Denver, Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico
It is just a few short hours we’ve been in Denver not counting the ones spent sleeping, yet it feels like we’ve been here longer given the amount crammed in. As fun as last night was, it still involved working so today, with it tucked away until I return to London I am breathing the sigh of a free man as my day job is temporarily taken away. My only concern for the next few weeks will be pointing the Porsche in the right direction and deciding what to eat.
Today it started with farm fresh eggs cooked over medium, English Muffins and bacon from the Urban Farmer on the corner of Wazee and 17th. Looking across the room a neon sign decorates the wall, “I don’t know where I’m going from here but I promise it won’t be boring” – let’s hope so!
The Colorado Rockies
One day in Colorado will never be enough time. It was the hardest day of all to route plan with overload of great roads, you could spend a week here and still only scratch the surface. Pikes Peak being the notable sacrifice with its toll road to the top – the highest in the US. It was on our optional list but three gruelling days behind the wheel we’d now realised our miles were more than optimistic. We focused a revised route on two passes which were in the direction of New Mexico and stayed close enough to the Interstate should we need an easy way out.
Cripple Creek and Phantom Canyon Road
Leaving Denver it takes around 30 minutes to get into the mountains, and from there on in a couple of hours over fast flowing mountain roads to Cripple Creek.
Two years ago this car had the suspension refreshed and the effects were a revelation. The dampers were rebuilt, arms and wishbones replaced, bushes swapped out and the geometry adjusted to work in the UK and fast roads further afield where the camber run off is on the opposite side – as it is here. Today this (not small) investment paid some dividend back as I balanced the car though sweeping turns feeling the tyres and suspension load up as they do their best to defy gravity. On dry tarmac 993s have so much grip, the only adjustment I needed to make being a touch of left foot braking while accelerating through one of the tighter hairpins to keep understeer in check. Great roads, mostly clear, and when you do come up behind something slower moving you don’t have to wait long to pass.
The smell of gasoline and ethanol mix from the previous day seemed to be getting worse. Maybe the next fill up will clear it? Talking to a man called Geoff, originally from Memphis at the gas station who had been living up in the mountains for the last 25 years, he cautioned us about our planned route through Phantom Canyon. Geoff suggested we did not have enough ground clearance, that the road through there better suited to four wheel drives, and recent rain will have taken toll. We did the tourist thing and ignored him just like muppet tourists who go on a Majorcan mountain hike in flip-flops.
Turning off the main tarmac towards the canyon we passed old and current mines. A huge open cast hole sure to make a snowflake on a bicycle tweet @greenpeace from an iPhone using gold dug from here. It has a man-made beauty of its own, and a big source of income for this town. There are remnants of the original mines from the 1800s scattered along the road but as you get further along these disappear and it becomes a proper mountain dirt track. Trees, mountains, wooden bridges and sheer drops.
The first and last parts of the trail have a friendlier surface for Porsches. Higher up whatever goes up and down this cut through keeping it clear of fallen trees, rocks and landslides leaves behind a not-so-friendly bumpy ride from caterpillar track indents. BilsteinPS9 dampers and 19-inch hollow spoke wheels are not a good pairing for here, as to move along you feel everything and you start to wonder what parts will eventually shake loose or fall off. It’s not all like this, but enough of it to put me off doing it again. That said both of us were pleased we took this road as it is stunning. For me far better than hiking as that would have been truly exhausting and I’d have gotten wet.
The smoother sections are a lot of fun. Drivers here can pretend to be Juha Kankkunen sliding around through a forest stage, albeit a slower version of the great man because some of the drops of the road edge will kill you if you make a mistake. No barrier, loose surface, no cell phone signal – even if you survived the decent you could wait days for someone to find you. There are bears up here too.
Geoff from Memphis man was probably right, this road would be better viewed from the seat of a Jeep, but he was wrong to think an old 911 can’t cope with it too.
Up here, with no one around and the sound of thunder closing in, it was time to give the drone maiden voyage. Until now I’d flown this thing maybe 50 feet high on the driveway in beginner mode hoping the neighbours didn’t start complaining. Beginner mode now switched off, and at maximum altitude, I couldn’t even see where it was. I have poor coordination and consider it luck I got it back as the rain started. Photographs are not the best, and surprisingly they don’t capture the steep incline all that well, but those familiar with mountain passes will work it out. What they do capture is how remote and vast it is. Colorado is spectacular.
Out the other side we headed in the direction our next bed in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Getting closer to the border a different side of this State can be seen, the towns closest to it trying to carve out a living from the newly legalised cannabis trade. You’d think it was the only thing that had a market value here. Maybe it is? We didn’t bother taking photos of it, I’ll remember Colorado for the great city of Denver and the ‘gold in them thar hills’.
Colorado has some interesting weather. Warm sunshine, heavy rain and thunderstorms, hail, and back to sun again all within a few hours. It all changes very quickly.
The heat was on to reach Santa Fe with a chance of getting food somewhere other than Taco Bell, meaning being there well before 9pm. As the light fades the urgency to cover ground ramps up. Whilst you can still see the routes have so much to look at that time in the car flies past. In the dark tiredness soon catches up – and the Highway Patrol much harder to spot.
One night in Santa Fe
You can’t do a proper American road trip without staying in a couple of motels. Finding ones that fit the bill for two people who are way past roughing it sounds easier than it is. I’m almost at the stage where I want to travel with my own pillows and bedding, and I will not touch a hotel remote control (although my co-driver has a neat trick which involves putting it in a plastic bag). It is being reported now that people are catching all kinds of nastiness in their sensitive areas from yoga mats in the gym so just imagine the potential a below par lodgings hold!
The El Ray is great. It has recently been refurbished, they have a nice bar with live music and a decent pool. More importantly the rooms are spotless and the beds nice. The front desk gave us some tips for late night food in a local Mexican bar called Del Charro in the centre of the old town and we headed off for a cheap but decent feed. I could happily eat tacos for the next month. I’ve already lost count of the number of margaritas drank.
Back at the motel, the booze and band are in full swing, it must be the place to be tonight. As we checked in an hour earlier a man was complaining about a late-90s black Range Rover parked up near his room with the engine on, music blaring and no one in it. Guess what was outside our room when we returned? I tried looking through the blacked-out windows and couldn’t tell if a person was inside the back, knocking on the glass didn’t wake anyone, so I tried the doors. Locked (I was relieved about this). I tried the trunk. Also locked, I then tried the rear door. It opened. Opera music now blaring out, I tried to reach in to open the front door but without climbing inside couldn’t get to it. Aside from Luciano Pavarotti I could hear from behind me “this is America, you are going to get shot or arrested”. These words of wisdom from my partner in crime reminded me of the all those psycho serial killer movies this country has produced. I went back to the front desk and told the guy behind it the back doors were open, and offered him to come with me to turn off the engine and music myself and others had complained of. He upgraded us to a ‘suite’ instead. Maybe it belonged to some local badass? Maybe the owner was just so out of it when they arrived they forgot to turn it off while locking just the front doors? Anyway, not our problem now. Remotes in plastic bags now seem trivial.