From Louisiana we made our way into Texas where we met up with an old friend and visited a state park, suddenly becoming aware of the fact we were indeed out west. Our path then led us to Colorado Springs, where we caught up with some more old friends and made some repairs to the van as well.
The above image was taken in the one-stop-light-town of Matador, Texas. Travel is often filled with random experiences that seem tailor-made to the moment – and your expectations! This photo is certainly no exception.
I loved driving in Texas for 2 reasons: First, the conditions of the state highways are impeccable, and second, the speed limits on those highways are almost always 75 MPH. Texas is a big state, but you can cover some serious ground on those straight-line highways. Venture from the interstate system and travel overland all you want, passing through some of that wonderful scenery and some evocative little farm towns along the way; you may even see a pink Cadillac with horns!
Caprock Canyons State Park
Outside of Wichita Falls, Texas we found a few scenic routes that put us near Caprock Canyons State Park, which somehow called out to us to stop in for a visit; perhaps we simply needed to get out of the van for a spell. Caprock Canyons is just outside of Turkey, Texas, should you be in that area yourself one day. We would have camped out at Caprock Canyons, but the park was gearing up for the annual bison-fest and camping spots were like gold dust on the day of our visit.
Caprock Canyons marked the point where we finally felt we were out west! This park had it all; stunning vistas, rock formations, the namesake canyons, and enough wildlife calling the park home to make you feel as if you wandered off the trail just a bit. This spot was quite unique; it marked a point where the rolling prairies of the Central United States met the high grassland of the Western United States, making it a very diverse zone geologically and biologically.
It was quite an experience indeed to not only witness a herd of buffalo in the wild, but to see them so up-close; you could simply get out of the car and stand next to one if you were foolhardy enough! There is a resident herd that lives within the park, and they viewed us in an almost jaded way, sauntering past the van like it wasn’t there. You could reach out and touch them if you wanted to, but that would mean breaking the rules. Caprock Canyons had one more surprise waiting; a colony of cheeky prairie dogs!
There were hundreds of busy little rodents running around, all working intently on prairie dog-like projects. Caprock Canyons truly did mark another milestone in our drive across America.
Our Old Friend Doug
Over the years we have kept in touch with some of our hitchhelpers who have helped us out in the past. In Texas, we were able to reunite with one of them and personally thank him.
Doug and his colleague Oscar picked us up in Presidio,Texas as we crossed the border from Mexico in 2014. The four of us had beer, getting along like people who have known each other for years somehow. Doug, having heard plenty of stories that night about our epic journey over the past year, insisted on paying for a hotel room for Fiona and me. It was a wonderful gesture from a very kind individual.
Amazingly, we were going to be passing through Dumas, Texas, where Doug lives. Out of the blue we contacted him through e mail and asked if he was going to be around in a few days.
Doug was indeed going to be around, and we managed to get together with him for dinner. We went to a great local restaurant and we all ate some damn fine rib-eye steaks. After that we had some beer at the best watering hole in town, “Bubba’s Hammer Lounge.” We met some of Doug’s friends and truly had a great night, knowing we were fortunate to have made such a great friend and to be able to thank him again after several years. Thanks again Doug (and Oscar) for coming to our rescue from the blistering heat back in June 2014.
For some seriously dramatic mountain scenery, head for the hills in Colorado! That was certainly our plan, but we were also looking forward to another reunion with some friends we met a few years ago, and there was a repair I needed to address with the van as well. All our reasons for visiting Colorado were fulfilled and I received a much-needed break from driving!!
Fiona and I were lucky to cross paths with Andy and Cheryl in Zacatecas, Mexico in 2013. They now live in Colorado Springs, where Andy and Cheryl opened their home to us on this drive across the country and really made us feel welcome, way above and beyond anything we would have expected. Before we stopped to see them, though, we had yet another scenic route to ramble through!
As soon as we entered Colorado from New Mexico we took the scenic Route 12 highway from Trinidad to La Veta, which meanders through some mighty scenic valleys and old mining towns along the way. The aspen trees were in peak autumn color through much of Colorado during our stay, and Route12 was no exception. The foliage in the Rocky Mountains are no match for the variety of shades in New England, but we considered ourselves quite lucky to have seen them at their peak of change. When the sun catches the yellow leaves of the aspens, you will witness quite the warm glow.
Andy and Cheryl: Old Travel Friends
Our friends Andy and Cheryl are planning their own 3 month trip back into mainland Mexico, this time with their dog Rufus faithfully in tow. In December they will take off in their four-wheel camper, with a plan on visiting Guatemala, Belize, and possibly Honduras as well.
Andy is very knowledgeable when it comes to auto and motorcycle mechanics, and I presented to him a persistent problem I was having for a few months with the suspension system on the van. While in Pennsylvania visiting family, my father and I changed the sway-bar links, for it was a cheap and easy fix and the links could have been the reason for the suspension issue. Sadly it was not the issue! My suspension problems continued to plague me all the way across the country, and after thousands of miles the van needed a garage with proper tools and someone like Andy, who has more know-how than I do. We checked the shock mounts and replaced the inner and outer tie-rod ends; we made quite the team of VW technicians, to be honest.
It was not all work, however. We spent time catching up and swapping travel tales and tips; all of us eager to drive across the border soon. One day we took a ride up the Stagecoach Road and over the Rampart Range in Pikes National Forest to the little towns of Victor and Cripple Creek, Colorado. Andy and Cheryl even let us do our laundry, and having a mattress to sleep on after 2 weeks of sleeping in the van felt heavenly!
Fiona and I wish happy travels to Andy, Cheryl and Rufus; our paths may even cross out there, either by chance or by design. If we do not see them while on the road, we will see them again in the future, where we hope to repay them all the kindness they showed us in Colorado.
One More Scenic Drive
It should come as no shock at all that Colorado is filled with some truly stunning scenery, and the scenic routes the state has to offer those who choose to look certainly do not disappoint! U.S. Route 550 from Ouray to Durango is called the Million Dollar Highway (the San Juan Skyway), and the saying goes you get million dollar views along with feeling like a million bucks after taking in the scenery. That saying may just about hold true, for we were treated to some truly valuable scenery. Again, the aspen trees were glowing yellow with their autumnal last-hurrah.
Along the way I was so happy to meet another couple from my home state of Pennsylvania. Kerry and Sean were from Warren, PA and were just as lucky as we were to be on this highway enjoying the million dollar views. It is always nice to run into people from your neck of the woods. Somehow, running into someone from your home state never seems to get old. Thanks for following our adventures Kerry and Sean.
The Winding Road…
Colorado certainly could have kept us rolling around her roads a bit longer, for there are plenty of hikes and hot springs to consider. Instead, we were feeling a magnetic pull towards New Mexico, which is known as “The Land of Enchantment” for good reason. Besides, we had a ton of work ahead of us…
See how long we spent in New Mexico and the tasks we had ahead of us in my next post. Until then, keep wondering and wandering!