Pagosa Springs and the burning brakes

Pagosa Springs and the burning brakes

We didn’t end up making it up the Dunes the following day.  Based on weather we opted to hit the road and make for the 4 corners, where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado all meet, pledging to return to Colorado on our way back North.  There is so much more we want to see and explore there.

We fueled up in Alamoso, the last big stop before venturing back into the mountains.  Next stop Pagosa Springs.  On the way there we would climb 3000 feet quickly, and proceed to drop and another 3000 feet in equally short order.  At the summit of that pass, Wolf Creek ski hill, seemed to barely have enough snow to be open, but it was enough to attract hundreds of skiers, boarders, snowshoe hikers and the sled crowd.  Everyone has been saying this is an unseasonable winter, warm and short on snowfall.  And it shows everywhere.   We were at 10,300 feet at the summit of the pass and yet any slope not facing North was dry and free of the winter white.

The majority of our elevation drop came in the first 5 miles from the summit.  As we began our descent we spotted a sign stating that emergency run off lanes were at 3.5 miles down and 5 miles down for the second one.  After the first mile or so and being on the brakes the whole way I made a comment to Angela about the distance to the run-offs.  Imagine being 2 miles down this windy highway bobsled course, being unable to control your speed and somehow having to make it another 1.5 miles!  At about 4 miles we found out a bit what that feeling would be like.  I felt my brakes beginning to fade.  I cranked up the trailer brake controller, geared down, and looked to the sky when we spotted a view point pull-off.  By the time we came to a stop outside the parking lot you could smell the brakes and see the smoke billowing past us.  Yikes!  The overconfident looky-loo in me was too busy taking in the scenery and subsequently quietly panicking to realize I had, in fact, turned the trailer brakes down, not up.  The front brakes on the truck essentially bore the brunt of all 12000lbs of our home and motor.  One thing is for certain, that is a mistake I will NEVER make again.  30 minutes off cool down time for the truck brakes and my nerves later, and following 7-8 brakes checks on the trailer for good measure, we continued our descent into the flat valley below.  Pagosa Springs has a brewery.  You can bet we stopped there after that luge run.  A quick beer, some fries, and free wi-fi was just what we needed.  We found a little RV park just outside of town with laundry (my underwear needed cleaning) and showers.  It was getting to the point we couldn’t just smell each other, but ourselves too; it was time.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park  and Zapata Falls

A couple hours South of Poncha Pass the valley widened and the mountains grew shorter with peaks more dispersed.  We neared Great Sand Dunes National Park.  40 miles (roughly 65 km.) we spotted a beige cluster in the southeast distance.  The fact it was visible from such a distance suggests the scale of it.  We stopped for a quick bathroom break off the highway at a pit stop with no more than 2 of any item in stock, and less than a ¼ of the shelves with anything to catch the dust at all.  There was a diner attached.  If crickets paid they might make ends meet.  How these communities and places survive is a mystery to me.  The sandy, infertile, and incredibly inhospitable land was littered with mobile homes and trailers whose tin roofs were weighed down with old tires so not to fly away with the winds that whipped the land into it’s current condition.  Living in Edmonton and Saskatoon I’ve been questioned by many as to how we survive seasons.  The seemingly unfathomable cold is nothing compared to the un-growing, unproviding lands these are.  With cold brings snow, brings melt and feeds growth.  The native plants seem to barely survive here.  It’s hard to imagine this land providing in the sense we are accustomed to in the fertile, frozen north.

We lucked out coming into the park.  It seems those at the gate were on break.  The typically manned pay window was closed tight with a sign saying “gone, will collect payment on re-entry”.  Awesome!  National Park entry fees are $30.  Based on our cheap living budget that’s 3 days of meals for the two of us.  The dunes were barely visible from about 1km before the park gates until almost 2km after.  By that point they seem to quadruple in size.  What looked once like a sandy first rise up a desert mountain was suddenly a deep mass of sun warmed wash.  From the sandy, mostly frozen creek-bed below the dunes there is no camera lens that can capture the volume of what lies before you.  Carefully we skipped across 100m (300 feet) of partially frozen, still running, wet sand wash to get to the dry warm beach that is the base of the dunes.  And a beach it was!  This is by far the cleanest, softest, purest sand I’ve ever seen or set foot in.  It was dry 6” deep and I just can’t explain…  think the “champagne powder” of sand.

