Now that we are settled, not at home but nearby, and I have a little time to relax and reflect on our cross country journey, I find the horror and misery of the trip fading and being replaced with happy memories. I even look forward to travelling more. I cannot wait to visit Montana, my father’s family’s home. The Pacific Northwest beckons. And my next destination is absolutely Maine, home of my idol, Stephen King.
For now though, I am just going to look back on the memories I recently made and the one thing that stands out the most is Colorado.
We woke on a Wednesday morning in Beaver, Utah and set that day’s goal for Denver, Colorado. According to the GPS we would arrive at 7:30 PM. Yeah. Not so much, but we will get to that. Since we had finally dropped our load and the roads in Utah were fantastic, I volunteered to drive. I crossed Utah without incident and made it exactly one mile into Colorado. The change in terrain was immediate and drastic. Suddenly we were on top of the world with no guard rails! I pulled over and let Tim take the wheel again and that was definitely the right decision. We wove our way through the Rockies for the rest of the day and late into the night. The GPS continuously readjusted its time frame. 8:30. 9:30. 10:30. Even Tim, who is a confident and experienced driver, was driving at about half the speed limit. We finally decided we needed to get a hotel room for the night but were unable to find a room, even in Vail! So we forged ahead. And that’s when it started to rain. We pulled into a rest area determined to just sleep in the car until dawn. So naturally, the rest area had an hour parking limit. Again, we forged ahead. Mostly it was a nightmare driving the Rockies at night, but there were highlights we enjoyed; the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel was especially enjoyable because when we emerged on the far side, we had left the rain behind us. Glenwood Springs was lovely and graced us with a beautiful rainbow. And it was really, really cool to cross the Continental Divide (especially since it meant we were halfway home!).
We stopped for the last time around 11PM, ate dinner and forced ourselves into making the final push for Denver. This leg of the journey is when I learned that Colorado has quite the sense of humor. As we finally spotted the glittering lights of Denver laying ahead of us, we also spotted this:
And then this:
It didn’t scare us though; we had finally reached our destination. At 12:30AM, a full five hours later than the GPS had originally indicated. We checked into the first Motel 6 we came across and passed out. We woke the next morning, bright, early and horribly ill. Now if you scroll back up and take another look at the Loveland Pass/Continental Divide sign, you will note that the elevation was near 12,000 feet. Turns out there is such a thing as altitude sickness. Who knew?! The symptoms were mostly flu like with awful headaches. It was tempting to take the day off and stay in bed, but there was something very special awaiting me in Denver.
Three years ago, my dear friend Lynne set off on a year long cross country trip (she’s tougher than me) and finally settled in Denver. So we forced ourselves up and out and headed downtown. Lynne is the only friend we had the opportunity to visit along the way and it was totally worth it. She took us on a walking tour of her very cool neighborhood; we saw a real life hooker (pretty shocking for this small town girl) and a cannabis dispensary. We spent the afternoon catching up and then headed back to our hotel to “nap”. That nap of course wound up lasting all night and we woke the next morning feeling even worse than we had the day before. So we chose to cut our Denver visit short, in favor of descending to a lower elevation and set our sites on Kansas. Before we left Colorado behind, though, the state surprised us with one more of their uniquely, hilarious signs.
On I-70, the mile marker sign for mile 420 has been replaced by mile marker 419.99. The reason? 420 is an iconic number to the many potheads who have flocked to Colorado since they legalized marijuana in the state. After replacing the sign numerous times following thefts, they decided to eliminate it altogether and replaced it with 419.99. Hands down, Colorado has the most clever road signs in all of America. Thank you for that Colorado. Hopefully some day I will only remember Lynne and the signs, and forget the horror of driving the Rockies at night in the rain and the misery of altitude sickness.
