Back Roads in America

Two lane back road through forests in southeastern America

Two lane back road through forests in southeastern America

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” – Charles Kuralt.

Driving over 800 miles last week from St. Petersburg to Vicksburg Mississippi, only 27 of the miles were on interstates. Seven miles were on I-275 (the Howard Franklin Bridge), and 20 miles were on I-10 in northwest Florida.

I drove up the west coast of Florida, along the panhandle, and then north and west through Alabama and Mississippi to Vicksburg, located on the east bank of the Mississippi River. The drive was very scenic and much less stressful than driving on the interstates. The Interstate Highway System seems to have become concrete railways for 18 wheel trucks. There are just so many large trucks on the interstates.

Driving on the two lane country roads I did see many logging trucks. The number of cemeteries I saw really struck me. Seeing all those grave stones made me think that under each gravestone was someone who once had a life here and a story. All the cemeteries reminded me of a game that my mother had us play when my parents drove us cross county on summer vacations. She would have us count the cows on our side of the road, the person with the most cows after arriving at the destination won. However, if there was a cemetery on your side of the road, that meant all your cows died, and you had to start over again at zero. Usually by the time we arrived at the destination, interest in the game was long over.

I also drove through many ghost towns. The long ago forgotten towns consisted of a few rusted and crumbling buildings. People once filled these tiny roadside towns many years ago, some of them are now probably buried in the many cemeteries I passed.

The GPS Navigation System made driving on the back roads much easier. I would have missed some of the back road turns in the small towns. Getting lost in a small town is easier than one would imagine. The only problem with the NAV system is the display was almost impossible to see while wearing prescription polarized sunglasses. To see the NAV display I had to keep switching over to regular glasses. Driving the back roads is also kind of lonely. I started to take a liking to the female voice on the NAV system giving me directions. She was even polite while saying, “Make a u-turn as soon as possible.” I can imagine a passenger saying, “Where the hell are you going?” While playing around with some of the settings on the NAV unit, I found out that her name was Samantha. I suppose you can choose different voices, but I was starting to bond with Samantha, so I didn’t look at the other options.

Getting good diesel fuel is a challenge on back roads. Many of the abandoned buildings in the ghost towns were gas stations. Getting a load of sour diesel fuel would be a disaster. I tried to get fuel where there is a large volume of fuel dispersed, which mostly means around interstates if possible. Several times I crossed over interstates and would refuel there.

I’m going to rest for a few days in Vicksburg, there is a lot of history to see here. While driving the rig is a lot of fun, the driving can also be a little stressful and tiring. I can easily drive a car 500 miles – 700 miles in a day. I only feel comfortable driving the coach 200 miles – 250 miles a day. The rig is slower, requires more concentration, effort, and more anticipation of other drivers on the road.

The following quotes are also from Charles Kuralt. I used these quotes in a post back in May, but the quotes seem worth repeating and even more appropriate now after the last week’s adventures.

“The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.”

“There are a lot of people who are doing wonderful things, quietly, with no motive of greed, or hostility toward other people, or delusions of superiority.”

“It does no harm just once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn’t in flames, that there are people in the country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals.”

Rodney Atkins – Take A Back Road

Like Flour for Sand

Ripples of sand formed overnight by wind on Carrabelle Beach

Ripples of sand formed overnight by wind on Carrabelle Beach

Historical Marker commemorating U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division from WWII

Historical Marker commemorating U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division from WWII

Pristine coastline of Carrabelle Beach, 20 miles east of Apalachicola FL

Pristine coastline of Carrabelle Beach, 20 miles east of Apalachicola FL

Most of my life I’ve lived just a few miles away from Florida beaches. Never have I felt or seen sand quite like the sand on Carrabelle Beach. The texture of the sand was so fine I felt as if I was walking on flour. The stunning sugar-white beaches are composed of fine quartz eroded from granite in the Appalachian Mountains. Carried seaward by rivers and creeks, currents deposit the sand along the shore. The sand is so fine that wind blowing overnight covered all the footprints that were on the beach yesterday evening. Tiny little waves of sand caused by the wind now covered the beach.

I used to think the sand at Clearwater Beach was the nicest I’d ever seen. While the sand is very nice there, it is almost impossible to get to Clearwater Beach anymore, and if you can get there, find a place a to park. And if you find a place to park, thousands of people surround you. This morning there were just a handful of people on the beach.

Reading the following on a historical marker on Carrabelle Beach sent chills up and down my spine. I realized that this place was one of the last places many of these soldiers ever saw the United States. These boys and men sacrificed their lives to save our country and the world.

