Now I remember why we left Laramie on July 3rd; 2 words: Genius Bar appointment in Boulder Colorado, ok 7 words. Not sure who the geniuses are: the guys that made my brand new faulty phone or us, the general public, for our rabid desire to own every new sleek matte-silver creation precisely targeted at the “wanty” center of our brains by a marketing department made up of…. wait a minute, it’s them isn’t it? They’re the geniuses, it’s all clear to me now. So, could we be geniuses too? Somehow, I think not.
Anyway, off we went to the A store so they could tell me, yup, phone doesn’t work, it does that sometimes, and they promptly gave me a new one which I guess is the real stroke of genius – you can’t really maintain a high level of annoyance when someone hands over a brandy brand new, sleek matt-silver creation, no questions asked.
Our appointment was in the afternoon and on our way down from Laramie we had tried to find somewhere to camp in Rocky Mountain National Park or along Route 72 so we could get to our appointment and then go back to camp and explore that spectacular region. As it was, smack dab in the middle of busy season, and 4th of July, and a weekend, we were totally shut out.
Someone said that Boulder is the Berkeley of Colorado but to us it seemed more like the Palo Alto of Colorado, which might be good or bad according to your perspective; it could have been the area of the city we were in. I was there a good 20 years ago on tour with my band at the time, Comfy Chair, (ah the days of youthly vigor and unlimited hair) and it seemed funkier then. I think it’s become one of those “not normal” areas, kinda like, well… Palo Alto. Suffice it to say, being already well acquainted with such places in the Bay Area, we drove out of town to find somewhere else to stay.
It was getting on towards evening but we had found an online BLM map of the surrounding areas and a few miles west of Boulder we confidently turned up a minor road leading to the promised federal land. It soon got a bit squirrely. The last time we had done this was in Utah with a 4 wheel drive Jeep and the fearless Tracy spirit burning within our breast. The experience is somewhat altered when your vehicle is 11 ft tall, 9 ft wide and 26 ft long, weighing 7 tons fully loaded. The attributes of your classic dirt road: steepness, bumpyness, narrowness, leading to nowhereness (for quite some time actually) become wonderfully amplified. The BLM map soon transpired to be more of a suggested layout of roads, a reference point maybe, a confirmation of the existence of roads rather than a literal indication of their whereabouts. The problem is of course, that when roads look like driveways, of the type you get in mountain communities, driveways, conversely, tend to look like roads, and while this is easily remedied in a car (one turns around) it becomes problematic in a vehicle that is twice as long as the road is wide. Additionally, like many roads in Colorado, the verge was rather more of a raging torrent at the bottom of a gorge than one would prefer. So onwards and upwards we continued, with an occasional treacherous reverse, as the light faded.
Finally, right at the point when it was incontrovertibly dark and we were incontrovertibly screwed, we came upon a crossroads and looking left we saw….a town! A beautiful lit up main street with lots of people spilling out of a restaurant or bar, enjoying the warm night. There had been absolutely no indication that there were any towns up here, certainly nothing as prosaic as a road sign, but there it was. I felt like we had found the lost domaine from Alain-Fournier’s marvelous only novel, Le Grande Meaulnes – highly recommended, especially if you have any angsty, dreamy (as in “head in the clouds”), older teenage boys in your life; gives ‘em something to really obsess about. Of course I wouldn’t know anything about that.
Down the road we went, passed the revelers, and came to a house on one side where a friendly looking woman sat in a rocking chair on her porch, she may have been knitting with a shawl around her shoulders or she may have had a glass of chardonnay in her hand. We explained our quest to find a piece of public land on which we might park and she was happy enough to direct us a little further up the road where there was, she thought, such a place. This town, she said, was called Gold Hill – she had only moved here herself that winter from Vermont – and there would be a parade tomorrow. Shaking off the Twilight Zone feeling we carried on and, forthwith, after a few rounds of oh god, have we gone too far, did we miss it, should we turn around? we came to a National Forest road and were able to pull off for the night a little way along it.
The next day we went to the parade!
In fact, we were in the parade.
We biked down from our camp spot in the morning and found the place hopping with people from all over the area there for the parade and the afternoon music festival. We got talking to a husband and wife who volunteer with the local fire department and they invited us to sit up in the bed of their wonderful, yellow, 6-wheel drive, 1960s, German fire engine and throw candy out.
