Monday, February 18, 2013

Night-Flying Fire

Nothing cheers away the doldrums of winter like power saw racing. Or street bowling. Or build-and-race-your-own-sled competitions. Basically, any of the zany events held during Durango's infamous Snowdown celebration are more than capable of taking the chill from your cockles. Snowdown has been running (hobbling, sashaying, and prancing) for thirty-five years. Like many snowbound civilians, Durangoans turn spring fever into a tradition of getting wild in order to shake off the many layers of winter snow.

This meant Zach and I had over a week's worth of festivities to enjoy. Trivia nights. Doggie and kitty fashion shows. Broom ball. A drag show (which Zach could have won, and not just cuz he would have shaved his slender legs!). No, I would have won because I would NOT have dressed as an overweight Princess Leia. In a bikini. I still can't sleep. A light parade that packed the sidewalks like New Year's in Time Square.

Every bar and every restaurant participated. And all events this year were geek-themed. Audience members and competitors all had to don their best (and worst) nerd-garb. Locals (young, old, sober, and otherwise) took this year's theme very seriously. On any given night, Zach and I saw more knee-high socks, mismatched striped shirts, sweater vests, cow-licks, and thick-rimmed glasses than we care to describe -- and that was before we'd stepped out the front door. She'd never admit it, but Jenny really gets into the spirit of the season.

On the last night of Snowdown, we made our way to what we thought would be the perfect spot to watch the fireworks display. According to the information in the Snowdown calendar -- a professionally printed and bound chunk of paper thick enough to masquerade as a Bible -- the fireworks show was shooting off of a "West Rim Road." Google maps pinpointed this road as the road wrapping around Fort Lewis College, which made perfect sense to us. The college sits on a high plateau overlooking the town. That seemed like a reasonable place to launch a fireworks display. We should have known nothing about Snowdown was "reasonable."

Zach and I parked the car just under the rim, opened the sunroof and waited for the show to start.

Boom! Boom-fizz!

We could hear the fireworks, but we could not see them. The dark sky before us was blank as a chalkboard. Then I spotted a bright flash in the rearview mirror. The firework show was located behind us, somewhere on the other end of town. We debated for a moment about racing across town to get a better view, but after seeing how all other Snowdown events packed in spectators, we sensed that we wouldn't find an adequate parking/viewing spot until well after the show was over.

From where we stood, we could at least see the the tops of the brilliant explosions. And half was better than none. Then the sight of what I thought was a wayward glowing ember drew my attention away from the fireworks. I turned and saw a ball of glowing yellow light drifting above the trees. Zach and I marveled at the flickering little orb, trying to figure out what it was. Then we saw another one waft up out of a nearby backyard. Someone was releasing candle-fed hot air balloons -- something I had not seen since elementary school when a science teacher had students sew up the delicate silk balloons and launch them from the quad.

The fireballs floated gently away, like little stars looking for a home in the sky. When we could no longer tell which balls of light in the sky were man-made or god-made, Zach and I retired to Steamworks, just a few blocks down.

Sheets of corrugated metal jut across the ceiling. Piles of peanut shells carpet the floor. Its seating areas mingle with multiple bars, indoor and outdoor. And from open until close, Steamworks is chockablock full of people. Families drift in for leisurely meals. Coworkers gather, no doubt to blow off steam. Friends flock to watch the game on the flat screens mounted under the rafters.

On this night (like previous visits), I got lost in the maze of gangways and raucous hordes. Zach often has to navigate by nudging my shoulders this way or that. I began to wonder if Steamworks is always full because people can't find their way out.

Truly, though, why would they bother? Steamworks has it all. Great location. Stupendous atmosphere. And of course, an expansive list of masterful craft brews to boot. After a week of splendid geekery capped off with the rarity of observing night-flying fire, we decided to be adventurous with our beer selections.

I picked out the Lizard Head Red, even though I tend to not like reds. I went with a Backside Stout, even though I'm more of a boob man myself. The first sip of the Lizard Head did not pack the bitter punch I expected. Instead, I got a splash of caramel. Zingy. Tangy. Like hearing fireworks while not actually seeing them. The Lizard Head swung like a pendulum. As soon as my taste buds registered "mmmm malty" the Lizard wiggled and wriggled its way over to "zzzinnnggg hops!" Sip after sip, I admired how this beer could balance the scales without ever tipping them.

The Backside Stout, as it turns out, is named for the backside of a mountain, NOT a lady. In either case, it's the stout Guinness could be if it were made with care, attention, quality, and just a pinch of boldness. Instead, Arthur's ale falters in trying to appeal to every palate. Not the Backside. Steamworks' version of the black stuff is velvety smooth and rich in maltiness, with just enough roasted tones to draw your attention. These tones grow as the beer warms, but that's about the only change -- the creaminess sustains itself, and the beer never tastes flat or bland. (Well, maybe not never. But not in the time you'll take to enjoy it.) Just as everyone has different taste in derrieres, not everyone would pick this stout off the roster. That's the risk with going bold. But I believe that this is a brew most people, regardless of personal taste, could at least appreciate.

We leaned back in our high chairs, feeling very satisfied with Snowdown, our beers, and a wintry week of nerdy revelry. Outside, overhead, the fire in the sky showed Mother Nature we were there and ready for spring already.

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