Driving through Nebraska on the second day of our vacation took us past farms, all lush and green in the bright sunshine against brilliant blue skies, thanks to recent copious rains. Despite Nebraska’s great width and mostly unchanging scenery, we found the landscape soothing and restful–just the medicine we needed after months of intensity in our work lives. Also, being from the Midwest, the sight of a flat landscape feels familiar and comforting, as do farm fields, cattle, and barns. All of it reminded me of the 1992 film O Pioneers!, which was filmed in Nebraska and based on Willa Cather’s 1913 novel of the same name.
At midday, we stopped in North Platte at Valentino’s for lunch, in homage to friends of that name. Back on the road, we revisited our childhoods by getting gas at a Sinclair station and admiring the dinosaur logo. Once in Colorado, we visited a rest stop in Sterling, which ranks as perhaps the cleanest of its kind, with the friendliest staff. We lingered a bit to enjoy cookies and conversation; on the way out, we admired Metamorphosis, an enormous statue featuring a caterpillar at the bottom and an emerging butterfly at the top.
By late afternoon, we arrived in Denver. The next day, friends took us up to Rocky Mountain National Park, where the elevation exceeds 8,000 feet at the entrance and climbs sharply from there. Once inside, the park’s abundant wildlife became evident immediately via the elk grazing close to the road. We headed up to Bear Lake, where crowds of people in shorts basked in the warm sunshine while hiking about on the foot of snow that had fallen the night before. Coming through a clearing, we gasped as the lake came into view, its cold, clear mountain water partly covered in ice that sparkled in the brilliant midday light. After a brief walk, we left for Sprague Lake, where we found a shady spot to eat our sandwiches and cookies and then strolled the trail around the lake. In the water, a guide wearing waders was teaching two younger men how to fly fish.
Afterward, we drove Trail Ridge Road, which affords breathtaking views of the park from dizzying heights of more than 12,000 feet in some parts. By then, it had become evident my body is one of those prone to altitude sickness, so my activity thereafter consisted of breathing deeply in the backseat to get oxygen into my system, drinking water to thin my blood and relieve the sickness, and exiting the car cautiously at each viewing area to look around (but not too close to the edge of any cliffs) and take photos. The sights we witnessed made up for my physical discomfort, however. The higher we drove, the deeper the snow, until the road was fenced on one side with a massive, high wall of white, with the other side open to the scenery (and steep drop) below. At the Continental Divide, snow covered most of the ground, except where someone had dug out the explanatory sign. During the journey, we watched the terrain change from high desert to alpine to tundra, and we saw the trees shift from pine to fir and aspen and then to nothing as we drove above the treeline. At the highest part of the road, we got out to witness other visitors throwing snowballs; by then, the altitude had me breathless and staggering. On the way down, we looked out over alpine meadows, natural waterfalls bursting forth and streams gushing in a frenzy, fed from melting snow on the mountain tops. At a lower altitude, we passed moose grazing with their young.
Sated visually from so much spectacular scenery, we followed Trail Ridge Road to the end and left the park. On the journey home, we found a New Orleans style fish place and stopped for dinner. Now full in every possible way, we headed back to Denver and an early bedtime for me.