I had in my path-finding repertory an assortment of taped and tattered state road maps, some dating prehistorically back to my 1963 odyssey to San Fran. On the Colorado “Tour Guide”, I noticed the Great Sand Dunes National Monument had somehow created itself conveniently near U.S.160, which was a direct highway to the southwest corner of the state. As I approached the mystic marvel, I slipped in a cassette (I had about fifteen hours of taping from Dick Anderson’s treasure trove of albums) and out piped the vocal version of “Born Free”. The theme was so appropriate for the occasion. The Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range was ascending in front of me, forming a perfect backdrop for the entire setting. Wow, did I ever get the goose-bumps! Then, just as I came around a bend in the road, there it was – as if some gigantic shovel-in-the-sky had transplanted fifty square miles of sand from the Great Sahara. I kept asking myself: “Why was this here?” It all seemed so alien to Colorado. Because of the sun’s lower angle in the autumnal sky, I was able to walk “barefoot in the sand”. It was a soothing luke warm, plus a great pumping exercise for the legs. Conversely, during the sun’s summer peak, the granules would have given me the unpleasant sensation of literally “walking on hot coals”. So said the appreciative warning sign at the bottom of the dunes. I did churn my way to the summit of one of the mounds – a good one mile round trip. It felt great. I was able to spend an overnight within a stone’s throw of that natural beauty (No, I didn’t try any Corps of Engineer’s jokes with the dunes).
The next morning, I was up at first light, and witnessed a sunrise over the sands that was just as spectacular as the sunset the evening before. Then I wondered: “If those super-conductive granules retained so much heat during the day, wouldn’t the opposite be true after being exposed to the cold night air?” My hypothesis was correct. The cool sand under my bare feet had a stimulating affect as I briskly walked the dunes. I lingered awhile, still marveling at that strange and beautiful phenomenon. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon when I finally got back on U.S. 160 and headed west to Alamosa. I spent the night at a wayside area near Southfork (Did they name that town after J.R.’s ranch near Dallas?). I was just kidding.
As I was approaching Wolf Creek Pass (summit elev.: 10,850 ft.) the next day, I felt a little apprehensive about negotiating such an ascent, since it was my first time on that particular stretch of 160. I had driven up and over Kenosha Pass, with a summit of a mere 10,000 feet, a good number of times. But, with its relatively moderate grades, Kenosha was a walk in the park, even in Ol’ Betsey. Alas, my fears were unjustified. My Chevy 305 took the climb right in stride. I must have been forgetting that the engine mileage had not even reached 4,000 yet. I was simply unaccustomed to having such a new and powerful means of transportation. Just over the summit, I pulled off at one those “scenic overlooks”. It was a sight to behold – a lush, green valley spread out below with sprinklings of golden aspens on the mountain sides. I was actuality two weeks premature to absorb the peak of the aspens glorious fall foliage. But, no disappointment set in. During the two previous mid-Octobers, I had scheduled my camp at Kenosha Pass, where, more than anywhere else in Colorado, there was the largest and most diversified array of aspen autumnal aurora. It was splendor in the trees up there. My companion and I would have practically a “free lane” down U.S. 285 on our Sunday afternoon return trip to “civilization”. In the opposite, uphill lane, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic of beauty-starved Denverites, making their annual trek to “drink in” (Oh, how I hate that phrase!) the peak fall colors. It was quite a sight. There were a few, out of utter frustration, who gave up, made a U-turn, and headed back down to Denver in “our lane”. We felt like the wisest twosome in all of Colorado. Meanwhile, back at Wolf Creek…. I met a gentleman from Gatesville (Texas) who shared in my belief that “you gotta drive slow to see everything”. The chance meeting with the Texan was a pleasant surprise. I had not expected to make many new acquaintances on the road, since the summer travel season had crested back on Labor Day. However, I was beginning to realize that there were a number of retirees and senior citizens who chose to “hit the road” after the maddening crowds had returned home to put their kids back in school. It was the “off-season” to travel. I continued down to Durango where I found a familiar space at the City Park to rest the wheels (I had refugeed in the same park three years earlier on my exodus from Dallas in Ol’ Betsey). Durango had not changed one iota. I was actually anxious to leave Colorado!
From Durango to Cortez to Four Corners, 1 saw the last remnants of the Rockies fade away in my rear-view mirror. That was a little sad, my feeling was punctuated by the sheer desolation of the terrain as Highway l60/666 made the transition from Colorado to Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico (at the only point in the U.S. of A. common to four states). Of course, I just had to perform the ridiculous ritual of getting down on my hands and knees, so as to be in four different states simultaneously. The native peddlers gave me that “how could one condescend to such a level” glance. The Indians were silently hawking their wares under a rippling canvas. The land and wind seemed unforgiving. Then something struck me. I was remembering some previous exits from Colorado to her neighboring states (including Wyoming). It dawned on me that all the Rocky Mountain states had their own distinctive geological characteristics. It was as if the state lines, drawn on latitudes and longitudes, were not arbitrary at all. I envisioned the U.S. Geological Survey team, back in the latter part of the last century, making field trips all over the vast, uncharted territories of the west. When they were finished with their observations, they got together to compare notes. The meeting adopted the ensuing scenario: First, the territory with its majestic mountain ranges, sequestered valleys, forests of evergreens and aspens, abundant water, and rolling plains for fertile soil (great place for a brewery) was named Colorado – an appropriate appellation which means “red land” in Spanish. Next, the area to the north with its dramatic diversity of terrain, ranging from the grand mountain peaks (Tetons) and unique geothermal corner (Yellowstone) to the powdered basins and scrubby ranges, was, for its unfettered ambiance, named Wyoming. Then, the territory to the south with its unlimited vistas and grand panoramas, which were visible from either ridge lines or low-scaled mountains, was, for all practical purposes being an extension of the south-of-the-border neighbors, named New Mexico. And finally, the vast land to the west, with its vermillion canyons, incredible rock formations (Bryce and Zion), and indigenous salt deposits, was named Utah (appropriately so, since the natives were of the Ute tribe). Well, that was my special little fantasy of history.