Cloud Land to Peach Land, Published 30 March 1937I left you two miles in the air on a train in my last, up at Marshall Pass. Perhaps you recall that I told you a few Lessons ago that Superintendent Deuel of the Rio Grande would stop the train anywhere for me, and here I was at last, enjoying proof of just that. For instead of letting the little No. 315 (the train, not the engine) head down into the cattle lands again, they were holding the whole works up while I got out and looked around.
First of all, everything up in that lonesome pass is under the snow shed. The train goes right into it, and inside there too, in the crepuscular light, can be detected the turn-table and a passing track. The station office and even the Marshall Pass post office is up under there, beneath the dismal, smoky, train shed. Until recently, Marshall Pass was the highest post office in the United States. Now I believe there is a higher one on the Colorado and Southern, at Climax 11,320 feet.
Mr. Sills, Mr. Broderick and I scrambled out on the train shed roof, and there we were, right on the Continental Divide. The train shed is sloped so that the Atlantic and Pacific are as to drainage only a needle's eye width apart at this point. You can shake hands across 'the Great Divide. There you are, just about 11,000 feet above the ocean, with the train smoking below you in the dingy train shed. Mount Ouray by this time is decked out in orange cap, and the lower slopes are flecked with black conifers. Except for a few Rocky Mountain skyscrapers, everything falls away beneath you. Truly, you are on top of the world.
* * *
We all piled back into the snow shed. The engineer wise-cracked about us looking at our watches, dial side down, for we had held the train about 10 minutes. Then we got aboard, and we started to fall. We rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled. There seemed to be no bottom to the world. We slid past mountains, and we looked up to incredible heights to gape at where we had been before. But if I looked down, I gawked anew to see those two black strips, there in the snow, where I knew I must go. Picture-taking, though the light was better, was not nearly so good, for the train's motion was swifter. and seemingly less steady. I would get ready to snap some delightful, snow-filled valley, when the train would lurch, and an entirely different scene would pop up. My valley was gone forever. The whole trip down was strewn like that with untaken piotures.
The snow was now thick all the way, for we were on the western slopes, and the precipitation was heavier over here. Again you could see three different levels of train track, and again we ran over all three. Then finally, at Sargent, altitude 8,477 (all altitudes here are written on the stations) we stopped. They told me that here I could get my picture of the little train. Accordingly, to oblige me, they ran the five cars down the track. When I got down there, after wading up to my knees in snow, I said: "You're too far down."
"Too far down?" asked the conductor. "O.K. We'll back her up. No trouble." And with that, believe it or not, gentle readers, your old Geography Teacher had them back up a real live train, on a real, live schedule, up real live track about 100 feet. I may never amount to much, but at least it can be said of me that on December 28, 1936, a passenger train was backed up for me. The passengers wondered what all the shunting was about. I quickly shot three scenes in succession, clambered back aboard, and soon we were dropping again, dropping till when we got near Gunnison, we were in a country of white-faced cattle. Gone were the impassable hills, and in its place were level valleys, mild enough to permit cattle to graze outdoors all winter.
Gunnison, at 7,683 feet above sea, was where we were to change from the train to the bus. The passenger service via rail is abandoned beyond this, and the Rio Grande Trailways, a subsidiary bus company, takes over the transportation job. Only one train a week is operated from Gunnison to Montrose, the end of the narrow gauge. Gunnison, with 1,415 people, is on the flat and is as level as the prairie. There is a hotel where the proprietor serves a free meal every day the sun doesn't shine, and he doesn't have to serve it very often. What most struck me about Gunnison was the fact that though there was snow, and it had been cold the night before 20 below is a common occurrence at nights here the day was lovely and warm, and you could go without an overcoat. Winter in these warmer latitudes, even though the high altitude forces snow instead of rain, is not as fierce and biting as in Eastern Canada.
* * *
At Gunnison they were to put us in a bus, but instead, moved us into a private motor car, and that is the way we moved the next 63 miles. We had taken three hours and 35 minutes to come 73 miles by rail, and now we were to ride on rubber. We plugged on through lovely country, where the mild temperature gives you the combination of open water with snow, and the shadowy effects you get from these mirrory lakes and rivers is delightful. We passed some forlorn looking spots like Cebolla and Sapinero, which appeared as if they had left their future far behind them. Yet they were jumping-off places once for rich mining centers, and it was in back of here that the bush had swallowed up a whole city and left only the rusted hydrants in the underbrush. It is in from here too, that ghost cities exist. Not a soul lives in them in winter, but in summer, hordes of people rush in, and while some are leased, many are just occupied by squatters, who squat all summer free of charge, and move out when the snow gets so deep that either access or exit are soon to be impossible. We passed between Black Mesa and Blue Mesa for a while, and learned from the driver that in back on the Mesa was a lot of little-traversed territory, where all kinds of game, including bears and mountain lions, throve. I looked away down to the right and saw the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, with the railway tracks almost out of sight. The Canyon was a thousand feet below me, but in perspective this mighty gash in the rocks looked like a little gutter.
Far ahead I spied bare ground, and knew it must be the Montrose country. Soon we started rolling down hill over frost-heaved road, and quickly were down amid peach orchards, and on bare pavement. This was Montrose, end of the narrow gauge, big enough to have a standard sleeper every night to Denver, and the center of a great agricultural district. It is quoted at 3,566 people.
Here we picked up the bus, ran through two good towns, Olathe and Delta, then we put in the most dismal time in the whole trip. It was over the dullest and dreariest desert possible, we drove amid rain and snow, and to cap the climax, we whined mile after mile in some intermediate gear over horrible detours.
Then I arrived at Grand Junction, in the peach belt, 6,300 feet lower than I had been at Marshall Pass.
First Grand Junction, then the Mormons of Utah in the next