June 2009 - Posts
I spent a couple more days hanging out and resting up in Santa Fe.
I took a drive through the country south and west of town. I took highway 14 south through Madrid, NM. It was desert country but not too dry. I got into the low hills and could see over town.
Beyond the first hills were... more hills!
Intersecting through the hills were low plains. It was good country.
Little communities sprouted up in the valleys. Some buildings were very old, like this church.
I headed back to town to get some writing done and met Rebeca from Colorado, an ex-member of the Israeli special forces. She wanted to take pictures of the night life, so we ran around to the bars and had a good time.
I hope people aren't getting too tired of me writing about Santa Fe. To me, it's a very special place. In some places there is a certain type of energy that feels almost like magic - like anything can happen. So I had to stay there for awhile.
It was Father's Day and I gave my father a call. He was having fun, hanging out back home with my brothers and the rest of the family. I felt guilty for not being there, but it would have been a bit of a drive.
I went to the Santa Fe Baking Company again and ran into Rita and her husband, who joined me for breakfast. Afterwards we went downtown and Rita gave me a re-introduction to the city. Her family arrived in Santa Fe in the mid-1600's and had lots of history all through the city. We wandered around and went into some shops and other places of interest. Then we headed over to the St. Francis Cathedral for the crowning of the 2009 fiesta royalty.
It's kind of hard to see in the dim light but it was pretty cool. Then everyone filed out to precede the procession of La Conquistadora, the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the USA. Each year there is a procession from the cathedral to the Rosario Chapel - the oldest chapel in the USA and La Conquistadora's previous home. It was very serious and impressive.
There goes De Vargas.
There's the queen.
And there's La Conquistadora.
It's over a mile to the chapel.
It was very impressive to see but it wore me out. Rita drove me back to my car and I went back to my campsite for an early night.
I did some writing in the morning, then went to get lunch at the Counter Culture Cafe. There I met Penny and Palma, traveling to Santa Fe from Alpine, Texas. They were on a road trip and would be in town for a couple days. They were perfect travel companions for each other, and they knew it. I've done a lot of traveling with other people, and it's really hard to find a good travel companion. So I'm jealous of them. We had a nice lunch and they encouraged me to go to Alpine, Texas. They said that it's similar to Santa Fe but with less people.
After lunch I went to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. I'm a fan of hers and have long admired the way she lived her life. She worked hard and did what she wanted and lived where she wanted, but her art was always the focus. They had collected some nice pieces at the museum, but I wasn't allowed to take any photos. The 'Jimson Weed 1932' painting had recently been returned from a loan to President George W. Bush's dining room.
O'Keeffe first came to New Mexico in 1929, and fell in love with the place. She would return many times and eventually move there permanently. Her paintings of the New Mexico desert are iconic.
After the museum I went around the downtown plaza for awhile. It was a very busy Saturday and tourists were everywhere buying souvineirs and arts and crafts.
I went around taking many pictures of the plaza scene. I got a few good ones but they show peoples' faces and I'm not supposed to post them here. You can check them out on my site. After awhile a girl stepped into my path and asked me why I was taking photos. I was impressed because I'm pretty sneaky and usually no one notices me taking them. I explained that I enjoyed taking candid pictures and showed her some of them. Her name was Brandy and she was from Taos, New Mexico - an small mountain town northeast of Santa Fe. She was in town selling art and jewelry with her friend. She was staying with her sister for the weekend in Santa Fe. We got to talking and she convinced me to help carry everything across town to their van when it was time to close the booth. Free labor - I'm such a sucker. Then her sister, Kasey, showed up. She recently moved back to Santa Fe after living all over the country, and is training to be a pilot. I helped them carry the stuff to the car.
We got along pretty well and ended up running around together the rest of the night - meeting lots of people, going to bars, etc. It was a good night.
Hey, 70 days means 10 weeks on the road. Neat.
I met Rita for lunch at the Santa Fe Baking Company and she invited me to come to a fundraising dinner for the Santa Fe Fiesta Council that evening.
I went downtown and bummed around a little, taking a few pictures of the town.
Canyon Road is the heart of the gallery scene. Santa Fe has over 300 art galleries. It is the USA's second-largest art market, behind New York City.
The St. Francis Cathedral, built in the late 19th century, sits facing the downtown plaza next to the original adobe church.
The Santa Fe Hotel & Spa is a particularly elegant representation of 'Santa Fe Style'. Building color may be chosen from a limited number of shades of tan and brown, there is a height limit, and the flat roof style is mandatory.
