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Three Hours from Home

Colorado Highway 10

Colorado Highway 10 shot through the windshield on a happy day

Returning to Taos is always a revelation. The picture above is still southeastern Colorado, but Lord in heaven: we’re going into that. And over, and beyond.

When we used to live in the East and were coming back from those Iowa road trips to my wife’s family, we’d know we were getting close to the Baltimore Beltway from the bunched-up traffic zooming down from western Maryland. The tension would ease some after we finally made it past the city and reached our rural enclave on the Eastern Shore, but generally speaking, whatever connection to something greater the open spaces of the Midwest nurtured vanished in the grinding roar of the megalopolis. These days that dynamic is reversed.

The night before last I tweeted that we’d arrived safely back in Taos. Something about it sounded like a dispatch from a long-ago expedition, I thought. Like Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery. (Isn’t that an incredible name?) But that’s exactly what how it is. The place feels very far from anywhere. The plunge into so much unbound Nature can be scary. Getting here takes faith and courage and is not an act of much convenience.

Taos proper is a little letdown at the end. A town is a town is a town, solace for the lonely and the body. The place they keep the things that let you live here in the desert. Somewhere to plug in this computer. You know. This isn’t news, but never mind all that, because I notice less and less.

Maybe I’m beginning to understand why I’ve always been pulled in this direction, why I have to get as close as a lazy man can be to where it’s difficult to live. One undertakes a journey only partly physical. It’s the “connection to something greater” thing. In the absence of the other stuff, the state is easier to encounter. I need it like we need a drink of water. I need it like a heart. Take away the chance to touch the numinous, and everything turns to shit. Why even go on living?

My parents believed that life consisted of a few things you could grab on forays from behind the barricades. Love and joy and hope and faith were luxuries a sane man would eschew. It’s taken many years to realize how ingrained the damage is. Every time I reinvent myself or grow another limb I feel the drag. The impact of Creation is like a lamp behind the window in the dark and leads me Home, where everything is possible, allowed, and free.

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Colorado Highway 10 Again

quintessential Colorado Highway 10 image

Cities just don’t do it for me

This has to be the quintessential Colorado Highway 10 photo. Just gimme the damn prize right now. You’re looking due west here. I shot it through the windshield not too far from where Rt. 71 ends if you’re coming down from Rocky Ford and you turn right (west) on 10 at the “little white house”—actually an old garage there on the corner—maybe ten miles west of La Junta. From the aforementioned intersection to Walsenburg is a sixty-two mile stretch of pavement without a town or crossroad. We saw just a single pronghorn (antelope) this time, but it was handsome and no more than a hundred feet from the road.

We’d been looking for one hard. I think my wife summoned it out of the ether.

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Huerfano County Dead Ahead

heading west on Colorado Highway 10

Flying home

Huerfano County? Look it up sometime, and read about the Ludlow Massacre. This is Colorado Highway 10 again, heading west toward Walsenburg. Note the ridiculous heavy traffic at a little after four o’clock in the afternoon! From here to Taos is about two and a half hours if you’re moving fast. La Veta Pass, mentioned in the previous post, is roughly forty minutes distant.

Try to imagine the endless sea-of-grass prairie that originally covered this area. Think about the settlers going mad from lack of any landmarks, and what they must have felt when they finally saw the Rockies. I have these experiences every time I’m in these places. It’s hard for me to believe most people don’t, but I’m fairly certain that’s the case since no one I know or read about ever mentions it.

(Nobody ever mentions the Ludlow Massacre, either. I wonder why?)

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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.

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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.

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