Last weekend we decided to drive east instead of west. About two and a half hours’ drive are the Pawnee Buttes, rising up out of the flat plains like giant, misplaced sand castles. To get there, you have to hold your nose through dairy towns and take care to stop at one last outpost of civilization before about a 45-minute stretch of boondocks. You’ll be pretty sure you are heading the wrong way; the wooden painted signs are so weatherbeaten that they are hard to read, the asphalt trucks apparently abandoned their paving task shortly off the highway. There is even what can only be called a ghost town there in the sticks — a cluster of abandoned houses that once optimistically catered to tourists of the Buttes. But then, you’re there.
What is so arresting about this little pocket of Colorado? For one thing, you can’t see it coming — it just sort of shimmers into being at the last minute like an apparition from the Wild West. Empty field, empty field –boom. Humongous towers. It reminds me in that way of Black Canyon, only in that case the last-minute jaw-dropper falls down, a yawning cavern hewn out of the earth like the battle scar from some great axe. In both cases, we tourists begin to mutter “nothing to see here” before rounding that final corner.
And that makes me wonder — what else is hiding in plain sight? What gobsmacking wonders of the world lie forgotten on the back 40 of some dairy farmer’s fields? Or, for that matter, in our back yard? On the palm of my hand?
It reminds me of last year’s viral video, the little orange guy who makes us happy. Who knew he was hiding in the back of your brain?
So much depends on having the eyes to see, the perseverance to track down marvels, the determination to squash the muttering. Pinch your nose and take a drive — it’s worth the trip!