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Day 6a of 11 Driving Across the Continent

Posted by on Apr 26, 2007 |

This is the day I really thought I was going to die.

It started out ok.

I woke up and dove into the hot mineral springs. Pagosa Springs sits on a giant geothermal water release that comes out of the ground at 155 degrees. They’ve created 17 pools of varying degrees and sizes. They’re all wonderful. I got in all of them in the hour that I had to lollygag before hitting the road.


Pagosa Hot Mineral Springs, CO

I’ve always wondered if there were negative health effects of sitting in communal hot springs, and later learned that it’s possible to catch communicable diseases, namely certain infections and herpes from these baths.

While the obvious, wonderful effects on the skin are immediate and delightful, I can’t help but wonder how safe these types of baths really are.

I headed out at noon after doing laundry and drove in the direction of Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s a long way from nowhere, but I really liked 112. It’s straight as an arrow on the extremely flat San Luis Valley. The giant Sangre de Cristo mountains sprout to the east. I was humming along at 7,500 feet again and it was breathtaking.

The park is not popular; it only receives about 300,000 visitors a year. It’s probably because it’s not that beautiful. The sand is brown -and even with the ridges all covered with snow from the previous two days of storms, it’s not that pretty.

I climbed around for two hours, took some photos, then hit the road at 4pm.

Little did I know that a giant storm system was brewing on the eastern side of the Rockies. I flew back to 160, picked up I25 and then hooked the short-cut, 24, up to I70. That’s when I got the scare of my life.

Once I passed the endless suburbia surrounding Colorado Springs, the road flattened out and got lonelier and lonelier. Pretty soon, I was all alone out there. I was headed East, well, a bit Northeast, and dark, ominous clouds filled everything in the sky to the North. It was clear in the direction I was headed, but I could see – and then feel -the wind start to pick up.

At about 6pm, the cup clouds started to form just above me. Having grown up in MN, I knew that they were ripe tornado formations. Problem was, I had no idea what to do in case a tornado appeared in front of me. Do I stay in the car? Do I drive away? I had no idea and I was scared to death.

So, I increased my speed from 70, to 75 and then to 80 just trying to get to the clear area before the world turned inside out on top of me. When I got to the intersection of 24 and I70, I didn’t get off the road! I didn’t know what to do. The wind was screaming across the road, blowing giant, washing-machine-sized tumbleweeds in front of me. At first, I was able to avoid them. Finally, there were just too damned many. I must have driven over a hundred and every time, the thump, thump, crunch under my car had me cringing in fear of all the ruptured, broken things I would find the next morning. IF I lived through the night.

Funny thing was, I had a CB radio – and the truckers wouldn’t talk to me. I called all my friends and got only voicemail, all the weather radio stations posted on the blue signs came in static. I had no information and no idea what to do. And on top of all that, I felt this huge pressure to press on!

Finally, I spoke to Dena O’Connell, who just happens to have the CB handle Truck Stop Mama, and she told me that there weren’t any longer any tornado warnings and I should just drive on to Burlington, CO.

I did, I got there safely, paid the lowest amount for the whole trip, and had a nice, long rest.


I did look at my pix before going to sleep, however, and started crying when I saw the angel in my images who had been there all along. Now, I don’t really believe in that kind of thing, but what the hell.