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With a quick preview and a plan of making the 750 foot vertical climb the following day, we left the park and headed up the next mountain south to a free campsite at the base of Zapata Falls.

I have a thing for waterfalls.  I find them absolutely fascinating and am obsessed with seeing and participating in as many as possible.  How exactly does one participate in a waterfall?  Good question.  I haven’t really given this much thought until this moment, the first time I’ve tried to explain or justify my obsession.  There is such a power behind any waterfall.  The only way they exist is because of thousands of years of water, something that seems so soft and gentle, forming rock; something so hard and un-formable.  You can participate by hiking nearby, ascending the same landscape they have cut through with no regard to its previous shape.  We swim and bath in the pools they form.  We jump off cliffs with them, feeling for a brief second the same power plunging into the pools below.  That’s all if you’re lucky. In most cases we participate simply by being there to observe and feel a power and force that cannot be measured by any man-made unit.

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Zapata Falls was all of that, but frozen.  Paused in time as for what you can see.  Your ears and feet disagree though.  Under thick, cracked ice, mostly clouded with air but for a few glimpses through a clear block.  This flow was alive and well beneath a frozen cloak of cold trying its best to put you on your backside with every slippery step.  I feel winter may be the best and possibly only real time to view these falls.  From the end of well groomed trail leading to them, the frozen state allows you to climb back into the tight and tall canyon, around a bend where the giant falls stand.  Without the solid water I’m not sure we would have witnessed this sight.

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Half-way back to the main parking area, the trail forks and leads an alternate route back to one of the best laid out campsites we’ve stayed at yet.  Two large loops, one for tenting and one for RV’s are lined alternately, either side with pull-through stalls, each complete with a bear-proof storage bin to keep food items in overnight, as well as picnic tables and steel fire-pits including removable grilling grates.  It seemed there wasn’t a site that didn’t offer beautiful panoramic views of the valley below, with the city of Alamosa to the South, the distant peaks of the San Juan Mountains to the West, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park to the North, slightly dwarfed by the Sangre De Cristo Mountains behind.  But just slightly.  From this elevated viewpoint we were able to, for the first time, really view and comprehend the 31 square mile sprawl of the dunes.

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Truck and Trailer- sunset view
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Rubix looking at the sunset from the trailer.

Soon the fun begins

This is coming completely out of order but we hadn’t realized it wasn’t posted yet.

With most of the work done behind the walls it was time for carpentry.  This is the task I’m most comfortable with.  Because of that comfort I was willing to challenge myself and do something different.  But before that, we needed a plan.

The original floor plan was awkward and tight.  Speaking of awkward, it has just occurred to me after misspelling the word 3 times that it is an awkward word to spell.  We will be living in this trailer for at least the next 6 months, and maybe longer.  It needs to feel spacious.  It needs to function.  It needs to have kennel space for 4 dogs.  We need to be able to move about comfortably and pass each other without having to reverse into a more open area to do so.  Only 2 of our dogs reverse well.  At the same time, it needs to maximize storage.  So how do we achieve all that in a 190 square foot space?  Some things are sacrificed, that’s how.  Using Google Sketchup we laid out a few different plans that included a small dining table as well as a couch/day bed in addition to a queen size bed, large kitchen and large bathroom.

