Can it be that people in Colorado drive slower than those in neighboring states?
I’m sure somebody keeps those records, but it seemed that way. Anyway, the Centennial State’s oxygen-rich, high-altitude air did offer a temporary distraction from the constant warning of the CHECK ENGINE light upon our arrival in the Rocky Mountains.
Alice’s daughter, Joanie, and son, Ed, welcomed us with open arms. Because Joanie suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), she already enjoyed some relief from its effects through medical marijuana. Due to its recent legalization for recreational use, she shared stash obtained for that purpose. The sense of open community realized from passing of that first joint was as refreshing as the calming effects from deeply inhaling the distinctly scented smoke characteristic of “wacky tobaccy.”
Ed doesn’t smoke weed, so after an hour of Colorado family hospitality at their Ponderosa cabin settlement, he drove us the few miles down US-285 – where an incessant line of weekend traffic leaving Aspen allowed scant opportunity to merge onto the highway – to Rustic Station, a well-patronized watering hole and restaurant with high-definition TVs in the center of Bailey.
Upon our arrival, everyone’s attention was focused on the bar and grill’s televisions, because the Broncos’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs was tied 17-17. Once Denver scored the game-winning touchdown, the restaurant erupted in infectious cheers for the home team. This spontaneous celebration offered a perfect distraction from imagined catastrophe earlier in the day.
The grub we ordered – a cheeseburger with sweet potato fries and fish and chips – was familiar and edible, especially welcome since Alice and I chose not to stop for lunch during the looming prospect of Denver’s football fans clogging the expressways.
Even though our sleeping quarters were confined, they were comfortable, and we slept like contented babies overnight and awoke Monday morning to Rocky Mountain splendor. Across the road from our high-altitude oasis was an awe-inspiring tableau of greenery nestled around craggy mountaintops. What a wonderful view Joanie and Ed were privileged to behold each morning.
As we dressed and sipped morning coffee, I felt a pressing need to get back on the road. If I could limp Betsy across the Continental Divide – which would mean driving back down to Denver and then ascending up Interstate 70 – to a temporary three-day haven offered by my brother’s first family in Grand Junction, Colo., we could get the Ford Escape’s problem diagnosed and perhaps fixed.
Alice and I said our goodbyes to her offspring, and went to a quirky café populated by distinctively outfitted regulars and motorcycle enthusiasts. As we were walking out, we struck up a conversation with a congenial, middle-aged couple who offered an inviting option to the aforementioned route my GPS recommended.
Keep heading southwest on US-285 up the mountains and descend into the town of Fairplay, they urged, where we would turn north on Colorado Highway 9 through Hoosier Pass, where spectacular scenery and an altitude of 11,541 feet would await. That’s quite a climb for Betsy, I thought, but nowhere near the challenge of descending back to the Mile-High City and steeply ascending again to brave the Eisenhower Tunnel and heights beyond.
We mutually chose the less-traveled scenic route, and that’s where – with the nagging CHECK ENGINE light continuing to unsettle me – the following travelogue section reveals some of the wonders that mesmerized us. (Photos by Alice McCormick.
Before we left Bailey, we couldn’t resist the urge to visit our first pot shop, Sunrise Solutions. The windows are darkened to shield young curiosity seekers’ eyes from being tainted by the evil weed inside. Once in the shop, we were treated to an enthusiastic presentation of various strains of weed with oddball names, a far cry from the old days when a toker was left to decide whether the pot was just good or bad.
One relevant observation: Because of how much recreational marijuana is taxed and regulated, its cost is reputed to be twice the black market price.
A changing landscape of productive ranches and mountain scenery unfolded around every bend.
We never realized how much the wondrous vistas would change until we entered the chic town of Breckenridge, known as much for its film festival as the ski resorts in the mountains above.
Near Breckenridge are the pristine Dillon Reservoir and its dam that evoke serious security concerns since the vast snow melt provides Denver with drinking water.
Heading out of town toward I-70, a newly enlarged four-lane highway accommodates a rapidly growing local population.
Immediately before the 10,666-foot Vail Pass on the Interstate, we stopped for a bathroom break at a rest stop. Once we parked according to signage, Alice and I encountered real-life hippies of the modern era.
Coming down from the Vail area, where we observed recently built high-end townhouses, mountains appeared less daunting in scope and the CHECK ENGINE light not so imminent.
The road ahead challenged Betsy one final time, as we entered Glenwood Canyon. This engineering feat positioned the interstate highway, a well-used railroad and the mighty Colorado River together.
As the mileage toward Grand Junction dropped into single figures, I began to relax as road signs beckoned us into a land of civilization, where fast-food shops, tony housing developments, medical centers and lots of traffic awaited.
We pulled off at a designated exit, found the closest supermarket where we bought some cat litter and disposable litter boxes to accommodate Millie, whose infrequent serenades of complaint reminded us we were not alone.
A phone call to Mary, our future hostess with the most-est, confirmed the GPS directions to a first-floor condominium in the heart of Grand Junction. Within 15 minutes of our conversation, we pulled into her driveway, eager to enjoy a respite from four hard days of driving.
With recreational marijuana dancing in our heads, she led us to a place where we could enjoy a recently rolled joint. We lit the inviting doobie and passed it around, as Alice mused, “Welcome to Colorado.”
We were safe and nestled in the bosom of protective family – at least for the next three days.
The conclusion of this adventure continues here.