USA - SEPTEMBER 2002
On the edge of Cripple Creek I stopped to look at my map, to see if I could work out the best way to leave the town. When I'd asked advice from the locals, most of them had taken one look at my car and said things like "You'd better go back to the main highway (about 20 miles away and a detour of about 60 miles)".
The map showed this route quite clearly, and I knew it quite well for this was the way I'd arrived. There was also a road open for high-clearance vehicles back to Colorado Springs (about a 40-mile detour) and finally, there was the road for 4x4 vehicles only, passable with extreme care and liable to flood at a moment's notice, out to Caņon City via Fourmile Creek.
Guess which one I took?
Absolutely! This is Shelf Road. And it was going in exactly the right direction too! Now isnt that a surprise?
Now take a really good look at this road. All the notices and signs, as well as all the locals, tell me that this is passable by 4x4 vehicles only, with extreme care. The owner of the local petrol station looked at me aghast when I told him I was planning to go this way in the Mustang. He thought I was completely crazy.
This was an attitude I was to encounter so much in the USA. Again and again. So much so that it was unbelievable.
You would have thought that people would realise that you can go almost anywhere in almost anything, except in places where you need high ground clearance and where there's soft, sinking sand,
It's not the vehicle, it's the driver that is the ultimate limiting factor.
I'm sure that the problem they had in the USA with Ford Explorers was nothing to do with the tyres but with the mentality of the driver.
What happened to the macho image of the great American hero in the great American west? I despair of the mentality of the average American if this is the kind of road which, for them, is "passable by 4x4 vehicles only, with extreme care". I mean to say - just look at this road.
But I was really glad I came this way - it really was one of the most beautiful roads I've ever seen.
Believe it or not, it did actually took me over two hours to drive the 18 miles. Not at all because it was a difficult road to travel, but because I had to stop every couple of hundred yards to photograph something!. And so would you if you'd have been with me.
I'd set myself a target of a maximum of 425 photos, based on 2x64mb and 1x4mb SIM cards. It was round about here that I realised that this was going to be quite unrealistic. That is, unless I did some drastic editing of the photos I've been taking. It certainly made me wonder how I'd managed to spend 9 days in Canada the previous Christmas year and only take 76!
I was clearly going to have to do something drastic. More about this later!
Nevertheless, if only photographs could ever reproduce what it is that you're actually seeing.... One of the most breathtaking moments of the whole journey was driving down this road (but not THE most breathtaking - that came a few days later, and again a few days after that!).
The photo here on the left is of a narrow river valley with several old wooden shacks and an old dirt road at the bottom. This was probably the old road before they cut out this wider (!!) road in the hillside.
But of course you're dying to know what was so special that made me come this way, anyway. If I were in a hurry to get to Flagstaff, wouldn't it have been quicker to go back and get on the I25?,
THE ROYAL GORGE BRIDGE
Well I'd heard that there was a bridge (the "Royal Gorge") bridge near Canon City that is the highest bridge in the world, so that was the reason why I was going this way.
Since writing this the French have built an enormous bridge at Millau that makes the Royal Gorge Bridge look like a toy. And Millau is only two hours down the road from me! I haven't yet had time to visit it, but some very good friends of mine, Philippe and Sandrine Pastouret, drove over it in August 2006 and took an absolutely magnificent photograph for me to post on this site, so that you can all share it.
The Millau Viaduct is the highest vehicular bridge in the world at 1125 feet (343 metres) above ground level. To put this in perspective, the Eiffel Tower is only 300 metres tall (or 320 metres with the radio mast on top). The Empire State Building is 381 metres tall, or 443 metres with its radio mast.
But at this stage, we're still in 2002 and the Millau viaduct has yet to be built. So the Royal Gorge Bridge, which you can see here on the left, was still the highest in the world at 321 metres. Yet I still was disappointed. Not because of the bridge, but because not only did you have to pay for it (I was quite prepared for a modest toll) but they had actually built a "theme park" around it, and you couldn't get to see the bridge without paying a walloping amount for a day ticket to the theme park. There is another way, but only if you were to indulge in a bit of mountaineering and acrobatics, and I can certainly be athletic if there's a Fistful of Dollars involved Great Satan - the Land of the Free? Pah! Humbug! There's nothing free here! Next person who says that to me will get a smack in the mouth.
But I'm not all that impressed though with my photo. The sun was in the wrong position and I would normally have waited for it to move (which I have done in the past and to which my poor long-suffering ex-wife Nerina will testify), or wandered off elsewhere to take a photo from another direction. But there was so much I had to do, and I didn't have the time.
But now I'm back in 2006, and I can't help wondering what has happened to the Royal Gorge Bridge, and how is is marketing itself now. Knowing the USA as I do, it's probably completely ignoring the existence of the bridge at Millau. And don't forget - the Royal Gorge Bridge was built in 1929 as a tourist attraction and not as a means of transportation. It's only 880 feet, or 268 metres long too. The Millau Viaduct is 2460 metres, or 8071 feet long.
