… not to mention a bit of Utah.
Not as long a day, driving-wise (just 303 miles), but another thoroughly enjoyable one. I’m in the beautifu town of Steamboat Springs, a world away from the partially similarly named town of last night.
So the story of how I got here….
Domestic niceties like repacking bags, breakfast, checking out and petrol (another song and dance brought about by pay-at-the-pump wanting a zip code not a PIN) and I was on the road for 08:45. Actually, I was retracing my steps a little, going back to Green River. There was an abandoned gas station on the old road with the Interstate in the background that I wanted to go back and photograph as it reminded me so much of “Cars” and the fictional Radiator Springs. Ordinarily I’d follow the Never Go Back mantra, but my route for the day took me through Green River anyway. I mixed it up a little by traversing the short section of I80 I missed out last night, but it was still 09:15 before I was on new ground, heading south on State Rt 530.
For the first twenty miles or so, this was almost unchanged from the landscape I’d passed through approaching Green River last night, which I suppose is no surprise. Then I reached the edge of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Actually, other than occasional glimpses of the flooded canyon below, and lots of National Forest signs, even the early stages of that were still fairly average.
Things improved a little as the road skirted the edge of Linwood Bay, just before the Utah state line. This provided a decent view point and the first worthwhile photographic stop. A dazzling blue bird like a kingfisher fluttered away as I pulled into the empty parking lot, no chance of photographing it though. Onwards and my first introduction to Utah, a little town called Manilla was a bit of a disappointment – lots of home made scrap yards. Then I turned left onto Rt44 and headed south. The next ten miles I imagine would be a geography teacher’s wildest dream. I was never much into geology, but the stunning rock formations and the stories behind them (helpfully described in large motorist friendly interpretation boards) are incredible.
I turned off Rt44 and followed signs for a “geology loop” along Sheep Creek Canyon, but bottled it after a few miles, not least as it turned into a dirt road. Mainly, however, I had no clue where it was taking me except away from where I’d planned to go. When I later saw where it rejoined Rt.44, I was glad I turned around as I’d have missed some of the best views of the day (and right up there for the entire trip – see top of this post as an example).
I wouldn’t say it was all downhill from there, although in a literal sense it was for several miles, but nothing which followed matched the splendour of those ten miles. The view looking south on the way down wasn’t too shabby though…
My drive took me through the town of Vernal, where I grabbed a sandwich for lunch from a 7-Eleven. I hung on to it, hoping for somewhere decent to pull over and have a picnic, and the Utah Welcome Centre at Jenson worked a treat. Having enjoyed my lunch on a shaded picnic bench I went inside and had a chat with the two volunteers. I told them I was headed for Denver and they suggested Steamboat Springs as a good overnight staging post – confirming what I already had in mind.
It was very hot and very sunny, that’s my excuse for looking stupid.
(Not sure why a dinosaur is biting my head though)
The next umpteen miles were through very same-ish landscapes – certainly not flat or boring, but relentless. Every so often town would pop-up, its proximity foreshadowed by scrappy properties or industrial premises such as quarries or haulage yards, and a noticeable increase in traffic. The Utah/Colorado state line broke up the monotony a little, not least as I missed it at the 65mph limit so had to U turn to go back and photograph it (again, so much for Never Go Back!). For the most part, whilst I wasn’t the only vehicle on the road, there were huge distances separating me from those in front or behind – a situation I relished.
The town of Craig also served to break things up a bit, quite large and even had its own one way system to keep the long distance travellers’s mind on the job. I stopped at a prosaically named garage & convenience store called “Go-fer”, for coffee and WiFi. This was the first decent data I’d had all day and as it was late in the UK, I couldn’t touch base with the homeland.
So a little after 16:00 I approached Steamboat Springs. Initial impressions were positive (no interstate style hoardings, but having said that; a small family business, the name of which I’ve etched out of my consciousness but they sell cowboy gear, advertised with repeated hand painted painted yellow signs for, literally, 75 miles on the approach). I drove the length of the main street of the downtown area and turned back to investigate pretty much the first place I’d seen, called Nordic Lodge. I should point out that the narrow valley of the Yampa River makes Steamboat Springs a long, thin town and that it is an out-of-season ski resort. What this meant in practice was that whilst I’d driven the length of the tourist resort, I’d not, at that point, ventured as far as the ‘real’ town where all the locals’ shops are located (along with several chain hotels).
Turns out that my choice of the Nordic Lodge Motel wasn’t at all bad, though relatively expensive. I’d kinda hoped/expected this would be one of the cheaper evening stays. The clerk who checked me in was a Pole (i.e. he is from Poland!) so we had a bit of back and forth over accents. He gave me the “Over 50s” discount on the rate – I’d like to think as the most credible way of helping out a fellow European, rather than me looking over 50, though as there’s only 14 months in it, who knows. It still wasn’t cheap. On the up side, it is right in the centre of where the attractions of Steamboat are, and the room is pretty swish. (Oh, and I’m on the top floor, so no elephants tonight, I hope).
I walked out along the main street, Lincoln Avenue, watching the hustle and bustle. This was like I’d hoped Jackson would be and was very much like McCall. Lots of tourists, and lots of shops helping them spend their money. If this is “out of season”, I bet it really buzzes in the winter. After half an hour I returned and got the car to drive to the ‘local’ part of the town. I sourced room supplies from a liquor store (six pack of Breckenridge (Denver, CO) Oatmeal Stout 4.9% (not that I ever planned on all six in one go!) and Safeway. I also noted with glee that there’s a Starbucks in this part of town, though it was too hot for coffee by this point. Maybe tomorrow, but breakfast is included, so maybe not…
Having dumped the car and freshened up (I did investigate the outdoor pool which looked tempting but was a bit too busy for my liking) I walked the few blocks to the Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill – at the recommendation of the desk clerk. Again, this was everything I could possibly have hoped it could be – craft beer brewed on the premises, a fine burger, and the Red Sox game on the television. The latter being due to the Colorado Rockies being the visitors at Fenway, so it was on for the few locals at the bar. Better still, it was the third inning and the Sox were already well ahead. They won 11-4. Beers sampled were; Life O’ Riley Pale Ale, Dave’s Downtown Brown and Powdercat Porter. Most remarkable was they were $4 a pint (i.e. about £2.50 – the lowest cost beer I have had in a long time – Trig’s homebrew excepted! Oh, and Colin & Carl’s beer fridges! Thanks guys…)
I’d have stopped for a fourth only the waitress had already sorted my check out with me and didn’t look interested in serving me another, so I left and explored down by the river. The sun was much lower in the sky, making it much pleasanter outside. Several fly-fishermen were trying their luck and a girl on horseback was allowing her mount and another horse enjoy a paddle in the river. The word ‘idyllic’ springs to mind.