Autumn road trip out west. Drove from El Paso, Texas, listening to home boy Marty Robbins’ Greatest Hits in the rental car. While driving the high plains, sang along with M.R.’s great story songs: “Down in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl…” Stopped for lunch in a place I’ve long wanted to visit: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (so named, I learned, after a radio show, not wild west justice). Devoured a bison burger so good I nearly grew horns! Pulled over up the road in Albuquerque to watch the famed International Hot Air Balloon Festival — hundreds of brightly colored ornaments drifting in the wind — everything from a pair of 3-story Levi blue jeans to Carmen Miranda’s smiling face, complete with inflated fruit headdress. The drive from Albuquerque up to Durango in southwest Colorado was spectacular. Lavender and ochre-banded buttes were dotted with pinon pines. Georgia O’Keefe country. In Durango, with day free before the race, drove out to Mesa Verde National Park, the largest archaeological preserve in North America. For 14,000 years, Ancestral Pueblo people lived in massive cliff dwellings hewn into the steep canyon walls. They farmed the land and stored their crops in beautiful black-on-white pottery. Then thousands of inhabitants suddenly left everything they couldn’t carry, and moved on. Standing near the ceremonial Sun Temple, a rainstorm blew in, then a double rainbow blazed across the canyon, with lightning forking over the distant plains below. Beauty, power and sacred mystery infused the land. Thought of the Native American saying: “All creation, my relation.” Race went great. Finished 30th out of 200 and ran 3:48:29. Very happy with time and place, for the altitude was 6,500–7,000 feet. Every time you topped a hill, entire body momentarily gasped for air. Followed the raging Animus River and ran under Aspen trees. Finished in a long tunnel of gold; Aspens shimmering with their fall color. Just as I crossed the finish line — reached out and plucked a gilded leaf out of the air. More valuable than the finisher’s medal!