The highway flattened out at about 8,000 feet, and distant mountain ranges (mostly the San Juan Mountains) were visible for 360 degrees… I was really rubber-necking it. After Tres Piedras, I crossed over the Rio Grande Gorge (a miniature Royal Gorge) and stopped for gas at Tierra Amarilla. As I was paying the attendant, I couldn’t help commenting, this has to be the most beautiful name for a town. Would you mind saying it for me:” He graciously reciprocated, fusing the two words into one, while perfectly rolling his “r” and enunciating the double “l” as “y”. The syllables were almost operatic. Gracias, amigo.
I was high plains driftin’, still on Route 66, headed north towards Colorado. I amused myself by repeating “Tierra Amarilla” like one would hum a favorite tune. I was also wondering how in the wide world of creation could a scintilla of a river (the miniaturized Rio Grande) cut a gorge 500 feet deep. Did it take 100 million years of erosion, or was there a sudden cleavage in the earth’s crust? That was when I wished I had been a geologist. But then, if I had all the answers, life would cease to be a wonderment. It kept my cerebral cells working. To add to the beautiful drive, I noticed a bunch of horses walking along, then all of a sudden, break into a full run. Oh, what a sight to behold. Even though it was obvious they were on private land, the image of them was like watching wild mustangs running free as the wind. I thought of my old friend, Gene Paterson, who I hoped I would be seeing later on down the road. Her life has been horses, the quintessential equestrian of Colorado.
Unpredictably, as most of my highway experiences are, I came upon a curious residential development…about a dozen dwellings carved out and dug in to an unforgiving, tree-less, wind-swept landscape. A weather-beaten sign read: “Welcome to Earthship. Inquire at Office for Guided Tours”. Well, I just missed the tour hours by a couple of minutes, but no matter. I did my own self-guided excursion around the exterior, negotiating protruding tire carcasses and plastered-over beer cans. It was obvious the “prototype” had been entirely constructed with recycled materials, similar to actor Dennis Weaver’s ballyhooed abode (somewhere in the Colorado Rockies). I peered inside through the vast expanse of sloping, south-facing windows, and observed a burrow-like interior with curvilinear, adobe walls. Backing off a few paces, I could make out a sod roof, replete with ventilation exhaust stacks. Heck, the implementation wasn’t anything earth-shattering (excuse the pun)…America’s pioneers intuitively built their sod houses with the same parameters in mind (defense against the north wind, and exposure to the south sun). Shucks, you can find the same principle utilized at various rest area facilities in the Wild West, most notably in Nebraska and Wyoming, i.e., solar winter-heating, and summer air-cooling.
Yes-sir-ee, I had just witnessed the 1990’s version of “pioneer” living. In actuality, it was the same falderal that had been perpetrated since the energy crises of the early 1970’s. I was wishing I could “drop in” on one of the inhabitants, but my assertiveness wilted. An ambience of intrusion permeated the place. Admittedly, they were living in harmony with nature, but to have to drive at least 100 miles to the nearest “major” town for supplies…that was stretching it a bit. Maybe it was the isolation, I don’t know. It beats me.
U.S. 64 took me north to Chama, and then west to a junction with U.S. 84. From there, it was Colorado-bound to Pagosa Springs, where I hoped to spend the night. As soon as I got to town, I made two separate inquiries – one was to where I could find the City Park; the other was to where the Best Western Inn was located. In both instances, I got the exact same reply: “You go down Main Street to the traffic light, it’s the only one in town, and take a right, cross over the river, and it’ll be on your left.” I mused to myself: “Hey, if this town has one traffic light, it should qualify for a NHL franchise (chortle and guffaw).” I eschewed the park in favor of the Inn. I strode right up to the registration desk, and confronted the young lady with my usual falderal (reserved only for that particular situation): “Excuse me, miss, but I’ve been on the road all day, trying to get to Gunnison (another 200 miles away). I’m really tired, and I don’t want to risk driving at night. All I have is a van with a bed in the back. I was wondering if I could use one of those empty spaces in back to spend the night.” She was overcome at my plight. Instead of saying, “We have plenty of rooms available”, she offered, “Sure, go right ahead and park back there. No problem.” What a relief it was to hear those words.
As I was reclining in my “living room” chair (the one facing aft), I gave a little thanks to the Colorado hospitality, and to the Good Lord for getting me there safely. I was recalling some similar circumstances, particularly in California and Florida, where I had been rudely received with a retort such as: “If you can’t pay, you can’t stay.” Well, you can’t blame the greedy. It had been a long day, and I was at peace, even though I may have stretched the truth a bit. Thank you, Gloria.
The next morning, I hightailed it west to Durango on U.S. 160. About ten miles from town, there was a stretch of highway where the majestic peaks of the San Juan mountains came into full view. The 14,000 foot range was resplendent with its snow-covered slopes, creating a pristine white silhouette set against a cobalt blue backdrop…it was postcard-perfect. Now, that was Colorado! As I rolled into Durango, I noticed a string of D & S N G passenger rail cars lined up near the depot. Right then, I felt like something was going to be a little different about this stop-over in Durango.