I dreamed I was back in Mr. Rains’ class at junior high, but I had my own office in the building. I was working on something important, and ended up late for my class. My desk had books everywhere… It was 6:45 when I woke up, Thursday, August 25th. The eastern sky was a pale pink. I could hear cars whooshing past on the nearby interstate. It was 61 degrees out. I walked over to the showers, and had to shoo a bug out of the stall. When I came back outside, the Sun was a rosy disk on the horizon.
I pulled out the stove and boiled some water for my freeze-dried bacon and scrambled eggs. It mixed up right in the bag. If you surrender any illusion of them actually looking like scrambled eggs, they’re pretty good. The bacon sinks to the bottom, so you have to stir it up. 

In the office, I had a hot cup of tea and a nice talk with Mary, the owner of the RV park. She loved Kansas, because it didn’t look like any place else on Earth. She said she’d see kids hooked up to their Ipads or MP3 players ignoring the wonders of the world around them. “It makes me want to say unplug! Turn off! Look around!” she said. I bought a soda pop and a birthday card for a friend. 

At 8:40, I pulled out of the RV park and got on Interstate 70, headed west. The air was clean; it was a crisp, gorgeous morning… except, I forgot to fill up on gas, and it was 51 miles to Goodland. I needed to stop somewhere for gas. I got off at the Mingo exit, but the town of Mingo is not much more than some train tracks next to a grain elevator. So, I went down the interstate and stopped in Colby. The gas gauge showed half a tank. Road construction made it hard to get to the truck stop. That’s where I got $20 worth of unleaded gas. (Unleaded plus had Ethanol.) Back on the highway, I found a farm report on the radio talking about “profitable packer options.” The landscape was blanketed with cornfields, but I also saw acres of sunflowers, some as big as dinner plates. I passed two state troopers giving out tickets within a mile of each other, near Mile Marker 49.

It was a quarter to 10 when I got to Goodland. (“Welcome to the Good Life”). About 18 minutes later, I crossed the state line into Colorado. Railroad tracks ran parallel to the highway along the northern side. I soon came to Burlington, Colorado (”Where the Trip Begins”). There was a Welcome Center at Exit 347. Denver was about 3 hours away.  The landscape was still very Kansas-like, though the plains began to show subtle ripples. To the north, I could see a bunch of wind-powered generators. Rows of cedar trees standing guard alongside the interstate told me I was passing a Christmas tree farm. They reminded me of the "national windbreak" program that was attempted back in the 1930s. Thousands of trees were planted across the Great Plains in an attempt to slow down the winds of the Dust Bowl. The project was a total failure. You can still finds random rows of trees along the prairie sometimes.

I was encountering some pretty stiff crosswinds myself. The wind got strong enough to make the roof panels of the van buckle. At Exit 405 I pulled off the interstate for a pit stop at the Siebert Travel Plaza. The gas gauge said I had a quarter tank, so I put in another $20 of gas. That made the gauge show better than half full. Google Maps said it was 54 miles to Limon. I had crossed over into Mountain Time, but I decided to keep my clocks on Central Time until I got to the Black Rock Desert. It was too confusing to keep going back and forth with local time zones. It was a quarter past 11 (Central Time) when I crossed the Republican River. Over in the eastbound lane, I saw a motorist getting an assist from the Flagler Fire Department. Flagler was advertised as the home town of nature writer Hal Borland. I soon crossed the Lincoln County line.
At Exit 371, I pulled off the highway and went through the little town of Genoa, Colorado. Right after a sign that said “Point of Interest 1 Mile,” the pavement turned into a bad, bumpy gravel road. Up ahead was what I was looking for: the Wonder Tower. It was a tourist attraction built way back in 1926 and for decades was a major stop on Highway 24. Signs claimed you could see six states from the top of the tower, built on the highest point between New York and Denver. 

When I pulled up to the tower, there were cars out front, but no signs of life. The doors were locked, despite the OPEN sign in the window. I couldn’t see anybody inside. There were rocks and antique tools and crystals set out on rickety tables. The wind was strong and chilly. The famous view from the top seemed reserved only for the blank states of the weatherbeaten mannequins propped up along the railings. From ground level, the view was still impressive. I waited for someone to appear, but when nobody did, I took some pictures and headed out. It was 95 miles to Denver. 

