Denver, west along I-70 for 500 miles, southwest along I-15 for 250 miles – this is the uncomplicated route from Denver to Las Vegas, and it has to be among the most scenic and varied roadtrips in the world. This trip was an abbreviated version, 350 miles from Boulder, CO to Moab, UT. From the edge of the great plains, through a crease in the front range, through and over valley after canyon after bridge after tunnel to cross the continental divide (Eisenhower/Johnson tunnel) and into Summit County, past ski resorts, past national parks, over the Colorado River for the 100th time, then steadily down and down and dryer and bigger and bigger country until all scale is lost among the massive red rock features. It’s the productivity of the plains to the grandeur of the Rockies to the pleasantness of the Western Slope, and finally, to the vast stillness of the desert.
On Friday I drove 350 miles of this route, Boulder, CO to Moab, UT. I felt a bit guilty that I was taking this drive all by myself. But gosh dang, I love the open road and the alone time cruising along to clarify thoughts, let the imagination run, to just relax. And I decided I was going only about 3 hours before I left, so it would have been logistically challenging for most trip companions. Regardless, a bit guilty feeling.
About 300 miles in, I’m in the for real desert. The speed limit is 80 miles an hour, you can see 25 miles in every direction, the lodgepole of the Rockies has been replaced by shrubs, clumps of tough grasses and ground hugging cacti. I’ve listened to 3 podcasts, Bloomberg radio and a few tunes. Once in the desert though, in what became a theme of the weekend, the music and podcasts stopped. The desert invited me to mimic its quiet. The last 50 miles into Moab was in silence. Silence was to most appropriate companion to the massive red cliffs and expansive rocky flats as I descended into Moab.
I met up with my good ‘ol pal Mitchell, met some of his compadres, game-planned for the morning, then slept like a baby in my Suburban (no, I don’t want to sleep in your noisy living room on your neck-kinking sofa, thanks though ;)
Time to play. Colorado, Utah, Nevada - these some of the great playgrounds of the world, and they are owned by you and I. Public ownership (state land, BLM land, national forest, wilderness, national park, etc): Colorado - 43%, Utah - 75%, Nevada - 87%.
300 foot cliff base jumping (not me).
Loco Moco (Hawaiian), but Kurey-curry-style for dinner. Some brews (bought in Grand Junction, CO, not that soft 3.2% Utah brew) and off to bed.
Long run. Down the road 6 miles, back up the road 6 miles.
Cruisey cruise the bike around town for a bit, dodge the myriad side-by-sides and jeeps, some computer work, a java.
Drive east back to Grand Junction, deep sleep at the TA truck stop.
Park at the start of Hwy 330/base of Grand Mesa scenic byway. Wait for it to get more light out. Start pedaling.
Grand Mesa is a 30 mile climb (60 miles round trip), starting at 5,000 ft in an arid red rock canyon. It climbs through scrublands then alpine evergreens and finishes near 11,000 ft, almost at tree line. It is difficult to judge distance and size in this area, the scale is so much larger than my usual experience. This helped me thoroughly deceive myself – what looked to me like just a segment, maybe a 1 hour climb, was actually the entirety of the ride – 30 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain. 3 hours up and into the wind, 1 hour wicked fast wind-assisted descent.
100 miles east to Glenwood Springs. Shake out the legs with a 30 minute run.
Sweet Coloradough - a much anticipated donut at the greatest doughnut-ery around. They feature fatty sandwiches (bacon, bacon bread, donut bread, egg, avocado, sausage, sausage bread, cream cheese, corned beef..), tap beer, shots and innumerable varities of champion doughnuts.
150 miles more east, descend the Front Range and back onto the edge of the Great Plains. Terra firma. I felt thoroughly used from a few days of travel, riding, running, hiking and living-out-of-my-truck-diet. I felt quite pleased to be back to the warm familiarity of the land at the base of the Front Range. And I came back with a mind a bit more settled, quieted by the vast and the still desert.