USA - SEPTEMBER 2002
So having left Wyoming, eventually I arrived at Loveland. And what a nice town that was. So after a quick poke around and a phone call to Lorna, my next stop was the campsite at Lake Carter up in the hills to the west.
Here's the site, and here's my $19 tent.
This was one impressive campsite - first thing you see is a big notice telling you what to do in case of attack by bears! I couldn't bear the thought of that. I made sure that I had nothing but the bear essentials lying around in the tent.
The procedure is that you pitch your tent in the wilderness like this and an approved camping pitch, and a forest ranger comes along eventually to collect the cash for the pitch.
From the same spot that I took the view above, you can see that there was a marvellous view of the lake in the other direction.
The female forest ranger who came to me gave me a few extra hints, such as always keeping the tent flap closed. There was a problem with skunks getting into the tent and trying to get into sleeping bags with the campers.
"Not if I've had a good curry they won't"
Reminds me of a story I heard of a woman who brought a pig back home with her.
Her husband asked her "Where's it going to live?"
"Why, in the house with us".
"And what's it going to eat?"
"The same food as us".
"And where's it going to sleep?"
"In the bedroom with us".
At this, the husband showed signs of rebellion. "And what about the smell?" he asked.
"Ohh, the pig will just have to get used to it like I had to!"
So here on the right is the view looking out from my tent to the car (I was getting to quite like this car!) down to Lake Carter.
But this was an excellent campsite, no showers (just a handpump outside) no flushing toilet (just a hut with a hole in the ground rather like a French "Mark IX bombsight" toilet).
As a footnote - the ranger came up to see me later on in the week for a chat. "Do you know" she said, "normally we get all the campers coming down to the office complaining about the skunks. Since you've been here this is the first time we've had all the skunks coming down to the office to complain about the campers!"
Lake Carter is actually a reservoir up in the mountains, and every morning I had to drive from there across the valley to my course which was taking place at Guidestone Farm.
And before I'd even driven half a mile, this was the view that presented itself
I don't know about you, but if that was the view that presented itself to me every morning on my way to work, I'd be quite happy to make the journey.
These photos are especially for my mate Paul in the UK. He'd kill for a "steppy" and keeps asking me
"if you see one on your travels, Eric, let me know".
"Well, here you are, mate. This one's all for you! And it's for sale too. I'll even help you pack it up (any excuse for me to be in North America)!"
But what was so funny was the .... er .... sculptures in the garden. Just look at all these .... er .... animals running and flying around on the lawn. This was superb!
If you did somethng like this in the UK, you'd have the local council serving an enforcement notice on you to tidy up! If you remember me from my days at Gainsborough Road, then you'll understand why I feel quite at home in rural North America! I could quite happily live in an environment like this!
So, what else was Loveland famous for, apart from derelict steppies, skunks and biodiesel laboratories? Ahh - yes. Home Depot.
I suppose the best way to describe Home Depot is that it's a cross between a B&Q and a Kwiksave. Huge hangar - type warehouse filled to the roof with tons of D-i-Y and builders' stuff that's stuck on cheap pallet-racking shelves in the original cardboard boxes. Staff wonderfully friendly but maybe only about 4 to deal with a couple of miles of racking - so with the best will in the world you don't get the service you'd get maybe anywhere else but the prices more than make up for that. Just like Albert Gubay's philosophy of "pile it high, sell it cheap".
Yes, if you know what you're looking for then Home Depot is the place to go to buy it.
So in order to shelter from a tropical rainstorm I went for a wander around. The rainstorm lasted 10 minutes but I was in there 4 hours, and when I came out I doubt there was much left in the shop.
Remember me talking about American 110-volt fittings to run my 12-volt setup at home? Well, I'd seen everything I needed - plugs, sockets, cabling, extension leads and all sorts of fittings, and I spent over $130 on all this, and an enormous blue plastic box to put it in, which I could use as a water tank when I got home. Now I had absolutely EVERYTHING to do the electrics down on 't farm - and for a price that would be absurd anywhere else.
One thing, though - how was I going to get all of this back on the plane? Impossible. But never mind - things have a way of working themselves out and I was certain that this would be the case (or the box, depending on how you looked at it).
Another thing Loveland had going for it was an all-night supermarket, which had a deli counter where you could buy cooked rice and salads and so on. So I served myself from there, bought some bread, and went to the front of the supermarket where there was a microwave oven, a coffee machine and a few tables and chairs, where you could heat up, then sit and eat, whatever you'd just bought. Very civilised.
BIG THOMPSON RIVER
Within walking distance of Guidestone Farm where the biodiesel course took place were some very interesting sights to see, so I liked to arrive early and go for a walk around.
Not too far away on the Big Thompson River was what looked like the local water treatment works with this huge cascade of water just across the river.
Now apparently it had been dry around here for 4 months yet there's still this impressive cascade. Just imagine what it's like when the water is going full tilt over this fall.
