A description of a auto trip across the western plains to the Rockies.

St. Vrain’s Canyon


I was a mere three hours from my destination of Lyons, Colorado, and the straight open road was stark and empty, so I gave the Camry her head. She loves to run.


State lines are artificial, and western Nebraska looks like eastern Wyoming, which looks like northeastern Colorado. The plains grasses are the gray-gold of old straw, and the rusty oil rigs flex and yawn against the vast blue sky. Solitary windmills, drawing precious moisture into vats to water cattle, catch and animate the slightest breeze.


The land is open and empty; little editing is required to remove modern civilization and return to the old West. Rub out the telephone and electric poles, take away the strands of rusty barbed wire that now divide the open range, glance away from the four-lane between the billboards, and you will see a herd of bison, as many as stars in the night. That curl of smoke in the far distance rises from the cook fires of a tribe of Plains people, following the bison. There on that slight rise, the silhouettes of tough little mustangs.


My flight of fancy crashed abruptly when the enormous Conoco oil pipeline processing complex came into sight. It squats on the plains, long low buildings with multiple stacks belching smoke and steam into that clear sky, complicated networks of catwalks and cooling towers scrawled across the horizon like the scribbling of a madman. If you dared approach, the dim humanoid figures crawling over the catwalks, scrambling up the ladders, would prove to be vile creatures from a netherworld, eyeless and three-fingered, with voices like the crunching of bones. It made me shudder.


Even at speed, the Conoco plant takes too long to pass. But, like all things, it does pass, by and by.


And then.


The Rockies.


I detected a vague laboring in the Camry, as though she were trying to catch her breath. I learned later, just like the mechanics at Jiffy Lube in Mobile told me, that it takes a car about 300 miles at altitude to make the necessary adjustments. Our machines are more like us now than we are. They adapt and mutate. We seem stuck.


I’m a ridge runner, not a flatlander. I’ve seen hills before, the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, the Smokies, the Poconos, the Adirondacks. They are beautiful. But if they are mountains, then we need a different word for the Rockies.


A hundred and fifty miles out of Denver, you become dimly aware that the sky is curdling, texturing. The uniform robin’s egg blue begins to blur, darken, just against the horizon.


Steadily, the Rockies clarify. The purple smudge, where the prairie ends and the sky begins, deepens. The gleam of ivory that might have been a jet-trail proves to be a snow-covered peak, lofting into the heavens until you catch your breath, disbelieving that anything rooted on earth could reach so high. And beyond and above the snowy pinnacle is another violet bruise, rearing above the last, resolving into a mountain, beyond which the sky is bruising again…


The sheer side slopes are furred with the soft green of blue spruce and pines, game trails and the washes that carry the rain down the mountains are picked out in white from a recent snow. Boulders the size of city courthouses tumble on the slopes and pour down the hills like pocketfuls of marbles, dwarfed by the distance. The closest tall peaks are frosty white, shading deep lavender to sapphire to a mere misty suggestion, wreathed in clouds.


This mountain range that plants its feet on the earth and lifts its head into the upper reaches of Paradise also squares its broad shoulders and blocks the way to the Pacific. Like the gospel song says, of God’s love: “So high, you can’t get over it, so wide, you can’t get around it, so low, you can’t get under it, you must come in at the door.”


My destination, Lyons, Colorado, worships at the feet of the Rockies, and as I drew nearer, I discovered there were tears dripping down my face, tears of sheer awe at the magnificence all around me. I marveled at the courage and audacity of the mountain men and early settlers who looked at the Rockies, and decided to cross them.


There is a place between heaven and earth called St. Vrain’s Canyon, where some mountain god’s angry child threw an aeon-long tantrum, hurling boulders from the peaks, over-turning table top plateaus. Before that day, the stones were living creatures, and where the god-child wounded them, they bled. Still today you can see the ancient bloodstains, smearing the gaping wounds on the rock walls, russet, chocolate, orange.


In the god-child’s rage, the elements were disrupted, and the winds howled grieving over the mountains, twisting and distorting the trees, blasting the rocks until the softer ones were rounded and smoothed.


When at last the tantrum passed, the god-child was remorseful to see the carnage caused by her fit of pique, and she built a monument to remind herself forever of the terrible tax of anger. With contrite hands she smoothed the hillsides, and the high plateaus are her palm prints. She piled rocks one upon the other in fantastic towers, and she planted trees - burly Ponderosa pines with their red trunks, silvery groves of slender aspens – to hide the scars in the land. The flood of her guilty tears swept down the slopes and through the rocky draws, carving deep into the breast of the mountains.

St. Vrain’s Canyon is the cathedral built by the god-child.



Submitted: September 24, 2008

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Add Your Comments:



Ah, yes from this side of God's green earth
we call them "The Blue Canadian Rockies"
that place we love so true.

What a perfect description. I have only seen
photos; I'm the only member of the family
who has not taken a trip to see the beauty,
doubt that I ever will. I shall consider
your piece my visit. Thank you for this.
Kind Regards. Manyfacets.

Tue, October 7th, 2008 6:33pm


I begin to see what you mean by the comment link vanishing. If you receive 42 answers to one small statement, realize that I don't want anyone to think I didn't appreciate their notice of my writing - so if necessarily, I'll err on the side of overkill!

Every now and again (watching "Planet Earth" and other Discovery Channel series, for instance) I become aware that although I have seen and marveled at many breathtaking things, I have seen but a tiny fraction of all the universe (even the known universe) has to show us.

I wish you had seen the Rockies, and while I am grateful for your praise, I assure you that there are no words and there are no photos that can begin to describe their majesty. You might come close at an Imax show (those gigantic screens that make you a part of the action).

Tue, October 7th, 2008 12:00pm

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