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Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Irvine, At Last

In Travels With Myself on July 10, 2013 at 8:26 am

There may be more interstates and major highways per square mile in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the United States.  It’s actually impossible to go some places without having to get onto a stretch of highway.  Or two highways.  Or three.

But get off the highway for a distance and you will find clean, bright, beautifully landscaped cities lying practically on top of each other to make up the sprawling urban landscape of Southern California.  The streets are lined with trees, a variety of broadleaf and the ever-present palms; behind the trees, walled communities and shopping malls seem sometimes to be all one huge building, with golden beige stucco walls and red tiled roofs.  But the sameness is too earthy, too organic, to be boring; too stunning in its simple elegance to be unremarkable.  I can imagine these buildings pushing up from the ground, fully formed.

I am in Irvine tonight, which is and is not Los Angeles.  Orange, Tustin, Irvine, and all the other names that float across the map are indistinguishable from Los Angeles.  Even San Bernardino and San Diego seem feathered into the edges of Los Angeles, like brush strokes painted on the map so that the lines blur and disappear.  But Irvine is not yet the Pacific, for that I will have to go still a few miles further west, or south through the city streets to Newport Beach, or through the hills to Laguna.  On the map, it looks as if I should be able to see it, hear it, reach out and put my fingers into it; but in fact, I am not quite there yet.

I’m not really even free of the mountains.  Approaching from the Mojave Desert, I kept thinking I had crossed my last summit, made my last descent into the valley, only to see another hill rise up in front of me and the road ahead follow it up to the top.  Now, though, the hills are lined with homes, man-made outcroppings, and I watch for bicycles rather than fallen rocks.

I like this city, what I have seen of it so far.  It feels like it belongs here.  New York has always felt awkward to me.  It stands so heavily on the ground.  I lose the sense of the island underneath it. The concrete and steel and glass seem to weigh down the earth itself.  Boston, with its 17th century avenues running hither and thither, and the Government Center looming over Quincy Market, sometimes seems about to topple into the bay.  Here, everything seems to sit lightly on the surface.  It’s not true of course.  It’s just an illusion created by all the palm trees and sand-colored architecture.  The streets are six to eight lanes wide through the middle of the city, and when the traffic begins to build, the streets and highways get weighted down, cease to float.  I’ll be here for four or five days. This will bear watching, this odd juxtaposition of lightness and compression.

But for now, I feel light, too.  I have made it almost to the ocean.

On the Road Again

In Travels With Myself on July 9, 2013 at 3:36 am

After three days of the most wonderful R&R at the home of my sister Linda and her husband Layne in Beryl, Utah, I got back on the road.  Most of the territory I covered yesterday and today was simply more mountains, more desert, more wind; so I won’t try to describe the whole trip.  Instead, I will offer some observations from the road.

It’s easy to look at a map and segment out the features on it:  Here’s a mountain, there’s a river, down there’s the plains and up there’s a lake.  But when you get on the road and start to experience the country at ground level you quickly realize that it doesn’t quite work that way.  From Colorado to California, I have never left the mountains, never ben far from the deserts or valleys or plains.  When I finally make it to San Bernardino tomorrow, I will only then really be getting out of them.

The hardest part of driving across the wide open spaces of the southwest is the wind.  Speed limits are 70-80 mph along the interstate, but the crosswinds keep larger vehicles’ speeds down, for fear of being blown across the road by a sudden gust.  Next hardest is the long upgrades and downgrades, sometimes 20 miles or more of either straining the engine or testing the brakes.  From St. George, Utah to Glendale, Nevada, for example, it is almost entirely downhill.  I have a lot of new respect for the cross-country truckers who make their way along these highways every day.

