Archive for December, 2015


The Dreams of Men

#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 10
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)

The Dreams of MenWe’ve made it to Colorado! For the first time in this road trip, we have no plans until the Trampled by Turtles concert at Red Rocks, around sunset. With a whole day ahead of us in one state, we breakfast at the hotel and decide to grab a stack of tourist brochures from the lobby. We spread the brochures around our room and look for things that jump out at us: Panning for gold, riding a train, touring a mine, and visiting a brewery. Brent estimates the timing with multiple events only offered certain times a day and computes that if we leave approximately right this minute, we can do a mine tour, pan for gold, and forego the brewery but make it to a train that has a bar car–all before the concert. We look at each other for a split second in agreement of the plan, and go running for the door.

We set map-app Sally to the address of the mine, and head west out of Denver into the sunny, blue-skied day.

“It was weird,” I tell Brent, “When we drove in last night, I don’t remember going up in elevation. I thought we’d be climbing up and up, but it seemed pretty flat.” Brent agrees.

We drive along a mountainside and the highway takes us through a pass and suddenly the view before us is all downhill–downmountain, I should say—for two miles according to a sign, until we reach the valley. We look at each other from “up here” and smile.

It’s an amazing thing to ride aloft in the mountains one moment, and then find yourself looking up at those peaks from the valley floor only a few minutes later. I think about the people of Denver and how they could feel awe or triumph simply based on where they happen to stand at any given moment.

The Dreams of MenAt the bottom of the valley we meander through the mountains for about half an hour until we reach a place called Idaho Springs and find the Argo Gold Mine and Mill. The mill was built at the entrance of the Argo Tunnel, which built between 1893 and 1910 to provide water drainage, ventilation, and transportation of the gold-bearing ore from the many mines it intersected.

The Dreams of MenAt the mine, we’re allowed to touch the mining equipment before watching a presentation and taking a short bus ride to a mine entrance up the mountainside for a tour. The Dreams of MenIt’s warm under the Colorado sun, but we’re in jeans, having learned a year ago on a mine tour in Pennsylvania to bundle up for such an occasion. We’re not disappointed; the mine is chilly. Exiting the mouth of the mine, we return our hard hats and keep our eyes peeled for bears. (Our group has been warned not to feed the bears or to take selfies, as if we’d be that dumb.) The Dreams of MenInstead, I take pictures of Brent hopping in and out of an abandoned mine car that was next to a sign clearly stating not to touch it.

The Dreams of MenWe self-tour the interior of the mill from the top down, and marvel at the way this building was not much protection from the elements. Back out in the sunshine at the bottom level, we’re taught how to pan for gold and allowed to practice for as long as we want. I don’t mind telling you, I’m pretty good at it.The Dreams of Men

When we turn in our pans and head back inside the gift shop, a group waiting there for the next tour asks us, “So, how’d you do?The Dreams of Men

“We made enough for retirement,” says Brent triumphantly.

“Or to get an ice cream cone!” I say with the same exuberance.

The Dreams of MenWe wander around the shop and spend a little time in the jail, for which we get strange looks but once we’re liberated, those same folks with the looks hop in to do the same thing. We’re just trendsetters, that’s all.

Next stop, a mountainside train with a bar car–or as we’re dubbing it, The Drinky Train.

The Dreams of MenThe Dreams of MenThe Georgetown Loop Railroad weaves its way along the mountainside through trees and dirt trails, and has great views of the Rockies and the valley. Our tickets are for the bar car, which is in the caboose, so we alternate sitting at our table beside the picture window and visiting the platform outside the caboose to feel the wind in our hair.The Dreams of Men

It feels as if a whimsical kid set this train up in the most imaginative place possible, along the steep mountainside with deep green trees, the smell of pine, the sound of water rushing over the rocks below, and the chug-chug of this brightly colored rail, just to spend the afternoon lost in railroad adventures. The Dreams of MenAnd even though we know it’s not child’s play but the dreams of men that tamed this wild place, we’re glad to be the mini Weebles on such a train.

