Today was very much a logistical day. Because of the unexpected snowfall earlier in the week I had to abandon my plans to go the the Grand Canyon on Wednesday morning and instead headed east. Today was all about getting back to a position that will allow me to go back to the Grand Canyon tomorrow but via a route that will take me slap-bang through the middle of Monument Valley. I’ll stay in a hotel next the canyon tomorrow night and will then have Sunday to head up into Nevada.
To make this possible I had to drive for over eight hours today. This took me the 440 miles from Oklahoma, back through the north of New Mexico and over Colorado mountains to Durango, where I’ll be staying tonight. Eight hours is quite a long time to drive in one day and I am now quite tired (even for me). I did, however, gain an hour (now in the Mountain Time Zone) although the clocks in my hotel room don’t necessarily agree with this.
I can split the eight hours of driving today almost exactly in two. The first four hours involved me driving though what-seemed-to-be one continuous corn field. The second four hours consisted of me driving towards, and then over the Rockies. The thing with the Rockies is you first see them from many many miles away. They then loom in the distance for what seems an age before steadily growing until you get the distinct impression you’re about to drive into the side of a very large wall. I think I timed my trip over here just about right. If I’d been a week or two earlier there wouldn’t have been much in the way of snow other than right at the top of the mountains but, if I’d come a week or two later I don’t think I’d be able to do what I did today. A number of the roads I travelled along today will soon become impassible to anyone without chains on their tyres.
South Colorado is not that densely populated and the roads towards the mountains only serve a few small ‘western-style’ mountain towns. These towns have seen better days but, the backdrop of the Rockies more than makes up for this:
Heading over the Rockies themselves is not something I’d recommend to anyone who suffers from sinus or inner-ear problems. You start at an altitude of around 5000ft and will dot back and forwards to 8500ft a few times before you start the main ascent. This constant change in altitude is very notable and you end up having to constantly pop your ears. A 3500ft change in altitude may not seem like much but bear in mind that you could fit Snowdon in that range. When you transition over the top of the mountains things get even better. The pass I drove up today topped out at just over 10500ft. This is an ascent of 5500ft from your stating position (1000 ft more than Ben Nevis is tall) and a total altitude of three-times the height of Snowdon. The air is notably thinner and you do notice that your breathing rate goes up.
This ascent also puts quite a large strain on the car – but my Ford Fusion held out today without any problems at all. The only minor issue I did have with the car today was when I accidentally knocked it into manual after about three hours of driving through the corn fields (I wasn’t bored – honest – I was trying to put a CD into the drive at the time). This caused the car to essentially have a blue screen of death movement and shut itself down. The trip computer went off, the engine stalled and it dumped itself into neutral. As I was going along at 60mph at the time this wasn’t particularly welcome and I had to pull into the edge of one of the corn fields to restart the car.
To give you an idea of what the first four-hours of today were like I took two photos to illustrate the variation in scenery. What you have to understand is that these two pictures were taken almost two-hundred miles apart:
Two-hundred miles apart. That’s like central London to the Welsh coast.
I didn’t have much to do either- between these two pictures being taken I only had to turn two corners.
That was it.
There were two eighty-mile dead straight roads followed by a fifty-mile dead straight one. Going along these roads I was essentially a passenger. The car is well-balanced so you don’t exactly have to hang on to the steering wheel to keep it on track and with cruise control your feet aren’t doing much either.
I entertained myself by listening to the local radio stations for the counties I passed through. There isn’t much in the way of national FM radio in the US (all national stations are done through satellite radio) so you have to constantly re-tune into the appropriate local frequency.
Local radio in the US can almost always be put into one of four categories: country music; religion; talk radio or sports. You can have combinations of these categories (i.e. ‘country music about religion’ or ‘talk radio about country music’) but generally won’t find anything else. Occasionally there is a test test of the emergency broadcast system to wake everyone up. (Last time I drove round the states I was, at one point, rudely awakened by a sudden very loud tone over the radio followed by “This is Kansas Civil Defence. This is a test of the emergency broadcast system…”.)
Today most of the local radio stations were in some way related to corn. There was a talk radio programme with local farmers ringing in to talk about the best corn crop for certain areas of the high plains. There was another talk show discussing the fluctuations in corn prices including half-hourly updates on the corn commodity prices on the stock market. There was a religious show which was mostly focussing on ‘God’s gift of the corn harvest’ and memories of associated harvest festivals. There was then a local sports programme talking about bottom-league American football matches, one of which was a match between a local airforce base and, yes, one of the corn ranches.
I don’t think you should be allowed to become a US citizen unless you’ve had to spend four hours driving through corn while listening to radio programmes about corn. When I stopped for gas the local paper’s headline was about corn and, AND, in the gas station there were two people standing by the till talking about corn.
The only thing that disappointed me slightly was that I didn’t hear any country music about corn. I did spend a couple of hours listening to a local country music station though and think I managed to identify the key ingredients that every country song has to have:
If it’s a song by a male artist it will go something like: I was in a bar; I saw a girl; She was out of my league; I went over anyway; I told her about my truck; She was impressed; We went outside and looked at the truck; She was impressed; We got in the truck and drove; We ended up by a lake in the truck; Stuff is implied to have happened; We said goodbye in the morning; I haven’t seen the girl since (but would like to); I still have the truck.
If it’s a song by a female artist it will go something like: I was in a bar; I saw a guy; He was hot; He came over to me; He had a truck; I liked his eyes; We went outside and looked at the truck; I liked his hair in the moonlight; We got in his truck and drove; We ended up by a lake in the truck; Stuff is implied to have happened; We said goodbye in the morning; He was my one true love; I haven’t seen him since; I’m now sad because of this; I don’t know the current status of his truck.
Now you have to appreciate that country music is a huge business in the US. It’s worth many billions of dollars and is incredibly popular just about everywhere that’s not the east and west coasts. On this basis: by writing the above I have risked life and limb. Country music is a very serious thing and is not in any way to be made light of. I fully expect to have a run in with the Colorado state police shortly after positing this.
Anyway, tomorrow is going to be an exciting day. I’ll try not to get lost in the desert…
Wish me luck!