Swamp Coolers

Or evaporative coolers if you want to be correct and less, um, swampy.

evaporative cooler

We live in a 124-year-old house that does not have central air conditioning. In the past, we made do with one or two old window-unit air conditioners, but for how much it cost to run those things, they didn’t do a very good job of keeping our drafty house cool.

So on a 90+ degree day a few weeks ago, we bought and installed an evaporative cooler (we got this one). All I can really say about it is that it’s the greatest thing in the history of the world. (Please note: This is not a sponsored post. Sorry if it sounds like it is. I’m in love with an appliance.) (Also if you want to learn more about evaporative coolers, check out the Wikipedia page.)

Within an hour, the swamp cooler (Ben and I both independently determined that he should be called “Bob,” which is weird and annoying and I promise we are not in the habit of naming household items) cooled the temperature in our living room/dining room from 81 degrees to 70 degrees. We left Bob (sorry) running all night and woke up to a 60-degree living room (brrrrr).

Unlike our old air conditioners, Bob cools the whole house. The trick is — and this seems weird — to leave doors and windows open in the areas you want to cool. Generally, we leave our back door and bedroom window open, which helps to distribute the cool air throughout the house.

Another awesome thing — in Colorado, our electric company (Xcel) offers rebates when you buy an evaporative cooler (more info. here). We’ll be getting $250. When you add that to what we’ll save in energy costs this summer (running a swamp cooler is way cheaper and more environmentally friendly than running old, inefficient air conditioners), Bob will have almost paid for himself (sorry, that’s just weird but now I can’t stop) by the end of summer.

If you’re not familiar with evaporative coolers, there’s one thing you should know. They smell when they’re running, at least for a while. At first, the smell was really strong and bothered me. Since then, it has mellowed and now it’s either gone or I’m used to it and don’t notice it. According to Ben, the smell comes from the cardboard filter, which is made from aspen trees. So it’s nothing chemical/unhealthy/creepy — it’s just a little different.

At least now we’re ready for this shit, which, as I am wont to say, WTF.


1,027 Miles

I get kind of nostalgic in September. There’s something about the way fall starts sneaking in with its almost-chilly evenings. It gets you thinking about all those times you went back to school or moved into a fresh apartment — things that are new even though you’re at a time of year that’s kind of anything but.

In September 2003 (specifically, September 28, 2003), Ben and I moved to Colorado. That went something like this.

driving directions

The trip from Oak Park, Illinois to Nederland, Colorado is 1,027 miles. Most of those miles are pretty boring, although from the cab of a rented truck where you sit wedged between three cat carriers and the door, you can tell that Iowa is pretty, with rolling hills past the interstate. Nebraska, on the other hand, is not your favorite.

We had no reason to move to Colorado. We just sold a condo (at exactly the right time, it turned out), quit our jobs, and headed west. That’s some cliche shit right there, but I can’t make the story more exciting now. That’s what happened.

Moving from Oak Park, Illinois to Nederland, Colorado is as weird as you might imagine. We settled in with all the other people from Illinois who move to Nederland for a year or so before going somewhere else, wherever that might be.

Because I get kind of nostalgic in September, we went to Nederland today. We hadn’t been there since September 2009, when I was 8 months pregnant and thinking about how, next time we walked around Nederland, Ben would be able to carry Soren and I wouldn’t have to do it all myself while worrying about where I’d be able to pee five minutes later when I’d have to pee again. We waited long enough to go back so that, for the most part, Soren could walk around by himself.

Nederland is mostly the same as it was, and I love that about it. It’s quiet and beautiful and rocks get in the Birkenstocks you wear because if you can’t wear Birkenstocks in Nederland you can’t wear them anywhere and who cares what shoes you’re wearing, anyway. There are hummingbirds everywhere. And dogs. If I didn’t ever have to go to an office, I’d move back to Nederland right now, although I’d get annoyed when we wanted to order dinner after 9 p.m. (rare) or when I tried to make baked goods that never turn out right at 8,240 feet even with extreme high-altitude adjustments (more likely).

Ned is mostly the same, but two major improvements have been made since we lived there. First, there’s a carousel now. Second, there’s a brewery. You should go to both if you’re ever in the area.

Pine StreetPine Street
Our first house in CO
Carousel of HappinessCarousel of HappinessWild Mountain

Hiking the Colorado Hell’s Hole Trail

Yesterday, Ben and I decided to go for a hike. The Mount Evans Wilderness Area is a favorite of ours because it’s free, so close to Denver (just outside Idaho Springs), and dog friendly.

Unfortunately, our most normal dog (Peaches, the Rottweiler) is also the dog who gets carsick. Still, going hiking with a dog for the first time ever was incredibly awesome.

