Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fast Forward

STATES VISITED: California / New York

Up at 5am. In the car by 5:30. At the airport by 6. On the Jet Blue aircraft by 7:30. And then a very uneventful (thank goodness) flight home, landing at 4:15 in the afternoon, after 4 hours or so in the air. Where did the day go?

So all the country we crossed in 18 days spooled back beneath us in just 4 hours. The marvels of modern technology. But it was a beautiful day in New York, and it was good to get home. Our dog Riley just about wagged his tail off his butt when we picked him up from the dog sitters'. The cat, Dudley, greeted us by pissing in the dog's bed to show his displeasure.

Sitting bleary-eyed this morning in the airport waiting room, we conducted a survey of our favorite things about the trip. A few highlights:

BEST HOTEL ROOM: The Marriott HomeSuites in Wheeling WV
BEST HOTEL BUFFET: The Grand Hyatt in Denver
BEST HOTEL SERVICE: The Grand Hyatt in Denver
BEST STADIUM: Chase Field in Phoenix
BEST BALLPARK FOOD: Chase Field in Phoenix (but I voted for Cincinnati)
BEST BALLPARK CROWD: Coors Field in Denver
BEST BASEBALL GAME: Kansas City Royals Vs Chicago White Sox
BEST RESTAURANT: The one in Morgantown WV whose name we can't even remember
BEST RESTAURANT ATMOSPHERE: Arthur Bryant's, Kansas City
BEST MALL: Country Club Plaza, Kansas City
BEST STORE: CD shop in Boulder
BEST HISTORIC HOME: Kolb Studio in the Grand Canyon
BEST DRIVE: Silverton to Durango CO
BEST NATURE EXPERIENCE: Bighorn sighting in the Grand Canyon

All in all, we did pretty well, I think. Still digesting it all, of course. But, like Dorothy, I think we all agree -- there's no place like home.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

...To Shining Sea

STATES VISITED: Arizona / California

I don't have many pictures to post today, because -- well, because most of the landscape was pretty much the same. In some spots the sagebrush and scrub was a little more withered and brown than in others, that's all. We drove down from Phoenix to I-8, making the connection at Gila Bend. I got pictures of the rattlesnake and brontosaurus sculptures in front of the Shell station, but I was driving at the time and my backseat photographer (you know Hugh you are) failed to get the shot of the World Famous Cactus Burgers restaurant. That and the Space Age Motel appear to be the only landmarks in Gila Bend.

On and on and on and ON through the desert of southern Arizona to Yuma. We finally hit California and hoped the landscape would turn a little more verdant, but -- surprise! -- it just turned into sloping powdery sand dunes (the Imperial Dunes National Recreation Area -- though what specific recreation they offered was not clear at all).

Entering California was a little weird, though, because there were so many checkpoints stopping traffic on the interstate. I would have taken pictures but Bob told me I couldn't, because they might think we were terrorists and subject us all to strip searches. (??) The first was an agricultural checkpoint ("Are you bringing in any fruits with you?" Does Tom count?) and the next two were out-and-out border crossing checks, even though we weren't crossing the border. I-8 runs right along the Mexico border and out of our lefthand windows we could see what looked like a long continuous fence, just past a high bank of packed earth. Paranoia strikes deep. It got so we felt terrified of getting off an an exit and accidentally wandering into Mexico -- what if we couldn't get back over?

Then we hit some mountains -- the tail end of the Santa Rosas, I guess -- which looked like nothing but immense piles of brown rocks. We went from below sea level to 4000 feet elevation in about 15 minutes. There were signs on the interstate advising drivers to turn off their car air-conditioning so the cars wouldn't overheat while powering up those inclines in the brutal heat. Barrels of water were set along the highway for drivers to refill their radiators if necessary, and we saw two or three cars pulled over with the hoods propped open. Believe me, we turned off the AC willingly. It was pretty unpleasant for a few miles, but better that than the alternative.

Beyond the mountains, things gradually got greener, and we began to descend into the San Diego area. San Diego has always been one of my favorite cities -- it's a shame we can't stay and enjoy it. But as we reached our hotel, we saw San Diego Bay glittering a few blocks away, and knew that we'd finished our cross-continental odyssey.

