We've been driving in darkness for a few hours now, on the freeway towards Fort Collins. We both have the sense that we're missing out on some truly extraordinary landscapes, but if we continue at our former pace, we'll never make it home. Alongside of our car, the Colorado river rushes and twists as the road carves a path through the mountains.
As soon as the skies begin to grow lighter, we pull off the highway to pee in the bushes, brush our teeth, and make a plan. Despite the fact that we're supposed to meet my aunt, uncle, and cousin this morning in Fort Collins, we can't bear to take the freeway all the way there.
After inspecting the map, we decide we have time for drive through Roosevelt National Forest, deluding ourselves with rationalizations about how it is "more direct" way to Fort Collins: right over the mountains. Then, we set off down the road, reciting a joking mantra we use for both the exciting and mundane.
Shouting into the cool morning air blowing on my face, I yell, "Adveeeeeennnture!" Tyler responds immediately with his half of our tongue-in-cheek routine, "EXTREME!!!"
Oh my goodness is it beautiful out here, far from the cars and the people. We're following a rail-road track, sandwiched between a river and a mountain, and as the sun rises golden over the mountains, I feel like I'm in a Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey novel!
The rough dirt road, with it's potholes and ruts, has us moving slower than ever. The drive is a more like one we'd expect from Mongolia, and less like the trip to see family in Colorado it really is. After a bit of snaking around, looking nervously at the clock, wondering how long it will take to arrive, I breathe a sigh of relief as we meet up with a small paved highway.
Away we go, weaving upwards along with the sun. At the top of Muddy Pass (easily ascended without a single aching muscle), we cross the Continental Divide, the point where all water flowing through the country diverges east or west. I find this idea fascinating, and file it away for future research; I wish I knew more about watersheds.
Out of the mountains we go now, through quaint mining towns that look like living, breathing places from a Western movie. If we weren't trying to get somewhere by noon, we'd stop to see the stetsons for sale, spend the night at a creaky old inn, and go hiking along trails in the area. But those are adventures for another day.
The last bit of our morning drive takes us through Roosevelt National Forest, through some stunningly rugged scenery reminiscent of the Altay in Russia. Out there, nearing the border of Mongolia, it felt more intense and more remote, but still our jaws drop around every turn. It's hard to fathom that there's all of this nature so close to town; just twenty miles until we arrive at my aunt and uncle's house!
As we travel through our own country, I've been reading a fascinating book called "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains" by a British solo female traveler, Isabella Bird. Back in the 1800s, when voyages were quite a bit more risky, remote, dangerous, and exciting, when very few people traveled, let alone women, let alone by themselves, she went gallivanting around the world, writing about her adventures.
Her accounts of being off the beaten path (there was no "path" at the time…) in Tibet, the Malay Peninsula, Japan, Hawaii, the Rocky Mountains, and other parts of Canada and the States in the 1800s, are truly fascinating, inspiring, engaging reads.
I got a laugh out of her first experiences in Colorado; I'm glad our first impressions were a bit more positive than hers.
My first experiences of Colorado travel have been rather severe. At Greeley I got a small upstairs room at first, but gave it up to a married couple with a child, and then had one downstairs no bigger than a cabin, with only a canvas partition. It was very hot, and every place was thick with black flies.
The English landlady had just lost her "help," and was in a great fuss, so that I helped her to get supper ready. Its chief features were greasiness and black flies.