With my head against the window I am finally thinking, "This is the west." There are seven of us crammed in to the Vanagon between our mounds of gear, strangely comfortable now that it's light out. The air is hot and thin and we've been swapping drivers for days, pushing away from Michigan as fast as we can. Eventually we will be at the Pacific with the redwoods and the rain, but first we have to see Colorado. You absolutely must see Colorado.
We rolled across Kansas frantically, trying to outrun a thunderstorm. Matt told us what he knew: that first there was the wind, then the rain, then oh my god lightning like you would not believe and for a second it's bright as day. If it stops then there are no tornadoes. Matt hadn't seen one before that night, of course, but he had books. We all had books. They fell all over the floor of the van whenever we hit the brakes.
At the edge of Kansas you start seeing purple clouds, skulking on the horizon. Only after looking at them for hours do you realize they are mountains. You don't believe them at first, since you come from a place where you think the sand dunes are tall. They aren't - they're tiny and soft and you can roll down them without getting killed. Dunes are harmless.
Mountains are brutal, especially on an eleven-year-old car carrying seven people over a pass. Somehow we made it, over the continental divide, down through the clouds, past Gunnison, past Almont, into the West Elk Mountains. Through Crested Butte, a small town that used to house herders - and through which the cattle was herded, straight down the main drag - but now mostly serves as a tourist annex to the "city" of Mt. Crested Butte. Past the mountain itself where marathon runners go to train in the thin air. Past the horrid ski town built at its foot, all $300,000 show cottages that are snowed in six months a year. Past the Mariott with its carpark of stone and hardwood. Some of the cottages have flat roofs, and even an eastern flatlander like me knows that flat roofs and snow don't play well together.
I let my head rest on the window and watch the trees pass, branches scraping the window next to my face. Nobody sane comes her for the ski town. They come for the mountains.
This is what you're here for.
I. II. III. IV.