Someone asked once if I was going to take Rte 66.  It’s a fun idea, but the fact is that it almost doesn’t exist anymore.  I took a segment of the historical Route 66 from Barstow to Victorville.  It’s still a nice two lane road through the Mojave desert, but along most of its length it is dotted with the fossils of motels and restaurants and tourist stops that long ago stopped attracting tourists.  Alongside these are small homesteads and ranches perched like dollhouses in a great sandbox, their yards closed in by fences.  Some of the homes still look as we might imagine them, 150 years ago, simple square, squat buildings with a water tower perched on a wooden tower in the yard.  It’s a long way between towns and cities that are more than a few aging buildings set back away from the main road.

I think I believed when I started this journey, that all I had to do was just keep going; that the driving itself would be relatively easy; I’ve been practicing for 50 years, after all.  I thought that I would certainly feel afraid or uncertain at times, that I would feel lonely; but I’m discovering that being so far from home is about more than just that.  Since I hit the Rockies, I have been displaced.  I’m a New England boy.  I’m used to the special conditions and quirks of New England’s weather, its topography, its ecology.  I could learn to live somewhere else, I suppose, but I’m not well suited for some of what I’ve encountered so far.

I have made a commitment to the road, without knowing where the road would lead me.  The result is that I have been unprepared.  This is the nature of our journeys of discovery; this is the nature of our lives.  We think that we know the road ahead, that it won’t be all that different from the road already traveled.  We put one foot in front of the other and, if we’re paying attention, we are constantly surprised, sometimes but not always, pleasantly.

I will be in Los Angeles tomorrow.  I will visit there a few days, then start the second leg of my trip: the drive up the west coast highway.  I suddenly have absolutely no idea what’s in store for me.   But I will continue to try to pay attention, and write down what I can of it.

Two Canyons

In Travels With Myself on July 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm

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Every time I mentioned Utah to anyone as I was preparing for my trip, I was told that I had to go to Bryce Canyon. Well, all right, then, everyone; I went to Bryce Canyon. And Red Canyon. And, so, okay, you were right.
It’s a fairly long and roundabout ride from here to the canyons, but when you arrive it all comes as a surprise.
Red Canyon comes first. As we approached Bryce, I could see some ridges in the distance with the layers of red and brown that are so much a part of the scenery through Utah, but even with these hints, I was unprepared as we came around a long curve and the walls turned red all around. The road runs right against the walls along the floor of the canyon, and through it in two places where arches have been cut in the sandstone. I was so mesmerized by the color and by the literally fantastic columns and cliffs, that I didn’t have time to think about my camera, and had to resolve to get some pictures on the way back out.
As we continued on to Bryce Canyon, the road started to rise. I asked if we would be driving into the canyon or going up to the rim. The rim it was, but I was expecting to see the canyon as we approached. Instead, the road turns up into a visitor area that looks like what you might expect a National Park to look. There are log buildings, beautifully appointed, places to camp and to picnic and to buy souvenirs and food. There are well-kept grounds to walk through and large parking areas for all the guests who come each year. It was busy on the fourth of July, and the walk through the crowds was an invitation to an ever-changing chorus of accents and languages. Then we arrived at the rim and I was struck speechless by what opened up in front of me. The solid ground disappeared on the other side of a short fence strung between square stone pillars. I stood by one of the pillars and looked over.
First some observations about the canyon itself, and then I want to talk about its impact.
Four things struck me about the canyon. First was the size. A mountain had become a hole in the ground as big as a mountain. Then there was the sculpturing of the earth by millions of years of wind and water. Tall, fragile spikes and columns, called hoodoos, seem to grow like flowers from the canyon floor. Tall figures loom over the landscape, like ghosts keeping watch. Trees grow from the columns, their roots exposed by the slow wearing away of the earth, keep digging deeper into the rock, so they appear to be standing on tiptoe, looking over the edge. The color seems unnatural, as though some mad artist had painted nature to match his fancy: pink and white, like a strawberry cake with icing applied by an insane baker. And the whole looks soft, not rock, but an enormous sand box with Tolkien sand castles scattered about.
I felt overwhelmed. All I could do was point my camera and click, and even at that I sometimes had trouble keeping my finger on the shutter button, and kept turning my camera off unintentionally. There are places on the Earth that can simultaneously make us feel insignificant and immortal. We are small compared to these wonders, but we walk around them and peer into their vastness like gods walking down from Olympus. The First Peoples spoke of the spirits of these canyons, and you don’t have to believe to hear them whispering.
I don’t know that I have done a particularly good job of conveying the experience, or at least of doing it justice. I was tempted to simply write, “Went to Bryce Canyon. Struck speechless.”

