Scott and I drive a lot when we do our travels. There are 3,144 counties in the United States and we intend to pass through each of them; driving tends to be the way we are best able to do this. It enables us to stop and visit a town, getting to experience the people, their foods, and their culture. This is a bit slower than flight, but we both feel the hours getting to a destination is well worth it when we see the colored in space on the maps.
When we decide to go on what we call “Collecting Grab” trips, we sit down with Google maps or even a paper road map to plan the best route there and back going through as many different counties as possible. This often means never taking the same road twice. It is extremely rare for us to take the major highways or toll roads unless we need to get through previously collected counties.
If we are on trips that are more than a day trip, we will fill our vehicle up with delicious food, changes of clothing, and hammock/sleeping gear. While Scott is at work, I am able to get everything together and packed away; this enables me to pick him up as soon as his workday is finished and we can be on the road towards our destination.
Since we started doing these three to four-day trips to cover as much ground as possible we find National Forests and State Parks that are along our route to rest when we can no longer drive. We will pull into a camping area and set up our hammocks and cover. This is a quick setup and easy takedown so we are able to pull off the road as late as we need and leave as soon as we can minutes after we have woken up.
One of the things we find ourselves saying when we travel is that it is never a true adventure until we have left the pavement. Surprisingly, this happens to us a lot. We have been driving along a perfectly good paved road when “BLAM!” we have crossed onto a gravel road. These roads, however, have been some of the most beautiful places and there is almost always a surprise waiting for us.
Yes, we drive a lot. This means gas is our largest expense when we are on the road. Because of the style of travel we do and not need to use a hotel room, we are able to afford it. There have been times we needed to stay at a roadside hotel or motel, but we will stay in the most inexpensive place we can. We have been able to find some really awesome deals at Priceline Express Deals (https://www.priceline.com/elmo/pl/hotel/express-deals/list). However, a room with a view is a very rare occurrence for us.
Scott and I enjoy driving along the county roads within our country. This has enabled us to see what each state has to offer its people and how the people live and celebrate their lives. We love the miles we put behind us on the roads we drive upon no matter if they are paved, gravel, or dirt. We enjoy the adventure of having our expectations changed because the trip shows us so much more about a place. Yes, we drive, a lot; but, it is what we love to do.
It was time to head back to our camp in Black Mesa and Google wanted to take us back to Clayton, but we hate taking the same road back as the road we came on, so we, trying to be flexible, took the road less traveled; literally. What a difference. We went north through Folsom then took a small road east. It alternated between paved and gravel, and, usually, the gravel was smoother, but it was so worth it. The road led through a canyon we didn’t find on the maps, and where there is a canyon, there is a stream. The canyon, river, and road were all named the Dry Cimarron. Yes, another branch of the Cimarron River. The canyon went on for hours, almost entirely empty. Huge, rugged, and beautiful in a very different way than the other Cimarron Canyon, but no less impressive. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
If you want to do astrophotography, one of the things you have to deal with is light pollution. You have to get where it is dark, far away from the city lights. Living in Fort Worth, was not terribly difficult. I was about an hour and a half from reasonably dark skies, and three hours from very dark skies. The other thing you have to deal with is that you need to shoot when the moon is not in the sky, so the New Moon is ideal. Once we moved back to Tulsa, really dark skies were further away. Looking at the Light Pollution map on http://darksitefinder.com I saw that the darkest skies in Oklahoma were found at the far western end of the panhandle. In fact, these were as dark as any place in the continental U.S., and right there in the middle of these wonderfully dark skies was Black Mesa State Park. I wanted to go. The problem was that it was over seven and a half hours away; this would be a major trip. I had suggested it a few times, but Ren had not been enthusiastic because she was worried about the heat and the distance.
When I saw the August New Moon was going to fall on a weekend, and that it was going to fall during the middle of the Perseid Meteor Shower, I told Ren that I was going to want to be somewhere DARK that weekend. I was surprised when she suggested that we go to Black Mesa. It took me about half a second to agree. We started our planning. More accurately, Ren started planning. She presented me with three plans with a breakdown of costs, driving times, and the number of new counties we could get.
We figured out what we wanted to see while we were there, which counties we would visit, how much gas it was going to take, and even where we would buy our gas, as we were headed into areas where you could not count on gas stations being nearby when you ran low. We knew we were headed to the park. There were three tri-state markers we wanted to visit, (A tri-state marker is where three states meet. If it’s not in the middle of a river, there will usually be a marker of some kind.), and, since Ren loves geology as much as I love astronomy, we were going to visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico.
Taking a half-day Thursday off from work we hit the road as soon as I got off work. We drove straight to the park along Highway 412, with only a minor detour to visit Gloss Mountain State Park, which was right on the way. We arrived at camp just after dark and got our first surprise. For a park that brags about their dark skies, they had the place lit up like downtown. Street lights everywhere. We would have to get away from the park to get our stars. We set up our hammock stand camp for the first time in the dark, but they are very straightforward and it went quickly. It was cloudy that evening, with a small chance of rain Thursday and Friday, but we got lucky, while there were storms around us, they passed us by.
We spent Friday, as planned, exploring the park, visiting two of the three tri-state markers, and a couple of canyons in Colorado. Friday evening I found a location and set up to take pictures, but it was pretty cloudy and I didn’t get the dark skies I had anticipated.
Saturday the plan was to get the third tri-state marker and visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico. We left camp and headed toward the Oklahoma-Texas-New Mexico border. When we got close enough to civilization to get a cell phone signal, I checked the weather forecast. The clear skies that had been predicted, were looking more and more unlikely. I wasn’t going to get my stars, again. I wasn’t too upset about it because we were having a great trip, and if you do astronomy long, you know that this is just part of the hobby. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
As we headed into Clayton New Mexico, on the way to the Volcano, I looked at the map and told Ren, “If I can’t have stars, I want mountains. Let’s go to Taos.” She asked how far it was, and I told her it was just over two hours. I expected a little resistance to scrapping the plan she had worked so hard on, however, to my surprise, she agreed right away. At this point, we knew nothing about Taos except that there were mountains. While Ren drove, I tried to figure out what we wanted to do when we got there. We aimed to stop at a place called Eagles Nest Lake State Park, and figure out where to go from there. While I looked over Google Maps, I saw a marker for Cimarron Canyon State Park, but it wasn’t clear what it was. We drove on toward the mountains, which were becoming more and more impressive the closer we got to them.
