Those Empty Highway Blues.
It's a long long road from Espanola to Cortez
If this car breaks down I'm shit out of luck
Ain't no one to see me, ain't no one to find me
I've got those empty highway blues.
There ain't a gas station anywhere in sight
There's not a car that passes me by
I'm out here alone on this empty desert road
I've got them empty highway blues
B ut you know it's beautiful with the snow on the mountains
And the pines marching to their tops
And the sky is so blue that hurts your eyes
And the sun it beats down upon your head.
I've got those empty highway blues.
New Mexico to Colorado, Utah, Arizona.
It's all one big yellow prairie
I've got them empty highway blues.
Wednesday, December 9
New Mexico line to Cortez
Into Colorado at 1:41, 43 degrees, over the Cumbres Pass: "A major encounter between the US Army and a large group of Utes and Chicarilla Apaches occurred in July 1848. Old Bill Williams, the famous scout and guide, was badly wounded fighting the Utes which had once adopted him as a tribesman."
The road is the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway. As I drive underneath this wonderful rock formation, there is of course no place to pull over and take a picture of it. Chores Pass, 10022 feet. Lots and lots of snow to my right, where the land falls off from the road to a kind of valley. To my left, there's snow beside the road and some on the slopes, some of them bare, now into totally snow-covered area. Into an area with 10 houses scattered across the snow, some probably not living space, a large cabin, Cumbers Adventure Tours Snowmobiles. La Manga Pass Summit. 10,230 feet. 7% grade next 2 miles, 35 mph, Slide Area. 2 S curves. Conejos River, San Juan Mountain Church, Red Bear Restaurant, Platoro. Somehow I screwed up again. Instead of being on US 85 north I'm on Colorado 17 going east and it's already too late to run around. Rio Grande National Park. Nice rock cliffs to my left just off the road, not very far, lots of white snow-capped mountains way up ahead, to my right hills with a dusting of snow on their slopes, some on the desert to the right but not to the south-facing slopes on my left. Now it's opened up to my right, just prairie over there, mountains in the far distance, quite a string of snow-capped mountains starting slightly to my left then ahead of me stretching out to my right to about half of 45 degrees. An old Spanish-style church pretty much gutted, doors and windows open, probably no roof, but the walls still standing. Magote, a fairly large abandoned house, 65 mph.
At 12:35, temp 46, I pick up 285 north through the town of Antonio, 1911 Hotel, Dutch Mill Cafe and Bar, hotel vacancy, Palace Hotel, Hometown Food Market, the Golden Nugget Night Club, Helen's Liquor Store, Gypsy Rose Used Furniture Etcetera, Family Dollar, United Presbyterian Church, homes. Bountiful. Not much to it, 10-15 houses off the left, Rio Grande National Forest Ranger Station. La Jara city limits, elevation 7000 and something. Absolute Beauty Salon. Welcome to Alamosa County, Home of Great Sand Dunes.
Route 160 and Alamosa, at 1:08, temp 48, Monterrey Cafe, Adam State University, El Charro Café, The Grizzly Inn Motel, Grizzly Motors. Monte Vista city limits, 7663 feet, 1:26, 47 degrees. Snow-capped mountains now to my south. Rio Bravo Liquor, a Southwestern building with a dull red middle flanked by 2 yellow facades, all one building, the Monte Bella Inn. Wow! A long range of snow-capped peaks to my north, almost the entire northern horizon, quite some distance away but they are there. A little hoodoo to my left, rock cliffs sloping to the desert. To my left a few snow-capped mountains to the south, not as far away as those to north. Passing through prairie, desert country, snow-capped up there ahead waiting for me. Welcome to Del Norte at 1:47, temp 47, Peace of Art Cafe, elevation 7874, Country Family Inn and Restaurant, a row of real adobe-type houses, a big elk on top of a promontory, a bear on a lamppost, All Natural Café Now Open. South Fork elevation 7880 at 2:01 44 degrees, flat mountains up ahead, snow-capped slopes not very far away to my left, snow along road, no snow on hills to my right though some on the prairie. Elk Country Storage, Lazy Bear Cabins, Chinook (?), $2.29 for gas here, Rainbow Grocery, Rainbow Motel. Those look like the Alps up there. US 160 is just absolutely fantastic in Colorado, just wonderful, wonderful country. Pegosa Springs at 3:01, 47 degrees, very hazy sky, the sun shining through it, some blue, there's the road to Chama that I missed, US 85. Missing it cost me about two hours (but I did get to see some beautiful country). First Inn, a pretty small museum, Pinewood Inn, Rocky Mountain Knife Shop, Valley House Grill, Riff Raff Brewery, sun in my eyes, Goodman's Department Store, Memory Lane Collectibles and Treasures Antiques, a pretty big town. $10 of $2.09 gas at the Sonoco at 3:11, 47 degrees. A frightened deer in the road. Durango, elevation 6512, at 4:27, temp 45, wonderful snow-covered peaks up ahead.