Of Rocks and Found Objects; and Art and Found Artists

In Travels With Myself on July 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Sometimes the most interesting things are the unexpected treats. Utah, I’ve discovered, is full of hidden treasures.
Last night, before getting ready for bed, I walked across the road from my motel to get a bite to eat and saw small converted gas station on the opposite corner. The sign said “Love the Art.” I went over and discovered that it was a gallery of stone sculpture and beads. The sop was closed, however, and so I went to bed. This morning I took my time getting started, knowing that I would only be going as far as Beryl, Utah. So when I drove out of the motel parking lot, I noticed that Love the Art was open, and I decided to stop in. Love the Art is an art and beading gallery owned and operated by David Penney and his daughters, Tina Robinson and Desiree Shotwell. The gallery specializes in stone sculpture and gemstone beads. They also serve espresso and coffee.
David Penney gets the rock from Zion, Utah, where he has personally discovered and named a stone called Picasso, a beautiful soft multi-colored stone in grays, ambers and blacks. All three of the owners are sculptors ad they sell a lot of their own work out of the store. They also sell work by other artists around the world who trade some of their pieces as partial payment for shipments of more stone to carve.
Tina was working in the store today and we had a lovely conversation about topics ranging from art and stonework to beading to children, to what it’s like living and working as an artist in Utah and opening a gallery just off the highway in a place called Beaver. In the end I found that I could not resist a Picasso heart to be made into a pennant and a small romantic carving of two horses lying side by side. All of the work was absolutely wonderful, from the whimsical to the highly sophisticated. Large abstract stone sculpture mounted on a desert wood pillar was exquisite.
I remarked to Tina as I was leaving that I would certainly tell people about Love the Art, and that it was always a thrill for me to find artists and artisans living and working in small towns and little shops. This sentiment was made even stronger for me later in the day.
I am staying for a few days with my sister Linda in Beryl, Utah. Linda has a weaving and fiber store called R Ewe Spinning, in Enterprise, about 15 miles down the road from her home in Beryl. After I arrived, Linda and I decided to get a light lunch in Enterprise, so that she could show me around a bit. We went, of course, to see Linda’s store, which shares half of a small building with a stone beads and jewelry store run by a delightful woman named Sandy. R Ewe Spinning is filled with racks of yarn ad fiber, spinning wheels, sewing notions, and beautiful, fun, practical, and original knitted objects created the people who work there, notable Tisha, one of Linda’s daughters-in-law, who was behind the counter: wonderful little knitted booties, some shape like actual boots, one pair a set of knitted “sandals”; clever knitted diaper cover and hat sets; and a remarkable sleeved shawl. Sandy’s shop is festooned with strings of beads and racks of necklaces, there are bowls of stone beads and displays of local stone like snowflake obsidian.
We also stopped was to visit a friend of hers named Joe. Joe makes the most wonderful (and I mean that literally) constructions out of wood, found items (such as old bicycles, a horse’s skull, abandoned toys, old automobiles and other assorted vehicles, and a chaotic assortment of metal parts of all kinds. In his front yard he has an incredible display of his creations, all of which are completely fanciful, but many of which look like they really ought to work that way: a seven foot tall “bicycle” with a large front wheel and a tiny tricycle pushing it along from behind and an old auto headlight mounted on the front with eyelashes; a “locomotive” made of random found objects and a wooden frame, and several tree-slab tables with found-wood pedestal legs. Joe is also a builder of useful things, like an incredible barn-board hutch that lives in Linda’s kitchen. Next to Joe’s house is a small open log cabin that Joe disassembled, moved to his property, and put back together. And I have to mention the horse. A horse’s skull found in the desert has grown with the bleached bones of old trees and other salvaged wood, plus an old ragged saddle into a whole new horse, that stands waiting by the fence.
These artists and artisans and their creations don’t just drop here randomly or accidently. When I say that I am always delighted and surprised at finding such art in isolated places, it is an admission of my own forgetfulness. I am accustomed to seeing similar shops and studios in the tourist clogged little towns of New England – Mystic, CT, for instance, or virtually the whole of Cape Cod. And it’s easy to think that the tourism is what allows the art to survive. Artists like Tisha and Tina and Joe and Sandy exist because art itself is a basic human activity; ad because they have chosen to live in places that feed their souls and their art. The best art, I believe, is organic, it is fed by the artist’s relationship to her, or his, life. That is what delights me: seeing the art that each new place helps to create because artists live there.

