Road Trip to Colorado July 2008
Richie Larson, Oregon USA

The 4th of July here in the US is a pretty good lights and noise show with the fireworks and all, and this year I pretty well slept through most of it, because I'd planned on a very early morning departure the next morning, leaving Oregon and bound for Colorado in my 1995 GMC truck which, after many months of thought and negotiation, I had decided to sell to my family in Loveland, Colorado.. making a little "road trip" out of in the process.

Well, not so little.  I had not done that kind of long-distance "duration driving" in more than two decades and that actually made me feel a bit wary.  Yet it was a good time to do so... having resigned from my job of many years after the business was sold... I had no particular constraints or time-line issues to deal with, so... we all thought it would be a good idea.  The truck itself was in superb shape, had fairly low miles, and I was very confident that it would make the trip with no problem.  It actually costs MORE to drive that distance now than to fly, but... you don't get a road-trip out of it that way !

Precisely at 7 AM on the 5th I departed and headed east towards Burns, Oregon.  After turning south towards Nevada, I entered terrain I had never driven or seen before.  That is all fairly flat terrain which is actually called the "Oregon Outback" and there is very little traffic.... and could average between 60 and 65 miles per hour and so far... the truck, the sound system, and the driver were doing pretty well.  I had filled up the gas tank in Burns.  Well, 17.25 miles per gallon thus far.  Not too bad for a rig with a 350 cid V-8 driving the wheels!  Crossing into Nevada, I noted that gas prices were even higher than in Oregon, which was a shock!  Two hours later I made "landfall" at Winnemucca, Nevada... which is a town I decided in about 10 seconds was not exactly a place I would want to live.

Turning east again on the Interstate... I was pleased at the light traffic and Nevada allows for  75 miles per hour, although I rarely went over 70, trying to keep the engine turning at an easy 2000 RPM, at which it can loaf along at all day.  I paused at Wells, Nevada for a break and a bit of lunch, noting that the scenery was improving quite a bit by then, and becoming much more interesting.  Pressing on eastwards I made it to Wendover at the Nevada and Utah border and had a reservation at a motel there for the night, having driven around 580 miles that day, which was no doubt a daily driving record for me.

I arrived a bit sooner than I expected, and noticed the first of a mild stumble and hiccup in how the truck was running... the first ominous sign !

colorado01: Heading out !  Eastern Oregon desert, southbound towards Nevada, lunch-break at Wells, Nevada, and finally stop for the day at Wendover, NV and UT, next to the border and Bonneville speedway area

The second day.......

The Wendover area is not much of a place... mostly consisting of Nevada Casino establishments and in close proximity to the famous Bonneville Salt Flats and Speedway just over the border in Utah.  I did not even know that until I got there !  After breaking my own rule about staying clear of fast-food joints.... and a pretty good night of rest, I was off the next morning, but took time to drive over to the Salt Flats recreation area and walking around a bit on them... which is a very unique place, and extends for miles and miles and miles.  I could see why it's such a good place for the land speed record attempts for race cars, jeeps, jet-powered vehicles, and motorcycles !  You could land a fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft on them as well ! 

I had checked in often with my Colorado family and they made a lot of good suggestions about some places to visit.

The GMC seemed to be running.... okay, and I soon skirted around the Salt Lake City area to the east, through Provo, and southeast towards another Interstate but had decided to visit The Arches National Park, which is not far from the world-famous off-roading area of Moab, Utah.  I spent about 3 hours at the park, driving around, hiking a bit, sweat-soaked in the heat and taking pictures.  The rock formations there and actual rock "arches" ( of which I have no pictures that I took for some reason ! ) are most impressive.  I stopped at their visitor center to walk around, cool off and drink some water, and see if I could break my notorious habit of buying tee-shirts everywhere I go !  I managed to do that.  A quick drive-through of Moab, because it's only a few miles away and so I could say "I have been there" was next, and it's a cute touristy little town.  A lot of off-road equipment for sale and rent everywhere, but... NO Land Rover Defender series in sight !  That was an immense letdown for me !!  I love them, and thought they would be around there.....