Five weeks ago, we set out in our RV for our first cross country trip. The destination was California; the point was to deliver a tow behind pizza oven and four cabinets to their new owners. Murphy’s Law ruled the trip from the get go. We broke down four times between our home base in South Carolina and Mississippi, where we finally blew the motor in our 1984 Winnebago. We regrouped in Tupelo, Mississippi, rented a truck, loaded up the dogs and set off again. The rental truck, a 2015 Tahoe, got us all the way to our destination and home again but that doesn’t mean the trip was without a hiccup or two. The following is a few of my best travel tips, guaranteed to keep any road weary travel from pulling out their hair.
Show Some Love for LOVE’S
With over 200 locations nationwide, Love’s truly is a traveler’s best friend. You can always count on Love’s for safe, quality fuel at reasonable prices. They always have a variety of food choices and a wide selection of incidentals essential for any successful road trip, from phone chargers to tampons. Many Love’s feature pet areas for your furry friends to stretch their legs and showers for filthy men who have spent hours under the RV. On more than one long, lonely stretch of road, the Love’s sign in the distance gave us the strength to push on a few more miles. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, the friendly staff at Love’s is more than happy to unlock your rental car, free of charge, after your furry family locks you out.
Get Off The Beaten Path
Due to budget and time restrictions, the first half of our trip was spent strictly on America’s vast and awing interstate system. With a little more freedom, the trip back home allowed us to be tourists a bit. My first recommendation: stop at every scenic outlook! There’s a good reason the government chose to spend the money to provide these spots. They provided the most beautiful pictures from our trip and gave us a chance to see amazing landscapes not visible from the highway. My second recommendation: just go ahead and fall into the tourist trap!!! By far my favorite stop of the trip was at Prairie Dog Town in Kansas. We first saw the signs advertising the world’s largest prairie dog and six-legged cows about an hour before stumbling on this micro-zoo. Owned for 45 years by a Vietnam War veteran, this project is clearly a labor of love and just made me feel good about my fellow animal loving Americans. As a matter of fact, the place is for sale, but only to the “right person”, someone willing to love and care for these buffalo, peacocks, wolves and all their friends. So if anyone would like to invest $300,000 I will gladly pack my red shoes and change Violet’s name to Toto and head for Kansas!
Motel 6: They’ll Leave the Light on for You and for Fido, Too
Halfway through our journey in Los Angeles, sitting in the parking lot of the second hotel to reject us that night due to their pet policy, exhausted and hungry, I made the most thrilling discovery of the trip, possibly my life. With the exception of one location in New Jersey, all Motel 6’s take pets. For free. Seriously, pets stay free. I don’t really think there’s much more to say, but for those of you who need more convincing, I’ll continue. If it’s luxury amenities you’re after, just keep driving. But if you are looking for a clean, affordable place to catch a little shuteye and a shower, Motel 6 is your home away from home. Motel 6 consistently had the lowest prices all across America and we never experienced any problems like noisy neighbors or dirty rooms. As a pet owner I especially appreciated that many locations have forgone carpet in favor of easy to clean hard surfaces. As a traveler, I appreciated the comfortable beds and endless hot water. The killer sunset from the heated pool in Beaver, Utah didn’t hurt either, much like the cheapest room of our trip, which we found in Las Vegas just minutes of the strip.
Knowledge is Power
Opportunities to learn abound along the road. Welcome centers and rest areas often have educational postings and displays. We learned about plant and animal life indigenous to the Rockies while waiting out a late night storm. I got to say, ” hey honey, come look at this poop” while learning about animal scat in the ladies room of a welcome center in the Mojave desert. Tim was mortified; the park ranger amused. In Utah, we visited the St. George Dinosaur Discover site at Johnson Farm. We got to lay our hands on real dinosaur tracks perfectly preserved at this sadly underfunded historical treasure. I had a close encounter with a vicious and beastly lizard on a roadside in Arizona when we stopped so I could see how the mountain felt.
Every stop is a chance to gather a little knowledge and everyone knows knowledge is power.