LoCo Spring Drive – Day 3

June 4

For a three day vacation, there wasn’t much sleeping in. We breakfasted and checked out of the hotel and were on the road by 8am. We started off eastbound on I-80 for about twenty miles until we reached WY 130. Going south on WY 130 you cross the top of the T in a T-intersection. To continue on 130 we needed to make a left turn. Continuing straight puts you on WY 230.

We missed the turn. We were in the middle of the pack and assumed nobody else saw it as nobody slowed down or put on a turn signal. I didn’t see it until we were right on top of it, but Genae had no doubt we missed the turn for Snowy Pass. We discussed options, really wanting to turn around. I dithered, wanting to stay with the group. Before long, though, Mike found a spot where we could turn our string of cars around and after a short detour we were back on our proper way. I probably jinxed us yesterday by joking that we hadn’t made any wrong turns.

Medicine Bow Peak and the Snowy Range

The Snowy Range was the highlight of today’s drive. Mike led us to a scenic overlook that was empty, and we lined up the cars in front of the gorgeous backdrop of the Snowy Range. We lined up with the Hyundai and Subaru at the end, and very quickly a Honda Fit pulled into formation with us; an automotive photobomb. They made good by taking our group picture with Peter’s camera; he didn’t have a tripod, so with their help he got to be in the picture.

Photo courtesy Peter Monson

At the eastern foot of the pass we exited pine forest onto the high plains and through the town of Centennial. From there the road goes to Laramie, where we had a pit stop and a picnic in the park. At the gas station, one of the gals working there came out and ogled the cars. “I like that one best”, she said, pointing to the Elan +2, the oldest car in the group. “I like the old ones. I used to have Jaguar E-Type.” She was quite the enthusiast. She told us all sorts of clubs stop here; even the monster trucks came through.

From Laramie we headed south on WY 230. If you’ve been paying attention you may be wondering how we find ourselves on the road that we made a wrong turn on to on the other side of the Snowy Range. This is a fair question. You’ll have to ask somebody at the Wyoming transportation department. It appears that one can enter Colorado in two different places by driving south on WY 230.

In any event, we climb back above the grassy plains and into pine forest, and into Colorado where the route changes designation to CO 127. After a few short miles we exit the forest again and emerge in North Park where we junction with CO 125. (If you stay on CO 127 rather than making a left onto 127 you’ll cross into Wyoming and find yourself heading north on WY 230.)

I’ve lived in Colorado forty years and I’ve never been to North Park before. It was obvious to me where we were; it’s quite similar to South Park but on a smaller scale. A flat, wide, treeless, high altitude valley ringed by snow-capped mountains. We turned east on CO 14 and ascended Cameron pass. I made a point to try to identify what side roads I could, as I plan on coming here for a hike in a few weeks. But without knowing what I was looking for, a road name or route number, I could do little other than to get a sense of the terrain.

We didn’t have to go far down the Poudre canyon to start hitting traffic. We were trying to go only a few mph over the limit. The first couple of cars we caught up to kindly pulled over for us. Then we came upon a truck towing a 30’ trailer. He was oblivious; had a string of cars behind him about a mile long, was going between 10 and 20 mph under the limit, and passed at least three dozen signs advising slow traffic to use the pullouts. He led us all the way to US 287.

When we got out of the canyon, my phone chimed with a text. It was Victor, saying my car was ready. I had Genae reply, telling him I’d call him in a few minutes.

Our next (and last) rally point was the Conoco station at the corner of Wilcox and College. I immediately got on the phone with Victor. He really wanted to get the car to me so he had played around with it some more. He disconnected, cleaned, and reconnected the suspected bad sensor and it worked. I told him I’d stop by his shop after we had dinner with my brother.

I drove the rest of the way home in the Elise, but that’s the end of the next blog entry. I’m finally ready to tell the ordeal of the cam.

LoCo Spring Drive – Day 2

June 3

We wanted to get an early start today. Our first stop is the Dinosaur Quarry Visitor Center. It’s a short drive from there to the Quarry Exhibit Hall, and by 9:00 we’d have to take the shuttle bus. So we had breakfast and checked out of the hotel by 7:30.

Fossils in the quarry wall

They built a building over a “wall” of fossils; hundreds in a very small place. There are the bones of Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, and several other behemoths plainly visible, free to be touched (as long as you don’t climb on the wall). The exhibit hall also includes murals and castings and signs detailing the fossils and the history of the quarry.

Quarry Exhibit Hall

The layers of the Earth are nearly vertical here. One of the layers had a faintly blue tint, which reminded me of the John Day fossil bed that I visited on my Oregon trip a few years ago. I asked about the similarity back at the visitors center but the ranger I talked to had only recently started work there and didn’t have an answer.

Swelter Shelter

We took a quick side trip about a half mile up the road to Swelter Shelter. This is a small site with enough parking for maybe half a dozen cars. Just a couple hundred feet from the road you get to see both petroglyphs and pictographs. A petroglyph is an image chipped or carved into the rock while a pictograph is something that is painted on the rock. The pictographs are somewhat more rare, as they’re more easily weathered. Unfortunately, many modern visitors have left their own marks here as well.

 

Extinct and large

After Dinosaur, back to Vernal then north on US 191. After a few miles the road rises steeply, navigating ten switchbacks taking us from high desert to more mountainous terrain – aspen and pine. The Simplot phosphate mine is visible in places on both sides of the highway. There are a couple of scenic overlooks but we dallied longer than expected at Dinosaur and didn’t stop to take in the views.

 

 

Extant and small

For several miles along this route we pass through a number of geological layers; we’re traveling through time. I didn’t have any idea which way we were going, from older to younger or vice-versa. For each layer we traversed there was an accompanying sign by the side of the road: “Morrison formation – where Stegosaurus roamed”. Some referenced “bizarre sharks” or fossilized sand dunes.

Passing through geologic history, we climbed and the terrain changed from high desert to mountain forests of pine and aspen. Flaming Gorge dam was next on our itinerary. US 191 makes a right turn at the junction with UT 44. We continued on 191 to the dam. Here we made notes of what we might see when we come back with the luxury of more time. They give a walking tour of the dam, where you can go deep inside and see the inner workings.

Flaming Gorge dam

On the east side of the dam there’s a road down to a boat ramp on the river. Near the top of this road is a small pullout with a nice view of the face of the dam. We asked some other members of our group if they wanted to go with us but had no takers. By the time we returned to the parking lot half a dozen others changed their minds. That’s okay, though, as there was very little parking.

We headed back down US 191 toward UT 44. Genae was keeping an eye out for a place to pull over so we could get a picture of an interesting bridge we crossed to get to the dam. It’s very much like the bridge at Roosevelt dam near Phoenix. Mike was way ahead of us, though, and had already picked out a spot for a group photo.

Which of these is not like the others?

