3 September, 2015 § Leave a comment
8/26/15 Wednesday morning, 6:30a.
My alarm goes off, just like it did at this time on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Nothing’s different. I still get out of bed, find some clean clothes to throw on, and pack a quick lunch before heading off to work. Nicole was gone by the time I woke up. She gets up about an hour before I do and usually I wake up just long enough to kiss her before she’s out the door. Today was no different.
I got to work and established that my partner would be driving today. I’d driven the last time we were paired up and besides, I’d be driving again later anyway. Best not to wear myself out this early. Work wasn’t anything special today; just the usual stuff. I won’t go into boring details because if all I had to talk about was work, I wouldn’t have started this post in the first place.
At seven o’clock it was time to go home. I got in my car, rolled down my window, turned up the volume on the radio, and drove. Traffic wasn’t bad. It rarely is at this time in the evening. I was home twenty minutes later. Nicole was home already, but just barely, as she had worked several extra hours today. We were both tired and hungry, and I still had the stink of the day all over me. Plus, there was work to be done. I showered, re-dressed, made my hair pretty, and then got to packing.
After I had chosen enough clothes to last me nearer to a week away from home, I left them on the bed while Nicole worked out what she wanted to bring along. I set to the task of loading up the car. A tent, tarp, sleeping bags, and other assorted camping gear, even though at this point we still had no idea where in the hell we were going. We had some ideas, sure, but to be honest we just hadn’t thought about it all that much. Quite frankly, where we ended up wasn’t terribly important. It was the journey we lusted for. The adventure. The drive, man, the drive.
By 8:35p the car was loaded, we had what we figured was everything, or at least good enough, and we hit the road. We were hungry, but we decided against having a proper meal Wednesday night and opted instead for a can of Pringles and some beef jerky we picked up from a travel center in Jolly, TX around 10:20p. And from there, we just kept driving. The original plan — as if you can say we really had a plan to begin with — was to drive through the night and maybe stop in the morning. That turned out to be unrealistic, as you might imagine, and so just after midnight when we reached Childress, TX we decided to stop for a bit and regenerate. We found an American Inn & Suites that wasn’t going to overcharge us for only a few hours of sleep, and agreed to call it a night.
8/27/15 Thursday, 5:55a.
After what was little more than a quick nap for either of us we got out of bed, showered and made our hair pretty for the last time in days, brushed our teeth, took what little we had brought into the hotel room with us back out to the car, found a gas station down the road where we grabbed a couple cups of coffee, and took off. We passed through Memphis, TX early in the morning, paused at a rest stop east of Amarillo for a few minutes, and then at about 8:00a we passed a big sign for a world famous breakfast buffet or something like that, so we doubled back to stop at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo for a meal. The Big Texan is known for their 72oz steak which, if you manage to eat it in under an hour, is free. We weren’t interested in anything of the sort and besides, I don’t think that’s something they offer at eight o’clock in the morning, so we tried out that famous breakfast buffet and after a quick jaunt through the gift shop connected to the restaraunt and a fill-up at a gas station down the road, we were back on the road by 9:20a.
Of course that didn’t last terribly long, as the famous Cadillac Ranch was located just outside of Amarillo proper, so at 9:30a we stopped to admire the many tons of steel planted firmly in the ground, covered with years’ worth of spray painted graffiti. We added a bit of our own graffiti from what we could find left over in the dozens of abandoned cans of spray paint littering the dirt around the Cadillacs. I managed to firmly plant my canvas Converse-clad right foot into a deep puddle of mud during this stop, which resulted in my making most of the rest of the drive with one foot — my driving foot, of course — bare, while my cleaned-but-now-soaking-wet sneaker sat on the floor of the car behind the driver’s seat.
It was just before ten o’clock when we left the Cadillac Ranch, and during this leg of our journey we crossed into the Mountain time zone, so when we stopped at a rest area just south of Des Moines, NM (did you know there’s a Des Moines, NM? I didn’t) two and a half hours later, it was now only 11:25a local time. Just before noon, we stopped at the base of the extinct Capulin Volcano in Capulin, New Mexico. After purchasing our park entry tickets and after I changed into a pair of hiking boots that really clashed with the cargo shorts I was wearing, we drove to the top of the volcano, gave that beast a partial rimjob on foot, snapped a few pictures of a deer, and then got back in the car and hit the Colorado state line at just about 1:00p.
