On October 1st, 1980, Michael and I departed our house on Broadway for a road trip to Colorado. The night before, we’d packed up the ridiculously huge white Ford Country Squire station wagon which we’d inherited from his parents so we could depart at 5:45 a.m. Both of us loved road trips. I think that the way people fit together while traveling is a good indicator of whether relationships will have staying power. Each individual’s idea of relaxation and what vacation means is so unique. By this trip, Michael and I had known each other for nine years, lived together for most of those years and had hit the road multiple times. We were a practically perfect fit as travel partners.
Michael packed for every possible hazard, every kind of weather and every type of recreation. Although he was a failed boy scout, the motto “be prepared” had stuck with him. We were going to stay in lodging part of the time, and would be camping for the remainder. So we were carrying a full load. Setting aside worrying about having babies to indulge ourselves in the glorious fall color of the Rocky Mountains was actually pretty easy. Oddly, we both felt somewhat bereft without our dogs but quickly got used to their absence. We’d never traveled west before and were excited for new scenery. We were headed toward the small town of Redstone, population 94, to stay at an old inn which had once housed miners from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, a coal enterprise. The year we went, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
We were driving straight through Kansas to Burlington, Colorado, where we’d spend one night so we could arrive at the inn during daylight hours. As we headed west into Kansas, in the midst of the end of harvest season, Michael’s allergies started driving him crazy. He took his Chlortrimeton antihistamines and passed out while I drove for hours through a flat landscape with cloud formations as the major point of interest until we got to Colorado. We spent that night at a Ramada Inn in Burlington before heading into Redstone the next day.
We drove through Aspen and took part of Route 133 which was decked out in gorgeous yellow aspens and splashes of orange deciduous trees interspersed with deep glowing evergreens. Although my photos have faded after 40 years, I made a valiant attempt to record every aspect of this trip in a little travel journal in which I jotted down notes and expenses. I still have it.
We pulled in to Redstone at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon of October 2nd. The town was tiny, a curious mixture of artsy folks, craft shops and lots of coal miners from a nearby mine site. There seemed to be as many roaming dogs as there were people walking around. We checked in to our room at the Inn. Old-fashioned with no television, no telephone and no radio, a welcoming silence. The bathroom was minute with a toilet that had a pull chain which hung down from a tank mounted on the wall. The lodging price was moderate but when we strolled down to the restaurant for dinner we were astonished by the outrageously expensive menu. We decided to hunt for a grocery store so we could eat our next two dinners in our room. The lesson of being a captive audience for food was one we learned fast. Except for reading, we were each other’s entertainment so we turned in early to be ready for the packed day ahead of us.
We rose early, ate a hearty breakfast, wrote a few postcards and went for a stroll. Then we hopped into the car to drive through McClure’s Pass, a breathtaking scenic route which was close by. We picked up a hitchhiker, a musician who told us he’d just come from a fantasy week with a woman he hadn’t seen in 9 years who was now a model in Los Angeles. He also knew people from where we lived which was bizarre but also kind of typical for the subculture of people who picked strangers up from the side of the road. We dropped him off at his next highway to return to the Inn, where we’d booked a two hour horseback tour in the mountains with a guide.
We marched ourselves to the stables, mounted up and began our ascent through the golden woods. I was coping pretty well with my acrophobia, especially considering the steep slopes on the right side of the trail. We were high enough to get a look at Osgood Castle, eventually known as Redstone Castle, built by the first owner of the nearby coal mine.
Unfortunately, with only 15 minutes left on the tour, after enjoying the perfect weather and scenery, my foot got caught on a slender downed aspen branch which got stuck in my stirrup. My horse bolted and bucked and I lost control of my reins. I flew backwards on this narrow path landing smack on my back. The pain was tremendous and shocking, starting with my spine and shooting up to my neck and head which had suffered startling whiplash. The guide was ahead in the lead, followed by Michael and then me. Michael was handling my horse as well as his, while I fumbled around for my brown-tinted glasses that had flown off my face at some point and were now blurred. Although I was in physical agony, I was still conscious enough to understand that the only way down that mountain required me to get back on that animal and ride. I still don’t know how I got in the saddle but I did. Every jouncing step was awful. Back in those days, I was still capable of being embarrassed in front of a stranger so I kept my mouth shut and suffered my way back down. Michael had no clue how I felt. When we reached the stable he dismounted first and came chattering up to me to discuss our adventure. I couldn’t figure out how to get down from the horse and basically fell into him. I started crying in his arms with no clue how I was going to survive the rest of the trip. We limped back to the Inn and I collapsed into bed. He walked into town, returning with a dusty little tube of Ben-Gay which he applied from my head to the base of my spine. Fortunately, we were still smoking weed in those days and had some with us which I smoked until I passed out.
