Bridge Over the Colorado

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I had not realized this, but we have been following the Colorado since Grand Junction. Sort of.

We crossed the Colorado River on the I-70 just before we entered Utah. Actually, the Colorado follows the I-70 deeper into Colorado, through a spectacular canyon that's shared with Amtrak's California Zephyr. After Grand Junction, though, it cuts southwest through Utah and into Arizona, where it cuts out the vast landscape that is the Grand Canyon.

After leaving a nameless town in western Utah, we headed south on US-89, fortified by some excellent coffee and burgers by a roadside café. We entered Arizona and approached the Grand Canyon from the north. The north rim does not receive the attention that the south rim gets, mostly because it's harder to access; all of the big cities in the area (Las Vegas, Flagstaff, etc) are on the southern side. So, we were promised that the north rim would still be impressive, but less touristy.

We were impressed by the drive up to the north rim, which passes through a microclimate of pine forest and bison. It was really quite beautiful. And then the land drops away, and there's the canyon, diving hundreds of feet deep. It's spectacular -- or, would have been if it hadn't been totally obscured by the smoke of three nearby wildfires. It made the visit quite a disappointment, and the smoke actually made Eleanor physically sick. Fortunately, she recovered quickly as we high-tailed it out of there, heading for Flagstaff.

Leaving the pine forest, we entered Moon Canyon, a wide, flat expanse across northeastern Arizona that's buttressed by tall, red mesas. I couldn't help but be impressed: crossing the Grand Canyon is impossible, of course, so to get around it, you have to go nearly a hundred kilometres out of your way, where the Colorado River hasn't cut so deep. And here is where we found a sight that made our day. Moon Canyon is wide and flat at this point, and the Colorado River cuts into it deep. There's a steel road bridge, and an older footbridge that used to be the road bridge. We got out and walked across the bridge, and saw that the Colorado River was about a hundred feet below us. It's like the Grand Canyon is just getting started here.

We took pictures of the bridge, the canyon and the surrounding mesas, and drove off to Flagstaff as the sun set, arriving after nightfall.

Tomorrow, we will try the Grand Canyon again, heading for the south rim, but further west, hopefully avoiding all of that smoke. We'll bunk down near the Nevada/California border, and be in Fresno by Sunday night.

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Grand Junction

continental-divide.jpgI've calculated that, by the time we've finished this drive, and have returned to Kitchener, we will have travelled the equivalent to one quarter the circumference of the globe.

And I suspect we'll be feeling every inch of it.

The past few days have been worth it, though. We spent the past three days in Colorado, starting with a two-night stay in Pueblo. We ventured behind the front range mountains and visited the Great Sand Dunes. Altitude sickness affected us more than we would have suspected, however, so we weren't up to sledding down them. But we did see mountains, spectacular scenery, and met up with two of Erin's friends online. We returned home tracked by a thunderhead that produced a wonderful show.

Then, yesterday, we struck out for Grand Junction, Colorado, following US-50 through some of the more rugged territory of the state. We crossed the continental divide at Monarch Pass, and took a tram to the summit, 12,000 feet above sea level. The sun was bright, the sky was clear, and we could see over 150 miles. We pushed through canyons that were jaw-dropping. Vivian, who often tries to be too cool for things, was impressed enough to say, "what is it like for the people who live here? Who look out on this stuff and think it's normal!"

The trees started to run out as we approched Grand Junction, and passed through what must have been honest desert, but we're not sure. The sun had set and it was getting dark.

The difference between Utah and Colorado is night and day, but it is no less impressive. First, driving out on I-70, the state makes it perfectly clear that it would kill us if it wanted to. Yellow sand and rock stretched as far as the eye could see. Exits advised "NO SERVICES" (then why put the exits there, then?). That spooked us enough to fill up the tank about as often as we saw a gas station. We stopped at a gas station convenience store that had been carved into a rock outcrop. We had mediocre burgers at a dry, desolate location. All-in-all, Utah looked grim. But we drove down UT-24 to UT-12, which is consistently ranked as one of the most scenic drives in the world. They're not kidding.

We stopped to dip our toes at Capitol Reef near the Harrison Bridge. We went over, around and through some spectacular badlands, as well as other places that were green oases. And we arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park as the sun was setting.

I didn't know what to expect here, but this national park is a forested area that overlooks the start of some of the most spectacular badlands in the world. You hike up to an observation post with no idea about what to expect. The result takes your breath away and makes you reassess your place in the Universe.

