My mother and I had a vacation together after I published ‘Drosera.’ We roadtripped from Central Texas to Santa Fe, then up through the Colorado Rockies back to Texas. It was nice, and I have a lot of good stories from it.
We were up high in the Rockies. The roads there are pretty narrow, and we were at the point where one side is sheer rock face, like the ones pictured, and the other side is a sharp drop to the valley below. None of my photos of those roads turned out anything except blurs and the raindrops on the windshields.
Slick asphalt is nothing to play with, much less when either option for a swerve leads to one heck of a car accident. We drove quickly, having grown up on winding hill country roads, but with some amount of caution. Still, though, there were people who decided we were going far, far too slow. They rode our back bumper so close I could see their angry faces in the mirror.
I had picked a route that’s recognized by the United States Government, Trail Ridge Road, so there were plenty of pull-overs for us to stop in. We pulled over often, and they moved past.
The most egregious was someone in a little sports car. I hear that taking curves in a car made for it is one of the most exhilarating things you can do. Obviously, we were cramping his joy. He shot around us, motor humming, yellow paint waxed to smooth, shining perfection.
“It’s fine,” I said. “We’re enjoying the trees.”
The aspen were brilliant gold, starker for the verdant evergreens around them. White trunks shone from the dark grey and brown underbrush. None of them had lost their leaves, not yet, but they were fully ready for autumnal splendor. Not for nothing is Trail Ridge Road called a natural wonder. I’m sure that when all the deciduous trees are in their fall colors, it’s incredible.
“And the rocks.”
Peaks like you just don’t get in the hills stood out all around us, snow dusting the jagged tops. Some of them even disappeared into the cloud cover, veiled from sight by roiling mists and drizzle. There’s a rainbow up in that photo I posted. Check it out. It was even more vibrant in real life.
“Yeah,” my mom agreed, and we got back on the road with no one on our tail. It was a lot easier to enjoy those trees and rocks I mentioned without any pressure on us. We peered through the trees, looking for wildlife, and discussed what this must have been like before the Anglos came, back when the Indigenous Americans walked here.
About ten minutes later, we came upon a wreck.
At least, that’s what we think it was. A firetruck and some cruisers were parked by the edge of the road, and officers were rappelling down into the valley below. It was a long, long drop. Definitely over fifty feet to the floor.
“Oh my God, oh no, I hope they’re okay,” I gushed, because I’m soft and weak and full of Southern platitudes when things go wrong.
We kept going in silence for a while.
“The way the road curved… they couldn’t handle it and went through the guardrail,” I continued. “They must have been on our side of the road, the way the mountain curved, that’s the only way they could have gone through the rail at that angle. They must have been on our side before they had the wreck.”
“It was one of the people who passed us, then. Has to have been.”
Silence again as we let the realization soak in.
“I wonder who it was,” I said.
We drove on, surrounded on all sides by mountains and trees. Sheer cliff face to one side. A sudden drop to the other.