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May 2003

    We left Minneapolis at high noon. The grand kids were highly disappointed about being pulled out school early and being forced to miss school all next week but they bucked up like true troopers and managed to carry on. They piled in the trusty Nissan van with the grand parents, great grand mother, a Play Station hooked up to VCP (video cassette player), a ton of junk and as always lots of music. 

    We rolled south through the hills of southern Minnesota, past all the farms and fields just waiting to be plowed. The trees and shrubs are all just starting to bud out and show a few leaves here and there. Spring is slow to come in the north land. On into to Iowa, past Clear Lake, where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson last performed before their ill fated plane crash just to the east at Mason City, the town where the music died in February of 1959. That was also Waylon Jennings lucky day. He gave up his seat to a sick Ritchie Valens.

    On down IH 35 to Des Moines we go and then head to the west. We go past the exit for Winterset, Iowa which is located in Madison County. I hear it rumored that they have some covered bridges down that way. Marion Morrison was also born down there. Don't recognize that name? He was better known as John Wayne. 

    Westward into Nebraska through Omaha. We finally call it quits when we get to Lincoln. We had dinner and crashed. I was going to call up that legendary Lincoln programmer, Delayne, and harass him but I fell asleep before I got around to it.

    We're up and at them at 6:00 am and go down stairs and cook some waffles. Hotels are getting fancier all the time. They have the waffle juice already mixed for you and you just pour in, set the timer, grab a waffle and eat. We go west through Nebraska, past the feed lots which raise some mighty fine beef but sure stink things up in the process. We pass Hastings which has an IMAX theater out in the middle of nowhere. I'm sure you were dying to know that. We run along the Platte River until it splits into the North and South Platte. We follow the South fork down into Colorado. All the while Marshall is listening to Garrison Keillor read his book "Lake Wobegon Summer 1956". He has to keep the volume down since Garrison departed from his normal "family friendly" stories to peruse the mind of a 14 year old boy. That can be a very wicked place to go! Amber was also pointing out every McDonalds along the way. Poppa Marshall just ignored her. There ain't gonna be mo McPukes on this trip!

    We start that slow uphill climb to Denver. Through downtown and lots of traffic we go. I blow the horn and wave to Bob as we go past downtown. I don't think he heard me but I had promised that I would anyway. We are in Colorado Springs by 3:00 pm. There is a very familiar looking black Monte Carlo in the parking lot. It has Louisiana tags. Danged if it ain't cousin Debbie and her illustrious husband Junior Stanga! As we are unloading we run into the couple from Bedico (try and find that on your map!) We get unloaded and decide to go in search of fast food. Junior, Marshall, and the grand kids, Alan and Amber, go in search of some fast food. After taking a rather scenic cruise of the east side of Colorado Springs, they manage to find a Popeye's chicken place. Just image, the Stanga's drove for two days from south Louisiana so that they could eat Cajun style chicken in Colorado! Amber was still pulling for McDonalds with little success.

    We made some impromptu plans for the next day and decided to have some fun. We called Marshall's sister up and harassed her by telling her that we were all having a wonderful time and wished she and Rick were with us. She did do. We apologized for having so much fun at her expense. Then she told us that is how she does Rick when she's out of town playing and he is slaving away. We retracted our apology and went back to harassing her. It was much more fun!

    Saturday morning we really began to have some fun. We had four walkie-talkies with us that really turned out to be a blessing. Since we were in two automobiles, it made it very easy to stay in contact and harass one another. "Oh, you were looking for that street? It's about a mile back the other way!" That was after a really bad breakfast at the Waffle House. We should have stuck with the home mades, they were much better. What weren't burnt was crisp. Oh well, I've eaten worse; not much worse though. Amber pointed out that McDonalds would not have burnt my breakfast.

    We gathered up our stuff and headed up to the Cog Railway, the Manitou and Pike's Peak Railway. This is a little hour and a half train ride to the top of Pike's Peak. Our conductor had one of the best dead-pan senses of humor I've heard in a long while. He even told us that those beautiful Ponderosa Pines, easily identified because of the red tint to their bark, smelled like almonds. This is a beautiful ride up through narrow canyons and across high meadows and near nothing once you pass the tree line. The view from up here is what inspired the song, "America the Beautiful." We topped out at 14,110 feet. When you stand up you definitely get a Rocky Mountain High, a little buzz from the lack of oxygen and a little stumble to the gait. We slowly walked up to the gift shop. We got a drink and few donuts and headed out to take a few photos before looking for a stable place to sit down. It was nice and brisk out. About 28 degrees with a brisk breeze. A nice day in Minnesota! We then made the run back down the mountain at the same speed that we came up. 

