What Does a Farmer Do For Fun?

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I know that most serious farmers would never think about leaving the farm during growing season. I admit it – I do love to travel. I planned the two-week trip after all the produce was planted and long before the harvest. The hardest part of leaving the farm is finding someone you trust; someone who will take care of it as well as you would yourself. In the past I thought I had found the perfect match- half an hour before leaving on our cross-country trip he backed out. While in France last summer I returned to find my beloved garden eaten by voracious weeds and all of my herbs mowed down. There are down sides to leaving. One bit of advice is to do everything you can to find a reliable helper. It is sort of along the same idea as finding a good babysitter you trust so you can get out of the house. Yes, it is true all farmers need and deserve a vacation!

As a chef and farmer, I believe the best way to get ideas is to travel. I read a lot but seeing things for myself always breathes new thoughts into me. Traveling gives me the chance to see how other farmers work and sell their goods. I love to check out the pick-your-own and local farmers’ markets along the way.

I am blessed enough to have a son to take care of the property when I am gone. His girlfriend is happy to help around the farm and is very competent. My list of chores is enormous. Setting up the watering system requires a mechanical engineering degree. There are so many gardens to water, a pond to maintain, feeding the fish and the birds, electrical fencing to turn on and off, weeding, watering, harvesting when needed; the list goes on and on.

I am writing this while in Colorado. It has been a busy 10 days so far with a trip to Glenwood Springs, white water rafting, Durango, Four Corners and Mesa Verde. This is interesting country.

White water rafting on the Colorado River

“Absolutely fantastic – perfect day on the Colorado River”

This has been on my bucket list for decades and what better place than Colorado to try this out. Colorado is a state for outdoor recreation – it seems as if the entire state is dedicated to sports of one type or another – hiking, skiing, cycling, zipping, horseback riding.

If you are in the Glenwood Springs area, please go and check out Blue Sky Adventure Tours.

This is a trip of a lifetime – I promise you it will be an adventure to remember. The excursion is well planned and the guides are experienced, friendly and informative. We decided to do the large boat and then break off and kayak in a boat for two. There was a perfect balance between the rapids and the still water – it gave you time to look up at the splendor of the canyon – what a great way to experience the Colorado River. I had one of the best kayaking adventures in my life – I am going back as soon as possible. Will, our guide, was top notch and made the experience the best.

Hints: What you should bring – a hat for sure, sunscreen, shoes with a heel, water and a waterproof camera – you are guaranteed to get wet. If you have one of those plastic bags that are designed for boating, bring it to store your things. A towel may be helpful. Bring a change of clothes so that you don’t have to take the trip back to the headquarters soaking wet – on a cold day it can get very chilly! Have a thermos of hot coffee in your car waiting for you – you will be glad you did.

I always try and pack a whole lot of living in the time I’m away. Once back on the farm, it is pure farm focus. It is just the same as when you take a vacation from work. We all know about how much planning you have to do before you go away. Then when you get back there is three times the amount of work waiting for you. That is what happens when you leave the farm so I make sure that I have lots of great memories to remind me of why all the extra work is worth it.

Mesa Verde National Park

We still wanted to explore so we decided to go to Mesa Verde National Park, known for its cliff dwellings.

Let me start with the temperature – 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). Then comes the altitude, 8,000 feet and counting. We arrived from a visit from Four Corners – the only place in the United States where four states come together, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Now this spot is a true desert, and I could barely believe that the wild horses we saw could survive.

We paid $15 dollars to enter Mesa Verde National Park and the pass is good for one week.

We decided to stay at the Farview Lodge to really enjoy the views of the mass expanse of buttes, chimneys, finger mountains and wild life. I am going to review the hotel and dining experience in a separate review. Just a hint – absolutely stunning.

The park is enormous, victim of a large fire in 2002, and there are many spots to check out. This is a brief description from Wikipedia: “Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. It is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.” It is a very large park that you can drive through and stop at scenic spots to view the dwellings. However, to see the real sites it is best to go on a guided tour.

The lodge was spectacular, and you could dine on top at the restaurant or just have cocktails and appetizers along with an incredible view. One criticism is that they have no umbrellas on the outside patios – it is far too hot to eat with that sun beating down on you.

