Saturday, May 20
The “free” breakfast at this hotel was out of the ordinary: build your own breakfast burritos. Soft corn tortillas, scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese, and green chili. Unfortunately, the corn tortilla wasn’t up to the job: any attempt to pick it up to eat it resulted in catastrophic containment failure. It was far from the best breakfast burrito I’ve had, but compared to the “free” hotel breakfasts I’ve had on my last couple of trips, it was a step up.
Today’s plan for the group was to spend the morning at the Colorado National Monument. We’d have our picnic lunch at the visitor center, departing at 12:30.
I had to get my brake caliper bolt taken care of. I went to the place around the corner but it was deserted. I got the phone out and searched for another place. I went there, it was also closed. The next one was an address that turned out to be smack in the middle of a mobile home park. Fourth, fifth, and sixth places all closed. All of these shops were within a couple of miles of each other. Searching for another shop was a bit like doom scrolling: closed, closed, closed.
That left me with few choices. I could go to the local Walmart or a new car dealer. I elected to try the local Buick dealer. Yes, in retrospect, I would have saved myself some time by trying to call all those places, but I thought it would be easier just to show up rather than trying to describe my issue.
I did have to describe the issue to the Buick dealer and that resulted in being put on hold while the person who answered my call talked to a service writer. I didn’t bother telling them what kind of car I was driving, just that I need this thing done pronto and that I could do it myself in ten minutes if I had the tools. They said they could help me out, so off I went.
Luckily, they weren’t busy. Naturally, they were surprised to see a Lotus. Every new car dealer service department I’ve been to has a protocol they follow: log the VIN in their system, get my name and address and mileage of the car. A guy even wanted to plug a tool into the OBDII port, but the service writer told him not to bother. When they went to take it to the shop, I was asked if it was a manual transmission. These days, nobody knows how to drive stick, so it took them another minute to get someone who could work a manual transmission to move it.
I took a seat in their lounge and waited, wondering both how long it would take and how much they’d charge me. I was a bit surprised when, half an hour later, the service writer came to the lounge to give me my keys.
I asked him, “What’s the damage?”
Wow. That was better than I could have expected.
Lacking the notes for the trip, I relied on my phone to navigate me to the Colorado National Monument. There are two entrances. The group’s plan was to enter through the southern one and exit through the northern one. Naturally, my phone directed me to the northern one. I didn’t realize this until I started seeing familiar cars going the other way.
I wanted to take a couple of very short hikes. One was right after the entrance I was supposed to use and the other about midway through the drive. Due to all my running around, I didn’t have time to go all the way to the other end, do the hikes, and make it to our picnic spot in the allotted time. So I just did the second, shorter hike. It’s all good: at least I got out of the car and walked about a mile.
This short hike starts near the Coke Ovens overlook. There’s a much longer trail here as well, but I just headed to a spot right next to the Coke Ovens rock formation. It’s about half a mile from the road to the end, and descends a bit less than two hundred feet. The other trail here is the Independence Monument trail. I encountered a German couple who were on their way up. “It is much farther than you’re going, and it’s quite hot!” There is an entire network of trails around here which might be more fun in April when it’s not so hot. (Not that today was hot, but the sun was shining brightly, and it looks like there is very little shade to be found.)
After my little hike, I went back to the visitor center to find the rest of the group for our picnic. I left the picnic a few minutes early. Everybody else had been able to gas up in the morning. I needed a pit stop. Rather than leave with the group only to be abandoned at a gas station, I left early. I record my fuel consumption every time I fill up. I made my notes and was a bit surprised that this last tank yielded me 36.6 miles per gallon. When I looked up from my phone, I saw a green Europa pass by and get on the highway. But I only saw the one car, and I think he joined us midway through the day yesterday, so I thought maybe he was heading off on his own.
I fired up the car and hit the highway. We had a few miles of interstate to deal with, so I got on the highway and established a leisurely pace, five or ten miles an hour under the limit. This was a calculated risk. If I had missed seeing 20 brightly colored cars passing the gas station, I’d be getting farther and farther behind. Without directions. If the Europa was on his own, the group would catch me and all would be good.
Before long, I saw a long line of brightly colored cars in my mirror. I was back in the pack!
After our stint on the interstate, we finally would be driving on roads I’d never traveled. I love new roads. This one goes over Grand Mesa and is called the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. Wikipedia tells me that Grand Mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world.
Sometime after we left the interstate and started climbing the Mesa, I spotted Ross driving the other way. What the? How did he get ahead of us, and why was he going the other way? A few turns later, I found out why. It turns out the green Europa wasn’t off on his own, he was at the tail of a group of cars who left before Mike. They were all, except Ross, parked on the side of the road. Well, not exactly the side of the road. They were as far off the road as they could get, which wasn’t far. Everybody’s left tires were still on the road.
