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Photo Essay: Southwest Journey
La Veta, CO, home to majestic mountains and wicked hail storms
I’m a gratitude-giver by nature. I start first thing in the morning by acknowledging that I woke up. I’m appreciative that I can laze about in bed as long as I want, which can be several hours of dozing off, meditating, and engaging in the kind of thinking or speculation that leads to posts like this or massive journaling sessions.
Once up, I move on to being grateful for my morning beverages of tea and coffee, thanking everyone whose labor enabled the hot liquids to reach my lips and the elements (sun, water, earth) that contributed to my being able to enjoy the brews.
Throughout the day, I give thanks for the food I eat, the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, my apartment, and to those whose labor keeps where I live clean and orderly. Depending on what I do and if I go out, I can be grateful for my MacBook Air or other electronics, the car I drive, and the fabulous views I enjoy no matter where I am.
Most of all, though, I am grateful for something I did, that Joe and I did together because it’s likely that I would not have done it without him. We talked for many years about it, but like many “someday” wishes, it stayed on the back burners of our consciousness.
Our someday-dream was to take an extended road trip around the country. Very extended, as in live on the road. We were healthy and had no “ties” to any area. We could do our work from anywhere. The “thing” holding us back was financing a vehicle or places to stay. The upfront costs of purchasing a motorhome or paying for hotels or airbnbs was not affordable for us, long-run—and we wanted a long run, not a two- or three-week or even month-long trip.
Then somewhere around 2014-2015, we lost a number of good friends and relatives. Suddenly the distant “someday” became “If not now, when?” once the reality of our own impermanence hit home.
We simply decided we would do it, and although we didn’t know how it would happen, we decided it would. We sold off most of our belongings and moved from Asheville to Wilmington, NC, in June 2016 with basically the bare necessities.
A series of fortuitous events led to our discovery of housesitting and after a few trials taking care of friends’ homes and pets, we packed up what we had in Wilmington, put it in storage, and took off in a 1996 Jeep Cherokee with 260K+ miles in May 2017.
We traveled the East Coast for about six months and then drove across the country in six days for two booked housesits on Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State that would keep us on the West Coast for at least the next four months. Those stays led to additional ones in the Seattle area through June 2018, when we started back to the East Coast, with stops in Oregon, California, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado—almost another six months.
From Fall 2018 until March 2020, when the pandemic closed down pretty much everything and made our nomadic lifestyle impractical, we traveled through New England, the South, Midwest, and North Atlantic states. Before the lockdown hit, we were booked in Asheville, Atlanta, Wilmington, and St. Louis for the upcoming months with plans to head back to the Northwest states for Summer 2020.
Instead, Joe and I rented an apartment in Asheville and moved in on August 3. (We had been here when things closed down and able to secure lodging for a few months in a friend’s Airbnb when all her bookings were cancelled.) On August 10, we received his late-stage, aggressive cancer diagnosis and three months later, almost to the day, he was gone.
And so, every single day I give thanks for saying, “If not now, when?” Of course I’m grateful for all our 23 years together, but the icing on the cake is our almost three years on the road. That we listened to the inner guidance that told us to get out and live our dream even though we had no idea how it would happen.
When the hospice chaplain asked Joe if he had any unfinished business to take care of, he thought for a moment and then answered.
“No,” he said. “I’ve had a wonderful life. I earned a living doing work I loved and lived with the love of my life, who is with me now.”
From what I read and hear, not many people say things like that on their deathbeds. I’m grateful not only that I was able to share almost one-third of his life, but that I have the satisfaction of knowing we lived our dream and savored every minute of it.
Now I have other things that bring me joy, of course, but I can tell you that every time a photo memory comes up on my phone or computer, or I look at the gallery of his work that adorns the walls of my home, I can feel gratitude instead of regret.
Today I’d like to share a portion of his work done while we were in Colorado, specifically the city of La Veta.
La Veta, CO
La Veta is one of those communities that goes from a population of 800 people off-season to almost 3000 in summer. It’s a tiny town with a main street several blocks long, which is the only paved road. All other roads are dirt. Families of deer travel freely and can often be seen strolling the neighborhoods or resting under trees, even “downtown.”
La Veta also sports some unusual geological features, ones that geologists and geology students from all over the world come to see and study. The mountains below and in the cover photo are the Spanish Peaks, located just east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range and just south of the town of La Veta.
Silver Mountain is a body of magma that never reached the surface and intruded the crust approximately 36 million years ago. The processes of uplift, weathering, and erosion since then have exposed what we see today. The mountain has a ring of radial dikes extending outward, which is the main attraction for the geologists. Joe liked it, too, although for different reasons ;)
We stayed in La Veta twice. The first time was the housesit and the second time was after another housesit in Santa Fe. Fortunately the family in La Veta had a small apartment attached to their home, which Joe and I rented for two weeks before leaving for our next sit in Denver.
One evening I was prepping a salad for dinner and looking out the kitchen window above the sink when Kelly, the owner of the home, called to say she was around the corner at her parents’ house with the dogs. She asked me to close the windows in her office because rain was in the forecast and she was concerned about her computer.
I entered her home through the shared garage between the main house and our apartment. I closed the window above her computer when I heard a long, loud bang and ran into the living room to see what fell. I thought I heard Joe calling me. His voice was so faint, I thought I was imagining it. When I looked around, I saw him about ten feet away. The noise was so loud, I could see his lips moving but could not make out what he was saying. Finally, he grabbed my arm and pointed outside. As we watched, we heard breaking glass all around us as skylights and open windows shattered.
A fierce hailstorm lasting only minutes covered the terrace with hail and broke windows and skylights throughout the house. We raced through the garage back to our apartment and called Kelly to report the damage. She was under her parents’ dining room table with the dogs, trying to calm them. Her parents had similar damage to their home. She asked about our apartment. That’s when I saw that the window where I had been standing when she called earlier had shattered and the spot where I had been standing was covered in shards of glass.
Fortunately all damage was only to homes and automobiles. We and the neighbors were all safe. Kelly came home with her dad after they cleaned up his house. By the time we had her house and our apartment cleared and the windows covered in vinyl it was late and we went to bed. The next morning Joe went outside to check our Jeep. Yikes. The entire exterior was covered in major dents and the windshield and sideview mirror were smashed.
The car had to be towed and we needed a rental. Good luck with that in a small town when almost every resident needed the same service. After several days and many hours on the phone, we finally found a body shop in Colorado Springs (one-hour drive) and a rental in Trinidad (50-minutes drive in the opposite direction). Our Jeep was towed and we borrowed Kelly’s car, which had been in her garage, so safe and spared from damage, to drive to get the rental—a brand new Ford Escape Titanium.
I drove the luxury rental home and Joe followed in Kelly’s car. I got out of the rental and informed Joe my Jeep days were over. He nodded, knowing that our insurance company would never spring for the money it would take to repair the Jeep. And he was correct. The car was totaled and we received a far larger payment than we expected. Large enough to use as a downpayment on a used car. So we left La Veta and headed to Denver in our new-to-us 2017 Nissan Altima. This was what appeared to us on our way back from picking up our new ride:
We took it as a good omen, and it was. We continued for many miles, through many states, before our final stop in Asheville. I traded the Altima in last year for a new vehicle, but not before giving gratitude for the hours and miles it gave us.
If you’re interested, I’ve previously published several other photo essays featuring his photos and our journeys to The Pacific Northwest (Long Beach Peninsula and northern Oregon), Seattle and surrounding area, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco. Each of those posts linked here are part of a larger series—too many to link each here—but all can be found in the Archive with very obvious titles, and easy to locate.
Until next time… My best, Shelley