The Way Home

Brighton Travel Blog

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I wasn’t overly worried about today. New water pump. I had checked everywhere for leaks. Full radiator and new gauges to monitor the situation. Cortez is situated in the mountains of western Colorado, in a valley. So for the next five hours, until we reached Walsenburg, it would be one climb followed by a descent after another. The toughest one we would face would be Wolf Creek Pass, just past the town of Pagosa Springs. The pass sits at an elevation of 10,823 feet, and its crest is right on the Continental Divide. It would take us somewhere close to an hour and a half to reach it, so I had plenty of opportunity to see how the car was running.


We left early, and the thermostat opened right at 180 degrees like it was supposed to. The temp climbed and seemed to level out between 210 and 220. A little hotter than I would like it, but pulling a trailer in thin air, really not a big concern. I did notice that each hill we took on pushed the temp higher, and of course it cooled down on the back side, when gravity provided the impetus for forward motion. And the longer the hill, the higher the temp got, but it always came right back down. This pattern held until we hit Pagosa Springs and started the serious portion of the climb. We had been traveling essentially uphill for the last half hour, and on a shallow grade. When we reached Pagosa Springs we decided to stop and let the car cool a bit, and take a nature break. I knew the engine temp would skyrocket when we parked, as the engine continued to dump calories of heat into coolant that was not circulating. I also knew it would then drop rapidly when we started moving again. All of that happened, which was actually more reassuring than worrisome. If I was able to predict what was going to happen, then I must have a fair understanding of the situation.


We left Pagosa Springs and started the now much steeper climb. As expected the engine got hotter and hotter. It went past 220 pretty quickly, after the initial cool down, and kept steadily climbing. 230 came and went. 240 showed up, and we were not halfway. 250 was passed and we were still not at the top. I was a bit worried now, as even though I knew what was happening and why, I didn’t know where the point was when things broke. It wasn’t at 260, thankfully. And luckily we didn’t have to test it any further.  We didn’t see 260 but for a few seconds, and we crested the pass. I never even considered stopping for a picture of the sign at the top, I had to get the engine cooled down. Going down hill would do that quickly. Gravity is providing more than enough power to move the car, so the engine didn’t have too. But as everything is still turning, the coolant is circulating and the radiator cools it down. We were back below 230 fairly quickly and stayed between 220 and 230 for the rest of the trip. That was still higher than I thought it should be, but like the day before the engine just purred. It never faltered, hesitated, or even sputtered. When I hit the gas, it went.


Still I worried the whole way home. We arrived home between 4 and 5 PM. Safe and sound. We were all very tired, and in a way thankful it was over.


All in all it had been a great trip. For all of the things that went wrong; lost wallet, overheating, burning a hole in the camper, we had plenty of stuff that went right. The kids were great, the weather was perfect, we rode in helicopter, I had no discomfort from my surgery, and the Grand Canyon was everything is should have been. The only part that bothered me a little, was that I knew 9 week old Jessi would not remember a minute of it. Hopefully when she reads this that will make her feel like she was a part of it.




I never was able to conquer the overheating problem that the Nova had. I installed a bigger radiator, a different shroud, and a different thermostat. It always seemed to creep up to 200 when the weather got a little warm or if it idled too long. I finally came to conclusion that this engine just ran hot. And ran it did. When I finally stopped driving the car in 1997, it had 250,000 miles on it. The engine still purred like a kitten.


Jessi made it back to the Grand Canyon in 2004. We took her grandmother, Margo’s Mom with us, and they were both Wowed by the Canyon. We even took a helicopter ride again. This time down to the bottom, to the Colorado River. But that is another story.


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photo by: WonderDog