"So much for the glory life of a writer!" said artist Sherrie York when I described my book event schedule for last week.
Here's the sum of it: Richard and I left home last Wednesday and drove to Grand Junction, where Jim Steinberg and I spent three hours charming strangers at the Barnes & Noble and selling our new book, Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road. We started at five and finished up at eight-thirty (and Jim was on the five o'clock news that night in a two-minute, eleven-second segment that involved three hours of being filmed!). The next day Richard and I drove to Glenwood Springs, where Jim and I did our gig again at The Book Train in the heart of old downtown near the river and the railroad station. On Friday it was Steamboat Springs, Jim's hometown, at Ron and Sue Krall's wonderful Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, where we had the luxury of a glass of wine while we chatted with Jim's many fans. That event was part of Steamboat's First Friday Art Openings, so the crowds were lively and we got to listen to cellist John Sant' Ambrogio while we schmoozed and signed. Saturday it was the Denver Art Museum during Free Saturday, with a pow wow and fancy-dancing going on outside. That one was a long three hours of hailing passing strangers and being charming in hopes of selling our book.
So four days, four towns, four book signings, and 915 road-miles. By the time Richard and I got home Saturday night I was exhausted. My smile is still recovering along with my spirits (and both had better recover quickly, as tomorrow night we're back in Denver for a signing at Tattered Cover LoDo, as part of the wonderful Rocky Mountain Land Series). So much for the glory life of a writer, indeed.
But there were beautiful moments along the way. After the Grand Junction signing (and after Subaru of Grand Junction quickly found and fixed the reason "Young Forester," our trusty 2008 Subaru wagon was overheating), Richard and I drove west to Colorado National Monument in the night with a silver crescent of new moon setting over the dark bulk of the Uncompahgre Plateau. We wound our way up onto the red sandstone mesa and found a campsite at Saddlehorn Campground. After Richard set up our tent in the light of the car headlights (apologies to neighboring campers!) we crawled into our sleeping bags and a meteor streaked by overhead, right by the diaphanous silver ribbon of the Milky Way.
In the morning, we saw the sun rise in a Sunkist orange glow over Grand Mesa off to the east and watched blue-gray plain titmice skitter among the sagebrush and rabbitbrush, searching for seeds to eat.
Instead of taking I-70 to Glenwood Springs, we decided to go the scenic route - literally, following the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway (and is it ever scenic!) up Plateau Creek on Colorado 65 and winding over Grand Mesa, then down to the North Fork of the Gunnison River where we picked up the West Elk Scenic Byway, which we followed up the North Fork and Muddy Creek to McClure Pass, and down to the Crystal River through Redstone and Carbondale to the Roaring Fork River, and thence downstream to Glenwood Springs.
Highlights that wonderfully meandering, outrageously scenic drive that took us on two official scenic byways? The hour we spent at Lands' End, out the dead-end road to the very point of Grand Mesa, overlooking the Grand Valley 5,000 feet below, with a view of almost all of western Colorado, from the peaks of the San Juans 80 miles to the south, to the long roll of the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west (with the clustered peaks of the La Sal Mountains sticking above Moab), to the high forested mesas beyond the Book Cliffs rising above the desert to the northwest. We sat in the sun on a sandstone ledge at the Lands' End Observatory, a 1930s building constructed of local mesa-edge basalt by Civilian Conservation Corps crews. The place was peaceful, with just a handful of people stopping by while we sat there, the sun was warm, and the view flat-out inspiring.
Another highlight? A stop at Surface Creek Winery and Gallery to visit co-proprietor Jeanne Durr, who with her husband Jim has transformed a neglected Odd-Fellows Hall into a charming and welcoming art gallery offering a delicious selection of the wines they produce.
Friday we decided (no surprise there!) to take the back road from Glenwood Springs to Steamboat - even though it is not a designated scenic byway. We headed up through Glenwood Canyon with its chestnut-brown-stained layers of dolomite and limestone on I-70. At Dotsero, we turned away from the rush of that highway onto the Colorado River Road and followed the Colorado upstream through massive layers of gray and ochre shales and rust-red sandstones. The river ran clear and gently with only hints of rapids here and there - not yet the mighty desert river, nor yet colorado, or "colored" by the orange and red sediments it picks up later in its journey.
At Burns, a "town" comprised of an old church and a post office by the railroad tracks, we turned uphill on the Pump Creek Road, a gravel county road that climbs up and up and up and up until it crosses the divide between the Colorado and the Yampa River south of Steamboat. The highlight of that day's run, which included some two-track that might have been challenging if it had been wet was the large black bear that we saw bounding over the sagebrush about a quarter of a mile away. We had stopped the car to admire the view back over the Colorado River Valley and the distant peaks of the Gore Range to the southeast and the West Elks to the southwest, when I spotted what I thought at first was a huge and shaggy black dog.
"Is that a dog?" I asked Richard.
He looked in the direction I was pointing, suggested it was probably and quickly raised his binoculars.
"It's a bear!" he said, watching in amazed delight. I watched too as the bear loped smoothly over the tops of two-foot-tall sagebrush, making tracks for the shelter of the stunted piñon pine woodland downslope.
By the time we set out from Steamboat Springs to Denver on Saturday morning, we were too worn out for adventuring. But how could we not appreciate the procession of landscapes on our route, from the snow-streaked alpine mesas of the Flat Tops rising over the still-green Yampa Valley to the Middle Park's brooding volcanic buttes above the Colorado River and the spiky peaks of the Eagles Nest Wilderness beyond?
Driving home from Denver later after the final book-signing in this grueling four-day, 915-mile swing through Colorado, we found one more gift: a sward of deepest purple fringed gentians blooming in an autumn-amber wet meadow along a tributary of Tarryall Creek in South Park. The color of hundreds - or perhaps thousands - of massed gentian blossoms was so intense that the meadow almost seemed to pulse.
The best gift of all though: getting to share the exploring with Richard, who holds my hand as we drive, who knows the value of silence, and whose company brings me joy.