Anyone that knows me knows exactly how I feel about cold weather. I absolutely cannot stand it. Anything below 50 usually calls for a heavy jacket and boots. The expected weather across the country had a very large impact on our tour route. Not only does cold weather make me want to sleep in and waste the day doing a whole lot of nothing, but in the van we have to be conscious of pipes freezing as we don’t have the battery power to run a heater 24/7. I was so sure that after we left Arizona that we’d be in the clear and we wouldn’t have more than a handful of chilly days. And I was absolutely positive that we wouldn’t be dealing with snow in any capacity. Sadly, I was mistaken. We’ve not only had temperatures in the 20’s most nights for the last week, we’ve seen and driven in far too much snow for my liking. Note to self: next tour, we don’t cross the Rockies until May.
I last left you as we arrived in Grand Junction, CO. For the unaware, Grand Junction is on the far western side of the state and is home to some of the most impressive red rock formations I’ve ever seen. We’ll get to those in a second.
On one of our typical grocery shopping Walmart runs here, we mistakenly (on purpose) wandered down the RV supplies aisle. We had been talking about doing some redecorating inside the van for some time, and suddenly inspired by all the things we didn’t need but definitely wanted, decided that today would be the day to do it. We bought: new seat covers for the front seats, tiny lights to run around the edge of the ceiling in the back of the van, an extra canvas storage unit to serve as a catch all for junk that always sits on our table, new fabric to replace the makeshift curtains over the back windows, and (at a different store) a fancy tapestry to replace our boring beige curtains. We spent the evening at yet another truck stop, as we do quite often at this point – Greg hung up the new lights and I sewed blackout canvas onto some black fabric to make new curtains for the back windows. All said and done, it looks a whole lot homier in here. It looks a bit less like a hotel room and a bit more like somewhere that we actually live.
Between all the interior decorating, we had another quick little in-studio interview at KAFM Community Radio. We’re getting better at answering the typical questions like actual professional musicians in my opinion. I used to dread interviews entirely, but now we have so much great stuff to talk about that I’ve started looking forward to them.
The next morning we headed for higher elevations by way of the Colorado National Monument. Grand Junction is surrounded almost entirely by giant geological formations: a huge mesa to the north, the Colorado National Monument the South and West, and the Rocky Mountains to the East. I was determined to get a little more hiking in before we put the red rocks behind us completely, so we booked a campsite up at the Monument for the night before our Grand Junction gig. Both the drive up and the views from our campsite and short hike were pretty unbelievable (not quite Grand Canyon unbelievable, but still absolutely stunning). You can see the entirety of the city –
we could actually see the truck stop we had stayed at the night before from up there, about 11 miles away. The way that time and the elements have carved these rocks into these bizarre and impressive shapes is really quite the sight to behold. We were also lucky enough to see a herd of bighorn sheep ambling through the brush hundreds of feet below us on the hike. I’d like to go back in a warmer season though, as it was high 40’s at best while we were up there, not at all helped by the crazy high elevation.
The next day – Saturday – we went back into town to prep for our gig that night. We played Cruisers, a cool little sports bar attached to a hotel in downtown Grand Junction. Though it did take us a while to turn the crowd onto the music, once we had them dancing we had a great night. The sound guy actually told us ours was the first show where he had ever seen anyone asked to do an encore. All in all both a very fun and financially lucrative gig for us – our highest payout to date on the tour.
We had planned to spend one more night after the gig in Grand Junction and then drive to the Denver area, but at the last minute I found a free campground about halfway that would allow us to break up the drive a little bit. So Sunday afternoon we started the drive into the Rocky Mountains, a drive I had been slightly concerned about, seeing as the van is over 20 years old and still makes unpredictable sounds which have not yet been correctly diagnosed. But truth be told, the drive was pretty easy for the most part. The first half of the Rockies are largely made up of the red rock we’ve been so accustomed to seeing everywhere, with a touch more familiarity than some of the otherworldly shapes and structures we saw in Arizona and Utah. They’re covered in pine trees and capped with snow, slightly reminiscent of forests back in Western New York.