Next we made another side trip, to Red Canyon overlook this time. There were a number of warning signs: “Steep cliffs. Guard your children!” The view was spectacular. Although we couldn’t hear the boats below us, we could see them clearly. We watched a water skier wipe out. By now it was noon and lunch wasn’t scheduled until we got to Green River. So it was decided we’d change plans and have lunch here. But no food was available; we had ours with us in a cooler (advantage of having cargo space) and a few others had stopped at a Subway in Vernal, but some didn’t have food. So a few cars went ahead of us.

After lunch we took a side trip down the Sheep Rock Geologic Loop for another group photo. We understood the loop was closed and turned around but found out later that some who didn’t have lunch went this way and the loop was open and “spectacular”. While we were stopped for this photo, I saw Ken messing around at the front of our car. He had a magnetic roundel, and temporarily made our car an honorary Lotus.

The terrain changes dramatically as we cross from Utah to Wyoming, from pine and aspen forest to high desert. Along the way we encountered some of the same signs as we saw in the morning, describing each of the geologic layers we traversed.

We stopped for fuel in Green River, WY. This was our originally scheduled lunch stop. It’s a good thing we adjusted our plan, as it was late afternoon by now.

About this time, I exchanged text messages with Victor. He confirmed that the car was ready. But shortly thereafter he called. He was sorry, but the car wouldn’t be ready until Monday at the earliest. He test drove it, but the fan never came on. Evidently the engine head coolant temperature sensor was bad and the fan wasn’t coming on. They can’t get a replacement part until Monday. I was disappointed, to say the least.

The final leg of the day was a blast eastbound on I-80 to Rawlins. We were gassed up and ready to go, so we hit the road first. It didn’t take long for the modern cars to pass us by, but we had a big enough head start that the older cars were still behind us.

After getting checked in at the hotel we had time for a brief rest before heading to dinner at Aspen House. We can be a bit picky when it comes to dining out. We wanted to go over the menu first, thinking we may head off on our own. They don’t have a menu on their website but the Yelp reviews were pretty good so we said “what the heck” and went anyway. This was a good decision. The restaurant operates in an interesting old Victorian house and the food and service were both good.

LoCo Spring Drive – Day 1

It’s time for another edition of Lotus Colorado’s “Colorado Good.” This time we’re making a loop that covers three states, with stays in Vernal, UT and Rawlings, WY and visits to Dinosaur National Monument and Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

This year the entry list included thirty people in fifteen cars, including nine Lotus. Ours, unfortunately, was not one of them as the Elise is still in the shop. We always have a variety of cars; it’s not really about the cars. But I have to admit that it felt a little off driving the Hyundai. In some subtle ways we were outsiders. Not among the group, of course. But when we drove through towns we were invisible in the Hyundai.

Friday, June 2

Mike’s directions had us rendezvousing at the rest stop in Edwards. The Denver contingent made plans to meet just outside Morrison but we headed off on our own. We’d be in a group for the better part of three days so we took advantage of having a little time on our own.

We left the house at 8:30. We weren’t rushed getting out of the house and it was plenty early. I figured we might have the better part of a half hour to loiter at the rest stop. The weather was quite pleasant – sunny and mostly clear, and calm. Another beautiful day in Colorado.

When I travel I always ask myself, “What did I forget?” I’ve been pretty good lately. I managed to not forget anything on my last several business trips. We were nearly to the assembly point when I realized I’d forgotten the SLR. So it would be cell phone pictures instead. Luckily, cell phones these days do a decent enough job to tell the story. (True, I didn’t take any pictures today, so you’ll have to judge that tomorrow and Sunday.)

As I expected, we were the first to arrive. It’s a nice little rest stop, services both eastbound and westbound traffic and sits a bit off the highway, so it’s fairly quiet. I couldn’t help but notice a “No Loitering” sign on the building. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rest stop where loitering was specifically prohibited.

By the appointed time we had assembled most of the gang. From here until a few miles outside of Vernal it would be new roads for us. Although we were headed north, we started to the south. We skipped a few miles of interstate this way on our trip to Wolcott where we picked up CO 131 and the drive started in earnest.

I won’t bother with a navigational blow-by-blow. I will say that the highlight of the day was the twenty or so miles we spent on County Road 27 from Oak Creek to the junction with US 40. It’s quite a nice Lotus road, with a smooth surface featuring lots of twists and elevation changes. I’ll admit that it’s not as much fun in the Hyundai; low power and high center of gravity is not as good as high power and a low center of gravity. I look forward to making another pass on it someday in the fun car.

Somewhere around here Victor phoned to tell me my car would be ready tomorrow. I normally don’t care much if we have cell coverage, but I was happy we did at that moment. I’ve been a bit stressed out that I might not get the car back in time for my Austin trip next weekend. So this was a phone call I was happy to get. I reminded Victor that we were on the LoCo drive and we’d be in Ft. Collins on Sunday afternoon. We agreed I’d pick it up then. Excellent news!

We stopped for fuel in Craig, followed by a picnic in the local park. Usually we have to check the route carefully and have a plan for getting food. Will it be Subway again, or do we have multiple choice? The one advantage of not being in the Lotus is having plenty of cargo space. We had not one but two coolers with us, provisioned with ample supplies of cold cuts, cheese, condiments, beverages, and fruit. This gave us a few extra minutes of relaxation.

US 40 goes directly from Craig to Vernal. I drove that section ages ago, on my first trip to California. There’s nothing, really, to see on that road. Mike routed us through Meeker utilizing a couple of state highways. A few more miles, but less traffic and more appealing scenery. We connected back up with US 40 at the village of Dinosaur. Rather than go directly to Vernal and the hotel, we made a quick side trip to the visitor center for Dinosaur National Monument. We arrived there about 4:15.

This entrance to the park gives access to a 31 mile drive to a scenic overlook near the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers. It’s about forty-five minutes each way, so taking it this time was out of the question. Someday we’ll spend more time in the neighborhood; we’ll get to it sooner or later.

Our short break over, we resumed US 40 westbound to Vernal. Just after passing through the village of Dinosaur there is a large area adjacent to the road that recently burned. The highway makes a straight southern bound to this area, which was six or seven miles long and perhaps a couple hundred yards to the north. It looked to be quite recent, still smelled freshly charred. Writing this now, I looked it up and discovered that it just happened a few days ago. A 25 mile stretch of US 40 was briefly closed to fight the fire that burned 920 acres of cheat grass and brush on May 30th.

After we got settled in to the hotel we all made our way to the Vernal Brewing Company for dinner. I’m sure it’s hard to seat a table for thirty, so I try to be forgiving. We were offered a limited menu, with the choice of rib eye, salmon, or chicken. I didn’t see anybody with the chicken but did see ribs. Both Genae and I selected the rib eye. Service was good, given the circumstances, but my steak was on the cold side. In addition, it was about the thinnest rib eye I’ve seen. It seemed a bit on the tough side, but that sensation may have been enhanced by the dull cutlery. Not exactly satisfying for $75.