The El Dorado Hotel is also nice-looking. Santa Fe has many fine hotel options. Tourism is the #1 employer, despite being the capital city of New Mexico.
I can't figure out what those doors on the roof are supposed to do.
I met Rita and her sister at the dinner, held at the Fraternal Order of Police building. The annual Fiesta, as I mentioned earlier, is held each year in honor of the peaceful recapturing of Santa Fe by Don Diego De Vargas in 1692. It's a huge event and the whole town - and many visitors - comes out and celebrates together, with various events and attractions, for an entire week in early September. As part of the celebration, the recapturing is re-enacted, and new royalty are elected each year to carry out the key roles of De Vargas, other key officers, Queens and Princesses, etc. All of the royalty were present at the fundraising dinner. Rita and her sister took me around to meet everybody telling everyone that I was a visiting travel journalist, so they all told me a bunch of stuff about the history and culture of the event. Everyone knew all of the history and I was told the stories until I could retell them also. I met the Council President, Don Diego De Vargas, La Reina De Fiesta (the Queen of the Fiesta), the Spanish Princess, and many others. Everyone was very nice.
There was an auction and a dance, and Rita was determined to teach me how to dance. "You dance like a gringo," she said. "We have to prepare you for the Fiesta." I was really bad at first but then I started getting the hang of it. My favorite dance was one where the two people don't touch but move around circling each other. "Like Japanese fighting fish," said Rita. I got to dance with the Queen and she was much better than me, but I didn't make too much of a fool of myself.
Santa Fe enforces a city ordnance requiring all buildings to be made of adobe-style architecture. Adobe is the building material formed from the sand, clay, and water found naturally in the Santa Fe area, so on the hill overlooking town you can't tell the difference between the buildings and the ground.
My back was still bothering me so I contacted the Visitor's Bureau about assistance with accomodations. They put me up for a couple days at the El Ray Inn on Cerillos Avenue - historic Route 66. It was an authentic southwestern-style inn where they prided themselves on customer service and charm.
It's a series of connected single-story adobe buildings that surround several courtyards and the largest outdoor pool of all the Santa Fe hotels.
I walked into my first hotel room so far on the trip and collapsed on the bed and for the next 2 days didn't leave except to find food. The El Ray offers a really nice complimentary breakfast at their outdoor veranda and indoor dining room.
It was a very nice place to stay and afterwards my back was healed.
The story of Santa Fe is a long and interesting one. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, but here's the rough version:
The Santa Fe region was long occupied by Native Americans, including the Pueblo tribe. Spanish conquistadors claimed ownership of the 'Kindgom of New Mexico' in 1540. In 1610 the town of Santa Fe was founded as the capital of the region. For 70 years Spanish soldiers and missionaries lived amongst the natives and tried to conquer them politically and convert them spiritually. In 1680 the Native Americans had had enough. They revolted and killed a bunch of Spaniards and drove the rest back into Mexico, destroying links to Spanish culture and religion. 1688, Don Diego de Vargas was appointed governer of New Mexico, and was charged with re-colonizing the territory for Spain. In 1692, de Vargas led large numbers of Spanish troops to retake Santa Fe. He prayed to the Virgin Mary for a peaceful reconquest, pledging to hold a festival each year in Her honor if She heard his prayer. The Spanish troops surrounded the city and promised peace if the inhabitants declared allegiance to the King of Spain and the Christian faith. The Pueblos agreed, and so Santa Fe was peacefully returned to Spain. The Fiestas de Santa Fe is now held annually to celebrate the peaceful resettlement and to fulfill de Vargas' promise to the Virgin Mary.
A second Pueblos Revolt in 1696 was unsuccessful and by the turn of the century the Spanish and Pueblos had more or less learned to live together. They fought together against common enemies like the nearby Apache, Navajo, Comanche, and Ute tribes.