The next day I was unable to move. I sent Michael off to hike, thinking there was no point in both of us having our trip spoiled. He protested but I insisted. So he fed me and went hiking while I lay in bed, reading “High Tide at Gettysburg.” High, indeed. That’s what got me through the day. By the next morning I was able to be mobile so we drove to Glenwood Springs, to a hospital where I was x-rayed and given painkillers and muscle relaxers. Ah youth. I rebounded enough to do laundry with Michael and then hop back into the car to take a trip to Marble, Colorado to see a partial ghost town and old marble quarries. Again the scenery was breathtaking against clear blue skies, with sparkling rivers and lakes surrounded by the gorgeous fall foliage. We’d hoped to go backpacking on Mt. Elbert but opted instead for camping near Telluride.
We arrived in Telluride on the 6th. We found a campsite in the nearby San Juan National Forest. Then we went into town for food. A former mining town, it appeared to be moving into the hands of people I described in my journal as hippie entrepreneurs. I remember the grocery store we chose was carpeted which I thought was utterly absurd. We went back to our campsite where we spent a chilly night by our fire, snuggled into our two-person pup tent with our Coleman lantern for reading and warmth.
From Telluride we moved on to Mesa Verde National Park. We camped there and woke to deer wandering around our campsite, poking around, looking for scraps. Fairly empty in October, we were really thrilled with the quiet, punctuated only by natural sound. We walked through the ruins of Pueblo Indian basket weaving cultures dug into the hillsides, marveling at what life we imagined an average nine hundred years earlier. We did some hiking although I was still pretty sore. I’d also had what we assumed was an allergic response to my pain meds which caused facial swelling. I looked pretty weird but we were having a great time and decided that since I didn’t appear to be dying we were going to forge ahead.
We spent another night in Mesa Verde before packing up and heading for Ouray. The drive between those places was truly beautiful. We switched gears in Ouray, a town both of us really liked. We stayed in a hotel with a jacuzzi in our room, welcome relief for all my aches and pains. That first night in a town that looked really old school western we ate at a fabulous alpine restaurant that dished up wonderful rustic Italian food. That was the first time I tasted Robert Mondavi wine from California, so delicious that I noted it in my journal. The next day we wandered around town taking in picturesque stores and mini-museums. That afternoon we took a 4-wheel drive Jeep ride up to the top of Engineer Mountain, almost 13,000 feet tall, a big challenge for me as we bounced along in the open-sided vehicle, up steep roads and passes. I remember how scared I was sitting next to my smiling fearless partner. But when I recently went through our photos, I laughed to see myself examining rocks all those years ago, several of which are still on display in my dining room.
One of the most daring parts of our trip, at least for me was driving the stretch of road between Ouray and Silverton known as the Million Dollar Highway, a ridiculously switch-backed marvel with no guardrails and jaw-dropping height. I wound up behind the wheel on that fantastic but heart-stopping slab. While Michael slept next to me, I was fairly certain that as I went around a curve with the front end of that massive car, I couldn’t see the rear end which was still in the previous bend. After a short time, Michael woke because I was driving so slowly he thought we’d stopped. All the while, these massive double cab pickup trucks were whipping past me, every one with a loaded gun rack as hunting season was approaching. We made it down to Durango before turning back. Both of us found the Durango area particularly appealing, even fantasizing about the possibility of moving there, although that was a far-fetched vacation fantasy.
As we made our way back north and east, we stopped at another astonishing place, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Spending time in the midst of such overwhelming natural beauty went a long way toward that de-stressing goal that launched our trip. The outdoors is, at least for me, critical in providing a sense of internal balance and perspective. I think we both felt rejuvenated and genuinely refreshed. We made one more stop along Bear Creek before returning home on October 13th to pick up our lives where we’d left them.
In November we went to Chicago to have Thanksgiving with my family. A few weeks later we flew to Florida to see Michael’s parents for the December holidays. I had no idea that sometime in November I’d become pregnant as my doctor had hoped, precluding the need for fertility tests I was expecting in January. I was asymptomatic, one of the lucky women who never felt sick during pregnancy. The due date was in August, 1981. But that’s another story.