We were back to the hotel a bit after 9pm. It was a long day of driving. We covered more than the usual number of miles. We turned in, looking forward to more sightseeing tomorrow.

Santa Fe, Day 4

Tuesday, May 24

At dinner last night we discussed an 8:00am departure. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but Mike’s tour guide called for an 8:30 exit. This caused a bit of confusion. We didn’t hit the road until more like 8:20 and still managed to abandon one car. Thinking we were seven cars, we were immediately split up at the first intersection. Four made it, three didn’t. We three quickly caught up.

After driving north on US 285 for a short while, we switched to a series of New Mexico state highways that make up the High Road to Taos: NM 503, NM 76, NM 75, and NM 518. The low road to Taos follows the busier routes along the rivers while the High Road goes through the hills and valleys of the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It’s a much more circuitous route, pine-scented and cooler than river bottom desert path.

Through one small town, the road is quite narrow. Signs warn “No Center Stripe Next 1.5 Miles”. There is no center strip because the road is essentially a single lane. I’m not sure what we’d have done had we encountered oncoming traffic. A few towns later the road revealed dramatic views of what I believe is North Truchas Peak, its rocky summit still sporting a fair amount of snow. These peaks are not as dramatic as the northern Sangre de Cristos but may be the prettiest mountain views in New Mexico.

Some time before arriving at our pit stop in Taos our straggler caught up. At the pit stop we parted ways with the group. We had been over most of the roads on Mike’s route and elected to tread new ground and head east on US 64. The first section, from Taos to Angel Fire, is a nice twisty Lotus road without much weekday traffic.

The road crosses Palo Flechado Pass (“arrow-shaped trees”). A hundred years before the Louisiana Purchase, this area was the scene of some tensions between the Spanish and French over trade. In 1719 governor Valverde heard intelligence form the Spanish viceroy in Mexico City that six thousand French troops were moving up the Arkansas River. He sent a scouting party of forty-two soldiers, sixty Pueblo Indians, and a thousand horses to check the report. After battling snow, bears, and poison ivy, the group crossed the pass and made it as far as the site of current North Platte before meeting their end at the hands of the Commanche. The few stragglers that returned to Santa Fe admitted that there was no sign of six thousand Frenchmen.

Our crossing of the pass was much more comfortable; no snow, no bears, no poison ivy. At Angle Fire we enter a broad, windswept valley. There’s a Vietnam Veterans memorial here and today the road was lined with American flags for a few miles on either side. At Eagle Nest Lake the road climbs out of the valley. It’s twisty enough to have quite low speed limits; several miles of 35mph with a bit of 25mph as well. This is Cimarron Canyon State Park.

At the exit of the canyon, the land flattens to low, broad mesas and the road straightens passing through the burg of Cimarron. The road turns to the north east and runs past the NRA facility at Whittington before reaching its junction with I-25.

The remainder of our trip was on I-25 and thus deserves little discussion. We did see the remnants of our group stopped at the KFC/Taco Bell at Walsenberg. We weren’t ready for lunch yet and proceeded to Pueblo. While stopped there Genae got a Red Alert on her phone: we were about to get some very nasty weather… at home.

From the time we put wheels on I-25 until Colorado Springs we kept a steady speed a few miles an hour over the posted limit and were passed only twice. North of the Springs, driving the same speed, we were nearly the slowest car. Even travel trailers and semis passed us.

To avoid the potential of running into the weather that generated our warning we took C-470 and looped around the west side of town. This also had the benefit of missing most of the bad traffic through the center of Denver. We had no signs of bad weather until we got within a mile or so of the house. At the golf course, the fairways were covered with hail and rivers ran down the cart paths. The streets were littered with shredded leaves torn from the trees.

Michael had kindly shoveled the hail and leaves from half the driveway, clearing our path. The rain came down so hard and fast our little solar tube over the stairs leaked badly, soaking the carpet. Shredded leaves were everywhere, the raspberry bushes were transformed into denuded twigs, and the windshield of the Chrysler is cracked from top to bottom. We were quite happy to have not been caught in this in the Lotus.

2016-05-24 16.17.58sWe had a nice trip, enjoyed the company of good friends, and took pleasure in exploring a good portion of northern New Mexico.

Finally, a tip of the hat to Mike for all his effort in putting this trip together – scouting much of the route, inspecting the hotel, and ensuring that our visits to the various parks would be worthwhile.

Santa Fe, Day 3

Monday, May 23

Today is the optional day; about half the cars departed today by the route we’ll take tomorrow. Today’s route takes us southeast and east so we will have fairly fully explored Santa Fe’s environs, hitting all the major roads except I-25 south.

We got a more leisurely start today, on the road at 8:30. We enjoyed visiting with folks and tucked in to the potatoes again, and a strictly verboten (half) cinnamon roll. We hit the road on schedule with no drama and 10 cars: 5 Elises, a Europa, an M100, a Triumph, a Boxster, and an Evora.

First on the agenda was Sandia Crest, via NM 14. This is the route Jerry and I took when returning from the balloon fest back in October. Although we didn’t do the fourteen miles to the summit then, I had gone there the first time I attended the Balloon Fest. Today being a Monday, there wasn’t much traffic. There was, however, paving in progress near the summit. With only one lane open we had to wait for the escort truck. We were first in line both on our way up and on our way down, so we had open road in front of us.

2016-05-23 10.26.51sAlbuquerque is about a mile above sea level and Sandia rises about a mile above the city. There’s a spruce-fir forest on the top of the mountain, above roughly 9,200′. It’s an 800 acre island of forest surrounded by desert. The mountain gets as much as ten feet of snow in a season. There’s a ski area here which is accessible via the tram from the city side.

2016-05-23 10.14.04sThe Rio Grande side of the Sandia Mountains is 1.4 billion year old Sandia granite on top of a 1.7 billion year old metamorphic layer. The earth’s crust is separating along the Rio Grande Rift; the eastern side lifting and the western side dropping, the river filling the lower side with sediment.

We retraced our route nearly back to Santa Fe before heading east to Glorieta Pass and Pecos. We’ve driven I-25 many times without realizing it crosses the pass. There’s no marker, and this part of the road doesn’t appear any higher than any of several other parts. Glorieta means “hub”. In a Spanish town, the central square is called a glorieta. This is an apt name for the pass, as it served as a hub of trade and culture for nearly a thousand years.

The area was first settled at about the year 1100. By 1450 the pueblo here was a fortress five stories tall and housing two thousand people. This location commanded the trade path between the farmers of the Rio Grande valley and the hunters of the plains. Many goods passed through here – hides, flint, shells, pottery, textiles, crops, turquoise, and slaves. The inhabitants of Pecos grew rich from the trade, and their culture borrowed elements from both valley and plains.

