Looking for a desert oasis? See Highline Lake State Park

In the park’s shady picnic area, Rachel Sauer, right, and Melinda Mawdsley roast hot dogs and marshmallows.

Charcoal briquettes take a while to become hot and gray, as Rachel Sauer and Melinda Mawdsley discovered.

Rachel Sauer performs a handstand in Highline Lake, much to Melinda Mawdsley’s amusement.

Melinda Mawdsley smiles before heading back down the trail after reaching Walter Walker Wildlife Area.

Suggesting that we try the handstands again, but sideways and with our legs kicked out in a sporty V, may have been a bridge too far. With my fingers I demonstrated what I was envisioning and I got the ol’ suspicious side-eye in response.

Gamely, though, fellow features writer Melinda Mawdsley sucked in a deep breath and so did I, and we plunged back under the surface of Highline Lake to begin our careers in water ballet.

Unfortunately, it was dismal. There was flailing. There was water up at least one nose, and I’m not going to name names but I may have gotten glared at when we surfaced.

No matter! Water is for frolicking and beyond the initial shock of cold, it seemed like the thing to do was underwater handstands — preceded, of course, by some goading splashes.

And that was just one part of our busy, busy day at Highline Lake State Park: We roasted hot dogs, of course, and then marshmallows, and then we lazed on a blanket, and played a few rounds of Boggle, and did crossword puzzles, and swam, and blew some colored bubbles because why not, and lounged on the blanket some more.

And all of this came as something of a revelation. Neither of us had been to Highline Lake before (though my parents claim we went when I was a kid, but I don’t remember so it doesn’t count) and I’m ashamed now to admit that I had visions of a tragic little pond surrounded by lifeless desolation.

We dutifully packed up our usual, heroic amounts of gear and I steeled myself on the drive out beyond Loma. I love water, I reminded myself, I would swim in a parking lot puddle if I was smaller.

So, the oasis was a surprise — stands of cottonwood lilting in the desultory breeze, swaths of grass across vibrant acres, bushes and flowers and blessed shade. It’s an honest-to-goodness park, and it’s big.

And the lake! It’s big enough for boating and fishing and two swimming areas, and on Aug. 5 it was an inviting iris blue.

Melinda and I had briefly discussed getting fishing permits — and then acquiring rods somehow, and bait, and the wherewithal to do something with a live fish — but it was an idea we quickly dismissed. Our big effort of the day would be starting a fire with charcoal briquettes in one of the many raised grates throughout the picnic grounds. Neither of us had done that before, either.

Cleverly, Melinda got the kind of briquettes infused with lighter fluid, and we scrupulously read the directions on the back of the package. It advised building a pyramid of briquettes, which we did.

It said to light them in several spots, which we did.

It said to wait until the flames died down before roasting anything, which we did.

I might have liked the directions to mention that you actually want the briquettes to be entirely gray and not just past the flame stage before cooking anything over them.

I’d brought roasting sticks, so we held our hot dogs over our sad little pyramid and ... not much happened. They kind of cooked? Add to that the fact that I hadn’t noticed the buns were moldy. So we ate lukewarm, bunless hot dogs.

But eh. By the time the fire was good ‘n hot, we were ready for s’mores. I ate three.

It was that kind of day in that kind of place: If you feel like gobbling s’mores, then for heaven’s sake gobble them! There was no sense of time beyond clouds drifting by and the sun moving overhead. Observing the Highline Lake veterans around us, we could have brought a radio, a Frisbee, a dog, a willingness to play volleyball, a remote-controlled truck. It is, as the late Bob Ross declared, your own little world.

We played Boggle and unfurled a blanket onto the grass for a nap in the dappled sunlight. We’d both brought crossword puzzle books and did a few. We looked at the sky, at the passing colors, at the kids splashing with exuberant shrieks in the swimming area.

And we got in ourselves — initially with mincing steps against the cold, curled into hesitant commas, and then just diving in. As we swam to the buoys and rope marking the edge of the swimming area, we were paddling our little hearts out, just swimming swimming swimming. Then I put my foot down. Oh.

“I can touch the bottom here,” I informed Melinda.

Which meant: handstands!

It seemed like the thing to do on a sunny day at Highline Lake.

Get going: Highline Lake State Park is at 1800 11 1/8 Road near Loma. A daily park pass is $7 per vehicle and basic campsites are $18 per night from 
May 1 to Sept. 30 and $16 per night from Oct. 1 to April 30. Group picnic areas cost $60 plus a $10 reservation fee. For information on the recreation options, call 858-7208 or go to parks.state.co.us/parks/


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