So back north and then east on the Interstate cruising along and having noticed more frequent hiccup and miss symptoms from the engine particularly when going downhill and then accelerating again, and stopped at Fruita, Colorado, just next to Grand Junction.  That's a pleasant clean town and has one of the "Pride of Super 8" motel facilities where I stayed, which is also next to a western Colorado "Vietnam Wall" memorial and a genuine war-time Huey helicopter mounted above it.  There was a gas station, small store and a fast-food place within walking distance, and... I broke my food rule... again !

colorado02: Bonneville salt flats in NW Utah, southeast and through Arches National Park near Moab, UT

The third day......

I had racked up just short of 1,100 miles by the time I left.  I filled the GMC, cleaned the windows, and checked fluids ( which were fine, and I'd had the oil changed just before leaving home...) although it was not running quite right.  I thought perhaps a spark plug or two was fouled.  I passed through Grand Junction and rather missed the correct exit south, but thought to go up the Interstate and go through an area which led back to the road southeast and thought it would probably be a flat-lander drive.  I was wrong.  It was slow, scenic, twisted this way and that, almost like the Khyber Pass or something, and topped out at something over 10,880 feet and at least the truck was running well.  It's quite the recreation area up there, particularly for the Snowmobile crowd, and then goes through the Mesa and "Grand Mesa", Colorado area before connecting with the highway southeast which reaches Montrose, Colorado and then heads towards the Gunnison area. 

First stop was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park... a wonderfully scenic area and is rather like a small version of the Grand Canyon.  There was a lot of neat scenes and hiking to do, and I again spent about 3 hours there.  So far... the weather had been really great.... the whole trip thus far... quite warm, but not really HOT and I did not make that much use of the GMC air-conditioner.  Mid afternoon I pulled into Gunnison and found their famous "Pioneer Museum..." a fabulous place which had thousands of exhibits of all kinds... some recreations of structures of old, some of the actual ones, something like an "open air" museum with equipment and narrow-gauge steam trains from more than a century ago, AND.. most surprising, a collection of more than 50 classic and antique cars and trucks, which was a great treat and wonderful to check out.  Again I filled the GMC and the last segment has resulted in a little more than 18 miles per gallon, which impressed me for a big club-cab truck and especially since it continued to not run as well as it should. 

Next... over Monarch pass ( one of many high passes over the Continental Divide ) at over 11,200 feet... which was a long and slower uphill grind !  East down the back side and then turned north towards Leadville, the "highest town" in the United States.  A great view of the Rocky Mountains to the east and for the first time.. the weather turned a bit thundershowery and wet and stayed that way until about 10 miles south of Leadville.  You can really feel the altitude up there !  City center of Leadville is just under 10,200 feet and the train depot I later visited was at 10,208.

Leadville was a HUGE mining town and quite prosperous a dozen decades in the past.  It's most interesting, although there are some of the most, if not THE most atrocious looking trailer parks ( sadly, rather like the US version of a South African township.... ) I have ever seen.  But the town has a neat ambiance and character to it.  The truck was running decidedly BAD by then, particularly at slow speeds through the town, and I thought to call my local mechanic the next morning about that.....  Yet again, and mostly because they have properties everywhere... I checked into the local Super 8 motel, and not the best of 'em by a longshot it was as well.....

colorado03: Vietnam Memorial and Huey helicopter at Fruita, CO ( near Grand Junction ) and then Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and southeast area, lakes & recreation area.  About 1,200 miles at this point driven.

[Note: Extra albums were added causing the album numbers to be off. The "Click here for the next album in this series" will take you to the next correct album as listed in this order, 1>2>3>7>4>8>5>6>9>10]

colorado07: Day 3 outside of Grand Junction... pass near "Grand Mesa" at about 10,800 some-odd feet and another good one of Black Canyon of the Gunnison and some posters and classic radio sets at the Pioneer Museum at Gunnison.....