    We then loaded up and went over to Manitou Springs for a tour of some reconstructed cliff dwellings that you can walk through. What really amazed me about the Manitou Cliff Dwellings was the fact that it was a good 10 -15 degrees cooler inside the dwellings than right outside of them. This would be a blessing in the summer but a real curse in the winter. We took more photos and toured the museum. 

    From there we headed back down toward Colorado Springs and into the Garden of the gods. You see towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak. We hit the museum and gift shop. We found some really nice vases made from aspen. Gwen's mom bought us one that had some really beautiful grain to it. We had an Italian dinner and headed off to bed. None of this was on our schedule (like we really had one!) but made for a great day. 

    We did an early breakfast at the hotel, not McDonalds, and headed south and west to Royal Gorge. There are not too many tourists out this time of year so the only thing open was the Royal Gorge Bridge and the restrooms. What more can you ask for? Since there were only about 3 cars there, and two of those were us, they let us drive across the highest bridge in the world. We were cruising real slow at 1,035 feet above the canyon floor or a mere 103 stories up. Spooky! But not near as spooky as when you get out and walk across the bridge. It moves! It takes the brain a few minutes to realize that the world around you is not moving but that your supposedly stable footing isn't stable at all but is moving slightly. It was nice and breezy out. It was downright cold. Thank goodness we had thrown together a bag of hats and gloves for "just in case". Junior's bald head sure did appreciate a wool hat this morning! There was a Ponderosa Pine just across the bridge. The females in the group just had to take a sniff and see if it smelled like almonds. They swear it did! We'll just take their word for that. After more photos we pile in and head west... across the Rockies past the sign at the small amusement park that says, "Scream until your father stops!" Thank goodness the grand kids did not see that. Junior pops up on the walkie-talkie and tells them what they just missed. Thanks amigo.

    Through Salida and over the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Over Monarch pass at 11,312 feet and down the other side of the Great Divide and right on past McDonalds. There is a little snow falling at the higher elevations. We lunch in Gunnison, watch it snow as we eat and head west again. We cross the very, very low Morrow Point Reservoir and roll on to Montrose where we turn south. Up the canyon we go to Ouray, which is nestled into a very small area. The road out of Ouray will keep your attention for sure. Especially if you are heading south.

    You are on the unguarded side of a narrow highway with very steep drop offs. Not much room here to screw up on your driving. A very winding road with lots and lots of switchbacks. It is a beautiful ride, with some very light snow, if you are not driving. You can't make very good time though with the posted speeds being 15 - 35 miles per hour! Telluride (derived from the phrase "To Hell You Ride") is to our west just a few miles. We cross Red Mountain Pass at 11,120 feet. We stop in Silverton for a break and check out the visitor center there. Then it is on south over a couple of more 10,000+ foot passes, past Purgatory and into Durango. We found a couple of rooms, for the next three days, and ordered in and crashed. 

    After a hectic and hard 4 day push we decide to sleep in and rest up for the next 3 day push. We eventually got up and went downtown and bought tickets for the train ride. Gwen was having a bad hair day. Junior noted that he would just be happy to have hair, bad or good. Then we went and cruised the shops and see if we could find anything of interest. We started up on side of the street and then came down the other to see what all was around. I do have to say that this is one of the few tourist areas that I have been to where you don't see the same garbage in shop after shop. There are some really nice shops in Durango and I still have exceptional taste. We keep track of the names of a couple of places we want to come back to later. Marshall found a nice little piece of what looked like ivory that was carved with multiple moose and dogs on it. It was only about 4 inches long a very detailed. Turns out that it was carved from fossilized moose horn and was a mere $625.00. It's still there as far as I know! We decided to get a bite to eat. Poppa Marshall relented and took Amber to a McDonalds. They wouldn't let Marshall order from the breakfast menu. He decided to forgo eating here. It was an absolute zoo and they had left some poor new employee on her on. She desperately need help. Amber and Gwen ordered. After waiting nearly 20 minutes they got a screwed up order, asked for a refund, got it and left. Marshall had sneaked around the corner to a small bakery and ordered some sandwiches to take on the train.

