Four-day Colorado Road Trip

When my friend from Tulsa, a friend from antiquity (circa 1973), and I planned the road trip about four months ago, it probably involved rigorous backpacking. As it was, we did carry our tents and bags out of his car and set them up nearby in a mist of mosquitoes, and that’s roughing it for a few minutes.

When we started the trip, my friend was named Charles. When we ended it, he was Samuel. His name always was Samuel Charles, but he eschewed “Sam” and so became “Charles” decades ago. Now he’s starting a new chapter in life and going with Samuel. There’s a history of name changes signifying identity changes (think of Abram/Sarai and Abraham/Sarah). I’m going with chaos theory on that one—that a small change can ultimately make a big (and hopefully desired) difference.

map of road trip
The main stops or landmarks for our trip, clockwise, are in bold.


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Del Norte

While we hiked the Colorado Trail at Kenosha Pass for hundreds of feet, the first significant stop was in Poncha Springs, where we played nine holes of the disc golf course, a truly fun course comprised mostly of rock, trees, and dirt.

Our next stop was on the land where my daughter Laura and her partner, Marc, are building a shop and home out of rock, trees, and dirt.

marc and chain for pulling things around his should
Meet Marc, with his stone and wood shop taking shape. The electricity is solar, the toilets are composting, the water is sometimes captured from an underground stream and sometimes toted in.

marc, samuel, and laura
Laura, Samuel, and Marc (cleaned up)…with the small cabin in the back that holds them until they build the stone house.

Laura, me, Samuel
Laura, me, Samuel up a hillside where Marc built a solar-powered conveyor for moving rocks from the cliff to the worksite.

Samuel and I spent the night in a large trailer that Marc had rebuilt, Laura’s dog staying outside our door for most of the night, awaiting the chance to greet us in the morning.

We headed out and spent the night in Del Norte (“dell nort”—mispronounced in the long tradition of locals deliberately mispronouncing their home town)—in the home of Laura and Marc.

Samuel & I spent the first night on the stone-house property, and the next night in town (Del Norte) where Marc keeps his drums.

A beautiful thing about Del Norte is that the Rio Grande runs through it, its headwaters being northwest of the town.

Rio Grand
We left Del Norte and headed toward Creede, an old mining town. Here the Rio Grand runs quite clear and fast.


town sign for Creede
Quoting Wikipedia, “Creede was the last silver boom town in Colorado in the 19th century. The town leapt from a population of 600 in 1889 to more than 10,000 people in December 1891. . . . The Willow Creek site was soon renamed Creede after Nicholas C. Creede who discovered the Holy Moses Mine.”

Creede street
You can see the street is blocked off—we happened to show up at the end of “Gravity Derby Day” (feel free to indulge in the 2 second video at the end of this post for the final gravity-driven bike race at time-lapse speed).

art on side of outdoor store
Outdoor shop with a built-in pub for those who like to sip a beer while they peruse the goods.

Memorials for the Army, Air Force, and National Guard
Memorials for the Army, Air Force, and National Guard, a reminder that small towns often supply recruits to the armed forces: “More than 44 percent of U.S. military recruits come from rural areas, Pentagon figures show. In contrast, 14 percent come from major cities. Youths living in the most sparsely populated Zip codes are 22 percent more likely to join the Army, with an opposite trend in cities. Regionally, most enlistees come from the South (40 percent) and West (24 percent)” (Youths in Rural U.S. Are Drawn To Military).

road to silver mines
The road leading to abandoned silver mines north of town. We walked about a half mile (but the road continues much further!)

There’s a self-guided tour of the mining area, The Bachelor Loop, something I wish I had investigated and hope to follow some day.
But as it was, we headed west.

freemons general store
Beyond Creede sits “Freemons General Store” which holds a good reputation for its food (burgers, fries, onion rings and “Shake’s” as the sign has it).
They accepted only cash, allowing Samuel to once again treat me to a meal.

After that we headed further west toward Lake City, named after Lake San Cristobal (a natural lake that, according to one source, has an origin story of epic proportions, formed as it was by a natural dam, the sort of dam that normally doesn’t last 700 years).

Samuel had mentioned pine bark beetle destruction, and I naively thought he was thinking of the corridor along I-70, but, no, large swaths of trees along this route were affected.

summit with trees and pine beetle damage
Beautiful views, even with the damage pine beetles have caused.

