The Long, Hot, Pandemic Summer

The social distancing that kept us sane

The other day, I was looking back through my camera roll at pictures I had taken over the summer, and it occurred to me that if I were someone else, perhaps years from now, flipping through the same photos, I would have never guessed they were taken around the height (hopefully) of the global pandemic.

Part of this is easy to explain: I wasn’t photographing myself washing my hands raw, or slathering on hand sanitizer, or glaring at “closed” signs in business windows. I didn’t snap shots of myself at the grocery store, standing in an empty toilet paper aisle, and wearing a mask while silently judging those who refused to. (By the way, don’t even get me started on that ridiculous practice of wearing a mask, but failing to pull it up over your nose. It’s the pandemic equivalent of a “man bun,” and it should be denounced just as resoundingly).

I guess there is one photo that’s unique to the health crisis: me celebrating the acquisition of a 4-pack of disinfecting wipes (at a time when they were nearly impossible to find):

But back to my point. Photos from the Daly’s long, hot, pandemic summer actually reveal a pretty fun and adventurous time.

No, we didn’t fly anywhere, or stay in cozy hotels, or eat in nice restaurants. As you’ll recall, some of those things weren’t even possible early on. And if they had been, we wouldn’t have taken the risk anyway. But we were certain, for the sake of our own sanity, that we needed to get out of Dodge. Being cooped up at home was taking its toll, as evidenced by the number of nights I’d find myself sitting in front of the fire-pit in our side-yard, filming the flames with my camera… and doing so to background music — specifically songs that had something to do with… fire.

It was weird.

So, we got a little creative. In early May, we bought an old pop-up camper on Craiglist:

It was nothing fancy. Over a few weekends, we spruced it up a bit, bought some supplies, and reserved a few spots at private campgrounds (the public parks were still mostly closed). After a trial overnight in the Poudre Canyon, we fled south.

A few hours on the road brought us to the Royal Gorge, home of the highest suspension bridge in the United States. Walking across it is either fun or terrifying, depending on how you feel about the nearly 1,000 feet-high structure swaying in the wind.

Next was Bishop Castle, an incredibly impressive one-man project surrounded by the San Isabel National Forest:

A man named Jim Bishop (who I’m told is kind of crazy) started it back in the 1960s. The building is wildly impressive, and surprisingly dangerous (narrow staircases, holes in the floors, low ceilings, open bridges, etc.).

My son and I climbed up a spiral staircase to the very top, and I ain't gonna lie -- it was a bit scary, especially with the wind.

Later that day, it was the Great Sand Dunes. My parents insist they took me there as a child, but I have no memory of it. I finally returned nearly a half century later, and man was it cool… and sprawling… and sandy. It invited a number of Star Wars references (from the original movies; not parts 1-3 or 7-9, which aren’t allowed per Daly family rules).

But the real extraterrestrial activity was up in the sky, at least according to the locals (and some makeshift billboards). We didn’t see any that night, though the sunset from our campground was spectacular (pictured at the top of this newsletter). So, the next morning, we headed out to a UFO watchtower in the San Luis Valley for a closer look:

Still nothing in the sky, but to my surprise, the landing area bore a striking resemblance to my kids’ bedrooms.

We planned to hit some other spots as we worked our way northwest, but ended up cutting the trip a little short because my wife was having some back issues. We postponed those excursions until a few weekends later, which included one of our favorite Colorado destinations, Estes Park:

…and another area I hadn’t been to since my childhood, Grand Lake (which was far more beautiful than I had remembered):

Health crisis restrictions did make some of our travels a tad complicated, but navigating them was worth the extra effort, and we were able to pull it all off while keeping socially distanced from others.

Growing up in Colorado, it’s easy to take the state’s beauty, climate, and opportunities for granted. But in prohibitive times like these, they’re exactly what the doctor ordered.

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Random Thought

I don't like it when the Dairy Queen drive-thru person holds my Blizzard upside down to show me how thick it is. I know it's part of their job, but I don't want unnecessary risks being taken with my dessert.


Featured Vinyl

Unsurprisingly, every concert I had tickets to earlier this year was cancelled due to the pandemic. Those who follow me on social media know that I love live music, and the derailing of pretty much every tour in the country got me thinking about how much revenue so many bands would be missing out on this summer.

Many less popular (or once popular) bands depend on touring for their livelihood. I wrote a column on the issue back in May, in which I suggested that people (if they could afford to) purchase merchandise off their favorite bands’ official websites to help those folks (and their crews) out.

I took my own advice, buying several shirts and vinyl records, including from the Toadies (a band I loved back in college, but had sort of fallen out of touch with over the years). Some of you may remember their mid-90’s hits, “Away,” “Tyler,” and “Possum Kingdom,” the latter of which is hands-down the best song ever written about vampires. Yes, vampires. (I’m not sure if the band has ever admitted that, but the lyrics make it glaringly obvious).

As I discovered this summer, the Toadies didn’t stop being awesome once I graduated college. They just stopped getting significant radio play. They’re as amazing as ever — even better in some ways. I ended up picking up five of their post-90’s albums on vinyl, including today’s featured album, 2012’s “Play. Rock. Music.”

It’s filled with great rock tunes, but the one that sticks out for me the most is the swaying, soulful track, “The Appeal.”


That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.

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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!