Tag Archives: Colorado

June 12: Back in time and 100 degrees again

Sigh. Today I drove from Caňon City almost immediately into the flatlands before I ever reached Pueblo, which is the big city of southeast Colorado. Gas was cheap there, and I topped off the tank before heading out onto the plains.

I have learned to appreciate plains and prairies after 23 years in forested, mountainous western Washington. I wouldn’t want to live here, mind, but it’s wonderful to see wide open spaces where it looks like the horizon has to be more than 180 degrees and you swear you can see the curvature of the earth.

Except when I look up at all that sky and all of sudden want to beg something not to step on me like a bug, because that’s how small I feel.

Nothing but sky.  Although this is still Colorado, not Kansas yet.
Nothing but sky. Although this is still Colorado, not Kansas yet.  BTW, that thing on the left? is a bug on the windshield, not a baby tornado.  Sorry.

There’s only two towns of any size between Pueblo and the Kansas border, and one historic site. U.S. 50 follows part of the old Santa Fe trail at this point, and Bent’s Fort National Historic Site is not far off the highway just east of the town of La Junta (Spanish for the junction).

The exterior of Bent's Fort from the path.
The exterior of Bent’s Fort from the path.

Bent’s Fort is sort of the Santa Fe Trail’s version of Fort Union, North Dakota, which I visited four years ago. It’s not a military fort, but a trading post, privately owned, where people traveling from St. Louis to Santa Fe could stop and buy goods and rest. It’s made of thick adobe, and the interior rooms are much cooler than the outdoors, which was a terrific thing on a 100dF afternoon. The park service did its usual excellent job interpreting the site, and there were some small living history demonstrations as well.

A view from the second floor of bent's Fort, down into the courtyard.
A view from the second floor of Bent’s Fort, down into the courtyard.
The store room, full of trade goods.
The store room, full of trade goods.
The owner's room, which was much more elegant inside than the rest of the place.
The owner’s room, which was much more elegant inside than the rest of the place.
The carpentry shop.  It looks like my dad's garage used to, only he had power tools, and no chandelier.
The carpentry shop. It looks like my dad’s garage used to, only he had power tools, and no chandelier.

I do have to say that a couple of things were rather disconcerting. First was the extremely sturdily built, partly underground, bunker-style restroom next to the parking area, with a tornado shelter sign above the doors. The second was the two donkeys, who I first saw ambling along the quarter mile path from the parking area to the fort itself (a reconstruction – the original was destroyed in 1849), and then, when I returned, wisely taking advantage of the shade of the pergola by the parking area. I wonder if they found the exhibit panels as interesting as I did <g>.

Calling Dorothy...
Calling Dorothy…
Donkeys at Bent's Fort.
Donkeys at Bent’s Fort.
Donkey's enjoying the exhibits, er, the shade of the pergola.
Donkeys enjoying the exhibits, er, the shade of the pergola.

Once I left Bent’s Fort, I started thinking about where I would stop for the night. I really had intended to camp somewhere, and I actually did find a place in a hamlet just before the Kansas state line – but it was still 100dF outside according to Merlin’s thermometer, and getting more humid by the mile. So reluctantly I decided to look for an air-conditioned motel.

A pretty classic Kansas view -- big round hay bales and a grain elevator, somewhere between the border and Garden City.
A pretty classic Kansas view — big round hay bales and a grain elevator, somewhere between the border and Garden City.

I didn’t intend to drive 60 miles into Kansas – my first “I’ve never been to this state before!” state for this trip! – before I found one, but that’s what happened. I’m in Garden City, Kansas, which is nice, and I’m sure some people here have nice gardens, but I think the name is a bit hyperbolic.

It’s probably just as well that I’m indoors. There’s an 80% chance of thunderstorms tonight, and that’s not my favorite camping weather at all. Maybe (she says hopefully) it’ll cool off a bit after this front pushes through.

I wish that saying that my thoughts are with those poor people in Orlando actually did some good.

June 11: Good-bye, mountains!

I finally crossed the Continental Divide today. I don’t think I intended to spend almost a week in Colorado, but my first night in the state was four nights ago, and I’ve got tonight and probably one more before I cross into Kansas.

I love Colorado, at least the mountainous part. The climb up to Monarch Pass this morning was relentless, though. Seven miles of straight up. I have to say, Merlin has no problem keeping a reasonable speed through 6, 7, or even 8 percent grades. It was more than I expected when I bought him, to be honest. The only thing that slows us down is tight curves, and, wow, did the road up to the Divide this morning have a lot of those!

But the view from the top was worth it. And here’s the proof we made it, too.

The view from Monarch Pass, headed east.
The view from Monarch Pass, headed east.

1

I got to Salida (sa-LIE-da) about mid-morning, and stopped at a McDonald’s for iced tea (there is something to be said for being able to order a large unsweet iced tea with extra lemon anywhere in the U.S. and get exactly what I want – well-brewed tea with no sugar and real lemon slices, not just juice – for one buck <g>), then looked at my map and saw that I was only sixty miles south of Leadville.

I had always intended to get back to Leadville someday. It was settled in the 1860s as a mining camp, and, on a personal level, it was one of our favorite weekend getaways when I was a teenager in Denver. I had thought, maybe, when my friend Mary and I went to WorldCon in Denver in 2008, but after I dropped her off at the airport to go back to North Carolina, all I really wanted to do was bomb home in three days to western Washington, which was what I did.

