Mount Crested Butte, Colorado (Part I)

6-20-2012

Venus sits bright in the early morning sky between the limbs of two oak trees behind me.  My right hand squeezes the trigger of the sprayer sending a shower of water across the square foot vegetable beds.  A cool breeze blows from the southwest beneath low scattered cloud cover.  There is daylight though the sun has not yet crested the horizon.

My Sister-In-Law and her kids are already in Mount Crested Butte, Colorado.  My mother, sister and her kids and myself will be meeting them at a rented townhouse there tomorrow afternoon.  They flew, we will drive.  They are there for vacation, I am headed for the Crested Butte Writers Conference.  I hope things go as planned, that I will meet new people and learn a lot of new and interesting things.  I am looking forward to being back in the mountains.

We leave home at an elevation of about 1,150 feet above sea level, according to the GPS.  A short while later we are traveling down highway 82 headed to highway 287 and our first stop in Childress, Texas.  I tried streaming music via my iPhone 4s while using it as a navigation device at the same time (plugged into the vehicle stereo), but AT&T’s Edge network doesn’t seem to have enough bandwidth to support this feature.  I wonder how long before we get better 3G coverage in this area of Texas.

I am currently writing in a 70 sheet, college-ruled, one subject notebook that is laying atop a small pillow in my lap.  I have four of these notebooks in case I decide to change subjects.  My left leg is crossed over my right knee and my foot is beginning to go numb.

The clouds in the sky have mostly burned off now and the sun reflects off the window through the passenger side mirror.  My mother decided to drive the first leg of the trip.  She describes the surrounding ranch land we are passing through to my nephews.  I reflect on the sun as it reflects on me, thinking about the morning that is quickly being left behind, and for some reason recollections of last year’s wildfires in Texas fill my brain.

The drought has become serious in many portions of Texas and last year was a really bad one.  All of the ponds on my mother’s ranch almost went dry and lake levels in some areas fell dramatically (look at the lakes that supply water to Austin for instance).  Hay prices skyrocketed, and ranchers had to make drastic adjustments, if not quitting the business altogether.  Some small towns had to be saved from losing their waterAlmost 4,000,000 acres in Texas were estimated to have been burned.  

Is this a new trend, or just a stage of a very old one.  Maybe I have been thinking on too small of a time scale.  Perhaps I should be thinking like Milutin Milankovitch (1979-1958) did and worrying about how future generations will live through environmental shifts caused by axial obliquity and axial tilt.   

I was 18 months old when I first visited Colorado.  My earliest memory comes from this trip.  My grandmother’s brother was an locomotive engineer out of Tucumcari, New Mexico but also drove the train between Silverton and Durango for a period of time.  Some where on that train trip between Silverton and Durango, as an 18 month old child I remember looking out over the edge of this cliff.  The sheer drop stuck in my mind then as vivid as it is now.

(Back to the drive to Amarillo)

We must have climbed onto the Llano Estacado, the GPS is reporting an elevation of 3,500 feet above sea level.  Amarillo won’t be far now as I am finally picking up 3G on my cell phone again (although it registers as 4G due to the dual antennas in the phone).  

After a stop at The Big Texan we are traveling north out of Amarillo.  The landscape really changes where I see the first steep grade road sign.  Small yucca, sparse grass, and pump jacks dot the desert-like terrain.  As we pass through them I think about how many different products come from petroleum.  How integrated is it really into our society, our products, our necessities? How long can civilization be sustained at its present rate of growth by petroleum?

Eventually the pump jacks are no more and sagebrush grows in great quantities until we drive through another area filled with cholla cactus and a wind farm.  The wind farm reminds me of a TED talk I watched with T. Boone Pickens speaking about the need for the next generation to figure out alternative energy sources quickly.  The cholla cactus populations are eventually replaced by yucca fields once again.

In far North Texas, between Oklahoma and New Mexico, irrigated farmland and flat plains return, though at a higher altitude (around 4,000 feet above sea level).  Another oil field appears, marked by the pump jacks and I find myself still thinking about matters such as peak oil and wondering if such a thing really exists.  I hope humans come up with an even better cheap energy source that is publicly available before too long.  

Eventually we cross into New Mexico and arrive in the late afternoon/early evening in the Raton Basin, named partially after the town of Raton, where we have dinner with a friend, get a quick tour of Raton and finally get some sleep.