In the autumn of 1540 the first Europeans crossed Glorieta pass. It was a party of twenty two Spanish men detached from Coronado’s army. Coronado sent his captain of artillery, Hernando de Alvarado with sixteen cavalrymen, four crossbowmen, and a chaplain to explore the area. In Pecos, de Alvarado met the “legendary Turk”, a Plains Indian held captive by the villagers. Turk told de Alvarado about a city called Quivira. Quivira, Turk said, was much richer than the Seven Cities of Cibola. This was misdirection: the Pecos people had the correct idea that the Spanish had come up from Mexico to rob them. The myth of gold in Quivira would lure them out into the Plains where they might get lost.

2016-05-23 14.01.45sThe Spanish searched, but didn’t get lost. They returned and, in the early 1600s, built a large mission complex. There was a revolt in 1680 that got rid of the Spaniards for twelve years, but they returned and rebuilt. The population declined until 1838 when the final inhabitants migrated to Jemez pueblo (near where we picnicked yesterday). Today, the Spanish mission is being restored amidst the ruins of the pueblo on the grounds of the Pecos National Historical Park.

2016-05-23 14.05.35s

Adobe blocks for restoration made on-site

We began our visit with today’s picnic lunch, then we watched a short video before embarking on the self guided tour. I thought it was somewhat less interesting than Bandelier. The emphasis here seems to be more on the Spanish history than that of the Pecos Indians. This was a much bigger, clearly more important, settlement than at Bandelier, but seems a much harsher place to live.

With nothing on the schedule until dinner tonight, we were left to make our own ways back to Santa Fe. As we were leaving I had a short chat with a fellow who asked about our club. He’s a member of the national Hudson car club. He told me they had their 2015 national meet in Colorado Springs (what a coincidence). They had over two hundred cars show up, and seated over four hundred people at their banquet.

Only a few miles from Pecos there’s a historical marker on the side of the highway. It was erected in 1961 and commemorates the Civil War battle of Glorieta Pass. The sign says the battle is often referred to as the “Gettysburg of the West.” I’ve never heard it called that, but I’m certainly no expert on the Civil War. Rebel troops from Texas captured Santa Fe in March of 1862. Colorado Volunteers met them here, burned their supply camp and slaughtered hundreds of their horses and mules. The Rebels fled New Mexico within two weeks.

We were back to the hotel by 3:15, with plenty of time to rest and clean up before dinner. Tonight we had reservations at The Shed. It was an excellent choice. I had the enchilada/taco plate. Blue corn tortillas, cheese and onion enchilada, green chili turkey sausage taco, served Christmas style (half red chili, half green). In my experience, the green chili is typically hotter than the red. I started with the red. A few bites into it I feared I might spontaneously combust. Here, red is definitely hotter than green. Instead of flour tortillas to sop up the extra sauce, they serve garlic bread. An unexpected but good choice.

During dinner Genae’s phone rang. Too loud in the room to hear, she let it go to voice mail. It was a call from Ann. They had suffered a flat tire after crossing Raton Pass, the group’s third mechanical incident of the trip. Luckily, it sounds like they quickly had a fix and were back on the road.

We rode the hotel’s shuttle to get to The Shed but decided to walk back in an attempt to burn off a few calories. We were back to the hotel before dark, and turned in early after another full day.

Santa Fe, Day 2

Sunday, May 22

Our first destination today is Bandelier National Monument. There’s very limited parking at the visitor center. If you don’t get there first thing you have to park at the White Rock visitor center and take a shuttle bus. Shuttle buses aren’t how we roll so we planned on an early start. We wanted to leave the hotel by 7:30. They don’t normally start breakfast service until 7:00 but Mike had arranged for them to set up a half hour early for us.

The breakfast buffet isn’t the greatest spread I’ve ever seen, but we did enjoy their potatoes – diced, with generous portions of red and green peppers, onion, and bacon. Scrambled eggs, fruit, cereal, juice, and coffee were available as well.

We hit the road on schedule. Today’s caravan included the same cars as yesterday, less one Elise but plus the Z06. We have to make two left turns to get onto US 285 from the hotel. We were immediately split into two groups at that first light, a couple hundred yards from the hotel parking lot. They didn’t catch up to us until we were parked at the visitor center; Mike’s fine directions got everybody where they needed to be.

We arrived at the entrance station before the park opened. There’s a kiosk there that we ignored. Three miles past the entrance we found ourselves at the visitor center. There is parking for only a couple dozen cars. By the time the second tranche of LoCos arrived we had pretty much filled the place up.

2016-05-22 08.59.24sThe visitor center is at the bottom of a small canyon. The rock looks like sandstone but is actually tuff – rock formed from volcanic ash. A stream runs through the canyon all year long. Based on its meager flow this time of year it must be really puny in the depths of summer. The canyon is situated in an ecotone – the transition between two biomes. This provides an abundance of flora and fauna, which was probably key to ancient peoples settling here.

2016-05-22 09.11.54sWe took the one hour self guided tour. There are only three miles of roads in the park but over seventy miles of trails. The self guided tour covers about a mile and a half but visits the largest of the ruins. On the floor of the canyon are the ruins of a circular pueblo that probably contained a couple hundred rooms. Additional structures were cliff dwellings. These weren’t high up the cliffs like the ones at Mesa Verde but were on the bottom of the canyon and used the cliffs as part of the structure.

Next on our agenda was a picnic lunch at the Walatowa Visitor Center, south of Jemez Springs on the Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway. Jerry and I took this road all the way to San Ysidro back in October when we went to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. The drive transitions from subalpine evergreen forest to red rock desert. We initially thought it was a shame to pass all that comfortable shade and end up in the desert but Walatowa turned out to be a pleasant place for a picnic. The only hiccup on this part of the drive was when Tim ran his TR-6 out of gas. Operator error, rather than a malfunction.

After lunch we retraced our route, back up NM 4. We were to stop at Battleship Rock for a group photo. The lead cars (we were 5th) didn’t stop. I don’t know that anybody behind us stopped, but given that it was midday on a beautiful Sunday it was likely there would be too many other cars there for us to get a decent group photo.

Next was a stop at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The four cars ahead of us passed the entrance; we followed them until we saw Mike make the turn. We turned around and followed everybody down a somewhat bumpy two mile dirt road. Having skipped Battleship Rock we went about lining up the cars for a picture here. Unfortunately, Mike’s car wouldn’t start – our second mechanical issue of the trip.

Photo courtesy of Peter Monson

Photo courtesy of Peter Monson

Unfortunately, most of the vehicles with empty seats didn’t stop. Mike needed to call AAA for a tow and he and Lisa found themselves in the back seats of the two Evoras for the return to the hotel. We later learned that the problem was just a flat battery and he was able to source one at an auto parts store that was open until 10pm on a Sunday night. I’m not mechanically inclined, but it doesn’t make much sense that his battery was fine a half hour earlier when we left Walatowa but wouldn’t even take a jump here.

In any event, this pause allowed us an extended stay in the caldera. The caldera is 24 miles across and last erupted about 1.5 million years ago. This was the source of the ash that formed the tuff in Bandelier. No trees grow on the floor of the caldera – the soil isn’t that great and in winter there is often a thermocline that makes the air here much colder than up the slopes.

