A short movie is worth ten thousand words.
I have to admit that the word treacherous in the hazardous driving report psyched me out. So much so, that Peg and I spent 24 hours sitting in a hotel room waiting for the snow to melt. Our window view of Vail, Colorado made up for some of the time. I spent most of the day writing and answering e-mails. The Vail Pass was open on this day, but the day before the State Patrol shagged us off the I-70 because too many accidents had plugged it up. I also spent too much time studying weather reports and driving conditions.
We enjoyed an Egg McMuffin breakfast at the McDonald’s across the parking lot from our hotel. Later in the day we planned to move it up an inch by dining in the hotel restaurant. Since Vail is empty in April, none of the shops were open for us to do the typical touristy walk through the quaint shopping district. This led us back to our room to read, write, and relax.
Later we learned that April is out of season and the dining room closes for supper. I inquired and learned of another restaurant immediately next door. We ventured forth. This place was equally deserted and upon entering I had to shout for someone to come from out of the walls. The staff, a man wearing shorts, sweat shirt and a baseball cap with an apron, and a waitress wearing a hooded sweatshirt appeared out of nowhere. The business definitely relied on a big crowd for its heat. Since we were the only ones there to enjoy the cold we left our winter coats on throughout the meal. The Bear Fish is by its decor a Sports Bar. They decorated the walls with skis standing on end. As an extra touch, antlers from a moose adorn one of the side walls. I got the idea that when Bear Fish is in season, and there are people, they are skiers. Genius deduction right? The menu specialized in smoked meats and sea food, mostly sandwiches. I ate a pulled pork sandwich with crispy sweet potato fries washed down with a Cabernet. Peg munched on a green salad finished off with a hamburger, and lemonade. We left totally sated and to our surprise several other people had ventured in and were eating in the main dining area. All of them kept their winter coats on.
The following morning, we awoke to two inches of new snow covering everything, including the Death Star. We could barely make out the white car covered in white, and parked on a totally white parking lot. We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It is a quaint place with good food. The crowd in the room led us to believe we were not the only ones at the hotel as we wanted to believe. Many people did what we did, i.e. sit out a day of the bad weather.
By the time we loaded the Death Star with our overnight stuff and gassed up it was ten-thirty. I nervously drove through the town of Vail which is a canyon of ski chalets, lodges, resorts, condos, and tall buildings running up the side of the mountain, and merged the I-70. Vail is 8500 feet high, and the roads were dry. As we drove east the road began to ascend the Vail Pass and snow flurries began to swirl around us as we drove at fifty mph up the hill. I read that the pass is 10,500 feet high, so we had a climb ahead. We passed some parked snow plows, and I thought that is comforting to know that they do plow the roads. Further along we saw semi-trucks pulled off to the side with drivers attaching chains to their driving wheels.
We reached the level of two slushy lanes with somewhat cleaner tire tracks in each. I switched the GPS to show elevation, and surprisingly we were nearly at ten thousand feet. My white knuckles hurt from clenching the wheel so tight, and the right hand fingers kept pulling the washer lever to spritz the windshield clear. By now our speed was more like thirty mph, and some brave SUV’s passed spraying our windows with slush. I turned on the emergency blinkers to show that I was a slow-moving vehicle, but there weren’t too many cars passing me. We reached the tunnel, and I thought this is it, we reached the peak. Wrong again. The damn tunnel climbed and we kept on climbing to over eleven thousand feet. “We are two miles high,” I told Peg.
The snow kept blowing, the road narrowed to one passable lane and the windows kept getting dirty by passing cars. I finally passed a truck going fifteen mph, and he sprayed me with a stream of slush that moved us sideways. Just at that moment my cell phone rang. What the? “Sorry phone, but I am not answering you now,” I said out loud. My phone rings once a month and it happens now. I didn’t even look at it to see who called. No way was I taking my eyes or hands off this wheel for anything.
We finally crossed the Vail Pass and descended to nine thousand feet when we reached the Loveland Pass which is higher than the Vail. We went through the same white knuckle experience except this pass is higher than the Vail topping out at 11,990 feet. The descent couldn’t come quick enough for me. It finally did and we dropped down to eight thousand feet where the roads were dry and traffic resumed to sixty-five miles per hour. It was like nothing had happened at this lower level, but a raging blizzard was happening just a few feet above us.
A couple of hundred miles east of Denver I stopped for gas and couldn’t believe my eyes. The sides of my car were black with slushy road dirt. My beautiful Blizzard White Death Star had earned its badge-of-honor crossing two mountains in a raging spring snow storm.