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With a plan we felt confident with we began.  I didn’t touch on this in the previous post, but it’s work that happened during the demolition stage, prior to the spray foam.  Most of the electrical components for the solar setup had arrived, including 3 massive panels.  38 ¾” by 79” to be precise.  These were selected without much planning.  We wanted to maximize our energy production without it being obvious we are driving a rolling power plant.  I knew we could fit 3 and no way could we fit 4.  As it turns out we couldn’t quite fit 3.  Not without making some changes that is.  The trailer had 3 roof vents on it; one in the bathroom with a broken fan and broken cover, one in the middle with a broken cover and damaged operating hardware, and one at the front with a broken cover.  The only way 3 panels were fitting up there is if we went down to 2 roof vents and moved one of them.  But that wasn’t all there was to do with regards to the roof.  Various brackets, antennas, satellite dish and other random items were fixed to the roof of the years and served no purpose other than to create work removing them.  For 3 days I drilled rivets out, removed screws, removed all the junk, patched holes, replaced damaged sheet aluminum, eliminated two vents, replaced one vent, and cut in a new hole to install a new vent in the kitchen area.  Being the only roof vent outside the bathroom, and without air conditioning, we put a 10 speed, 2 way fan in this location.  By the end of it I had patched 17 different locations on the roof, drilled out at least 300 rivets and installed close to 500.  I purchased a pneumatic rivet gun for this and it has got to be one of the most worthwhile tools I have ever bought.  I couldn’t imagine using a hand operated riveting tool for all of this.  I’d probably still be doing it between stints of physio for all sorts of issues I no doubt would have.

For the solar panel mounting I opted not to use the small brackets that were supplied and went about a bit different route.  I had concerns with the brackets for a few reasons.  The first of which was that they were meant to mount the panels on a wall or roof that isn’t going 120km/h down the road.  Secondly, I didn’t want the panels to be visible chunks on the roof of a fairly Streamline(d) trailer (see what I did there?).  I chose to run 3/16” wall, 3” aluminium angle front to back on either side to act as a sort of saddle for the panels to mount between.  To deal with water shedding, at each point of the shell frame that the trailer was bolted into I used a small piece of ¼” flat bar to act as a stand-off and effectively raise the channel that much from the surface of the roof.  One un-planned benefit of the 3” angle was that it provided some roof-line rigidity that helped to take out some hefty dents at a few bent wall/roof frame members.

Now back to the inside

I’d recently worked with cherry wood for a renovation project and really like the way it looked.  It has some beautiful marbling in it and the natural color demands nothing more than a clear varnish finish.  Having relationships at hardwood wholesalers made it an actual affordable option too.  I did some rough estimating on what would be required and went shopping.  The main ingredients for the build are 8/4 and 4/4 rough sawn cherry wood (mostly 8’-10’ lengths), ¼” cherry mdf core, 5/8” cherry particle core, ½” pre-finished poplar ply, 5/8” fir ply, 1/8” puck or rink board and .040 aluminium sheet.

The ceiling seemed like the logical place to start.  With roughly 38” of flat width before it starts to curve down to the walls we agreed that would be a nice place to run some cherry wood and break up the sea of white puck board that will be the walls.  Now when it comes to woodwork I can be a bit obsessive in the details.  And it started here.  The easy thing would have been to put up 40” wide sheets of cherry, 3 of them, and cover the seams.  But with our open plan in mind you would be able to see from front to back at once, so the ceiling needed to flow.  That is, the pattern of wood had to be consistent.  The sheets of ¼” had a repeating pattern on them which allowed one sheet to cut down into three identical strips.  What we have is 3 strips, a 14” (middle strip) and two 12” outer strips.  With it all cut and dry-fit it was back into the shop to spray it all prior to final installation.  3 coats of a satin finish, water based lacquer and it was time to install!

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With ceiling panels on we could now begin to move down the walls.  We started with puck board butting into our ceiling edge and flexed it into the curved upper portion of the walls, securing it to the framework with rivets.  It remained quite rigid due to being pressed into the curve, so it only required fastening at the edges and maintained shape well.  This is nice because it means no visible rivets after all the seams were covered.  The install of the puck board is a 2-3 person job.  A good friend of mine, Spencer, was happy to help.  Like moving though, I provided the beer.  Piece after painstaking piece, we slowly worked our way back to the spot that the bathroom wall would be and down to the floor.

