It was another fine fire for the morning coffee warm-up and there was nothing like the aroma of burning logs in the cool mountain air. Coincidentally, I had a view of the aforementioned aspen forest that was now a beautiful blanket of apple green. I said goodbye to my beloved camping area and proceeded onto Hwy 285 on a roller coaster ride (at several stretches I had to go up to go down) of about 65 miles into Denver. It had been more than a week and almost 2,000 miles since I had spent a night in a motel, so I made a beeline to the Broadway Plaza, the only remaining motel in the downtown area. It was an old, but not venerable, motel bordering somewhat on the seedy side, yet commodious enough for a comfortable night’s stay. What I really liked about the place was its convenient location to just about anywhere I wanted to go. I made a few phone calls to friends just to warn them I was in town. I fell asleep watching Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show.
To abbreviate my account of the Mile High City visit, I had a super time seeing a bunch of old friends whom I had worked with at RNL Architects from 1978 to 1983. Without a doubt, they had become best friends for life. However, I would like to relate my short time with Tom Reilly who was the Chief Designer at RNL and now had branched off with Bob Johnson (another ex-RNLer) to form their own firm. I met them for lunch at their downtown office and we strolled over to a nearby eatery. We had a fun time rehashing the good ol’ times. I commented to Tom, “You and I really came around into being a complimentary design tandem.” He responded, “You’re right. I laid out the plans and elevations and you embellished them with three-dimension perspectives. We were a good team.” What a great visit!
I checked out of “No Tell Motel” and spent the last night in the ancillary parking lot of King Soupers that was my neighborhood super market when I lived on Capitol Hill. We “straights” used to brand the store as “Queen Soupers” because of the inordinate homosexual population in the area. Nevertheless, because of its very particular clientele, the market had a superb delicatessen, which I patronized quite often.
That afternoon I just had to spend several hours at the neighborhood Cheeseman Park where I relaxed in the easy chair, occasionally throwing my boomerang and hitting fly balls to imaginary outfielders. When I moved to Denver, the park immediately took on a special attraction to me, recalling an old home movie (circa 1940) of my dad and a two-year old tyke standing in the snow in the same park. Talk about coming full circle. That evening I revisited Charlie Brown’s Lounge where I reveled in some sing-alongs at the piano bar with my old friend Paul at the keyboard. Oh, that was a great time! I retreated back to my “reserved” parking space under a cottonwood and reposed in the cool night air.
I got some delectable take-outs from the deli the next morning and hit the road south on a traffic-soaked I-25 through the DenverTech Center that reminded me all to well of the notorious North Central Expressway in Dallas. The multi-lane highway between Denver and Colorado Springs had to be one the most frantic stretches of interstate anywhere because, although traffic was running along smoothly at 60 mph or faster, the volume was overwhelming with motorists bordering on the act of tailgating. The one redeeming quality of that particular stretch was the spectacular view of the Rockies at amazingly close range. Unfortunately, I was only able to enjoy the scenery with an occasional glance out of the corner of my eye fearing a “prolonged” distraction could be catastrophic.
I whizzed through The Springs and exited onto CO 115 to Canon City. At that point I breathed a sigh of relief for having survived my trek down I-25. It was only about 70 miles which by commuter’s standards was a walk in the park. That’s right, untold thousands drove that stretch daily between home and work and vice versa. It was beyond me how people could waste so much time sitting in a car. I drove through the foothills for about 30 miles until hooking up with west bound U.S. 50 and stopped for gas (95 cents per gal.) in Canon City. Just outside of town was the Colorado Maximum Security Prison, which was designed by the firm of Reilly & Johnson. The facility was strictly for the hardest of hardened criminals, so Tom had to contend with some extra design parameters.
I took a side trip to the nearby Royal Gorge that was more than twice as deep as it was wide with the suspension bridge span at 1,053 feet above the Arkansas River. The road surface consisted of spaced wood planks, so when I ventured out several cautious yards, I could look straight down to the river below with a rail line paralleling it. It was both an exhilarating and scary experience. I thought, “What an extraordinary view it must be from a Vista Dome car looking up at all this grandeur.” What blew my mind was that people were actually driving their two-ton vehicles across the seemingly rickety roadway. You couldn’t have paid me a million dollars to drive Ol’ Blue (weighing about 5,500 lbs.) across that bridge!
As with the Grand Canyon, my mind was whirling as to how such an incredible natural phenomena could have occurred. I considered my erosion theory, but such a chasm in the landscape might have been the result of a violent cataclysm in the earth’s surface. I tried my “Corps of Engineers” routine on a susceptible elderly couple, and sure enough, I got the same befuddled reaction of disbelief. Some things never change.
I continued west on Hwy 50 to Texas Creek where I took an unscheduled detour onto southbound CO 69 that lead me along the unfamiliar eastern side of the Sangre de Christo Mountain Range that was even more spectacular because of the proximity of the majestic peaks. Out of curiosity, I scaled distances off the state map and found that I was only five miles from the range as compared to 25 miles from Hwy 285 on the western side.
At the one-horse town of Gardner I was forced to take an undesignated rocky dirt road for about 15 miles in order to get to U.S. 160. I wasn’t able to drive more than 25 mph over the spine-jarring surface, so it took me the better part of an hour to traverse the most horrendous stretch of road that I had ever encountered. I finally exited at Le Veta Pass at 9,413 feet and headed west to Alamosa (pop. 11,799, elev. 7,544), one of my favorite little towns in Colorado. The Main Street (U.S. 160) was teeming with activity where there was even a movie theater with a marquee flashing a first run film titled Witnessstarring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGinnis. I thought, “There was no way you could ever find that in downtown Dallas!”
It had been a long day of driving (about 290 miles) and I was ready for a night’s stay somewhere soon. The evening was too perfect to waste in a motel room, so I decided a change of venue was in order, that is, swapping a mountain retreat for an asphalt space in the parking lot in front of Albertson’s. After buying some groceries, I tracked down the manager to ask him if it was okay to spend the night in the lot, to which he replied, “No problem.” I parked in a distant corner not far from an 18-wheeler that fortunately was not dieseling all night. It was relatively quiet and pleasantly cool, so I didn’t have any trouble dozing off.