Our campsite that night was about 20 miles off the main road, and three miles off the back road too; we had a long, slow drive down a lengthy dirt path to get there. Completely worth it, though; we saw two bald eagles on the drive up, and watched a handful of river otters swimming just off the banks Colorado River before dinner, which we were camped just a few feet from. Definitely in my top five campgrounds to date. We also managed to successfully co-write a song that evening. Greg and I have very distinct and opposing writing styles, and it’s been a bit of a road block for us as songwriters lately. But with nothing else to do, some beer to drink, and no cell phone service, we were able to actually complete a song as a unit, which was actually a pretty big accomplishment for us. Maybe we will have another album out in the next decade, lol.
The next day was when we drove through the “postcard” side of the Rockies. Honestly, that drive was up there among one of my favorites as well from a scenery perspective. The descent down the mountain is certainly a bit scary, but we really didn’t have too hard a time with it either. I know it sounds ridiculous to say “the mountains are big”, but that’s just the truth. They’re huge and steep and beautiful. We made a pit stop in Vail, and there was snow on the ground for the first time since we left home. At over 10,000 feet up, though, it’s hardly surprising. (This is not the weather I was referencing earlier, either – that’s later).
We made it down the eastern side of the mountains that afternoon, and arrived at the state park where we’d be spending nearly all of our remaining time in Colorado. I won’t publicly put this place on blast here, but it was definitely one of my least favorite places we’ve stayed to date, maybe only beaten by the gross RV “resort” we stayed at in Homestead, FL. It was over $30 a night to stay at this place (this is expensive for a state run RV park and the use of basically a glorified parking space), the water in our site ran brown for the first five minutes we tried to use it, there was one single shower building in the whole park a ten minute walk from our campsite, and the showers cost 25 cents a minute to use. On top of that, the park charges park use fees on top of camping fees so it cost about $30 more than expected on arrival, and the park is literally a stone’s throw from a major highway. The worst. But there’s not a lot of options for free overnight parking in Eastern Colorado as far as I could find, so we were stuck there until the following Friday.
Greg’s parents came to visit for the week while we were in this part of Colorado. As always it’s great to see familiar faces from home after being on the road for so long. Definitely not the right place to vacation to get away from the Buffalo weather – I think we had one nice day of weather where it wasn’t snowing, raining, or below 50 degrees. But we did get a chance to do some stuff that Greg and I don’t usually do, and in good company. We went into downtown Boulder, downtown Denver, and toured the famous Red Rocks amphitheater while they were in town. We also had some amazing food – the area seems to be a bit of a melting pot, so we had everything from poke to barbecue. I think the Vietnamese food was my favorite – the steamy buns from Zoe Ma Ma’s were especially delicious. Thanks again Nancy & Ray, hope you guys enjoyed your trip!
We also had two gigs during this time. The first was in Boulder at The Laughing Goat, a pretty cool coffeehouse. Greg had a few friends in the area come out, and with his family there as well we actually had a decent crowd, a rarity for a coffeehouse show. If for nothing but my own future reference: the sound system and the monitor mix at that venue was impeccable, and I’d like to play there again just to get some more insight into their setup.
Our next gig was in Jamestown, CO – population 300. This tiny little town is way up in the mountains, and the Jamestown Mercantile is the only bar or restaurant in town. The drive up to the gig was, in my opinion, scarier than the drive down the Rockies, mostly because of the weather. The rain turned to snow about halfway up, and as we parked the snowflakes falling were the biggest I’ve ever seen – the diameter of golf balls, no exaggeration. The gig in itself was a lot of fun – the staff were SO friendly and organized, which is a rare treat in this line of work. We made more money than I expected and they sent us on our way with all sorts of food, another great perk.