Before the place was a wildlife preserve the surrounding slopes were extensively logged. One slope to the north had conspicuous horizontal lines. These were the result of clear-cutting in the seventies. When logging ceased the forest grew back to maturity, only to be severely burned a few years ago.

The last activity planned for the day was a stop at the museum in Los Alamos. We elected to drive through town but not visit the museum. In Los Alamos we failed to make a turn and led the others astray. When we finally got through town we arrived at the junction at exactly the same time as the two Evoras, executing a perfect zipper merge.

We made it back to the hotel just after four. Most of the group had dinner reservations but Genae and I were on our own. We drove downtown to the plaza and wandered around looking for anything interesting. There was a low-rider car show there earlier; all had gone except for two or three stragglers. We finally made our way to a pizza place and nano brewery – they brewed their beer in single barrel batches. Tasty pizza, refreshing beer. We were back to the hotel by eight, tired after a full day.

Santa Fe, Day 1

Saturday, May 21

It’s time for another long weekend trip with LoCo. We used to call these trips The Colorado Good, a riff on The Colorado Grand. This one’s entirely in New Mexico, except for the to and from. The participant list detailed twenty cars and thirty-five people. Mike organized the whole affair and sent out a nice Tour Guide with turn-by-turn directions and snippets of history for many of the places we’d be seeing.

On the way down, the first official way point was in Johnson Village. The Denver folks would meet up with the Springs people there. The Denver contingent planned to gather at The Fort and caravan to the rendezvous. However, we elected to proceed solo and were headed up the canyon on US 285 when the rest were scheduled to start their engines. We were allowing for a potty stop; we’d have been separated from the group anyway.

Going up Kenosha Pass I was collected by a short line of traffic. When I finally got a chance to pass them, a glance in the mirror revealed a string of skittles rolling down into South Park – the other Denver cars. Mike’s notes indicated we wouldn’t be going more than five to seven miles an hour over the limit. In South Park this is fiction. The first few cars in line flew past us at a great rate of speed.

Pete stopped at the junction with US 24 and we all stopped with him. Several people got out and inspected the bottom of his car. With things well in hand, we elected to continue to the rendezvous. Moments after we left, the Colorado Springs cars arrived at the junction. We couldn’t have gotten the timing any better if we’d tried. (Later, we learned Pete’s issue was a loose diffuser.)

Approaching the summit of Trout Creek Pass a prairie dog darted out in front of me. He never had a chance; I don’t think my tires ever made contact with him, but no matter. In the hundreds of thousands of miles I’ve driven in cars and trucks before the Elise I’ve never killed any animals. I hit a deer in my Arrow but didn’t even knock her off her feet. But in the Elise I’ve now gotten four birds and a prairie dog. How does that work, exactly? When we stopped, I checked out the car. No blood, not even hair, and no damage to the car.

When we finally hit the road as a full group, departing Johnson Village, we were four Elises, two Exiges, two Evoras, two M100s, a Europa, a Birkin, a Focus ST, a TR-6, a Boxster, and a Miata. (In Santa Fe we added another Elise and a Z06 Corvette.)

We had a picnic lunch in Alamosa. The road through the San Luis Valley to Alamosa is one of the straightest roads I’ve ever driven on. Not exactly a Lotus road, but it gets a pass because I never get tired of looking at the Sangre de Christo mountains. We didn’t have a picnic lunch so we made a detour to Arby’s. Afterwards we refueled. Genae bought a candy bar. The cashier told her they were two for one so we decided to split one and save the other for tomorrow.

The drive from Alamosa to Antonito lacks the drama of the northern end of the valley. Ranch land instead of scrub, but centered in the wide valley and without a view. Unremarkable, except for the parallel railroad track. It’s a single line and for ten or twelve miles it’s an almost unbroken string of idle rolling stock. At the northern end it was all brand new tank cars. After the new cars it alternated stretches of hoppers, covered hoppers, and tank cars. An almost unbroken string, I say: gaps only at side roads and driveways. How many rail cars fit in ten miles? How many millions of dollars of capital equipment is that?

Leaving Antonito we finally embark on a road that is new to me. Rather than turn left to stay on US 285 in the Rio Grande valley we continue straight, the road now designated CO 17, following the Conejos River. This road takes us over La Manga (Spanish for “sleeve”) and Cumbres (“crests”) passes. The Cumbres crosses the divide of the Chama and Los Pinos rivers, both tributaries of the Rio Grande.

More than a century ago, Ernest Ingersoll described part of Cumbres Pass thus:

In the most secluded nook of the mountains we come upon Phantom Curve, with its company of isolated rocks, tall, grotesque, sunburned. They fill the eye, and in their fantastic resemblance to human shapes, seem to us crumbled images of the days when there were giants, and men of Titanic mold set up mementoes of their brawny heroes.

Much of the path parallels the Cubres-Toltec narrow gauge railroad. The road crosses the rails near the top; on the descent the rails are often visible, curling along the hillside below. The railroad turns are surprisingly tight. We didn’t see any trains running, but in Chama there were a number of sidings holding quite a few cars.

After we gassed up in Chama we were leading the group. I thought I might collect another bird when we came upon a murder of crows feasting on dead deer in middle of road. The birds were reluctant to leave their meal, not taking flight until after staring me down for a moment, making me slow down.

Our position in the lead didn’t last long. Lacking electronic counter measures we stuck to the 5-7mph rule. A few miles after the crows some faster cars passed us and we picked up the pace. The first car to pass did so just as an antelope was crossing the road ahead. There was only one; I don’t think the passing driver saw it. This section of road between US 84/US 64 junction and Tres Piedras is very nice. It features long sweeping turns on hillsides of piñon forest. There was one particularly nice view of granite mountain that resembled Half Dome.

We were near the front of the pack and our group of cars separated from the rest. We didn’t see some of the folks until well after we had checked in at hotel. This was when we learned of Jeremy’s problem: a blown oil line. He shut the motor down immediately and was fortunate to have a handy place to pull off the road. This is by far the worst mechanical issue we’ve had on any of these trips.

Happy hour was scheduled at six, which gave us time to get provisioned for tomorrow’s picnic. We made a quick run to the grocery store and picked up sandwich fixings and some fruit.

We had adult beverages and chips and dip, cheese, and shrimp; a much better spread than we were anticipating. It was a long day’s drive, and many of us were happy to move the conversation to the next room and eat at the hotel restaurant.

LOCO Black Hills – Part 3

May 18

This morning we opted for the hotel’s breakfast. Genae tried the automatic pancake maker, I had two fruit cups. The plan today was another picnic, this time at Devil’s Tower. We’ll make a pit stop in Sundance, WY, where there’s a Subway a block from the gas station. We hit the road by nine.

