Sixty-Six for Sixty Six, No. XXII: Wonders of the Middle Realm

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April 9, 2017, Prescott- Yesterday, I wrote of the western third of the contiguous United States, which is where I have spent most of my time, since 1992.  Being from the East Coast, and preferring surface travel over flying,  especially when the weather is good, I have developed an affinity for the regions which many call “flyover country”.  The Great Plains and South Central regions may not have the jaw-dropping grandeur of the Mountain West or Alaska, but there is plenty worthy of spending one’s time.

The Rockies, of course, are the heart of the Mountain West.  In many visits to the heights of Colorado, I have felt most at home in Longmont, Loveland and Denver, where I have family.  Manitou Springs, Garden of the Gods and Seven Falls have helped make Colorado Springs another “feel at home” stopover.  One of these years, I will find my way to the summit of Pikes Peak.  Boulder, also, has welcomed me, several times, with wonders ranging from Pearl Street Mall, and Boulder Books, to Eldorado Canyon, which I hiked in the rain, whilst carrying an umbrella.  The Tetons and Yellowstone invite me back, as well, with visions of geysers and Grizzlies.

As the Rockies recede into the Great Plains, I find Spirit Tower (forget the name, “Devil”), Medicine Wheel, the Badlands, Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak), Scott’s Bluff and the determination of the Indigenous People of the prairie as riveting as any great mountain or canyon.  Little towns like Deadwood, Belvedere and Custer(overlook the name) (SD), Burlington, Granada and Walsenburg (CO), Wellington,Dodge City and Hays (KS) have been as welcoming as any place in the West.  There is, to my mind, a goodly amount of sophistication and culture to be found in Omaha, Lincoln and Wichita, as well.

Friends in Amarillo and Enid (OK) have helped make those cities almost necessary pit stops, on any eastward trek that takes a southern route.  Texas, like California, is a world unto itself.  I was captivated by the warmth I felt, across the state, from the great cities of El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston to small communities- Grand Saline, South Padre Island, Laredo, Marfa, Sanderson, Quanah and Temple.  There wasn’t much happening in Luckenbach, when I happened through there, but the locals were glad I came, anyway.  Revelations abound, across the Lone Star State, from the view of the Rio Grande’s confluence with the Gulf of Mexico, to Pedernales Falls, northwest of San Antonio, or the wild canyons of the Llano Estacado and the Trans-Pecos region.  My favourite museum section remains the Music Hall, at Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History, near the Texas State Capitol (itself an extraordinary edifice).  Then, there are the five missions in San Antonio- a very full day of discovery!

Oklahoma has no end of variety, but I will content myself with sending kudos to Lake Texoma and Lake of the Cherokees, Black Mesa(the state’s highest point, at its juncture with New Mexico and Colorado), Tonkawa and its monument to Chief Joseph, of the Nez Perce, and the heartfelt, humbling memorial to the victims of Oklahoma City’s tragic bombing, in 1995.  Oklahoma City remains the only place where I have been mistaken for a county employee- being invited to an employee barbecue, as I walked by, on the way to the Memorial.

I will continue to skip the temptation to fly over, as long as the weather is not too harsh.

 

Tales of the 2016 Road: Long Nights’ Journeys Into Light

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July 21-24, Flagstaff- One of the most surreal experiences of road travel is finding oneself among perfect strangers, in a night setting, when there is no light, either overhead or around.  This happened to me, briefly, when I was driving between Port Jervis and Hershey, and twilight was fading, with no bright moon- and plenty of rain.

The Rocky Mountains, though, offer a far different scene, in the dark overhead.  The majesty that exists, both day and night, in the place of 10,000-14,000 foot promontories, also imparts a sense of caution- whilst also bringing people together.

