Thursday, July 2, 2009

Colorado - Sterling, Greeley, Longmont, The Rockies, Denver, Central City, Castle Rock, Colorado Springs, Walsenburg, Trinidad, Pueblo

“I went outside. And there in the blue air I saw for the first time, far off, the great snowy tops of the Rocky Mountains. I took a deep breath. I had to get to Denver at once” (31).

“… he let me off at Longmont, Colorado….It was beautiful in Longmont under a tremendous old tree was a bed of green lawn-grass belonging to a gas station. I asked the attendant if I could sleep there, and he said sure; so I stretched out a wool shirt, laid my face flat on it, with an elbow out, and with one eye cocked at the snowy Rockies in the hot sun for just a moment….And here I am in Colorado! I kept thinking gleefully. Damn! damn! damn! I’m making it! And after a refreshing sleep filled with cobwebby dreams of my past life in the East …” (31).

“… and here I was in Denver. He let me off at Larimer Street. I stumbled along with the most wicked grin of joy in the world, among the old bums and beat cowboys of Larimer Street” (32).

“Off we rushed into the night; Carlo joined us in an alley. And we proceeded down the narrowest, strangest, and most crooked little city street I’ve ever seen, deep in the in heart of Denver Mexican-town” (39).

“Carlo’s basement apartment was on Grant Street in an old redbrick rooming house near a church” (42).

“… on the corner of Curtis and 15th [Denver]. I walked around the sad honkytonks of Curtis Street; young kids in jeans and red shirts; peanut shells, movie marquees, shooting parlors. Beyond the glittering street was darkness, and beyond the darkness the West. I had to go” (52).

“I wandered around Curtis Street and Larimer Street, worked awhile in the wholesale fruit market where I almost got hired in 1947 …” (169).

(not Curtis and Larimer, but still Denver)

“At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton” (169).

“It was with a great deal of silly relief that these people let us off the car at the corner of 27th and Federal. Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” (200).

“At night all the lights of Denver lay like a great wheel on the plain below, for the house was in that part of the West where the mountains roll down foothilling to the plain and where in primeval times soft waves must have washed from sealike Mississippi to make such round and perfect stools for the island-peaks like Pike and Longs” (203).

“The cousin dropped us off at the sad lights of a carnival on Alameda Boulevard at Federal” (205).

(Alameda Ave)

“We went to Mexican town, we went to Five Points, we reeled around” (252).

“Central City is an old mining town that was once called the Richest Square Mile in the World …” (46).

“It was a wonderful night. Central City is two miles high; at first you get drunk on the altitude, then you get tired, and there’s a fever in your soul” (48).

(Central City is one big tourist trap, featuring gambling. If you click on the picture, look to the right, and see the lowest green sign on the stoplight pole, you'll see "oh my God rd.")

“I wondered what the Spirit of the Mountain was thinking, and looked up and saw jackpines in the moon, and saw ghosts of old miners, and wondered about it. In the whole eastern dark wall of the Divide this night there was silence and the whisper of the wind, except in the great Western Slope, and the big plateau that went to Steamboat Springs, and dropped, and led you to the western Colorado desert and mountain nook, mad drunken Americans in the mighty land. We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess—across the night, eastward over the Plains, where somewhere an old man with white hair was probably walking toward us with the Word, and would arrive any minute and make us silent.” (50)

(this picture appears again below)

“At night in this part of the West the stars, as I had seen them in Wyoming, are big as roman candles and as lonely as the Prince of the Dharma who’s lost his ancestral grove and journeys across the spaces between points in the handle of the Big Dipper, trying to find it again. So they slowly wheeled the night, and then long before actual sunrise the great red light appeared far over the dun bleak land toward West Kansas and the birds took up their trill above Denver.” (211).

“The kind of utter darkness that falls on a prairie like that is inconceivable to an Easterner. There were no stars, no moon, no light whatever except the light of Mrs. Wall’s kitchen. What lay beyond the shadows of the yard was an endless view of the world that you wouldn’t be able to see till dawn” (216).

(there was a moon, but the prairie was still extremely dark without all the phosphorescent pollution of city lights).

“It didn’t seem we were even going seventy but all the cars fell from us like dead flies on the straightaway highway leading up to Greeley.” (214)

“Reason why we’re going northeast is because, Sal, we must absolutely visit Ed Wall’s ranch in Sterling, you’ve got to meet him and see his ranch and this boat cuts so fast we can make it without any time trouble and get to Chicago long before that man’s train.” (214)

(Sterling, CO. Ugly as hell.)