This is Mt. Elbert, 14,439 feet (just taller than Mt. Rainier), on the way to Leadville.  My dad climbed this mountain when he was in geology camp in 1947, at age 25 (the year my oldest sister was born).
This is Mt. Elbert, 14,439 feet (just taller than Mt. Rainier), on the way to Leadville. My dad climbed this mountain when he was in geology camp in 1947, at age 25 (the year my oldest sister was born).

But this time, I was in no hurry. And the road was good – I still can’t believe I climbed from 7800 to 10,000 feet (yes, Leadville is way up there) in 34 miles without feeling like it at all.

A view of Leadville.
A view of Leadville.

So I went to Leadville. Wandered the main drag and took photos, then went to the Healy House, which is now a museum. The Healy House was built in the 1870s, and still looks like it on the inside. The charming part of that for me was that I kept thinking this was what the Cooper house (Eliza’s family) in Repeating History must have looked like, because that was the 1870s and a well-to-do family in the Old West, too. The guide who took me through was probably in her seventies, and she was a quilter, and, well, we hit it off right away <g>. So that was a lot of fun.

Daffodils!  In June!  Well, it is 10,000 feet up.  The garden at Healy House in Leadville.
Daffodils! In June! Well, it is 10,000 feet up. The garden at Healy House in Leadville.  No, the cabin isn’t Healy House.  But it’s amazing what that cabin looks like on the inside, too.  It was a rich man’s hunting “box.”
One of the bedrooms in Healy House.  Isn't the wallpaper crazy?  Not to mention the crazy quilt.  And the crocheted bedspread.
One of the bedrooms in Healy House. Isn’t the wallpaper crazy? Not to mention the crazy quilt. And the crocheted bedspread.
A penny-farthing bicycle at Healy House.
A penny-farthing bicycle at Healy House.

Then I drove out to Turquoise Lake, where we used to camp, and I even found exactly where we used to camp, which was really cool.

Turquoise Lake.  That's the Continental Divide in the background.
Turquoise Lake. That’s the Continental Divide in the background.

Then I said good-bye to Leadville, drove back down to Salida, and headed east again, through a whole bunch more red rock canyons, alongside the rushing Arkansas River (full of people on float trips), to the town of Caňon City, where I am tonight.

A view of the redrock canyon of the Arkansas River, somewhere between Salida and Canon City.
A view of the redrock canyon of the Arkansas River, somewhere between Salida and Canon City.

This is also the home of the Royal Gorge, but while I’d also been there as a kid, my memories of it are pretty much pure tourist trap. If you’ve been to the redwoods in California, it’s sort of Colorado’s answer to the Trees of Mystery <g>. So here I am, and tomorrow it’s on to Pueblo, and out into the plains.

And to a historic site I’ve been wanting to see for some time. So in spite of the fact that it was over 90dF here in Caňon City today, and it’s supposed to be even hotter to the east, well, here I go, anyway.

‘Bye, mountains. It’ll be a while before I see any more again.

The trouble with geography is that you can’t take it with you

I hated the Midwest the entire six years I lived there — and, no, hated is not too strong a word — but now that I’ve been back in the Pacific Northwest for over twenty years, I can admit there are some things that I miss about the landscape there. Spring wildflowers carpeting the ground under the bare-limbed woods. The colors of fall (but not trees after the leaves fall, which then proceed to look dead for the ensuing six months). And the wide-open spaces. I even took a vacation to North Dakota summer before last, and reveled in a sky that looked like it took up more than 180 degrees horizon to horizon.

It’s not that I want to move anywhere else, you understand, but there are aspects of all the places I’ve lived that I wish I could have brought with me.  Well, except for Louisiana, but we left there when I was three and it didn’t make much of an impression.

  • Southern California gave me a need for color all year round.  My father used to prune the roses in our yard there back every January, not because they’d gone dormant, but because if he didn’t, the bushes would grow so tall that the flowers would bloom six feet over our heads, where we couldn’t appreciate them.
  • Colorado showed me what seasons are like.  I still remember my mother waking me up before dawn the first day it snowed in our yard, so that I could see the flakes falling.  And living so close to real mountains is very different from just visiting them from time to time.
  • Northern California isn’t at all like southern California.  Not desert, but fertile farmland.  I’d never been to a place where I could pick my own produce before.  And while neither were in my backyard anymore, both the ocean and real mountains were only a day trip away.
  • The Willamette Valley of Oregon is so, so green and lush.  More fertile farmland, but the mountains wrap around the valley like a hug.  I was back in the land of seasons, too.  They were called About to Rain, Rain, Showers, and Road Construction <wry g>.
  • And then somehow I left that glory and moved to the Midwest, first Indiana then Ohio, which turned out to be a colossal mistake.
  • When I finally escaped back West, I took a job in Montana.  Not the wide-open spaces of eastern Montana, but to a small town in a claustrophobically steep-sided river valley in the far northwest corner of the state.  Evergreens as far as the eye could see.  I wasn’t there long enough to experience a winter, but I suspect claustrophobic wouldn’t have begun to describe it.
  • And then here, in western Washington, where I have volcanoes, an inland sea, an ocean two hours away, and, you’d think, just about anything a person could want.  Except those wide-open spaces and early spring wildflowers.

Go figure.

So, do you have geography from places you’ve lived that you wish you could have brought with you to where you live now?