There's also an old railway engine from the Denver and Rio Grande Railway here at the Royal Gorge Bridge Theme Park. However to get a good shot of it without paying to get in involves quite a bit of tree-climbing.
Rather like this, in fact.
I was talking to an American couple here - nice people - and took a photo of them against the backdrop of the bridge. They came up to me as I was getting into the car and lowering the hood to drive away. "Wow" said the man. "You sure know how to travel in style".
I didn't realise that Mustangs had that effect on Americans. Thought they'd be used to them by now.
But this place here in the neighbourhood looked interesting. It would make a good advert for the personnel section (DG A) of the Council of Ministers of the European Union. "Buckskin De Boissieu's" "gunfights and hangings daily". That sounds about right to me. I should know, after all, I've been a victim! Why do you think I'm over here in the States and not earning a living back home?
Right - that was the tourism bit out of the way. Now to work! and Highway 115 to Florence, Highway 67 to nowhere, Highway 165 to nearly Colorado City, and an unmarked road to Interstate 25 southbound. And I learnt something interesting about my Mustang.
It was down these roads that I started to drive the Mustang like I reckoned it ought to be driven, and in one sense I was disappointed. Probably because I'd been driving for 7 or 8 years a variety of Opel 3-litres. I have to say that in a straight line start-to-finish my money would be on the Opel any time, even a lightly-armoured one. The difference though is in the handling. There, there was nothing to touch the Mustang.
I don't know if you've ever driven in the USA (non-Americans only, please) but if you have, you'll notice that each bend has its own speed limit. And I found that by getting the braking in and the accelerating out just about right, I could safely double whatever maximum speed the Highways department ... er ... recommended without too much effort.Now that was impressive.
Furthermore, through the curvy bits of road I could catch up with anything, and more often than not, whatever I was catching up would pull over to let me pass. And that was even more impressive.
If it had happened once or twice, it wouldn't have been so remarkable, but it was almost every time. In fact only once during the whole adventure, on the Slumgullion Pass road at the Gunnison end, did someone even try to run me off the road (now imagine that in Europe - only once ha ha!). Like I say, they tried! So ultimately, once I found the rhythm of driving the Mustang (because there is a rhythm to driving them, rather like a diesel truck if you know what I mean. It's not just accelerator and brake) I decided that I could live with this car!.
Meanwhile, back on Highway 61 - er sorry, Interstate 25, I went over the Raton Pass, according to a "Historic Landmarks" plaque. Passing from Colorado into New Mexico. Just off the highway here is the old Santa Fe trail, and the Raton Pass was one of the most difficult points of the trail for the mule- or ox-drawn "prairie schooners" on the trail! Here we were at about 8000 feet elevation, and we could see the plains of Northern New Mexico in the distance, and as we came over the mountain, the heat just HIT me.
Now, tell me. When was the last time you actually saw one of these?
Or, more to the point, when was the first time you saw one of these?
And if, like me, you've never seen one before, not even in a museum, then you have to admit that the chances of actually seeing one in the flesh, just like this one, parked up outide a service station here in Raton and obviously in running order, are about nil or even less.
It's the "horse's collar" radiator grille that gives it away, and it was enough to make me do a U-turn and go back to check that I was right and to take a few photos, despite the fact that I was going to be blinded by the (sun)light.
Know what it is?
Of course you do - it's an Edsel (this one is actually a 1958 model, so I reckon).
World's first all-electric car - electric windows, electric gearchange and so on. Trouble was that technology in 1957 wasn't the same as technology in 1997, so after a few months everything stopped working. The car was an expensive and disastrous flop and cost Ford (who made it) a lot of money.
After putting these photos on the internet, I received an e-mail from Bob Ellsworth of the Edsel registry. He tells that
The details I can gather from the photos is that this is a 1958 Edsel Pacer 2-door hardtop (one of the most sought-after 1958 models, besides the convertibles).
It's got a pretty rare tri-tone paint scheme of Ember Red with Snow White "scallop" and Jet Black roof, and other accessories that include tinted glass, radio, back-up lights, front and rear bumper guards, full wheel covers, and rocker panel moldings.
The owner's probably in the market for a new hood ornament and antenna, too."
And I suppose you just happen to have a couple tucked away in an attic somewhere? Well, now you know. Many thanks, Bob!
This of course reminds me. If you have anything to tell me about anywhere I've visited, or you want to correct something I've misunderstood, or you just want to say "hello", then . I like my audience to interact with me.
But just before I go, have a close look at the car that Cindy Williams is driving in American Graffiti.
After that it was back on the Interstate
"In the present position of the planets
It's impossible for me to say Just when I'll find my course again
With these boulders in my way
I should be rolling down the skyway
On my cosmic wheels
Instead of stumbling down this highway
On my boots of steel"
Donovan Leitch 1973
And yet I was here, rolling down the highway on my cosmic wheels as the sun was getting lower and lower over the plains of New Mexico as I was heading towards Albuquerque, throwing shadows such a distance across the prairie. There was nothing on the highway except me, my Mustang and our shadow. Eerie was not the word, and even though I was doing 75-80 miles per hour at the time, I couldn't refrain from taking this photograph.
