Crossing state lines is always a momentous occasion on the journey road.
As I merged onto US-191 heading out of Cortez, Colorado, West, toward Utah, I spotted on a barren hill across the highway something of an oasis, all lit-up and colorful against a drab high plains backdrop. 'Doobie Sisters Recreational Dispensary' read the rainbow sign.
I jerked onto the shoulder and made a u-turn, following the arrow, smiling at the thought of making this my final stop in the Rocky Mountain state.
Now this is where I get into a little trouble.
Yes, the back pain and left leg prickling had re-emerged, mid-grade 4s and 5s, likely a result of that Mesa Verde summit the day before. I had a 150 mile 2-hour road trip ahead of me. I might need a little something to calm the flames.
But the honest truth of it? A relative cannabis novice, I just really wanted to try one of those infamous Colorado yummy gummies!
I opened the pouch and held the itty-bitty medicinal cherry candy between thumb and forefinger. This was an adventure, after all, I justified, popping the little morsel in my mouth as I navigated out of the gravel parking lot.
Within an hour, the landscape had opened up to a gasping, gaping, heart-palpitating, sativa-tinged red-rock nightmare.
I could not feel my foot on the gas pedal.
My hands gripped the steering wheel as 18-wheelers rode up my bumper flashing their headlights; but there was nowhere to go on a two-lane road. I was flying like a rocket yet, when I looked at the speedometer, it read 40 mph. I pointed the AC vents at my perspiring face.
When, suddenly, in the distance, rose a giant red sandstone orbital bone rising into the stark blue sky. This was no hallucination!
Gratefully, there was a pull-off, so I veered right onto the gravel, and the convoy of tractor-trailers sped by, leaving me in their dust.
I exhaled. I needed air. I got out of the car and stood, wobbly-legged, gazing up at the gigantic eye in the sky. I had to get up there. I could see another human, ant-sized, standing in the pupil – it was possible – but high was another story.
Changed into my hiking shoes, I stepped into pearlesent sand that felt as smooth as buttercream frosting; then things got a little steeper, sand giving way slabs of stone the color of burgundy wine and as slick as sliding boards. That required some breathless scrambling and focus, if I only could, on the piece of path just in front of me.
When I reached a ledge, about 100 feet below the eye, I perched myself there, wind whipping, frozen in giddy, giggly fear. I could not go another step further; yet how the heck was I going to get back down?
“Is it fun up there?” I called out to a couple and their teenage daughter shooting daring photos from smack in the center of the iris. “I don’t think I can make it,” I fluttered, my voice echoing off the sandstone.
“Sure you can.” Within seconds, the wife was holding my hand, leading me up, up, up, as I swooned and gasped.
“I ate a gummy, like a dummy,” I admitted, rhyming, heart-pounding, as her husband shot my photo, and the three strangers doubled over in laughter, pointing to the Doobie Sisters trucker hat on my head and the ridiculous cannabis-induced grin painted across my face.
“Oh, honey, those babies from Cortez are potent. That’ll keep going 5 or 6 hours,” said the husband, in an empathetic drawl, as his teenage daughter, wearing Uggs slippers, covered her mouth with her hand to hide her amusement.
“But don’t worry, we got your back. We’re both nurses.”
I exhaled a sign of relief, as they helped me down through the pink Bobbi Brown powdery blush sand and back safely to my car.
Their Pathfinder stayed with me to Moab, another hour through the blood red shadows of sunset in canyon country. My fateful saviors honked and waved as I took the exit, and they proceeded on to Salt Lake.
I have never been so happy in my life to set foot on hard, flat pavement as I was that evening in the parking lot of the Moab Valley Inn.
My Utah adventures had barely begun.
I had Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Escalante, Bryce and Zion ahead of me – and 19 cherry gummies left in my pouch.