“In late 1943, Carrabelle Beach and Dog Island, while they were a part of Camp Gordon Johnston, were used by the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division to train for the Normandy Invasion on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. The Amphibious Training Center had been officially closed, but it was reopened and staffed for the purpose of training for this important mission. Although the troops had trained for over three years, the amphibious training conducted on this site was the last step before shipping out to England for the invasion. On D-Day, the first amphibian infantry assault teams to arrive on French soil were from the 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach. On June 6, 2000, the Camp Gordon Johnston Association extracted a small amount of soil from this site and delivered it to the National 4th Infantry Division Association to be placed in the Association’s monument in Arlington, VA. The U.S. Department of Defense’s World War II Commemoration Committee in 1995 named the Camp Gordon Johnston Association an official ‘Commemorative Community.'”

Road Trip to Nowhere

The "Sunwapta" in Perry, near the Panhandle of Florida

The “Sunwapta” in Perry, near the Panhandle of Florida

Embarking on a road trip with no destination made me feel calm, peaceful, and free. I really have no idea of where I am going or how long I will be traveling. I am just heading North By Northwest until I find cooler temperatures. There is no plan, no schedule, and no agenda. Well I suppose there is one plan, find cooler temperatures.

I remember a TV show were the lead character left the show. His final scene was in a cafe along a desolate road in the southwest, probably somewhere in the New Mexico or Arizona desert. As he leaves and pays his bill, the waitress asks him, “Where you headed?” He says, “No where in particular.” She replied, “Well how will you know when you get there?” He answered, “That is a good question, who knows, that is a very good question, have a great day.” And with that, he gets in his car and drives off into the sunset with a voice over saying that he believes in happy endings. That scene in the lonely cafe on the empty stretch of desert road completely captures how I feel about my upcoming travels.

The San Juan Mountains – Epilogue

San Juan Mountains heading towards Rico from Telluride

San Juan Mountains heading towards Rico from Telluride

Western regions of the San Juan Mountain Range

Western regions of the San Juan Mountain Range

The Beautiful San Juan Mountains

The Beautiful San Juan Mountains

Beautiful wilderness forest carpeting the San Juan Mountain Range

Beautiful wilderness forest carpeting the San Juan Mountain Range

Most people have not heard of or know about the San Juan Mountain Range in southwest Colorado. Perhaps the obscurity is a good thing because there are fewer people there. More folks are familiar with the front range of mountains in Colorado. Located in the front range are the towns of Vail, Breckenridge and Aspen. The front range is probably better known because the front range is closer to the metropolitan area of Denver and access is much easier.

In southwest Colorado, there is a more remote, dramatic, larger, and what I think more beautiful mountain range, the San Juans Mountains. The San Juan Mountains are a high and rugged mountain range. Towns that may sound familiar in the San Juans are; Telluide, Silverton, Ouray, Montrose, Gunnison, and Pagosa Springs, The San Juans are younger than the front range of the Rockies near Denver. The roads are steeper, the mountains are higher and more dramatic, and best of all, there are fewer people here. The San Juans may the most beautiful part of America, ranking right up there with the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, and Glacier National Park in Montana. Some could also make the case for the Cascade Range in the northwest part of America from northern California through Washington. Of course, there is Alaska also, but Alaska is in a league of its own.

I first became familiar with the San Juans back in 1997 during a bike tour with Timberline Adventures. That nine-day adventure cycling in the San Juans, started in Durango, then riding to; Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, Montrose, Gunnison, Lake City, South Fork, Pagosa Springs, and back to Durango. That tour was one of the hardest rides I ever did in my life.

We crossed the continental divide twice during this tour, once at Spring Creek Pass between Lake City and South Fork, and a second time at Wolf Creek Pass, between South Fork and Pagosa Springs. The headwaters of the Rio Grand originate from high in the San Juans near Spring Creek Pass and drains the east side of the range. The western slope of the San Juans is drained by tributaries of the San Juan, Delores, and Gunnison rivers which all flow into the Colorado River. The San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests cover a large part of the San Juans.

There are six peaks over 14,000 feet above sea level, 19 peaks over 13,000 feet, and dozens over 12,000 ft in the San Juan Mountain Range.