We hit a rest area in Colorado City at about two, and then at quarter of three we stopped at a King Soopers in Pueblo to stock up on supplies of the food and beverage nature. We still didn’t know for sure where we were going from here, but by now we had decided on, roughly, “something west.” We had up until now considered finding a place to camp in Pueblo, but upon entering the city and finding it to be generally mountainless while we had been hoping for something a bit more mountainful, we agreed that the mountains to the west looked rather inviting. With Nicole now vigorously researching potential camping sites in the Cañon City area I drove, drove, drove. We poo-pooed a few ideas found during the research, straight up determined one of them didn’t even exist anymore when we tried to find it, and agreed to check out one of the first places she’d read about, which could be found only after navigating through some private property off the beaten path and up a treacherous winding dirt mountain road riddled with potholes, rocks, and even small bridgeless streams.
Just before 5:00p we reached the Grape Creek Picnic Ground at the top of one of many small peaks located within Temple Cañon Park, and so we stopped driving. We were alone and without wifi. The air was clean, the annoying-but-otherwise-non-biting insects were plenty, and we were worn the hell out.
We layed down our tarp, pitched our tent, got our flashlights ready, gathered some firewood, explored our secluded area for a bit, put the lantern together and set up the cook top, and quite suddenly realized we had forgotten to bring along any sort of fire-lighting implement. I attempted using a small mirror Nicole had to reflect sunlight onto some kindling to no avail, took one for the team and chugged a beer to see if a concentrated point of sunlight through the empty bottle would ignite the kindling, and as the sun began to disappear behind a mountain and I chugged another beer for science, we resolved ourselves to the fact that we just wouldn’t have fire tonight. So we made sandwiches and went to bed. Though it rained a bit shortly after we set up camp, the rain had dwindled off and ended by the time we closed ourselves up in the tent. Midway through the night, we removed the tarp covering the top of the tent to reveal clear skies.
8/28/15 Friday, sunrise.
We woke up, got dressed, brushed our teeth (who needs running water anyway), took the car down to the Grape Creek our campsite was named after and admired the view, took the path around the Royal Gorge back out to Cañon City twenty miles away, and loaded up on the necessities: two small Bic lighters, a decent bundle of firewood, a fresh bag of ice for the cooler, a full tank of gas for the car, and two cups of hot coffee. By 8:30a we were back at the top of our mountain, alone once again and still without wifi.
Now armed with fire, we used our portable cook top to make a pot of hot coffee, one metric ton of bacon, four eggs, and two slices of toast. Breakfast is somehow better than usual when made in the wilderness at the top of a mountain. After breakfast, we changed into our hiking shoes (I had been wearing my now-dry Converse up until this point) and spent the next couple hours further exploring our mountain top, and found our way over to the nearest peak where we knew some other people had set up camp the night before. Rather than intruding on their campsite, since that’s just rude, we kept walking. Further along the dirt road we walked, occasionally straying off the road and into the wilderness just to see where we ended up, doubling back when we hit a dead end or impassable trail. Eventually we made our way to the Temple Cañon Park north entrance (we had found our way in at the south entrance) whereupon we turned around and slowly but surely made our way back to camp.
Around noon we went back down to the Grape Creek, this time wearing our bathing suits and water shoes, and with our Camelbak backpacks filled with water and strapped to our backs. For the next three hours we explored the creek on foot, walking over the smooth stones that lined the bed of the creek, down the flattened deer trails that followed along the side of the creek, swimming when the water got deep, scaling cliff walls when something at the top looked neat, falling, scraping knees and shins, bruising the bottoms of our feet, sweating, laughing, taking photographs, and really just getting a nice workout in general. Once dry, we went back up to our camp site and after relaxing for a bit and rinsing out some of the creek muck from our hair with the clean water we were thoughtful enough to bring with us, we took a nap.
Friday, being our only full day in Colorado, we decided to spend it relaxing in and around our camp site. Other than our emergency trip to Cañon City for some fire, we stuck firmly to that decision. After our nap, we started a fire in our firepit, snacked on some snacks, had some drinks, put a David Cross comedy special in the car stereo, and just lazed about. Sometime probably around 5:30p (this is just an estimate; on the mountain, we managed to successfully lose track of time) a couple drove their blue pickup truck to the top of our mountain and parked by the second pavilion. Technically, there were two pavilions up there and as we were only using one, the other was open and available for other potential campers. They didn’t unpack anything; they just sat in the bed of the truck and seemed to be having a fun conversation. They ignored us, and we ignored them.
