Thanksgiving Trip: Chapter 2 — The Drive to Denver

Denver — Ah, the best laid plans… etc.  I had planned on leaving Friday, taking my time in the mountains to do some photos, spend the 2nd night somewhere and then pull into Denver on Sunday afternoon.

Day one started well and I really made good time.  I was on the road by 8:30 and headed north east to the Rockies!  I was very concerned about the forecast snow in the mountains and wanted to give myself plenty of time.  And, when it got dark at 4 pm near Cedar City, UT and I was still wide awake there was no reason to stop so… 12 hours on the road found me in Green River, UT totally out of steam.  As I rolled through town I saw the same motel I had stayed in in 1979 When Elizabeth and I brought “Bess” our 1941 Oldsmobile out to San Diego when I started teaching at City College after our Alaskan Trip.

Back then it was about the ONLY motel in town so we stopped at it.  Tired and ready to find a bed I stopped there this time too, unaware that just down the road there were a whole bunch of brand new motels.  This poor old place had  been painted since my last stay but I think nothing had been done to the rooms since then…!!!

Oh well, I was there and that was as far as I intended to go.  And it was cheap. 

Being in Green River meant that I was only about 6-7 hours from Denver in normal weather.  I should really be able to take my time.  But as I pulled up on the ramp  to join the highway, with Gene Autry singing “Don’t Fence Me In,”  here is the dawn view to the east — the direction I was headed — that greeted me.

I remembered the old saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor take warning!”  That old saw turned out to be accurate in the extreme. 

I sailed through Grand Junction with ease but by Glenwood Springs it had started to snow.  Here is a shot I took at a rest stop just on the western outskirts of Glenwood Springs where I pulled over to pour myself another cup of coffee for the exciting parts to come.

I wanted to take some shots of the famous fly-over “Hanging” highway on Glenwood Canyon, developed in order to avoid more damage to this gorgeous canyon.   But snow and wind were increasing and by Eagle it was coming down quite heavily.  The weather guy now was saying it would continue so if I was going to get over the pass with my California tires, it had to be soon.  So it was time to start shoveling coal into the boiler.

As I went through Vail it was 24 degrees and really snowing.  The signs said commercial trucks had to have chains but in the blowing snow and passing trucks I did not see the sign that said the chain law was in full effect which would have meant a $1,000 ticket if i would have gotten stuck.  So blithely I fell into line behind another vehicle who certainly did not have chains.  THat was evident when he must have given it some gas and his car went sideways and off the main road,  Score $1K for the State coffers.

But that got my complete and undivided attention.  It was a true white knuckle drive.  I was sorry there  was not time to take some photos but truthfully it was a white-out and there was nothing to see except the car ahead.  It has been a while since I’ve driven in conditions like that and I can tell you it has not gotten any more fun.  By feathering the throttle when it got greasy underfoot I managed to get over though without at least snow tires it was not very bright of me.  I remembered the techniques but have to confess I would be OK if I never had to do it again.

But there was still one more obstacle: the 7 percdent grade climb up to the tunnel that passes under the Continental Divide.  I pulled into Frisco to fill the tank to put some more weight on the rear tires, slid sideways through the driveway and out onto the highway and was off headed, fortunately, uphill.  Fortunately too, the snow slacked off a little and I was following a chained up truck that was cutting the ice up for me so actually I had no problems on the hill.

On the other side where some more photos might have awaited, it was already cloudy and flat grey so I gave it up and just headed on into Denver.  Past Idaho Springs it turned sunny and was beautiful as I drove in to Denver.

Hopefully the rest of the stay will be more photographically productive.   But you really never know when you head out to shoot; you are totally at the mercy of the weather, the terrain, and the time.  Maybe the photo gods will take pity on me after that drive…

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About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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One Response to Thanksgiving Trip: Chapter 2 — The Drive to Denver

  1. Enjoyed the post. I lived in Denver many years ago and made that same drive countles times. I could even see the bright sun as you take the last few turns before you finally see the flat land. Thank you for the great discription. Well done.

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