Our original plan was to do the Chicago Lakes trail, but we heard it’s a long trail and there’s a good chance there’s still snow on the trail. (Update: Our friends hiked the Chicago Lakes trail two days after we did our hike. They said they didn’t encounter any snow but the trail was very muddy.) So instead, we took the Hell’s Hole trail, because I thought it sounded good.

The trail wasn’t just good. It was awesome!

Getting there was easy. Exit 70 at 103 in Idaho Springs. Take 103 south and, before the first major switchback, turn right on West Chicago Creek Road. Follow this road for about 3 miles, until it ends. The road is unpaved and incredibly bumpy toward the top (rough but doable in a Honda Civic). You’ll pass the West Chicago Creek Campground on the left. Keep going — the trailhead is just past the campground and has its own parking lot and bathrooms. There were a few cars when we arrived at around 10 a.m. and plenty of room for more. The trailhead is clearly marked.

The hike starts out easy as it goes into a pine forest and then an aspen grove dotted with tiny yellow wildflowers at this time of year. It’s gorgeous! There are 3 stream crossings early in the hike — the first by way of some pretty skinny logs and the next two by way of log bridges. After this comes the hardest part of the hike. I’d say it’s roughly a mile of pretty steep uphill. It’s pretty rocky. Eventually, the aspens start to give way to pine trees. Past the aspens, there’s a section where the trail gets very rocky, but the whole trail isn’t rocky (some internet accounts say that after the first mile, the trail gets rockier and more level — it does get more level but, aside from the rocky patch, the trail actually gets much less rocky as you get to the top).

At about 1:20 into the hike and after a good uphill (I’m giving times because I don’t know how far this was), we hit a ridge or crest where the view is incredible — we had an unobstructed views of distant mountains. On the way up and the way back we encountered people sitting here enjoying a meal.

The other enjoyable thing about this ridge is that the hard part of the hike is over. There are a few more uphill portions after this, but it’s much less of an incline than the lower portion of the trail. It’s also less rocky and there were a few good stretches of my favorite kind of trail — pine-needle-covered dirt. The trail goes into a valley, which is beautiful and a nice change from the forest below. It was actually kind of weird, too — I’m not used to mountain hikes where you end in a valley.

Hell’s Hole itself is quite expansive. There’s what I guess could be considered a pond, although it was mostly mud with just a little water. Just past that is what I refer to as the “alien tree.” We sat kind of between the pond and the alien tree, by a log on the ground, to have lunch and lots and lots of water. I was feeling a little wonky by the time we got to the end of the trail (apparently Ben was, too, but he didn’t tell me that until later). I got lightheaded, I think from not drinking nearly enough water on the way up (well, and the elevation of 11,540 feet). Don’t do that! Drink lots of water and remember that this trail is sparsely used so that, um, if you have to pee somewhere, you totally can. Feeling a little lightheaded tends to make me a little panicky, and this occasion was no different. Ben’s theory is that the Hell’s Hole area is a little disconcerting because it’s kind of on a weird slant, so this might have contributed to my wonkiness, as well. It’s an absolutely gorgeous area but I’d agree that it’s kind of disconcerting. It’s weird to end an upward hike in, well, a big open hole-like area, where you’re looking up at a mountain. The landscape is dotted with alien trees, which are actually bristlecone pines (I didn’t know about these until after the hike). They’re incredibly eerie and, as I learned from the internet, can be 1,000+ years old. That’s crazy!

I think it’s safe to call this hike 8 miles round trip (the internet refers to it as 7 miles, 8.6 miles, and 9.3 miles — people who did the hike using GPS seem to agree on something close to 8 miles) with about a 2,000 foot elevation gain. It took us 2:05 to get to the top and 2:02 to get back down. Normal people probably take more time going up than down — I’m very slow and cautious on the way down because I’m a little clumsy and don’t want to fall. I did this hike using poles like you’d use for snowshoeing. Ben didn’t use anything. We saw people using nothing, one pole, a walking stick, or two poles. I’m a dork but I couldn’t imagine doing this hike, especially on the way down where it’s all rocky and slide-y, without poles.

I’d say the trail was less-than-moderately used. We encountered maybe 20 people, tops. It was just the right amount of human contact to have on a hike — every once in a while, we saw one, two, or a few friendly people, most of them with dogs. There were two guys at the end of the trail when we arrived. They left shortly after that and while we were eating, one other guy came through.

The trail was easy to follow. There was one spot where it wasn’t clear which way to go, but somebody stacked a bunch of rocks indicating that we should go left. On July 1 when the Denver high temperature was 85, the weather was awesome — we brought sweatshirts but didn’t use them. There was a little mud toward the end of the trail but no snow.

As with all Colorado mountain hikes, you’re better off to go as early in the day as possible. We were on the later end of things hitting the trail at 10:15 a.m. — most of the people we encountered were on the way down by then. In the early afternoon, clouds started to roll in but thankfully, we didn’t get any rain. Although I tried to do a good job applying sunscreen, I got a killer sunburn on places I missed, including the top of my head and the backs of my calves.