We had time to walk over to Horton Plaza to do a little shopping -- how nice to be somewhere where you can walk outside without swooning! -- and then drove up to University City to have dinner with my Aunt Kate and her friends. Kate is pushing 90 and still works 5 days a week as a travel agent. These are good genes to share. She chose the restaurant and -- YAY! -- it was P. F. Chang's, so those Chinese food yearnings I'd been stifling since Kansas City finally were satisfied. (See there, Grace?)

Our plane is at 8am tomorrow, which means waking at 5 (ouch!!) to get to the airport, so I'd better wind this up now. I'll add the pictures tomorrow, when I'm reunited with my computer -- and my dog and my cat and my own bed. Hard to believe!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Just Deserts


Phoenix depresses me. Oh, I'm sure it's a great place to live and all that, but the prospect of so many people living in the middle of a desert, dependent on sucking water and hydroelectric power from a river hundreds of miles away, seems awfully greedy to me.

Because it is a desert, make no mistake about that. And that's why we spent the morning at the Desert Botanical Garden, so that the kids could get a handle on this alien ecosystem (well, alien to them at least). You look out the window of a speeding car and you think it's all sagebrush and cactus and sand, but it isn't, not by a long shot. At the garden, we learned the names of about 50 different types of cactus and desert trees, as well as seeing lizards and birds and chipmunks scampering around.

What surprised us the most was the number of wildflowers that grow in a desert. Spring is supposed to be the best time to see these, but there were plenty of beautiful flowers around even in July.

Trouble is, the botanical garden is out in Papago Park, right next to the Phoenix Zoo. The zoo. I thought maybe our kids were old enough, or jaded enough by all the world-class zoos they've seen, to skip the one in Phoenix. I was wrong. So once we'd rushed through the garden, we had to hit the zoo. We didn't have much time, so we skipped all the elephants and giraffes and things we've seen in the New York zoos and headed straight for the Arizona section, where we saw:

For the more zoologically challenged among you, these are (clockwise from the upper lefthand corner) a mountain lion, a coyote, an elf owl, and some prairie dogs.

It was blazing hot, but the Phoenix animals seemed like very good sports -- they emerged from their cool little caves and paced around their enclosures glaring at us through the fences, just like we hoped they would. In fact, this bobcat entertained us by rolling around on the ground just like our cat, Dudley, does.

Unfortunately, we had to race through the zoo and leave way too soon, because it was time for the baseball game. And on this trip, nothing is more important than the baseball. Thanks to an inexplicable closure of the highway we needed (poor Ms. Garmin was very distressed), we reached Chase Field just as the first inning was getting started.

This was the first time I've ever seen a baseball game played in a domed stadium. Considering how hot it was outside, we were extremely grateful for the closed dome and the air-conditioning. AC aside, it's a very nice ball field, with good sight lines and a nice floor plan. However, I have to say that the park lacked a little energy -- it was only about half-full, and there were many fewer entertaining distractions -- you know, the prancing mascots, the bubbly team girls in short shorts firing T-shirts into the crowd, that sort of thing.

This was the only time we saw the mascot at all. His name is Baxter (or "Backs-ter," I presume) and we guessed that he's a bobcat. Way more cuddly looking than the bobcat we saw that morning at the zoo.

I have to say, the giveaway merch at this game was the best of this trip -- really decent logo baseball caps (see Tom and Grace wearing theirs. Hugh didn't want to mess up his awesome curly hair). Plus I had to buy one of those big red-and-black plastic rattles that the D-Back fans like to shake at critical moments in the game. They make a great hissing noise, very unnerving. I've been craving one ever since I saw a D-Backs fan in Cincinnati using hers to great effect.

Almost immediately, the Diamondbacks' opponents, the Florida Marlins, scored three runs -- not a good omen for the home team. And as the game progressed, the Diamondbacks hardly looked like the same team we'd seen vanquish the Cincinnati Reds almost two weeks ago. The D-Backs pitcher, Doug Davis, had to be pulled after the fourth inning, while the Marlins' pitcher, Joshua Johnson (all those nice alliterative names), stayed in through the seventh, heading for a shut-out. The D-Backs got a fair number of hits, but somehow they kept leaving men stranded on base instead of chalking up any runs. In the end they managed to get one run on the scoreboard, but they lost 8-1. It was so boring I even fell asleep for a little while in the seventh.
The game ended around 4pm, so we had to leave the nice air-conditioned stadium and walk back through the heat to our hotel. Then we got in the car and drove around Phoenix and Scottsdale, trying to figure out this city in the short time we had left. We found the hockey stadium (Hugh wanted a Coyotes stick) but it was closed. We found Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West but it was closed. We had dinner at a sports bar in Scottsdale (decent food, actually) then got back to the hotel to watch TV and decompress before sleep.
This traveling stuff is exhausting.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Into the Abyss