In 1821 Mexico (and New Mexico), won independence from Spain. At the time, Mexico also included present-day Texas, Arizona, California, and most of Utah. As the USA grew, U.S. citizens eyed Mexico's northern territories with great interest. Manifest destiny became a popular philosophy:
"Our manifest destiny is to overspread and possess the whole continent which providence has given us for the... great experiment of liberty." - John L. O'Sullivan, New York Morning News, 1845
The USA tried to buy some of Mexico's land, including New Mexico, but Mexico declined. In 1845, the state of Texas became voluntarily annexed to the USA. Mexico wasn't happy about this, and border skirmishes resulted in the declaration of the Mexican-American War in 1846. The Mexican-American War ended up with the USA army routing Mexican forces and capturing large portions of Mexican territory. In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending hostilities and ceding almost half of Mexico's land to the USA. Included were the states of California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, and New Mexico - including Santa Fe. In return, the USA gave Mexico around $20 million. In 1850, the Gadsden Purchase of 30 million square miles from Mexico completed the USA's current south-west border.
Image credit: Matthew Trump
Red is the territory the USA acquired following the Mexican-American War from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.
Yellow is the territory the USA acquired from the Gadsden Purchase in 1850.
In the 1860's, the USA brought its 'Indian policies' to New Mexico. Meaning, reservations. The Navajo tribe was forcibly settled in the Bosque Redondo reservation south-east of Santa Fe, 350 miles from their traditional homeland. Hundreds died on the walk there - called the 'Long Walk'. The reservation was tiny and always short on supplies and food. Hundreds of Apaches, their longtime enemies, were also settled there. Thousands died there before an 1868 treaty allowed the Navajo there to return to a much larger reservation inside their traditional homeland.
In 1878, a railroad was built through Santa Fe. After that, the area grew very quickly. Artists, photographers, anthrolopologists, adventurers, and others were attracted to the area. By the start of the 20th century Santa Fe was on its way to becoming the cultural epicenter it is today.
Santa Fe is something of an anomaly in the western United States. The culture here represents hundreds of years of very different people learning how to get along and live together. The pride that Santa Feans feel for their city, their community, and their history is immediately apparent. Everyone that lives here - Spanish people, Native American people, Hispanic people, white people, mixed people, new members of the community and those that can trace their family tree back to the days of Don Diego de Vargas - everyone genuinely glows when they talk about the place that they live. And when so many different people from so many different cultures and backgrounds are really happy to live in the same place, well, I guess it makes sense that they would find a way to get along.
I awoke late and plunged into the city. When I made it down the long windy road to town and found a place for breakfast, I realized I had lost an hour in the time change. So I ended up with a very late breakfast at a great local cafe - the Santa Fe Baking Company and Cafe. It worked out well because waiting in line I met Rita. Rita is one of those people that everyone wants to know. She was behind me in line chatting with all the regular customers and cafe workers, alternating between English and Spanish. Everyone smiled when she came in. I smiled too. We started talking and she invited me to sit at breakfast with her and her husband. We ended up refilling our coffee about 4 times and having a 3-hour meal. Rita is a lifetime resident of Santa Fe, and had seen the city go through many changes. She gave me an insider's education. It's hard to describe the other things we talked about because they're still flying around my head and havn't settled yet. I've met a lot of people on this journey and very rarely have I met someone who understands the things I'm looking for. Sometimes I don't even know - some of them are hard to articulate. Anyway, I had a great time meeting Rita and her husband.
After breakfast I found a laundromat. I was completely out of acceptably-clean clothes and everything I owned was beginning to smell the same way. So, it was time. I parked my car and was stepping out when a very tall, thin man with long, straight, thin red hair pointed to my license plate and asked me which part of Washington I was from. Olympia, I answered. He was from Spokane. We got to talking and I asked him what he did for a living. I write books, he said.
When he discovered I was a writer he became very excited. He had a lot of advice and it came like the waters of a breached dam. He spoke with an unflinching stare and never moved his head or his eyes while he talked. He was a science fiction writer who had published 15 books, and a fatalist. He had lived all over the world and decided to live in Santa Fe because it was where he was most inspired. Also, Santa Fe means 'Holy Faith' in Spanish. He said that was very important to him, to live in a place of holy faith. I said that I knew what he meant - some places were very good to write in and others very difficult. Boulder, Colorado, for example, was a good place for me to write in. He said that he had once lived in Boulder. Boulder, he said, was good because it meant that you were living with a strong foundation. Combine that with Sante Fa, he said, and you really have something.
He was sure that I hadn't chosen to come to Santa Fe, but that the events of my life had conspired to send me here, for the very reason of meeting him and receiving his advice. I said, I liked to think that I had more to say about it than that. He said, no - think about it. So I did, and afterwards I still thought that I had some influence in things. But he was very persistant, so finally I said that, yes, I guess it was the other events in my life and not any decision of my own that sent me here. You guess? he said. Yes, I guess, I said. You must always be absolutely certain about what you say in your writing and in your speech, so that others will never have a doubt in what you say, he said. Okay, I said. Now, he said, write what you feel, and there will always be an audience for it, and they will find your work, he said. I hope so, I said. You hope? he said. I mean I know, I said. And so our conversation continued like that.
