USA - SEPTEMBER 2002
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE AIRPORT ...
My long journey around the periphery of the Rockies finally brought me back to the airport.
"So here we are, or, rather, here am I"
sang Pete Hammill in "Lost" (on the album "H to HE", if you're really interested). Except that, unlike in the song, I wasn't quite alone. For a start, there was this enormous box of flaming electrical bits. Next time I'm going to do a "Rincewind" and get some luggage on legs.
"We've seen this photo before, Eric"
"I know you have but I'm just trying to set the scene"
I'd had to park up the Pontiac at Alamo (next door, would you believe) then get the bus (with all my luggage) back to the airport, to get another bus to bring me (and the luggage) back here, stopping briefly (well, I'd HOPED it was briefly) to pick up the keys for the next adventure.
Now, remember - I'd been off sick for three months and for me that was depressing. So I was in a deep depression. And I'd 9 days to go to Flagstaff and back
"why Flagstaff, of all places, Eric?"
"Read on, you'll find out")
via the Rockies and the desert, and the heat, and the sun. So, in a moment of idle furkling (remember, I was one of the original "Chorlton Furklers" back in 1970) before I'd set out for the USA, I'd typed in on the computer an idle query about how much to rent a convertible.
"Jeezus H bleedin' Christ!!!" and I pressed the "confirm" button, just like that.
But then we had the "oh no - a convertible in the summer in the desert? You'll be far too hot in the sun. Nobody has a convertible. They have saloons ("sedans", to Americans) and the aircon on, full blast!"
"Don't care" I pouted. "I'm having a convertible, and the top stays DOWN"
And it did, too. The only time it was ever up was when I wasn't in it, and then only sometimes. But isn't there always someone who tries to put the spanner in the works?
So, at the "Hertz" desk.
"Welcome to Denver, Mr Hall. Here's all your paperwork and vouchers - and we have some good news for you."
Good news indeed. That makes a pleasant change. As Ludicrus said in Up Pompeii - "It's a long time since I've had any"
. The assistant gave me a beautiful smile. "You can have a choice of colour, Mr Hall. Silver or white! Which would you prefer?"
Poor kid - if only she realised exactly who she had standing in front of her.
"Neither" I replied. "I want a yellow one".
"You heard" I muttered darkly under my breath, like I have been told that only I can do
"Yes, a yellow one".
"I'm so sorry, we don't have a yellow one"
"But you must" I insisted. "I haven't come all this way and paid all this money to rent a convertible and to be anonymous!"
"I'm really sorry - I'm afraid we just don't have a yellow one"
People who know me will understand what happens next in circumstances like this. I recall a group of armed Austrian soldiers running and waving their rifles about to make my colleagues and I move an 18-tonne truck from in front of the Austrian Chancellery at the time of the 1998 European Council in Vienna. My colleagues stood around open-mouthed as I strode out to speak to them. The truck stayed where it was, and the soldiers retreated (I received a commendation from my boss for that).
Like I said, I wanted a yellow convertible.
And look what I got!
Remember the old taxis I had when I owned A1 Taxis in Crewe? They were this colour. Stood out like a sore thumb too - everyone noticed them. Just like the good old days, this was. It's amazing what you can do when you stick to your guns. BSA should have done that!
So off I jolly well set, down around Denver and south on the I25 - direction Flagstaff. At the first exit, I stopped, bought a coffee, and played with the roof to make sure I could shut it, and worked out the controls. Yes, I could see me having loads of fun with this beastie!
And here's the first night, in Colorado Springs. Now why Colorado Springs? Thats not far away from Denver? Ahh yes, but there's a good reason for this, as you shall very shortly see.
By now, it was time to eat. I was hungry. Down the street and across a car park was a restaurant, called the Bean Something (can't remember now). Yet despite its name, there wasn't exactly an overwhelming choice of vegan food, and they had a struggle to sort something out. Yet nice friendly staff and good service, like most places in the USA - something about which the French and the Belgians can learn an awful lot.
This is why I stayed in Colorado Springs. Pike's Peak. All 14,110 feet of it.
Well, although the signs say "14110" it is a few feet lower than that, according to a recent new Geographic survey. In fact the height of most moutains has been overestimated in the past, so it it seems.
Official reasons are that new scientific methods are much more accurate, but I think that the Americans have pumped so much water out of the water table that the level of the land has sunk. 10 years later you have half of the USA collapsing into sinkholes from which the water has been pumped over the passage of time.
First observed by the explorer Zebulon Pike in 1806, it was a beacon for travelling wagon trains across the great Mid-West in the period of the great migrations of the 1840s and 1850s. Pike was the first to make an attempt to scale it, reaching only 10,000 feet before descending, declaring it would never ever be climbed.
He was proved wrong for the first time in 1820. A trail to the top was established in 1858, followed by a carriage road in 1889, then a cog railway and finally a motor road.
