Around 8:30 the next morning, I got a call from Ramon saying the van was ready to go. It seems he had worked the night before installing the fuel pump. Bless his heart. As was my modus operandi, I took my good ol’ time checking out, including a leisurely breakfast of two eggs over easy at The Oasis venerable eatery. At 11 AM, the customers were coming and going, a fine testimony to the luncheonette’s popularity. As I was paying the bill, I had to say to the lady owner, “You people serve good food and have friendly service. I admire you for hanging in there despite the motel vacancies.” She gave me an understanding nod and smile. I coasted down to The Shop and paid Ramon $119, not bad for a fuel pump that had lasted that long. I couldn’t help liking Ramon — he was a hard-working jovial man. I thanked him for his “come-to-the-rescue” service and affable assistance.
I was outta there, headed over Raton Pass into Colorful Colorado. Down into Trinidad where I stopped at my favorite Safeway Market to stock up on some comestibles. Then north on I-25 to Walsenburg where I exited and took CO 69 northwest past the dramatic scenery of the eastern slopes of the Sangre de Christo mountain range. I passed through Westcliffe which had to have one of the most picturesque panoramas in the country. I connected with U.S. 50 at Texas Creek and headed west along the Arkansas River. The defunct Denver & Rio Grande Western tracks were seemingly abandoned (I could detect weeds sprouting up between the ties). This particular line used to carry passengers from Pueblo through the bottom of the Royal Gorge and over Tennessee Pass at Leadville (elev. 10,000 ft.), then down through Glenwood Canyon along the Colorado River to Grand Junction. What a thrill it must have been to sit in the VistaDome car and look up a thousand feet at the suspension bridge spanning the Royal Gorge! I spent the night near the geographical center of Colorado at the Best Western in Salida.
The next day I took CO 291 through the historical downtown area (Salida’s population was just under 5,000), and finally merged with U.S. 285. I was pleasantly surprised that the tried and true adage of the higher the elevation, the higher the gas prices wasn’t applicable right now – the price of a gallon in Salida was the same as in Texas. Go figure. What a spectacular drive, with the Collegiate Range to the west (Mt. Princeton, Harvard, and Yale), and the Sangre de Christo Range to the east. After humping Trout Creek Pass (elev. 9346 ft.), I was definitely high plains drifting through Fairplay and Como. I stopped in Jefferson at the erstwhile train depot (now, of course, a quaint little museum), and approached a young male attendant. I said, “I’ve been in or through Jefferson dozens of times, and I still can’t believe trains came through here. Where did they come from and where did they end up?” Fortunately, he had done his homework, saying, “They ripped up the tracks back in the late ’40s. Before that, the Colorado & Southern ran trains from Alma and Como through here and on to Denver.” I still wasn’t convinced, saying, “You mean to tell me they went over Kenosha Pass over there at 10,000 feet and across all those mountains between here and Denver?” He replied, “Yep, they had some super surveying crews working the line.” Amazingly, after 36 years when I first “discovered” Jefferson in 1979, my wondering was finally put to rest.
The high altitude and cool temperature prompted me to order a burrito at the ancillary food stand. A young couple in a SUV with Massachusetts plates pulled in, and as they were looking over the menu, I couldn’t help but strike up a conversation with them. I always liked starting off with, “You’re a long way from home.” They were from Danvers, a small town north of Boston and it was their first trip to Colorado. I added, “Ah-ha, you live in Red Sox Nation. That was one incredible season last year. I only had to wait 55 years. I adopted the Bosox as my favorite team when I was 11 years old back in 1949.” We scarfed down our victuals alfresco at the picnic table in front of the food stand under a cobalt blue sky. I asked them about where they had been and where they were headed. In general, they were completely awed by the overwhelming peaks of the Rockies and the vastness of the West. I said, “You know, it would take you a month, maybe more, to experience everything worth seeing in this state.” I could have enumerated on countless places in Colorado to see, but I restrained myself, thinking it was best to let them venture out on their own. What a fortuitous chance meeting it had been!
It was up and over Kenosha Pass, but not before pulling off at the summit to capture the panorama of Southpark below, stretching for at least 30 miles in the distance. I was hoping my new New England friends would enjoy this view. Down and up, up and down goes U.S. 285 for 65 miles until I merged with Loop 470 west of Denver. It was about 3 P.M. and I was thinking about visiting the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden. Thanks to my friend Todd Deniger and his website survey, he had located the R.R. Museum as having a certain Rand McNally R.R. Atlas published in the 1920s. My interest in this matter had been spawned by a segment on the History Channel about how Charles Lindberg had navigated his way from San Diego to New Jersey prior to his historic trans-Atlantic flight by means of a Rand McNally Handy Railroad Atlas. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?
I had the directions etched in my head, and eventually found the museum not far from the Coors Brewery. They had a helter-skelter layout of tracks with the predictable array of steam locomotives, diesel Streamliners, Pullman passenger cars, and an assortment of freight cars and cabooses. I’m sorry, but to me it was tantamount to a graveyard. I have never understood the fascination with gawking at inert objects that deserved better, like riding the rails. The museum was replete with a crock of memorabilia. I wandered over to the adjacent library and found just what I had been searching for — a golden 1928 railroad atlas. I made copies of Texas, Colorado, and Illinois (since it had more tracks per square mile than any other state). I left with a feeling of mission accomplished. Still, I would have killed to take home an original edition.