I do so love the mountains and here, in New York City, unlike perhaps San Francisco (a mountain lover's dream city), I must make do with the skyscrapers of glass and steel. 'Tis better I suppose than the lowlands of Holland. But it pales in comparison to the experience of the American West. I journeyed there in the early 1970s for the first time by car. I cannot imagine a more compelling road trip than going West by auto.
Before leaving, I discussed my trip with a close friend who vividly described what I would see. "Do you know the way you drew mountains as a kid?" He illustrated with his finger in the air a typical jagged outline. "That's what it will look like." "As you drive through Colorado, it will be flat. And suddenly, the Rockies will pop up." The whole image of a child's jagged outline and mountains popping into view was burned in my mind forever.
And it was all true. As we drove through eastern Colorado, the landscape was no different than the flats of Kansas which we had spent a day passing through. Heat waves rose from the road and landscape in a classic mirage. I squinted for hours for those Rocky Mountains, only to find an my eyes fooled in one way or another. It became very tiring. Then there appeared the faintest mountain outline, which did not disappear, but only grew in size, jagged and dramatic beyond belief.
The first night the wind howled in the trees with a certain sound only heard in the mountains. I still listen for that sound. Everything was so big and grand. Colorado was everything John Denver had promised in his song Rocky Mountain High.
We examined our maps the next morning for the steepest roads, the ones marked dangerous for what I assumed would offer the most dramatic views. We navigated the narrowest, most precipitous two lane mountain roads I have ever seen. The unobstructed views through crisp clean air were absolutely astonishing. It seemed unbelievable that motorists would even be allowed to travel such roads at altitudes over 10,000 feet - one tiny error in judgement and it was sayonara.
More remarkable was our conversation that night with two fellow campers who were Colorado residents. When we expressed our harrowing but exciting journey of the day, they only laughed as they told how they enjoyed riding at night, driving as fast as possible on the most treacherous of roads. To me, this was sheer lunacy. Not only did one have to contend with serpentine roads and hairpin turns, but also Colorado was PITCH BLACK at night - there were no street lights in those mountains. I certainly was a risk taker, but this couple was truly out of their minds.
We journeyed on through Wyoming, Oregon and California that summer in a 30-day, 10,000 mile trip. To this date, it was the longest I have been away from New York City since 1970. For the resident here, spending long periods away from the city really gives a new, fresh perspective. Returning from that trip I could see and feel its gritty, dirty and very hard character. The mountains of Manhattan were different now.
On November 5, 2007, I wrote Magic Mountain, about the American International Building: "It is famous for its motif of a snow capped mountain - the base of the building is clad in granite while the upper portion, clad in limestone, becomes lighter in color until one reaches the very top, where it is white." The upper and lower right photos are from that story. A bit of the Rockies, popping up from the canyon floor of lower Manhattan.
But the night vista from the Manhattan Bridge in today's photo was not the reason I went on a journey as a Mountain Man, high in the New York Rockies...