The climb to the top actually goes through 5 different climatic zones, and the top is well above the tree line. And it was cold at the top!
But unfortunately, this is what awaits you at the top of the mountain.
In 1873 the US military established a telegraph post (a primitive meteorological station, in fact) and this was the building in which it was established. Unfortunately, it would seem to be too small to welcome the thousands of visitors who now come up here every week by road or on the cog railway, so regardless of any historical value, look at it now!
Anywhere else this would have been a protected building and someone would have made a museum out of it, but here in the USA it's just taking up the space of 10 cars, which means 25 more people in the souvenir shop!
But you have to admit that the views from up here are absolutely impressive, that's for sure. I reckon I can safely say without too much fear or contradiction that there's nothing quite like this. I can't think I've ever had such a view.
A little-known fact is that Katharine Lee Bates wrote the song "America the Beautiful" up here. However, that was rather a long time ago. 1893 in fact.
She later wrote "One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse."
What you can see in the distance in the two photographs below are the Rockies. Wow!
Standing here in this biting wind in the freezing cold - well, who cares with a view like this? Have a quick read of the information on the sign. Apparently we are so high up here that one inch on the horizon represents about 38 miles.
So what is the significance of the Continental Divide? Well, to the east of it, all the rivers flow east whereas to the west of it they all flow west. Sometimes the Continental Divide is so impressive (like this) yet at other places I was to pass over, I did so without even realising.
Here in this photograph is the summit of the cog railway as it arrives at the visitor centre. There's a really beautiful view in the distance.
There's another beautiful view in this photograph too.
It's a good job there was a visitor centre here as I was freezing by this time, and so out of breath even though I was moving about fairly normally. I hadn't really realised how thin the atmosphere is up here. I went and organised a coffee for myself, and I had a plate of chips - or fries - as well!
Then I went back down the mountain to the bottom, and hit the road again.
Now apart from stepside pickups, French microcars and £99 sheds, my friend Paul from Stoke on Trent has a thing about caravans, especially the 1950s and 60s American Airstreams.
Here's one for you, my old mate, and only $3000. All it needs is the water lines replacing.
I was giving some serious thought about buying it for you but firstly there's no towbar on the Mustang and secondly I know what Vanessa would say if it did turn up chez vous. You and Tawny would probably end up having to live in it!
Just a little further down the road, I stopped for breakfast at a petrol station. Waiting in the fuel line was this interesting little truck It's a Willys Overlander from 1961, one of a range of models they stopped making in 1964, so it seems.
I took the opportunity to go over and have a natter to the owner.
I had a good natter to the owner, who told me that it had been laid up in a field for over 10 years as a con rod had broken in the engine. The present owner paid $300 for it, and hauled it out to take it away. Then , he fixed it up. He was a really nice friendly chap!
These wayside service station - cafés are great and much nicer than the French ones. You can fix yourself up with food quite quickly and reasonably for not much money and not much bother.
Now I've had my breakfast and coffee where am I going to next? Logic said "get back on the I25 and go straight to Flagstaff - you've only got 9 days", but since when has logic had anything to do with anything I've ever done?
This is the town of Cripple Creek. Formerly a very important gold mining area, it earned its name because of the rough stones at the bottom of the creek that crippled the pack mules hauling supplies to the gold diggings. It has nothing at all to do with anyone who used to live in Crewe!
All the rough uneven lumps of hill are in fact spoil heaps from the mining activities.
One of the big mountains aroundhere is called Mt Piscah at 9700 feet elevation.
The story is that over $300,000,000 was taken out of these goldmines during their period of exploitation. That's quite a sum - I'd be happy with a tenth of that!
Anyway, if you want to take a tour of the old mines you can go by train, as you can see. It takes 4 hours, and maybe longer if you have a spade in your pocket!. I would ordinarily have been tempted, but I had a long way to go and a short time to do it. I'm westbound. Oh watch old Eric run!
Once the mining had ceased, the town was more-or-less abandoned. It became to all intents and purposes a ghost town, yet was apparently quite a chic place to visit. It took on a new lease of life in the early 1990s when gambling was legalised in the town.
Now, this here is Cripple Creek main street, looking down the hill to the railway station. It was very much like the main street of one of these typical western cowboy towns that you've seen in every bad B feature western film. So much so, in fact, that it made me wonder how much of it was actually authentic.
There was actually a sort - of display of hot rods and so on in the main street, not that it interested me particularly. I'm usually much more interested in the before rather than the after of a restoration. One thing I learnt though - that hot rods in the USA have their own special series of plates, like taxis, trailers, oldtimers and so on.
One thing that disappointed me though was that my mate Neil Young had let me down. No sign of the "Hey, hey! Cripple Creek Ferry" round here. Time I was pushing on (or pushing off, as the case may be).