Our plan was to tour Canyon de Chelly (pronounced canyon de shay) National Park today, but the weather did not coöperate and we left Chinle for Denver. The route took us north through Moab, UT. The Indian reservations between Chinle, and Moab cover some absolutely stunning scenery. Giant monoliths, painted deserts, miles of sandy desert filled with sage, tumble weed, and creosote shrubs. We unexpectedly lost an hour today because this little section of Arizona is on Daylight Savings Time. That put me back an hour of drive time, and I deliberately avoided taking too many rest and gas stops.
The drive was relatively uneventful for the first hour then out of nowhere a rusty colored dog appeared in the middle of the road within feet of my bumper. I heard Peggy gasp, and I automatically lifted my foot from the accelerator and began applying brakes. Luckily the wiry dog that blended into the landscape decided to trot off into the desert opposite his home. About ten minutes later I saw what appeared to me a group of large sage bushes along side of the road. These were not sage but a herd of very wooly sheep grazing on the roadside outside their pasture fence. I asked Peg if she had seen any signs to warn of animals ahead, she had not. About five miles further, a cowboy on a horse was moving a large herd of goats along the roadside, most likely to a new pasture. Evidently, Sunday morning is when the animals move, get moved, or feel safe grazing on the edge of the road.
Our average speed for the first two and a half hours was sixty-five miles per hour. Not bad for slow two lane roads with traffic, animals and great scenery.
We gassed up in Moab, and left town headed to Interstate Seventy (I-70). The GPS calculated an 8:00 p.m. arrival time in Wheat Ridge, Colorado where I had reservations at a Holiday Inn Express. We favor this chain because of the travel convenience they offer. They are newer, there are many of them, and we get a buffet breakfast. Not having to find a café, wait for a waitress, read a menu, get the food, eat, and then pay the bill adds at least an extra hour to our drive day.
We reached the I-70 and I breathed easier driving on a beautiful two lane limited access road with a seventy-five mph speed limit. I pushed the Death Star up to seventy-five and set the cruise control and watched the scenery roll by.
The topography changes immediately upon crossing the state line into Colorado. Utah is relatively flat soft green terrain with long ridges of colorful sandstone and pink bluffs. Crossing into Colorado changes to rolling hills and curves dodging the monoliths that tut out of the earth to amazing heights. I kept wondering where all the ski resorts were, but some snow-capped mountains in the foreground gave me a hint, they were yet to come. Moving at the rate we were it didn’t take long to realize that the mountain that appeared so far off was now immediately in front of us and we were beginning to twist and turn between the peaks along a river. The speed limit dropped to sixty-five because the turns were too tight for the higher speed. At the same time we began an ascent to higher elevation. Then a black hole appeared in the face of the mountain, we drove through a tunnel with a curve to the left and then curving to the right. We entered the tunnel from a grey sky, we exited the tunnel to a blue sky. The speed changed to fifty-five as the road narrowed and twisted even more sharply along the river which also narrowed. The mountain walls left us in shadows and only the blue sky showed us the sun. The road opened again and the speed resumed to seventy-five. Ranches dot the fresh spring-green valleys and colorful little hamlets some of which even had names like “No Name,” Colorado. I finally spotted a sign naming the river, So many times along the way both Peg and I would ask each other if we knew which river this was. The sign cleared the mystery, Colorado River. “Wow,” I said, “this is the same river that carves its way through the Grand Canyon.”
I spotted an electronic sign with a message, “I-70 Closed, MM 176.” Hmmm, I wondered what that meant, highway-repair work, snow, what? Surely if it is road work they will split the traffic and route us to a single lane, but why would they close the road if they do that. They could detour us to a local road. yes, that’s it we will detour.
Forty minutes later we learned the highway patrol closed the I-70 at Mile Marker 176 in Vail Colorado at the western end of the Vail Pass. There was no detour, there were hundreds of cars trucks, and Rv’s, parked along the local roads heading back into Vail. We drove through the town passing dozens of huge resort condos, hotels, lodges, and motels. All of them looked absolutely deserted and empty. I queried the GPS for lodging and came up with a Holiday Inn at the West end of Vail. Luckily, they had availability so we checked in. In the morning Peggy and I will find a sport shop and rent snow boards for a little fun on the snow-covered slopes above Vail.
We learned that the I-70 closed because of a wreck in the pass. It never dawned on me that an accident could shut the road down. It makes sense to keep traffic out of a narrow limited access road to allow Emergency vehicles, wreckers, and police to get to the scene.
I called the Holiday Inn Express to cancel the reservation I made for this evening. We are exactly ninety-miles from that destination. Oh well, it adds another ninety miles to tomorrow’s drive.