 

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With the walls done, it was time for the daunting part – the upper cabinet at the front of the trailer.  The old aluminum cabinet that was removed was not suitable for re-use.  Something new had to be made to fit into a curved roof and a curved front wall.  First thing was templating the curves.  I tried to trace out from the old cabinet onto cardboard but without being installed the old aluminum was too flexible and did not provide and accurate template.  A few hours later I had traced and trimmed and marked and trimmed and screwed up and started over, tracing and trimming, until I had tow templates that were a close enough fit to work off.  Another day later I had a cabinet box 80% built, ready to fit.  And fit it did, surprisingly well!  Now we could finish the cabinet (built out of the light ½” poplar ply) by gluing on ¼” cherry to the visible front and bottom, cut open some additional small storage spaces, and spray it.  Of course, mistakes were made, and we cut in the access to additional storage in the bottom of it.  The price of long days.  I still blame Spencer on this one because had he not been helping I wouldn’t have had the extra beer or two that evening prior to cutting holes in the wrong spot.  Fortunately, it was an easy fix.  Upon correction we figured it best to call it a night.

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The balance of the front area cabinetry went without many hiccups.  The bed frame, speaker boxes, and additional storage went together well.  Onto the rest.  The front closet I was dreading.  It was more cabinetry that had to fit into a curved wall.  I had picked up some steel studs that I planned on using for the bathroom wall a few weeks earlier.  After tripping on and knocking them over numerous times I finally had a use for them!  I used them to template the curve (which I should have done for the front cabinet) by cutting relief cuts every two inches from the point at which the wall begins to curve, to the end.  This allowed me to press the now flexible steel stud into the curve of the wall.  With a few pieces of lumber screwed in to brace and hold the curve I now had a very accurate template to trace onto my plywood.  It worked perfectly!

With the front closet built we took a step back and looked at our plans.  What looks great on paper doesn’t always execute the way you’d hope.  There was no way we could fit the kennel space and a day bed/couch.  So goodbye day bed.  The balance of cabinetry went without fuss.  I installed our new water tank centered over the axles and tight to the wheel well, which were insulated using 1” rigid foam insulation, glued down and taped at seams.  The batteries would sit in the same position on the opposite side.  The cabinet boxes were built, lacquered and installed, waiting for countertops to complete.

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On the opposite side we built 2 kennels as one structure with 2” x 2” solid cherry making the frame.  Puck board acted as walls, with vinyl lattice for sliding doors, sitting in track cut into the framework prior to assembly.  More lacquer.  The remaining space would allow for an extra large removable kennel.  We though it would have been nice to have another built in one, but having the flexibility with the space matters more.

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Now for the reading room, er, bathroom…

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This was a challenge.  Our original idea was to have this be what is known as a wet room.  Meaning the entire space can get wet and drains to a central location.  Picture a spa type bathroom or that of your local gym.  We had the idea based on our experiences in Bali, Indonesia where it seemed every bathroom was built in such a way it could simply be blasted with a pressure washer to clean everything.  In a perfect setup you could properly shower while sitting on the toilet, not that you’d ever need to…  Unfortunately, due to the location of the black water holding tank it did not allow for a central drain that was easily sloped to.  This meant the floor drain could only easily be a shower drain offset to one side where the shower was to be.  So, with that in mind, and to maximize our shower space to be comfortable to use, we had a local stainless steel fabrication shop create a custom shower pan with a curb and lip all around it to fit into the rear corner of the trailer.  This allowed us to enclose the remainder of the bathroom walls, as well as the shower walls with .040 aluminium.  More sheet stainless would have been preferred due to its scratch resistant characteristics but cost, and more so workability was a major deterrent and pushed us towards the aluminium walls.  The aluminium was easily scored, cut and bent without the need of a pneumatic shear or hydraulic break.  That’s not to say it was easy.  It was not.  Just when I thought I had things figured out did it become glaringly apparent I didn’t.  Not at all.  The corners were an absolute nightmare.  And I’m still not happy with how they turned out.  The reading room is probably the first place (and was the last place to finish) that I started to say “good enough” as we were getting deeper into Canadian winter and needed to hit the damn road and start this adventure!  There are still a few little finishing details remaining that need attention, but we have yet to hit warm enough temperatures to be able to actually use the water systems.  So in the words of a good friend of mine, “problem for tomorrow!”