We had to meet our guide at 8:30 am -- awwk!! -- which involved gobbling Honey Nut Cheerios in the room while we packed up everything and checked out. But at 8:35 -- pretty punctual for us -- we were in the lobby of the historic El Tovar Hotel (at right -- wouldn't it have been cool if we could have gotten reservations there?) meeting Elaine from the Grand Canyon Field Institute, who was going to reveal the secrets of the Grand Canyon to us.

Elaine's one of those people who makes round-trip hikes to the canyon floor all the time, but she promised us an easy morning hike -- a mile-and-a-half down the Bright Angel Trail and then back up. The trail was fairly crowded -- it's like the superhighway of the Grand Canyon -- so it was hardly a backwoods experience, but it was enough to get us partway down into the canyon to see what it was like. Going down wasn't bad, but like they say, hiking into the canyon is voluntary, hiking back up is mandatory. And of course, no one in the family but me would admit that they needed to stop and catch their breath. But there were plenty of reasons to pause. Elaine had dozens of stories to tell us about the history of the canyon's development, and could point out all sorts of natural wonders -- we got so much more out of our hike than we would have on our own.

For instance, she identified for us this elk poop on the El Tovar lawn. Can you imagine walking up in the middle of night to go have a pee and looking out your hotel room window to see an elk browsing right there?

On the trail, Elaine explained to us the four forces that formed the Grand Canyon, which you can remember with the acronym DUDE -- D for deposits (the different rock strata piled on top of each other), U for uplift (the heaving up of tectonic plates), D for downflow (the Colorado River carving its way through the rock), and E for erosion (the winds carving the rockface). She identified the various plants we passed; she pointed out these ancient Indian petroglyphs and some petrified rat poop running down the canyon wall.

We were in luck; we had some amazing wildlife encounters. Of course there were the little rock squirrels all over the place -- these guys are about as afraid of humans as the squirrels in Central Park are. We watched one raucous squirrel sitting out on a rock ledge, chirping so loudly we thought it was a bird.

But even better, we ran into this pair of bighorn sheep, standing right beside the trail, so close we could have touched them. They didn't seem in any hurry to get away from us, either. It was incredible close up to see how nimble their tiny flexible hooves are on the rocky surface.

And then, way up above the canyon rim, we saw a California condor riding lazily on the thermals rising from the canyon. (Look really closely; it's that tiny black dot in the sky. And that was using my zoom.) These highly endangered birds were extinct from the canyon for several years and were recently reintroduced, with great success -- there are half a dozen living in the canyon now, feeding on all the carrion they can find. Oh, I'll bet the turkey vultures are pissed off about that.

Once we got back to the top (our hike took about 2 1/2 hours), we had lunch in this historic house, built a century ago for Ellsworth and Emery Kolb, these two early residents of the canyon rim, who ran a business photographing visitors. Their living quarters, furnished with cool Arts & Crafts-style decor, aren't usually open to the public, so that was an excellent perk of the tour.

After lunch, we walked west along the Rim Trail, getting farther away from the main village with all the hotels etc. We hiked some 3 miles along the rim (mostly level, thank god) and it was amazing how the views changed. We could finally see the Colorado River down at the bottom of the canyon, which had been blocked by various mesas before. It was fantastic -- and best of all, there was a shuttle bus waiting at the end to take us back to the hotel area.

We finally said goodbye to Elaine and left the park around 3 pm, heading south for Phoenix. (Originally we were going to stay at the Canyon two nights, but then we realized that the Diamondbacks game tomorrow is a day game, so we needed to get to Phoenix sooner.) Along the way, we took a side trip through the Coconino National Forest and Oak Creek Canyon to see the red rocks of Sedona. They were beautiful all right, especially since we got there late in the afternoon with the setting sun turning them aglow. But I guess after Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon they seemed a little less spectacular.

South of Sedona, there was another hour-plus drive down to Phoenix. The forest disappeared and in its place was scrubby desert, where the prickly pear cactus was sooned joined by saguaro cactus, the classic shape of cactus that little kids love to draw.

