Long before the sun came up, we drove down the deserted streets of Amarillo, Texas. The darkness gave the cats courage and five of them were in the cab with us – one of each of our laps and three on the back seat.
Leaving Texas for the last time was anti-climatic. I scarcely grabbed the camera in time to snap a quick shot of a signing indicating we were leaving Texas and entering New Mexico. One hundred miles later, we crossed into Colorado. The first major city we reached was Pueblo, which I knew nothing about aside from it being the place you write for information. According to Rush Limbaugh, Pueblo is the “home of the government pamphlet.” Sure enough, it’s the home of the Federal Citizen Information Center. For over thirty years, American’s were encouraged to write for information at “Pueblo, Colorado 81009. Today, they can call 1-888-8 PUEBLO or visit www.pueblo.gsa.gov.
Contrary to its legacy, Pueblo didn’t resemble a giant post office and governmental warehouse. It’s a charming town that’s filled with turn-of-the century, ornate brick buildings. At one time, it was a major economic and social center of Colorado. One third of the downtown businesses, however, were lost during the Great Flood of 1921. Also contributed to its decline was the fall of the American steel industry in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
I’m surprised that the city isn’t used for shooting movies since it’s so picturesque and low-key. It would be a nice place to retire if you enjoyed semi-arid weather, hiking, biking, and the outdoors. The average house price is just $116,000 with a one-bedroom apartment renting for $404 per month! The downside is that it gets 31 inches of snow a year and barely 11 inches of rain. It’s hot in the summer and cold, very cold in the winter.
As we drove, Colorado became more beautiful and remained a pleasant temperature, which eased the pressure of having to keep the animals cool. My perception of Denver was based on having gotten stuck several times at their airport because of bad weather and once because of a cracked airplane windshield.
A quick drive through Denver and the surrounding dispelled my negative opinion. The dramatic, dark gray mountains jutted from lush, emerald green rolling hills that were dotted with attractive homes, small ranches, and herds of reddish brown cattle. Huge bales of hay rested in the fields as if scattered by a giant child.
Denver and the neighboring towns were new and clean with shiny buildings, blocks of malls featuring the latest hip stores and eateries, towering hotels, eye-catching transit centers with polished monorails, and neighborhoods of cookie-cutter prairie, craftsman and bungalow style homes. Now I know why people wax poetic over the “mile-high” city. It is spectacular and futuristic.
Sad to leave beautiful Colorado, I looked forward to see Wyoming and herds of shaggy buffalo. As we crossed the border, I scooted up in my seat in anticipation. An hour later, having only spotted a lone camel and some cattle, we reached Cheyenne, our stopping point for the night.
We stayed on the outskirts of the town, opposite train tracks, a Home Depot, several high-rise hotels, a truck stop, and an Outback Steak House. With little to see, and it still being light outside, Rich got a quirky idea to test the kitty harnesses and leashes that we’d brought.
While I told him that cats won’t walk on leashes, he persisted. His half-hour walk with Lunetta, my baby tortoiseshell, was something akin to the following:
Lunetta would stand in one place and look terrified. After a few minutes, she’d sprint to the nearest bush with Rich in tow. After climbing under the bush, Rich would fish her out and walk her to the center of the lawn where Lunetta stand a moment or two until her next sprint to the bushes.
Pu’Yi, my enormous male blue-point Siamese did the best job of walking… a few gentlemanly steps then sit and wait until inspired to take a few more steps. Jujube, Rich’s bratty male, striped tabby was horrified by the experience and essentially laid on his belly and refused to move.
After attempting to walk the cats, we ate an uninspiring meal at Outback then decided to review our route on the hotel computer. With warm temperatures in Idaho and forest fires, I recommended we go north to Montana. Our newly plotted route was around 50 miles longer and would end in Missoula.
To say that Wyoming and southern Montana were boring would be an understatement. For around ten hours, the same grassy plain and collection of cattle and horses were duplicated. The only change in scenery was the occasional wind block, bitty town, truck stop, ranch or metal sculpture on a tall hill. These sculptures depicted buffalo (I saw no real buffalo), Native American hunters, cowboys, and other western themes.
I don’t know why Custer fought for the land… there’s nothing in Wyoming and most of Montana expect for plains! Maybe he was smitten with prairie dogs or just enjoyed a good fight!
The one thing you could get in Wyoming was lots of tourist brochures. Oh, and there’s Yellowstone National Park. Wyoming is the ninth largest state with the smallest population — only half a million people from border to border. The state mammal is the bison and the state dinosaur is the triceratops. One is dead and the other non-existent, which says a lot about the attitude of the state. The state fish is the cutthroat trout with the state bird being the Meadowlark. Does it get any more exciting than that?
Montana was equally scintillating. Let’s see. It has nearly double the population of Wyoming and is considered the “Treasure State.” The Western Meadowlark (notice the awe-inspiring addition of “Western”) is also their state bird. Their state animal is the grizzly bear (don’t want to see any of those), the cutthroat trout, the state fish, is “Blackspotted,” and the state flower is the bitterroot (doesn’t sounds particularly fragrant or attractive).
I really had high hopes for Montana after dreary Wyoming, but it didn’t get better until Bozeman. Like much of Colorado, Bozeman is very majestic with tall, rustic mountains, fertile valleys, stunning lakes and rivers, and soaring trees. The beauty of the area not only attracts tourists, but professionals. The average housing price is $321,519, which is fairly expensive considering agriculture is the key industry and the population is only 30,000. Although, the presence of Montana State University also contributes to an increase in housing and expansion of the arts in the area, including a symphony, ballet, opera, and several theater companies.
Bozeman is a mecca for outdoor activities from fishing, hiking, biking, and sightseeing in the warm months to skiing and snowboarding in the winter. The ski season is from November to April. Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin – the largest in the area – is over 5,500 acres in size with 24 lifts and over 220 trails.
The scenery got more spectacular as we approached Missoula, our stopping point for the night. We pull into town at around 9 and we’re deeply concerned when we saw the parking lots of motel and hotels brimming with cars. We quickly found a parking spot and walked to a handful of establishments to find all of them full for the night!
School was starting at the University of Montana the following week and parents and friends were in town to help students get set up in dorms and apartments. My heart dropped. Rich had been driving since 6 a.m. that morning and was showing signs of fatigue.
Fortunately, the desk clerks at one of the hotels knew of hotels in the area and made some calls. They found a room at a Motel 8 in Saint Regis, an hour drive from Missoula. We quickly gave the birds water, emptied the cats’ litter box, jumped into the shower then immediately conked out at around 11:30 at night.