Reaching the town of Cimarron, we stopped at a tourist information booth to pick up some brochures and spoke with the attendant. I noticed a National Park Passport stamp and asked her what it was for. It turns out that Cimarron Canyon was a National Scenic, and Historic drive and we were driving right through it to get to Eagles Nest. We always try to take any Scenic Byway we pass. This was as beautiful as any with its huge cliffs and thick forest while the Cimarron River flowed the length of the canyon. I love Rivers, and the Cimarron is not just any river, it flows into Keystone lake just a few miles from where we live in Oklahoma where I have camped many times. It had an entirely different character here near its beginning. The middle section of the canyon was the state park, with lots of campsites along the road. We were in love with the place.
Reaching the town of Eagles Nest we had decided that we could see lots of interesting places by taking the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop, which includes Taos and goes through large areas of the Carson National Forest. The only issue was that it was nearly 3:00 pm and we were about three hours from camp if we skipped the volcano. I wasn’t willing to skip the volcano because I knew how much it meant to Ren.
I called my boss, asking if I could take an extra day of vacation, while Ren tried to find a reasonably priced hotel; turns out that reasonably priced and Taos, don’t really go together. After a bit of searching, we found a room right in Eagles Nest so we booked the room. While we chatted with the manager, he told us that if we were driving the Loop, we should be sure and drive over to the Gorge Bridge, and told us how to get there. We were set with a basic plan for the afternoon so we headed out on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop and it was well worth taking the extra day. There is something about the mountains that call to me, something that feels like home. Whether it’s the Davis Mountains in Texas, the Ozarks in Arkansas, or the Sierra Nevadas in California. I love the mountains. These were no exception. It was a gorgeous drive through mountains, forests, and quaint little towns. The highest pass we drove through was just over 9,800 feet.
There were several roadside parks that were part of the Carson National Forest when we stopped at one to stretch our legs a bit, we crossed a small stream flowing gently over the rocks. To my surprise, it was the Red River. We had lived on the Red River for five months when we were park hosting on Lake Texoma for Eisenhower State Park. We had even made a point of crossing every Red River bridge from Texas to Oklahoma, and here we were crossing it again in New Mexico; it was so small.
As we made our way around the loop we reached the intersection where we turned left to go to Taos, or right to go to the gorge bridge. We turned right. Wow! Just Wow!. On this trip, we had seen mesas, huge mountains, beautiful lakes, canyons, cliffs, forests, and scenic rivers, but this was by far the most majestic and impressive thing that we saw. It was the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The Rio Grande. We have traveled extensively in Texas, spent the better part of three years trying to see as much of Texas as possible, yet this was our first time to see the Rio Grande. It was amazing. This is the seventh highest bridge in the US, 565 feet above the river. There is a parking area on either side, with a scenic overlook, and you can walk out on the bridge. It was truly awesome, in the best sense of the overused word.
Reluctantly, we left the gorge and headed into Taos. I won’t spend much time on Taos, as this is getting rather long enough already. We drove around for a few hours, loved the place. Ren wants to move there; of course, she says that about every place we visit. I guess it’s a good thing we plan to buy an RV someday so we can live wherever we visit.
I suggested that we visit the Taos Ski Valley before heading back to the hotel. This was the first place I got any real pushback from her. Not that she didn’t want to go, but she is frightened about driving down twisty, turny roads, especially since it was getting late in the day; however, me driving scares her even more because, in her words, she is a bad passenger. One of the things I admire most about Ren is that she does not let her fears get the better of her. It took her a few moments to work up her nerve, but she agreed.
The Hondo Canyon Road is the road that leads up the valley to the ski lodge. I know I’ve said this several times already, but it was a beautiful drive through the valley with huge cliffs, tall trees, and a valley, there was, naturally, a stream named the Hondo, Rio. As is usual in this area, we were in the Carson National Forest and there were lots of scenic roadside campgrounds. We drove up to the lodge, but it was getting late, so we didn’t get out of the car, then headed through the valley again, stopping at a few of the parks.
It was time to be heading back to the hotel. The last leg of the drive was the twistiest and turniest road of the entire trip, and it was full dark, so we didn’t see most of it. When we got back to the hotel, Ren went to bed; she was exhausted from the last leg of the drive. The hotel manager told me earlier I could get a good view of the milky way from the deck on top of the hotel overlooking the lake. I went to take some pictures, but between the hotel and city lights, they were not the skies I had come seeking, but they weren’t bad.
The next morning we found the entire town socked in with fog. We were not eager to drive through the canyon again until the fog lifted, so we walked through town to find breakfast. What we found instead was there wasn’t anywhere in Eagles Nest to get breakfast at 8:00 on a Sunday Morning. Did I mention that Eagles Nest is tiny? Did I mention that Eagles Nest is at an altitude of more than 8,200 feet? We hadn’t really paid much attention to that before taking our walk, but as we were walking back the thinness of the air became apparent. We were huffing and puffing by the time we got back.
When the fog burned off we headed back through the valley to Cimarron then north to Raton, where we found breakfast. Then we took the Raton pass into Colorado where we visited Trinidad State Park, before heading to the Capulin Volcano National Monument. This is an extinct, cinder cone volcano, with the cone remarkably preserved. There are a visitors center and a road that wraps around the cone to a parking lot near the top. From there you can hike down into the vent, or around the rim. We intended to hike around the rim, but between the altitude, our exhaustion, and general lack of fitness we turned back well before we reached the top. It was still worth the trip, and even from the parking area near the top, it is an impressive view.