There are two days I abhor and hate to the point of murder. They are the day I pack to leave on a trip, and the day I pack to return from the same trip.
I think one of us has to focus on taking less stuff and buying less stuff.
This morning we left a chilly rainy 65 degree day in the Valley of the Sun. Two hours later we reached the top of a 7500 feet high peak and moved through a snowy white out. The car thermometer dropped to 28 degrees. The weather followed us to our first destination city with two additions, wind, and hail. The wind-chill drove the last spike through my Phoenix warmed heart, ugh. We will follow a major weather pattern across the United States and we might even meet some severe rain storms with possible tornadoes. I don’t need an adventure like this anymore, packing the car was adventure enough.
I often tell friends “in May when I return the weather is colder than the weather I experienced in Phoenix in January.” Another big difference is that in May, Illinois doesn’t have many flowers in bloom, while in January, the valley is abundant in flowers.
Our last week in the Valley had us basking on the patio enjoying 90 degree days. I don’t think I will see another ninety degree day for another three months.
How deprived am I?
Our latest adventure was a train ride through the Verde River Valley near Cottonwood, Arizona. We drove the hill climbing 3000 feet in altitude from the valley to Chambers, Arizona. During our scoot from the I-17 toward Cottonwood on AZ-269 I related to Peg the last time I was in this part of the country. It was 1987, and I attended The League of American Wheelmen’s national rally in Flagstaff. It was my second week-long bicycle tour.
My goal at the time was to maximize the adventure by using the train to get to the rally. I arrived at the train depot in Joliet, IL at 4:00 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. departure. The station was empty and dead. The train I awaited began it’s run in Chicago a mere forty miles away, but didn’t arrive until 8:00 p.m. Gee this will be interesting, the train is already three hours behind schedule before I start, and that is the way it ended too.
Once at the rally city I bussed to the Grand Canyon and joined the tour group which rode back to Flagstaff on bicycles. It took us three days to make that trip. At the rally there were daily bike trips offered in each direction. These trips averaged from 30 to 100 miles each. All were scenic and went to destinations of interest. I chose the one which followed scenic Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona (all down hill) and then across the valley to Cottonwood and finally to the Tuzigoot National Monument. A bus awaited there to haul us back up the hill to Flagstaff.
As Peggy and I approached Cottonwood, the amount of traffic picked up considerably, and the number of shopping malls exploded. I couldn’t get over the amount of development that had occurred since my last visit. My first visit to Cottonwood was a joy as we pedaled through 105 degrees through a sleepy little village. The town which chartered in 1960 consisted of a typical Main street with quaint shops along either side of a three block stretch. On this day, Peg and I passed through several stop lights passing a Home Depot, Walmart, Papa Joe’s and more before we even came close to Historic Cottonwood. I put all my trust in the slave lady who resides in the box on my dash and gives me instructions about where and when to turn. Eventually, we reached a street that looked like the Cottonwood I remembered. A short distance from the old town we passed the entrance to Tuzigoot.
For the umpteenth time the amount of development that occurred in the USA in the past 30-40 years has amazed me. Where did all the people come from to make every town in America grow so large? The time we visited Santa Fé, New Mexico is the first instance when I suffered population growth shock similar to that which I experienced this week in Cottonwood. Each time, I have gone back to these cities expecting to see the same quaint cute little burgs they were when I first saw them. As Thomas Wolfe wrote “you can never go back home again,” and then re-quoted by John Steinbeck in “Travels with Charlie,” I begin to understand what it means.
Peg and I boarded the Verde Valley Railroad car named Tucson at 12:45 and sat watching the amazing topography of the Verde River Canyon pass us by at a snoozy twelve miles per hour. I dreamed about doing this same tour on my bicycle at the same speed. The problem is that the railroad is the only road that travels this section of paradise. Very few people inhabit the scenic volcanic landscape.
The run down the hill was more fun than climbing in the morning. We chased a sunset all the way at 80 miles per hour. I achieved another goal along the way, I the exited the I-17 correctly to find the Rock Springs Pie Company. There, in the sparsely populated Arizona mountains, is a business consisting of a gas station, bed and breakfast, flea market, café, saloon, and the best home-made pies in the world. We bought a cherry pie to bring home.
Filed under: Biography, family, Memories, Travel | Tagged: Bicycle, Cottonwood, Flagstaff, John Steinbeck, League of American Bicyclists, League of American Wheelmen, RailroadsGrand Canyon, Rock Springs Pie Company, Sedona, Thomas Wolfe, Tuzigoot, Verde Valley | Comments Off on A Cherry Pie From the Middle Of Nowhere
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