We are now in southwestern Utah at a Rodeway Motel that's not attached to any city, so far as I can tell.We finished the day looking up at the stars in an almost dark sky. Unfortunately, the light from the inn's sign from two miles away was enough to cause some light pollution, but we were still able to see an unusually bright Mars and the sweep of the Milky Way.

Tomorrow, we head to Flagstaff, Arizona, by way of the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Fresno beckons in two days.

I will make photos available on Flickr when I have more time.

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On the Verge of the Rockies

holdridge-nebraska.jpgThis was, unexpectedly, the longest day yet, but I write this from Pueblo, Colorado, about fifty miles farther than we planned to end up the night and about a hundred miles further than I'd expected. We avoided the freeways of Denver, and saw land that was flatter than a pancake. Let me explain.

We left Grinnell, Iowa, fortified by excellent espresso, and had a short jaunt to Omaha, where we spent an afternoon and stayed overnight with our old friend Therese and her husband Rob. The rest stop was greatly appreciated, and we played Ticket to Ride and learned a interesting Scrabble-like puzzle game called Quirkle. Then we headed off into Nebraska after breakfast.

On trips through Northern Ontario, there's a song that people are supposed to sing, to describe the wonderful things they will see a lot of along the way. The lyrics go something like this:

Rocks and trees! Trees and rocks!
Rocks and trees! Trees and rocks!
Rocks and trees! Trees and Rocks and waterrrrrrr!

Nebraska could come up with its own song very easily, and it would go like this:

Corn and beans! Beans and corn!
Corn and beans! Beans and corn!

Corn and beans! Beans and corn and cattlllllllle!

The states get bigger the further west you go. You cross the border on I-80, and the mileage markers start counting down from over 400. We made good time on the i-80, but it was hot and loud, and the kids were getting somewhat battle fatigued. So Erin made an executive decision to turn the car south at Kearney, and take a route that bypassed Denver for Colorado Springs and also, incidentally, took us into Kansas, thus knocking another US state off my list.

Urban legend has it that scientists measured Kansas and pronounced it to be, on average, flatter than a pancake, and I have no trouble believing this. You'd think that, with Nebraska being among the Great Plains states, that it would be flat. It isn't. It's hot, and rugged, and tinged yellow wherever you go. It's strange, but heading south caused the land to flatten out almost completely, and turn green. The sky also got even more interesting. We followed thunderstorms for miles, only occasionally getting wet. We observed lightning strikes in the distance. And we came through places where we could only see crops; no houses, and no other cars on the road. And these were US (federal) highways.

We hit I-70 and turned west, and the land changed soon after we entered Colorado. Visiting Denver back in 2016, I was amazed at how flat Colorado seemed, before transforming within the span of a city to a community in the foothills. I see now, after having seen true flatness in Kansas, that Colorado has small ridges -- possibly waves in the techtonic forces that preceed the mountains.

Because the mountains are still amazing, even though we came in after sunset. Their presence can still be felt. We know we're on the cusp of things.

We'll be staying in Pueblo for two nights, meeting some friends, and seeing some amazing scenery. And also catching our breath a little after a long day.

Heading West, Again

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Erin took this picture above, as we struck out from Moline, Illinois, across the Mississippi into Iowa this evening.

It used to be that, around this time of year (and Christmas), we would pack up the car and drive west, crossing the border at the Bluewater Bridge, making it nearly as far as Chicago the first night, then continuing on to Des Moines the next day. For a week, we would head around the midwest, going to Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, and heading up to Vermillion, South Dakota. This ritual, which put hundreds of clicks on our car, was so Erin and our children could see their American grandparents and the extended family.

That changed a few years ago. My mother-in-law and her husband immigrated to Canada, and my father-in-law and his wife moved out to Fresno, California. We have flown out to Fresno before, but airfare is a luxury we can't afford, so it has been a while since we've been to California -- or even out to Des Moines.

This year, Erin decided that we needed to visit her father Wendell and his wife Judy. The kids need to connect with all their grandparents. And thanks to the loan of my mother-in-law Rosemarie and her husband Michael's Prius, we can make the trip without boarding a plane. We just have to drive 4,500 kilometers.

In a Prius. With two pre-teen children.

The children, to form, have been troopers about this, and laugh over the statements that, if nothing else, the resulting adventure may be good fodder for a future book.

