We’re here for Phish.
Despite MapQuest telling us it was 4 hours and 43 minutes from Vail, we made it much faster. Except for the layover at Wendy’s in Delta. Positively frightening, obesity on parade… They’ve turned America into one fast food nation and instead of stopping for healthy eats unique to each burg, the public is consuming crap, and looks like it. I felt sorry for these citizens. Delta is no resort town, you’re stuck here, unless you’ve got a burning desire to live the American Dream, exiting to civilization.
Oh, don’t judge me. It’s just that I’m always fascinated by why these towns exist and what brought people to live in them. There must be mining in Delta. And people must have come to dig for their fortune, or supply those who did. That’s the history of America I’m interested in. Why, in the middle of nowhere, is there a town?
We left the megalopolis of Vail just before noon. The Vail Valley is one big advertisement for planning/zoning. But once you’re past Eagle, you’re in Colorado wilderness, following the river through the canyon to Glenwood Springs. Truly beautiful.
And when you pass through the old town with its hot springs (very crowded today), and you don’t go up the Roaring Fork Valley to Aspen, you slowly descend into Grand Junction. With bluffs on each side. Hillsides carved by rushing waters or rocks or who knows what millennia ago to reveal sheer cliffs banded in red and white and vertical structures akin to mushrooms that tower in the air like a sci-fi movie.
At Grand Junction, we turned off the Interstate onto Highway 50. Heard some great tunes on the stereo. "Dancing With Mr. D"… A subpar opener (compared to "Brown Sugar"!) on "Goats Head Soup", I hadn’t heard this cut in eons, maybe since the last century. Hit the spot and had me marveling that despite everybody else falling by the wayside, Keith Richards is still alive.
And when you’re on Highway 50, it’s relatively flat, with puffy cotton clouds hovering above, and streaks of white behind them, as if Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler collaborated on a painting.
And enjoying Sirius XM, bouncing from the country station to the decades channels to Deep Tracks and the Bridge, I marveled how great satellite radio is, the fulfillment no matter where you are in the United States, but the most memorable part of the drive was the sign by the side of the highway saying: "Correctional Facility Do Not Stop For Hitchhikers". Hell, I haven’t picked up a hitchhiker since the seventies, when two guys got in my car, told me where to go, changed the radio station and just as I was getting completely freaked out, jumped out while my car was still moving.
Montrose is a pretty serious city, by backwoods standards. What truly cracked me up was the airport. It’s literally on the side of the road! You could walk off the plane and catch a cab on the main drag, or put out your thumb, although you might be mistaken for an inmate.
And then, off in the distance, the San Juans.
Like a natural fortress, the peaks rise out of an almost flat landscape and tower towards the sky. It’s truly jaw-dropping. These ain’t no Green Mountains, these are serious, like the Alps.
And then we turned off at Ridgway, thank you Stan, and the road started creeping up and up. This is the Colorado in your mind, the one evoked on the cover of that first Stephen Stills solo album and Joe Walsh’s "Barnstorm". We’re winding through the pine forests, viewing the occasional broken barn, feeling that we’re driving further and further away from civilization.
And when you hit Placerville, you make a left, and the road truly starts to ascend. Reminded me a bit of Little Cottonwood Canyon, from Sandy to Alta, a thousand feet up every mile. This wasn’t quite that steep, but in the winter…was it a disaster?
And then around a corner… Telluride.
It’s been through a few different owners.
Well, it was always a city, in a box canyon, you’ve seen the pictures. And then in the seventies, they built a ski resort, on the cheap, it took all five lifts to get to the top. But the steeps!
Then a subsequent owner poured in a bunch of money and redid the lift system and Mountain Village was erected at 9,500 feet. Hell, we were already at Vail, but I’m still adjusting to this new altitude.
And from the time we turned off at Placerville, you could feel the Phish vibe. The liquor store in Sawpit had a banner imploring Phishheads to stock up. And then, at the edge of town, we saw the tents. The first gig isn’t for another day, but people are already here. Hell, it’s the buzz in Colorado, our waiter in Vail told us he heard they were going to shut down the highway.
We made a right up to Mountain Village before we got into town. After unpacking, we’re gonna take the gondola down and explore. The shows are in town. But automobile access is limited.
I love going to new places. And although there’s infrastructure here, and even Oprah bought a place, you truly feel like you’re on the edge of the earth… Hell, isn’t that what it’s like being a fan of a band? It’s about you and the music. You and like-minded listeners. No one’s coming to Telluride on a casual basis, no one’s passing through and buying a ticket to see Phish on a whim. This is the hard core.
Can’t wait for the adventure.