Back on solid ground, we head into Georgetown, which looks like an Old West town with wooden storefronts held up by stilts from behind—except that it’s real—and look for sustenance before the Trampled by Turtles concert.

The Dreams of Men

A dress I wanted to buy in Georgetown but the shop was closed for the day. I’m a Medium. (Okay, Large.)

We find the best Mexican food this side of the Rio Grande at a restaurant called Lucha Cantina. We sit on the upper perimeter above the bar and watch football when Brent’s eyes suddenly go wide. “Your burrito is as big as your head!” he laughs and laughs as it’s put down in front of me. He’s kinda right. The Dreams of MenAnd it’s so delicious that I eat nearly the entire thing. (I’ll spend the next hour telling him I want a nap, and also that it was well worth it.)

Spoiler alert: I don’t get the nap. Instead, we roll ourselves back to the car and head to Red Rocks to see Trampled by Turtles light up the night.The Dreams of Men

~
Jody Brown is the author of , and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 9, Segment 8Segment 7, Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

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#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 9
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)

We’re closing in on Colorado, but still have some unfinished business here in Kansas. Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Since we spent so much time at Truckhenge (and it was awesomely worth it!!) we need to cut some of the fat from our roadside stops. It’s tough—Kansas is so incredibly cool. I realize you don’t believe me, so let’s take a look: Eating among dinosaurs at the T-Rex Café, attempting to break in to a roadside teepee, the life-altering experience that is Truckhenge, and coming up on the docket, a fake town-within-a-town, smurfing out with naturally formed rocks that look like giant mushrooms, and the world’s largest Czech egg—which Brent insists we can’t cut from the trip—all before we hit Colorado, and it’s late afternoon as it is.

In the end, the weather makes our decision for us. We’re heading west. Twelve miles straight north of where we are is a Wizard of Oz museum, which we think is closed at this hour, but we’re not sure. That’s when it starts raining. And I mean: build-an-ark raining. In the flat and wide Kansas terrain, we feel as though we can see the entire globe around us. We see the storm system coming and it looks like it’ll bypass us. My Weather App says it’s no big deal at our location; that really it’s heading north. But the Weather App lies.

Undaunted, I relay the lies to Brent as he concentrates on finding the road and keeping the Jetta on it. “So!” he calls out, “It’ll just be a quick sprinkle?” The windshield wipers are on their highest setting, we can’t see, and it’s hard to hear each other.

“Right!” I yell back from the passenger seat as I look for funnel clouds. “Just a sprinkle!”

“Okay then!” he shouts back.

If we go north toward Oz, we’ll drive through this the entire way. If we continue west, the thin band of this system should be behind us soon. So here we are in Kansas, and we decide to skip Dorothy. True story.

Kansas, the Coolest State Since...Kansas, The Coolest State Since...We trudge on, and make it out of the deluge with our lives, barely. It’s suddenly sunny and ridiculously hot outside as we arrive in Abilene–which is my idea to visit because of the Waylon Jennings song. I try singing the “Abilene” song for Brent but that doesn’t work well because I don’t know most of the words. Also, I can’t sing.

“Abilene, Abilene, prettiest town I’ve ever seen…”

Brent makes a face and says he doesn’t know that song. So I hit up The Googs as we navigate toward an entire street the town has built Old West style. Kansas, The Coolest State Since...I play the Jennings version of the song for Brent, and as I Google some more, I learn that it was written by folksinger Bob Gibson (did you know that Gibson wrote songs with Shel Silverstein?), and also this little tidbit: Gibson claimed he wrote “Abilene” for Abilene, Texas.

“Oh, wrong Abilene,” I tell Brent.

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Kansas, the Coolest State Since...Well, we’re here anyway, so we explore the fun Old West town-with-a-town, checking out the saloon, the jail, the schoolhouse, and the train–which is named Enterprise, probably no relation, but we Trekkies take is as a sign. We’re the only ones in the little town—well, us, and a bunny that Brent keeps trying to capture in a selfie.

