Saturday, September 15, 2007

On the road again

Tonight I'm home, with the bright crescent of a waxing moon setting in the southwestern sky. But my mind is on the road. Thanks to photographer Jim Steinberg (this is your fault, Jim), I'm starting a new book project: Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road, a two-book set that Jim calls a "love poem" to the 25 designated routes that show off the state's diverse landscapes and cultures. From the open spaces of the Eastern Plains with their ancient dinosaur trackways, grain elevators and futuristic wind generators, to the abrupt rise of the Foothills and High Peaks cris-crossed with Jeep and hiking trails, pocked with mines and dotted with ski areas and starter castles, to the wide swaths of Mountain Parks that run the gamut from shrub desert and sand dunes to lazy rivers meandering through green hayfields, and the brilliantly colored rock layers that shape the western Plateaus, Colorado is one amazing place.

One part of Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road, is a coffee table volume in the spirit of our previous collaboration Colorado Less Traveled, a finalist for the 2006 Colorado Book Award. In this new book though, we're paying homage to a uniquely American love: the open road. We'll weave the photos and words into a lyrical whole that evokes the spirit of each road, each scenic byway.

The second part of Colorado Scenic Byways is a take-along Atlas & Road Guide, a route-by-route map of each byway giving the down-and-dirty details you'd need to get the most out of the trip, including maps and altitude profiles, details of geology, geography and history, fun and fascinating facts, and traveler's tips from each of us.

The deadline for this whole glorious assignment: January 1 for the essays for the coffee table book, February 1 for the road guide narratives. Yup, it's crazy - but how could I turn something like this down?

Richard and I managed to drive three of Colorado's scenic byways on our trip to Durango last weekend for Colorado Art Ranch's second Artposium, an event which was most appropriately focused on maps and creativity. What a weekend! We filled our minds with maps as metaphoric and literal aids to imagination and life, and filled our spirits with the starkly spectacular landscapes of southwestern Colorado and the stories of their millennia of human culture.

That's me in front of a nearly eight-foot-tall sagebrush at Lowry Ruin, an Ancestral Puebloan site perched on a hilltop off the Highway of the Ancients byway with a gorgeous view of the whole Four Corners region. If you're in southwestern Colorado, it's worth the trip on the dusty gravel road to visit Lowry. If you can get there at sunrise or sunset when the light colors the ruins golden and picks out the distant Henry Mountains to the west in Utah, Sleeping Ute Mountain to the south, the great tilted wedge of Mesa Verde to the southeast, and the high peaks of the Platas to the east, you can see why people settled in this now-isolated site. It's a view swells the soul.

(As a footnote to my traveling green entries, our Subaru Forester was a delight to drive. It's comfortable - I love the sunroof for skygazing!, averages 29 miles per gallon of gas, and its exhaust just smells like air, nothing more.)

Now I'm home with the brilliant silver moon setting as Cygnus, the Swan, flies down the Milky Way directly overhead. But my mind is very definitely on the road - on 25 scenic byway routes, in fact. Join me on the trip when Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road is published next fall!


Deborah said...

I love the Colorado byways I've seen, which is a number of them. I'm wishing you the enjoyment of it all, along with a smooth cruise into your deadlines!

Susan J Tweit said...

Thanks, Deb. I don't know whether it'll be a smooth cruise or not, but it's certainly going to be pedal to the metal! This coming week we're off to drive the Silver Thread byway between Lake City and South Fork, something that's been on my list for years. I'll report back. . . .