We expected to see Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner go whizzing by at any moment.

Bit by bit, the desert turned into the vast Phoenix sprawl. I didn't take a picture because, frankly, you've seen it all somewhere else. It seems like a bizarre sort of conurbation, nothing but chain-store malls and endless suburbs, with a surprisingly small downtown, considering that Phoenix is supposed to be the fifth-largest metro area in the country. Nothing that we could see looked at all historic. By the time we checked into the Holiday Inn Express downtown we were too exhausted to go out (besides, it's like 110 degrees outside -- no exaggeration -- and no one felt like walking in that). So we ordered Pizza Hut dinner to the hotel and crashed, watching TV. Apparently that hike took more out of us than we thought...

Searching for the Searchers

STATES VISITED: Arizona / Utah

If you've ever seen a John Ford movie, you don't need my amateur shots to show you what we saw this morning -- Monument Valley, Arizona, probably the most bizarre landscape I've ever traveled through. Yes, Iceland is like being on the moon, but Monument Valley is like being on Mars -- red sandstone buttes thrusting up out of a flat scrubby desert, huge panoramas of unearthly colors and stark shapes.

We were lucky enough to have booked a tour with a Navajo guide, Carl Phillips of Keyah Hozhoni Tours, who drove us around in his open-sided truck to areas that the regular tourists can't go. These included formations like the Eye of the Sun (left) and the Big Hogan (right), which if you lie down on your back looks like a giant eagle is hovering over you, homest. Even better, Carl taught us a lot of things about Navajo culture, which has remained much more intact than other tribal cultures. He led us us into a hogan and a sweat lodge and explained how they were built; he showed us his ID card that allows him to carry around peyote, because it's a vital part of tribal spiritual ceremonies. Carl recently moved back to the Valley after living in Las Vegas for a few years, working in construction, so he has a pretty intelligent perspective on what makes his culture special. We were covered in the red dust when we finished our tour, but it was really worth it.

After that -- well, after a detour to a town called Mexican Hat where Carl said we could see the Colorado (he was wrong, it was only the San Juan River ), it was back to Kayenta, where we had lunch at Burger King, not just for the yummy fast food but also because that is where the tribe has mounted an excellent exhibit on the Navajo Wind Talkers of World War II. It takes up a whole wall in the Burger King and isfull of war memorabilia. Who'd have expected that?

A long drive then, across the Navajo tribal lands, which got even more barren (picture to come) and then more colorful again, and finally turned -- surprise! -- into forest again. By now we were in the Kaibab National Forest, on our way to the Grand Canyon. I tried to ban the male members of my family from saying, "Wow! What a big hole!" but so far I have been unsuccessful. It is a pretty big hole, though.

We checked into the Maswik Lodge, had a quick dinner at the cafeteria (not as good as Deer Valley's, but then what is?) and took a walk along the rim at sunset. Absolutely incredible. I'll post more pictures tomorrow (it's late -- we changed time zones again, without even realizing it!), and this rustic lodge doesn't even have wi-fi -- can you believe it? -- so I'm posting this on Bob's computer after he finished using it and now everybody's yelling at me to go to sleep. Anyway, tomorrow we have this big hike schedulo, and maybe we'll even find the place where Joe Dirt got abandoned in the classic film Joe Dirt. We already found the place where the Griswolds visited the Grand Canyon, so all our movie references are lining up very nicely, thank you...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Butte Heads

STATES VISITED: Colorado / New Mexico / Arizona / Utah

The Wyman House served one of the best breakfasts ever -- a cheese and green chile frittata, biscuit, and hash browns -- and then Grace and took a walk around Silverton in the cool morning mountain air. This really is a lovely little town, with Wild West flair -- Wyatt Earp once owned a saloon here, where he and his buddy Bat Masterson hung out. Even the "bad" side of town -- the once notorious Blair Street, which in its heyday had a score of brothels and 30-some saloons -- is charming nowadays.

We drove south on the San Juan Scenic Skyway (a wimpy road, compared to that Million Dollar Hellway of yesterday) to Durango. Yet another of these Wild West mining boom towns that's been all slicked up to draw tourists -- but Durango is more of a real town, and we liked it a lot. While Tom and Grace and I went bagel shopping, Bob and Hugh visited the museum of the Silverton and Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad. I kinda wish now we'd been able to work a ride on that train into our schedule.

