Summer freedom: Warning lights and a stunning Colorado road

  • A tin-roofed barn nestled in a valley along Colorado 145.

By Tom Nichols

There’s nothing more liberating than returning to The Epic Van and setting course for Glacier National Park, the next leg of our Year Four adventure. I feel like a first-grader on the first day of summer vacation.

Judy and I were gloating a bit on the way out of town about how efficient we’ve become in shifting from residential living to our mobile habitat. There’s no longer any anxiety about equipping The Epic Van.

It took about four hours to supply our 22-foot home with essential food, clothes, toiletries, electronics, bedding and hiking gear. In 2015, it took us two days to prepare for our first trip and four subsequent visits to UPS stores to send back the pile of junk we brought along.

This year, we left our portable bikes and icemaker at home for our trip to the Everglades and Florida Keys in March and enjoyed the extra leg room.

Over the years, we’ve also become more efficient in adventure planning. We’ve shifted from choreographing one grand loop, as we did in Year One. We now split our travel into two or three loops a year, returning to Arizona for mechanical/medical maintenance and family time.

Our intermission this year included 75,000-mile service on The Epic Van and medical tests. Results were all positive.

Nothing stood between us and our Roadtrek reunion in Montana, except a yellow engine warning light that appeared on our dashboard on our second day out as we approached the Four Corners.

It was eerily similar to an emissions-system warning that flashed on our return from South Carolina in early May. In Arkansas, our mission control panel warned: 12 starts before engine shutdown. We made it back to Phoenix with a couple of starts to spare and assumed our vehicle service had fixed everything.

We now grudgingly accept a minor restraint. As our Epic Van ages along with us, freedom hinges on a dashboard without warning lights or messages.

As we saw the Welcome to Beautiful Colorado sign, we pondered our next move. Should we loop back home or roll to Denver, the next available Sprinter service center. Fortunately, the engine light disappeared near Cortez, Colo., and the wonder of nomadic life again returned.

I’ll always remember our drive on Colorado 145 from Dolores to Telluride as a Top 20 American highlight. The road, a gentle escalator along the willow-dotted Dolores River, winds from ranch, red rock and fir, then steepens through alpine meadow and aspen at Lizard Head Pass. Soaring above is the granite fortress of Sunshine Mountain and Wilson Peak, one the “fourteeners” that attracts wilderness climbers. Above Lizard Head Pass, the highway reveals the route of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad, grand trestles and loops near Ophir, engineered to carry gold ore from the Gold King Mountain down to the valley below.

The midday drive was reaffirmation that, despite our wide-ranging treks across America, the Four Corner states still strikes a mystical chord. We plan to narrow our summer travel in 2019 to enjoy extra months in the Southwest.

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