April 2nd - Vail to Santa Fe, New Mexico

Yesterday's drive of just over 300 miles was through some stunningly beautiful mountain scenery. I should start with mentioning the great farewell meal we had in Vail the evening before. American restaurants have definitely improved and it seems you can always find a 'gourmet dining experience' in an American town. We certainly struck gold at the Sweet Basil in Vail. The wine list included a Mouton Rothschild at $3,250 a bottle. We spent a few minutes discussing if we should try it, but then decided on a slightly cheaper bottle of white wine at $42!

We left Vail at 10am having spoken with Jim Taylor, who had arrived in Shanghai on his classic rally going from Hong Kong to Beijing. We were all able to thank him for his and Leejun's wonderful hospitality. Hopefully we will be able to reciprocate when they are in Europe in June at the end of his next rally, the Peking to Paris event. Our drive took us south through the high Rockies. Wonderful mountain scenery with flowing rivers and towering mountains on either side of the winding road.

The road peaked at over 10,000ft and the mountains reached over 14,000ft. Bright sunny weather and a temperature that never fell below 5C made the trip truly memorable. After an hour we reached the old mining town of Leadville which gives a great impression of how the West must have been in the 19th century. Further on, at over 10,000ft, we came to another mining town, Buena Vista. Like Leadville, old wooden building lined the main street. We saw the opera house and a saloon that could have come straight from a cowboy movie.

Another hour's drive brought us to Highway 17. There can't be many roads in the world that are dead straight for 49 miles! We drove through the small town of Antonito and came across the Cumbres and Toltec scenic railroad. There were wonderful old steam engines parked up in the sidings by the side of the highway.

The railway doesn't start tourist rides until the end of May, I presume because of the snow in the mountains.

Another fifteen miles and we came to the state border with New Mexico. A great drive along empty roads across the high plains of New Mexico for about 100 miles and we arrived at the state capital, Santa Fe. Our hotel, the La Fonda, was next to the cathedral and the central plaza.

We found a restaurant within walking distance where the waiters sang songs from Broadway musicals. A fine way to end another great day of travelling across the US.

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