I was terrified to drive back down the mountain in the dark and in the snow in our eight thousand pound vehicle, but it let up just enough for Greg to talk me into leaving rather than staying at the bar. The drive down the mountain itself wasn’t too terrible, but it snowed nearly the entire hour and a half drive to our next destination – Cheyenne, Wyoming. Driving the van in the snow is something I like for us to avoid at all costs, as all it’d take is one patch of black ice to send us careening into the guardrail, so I was none too pleased that we were seeing this much snow past mid-April. We spent that night and the entirety of the next day huddled in the van trying to beat the cold. It was freezing and we were both pretty exhausted.
The weather improved on Monday, so we decided on another spur of the moment adventure. There was a bison farm just five miles from the truck stop we had parked at. Not only did they have a crazy assortment of animals living at the farm, they also offered horseback rides. I rode horses for a few years as a kid and had always enjoyed it, but Greg had never so much as sat on a horse before. So, off we went. The Terry Bison Ranch was in fact, a very fun way to kill an afternoon. We rode horses over the Wyoming/Colorado state line – the ranch is 1/3rd in Wyoming, 2/3rds in Colorado – and were lucky enough to see a handful of prairie dogs and a herd of antelope out on the plain. My horse, Mirage, was a slow, old man who didn’t really feel like keeping up with everyone, but Greg’s horse Sammy seemed to give him a pretty enjoyable ride. We had fun, and Greg is now a self-proclaimed cowboy.
After that we took a train ride to tour the rest of the farm, where they house camels, ostriches, alpacas, llamas, turkeys, and of course, bison. And we actually got to hand-feed the buffalo. Those are some pretty damn big animals, let me tell ya. They have these crazy tongues that are rough like a cat’s and easily nine inches long and would wrap around the food we were giving them. That’s something I’ll probably never forget, it was such an unusual and memorable experience.
And then after that, we got dinner. Since the farm raises bison for human consumption…we had bison burgers. Ah, the circle of life. And you know what? They were delicious.
Wednesday we left Wyoming for our final Colorado gig in Fort Collins. Prior to the gig, I had found a burrito place that serves travelling bands and musicians for free – Illegal Pete’s. They gave Greg and I both a free meal, and it was absolutely delicious. Hard to complain about any free food, really, but I preferred it to Chipotle, which is our usual burrito joint of choice. If any of you go to Colorado, patronize this restaurant – it’s rare to see anyone supporting the arts so directly and freely these days.
We played Odell Brewing Company immediately after we ate, and let me just say that I have never booked a gig at a brewery that wasn’t both well run by the staff and well attended by a good crowd. The stage was huge, the weather was good, the patio was beautiful, there were like 20 dogs there at any given time, and the beer was delicious, too. We played a quick 2 hour show to a receptive crowd, grabbed some fancy corn dogs from the venue’s food truck du jour for the road, and started one of the longest drives of the tour.
Our gig tonight is in Witchita, KS, which is about 8 hours from Fort Collins. We made it about halfway last night, and now we’re down to about an hour to go. Kansas is not quite as flat as I expected – it looks a bit like Ohio or Pennsylvania, with maybe a few less trees. Tonight’s gig is two of four in a row – we’ve got another three hour drive to Pittsburg, KS tomorrow, and another few hours to Fayetteville, Arkansas on Saturday. Then we’ve got a break for over a week before we head back into Texas, where we close in on the one-month-left-mark.
The van just hit 46,000 miles today. We’ve put nine thousand miles on it this trip so far, and we still have quite a ways to drive. I’m currently of the opinion that while I’d build a number of things differently if I started from scratch (and I just might do that some day), I’m gonna run this one absolutely into the ground first. It’s become too much of a home to me for me to ever sell it to someone else. We’ve got our summer and early fall dates almost completely booked, and I’ll be working on September through December real soon. If I’ve said it once on this blog, I’ve said it a thousand times – I’m a million times happier doing this than I have been doing anything else, all things good and bad considered. There is no end in sight, and for once in my life that’s a good thing.