From Carhenge to Colorado
A Road Trip Tale of Travel and Friendship
By Audrey Ashe
“We should sign our names on it,” I heard Toni declare as I chewed thoughtfully, reaching for the crackers, cheese, and fig spread. “Anybody have a sharpie?”
The sun had begun to set, casting pink and orange hues over Carhenge, and I couldn’t help but think “these really are the days of our lives” as I hopped off a half-buried truck to squeeze my initials between the thousands that came before mine.
I’m talking about Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, a fun tourist trap slash art installation that offers a curious recreation of Stonehenge using broken down autos. Truth be told, I found it the perfect ending to my first long road trip with friends. Thankfully, our destination had not been Alliance, Nebraska. It was merely a pitstop on our way home from Colorado.
As with many things in life, our adventure started on a whim. My stepfather had a week-long timeshare getaway available and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to look. A free place to stay and a summer trip, yes please! The place that ultimately caught my eye was Vail, Colorado. As a nature lover I’d always wanted to hike the Rockies, and it was a perfect time to go to Vail with the cool, dry weather. I called Toni and Craig, two friends with a penchant for adventure who love nothing more than good company and some laughs.
The thing is, as a somewhat unorganized college grad navigating the week with two other less-organized people, our trip was to be a learning process rife with shenanigans. It didn’t take long to realize that driving my aging SUV—a vehicle with broken air conditioning—for three days through the American Midwest in summer wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world. And with no auxiliary audio port, we had to get creative to stave off road hypnosis as the sea of cornstalks sent us into a trance. We got our mileage out of the same six CD mixes I made in high school, but to get a better feel of the Midwestern states we were passing through we eventually decided that whoever was riding shotgun would look up and read aloud local Craigslist personal ads. What will always stick with me is the surprising number of vampires in Iowa seeking companionship with those of their own kind.
Vail, Colorado, which is packed during ski season, was all but a ghost town during our late summer visit. It wasn’t long before we started to feel like honorary locals. The girl at the coffee shop across the street was eager to hear of our daily escapades and the bartenders at the pubs shared the history of the town and a few ghost stories. After a particularly long evening at such a pub, we decided to walk to the nearby grocery store to save money instead of going to a restaurant. Being rather unorganized as previously mentioned, we awoke the next morning to find we had purchased an array of food that didn’t quite match up. Bottles of dressing with no salad, a single onion, loaves of bread, and frozen pizzas—despite there being no oven in the condo. We soon discovered the joy of grilled pizza.
Throughout my stay I soaked in Colorado’s many wonders. While we were not that far from civilization on the trails, it still felt as if the world had stopped and all that existed was the quiet beauty of nature. The hushed whispers of wind over the brush, the songs of birds and chattering of small animals, and most strikingly, the dense lushness of untampered land that seemed to breathe life itself enveloped me. Aspen trees huddled over us, the pattern of their bark like watchful eyes keeping us company on our long treks into their inner sanctum.
The nearby hiking destination of Beaver Lake Trail will always be an important and personally memorable spot. We originally planned to hike up the trail to rest at what residents described as a peaceful lakeside oasis. Although we had to admit defeat after making it only halfway, the siren song of mental and physical triumph called, and in the spirit of adventure I rallied my friends to try again the next day. The second time around we persevered through the rocky final stretch and were rewarded with a view of Beaver Lake accompanied by friendly wildlife so used to hikers they walked right up to us to socialize.
It’s possible that this trip was nothing more than some college graduates hitting the road, but the memories I ended up with will follow me for the rest of my life. It was a breath of fresh air and strengthened a bond I shared with close friends. We learned that not all adventures have to be grandiose and result in a fantastic destination. Sometimes merely getting away can help to bring you some peace at a certain point in your life. That’s what crossed my mind as I packed up the last of my Carhenge picnic from atop the rusted trunk and walked back to the car.