Now I'm having trouble with the digital recorder erasing, to add to the problems I've been having with my cameras.
Great country here, a sheer cliff up ahead, railroad cars, the Animas River, Hogan Navajo rug with big arrows stuck in the ground like those at the Route 66 Casino. Up ahead a big bluff drops down 90 degrees to slopes, snow, black animals in a field (cattle?), goats, sheep?, a horse. It's getting dark as I come up on Mesa Verde. That cliff is probably Mesa Verde, entrance at 5:05.
At 5:44, 44 degrees, odometer 114517, I stop at the Super 8 and sign up for 2 nights after I couldn't find the Hungry Indian Motel. The room is small, with a table and 2 chairs, the usual overhead rack with hangers & luggage rack underneath, two bedside tables with phone and alarm, a lowboy with 2 drawers, TV, and a lamp, overhead lamp, 2 wall lamps, not much counter space, no refrigerator or microwave.
After a holiday sizzle at Denny's, I get to bed at 12.
Thursday, December 10
In 1964, I went out with Leah Beth Story for the first time.
Up at 7:45 for cereal, toast, coffee, and yogurt, no juice available. Off to Hovenweep at 9:29, temp 39, 491 north past the Crow Canyon Archeological Site, totally overcast with high clouds but bright. Mostly black cattle grazing out on the range on both sides of the road, one brown one with a white blaze on its face. Mountains to the west with snow on them, streaky, not solid cover. A dark brown horse with a black mane, 3 more horses, one brown, one white, a couple of donkeys or mules just staring, more black cattle scattered across the plain across the area.
Road BB to Hovenweep at 9:52, temp 42, snow-capped mountains to my right about 45 degrees. A brief stretch of gravel road shakes the car badly. Moveable irrigation rigs. I hate to think what just one of those things must cost--a long stretch of pipes with small rubber tires to move them from one place to another. I'm heading southwest with snow-covered peaks to my left, snow-covered peaks to my right. Canyons of the Ancients National monument at 10:13, temp 45. Prairie with yellow grass, maybe some snakeweed, large green sagebrush type growths, grayish green growths, some kind of trees. I don’t think they're Joshua trees. There's a steer, white blaze on its face, standing alongside the road, looking up as I approach and watching as I drive past.
Hovenweep National Monument in Utah at 10:25, 39 degrees. "Hovenweep is a Paiute and Ute word meaning deserted valley. It was a name given to it by pioneer photographer, William H. Jackson, who visited here in 1874." I donate a copy of Ancient Laughter to the visitors center. It's quite a strenuous hike down to the mouth of the canyon, I don't remember this at all. It's very rocky, quite a hike down and, yes, it is a canyon, not a gully. The sky is clearing, the sun is bright as I climb uphill from the mouth of the canyon. That rock that I remember sitting on? There's no rock there to sit on, no jackrabbit to come out and look at me. Up on the rim a couple of small birds fly past, across from ruins on the other side of the canyon, a tree down there so small. It's quite a ways down.
There's no feeling of deja vu, that I had lived here a thousand years ago or even visited here 6 or 7 years ago. There's a great feeling of peace as well as the power and strength of nature and of the Earth, the large rocks that have come down partway into the canyon, the massiveness of the rocks. It's not as spectacular as Big Bend but somehow the feeling of the overwhelmingness of the rocks, their massiveness is more powerful. It's incredible that people could live, even thrive, in a place so desolate. A tribute to us, I guess. I scare up a rabbit, a cottontail. I take a couple of pictures at Hovenweep House, keep walking then turn around and walk back. There's nothing here except a slightly uneasy feeling in my stomach. It is two rooms with a narrow passage between them and what looks like it might have been a chimney, maybe.
The peace of wild things does not exist. Wild things are fearful and hungry. And that's what life is about. Life is a struggle, life is a fight. Life always struggles to survive, to overcome, to get as much of the pie as it can get, to procreate to keep the species going, or just to have enough food to live, to live another day. We are fighters, we have been fighters since the first life appeared on this earth, fighting just to survive, fighting to live.