“It grew dark when we turned off the highway at Junction and hit a dirt road that took us across dismal East Colorado plains to Ed Wall’s ranch in the middle of Coyote Nowhere.” (214)

“’Look out!’ Yelled Dean, who didn’t give a damn and wrestled with his Angel a moment, and we ended up backass in the ditch with the front out on the road. A great stillness fell over everything. We heard the whining wind. We were in the middle of the wild prairie.” (215)

“Beyond we saw the light of Ed Wall’s ranch house. Around this lonely light stretched hundreds of miles of plains” (216).

“I walked out and took a trolley to my apartment, and Carlo Marx’s papier-mache mountains grew red as the great sun rose from the eastward plains” (45).

“Now we pointed our rattle snout south and headed for Castle Rock, Colorado, as the sum turned red and the rock of the mountains to the west looked like a Brooklyn brewery in November dusks. Far up in the purple shades of the rock there was someone walking, walking, but we could not see; maybe that old man with the white hair I had sensed years ago up in the peaks. Zacatecan Jack. But he was coming closer to me; if only ever just behind. And Denver recede back of us like the city of salt, her smokes breaking up in the air and dissolving to our sight.” (255)

“We passed Castle Rock, came to Colorado Springs at dark. The great shadow of Pike’s Peak loomed to our right. We bowled down the Pueblo highway” (256).

(Castle Rock)

(Colorado Springs)


“We passed Walsenburg; suddenly we passed Trinidad” (257).


(This captures my general experience of the west, and pretty much everywhere else, thus far--authenticity corrupted by ubiquitous commercialism)

(Garden of the Gods, CO)
(The Rockies)
(View from Dream Lake, in the Rockies)

(On top of some boulder in the Rockies)

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I left Rapid City, SD around mid-afternoon, rolled through surprisingly scenic western Nebraska, and arrived in Colorado in the evening. I came in and noticed the elevation signs posted underneath signs announcing the existence of a small town, and I wondered at what point would the elevation change manifest itself physically in me, if at all. I only noticed a change while having a few beers later that night (much easier to get buzzed when you're a mile above sea level), and the next day when I decided to hike in the Rockies (who has time to get acclimated?)

But my initial impressions of Colorado weren't so fantastic; Sterling seemed like your average mid-sized town you can find anywhere--nothing to make it stand out. The same for seedy-feeling Greeley, and Longmont saw the beginning of the trend of omnipresent cyclists and fitness junkies of all types. Which made me wonder: you'd think with everyone working out (Colorado being the most fit state in big fat America), the endorphins would make most people at least borderline approachable/affable. Maybe it's just my luck to talk to fifteen assholes in a row, but Colorado didn't seem to offer a lot in friendliness, much less hospitality. The only conversation I had with anyone in my four days in that state was with a passing park ranger on my way up a trail in the Rockies, and our conversation was limited to how to stay safe during the lighting storm that was going on around us. In Utah, I discussed this anomaly in conviviality with a few people, and they validated my experience as typical Colorado. Definitely one of the least friendly states I've visited yet.

But despite it's people, Colorado had a lot to offer in terms of diverse scenery and outdoor activity. I enjoyed the landscape, from the Rocky mountains to the scrubby, some-kind-of-desert located around Pueblo. The Rockies were expectantly magnificent, even as I was getting soaked and rattled from thunder booming across craggy peaks and slopes dense with pine. So that was an experience, as well as the first real hike into wilderness I've had up to that point in my journey. The air was pure and cold, and when standing on top of certain boulders and peaks you can't help but realize that what's passing through and around you, being exhaled at two miles above sea level, may not be breathed in by another solitary human being on a mountain at that height (or higher) until it wisps its way to Europe. Immense.

I couldn't find anyone else to stay with anywhere in the state (more than twenty requests sent out via brought no replies), so I drove south to Colorado Springs, Pueblo, etc., to Raton, New Mexico, then southeast to Dalhart, Texas, contemplated driving to Amarillo and back that night (but was tired and didn't want to drive three hundred more miles), so I swung north to Boise City, Oklahoma, and back up to Colorado, where I finally stopped in La Junta to sleep in a rest area. I woke up four hours later, drove a hundred or so miles to Central City, then Cheyenne, Wyoming, rolled across that beautiful state until I had car trouble and had to get towed the awesome distance of 133 miles into Utah. Up until the point I had to get towed, I had driven 1,306 miles in the past 22 hours, not including the four-hour nap, two hours for various small meals, and a total of almost four hours spent in the nearly one dozen towns/cities I've visited across the five states I've driven through in the past day and a half. It averages out to 59.36 miles per hour, a full 10 mph average slower than when Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty (Jack and Neal) drove from Denver to Chicago in 17 hours. I just can't break that record, but it's all right anyway.

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