Slumgullion Summit
Slumgullion Summit, beginning the descent toward Lake City. Quoting Wikipedia, “Slumgullion Pass is named for the nearby Slumgullion Earthflow, a gigantic landslide whose yellowish soil reminded early settlers and miners of slumgullion stew.
The Slumgullion Slide began about 700 years ago when weak volcanic tuff and breccia on the southern flank of Mesa Seco slumped several miles down the steep mountainside. . . . so large and cataclysmic that it blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and created Lake San Cristobal, Colorado’s second largest natural lake.”

Crested Butte

We arrived hungry at Crested Butte and found ourselves driving down one of the main streets, looking for parking.

Elk Avenue
In case you wanted to know what Elk Avenue looks like, facing east.

Samuel began imitating people whose experience with miracles often begins and ends with getting a convenient parking space. No sooner had he said, “Jesus,” for about the third time than a van immediately ahead of us vacated its parking spot, prompting Samuel to a posture of thanksgiving and leaving me wondering who was the joker in this scenario, not that parking spaces merit much attention from the author of Person Versus Automobile.

Teocali's Mexican food in Crested Butte
Teocali’s Mexican food in Crested Butte. I enjoyed my veggie tamale quite.

Bonez bar and grill
Bonez bar and grill in Crested Butte where I think Samuel enjoyed his Tequila and I enjoyed getting directions from the waitress for Kebler Pass where we hoped to sleep. I told her we were looking for National Forest and she said, “It’s everywhere.”

Kebler Pass, ~10,000 Feet

The mosquito place afforded fire pits and parking slots in the National Forest at no charge and with only one other vehicle.

Kebler Pass

Kebler Pass,
Where mosquitoes amass,
But I found it odd,
They took little blood.

When I’m not writing jingles with visual rhymes, I’m watching Samuel put together his cot, a portable gem of modern design.

tent and air pad
Not so much a gem of modern design, this sleeping pad came with a yellow bag that one was supposed to inflate and then squeeze into the blue pad…but the process was harder than simply inflating the blue pad, so I’m wondering about the engineer’s career. However, Samuel assures me that these sleeping pads somehow found a high rating, so the engineer may be sleeping easy.

Sunset. Meanwhile deer were walking around the perimeter of the campground, stalkingly.

“I never met a sunset I didn’t like.” – Unknown.

Irwin Cemetery stone
To our surprise, on Kebler Pass we discover a well-known cemetery across the road. Originally named after “ruby silver” it was, during the rush, called Ruby Cemetery, and it was later named “Irwin Cemetery” in 1880. This stone says it was abandoned in 1885 but as further photos show, it was in use in the 1980s…suggesting a good cemetery is hard to keep down.

gravestone 17 year old
Gravestone of a 17-year old. It reads:

My good people as you pass by,
As you are now so once was I;
As I am now you soon must be,
Prepare yourselves to follow me.

It’s bracing to hear a voice from the dead.
It was after reading this that Samuel dreamt of being de-limbed by a bear.

person face
Me. Tent. Wishing the rain fly were not blocking the stars. Later I removed it and saw 3 falling stars readily, just about when Samuel was being de-limbed by the bear.

Carbondale and the Ride Home

sign: bonfire coffee company
Carbondale. The road down Kebler pass was dirt, but smooth, long but beautiful. Samuel might have asked twice if I was sure we were on the right road, but it finally emerged to Highway 133, ending at Carbondale, where we had coffee at the Bonfire Coffee Company, worth the stop.

Leaving Carbondale. It was just after this photo that Samuel started an inquiry concerning my avoidance of coarse language, ferreting out my motives as best he could. I said what I have said for forty years, that I object to vulgarity on aesthetic rather than moral ground. First, the imagery is often unpleasant (and, yes, I know the modern sensibility: James Joyce set out to make even a turd beautiful). Second—and perhaps more importantly—the amount of information conveyed by a spasm of foul language is minimal, whereas well thought-out words, also known as “good diction,” can convey wondrous things.
About 13 miles later I attempted to summarize Samuel’s position, which I take to heart: usually there is a moralistic strand in one’s rejection of someone’s speech, and this can go both ways: the highbrow can judge the vulgar speech of the sailor (for example and not trying to single sailors out…we all know Billy Budd is often considered a Christ figure) or the sailor can judge the seemingly artificial and snobbish diction of the formally educated.
Using an accepted definition of “chauvinism” as “the unreasonable belief in the superiority or dominance of one’s own group or people” (Wikipedia), I declared Samuel’s position as an attempt to combat linguistic chauvinism. He had mentioned wishing he had a degree in geology, so I suggested that, after obtaining that degree, he return for a degree in linguistics, seeing as he already had a theory in the working.

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