At Durango we headed west again, bound for Mesa Verde National Park -- another sight that I've written about in a couple of books but never got a chance to visit until now. It seems that you have to drive forever from the gate just to get to the visitor center, winding round and round these scrubby mesas through hidden valleys, climbing ever upward.

Random bit of dialogue on the road up: Grace -- "Why do we have to go see these Indian ruins when you just said that they are the same as the Indian ruins we saw two years ago in New Mexico?" Hugh: "Hold that sass, sister." Bob: "Sass? Is that why you boys call your sister Sasquatch?" Hugh: "Ooh, Grace, you've been lawyered!" Hugh and Tom in chorus: "Oh, dang! Oh, dang! Oh, daaanng!!"

The views from the top, though, are jaw-dropping. While we were gazing out over that valley, Grace and I saw this herd of free-range horses cross the park road, stopping traffic.

We didn't have time to do one of the in-depth ranger tours, but we did drive the Mesa Top Road, where we got to see some ancient pit dwellings, a number of excavated kivas (the Anasazis' central ceremonial rooms), and, viewed from across the canyon, a spectacular line-up of cliff dwellings. The engineering and architectural genius of these peoples is staggering, especially when you consider the tools they had available.

It was such a beautiful blue-sky day, the perfect conditions for seeing these vast canyons and their ancient buildings. And looking around, there was no doubt that we were out of the mountains and into the desert. Gone were the aspens and lodge-pole pines; now we were amidst pinyon and juniper trees (those lovely blue berries, precious source of gin). We saw a lizard skittering around near the path -- a new entry on our wildlife log.

Leaving Mesa Verde mid-afternoon, the race was on to get to Four
Corners. Now the desert was really getting dramatic, with strange buttes and other outcroppings. Down in the southwest corner of Colorado, we crossed the state line and entered Navajo tribal lands, where a monument has been set up at the exact point where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona meet. Geographers recently recalculated the states' meeting point and have declared that it's somewhere else, about a mile away, but there are no roads to get to that spot -- so we tourists continue to flock to the spot set up in 1912 as the Four Corners Monument.

I'm afraid there are only two possible snapshots to take at this spot -- one where a single individual is posed with one limb in each state (like something out of a game of Twister) or one where each member of a family is standing in a different state. We opted for the latter. Grace is in Arizona, Tom in New Mexico, and Hugh -- colossus that he is -- stands astride Utah and Colorado. So yes, we visited all the states I listed above, but two of them were kinda cheating...

The Navajos are working the Four Corners site for all it's worth -- selling frybread, T-shirts, pottery, jewelry, the works. We did our best to subsidize tribal activities with several purchases.

Then on through more Navajo desert, through tiny town after tiny town, each consisting mostly of a gas station and a trading post. Bob expressed some skepticism about what we'd find at Kayenta, where our reservations were for tonight, but when we got here we were pleasantly surprised. It's a proper town, with an airport and several businesses; they have a Burger King, a McDonald's, a Sonic drive-in -- all the comforts of home.

The Hampton Inn, where we are staying, is actually excellent -- built to look like an adobe, but smartly furnished inside. We ate at the hotel's restaurant and I had a green chile stew that was one of the best things I've eaten this trip. During dinner, a ponytailed man strolled around playing a traditional wooden flute, a soothing sound that was way better than any muzak or jukebox.

After dinner we walked around the Navajo Cultural Center next door, which has models of traditional hogans, a sweat lodge, and a shade lodge. Our walk, however, was cut short when we noticed a jackal roaming around the Burger King parking lot next door. Another new entry on our wildlife log, and a creepy one. Yes, folks, we are in the desert indeed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Held Up in the Mountains


AAAAAHHHHHHHH!!! I left my computer in the lovely Grand Hyatt in Denver. The charming people in security have promised to UPS it to me, but the way we're moving around, there's no easy place to have it shipped to. So they're sending it back to New York. Meanwhile I have to use Tom's computer, which is much cooler than mine. Niiiiiiice.

Well, when I should have been packing my computer, we were having one last walk around Denver, while Bob took care of some phone calls back to the office in New York. That's when we found the Brown Palace Hotel, which has one of the coolest lobbies I've ever seen -- a nine-story atrium with a stained-glass skylight at the top, and wrought-iron railings around all the balconies overlooking the atrium. Awesome, especially considering that it was built in 1892,, way before the Hyatt Corporation started slapping garden atriums on all their hotels.

