowa
I have 41 days until we leave to go see Sara, Kevin & Claire in Orlando
I leave in late June to go back to Colorado

Peace & joyfulness to you all!

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