Ahhhhh. I woke up at Holiday Inn with too few hours of sleep but the wonderful knowledge that I was in Colorado.
I stood in front of the window and saw the big, sparse, tan acres across the road. We were on the outskirts, the very outskirts of Denver, and hence the emptiness. But what a tantalising emptiness it was, full of adventures to be had and views to be captured! Soon we had to get up and repack and shuffle ourselves down to get onto the shuttle we'd requested to Enterprise. Nifty things, those shuttles! I kissed a handful of dollars goodbye each ride but the drivers were decent (some downright kind) and they need to eat! The only rental car place I've ever been to was on a family vacation to Wyoming. It was a tiny little building with a tiny little lot in a small town, and we had to wait for my dad to talk to the people inside, look over the car, get packed, etc. Prepared with that experience, I got off the shuttle in front of a medium sized building that looked new and gave me an overall impression of whiteness. A young man in an overcoat pleasantly informed us that we could leave our luggage outside until we came out to select our car. We acquiesced (comparing notes later on Mary and I confessed mutual trepidation about the thought of leaving our stuff on a sidewalk with a stranger, well-dressed or not), and entered an unexpected land of fresh-faced, spiffily dressed and very clean looking young people. I spotted one gentleman who had the look of his mid 40's, I guess the others to be in their 20's. I won't plaster you with all the details of checking in and the pulling out of drivers licenses, and the running conversation the dapper young man who helped us kept up. It all went surprisingly quickly, and after a slight misunderstanding about which level of car quality we were supposed to receive, we rather swiftly got escorted back to our luggage (it was still there - yay!) and were plunked into a white Dodge Caliber. I was excited because we had not brought the actual printout of the coupon for a free upgrade, and I was slipping myself into contentment with the thought of our lovely little compact. Mid parking lot, the guy pops out with "so, I'll take your word about the upgrade. How about one of these?" It was a nice car. It was not a sports car, and truly by today's standards it was pretty tame. To my eyes it was new, it was pretty, and it had lighted cup holders. You have to cut me some slack because I drive around in an 11 year-old Jeep Cherokee. Meets my needs, yes, but I get a little excited about any car that was manufactured in the last 5 years and has automatic windows that actually work when you press the button.
We pulled out of Denver around 10:30 am and followed a road that led us along the side of a low mountain. We were famished, and were feeling a little doubtful at the availability of food since so far we had seen...pretty much nothing promising. Finally we turned off and saw *clapping* a restaurant! Which was closed *crying*. A desperate search of the car turns up the two extra bags of airline cookies from the day before. Score! Side note: So why did Delta give us each TWO bags of cookies on the flight? On the flight home I asked for peanuts instead of cookies, and I was handed a small bag with about 4 broken peanuts and a little bit of pulverized peanut skin at the bottom. Why were they so generous with the cookies?! Perhaps it was God providing for us before we even knew we'd need them... I'm only half joking, because we were very, very hungry when we left Denver! Back on track: we found a small convenience store, bought snacks enough to stave off the hunger bear, and motored our way towards Pagosa Springs. The trip was supposed to take about 5 hours, but I'd say we took around 6 or more. We were in no rush, and the drive was lovely, magnificent, inspiring, wonderful. Just a smidgen of highway with long stretches of smooth US-285, CO-112 and US-160. I thought I knew what Colorado looked like, so boy was I in for a surprising treat! We sped over enormous plains with grand old mountains that looked at us over the distances. Ranch entrances popped up here and there, several for the same ranch because of the sheer size of the place! Mary was in awe the whole trip. She was trying to rest in the passenger seat, but she kept kind of peeping out to say "Oh my!" and was craning her neck this way and that. It gave me the impression that she was eating it all up and feared missing one bit of the glory. It was like a fast slide show, and you had to look in all directions at once or you'd miss a frame. From the plains we passed through hills and mountains, the color and form of the land changing with every half-hour. We saw low brown mountains that looked like dark dripped sand castles, and smooth rounded hills that hugged the road on either side and had brown and tan shrubs and grass clinging here and there. There were hills that stood alone like islands in the midst of a valley. I called them "little", but they were only so in comparison to the giants we wound through later on. In the big mountains of green and yellow and orange I drove more tentatively. I wanted to see the view and not become part of it; guardrails were not quite the fashion. Later on several people told us that the Autumn color was past it's peak, but we saw some truly vibrant color on that drive. Splashes of deep, intense yellow lay along the mountain sides and were brought out vividly by a light rain. Evergreens touched their sharp fingers together and become a scented backdrop for the aspens. Sometimes I could smell the clean, good scent of it all and just smiled inside. That was the longest and most relaxing drive I've taken. We only stopped about 1 0r 2 times, once for lunch in Saguache. It was a tidbit of a town and we found a great little hometown store that made delicious sandwiches. Normally I would feel a little animosity towards a place for calling a hot roast beef and Swiss sandwich a "Philly". I forgave them after one bite because it was delicious, misnomer and all!