It was time to head back to our camp in Black Mesa and Google wanted to take us back to Clayton, but we hate taking the same road back as the road we came on, so we took the road less traveled; literally. What a difference. We went north through Folsom then took a small road east. It alternated between paved and gravel, and, usually, the gravel was smoother, but it was so worth it. The road led through a canyon we didn’t find on the maps, and where there is a canyon, there is a stream. The canyon, river, and road were all named the Dry Cimarron. Yes, another branch of the Cimarron River. The canyon went on for hours, almost entirely empty. Huge, rugged, and beautiful in a very different way than the other Cimarron Canyon, but no less impressive. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We got back to camp at a reasonable time, and as we were settling in, it became apparent we were going to have clouds again that night. Realizing I was not going to get the perfect night sky photo, I suggested we pack up camp and head south into Texas. In visiting the Texas Panhandle a few weeks earlier, we now had visited all but two counties in Oklahoma. The last two were down south and we decided to go get them.
We got back to camp at a reasonable time, and as we were settling in, it became apparent we were going to have clouds again that night. Realizing I was not going to get the perfect night sky photo, I suggested we pack up camp and head south into Texas. In visiting the Texas Panhandle a few weeks earlier, we now had visited all but two counties in Oklahoma. The last two were down south and we decided to go get them. In no time we were on the road. An hour and a half drive, and a minor crisis involving so many bugs hitting the windshield we could barely see out took us to Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. Being Sunday night the place was empty and we found a nice site overlooking the lake, and slept under the stars, with a cool breeze to keep the bugs away.
The next morning we visited the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. Walked through the visitors center, watched the informative movie and took a short hike, then got back on the road. We headed into Oklahoma to get those last two counties. On the way to Kiowa County, we were passing right by Quartz Mountain State Park. We couldn’t be this close without stopping. It is a very pretty park, though the lake was very low at the time. We spent about an hour here before heading to our next destination.
The Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is a place I had to hear about for a while but had not yet managed to visit. It was getting late and I was thinking we should just head home, but Ren knew how much I have wanted to go here and insisted that we take the time. I’m so glad I listen to her. I had been afraid that after seeing New Mexico, that Oklahoma would seem dull and unimpressive by comparison. I needn’t have worried. The mountains of Oklahoma may not be as tall as those of New Mexico, but they are no less beautiful. We ended up staying much longer than we intended and it was getting dark by the time we headed home.
Arriving home late, we were tired and sore, however, the trip had been more than we ever expected because we abandoned our plans and took a chance. Sometimes having a plan is important because it tells you the when, the where, and the how; but it often causes you to miss the unexpected treasures of traveling along the backroads. Our motto is “Get out, live life outside your box,” which sometimes means getting outside of your plans. Take a chance, do something unexpected, live your life to the fullest. I still want to go back to Black Mesa. I still want those dark skies. But I wouldn’t trade this trip for the one we planned.
The very first trip Scott and I made after arriving in Colorado Springs was a Pass, Kenosha Pass 10,000 ft (3,000 m) to be exact. We had only experienced a real, Colorado Pass the previous July when we visited. Cucharas Pass is 9,995 feet (approximately 3046 m) and looking back now, it doesn’t seem impressive at all, or was it and we just did not know what we were experiencing? Since we have moved to this state we have found amazing passes that we just love going over!
In the state of Colorado, you will find 166 mountain passes over 7,783 feet (2,372 m). Of those passes, 107 are actually drivable; however, there are only 61 of those are paved while the rest are either gravel or unimproved. Of the 61 roads that are drivable with an ordinary car (meaning low clearance and not a 4×4), 30 of them are over 10,000 ft (3048 m). Stat-wise, this is a very collectible project.
What Exactly Is A Pass?
Vocabulary.com defines a mountain pass as: “the location in a range of mountains of a geological formation that is lower than the surrounding peaks.” Simply put they are just places where two mountains come together. I have heard the terms gap, notch, saddle, and pass used to describe the easiest area to get over the mountains. We experienced some in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and even Texas, but they were nowhere near as impressive as the passes we have crossed over in Colorado.
I have watched video after video of people driving over passes like Loveland Pass, Imogene Pass, and Black Bear Pass. What I remember most was that these things were massive and could be rather intimidating. What I am learning though, as we travel more and experience the many different passes here in Colorado, is that passes can be intense, but they can also be nothing more than a slight “hill”; at least they may only feel that way. This has helped me to actually look forward to going over the many passes we have left to collect.
Often the pass has a “plateau” of sorts and buildings and rest areas are sometimes placed there. These are also places where boundaries or borders are found such as the county line between Huerfano and Las Animas. Here you find the Cucharas Pass and just six miles from Cordova Pass that is also a dividing line between the two counties. This is not just a county border thing either, there are countries that have their borders meeting along mountain passes much like Chile and Argentina. The border between them runs along the Andes Mountain range and has many border crossings; over 42 passes.
Are Passes Really THAT Scary?
When we first started talking about collecting counties, we knew there were going to be roads that would intimidate us. For me the roads that were steep and winding caused me to freak out. I remember our first time driving the Talimena Drive between Oklahoma and Arkansas. We had watched many videos to help us figure out how to descend a mountain and it really made me nervous; I wasn’t even pulling a trailer! I was so worried about burning out my breaks that my nerves were shot by the time we arrived on flat roads. The highest elevation we reached that trip was 2,681 feet; this was nothing compared to the many passes here we have driven that are over 10,000 feet since moving to Colorado.
There are many reasons people are worried about passes. Passes can have steep grades, sharp turns, and dangerous drop-offs. Many people who drive on the Colorado roads have never driven on anything but straight flat roads; their inexperience can be dangerous and frustrating. There is something shocking about the yellow signs with a semi-truck pointing downwards or tipping over when you reach the top of a pass. It can be intimidating and worrisome; however, keeping one’s mind on the road and driving over the passes a few times, they are no more scary than any other highway.
Why Are Mountain Roads So Steep and Twisty?
While looking up information on mountain passes, a specific question kept showing up, “Why are mountain roads so steep and twisty? Why can’t they just be made to go straight up and over?” I found answers to this question in a couple of places. Let’s look at the first part of the question. “Why are the roads so steep?”
