Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Moab Monday

Above left: Leaving Moab. Above right: Colorado River from the bike/pedestrian bridge

Monday in Moab. The desert morning was crystal clear. The temperature was in the low 70's and even felt a little chilly with the low humidity. All I know for sure is that I have to be at Denver International Airport to board a flight to Portland, Oregon at 6pm tomorrow.

In the meantime, Colorado springs was 422 miles away and I definitely wanted to check out some book stores there; Denver, another 71 miles north of that. I had 493 miles to ride and lots of sights to see before 4pm tomorrow. It would be a hard drivin' couple o' days.

First things first. A hearty breakfast was in order and I had noticed what looked like the perfect spot on the way into town the day before. Luckily, with a little early morning focus, I was able to find it again.

Above Left: Eklecticafe for breakfast is a great choice. Above right: Eklecticafe's beautiful garden setting.

The Eklecticafe, near the north end of main street, has a terrific breakfast and fresh baked pastry selection plus a beautiful garden seating area that's totally chill. You order at the counter inside and they bring the food out to your table. In the meantime, you can refill coffee to your heart's pounding content at their self-service beverage bar.

After a superb and satiating breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes and toast with plenty of orange juice and coffee, I grabbed a couple of fresh pastries at the counter, paid and was on my way. Before leaving town, I snapped a couple of photos of the Colorado River as it carves its way through the red rock canyon from the dedicated pedestrian/bicycle bridge north of town . It was a beautiful last look at this oasis of fun in the desert.

From there it was back up the Moab Fault, retracing my steps north along highway 191 to the intersection with interstate 70. Crossing the plain, I got one last, distant look at the otherworldly rock formations of Arches National Park on the eastern horizon.

It's hard to imagine what the living and traveling conditions must have been like for early settlers in these harsh environments. Admiring the landscape from inside my environmentally controlled vehicle, I marveled at their resiliency as I crossed the scorching plains in temperature controlled comfort, drinking a cold bottle of water and listening to my favorite tunes on the 8-speaker sound system.

I was headed back in to Colorado. First stop: the city of Grand Junction, the largest city on the western slope of the Rockies, roughly 112 miles west-northwest of Moab. This unheralded city lies at the junction of the Gunnison and Colorado rivers, in the middle of the 30-mile long farming oasis known as Grand Valley, just to the north of the beautiful, Grand Canyon like Colorado National Monument.

With over 100,000 residents in the city and surrounding municipalities, Grand Junction is the largest population center between Denver and Las Vegas (over 500 miles to the southwest) and Salt Lake City (nearly 300 miles to the northwest). Towering over the city is the imposing 11,000 foot high, 500 square mile Grand Mesa, the largest table-top mountain in the world. As you approach from the west it provides a formidable backdrop to the farms and orchards of the lush green valley.

Grand Junction is a much bigger, working man's version of Moab. Mountain bikers and hikers are joined by hunters and fishermen; river and back country guides by farmers and roughnecks; trendy boutiques by Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Best Buy. Still, with its work-a-day attitude, western setting and architecture, Grand Junction has a unique style all its own.

Above left: Main Street, Grand Junction, Co. Above right: Johnny Winter, coming soon to the Mesa

I made a beeline for quaint, tree-lined Main Street, the beautifully western looking shopping and hang out district in the heart of town. The street is lined with an interesting array of eclectic retailers. Western outfitters and saddle shops, hardware and drug stores can be found right next to tourist stores, high-priced art galleries, low-priced antique shops and a full range of restaurants and bars from fast food to uber-trendy sushi.

Here, just a few doors down from Champion Boots I made a stop at Author's Gallery Books, a used book cornucopia that's been a mainstay of Main Street for over 18 years. Hard working owner Marge Rupp took over the store four years ago from the original owner and founder and is working to keep her 40,000 book plus inventory under control as a constant flow of gently used books comes in the front door.

Above Left: Author's Gallery Bookstore. Above right: Marge and Cinnamon (he's sooo cute!)

Luckily, she has the help of her assistant and constant companion, Cinnamon, possibly the cutest toy poodle ever. Cinnamon is one of those dogs that you immediately want to take home with you. However, seeing he plays such a key role in store security, I kept my dreams of dog napping at bay for the time being. Author's Gallery Books has a huge selection with many out-of-print and hard-to-find titles available at great prices. If you stop by, tell marge the Booktraveler sent you!

After visiting with Marge and Cinnamon, I headed across the street to a great looking antique store, which I mention only because the prices on antiques were so good here. I honestly thought of hiring a u-haul to fill up and drive back. I could pay for the trip three times over with the profits. But I digress. On a final note, I was glad to see that famed rock-blues guitar man Johnny Winter was "still alive and well" and headed to Grand Junction to play at the famed Mesa Theater on Main Street. Not such a cultural backwater after all it seems!

