This is a multi-part trip report, if you haven't already you should start with Part 1. Remember too that you can click on any of the photos to see larger versions of them.
I wished we'd done the drive from Estes Park east in the daylight. Even in the dark, I recognized it as a place from childhood: at about Mandy's age, I saw these mountains for the first time and I still remember my amazement. I remember yelling "look at that one!" at every turn, pointing straight up at the mountains looming above our truck. If I'd known this was the place, we could have come this way on the way in. On the other hand, maybe it's okay that this remains my memory, unshared: her memories of her first mountains here will be about backpacking above the trees, about cooking stew over a tiny camp stove at dusk, about having an alpine lake all to herself at dawn. And that's all right.
We make it past Denver before stopping at a Hampton Inn. Already asleep, Mandy stumbles into bed. She's still wearing dirty hiking clothes, with greasy hair and chappy lips, but she's framed by the clean snow-white covers she's snuggled into, and she's asleep again immediately.
Bryan and I unpack damp tents and rain jackets and socks and drape them over the lamps and television, immediately transforming a very nice hotel room into what looks like a bad secondhand gear store. After a week without showers, the hot water and soft washcloths feel luxurious.
Saturday's drive is an easy one, since we have a head start. I fill out postcards while Bryan drives and Mandy listens to an audiobook; we all enjoy the view as the front range retreats into memory. When I take my turn driving, Bryan, my constant companion and best friend, once again becomes a bored toddler.
We try to stretch out our vacation, stopping at roadside attractions and points of interest. Now we know all about that goofy-looking lump south of Pueblo: Huerfano Butte is a volcanic remnant, named "Orphan" in Spanish, because it's out in a field, all by itself.
We stop in Walsenburg at their wonderful old post office, which smells like paper and glue, as a post office should, to mail our last postcards. We say goodbye to the big mountains here at the Sangre De Cristos.
We also pull off the interstate to learn about the site of the Ludlow Massacre, also known as the "Birthplace of Public Relations."
We arrive in Raton in the early afternoon, and eat at the Sands Motel, another ratty-ass diner. We order from the Mexican menu again and aren't disappointed. Again on the advice of my coworker, whose knowledge of northeastern New Mexican cuisine is somewhat baffling, we buy some tortillas from a little shop along the road and head east.
The drive through New Mexico is pretty. The sky is perfect summer blue, behind the parched-grass ranches with their scattered mesas and hills. The Capulin Volcano almost convinced us to stop, but instead Bryan took photos of it as I drove by. The pastures here are scattered with chunks of black igneous rock, scattered in piles, either belched up out of the ground ages ago or thrown here by the explosions of ancient volcanoes.
The land changes as we cross into Texas: it becomes flatter, with cornfields and irrigation equipment replacing the scruffy pasture. We skip supper, since we're still full from lunch, and arrive in Amarillo in the early evening.
Our hotel here is nice. We've missed the free beer hour but the tap is unattended and Bryan helps himself; we find that cheap beer is much better when it's free and accompanied by popcorn. I go to the pool with Mandy, which is mobbed. "Why don't you ask one of those girls to play?" I ask. "Oh, they already asked me but I told them that I'm not sociable." Mandy does fine with adults, and fine on her own; other kids baffle her.
The story continues...
Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7