Near the elevators I was fascinated by a facing pair of murals, one depicting travelers arriving by stagecoach, the other showing them descending the steps of an airplane (albeit a 1940s-era plane). The more things change...

We hit the road at (ahem) 10:30 (those pesky phone calls) and headed due west on I-70. I kept snapping pictures to show how the mountains grew taller around us, mile by mile -- the scrubby brown hills were overtaken by pine-shrouded peaks, and eventually granite summits with patches of snow.

We never got quite high enough to have snow around us -- I don't think they build highways that high -- but we did get over 10,000 feet in places. As we first hit the Continental Divide at the Vail summit, our ears popped -- and so did a bag of Tostitos we had in the back seat.

Back east we have roadside signs warning to watch out for deer crossing. Out here, the signs alert you to look for elk and bighorn sheep. No actual wildlife sightings, however, except for some jackrabbit roadkill, a pair of deer waiting to cross the highway, and one scared little bunny trembling by the road's verge.

We went a little out of our way so we could see Vail, the chi-chi ski resort, all tricked up to look like a mini-Gstaad. There were cyclists all over the place (they've laid out a nifty bike path), and some people lounging by pools and eating on the outdoor patios of restaurants, but nothing like what I imagine the crowds must be in ski season. It's a little precious, I must say.

We turned off the interstate just past Vail -- ignoring the commands of Ms. Garmin, that interstate-obssessed minx, who wanted us to go all the way to Grand Junction -- and started our day's odyssey down two-lane mountain highways, where the towns are few and far between. The next sizeable place we came to was the poetically-named Leadville, where fortunes were made in lead mining in the 1880s and 1890s. The main downtown street is still lined with substantial stone buildings, and wide enough for quite an impressive gun shoot-out, like in the movies. All the place needs is hitching posts in front of the saloons instead of parked cars.

We had lunch in the Golden Burro Cafe (with the adjoined Brass Ass Bar). Here is a picture of Hugh enjoying his Coke with an improvised extra-long straw. Note that the rest of us at the table do not get to have straws with our drinks; Hugh commandeered them all. Ah, well, let's indulge him, he'll be going away to college soon.

Several miles south of Leadville, we turned west again on US 50, which runs through the Gunnison River Valley -- a truly spectacular stretch of mountain landscape. For a while, the river frisks along next to the highway, twisting and turning through the mountain meadows. Eventually, though, it widens into the beautiful Blue Mesa Lake, which runs for a few miles. At the bottom is a dam, and below that the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a national park that we wished we'd had time to hike around. That's the trouble with this cross-country agenda -- all we can do is skim the surface. On the other hand, when you think that just two days ago we were rolling through Kansas wheatfields, the compare-and-contrast aspect of this odyssey is amazing.

We stopped for McFlurries at a McDonald's in Gunnison, which seemed more of a viable town than Leadville -- a bit of historic downtown left, but lots of motels and restaurants and even a college in town, Western Colorado State.

In Montrose, we turned south on Highway 550. I hadn't realized that this road -- a route we picked for convenience's sake -- was the fabled Million Dollar Highway, which I wrote about in 500 Places to Take The Kids Before They Grow Up. It's named that because it cost a million dollars to build, back in the 1880s or whenever, to serve a string of mining towns during the gold and silver rushes. The section from Ouray to Silverton is incredibly scenic -- and one of the scariest drives I've ever had to drive in my life. Hairpin turns and switchbacks, at intense altitudes, with no guard rails -- now I regret that I recommended it to readers. (I'm glad I dropped it from the second edition.) And I had the bad luck to be the driver on duty for that stretch of road, with some serious backseat driving from my co-driver. Do you know how hard it is to accelerate uphill when you've just had to slow down to 10 MPH to get around a sharp curve? I'm just glad we weren't trying to cross that pass an hour later, when it was beginning to get dark.

Around 7:30 we pulled into Silverton, another of those historic mining towns, though one with a bit more pizzazz than Leadville. We're staying at the Wyman House Hotel, built in 1903, a lovely late Victorian hotel that's now a frilly bed-and-breakfast. Not our usual hotel fare, but that's the only type of hotel they have in this town. Well, I guess we can sleep in brass bed with flowery wallpaper for one night.