    We board the Silverton and Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad just before noon. We are only going halfway back to Silverton (remember we drove down from there yesterday) and then turning around. The tracks run through Durango, past the McDonalds and up the river. This is a nice slow cruise up the river valley. 

    At times we cross back and forth across the highway to get to higher elevations as we move up the river and the valley narrows into a canyon. We pass by the house that was purportedly used in the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Remember the house where they are riding the bicycle and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" is playing? Just a short distance up the track we come to a very narrow canyon. You can touch the walls out either side of the train. The top of the canyon is just about train high. Remember Butch and Sundance jumping a train in a narrow canyon? That was it we just went through. Just up ahead is where they jumped off the cliff into the river in the canyon. The track is now 400' above the river. Don't look out the right hand window. It is straight down and you can't see the cliff below because it is partially under you! We chug up to Cascade Canyon with the smoke pouring black and heavy on the uphill stretches. Oh, it's all uphill isn't it? There was a fair amount of wildlife out that really didn't seem to care about us in the least. Chipmunks, prairie dogs, deer and elk. In the cliff side there were cactus flowers and wildflowers, and a bunch of blooming trees. It was a really nice ride totaling five hours.

    When we got back to town we had some good Mexican food. It was so nice to find some real Mexican food for a change. We staggered out into the street from overeating and tracked down a couple of those stores from earlier in the morning. Marshall and Gwen picked up a couple of alabaster carvings at 50% off. Marshall collects western/Indian/wildlife art and carvings. These pieces would go nicely in that collection. Pink and white alabaster carved by native Americans into some beautiful forms.

    Amber an Alan had both studied about the Anasazi in school so we decided to throw in a little educational reinforcement into the trip. We grabbed some breakfast and headed south into New Mexico. We left the pavement and headed down twenty six miles of dirt road, a lot of it washboarded. No wonder these guys aren't around anymore, they weren't even smart enough to build close to the highway! I also noted that I had not located the ruins of a single McDonalds.

    There are Anasazi ruins all up and down Chaco Canyon. On the valley floor and also up top. Some of them like Pueblo Bonita are huge! There are petroglyphs all along the canyon walls. We stopped at four or five of the larger and more accessible ruins and then headed back out to something even more impressive. Mesa Verde. 

    We travel north west out of New Mexico and back into Colorado. We get to Mesa Verde and start the slow winding assent to the top of the mesa. Then it is a twenty plus mile drive back to where we want to be. They weren't much smarter over here about that road thing but at least it was all black top. We were a little short on time but we did manage to make the trek down to the Spruce Tree Cliff Dwellings. It is a nice little quarter mile walk that zig-zags back and forth across the cliff face. This is easy. There is a natural spring not far from the dwellings. How convenient. There were also some dwellings up high and away from all the others. I'm betting that's were they sent the teenagers to live. Debbie, Junior and Gwen all disappeared into a reconstructed kiva. They are now honorary Kiva Krawlers! The walk back to the car was a little slower. It seemed to be all uphill. Still it wasn't all that bad. Junior and Marshall had Gwen's mom drag them up the hilly path since they couldn't make it on our own. 

    We drove around a bit and spotted some of the other ruins with binoculars. There are cliff dwellings all in this mesa. We drove over by the Cliff Palace ruins to get a closer look. We were too late for a tour but that was ok. Having to climb up four ladders to get out of the dwellings was a little more than a couple of people were willing to do anyway. All the females were gung-ho. So I guess we will leave the guilty to your imagination.

    As we were exiting the park we were spotting dear everywhere. The walkie-talkies came in really good for relaying spottings to one another. We headed back to town as it was getting late. We called in some orders of broasted chicken when we got back to town. The girls went on a wild goose chase trying to locate the Cuckoo House. Turn away from McDonalds, half a block down, turn right down an alley, through a bar, turn left, go down the hall...

    On Wednesday we loaded up and headed west. Debbie and Junior were going as far as Four Corners and then heading home. We arrived at Four Corners. Out in the middle of the desert. A platform. A survey marker. The states marked off. This is where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all meet. It is the only place in the United States that four states share a common point. You can stand, lie, slouch, jump or whatever you want to do in four states at one time. Alan was dying to take a golf club so he could putt through four states at once. It didn't happen.