I write this today in Grinnell, Iowa. We left Kitchener fairly promptly yesterday afternoon, thanks to a lot of help from Michael and Rosemarie in getting the packing ready. We got as far as Kalamazoo before we stopped for the night. Today, we skipped past Chicago, had dinner with old friends of the family Mike and Alice, and continued on into Iowa. We've been through four states in one day, but now the states are going to get kind of long. Tomorrow, we'll take a short day that will get us to Omaha, and after that it's on to Denver. We will meet more friends along the way, see some national monuments, including the Grand Canyon, and we will be sleeping in a tugboat in San Francisco Bay once again. And I'll have some LRT time, as we pause in Salt Lake City, Utah, to gather our breath before we continue on our way. I'll keep you posted as the trip continues.

It has been a busy couple of weeks for me. Two non-fiction writing projects that had been due on July 15th got delayed as we waited on approval for my outlines, and then the approvals came, with the publishing house asking for both manuscripts to be turned around within the next two weeks -- a week per book. It was pedal to the metal for much of that time, but I handed in the second draft manuscript Friday at noon, and now I'm free. I've spent most of the past two days driving, but I've been thinking, and planning revisions for The Sun Runners. Long car rides do give you some time to think, when the kids finally get quiet in the back seat. Unfortunately, you can't stop the car to write down your ideas.

I am exhausted, but I am also excited. This will be an adventure, and it will be something I doubt the kids will ever forget.

The Sun Runners: My Seventh Novel

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The image on the right is entitled Space Window and is by Tim Evanson. It is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.

The blacksmiths' guild had been up and operating for a month, but Adelheid called for a ceremony to mark the occasion.

And at the ceremony, where the elected guild leaders, the advisory council and Adelheid's security detail met and Adelheid handed over the blacksmith guild's charter, she said to them, "Make me a crown."

Later that day, she watched as the top blacksmith twisted glowing iron, bending it around a guide so it made a graceful curve. Then, using tongs, he held the iron in the torch-flame again, before bringing it out and hammering it, each clang spraying sparks.

Adelheid watched him work, her hands clasped behind her, an orange sash over her blue uniform.

Finally, the blacksmith took the glowing iron lacework and dipped it into water, which gushed with steam.

Bringing it out, wet, still steaming, he placed it on a towel to cool.

Finally, Adelheid picked up the wrought-iron crown. She turned it over in her hands, inspecting every detail critically. The dark bar curved and wound around itself in a tiara shape, beautiful without jewels, and strong.

She nodded, and gripped it tight. "This will do. Let's go."

She placed the crown on her head and turned to face the future.

The Sun Runners represents my first completed first draft since the initial completion of Icarus Down just over eight years ago. Writing it down like that, it sounds like more of a drought than it is. In between those dates, I had to revise and rewrite Icarus Down, and then I did a complete set-aside-and-write-from-scratch draft of The Night Girl, effectively making it Night Girl 2.0. I've also had a number of non-fiction books to write, and promotions for Icarus Down.

But this has been a tough novel to write. My first inspiration came in late December 2014, while Erin was at the wheel during our regular winter drive to Des Moines and Omaha. I envisioned a world inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, where Mercurian cities were kept on the dark side of the planet by riding on rails that expanded in the advancing heat of the sun. I changed that from towering cities to ten-kilometer-long trains, and I imagined young Frieda Koning, crown princess of one of these latitude towns, losing her arms as she rescues her city which has gotten stuck on errant rocks that are chewing up the wheels moving along the rails.

The rest of the story built in fits and starts. I imagined a silent Earth, that had collapsed due to environmental problems over a century beforehand, only to awake and speak to its colonies now. That century long silence got shorter and shorter until I realized that one of the hearts of the story was the intergenerational conflict, and Adelheid appeared. She was Frieda's grandmother, mentor and primary antagonist, and she demanded her own story set during the start of the silence.

From initial inspiration, it has taken me three-and-a-half years to put together a first draft. And, let me tell you: it's a mess. But at least it's a complete mess, if you know what I mean.

There are further subplots that need adding, and a lot of details to fix on my world-building. Motivations need smoothing out and justifying. And let me say that some of the science has me tearing out my hair (space is big, and even on a small planet like Mercury, distances are long, and we can't speed up how fast the sun rises). Howeer, there's a lot that I'm proud of here, and I look forward to polishing things in the coming months, especially once I hear what my beta readers have to say.

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