Janet Sheridan: Colorado byways

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Janet Sheridan

During a lunch conversation about sharing winter roads in Colorado with whipping winds, blinding snow, tire-spinning ice and fellow travelers driving like idiots, a friend said that when road conditions are bad, she counts the miles until she can exit the freeway and its massed, slow-moving cars interspersed with crazed drivers intent on passing.

“I breathe a sigh of relief when I am by myself on the weather-impaired roads of northwestern Colorado and don’t have to contend with hordes of other drivers,” she said.

Her comment motivated another friend to say he enjoys driving the county roads around Craig on calm, moonlit nights after heavy snowstorms. Surrounded by silence, moving at slow speeds on deserted roads through snow-bound country, he likes to turn off his truck’s headlights and drive through the sparkling, daylight-bright setting. “It’s magical,” he said.

Now, that’s a bit much for me, but I do understand the hypnotic appeal of long, unhurried drives on the quiet back roads or two-lane highways of Moffat County.

I look forward to commonplace scenes: a spring pasture of green flecked with munching cows; magpies flaunting their glossy black and white formal attire; horses clustered in a wind-scrubbed field with their heads together as though conspiring; a family in a car with California plates looking befuddled as a river of sheep flows around them.

Driving toward Dinosaur on our way to Utah on a November day of bleakness, I noticed another familiar sight: several ravens feasting on a dead deer. As they shared the meal, the largest of them, a stately bird of dense dark plumage, lifted its head, surveyed those still picking, and gave his wings a satisfied pump as though telling assembled friends and family members, “This is the best Thanksgiving meal ever!”

Several years ago at a party, the conversation drifted to the prevalence of road kill on the highways around Craig. A fellow educator related that when he and his wife drove to Craig for the first time after accepting teaching positions here, the number of dead deer they encountered amazed them. “I told my wife that maybe Colorado uses dead deer as mile markers,” he said.

I’m intrigued by the artifacts of human activity I see when driving back roads — abandoned vehicles and farm machinery, houses that once held families, windmills that no longer turn, and slumped structures of unknown purpose.

I remember a muscular-looking 1940s flatbed truck sitting in a field that stretched to the horizon in all directions with no signs of life. Who abandoned it? And why leave it there? Did the owner walk away, shaking his head in disgust after the blankety-blank, no-good piece of junk up and died on him?

Another time I spotted a rusty bicycle without tires leaning against a fence post with a crow perched on its seat and a ripped plaid shirt caught in the fence next to it, one sleeve flapping in the breeze. What happened to the tires? Who leaned the bike against the post? And why did he or she walk away shirtless?

Joel and I were driving on Colorado Highway 13 about seven miles south of Baggs when he braked and exclaimed, “Did you see that?” Of course I hadn’t seen it — why break my record? — so we followed standard procedure: Joel backed up to get a second look while I craned my head 180 degrees, checking for oncoming traffic in case he hadn’t.

“There, see them?”

Two golden eagles atop two fence posts inspected us, decided we weren’t to their liking, and flew a short distance away to a crumbling cliff.

“Look, two more on that boulder!”

Exclaiming and counting, we realized we were looking at 14 golden eagles clustered within a few yards of one another. They let us admire them for several minutes, and then lifted off and disappeared.

I feel a sense of anticipation when Joel and I travel the lonely roads of Moffat County. What wonders might be waiting for us around the next bend?

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