More Properly Known as: Liberal, Kansas to Trinidad, Colorado – May 2015
Just after the Sun peaked in the sky on May 16th, we were in the pre-trolling phase of convective development. For today we were just outside of Liberal, Kansas. There had been a moderate risk placed early that morning which stretched from Liberal, Kansas down to Childress, Texas.
We overslept, and the better risk appeared to be down south in Texas, however at this point we were too far north, and apparently more interested in Braum’s burgers than whatever the hell was going on outside with the atmosphere.
Road Food Time!
It was around 2pm when the towering cumulus clouds appeared to be anything but towering. Notably it wasn’t exactly humid outside as would be preferred for a storm day.
After the repulsively delicious and hedonistic meal was finished, we went out to the car and sat on our asses before driving further south out of town.
Stuck in a loop of indecisiveness and uncertainty, we drove across the Oklahoma and Kansas border about 5 times in less than an hour.
Each time we ended up in Liberal, we passed the Dorothy statue one more time. After about five back and forth passes, I was beyond sick of seeing her. We secretly wanted to stop at the Dorothy house and yet never did (and have attempted but arrived just minutes too late in subsequent trips).
After several hours, some storms were finally beginning to form, but they looked like absolute garbage.
At first, they presented that feeling that they were going to developed into bean looking cells with hooks on radar.
However, they were just dissipating showers that didn’t present much more than some sloppy scud.
To Chase or Not to Chase?
It was around 6pm when the sun was getting very low in the sky, that we decided the day needed to come to a close. I looked at the forecasts for the next couple of days.
The Day 2 outlook had an enhanced risk in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota for the next day. We were so pissed off (well…not even pissed off…just completely dead on a spiritual level at this point) that we didn’t give a pig’s shit about the weather anymore.
“Oh, the driving time to reach tomorrow’s storm target is 11 hours and it’s already 7 pm? Is there any way we can do that?? Hey, look how close we are to Colorado!”
As the sun fell another octave in the sky, we were heading due west out of the small town of Guymon on US highway 270/412, down through the bottom of the Oklahoma panhandle.
I’ve been all over Oklahoma, but I had never driven in the actual panhandle, unlike in Texas. The entire 60 mile stretch was like driving towards the edge of the Earth, where the old maps say “There be monsters here!”
Edge of the Planet
The earth was as flat and open as I had ever seen in my entire life, only comparably to the open ocean. Nothing but tall grass was present in the surrounding fields.
Very occasionally, you would see an abandoned homestead house….we are talking 90 years of being abandoned. There was nothing but a rotting log frame and the shell of a Conestoga wagon sitting deep in the field. What a waste land! It was almost as if you were driving through a long forgotten western movie scene.
The wind was blowing powerfully as it very often does in western plains, and the car was whistling wildly and being thrown about all over the road.
It truly seemed as if we were driving towards the edge of the Earth. After all, there were no real signs of animal or plant life, save for some dry grass. You could hardly imagine what it would have been like to be here 100 years ago, with no cars or modern conveniences.
Just the mission to settle an unclaimed land with the hopes of giving your family an opportunity to live. Even more so for the first explorers that knew nothing of the open land. What was beyond this vast table grassland?
The weather conditions the Oklahoma panhandle experiences are among the most extreme on Earth once you’ve accounted for everything.
Summers are often brutally hot with long droughts and some wildfires, winters bring large snow totals with intense blizzards along with below zero temperatures, dust storms do blow up on from time to time, and there’s even the occasional earthquake.
Oh and of course, all of the tornadoes.
Welcome to Guymon, Oklahoma. A quaint old western town of about 15,000 people.
There was a Braum’s Ice Cream store sign just down the road, a mainstay when travelling in and near Oklahoma.
Smarter than the Milkshake
Braum’s has numerous stores, but only within 250 miles of their farm headquarters, in order to keep everything fresh.
Throughout our days in Oklahoma, I had ordered at least 100 chocolate shakes from Braums. Every single one of them was better than the rest, and I always swore it would be my last in the name of health.
“I don’t want to take the chance of getting a stomach ache.” Sarah said as we pulled into the drive-thru lane.
I immediately spouted back that I had sucked down hundreds of chocolate shakes from Braum’s before without an issue, so I was absolutely certain there wasn’t going to be even the slightest bit of a problem.
As the sunset, we crossed through Boise City. This was a neat looking town that had a large traffic circle (roundabout) with the county courthouse in the middle.
Sadly that is all we allowed ourselves to see of the town at the time. The patterns in our life dictate that we will eventually return.
Land of Enchantment
We dipped out of town and continued west southwest towards New Mexico.
The end of Oklahoma was the giant tallgrass table surface land fading fast into the dark. Your forward vision displayed steep rocky hills and bluffs suddenly appearing, but just dark enough that they were now virtually silhouettes.
Around this time, a disturbance was beginning to brew in the southern regions of my abdomen. Pressure was building and I even began to feel a bit queasy.
A Glimpse of The Angel of Death
As night fell, we crossed into New Mexico, and gained one hour back on the clock!
