In Colorado to ride horses in the mountains. One of the first times I’ve been in rural America – most of my previous visits have been to the cities – and I’m blown away by the scale and wilderness. The largely empty highways seem to go on forever. The mountains are chunkier than I’d expected as well – we’re a stone’s throw from Pikes Peak at over 14,000 feet.
Even the apples are bigger in America. And there’s a reason for that. They grow a thousand times as many apples in the States as in Britain, but they prefer theirs to be ‘meal-sized portions’ – so they export the little ones to us, with our smaller appetites and orchards.
We take a pack trip into the Sangre de Cristo mountains, south-west of Colorado Springs, and spend some nights at over 10,000 feet with nine wonderful horses who pick their way surefootedly across some difficult terrain. The forests are a rich mixture of aspen, spruce and pine, with wild raspberries growing underfoot and a few bears lurking around to add spice to the mix (we have a large Great Dane with us called Guinness, who is said to be more than a match for any bear, as they are notoriously afraid of dogs).
I’m with my old friends Gary Ziegler, who has led trips with me in Peru many times, and his wife Amy Finger. Their Bear Basin Ranch lies on the old stagecoach route to Westcliffe, and has over 4000 acres of fine riding country to explore.
By coincidence I’m just re-reading John Steinbeck’s excellent Travels with Charley, in which he also travels across America with a large dog, who at one point barks at a bear. It’s almost exactly 50 years old, written in 1961, published 1962, almost his last book and a fine tribute to his love for the wide open spaces of America as well as a melancholy forecast of some of the changes he could see coming. It came out the year he won the Nobel Prize and was subtitled ‘In Search Of America’; perhaps helped by the Nobel Prize, it was a bestseller and deserved to be for the simple, direct approach he took to travel writing, and his perfect ear for American dialogue: ‘the Badlands of Missouri are like the work of an evil child…’