After awhile he went in to check his clothes and so did I. Before I knew it, he had stuffed all his clothes into a large backbacking bag and hiked off across the parking lot and across the street to wherever he lived. I never got his name.
After the laundromat I went to check out the downtown area. Santa Fe is organized around an historic downtown plaza. A large grassy courtyard is surrounded by shops and museums and art galleries and historical landmarks. It's pretty cool.
It was raining and dark clouds covered everything (the picture above is from a different day). The sun began to come out and above the plaza a brilliant rainbow arched over town from north to south. It was so incredible against the gray sky that I didn't think to take a picture of it. I remarked to the guy next to me that it was my first day in town. Welcome to Santa Fe, he said, immediately breaking away from the rainbow and shaking my hand. His name was Freddy and he was an actor - with over 40 movie credits to his name - and a musician. He had more recommendations of things to do than I'd be able to do in a month in town.
I met many more people like this on that day. Santa Fe people are very friendly, very vibrant, and very awesome.
I left the Grand Canyon and made the long drive to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is known as 'The City Different'. They aren't kidding - it's a very unique and interesting place. I chose to visit Santa Fe because I had heard great things about the culture, the creative community, the outdoor opportunities, and the beautiful landscapes. The northern New Mexico area has been an artist, musician, and writer mecca for decades, and has inspired incredible work by many, including Georgia O'Keeffe, Roger Zelazny, Cormac McCarthy, and Douglas Adams.
After passing through hundreds of miles of desert, Santa Fe was like an oasis. Nestled under the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains - the southern tail of the Rocky Mountains - the city of Santa Fe extends through foothills and rivers to meet the desert to the west. I found a nice campsite in the mountains 14 miles east of town along highway 475, inside the Santa Fe National Forest. I made camp in an aspen forest along a stream. I was quite surprised to fine pine and aspen trees after so much desert.
Click here for more information about Santa Fe.
I camped in the National Forest just south of the Grand Canyon National Park and tried to wake up early to catch the sunrise. I was unsuccessful. But you can't go wrong with the Grand Canyon at any time of day. It's just one of those things that every person should experience. Pictures are totally insufficient. Please go check it out if you haven't. Or, like me, if you were dragged there on a family vacation as a kid and your parents forced you go peer off the ledge while you complained about having to pause your gameboy - go again.
I visited the southern rim of the canyon, which is the more developed and trafficked side. The north side is only a few miles away, but there's no bridge across the canyon and you must drive about 200 miles to get there. There are 5 or 6 viewpoints on the southern rim of the canyon, and I spent the first morning driving along and comparing the views.
In the afternoon I visited the backcountry hiking center to see about taking a backpacking trip into the canyon. The permits are hard to come by at the last minute (many people reserve far in advance), but I was lucky enough to get a permit for 3 days hiking, 2 days camping inside the canyon on the way to the Colorado River. I was really excited and I bought a bunch of supplies and spent the rest of the day getting ready. I decided I would leave before 5am to make sure I got to see the sunrise as I hiked down into the canyon. Then I realized I didn't know where the trailhead was. So I walked along the trail leading around the edge of the canyon with map in hand trying to find it. The sun was setting.
There were some stairs leading down from the trail to a lower level that I thought might be the right direction. The stairs were clogged with tourists getting their pictures taken, and elderly people struggling down the hand rails, and little children running around. I thought to myself - 'I'm going backcountry hiking through the grand canyon tomorrow, I don't need to wait for these people.' So I decided to climb down the short wall next to the stairs. I got part way down and then I was stuck. It was taller than I thought. I jumped down and landed funny and ended up pulling a muscle in my lower back. I went back to my camp and tried to ice it but it cramped up really bad and I could barely walk. I spent the next couple days laying down trying to fix my back. It got better, but not quick enough to hike the canyon.
I drove from Moab to the Grand Canyon in a straight shot. I didnt' know what to expect from the region, I hadn't had a chance to research it. What I found was the Valley of the Gods.
For quite awhile, heavy rain and dark clouds made for a forgettable drive. Finally I reached the edge of the darkness and off in the distance I could see blue mountains.
