trans-Rockies - Saturday July 14 2001
setting: Parowan, Utah
Today's travel had as its goal the town of Boulder, Colorado, home for two of Gretchen's friends from back in Oberlin, a couple named Jim and Jenny. Boulder Colorado lies on the very western edge of the Great Plains. To reach Boulder we would have to cross all of the Rockies, an impressive feat in and of itself for a 36 year old Volkswagen Beetle.
We got off without incident and found ourselves gradually moving across the dog-eared Gousha map, which we kept turned to Utah to use as a constant reference and system for setting goals.
In the full light of day the high-elevation landscape of southcentral Utah was semi-arid, which was less arid than I'd expected. Not long into our drive I saw my first tumbleweed rolling hurriedly across the interstate like a Dr. Seuss character with big plans for the day. It must be easy to imagine intelligence in inanimate objects, because these dry spherical blobs of plant material almost seemed to have personality and a capacity for planning as they dashed across the lanes. Of course, in a way they do: over millions of years they'd developed this method of wind-powered overland movement for spreading their progeny, and what appeared to be "planning" and "personality" was nothing more or less than a manifestation of the concentration of successful genes.
None of the grades in Utah were much of a challenge until we turned from northward to eastward and headed across the north-south grain of the mountains. But since we were over 5000 feet elevation, high mountain passes, even of the 7900 foot variety, meant we were crossing relief of only 2900 feet. I took it slow and downshifted to 3rd where necessary and the Bug did just fine.
We stopped in Sigurd for gasoline and other provisions and couldn't help but notice that everyone in the convenience store was blond, exactly as one expects all good Mormons to be. Surprisingly, tobacco, caffinated beverages and alcohol were all available in many varieties. Lite Beer was even promoted on a sign out in front. But the biggest selection of all was for beef jerky. You could even buy it in little round tins like snuff tobacco.
I-70 between Salinas and Green River, Utah is comprised of 104 miles of particularly scenic countryside. There are spectacular rock faces, a variety of canyons, at least one stretch of badlands, and several low lobed ridges made of ancient lava. But the most interesting thing about this 104 miles is that no gasoline is available anywhere along it. It's wise not to enter this picturesque country with an empty tank.
We had a book on tape of one of the Harry Potter novels, but what with the scenery and insecurities about my car, I couldn't pay sufficient attention. Besides, though it was sort of funny now and then, it seemed to really drag. When we got within range of Green River we started listening to country music stations.
In Grand Junction, Colorado we stopped for gas and called my folks on Gretchen's cell phone. At that point Gretchen took over and I-70 began to follow the Colorado River eastward and upward into the Rocky Mountains. At times the valley was agricultural or even industrial, but east of Glenwood Springs the river entered a tight meandering gorge, one so narrow that the westbound lanes had to be placed somewhat above the eastbound lanes on a concrete ramp supported by pedestals. Periodically we'd pass through long tunnels drilled into the solid rock face of the gorge. I can't even imagine how expensive this highway had been to build.
The mountain air was cool and a steady rain was falling and this kept the Punch Buggy Rust running happily up the gradual upward grade. We were over 9000 feet in the vicinity of Vail before things became particularly steep, but that only lasted for a little while. We stopped and got gas within view of some of the snow-capped peaks of the high rockies. A man at the gas station took one look at my old car and said, "I can't get my Bug out of the driveway and here you drove all the way from California." I cracked open a warm Budweiser and took over for the drive to Boulder.
The highlight of the drive to Boulder was crossing the Continental Divide in the Eisenhower Tunnel at something over 11,000 feet elevation (the highest I have ever been on land). Approaching the tunnel from the west the road turns steeper than at any other point on the trip and near the end there I was doing about 35 miles per hour in third gear.
I got on US-6 for the drive to Golden, which would make the jog up to Boulder more straight forward than if I were to attempt it from Denver. I found US-6 a winding road without clear markings and driving on it was treacherous until there where other cars to lead the way.
Gretchen's friends Jim and Jenny live east of Boulder in a newish development out on the swampy plains a few miles. Their directions were okay until we were within a mile of their house and then they broke down. I became so flustered by the back and forth and U-turns that Gretchen and I had another one of our fights after I began embarrassing her with my background bitching while she was on the phone.
But eventually we were there in Jim and Jenny's little one bedroom condo, hanging out with their cat Java ("He's so fluffy but he has no idea!" -Gretchen) and the dog Mashed Potato. I hadn't known Jim or Jenny when I was back in Oberlin but the place still made for something of a common culture. I don't know what we talked about, people and places I know nothing about mostly. Then Gretchen and I crashed on the living room futon.
Passing between the rocks in central Utah.
A rock formation in central Utah.
Downhill in central Utah.
I-70 crossing one of several ancient lava flows in eastern Utah.
The Punch Buggy Rust in Grand Junction, Colorado featuring Gretchen talking to my parents on her cell phone.
The tireless engine of the Punch Buggy Rust.
Bleak mountains in Western Colorado, near the Colorado River.
Gretchen on her cell phone in western Colorado.
Trucks in western Colorado.
The Colorado River rounds a bend in the gorge.
Punch Buggy shapes!
Tunnels in the upper Colorado gorge east of Glenwood Springs.
The wheel of the Punch Buggy Rust.
Trees and raindrops in the upper Colorado gorge.
The upper Colorado gorge.
A chateau not far from Vail, Colorado.
Red rocks and evergreens.
Below the snow-capped peaks of the high Rocky Mountains of central Colorado.