Summer ’86: Part XX

The next morning I found myself conveniently close to the Golden Arches and walked over to get an Egg McMuffin “roady”. I stopped to fill up my voracious tank (I was getting about 15 mpg) and as I was pumping petrol, I felt like I was at a crossroads of my journey. I had a choice of either heading south to New Mexico or prolonging my odyssey through Colorado.  The latter seemed better since I was not quite ready to leave my favorite state.  Besides, there was a chance I might catch Charlie Peeler (another ex-classmate) at his mountain house high up in the Rockies.  I continued west on Hwy 160 through Monte Vista to South Fork where I forked off onto CO 149 (I didn’t see a pronged utensil in the road).  The 20-mile ascent to Creede ran adjacent to an abandoned Union Pacific rail line. There was no vestige of a loop-around track so the locomotive had to have backed its train down to the main line or maybe he put it in neutral and coasted down.  Riiiight.

The highway really started ascending as I crossed the Rio Grande River several times where it was no more than over-sized stream.  At one point I pulled off at a vista area where there was a dramatic view of a valley below and the Continental Reservoir, the headwaters of the Rio Grande. I crossed The Divide at Spring Creek Pass (10,901 ft.) and continued climbing up and over Slumgullion Pass at 11,361 feet (second highest pass below Independence Pass above Aspen at 12, 095 feet). I could see mountain peaks maybe 30 or 40 miles away. I felt like I was literally on top of the continent.  Just a few miles further I stopped in Lake City and started asking around as to where Charlie Peeler’s house was.  I finally got directions but found no Charlie at home.  I left him a note saying, “Maybe you didn’t take me seriously at the reunion when I said I might drop by.  Sorry I missed you.”  I was still batting .667 having hit on four out of six ex-classmates.

Well, I decided to head back to Gunnison and visit my old friend Gene again.  I got no response on her phone and then I remembered her saying she would probably be in Montrose at a rodeo competing in a cutting-horse contest.  Daylight was waning, so I drove north to Almont anyway where a dirt road took through a picturesque canyon along the Taylor River that was sprinkled with designated campgrounds.  I picked one site next to the river, which of course, was equipped with the ubiquitous pedestal metal cooking grille.  I settled for some leftovers warmed up in the skillet on the butane burner.  I felt pretty self-sufficient.  Then I relaxed in the easy chair enjoying another Avalon and thought, “This sure beats Albertson’s parking lot.”  Later, I fell asleep to the sound of the rushing river.

I awoke to a most serene setting, warmed up some coffee, and said goodbye to campground “Lodgepole”.  I stopped for gas in Gunnison and noted in my mileage logbook an odometer reading of 53,535.  It was August 27th and I was into my 60th day of the trip while calculating I was still averaging only 160 miles a day!  I took U.S. 50 east to CO 114, which lead me south over North Pass at 10,149 feet and on my way full circle back to Alamosa across the high plains with a distant view of the Sangre de Christo Mountains.  I decided it was finally time to leave Colorado after guesstimating that I had driven close to a thousand miles throughout the state over the past week.  It had been an unforgettable journey.

U.S. 285 took me across the state line into New Mexico (a foreign country to Easterners, especially those in New York City) and stopped for gas in Tres Piedras.  I headed east on U.S. 64 to Taos where I took some time to visit several art galleries. The tiny town (pop. 3369) was rather unique in that practically every structure, both residential and commercial, was built in the pueblo-style with adobe exteriors, and that included even the gas stations.

Actually, the Rocky Mountain region of northern New Mexico was dotted with small towns with the same architectural characteristics including Santa Fe (pop. 48,900).  And because of the attraction of all the art galleries, spectacular scenery, and ski areas, the area lured many out-of-state tourists.  So, admittedly, I really couldn’t blame the naive uninformed aliens for mistakenly thinking they were somewhere in Old Mexico. Curiously, the state relented to numerous out-of-staters erroneously applying for visas in order to enter the Land of Enchantment, so prison inmates stamped out new license plates that read: “New Mexico U.S.A.“.  Unbelievable!

For some inexplicable reason, that particular part of northern New Mexico had the peculiarity of either having misdirections on highway signs or no signs at all.  I made several “wrong” turns, if you could call them that, and my patience was thinning.  I eventually found the elusive State Hwy 518 that whisked me into the Santa Fe National Forest.

The sun was getting low, so I was ready to pull off for the night.  No sooner had I started looking, there was what appeared to be a great spot down away from the highway.  I had to descend on a winding dirt road and as I got closer, I knew it must be da’ place with its clustering of cottonwoods and elms right next to a cascading creek.  It was perfect.  I did my usual preparation for a fire and heated up a skillet of corned beef hash. I relaxed in the easy chair listening to a Texas Ranger baseball game on the 50,000 watt blowtorch station WBAP out of Ft. Worth.  It was one more night in paradise, and falling asleep in the cool night air was effortless.

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