How does one describe beauty that gives new life? It’s not so much something you can describe, but something you feel. Possibilities are endless. Good things await. Beauty surrounds all, exudes all, is all. The grass is greener on the other side.
As we left Denver, we rose up the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I-70 provided this gateway to a landscape unlike any other. Red Rocks beckoned as we passed the green highway sign indicating the exit. The literal red rocks jutted up from the earth at extreme angles and in contrast to the surrounding green evergreens and aspen trees and my mind wandered back to U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday erupting from the speakers at this otherworldly amphitheater in central Colorado.
The sun was rising on our backside as we continued west. The highway moved quickly as we rose into the mountains. Beautiful, evergreens lined the view along with shades of jagged gray stone that looked as if a giant toddler had tossed them around and left them sitting in their unnatural spot strewn across the landscape. The curves in the wide gray road were sharp and lined the river as the blue and clear waters cascaded over the rocks and around the bend.
I was just starting to get the hang of driving without cruise control as we ascended into the mountains and began to even forget about needing to maintain a certain speed as the road dictated our safe velocity. My heart began to pump that new life through my veins and my eyes wandered about.
Left. Right. Up. Down. And everywhere in between, trying to return my eyes to the road only as needed to keep an eye out for slow moving big rigs and older vehicles that had lost their one time great power.
As we drove the road signs of excursions also called to distract us from our mission of Alaska in 8 days. Idaho Springs. Georgetown. Silverthorne. Breckenridge. Copper Mountain. My memories went back to my high school days from Colorado and I recalled many adventures into these rocky mountains; hiking, camping, skiing, and roadtripping.
Yet, we continued on without a stop, except for the obligatory Starbucks pitstop in Frisco (Breckenridge) to awaken all of our senses with caffeine. We have been huge coffee lovers for some time, but not just any coffee because we can’t drink it black. We love our coffee in the most foofoo way—flavored lattes. Starbucks was the king of our lattes (at least at this time in our lives.) We also needed to purchase that also obligatory Tourism Mug indicating we made our stop at Starbucks in Colorado.
What started as a seemingly endless road into the mountains of Colorado, ended rather quickly as we descended on the other side just four hours later. The magnificence of what we witnessed and experienced on our drive captivated us in such a manner that time seemed to stand still. It was all ending much quicker than we expected.
The highway curved sharper and the rocks became rockier. The water pumped quickly through the gulley along the highway and we descended through the beauty of Glenwood Springs and eventually Grand Junction, Colorado.
Sidenote: Grand Junction was the location of the busiest McDonald’s in all of Colorado. I only know this because my sister Terri and I had worked at the 2nd busiest McDonald’s in Limon, Colorado shortly after I graduated high school.
The mountains began to fade in our rearview mirror as we drove along the plateau of western Colorado and entered Utah.
While we were pleasantly surprised when we entered Colorado the day before and the speed limit went up to 75 mph, we were almost blown away when Utah declared our safe driving speed as 80 mph. We’re going to make some good time, I thought as I pressed on the gas pedal. But, just as I did that, I noticed we were low on gas and we began to look for a place to stop.
Worry began to creep in because after we left the Grand Junction area, we had not seen much civilization. The area was desolate and very few signs even strewn along the highway. My mind began to imagine being stuck on the side of the highway without a gas can, cell phone service or any way to obtain our needed fuel. We were on a timeline and needed to drive more than 16 hours that day to reach Heidi’s cousin’s house in Carson City, Nevada.
We were certainly making good time with the higher speed limit, but couldn’t afford to be walking along the highway at that slower rate of speed. Suddenly, we noticed a sign that indicated the option to Moab, Utah and Arches National Park. Oh, how I would love to go to that area, I thought. Time to make a mental note for a future trip.
“I would love to go south here,” I told Heidi.
“What’s Arches National Park?” she asked.
“Oh, my. It’s some incredibly beautiful red rocks across a red desert landscape. It’s kinda like what I was telling you about Red Rocks near Denver, but everywhere you look,” I explained. “I don’t know much else, but I’ve seen some pictures and it looks amazing. It’s too far off our path and would take too much time, but we have to come back!”
“Sounds like fun, but first things first,” she laughed. “We need gas. I hope there is some at this exit.”
As I pulled off, I noticed a building off to the right near the exit. It had some strange signs around it and kind of looked like it might be another deserted gas station from days gone by. That’s when I noticed several old cars parked near it, that were dressed up to look like cars from the Disney cartoon movie, Cars.
“Oh gosh, look at those,” I pointed.
“That is too funny. Those are so cute,” Heidi responded.
“Well, let’s see if they are actually open and have gas,” I wondered out loud.
We pulled into the gas station that looked desolate and a bit deserted, hoping to refuel. As we drove over a tube on the dusty ground, a ding, ding sound rang out and I almost laughed remembering gas stations from my childhood.
“Sounds like someone is here, look they even have pay at the pump,” I pointed out as we pulled up to the gas pumps.
“We’re using cash,” Heidi reminded me. “Until it’s gone anyway.”
“I know,” I said even though I had forgotten. “I just thought that was a good sign for actually still being in business!”
I caught site of another vehicle that was painted up like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo across the way.
As I got ready to pump the gas, I noticed the sticker indicating that I had to prepay in order to use cash so I went inside to give them my deposit. It was a small gas station with quite a few food items to purchase in the small space. It felt cluttered and congested even though I was the only one inside besides the clerk behind the counter.
I handed him two twenties and said that I was going to fill it up. I walked back out and filled up the car while Heidi went to the restroom. As I finished filling up, I returned the gas nozzle to the pump and walked back inside to get my change. Another traveler had arrived and was inside, making the small space feel even smaller. I waited for them to check out and looked around, not so much for food because we brought that, but more to check out my surroundings and see why it was so cluttered.
As I did, I noticed several signs with pictures up on the wall for missing people, mostly women. That’s when I noticed, it wasn’t several, but they were everywhere. Sign after sign after sign.
Missing person, last seen in the area in February, please contact if you have seen her or know anything. Reward available. My mind began to wander as it suddenly felt like a scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I quickly checked out, received my change and then ushered Heidi out as she exited the restroom.
“What?!! Why are we in such a hurry?” she asked.
“Let’s just go. I’ll explain later.”
“Don’t you have to go to the restroom?”
“A bit, but I can wait. Let’s go. Get in,” I said as we arrived back at the car.
We got back in the car and without peeling out, but wanting to, we quickly exited the gas station back onto the road and quickly back onto the highway.
“I wanted to see those CARS up closer and take a few pics!” Heidi exclaimed.
“Yeah, me too, until I saw those signs inside. Didn’t you see them?!?”
“No, you rushed me out of there! I wanted a pack of gum too!” she explained.
“Sorry, but I think I was saving your life. Mine too,” I assured her.
I went on to describe what I saw and she was more than appreciative as we headed back down the highway. Utah moved pretty quickly too as we continued 80 miles per hour down I-70.
That is, until we got to Salina where shortly after we started on “The Loneliest Road in America.”
More on that next week.
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Shawn’s wrote a book about his life growing up on the move titled—NEVER SETTLED: a memoir of a boy on the road to manhood