Last weekend, we headed out of town for a belated birthday celebration for Sara — westward along the Arkansas River past Salida, then southward from Poncha Springs over Poncha Pass into the San Luis Valley towards our destination, Alamosa.
Turned out to be a lovely drive, even if a bit long at two and a half hours. We slid right past the turn-off for the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Valley View Hot Springs and the UFO Tower on our way — those would have to wait till another time. We continued onward to Alamosa where we ate a great meal at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company and enjoyed one of the delicious beers they brew there, Alamosa Amber.
We had tickets for a Sunday excursion on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad up to a special mountain meadow concert stage for a performance from folk legend, Tom Rush, so in the morning, we grabbed some good coffee and light breakfast at Roast, next door to the brewpub, and still had time on our hands to discover a downtown park by the banks of the Rio Grande. We even had time for a short stroll along the river before heading over to the depot.
And the whole rest of the day was similarly magical. We both dearly love train rides, and this one was a beaut. The scenery was incredible, and we had opted for the cheap seats — the open coach, where you can feel the breeze and watch the scenery unobstructed by windows. We were joined by a few more adventurous souls wanting to enjoy the freedom of the wind and the unlimited horizons. We found them to be the best seats in the house, actually.
Even as we passed through mile after mile of flat plains with the Sangre de Christo Mountains in the distance, Sara was loving it. We stopped briefly at Ft. Garland to pick up more passengers before starting to climb the La Veta pass up into the mountains. With our tracks winding upward now, our vistas changed significantly, sometimes providing sweeping panoramic views, other times, close viewing of the rocky grades and wooded mountainsides.
Eventually, we arrived at our destination, a mountain meadow paradise called Fir, Colorado. Located at 9200 feet of elevation, it boasts a natural sloping hillside leading down to a concert stage, and, oh, what a stage and what a beautiful setting.
See, the train ride alone would have been a marvelous adventure, even without the concert. But they really have done a stellar job in putting these concerts together. Tom Rush was this last season’s final performer, and someone that Sara has been following for over 50 years. We saw him once together at the Cactus Cafe several years back, but it’s far too rare — and we are far, far away from the Cactus Cafe these days.
This destination concert, however, showcased this legendary troubadour for a crowd of fans numbering somewhere around about 100 people. Yes, it was an intimate concert for some devoted fans in the wide, open spaces, sitting in the sunshine on a mountain meadow with distant peaks off on the western horizon down the valley away from us.
Tom was in fine form and treated us to a variety of classic songs and new ones as well as the stories of a seasoned songwriter who’d been there. When he played a Joni Mitchell tune, he mentioned in passing how he was the first person to record any of her songs and filled in the details as he introduced “The Circle Game.”
He even treated us to a brand new tune, proving his writing as well as his voice remains fresh and powerful.
The only way from here is up —
I’ve run clean out of down.
I’m gonna pick me up, pack me up,
And head on out of town.
I might go way down south
Or maybe way up north next fall…
All I know is wherever I go,
I won’t be back at all.
He slipped in an Austin Lounge Lizards classic, “Old Blevins.” He played two sets with a bit of a break, and signed merchandise between the sets. Sara got to speak with him briefly, and he thanked her for her “stamina” in being a fan for over 50 years.
We ended up sitting by a fellow who actually predated Sara’s fandom by a little bit, but with overlapping venues and places. She mentioned that she asked Tom to play a particular song, but he said he longer played it. Then, he pulled it out late in the second set and stunned her once again. I looked over to see tears on her smiling face.
The train ride back was breezy and wonderful and we were happy, drowsy travelers. Tom strolled through the train to sign anybody’s merch and we finally got a photo of Sara with Tom. She also had a chance to explain her 50 years of fandom was about commitment, not just stamina.
Blissed out was how Sara described herself. Now, all we needed to do was make the drive home — two and a half hours. Ugh, the thought nearly paralyzed us both. But actually, it flew by for the most part.
The “Cosmic Highway” runs north-south in a straight line through the San Luis Valley, and that part was okay, if somewhat heavy with traffic. The final stretch from Salida to Cañon is beautiful, but often harrowing due to traffic. Instead, we mostly had the “car ad highway” experience with no one behind us. That gave me a chance to get my first really good look at the canyons and reminded me of the beauty we have so close to home.
And best of all, rounding the curve to descend down towards Cañon City felt great. Coming home should always feel like that.