An eastbound train zoomed past on the north side of the highway, the first train I’d seen all day. It was right before noon when I got to Limon, where people exit on their way to Pike’s Peak. That was where the interstate crossed over the railroad tracks, which now followed along the south side of the highway. I passed Mile Marker 360, and realized I was 6 hours from the Utah border, all things being equal, which they weren't. I nibbled on a bag of Fritos. There was a large cluster of dead trees to the south. The median, covered in golden grass, widened to a hundred yards of more between the east and westbound lanes. Snow fences, reminding me of World War II tank barriers, lined the highway. Trees clustered around creekbeds.
One hundred ninety-three miles from where I started that morning, I pulled off to a rest area for lunch: a hard boiled egg and an orange. I also refilled my canteens to stay hydrated. As I ate, I watched several elderly couples come and go. A sign said Interstate 70 was a Blue Star Memorial highway. The rest area bathrooms were unisex. Back on the road, a line of tall, white clouds appeared ahead along the western horizon. A sign announced the elevation was 5,183 feet just east of Deer Trail, Colorado. I climbed over a hill, then just east of Mile Marker 319 I spotted the outlines of mountains in the west: ghostly, blue-green shapes. It looked like several were still streaked with snow. I passed a trailer loaded down with bicycles, and wondered where they were headed.
Mountains were really obvious from the tree-lined rest area at Mile Marker 307. A ragged line of peaks filled up the whole western horizon, capped with clouds of an approaching storm front. I hoped I would pass quickly under any storms.
Near Exit 299, there was a small pirate ship just sitting in the grass off to the south of the highway. It was so random. That was where I pulled over and got another $20 worth of gas ($3.39 a gallon) at a nearby station. I’d been trying to budget myself on gas, but everything I read said gas got very expensive west of Denver, and I figured I wouldn’t find anything cheaper that day. 
The further west I went, the angrier the clouds appeared. It looked like rain was falling on the mountainsides. There was a very nice church near the highway, and down the road I started seeing airplanes. Traffic picked up and got very heavy. It was just before 2 PM when I crossed the Denver city limits. The traffic kept me going at a good clip. I passed the Denver Mattress factory and, the local Bass Pro. I had been dreading “the Mousetrap,” the famous interchange where I-70 met I-25, but when it came up I went through it quickly and easily. Ahead lay an impressive wall of mountains.
I was soon swept out of town. Mountains rose dramatically all around me. At Exit 260, traffic ground to a halt in all lanes. Road construction had everything inching along at 5 MPH. I-70 turned towards a steep, uphill grade… and Satori began to protest. I couldn’t get it to go faster than 40 MPH, even flooring the accelerator. I didn’t know what the problem was. I remembered how the van struggled up the Monarch Summit, and realized I would be climbing to much higher altitudes. I felt very tense. Outside, the air was cool and damp. I could see fancy mansions on the hillsides, places that looked like where James Bond villain might live. My ears popped. The road kept climbing, and Satori’s engine kept straining. I was really glad I would not be returning by that route. The road took me through a tunnel, and then I exited at Idaho Springs. Satori needed to stop for a break. Also, there was something I wanted to see.
Idaho Springs is a small former mining town wedged in between the mountains. There’s only 3 or 4 east-west streets, it’s such a tight fit. There were lots of places for hikers and skiers. Outside the radio station, however, was something fascinating: a statue dedicated to comic strip character Steve Canyon. The statue was put up after World War II as a tribute to armed forces airmen, and to “all the American cartoon characters who served the nation.” A local smiled at me as I took some pictures. I guess they were used to tourists.

Satori seemed cooled off, so I got back on the interstate. Problems persisted, however. The van strained against the uphill grade. The engine sounded like it wasn’t getting enough gas.

I passed Silver Plume (elevation 9,118 feet) and headed for the Eisenhower Tunnel. The tunnel goes through the Rockies, topping out at 11,158 feet, the highest point on the whole interstate system. I hurried through the tunnel, thinking frantic thoughts of how much it would suck to break down in there. It was 3:30 when I emerged out the western side of the tunnel, and the road immediately plunged into a very steep downgrade. 
I had my foot on the brake the whole 5 miles down that winding road. When I got to the town of Silverthorne, I pulled off and stopped in a busy shopping mall parking lot. I had to get out and walk around for a few minutes, I was so stressed-out. When I started up Satori again, the engine was running normally again—the temperature gauge said it was even running cooler. I guess once it got over the hump it was okay. So was I.

I’d been up for 9 hours, but the local time was only 3 PM. Still, I needed to get a move on. The Dillon Reservoir made for a pretty lake outside of Frisco. I found myself on the Gerald R. Ford Memorial Highway. There were a bunch of cars at the Exit 190 rest area. Off to the side, through the trees, I could see bicyclists on the access roads. I had apparently come across the middle of a bicycle race. I could see people on bikes on both sides of the highway, even when the going got very steep near Vail Pass. Right before Eagle, Colorado, the interstate plunged into a steep valley. It seemed that Colorado had plenty of highway rest areas. I passed Gypsum right before 5 PM Central Time. Firewood was advertised selling for $135 a cord.