We headed west on US 16 to Newcastle then north on US 85 to a place called Four Corners. Odd name because there aren’t four corners there. Odd, even, that it has a name. There are two t-junctions and the Four Corners Country Inn. We took the second T and WY 585 northwest to Sundance.

Harry Longabaugh made a name for himself here at the age of 15 by being arrested for stealing a horse. That was the only time the Sundance Kid ever got arrested. Half of us first got sandwiches while the other half pitted for fuel. While waiting for everybody to get provisioned up we saw three state troopers, the only ones we saw since Nebraska.

IMG_2030sWe had a pleasant little picnic then headed for a walk around the tower. After two pictures, the camera quit working. It’s just not my weekend with cameras. But it was a pleasant day, mostly sunny and cool. The Tower Trail is about a mile and a quarter. We took our time, stopping often to look for climbers and visiting every little spur of trail. When we finished the loop, we did the beginning portion again. The it was back to the visitor center.

Somebody said Mike wanted to line up for a group photo down at the entrance. It was a bit of a miscommunication. We exited the park and waited in the parking lot but Mike was at a much more scenic picnic area. We finally got our act together and got to the right place.

20150518_135558s

“Do Not Clean or Wash Here”

Leaving the park we took WU 24 east. This took us to a junction with US 85 just south of Belle Fourche (pronounced “Bell Foosh”). The road is a four lane divided highway, but construction had the right lane closed for quite a while. In Spearfish we made a pit stop. Overheard remarks: “They’re Lotus Elises!” and “Is there a rally going on?” There were a lot of flying insects there, but they all congregated on Cindy’s yellow Evora. She says it happens all the time; she calls the paint “Bug Yellow”. I didn’t see any bugs on my yellow stripe or wheels, clearly not “Bug Yellow”.

As is apt to happen with a chain of a dozen cars, we got split up in town after leaving the gas station. By the time we made the right turn on US 14A and headed south through Spearfish Canyon we were down to about half a dozen cars. The canyon is very scenic. Frank Lloyd Wright visited here in 1935 and was quite enamored of the place. There are many sheer cliffs and numerous wide ledges sprouting tall pines. To Wright, it evoked classical Chinese paintings.

Staying on US 14A, we exit the canyon and eventually rejoin US 85. We’re heading northbound this time, to Lead where we find US 385 and the road to Hill City and Custer. Genae and I were wondering how you pronounce “Lead”. Is it lead as in “Wild Bill Hickcok got filled full of lead in Deadwood” or lead as in “you can lead a horse to water”? It’s the second.

Lead, like Deadwood, had road construction on the main drag. Here, mercifully they kept us out of the mud by a detour through some back alleys. The trip down 385 back to Custer was a repeat of yesterday but with better weather. We thought we’d get tricky and take the truck route through Hill City and get to the head of the group, but I turned too soon and had to make a u-turn. So we were shunted to near the back of the pack.

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Ambiguous sign?

As there was no group activity planned for the evening, we figured to grab a quick dinner then go back and drive the Needles Highway in a more leisurely manner. At the hotel I started one of the camera batteries charging. Then I noticed that the battery pack was a bit loose. It didn’t obviously feel loose, so I didn’t notice. I tightened it up and all is well now.

Genae wanted pizza, so we asked the hotel desk clerk for a recommendation and thus we were off to Pizza Worx. Not much in the ambiance department, but decent pizza. When we got back to the hotel to pick up the camera, we heard talk of folks wanting to get together for dinner. A large group of them decided to the Blue Bell Lodge.

IMG_2036sWe drove the Needles Highway the opposite direction from yesterday, slowly, and stopped for photos several times. It looks like the pine beetles have been at work here; quite a few trees have been cut down and the wood stacked up in piles. It’s not as bad as in some places in Colorado, hopefully the clearing they’ve done will stop the critters. We pretty much had the place to ourselves and saw very few other cars.

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Eye of the Needle tunnel

It was still fairly early when we got back to Custer so we headed back into Custer State Park again searching for bison. We didn’t see any buffalo but did see much of our group parked at the Blue Bell Lodge. It would be dark before we could complete the wildlife loop so we just went a couple miles farther south and turned around. No bison but loads of white tail deer, some pronghorns, a rafter of turkeys, and even some elk.

After dinner we stopped at the Purple Pie Place but nothing struck Genae’s fancy. So when we approached the Blue Bell we decided to stop there for dessert. The gang was still there, so we joined them and ordered the apple crisp à la mode (with Blue Bell ice cream, of course).

Drove 329 miles.

May 19 – Custer to Denver

Two years ago yesterday, May 18, 2013, LOCO awoke in Telluride to snow on the cars. There wasn’t any snow on the cars when we woke up today, but it started snowing before we were downstairs for breakfast. Just about everybody got towels or washcloths from their rooms and cleared the snow from the cars. A snow brush is not generally carried as standard equipment in a Lotus.

We were on the road by 8am. Yesterday we spent most of the day near the front of the pack. Today we stayed near the back. The snow only lasted a little while – we were not only heading south, but downhill as well. Early morning the precipitation was variable but as the day wore on the rain became heavier and more steady. We considered making a stop at Lusk but stuck with the group. Our next scheduled pit stop was for Torrington.

Unfortunately, the gas station we stopped at was small. Only a couple of pumps and a single bathroom. By the time we got stopped, there were half a dozen people standing in line. Genae, not able to wait in line, found a bathroom nearby after a couple of attempts. Before she got back I had decided we’d try another place. We didn’t need gas, but I didn’t want to stand in line here, in the rain. We found another gas station down the road. Jeremy pulled in after us, and that was the last we saw of anybody from our group.

We continued southbound on US 85 a bit slower than we were going in the group. I was expecting them to catch us sooner or later, but perhaps they slowed down as well due to the rain. The wind added to the fun, a crosswind blowing strongly from the east. Oncoming trucks were brutal, throwing up huge clouds of spray. Luckily not much standing water on the road.

The group never caught us. We had lunch in Wellington and were home by 3pm.

We really enjoyed the trip – the roads, the sights, and friends. Thanks to everybody for their companionship and especially to Mike for putting it all together.

Drove 342 miles.

LOCO Black Hills – Part 2

May 17

Although the hotel provides breakfast, nothing on offer particularly appealed to us so we decided we should head to town instead. We ate at Baker’s Bakery and Café, a little place with about ten tables and the tag line “you’ll love our buns”. After bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast we went back to the hotel for our usual drivers meeting. Today we would drive the Needles Highway and the Iron Mountain Road before visiting Mount Rushmore. Then we’d head to Sturgis for lunch and return to Custer through Deadwood and Hill City. I mounted the GoPro above the left rear wheel and we hit the road.

We headed north from Custer on Sylvan Lake Rd, SD 89. For the first few miles there are numerous houses and small ranches. One has a gate with big statues: a longhorn and a bison. He has a few dozen head of each. At Sylvan Lake we reach the junction with SD 87, through here known as the Needles Highway.