In the morning, we hiked to Spruce Tree House – no fee. I was rather alarmed by the red faces and panting of the tourists as we passed them on our descent into the cave dwelling. This is not an easy hike for those who are not fit – let me put that to you plainly. Many people had to stop to catch their breath. Wear appropriate shoes and bring water. All that physical labour on the farm made me prepared for this hike. This is one of the benefits of hard work. I walk miles and miles each day around the farm just to get to the spot where I need to work.

It is a really fascinating place and a trip back into the life of man. The study of archeology has always fascinated me, and I love to wonder how past peoples eked out a living in such harsh terrain. To me it made me think of the earliest farmers – just how difficult a time they must have had. The cliff dwellings seem inconceivable and they let your imagination flow. You can follow the trail to get to petroglyphs. I passed knowing I had a four-hour tour in the afternoon. I needed to save my resources. Needless to say it was a wise move.

We arranged for the tour with Aramak – this company runs the parks’ concessions. They do not offer any tour information. When we stopped and asked a ranger about the tours, he told me the bus tour was run separately from the ranger guided tours. The cost was $41 per person. We did not receive a map to tell us where we were going. We were picked up by a bus and we drove around the park, with lots of water offered to us at no price. It was HOT. We stopped at a variety of sights including early underground living spaces and kivas – places of worship. Our guide Holly was informative, friendly and knowledgeable. This really added to the experience. The tour was worth every penny.

Now here comes the part that I did not enjoy at all. While I had anticipated some climbing – I had packed my hiking boots – I had no idea that this leg of the journey was going to involve scaling cliff walls, climbing ladders and being forced through tiny spaces between enormous cliffs.

As we lined up to start the descent it sort of felt like the lineup for Mount Everest.

We were set to take a tour of Cliff Palace. I will admit that the ranger who took over this part of the park tour made it fairly clear that there were going to be a few challenges along the way. As someone who is admittedly petrified of heights, I had second thoughts about participating. I looked around me in the sweltering heat and I spotted little children, some as young as 2, many of the children were around 7 and many grandparents. While we collected at the top of the cliff and we were given our safety lecture, I really wondered about how safe this was going to be for the little children. I seemed more frightened than they were.

In any event, we started the trek down, which seemed not too frightening. However at this point the ranger decided to stop and to have 30 or 40 tourists sit underneath a cliff hanging – we could barely all fit. All I could think about was that I was going to fall off into oblivion. We sat there for what seemed like an eternity. At this point, terror set in and I really thought that I was going to go back on my own. My partner talked to the ranger, and she confirmed heading back the way we came was even worse. One woman was feeling dizzy and the ranger addressed her issues with a wet cloth around her neck. Fear is not so easily addressed – no wet bandana was going to cure my ill. I decided to keep going with the rest of the group, and we ended up in Cliff Palace. You’re really not allowed to enter most of the area but you can walk around and view it from the outside. While some people looked around, all I could think about was how was I going to finish the hike as I stared up at this little wee ladder. I did manage to finish the trip with a very narrow pass between two enormous mountain boulders.

It was an accomplishment, and yet I worried about the fact that I never signed a waiver. Looking back, I understand how really dangerous this hike could be. I did feel a sense of pride for completing the hike, however my fear still lingered. When our guide described another tour where you scale 30 feet of ladder and burrow through a tunnel, I shuddered. Never.

Mesa Verde National Park is worth visiting. You need to be fit enough to hike and scale – and if you have a fear of heights, the hiking part of the tour may be uncomfortable. I would suggest you plan for at least one or two days to really explore all that the park has to offer. I would also suggest you try and plan your trip when the temperatures are a bit cooler and not in the heat of summer as we did.

I also suggest you plan to stay at the Fairview Lodge. A drink or meal on top of the scenic restaurant with a spectacular view is another wonderful way to enjoy this great world heritage site. It leaves you with a sense of wonder and expands your horizons. I highly recommend a visit. While many families were there, I do not think it is the best park for young children – they need to be watched very closely. I am sure teens would love the challenge. Make sure to fill up on gas before entering the park.

My sabbatical from the farm is not quite over. My adventure continues until I am back on my farm. I make sure to find something new to do and learn each day. Thank God for technology. I have kept in touch through photographs and am pleased to see that all is doing well and some of the tomatoes and peppers are beginning to ripen. I hope to have organic potatoes and tomatoes when I get back.

‘Til next time!

Chef Elizabeth