Roads follow the lay of the land. If you are driving in parts of East Colorado, you will basically be driving on flat, straight roads because that is how the land lays. Highway 70 from the Kansas border to Denver is a great example of this. You may have a few rolling hills because it is a prairie, but the land is fairly flat and the road follows this. However, Highway 70 from Denver to Grand Junction goes over mountains and into valleys. The road placement is determined by the slope of the mountains and, therefore, determines the “grade” or rate of climb/descent of the road causing this section of the highway to have steep climbs and many curves.
Open Oregon Educational Resources explained this rather well in their article “Assessing Slope of the Land“. They defined the slope to be the “incline of the land”. The land surveying has a math formula to help them know what the incline will be and then are able to give the appropriate warnings for drivers to use when traveling these areas. It is all extremely technical and if you would like to review the article, please feel free to do so by clicking the article title previously mentioned.
The slope and lay of the land also determine why roads have so many curves to them; however, not all curves are created because of this. Often steep roads will have what is called “hairpin” or “switchback” turns to help a driver climb a mountain in a short amount of space. These types of turns are usually steep and have sharp turns. One of the most famous roads in the United States that shows this extreme elevation change in less than half a quarter of a mile is Lombard Street in San Francisco, California. True the elevation change is not as extreme as in the mountains, however, the fact that the distance is so short from top to bottom, the grade is 27%, making this a very interesting drive.
Most roads in Colorado are not close to this extreme. On the passes here, you will mostly find grades of 6-9%, rarely anything more. However, you will occasionally find a few roads with more of an incline, but rarely on the main highways. These switchbacks help vehicles climb to the top of the mountains using less energy and providing safety as well. Between snow, ice, rain, and wind, the weather conditions can cause roads to be dangerous so everything that can be done to help drivers be safe is well worth it.
Safety On The Passes
Mountain passes can be dangerous, but with the help of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CoDoT) and a few safety precautions, the experience can be rewarding and successful. Before we get into our car, we make sure we have the correct safety equipment for the road depending upon the weather we will experience. This means we have good tires, our snow cables for the tires, and we know what the weather conditions are for the area we are traveling. We will pull up the traffic information for the highways we are planning to drive and make sure we have clear alternative routes if needed. CoDoT has a variety of tools on their website that can assist us on our travel and we use those tools often.
One of the things we love about Colorado is that CoDoT is very good about getting roads cleared as soon as possible. This goes for the normal everyday roads and the passes alike. If winter weather storms have been predicted, they are out as soon as possible to start the de-icing and then they begin to plow as soon as possible. We have found the passes easy and safe to traverse, but we are still careful.
There are a few things that have to happen when driving the passes that are important to do to keep yourself and others safe. One is to know how to drive up and down these roads.
Driving Up The Mountain
Always have your vehicle in good working order. Be sure the brakes, windshield wipers, and tires are in good condition. Watch the fluids in your car to make sure the engine does not overheat. Make sure you have the proper equipment you need with you, such as snow chains, extra wipers, air gauge, and extra fluids like oil, washer, and water/coolant.
What may seem like a strange thing to do, but during the summer months, you will want to turn off your air conditioner. This will help keep the engine from overheating, plus the temperature on many mountain passes will be much cooler than you expect.
If there are two lanes or passing lanes as you are driving up the mountain, make sure to stay in the right lane unless passing; this is law in most states now. It will keep traffic from backing up and prevent road rage in other drivers who will insist on passing you on the right. However, if there are only two lanes of traffic, keep an eye on the number of cars behind you. If you are impeding traffic, find a turn-out and allow the other drivers to pass. This will help keep people from taking unnecessary chances passing you at the wrong times because they are frustrated.
Watch out for warning signs like specific wildlife, Avalanche Area, and Fallen Rock. There has been a history of these things happening in these specific areas. If you keep a watchful eye out in these places, you will probably be able to avoid many of these dangers. However, this is not always the case. If you end up hitting an animal or rocks, remember to not panic, pull over as safely as you can, and make yourself as visible as possible. This will enable people to avoid hitting you. Also, remember to call 9-1-1 so an officer can help you by blocking traffic and assist you with any towing needs you may have.
If an avalanche is blocking the road, stop, turn around, and proceed to a safe area because there may be more avalanches occurring; DO NOT attempt to drive through one. There is a movement happening you may not see and it could take you down the mountain with it. If you are caught up in an avalanche, DO NOT PANIC. Make sure you have your seatbelt on, turn off the engine so the inside does not fill with carbon monoxide, call 9-1-1, and stay in your car.
SLOW DOWN! Do not try to race to the top of the mountain, it will still be there no matter how slow you take it. Too often people are in a hurry to get where they are going and they make mistakes. This in itself could cause an accident or worse if you take a turn too quickly.
Arriving on the Pass
Once you have reached the top of the pass, there are often places to park, trailheads, or scenic overlooks. Take advantage of those areas to get out of your vehicle. You probably need to walk around or stretch. If there are not any of these, prepare to drive down the pass.
Driving Down The Mountain
If you are in a vehicle with a diesel engine, then you will use the engine brakes to slow you down. You will only need to “tap” your breaks if you accelerate faster than you need to be traveling.
If you have an automatic engine, there is a “manual” setting or an L1, L2, L3. You will need to use these if the grade is large. Then you will only need to “tap” your breaks occasionally to slow you down.
Do NOT “ride” your breaks. The goal is to proceed down the pass without burning your breaks. Once the breaks get hot, they will not stop. As you accelerate, gently apply your breaks for short periods, being in the lower gears will help the engine slow your vehicle down giving you better control and less need for the breaks.
It is suggested a driver not go any faster down the pass than what they were doing up the pass. If you are going slower than other people, stay to the right. Not only is it curtious, it is law in many states.
Why Are There Ski Jumps Next To The Highway?
As we drove down Monarch Pass, we saw what looked like a ski jump at the side of the road. These are special safety ramps to help trucks, and other vehicles, who have lost their brakes due to them getting too hot. These runaway truck ramps have saved lives, but what exactly are they?