“The silence of the centuries. Standing here 800 years ago, you might have heard the distant tap-tapping of stones being shaped to build pueblo walls, dogs barking, turkeys gobbling, and echoed snatches of conversation as people weeded their fields.”
So back to the car at 12:20, 60 degrees, hazy sky slightly overcast sky with some blue, the sun having no trouble getting through. I leave Hovenweep at 12:37, temp 48, 42 miles to Cortez according to the sign.
At 12:43, it’s back into Canyons of the Ancients and Colorado. A huge field of corn off to my left and I mean huge, on and on and on, as far back as I can see, acre after acre of corn, a square quarter mile if not more, more on my right, on and on. Then I realize it might be something else, not corn, maybe wheat, I don’t know, just some kind of large stalky thing. It’s followed by a pine tree farm on my right and plowed brown soil on my left, then stubbled fields to my right, what looks like pastureland to my left. But there are those parked irrigation sprinklers, so maybe it’s not pastureland, just fallow ground at the present time.
After some thought, I decide to go to the Lowry Pueblo since I’m already near it, just 4 miles of dirt road from the road I came in on. I get there at 1:15, temp 49. The pueblo has low walls left for about half or more of it then walls that go up a bit over my head. There are (or were)L 2 smaller rooms then 2 larger rectangular rooms, an almost square room, a long narrow room, the higher walls, 2 more rooms, no way into them, at the end a room that’s semicircular then square, two very small rooms, one long very rectangular room, a low entrance you’d have to crawl through to get into that room, a room with 2 windows, an outside courtyard, more rooms inside, another low doorway, lots of rooms. all connected. “Lowry Pueblo is famous for its four kivas with painted plaster. In the AD 1100s Lowry’s 8 mostly underground round rooms provided indoor cooking space and a cozy atmosphere for gatherings.” Nearby is “The Great Kiva. Special buildings that were used for community activities including important ceremonies. A visitor from the Santa Clara Pueblo interpreted the unique stone features in the floor to represent winter people and summer people.” This is a circular room dug into the ground separate from the main kiva. I leave Lowry at 1:38, temp 49.
Then I go to the Anasazi Cultural Center, where someone had sent me to Hovenweep 6 or 7 years ago. I wander around the museum. There are a couple of mule deer outside, the male obviously standing guard of or for the female. I don’t feel like hiking up to the pueblo. It’s too cold.
After an oriental chicken salad at J. Fargo’s I go to Mesa Verde but most of it is closed off because of some kind of special ceremony in honor of the 100th anniversary of the creation of the park (I think).
I can go up but it’s 20-30 miles and I’ve only got a quarter tank of gas so I go back to the motel.
Friday, December 12
Cortez to the New Mexico line
Up at 8:15, toast, cereal, yogurt, coffee, and apple juice. On the road at 9:18, 50 degrees, the sky hazy and overcast but the sun shining through, US 160 to US 491 south to Gallup, NM. Pocapeli Bed and Board, Family Dollar, Arby’s, Lotsa Pasta, American Holiday, Butte Mountain Motel, 55 mph, out to the desert, Shiprock 41. To my left a range of rising and falling mountains leads to a straight down cliff, some peaks are, some are fairly sharp. To my right there are more fairly sharp peaks with snow on the slopes, in streaks, not solid patches. An old saloon type building apparently no longer in business but in good shape, Antique Coral, Cortez Animal Bed & Breakfast, Belt Salvage Company, Hovenweep 42 miles, Watch for Wildlife Use Caution. A couple of sheep in a field including a ram, the sheepdog standing at the fence looking at the road. To my right a promontory rises up either out of one of those cliffs or behind it, I can’t tell which. Ismay Draw, entering Ute Mountain Ute Lands, and of course the Ute Mountain Casino, mostly slots of course, a few gaming tables, concrete tepees at a plaza of some kind. Passing by cliffs on the left not too far away, dropping off to desert, sharp drop-offs, ending at a cliff with what looks like pueblos on top, square rectangular rock formations, past them a very thick rock tower comes out of the desert. As I get closer, I think the pueblos are really just rock formations but I’m not quite sure. The rock tower rises out of the desert on a triangular slope of debris. Past it is another tower, a thin little needle, another triangular form with two thin sharp peaks rising out of the haze. 491 and 160 part company at 9:53, 114 miles to Gallup rock. The rock tower gets more impressive the closer you get to it, a lot longer than it is wide. Chimney Rock. Into New Mexico at 12:05, temp 53.