Old mining roads connect many of these mining towns. Precious metals mined from this area include gold, silver, as well as lead, zinc, copper. Of course, incredible destruction and pollution occurred during this mining. Clean up efforts are still going on today. Progress is occurring, but a large cleanup effort still remains. When I hear the advertising claims about the clear pure Coors Beer Rocky Mountain Spring Water, I think about all the polluted waters from these mines. I don’t drink Coors Beer. Last summer, the EPA accidentally released three millions gallons of toxic yellow sludge into Colorado’s waterways north of Silverton and the pollution spread 100 miles into New Mexico. I think I will stick with Sam Adams Oktoberfest, just hoping they are not using water from Boston Harbor.

Link to EPA Spill and the Colorado Gold Rush

What Was the EPA Thinking?

The mountain range formation occurred during a series of 5 volcanic eruptions, each with a magnitude 10 times greater than that of Mount Saint Helens. These eruptions occurred around 30 million years ago. Causing some of this volcanic activity was the subduction occurring with the North American tetonic plate  colliding with Pacific Plate. This was the second mountain range to occur in the area. The first one occurred over 300 million years ago, and with time, completely eroded. The present range was originally over twice as high as it is now, showing the power of wind, rain, and water erosion over time.

This is all very confusing and difficult to me to understand. For those of you are further interested the geology of these mountains which goes back billions of years, here is the best link I could find that explains it.

SAN JUAN VOLCANIC FIELD (SJVF), COLORADO

The science and history over the billions of year is difficult to understand. I mostly included the link to give one a perspective of the age of the earth, and the incredible forces that shaped it over the eons.

My finite mind cannot comprehend the seemingly infinite time where all this mountain building occurred. For me, it’s mostly enough to just be in awe of the beauty and realize that I am just here for such an incredibly short time compared to the events that formed these mountains, literally just a flash of existence. The grandeur of it all helps me keep life in perspective and in my faith with God.

Link to Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages

 

Bear Creek Falls Trail

Hiking up Bear Creek Falls Trail

Hiking up Bear Creek Falls Trail

Headed towards Bear Creek Falls surround by pine trees and dramatic sheer vertical mountains

Headed towards Bear Creek Falls surround by pine trees and dramatic sheer rock vertical mountains

Looking back towards the valley that cradles Telluride from Bear Creek Falls Trail

Looking back towards the valley that cradles Telluride from Bear Creek Falls Trail

The hike up Bear Creek Falls Trail went much better than the Jud Wiebe Trail Hike. While both trails climb over 1000 feet above the canyon floor, the Bear Creek Falls Trail is an out and back trail 2.5 miles each way. While most of the hike was still between 9,000 ft and 10,000 ft, the grade on the Bear Creek Falls Trail for the most part was much less than the grade of the Jud Wiebe Trail. The Jud Wiebe gained 1000 feet elevation in just a little more than a mile. The Bear Creek Falls Trail is obviously much more popular. The trail in some places is 20 feet wide and well worn, until you reach the last one half mile where the trail becomes quite narrow and steep. The Jud Wiebe Trail is single track almost the entire way, rarely more than two feet wide.

I saw probably 100 people on the Bear Creek Falls Trail, and over 50 dogs. Some of the dogs were quite small, with legs only a few inches long, but they were joyfully scampering up and down the trail with ease. I’m pretty sure this town has more dogs than people. Everyone was very friendly and said hello which eased much of the loneliness I felt on this trip.  On the Jud Wiebe Trail, I saw maybe 20 people at most. Both hikes took about three hours.

I don’t actually have a good photo of the falls. There are always idiots who decide they have to climb up the side of the waterfall so I was waiting from them to leave before taking pictures. While resting at the top of the trail next to the falls I heard rumbles of thunder. I looked up and realized the sky suddenly darkened. I quickly decided being out in a thunderstorm near the top a mountain with aluminum hiking poles was not a good idea. After hearing thunder a second time, I put on my backpack, headband, and hat, and scampered back down the trail as quickly as I could. Fortunately very few rain drops fell on me, and the sound of thunder soon diminished.

The trail connects near the edge of Telluride, directly next to a brewpub, how convenient. I immediately went into the pub to collect my well-earned reward, a Betty Blonde Amber Ale. I had the best Mac and Cheese I ever remember there. I ordered an appetizer expecting a small bowl, and instead out came this huge full plate of Mac and Cheese. I was very hungry after the five-mile hike and 1000 feet of ascending and descending, but I still struggled to finish the meal.

The Bear Creek Falls Trail hike way exceeded my expectations. The sheer rock vertical rocks of the mountains were truly impressive and awe-inspiring. The skies changing from bright sun to dark threatening clouds made the day surrealistic.

Cajsa Siik – Higher