The fourth day

This was going to be more fun, with most of the day to be spent around Leadville.  I did call my mechanic back in Oregon but he had no solid clue about what might be going on either, and suggested I have it checked when I arrived at "my destination".  By about 9.30 AM I had "checked out" and was at the local little train depot ( from the 19th century ) and until 1988 had been closed for 50 years.  That was when a molybdenum mining operation 12 or 13 miles "uptrack" had closed and the train system was turned into the "Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railway", which provides delightful rides which make for about a 3 hour total excursion.. 11 miles and 900 additional feet "up" and stops where the track became quite deteriorated.  It uses a 1955 diesel locomotive which was rebuilt in the late 70's and modified... has both enclosed and open cars, and I planted myself near the engine because I thought the sounds and smells of that were cool.

It is very scenic and fun, makes a stop at a steam-engine water tower from ages ago, and then you can do a locomotive visit for a few minutes, and I was the first one in there!  I chatted with the engineer and about the mechanics of the engine, but had to scoot out of the way because so many other folks want to check it out.  So, I could walk around a bit outside the train and take some more  pictures.  45 minutes later we eased back into the Leadville station and I took some more pictures of another classic steam engine on display and then headed a bit south towards the Lake County airport.

Why?  I thought it would be cool to see one of the highest municipal airports in the country !  And, in connection with a book of fiction... wanted to "see the place", so to speak , regarding.....  In his second book, called Vixen 03, the best-selling author Clive Cussler had chosen the area as one of the locations in the book with a part about a special NUMA "Catlin" jet landing at the airport with equipment and supplies.  Yeah, well.. that's really pretty crazy, but I'm not making any other representations about myself !  So... I was there.  Not a lot to say about it, actually !  But I did in fact get a cell phone call while I was there from a future occupational project thing I had been working on.  Cell phone and mobile internet actually works fine up there... or just plain not at all !  And a break from the high heat... the "high" was about 62 d F the day I was there... and some frost and ice in the morning, actually.....

Later.  The Leadville "Mining Museum and Hall of Fame" is a pretty wonderful place that I spent a few hours at and somewhere where you can also get a new education about things.  I spent a couple hours there, then stopped by an auto parts place looking for special Bosch spark plugs... which they did not have, and then.... northwest a bit over another pass and a slow drive by through the popular ( and trendy, and very expensive ) ski area of Vail, Colorado..., before heading west again on the Interstate towards Denver, chugging over another high pass, and stopping at a cool little town called... Georgetown, for the evening.

A very rustic and pleasant place, with a converted-to-a-Super 8-motel ( I was certainly "off" the high-dollar more deluxe hotels which I have enjoyed on some of my international trips ! ) which was kind of an old west design and really quite nice.  A few miles out of town.... a special park for their 19th century "Loop Train", which is also right by the roaring rapids of a river and quite scenic.  Years ago... NO train could ascend the uphill grade that would have been required for a short-cut to Leadville.  So, one brilliant engineer designed a loop-over system which ascended at an acceptable grade, made a bridge to loop over one set of tracks, and thereby make it possible to make the shortcut to Leadville a reality.

Impressive.  I called it a day there in Georgetown and tried to break the fast-food habit.. since I saw no places like that there !

colorado04: Pioneer Museum at Gunnison, CO... fabulous place... open air displays, classic structures, and an awesome antique and classic auto collection and of course, the narrow-gauge train and interior of caboose which was pretty cool !

colorado08: The watering tower at about 11 K feet on the Leadville train... the track led to a molybdenum mine up another two miles.... been there for a century or  so, but now closed... and scenes from where the train stopped 11 or 12 miles "up" at 11,100 feet and the classic steam engine which is at the Leadville depot... a lot of cool old machinery and historical stuff... everywhere !

Day 5 and into Loveland

Off the next morning, but not particularly early.  Chatted with a lot of folks all on the road in the breakfast lounge the place had, with some interesting conversation and news coverage from CNN.  Northwards through some areas which I had not been before, but just short of the Rocky Mountain National Park... which I have been to many times... before heading into Loveland, and at 5000 feet, hoping the truck would be running better.  It was not.  I did stop at a car wash to "do the truck" and then a parts place... finding those special Bosch spark plugs ( which proved to be of no help for the problem ) but I did arrive at the family Loveland home, safe and sound, and having driven about 1.680 miles in all.  A trip average of just over 17 miles per  gallon, and at least... I got there.