This specific truck ramp we saw on highway 50 on the west side of the Monarch Pass is designed to slow the truck by going up the ramp. If it does not slow it down by gravity, there are many lines of barrels filled with gravel and sand to bring it to a halt. This is just one of many types of runaway ramps. Some are a lot longer and some have the “road” filled with gravel to help the wheels of the truck come to a stop. They all do the same thing, stop a runaway truck that has lost its brakes.
In this video, we see a report from Channel 9 News out of Denver about a truck that used the ramp. The driver’s brakes failed and the ramp was there just in time to help save lives. You are able to see the smoke coming from the truck and then he masterfully entered the ramp and was able to stop. These are great safety opportunities for truckers. You can read more on Runaway Truck Ramps by clicking HERE.
Please remember, if you are not experiencing failed breaks, do not use these places as an opportunity to stop. These are extremely important for truckers to use; if a truck becomes runaway and the ramp is not available, lives can and probably will be lost.
How Many Passes In Colorado Have We Collected?
Out of the 79 Colorado mountain passes and highway summits that can be driven because of improved roads we have crossed 30 of them. We go over Ute Pass (9,165 feet – 2,793 m) in Divide many times because we tend to drive Colorado highway 24 often to get to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. While the highest pass we have crossed is through the Eisenhower Tunnel (11,158 feet – 3,401 m) on Colorado Highway 70.
One of the most special passes for me in this state is Wolf Creek Pass. One of my favorite uncles was my dad’s brother Uncle Bruce. He was a wall of a man who stayed with us when I was little and my three children loved him as well, especially when he would ask them if they wanted donuts and then thump them on the arm saying, “Hurts Donut!” Sure wish he could have experienced the Hurts Donuts shops around the country. This man was a Vietnam Veteran who received two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Cross of Gallantry. My uncle worked for the Colorado Department of Transportation as one of the snowplow drivers for Wolf Creek Pass, and he was a hero there as well. He saved a woman and her family from a snowbank and was given a commendation from the state of Colorado.
And Like All Passes, We Must Move On To The Next One
Passes are amazing structures of engineering. They take planning, math, and a lot of work hours. There are many people who work hard to provide safe passage over these elevated passes and we thank them for their hard work. I know I enjoy experiencing each of these passes and I can’t wait to cross over as many as possible while we explore the state of Colorado.
Thank you so much for joining us. We do appreciate each of you who take the time to read our posts. It means so much to us. Please remember to Get Out, Live Life Outside Your Box; you know we are.
Life has a way of twisting itself so you never really know what is going to happen. Take this past year 2020 as an example. It was been full of stress, shock, and surprise because of the pandemic, politics, and potential. When Scott and I started 2020 we had no clue what was going to happen at the end of the year. We were making plans to stay in the borrowed RV at the brother-in-law’s place giving us time to pay off bills and then purchase land somewhere close by. However, life had other plans for us.
In April of 2004, we left Oklahoma quickly. We did not feel we were achieving anything; jobs were dead-end, bills piling up, and life was frustrating. After a short trip to Fort Worth, Scott and I found ourselves moving to Texas where life took a bit of a different turn than we expected. During 2013 we found ourselves visiting Texas State Parks, getting involved with a state park non-profit organization, and beginning to park host in those parks. Then we discovered YouTube and blogging. It was not the life we thought we were going to have.
Take Me Back To Tulsa
It was August of 2017 when we moved back to Tulsa. Surprisingly, it was good for us to go back. Here we were able to explore the hometown. We both found this was not the same place we had left; something had changed. We were seeing the city and state with different eyes; travelers’ eyes. This enabled us to appreciate the historical sites and tourist destinations more and it helped us find a new love for the state we both grew up in.
Both Scott and I have a love for history and travel, Oklahoma opened up a lot of opportunities for us. The state parks in this state offered plenty of camping. There are some locations that offered hiking, but not as much as other states. Fortunately for us, we had not really found hiking yet. We were more into the historical sites such as the Route 66 locations, museums such as the Woody Guthrie Center, and tourist destinations like The Gathering Place. It opened our eyes to see how much history and fun Oklahoma had to offer.
Because we were in a centrally located area we were able to branch out to other states. We collected all of the counties in Arkansas, 87% of Kansas, and ventured into New Mexico, Nebraska, South Dakota, and even Wyoming. Unfortunately, it was taking us longer to visit places because the drive time was five to six hours just to get to places we had never been. This was one of the issues we had found frustrating about our Texas travels. However, we were happy being in Osage County, Oklahoma; it was beautiful, historic, and home.
A Legen—dary Trip!
A friend had recently taken a job at Pikes Peak and she invited us to visit the area. Taking a four-day trip we drove to John Martin Reservoir State Park and camped in our “improved” hammock set-up. The park is located in the southwest corner of Colorado in Bent County near Las Animas and it is perfect for star gazing and fishing. When Scott woke up he felt a little strange and his eyes were not focusing properly. We didn’t think much about it because we were climbing in elevation and we had a lot more to do over the next three days.
Heading towards our next camping site, Lathrop State Park in Huerfano County, we were able to get a good view of the desert landscape. We continued to focus on the Spanish Mountain Range ahead of us but enjoyed the view around us. There were storms all around and we were a bit nervous because our hammock stands were made from fencing top rails and with lightning all around us, it could become potentially deadly.
Finally arriving at Lathrop State Park, we found our campsite to be on the top of a rather large hill and the forecasted weather was rain with lightning. We abandoned our campsite and decided to look at a hotel in Cañon City (pronounced Canyon City) later that evening. We were going to be following the Highway of Legends first.
The Highway of Legends, now a National Scenic Byway, runs along CO 12/U.S. 160 through the Spanish Peaks. This road took us through small towns like Le Veta and Cuchara. Spending time in the San Isabel National Forest in the Cuchara River Recreation Area was exactly what we needed. We were surrounded by pines and aspen trees while we explored the Blue Lake and Cucharas Creek enabling us to relax and breathe in the fresh mountain air. It was one of the moments of this trip that caused me to seriously think about moving to the area someday.
