Sunday, August 21, 2005

Echoes from the Road: Summer Road Trip 2005, Day 3

Las Vegas, Baby!
Thurs, June 23, 2005
Las Vegas, New Mexico that is.

Santa Fe
One of the things about touring is that even though you get to go to great places, you don't always get to see, or visit them. I arrived in Santa Fe late in the day on Weds. A friend of mine has offered me the use of his house, which turns out to be an incredible "Territorial" style townhouse in an older part of the city. It's so comfortable and I'm so tired from two days of driving that I sit outside on the patio until dark, reading some of the books he has. It's nice and quiet, my friend is gone, rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. After dark I have dinner at one of my favorite places to eat in Santa Fe, La Choza. Great New Mexican Cuisine!

I leave Santa Fe this morning on Hwy I-25 north. The air, even on a summer day is cool and pleasant. I don't want to leave. I head east, through Glorieta Pass, skirting the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Glorieta Pass is home to Pecos Pueblos, one of the largest pueblos in historic times. The Pueblo was occupied as recently as 1838. A major trading center between the Pueblo Cultures of the Rio Grande valley and the Plains Cultures, many believe that the Native American flute entered the plains from the pueblos by way of trading at Pecos. At the east side of the pass highway I-25 turns to the north and parallels the Sangre de Cristos on the east side. Soon I come to the town of Las Vegas.

With it's quaint historic downtown plaza I feel like I've stepped back in time. The buildings seem frozen in the late 19th early 20th century.

The main street leading up to the plaza is lined with antique stores and funky shops that look like they would lots of fun to check out.

Many of the houses are also quite fun. Time is short and I have many miles to go today so I head back to the highway.

North of town the highway veers to the east and soon the mountains, pines and junipers are all gone. Replaced by the high, flat, seemingly endless plains of eastern New Mexico. Luckily this doesn't last long.

Entering Colorado and Garden of the Gods
Soon I'm crossing the Raton Pass, highest point of the Santa Fe Railway, and into Colorado. I drive through Trinidad and Pueblo heading for Colorado Springs. By the time I arrive there late in the afternoon, a thunder storm looms dark over head. It's raining pretty hard in spots and the rush hour traffic has slowed my progress. While sitting in traffic, once again my truck starts to act up. It's idling very rough and threatens to die on me. Between the long drive, the traffic and my engine troubles I'm craving a comfy chair and some caffeine. Preferably tea, but anything will do. I planned to stop in Colorado Springs becasue my friends in Denver had suggested that I stop and check out the rock formations in Garden of the Gods in the foothill above town. I find the exit and my car limps up the road. The traffic is awful even on the city streets (am I still in LA?).
When finally I pull into the visitors center's parking lot at Garden of the Gods the sky is threatening rain and lightning is visible in the distance. Above all this Pike's Peak looms in the distance. Look closely, there's my green truck in the photo above.

The rocks are pretty cool. However, I'm tired and grumpy. I think to myself "I've seen nicer sandstone fins in Arches" and, to make matters more annoying, in the background, on each side of the park there are houses and other buildings that are plainly visible.
Maybe it's just me, but I like to view natural features like these with out "civilization" in the view. I wait in line at the cafe to get some tea, an apple and some potato salad and go out to the observation deck to try and reconfigure my head to appreciate what I'm looking at. ...It's not working. Somehow looking across a busy road at the rocks isn't imparting the peace and tranquility that I think this view should have. And quite frankly, I'm worried about my truck breaking down. While lost in these thoughts, a flash of black and white suddenly streaks across my gaze. I look up and there on the edge of the roof is a very cool looking bird.

It's a Black-billed Magpie. I've never seen one before. Magpies it turns out are Corvids, that family of birds which includes Crows, Jays and Ravens! No wonder I think he's cool. While watching him, he makes several dives from the roof down to the observation deck and steals food left behind on some empty tables. Later, one of the employees comes out and tosses him some peanuts. He grabs one and flys off toward the parking lot with it. Others arrive, and they too grab some peanuts and carry them down to the parking lot below. They gather together, some calling out loudly, others perching on lamp posts. They seem to fly around with purpose, yet abandon. Watching them gives me a sense of wild I'm looking for in the rocks across the road. True, it's in the parking lot of a visitors center. But these birds are things that are not manufactured by humans. They live in amongst human settings, but they are not part of humans plans. For me they are a small reminder of a wilder world beyond ours. Plus they're just fun to watch. Now the rocks make sense. My mood lifts as I head back to the highway. The rain is now coming down hard, the lightning strikes closer and the sky is turning very dark. My truck is still running very rough and seems to lack it's normal power. A worry that nags me as I continue on my drive, arriving later that evening where I will spend the next week: Denver.

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