I crossed the Colorado River, and followed the highway into Glenwood Canyon. The views were simply amazing. The cliffs above me rose so high, I had to lean over the steering wheel to see up to the top. The canyon gets so narrow at points the east and westbound lanes of the interstate are almost on top of each other. It was really an engineering marvel. The views were breathtaking. I pulled off at the Grizzly Creek exit to chill for a minute and to check out the canyon bike trail. It was narrow, but looked fascinating. Under the interstate the banks of the Colorado were quiet and peaceful. The river was vibrant and churning, and I saw a couple of people getting out kayaks to launch.

I went through another tunnel at Mile Marker 116. I was still two hours from the state line. I wondered if I would need to stop for gas yet again that day. Once past Glenwood Canyon, I could see that it was raining way off to the southwest. A sunbeam broke through the clouds, highlighting a narrow valley to my left. At the town of Rifle, elevation 5,153 feet, I was still 62 miles from Grand Junction. It was just after 6 PM (Central Time) when I pulled off in the little town of Parachute.

Parachute has an unusual history. In the 1960s, the government was trying to find peaceful uses for atomic bombs. (Yes, you read that right.) Outside of Parachute, geologists had found a reserve of natural gas, but it was going to be too expensive to dig down to it. So, somebody had the idea of setting off an atomic bomb underground to get to the natural gas. (Kind of like what John Travolta did in the movie "Broken Arrow.") In 1969, a 40-kiloton bomb was exploded about a mile underground. 

The funny thing is, it worked--sort of. They got natural gas, all right. They got... radioactive natural gas. The government covered up everything with concrete, put a fence around it, and hoped nobody would remember. 

It was cloudy and 98 degrees out. Just to be safe, I got $10 worth of gas (40 cents more per gallon than east of Denver). I wondered if Satori’s problems over the Rockies were due to all the Ethanol in the gasoline. Every place I stopped seemed to have it in their gas. I also picked up some beer. West of Parachute, I-70 meandered alongside the Colorado River. Traffic was heavy on the highway. There was another tunnel at Mile Marker 50, followed by a very fancy low-water dam. Robb State Park was right on the river at Exit 47. The park had tent camping ($16 a night) and showers, but the shower building closes for the winter October 31st.

It was 7 PM Central Time when I rolled through Grand Junction. Dark, heavy clouds hung low in the western sky. It looked like it might be raining ahead. The temperature had dropped 10 degrees since Parachute. I had passed from the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains to the Western Slope. I saw several RV parks along the highway outside of town. There were some brief sprinkles on my windshield. Fruita had a dinosaur museum, but I didn’t have time to visit it. The town is famous for being home to a headless chicken.

I got off at Exit 15 and headed north on Highway 139. There were fields of crops surrounding small farm houses. At Mile 5, I turned west on Q Road, and then north again. Ahead, surrounded by farmland, was an island of tall trees. That was Highline Lake State Park. The office was closed, so I used the kiosk outside, scanning my Visa card to pay the camping fees. The machine spat out a little receipt. The campsite lines the eastern side of a little lake. The Sun was very low as I pulled into the park. I found a flat place to camp under some trees and got out my stove to cook supper: chicken noodle soup. And a beer: Keystone, the beer that tells the world you just don’t care any more. The park is at the end of a dead-end road, so the only traffic was day campers leaving at sunset. In the whole park, I only saw three cars and one RV spending the night. It was very peaceful.

While I was eating, the resident park ranger came by on his golf cart. He checked the receipt ticket I got when I paid my $18 overnight camping fee. He said I also had to pay an additional $7 day pass. That made the total $25 to camp at Highline, not what the web site said it would cost. That didn’t seem right. Why did I need to pay a day pass if I didn’t even arrive until the day was over? Since the office was closed, I had to wait and go in and pay the extra fee in the morning. He also said I parked wrong, too close to the water faucet. So, after I finished eating, I moved the van to a different campsite: flatter, and closer to the bathrooms, too. The added fees were unexpected and discouraging. I figured I’d worry about the fees in the morning. Beer helped.

Thunder boomed in the distance. The wind picked up, making the boughs of the trees softly sing. I tried to call home but nobody answered. I left a voice mail. The Sun went down. As darkness fell, I could see lightning off to the south. As the lightning got closer, I closed up the windows and locked myself in the back of the van. It began to rain about 10 PM. I had cracked open a window for air, but when rain started to come in I closed it. I was on the road for 11 hours that day, traveling 527 miles.
Prologue Aug. 24  Aug. 25 Aug. 26 Aug. 27 Aug. 28 
 Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
Sept.6 Sept. 7 Sept. 8  Sept. 9 & Epilogue
Original content (c)opyright 2011 by Tim Frayser
If your image appears on this site, and you'd rather it didn't, drop me a line and I'll remove it. Pictures appearing on this website are for personal use and are not for sale. 
Links: Project Rulison  Mike, the Headless Chicken  Glenwood Canyon 
The Wonder Tower  Steve Canyon  High Plains Camping