Soon I was in the Valley of the Gods. It was amazing - long flat valleys punctuated by intricate natural sculptures. I'd never heard of it before and I was pretty blown away. It was like Moab on a much grander scale.
This one's called Mexican Hat. They should probably rename it Sombrero.
This one looks like a penguin. I don't know what it is called. Arctic bird?
The valley was really big, stretching from a good ways into Utah as far south as the southern edge of the Grand Canyon, statues extending the whole distance. I couldn't go see any of the side spots because I wanted to hit the Grand Canyon by sunset. Anyway, it was cool.
I headed to town the next morning. After my cool hike/climb the day before I was in the mood for more of the same. I really wanted to find a place to rock climb, but I've got a gimpy wrist that wouldn't hold up to any serious climbing. So I headed to the Arches National Park just north of town. Arches is a really small national park with tons of amazing natural sandstone formations. I picked the most extreme-sounding hike towards the Double-O arch and something called the Dark Angel at the northernmost point of the park.
The hike was pretty cool. At first I was dubious - it was right next to the campground and the parking lot was crowded, almost like at Yellowstone. After about a mile I came to Landscape Arch. That's when I realized that I'd forgotten my camera battery. Doh! So, once again, it's iphone pictures. Sorry folks.
The landscape was really neat. But, like I said, crowded.
Once I reached the primitive trail the traffic thinned out. The path alternated between fine sandy dirt and slick rock (sandstone rock formations), which was really cool. The north part of the park was a high point, and you could see really far in all directions.
After a few miles I made the Double-O arch. It's giant and really cool. You can see the second 'O' at the bottom of the picture.
There were very few people at this point, and I did a little off-roading. I climbed to the back of the arch and around the edge of the surrounding rock formations. There was a tall flat rock at the border and I climbed up. The wind was really heavy there but it felt good. I really like imagining places like this as 'undiscovered', like how a trapper or Native American might have seen them. Imagine being a member of a native tribe that lived here, and having this be the normal geography of your 'hometown' - feeling that the rest of the world was so flat and absent of sandstone and strange. It's difficult to do in a national park, but if you can get away from the crowds for a bit, try to. Sitting there with the wind whipping through my hair on top of the rough red rock overlooking the plateau below is the part of the day that I will remember best.
I took the trail to the Dark Angel rock. It doesn't really look like an angel anymore. Maybe 150 years ago when it was named. Now it looks distinctly like something else.
I did some more trailblazing behind the angel, climbing up some high rock hills and working my way around the edge of the park for quite awhile. I ended up getting stuck at the edge of a cliff and having to wedge myself inside a crevice and shimmy down. Like I said, I have health insurance now - thank mom!
After that I ran into Private Arch:
I completed the loop and left the park. I had planned to go to Delicate Arch, the spindly, thin arch that's probably the most famous in the park, but I was exhausted. It had been a lot of hiking and climbing. When I sat in my car it hit me. So I went back to town. It was supposed to rain so I found a hostel - the Lazy Lizard. It was $9 and much nicer than the Denver one.
I got an early start and set out west from Rifle, Colorado. I stopped in Grand Junction, Colorado for some gas and was impressed by the town. It's the largest town in western Colorado, with around 50,000 residents. It seems like a good mix of outdoors/culture/hangout spots. I found a cafe and settled down to figure out where to go in Moab.
Apparently the Moab area was once famous for unregulated, free camping along the river west of town. People would just throw up tents and have wild hippy bonfire parties every night. It was a 'there's always room for one more' type of thing. After years of this, the fragile desert ecosystem was getting trashed, so the BLM came in and regulated everything. Now there are many paid campgrounds, but very few spots where free camping is allowed. Most of these are 20+ miles outside of town. Luckily, I found that one that was along my path.
Approaching the northeast Utah canyonland was pretty breathtaking. After hours of low scraggly plains I followed the Colorado River into red rock formations erupting into the sky in all directions.
I drove a few miles further and turned onto Onion Creek Road, a dirt road off of highway 128 about 20 miles from Moab. There are a ton of free primitive campgrounds there. I drove for quite awhile down the road, driving along - and sometimes through - the creek and the red rock cliffs.
Driving through you could see the path of the stream cutting through the layers of rock over millions of years.
