I lived in Colorado as a child, and again in early adulthood, but this wasn’t a visit with any duration. This excursion, just an afternoon in a two-week circle tour of the American Southwest, included a scenic view with a touch of lingering winter, a glimpse of the southern Rocky Mountains, and a reminder that every single day can include something beautiful. We drive up and over the La Manga Pass, where we stop for a photo op (see The Progression Of A Snowball Fight from January 2012), and Cumbres Pass where we begin a game of downhill tag with a steam engine (see Cumbres and Toltec from June 2013). One afternoon living on the edge of summer, but with a hint of seasons past, we climb and descend the passes.
I cross Luther Pass and Monitor Pass on the backroads from the mountains of Tahoe to the desert of Death Valley National Park. Climbing over 7,700 feet and 8,300 feet respectively, the marker reminds me of how high in the air I lift myself, and although neither of these ascents feel any higher than Donner Pass (see Donner Pass from August 2013) – a pass of note in the history of the American West – each one reaches progressively higher than the previous one. By the time I climb up and over Towne Pass at nearly 5,000 feet, I am on the descent to sea level, so even this low pass offers a greater perspective on my elevation. All told, I sink thousands of feet in a matter of hours. By this time tomorrow, I’ll already be over Tioga Pass and back up over 10,000 feet.
When people ask me which state is my favorite, I often think of Nevada and its plethora of mountains visible in every direction. Mountains do for me the same they did for John Muir. Oh yeah, I’m going. So I go up and over Montgomery Pass (+7,000 feet) and Little Antelope Pass (almost 5,700 feet), and after a night’s sleep, I’ll be at Dead Horse Pass (aka, White Horse Pass) on the other side of the state. Granted it’s only a few thousand feet, but when I see one of those signs, telling me I’ve reached a height, it’s a sense of accomplishment, an achievement, a pinnacle of effort, and not just literally. I’ve gotten somewhere, and I’m moving up.
While the scenery may be different, whether sage brush or pine trees or snow, every pass marks another achievement in my travels and in my life. I’ve reached a place I haven’t previously, and like many of life’s achievements, I’m on the downhill side just as quickly. An elevation marker simply reminds me, and no one else in that moment, that I have reached the peak of the road, the highest point, the go-between from this side to that. My ears might pop depending on the height, and most times, although the vehicle feels the extra effort required to move uphill, I don’t notice I’m even climbing, exerting that effort. I’m here, I’m gone, and the moment passes.