Hours later we found ourselves at an American Inn in Cañon City. It is a basic motel, but the owners have taken care of the property and their prices are not high. We were able to get some rest safely as there were major storms all around us. The next morning, Scott was still having issues focusing and he was not feeling great. I was beginning to feel the elevation a little so neither of us thought twice about the issue. I was able to drive and we still had a big day ahead of us. We would be heading to El Paso County to visit Pikes Peak.
Pikes Peak rises above Colorado Springs to 14,115 feet. It is one of two “fourteeners” you can drive up; the other is Mount Evens near Denver. I was fine driving this until we got out of the tree zone. I had never driven that high and the twists and turns were a bit unnerving at that height. Upon reaching the peak, I found myself in tears of relief gripping the steering wheel. Scott, on the other hand, was calm, but he was having terrible issues. We got out of the car, took the obligatory sign photo, went into the gift shop to pick up postcards and the famous donuts. At one point Scott told me he was going out to the car while I completed my purchases.
Arriving at the car, Scott said he did not feel well, he wanted to get down the mountain to a lower elevation. Unfortunately, fear took over me and I was not able to drive down so he had to do this. If only I had known what was going to happen days later, I might have done things differently. We made it safely down to Colorado Springs and fell in love with the area. I am known to cry out, “I want to live here!” when we travel, but this time I was sure I wanted to live there.
The next day we headed home to Oklahoma. The drive was long, but we came across many interesting places in Kansas and crossed off many counties and courthouses. Arriving home late, we headed to bed so Scott could rest; explaining that he felt fine and was ready to head back to work the next day.
When the Heart Attacks
Scott works for a company that does maintenance and building management for other businesses. He deals with HVAC (air conditioning) issues mainly, but there have been days he deals with normal issues. The location he has been working for since August 2017 has been at one of the local Tulsa hospitals. All throughout the day, he felt extra fatigued even though he slept well the night before. Because we had been in the car for ten hours the day before, he thought this was nothing more than the post-travel blahs the two of us deal with after many long trips.
About the time for him to leave for the day, he began to see flashing lights in his vision, soon after he had a panic attack. Because of my stroke in 2018, he was concerned he was having the same type of issue so he went to the emergency room. I showed up soon after and found a man who was scared. They assigned him a room soon after and there were so many tests done. Fortunately, we found he had not had a stroke, but he did have a small heart attack.
Heart attacks are caused by the build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries. The process of this plaque build-up is called atherosclerosis (pronounced: a·thr·ow·sklr·ow·suhs). Because the arteries are getting a build-up of plaque, there is less oxygen that can get to the heart which causes the damage. Many things cause this smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, and the like. Men and women are both at risk and they need to be looking at the warning signs. Often warning signs differ quite a bit between men and women, but there can be some overlap.
Scott had been having issues for a while, but we never really thought about it as being heart issues; with him being diabetic, we assumed it was because his numbers were too high. He was always so exhausted, his legs and arms always felt “weak and sick”, he was having issues with momentarily blurred sight, he seemed dizzy and balance was off, and it seemed heartburn was a daily issue. While we were on the trip to Colorado, he had these issues more than normal; we assumed it was nothing more than elevation sickness. We now know it was because he had severe atherosclerosis. It was causing his heart and the rest of his body to not get the needed oxygen.
They did a series of tests to verify what exactly needed to be done. They did blood tests to check his cholesterol and triglycerides. An echocardiogram and EKG were done to check his heartbeat, heart size, and test the blood flow. He had a Coronary Angiography performed as well. This was to see if they would be able to use a “balloon” to open the arteries then place the mesh to open up the blockage, increasing the blood flow. Unfortunately, every one of his coronary arteries was blocked 80% or more. They established at that time he would be receiving five bypasses or Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG).
Between the emergency room, three days on the neurological floor to make sure he wasn’t having a stroke, and the next six days at the Oklahoma Heart Institute for his surgery and recovery, he was exhausted. He was ready to be home, but would I be able to take care of him as I should? What was going to be needed done to ensure he lived a healthier life; one that would help him be with me for a long time. I was promised that between physical therapy, dietary education, and exercising daily he would live a long and happy life.
The question it left us with was what was a healthy lifestyle. If you go to the American Heart Association’s “Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention” page you will find a thorough list of what should be considered a healthy lifestyle:
STOP SMOKING CHOOSE GOOD NUTRITION WATCH YOUR CHOLESTEROL LOWER HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE AIM FOR A HEALTHY WEIGHT MANAGE DIABETES REDUCE STRESS LIMIT ALCOHOL
These nine things can help you keep a heart attack or stroke at bay. We found a few of the items easy to do. Neither of us smokes and Scott will have a couple of fingers of whiskey a couple of times a week. Both of us are on medication to help lower our cholesterol and we have found our numbers are good for the HDL, LDL, and Triglycerides, plus neither of us has high blood pressure. The issues we seem to have are maintaining a healthy weight, choosing a good diet, and being physically active. We are working on this issue and there is a lot of learning to be done. While he was home and going to physical therapy, he was walking up to 30 minutes a day three times a day.
On The Move Again!
The company Scott works for, as I stated before, manages and maintains maintenance for other businesses. He started working in Texas and was able to transfer to the hospital in Tulsa. Unfortunately during the time Scott was off work due to his heart attack, the hospital decided not to renew their contract. He had a choice to make, stay in Tulsa as a new employee of the hospital or stay with the company transferring to another business. Because our family lives in Oklahoma and he was up to five weeks of vacation and other benefits, we had a tough choice to make.
When we decided to collect all the counties in the United States, the thought process was to collect as much as we could as close to where we lived. That cut off for us was about six to ten hours away; we had reached that time frame for any new counties to be obtained. After speaking with our families, Scott decided he would not sign on with the hospital, but stay with the company he already had a nine year history with. So it was time to start the job search for a transfer.
