My wife and I decided we needed a rare romantic getaway. But we also felt like we needed a family vacation – something nice for our two-year-old and five-year-old. We had a small budget and wanted to go somewhere we could drive to from our home in Longmont, Colorado.
We decided on Santa Fe, New Mexico. Neither my wife nor I had ever been there, but we’d always wanted to go. And only six-and-a-half hours away by car? No problem.
It seemed like the perfect place: plenty of things to do as a family, great food and drink, and a very affordable condo rental on VRBO that could serve as the perfect spot for some romantic relaxation after the kids went to bed.
Or would trying to cram in a family vacation and a romantic getaway over one long weekend end up being too much?
We left for vacation in high spirits, as well as a good 15 hours early. Not only were we excited to get out of town for the weekend, but we were feeling pretty smart: A spring snowstorm was on its way, and in a few short hours would start clobbering the I-25 corridor between Longmont and Colorado Springs.
Our original plan was that we would wake up early and leave on Friday morning. But with the severe weather warnings, we hastily packed up our gear the Thursday evening before, put the kids in their jammies, and decided to head for Durango, which was safely south of Colorado Springs and the southern edge of the incoming weather.
We made it to Durango uneventfully, staying over at a La Quinta. The next morning, we awoke to rain and temperatures in the low 50s. As we ate our free breakfasts, we watched the local news on the TVs mounted high up on the walls in the dining area. They showed images of Colorado Springs buried beneath nearly a foot of heavy, slushy snow.
There was no doubt we had made a great decision leaving early. Unfortunately, we were just about to learn that we’d also made a horrible decision – specifically, the decision to stop at Durango instead of just driving all night to Santa Fe.
About an hour after we left the La Quinta, we were stuck in standstill traffic, looking helplessly out of our windows as a white-out enveloped us, and every other car around us. By noon, we were at milemarker 42. By 3 p.m., we were still at milemarker 42.
The kids watched movies in the backseat as a quiet, sickening dread washed over me. Three hours. No movement. All around us, 4×4 pickup trucks were stranded in the snow. We were in an old Toyota Prius, which we had bought used the previous autumn. We’d never really taken it out in the snow. And yet there we were, in quite literally the most severe winter conditions I’d ever seen from a driver’s or passenger’s seat.
My wife looked on Google Maps and saw that not only had they closed the interstate ahead of us, but they’d closed it behind us, as well. We were stuck in between with nowhere to go. The wind gusted up to 50 miles per hour, and the snow blew sideways as it fell from ceasely from the sky.
I ticked through the important stuff in my head: Plenty of water? Check. Plenty of gas? Check. Plenty of food? Check. Clothing? Check. And we weren’t stuck. We were just not moving. Intellectually, I knew we we had everything we needed to be safe. But on some deeper, less conscious level, anxiety was building.
And then the cars ahead of us crept forward. And we did, too. Snow scraped the undercarriage of our little Toyota. Please, Prius, don’t get stuck now, I begged the car telepathically.
Fifteen minutes later, we crested a hill and stretched out ahead of us – ground that had been barely touched by snow. The asphalt was not only clear of snow, it was mostly dry.
Southern Colorado has some strange weather.
We seemed to be in the clear, but we weren’t. To get to Santa Fe, we still had to make it over Raton Pass, just over the Colorado border on the New Mexico side. Raton Pass was closed due to weather. So we stopped in Trinidad at the start of the closure. I gassed up the Prius, and we hit a place called Tequila’s for some early dinner. It was packed with other travelers also waiting for the Pass to open.
I rubbed my temples at the thought of having to stay overnight there, of having made it only 230 miles in 11 hours of driving over two days.
Somewhere down in Santa Fe, a really beautiful condo waited for us. At least, it looked beautiful on VRBO.
As the kids munched their quesadillas, I noticed something: Good news seemed to ripple through the restaurant. At tables all around us, people were smiling all of a sudden, looking visibly relieved. Through the din of whispered conversation, I thought I heard something about the Pass being opened. My wife checked Google Maps. It was true.
By 5:30 p.m., we were on our way. When we cleared the Pass, we were greeted by “severe clear” visibility – blue sky without so much as a wisp of a cloud. We drove into Santa Fe as the sun was setting, which painted the sky pink and orange and purple. It was gorgeous.
By 9 p.m. (12 hours after we…