Unfortunately the Coleman lantern we had brought was faulty. By faulty, I mean I surely put it together improperly or burned the mantles too much in trying to figure out how it worked to the point where it became inoperable. In any case, our only sources of light now were the campfire and the flashlights we had brought along. Nicole got some baked beans going on the cooktop while I roasted weenies over the campfire. Though I roasted my own weenies wrapped in bacon left over from breakfast, she preferred hers unwrapped. The bacon added a new level of flavor but was otherwise nothing terribly special and it was a bit of a hassle to keep wrapped around the weenie while they roasted.
Probably two hours after they arrived, our visitors got back into their pickup truck and left, never to return — at least, not while we were still there. Not long after they left, the rain began again. It seemed the rain would come in suddenly, drizzle inconveniently for a short time while around us we saw lightning and heard thunder, and then it would dwindle away and the clouds would disappear. It was much the same our second night on the mountaintop as it was the first. The full moon really enhanced the experience of staring at the clear night sky without all the light pollution we see here at home in north Texas. It was something amazing, for sure. I don’t know how long we lasted Friday night, because neither of us remembers an end to the idle conversation we were having in our tent while staring through the mesh top at the star-riddled night sky before passing out.
8/29/15 Saturday, sunrise.
Once again, a bit of light breaking through the tent was our prompt to open our eyes and get the morning started. We knew we would be driving nearly all day today and wanted to get an early start since there were still sights to see along our way home. We opted to eschew breakfast today, and instead spent roughly an hour breaking down our campsite and packing everything back into the car. By quarter after seven we had vacated our mountaintop at the Grape Creek Picnic Ground and then we drove the rocky winding treacherous road back down the mountain and waved goodbye to Temple Cañon Park and headed back toward town.
This time, “town” was somewhere between Temple Cañon Park and Cañon City. We stopped for a really nice breakfast (and, oh god, so much coffee) at the Royal Gorge Country Cafe. Rather than completing the circle around the gorge on our way back to Cañon City, we decided to see what the gorge was all about, once and for all. After breakfast we followed County Road 3a four miles down the road where it ended at the Royal Gorge, a split through the state of Colorado created by the Arkansas River over millions of years. Shortly after nine o’clock we exited the car and made the trek across the appropriately-named Royal Gorge Bridge, a 1,260-foot-long bridge also known as the world’s highest suspension bridge, spanning the river and gorge at a breathtaking 1,053 feet in the air. We took several photographs along the way as we crossed the bridge on foot twice, played around and purchased souvenirs in the gift shop, and then hit the road once more by quarter after ten.
Around 12:45p we reached the ghost town of Ludlow, Colorado. This was the site of the famous Ludlow Massacre in 1914, an event which resulted in the killing of two wives and eleven children of coal miners at the hands of the national guard and the Rockefellers, prompting huge changes in labor and union rights across the country. The ghost town itself was located on the other side of a fence marked “private property,” in a field crawling with prairie dogs and chipmunks. I crossed the fence anyway, and took several pictures on the inside of the abandoned Ludlow general store. Ludlow itself was a company town owned by the mining company. The other buildings were too dilapitated for me to attempt entry. After spending a short time inside the general store we turned the car around and headed back.
By 1:30p we were ready for lunch, so we found a restaurant just south of Trinidad, CO called Tequila’s. The food was wonderful and the margaritas were good, but an hour later we were stuffed and we still had a hell of a drive ahead of us, so we hit the road again. After crossing back into New Mexico, we apparently missed a turn off in Raton and ended up driving twenty miles south toward Maxwell, NM before finding a place to turn on the highway and head back to Raton, where we topped off the gas tank and got back on the right track. Our next stop would be near the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo to top off the gas tank again, as you can never be too safe. We were about to hit a stretch of road between Amarillo and Dallas, after all, where there would be next to nothing in the way of gas stations. Back in the Central time zone, it was now a quarter after 7:00p.
Five and a half long hours later, driving through swaths of nothingness in west Texas in the dark, and without stopping, we were home. Strung out from the road, we stripped what we had to out of the car and either brought it inside or left it in the garage, took an amazing shower for the first time since early Thursday morning before the sun even came up, and passed out in bed.
Five or so hours later, my alarm went off and I went to work.