Eye-popping Views and a Detour that Actually Wasn’t

In Travels With Myself on July 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm

At Green River, Utah, the road leaves the Grand Valley, with its long stretches of unchanging landscape, and enters the Sinbad Valley. Within ten miles, the first hills appear on both sides, short, steeply sloped bumps in the valley floor, with bursts of green shrubbery. Then the road begins to rise slightly, the hills become larger and lusher. Then it enters some of the most spectacular countryside on this continent. Black Box, San Rafael Reef, San Rafael Swell, Eagle Canon; great geological parfaits of red, black, brown and nearly white stone swing into view around each turn and at the crest of the hills. The canyons drop down into the desert floor. These time-worn etchings are sometimes describes as scars. But I like to think of them as the Earth’s smile lines. Nothing tragic formed them; they are the inevitable signs of the aging of a living planet, growing mature enough to care for all its children.
About three-quarters of the way through the 106 mile stretch from Green River to Salina, the road starts to climb again, very subtly at first, then more clearly; for a full 20 miles the road rises, to, topping out about 7600 feet above sea level. Then it starts down again, 20 miles of descent. Going up, the engine pulls and struggles, tries to gain some ground against the constant hill; on the descent, the van wants to race ahead and needs to be held in check by the transmission and the brakes. At the end is a chance to rest in Salinas before starting through the last 50 miles that will go between the Pahvant Range and the Tushart Mountains and connect I 70 with I 15, the route I am looking for to take me south.
In Salina, I stopped at a small building with a big blue sign: the Visitor’s Information Center. Inside were three people who could as easily been sitting in those same chairs in that same semi-circle around a pot-bellied stove in an old country store. I asked them the same question I have asked at every stop since Pueblo: How’s the road to the west of here? I explained that I am from Connecticut, where hills don’t last 20 miles, well, I could use a bit of nice flat road for a while. They smiled. I 70, I was told, would not give me that; it climbs again before it drops down to Cove Fort and Route 15. The woman sitting to my left said, “Well, we’re all used to it out here. I used drive all over these roads for my job. It never bothered me.” Then they offered me a chair and asked about what brought me so far from Connecticut. So I told them the story of my road trip; and the woman who had spoken before asked if I was stopping at all the state parks, and confessed that she herself had never been to Bryce Canyon, though she was planning to visit it next year. No, I said, I was looking for something else this trip, something more like sitting in this little room talking to folks like them.
The lone man among my three hosts, suggested that I might do better to head a bit north out of town, up to Scipio. That road goes along the valley floor and does an end run around the mountains before it links up to I 15. It was a nice road with no big hills and would only add 10 miles or so over all to my trip. Wary as I have become of locals’ descriptions of the roads, I asked if I could see a map, having left mine in the van. The road to Scipio, it turned out, was US 50. Figuring this was a sign, since I had proposed back in West Virginia that I would take Route 50 all the way to I 15 in Utah, I thanked them very much for their help and their conversation, and left with an idea of once more getting off the highway for at least a short time.
It was a good choice. The road was flat and straight; and fine green fields spread out across the valley, breaking up, the dry sagebrush landscape. It’s amazing to see these farms carved out of the desert, and with all the heat and drought surrounding them, that they can still survive. When I got to the other side of the mountains and started down I 15, with the mountains off to my left and the Black Rock Desert to my right, it became hotter and dryer and windier. Wind socks in the center strip alert drivers to the strength and direction of the gusts that can sweep across the highway unexpectedly. I wondered if anyone had considered that this only works if there happens to be a wind sock nearby when you need it, and that by the time you see the wind sock the gust is already there and it’s too late to do anything about it.
When I stopped for the night in Beaver, I was told that the area had finally been ordered to restrict its water use; and to the east a small, new brush fire could be seen burning. It’s a common thing. The forecast for cooler temperatures means 60’s in the morning and only 90’s during the day; and nobody’s predicting rain, except east of the mountains, for quite a while.