Trailer is done enough, time to go! (still some electrical and plumbing details I haven’t covered, but those are a bit more technical and will require a more in depth post that will put all but the most interested readers to sleep)…

Colorado Hospitality

Canadians are well known across the globe for their hospitable, friendly, and apologetic nature.  I’m sorry for stereotyping, but it’s generally quite true.  Canadians are genuinely concerned and adept to the state of happiness of our fellow Canucks or anyone else around for that matter.  With that said, I’ve found Colorado hospitality to rival that of most any Canadian experience I’ve had.  We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing 5 or 6 breweries, a few restaurants, as well as a few fuel stations.  At every one of which we were greeted with some of the friendliest folks we’ve ever come by.  Avery Brewing Co., as well as Asher Brewing in Boulder, Colorado, have some of the best staff we’ve ever encountered.  Not only was the beer fantastic, but the staff were incredibly welcoming and eager to help with anything we asked.  For example at Avery Brewery, we quickly realized that their substantial menu of beer ranging from 3.something % up to 16.9% was not ideal for those that wanted to continue trying everything that looked delicious and not drive themselves home after.  They did all they could to find us a way to get home (by home I mean Angela’s relatives place and the street on which our trailer was currently parked) with our dog who was waiting patiently in the truck.  That’s one of the perks of having dogs vs kids.  I find we aren’t judged nearly as much as a parent who goes to a bar and leaves their kids in the truck…

Unfortunately, in our experience, Boulder, Colorado has not developed quite the industry Saskatchewan and Canada have as far as designated driver services go that will drive you home in your vehicle.  Note for the future – business idea.  With that said, we did not stay at Avery long, opting to try out one more recommended local brewery, Asher Brewing.  Back home in Saskatoon, we have a few local microbreweries, one of which has become a bit of a second home.  Now this isn’t because of a serious disease known as alcoholism.  No, there are better reasons.  First of which is the regulars.  Prairie Sun brewery became a “Cheers” sort of local pub where you would walk in the door any given day and be greeted by name with friendly faces that you could sit next to for an hour or two and shoot the shit, whether you had one beer or three.  Asher Brewing had the same feeling.  It is a smaller place on the scale of Colorado microbreweries.  But it felt like Prairie Sun.  The bartender was friendly as could be, genuinely interested in our story of where we came from and what we were up to.  The Canadian I.D. tends to garner questions just about everywhere we go.  Imagine you are at work one day and a talking lama comes in and asks where to find a bathroom.  We feel like the lama.  For some reason, bewilderment is the first reaction, more often than not, when people realize they are in the presence of a Canadian.  Remember as a child when you first saw a rabbit or hare running through the streets?  And remember how you wondered if someone’s pet got out or if it escaped from the zoo?  We are the rabbits.  We really aren’t that foreign, yet we aren’t natural to the landscape.  Fortunately for us we have a common language with which to communicate and don’t simply run off scared.  And thanks to that common language we and the rabbit spotters in Colorado have found that we aren’t really that different.  In fact, this place feels like home.  It feels like Canada.  That is a compliment, Colorado.  We really like it here!

Having spent a couple weeks for family time with Angela’s Aunt, Uncle and their two kids over Christmas, it was time to hit the road.  The Great Sand Dunes National Park was the next target on our list.  As we left Boulder we made one last stop to fill up a few growlers at another great local spot.  Bob, who owned the brewery, Endo Brewing Co., came to check out the trailer and gave us a recommendation for somewhere to see on the way to the dunes.  Salida, Colorado.  We followed Bob’s advice and made a quick detour.  Well, not much of a detour.  More like a different route.  All I can say is Wow!  The province of Colorado just keeps on giving.  After a roadside nap overnight just south of Colorado Springs we hit the road early well before the sun came up.  After an hour drive South, we headed West out of Pueblo, Colorado, and wound our way into the mountains again.  Along the surreal, red rock canyon drive into the hills we saw signs for Royal Gorge Park.