We had a great time. After driving round the town a few times on the yellow thing, we visited the local museum and learned about a recent massive wildfire that had been kept away from Gold Hill and outlying communities by the heroic efforts of the fire department; we had some homemade pie in the general store; we went to the music festival where there was some good music, particularly some furious alt-bluegrass from a band of hip music-student types, and drank some kind of red fruit margarita thing; got rained on and huddled under beer tents with the locals. A good day.
The next morning we thought we’d drive down and say a quick farewell to Gold Hill but, to our dismay, we found only the dusty ruins of an old town, long abandoned. On the porch of one house was a dilapidated rocking chair moving faintly in the breeze….
We headed south. Leaving I70 at Georgetown, we drove over the Guanella Pass elev, 12,000 feet with views of Mt. Evans at 14,000 ft, snow on the peaks, the sky heavy and ominous. We stopped for lunch and a little hike until the rain came.
Route 285 was bumper to bumper in the opposite direction, full of people heading home to Denver after the holiday weekend; no wonder we couldn’t find a camping spot. Route 9 was pretty: rolling prairie with bison grazing and the cloud-topped mountains to our left. We camped that night between Texas Creek and Salida on route 50. Sadly, of all the wonderful camping spots in Colorado we could have chosen, we ended up with this sorry gravel pull-out. We thought there would be more to it, being by the Arkansas river, but it was a total bust.
In the morning we carried on down rte 285 and then 17. We waved at Great Sand Dunes National Park as we went by – it had originally been on our agenda for the first part of our trip with the Tracys but at the time it seemed too far East for all of us and we opted to head back to Utah after Mesa Verde. I wish we could have seen it but at this point we no longer had the 4-wheels of fun required, so we carried on by. Next time.
As we neared the border of Colorado and New Mexico on route 159, we happened upon the town of San Luis. We almost screamed right by but a fortuitous glance to the right revealed a Spanish church atop a hill and, as the sun had made an appearance, we decided to investigate.
The path up to the church had very fine bronze sculptures depicting each of the 14 stations of the cross; the fourteen events described as Jesus walked the road to his crucifixion, carrying the cross. As you may know, we are not big readers of The New Testament or churchgoers, particularly churches of an extremely Catholic persuasion so, to Stella especially, this was completely new and had something of an impact on her.
As if the rather graphic depiction of Christ’s last few hours on earth weren’t enough to get one thinking, at the back of the church was another walk dedicated to the Martyrdom of Catholic Priests during the Cristero War in Mexico. This was a popular uprising against the governmental imposition of anti-clerical laws that resulted in executions of Catholic Priests who participated in non-violent resistance. Graham Greene’s classic novel, The Power and the Glory is about this war and I was reminded of it as we walked around the memorial – great book. 25 of these priests were canonized by Pope Jean Paul II in 2000. There are busts of each sainted cleric along the walk with the date and circumstances of their murder. Here you see Stella taking it all in.
Not quite what we were expecting when we decided to take a pleasant meander around the church but undoubtedly, very moving when presented so starkly in that beautiful, expansive setting. Interestingly, the church itself was built by the local parishioners and completed in 1996, so not a restored Spanish Mission as we first thought; the architects did a marvelous job.
It was a Monday and there was no one at the shrine or church, the visitors center, the studio of the sculptor who created the 14 stations, or even the town. No one to be seen, it was quite surreal. So we quietly went on our way and in just a few miles crossed the border into New Mexico.
It’s funny, I really didn’t expect Colorado to be such a flyover state for us; we only spent 2 nights there in total (not including the earlier Mesa Verde jaunt). Most of our journey so far has been very unplanned; we happen upon a place that interests us and hang out there for a few days before moving on to the next spot that looks worth investigating. I guess sometimes that just doesn’t really work and, before you know it, you’re regretfully watching the state line recede in your rear view mirror. Probably the main reason our little methodology didn’t work so well in Colorado’s case was because we always had it in the back of our minds that we needed to get to Texas fairly speedily. There is of course a lesson in there somewhere about living in the moment which I shall not expand upon lest someone throw something at me; probably Rebecca.
By the way, Gold Hill does exist and is well worth a visit.