Heading north on New Mexico Route 522 from Wheeler Peak, we enter Colorado and the first thing that happens is the highway changes its name. So… Heading north from the New Mexico border on Colorado Route 159 toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, we quickly come to a town that was once called San Luis de la Culebra. Best I can tell, the name literally means “Saint Luis of the Snake.” I wrote to the San Luis Chamber of Commerce — technically The San Luis Museum And Cultural Center — to verify my translation but alas, I did not hear back. I did learn however that San Luis de la Culebra was established in 1851 and is now the oldest town in Colorado. In 2000, 739 people lived in San Luis. There were almost that many people in my volleyball league.
Hmm… Sangre de Cristo, literally “Blood of Christ.” Now there’s a brand name for you. Would you care to recreate in the Blood of Christ Mountains?
A quick stop for gasoline before merging onto Interstate Highway 25 at Walsenburg. For some baffling reason, even knowing that we would be driving in Colorado, I did not bring a Colorado map with me on this trip. But fear not, a Colorado map is safe at home on my bookshelf.
As so many are these days, our gas pumps are associated with a convenience store, and while we’re here in Colorado, I think how easy it would be to purchase a Colorado map. And what better place to conveniently find a map than in a convenience store/gas station. I need this map to navigate since we’re driving through the entire height of the state and having been here only once before, and not a very pleasant once before, I don’t know the highways by heart. But there are no Colorado maps on the rack in the convenience store. If you want a Kansas map, you’ve come to the right place. There are dozens of them. But Colorado? None. Lisa muses, “Colorado is encouraging people to go visit Kansas?”
And dang it, she hasn’t had her morning coffee yet either. Explains her sarcasm. (No it doesn’t.) Lucky us, catercorner to our gas station is Mike’s Espresso. Let me tell you, Mike’s is the place. Painted on the windows of Mike’s is a list of the many goodies we can find inside: a coffee bar serving coffee and espresso, free wi-fi, Elda’s Yarns, a tea room, gift shop, smoothies and a soda fountain.
Lisa’s prayer is answered. If you were to ask her though, I think she would say that she wasn’t actually praying for coffee, just hoping.
Mike’s is decorated with posters, brochures and newspapers, knickknacks and antiques. There are several comfortable places to sit. We find Mike in the back room at the fountain, serving espresso to a few customers.
While we wait in line, a mother is admonishing her unruly kid who is bouncing through the place picking up all manner of articles that are useless to a six-year-old, but still the types of articles that he desperately wants to have in his possession. One of the pilfered prizes is — are you ready for this? — a map of Colorado.
Hey, I need a map of Colorado. I surmise it would be inappropriate to snatch it from his mucilaginous little paws so I address him, “Say, young man, where did you procure that map that you are holding?” The kid just stares at me. Getting no answer from the kid, Mike offers that they are in the front room and they are free. Mom says to the kid, “Give him your map. Give it to him.” And recognizing the reality of the situation, commands him, ”You don’t need it.” I say, “Thank you, kind sir” to the kid. He looks at me as if he is unfamiliar with this particular style of vernacular. What, they don’t talk like that in your dumb-ass video games?
Somehow, Lisa and this mother get to talking. Wouldn’t you know it. Mom is from Maine, Lisa is from Maine, and their families know each other. Walsenburg to Maine, we are currently 2313 miles from home.
The city of Pueblo is next. What have you heard about Pueblo? Pueblo gets less snow than any other major city in Colorado and it is one of the largest steel-producing cities in the United States. Being a Pittsburgh resident, I can relate to that. The short-story author Damon Runyon spent his childhood in Pueblo and began his writing career here. In fact, we pass Runyon Lake. Pueblo has the least expensive residential real estate of any city in Colorado. This last demographic fits well with what we see as we drive through the city. Every chain restaurant, every retail store with a familiar name, every business whose name you know, all here, and all the names on signs suspended on tall poles, kind of like headlines. The signs remind me of a forest canopy, blocking the light to the living biomass below.