I set up camp and scrounged around for some firewood. I didn't find much but luckily the last campers had left a good amount. I scared several small lizards and a tarantula. I'd never seen a wild tarantula before, but I'd always been terrified of them after seeing the movie 'Arachnaphobia' as a child. The little spider was very fast, and seeing it racing away, so scared of me, immediately cured me of my fear. So that was good.
Behind my campground was a giant rock formation. My mom told me that I have health insurance again, so I decided to climb it. I love climbing rocks, it's such a cool feeling. The red sandstone was very rough and easy to grip. Here I am really high up there next to a cool dome thing (I look like hell and the picture didn't really turn out, but use your imagination).
I went back to camp and made a fire. My drinks were warm so I made a cooler in the stream.
The wind was really strong and kept knocking the rain fly off my tent. The clouds looked like they might rain, so I had to keep tying it back on. The wind was so heavy that it was hard to sleep.
I left Boulder Saturday evening for the short drive to Denver. It's about a 25-mile drive and I got there quickly. It had been awhile since I'd been in a big city and I found myself at the 16th street outdoor mall. Denver's 16th street outdoor mall is to Boulder's Pearl Street outdoor mall like THE HULK is to refined physicist alter ego Dr. Bruce Banner. I parked and walked to the street and without any conscious thought I was moving with the rest of the crowd down the sidewalk, like I had fallen into a rushing river. It seemed like everyone in Denver was there. It's hard to describe but it was just about the opposite of the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of Boulder. It was pretty abrasive, and I ended up walking around for awhile and then leaving to find a hostel.
The next morning I checked out of the hostel and went searching for some breakfast. On Sunday morning, all the sit-down breakfast spots I found were packed, with long lines outside. Downtown there was a chalk art festival. There were tons of chalk artists who had drew big murals on the sidewalk while looking at smaller pictures for reference. Some were pretty good.
Nearby I found a natural food store/restaurant/cafe called The Market and had a nice breakfast. I left Denver early heading west towards Moab, Utah. This time the passage through the Rocky Mountains was a little more harrowing. I took interstate 70 west, and at the eastern slopes I ran into a hailstorm with winds so strong the hail blew horizontal into my windshield. It was very cold and a little slippery and my car was buffeted back and forth by the wind around the hairpin turns. So I didn't get any pictures this time. The storm stopped the second I crossed the pass. Soon I came to Dillon, and decided to stop. I followed the signs to the Dillon Reservoir.
The further I got west of the mountains, the less interesting the drive became. There was a whole lot of dry land full of little craggy shrubs. There were some neat rock formations.
It was getting late and I decided to try for a campsite north of Rifle, Colorado. I'd heard there was some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the area, which generally means free camping. After a long difficult search I found a spot above the Harvey Gap State Park and Grass Valley Reservoir.
I made a fire and enjoyed not being in a hostel.
I had planned to spend some time in Denver, but everyone told me that Boulder was much better. So I took off in that direction. Highway 40 east of Steamboat Springs through the Routt National Forest looked pretty nice.
The red-colored trees were infested by beetles. It's a problem in Colorado, as these trees lose their stability and are susceptible to fire. I think they look nice.
Soon the Rocky Mountains dominated the horizon. I stopped in the town of Granby to look at my map and take this shot.
Before long I was in the pass. It was raining when I drove through and it wasn't slick at all. I can imagine it gets pretty treacherous in poor weather. The mountains were right there, laughing at the silly little cars trying to climb them.
I took highway 119 north towards Nederland to reach Boulder. It worked its way through the surrounding hills and small mountain towns. It was a really nice drive. Boulder is a medium-sized town of around 90,000 people, but over 30,000 are university students at the University of Colorado. School was out for the summer and most of the students had gone home when I arrived. I stayed at the local hostel, which was pretty expensive - $27 - but decent. Met some cool people there, including Jeff from Kentucky and Mike from Boston. The hostel was right in the center of the fraternity houses, which seemed to have loud parties that never stopped. Luckily my ear plugs worked great (thanks UD!). Downtown was a mile away.
I like Boulder. Downtown is centered around Pearl street, a long outdoor mall. Street performers and musicians play constantly and the area is always busy. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants and bars and bookstores with wide outdoor patios. There is a good bar scene, hippy scene, outdoor scene, intellectual scene. It's surrounded by tons of great outdoor opportunities - hiking, rock climbing, biking, river rafting, fishing, etc. The people are very friendly. The women are attractive. It's a city that seems to cover all the bases. So, congratulations to Boulder. I have nothing bad to say about it. I even decided to stay for an extra couple days.
