Take one part post-industrial city, one part diverted river, and one part inspiration, work at it for 15 years and voilà: the Riverwalk of Pueblo. In 1995 citizens of Pueblo voted to dig up the original riverbed and surround it with buildings and walkways creating somewhat smaller version of the San Antonio Riverwalk. Not as many fancy eateries as in Texan original, but at least they serve good coffee. And while the result is impressive, there is one ingredient missing: people.
It was supposed to be an easy 2 mile loop to conclude a wonderful day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison park. I managed to convince Natalia that we do not really want to descent to the river which apparently involves sliding on a talus and 80 feet of chain. And I was quite proud of my accomplishment when we heard this strange noise. Something was moving through the bushes. Sounded bigger than a chipmunk. I looked around and here it was. A bear. Sitting in the bushes and looking at us curiously. We did not see it at first. But he made sure we knew he was there.
We’ve gained some notoriety. Or at least our truck has. We stop at a roadside exhibit and a lady and her granddaughter are asking us if we were in Langtry 2 days before. We strongly suspect ours is the only truck with Vermont registration plates here. It’s easy to spot us. People remark we are far from home. They have no idea. A border patrol officer at the checkpoint - yes there are checkpoints in US - seems confused. Is it Vermont or is it Poland we are from? But he stays polite. Looks at our Vermont driving licenses as if they were not real. I cannot blame him. They don’t look real to me either. We try to produce passports but he doesn’t want to see any other documents and waves us through.
San Antonio and Austin appear to be poised for competition: Mexico’s northernmost city vs. live music capital of the world. Texan keep their serious businesses in Houston and Dallas. These two cities are supposed to be fun and quirky. Also Austin is supposed to be the Texas capital: the responsibility it does not take too seriously. San Antonio has the River Walk. Austin - the Texas State Capitol. One city attracts tourists, the other - lobbyists. People spend their own money in San Antonio. Politicians spend taxpayers dollars in Austin. San Antonio is packed with hotels for every budget. Austin’s hotel base leaves some to be desired: overpriced chains encroach on downtown and run down motels on the outskirts.
There is a fierce competition to use Florida springs: divers, children, manatees, tourists, alligators. Most springs we visit are part of extensive and well managed Florida state park system. Looks like no income tax policy here does not automatically translate into no public services. The springs are at constant temperature. Usually between 68 to 72 degree Fahrenheit (20 to 22 degrees Celsius). During the hot wet summer it translates to teeth shattering cold. But it must feel warm in winter and this is when manatees visit. Divers don wet suites and proceed to explore underwater caverns trying, in vain, to pinpoint the exact spot that the flow starts. Children simply make tremendous noise as some springs foolishly provide multilevel platform to jump to the frigid water. Surely a swimming pool closer to home would be cheaper option. Tourists board glass bottom boats to peek into the great abyss. Thankfully they quickly proceed downriver to gaze at alligators. Alligators. Swim with caution! is the exact wording of the omnipresent sign that is apparently aimed at those few alligators that can read and are stupid enough to approach the beach full of campers.
Some rivers don’t really look like rivers at all. This one was 60 miles wide, 100 miles long and most of the year only couple of inches deep. Moving slowly to allow grass grow in its wake, birds wade in its waters, alligators and turtles breed on its banks. But it was too big and too lazy and it was mistaken for a swamp. A road was built across. Considered a technical feat of early 20th century it was constructed just like any other road in Southern Florida: by dredging a canal and piling rocks on its side. It only took 10 years after the Tamiami trail was completed for people to realize that they didn’t just build the road. They erected a dam. Huge swaths of land were drained and cultivated, numerous canals were laid out diverting water.