Aspen Princess: Up the creek without a paddle |

Aspen Princess: Up the creek without a paddle

“I’m stuck!” my mother-in-law screams in that tone of voice that lets you know this is a nonnegotiable fact.

She’s straddling a log about 2 miles up the Four Mile trail, which is actually only 3 miles long, but that’s beside the point. The log crosses Four Mile Creek in the San Juan National Forest, downstream from (you guessed it) Four Mile Falls, which is our ultimate destination. I’ll give her this: The creek is moving fast, and the log is high enough off the ground to be intimidating. Despite my gymnastics and yoga background, I decide to scooch across the middle section of the log where a fall would be of high consequence.

The log is wide enough and would be easy to walk across were it not for the height between it and the ground. Technically, I should be able to do cartwheels across it, but I have become a serious wussy in my old age.

Ryan is carrying the babe so he opts to walk right through the creek, figuring wet feet are better than dumping his firstborn son into an ice-cold creek bed. Thankfully the water is not that deep, and he can hold onto the log for support and balance.

We’re both on the other side when his mom declares that she’s not moving another inch. Her skinny little legs are stuck straight out to each side like she’s been electrocuted, and she’s clutching the log with both hands as if she may never let go.

“Try folding your legs beneath you so you can stand up,” I tell her gently, like I’m trying to coax her from the ledge of a roof.

“My legs are not strong enough to do that,” she insists.

This is a woman who moves through her world like a tornado, a little ball of boundless energy who, like my own mother, shows no signs of aging, even as she enters her seventh decade. She tromps more than she walks like she knows exactly where she is going, even when she doesn’t. There are times when she is adamantly wrong. You can see why her son has such unshakable confidence, why he’s both kind and strong, why he’s simultaneously gentle and a force of nature. It’s clear she raised him well.

“You are definitely strong enough,” I tell her. When it’s clear ego-fluffing is not going to work, I try another tact.

“Try scooching by pressing down on your palms and inching your butt across,” I say.

That, she can manage, but she stops after a few tries. “The wood is scratching my legs,” she whines in a way that makes me think she’s going to burst out laughing, but she doesn’t.

A young guy who is hiking down and is witness to the whole scene decides the time has come to intervene. He wades into the water and, perched on his tippy toes, wraps both his arms around Maribeth like she’s a bear cub.

“What are you doing!” she squeals in a tone that is half accusatory and half thrilled.

“I’m going to lift you up off this log,” he tells her, as if he’s not quite sure he believes it himself.

Even though this seems like a recipe for disaster, the young man extracts our Minnesotan Mamma from her perch, off the log and into the ice-cold water where she now happily crosses the stream.

“Oh! That actually feels good on my tootsies,” she says in that vowel-heavy accent of hers. “The cold water feels good on my dogs.” Only she says “dogs” like “dawgs.” I’m assuming she’s referring to her feet, or maybe her toes. Hard to say, but whatever it is, she makes it sound fun and appealing.

We’re here for a little family vacay, and it’s my first time in the area. Even though I’ve been to Creede on the east side and Durango to the west, I’d never driven up and over Wolf Creek Pass and down into the upper San Juan Basin. There’s no disputing the fact that the San Juans are some of the most dramatic peaks in Colorado. The landscape looks like something out of a fairy tale, with big alpine meadows cut by the hearty, vibrant San Juan River. Densely forested hillsides look like luxurious fabric, rich and with a depth of color your eyes have to adjust to. Steep rocky cliff walls give the mountains a sexier look, like a tight-fitting dress. While there’s not much to the town — the influx of retirees and part-time residents give it a Florida-in-the-mountains feel — the scenery is the reason why. (Yes, that last sentence was intentionally vague and left open to interpretation on purpose, so there).

The hot springs is clearly the main attraction. The funny part of that story is the Utes called the sulfur-rich mineral springs “Pah gosah,” once translated by a Ute elder as “water that has a bad smell.”

Even though we climb over at least 20 more fallen logs to get there, Four Mile Falls does not disappoint. With the force of spring runoff, the falls explode from 300 feet above, casting an ice-cold spray that makes goose bumps rise, even on a 90-degree day.

Over the course of the week, we’ll walk through the desert top at Mesa Verde and look down on the cliff dwellings that somehow alter your perception of the human race. We’ll spend a solid five hours at the hot springs, going from the 108-degree pool into the ice-cold river. Even though I may never get the smell of sulfur out of my bikini and my favorite necklace was tarnished by the minerals, we’ll continue to belly laugh as we retell the story of Mimi marooned on a log over and over. A memory that, even though it was created only a few days ago, will for sure last a lifetime.

The Princess did suffer a little FOMO after missing Food & Wine. Email your love to

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