Trail Ridge Road passed through Rocky Mountain National Park from east to west and so did I. At its highest point the road was 12,183 feet above sea level which means that I’ve now ridden on two wheels higher than I’ve ever hiked.
The road was just a scratch in the rock, winding through the world’s teeth. Along both sides rose up slender poles 20 and 30 feet high to mark the road when the snow erases it; the buildings at the visitor center were similarly outlined. I looked down and saw a herd of elk a thousand feet below me- still two miles high, and they seemed at home. I wanted to spend a night up there somewhere since I’d never had the opportunity to sleep so close to space before, but the cold of a few nights ago and a mile below dissuaded me. I passed over the top and into the West, thinking that happiness is a fool’s game and the most we can hope for are alternations of solace and beauty.
It was drier as soon as I crossed over and looked more like desert: more bare earth, more scrubby brush.The dark mountains were marbled with bright bands of yellow as if there were fields of giant goldenrod on the slopes; there was even more of a show than on the eastern side. I think there was another dazzling yellow tree working in concert with the aspens, something taller and shaggier and willing to work at lower elevations. The road played tag with the headwaters of the Colorado River.
It took all day to leave the mountains since they tumbled the length of the state. I’m not sure when I left them, sometime after the sun was gone, but I know I spent the night on a dark plain under a bright moon.
In the morning, just outside the town of Dinosaur, there were pronghorn antelope in the road: first a buck with short dark horns, then three does a little farther on. They didn’t run so much as sproing. Just beyond Dinosaur lies Utah, as well as Dinosaur National Monument.