After three days spent at an informative, albeit de rigeur, Essential Oils Summer Summit, followed by a brief visit with my 90-year-old uncle, I headed south on I-25, certain that I would settle in, somewhere around Colorado Springs, and perhaps stop by to see an online friend, in that picturesque city.  Along about Castle Rock, two things occurred:  I got a message from said friend, asking that I “think of him, as I was passing through.” Translation- “I’m too busy, tomorrow.”  The second thing was that a message appeared on a sign board:  “Major accident on I-25, South, 18 miles north of Colorado Springs.  Traffic will be slow.”  No one in Castle Rock had any information, as to alternative routes to CS, and all places of accommodation were full,so I drove on, to Larkspur. There, in the pitch black, several people were pulled off, in and around Yogi Bear Campground- pretty much trying to figure out how long they could stay along the road, before someone came along to make them move.  Another enterprising person was driving through the grass, between exits, essentially making a new “frontage road”.

I rejoined the crowd that was inching their way down I-25, and exited at the second Larkspur off ramp. There, we all formed a 2-mile-long queue, headed westward, taking 40 minutes to cover the five miles between I-25 and a county line road, which led, in turn, to the outskirts of Colorado Springs!  The darkness of said detour also featured several families, pulling off to the side, and trying to make sense of things.  It gave me an air of Armageddon, just a bit.

By this time, I just wanted to find a place for my head to hit a pillow.  It was raining, and near midnight, so camping was out.  Plaza Inn, a magnificent place, on the north side of CS, had rooms which were being renovated.  The young lady staffing the front desk gave me such a room, for $ 100, instead of the normal $175.  With a gargantuan hot breakfast buffet, in the morning, this was well worth it.  She gets an A+, for entrepreneurship!

I actually felt refreshed, the next morning, so after the aforementioned breakfast blowout, which was excellent, I said farewell to Colorado Springs, being sure to offer a hefty tip to the housekeeping staff.  The only things missing, in the “under renovation” room, were a microwave oven and a chair.  I know how to sit on a King-sized bed.

I took a lovely drive, along US Highway 160, from Walsenburg to Tuba City Junction.   In noted, wistfully, that one of my favourite road eateries, Peace of Art Cafe, in Del Norte, had closed, and had not been bought by anyone.  This was a staple of my southern Colorado jaunts, over the past five years. My next two stops, in Mancos and Cortez, were also happy returns to familiar towns.  I spent a bit of photo time in Mancos’ historic district, noting that a few homes there were also up for grabs.  Here are a few photos, in case anyone wants to take a closer look at a home near the San Juan Mountains, and Mesa Verde National Park.  Mancos has excellent soil and fairly plentiful water.

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Historic home, Mancos, CO

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Historic home, Mancos, CO

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Alice Ann’s, Mancos, CO

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A jazz-themed porch, Mancos, CO

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Zuma Natural Foods, Mancos, CO

Zuma isn’t for sale.  It was just a nice place to pick up a lunch item for the next day, in case I didn’t get all the way to Prescott, on Sunday night.  Dinner, was to be at Jack and Janelle’s, another of my favourite stops,in Cortez.  There, I was greeted by Janelle, and a bubbly little girl, who waved hello, and shyly smiled, while I was waiting for a table.  It’s sweet to be welcomed by someone who just picks up on good feelings.  I left the darling child to her own subsequent mischief at the family’s table, and gratefully enjoyed a modest helping of grilled salmon and Caesar salad.  Jack & Janelle will see me again.

The drive down through the Navajo Nation was relatively uneventful, until I reached Tuba City.  All the lights in my old place of residence and livelihood (1981-86) were out, courtesy of a lightning strike to a transformer.  The one major intersection was being monitored by a police car, its flashing lights the only indication that there was indeed an intersection.  All three gas station/convenience stores, and both large hotels, were pitch black.  I did not investigate further.

At Gray Mountain, some twenty-five miles southwest, on the road to Flagstaff, there were fifteen of us who stopped for gas, centering and potty breaks.  Two children had been sent by their mother to buy a couple of items and tend to their business.  I found myself reassuring the little girl that everything would be fine now, and Flagstaff was bound to be relatively safe.  The scene outside was moderately chaotic, but we all got gas, the kids got their snacks and no one fell victim to Nature’s Call.

I made it to Americana Motel, my usual Flagstaff resting place, slept well and had nothing more serious than a WiFi outage, for the rest of my journey back to Home Base.  The Hyundai Elantra’s first “Garython” was a good maiden ride.