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A place not on our radar or one that we were even aware of became our new next stop.  And what a stop it was.  A small tourist village made up of dinosaur exhibits, rock and gemstone stores, and even a cowboys and Indians store (a bit shocking considering the times).  Through the village and up a winding road we found the parking lot just as the sun was starting to rise over the hills behind us.  It was a beautiful sight watching the red peaks ahead slowly be bathed in bright orange light.  We opted to hit some trails recommended by the park ranger at the gorge bridge, rather than paying the fees to walk across the bridge.  Always looking down so not to trip on a rock or step on a cactus (which were everywhere) we made our way to the gorge’s edge, taking over a viewpoint occupied by a couple bighorn sheep just before we showed up.  Standing a good way above the bridge, I think we had what may be the best view of it all, short of down in the steady little river that lay below, or through the windows of the train that runs along it.  Sheer red walls rise straight up from the edge of the water and the edge of the tracks hundreds of feet.  We didn’t venture to close to the slippery shale covered edge for fear of going over.  How the bighorn sheep navigate those cliffs seems to defy physics.

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On the road again, after the Royal Gorge stop, we continued West through one of the most scenic canyon drives I’ve ever had the pleasure of cruising.  It’s not quite as fun in a truck with a 30 foot trailer in tow as it would be in car or on a bike, but I loved it no less.  Along side the same river that snakes through the Royal Gorge, we wound through 40 miles of scenic, tight, red canyon walls all the way to Salida.  And what a cool city it is.  A mix of Mexican style clay wall homes, typical last 30 year North American homes, and a lot of century old brick English style architecture gave Salida a very unique vibe.  And the people matched.  Thought I didn’t get out for a ride here, we stopped at a local bike shop for a few tubes and advice on trails.  Incredibly helpful is all I can say.  Before leaving town a quick stop at a roadside winery we spotted, Vino Salida, to sample some mead (honey wine) and wine.  I did a flight of mead samples.  I don’t think “flight” is how you refer to wine tastings, but it’s what I know so that’s what we’ll call it.  Angela sampled a “selection?” of wines, and eventually left with a bottle of red something.  Maybe I’ll tell you how it gave me heartburn later, or Angela will tell of how it made her evening…   we’ll see.

We didn’t stick around Salida long, heading South towards the sand dunes, but stopping at another national forest free campsite.  Poncha Pass.  What an incredible place.  We left 3 degree Celsius weather, climbed 2500 feet, and were welcomed with a wide open plateau full of sun and 10 degree bake setting.  The bike came out, shorts went on and Corona’s were opened.  Let the tropical holiday begin!  After a quick loop on the bike around the off-road trails up and down a few adjacent hills it was back to the campsite for a sweater, pants, and the reality that, despite the warm afternoon, we were still at 9000 feet elevation in January.  The sun dropped over the mountains to the West with a glowing goodbye, followed shortly by a full, low moon rising in the East.  Darkness was skipped.  The whole landscape was lit by the moon to the point you could read.  What a scene!

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The next two days were more of the same, except for one adventure.  The typical homebody, Gus, decided to try to catch something.  A chase ensued, Angela on foot, and me not quite out of bed yet.  Eventually, I hopped in the truck and started to look.  Roughly 25 minutes later he was caught with a team effort and brought back to camp.  He will be leashed from now on…

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Hitting the road

Colorado wasn’t the first stop, but it was the first stop beyond a Wal-Mart parking lot or a roadside sight that demanded more than a drive-by “Hey look!  Oh you missed it?  Oh well.”  It was/is the first real stop, other than Devil’s Tower, which was incredible!  Forgive the grammatical past tense and present tense contradictions.  I write this recalling what happened as it happens.  If that doesn’t make sense it’s because it doesn’t.

