November 18, 2012

Crossing the Rockies in Colorado

It felt good to be back behind the wheel this week. Not to say that I don't wish I was home, because there's always something I'm wishing I were home to do. But it felt good to be back at work too, being productive in other ways. And quite honestly, after the last few months of our lives being suddenly turned upside down, it was really nice to just do something "normal" and know that when we take off for our next break, we'll just be going home for a break, and not heading home to a giant chore. The clouds have cleared from over our heads and I'm glad life can just get back to normal now. No more stress, no more tension, no more chaos. Just living!

We left Chattanooga on Tuesday and took a short load down to north central Alabama. By short, I mean we drove 90 miles to deliver. That's really short for us. It was a "get me there" load, a time filler to get us down to the "real" load, which was chicken meal from Hanceville, AL to Flagstaff, AZ.

It's always a bit of a trial to start back to work with an all night run. We drove straight through to Arizona, arriving about 6 hours before our appointment. We used that time to take a much needed nap and get a decent meal because we knew as soon as we were loaded that evening, we had a long night drive to get to our next load.

I slept while Malcolm unloaded the trailer, drove north about 70 miles, and washed the trailer out. We parked for a couple hours there, and then I got up at 3:00am to finish the drive to our destination.

There are a number of routes across the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All of them are scenic. You won't be disappointed no matter which way you go. If your in a hurry to get from point A to point B, then probably I-70 is your route to go, though even it has its slow going moments. Your going to have to count on twists and turns, ups and downs. Your crossing a huge mountain range after all!

We actually don't cross the Rocky Mountains that often. Our loads don't seem to take us that way much. We generally stay out of western Colorado. But on occasion we do have a trip that takes us there and it's usually kind of fun to get somewhere off our beaten path. Of the handful of times we've crossed, we seem to use US160 the most. And that was the case on Friday morning. It's on my list of "must drive" road trips for anyone who wants to know.

When I started early Friday morning, we were still in northern Arizona on US160. I followed it almost to the border where it cut north into Utah, but I kept heading east on a short cut, jumping across the northwest corner of New Mexico. At Farmington, NM we headed north, into Colorado, and caught back up with 160 just outside of Durango, CO at dawn.
Perfect timing! I had hoped to have sunlight to enjoy the scenery. God went ahead and gifted me with a dramatic sunrise to get me started.
We would spend our morning traveling US160 from Durango to Monte Vista, where we would be loading for our weekend trip. If you ever get the chance to drive this route, please take it! Trust me! It's worth it!

There was quite a bit of cloud cover on Friday morning, which worked with the mountains to keep the sun blocked, making photography a little difficult. You'll miss out on some fantastic scenery in this post because of that. Guess you'll just have to go see it for yourself!
From Durango, we headed east, passing through the San Juan National Forest.
Near Pagossa Springs, the road encountered the San Juan River and followed it into town. The temperature was down in the 20's and in town the hot springs were steaming. Unfortunately my camera couldn't get focused on them, so I had to stick with mountain vistas instead of hot spring steam.

East of Pagossa Springs we entered the San Juan Mountains. It seemed with each turn in the road, the snowy peaks just got more impressive.

At the base of Wolf Creek Pass it was neat to look up the mountain and see the road passing back and forth across the facade of the mountain as it climbed to the summit.
Half way up the western side of the pass, there is an impressive view of the valley below. I've seen it once in fall and it was amazing with all the Aspens all golden and the afternoon light making the valley floor glow. I've seen it once in summer when everything was green and fresh. And now I've seen it in early winter with it's first blanketing of snow.
Wolf Creek Pass, at it's summit, is 10,850 feet. I suspect it's quite an adventure to go over during the dead of winter, though I imagine it's well maintained since it's one of the main routes across the mountains.
I spent some time craning my neck trying to get a second glimpse of that spectacular view, but we were headed the wrong direction, and even though the road was twisting, it wouldn't quite twist enough. So I had to get creative to get a second look.
Over the pass and headed down the other side. On the eastern side, it's not quite as open as it was on the west. The mountains are more pressed in on each other and the road and river just slip between them.
It was also considerably more snowy on this side of the pass and onward. Each turn in the road revealed another great rock wall and snow covered shoulder. I think the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains must be the cause of the name.
It was during this part of the drive that we followed the course of the Rio Grande for a bit before it left the highway to head south through New Mexico and then on to the Mexican border. It was kind of strange to see that river up here in the mountains when I've always thought of it as the desert river that I see in El Paso.

Eventually the mountain passes opened up into a huge valley. It's so large at first I thought we were finished with the mountains, but then off on the horizon, I spotted the blue outline of a distant range. And then, looking around, I realized we were surrounded by ranges.
I didn't get a picture to truly depict the effect. There are moments when you have to look closely to see that it truly is a valley and not the beginning of the plains.

We had reached our destination of Monte Vista, an appropriate name for this town, as the Spanish translation for Monte Vista is "mountain view," which is has, in every direction.

We loaded canola seed. I think it's the first time we've hauled this. And then we had lunch in town and went to bed for some more sleep, just a couple hours. In the late afternoon we got back up to drive a few hours, crossing that distant range I'd seen earlier in the day across the valley from us, and headed at last out onto the great plains of eastern Colorado.
That was our little jaunt across the Colorado Rockies this week. I enjoyed it very much, as I'm sure you can tell. But it was also really nice to be back out on the plains. As you well know by now, I have a slight obsessive love for the grasslands. Yesterday we finished crossing eastern Colorado, cut across northwestern Kansas, and went up into Nebraska. Today we headed north out of Grand Island, NE and will cross the Dakotas, ending our day in the very northeastern corner of North Dakota where we deliver in the morning. 

Our first week out after our lengthy break is behind us now. It will be interesting to see what the next week brings us. We seem to have started a tradition of working through Thanksgiving, and since everything closes for the weekend, that usually means we get LOTS of time to kill on our weekend load. It gives us the chance to get some rest, and have some play time too. And it's fun to celebrate the holiday in differnt places. Last year we had Thanksgiving dinner at Cracker Barrel in Kingman, AZ. Wonder where we'll be this year?


Shirley said...

Some awesome views, some of them remind me of the mountain passes in southern B.C. Monte Vista is beautiful, I love the big open valleys ringed by mountains- perfect!

Dreaming said...

Your pictures of the sunrise were spectacular! Loved the 'on the road' pictures, especially your rear view of the valley! Very cool!
Wolf Creek Pass was the first mountain pass I went through when we moved here. It scared me! The road was snow covered and I was afraid we'd slip and go over the edge - not to worry, the snow banks on the edge were so high, a huge truck couldn't even slide through them!
I'm glad your life has settled down a bit.

small farm girl said...

You get some of the best pictures!

thecrazysheeplady said...

Yay :-D I was afraid these beautiful, far traveling posts were to be no more.

Michaele said...

Be still my heart. You have no idea what memories the San Juans envoke in me. Wolf Creek pass!!!! Thank you!!

MTWaggin said...

So glad you are back on the road and semi-normal stuff! Your tour of the mountains was wonderful and you have some amazing shots there! Give M and the girls hugs from us left back here in MT!

Merideth in Wyoming said...

I've always liked the song "Wolf Creek Pass" (I think it was Tom T Hall who sang it) where it 'took off the top row of chickens slicker than the scum off a Louisan' swamp'!!! and hit the loading dock at the Feed Store in Pagosa Springs. ROFL. Beautiful country for sure.