The Diaries: From Rockies to Dinosaurs
“I thought the Rockies would be rockier.”
“That John Denver is full of shit, man.”
Awake near the Geographic Center after four hours of sleep. Downpours as we head on country roads, looking for a stone mound designated to officially represent the geographic center of the 48 contiguous states.
From the perspective of a derisive coast-dweller, Northern Kansas is about as far as it gets into what is sometimes dismissively called ‘nothing.’ There are fields. Farms. Trailer homes. Cattle, and cattle processing facilities. The land sprawls evenly, but not flatly. Nebraska’s a few miles north.
Notice quite a few cemeteries lining up the road, including the ‘Sweet Home’ cemetery.
We arrive at the stone mound as the rain thickens. Get some quick shots under the downpour. We switch seats.
Realize that we can make it straight into Colorado and Denver by following this road due west. Both agree to rule out the freeway, which would be the surest way to maximize the dullness of this somewhat monotonous drive.
I say somewhat because the road in fact stretches beautifully ahead, despite the relative plainness of the land. The skies weave and stutter, cloud limbs give way to post-storm blues.
Stop by in a small town. Redriks gets a Mc D. Only second or third time. Still trying to stick to vows, so I get a Jumbo hot dog from the gas station.
I fall asleep to the tunes of Elvis.
Awake two hundred miles later, as we pass the Colorado border. Possibly Redrik’s longest stretch in one go, thus far. He’s real comfortable at the wheel by now. Good.
Because we’re about to get to the Rockies, a potential challenge for any driver, the more so for a new driver.
Stop by a farm, need some extra pictures and footage both for the photo project and film. We switch seats again.
In Colorado, a new ball game. To Denver. We’re now West of the country. Five weeks into the trip. And there are thousands of miles left.
I’m hoping the next stops, days and weeks to be more colorful. Less flat. Rockier.
Slightly concerned that Redrik has voiced doubts about this leg of the trip. His current dispositions, remnants of a heartbreak – a complex and layered story which I have yet to describe – don’t allow him to see much beauty or seek comfort in the landscapes and scenery we traverse.
In fact, from his point of view, the naked expanse of untarnished nature perhaps evokes and strengthens the feelings of Man’s utter desolateness and loneliness. But here I surmise, and digress…
I’m hoping ‘the worst of it’, both in terms of the road and its effects on our relationship, is behind us.
“I think that was it.”
“That sign. I think that’s where Dumb & Dumber take the wrong turn and end up going back to Kansas. Y’know… ‘I thought the Rockies would be rockier.’ ‘That John Denver is full of shit, man.’”
We mindlessly laugh at the joke a few times.
“Should we take it?”
A moment of hesitation.
Redrik’s turn to nap. I enjoy this road. The turns become more regular.
We’re slowly rising.
Nearly run out of gas. Stop by a patch of land, strewn with trailer homes and scraps. These settlements abound through the country. I’ve taken a few pictures here and there but have yet to spend time there or talk to people. Decide to give it a try.
A stringy flag flaps in the wind. I walk in prudently. A dog barks in the distance, quiets down when I disappear behind a trailer.
Two turkeys and a rooster shuffle on a patch of dirt.
Snap some pictures. There’s nobody here it seems. Both a disappointment and a relief.
We head to Denver.
There’s a ball game. Purple-sheathed fans crowd the streets. Drive around till we finally settle on Market street, shocked by stringent parking regulations.
Significantly colder. Walk around and meet Merlin, interview. Have a beer and some food at the Paramount (?) restaurant.
Redrik proposes that we go to Boulder tonight. It’s Friday.
“You’ll like it. It’s a beautiful town with a vibrant ultra-liberal culture, full of…”
“Let me guess, it’s a college town?”
Why not, we could go from there to Rocky Mountain National Park the following day. We agree on the compromise. Seeking balance.
Though pleasant and alluring, neither of us has any strong desire to stay in Denver.
We’ll be back on Sunday. Redrik has arranged for his bank to send a new credit card to a hotel in Denver. Should get there Monday morning.
Boulder’s lights shimmer ahead, the mountain range in the backdrop silhouetted by the descending sun.
Park on a supposedly lively street. in front of a theater. There’s a projection onto the wall of the theater, possibly a student film, a 3D rendition of musical puppets advertising a sandwich.
Bread, Cheese, Meat, and Lettuce strung into a song.
The first viewing is entertaining. The second is obnoxious. The third: nightmare.
Move to another supposedly lively street. Mild winds are uprooting trees. Not many daredevils to be found. I rest in the car. Redrik checks out the scene. Later. Join him, the flashy blue-neon bar breathes sadness, empty save for a few groups cuddling in front of the bar for comfort.
Check out another place. This time there’s a line. People inside dancing. The club even serves absinthe. We have a Budweiser from the ice bucket at the front. It’s fun, a bit. The club closes seemingly early. It’s 2.
“Look at all these people who need a cab or a bus to get back home.”
“It wouldn’t be nice to let them walk in this weather.”
