Embarking on the Grand Circle Day 1-9.17.15

Here it is the fourth entry into this blog and we’ve already gone three weeks without a post.  We were distracted…  Where we’ve been all this time is a long-planned driving tour of the Southwest, covering an estimated 2000 miles through what’s sometimes known as the great circle or alternately the four corners.  That is, Colorado to Utah to Arizona to New Mexico and back to Colorado.  What a wonderful way to tour our great West. 

There were several stops along the way:  Glenwood Springs/Grand Junction, CO — Moab, UT/Arches National Park – Mesa Verde National Park, CO — Monument Valley National Park/Four Corners, AZ –Page AZ/Lake Powell — Williams, AZ/Grand Canyon National Park — Sedona AZ with a side trip to the old mining town of Jerome, AZ — through Painted Desert National Park to Santa Fe, NM — Taos, NM with a side trip to Royal Gorge Bridge — through Pueblo, CO to our balcony in Denver.

Our intention is to highlight these wonderful landmarks, our journey, the people we met, the impressions we had, and the lessons we learned.  There will be some serious literary essays and some humorous, possibly irreverent, short takes on life and human nature.

The West is the land of extremes – the highest, the lowest, the biggest, the smallest, the widest, extreme heat, extreme cold. Barbara put it quite poetically, I think — “There is no canyon so deep or mountain so high as to compare with the breadth and the vastness of the desert.”

I quite agree.  When you’re in the middle of it, it just spreads out forever.  Sometimes it’s yellow and sometimes red, sometimes brown and sometimes pink.  There’s high desert, which has trees, mostly juniper, and low desert which is all scrub, and prairie littered with dry grass, and stretches without any visible vegetation at all.

You see a mountain in the distance in Arizona and it’s still in the distance in New Mexico.  All the locations for movies you’ve ever seen are right there, for Arabia and Mongolia and Mars and, oh yeah, the West.  Occasionally, there’s a house a couple miles distant and you wonder how anyone could possible ever live out here.  They probably have to have their water delivered by truck because they don’t have any of their own.  All in all, the desert was the most memorable part of the trip.

Day 1:

A rare glimpse of sunrise reflected off the windows of Lakewood buildingsSpecial treat – we saw the sunrise.  We face east, so we don’t ever see the sunrise, but on this morning the sun was reflected brilliantly from the windows of Lakewood buildings.

The yellow of the Aspens just pop out from the green of the pines.We began our journey by travelling west on I-70, a familiar road, having trekked to Vail several times.  Expected travel time to pass Vail – 2 hours.  HAH!  This was Thursday mid-morning and we hit a complete stoppage well before the Eisenhower Tunnel.  CDOT’s flashing signs warned of “heavy traffic”.  I was driving and there was so much stopping that I was able to take pictures of the golden Aspens from the driver’s seat.

Slow…stop…slow…stop.  A younger me would have been frustrated and miserable.  What a way to start your vacation.  The more mature me was in a mellow frame of mind.  “I’m off work for more than two weeks!  I have time.”

We later discovered there was quite a huge accident that clogged everything up.  Gratitude kicked in that we weren’t in the middle of it.  We barely reached the tunnel at the 2 hour mark then stopped in Silverthorne for youknowwhat.  The folks at the Travel Center told us the CDOT “heavy traffic” warning had just been lifted.

First stop Glenwood Springs, Colorado, which sits at the top of the Western slope of the Rocky Mountains.  It’s distinguished by its natural hot springs, now channeled into a two blocks-long public swimming pool, that hit a consistent 110 degrees all year round.  The springs are pretty much the reason for the town, serving as a summer resort for residents of the nearby mining towns in the 1880’s, many newly transplanted from the East.  There were also a consistent supply of sufferers from chronic illnesses, including tuberculosis and syphillis, who hoped to find relief from bathing in the waters.

One of the best known of the latter group was Doc Holliday of the OK Corral gunfight and Wyatt Earp buddy, who came here for the waters and mountain air to relieve his TB and died eight months later at the age of 37.  In the little city museum (which contains quite a nice collection of artifacts from the period) there are two photographs of Holliday.  One is the one usually printed in the history books of a handsome gentleman with jet black hair and handlebar mustache, taken some years earlier.  The other is a photo taken during his time in Glenwood Springs.  This one shows a man ravaged by disease, the face of an old man, with eyes and teeth popping out of a cavernous skull, grayed hair cropped close to the bone and skin barely able to cover his skeleton.

For those interested in history, there are a couple of themes encountered here that repeat themselves throughout the course of our trip.  We’re traveling through the Olde West of myth and legend and romance, and we’ll run across several movie museums with posters from the Hollywood Westerns filmed in those areas, respectively.  However, we won’t find much evidence of actual pioneers in covered wagons or Cowboys herding cattle on epic trail drives.

The main driver in opening up the West was the mining industry.  Entrepreneurs analogous to our modern day dot.com millionaires started mining companies to excavate the mountains for gold, silver, copper, iron and coal.  They brought in immigrant labor from Britain, Germany and Poland to do the digging, and they weren’t interested in wide open spaces or sleeping under the stars.  Like everyone else, they were interested in money.

The other group who populated this part of the country were the sick ones like Doc Holliday.  In the nineteenth century tuberculosis was a worldwide scourge.   It was thought that fresh air, clean water and healthful food might cure the disease, and so thousands of infected sufferers came out here to settle.  In the 1870’s, it was estimated that one-third of the population of Denver had TB.  So, it wasn’t the hale and hearty adventurers who opened this country — quite the opposite.

In any case, Glenwood Springs is a pleasant little town with a couple of vintage hotels and quaint downtown area in addition to the giant bathtub.  In particular, the residential neighborhoods off the main street are made up of beautiful little wood frame cottages circa 1890 – 1910, painted in yellows and greens and blues softened and muted by the way the paint has sunk into the natural board siding over the years, and with tall narrow windows flanked by wooden shutters in contrasting colors.    Glenwood Springs, CO

Frontier Historical Museum, Glenwood Springs, CO Frontier Historical Museum, Glenwood Springs, CO

Twisting and turning, our road followed the Colorado River.  Just weeks before, we had seen the mouth of it as a mere trickle.  As we followed it, it grew wider and more robust.  We were in Glenwood Canyon, obviously carved by our river – sheer looming cliffs on either side of the road.

Some crafty use of the Android and a couple of apps later, we pull into our our motel for the night in Grand Junction, CO. The tree just outside our door is glowing with an eerie light and is also the host of an apparent blackbird convention – the theme was “sing your heart out!” and they were loud.

Beautiful light (and birdsong) show as we returned to our motel after dinner. Night night.

Beautiful light (and birdsong) show as we returned to our motel after dinner. Night night.

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Posted in Leisure travel freedom, road trip, travel without stuff, writing

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