Looking in Arkansas, Utah, Colorado, and a few other states Scott put in applications for three locations: Jonesboro, AR, Salt Lake City, UT, and Grand Junction, CO. He had an interview with the location in Salt Lake City and it looked very favorable. The job would be something he had never done before and he would be helping to create the new policies. The positions in Jonesboro and Grand Junction had been filled so, after talking with my mother, Scott filled out an application for a Colorado Springs position. My mother was thrilled when Scott was offered the position in Colorado Springs because she had always wanted to live there and she had decided to move there once we were settled and her lease was up.
Once the decision was made, we had thirty days to sell, purge, and pack everything we owned. We would get a 10-foot moving truck and leave on November 23. There was plenty to sell such as the outdoor table and chairs, grill, lawnmower, and such, and we gave a lot away to a charity such as dishes, furniture, and items not needed. Cordie, the Chihuahua, was happy to help put things in boxes and was not going to allow us to leave her behind. We knew there was going to be a need for a small storage building until we were able to sort through a few things we just could not part with at that point in time.
On the morning of November 23, we got in the moving truck and car, then headed west to Colorado Springs. We had made a basic plan on where we would stop for the night and then would play it by ear the rest of the time. Cordie was safely attached to her new car seat while Scott and I had our audiobooks ready to be played. The day was going to be cold and snow was expected at one point during the trip so anxiety was up for that, but none had happened as we arrived in Hays, Kansas, where we would stop for the night to rest.
The next day we were up early and headed to our final destination. We would arrive in Colorado Springs, Colorado, within five hours of leaving Hays, then we would find our hotel. Once settled we would be able to find a good meal and explore our new home town. As we drove on Highway 70, we began to see snow and snowplows. I was definitely nervous about it, but this was one of the reasons we wanted to move to Colorado; we wanted to experience real winters! Fortunately, there was no real accumulation and by the time we arrived in Colorado Springs, the day had turned sunny and warm. We were able to see Pikes Peak ahead of us, welcoming us home.
Knowing where we were moving and the date, we needed to find a place to live quickly. As I started my search I knew there specific things we wanted in an apartment: small square footage, close to Scott’s work, not expensive, and safe. There were a couple of complexes very close to his work, but they were so expensive. I then came across a small complex of one bedroom apartments. The location and size were perfect and it was exactly where it needed to be budget wise. All we needed to do was connect with the manager and get everything set up.
As you can see, the apartment is a small 400 square foot living space and we needed to figure out how we would set it up. There was not a lot of storage space so we would need to be creative to find places for everything we brought. If you look at the diagram, the kitchen seems to be huge, but that is the kitchen and dining area. We had already decided to use the dining area for office space so the kitchen ends up being about the size and set up of an RV kitchen. Unfortunately, an RV kitchen is a bit better in the setup.
As you can see, the refrigerator and stove/oven is smaller, however, it enables there to be a bit more storage space. Fortunately, we were able to get creative in how we managed the lack of storage. One was the magnet shelf/paper towel holder. It has enabled us to use the side of the fridge as storage. It opened up the under cabinet area around the sink. A friend of ours gifted us the over sink draining/storage area enabling us to keep our dishes stored there. It helps us keep the kitchen counters uncluttered by not using a traditional drainer and a place to keep those things we use daily. Then there are the cabinet step organizers in the cabinets themselves. This has helped us organize the spices and canned goods. We were able to get these off of Amazon at great prices and they delivered!
I had purchased some interesting premade shelves at a garage sale once for Scott to use in his music room in Oklahoma, but I absconded them to use just under the cabinets. They fit the space perfectly and it has helped us to get things off of the counter. Just love the look of them and how they match the black drainer. It was exactly what we needed in the tiny kitchen.
Both Scott and I had decided we would be doing hammocks in the bedroom. We were so uncomfortable in the RV bed. Even when we sleep in hotels as we travel, our backs are very sore from the flat mattresses. The hammocks help keep our back muscles relaxed and in line. The only thing we really needed for the hammocks were stands. Our homemade turtle dog stands would not work in this small space. So we purchased two hammock stands from Amazon that fit perfectly in the bedroom. We will be adding two clothing racks and a shelf or dresser beside each bed so the items in storage can be put into the closet for sorting through. Our goal is to be able to have just what we need and no more.
The Work Areas & Living Room
Coming up with specific work areas was not really difficult; we just had to figure out what to do to fix it. I saw it in my head and was able to purchase one of the twelve cube Ikea shelves from the Facebook Marketplace and we then found two desks at Wal-Mart for about $30 each. We already had the chairs and that was really all we needed.
Because the living space is open from my work area, we purchased a rolling ottoman with storage for $10 at a local thrift store and it enables me to turn my chair around and enjoy an evening watching the shows we enjoy. This space works out really well for what we need and that is what it is all about.
What Are We Doing Now?
Since we have gotten settled in, we have been exploring Colorado. We went from 11 counties collected before we moved here to 35 in just a few months. The desire to see everything is great and we are taken with the snowy landscapes. We try not to allow the lack of experience of driving on the wintery roads keep us away. We have purchased the necessary tire cables just in case we need them and we try to keep an eye on the weather so we do not get caught in unexpected snow storms as we travel.
There is so much to do and see here in just this one state that we are exploring to see what is out there. For example, we have been to Rocky Mountain National Park a couple of times so we can experience the different types of weather and views. On one trip we just drove around to see what was there and on the second trip we hiked around Bear Lake and up to Nymphs’ Lake. We were able to experience lakes so frozen people were ice skating on them! It was just magical for us.
After collecting all of the counties in Arkansas and Oklahoma, we felt we were able to concentrate on the many different things and places in each of the states instead of trying to collect all the counties. Scott once said he felt a freedom to explore each state more. So, we have decided to do this with Colorado. Once we have collected all the counties, we will feel we can focus more on each little place we have fallen in love with.
We love Colorado so much and I often wonder if we will ever get tired of this place. I truly hope not, there is something about mountains that makes both of us happy. That is, however, what this journey is all about. We don’t like sitting still and being stagnant so we will continue to travel and see what is out there. Because, as travel writer Bill Bryson says, “There is something about the momentum of travel that makes you want to just keep moving, to never stop.”
Thanks so much for joining us on our journey and reading our blog and watching our video. Scott & Ren
We are Scott and Ren Fridenberg and travel is what keeps us moving.
