Winter turns to spring. The temperatures rise and create disturbances in the air currents. Blessed moisture rides the currents; often March and April are the wettest months in the Rocky Mountains. In the eights years that have passed since I took this road trip much has been lost in the fog of memory. I don’t particularly remember the stormy weather, but looking at these photos (and some from the next couple of days) I can conclude that the wind was blowing and, depending on the elevation, it was either raining or snowing.
When I was writing the first through third parts, I had thought that my road trip was from Gunnison to Taos and back. What I had forgotten, memory partially revived by the accompanying photo gallery, was that this journey took me from Gunnison to Taos to Cimarron and to further points in circuitous route so that my trip took me on a large counter-clockwise tour of central and southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.
I am finding it ironic that my first series of retrospective posts have been about a road trip. My intent is to share an appreciation of wild places found throughout the interior west, vistas and landscapes that I have visited while on a hiking, snowshoeing or skiing outing. I love wild lands and getting away from the noise and clatter of our modern life. The constant din of motors and humanities progression towards a fully mechanized lifestyle begins to wear on my soul and I find solace in the woods, meadows and prairies of our public lands.
And yet, I cannot deny the sheer pleasure I get from exploring the world around me by automobile. I try to limit these excursions, as they are costly on both the natural system I cherish and my own pocketbook. But this trip wasn’t all about the joy I get from exploring new places and old; Along the way I did stop to pound some nails for a friend and make some cash, and latter on I consulted on whether or not an incarcerated canine was part wolf. More on that later. Overall, my feelings when looking at these photos are something akin to “wow, that was great, what an excellent adventure I had right in my own backyard. Can’t wait to do it again”.
So, if you want to trace my route, here is how it breaks down: I left Gunnison and drove west on U.S. 50 a few miles to S.H. 149. Following that highway, I cruised on down to South Fork and made my way in a westerly direction again, this time on U.S. 160 and up and over Wolf Creek Pass to Pagosa Springs. From that town I began heading east on U.S. 84 and eventually passed into New Mexico. At Tierra Amarilla, I then followed U.S. 64 east to Taos and, after a short stay there, further east to Cimarron where I did a bit of carpentry. Then, to satisfy curiosity, I took S.H. 21 to Springer, where Interstate 25 runs north-south along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. The next part of my journey took me north to Raton, where I stopped to explore the town for a bit. After Raton, I passed back into Colorado and continued north to Walsenburg where I left the interstate to travel up to Mission: Wolf, a wolf and wolf-dog sanctuary in a remote part of the Wet Mountains. I worked there for some number of years, and went up for a quick visit. From there, I traveled to Denver and Boulder to visit with friends and do the consultation I had mentioned earlier. After that, my travels took me south down the same Interstate to Colorado Springs. My goal was to drive over Gold Camp Road to Victor and Cripple Creek. The road was an old railroad grade and I wanted to see some of it, and Victor and Cripple Creek are my favorite gold rush cities. After exploring that region, I finally went home to Gunnison. Whew! That’s a mouthful.
Part four, hmmm…. Part four was a relatively short travel day, if I remember right. I left Cimarron on S.H. 21, a narrow highway light of traffic that passes through some quiet country just out on the plains east of the Rocky Mountains. The land is rolling, and to the east lays the horizon of the great plains. To the west rise the first ramparts of the Rocky Mountains. It was early morning when I left, and I do love to get out before the sun has risen. The transition between dark and light is always invigorating and thought provoking, even while traveling.
After following Interstate 25 north from Springer, I stopped in Raton to look around that small city. The drive north is in my opinion some of the most gorgeous around. Stark to be sure; being on the east side of the Rockies, the region sits squarely in the rain shadow of those lofty peaks and lacks moisture and vegetation. What moves me is that junction between plains and mountains. I drove along this morphing geology, for about and hour. I love the long views, clear air and quietude. The short grass, pinons and juniper all signify a lack of moisture. My spirit soars here. This place seems timeless; the rocks and mountains seem to not move, but the geologic record suggest unfathomable forces at work.
Between Raton and Trinidad lies Raton Pass. The pass played a critical part in railroad history. The original intent of the Denver and Rio Grande railroad had been to go south; by allowing the Santa Fe lines to build over the pass, the D & RG was forced to turn west and enter the mountains. Now, we drive over the pass in our own private chariot, hurtling us along at sixty-five plus miles an hour. Shortly after Trinidad, I arrived in Walsenburg. Walsenburg is an old coal mining town. Between those two cities lies the sight of the Ludlow massacre. In 1913, a dozen plus women and children were killed by the state militia during a violent coal strike; one author makes the claim that this was the largest insurrection since the civil war and that it almost led to a second civil war. Not between states, but between capitol and labor. I had lived near by for a decade plus and did not this intense history of the area. I have no pictures to share and in some ways am glad for that.
After turning off the interstate at Walsenburg I followed S.H. 69 to Gardner, Colorado. This small community lies in a quiet valley that looks much like it has since before time. The wind blows hard here and there is never enough water but I have always considered this valley as my sacred home. I lived there for many years and worked most of that time at a wolf sanctuary named Mission: Wolf, which also happened to be my destination at the end of the day. Another quiet place, where the mind, heart and soul can all wander freely.