JRA with the Angry Asian: Taking the road less traveled

by James Huang


I recently passed my 12th anniversary of moving to Colorado, and I’m still finding new roads and trails to ride. Sometimes it’s just a little side street that I’d never bothered to check out, and other times it’s a whole new loop that makes familiar areas feel completely fresh.

Given my erratic work and travel schedule, most of my rides these days are unfortunately done solo. After all, not everyone has the freedom to head out on a moment’s notice in the middle of a weekday. But riding with friends is always better than going out alone, and so it’s definitely with some excitement that I greet the rare opportunities to do a more social jaunt. The company is always welcome, of course, but what’s also refreshing is checking out someone else’s favorite routes.

I recall one such instance a couple of years ago, when the stars finally aligned for a ride with an old neighbor of mine. We were headed to a trail that I’d done countless times before, but instead of taking the direct route there as I would normally have done, he showed me a small shortcut I’d never knew existed. It wasn’t much — just a short bit of trail joining two residential areas — but it was new to me nonetheless.

That little bit of trail was hardly an epic stretch of earth, but it was nevertheless a good excuse to pass through a neighborhood I’d never seen before. I didn’t think much of the surroundings on the way out — it was downhill and fairly quick — but the way home was much slower, and so I had plenty of time to look around.

And look around I certainly did.

It turns out that we were passing through one of the most noteworthy areas of Boulder, a small enclave just west of downtown with a number of elegant older homes (well, older by American standards, anyway). One really struck me in particular. It was a gorgeous mid-century modern design, tucked up tight against the giant block of stone jutting out of the earth.

One by-product of doing the same job for over a dozen years in the same area is that I’m constantly struggling to find fresh backdrops for photo shoots, and I was once again running into this problem when trying to wrap up my review of the BMC Roadmachine. There are only so many times I can feature the iconic Boulder flatirons, of course, and despite their undeniable beauty, even the most beautiful setting can seem mundane when overused.

And so it was one day that I was riding that bike home, and decided to take that shortcut I’d learned about so many months before. And once again, there was that house. But instead of casually glancing over at it as I usually did, something compelled me to pull over in front of it and give it a good long look. It wasn’t just a pretty house; it was truly striking, the sort of structure that made people — as I was doing just then — stop and stare.

The Menkick House was built by famed local architect Charles Haertling, who, as it turns out, penned many of the homes in the area that I’d already noticed for their unique designs.

It was also oriented perfectly for the late afternoon sun, so I figured I may as well knock on the front door. The owner was home, and I asked if he would be ok if I used his home as a photo setting. Apparently, people took pictures of the place all the time, but I was the only one to actually take the time to request permission first to walk around in the yard.

He not only was totally receptive to the idea, but even gave me a little tour of the place.

At it turned out, this wasn’t just any dwelling. This one had a name.

Designed and built in 1970, the Menkick House was one of several in the Denver/Boulder area penned by local architect Charles Haertling, whose claim to fame was his ability to integrate his houses with their natural surroundings.

This particular structure doesn’t look all that imposing from the road, but that’s by design. The low roof is intended to let the surrounding rock be the star of the show, and much of the home’s expansive 540sq m (5,760sq ft) interior drops down away from street level on the backside, creating four floors of glass walls that provide incredible vistas of the natural landscape.

Had someone not shown me that small shortcut, I never would have bothered to check out what I thought was a neighborhood with no thru-access. But someone did, and it led me to discover this glorious mid-century modern home, nestled up tight against the surrounding rock.

Little did I know until the home’s current owner explained it to me was that Haertling had also designed many other houses in the area that had long caught my eye. The homeowner and I shared our respective contact information, we eventually settled on a good day, and a couple of weeks later, I had some fantastic photos in hand (and I left him with a decent bottle of wine in exchange for his trouble).

“Life is a journey, not a destination,” goes that famous saying, and in this case, an unexpected detour opened my eyes to something I wouldn’t have found otherwise. I’d passed the entrance to that neighborhood countless times in the ten years I’d been in Boulder, and thought nothing of it. It’s very likely that I would have passed it by for another ten years afterward had my buddy not showed me that cut-through.

I value few things more than time these days, and while the direct route is the one I take most often, I still remind myself to take the random detour on occasion. Usually it leads nowhere, but every now and then, it uncovers a hidden gem.

Speaking of which, I wouldn’t complain if I literally stumbled upon a few of those gems during some of those detours. I passed by the Menkick House again this morning and was surprised to see that it’s now for sale. Asking price? A cool US$5.75m. That’s just slightly outside of my budget, but I still consider myself fortunate to have gotten as close to it as I did. Hopefully the next owner is as open as the previous one was to a random stranger knocking on the door.

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