Colorado is the first real stop.  Everything up until now since leaving Canada has been a step on the way here.  It started with the border.  Neither of us have had anything to be afraid of crossing a border in the past but this is different.  We are towing a trailer that’s 45 years old with no visible serial number, registered as something it isn’t because nobody knows what it is, peppered with bullet holes.  Add to that we have 4 dogs with us entering a country with security that is at an all time high, with inaccessible compartments in the trailer.  I’ve watched a few episodes of Border Patrol and have seen people’s setups ripped apart for less to justify this fear.  The process was surpisingly  smooth though.  The usual questions of “do you have any firearms?” or “any drugs or alcohol?”  to which our answers were yes and no respectively.  Of course we brought along some of our local brewery’s finest fun juice.  And then they asked about food, plants and so on, specifically dog food.  We admitted having about a 1/3 bag of dog food with us, to which we were asked if it contains any lamb or pork.  I’m not sure why that would matter other than maybe some little known disease concerns.  Of course we said “no, pretty sure it’s bison”.  The border agents asked for trailer keys and went back to take a look for themselves.  Upon returning they welcomed us to the country and wished us luck on our trip!  The sense of relief after that was almost overwhelming.  High fives were exchanged between Angela and I and at least one dog.  The other good high fiver was in a kennel (Jake the asshole) and unable to exchange accolades.  We were over the moon.  The adventure has officially begun!  Fast forward 4 hours and it’s time to feed the dogs.  We pull out the bag of bison dog food to see there is no bison at all.  The first two ingredients are pork and lamb!  I wonder what they actually looked at in the trailer?

I’m not sure what I was expecting but for some reason I was surprised to see that Montana looked a lot like the Saskatchewan we just left.  Maybe the high of the start of an adventure deluded me into expecting something completely foreign.  It wasn’t.  Not at the start at least.  But as I stopped counting kilometers and started to count miles it started to change.  The endless flat landscape began to roll.  The horizon became pock marked with brown pimples.  The scenery was changing.

Along with the scenery I noticed the quality of road had changed.  Saskatchewan roads are well known for being some of the smoothest in the universe.  That is when compared to the cratered surface of the moon.  When it comes to North America smooth is not a word I would use to describe them.  It’s typical in other provinces to hear complaints about drivers from Saskatchewan, but it’s not their fault.  I’ve spent a lot of time in a vehicle mostly as a driver, but also as a passenger in multiple provinces.  One observation I’ve made is that when someone displays any sort of below acceptable driving behavior the immediate reaction is to look at the plate, and then the person.  “Damn Alberta drivers” or “of course it’s an Asian woman”.  Well Saskatchewan drivers get as bad a rep as anyone else.  But there is a reason for it.  We drive like we’re lost looking for a street sign everywhere because we’re actually just trying to navigate potholes.  Even if the road is smooth, I believe it has become genetically engraved.  That said, as I realized all I had to do was keep it between the lines I began to observe my surroundings more and enjoy the new sights I was seeing.  Montana is a beautiful state!

The rolling hills slowly grew tall.  And the smooth rolls began to tear apart exposing sharp cliffs of brown sand supporting tufts of yellowish green grassy bushes looking ready to fall over the edge.  The further south we drove the bigger the cliffs grew and more jagged the hills formed.  Soon it became layered sand towers sticking up 50 feet tall from a monotone desert looking field.  With no water in sight.  So what force shaped this place?  Water did.  Millions of years ago.  The entire landscape we were taking in was formed by ancient seas at a time so far past I can’t even associate it with time as I understand at all.  It’s a humbling thought.  To think our presence there is not even a blip in history.  And yet the current impact in my own history I will never forget.

As we continued winding our way South through Montana the sandy towers changed back to rolling hills and back to sandy towers again.  Dry creek beds were lined with ancient looking trees that rose 80 feet in the air, dwarfing large barns.  Many of the leafless trees looked like they’d been through hell twice at least.  The 15 degree weather likely tricked the mind into expected fall leaves but none were seen.  Instead what stood were ragged broken, fallen and regrown relics that appeared burnt.  Dinosaurs not buried with many dead neighbors lying about.  Who knows the last time they had water was.  Soon though we saw green again.

The hills on the horizon grew spikes.  Pine trees started to scatter about the landscape providing some much missed color.  And the ground was stained red in places.  We’re close to Wyoming now.  Within minutes of crossing the border it’s as though a page has turned.  We are almost instantly in a mountain pass winding through spindly pine forest and trying to focus on the road while spotting deer around every bend.  This is more like it.  Something about being in the mountains just feels like home.  Always.