The road is quite narrow – no danger of getting stuck behind an RV here. There is no center stripe most of the way, and there are a couple of primitive narrow tunnels blasted through sheer granite walls. Mike was in the lead up to this point, but pulled over for the canyon carvers. We passed Mike and the others who wanted to take their rime but didn’t go as fast as many. We let two cars pass.

The highway is named for the granite needles that punctuate the terrain. Peter Norbeck (Governor and US Senator) plotted the route on horseback and foot and construction was completed in 1922. It cost so much at the time, locals called it the Needless Highway. The road has been well maintained but not significantly upgraded. Very nearly a one lane road, there are plenty of pullouts and overlooks.

SD 87 ends at a T-junction with US 16/16A. There’s a small parking lot there, and restrooms. We stopped there for a short break, completely filling the lot. The rangers from the Custer State Park entrance station walked over the hill and took some photos. While we were stopped, I remembered to power off the GoPro to save battery. I even remembered to turn it back on when we left.

A few miles up the road I happened to look in my left hand mirror to see the suction cup mount fail and the GoPro go flying off the car. I think it survived the initial impact intact. Colin was behind me in his new Evora and he managed to dodge it. After that I didn’t see what happened. I stopped and turned around as quickly as I could and made my way back to the “scene of the crime.”

The mount was in the middle of the road, the camera nowhere to be seen. John rolled up in his Elan and helped me search. I walked up and down the side of the road a few times, along the road and down by the stream. I found the battery and the back door of the camera, both more or less intact. But no sign of the camera or housing. I was afraid somebody ran it over, possibly damaging their car, but I asked around and nobody says they hit it. After the futile search, we figured we were now on our own, well behind the group.

Rolling again, we made our way to the Iron Mountain Road. We were a bit chagrined that the road is being resurfaced. The sixteen mile stretch we were on had had the surface ground, leaving a rough road with shallow holes and loose rocks and gravel. This road, like the Needles Highway, was laid out by Peter Norbeck and is also known as the Peter Norbeck Memorial Highway. He designed it as a scenic low speed route for tourists.

Like the NIMG_2000seedles Highway, most of it is narrow and twisty. It features a few “pigtail” bridges and one lane tunnels. A pigtail bridge is much like it sounds – the road crosses a bridge then turns 270 degrees to pass under the bridge just crossed. The tunnels, again, are one lane and hewn from solid granite. Two of the tunnels are aligned with Mount Rushmore and obstructing trees removed. One of the tunnels dumps you directly onto a pigtail bridge. At the second tunnel with a Rushmore view, I was out of the car lining up a picture when Terry rolled up in his M100. We weren’t last ones on the road after all.

This narrow, twisty portion of US 16A meets SD 244 and widens to four lanes. We went left at this intersection, taking 244 to Mount Rushmore. When we arrived at the entrance station to pay our fee, the ranger asked if we were from Colorado: “I sent the rest of your group to level 6. Follow the red arrows.” Our cars occupied about a third of the level, and, as usual, had drawn admirers.

IMG_2007sWe last visited Mount Rushmore six years ago during a Clark family reunion. That time we came after dark to see the monument all lit up. This time we had daylight and scattered clouds. Lots of people visit Mount Rushmore and everybody tends to get the same picture, so I wanted to get away from the amphitheater. This turned out to be a good choice, as we weren’t allowed into the amphitheater because there was a high school graduation going on there. What a great place for a graduation ceremony.

IMG_2018sWe hiked on the Presidential Trail. Luckily, we went to the right. The trail makes a loop from the Grand View Terrace, down the hill and up a boardwalk slightly up the slope below the carvings. We didn’t know that half the trail was closed and might have been discouraged had we gone the other way instead. The weather was still pleasant and we enjoyed the short walk. And I got the same pictures as everybody else.

Next on the agenda was a drive to Sturgis via the outskirts of Rapid City. The weather held out until a bit before we arrived there, when it got windy and rainy. We weren’t too impressed by Sturgis and broke off from the group here, perhaps hunt buffalo in Custer before going back to the hotel.

We ate at Taco Johns then headed to Deadwood. It rained the whole way, and the main drag through much of Deadwood is under construction, a muddy pot-holed mess. The place has been overrun by casinos. Everything historical in Blackhawk and Central City were pretty much destroyed by the construction of casinos in the name of historical preservation. Deadwood looks to have suffered the same fate. We don’t gamble, so we didn’t stop other than to refuel.

The weather cleared about half way to Hill City, which boded well for a trip through the park. The drive from Deadwood to Hill City is pleasant if not dramatic. It had the bonus of having very little traffic. I caught up to no cars for several miles, and if I had there were ample passing zones. Unfortunately, when I did catch traffic, the passing zones evaporated.

When we stopped to pay the entry fee the ranger said, “Your car is too short!” As it so happens, the park is a free today. The ranger recommended Wildlife Loop Road. This is the third narrow road we’ve driven today. Instead of granite tunnels and pigtail bridges, it’s eighteen miles of riparian areas and grassy hills.

Genae was hoIMG_2028sping we’d see the baby bison again. She was disappointed. All we saw were a few lone males. One guy was quite close to the road. When we stopped to watch them yesterday they were making a cacophony of grunts and belch-like rumbles. This lone one was quiet.

We came across a solitary pronghorn by a cattle guard. She posed for me a little bit, crossed the road, and scratched in the gravel a couple times. Then she proceeded to piss. In retrospect, I should have taken the picture. But, frankly, I was a bit offended!

IMG_2023sThere was very little traffic. If somebody was stopped, that generally meant there was an animal in the vicinity. The biggest crowd we saw were stopped to take pictures of some donkeys . The asses didn’t appeal to us, so we skipped the photo opportunity.

Dinner was a group affair. We ate at the State Game Lodge, which made for a pleasant little drive. It’s about twelve miles from Custer, five or six miles into the park. It’s a great building, built in 1920. President Coolidge booked a two week visit but stayed for thirteen. The room we were in looked to be newer construction. I considered the Cobb salad (with hard boiled quail egg) or the bison steak but went with the buffalo burger instead.

Drove 250 miles

LOCO Black Hills – Part 1

It’s time for another long weekend road trip with Lotus Colorado. This time, Mike put together a four day excursion to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We’d drive to Custer on Saturday, visit Mount Rushmore and Sturgis on Sunday, head to Wyoming on Monday to see Devil’s Tower and return home on Tuesday.

The contact list included 22 cars and 38 people. Over a quarter were Elises – one blue, one red, two orange and two BRG. Gordon was the other green one – no stripe, silver LSS wheels, hardtop. Three Evoras, two black Exiges, two red Elans (both 1967), two M100 Elans, and a Europa round out the Lotus contingent. The others were BMW, Porsche, Saab, Volvo, and a Miata. As always, a few new faces on this trip, including a Chicago couple who rendezvoused with us in Custer.

