Saturday, March 25, 2006

Durango to Cortez, Colorado, the long way round

Silverton, Colorado

Up at 8:00. Not very motivated.

All breakfasts are not created equal. Hotels play with the meaning of the words "hot breakfast" (as opposed to "Continental Breakfast"). Here, the "hot" stands for a pre-packaged "breakfast burrito" and some oatmeal. Marginal quality at the "Quality Inn".

Called Drew and Jeff last night. Used my 500-minute "Wal-Mart" card. The only downside, you have to listen to "Wal-Mart" commercials every time you dial. But it's pre-paid, and there's a tendency to be more careful with the money that way.

Drew suggested I have the material for a book. It seems such a stretch, to go from a blog to a book! They are very different phenomena. The former being so casual, spontaneous and, more likely, uninformed and subjective (at least in the present example.)

Jeff, suffering from bronchitis, is taking some time off work. Something he rarely does.

Today, I wanted to go for a long, scenic drive up U.S. 550 through the towns of Silverton and Ouray, over to Telluride, then back to Cortez, finishing in the vicinity of Mesa Verde National Park.

Silverton and Ouray are towns that my mother and stepfather visited long ago and "fell in love with." At one point, I think they even invested in land there.
I wanted to see what inspired them so.

Traffic was light today, but I still had to be very cautious. Sand and gravel a common feature in the mountain roadways. The route going north took me over three significant passes, all around 11,000 feet.

Mark Knopfler's "Silvertown Blues" played in my head.

The few ski resorts along the way were fairly quiet today. Higher up, snowmobile tracks crossed snow-covered meadows. I wondered about the balancing of individual rights. Where does the right of one person to a pristine mountain view end, and the right of another to explore on their snowmobile begin? To be sure, it is a much different landscape once it is opened to snowmobiling.

Near Molas Pass, Colorado. It's getting more difficult to find pristine landscapes. Here, snow mobiles carve up the slopes. (Tracks even led over the snow-covered ledge in center of this photo!)

Both Silverton and Ouray preserve the character of 19th century mining towns, each nestled in beautiful, deep mountain valleys. They were pretty sleepy today, but I imagine as soon as the snow melts, they will become bustling tourist destinations.

In contrast, Telluride is clearly a year-round resort. It has the charming old downtown business district, but also new homes, condos and resorts. Definitely a more affluent clientèle here, the streets crowded with young people taking a break from the ski slopes.

Downtown Telluride, Colorado Damn artists! Always blocking traffic. (Just kidding.)

Walking around town, something was odd. "Where are all the theaters?" Inside a jewelry store, I asked a salesman "what connection does Robert Redford have with Telluride?"

"None really."

"Didn't he help start the film festival?

"That's Sundance."

"Of course."

All along I had been thinking I was coming to the town famous for its film festival. It was the music festival that planted Telluride in my memory.

Leaving Telluride, and driving for thirty minutes or so, I began to sense something was wrong. I pulled off onto the shoulder and looked at the map. I was heading west toward Utah, rather than south toward Cortez. Not wishing to retrace my path, I chose to continue on the "wrong road" until it intersected state highway 141, which would eventually lead me back toward Cortez.

This route would add about 50 miles, but it avoided another 10,000-foot pass, which, in the late afternoon, was probably not a bad thing.

Actually, I enjoyed the ride quite a bit, as it carried me over a remote high mesa. I passed few other vehicles. The air was cold, with snow on ground. But it was the deer that were my primary concern. Lots of them! This land is part of a wildlife preserve.

Skirting south along the Colorado-Utah border, I began to return to civilization. Farming country, and beans appear to be the primary crop: Anasazi and Pinto beans.

Reached Cortez around nightfall and settled on the first motel I came to: "9 National Motel" on the downtown strip. At $33, it was reasonable, similar to hotels I've been in outside the U.S., but with TV!

Dinner tonight at "Nero's", conveniently located next door to the motel. With over half an hour wait to be seated, I put my name on the waiting list and returned to my room.

Came back and still had a long wait. Then I felt I was being punished, seated at a small table in an alcove near the front door, isolated from any other diners. "What is this?" I spend enough time alone on the bike. When I get off, I like to be among other humans! I asked to change tables. The only other table available was in the small bar. Not much of an improvement. But I took my cue from a sign behind the bar: "no sniveling".

The chicken fettucini was worth the wait and a glass of "Colombia Crest" 2003 "Two Vines" Shiraz was soothing. Followed up with one of my special coffee nightcaps, with "Bailey's" and "Gran Marnier".

I handed the server $40 to pay the $27 bill.

"Do you need change?"

"I would hope so."

In Austin, at the "Magnolia Cafe", I handed the server a $50-bill to pay the tab. The same question: "do you want change back?"


Minor irritations, if allowed to accumulate, can really wear a traveler down. And I've permitted several to accumulate. On the bike, the front tire wobble and slow air leak, the worn clutch and warped front brake discs. And my body: a knot above the right shoulder blade frequently releases sharp, painful jabs. And my weight is back up, clothes tightening. Then there's the back-log of notes and the pressure to complete that task. All conspire to gradually fatigue mind and body.

There is no escaping it. In order to continue, you must continually attack weaknesses and address irritations, as soon as they're noticed. Alone much of the time, the defects are easy to see. Failure to act will drive you mad.


Memories of Central and South America are dreamlike. Was it another person who took that trip?

Despite what I've been through, I found myself (pardon the expression) "driving like an old lady" today. Sand and gravel had me creeping around mountain curves. At the Red Mountain Pass scenic turn-out, I nearly fell over when stopping in snow. And then in Telluride, while parking, I backed toward the sidewalk and my rear tire came to rest on ice in the gutter. When I tried to pull away, the tire just spun. A passerby came to my rescue, pushing me off from the curb.


Watched the "Tonight Show", enjoying some laughs, all the while mindful of my comments about us Americans being distracted. I was thinking about the history of the "Tonight Show" and recalling the Johnny Carson days, when it was a 90-minute show. Before the "sound-bite" era. There was much more time to build a rapport with guests.

Neko Case and her band were on the show for roughly three minutes. All the effort that goes into arranging such a performance, only to culminate in a three-minute performance!

To bed about 2:00 a.m., a common pattern lately.

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