Thursday, June 17, 2010


1. Its 11 June, Day 25. We had breakfast at Brickhouse, a charming Victorian house in Durango, before heading towards Silverton along Highway 550. It looked like a family run business, obviously popular with the locals. Its outdoor tables were full.

2. The Million Dollar Highway is generally considered as the 25 miles stretch of Highway 550 in W Colorado between Silverton and Ouray. It's unclear how the name, "Million Dollar Highway" came about. One version attributed it to the high cost. Whatever the reason was it does not matter. The drive has million dollar views. Traveling North, the route also took us closer to the Rocky Mountain National Park.

3. North of Durango, the highway runs along the Animas River, enters the San Juan National Forest, goes past lakes, as it winds up and down the mountain passes before reaching an overlook with a great view of Silverton. We made a brief stop at the visitor centre before continuing our journey Northwards. The highway leaves Silverton and proceeds up Mineral Creek Valley before ascending to Red Mountain Pass. The highway then goes through a series of steep grades and hairpin turns before reaching Ouray Lookout Point with a great view of Ouray.

4. After our packed lunch at Montrose we continued our journey North. Soon, weather started to turn bad. Clouds started to cover the mountains, sky turned grey and soon rain came. We were now more concerned about driving safely than enjoying the scenery. Speed of travel slowed considerably. It soon became clear that it would be too much of a stretch to try to reach Estee Park at the East Entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park before dark. We decided to break journey at Idaho Springs and book into H & H Hotel for US$ 97 a night.

5. That evening, heavy rain continued. Television reported tornado warning in the vicinity of Denver, in addition to flood alert for areas that included the Rocky Mountains. The weather situation remained bleak the next day (Sat, 12 June, Day 26). In order not to risk getting stuck in the Rocky Mountains, we decided to drive into Denver and stay there for 1-2 days to see if the weather would clear up. It was a wet drive all the way. In order to be nearer to the Rocky, we booked into La Quinta Inn for US$93 a night at Westminster, on the NW outskirt of Denver.

6. After checking in, we took a drive to see downtown Denver even though it was drizzling as none of us had been to Denver other than transiting at the airport. After parking the car in a nearby car park, we took a stroll along 6th Avenue Mall and made a brief stop at the Visitor Information Centre. We were impressed with the pedestrian-friendliness of 6th Avenue. Cars are not allowed into 6th Ave (not sure about taxis though). Only public buses ply up and down 6th Ave at very regular intervals and public can travel on these buses free of charge. The buses work much like a tram service. Without cars, public space is more generously provided in the middle where there are chairs for the public to sit and relax, and watch the world goes by. It was clear that the street was designed for pedestrians, not cars.

7. Through the internet, Weiping found Pho 95, a Vietnamese Restaurant, for lunch. The restaurant was packed with Asians and Caucasians, mostly locals we guessed. We loved the pho. It was as good as some of the better ones in Vietnam. We went back for lunch again the next day.

8. In the afternoon, we found Wax Trac, along 14th Ave, that sells new and old vinyls. Its corner shop sells CDs and a small section on vinyls. While I browsed through the vinyls, a live band had just started playing to a small gathering. It was loud. As I picked up 6 pieces, Weiping came and told me that the shop has an adjacent unit with a much bigger collection of vinyls. I carried the 6 pieces to the cashier to pay. I could not believe my ears when he told me that they were free, no charge. I asked to confirm and just to be sure I got the message he provided a paper bag for me to carry the 6 vinyls out. Given the price tags on the vinyls, that was worth US$18 and they were in fairly good condition. Not sure its good or bad but I went next door and spent US$ 80+, for another 20 vinyls. At home, I had started to play my vinyls after a lapse of many years and expand my collection of vinyls.

9. On the flip side, the weather outlook was discouraging. The bad weather would continue into Monday and would only clear up on Tuesday. Rather than waiting, we decided to abort the plan to go to Rocky Mountain National Park and head back to Madison, Wisconsin. As we were comfortable with time, we decided to take it easy and cover 200-250 miles each day. In the end, we made night stops at North Platte (13 June, Day 27) and Lincoln (14 June, Day 28) in Nebraska and Des Moines (15 June, Day 29) in Iowa before arriving back in Weiping's university at Madison, Wisconsin.

10. We found Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska, to be a pleasant city. Streets were clean and brightened up by flowers. Could see that great care was taken to make the city look good. No reason why the fire hydrant must look all red. Also, bicycle could be put to more than one use.

11. Next morning, we went looking for the Sunken Garden, which was graded as one of the Top 300 gardens in the US. We first found the beautifully manicured and landscaped rose garden across the road. Many ladies were busy tending the garden. One of them told me that they were all volunteers, typically coming to the garden twice a week. Can see that they were doing a great job. Across the street, Sunken Garden was another well manicured garden. Apparently, work on the garden was started in the 1930s as part of the job creation effort during the years of recession. Today, after 80 years, it is still thriving, with strong support from the community and volunteers. We caught this bee busy at work too.

12. Old Market Place in Omaha was another interesting place we visited on the way from Lincoln to Des Moines. A few streets of old brick buildings were creatively converted to shops, restaurants, art galleries and etc while keeping their authentic charm. We had lunch there, at Indian Oven. It seemed Indian food was still not popular with the Americans. Before this trip, the only thing I knew of Omaha was Warren Buffet.

13. While traveling through Iowa, we were impressed with the quality of the rest areas. They are located in tastefully designed buildings. Toilets were clean and spacious and Wifi provided free of charge. Here is one, just completed and landscaping work in progress. Iowa clearly has the best rest areas in our 30 days of travel through 10 states.

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