Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rocky Ford, Colorado

One last pass awaited me thirty-five miles beyond Alamosa before I left the mountains and descended to the Plains--the gently graded 9,414 foot North La Veta Pass, 2,000 feet higher than Alamosa.  Sixteen miles beyond Alamosa I passed a turn to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument nestled up against the Sangre de Cristo Range.  During the winter they are one of Joel's skiing options, though his preference is Wolf Creek, which receives more snow than any other of Colorado's ski resorts.  I had visited the Dunes myself back in my youth when I attended summer camp in Buena Vista and could well remember sliding down them in the summer months.

If my legs weren't still recovering from all the energy they expended getting over Wolf Creek in the rain, I might have added one more pass to the six I had already climbed after the relatively undemanding La Veta and detoured seventy miles south to Trinidad over the more intimidating 9,941 foot Cucharas Pass on a secondary road to visit the southernmost Carnegie Library in Colorado, but I would have to save that for another time.  It was well that I didn't, as more inclement weather moved in the next day and it would have been a truly hard ride.

As it was, I shivered most of the next day on flatter terrain in a cold misty rain that had moved in during the night.  It was barely above freezing and wet when I broke camp behind a closed-down roadside cafe.  I dug out my tights and booties and wool cap for the first time and wore a neckerchief, bandito-style, pulled up over my nose.  Still, it wasn't enough to keep me warm on the day's initial sixteen-mile gradual descent to Walsenburg.  Not could my wool gloves keep my hands warm.  I had to alternately put one behind my back out of the wind, balled up into a fist, to keep them semi-functional and unfrozen.

An hour in a cafe filled with bow-hunters in camouflage as I ate a stack of hot cakes barely warmed me up.  It was only when I resumed riding on terrain that had leveled off when I could begin exerting myself did I ward off the chill that had penetrated to my bones.  The temperature never got above fifty nor did the mist that hugged the landscape ever lift.  In one way I was fortunate, as I was engaged in a 63-mile stretch between towns from Walsenburg to Hawley.  If it had been hot I would have been worried about running out of water.  In these conditions my concern was staying warm during my rest breaks.

It was a challenge too finding a place to camp without have to hop over a barbed wire fence that lined most of the treeless terrain that had just barely enough vegetation for a scattered few cattle.  I was lucky to come upon a mini-stockyard for loading cattle after fifty miles as night closed in.  It didn't provide total privacy, but there was so little traffic only two or three pick-ups passed before total dark.

I awoke to a clear sky.  It was still cold enough for tights, but I could forego my wool cap and booties.  I continued ten miles to the dot of Hawley.  I had plenty of water, so could continue on to Rocky Ford and its Carnegie, six miles to the north, before stopping for food or drink.

The first person I asked about the location of the library said it was just three blocks away and she was headed there herself.  It was a new library, but the old Carnegie was in the same large park and was now a museum.  It was by far the much more majestic of the two buildings.

The new library was so understaffed and underused that a bell sounded whenever someone opened the door to the library, whether entering or exiting.  One also needed a key to use the rest room.  Still it provided a welcome oasis.

It is the last of the Carnegies I'll visit in Colorado.  There had been one in Lamar, sixty-five miles east on my route along the old Santa Fe Trail following the Arkansas River, but it had been torn down in 1975. It'll be further into Kansas before my next Carnegie.

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