    The last time we were out here there were lots of booths full of trinkets but not much else. That kind of tickled me. The white man came to the new world and bought off the natives with trinkets. Now the natives were selling the white man trinkets! Four Corners is on the Navajo reservation and they have really upped the quality of the wares offered here. There are still lots of trinkets (I saw some of the same stuff in the French Market in New Orleans last year) but there are also some beautifully crafted wares. There was a young Christian Navajo that was making pottery. Absolutely beautiful pieces that had various types of wildlife and scenery on them. All done free handed. His name is Paul Lansing and his work is displayed across the country in art shows, galleries and museums. We bought a carved bowl with a lid that has the very detailed head of a grizzly bear on it. One more thing for the collection. We ate some Navajo flatbread while we were wondering around. It tasted kind of like a beignet without the powdered sugar. Not bad. We did not see any golden arches here.

     We left Four Corners and headed westward to Monument Valley. It was a little windy out. It was also a little desert out. Wind and desert equals sand storms! It was blowing perpendicular to us so we could see it as we approached it. Blowing sand crossing the highway looked just like red snow swirling around. It was in bands and we would cross through them from time to time. We all pitied those pour souls on motorcycles. Junior also thought about turning around and backing down the highway so that the sand blasting would be the same on both sides of the vehicles and then thought better of it. There were some in his vehicle that would not go along with this brilliant strategy. We stopped in Kayenta, Arizona and grabbed a burger. It did not come wrapped in yellow paper but these guys did think they were the king of burgers. It was the only fast food burger joint that I have seen a museum in. They had a very nice display dedicated to the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II.

    We left there and headed north into Utah, turned off the highway toward Monument Valley and entered back into to Arizona. Yes, I am sure that we were not driving around in circles. For those of you who do not know what Monument Valley is, it is a bunch of big rocks in the desert. They are real buttes. They are used to advertise everything from cars to copiers. The buttes appear on numerous cd covers and all kinds of other nonsense. Ever see an early John Wayne western? Then you have probably seen Monument Valley. 

    Marshall pulled out Cusco's Apurimac III cd and fired it up. Why this cd? It is the third in a series of cds that Michael Holms wrote dealing with various Indian cultures. The Apurimac Series is incredible. He would go into an area, listen to the rhythms and music of that culture and then incorporate those into his own music. These are some of the best cds that I have ever heard. Apurimac I - Ancient Incan cultures. Apurimac II - Olmec, Aztec, and Mayan cultures. Apurimac III - Native American - especially Navajo. Out of the cds that Marshall owns this series is his favorite. In fact he made a special purchase of this set years ago and received a poster of the Apurimac III cd that was autographed by Michael Holms. It is framed and goes beautifully with the rest of the western collection in the den.

    We drove around the valley and took a bunch of photos. The last time we were here everything was pretty nice. Now we are starting to see trinket stands at the more popular turnouts. In fact, at John Ford point they are starting to build stands. It looks like a flea market. It is ugly! It was still windy but at least the dust and sand wasn't blowing here. We had been afraid that it would be too hazy for photos but thankfully we were wrong. We parted company here with Debbie and Junior. They headed south and east. We headed north. Their company had been pure pleasure. 

    We headed north to Mexican Hat and made a small detour by the Goosenecks. Check out the picture, it is easier than trying to explain this beautiful piece of erosion. We headed on up to Moab, Utah for the night. Gwen and Marshall had come through here years ago and got into down late and all of the rooms were gone. They had to backtrack an hour to find a dive of a room. We pulled into a new hotel that had NO cars in the parking lot and it was about 6:00 pm. At least the rates should be reasonable with all those empty rooms. Yeah right! Eighty plus dollars for a room and nothing in the whole hotel rented out! We went on down the road and got one for seventy plus dollars. I knew there was something I didn't like about this town. 

    The next morning we got up and drove through Arches National Park. It was cool and windy so we didn't do a lot of walking. There are numerous arches throughout the park along with balanced rocks and other natural formations. Thank goodness none of those arches were golden! We left out and took highway 128 which wound it's way along a river canyon. This was almost as pretty as the park. 

    We hit the interstate and headed east into Colorado. We crossed the Rockies and headed on to Ogallala, Nebraska. This was the hard part. Everyone was tired and ready to be home. We got up the next morning and took Amber to McDonalds for breakfast. It sure beat the heck of the Waffle House in Colorado Springs. Amber was right. They did not burn my pancakes. 

    We loaded up and made the final ten hour push home. 

                                                                                                            ~ The End ~