I went to the bars at night and had a great time, and spent the days on Pearl street meeting people and writing (Shouts out to Joshua and Laura - great meeting you guys, come see me in New York!). I can tell a lot about a place by how inspired I am to work there. In Boulder I was very inspired, behind only Ketchum and possibly San Francisco.
I left Jackson early in the morning. It's taken me 8 weeks to recognize it, but I think the secret to effective traveling is getting up early. I also figured out another secret: heating up water and washing myself with that instead of ice-cold snow runoff. So I left feeling pretty good, heading south on highway 191. Right away I got another speeding ticket. Then I didn't feel as good.
South of Jackson Hole, nearly all of western Wyoming looks the same. It looks like this:
It's what I think of when I think of 'the range.' Endlessly repeating scenery. After the intensely beautiful western states, it was almost a relief to not have to be constantly looking all around out the windows. There was still beauty to be found, though.
Passing through Rock Springs, Wyoming I saw a sign for a 'Wild Horse Viewing Area.' I hadn't realized there were still wild horses in the USA and thought I'd check it out. It turned out to be a network of dirt roads leading through a series of low hills worming through the desert. I drove around for half an hour but didn't find any wild horses. The town of Rock Springs sat under tall rock hill faces, streaked with bright colors as different minerals settled over time. It looked pretty nice.
Rock Springs is a strange town. It's fairly large - around 18,000 residents - in the middle of the desert. It's surrounded by dry rock hills and freeways. I noticed nothing of particular interest, until leaving town I saw a modern-looking, well-designed building that seemed very out of place. It was the prison. When the nicest-looking building in a town is a prison, well, it doesn't speak well to the culture there.
Heading farther south towards Utah, I came across valleys,
Snaking down to the Utah border, the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and National Recreational Area lit up the west.
I passed through the Utah border and took highway 40 east at Vernal, Utah. The next several towns were tourist destinations servicing the Dinosaur National Monument to the north, where a great many dinosaur bones have been discovered. I wasn't in the mood for dinosaurs and continued on. I stopped at Craig, Colorado for supplies and decided to aim for the Routt National Forest that night. The weather had briefly cleared up in Utah, but now returned to rain and clouds. It was cold. I stopped at Steamboat Springs, Colorado for gas. It looked like an interesting town, and the gas station attendent recommended I check out the Strawberry Park Hot Springs north of town. I drove up there through the forest up a steep dirt road and was once again blown away by the country. After Wyoming any forest would have looked nice. But Colorado has a beautiful thick mixture of evergreen and leafy trees covering rolling hills and snowy mountains. The leaves were bright green in the Routt Forest and it was amazing.
I found no free camping sites in the Routt National Forest. I arrived at the hot springs and the smarmy attendent gave me the run-down on all of the hot spring bathing packages. If you pay $10 you can go in for x minutes, if you pay more you get extra time. If you buy the biggest package you get to stay until closing, but for you the springs close earlier than for campers. Camping was $50 and you could stay in the springs until 10pm, but you weren't allowed to dip in the next morning, and you weren't allowed to drink alcohol or etc. etc. Before he had finished explaining to me the rules I told him I'd heard enough and I drove back along the long dirt hill. If lakes and rivers in national forests are free for public use, hot springs should be too. I backtracked to a sign I'd seen a few miles before for a national forest campground.
At the campground the fee information poster was blank. The campground was crowded but there was one spot open and I set up my tent. It was odd that so many people were camping on a Wednesday night. I asked somebody if they had paid. No, he said, because, as a matter of fact, everyone at the campsite were newly hired wildlife biologists working with the forest service. Oh, I said. Luckily everyone was cool and they let me stay for free. They were all being trained to spend the summer hiking around the back country of the western USA looking for a particular type of semi-endangered forest hawk. Each day for the rest of the summer they will be hiking through designated areas and playing a recording of the hawk's call at several points. Being extremely territorial, the hawk (if present) will come investigate the call, and they are to record this. Houston, Jeff, Tim, and the others were good people and we got along well. There were some very interesting stories, and a lot of passion for the outdoors. They were all given partners for the summer and Jeff's partner had quit the program at the last minute. They were looking for a replacement and they wanted me to do it. $1900 per month plus food and gas compensation, hiking around the woods all summer, hanging out with cool people... it was certainly a tempting offer. But the timing didn't work out too well, and I had too much of the country still to see. Anyway, this is my adventure, that is theirs.
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