I didn't for a moment think that it would come out, but I'm pleased that it did and in my opinion it's certainly one of the most spectacular that I took during the whole holiday. I'm impressed by this! And I took it! I printed out a copy or two, framed them, and Lorna liked it so much that I gave her one.
But while we're on the subject of American highways, I wish to register a complaint. Like ... er ... how do you know where you are?
In Europe the exits are numbered consecutively (like 1,2,3, and so on). American ones are not. Well, they are increasing (or decreasing depending on which way you're going!), but they seem to be numbered at random - like 45, then 78, then 121, then 125, then 136 (or if you are going in the opposite direction, the reverse) and then suddenly 2, then 14, then 29.
It suddenly struck me after a while that in fact the exits correspond to the nearest mile marker, which in turn corresponds to the distance from the State line. The change in sequence indicates a change of State . Now this is much more logical than the European system, because if you want to add a new exit then there's no problem with the numbering, whereas in Europe you have to invent something , like exit 14A and 19B and so on.
So, back to the complaint! A major gripe I have about the States (as you know if you've read anything else I've written) is that the signposting is non-existent. In Europe, when you pass each exit there's a sign giving you details of how far it is to the end of the motorway, and how far to the next exit, and how far to major towns along the way. Not so in America. You might see a sign saying "Albuquerque 86 miles" somewhere, and then nothing else for positively ages. Which I did (or didn't, as the case may be).
Then suddenly, you see an exit, and it's signposted "47th Street" and the next one is "16th Street North" and you think "ahh - Albuquerque at last!" I'd always wanted to spend some time in Albuquerque - another one of these mythical American cities - and here I was.
So I found a good modern motel at a reasonable price, dumped my things, went for a walk around, and went back to my room. I hadn't found a restaurant around here, so I sent out for a pizza. And then I went to bed.
Next morning, went down to pay the bill.
"Can you tell me where there might be a "Sears"?" I asked the clerk
"There isn't one here. The nearest one will probably be in Albuquerque" he replied.
"Oh! Aren't I in Albuquerque then?"
So tell me then - when are you going to start putting town names on your road signs too?
Meantime, I was starting to become aware of a little logistics problem that might just be presenting itself before much longer. And I could imagine the scene when I finally take the car back to the rental company at the end of the journey (unless I disappear over the border into Canada with her - I'm getting to like this car).
"Any complaints about the Mustang?"
"Yes! Where do you put the luggage?"
Good job I've not got a passenger! I hadn't yet got to the stage where I'd worked out where I was going to fit the wind turbine. In the boot was out of the question, as you can very well see. Maybe there was room on the back seat next to the enormous box of 110-volt electrical bits, or on the front passenger seat if I could get the suitcase to go somewhere else (the front seat was so far forward to fit the suitcase behind that there was no way anything would actually go on the front seat).
Having a wind turbine in the passenger seat is certainly different from a passenger, and judging by some of the passengers I've had the privilege of driving around in my varied career as bus driver, taxi driver and diplomatic chauffeur, I'd probably get a more interesting conversation from the wind turbine! But at least from the photo on the right, you can see why God invented rear seat belts. Yes, to hold the lid on your plastic box at speeds in excess of Mach 1.2!
Now off in search of a Sears. 7:30 on a Monday morning and it was searing hot. I couldn't resist an enigmatic smile to myself though, sitting in this early-morning traffic queue of commuters heading to Albuquerque for work. Here they all were, huddled inside their little tin boxes, faces as long as sin with depression written all over them, heading for another 8 hours of drudgery, yet here I was, seriously ill, far too ill to work, yet with an open-top Mustang, a big smile on my face, and "Carry On" going full-blast over the car's CD player. It was here I realised that I wouldn't trade places with anyone. Two years of my life (if I'm lucky), or forty years of theirs? There isn't really any choice at all when you think about it. I'll keep the Mustang, thank you very much.
Since writing this, my two years are up. I creak and groan a lot and sometimes have to spend days in bed, but I'm still here, and sometimes even there. Occasionally I get incredible waves of energy and I even managed to wangle myself a full-time job during one of them. So don't believe a word that doctors tell you. You only get one life, so go out and live it. "Better to burn out than to fade away", as Neil Young would say.
Ahh, now this is just like home from home, hey what? Yes, I can't think of too many men who'd miss out on a chance to go shopping with the wife if there were a Sears in the neighbourhood. This Sears is in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can see that I finally found it.
But I was a little disappointed as there wasn't the range of products I was used to in the Sears up in the North-East or in Canada, or maybe I was disappointed because it wasn't sales time. I certinly didn't find too many bargains. And despite a tour of several shops (or stores), I couldn't even find the four-stroke brush cutter or chain saw that I so desperately wanted for the farm back home.
But no matter. Route 66 is just up the road.
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