Time zone subtractions are like bonus credits while cross country driving. Drive far enough west and eventually you will get to relive an entire hour of your life, or so I would like to think.
Just across the border, the pressure in my stomach had gone from disturbing to very intense, and it seemed as if a fiery liquid was organizing and preparing an attack on my rectum. The endless views of three foot tall brown grass in all directions continued.
As we entered Clayton, New Mexico, I was now feeling as if a swordfish was repeatedly stabbing me in the lower intestinal region with a very impressive amount of force.
There was an Alsup’s ahead, a gas station seen in nearly every east New Mexico and west Texas town, famous for their burritos. As I pulled into the parking lot, I was beginning to hyperventilate.
Could I make it?
Most Alsups’ bathrooms only allowed a single person to occupy at a time, so this was a grave concern in this heated moment.
I opened the door and began storming across the front of the store, but was quickly halted by the very friendly greetings from the employees as well as a couple of customers that were at the checkout lines by the front door.
Rural New Mexico is one of the last places you will ever see anyone in a hurry, and most people are impressively kind.
After finally landing my ass on a toilet in the back, and through the blinding pain that I was experiencing, I could finally accept the inevitable humor and irony of the moment.
“I have Braum’s milkshakes all of the time and I never had any issues!” I had so arrogantly boasted just two hours prior.
What seemed like used motor oil mixed with blood came out of me, and after fifteen minutes of the apex and immediate PTSD from all of the suffering and pain, I finally limped out of the one man bathroom, badly wounded, (but not entirely destroyed), from the entire ordeal.
Sarah was giggling when she informed me that the employees of the store had been asking if I was going to be okay.
A Renewed Chance at Life Continues Westward
It was just after dusk, and you couldn’t see anything besides the yellow signs and some very faint colored lines in the sky. It was still pretty obvious that we were suddenly driving through some semi-desert hills. The hills grew in size, and the road now frequently alternated from two lanes to four and back down to two again.
While making our way deeper into the empty desert night, I had a bit of fear in the back of my mind that the milkshake would be striking again soon, but thankfully it never did. I couldn’t believe I had been betrayed by my favorite milkshake like this. Was nothing in this world sacred anymore?
Our elevation had more than doubled since we left Liberal Kansas. Starting from 2800 feet above sea level to nearly 6,000 feet at the I-25 junction, and yet we had hardly seen any real hills.
The table appearance of the plains is remarkably deceiving, as you are actually travelling slightly uphill for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Now we were about to get into the real winding and hilly action, Raton Pass.
I had just enough energy to get across the pass into Colorado before sleepy time became completely mandatory.
A mountain pass is basically an area of land that is lower than all of the surrounding peaks, essentially a natural gateway through a mountain chain.
This was the third time in the last year that I found myself crossing Raton Pass. None of these trips I had ever planned on partaking, just another happenstance that seems to occur in life.
You take one small action, one small event occurs in your hometown, you give your dreams one little shot. Now you find yourself zigzagging back and forth across the country, and exotic mountain passes become your backyard.
Crashing for the Night
We arrived in Trinidad, CO, on the north side of Raton Pass, which is on the Colorado/New Mexico line itself. Staying at the Rodeway Inn, we drove up a short but very steep paved hill to the parking lot.
We had a room that faced into the hill and away from whatever the view might be. There was no way of knowing in the late night darkness.
The next morning, we awoke and saw on the weather channel that it was 43ºF outside.
Oh shit, that’s bad news. We were shivering when it was 75 degrees in Texas!
Many people have said that Colorado cold never feels as bitter as Gulf Coast or Florida cold. This seems true despite the actual temperature being much colder.
Much drier Colorado air as well as higher elevation equating to less air density is probably to blame, but I have yet to research this.
I walked out of the hotel in the only thin hoodie I had, and it felt completely comfortable to me.
It was around 745am, not too long after sunrise, and I was tired as all hell, barely able to see. My only intention at that point was to drag my feet around the perimeter of the hotel in order to get to the small but very nice lobby and grab a cup of coffee.
When I turned the second corner to the front of the building and looked up, I let out an uncontrolled gasp for the first time in probably ten years. There were the Rocky Mountains, straight ahead of me, down that steep hill we drove up late overnight.
They were far across the other side of the open valley. Majestically, they were almost completely covered in snow which was brightly reflecting the sun behind me.
It was certainly not the first time I saw the Rocky Mountains, and I knew they were right there, but it was completely out of mind at that time. The instant the vision entered my eyes, all of the disappointment and annoyance about the previous days chase evaporated. What a view to be thankful for!
I wish I could have stayed at that moment forever but those moments are only but a small snapshot in our lives, and you must move on.
Get back in the car, get back in the road, and continue on to your next destination. That goes for road trips and it goes for everyday life.
Most days might not be so pretty, but the days like the one above are what make the hundreds of others worth the effort.
Have you ever been betrayed by one of your favorite deserts or eateries? What is the most amazing landscape you were never expecting to see?