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The Hunt for Lemon Squeezers

Sometimes you can put a “y” on the end of someone’s name and it creates a cute, young, friendlier sounding nickname, like Linny. It sort of takes the serious out of it. You can do the same thing to a noun, add the “y” and it turns into a cuter, and easier to laugh at adjective. The sky was tornadoy the day we headed to Grand Junction. See, it’s cuter!

It blew and rained so hard for spells of the drive that our windshield wipers must have thought they’d joined the military and were suddenly in boot camp. However, we have noticed, especially when on a big interstate highway, that you can drive through these land squalls relatively quickly. Instead of sitting still waiting for it to pass over us, the RV chugs on through it and in minutes we come out the other side to find friendlier skies. Friendlier as in not trying to blow our tin house over onto its side or poke holes in its roof with steel-tipped rain drops, but still grey and drizzly. We pulled into the KOA in Grand Junction during a lull in the storm so our set up at the site was merely moist, rather than drenching. Nonetheless, we surrendered the afternoon to a grocery store run followed by an HBO movie and microwave popcorn and hoped for better weather the next day.

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We’d gotten a small paragraph of suggestions on how to entertain ourselves from our friend Leanne who used to live in town, but at the top of our list was a visit to the Colorado National Monument. Neither of us had really heard or read much about this smaller park, we’d only just found out about it through Leanne, but its significance increased tenfold after I exchanged a few emails with my Aunt Lucile during the drive in.

Turns out that the Colorado National Monument is where the infamous Lemon Squeezers hide. They were infamous in my childhood at least. I think some memories throw out anchors in our minds, they stake out a corner and start decorating, hanging up lots of details and emotions in order to secure their place in our life experience. The Lemon Squeezers have such a corner inside of me.

I think I was five or thereabouts. My mom, my aunt and I drove to Grand Junction to visit a friend of my aunt’s and she and her daughter Nikki took us into the National Monument to hike. Now, I may have visited my grandparents in Colorado before this trip so maybe I wasn’t a complete stranger to mountain trails, but as a city kid at the fresh age of five there certainly wasn’t a large repertoire of hiking experiences to draw from. This is why the visual impact of the tall narrow crevice that we were going to walk through and the name Lemon Squeezers sat so heavily on my small shoulders. How was I supposed to know for sure that the rock walls wouldn’t really start squeezing me as I walked through?

Innocence and adrenaline and the clean, head-to-toe awe that only a kid can conjure up are the defining markers of that afternoon, those and the relief-tinged pride I felt after I’d made it safely through the squeezy crevice to the other side. I think it was one of the first times that Nature reached out and truly grabbed me, though not literally like my kid brain thought it might. Gettin’ grabbed by Nature is what this trip is all about isn’t it, so I had to try to find them Lemon Squeezers.

Love those red cowgirl hats!  [That's me on the right in my Looney Toons overalls.]

Love those red cowgirl hats! [That’s me on the right in my Looney Toons overalls.]

After a fairly involved search around the Internet, I learned that Lemon Squeezers is not an official name or destination in the park, it’s more of a locals only type reference and there are actually two areas that carry this nick-name, areas that are off the marked trails and frequented by rock climbers. Hmm. One of the Lemon Squeezer references had a starting point of Devil’s Kitchen Trail so that’s where we headed in the morning under a sky full of big puffy white clouds that teased us with short spurts of the sun.

The kitchen was a short 1.2 miles one-way and the trail started out flat and straight, taking us along the canyon floor. Allison had just finished saying, “Now this is the kind of hiking I like,” when we turned and started up the side of a steep hill that was crested by huge pillars of rock. The trail quickly fell out of favor with Ali as we both started to feel the familiar thudding of our hearts and rasping of our lungs with each big step up. Finally, at the top, we met up with a tall wall of rock that had a hole in it, the doorway to Devil’s Kitchen.

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We could have walked around to the left. The wall ended over there leaving enough ledge for us to make it around the corner and get inside that way, but I couldn’t resist the hole. Once inside, the room stretched out to our left to an opening, and to our right was a tumble of giant rocks that left gaps. Obviously these were windows for the Devil to view the glorious beauty of the canyon floor while he did dishes or something. The pile of rocks led up into a high ledge where the two walls of the kitchen met at an angle, so I scrambled up, enlisting bare knees, grippy toes and fingertips. From high on my perch I grinned from ear to ear.

It wasn’t the Lemon Squeezers, but it was pretty darn awesome.

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We played around the kitchen for a while until the clouds turned from groups of individual white puffs into a big dark grey soup and the first lazy rain drops started to fall. Sadly, there would be no more hunting for Lemon Squeezers, so we hustled down the hill and made it back to the car in time to avoid the more career-oriented, over-achiever rain drops.

The Colorado National Monument is ringed by the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive, a winding gorgeous road that climbs over 2,000 feet in elevation and pokes through the mountains with a few tunnels. Road construction started in 1931 and for nearly 20 years, the men of the CCC and the WPA worked to carve out that road using only hand tools. AMAZING! It is an incredible feat of engineering and it allowed us to see the rest of the park from the relative dryness of the car.

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We drove slowly around the rim toward the Visitors Center eating our packed lunch in stages at various overlooks and still enjoyed the park’s monuments through the windshield or quickly rolled down windows. We read about some amazing hikes and saw the trails that simply tumbled over the canyon ledge dropping you down hundreds of feet in what we surmised was far too few steps, but alas we did not have the gumption to hike steep trails in the pouring rain.

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After we’d partaken in the three movies at the Visitors Center (we are still trying to wrap our minds around the massive eons of geology that have created the Colorado Plateau) we headed down out of the park and back through Fruita toward Grand Junction. Since hiking had been quashed and Allison, in all her type A wisdom, had properly researched a Plan B for our afternoon, we headed to a local distillery named Strothman’s. There we were entertained for an hour or so by the fiercely chatty bartender while we sipped moonshine and bourbon.

Oh what an incredibly hard life we live now. We’ve got our shirt collars all grabbed up by Nature and Colorado moonshine on our breath by 4pm.