Out of the Mountains and Getting Nowhere Fast

In Travels With Myself on July 2, 2013 at 1:41 am

Okay. I finally made it out of the mountains. An early start this morning took me through the last of the foothills that stood between me and Utah. This involved a lot of twists and turns along a generally good road, one last climb (only a very gradual 4 miles this time), one last descent (I have no idea how long as my time was occupied with things like breathing, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white and trying to keep Taliesin on the road (which had me on the precipice side this time). Along the way I shared the road with construction crews ( at least 3 miles down hill on the wrong side of the road – the precipice side when I was supposed to be safely tucked next to the mountain side), truckers, people who think that 65 miles-an-hour is actually a sane speed for that road, two deer, three horses (and their frantic owner who was trying to get everyone to drive very slowly until her mares could be rounded up), and something that may have been a road runner. I’m sure it was beautiful, but I didn’t dare look.
I love mountains, but next time I’ll let someone else drive.
Then, when I reached Montrose, all that changed. The land flattened out, the hills fell back behind me, and I was in Black Canyon. From there, for most of the ride through Olathe to Delta, the towns are all connected, with US 50 running through their town centers. Beyond Delta, it was a gentle ride through the canyon to Grand Junction, the last city before the Utah line. To either side of the road, the valley floor bubbles up into little hillocks, lightly dotted with scrubby brush and desert grasses. Except for a few industrial facilities of some kind, and one or two ranches, nothing is out there to show the presence of humans except the roads. But it was a relaxed and interesting ride after the mountains.
I stopped to take a break in Grand Junction. From here I would take I 70 into Utah and follow it all the way to I 15, which would take me close to my sister Linda’s place in Enterprise, and I wanted to make sure I was ready. It was a good idea. I bought a map and a couple of other things at a small store and got into a short conversation with the young woman at the register. I had bought some Provence spices, and she asked about them. She noticed that the mix contained lavender and remarked that it was one of her favorite herbs. In fact, she assured me, a local gelato shop, owned by a real Italian fellow and located right on Main Street, sold a lavender gelato. This seemed so extraordinary, and I was so ready for a cold treat, that I decided to go looking for the place.
I not only found the gelato (they didn’t have lavender today, so I settled for a scoop of bilberry and one of mascarpone), but I also found a small square that had an “interactive fountain.” At exactly noon (and several other times during the day) water shoots up through a pattern of holes and grids in the sidewalk and keeps going for an hour or more. Children are encouraged to play in the fountain – so I did, of course. I took off my shoes and splashed for a few moments in the water spouts before getting back into Taliesin and back on the road.
I 70, which shares with US 50 at this point, was not very different from the US 50 I had followed pretty much all the way from Indiana. It’s an old, gray road patched with strands of tar. It runs straight ahead through the upper valleys that started as soon as I crossed into Utah.
Let me interject here that Utah is hot right now. The temperature reached at least 98˚ today, and even though I was able to keep cool with the van’s air conditioner, I determined to stop at every opportunity to keep Taliesin from running too long in the heat. That wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
I 70 enters Utah and a sign immediately alerts the driver that the very next exit has the last services for 60 miles. There are random turnouts and an occasional exit that doesn’t appear to be leading anywhere, but nothing like a town, or a gas station, or a watering hole. At 40 miles there is a visitor center with bathrooms and one attendant who hands out maps and answers questions.
This part of the trip was worse than driving down the mountain. At least struggling to survive, while trying to keep my heart out of my throat, gave me something to do. And every turnout on the mountain afforded spectacular new vistas to keep me entertained. But the high valley (a valley at 5000 feet above sea level sounds like an oxymoron to me) is essentially a vast mountain desert, yellow-green with dry grasses dotted with sage; and at every horizon are far distant hills and mesas and the mountains I had left behind and others that I would never reach. It’s hard to describe it adequately.
Imagine that you are driving along a road and looking out the window. Things close to the road go zipping by; as things get farther away, however, they stay in view longer. The house out in the field seems to be running along with you on the other side of the telephone poles until it loses the race and falls back; the line of trees on a distant hill keep pace even longer; and the pale white crescent moon hanging incongruously in the blue summer sky follows you for mile after mile.
Now imagine a landscape with no trees, no houses, no differences in color or texture; pale green and yellow, with a backdrop of brown and black mesas far enough beyond so that, like the moon, they follow you for miles. The result is a hot, dry, abandoned scene that never changes, mile after mile after interminable mile. It’s as if you had asked Scotty to beam you somewhere else, but no matter where he transported you, you ended up back where you started. It’s like driving on a treadmill, with the road passing underneath you like a conveyor belt and you not actually getting anywhere. Everywhere I have traveled so far, I have always had a sense that I was making progress. Today I couldn’t tell how far I had gone, how far I still had to go, or even whether there was anywhere up ahead to get to at all.
But I have made it through the mountains. And nobody ever fell off the edge of a desert. So I will head out early again tomorrow, before the heat of the day gets a grip on the valley. Soon enough I will be passing the Wasatch Plateau and the Pahvant Range and will then turn south with desert on only one side and the mountains on the other. Now if someone could only do something about this heat.

