The Rockies and Grand Junction

The Rockies are the, or if not, certainly one of the most beautiful places that it has ever been my fortune to visit.

Leaving Denver in the early morning, we made our way through Colorado, passing through small cities such as Bolder. Soon we glimpsed our first foothills in detail and before long the incline of the coaches climb up to Rocky Mountain National Park became more and more noticeable. We stopped at a small trading post just outside the park for some refreshments and a bite to eat. It was here that I met my first truly rude American.

Not in need of a full meal, I asked the staff of the trading post if they did sandwiches, and was told to try the small grocery store just around the corner. The proprietor could not have been more of a stereotype if he tried. An old a wizened man, complete with wispy beard and round glasses. I glanced around the store eagerly, hoping that I may finally be able to purchase my very own mogwai. This alas was not to be, and so it turned out – neither was my purchase of a sandwich. “Sandwich? Sandwich?!?. How many times I tell them I do no sandwich” my new friend bellowed . “They always do this. No sandwich now get out.” Forlornly I made my way back to the door. Pausing meaningfully to examine the sign above the door proudly proclaiming – ‘Liquor, Cigarettes, Groceries, Sandwiches’.

Our first stop inside the park was at the site of a burst damn which had supplied a town below years earlier. Trees had been uprooted and rocks had been carried downriver and deposited at the site we visited. The area is now full of broken trees and rocks. Looking back up along the path the flood water followed shows a scar on the landscape and a large gap in the forest where the trees once stood. It was here that I saw my first wildlife – a chipmunk. This particular Chipmunk was obviously aware that humans bring food with them. He approched closer and closer in hopeful expectation. Our guide had warned us that it was illegal to approach or feed this animals. This is more for the animals protection, and to ensure that they retain their own foraging habits. It would seem that another visitor to the park had either never learnt this, or had just plain chosen to ignore it. He reached into his pocket, pulling out some form of food. He then held this out to the Chipmunk, making the kind of ‘kissing’ noises that one would use to call a cat – or in my case a rabbit. The Chipmunk showed no fear and bounded up to him and grabbed whatever morsel that had been offered.

Back on the coach we had only just got going again when a cry of ‘elk’ rang out. Two elk, a mother and her baby were grazing surprisingly close to the road. The driver pulled over for us and we piled out on mass. Voices at a whisper we jostled for position all hoping to grab a view and a shot of the two elk. Suddenly a piercing shriek cried out at an amazingly loud volume. This turned out to be our guide, who sheepishly apologised with a “sorry that was rather loud”.

Our guide, Debbie an early forties Californian woman that lost her heart to the mountains and now lives there full time. Knowledgeable and very, very bubbly. So cheerful in fact that she was risking a lynching. Really a lovely woman, but with an absolutely terrible taste in music. Uniquely, Debbie decided that our trip through some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in the world, would be improved by a CD she had created. Debbie had a real drive to ensure that we had the perfect day in the mountains. Ironically, if she had only toned down her desire to please, she would have achieved her aim.

The Rockies really did live up to my expectations. truly love the mountains and a highlight for me was at the top of the tallest peak that we visited – around 13,000 feet. A thunderstorm was beginning over an adjoining mountain and we stood watching the black clouds roll over the mountain and listening to the thunder roll.

We saw the start of the Colorado River. A small sliver of water, just a gentle mountain stream. Of course this stream becomes much, much more powerful with the end result being a location that we will visit in a few days – the Grand Canyon.

The next morning we boarded a coach for a 271 mile journey to Grand Junction. This replaced a train journey, that was cancelled due to works on the line. The coach followed the same route at the railway through the Rockies and another 12,500ft peak. Along the way we crossed the continental divide – the point at which any water will flow East on one side of the divide and to the West on the other. The divide provided another beautiful view and one of the most twisty winding roads I’ve ever experienced.

After a view hours travel we pulled over for a picnic. We could not have stopped in a more perfect place. A canyon threw which flows a river, with the rail lines of the train that we should have been on running alongside. I just wanted to sit at the rivers shore and take it all in, but alas the journey must continue. Of course if I was on the train, then I would not have had any time at all to view this canyon. Simply looking at the beauty and the scale of this canyon made we long to see the Grand Canyon even more. The coach driver then told me that the Grand Canyon is over five times deeper then the one we had just visited. I’m having a hard time imagining the scale.

After two days of traveling through unrivaled beauty, Grand Junction came as something of a culture shock. It is the very definition of a one street town. The outskirts comprised of train yards and truck stops. Main street is lined with works of art. The substance and subject of which is so random and varied – from a giant plastic apple core, complete with worm. To a marble venus, on which the breasts were suspiciously shiny. One can imagine the amount of drunken hands that have groped those breast upon leaving the next door brewery. It was in this brewery that I met William – a most amazing character.

A Navajo Indian, born in Grand Junction he grew up on a variety of air force bases as his father was in the USAF. William just so happened to have been based in the south of England which had left quite an impression on him. He spoke fondly of his time there, and confided that because of this he is Southampton FC supporter. I asked him if he remembered Matt Le Tissier, and he was rather surprised to learn that I was from the same place as him. Of course nowhere near as surprised as I was to meet a Matt Le Tissier loving Navajo.

Tomorrow sees us traveling through the mountains to a a town called Silverton to catch an old steam train.

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