I don’t suppose a 360-mile drive can be considered a real road trip. Lately, however, I seem to have spent so much time on airplanes, shoveling out my car and staying close to home that this has been the first one farther than Denver (or Denver International Airport) that I’ve taken in some time. I drove from Boulder to Durango, diagonally across the state. Over the years, I’ve tried various combinations of highways. For my usual route, I have settled on CO 93 to C-470 to US 285 over Kenosha Pass through South Park and the San Luis Valley to Rte 112 to Del Norte to US 160 over Wolf Creek Pass) into Durango. I particularly enjoy this drive, because very little of it is on an Interstate — and if I wanted, I could easily avoid that too.
For someone like me, who grew up in Connecticut (about 130 east-west miles and 60 north-south miles), drives of this length were once almost incomprehensible. In New England, 360 miles would mean traveling through three states and usually numerous traffic jams — or at least slowdowns. But now, with a 4WD car that nevertheless gets decent gas mileage, satellite radio and a book that I want to “read” downloaded from audible.com and saved on CDs, the miles fly by. This time, the trip seemed every sweeter and more beautiful than usual.
Following storm after storm at home, I enjoyed sailing along the dry roads under the big blue sky, with panoramic mountainscapes crisp in the clear air and sunshine. It was very cold, and the kind of water-look mirages that appear on asphalt on hot summer days are a winter phenomenon too. Who knew? Cattle and horses grazed in pastures where the snow had begun melting back. Having watched recent newscasts of the devastating impact that deep snowdrifts on Colorado’s eastern plains had on livestock, I was thrilled to see animals placidly eating. Birds flocked and wheeled overhead. In the great expanse of the San Luis Valley, plumes of steam rose from irrigation dishes that surprisingly were unfrozen. Alpenglow lingered long on the Sangre de Cristro mountains’ western faces.
There was, however, a blot on this idyllic trip. In the long straightaway between Villa Grove and Saguache, I was stopped for speeding (79 in a 65-mile zone). I didn’t even try to talk my way out of the ticket, my first ever speeding citation. My car has cruise control, which could keep me honest, but I don’t usually use it. I have to mail payment in to Saguache County within 20 days.
If I needed an additional reminder to be more conscientious, ib a column in today’s Durango Herald from High Country News, syndicated writer Gail Blinkly wrote about the double-standard of some environmentalists and green-leaning politicians who speed on the open, empty roads of western Colorado. She pointed out that a vehicle traveling at 75 miles per hour can burn up to 45 percent more fuel than one going 55 mph. I probably won’t scale back to 55 on road trips, but I’m going to to start using cruise control to help stick to the speed limit. It will keep me from getting pulled over for speeding again — and it will give me all the more time to enjoy the wonderful Colorado scenery.