Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Snowin on Raton"

The Arkansas River seen from downtown Salida, Colorado.

When I'm traveling, I seem to have a sound track playing quietly in the background of my mind.  This day I kept humming the hauntingly beautiful tune of Townes Van Zandt's "Snowin on Raton."  Here's a link if your interested.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0JWdsm5jJg&feature=related   I like Robert Earl Keen's version, too.  There wasn't any snow in Raton; it was July after all.  But I've always loved that song.

Since it had been quite a long day and a late night, we decided to take it slow Sunday morning.   Around 9:30 we aimed the van northwest on Highway 87.   Dumas is right in the corner of the Texas panhandle, so before long we had passed all the circle irrigators and enormous grain elevator of the vast Panhandle farms and drove into New Mexico. It was amazing how quickly the terrain changed.  As soon as we were in New Mexico, the scenery and the architecture transformed and looked New Mexican, not Texan.
The circle irrigators that make farming
 in West Texas possible.

The first mountain appeared just north of Clayton. Someone consulted Wikipedia and discovered that it was called Rabbit Ear Mountain. It didn't really look like rabbit ears unless you held your head just right, but it was a small mountain. Pretty soon we saw the first of the snow fences. It sure didn't seem like those flimsy fences
could hold back a load of snow, but they must work. They were everywhere.

New Mexico through the front windshield.
It's a long, lonesome highway.

It was a bit of a quiet drive.  The mountains through here are not remarkable and the New Mexican plains look lonely and windswept even at the height of summer.  At one point I looked around the van and noticed that everyone was using some sort of electronic device.  The kids were watching a movie or listening to their I-Pods, my sister-in-law was checking her e-mail via her phone, and my brother, the most techie of us all, was using his Garman and his I-Pad to chart our progress and look for a Walmart to fill up the gas tank.  Technology has certainly changed the way we travel.  I remember when there was nothing to do but fight with my brother during long road trips.

We stopped at the Visitor's Center in Raton for bathroom break, and this was where we had our first taste of cool mountain air. It was 84 degrees. Blessed relief.  Today, as I write this, the temperature in North Texas is 110. One hundred and ten degrees! This is why soooo many Texans flee to Colorado each summer.

The true mountains started after Raton. We turned onto Highway 69 at Walsenburg and took a two lane state highway through some long, skinny valleys.  In the distance we could see five or six rainstorms.  Now it's almost impossible to explain what a beautiful sight a storm can be to draught stricken Texans.  One September, after a very long dry spell, we had a thunderstorm in the middle of the afternoon during a school day.  It's stopped my class dead.  Everyone of us bounced in our seats with glee.  My students begged me to let them go outside to run around in the rain.  I must admit, I was tempted! 

At Texas Creek we turned west onto Highway 50 which follows the path of the Arkansas River up higher into the mountains.  On our left were the barren, red mountains of Southern Colorado, almost devoid of trees, and on our right raced the ice cold Arkansas River filled with rafters, fly fishermen, and gold panners.  Yep!  That's right.  There are several active gold mines in this area.

By the time we got to Salida, we needed gas and a stretch break.   Somehow or other we got off of the highway and found ourselves in "historic downtown Salida."  What a delightful town!  The Arkansas runs through the downtown area where we saw kayakers and dogs jumping in the river to fetch sticks and even a guy surfing on the river.  The town was hosting a cycling competition so it was filled with interesting characters from all over.  We played down by the river for a while and then strolled around the downtown area before deciding to have an early dinner.  My sister-in-law, who never met a stranger, got a recommendation from a local couple for a good restaurant, so we ate at Amicas.  They had wonderful pizzas and salads, pasta, and paninis.  They were packed, too.  That's always a good sign. 

A horse trough full of petunias. 
Who woulda thunk it?!?
Revived, we got back into the van for the final leg of the trip, Alma, Colorado, the highest incorporated city in the U.S.  The web site said the town's official altitude was 10,578 and a population of 275 people.  That's about 10,000 feet higher and four million fewer people than the Dallas, Fort Worth Metroplex.  How's that for a change of pace? 

Finally!  At last!  We pulled up to our cabin around 8:00 P.M.  The grandparents gave us hugs all around.  We carried all the luggage and supplies up the steep stairs.  Gave a sleepy recap of our journey.  And then, stumbled off to bed.

There were some great old Victorian buildings with restored details and wonderful faded advertising.

Want to rent a kayak?

The gang's all here.

When we looked out of the window Sunday morning in Dumas, we saw a wind farm.

Traditional wind mills like this one pump well water for stock tanks. 
There's almost always one tree close to the well.


Anonymous said...

How about "Amarillo Highway" for a road trip song?

Anonymous said...

Hey, what about "Amarillo by Morning" or "Lubbock in my Rear View Mirror"? When you got to Colorado, did you hum "Rocky Mountain High"? RW