Running from the Sun; and Straight into the Mountains

In Travels With Myself on July 1, 2013 at 1:28 am

The changes were so slow and steady that I didn’t notice them at first. The road from Kansas into Colorado is straight and smooth. The fields and towns look a lot the same. The first noticeable difference was the horses. Kansas was herds of cattle, but Colorado breeds horses. But then I could feel Taliesin struggling a bit in odd places; and I realized that I was almost continuously going uphill, for miles on end; a long gradual rise in altitude. Garden City, Kansas, has an elevation of 2950 ft. By the time I got to La Junta, Colorado, the elevation had reached 4066 ft. And every town in the state shows its elevation on the sign at the edge of town, so I could measure the change as I passed.
It was around La Junta that the landscape began to change more noticeably. The long flat roads gave way to more hills and valleys, more winding curves; and I began to see small hills and mesas at the far edges of the fields. This was the first hint that the Rockies were ahead, and I checked the map and began to think about reaching Pueblo, where I would have to make a decision about my route.
Basically, I had two choices. I could continue to follow US 50 west through the mountains; or I could turn north on I 25 to Denver, passing the mountains on my left, then turn west again onto I 70 and stay on the nice fast, wide interstate all the way to Utah. The second choice would be longer, but not necessarily any slower, and I could probably avoid any encounters with narrow, winding mountain roads along yawning precipices. But US 50 was more direct; and I knew that I would see some spectacular sights.
But I get ahead of my story. One other change in scenery was a change in the fields. In Kansas, things were growing. The first cutting of hay had been baled, and the corn was already getting tall. But Southern Colorado was bone dry. Fields were brown and dusty, yards and town greens were burning up. Signs everywhere proclaimed in big read letters that open fires and fireworks were strictly forbidden. The hills, only sparsely populated with trees, were uniformly beige and barren. Rain fall was predicted on the radio with a sort of skepticism, even by the meteorologists, who would only say that there was a possibility of scattered showers, but they might just dry up before anything fell.
I had gotten an early start and had crossed another time zone, so it seemed even earlier. It’s a funny thing about time. I sometimes feel, heading so directly west, that I am running away from the sun. And crossing a time zone encourages this idea, because our sense of time is subjective. 6:00 o’clock is an hour earlier than 7:00 o’clock even if it was 7:00 o’clock just five minutes ago. Our perceptions adjust when we realize the change in time. When I looked ahead of me toward the horizon in Colorado, hoping to see my first glimpse of the mountains as they rose into view, the edge of the sky was hazy; it seemed that a curtain of fog had drawn down, and I heard myself saying, “Oh, that’s right. It’s still only 6:00 o’clock in Colorado, so the morning mist won’t have lifted yet.”
But it wasn’t the morning mist, it was the clouds. As the sky met the earth, the clouds seemed to touch down, but it was just everything meeting at the vanishing point. And I was almost to Pueblo before I saw the Rockies starting to come into view, partially encased in the veil of the clouds. They were already well above the horizon and seemed to be manifesting out of a sea-fog, like ghost ships. By the time I got to Pueblo, they stood in full view, tantalizingly close, though the nearest passage between them was still a hundred miles away.
