The Hall of the Mountain King

As high as the Pontiac has ever been, or ever will be: 14,130 feet (4307 m) above sea level. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road on the North American continent. Due to the likelihood of heavy snow at that elevation, the road is open only from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Since I’ve never been a fan of summer travel, I pushed it as late as possible and made my ascent on Labor Day, September 7, 1998.

I rose early and left the town of Idaho Springs well before sunrise. There was some delay getting on the road because the Pontiac did not want to start in that cold, thin air. I was able to get it going by removing the air filter and wedging open the choke plate with a screwdriver. If Idaho Springs (elevation 7526 feet) was a problem, then starting the car at the top of mountain would be even more challenging. So I left the engine running during the entire trip up and down Mount Evans.

Winding my way up the mountain in the cold and the dark, I was watching closely for deer and other beasts, and hoping that the Pontiac could handle the climb. Traffic was limited to just two or three other vehicles. I arrived at the entrance gate a few minutes before they opened for business that day, and made it to the parking area as the sun was coming up. Standing in the cool, clear, still air, I marveled at the view of the sun rising over the rugged terrain far below, and at the mountain’s long shadow extending for many miles to the west.

The wide-angle lens used here was junked right after this roll was developed, as it had quit working properly and was seriously over-exposing each frame (these black & white photos required heavy digital manipulation). Happily, the cheap disposable camera I had purchased at a gas station was there to save the day…

It would have been a shame to get this close to the summit and not finish the journey. As one who lives near sea level, I’m glad I had asked my doctor for an oxygen prescription so I could buy a tank for trips like this. On went the mask and I set out for the top of Mount Evans. This was my very first attempt at physical activity above 10,000 feet. Though only a 135-foot climb from the parking lot to the summit, it didn’t take long to learn that I needed to move slowly at this elevation.

I did stand—briefly—on that highest rock, but even with the O2, I had trouble balancing there. To date, this remains the highest point I have ever visited: 14,265 feet (4348 m).

Wish I had put the top down before taking these photos of the Pontiac; at least it was lowered for the sunny ride back down the mountain.

Ilford FP4 film
Kodak Gold 400 film

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Rock Garden

High up on the side of a mountain, I found this yucca growing from the remnants of its former, larger self. Almost looks like an attempt at landscaping, as if someone put the yucca in a pot and placed it on this natural shelf. But I’m confident that the plant found this great spot to live and grow without any assistance from us.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Agfapan APX 25 film

South

This is as close to Mexico as the Pontiac has ever been. From here, a short walk around the curve ahead brings you to the edge of Rio Grande River. The Boquillas Crossing, in Big Bend National Park, Texas, is for pedestrians, not vehicles. On this day (Christmas Eve, 1994), I went down to the water’s edge and watched people walking in both directions across the narrow and shallow river. No giant signs, no government buildings, no fences, no armed sentries…just a slow and simple flow of humans over the landscape, the way that explorers, cowboys, merchants, hunters, wanderers and conquerors have moved through this area for centuries.

After finding this photo, I went online and looked at more recent pictures of the area. The river appears much wider now, and row boats are used to move people from one side to the other. These stone pillars remain, but the crossbar above has been replaced by a low-hanging ornamental gate which blocks vehicles. And the crossing is indeed a proper port of entry now, complete with buildings, fences, cameras, signs and Border Patrol agents.

Kodak Tri-X film