“We could offer them a ride.”
“How about we drive around the club blasting that electro mix of yours?”
“Circle like douches trying to pick up girls?”
We didn’t really do it, but it did not work.
Wake up early and walk about for some pictures and interviews. Meet a bunch of seemingly homeless punks. They’re, somewhat, sadly, already ravaged by festivity. Carved skin and on the inside…
There are many homeless or hobos about in the morning. Awaking from another uncomfortable night. There’s a flipside to the vibrant, youthful culture.
Sit down at a pizza place. Ball game. The Knicks get trounced by Lebron James.
We have an argument, drive out to Rocky Mountain National Park, again in unnecessarily sour moods. Tupac glares about friendship, treason, love and misery.
Pit stop for gas at Nederland, which, as I learn from some of the more recognizable denizens (ie: dreadlocks) is one of a handful of Colorado counties where marijuana culture is legalized. Interview.
Patches of dark clouds hover above the slopes of pine trees caught in the light of the sun set free. I snap a few insignificant pictures, hurriedly. Too bad.
We continue to drive into Rocky Mountain National Park. Redrik has cautiously negotiated the small mountainous roads, despite our upheaved tempers. It’s National Park week, so there’s no entrance fee. The park is beautiful.
Elk roaming by the dozens just a few feet out of the window. I don’t have a telephoto lens. This is beauty for the eyes.
It’s nighttime when we find an open camp site. I cook some beef stew. Redrik has a sandwich. We hang out with some younger people by their fire.
I’m quiet. Tired. Perhaps to the point of impoliteness, or awkwardness.
Later. One of the dudes can’t take it anymore.
“So what’s your philosophy in life?”
Redrik has informed them about the documentary project, I haven’t peeped a word. Now I’m cornered.
“Hum… I dunno…” Really.
Been asked the question a few times by now, I give him the most recent answer I’ve been mulling over:
“Well, I guess this project is representative of a philosophy of sorts.”
“That’s a cop-out.”
“No, really… I mean, going about talking to people and asking them their philosophy. Being at the intersection of different points of view. Going beyond one’s own (pre)conceived notions to try to understand others.”
Not just the perspective of other people, but of all things…
But I’m not able to voice my answer that way. I suppose my explanation comes out muddled. The guy doesn’t buy it.
It starts to snow. Small, nearly translucent flakes.
It’s going to be a cold night. Am lazy to grapple with the tent this late in the night, haven’t yet tried to set it up, besides it’s a one –person tent.
Crash in the car. Redrik wanders to a nearby campsite looking for some social time.
Open eyes at 5:30am. Cold but alive. A thick layer of condensation fogs the windshield.
Outside, dawn’s Blues etches its fingerprints on the skies.
I pee in the brown leaves. A park ranger car is already rounding up the campsites.
Pull out of the camp lights out, and we’re on the road. Stop by in several places to get some shots. Elk watch the car as we ascend into the mountain. Down, enveloped by a timid mist, a river snakes and sinues through the valley.
Up at about 13,000 feet. The wind bites my fingers off the camera.
Snow covers the adjacent slopes. One of the reasons I sought to leave on a second road-trip (for the ooamerica photo project). It’s a bit late, but this will have to do. The previous night, learned with disappointment that we probably wouldn’t be able to go ski.
The sun warms us through the windshield.
Awake to a car that has run out of battery. I forgot to switch the lights off. Stranded at the top of the mountain, 13,000 feet above a National Park.
Luck: a few cars have come to admire the spectacular view. The issue is solved rapidly. Soon leave towards Denver, where Redrik booked a room in order to retrieve the lost credit card.
The elk wave goodbye. On the road back, a giant sculpture of a pitchforked farmer grins uncannily. The hotel is located right outside of downtown, with a nice a view of the skyline.
We’re both tired after the previous cold (snowy) night in the car. Get a time lapse of KC. We rest.
Redrik retrieves his card, which has safely arrived. A relief. We have a beer – manage to get a parking ticket, although the car is parked a few feet away from where we sit. The first ticket of the trip… Go to the traffic enforcement office, Redrik manages to have it reduced.
Colorado’s undoubtedly one of the country’s most beautiful states. Whether on the small mountainous roads, or on the freeway, the play of rock, tree and light provides ever renewed delight for the eye.
Reach a small town at the end of the afternoon. The ski town, presumably bustling during the on-season (whether winter or summer), is at a standstill. Ghostly. We find the only open bar in town. I gulf bottomless wings. Redrik sips a beer.
Decide to push a little bit further to Glenwood Springs. Keep an eye open. The freeway curves through the mountain ranges. It’s night time. Some road work. An appropriate challenge for Redrik. The learning curve has been appropriate thus far. By now he’s already encountered, and become more accustomed to, plethora of the variables that a driver must look out for, including weather, fatigue, terrain and other drivers. He must be ready for the way back. More on that later.
Stop near Rifle.
Tomorrow we’ll be saying hi to dinosaurs, and Utah.