Watershed Rio Grande

After a $19.95, “sleepin’-single-in-a-double bed” night, I cruised The Springs for most of the day. Again, the home projector started reeling off some ancient picture frames. Was that Grandma’s summer cottage on the side of the mountain in picturesque Manitou Springs? Was that my playground park by the river? Was that our little house on 12th and Nevada where I had my third birthday party? The over-killed phrase, “It was like déjà vu”, was not quite appropriate at that time. Before I left town, I revisited the beautiful Broadmoor, strolled the promenade and quacked with the ducks. I had some fond memories of that grandest of grand hotels, as I was remembering the summer of ’56. The Early family of four (Franz had just completed his senior year as an AFS student at my highschool) spent five glorious days there….swimming and shuffle boarding, boating and golfing, dining and dancing. The most vivid recollection of our good times was a tall, beautiful brunette from Chicago. Franz and I met her simultaneously, and then vied as diplomatically as we could for her affections. When the contest got to be a bit contentious, I decided it was time to gracefully defer to Franz. I felt like I had stabbed myself in the heart. I hardly said a word to Franz all the way back to Dallas. Fortunately, we had a deck of cards, so the gin game kept my mind occupied from otherwise inquiring just how intimate my dear German brother had been with the lovely lass. By the time we got home, I had all but erased the excruciating experience from my mind. A short time later, Franz voluntarily admitted that his advances had not gotten him as far as he would have liked. I murmured to myself, “Goody, goody”. So much for that!

It was late afternoon when I got on state highway 115 to Canon City. About two-thirds of the way, I noticed an inviting spot just off the road to spend the night. An old Chevy van (identical to the one Bob Buckner had back in Dallas) was parked there, which made my choice even more appealing….some fellow travelers. What a coincidence it turned out to be: One of the two dudes was Chuck, the very same guy who plunked down nine C-notes for Ol’ Betsey back in May. I knew that I was asking high ($1,000). He offered 800; I said nine. We agreed. He was a conscientious and intelligent young man. I was very pleased that he was to be Betsey’s new owner. When they said that they had been camping out in the most picturesque part of Colorado – the San Juan Mts. near Durango – I figured that would be a good direction in which to head. We shared a couple of Buds, and then they took off to home. So, there, for a few hours, I was linked with Denver. During our unintentional rendezvous, the silence of the setting was shattered by two jet fighters, screaming by at about 400 feet, doing low-altitude maneuvers from nearby Peterson Air Force Base. The sound and sight of them was exhilarating. Then, all of a sudden, both the van-voyagers and the jet-jocks were gone. The darkness was punctuated by a serene quietness – a solitude which I had not experienced so far. Remember, I had been in and around a big city for two months. My audio senses were always deciphering some sort of noise pollution. Even though I could see the glow of the city lights of Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Canon City in the distance, every star in the galaxy was visible. It was my first real “night out on the road”. Frankly, it was a little scary. The next morning was something else again. I awoke just before first light. Then Ol’ Sol peaked up over the eastern Colorado plains, and a glorious sunrise was set into motion. I felt that I was “officially on my way”. I thanked God.

After a butane-heated coffee and a cinnamon roll, my first impulse was to revisit the Royal Gorge (that was one of our side-trips in 1956). Walking across that wood planked bridge, looking down through the spaced openings at the Arkansas River more than 1,000 feet below, was a most unsettling adventure. Add to that, the fact that some unengaged tourists opted to drive the length of the suspension, peering over the window sills with the illusion that they were actually seeing the spectacle below. Of course, the rumbling of the autos caused vibrations in the bridge that would have had a high-rise steel construction worker trembling. At mid-span, I heard the familiar churning of some four or five diesel locomotives. I looked down, and there was the old reliable, but somewhat antiquated, Rio Grande coal train, wending its way through the canyon. The noise of the powerful engines reverberated off the rock walls. All my senses were locked together. It was spectacular: Then I turned to an innocent-looking, middle-age couple and, with my tongue all but protruding through my cheek and gesturing down at the gorge, made an audible observation: “Wow, the Corps of Engineers really outdid themselves on this project, didn’t they?” My incredulous words caught the two completely unawares. Instead of guffawing at such a farcical statement, they gave me a suspect glare and said, “They didn’t do this. This is God’s work.” I just turned and walked away, my eyes rolling back in my head. Their absolute seriousness had actually rocked me back on my heels. Where had all the laughter gone? Not to be undone by those sober-minded souls, I tested my outrageous act on another twosome who were obviously younger than the former pair. Their unrestrained laughter made my day. Finally, levity had come out of limbo. Those “confrontations” sort of rejuvenated me for the trip ahead.

To be continued…

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