Two side trips

It has been about two weeks since the last update and a lot has happened.  Bottom line, we’re familiarizing ourselves with the area and the more we see, the more we like.

Of special note, our friends Bob and Suzy invited us over for dinner to their home in Denver.  We shared the evening with the whole family, including Bob’s father, John, who I vividly remembered.  We had a great time visiting, catching up with Bob’s father and getting to know the kids a little better.  The food was great and we had a great time.  The invitation was very much appreciated and we look forward to getting together with them again during our stay in the area.

On another trip to Denver we met with two gentlemen, Gary and Chris, who we regularly talk with via phone regarding business.  They had invited us out to lunch and took us to a very nice place.  Most importantly, we finally were able to match the voice with a face.  We very much appreciated them taking time from their busy day to talk with us for a few minutes.  Now, when we make a call from some out of the way place, we can visualize who we are talking to.

During the past two weeks, we made two trips of exploration.  The first was in a general southerly direction on a loop through the towns of Canon City, Westcliffe, Silver Cliff, Wetmore and then home.  The route took us along the Arkansas river and then into a valley separated by the Sangre de Cristo Range and Wet Mountains.  We stopped in the small town of Westcliffe for lunch and took a quick walking tour of the town.  This was all spectacular country, but it is just a little too high and remote for us.  We’re glad to have made the trip and now know what this area of high country looks like.

The second trip was across the state to Grand Junction.  For readers not familiar with the geography of Colorado, Grand Junction is on the western edge of the state, almost to the Utah border.  We decided to take I-70 westbound to Grand Junction and US-50 eastbound on the return trip.

The trip to Grand Junction along I-70 passes through some truly remarkable country.  The road mostly passes through steep granite canyons covered with pine trees.  The highest point was Loveland Pass at 11,600 feet.  It was a good thing we decided to take the Jeep; running the coach over this road would not be a good idea.  As we approached Grand Junction, the vegetation gradually changed from pine trees to more drought-resistant plants.  We were surprised that this side of the Rocky Mountains was so dry.  On the western side of the divide, the road runs through a canyon cut by the Colorado river.  The canyon is so narrow in spots that the highway engineers built the westbound and eastbound lanes at different levels; sort of stepping the road up side of the canyon.  Try to imagine getting a river, railroad and interstate all running through a narrow granite canyon and you get the picture.

Eventually the canyon opens up and the road follows the Colorado River to Grand Junction, which is located where the Gunnison River merges into the Colorado River.  The town is built along a wide valley bordered by high mesa to the north and south.  The town is surrounded by ranches and farms.  With the high price of oil, there is a resurgence of activity and we saw at least five drilling rigs in the distance.

Grand Junction is the only sizable town in the region and has just about anything you would want, including two Walmart Supercenters and most of the major national brand stores.  This is truly a regional center.  In fact, with Denver and Salt Lake City over four hours away, this is the only sizable town for miles.  We spent the better part of two days driving around the area looking at the town and looking at properties.  There was no shortage of real estate for sale and although prices were slightly higher than we expected, they were still passed the reasonableness test.  Overall, we were impressed.  The town is clean, supplies are handy and there is plenty to do if you are into outdoor activities.  We need to think it over, but we might be back for another look.

The return trip was surprising as well.  US-50 traverses a completely different type of terrain.  After steadily climbing out of Grand Junction, the road generally stays in high country along the edge of a mesa.  The route is much more populated and passes through the towns of Delta, Montrose, Gunnison, Salida and Canyon City.  One long section of road took us along Blue Mesa Reservoir, which controls the water flow through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  The highest part of the journey was Monarch Pass at about 11,300 feet.  The road construction and rain made for an exciting ride.  If we were driving the coach, this would have been a much better route.

So, what did we learn from our three day excursion?  The more we see of the area, the more we like it and we may have found the region.  We still have some comparison shopping to do, but a follow up visit to some of these areas is probably in our future.

Those were the major points of the past two weeks.  The rest of the time was spent making day trips around the local area.  For example, one day was spent exploring the eastern side of Colorado Springs and another day was spent in the small town of Woodland Park at a street faire.  These quick trips help familiarize us with the region with regard to the people, neighborhoods, shopping and roads.

There were two other events of note.  A visit to a Burger King really hit my Hot Button.  Here’s the scenario: we’re next in line watching a disoriented high school kid input an order from a large family who are not quite sure what they wanted.  The process goes on and on and on, until the register buffer is full.  The kid vapor-locks and the manager has to help split the order into two parts, which takes another eternity to accomplish.  Where’s the video camera when you need it?   Finally we get to the window, place our order and pay, which takes all of 20 seconds.  I ask myself what was so f—ing hard about that?  We get our self-serve drinks, eventually find a clean table and wait for our order.  And, we wait.  And, we wait.  And, we wait.  O.K., time’s up, they had their 25 minutes to cook two hamburgers and two orders of rings.  Time to get thing moving.  I approach the counter and size up the situation.  After many years of management, chaos is not hard to recognize.  I asked for my order and received two cold burgers; no onion rings.  Here’s the conversation:

Marty:  Hey, you took my money 25 minutes ago!  Where’s my food!

Gal behind the counter:  I’m sorry, the rings aren’t ready yet.  (she hands me two cold burgers).

M:  What gives!  These are are ice cold!

G:  Do you want us to re-make the burgers?

M:  No, I’m lucky to have these.

G:  What can we do to make you happy?

M:  Give me my complete order, NOW!

G:  Let me check on the rings. (she heads for the kitchen area)

M:  (Loudly) Hey!  If I’m still waiting here in the morning, do I get a free breakfast?

G:  (With face bright red) The rings are cooking, I’ll bring them out to you.

Other patrons in the crowded restaurant, who had also been waiting for their orders, were snickering in the background.

Ten minutes goes by before the onion rings arrived, still sizzling and sputtering from the fryer.  They nicely contrasted with the coagulated grease of the cold, stiff burgers.  Even at the fast food level, the meal was beyond redemption.

I always assumed fast food is suppose to be fast.  The process should be: order, money, food, eat, leave.  Sometimes the drill takes less than 10 minutes.  If we want linger over a meal, we’ll go to a French restaurant.  What is so damn hard about cooking two hamburger-with-rings orders?  Isn’t this what Burger King does?  Needless to say, this was not a good consumer experience.

Our second unusual event had to do with the tires on the Jeep.  It seems that prolonged towing is incompatible with the current set of tires.  About a year ago we bought a set of high-quality off-road tires and a lifetime alignment, balancing and rotation package.  Even after regular maintenance, the tires were showing signs of uneven wear.  At certain speeds they would begin to howl.  Two different Bridgestone/Firestone dealers said the towing was probably at fault and recommended a different style of tire.  It was time to do something and we finally had them replaced.  The Jeep now whispers down the highway, but it is yet to be seen how it does on dirt roads.

Well good readers, that’s the update.  Apologies for the long wait and thank you for getting through the Burger King episode.  I really feel better having talked about it.  The emotional scars will take time to heal.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I did call the Burger King 800 number to complain.  Of course, the complaint process is automated.  It seems that real people can cause problems, but you can only report the incident to a machine.  Another satisfying consumer experience courtesy of BK.

Contemporary Note: Bob’s father, John, passed away in late 2017.  He had been a history teacher at our high school in Van Nuys before moving to the local junior college to teach the same subjects.  I always thought John was a Korean War veteran but he was in fact a WWII veteran serving with Patton’s Third Army in Europe.  He had gotten as far east as Czechoslovakia when the war ended.  He was an interesting guy and a good father to Bob.