On the Road Again
After a delightful month of hiking around the red rocks near Sedona, Arizona, we spent another wonderful week crossing the US to Chicago.
One spectacular vista followed another. In northeastern Arizona, Oak Creek Canyon's red rocks faded into the buff coloured rocks of the Colorado Plateau and the largest Pondersoa forest in the world. Flagstaff, near where only one small glacier remained near the top of the San Francisco peaks, a spiritual site for the Navajo, Hopi, and other tribes, was our entrance onto I-40, which led us through the high deserts and Navajo reservation of Arizona into the northwest corner of New Mexico to Gallup. Straight north from there we drove through swirling dust storms, not unlike whiteouts from snow blizzards; past hogans, the traditional Navajo house of six sides with an eastern facing front door to welcome the rising sun; past a mare and her just-born colt struggling to get his legs; and across more high desert into Mountain Ute territory to Cortex, Colorado. It was a fascinating day, even in the barren high desert, where we wondered how anyone could scratch out a living.
After a restful evening in friendly Cortez, surrounded by the San Juan and La Plata mountains -- our first glimpse again of snow-capped mountains -- we traveled north to Grand Junction (five hours due west of Denver out I-70) via blue roads: US 491 and CO 141. WHAT A SPECTACULAR DRIVE! We were awestruck by mile after mile of red rock cliffs and canyons, even after a month in the midst of Sedona's red rocks. From Grand Junction, late in the afternoon with a rainstorm behind us, we sped east to Glenwood Springs, a touristy small town in the Rockies for the night, and on to Estes Park the next day. Estes is the front door to Rocky Mountain National Park, an old stomping ground of ours. There we spent two glorious days hiking among the splendour of the snow-capped peaks, the forests, and meadows, with Elk looking askance at us, Yellow-bellied Marmots wrestling with each other, and Bullfrogs croaking in the ponds. Our favorite Cub Lake Trail took us through a recently burned area, officially still burning. The burned area demonstrated how fire skips around, how hotter fires actually burn the soil in some spots (ground fire), and how that promotes erosion. Some plants that need fire were already starting to flourish again, but the typical wave of new woodpeckers seeking newly burned areas had yet to materialize.
From there we headed across Nebraska, Iowa, and home. After last year's drought in the Midwest, we weren't sure what to expect. We soon discovered it seemed something in the past. The feedlots in Nebraska seemed to be doing a brisk business. In western Iowa corn planting had begun; because of this year's excessive rain, eastern Iowa crops weren't in yet; and Illinois fields along I-88 had mostly been planted. One relatively recent change in the scenery across Iowa is the increasing number of wind turbines. While Iowa leads the US in ethanol production, its wind production is increasing, too, making it a significant producer of non-hydro alternative energy.
Now we're back in Chicago, where the Spring has been very wet. While it is still cooler than normal for May, everything is very green. It's good to be home to see old friends and get a taste of big city life again.