Chris W. had his 4-way flashers on and everybody was out of their cars. We learned that they came around a bend to find some large rocks on the road. One rock was described as the size of your head. Ross hit it, the next car managed to miss it, and Chris W. hit it. Ross couldn’t continue and took his car back to the last town while the gang set to work attempting to patch Chris’s tire. They tried a couple of plugs, but there was no way they could fix it.
Cindy lives not terribly far from here, and she has a full set of tires mounted and balanced, so she went home to get a tire so Chris could continue. The rest of us continued on our way.
Next to hitting a giant rock on the road, my brake caliper bolt and Jeff’s windshield wiper were minor inconveniences.
Before we stopped, the day had been downright toasty. This incident with the rock was at high elevation, though, and I was happy to put on my hoodie. I’d taken the top off the car before our picnic. Now we were at elevation and the clear skies were getting less clear. At 50mph with the top off, it was starting to get chilly. Then, of course, it started to rain. It wasn’t a hard rain, seldom enough to require more than the intermittent wiper setting. But I was getting wet, and that rain was cold!
At our next stop, in Hotchkiss, the three of us who had been running topless all decided it might be better to put the tops back on. It was a sound decision. Before long the rain was coming down hard. In places, it seemed like small rivers were crossing the road. I never hydroplaned, but it was wet and I was happy to be dry. Well, as dry as one can be in an Elise in the rain.
Checking into the hotel, I was standing next to Mike. He asked a question I never thought I’d hear from a Lotus driver: “Did you get enough curves?” Well, it wasn’t so much the question that was unexpected, as that after asking it, he said he did.
With our extended stop on the side of the road, we arrived at our hotel in Gunnison a bit later than expected. We got checked in and a few minutes later made our separate ways to the restaurant. Before our orders had arrived, Cindy, Chris, and their companions showed up at the restaurant, to much applause. We were all happy to see them.
Sunday, May 21
My hotel room was not the best one. I am right across the hall from the elevator. I thought that would be the worst part about it, but I am also directly above the lobby. The problem with that is, I could hear the front doors open and close whenever anybody came or went. I tried to use the fan on air conditioning unit to mask the noise, but the controls were slightly broken. Slightly, in that the temperature control knob just turned and turned but didn’t affect the output. And of the six or seven positions on the fan control knob, only “Cool High” and “Stop” were working. The fan did cover the noise of the doors downstairs, but after about twenty minutes, icicles were starting to form so I had to shut it off.
I woke up for a short while a bit after 2 am. You might think nobody would be going in and out through the lobby at that time of night, but you’d be wrong. I did manage to fall back asleep and just before I woke up, I had an odd little dream. In the dream, I was in my living room at home when a small bus crashed into the house. I asked the driver what happened and she pointed to a woman in the seat behind her. “She had a heart attack!” This is dream logic in effect. A passenger on the bus has a heart attack and causes an accident.
Over breakfast, I asked Ross how badly damaged his car is. He said the oil pan was okay and that he wasn’t losing any fluids. He thinks the exhaust was crushed, causing too much back pressure. The car ran, but only at an idle. He could drive downhill, but it was no good uphill or on the level. He managed to get it down to the safety of a parking lot at the Powderhorn ski area.
Today we were back on familiar roads. We’d head east from Gunnison and take CO 114 to Saguache. The plan for the group was to take US 285 to US 50 and ultimately picnic at the Royal Gorge. Before we left the hotel, I was undecided whether I’d stay with everybody else or head home from Salida. As the morning went on, I developed a slight headache. That was the deciding factor.
Here’s a short video made up of footage I shot over the three days. Oh, and cleaning out the car after I got home, I found my route notes. They managed to hide themselves under the passenger seat.
Here’s another video. I left this one in 360 mode, so you can pan and scroll and zoom. It’s a part of Glenwood Canyon between two of the tunnels. I’m old enough to have some memory of this canyon before it was interstate, when it was a two-lane road. The canyon is quite scenic and unlike any other canyon in the state.
Way back when, there was a movement to get the 1976 Winter Olympics to Colorado. As part of this, there was a ballot initiative asking voters if they wanted to put the interstate through the canyon. I may be misremembering, but it was defeated, and we couldn’t get the Olympic Games without the highway. Nonetheless, they started working on putting I-70 through the canyon in 1980. It was completed in 1992, and it’s a marvel of highway engineering and has been featured in at least one book published by National Geographic extolling the work. The project required 30 million pounds of structural steel, 30 million pounds of reinforcing steel, and 400,000 cubic yards of concrete weighing 1.62 billion pounds.
It’s a fantastic stretch of road, but it’s not without problems. Quite often, there are rockslides that damage the road and cause closures. These have been more common recently, due to wildfires in the area. The living trees hold the soil together, and with the trees dead or gone, any severe rains tend to cause rockslides.