Part I – On the Road Again
Driving on empty highways in the American West is therapeutic. An unbound landscape dotted with the dreams of better things to come and the hope of remembering what you’ve learned along the way. There is nothing between you and destiny but an undulating black ribbon and your will to get it. On any day you can get in your car and drive somewhere different, somewhere far away, have a new experience and loose yourself to adventure. Something you don’t do everyday.
A couple of months ago we got into our squeaky and overworked AWD wagon filled with enough clothes and some skis for a ten day road trip to ski Taos. Some storms were lining up with promises of fresh snow in northern New Mexico and we were not going to let them pass without having our fill.
Snow in the desert is unique – especially at higher altitudes. And skiing the dry, light, and feathery desert snow is sensational. It feels like it shouldn’t be there and certainly not in the quantities that fall. It tracks out faster and doesn’t stick easily. But in those rare days and weeks of a good season, it starts to accumulate and the hope of skiing lines that usually only live in imagination becomes a possibility. This was our hope. To ski those lines off of a fickle peak in northern New Mexico.
We worked our way east from Los Angeles. First through the high deserts of southern California and Joshua Tree, through Vegas, southern Utah, Colorado, and, finally, New Mexico. 2,000 miles of high-altitude winter driving in mostly bad weather – the long way there.
Driving in bad weather is an acquired taste. While having a capable car helps, there are always white-knuckled experiences that make you wonder if you made the right choice by driving that day. Reaffirmations of your mortality repeat every couple thousand miles. There was the time we fished-tailed in Jefferson County, Vermont – while driving in ski boots. Or, the time that our front-wheeled-drive car spun out on Teton Pass at 2 AM with 30” of snow on the road. But for every brush with fate, there are innumerable moments of beauty and bliss.
Leaving Los Angeles.
Driving out of Los Angeles is an experience. There are really two routes east. Take the main highways south of the San Gabriel mountains or take the high route north of mountains – Newhall Pass separates the San Gabriels from the Santa Susana Mountains. The former guarantees bumper-to-bumper traffic for 2 hours while the latter adds 50 miles to the route, but promises emptier roads. We took the long road.
The San Gabriels are worthy of their own stories. Rising over 10,000 feet above LA and filled with gnarly steep faces, they hold back the high desert plateaus between California and Nevada. Truly a no-man’s land of low brush, dirt, rock, and endless skies. This area is the inevitable march that acts as a welcome cathartic period in any SoCal based road trip. Rumbly, pot-filled roads cleanse you from those things that weigh you down. 100 miles go by with few memorable moments, but soon enough you hit the state line and things begin to get interesting.
We are late people. We are late to leave, late to arrive, late to first chairs, late to the movies, late to first call and never early to a party. We left late and that guaranteed that the drive would be slow. Drudging through 6 hours of traffic – albeit it with some magnificent vistas north of LA – we decided to stop for the night in Vegas.
Vegas has never been our scene. It feels manufactured in a way we don’t really enjoy. But it can be fun for a night every so often. It was a Wednesday in early March so accommodations were easy to get and relatively inexpensive. We dropped our stuff off in our room and went down for a drink – or three. Sitting and munching on way-too-salty-and-sweet nuts we took in the cocktail waitresses up past their bedtime, the folks in corporate dockets, tons of pale flesh at the five person table, and slots offering a quick escape for a dollar a pull. Nothing moved us as we had other things in mind.
The next morning we got back on the road under cloudy skies and a snowy Mt. Charleston jutting up over the horizon. Soon enough we were in St. George. By mid-afternoon we had caught up with the storm somewhere before the 15 and the 70 meet. This area is always a slog. Empty dessert highways with some high mountain passes above 8,000 feet and not much else until Grand Junction. A couple of hours passed and the storm grew. The driving got slow. Snow, ice, rain… all part of the pretty slick nine-hour drive.
Rolling in at 2AM into Glenwood Springs
We rolled into Glenwood Springs around 2 am. We love the western towns of Colorado. They can be special with equal parts mountain life stoke, history, locals, and enough people going through to have good nightlife. Glenwood Springs is one of these: about 30 miles from Aspen, where Doc Holliday died, good mountain food, and a cool old hotel. Our first lines were close.
More to come
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