Sometimes the best meals result from those that hold your lowest expectations.

After stopping throughout the day to explore spots across the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the sun lowered in the sky signaling it was time to find a place to camp. I left I-70 in Fruita and stopped at the state park near the exit. Their available sites would leave us sandwiched between two RVs or, if I wanted, the site amidst the Boy Scouts would be open just as soon as the couple before me packed up their belongings to relocate.

“What about Colorado National Monument?” I asked. “Do you know if they still have campsites available?”

“It’s two miles up the road. They’ll be gone for the night but you should be able to get in. There’s camping up there, but I’ve never been.”

It was too close not to see if better opportunities existed.

I entered the national monument and was blown away by the beauty. I had driven this east-west route on I-70 several times throughout the years, roadtripping to my parents and inlaws in California when we lived in Denver, or heading to Canyonlands or Arches National Parks in Utah. I never before had interest in stopping at Colorado National Monument. As the remaining yellow sunlight reflected off the red rock walls, we passed through tunnels carved into the rock and climbed the winding road to the top of the plateau. I suspected canyons and spires might be hidden further on. This was the landscape of the west I was missing.

We turned into the campground and as the sun was setting, found a perfect spot with a view, two thousand feet above the Colorado River Valley. How could the ranger working the campground in town never have ventured here?

That night I laid in splendid darkness, crickets chirped in the distance, my children breathed quietly as they slept, and an occasional breeze rustled the tent flaps.

When morning came I realized I had forgotten to plan for breakfast. I opened the rear hatch of the Subaru to look for food. The yogurt we didn’t eat the previous day bobbed in the cooler, the ice nearly all melted. A mango had reached its perfect ripeness. And a granola bar could be crumbled on top. Breakfast did exist.

Remy and Simon gobbled down their yogurt and mango separately and skipped the granola before I had a chance to prepare mine. When it was ready, I sat at the table in our campsite, eating my breakfast as the sun rose further in the sky and the scent of pinyon-juniper permeated the air.

Then we went searching for those canyons and spires.


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