Above: Twice Upon a Time Bookshop inside and out.

Moving along I hit the the big box strip mall drag along North Avenue on the way out of town, where I had the pleasure of stopping at a beautiful new and used indie nestled comfortably between the Best Buys, Dollar Stores, K-marts and MacDonald's that populate the avenue. Twice Upon a Time Bookshop has been a standout independent bookstore in the same location for over 12 years.

Owner Margie Wilson took over the store 2 years ago, and has since honed the interior decor, store layout and inventory to produce a gem of a bookstore with a great selection of local and western literature to compliment a broad selection of main stream titles, unique cards and gifts. It's a great little store and together with Author's Gallery Books, makes Grand Junction a choice destination for any Booktraveler.

With so many miles to travel, I held off on lunch and continued on into the Rockies from the west, following I-70 as it meanders its way into the high country along the scenic Colorado River. I continued through historic Glenwood Springs, home of the famous Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, the largest natural hot springs pool in the world, turning south on highway 82 for the scenic climb into Aspen.

Aspen Mountain, looking south down Mill Street. Think snow!

I stopped in this most appealing and quaint of jet setter towns to enjoy enchiladas and a margarita (or two) at the Cantina restaurant on Main Street. This was followed by an even more enjoyable late afternoon walk through town, punctuated with a quick stop at the Ben & Jerry's across from Wagner Park for ice cream and coffee.

Aspen, for all its star-studded hoopla, is an amazingly quaint little town that somehow manages to retain a distinctly small town look and feel. The cost of housing does tend the keep the riffraff out, but walking up Mill street, breathing in the cool high mountain air and dreaming of snow while gazing up at the inviting runs of Aspen Mountain, you can't help but be amazed at the difference between this and the oppressive, runaway development at resorts like Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge.

It was getting late and I wanted to make my way over nearby Independence Pass before dark. This amazing pass reaches a height of 12,098 feet, nearly a thousand feet above treeline, as it crosses a high mountain shoulder just south of Mt. Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado and the second highest peak in the contiguous United States. At 14, 443 feet, it's just 60 feet shorter than California's Mt. Whitney. Mt. Elbert is the highest of Colorado's fifty-two 14,000 foot plus peaks, fifteen of which are in the same Sawatch Range which runs 70 miles from north to south.

The narrow and nearly deserted paved road, which is closed during the long winter, twists and turns its way up a pine filled valley above a breathtaking high country meadow framed by towering peaks above. Near the top of the pass at nearly 11,000 feet is the ghost mining town of Independence, from which the pass gets its name. Hard to imaging life up here back in the late 1800's, but the if the lure of gold could drive men to live in the endless night of the Yukon winter, wintering at 11,000 feet in Colorado was probably not so bad by comparison, with very little in the way of cannibalism.

Above left: Mount Elbert (left), highest mountain in CO. Above right: moonrise over La Plata.
Believe me, pictures alone don't do it justice.

Reaching the top of the pass I took a few minutes to marvel at the exceptional views in the crisp clean evening air. The moon was halfway up in the sky over the imposing La Plata Peak (14,336 feet), which seemed an impossible distance across the darkening valley. I felt incredibly fortunate to have experience all of the natural beauty and wonders during this trip. Standing at 12,000 feet on top of the continental divide as the sun dipped below the horizon, I was struck by the awe-inspiring beauty of the moment, in humble reverence to the timeless forces of nature embodied in these these silent, majestic peaks.

Sunset at 12,098 feet atop Independence Pass.

Night was coming on fast and I kept a close watch for wildlife in the road as it wound its way back down to civilization. Reaching the road junction at Twin Lakes, I turned south on highway 24 and coasted the 20 miles down to the appropriately named Buena Vista (Beautiful View), where I shacked up in the resplendent comforts of the Topaz Lodge ($58).

With a cold beer in hand and another chilling in a plastic ice bucket in the sink, I scrolled back through pictures of the day and ruminated over the incredible range of sights. From the red rock splendors of Moab and the arid fields of Grand Valley to the gentle, tree-lined slopes of Aspen and the high mountain splendors of Independence Pass, the range of sights, climates and micro-climates you can cover in one day makes any trip to the Rocky Mountain West an awe-inspiring journey.

There's no rest for the weary however, and I had almost 100 miles to cover in the morning to reach Colorado Springs, then another 71 miles north to make my 6pm plane to Portland. It's been a long, venturesome trip and I'm looking forward to the final push back to Denver, the unparalleled beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the used book wonderland of Portland, Oregon. Join me won't you?

Next Post: Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods and Regional Reads. Until then-


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