We needed a way to break up our drive time into five hour driving increments. Five or so hours to Alabaster Caverns for two nights. Five or so hours to Clayton NM for two nights. Five or so hours to Gunnison CO for three nights. This was our plan. All of our planned locations for this trip were places Michael had never been. Chris, Traci, her Chris and I used camp at Alabaster Caverns all the time. My gaze drifted down to the tent camping area often during our stay on this trip. Traci, remember that time you ended up throwing away your tent as we packed up to leave? We were still friends with James. He was there that weekend and it rained so much that we ended up trapped in our tents for a few hours. We borrowed a mop when the rain storm was over and mopped out our tents. That evening, a tarantula walked up and joined us around the campfire. It seemed like we were always there when a group of scouts were. We'd laugh at the sounds of the boys whooping and hollering as they stood under the cold outside shower, washing the layers of mud from their clothes from crawling through all the caves. Then there was the time Mom lost her cat there and we spent the day combing the area searching for it. We had permission to go all over the cave, off the main path. I found a whole skeleton of a horse tucked behind a large flat rock in one of the larger rooms.
There are three different ways to drive to Colorado. Two of those take you across Kansas. One takes you through the Oklahoma panhandle and into New Mexico before you turn north for Trinadad. As a kid and a young adult, I have travelled on all of these roads. My Dad's favorite path though, was the one that took us across the panhandle and into New Mexico. If you peeled away a layer of skin on my arm, you will find this map embedded there. Dad would drive the camper straight through the panhandle and stop in Capulin, NM for the night. At the time, or at least from what I remember from the last time we made that trip in 2006, the actual town of Capulin consisted of one campground and two rundown, abandoned buildings. The only reason the campground exists is because it is right across the street from the entrance to the Capulin Volcano National Monument. My Dad liked to stop here because he knew the guy who owned the campground. They had worked together once at American Airlines. Dad new a guy everywhere. The tradition was to spend the night in Capulin, get up early the next morning and hike the rim of the volcano before loading back up into the truck and heading on out to Colorado.
Most everything about this trip was so familiar. The roads traveled. The landscape. I knew exactly when to start looking for antelope. I knew which mounds of dirt to look at to see prairie dogs. I was unsurprised to see the roadrunners running down the fence line. I knew what time in the evening to start watching for bats to start flying around. The hot, dry, desert like air used to be the only kind of summer I knew. Baked earth. Baked skin. The way the inside of my nose always felt stuffy and on fire. Yet, there were new things too, things I'd never seen or experienced. I had never been inside Alabaster Caverns when there was so much water, enough to have a small water fall and pools of standing water with frogs and tiger striped salamanders. Even though I had been through Clayton, NM, I'd never stopped there. I had no idea that there were dinosaur tracks around Clayton lake or that they kept that lake stocked with trout. When we stopped to visit the Capulin Volcano, the National Park Visitor center was open. It didn't even exist the last time we were there. And of all the times we travelled across Hwy 160, we had never made the detour up to see the Great Sand Dunes.
This was the first time I'd been to Colorado and not caught a fish. Not a one. I left my Dad's ashes in Taylor River near our campground, part of me offering them as an appeasement to the Fish Gods. Instead the Fish Gods responded with "Oh...this guy. We remember this guy. He fished your limit a lifetime ago." Which is all true. If the limit was four fish per person and you only caught one fish, he caught the other three and said they were your's. He caught my limit of fish a lifetime ago.