If I had anything to do with it, I'd have a a nice overshot water turbine. Can you imagine the power that would pump out?
Around the corner and a little further on is the entrance to the Big Thompson River Canyon. It follows a small dirt road around until it links up with Highway 34 from Loveland to Estes Park.
I had a little walk along the canyon just here (and later on I drove the full length of it) and it certainly is impressive, not to mention powerful. The walls are so steep that the sun rarely enters, so it's like driving at night, even in the daytime, and it's so narrow that the places to stop and admire it are few and far between.
This is the Big Thompson River canyon on Highway 34, just down the road from Guidestone. There's a dam just down from here, and you can get a really good view from the platform above the shop.
Take a closer look at the name of the shop. It made me have quite a laugh anyway, but you know what they say about simple minds.
The big pipe you see in the photo on the right is actually a siphon tube which takes water from the dam just down here up to the reservoir in the hills.
This area is the site of a tragedy on 31 July 1976 when a flash flood following a severe thunderstorm killed at least 139 people.
Here's a view of the water flowing over the barrage. What an ideal place to put a water turbine! Well, at least I would do, anyway!
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
And here I am in Estes Park - the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park. And never mind the scenery, look what I have found just here as I drove into the town.
"So why all the photos of a boring Jeep Commando, Eric?"
"Well, This is why. Recognise it?"
Except that they're not quite the same.
The blue one is a Jeep Commando indeed, but the red one you saw (you DID click on the link above, didn't you?) is an Ebro Comando, made under licence in Spain.
It's almost the same vehicle as the jeep but the most important difference is that the red one (which Paul and I dug out of a field in Spain) has a Perkins diesel engine it it, instead of an American petrol engine.
Another important difference is the condition of the vehicles. This blue one has had a restoration job done on it, and compare the photo here on the right with THIS ONE of my Ebro.
You see, I have quite a bit of work to do, and it's nice to see what it is that I'm aiming to achieve. Hence all the photographs, as it gives me a pattern from which to work as I make my own restoration.
So when you see a reasonable interior like this, you have to photograph it so that later you can compare it with your own interior. Then it gives you a goal, as well as a pattern. At least I can now see what it is I'm trying to do.
So from Estes Park I set off to drive to the Rocky Mountains National Park. And it's hardly surprising when you are lured on by views that are represented in the photographs her and below. When you see views such as these, and you know you can drive through this sort of scenery, it really does inspire you.
Well, it did me, anyway.
But when I saw how much I was expected to pay to drive in, I had a change of mind. I mean, it wasn't that I minded paying, but I only wanted a quick drive through it! I didn't have time to stop.
So I retraced my steps to Estes Park, to find an alternative route. Pay for a drive up a road? I was quickly learning that the USA is anything but "The Land of the Free".
So I headed south in the direction of Central City, with the "Moffat Road" uppermost in my mind!
Now if the "tourist route" is somewhere other than along here and they were expecting you to shell out something exorbitant to travel along it, then it really made me wonder just how beautiful it must be.
And it wasn't just once on this voyage that I said that either.
I mean, these views on Highway 72 through Nederland to Central City and then onwards to Idaho Springs were impressive enough for me, without having to pay to see anything better.
At least that was what I dictated to myself at the time. By the time I'd finished my journey and I'd been through the Valley of the Gods and over the San Juan Mountains I was of a different opinion entirely, as you will see if you read on to the end of this marathon adventure
I continued driving along Highway 72 (despite having taken a wrong turning and ending up in Boulder where I did a quick bit of shopping) until I came across a sign pointing to El Dorado Canyon.
Any place with a name like that has to be worth a visit, so down the road I went.
But this was one of these places "absolutely no parking", "do not turn", "private - no admittance to anyone" sort of places until the road ended in an "absolutely no entry to any unauthorised person".
Ignoring the "do not stop here" sign, I took a quick picture and beat it before the Thought Police grabbed me. How can anyone live in a place with a mentality like this one?
THE MOFFAT ROAD AND ROLLINS PASS
Now the reason why I was heading down Highway 72 was because I'd seen on the map a road going over the Continental Divide to Highway 40, via the Moffat Road that goes over the Rollings Pass, at a height of 11671 feet.
And there was a way back too, via the Berthould (or is it Berthoud?) Pass at 11315 feet! This is not the highest road in the USA, but it's pretty close to it. Only 40 miles in fact. And 40 miles is but a cock-stride in the USA as we all know. But it was all a question of time, and I didn't have any time to spare.
You take the high road, I'll take the low road and I'll be in Denver before you. The high road will have to wait for another time. Rollins Pass, here I come.
You can see from the sign in the photo on the left that it's an old railway track bed that was replaced by a tunnel in 1928. It is however suggested that this early railway track bed was laid over an early pioneer wagon road.