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Mushroom Rocks is next—a state park with not a soul around. The air is thick with heat and the grass is scorched and looks like hay, and it’s knee-deep and hip-high in some places as we make our way on foot to these crazy rocks. Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Google introduces me to a Kansas University website that tells us the rocks “are made of sandstone from the Dakota Formation, deposited along the edge of a Cretaceous sea about 100 million years ago. Over time, circulating water deposited a limy cement between the sand grains, creating harder bodies of sandstone called concretions… The softer sandstone of the stem has eroded more rapidly, creating the mushroom-shaped rock.”

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...We look around in awe of these wide hillsides that shrink our horizon to a stone’s throw in all directions against the blue sky and imagine the hills are waves on the sea. And then, well, what do you do with 100-million-year-old cretaceous deposits? Brent and I climb on them. And climb, and climb, and climb.

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...We hit the dirt road again, and take some amazing mid-Kansas photos from the middle of the road when Sally the Map App gets us horribly lost, and we feel as though we’re the only humans in this great, golden sun-filled territory. Kansas, The Coolest State Since...Eventually, and with Brent’s innate (and bizarre) sense of direction, we manage to reach a town called Wilson just as the sun is setting. We drive along the edge of town until we find a 25-foot egg structure.

Wilson is a town of about 800 residents, and calls itself the Czech capital of Kansas. (“These are my people,” I proudly claim to Brent of my heritage and look around as if entering a long-lost family home.) The story goes that the town reached out to Hess Services, Inc. in Hays, Kansas, to build this fiberglass egg as a tourism boost for Wilson. (Hess Services, Inc. built it for cost. Imagine!) Kansas, The Coolest State Since...And just this summer the egg received its final coat of paint, giving it its Czechoslovakian design. Perhaps for those painting purposes, the egg is on a giant horizontal spindle. A nearby sign says not to turn the egg. Technically, we only managed to wiggle it a little before I found the sign. Instead, we take pictures of ourselves with the egg, and venture out to look at the old and ornate buildings of Wilson, which are lighted with a rose hue from the lowering sun. We’re hungry, and find a place called Grandma’s Soda Shop where we join the local teenagers for some pizza before hitting the road again. Next stop: Colorado!

With full bellies and a full drive ahead, we force ourselves back in the car. As we pass the last of the Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk billboards in Kansas, we settle in for our more than 5-hour night drive (seriously, how much time did we spend at Truckhenge??), and we do what any nighttime road travelers would: We listen to World War Z on CD. Nothin’ like zombie survival stories to keep the mind sharp.

Kansas, The Coolest State Since...The thing about the road to Colorado (I-70 W) is that it’s straight as a pin, for hours and hours. And hours. The other thing about it is that there are no lights along the road, and thus, no need for lighted billboards. It’s just a solid dark, all around you, which is interesting in its peculiarity. Imagine such a place untouched by the need for constant visual stimulation. We drive, fast, and I’m building up terror in my mind that random wildlife will step in front of us on the road and we’ll never see them until too late. I try, but I can’t see if there’s a fence between the road and the open country because it’s just so dark. I’m also building up intense curiosity at what else is out there in that warm blanket of the darkness when a random thought occurs to me and I suddenly giggle.

“What?” Brent asks.

“Nothing. You won’t like it,” I say. He waits, patiently and quietly, which is his way. “Okay,” I say. “I just thought: Kansas is the best state since sliced bread.” No reaction from Brent, and that’s also his way. “Come on, it’s funny!” I say. “Try it: This is the best gas station popcorn since sliced bread. This is the best bottle of flat ginger ale since sliced bread.” Brent stays silent. “That’s funny, and you know it,” I tell him.

Miles and miles later, as the zombie war gets more intense and we cross the border into Colorado, Brent says, “I like your sliced bread line. I may borrow that.”

I knew it.~

(For more awesome America Stories from the Road, click: Segment 8,  Segment 7Segment 6Segment 5Segment 4Segment 3Segment 2Segment 1)

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

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