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Colorado Highway 10 to US 160

Colorado Highway 10

If this doesn’t make you dizzy you ain’t doin it right

Oh my lord, chilluns, what a life I lead now. Never was a matter of being normal. More like trying and failing and landing on the other side. Oh, the wages of sin! I did everything crazy. Just look at what it got me: here I am as old as atom bombs, shooting across America on a Tuesday afternoon. The road is smooth and empty. The air is perfect. It’s like ingesting raw god. We’re talking chromosomal thrill. Are you listening dammit. Before this is all over, I’m going to end up having proved something. I’m just not sure what.

My wife drove this stretch of Colorado Highway 10 while I shot pictures through the windshield or out the window. It’s best heading west in late afternoon, so you see the mountains and volcanic cones. I took over at US 160 on the other side of Walsenburg to drive us over La Veta Pass. The eight-mile climb to 9,431 feet bogs a lot of drivers down, but I go flying by, even in the supposedly underpowered Vibe with the little Corolla engine. What you have to do is charge the mountain. There isn’t going to be a speed trap going up, right? I usually try for eighty in fourth gear, about 4,000 rpm, and that will hold it there if no one blocks my climbing lane. Today I caught some gravity in a dip halfway up the mountain and touched ninety in fourth, which took us nearly to the summit before I had to downshift into third. What a rush!

There was a semi in front of me for the descent to Fort Garland on the other side. A chicken truck, actually, and he (?) was an unpassable demon doing 75 to 80 mph, tall stacks of chicken cages swaying back and forth, poor goddamn chickens thinking what the holy hell with feathers blowing back at us like autumn leaves. By the time the truck got to wherever it was going, those birds were probably all naked! I could have made the wildest video.

My wife said, “That was masterful!” Twice, in fact. I told her we hit 90 mph and she laughed. Love is so exciting. Are you listening dammit. Nothing normal, everything crazy, old as atom bombs.

Massacres, Pelicans, and Travel Notes

pelicans on lake in South Dakota

We spotted these somewhere east of Yankton, SD. I had to stop immediately!

Hi there, folks! Finally back in the digital world from Mankato, Minnesota, site of the largest one-day execution in American history. Look up the Dakota War of 1862 if you’re curious. Thirty-eight Sioux were hanged the day after Christmas in 1862 after Abraham Lincoln pared down the scheduled execution of three hundred three prisoners to thirty-nine to avoid offending the sensibility of potential European allies whom he hoped would aid the Union cause.

The whole episode is very controversial for Native Americans and should be for everyone else, considering the factors behind the war. Like I said, google this stuff. It’ll open your eyes. There’s a lot of white and Native blood soaked into the ground in this part of the world. I’m sorry to say that before today, I had no idea.

Here, of course, you’re looking at a roadside lake in southern South Dakota, where we spotted a flock of migrating white pelicans and a few grebes (?) on the way to Mankato. It always blows me away to see pelicans along the Mississippi flyway, but there they are, taking a breather on their way south, presumably, unless they’re totally insane.

Believe me now?

Tomorrow we’ll actually deign to take an Interstate highway, which I usually avoid like the plague because I hate dancing semis and left lane hogs. (I-90 through southern South Dakota is newly paved, smooth, and relatively empty, so I’ll make an exception.) We’ll go as far west as we can before turning south through the Rosebud Sioux reservation to drop all the way down to North Platte, Nebraska. I’ve always wanted to see the country near Rosebud, since it figures so strongly in recent Native history. I know some people in Taos who go up there every year for the sun dances, which is something else you ought to look up if you’re never heard about them. (I attended one at Picuris Pueblo a few years back as a guest—they aren’t spectator events—and all I’ll say here is it was both impressive and very moving.)

We’ll be home the next day. The stretch from Walsenburg, Colorado down to Taos is one amazing drive. I thought about this a lot on the way up here, because it’s so unusual to take a road trip from Taos, in the sense that you see the most incredible scenery on the day you leave and the day you come back. Most things along the way aren’t nearly as interesting, although southern Minnesota and South Dakota have a beauty and big sky all their own.

God, do I love Nature, history, and geography. I may have more to say about the upper Midwest and Mankato later. We’ll see.

Extraordinary Day

Llano Quemado, south side of Taos, New Mexico

Windy, low 70s, warm sun, a touch of humidity

You’re going to get tired of these, so I’ll just say it was another one of those days. Absolutely stunning weather (if windy), high energy, rising power. On the human side, free-form adaptation. Things sliding into place. I could use more of whatever this is. I don’t know how to capture it in a photograph. The atmosphere was, well, electric. Brilliant. Stirring.

This is New Mexico in the first crackle of the fall. We have a full load of wood. It’s perfectly dry five-hundred year-old piñon. Hit two hunks together and they ring. The sun heats the pile and you can smell the promise. My heart already burns. It’s all okay.

Road Car

2007 Pontiac Vibe

2007 Pontiac Vibe (bought new in 2008), 89k miles

This is my wife’s car. (I drive an old truck for now.) It’s also what we take on trips. From Taos to Mankato, Minnesota is about eleven hundred miles, and we’ll be on the road a bunch longer than we’ll be stopped. A real road trip, then. This will have a different focus than just hauling our asses and gear to my sister-in-law’s place and having no responsibilities for a week. The primary environment won’t be the condo in Dubuque but the inside of the car and where we find ourselves. That means we get to have and do whatever we want along the way.

dashboard of 2007 Pontiac Vibe

Fine ergonomics and style

The cockpit is one of the reasons I wanted us to get this car. There’s a fine meaty steering wheel. The gauges are round like God intended and have chrome rims. The rest is shiny and obvious. Nothing fancy, but it works. We almost never listen to the radio or play CDs because we like to have the windows open. (I do both when I’m alone, but my ears are already blown.) Always on the back roads, stop whenever we want for any reason. We almost never see a cop. It makes you like America again.

I see I left the wedding out of this, the reason we’re going to Mankato, duh. How typical of me. That says a lot about my priorities, but I am looking forward to the socializing and commotion. I’ve been married for over thirty years, myself, which must account for some detachment. It should be fun to be the only one who isn’t worried, too.

I wonder if the hotel has a pool?

Flaming Sky

Taos sunset

Digital image not altered in any way

I was washing the car the way I do before a trip. No way will I head on down the road in a dirty machine. This was taking care of business, then, and yet extremely satisfying.

I’d already been under the hood. The engine was pretty wholesome to start with, except for some dust. But I clean everything I can, all the painted surfaces: the underside of the hood, the perimeter of the engine compartment, the door frames, the edges of the doors. And then I do the interior. I have this amazing German chemical crap that shines up all the black plastic. I wipe the dust off the upholstery with big wet towels. I organize the glovebox. I check my tools in the back. All this work so the car can get plastered with bugs by the middle of the first day! But I was in my element. Completely grounded. As natural as I could be.

This is only news if you’re a lunatic. (Remember, I’m the guy who just discovered air.) That evening the heavens caught fire. After that a storm rolled by and chased the cat in. This morning someone told me—speaking of a different issue that’s bedeviled me—”When things align they align. Until that space relax into your life.”

Set me to pondering, too. I don’t think I’ve ever relaxed into my life! Maybe yesterday a little. So many messages, so little sense.

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