In 2004 Scott and I visited Fort Worth, Texas, and saw a place full of beauty, history, and opportunities. Within 30 days of our visit, we moved to the area. From that move forward, we have allowed travel to have an effect on us as a couple and as individuals. These effects range from new experiences, making new friends, to finding surprises in history and activities.
Scott and I met through a medieval recreation society called The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). This is a non-profit organization that celebrates the culture, art, and history of pre-17th-century Europe. He was involved in what is called bardic which is storytelling, and I was becoming interested in period hand embroidery styles. This organization enabled us to make friends all over the Texas and Oklahoma area causing our move to the Fort Worth area rather simple. During 2004 through to 2008 we didn’t do much travel except to attend SCA events.
In late 2006 we moved from Texas back to Oklahoma for a while. We lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and it was there we discovered something very interesting, the back roads in Oklahoma were wrapped in history. It was at that time we put together our very first travel blog called Backroads Oklahoma. Unfortunately, we did not keep the site and all of the information is gone, but it was the very start of us deciding to do more with the travel than just “go”. On that website, we traveled throughout Oklahoma from Tulsa to Oklahoma City finding places like Ingalls where the famous shoot-out between the Doolin and Dalton gangs happened, the Washington Irving Trail Museum where the adventurer camped while surveying the area, and many other old forgotten relics of Oklahoma.
Eventually, in 2009, the moving bug bit us again sending us back to the Fort Worth, Texas, area. It was about this time Scott and I began to explore the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in full. We started finding places like fields full of sunflowers for miles and miles all around Waxahachie, hippos in the middle of Irving, and many different festivals. We then started to get further away from the maddening crowd of Dallas to find Texas had so much more to offer than just pavement, the Dallas Cowboys, and water features.
It was about this time Scott had started to learn to play the guitar and was wanting to play more and more Irish music. He had already been obsessed with music and the Irish folk scene, but it was starting to influence what he wanted to do. At one point in 2012, we went to Austin, Texas, for this very reason. He wanted to go to Fiddler’s Green Music Shop because it was a very active Irish Folk Music place. We explored the capitol building, the old downtown, and the famous Sixth & Congress intersection where many singers and songwriters have found themselves like Nancy Griffith and Willie Nelson. This was a huge thing for us because we had talked about going to the capital many times, but we actually found ourselves there in the middle of history for the state we had fallen in love with. We both decided to start stepping out of our comfort zone and travel farther away from home.
I, of course, have been crazy for hand embroidery for a long time and decided it was time to really focus on it. During the time Scott was learning to play the guitar, I started focusing on needlepoint canvas painting. I searched the internet for information to learn how to do the painting and there was nothing. Completely shocked, but I eventually found some experienced painters that were so extremely helpful. Between this, the commissions, and me learning new embroidery techniques I was very busy and enjoying my time. I often was able to do embroidery as we drove down the road to onto our next adventure or even did some work as we sat by the campfire in the late afternoons. It was a perfect set up for me and the embroidery.
In the fall of 2013, Scott and I decided we were eventually going to move into an RV and live in it permanently, traveling across the United States. We just were not sure how or when we would go through with this, but we were going to start moving that way; eventually. Less than a year later we discovered a whole new world, the Texas State Park world. We had visited Dinosaur Valley State Park in 2004, but we had not thought about them until 2014. It was this recent visit that we made the decision to go to every single Texas State Park. We would purchase a patch from all of them that had them and get a photo of us with the park signs. Once we were on number four learned there were 98 parks. This was going to be a task! Fortunately, we are not the only people doing this, there have been three people/couples who have succeeded in doing this and so we know it is able to do.
Spring 2014 we started sorting and purging everything in the 2,000 sq ft house. We had garage sale after garage sale and donated so much stuff, but we were finally able to get down to a small apartment amount of furnishings. In March 2014, we moved into a 547 sq ft apartment. What a bit of shock; it was so much smaller than the house! The apartment was small but we intended to spend as much of our time out adventuring so it isn’t a big deal. In 2016 we decided we really needed to focus and make the footprint of our living space much smaller so we sorted and purged, yet again, then moving our lives into the bedroom area. Granted this did not include the bathroom or the kitchen, but it did help us to see we were quite capable of living in a very small space.
Then it happened! On February 24, 2017, we purchased our home on wheels. It was a 1982 El Dorado Firenza; she was an all fiberglass frame on an Econoline van chaise. We proceeded to do the minor renovations needed so we could live in it for two weeks while we assisted Eisenhower State Park with some Spring Break help to see if it was truly something we wanted to pursue. Packing up a few things, we headed to Lake Texoma area and found we never wanted to leave the park; we were finally home.
In December 2017, we moved to our family hometown, Tulsa, OK, and tried to remodel the RV. Because there was so much water damage to the roof, we were not able to afford the renovation or able to physically handle the work needed. There was just too much mold and I was not in good health at the time so we decided to sell the Beast. We were able to sell it to a nice young couple who spent their free time with a lot of friends. They completely gutted the RV and put in bunk beds and seating for 15. It was a great new start for this 1988 RV.
For the past three years, Scott was able to continue working for his Texas employer while I worked on various projects and spent time with my family. We were able to live in a very small studio in a historical building called the Georgian Terrace, a mobile home outside of Tulsa with a lake view drive, and in a fifth wheel on Scott’s brother’s property 45 minutes from Tulsa. At each place we were able to continue our travels that took us deep into the Arkansas Ouachita’s and up into Wyoming. But the pursuit of new counties was over five hours from where we were living and Scott’s position was ending, so it was time to move.
Scott’s company was not going to be continuing in Oklahoma so we decided it was time to move forward and move westward. We had visited Colorado Springs earlier in the summer and fell in love; it was the mountains, the mountains were calling us home. He found a position with the company he worked for, we filled a ten-foot U-haul, and headed west grabbing three new counties on the trip out there.
As of November 24, 2020, we are living in a place that we are able to have so much to explore and see. Our apartment is small, but we like it that way; this enables us to get ourselves outside of our box and find new, interesting places.