Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cows Into Rocks

I knew my breakfast plans from the moment I woke up this morning. Last night, as I was pulling into the rest area, I spotted a sign for an IHOP. Since IHOP is the greatest invention in the history of the human race, there was no doubt what I’d be doing this morning.

This would be my first sit-down meal on this trip. As per tradition, I scanned the restaurant for the person who was “150 pounds fatter than I’ll ever be,” but since it was only 7am, the only other person around was a not-so-fat old lady. I resisted the temptation to drink the entire hovel of coffee, as well as the Boysenberry syrup. It’s amazing how much faster you can order and eat at a restaurant when a) you don’t have to spend time talking and b) you have cash. So after a 24-minute meal, I was on my way.

The rest of Kansas went by uneventfully, getting progressively bigger and flatter as I continued west. This was the first place I’d ever driven where I had trouble keeping up with the speed limit. Maintaining a minimum speed of 75 (Don’t yell at me! That’s the limit!) was difficult, even with the cruise control. And God help me if I dropped down to 73 and there was someone else around, lest I be passed and given “the look” as if I were doing 25. I have no idea why, but Kansas drivers are definitely the most aggressive I’ve met since leaving the greater New Jerseyland region. And where exactly were these people going? There was nothing on the road and nothing as far as they eye could see on either side of the road.

This is pretty much how all of Kansas looks
Yes, the corn had returned. True, occasionally I’d see a few cows, but that was it. By the way, Kansas cows are not like Northeast cows. These things all looked more like bulls to me, complete with horns and those nose ring things. And based on the fact that they all looked like they could kill me with 2 stomachs tied behind their backs, I have a feeling these ladies were not bred for their milk.

Don't you even think about coming in here! See these horns?
After about 150 miles, I bid farewell to my old friend I-70 (we’d been together since Harrisburg, PA) and spent the next hundred or so miles on a road that called itself a US Highway. It couldn’t fool me, though. It was a 2-lane road where you could go really fast, owing mainly to the fact that there was no one on it but me.

This not-Interstate took me through about a half dozen one-stoplight towns (and a few more that didn’t even have that much infrastructure). I’m glad I was able to get a closer look at a piece of “real” Kansas, but that wasn’t my real reason for eschewing the Interstates.

Meet the new state; Looks the same as the old state.
With this route, I would end up on Colorado Route 94, which, for 85 miles, travels in a straight line directly towards Colorado Springs. This meant that I’d be driving right at Pikes Peak and could watch it, and the rest of the Rockies, spread out in front of me. However, since it was a hazy morning (although not as hot as yesterday) I spent at least half of CO-94 squinting and wondering if that grayish thing in front of me was a mountain or a cloud. As it turned out, it was always a cloud, because when I could finally see the mountains, they left no doubt:
Those mountains in the distance are still over 30 miles away.
This was one of those cases where I was scanning a piece of sky just above the horizon in search of anything rising above it, when in reality I should have been looking about 10 degrees higher. Even at first glance from my vantage point 25 miles away, where I took that picture, these mountains were enormous. Despite knowing that they are 3 times higher than anything I’ve ever seen before, their scale still surprised me. As I grew nearer, the mountains grew taller and clearer until I finally got close enough that I could see under the low clouds to the highest summits. As far as I could tell, there was no snow up there, but tomorrow I’ll find out for sure!

I got into Colorado Springs around 1pm Mountain Time, after spending about 6 hours on the road. Since I’m still new at this, I wasn’t sure when I was allowed to check into my hotel, so I decided to spend some time at the city’s Garden of the Gods park. Situated at the base of Pike’s Peak, the park’s most prominent features are its towering red sandstone formations, each with a cutesy name like “The Kissing Camels,” that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I guess if I was standing in just the right place or something… Why couldn’t these things and constellations be named by the same people who named the other geographic features I passed on my way here? In the Colorado Plains, I crossed over a bridge bearing a sign which told me I was passing Big Sandy Creek. I glanced out the window and saw just that: A big sandy dry riverbed. Imagine if those guys named Orion. We’d have “Three Stars in a Row.”

Anyway, I walked around the park for about an hour taking pictures, although I apparently missed the best view, of the rocks in the foreground and the mountains perched behind them. I’ll have to stop by the visitor’s center tomorrow on my way back from the clouds and see what I can see.

So that’s about it for today. Once I got to the hotel I stayed there the rest of the afternoon, determined to enjoy every bit of luxury my $45 room could exude. It actually has a guest room, which is more than I can say for my apartment.

One housekeeping note: For most of this trip, I’ll probably be updating this thing pretty late for you people back in the real world. Even though I’m still trying to figure out how Mountain Time works in regards to the TV schedule, the one thing I’ve established is that I’m doing everything a few hours after everyone on the east coast. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of this… just in time to reach Arizona, which apparently uses Martian Daylight Standard Time.

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