Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Into the Mountains

Friday, June 10

It wasn't a terribly restful night, but I did get some decent sleep. Around 5:00 am, I woke up, put my shoes back on, and went inside.

No showers at this truckstop. Small restaurant and convenience store. I took a washcloth and some soap into the batrhoom and did a little "bath". I hate being dirty, especially smelly. For some reason, I didn't think I wanted breakfast there in the restaurant -- so I bought some coffee, grabbed a power bar and some dried fruit I'd brought, and I was on the road by 6:00 am.
Not far past Russell I lost T-Mobile reception and started getting WestLink. I gave Vicki a call. Partially because I was curious as to what roaming fees would show up on the bill, and partially because, well, she IS my wife and I do like talking to her :-)

I had my GPS with altimiter with me on the trip, and of course I was keeping an eye on it. We live at 710 feet above sea level. Salina, KS is around 1,200 feet, and from there to the Colorado border you go up to about 3,800 feet on what they call the "High Plains" [queue Clint Eastwood music].

As I approached Colorado, the general cloudiness gave way to puffy white clouds I could see over Eastern Colorado. The gravitational pull of the mountains is starting tug on the car. I can feel it.

I stopped at the first rest stop in Colorado and washed my hair with some camp soap and dried it in the hand dryer. I felt much better. Hopped in the car and cruised through Limon and got on 86 to head straight for the mountains through Castle Rock. Plus, it's a prettier drive in general than taking 70 to Denver. (Somewhere before Castle Rock, Phone Service switched to US04. ) Since I'm going to Idaho Springs first, this is probably the best route anyway.

Well, I thought it was. But there's STILL lots of construction going on around Castle Rock, and things slowed down quite a bit. Somewhere in Eastern Colorado, the GSM phone service changed from WestLink to US 590. Thunderstorms covered the front range -- still pretty, though. I drove through a doozie as I hit 470, and about then I decided to drive to the west side of the divide for the first night as I figured these were upslope storms and maybe they wouldn't be so bad on the west side.

12:04, got to Idaho Springs. 43 degrees. Raining. Hmmmmm. T-Mobile again. Oh well, one reason I'm here is lunch at the Two Brothers Deli. It's dry and warm in there. I met a vacationing retired couple there who didn't quite know what to do with the weather. It was spoiling their plans. I directed them to the Forest Service office across 70, which was where I was headed after lunch anyway. Had one of their great sandwiches and headed to the Forest Service office.

I met the couple from the Deli there. Mt. Evans road was closed past Echo Lake. Trail Ridge Road in RMNP was closed. They were directed to waterfalls in the Guenella Pass area. Me? I'm here to go over Oh My God Road (Virginia Canyon Road) because Vicki and Mark had refused to go in previous years.

This year, nobody else to consider. I was going.

It really isn't a bad road at all, although I hear back in the day it was practically a one lane road. It's easily a two lane road now, but no real shoulder in a lot of places. Still, with a little common courtesy and sensible driving -- not a problem at all. A little rain and snow flurries. That was all, weatherwise.

On some switchbacks, I stop to take pictures of Idaho Springs from above, and I can barely see Mt Evans through the clouds. You can't really see Evans from Idaho Springs down in the valley, but get up a couple of thousand feet from 70 and you can. I can also see Little Sugar Loaf off to the southwest, and I am looking DOWN on clouds -- something that I always think is cool.

The whole road was peppered with mines, some operational, some not. Every now and then you'd see a car at the bottom of a dropoff to give you a sense of forboding -- but my guess is that these proably didn't go over with people in them -- I'd bet they were junkers, pushed by locals over the edge just to see what would happen. They were obviously popular rifle and pistol targets as well. Near the top, the road is even paved and has guard rails, and there are many nice homes along the way.

Got over to Central City which at first looks like a quaint mountain town, but it's been overrun by casinos and the associated tourism so much that they've built ANOTHER 4-lane road from 70, cutting through the mountains straight to Central City -- you bypass Idaho Springs that way. Nothing to see here, folks -- move along. I took the new Parkway back to 70, then up to Empire to go over Berthoud Pass on US 40.

My car had been acting up since filling up at some station around Castle Rock. Acting up as in "no power". I'd filled with 85 octane. I thought that might be it. So I stopped in a little store in Berthoud Falls and got some fuel injector cleaner to add to the gas. It was the first time I noticed the altitude. About 9,500 feet or so. Kind of dizzy, a little disoriented -- easily confused if I don't concentrate.

From the store you could see new snow in the trees 500 feet up the mountain. "Down here" it was rain. Drove through the lane addition project construction on US 40 there and before I knew it it was snowing. Hard. The higher I went, the harder it snowed. By the time I reached the pass, there was maybe 1/4 mile visibility. The old abandoned Ski building that I saw there in 2001 was in the middle of being torn down (Guess the Interior Dept bought it and was removing it... good). Down from over 11,000 feet to about 10,000 the snow continued, then changed to rain and then it cleared out and was quite pretty.

I found some National Forest over by Granby Lake and drove in and looked for a place to camp. There were other people back there. I was a little leery because of Mark's and my experience in the national forest a couple of years ago and the partiers. But I saw a lot of retired people and RV's. It seemed like a different kind of place with lots of official signs and rules posted.

I found an empty spot and pulled my car in. I should have realized that this was a place tyically multiple people camped. Still, it was about 7:30pm and nobody else was around. I decided to hike my equimpent 1/2 mile across the bog on the valley floor and camp behind some trees, out of sight of the road.

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