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Durango Getaway

Steven Wells

This past week, I enjoyed two days visiting Durango, Colorado. Welcoming and reminiscent of the old west, Durango is best known for the iconic steam train that ascends on narrow-gauge track to the old mining town of Silverton. Located in the southwest corner of the state, not far from Four Corners where one can stand simultaneously in four states, Durango is surrounded by high plains to the east and spectacular mountains to the west. Not only is Durango small, with a population around 17,000, it’s also a young town with a median age of 30 years.

The train in the video above and photo below was the first train to pull out of Durango since July, when the track was washed out by heavy rains. More information about the train can be found on the Durango Herald website here.

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I enjoyed my stay at the Rochester hotel, located near downtown. Originally built in 1892, this western themed boarding house has been converted into a comfortable and friendly hotel of fifteen rooms. The floors may creak, but those sounds only add to the charm of this lovingly restored home-away-from-home located near downtown.

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I dedicated one day for driving up toward Silverton and Ouray, the historic mining towns located above 9,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains. I was there during one of the prime weekends for viewing the turning of Aspen trees into fall colors. Around each curve, along the serpentine road that crossed several 11,000 foot passes, I enjoyed jaw-dropping swaths of yellow and gold against a backdrop of dark blue skies.

On the way back to Durango, I stopped in Silverton and watched the arrival of the steam train I’d seen leave Durango earlier that morning. After It pulled into town, lumbering to a stop in the middle of the street, its disgorged passengers wandered around town and had lunch in saloons and restaurants before returning to Durango by bus or via the return train.

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Back in Durango I admired the first Catholic church in town and some real estate for sale.

The next day it was time to head back to Seattle on a painfully early 7:45 am flight to Denver that provided stunning views of the Colorado Rockies along the way.

Author’s note: One of my favorite scenes in my latest novel, Yes Means Yes, takes place in Durango.

What If No One Came?

Steven Wells

When I started writing Yes Means Yes four years ago, the #MeToo and Times Up movements hadn’t been born, and college campuses were rallying around the Department of Education’s Dear Colleague letter. Since then, relationships between men and women are changing in many positive ways, but also by a growing sense of unease. 

For the book, I interviewed many young women who freely expressed their views on college relationships. I began to see that behavior of men and women had changed dramatically since my time in college. The hook-up culture, in which casual sex is frequent and considered a natural course of friendship among students, has become the norm in college. One woman told me she needs to try out many men before she'll find the “one.” Yet outside of these consensual encounters, some men prey upon women and use drugs and alcohol to achieve a sexual encounter. Women believed universities, fearing bad PR, were reluctant to investigate these assaults, and an application of Title IX rules to investigate campus sexual assault was launched by the Obama administration on the same day he launched his reelection campaign.

At a recent book signing, a mother wanted to know what advice she should give her son who would soon leave for college. She was concerned that he might have an encounter with a woman, who could later accuse him of assault. The cases I researched suggested that men are typically disadvantaged when trying to prove mutual consent. “What do I tell him,” she asked? I thought for a minute, then replied that she should encourage him to make sure he’s confident of the character of any partner before intimacy. Take some time. And if drugs or alcohol are involved, wait. Because if both students are intoxicated, the man is almost always found guilty because a woman can’t legally give consent.

As colleges stepped up their Title IX investigations, and a lesser standard of proof was adopted, men began to feel their rights to due process were being violated. According to one article, Harvard has 55 full and part-time Title IX coordinators, Princeton has 41. With the arrival of the #MeToo movement, men are now evaluating their past behavior in dating and in the workplace. Reports suggest they are less willing to mentor women, and for many companies, after work socialization has been canceled. I recently attended a Town Hall in Seattle where a university professor stated that dating in the workplace is over. As with most societal issues these days, the issue has become polarized.

So when I read an article by Todd Essig, 4 Ways Straight Men Are Responding To #MeToo, my views on the changing nature of relationships were confirmed. Essig, a clinical psychologist, developed four categories of strategies men employ as they evaluate their assumptions about masculinity, seduction and consent in light of #MeToo: #BeKinder, #BeBetter, #ImDone, and #ImOut. The first two are well overdue. It’s the last two that caught my eye. Are men really giving up?

Men are fearful. Several recent stories have described false accusations of sexual assault. A recent New York Times article highlights many of the due-process concerns I raised in Yes Means Yes. The article chronicles a football player at Michigan State who had, what he claims, was a consensual encounter with a student. He first faced a police investigation, then a university investigation, and neither found basis for a legal charge nor a school code infraction. After he graduated and was drafted by Houston, a third investigation by the Title IX office was initiated without his knowledge or representation, and he was found responsible for relationship violence and sexual misconduct. Houston then cut him from the team. He is now suing Michigan state.

Another recent case involved a 19 year-old female student who accused two football players of having sex against her will, then later admitted that she had lied to gain sympathy from another student she wanted to date. She is now on trial for evidence tampering.

Yes, there are widely publicized stories of men who committed egregious sexual assault too, including former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner who was criminally convicted and given a light sentence. Both sides can draw upon examples of false accusations and legitimate claims of sexual assault, and those are the typical stories we read about in the press. But what about the quiet middle. Is there a fundamental change in how men and women establish and engage in romantic relationships?

In conversations with my male friends, a palpable uncertainty comes out. One told of a recent second date with a woman. They enjoyed a bottle of wine on his deck, and as he was saying goodbye, he stared into her eyes and decided to kiss her. As he leaned in, her lips met his and they enjoyed a lingering kiss. We they were finished, he said, “Before I kissed you, I was thinking I should have first asked your permission because of all the talk about consent.”

She smiled and responded, “I’m glad you didn’t. That would be weird.”

