Big Cats, Tiny Home: Lyons, Colorado

Lyons, Colorado: May, 2017

Thirty minutes north of Boulder is Lyons, a small town at the entrance of the Front Range, clutching the winding St. Vrain creek and surrounded by red dirt foothills.  It’s tough to really describe the town but it had a lively enough main street that appeared to straddle the typically robust line between an artist collective and a biker bar. The Oskar Blues brewpub was in the center of town, connected to an arcade, as were several other bars, two coffee shops and a second arcade all within about three blocks.  There are major cities with less arcades in this handheld era, but both were packed.  A large redstone cliff provided a terminated vista at the end of the main street, around which US 36 snakes its way upward to Rocky Mountain National Park. Our accommodations in Lyons were just across the creek from the town center, a tiny home resort called Wee Casa.

Our 190 square foot idyll was clustered in a group of fifteen or so others, all different yet equally modern in comfort, with a washer/dryer, air conditioning, and Netflix.  The home we rented was featured on that HGTV show that has brought tiny house living out from the fringe. Our limited timing was fortunate because I felt like I could live in one for an extended time without making it permanent. For starters I abhor the concept of amassing stuff for stuff’s sake, filling up rooms because they would look ridiculous empty and then realizing you have no room for anything else, upgrading then to a bigger house with bigger unfilled rooms. Cardboard America is cluttered with banana slicers and chairs that are for decoration not for sitting, and entire rooms that are used twice a year like wedding china.  As a nation we have a love affair with placing sundry items in the attic for storage only to retrieve them when moving in order to place them in a bigger and better attic, the boxes getting flimsier each go around, until finally we read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and condense what was once in nine boxes down into seven with an air of incomplete satisfaction. 

I wouldn’t consider myself a minimalist, though – I keep race medals, bumper stickers, books.  Lauren and I love seasonal decorations and have a good amount of art supplies and outdoor gear. There is a point where a lack of items causes more inconvenience than excess does, as anyone who has washed the same fork four times a day can attest to. In fact, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up stressed me out so badly that I had to give it to my mom, unfinished, which then resulted in containers of my childhood making their way to my house. There’s an ideal middle ground between true minimalism and the overbearing stuff culture, and that is why I could only stay in a tiny home temporarily, though I admire the sustainability of those who can make it their life.

Our home for the week had a larger kitchen than you would think with a fold out table that became shelves when up against the wall.  There were two lofts, one for sleeping and the other contained a few cushions and the television.  A ladder led to the latter, while a staircase leaned over the washer/dryer, and dresser to access the bed.  The ceiling over the bed had a skylight but was otherwise very low, and I hit my head at least five times to Lauren’s zero, despite her height advantage. The bathroom was modern and not so small to be uncomfortable though the walls weren’t thick enough to veil none of the goings on within. The whole interior had a pleasant faux industrial style to it, not an inch wasted It was cozy to say the least and we had a wonderful time.

Days would typically start with one or both of us making breakfast (eggs, pancakes, oranges) which wasn’t terribly difficult – we had a smaller kitchen that that at our first apartment years ago, with far inferior appliances and a sink that would periodically gurgle its most recent meal back up into the light.  After cleanup we would hang out in the nook, sipping coffee and watching Master of None or Friends reruns on the tiny television. Then we did our outdoor activity for the day before the rains moved in, at which time we either make dinner at the tiny home or check out some of the restaurants in town.   The Stone Cup was particularly good for coffee, Lyons Fork for food.  We occasionally pined for the all you can eat breakfast and the social hour at the bed and breakfast in Boulder, (my scrambled eggs can’t come close to the inn’s frittata) but times were good.

The most recommended hiking spots near Lyons sound similar to each other, but they’re not.  Hall Ranch and Heil Ranch are on either side of the town but we only had time to explore one. Hall’s pamphlet was on top at the Wee Casa office, so off we went. The ranch is predominantly used for mountain biking but there are also several trails for travel via foot. They creep their way up red dirt hills covered in even redder rocks, grass, and sagebrush.  The area looked much more like west Texas than it did Colorado. Signs before the trail warned us about what to do if a mountain lion presented itself, considering we would be walking through a sanctuary of sorts where the animals are particularly prevalent.  Basically, it said that mountain lions are opportunists, preying on smaller or weaker animals that appear afraid of it, and that if you looked big and acted aggressive that they would likely flee. 

The only other person we saw was an older woman painting a still of the hillside while sitting on a bench.  “Oh I’ve seen ‘em” she said as she saw us reading the mountain lion sign. 

“Here?”

“Sometimes. Not often, but sometimes.”

The silence was eerie as we walked out of view of the park entrance, bobbing over each successive foothill as clouds rolled in. The trail became slick in spots where the red dirt was still beneath puddles of yesterday’s rain.  Scat was everywhere, covered in fur as if the predator had just finished consuming some delicious mammalian morsel.  About a mile out we heard steps and some breaking twigs.  Assuming it was a mountain lion I prepared to stand tall, planting my feet and flailing my arms about to will it away, screaming perhaps.

“Be gone!” I’d shout at the cat.  “Shoo!”

She would look at me sideways, trying to decide whether or not I was an adversary.

“Back from whence you came!” I’d take a step forward and she would retreat but only slightly.

I would raise my arms showing the cat I mean business, perhaps breaking off a sage branch and swinging it around to emphasize the point. She would run off and I would be the hero of the hike.

Instead the slinking turned out to be a lone runner who was slipping and sloshing towards us through the mud, against the recommendations not to run here in general, specifically not to run here solo.

“Trail any better this way?” he asked and we told him that it was decent, only a few slick spots.  That made, at last count, four of us in the park, the low population with good reason as the quickly approaching clouds began to rumble and Lauren and I contemplated turning around.  About then we also looked down to see a pair of freshly pressed cougar footprints in the red dirt heading in the same direction which affirmed the decision.  The entire way back the silence was deafening between thunder rolls and we assumed any noise not caused by the storm was certainly a slinking cat ready for mealtime.  The mountain lions seemed to hold off prowling for the day, and the rain did the same until we were about 500 feet from the car, by then the only in the lot as the runner and the woman with the painting had abandoned their missions. We drove back to town and tried not to drag too much red mud into the tiny home.

I woke suddenly on our last morning in Lyons to a shout from outside, followed closely by one of my own doing after I sat up suddenly and hit my head on the skylight for the fifth and final time. The second shout woke Lauren and she asked me what on Earth was going on. We quieted ourselves and listened to two men talking just outside the door.

“It walked over by the pavilion and then up the hill” said one voice.

“We don’t get too many bears through here” replied the second. Then some muffled talking, then “one or two since I started.”

After some feet shuffling and more conversation fragments, I stuck my head into the skylight to see the men.

“There!” one said, and pointed.

The other looked up in the direction of the ridge, but I couldn’t tell at what, before starting to laugh.

“That’s a dog.”

Lauren and I packed our things, the most difficult task thus far in the tiny home, and had one more coffee at the Stone Cup. A live folk band, who must have awoken with the birds, performed a song about traveling from a small stage in the other room. We sipped that coffee as slow as we could, as the two of us, like the protagonists in the band’s song, were in no rush to catch a plane.

Front Range Trilogy Part 1 and Part 3 here!

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