Next up? Colorado Springs, one of the training centers of The United States Olympic Committee. This is where Olympic and Paralympic athletes get ready for their competitions. We see many of the USOC buildings as we speed by on the interstate, buildings specifically dedicated to fencing, volleyball, swimming, gymnastics, judo, shooting, Tae Kwon Do, weightlifting and wrestling.
As we drive past the USOC, large highway signs are placed to warn drivers…
WATCH FOR ROAD CREWS
What is this? The curling team practices on the highway?
Some people adopt pets, some people adopt people, some people adopt highways. I-25 runs through Briargate, an upscale community in north Colorado Springs. Here is a sign announcing that the Gay and Lesbian Fund has adopted this section of the highway. Not a tenth of a mile past this sign is another sign, this one for the Focus on the Family Center, the headquarters for this fundamentalist Christian organization. Everybody wins a puppy.
Near Denver, we pass an SUV with this bumper sticker…
IF GOD’S NOT A BRONCOS FAN,
WHY ARE SUNSETS ORANGE!
As a Steelers fan, I say nice try, but not that close. Lisa says Broncos fans need God to win.
For hundreds of miles, from the southern border of Colorado with New Mexico, almost all the way to the northern border with Wyoming, we are flanked by the Rockies in the distance to the west, on our left. Forgive me sports fans, I’m not referring to the baseball team based in Denver, but rather the Rocky Mountains, the range of forested and stony high peaks and clear lakes and streams that reaches more than 3000 miles from near the northern border of British Columbia down into New Mexico. The highest peak in the Rockies is Mount Elbert in Colorado, a summit we have yet to climb.
The hotel where we stay the night before our trip to Panorama Point has a “spa.” These days, a “spa” offers so many options, from hanging out in a smallish pool with jets of hot water and bubbles adjacent to the hotel swimming pool, to a full treatment event at an extravagant, sybaritic, even hedonistic resort offering aromatherapy, body wraps, facials, massage, exfoliation, waxing, and a whole bunch of other feel-good, reputedly healthy services. We go for the former.
Another hotel guest is using the whirlpool tub with us, it’s big enough. Two things I notice about him immediately. First, his flat abs. Bastard. Second, he is soaking in the water while using his cell phone. I shouldn’t have to say this but please, please don’t let that thing slip out of your slippery, soapy hand, dude.
We briefly chat. “Why are you here?” he asks.
Lisa mentions that we are doing some hiking. “Oh, where?”
“Over the past few days, we summited Humphries Peak in Arizona and Wheeler Peak in New Mexico.”
“Wow,” he exclaims. “You guys are real hikers.”
He goes on, “We don’t have mountains like that where I come from.”
“Oh, where’s that?”
“Really? We’re from Pittsburgh. We don’t have mountains like that where we come from either.”
Next he says, “How ‘bout them Steelers!” Yeah, he’s okay.
After we cross the border into Wyoming, we drive to Cheyenne and make a right turn. This city was named for the Native American Cheyenne nation, a prominent Great Plains tribe. Some time ago, the railroad came in and the white people kinda said, “Hey you Natives. We will honor you by naming this city after you. Now get out!”
We enter Nebraska on Interstate 80, close and parallel to U S Route 30. Nebraska, unlike other states, keeps routes 80 and 30 separate. U S Highway 30 here is the Lincoln Highway, the first paved coast to coast motor route in the country, reaching from New York to San Francisco, tying together such historic places as Philadelphia, Gettysburg, Shanksville, Times Square, Lincoln’s log cabin, Carson City, Reno and Donner Pass.
Donner Pass. Named for the Donner Party. What a story, one of the more tragic and dismal episodes of American westward migration. In the mid-19th century, about 90 pioneers left Springfield, Illinois with the intention of making their way across the Great Basin to finally settle in California, roughly 2000 miles hence. Along the way, the group was plagued with bad route information, disease and sickness, starvation, animosity and some of the worst winter weather to ever hit the area. Only half of the people survived, many of them only because they resorted to eating each other when the food ran out.
Lisa and I face no such fate.