Last thing — if you have a dog who is in reasonably good shape, bring him or her on this hike! Peaches did awesome and seemed to have a great time, and she’d never been hiking before.

For more on the Hell’s Hole trail, check out:

I didn’t take a ton of pictures, because I was more focused on hiking than photographing, but here’s what I do have (you can see the whole set here). Ben took some of the ones at the end of the trail while I sat around feeling wobbly for a few minutes. Even with the wobbliness, I highly recommend this trail.

Hell's Hole mosaic

Vintage: Colorado

This was originally posted on June 29, 2007.
I’ve always thought that location is very important. If I don’t like where I live and how it affects every day, I will be miserable. Way back when I started blogging (I wrote stupid, boring entries) I was festering in the misery of no longer being happy with where I was and what my life looked like. I spent a year or so, I think, contemplating, studying maps, learning about cities, trying to figure out where to go next. Normally, I don’t spend so much time thinking and planning, but saying “fuck it all” and moving was a big deal and I had a condo to sell and I guess I realized how absolutely important this was.

beach + mountainWhile Ben and I were deciding where to go, I didn’t know who I would become after I got there, but I did know that where I went would significantly affect who I would become. I mean, I was ready to give up my career and the only state I’d ever really known. I don’t like the fact that the way I’m saying this makes me seem like tofu, something that is bland and takes on the flavor of whatever’s around it. I don’t think it’s quite like that, but maybe it is. Imagine if we moved to Vermont. Maybe I’d spend the winters wrapped in chunky knitted scarves and browsing in bookstores. If we moved to a small town along the Oregon coast, maybe I would’ve become kind of beachy, although we’d only last there a year before moving to Portland. If we moved to Bellingham, Washington, we’d grow herbs in our little kitchen where I’d bake pies, but I’m sure we would’ve ended up in Seattle.

I suppose it’s all kind of random and I don’t really know how or why we ended up in Nederland, Colorado. It all kind of makes sense the way it happened, but to this day when I tell people about how we moved from Chicago to Nederland, the universal reaction is WTF. The first time we ever went to Nederland, we got good coffee at a little coffee shop set up in a train car and sat outside under the sun and watched people in the kind of pants you’d wear to go hiking if you know what you’re doing wander around with their large, friendly dogs. Nederland was a perfect little cocoon for a year, but of course we ended up in the city.

The other day I got out my copy of On the Road so I could read the parts about Denver. I think location is important, so when I read the book, I don’t care so much about Dean or Chad King or Carlo Marx or Sal. The only character that matters is Denver itself. Denver is something you think about while you’re speeding across Nebraska or sleeping on the grass in Longmont. It’s hot and there are mountains nearby and there’s a buzz of excitement that starts at Colfax and radiates through the whole city.

Maybe we know more about ourselves than we realize. Did you know, four years ago, that I would be in love with beer and spending as much free time as possible at live sporting events? Did you know that Ben and I would have a house near downtown, a vegetable garden, and a dog, and that I’d have a job I really like and my shit pretty much together? Could you imagine me being anything other than this?

The thing is, if we’d moved anywhere else in the world, I don’t know if any of these things would’ve happened. If we lived in Vermont, I guess I’d get to watch the Frost Heaves play hoops, but I wouldn’t know about Jose Mesa and I wouldn’t be well-versed in the fine art of heckling at baseball games. And you know what else? Maybe even our weaknesses are good things. If I weren’t afraid of flying, we might not have ended up here — I remember looking at maps and thinking about how much it would suck to drive from Washington state to Illinois to visit family, ever, but driving from Colorado would be manageable. Maybe I don’t need to hate the fact that I have issues. My issues are the things that keep me grounded, and without them I’d just be out there doing totally crazy shit.

It’s hot here, and there’s no water, but even better, there are mountains that let you get out of the hot, stifling air. On Sunday, we went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was so hot even in the mountains it was 87 degrees when we left the car at the trailhead. We picked out a trail that led to a lake and went up 2,000 feet and 4.5 miles one way even though we didn’t have enough water. The lake at the end of the trail was, and I’m not kidding, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, clean water surrounded by a beach surrounded by a pine forest surrounded by mountains, like somebody took all the best parts of nature and put them right there in one place. I took off my shoes and walked barefoot on the sand and in the water and right then, even though I was thirsty and even though my legs were tired and even though I knew we had another two-hour hike to get back down the mountain, everything was absolutely perfect.

I don’t know that other people think about place the same way I do. Some of the most intimate relationships I have are those with the places where I live, and maybe that’s why I love it here so much. Denver isn’t showy and doesn’t say much, but every day it presents me with the small things you put together to make happiness. I really love it here, and could you imagine if I didn’t know about Jose Mesa?