|Westward Ho! 2018
Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me
If I spring a leak, she mends me
I don’t have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard dream if I ever did see one.
The song has been stuck in my mind for weeks as we planned our latest western trip. Surviving the 90’s heat of the plains we made our way westward - up and down the rolling hills that proceed the mountains. Pulling and straining we crossed through Colorado Springs to a series of hairpin curves taking us ever higher. Climbing to 9,000 feet we snaked our way through western towns like Cascade, Woodland Park and Divide. Gone are the days of gunfights, rowdy saloons, and cowboys replaced by 21st century style of local breweries, boutiques and trendy eateries. We turned off the highway and made our way south towards Cripple Creek. The road, strategically cut into the side of a mountain, boasted steep curves - some with guardrails, some without. Looking right I could have reached out and touched the tops of the evergreen trees growing up from the endless bottom. It was an awe-inspiring sight, however I spoiled it by white knuckle clutching the door handle and leaning to the left willing the truck and trailer not to be blown off course.
We arrived at Cripple Creek, safe and sound.
At 10,000 feet, we are almost two miles into the sky. We are here in the mountains battling a touch of altitude sickness, breezy winds and dry nasal passages - not to mention the very chilly temperatures. The sky is so blue Crayola must have a special name for it. Pair the sky blue with the brilliant green of the pine trees and you have a color combination that delights the eyes. Cloudless skies promise spectacular night sky viewing.
On the motorcycle we ventured into Cripple Creek proper, nestled among the mountains made popular by the gold and silver mining established in the 1890’s. Over a hundred years later and the mountains are still being stripped for their precious ore. The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine allows people to go 1,000 feet underground to a historic gold mine. I prefer my feet to be above ground. Most of the gold mines have closed, all but causing Cripple Creek to become a ghost town until gambling casinos were legalized and overran the town. Fudge shops, boutiques, and bars sporting names like Red Rooster, McGill’s Pint and Platter, and The Cripple Cow line the quaint Main Street today.
Traveling south and west we took the Gold Star Scenic byway as it wound through the high desert and passages between the mountains. Rock formations loomed overhead perched precipitously on the side of mountains. Jutting their faces upward they emerge from a forest of green. Winding our way, we end up in Canon City. With an elevation of just over 5,000 feet we feel the intense heat of the day and strip off the extra layers necessary at the start of our trip. After a few trips down the main street and an unforeseen detour we head back north.
Ranches dot the landscape with interesting names like Bearfoot Ranch, High Meadow Ranch and Lowry Ranch several are for sale. To live here would promise absolute quiet, remote isolation, and spectacular views. Bright yellow diamond signs along the road alerts the traveler of wandering cattle. Steel grated bridges alerts you to the possibility of sharing the road with some as the absence of fences emphasizes the point you are in their backyard. The high meadow must be prime grazing ground, as the blue green scrub blankets the land and the cattle keep their noses to the ground.
As the sun begins to descend behind the towering mountains the coolness reminds us of the present altitude and impending darkness. Watchful for bighorn sheep we cautiously maneuver the curves, drinking in the sights as we roll along. I am fascinated by rock; the colors, the structures, the power as they hold a special place in my heart as I plot a convenient way to pick up a memento of the day’s trip. Alas, we return to camp empty handed for rock collecting is on hold for now. As the sun sets over the mountains I see that Venus shines brightly in the western sky like a beacon calling us to continue westward over the snow-capped mountains to lands we could only have imagined. Westward Ho indeed!