So might men be confused as well as fearful? And how will this play out? Will men shy away from dating women as too risky? Will the marriage rate continue to decline? Or, as I hope, will the possibility of a stable, compatible, and shared commitment of marriage become even more attractive? Change happens slowly, but it will be interesting to watch.

Going The Extra Mile

Steven Wells

Your humble correspondent recently enjoyed a road trip over nine days that covered 2,300 miles, visits to three National Parks, uneven sleep in seven different hotels, and a cracked windshield. I'd imagined such a trip for years, and finally headed down the highway.

 Seattle to Bend, Boise, Jackson Hole, Bozeman, Kalispell, Spokane, and back to Seattle.

Seattle to Bend, Boise, Jackson Hole, Bozeman, Kalispell, Spokane, and back to Seattle.

My time in Bend was spent with a good friend from Portland, and we enjoyed two days of relaxation at McMenamin's The Old St. Francis School. "...Conveniently located in downtown Bend, it was transformed from 1936 Catholic schoolhouse to, in 2004, a hotel complete with classrooms-turned-lodging rooms, a pub, brewery, a movie theater, private meeting/event space, live music bookings, and a fantastic soaking pool that beckons day travelers, shoppers, hikers, skiers and outdoor adventurers alike." I have no reason to plug this hotel other than to recommend it.  One could easily spend a half-day touring the restored buildings and admiring their collection of historic photos and period artwork.

On the day I was able to tear myself away from craft beers, shuffleboard, and the soaking pool, I hiked up a trail near Mt. Bachelor that provided a great view of the Three Sisters volcanic peaks.

I left Bend and headed for Boise, a way point on the drive to Jackson Hole. Recently, Boise has received significant attention in the Seattle press as a place where long-term residents are relocating to get away from problems common to many west-coast cities: crime, homelessness, rampant drug use, high property values, and increasing taxes. Boise is the capital of Idaho and I sensed a city that is vibrant and growing. I heard from several residents that the city was growing too fast and getting too expensive, a lament I heard throughout my trip.

After a long day of driving, during which I enjoyed stretches of the 80 MPH speed limit on I-84, but also suffered a rock that cracked my windshield, I arrived in Jackson where the weather was rainy and cold, even reaching 38 degrees my first night. Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are places of tremendous beauty, and I remembered visiting them as a young boy on family camping trips. Yet I was still unprepared for the stunning, jaw-dropping beauty everywhere I went.

One day, I hiked up to the top of the gondola in Teton Village, which, as shown in the photo, was foggy and wet. I encountered a pica, two deer, and some grouse during the four mile hike to 9,000 feet.

From Jackson, it was off to Bozeman, a classic western town situated north of the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Home of Montana State University, it's a beautiful town and is surrounded by spectacular scenery. Like Boise, it feels vibrant with a growing population that's driving up property values. 

After a night in Bozeman, it was off to my last destination, Kalispell, and nearby Glacier National Park. As I checked into my motel, I was reminded that road trips are frequently punctuated by sad places on busy highways with nearby truck stops and walls as thin as the sheets. And disappointment, like that I countered at the front desk when asking about tips on driving to Glacier.

"What do you think is the best way to see the park over a couple of days?"

"I hate to tell you this, but Going To The Sun road is still closed."

"What?"

"Yes, they're still trying to clear snow. It was supposed to open last Monday, but we got even more snow and I don't know when it's going to open."

"So what is open?"

"The road up to the twelve mile mark."

I had not foreseen the possibility that the iconic road would be closed due to snow in late June. Unusual, but not unheard of. As I sat in my room and pondered the situation over a beer and a good book, I decided to cut short my stay by a night and head home a day early.

When I was a boy, my father taught me many valuable rules to live by. He was a lifetime US Navy Officer, and for a farm boy from Kansas, was even able to draw upon an impressive number of Shakespeare quotations. Among the many lessons I remember were:

  • If you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all.
  • Two wrongs don't make a right.
  • Always go the extra mile.

As I packed up in the morning, I remembered the last rule and decided to head for the park. It meant a long day, including a 60 mile drive to the park, exploring the 12 miles there, the 60 mile return to where I'd started, followed by the five hour drive to Spokane. I was glad I did since the hike to Avalanche Lake was spectacular.

Now back home, I have several take-away impressions from the trip. We live in a marvelous country. I'm biased about the West, having grown up in Colorado. Wide open spaces with vistas of verdant crops, watered by center-pivot irrigation systems, and distant, snow-capped mountain ranges, soothe my soul. Since most of my driving was on two-lane state and county roads, I did without radio and cell phone coverage in a blissful reminder of a time before distraction. Open roads and time to think are precious gifts.

Driving 2,300 miles over nine days seemed about the right distance. Part of the enjoyment of a trip like this is the sense of freedom and adventure. You really never know what might be around the next bend. Once, I stopped on a forest service road and pulled over about a hundred feet from the highway. Hidden from the road by the side of my car, and while heeding the call of nature, I heard a rustle in the bushes nearby. When I looked up, a deer raised its head and returned my gaze. It quietly ignored me and continued to nibble on a shrub. Signs warning of bears are frequently seen around Wyoming and Montana, and I had encountered one on the trail in Glacier. I was happy to see the deer.

It seems small towns are dying around the west. Businesses are boarded up. Houses are in various states of disrepair, missing siding and with roofs covered with blue-tarps, and derelict cars scattered haphazardly. A healthy economy is not enjoyed evenly. Yet when I took the time to engage people, whether it was the couple who owned a general store in central Montana with a single gas pump, the kind with a lever and wheels that spin, rooms above the store, sandwiches in the back, and free coffee, to waitstaff in pubs and restaurants, to fellow travelers, I always found people who were friendly, gracious, and happy to talk. I'm glad human connection still remains universal.