May 16 – Denver to Custer

On past drives we’ve been pretty fortunate with the weather. We did get snowed on two years ago this weekend in Telluride and it was a bit on the warm side in Moab last year, but never anything much to complain about. But it has rained or snowed every day so far in May and the forecast doesn’t look too bright for our trip. Still, we hoped for the best.

We left the house at about 8am and fueled up. Luckily I realized I had forgotten the SLR before we got very far, so we went back home before heading to the meeting spot. We met at a gas station off exit 22 of I-76. The morning was cool and a bit breezy, with scattered, nonthreatening clouds.

Once everybody showed up we had a quick drivers meeting then hit the road, running northeast on I-76 to exit 80. There we headed northbound on Colorado SH 52 to a T-junction with CO 14 at the southern border of the Pawnee National Grassland.

After a short jog to the east, we continue north on CO 71 through the Pawnee. Here we hit a bird. I’ve hit more birds in this car than all other cars combined. On my trip to Portland last year I hit two at once. Usually it’s high on the car but this one hit the front clam and ricocheted to the windshield wiper where it got lodged in the wiper arm. For a few seconds I thought the wind might take it, but, no, it’s stuck. I turned on the wiper hoping for the best but no luck. I have no choice other than to pull over and pull it out manually.

The Pawnee Grassland gives way to a checkerboard mix of ranch and open prairie. On the south edge of Kimball we cross under I-80. Time for a pit stop. The route instructions directed us to the Kwik Stop but we followed the Miata into the station across the intersection. After fuel and potty, we lined up with the other cars at the Kwik Stop. As usual, we drew a crowd. It’s always fun to see people’s reactions – lots of smiles.

Our next stop was a picnic lunch at Scotts Bluff National Monument, a couple miles west of Gering, NE. Between Kimball and Gering is forty more miles of checkerboard. Here, more of the checker squares have checkers on them: center-pivot irrigation systems and their attendant crop circles. At Gering, the directions send us north when 71 bends slightly east, but we split up and attacked the place from several directions. We headed downtown to grab sandwiches from Subway.

We had our picnic and socialized for a while then we drove to the top of the bluff. The road to the top is 1.6 miles long. After a 180 degree sweeping turn it passes through a tunnel that curve 90 degrees the other way. It zigs and zags, passing through two more tunnels before finally dumping onto a parking lot on a wide saddle below the summit of the bluff.

Above the parking lot, a trail makes a sort of bow-tie and affords nice views. Below the bluff to the east lie the conjoined towns of Gering, Terrytown, and Scottsbluff. Immediately below the trail to the east is a nice cluster of houses – the high rent district. A national monument on one side and golf course on the other.

IMG_1963_stitch_crop_resizeThe North Platte valley is to the north. Both the Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail passed through here. When driving in comfort though these vast, rugged spaces in the west I often try to imagine what the pioneers went through. Sell your house, if you have one, and buy a wagon and team. Pile all your worldly possessions into the wagon and making twenty miles on a good day. Risking it all, venturing into the great unknown. Scotts Bluff was about a third of the way from St. Louis to the west coast, perhaps the easiest third.

IMG_1967sI’m not sure why I started doing it, but whenever I come across a survey marker I take a picture of it. That doesn’t mean I have lots of pictures of survey markers; I don’t come across them every day. The one on the top of Scotts Bluff is interesting because of what has happened to it since it was placed there in 1933. Scotts Bluff is made up of soft sandstone with a cap of hard rock. Where the hard rock is gone, the sandstone is eroding away on a human time frame. Scotts Bluff is about a foot and a half lower now than it was in 1933.

Exiting the town of Scottsbluff, Mike missed a turn. We were second in line and didn’t catch the error and everybody followed us. Mike found somebody to ask directions and while we waited, Ross passed through the formation looking like he knew exactly where we were going. We took off after him. He correctly navigated us onto US 26 eastbound. I drove several hundred miles of US 26 last summer through Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming, but now we only followed it for a handful of miles before taking US 385 to Alliance.

For about twenty miles we’re out of the valley, away from the fields of checkers and back in prairie. Here we saw two pronghorn antelope running in our direction along the fence on the other side of the road. Our line of cars is probably a quarter mile long, and we slowed down considerably. The antelope switched direction a couple of times but were stymied by the fence.

In a field north of Alliance, a guy named Jim Reinders built an homage to Stonehenge out of old cars he’d gotten from nearby farms and dumps. Reinders noticed that the monolithic dimensions of cars from the fifties and sixties were similar to the stones at Stonehenge. They’ve painted the cars gray to make them look more like stones and they keep them from rusting away. There are some interesting cars in there – a Willy’s truck, a Gremlin, an old Plymouth like “Christine”.

IMG_1976sScattered around the property there are a number of large sculptures made out of car parts – a spawning salmon, a dinosaur, wind chimes, a Conestoga wagon. As built, Carhenge included three imported cars. These have been replaced by domestic cars and the foreigners ritually buried here, their grave marked by another junked car.

After a pass through the little gift shop, we started assembling for our departure. By now the skies were looking quite threatening. Here we had our first bit of rain, and it looked very nasty directly to the north of us. Luckily to get back on US 385 we had to jog a few miles to the west and we missed the biggest of the squalls. Along here we saw a couple of large birds in the grass along the road: a turkey and a ring neck pheasant.

Most of Nebraska looks just like what you expect Nebraska to look like – some farms, some ranches, a few feedlots. But just south of Chadron we pass through the Nebraska National Forest. I had no idea there were pine trees in Nebraska. Heck, there are hardly any trees at all. Genae found it a bit reminiscent of the area south of Flagstaff. Sadly, and perhaps obviously, this interlude was short and we were soon back to the more typical Nebraskan scenery.

After a pit stop in Chadron, we continue on 385 into South Dakota and through the Oglala National Grassland. Although the North and South Platte rivers were running high, they were within their banks. The rivers we’d been crossing lately were flooding. In addition, many low lying parts of the fields along the road had standing water.

At Oelrichs US 385 meets US 18. The two routes are conjoined until Hot Springs where 18 goes west. We continue north into Wind Cave National Park. We made another minor navigational error, missing the turn on SD 87. US 385 would take us into Custer, but we wanted the more scenic route through Custer State Park.

This is not a big park but it’s packed with things to see. It looks like parts of the place catch fire every few years so there’s an unusual mix of pine forest, recently burned areas, and open grassy hills and valleys. The hills are populated by an abundance of wildlife. In a few short miles we saw deer, antelope, and bison. A group of buffalo grazed very near the road, several cows and calves.

IMG_1990sOur accommodations for this trip were at the Bavarian Inn, a pleasant establishment on the north side of town. We got checked in, unloaded the car, and socialized over margaritas and snacks. There were no group plans for dinner, so we were all on our own. Nonetheless, almost everybody ended up in groups of four or six or eight at the Buglin’ Bull. They weren’t really prepared for so many guests and those who arrived later after us were there quite late. We were back to the hotel and in bed by 10:30.

Today’s drive: 421 miles.