And then?  Most of Colorado is a gorgeous state.  It's almost like a second home to me.  My sister is nearly a full generation older than I am, and as a youth and teen I spent most of my summer months living with them, so... second-home and second-family is about right.  I spent about five days with them... which was great, had time to catch up on their projects, and how my sister was doing after surgery on her neck after a brutal fainting and falling episode a month before.  We spent a day at their mountain lodge, located at about 8,500 feet and to the north of Rocky Mountain NP and that was a lovely day, and all in all... just went great.  They really loved ( and still do ) the GMC truck, which is mostly for a 35 year-old nephew of mine who is a construction builder, and since then... MUCH to my surprise... found the problem was mostly in ignition wires and a few other things so was not too bad to correct.  We'd already replace the $ 58.00 set of Bosch "super plugs" and now... it's running as well as it did for me, and... later on I realized that I THOUGHT I had replaced those wires, but obviously... had not.  But.. no serious breakdowns getting there !  It got me there !

colorado05: Northbound towards Leadville on eastern side of Rocky Mountains... in Leadville, CO and the classic train which goes about 11 miles and another 1000 feet higher, interior shot of mining museum in Leadville and a park with the river and span bridge for the "loop train" at Georgetown, CO, west of Denver 

And early the next week I left, being driven to the Denver airport, and finding, most unusually, that Alaska Airlines did HAVE on that flight ( one of two flights getting home ) some first-class upgrades available for a mere $50.00 so I decided to spoil myself and indulge.  It was worth it, ha ha !  I checked in and paid for that and then wandered a bit.  A spotless and shiny Learjet is on display there... the one that was used for the world private-aircraft circumnavigation speed and distance record back about 10 or 11 years ago.  ONE of the crew on that endeavor was the late Apollo-era astronaut Pete Conrad, who died... of all things, from a motorcycle accident riding his Harley Davidson.

colorado06: Turning north from Georgetown, CO area and arriving, finally, in Loveland, CO ! 

And so I came home.  The flight to Oregon was a tad longer than usual but very scenic... passing right by the north side of Mount Hood near Portland and views of all the Cascade Mountain "ring of fire" mountains all the way north to Rainer  overlooking the Puget Sound and Seattle area.

So the trip all came together pretty well in the end, and my dread of long road-trips somewhat displaced.  Granted, it's absurd for ONE person to drive a big truck THAT distance just for mere transportation, but it was also a "delivery trip", so to speak.  Flying is cheaper and much quicker, of course.  But when you make it a road trip, it can be kind of neat.  I think I could actually do it again, provided I had no time constraints !  I spent about $400.00 on gasoline, four nights motels and such, but it was a good mini-odyssey-sojourn and importantly, a LOT of new area and scenes I had never seen before.

colorado09: The Saturday ( the 12th ) trip up to the CO family "Lodge", about 75 minutes from their home and at 8,500 feet... just to the north of Rocky Mountain NP... lovely place, south fork ( ? ) of the Poudre River running alongside... and a very nice place built like a Swiss Tank !  Nearby is an area with a 3-mile hike through the woods where a WW ll 4-engine bomber packed it in mistakenly thinking they were turning east of the mountains towards Denver... did not get up there, but saw pictures... fuselage metal and radial engines still there and it's a protected memorial area, as such.  Neat... !  Next trip I'll make the hike up there !

Having a fondness for travel in nearly all its forms, which I do... that helps as well !  And, for a "first" in my travels, I bought NO tee-shirts and only one coffee mug... which I got at the Leadville train depot !  Sometimes, you just have to economize a bit !

And there's the summer sojourn of 2008 !

colorado10: At the Denver airport... this Learjet is exhibited there and holds the world speed and time record for circumnavigating the globe by a private aircraft... and was the first private aircraft to land at the "new" Denver airport about 10 years ago.  One of my fav astronauts, Pete Conrad ( Apollo 12 and Skylab, as well as two Gemini missions ) was one of the pilots.  Really cool display !

Richie Larson
July 2008

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