There's no doubt about it that I was going to get my money's worth going up here. A quick look back over my shoulder after only a minute or two gave me an idea of what I might expect, as you can see for yourself.
Another thing I noticed was the state of the road. This was not going to be a comfortable ride. But I was certain that it was going to be well worth the climb, and if I took the climb carefully, I was confident that the car and I would get to the top without difficulty.
This would be in complete contrast to my friend Blaster Bates with his rocket-assisted hill climb attempt at Beeston Castle in 1954 on his old Norton.
"You were going up the hill magnificently, Blaster. Only problem was that you were 24 feet in front of the bike!"
So up we climbed out of the valley, the Pontiac and me, higher and higher up this road that was zigzagging up the side of the mountain as you can see here on the left.
Now compare the photograph just here with this one. They were indeed taken from the same perspective - except that the point of view in the photo here was about 1000 feet higher than the point of view in the photograph above it. This gives you some idea of how much the road was zigzagging up the side of the mountain to gain height.
This must have been some impressive railway in its day, and puts modern engineers to shame.
Well, now I'm nearly at the top, and well above the tree line. There's a good view of the tunnel through the crown of the mountain that was built to permit locomotives and their trains to pass over the top of the mountain and down the other side.
I told you earlier that it was suggested that the track bed may have been laid over an earlier pioneer wagon trail. I wonder how the pioneers managed to get over the top.
But isn't this an unfortunate development?
Yes, rocks blocking the path! Imagine - I've just driven 15 miles and climbed 5000 feet and all I've found is a dead end.
I spoke to the guy in the 4x4 at the side of the road. He told me the pass has been closed for about 20 years for safety reasons and there was no way through. My map had been printed in 2000. Hang your heads in shame, Rand McNally
Apparently it was a walk of maybe a mile or a mile and a half up to the tunnel, but the guy didn't recommend it. Walking up here isn't the same as walking at sea level. You need to take frequent stops to catch your breath and ever since I broke some ribs in a skiing accident in Italy in 1996, I've struggled with this.
But I was in a hurry, like I always seem to be when in the USA. It could easily take a couple of hours to walk to the tunnel and back, and I had to have the car back in Denver in a couple of hours. I just contented myself with walking as far as the rocks to take a picture.
And all the way back I had to go.
But at least the way down gave me another chance to look at all the scenery again that I'd missed on the way up. You have no idea just how disappointed I was that I couldn't go down the other side of the Rollins Pass and through the Berthould Pass. GRRRRRR!
Nevertheless, you have to admit that it was pretty impressive all the same.
The guy at the top with the pickup told me where I could, if I were careful, see remains of the old snow sheds and turnoffs where they kept the snow ploughs and snow blowers, but I have to be honest and say that there was nothing that I could see.
However, on a different point, one thing struck me as very funny.
Now, I was in a Pontiac Sunfire - a vehicle not exactly renowned for its off road capabilities. However there were many American 4x4 vehicles going up and down this trail and for some reason I seemed to be overtaking them them all. And when we arrived at the bottom there were crowds more adjusting their freewheeling hubs and diff locks and so on.
Now I've driven over pavements bigger than most of the rocks I saw on this trail and I had no problems at all going all the way up to the top in a basic ordinary small family car. If you click on the image to enlarge it and then look at the bottom margin, you'll see what I mean about the size of the rocks.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. How on earth would most Americans cope with driving over roads that I've driven over in Europe?
BACK TO DENVER
The next problem was how to get to Idaho Springs and the I70 to Denver. The guy at the top had told me to go back to Rollinsville and down the 119, but that seemed about a 30 mile round trip. In any case, that was more-or-less the way I'd come and I was badgered if I was going to retrace my steps that far when there might be an alternative.
After much discussion, he did tell me there was a way across the other side of the valley and over the mountains directly to Black Hawk.
But all the time we were discussing this, he was eyeing the Pontiac nervously, and eventually he spoke up.
"I wouldn't go that way, though, in that"
"Well, it got up here okay", I reminded him.
"Well, yes, I suppose it did. But rather you than me. I mean, you don't have a real map or anything"
"I follow my nose" I said. "It's long enough"
After one or two minor adjustments to my route, I eventually found the right trail and climbed into the uncharted wilderness, heading east to Black Hawk.
And I have to say, this was up to now the most impressive drive of them all - this little hour or so I spent up here.
I was in total isolation up here. There wasn't another person or car about, and I had the mountains all to myself. The views were so absolutely stunning, as you can see from the pictures. I could quite happily have stayed here all week, time and chance permitting.
However I was really pushed for time by now and when I hit the 119 at Black Hawk, it was full tilt to Interstate 70 and Denver Airport to hand them back the car. This was despite all the magnificent views and objects that were littering the side of the road. What a shame! I'll just have to come back here again.
I'd enjoyed driving my little Pontiac, but I just knew I was going to enjoy driving its replacement even more.