I needed to choose. So I asked. I needed some supplies, so I stopped at a Home Depot in Pueblo, got what I needed, and went to the service counter. I asked the nice person behind the counter what Route 50 was like from Pueblo west to Utah. She was very enthusiastic. She said the road was wide, even where it was only two lanes, and it tended to stay down in the low passes, running along the edge of the Arkansas River. It was a good road, she said, and very scenic. I’d love it.
She was right about loving it.
There is nothing that can adequately prepare a New Englander for the Rockies. I’ve seen mountains. I love mountains. I could easily live in Vermont or New Hampshire, even in winter, just for the sheer pleasure of being among the mountains. But as the road began to roll and turn between the ever-larger peaks on either side, I was breathless. At first, it seemed like the peaks weren’t rising anymore spectacularly than any I had seen in the Green Mountains; but then I remembered that the road I was on was already a thousand feet further above sea level than the top of Mount Mansfield. And when I got past Salidas, a lovely, bustling town on the edge of the Arkansas, and the great naked peaks of the Southern Rockies hove into sight, I had to pull to the side of the road to take it all in.
She was just a little wrong about the road. Shortly after Salidas, the road began to climb in earnest. I could feel Taliesin straining on some of the inclines. Then, there was the sign, “next 6 miles, trucks use lower gear,” and I started up. For the next six miles the road rose at about a 6% grade, curving and winding around the edge of the mountain. I had to stop several times to let the transmission rest; but at least I was on the mountain side of the road, not the precipice side. The road stopped rising at the crest of Monarch Pass, elevation , according to my map, 11,312 ft. with peaks rising on either side of it another two or three thousand. This was the Great Divide: to the East, the Atlantic side of the country; to the West, the Pacific. And all I could think about was that I had to come back down the other side.
Again, I was glad to be on the mountain side of the road. I had to pull off after a couple of miles, and then every half mile, of the seven mile descent, to let the brakes cool down. There are turnouts carved into the side of the mountain literally every tenth to a quarter of a mile, just to allow trucks and buses and RVs a place to get off the road and let the smaller vehicles pass. And it’s not even just about brakes and transmissions. Speed limits along some sections of this 6% grade, winding, two-, sometimes three-lane road down the mountain were 45, 55, even 65 miles-per-hour. You can, however, believe that I never got anywhere near those speeds, which was another incentive for using the turnouts.
One closing thought for the night. I have laughed with so many nice people already on this trip. Maybe it’s because I am having such a good time myself, that it’s contagious; but just about everyone I have met has engaged me in a brief conversation about nothing in particular, except that we are glad to see each other, strangers along the road; and laugh.

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