Vanishing points… and perfect baguettes

Nowhere to go, and all day to get there

Vanish point just north of Kim, Colorado, tucked into the far southeast part of the state. Long and flat, this dirt road might go for a hundred miles.

Sometime in the 1980s I was driving north from the village of Loma, Colorado to the town of Rangely, 72 miles away. Loma is just west of Grand Junction, west of the Rockies, in the center of a great swath of irrigated farmland. Beautiful farms and land, unusual in a state known for mountains, the high plains, prairie and and semi-arid desert. I have no idea why I was on this road – Route 139 – but it was starkly appealing as it left the fertile valley and coursed between dry ridges and small mesas northward to a part of Colorado that’s rarely traveled. Unless you’re headed to Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah border, but usually people come in from other directions.

There are no towns between Loma and Rangely. No gas, no cafes. I don’t recall a single ranch or dwelling. It was 72 miles of nada, nary a car nor truck, and long vistas ahead that ended in vanishing points. Nearing Rangely, I spotted in the distance a small mesa that overlooked a dry basin of scrub grass, and, being at the time an avid collector of Indian artifacts, I had a sense its elevation would have appealed to native tribes of long ago. I pulled over, hiked up what seemed to be a path, came upon an ancient campsite with a fine view of the valley. I found a very good medium-sized point, colorful and unbroken (of course I still have it). A good memento from Colorado’s bleak and distant backside.

Route 139 may be the loneliest road I’ve ever traveled in the U.S. Possibly it’s changed some in the last 30 years, but there wouldn’t be much reason for that. There are roads in western Kansas, far southeast Colorado, the Oklahoma Panhandle, and southwest Nebraska that may come close to this sense of isolation, but northwest Colorado wins hands down as the iconic heart of the Great American Nowhere. (But then it could be rivaled by driving the Mojave, or parts of North Dakota… places I haven’t been).

Far west Kansas vanishing point.

Open Road, what’s your lure?

“All gone to look for America” (Simon and Garfunkel). “I could go east, I could go west,it was all up to me to decide.” (Bob Seger). “On the road again.” (Willie Nelson). “Head out on the highway, Lookin’ for adventure, And whatever comes our way” (Steppenwolf). Dylan songs, and books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Blue Highways, On The Road, Travels with Charley, Roads: Driving America’s Great Highways, the list goes on and on…

The first movie to use found (preexisting) music for its soundtrack, 1969. “No one had really used found music in a movie before, except to play on radios or when someone was singing in a scene, But I wanted Easy Rider to be kind of a time capsule for that period…” – Dennis Hopper. (publicity photo, free to use and share)

But why? Is it itchy feet or restlessness, an escape fantasy fulfilled, or possibly a search for distant vanishing points that offer the hope of a kind of epiphany at the end? A place where we can secure an important memory – or manufacture one that touches us somewhere and adds a strong dose of meaning to our lives?

Nebraska. 

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Beautiful baguettes!

This is a fine recipe yielding fine results – tasty, hole-y real French baguettes. It does take planning ahead, though, so it’s at least a two-day event.

Make the dough and let it rise overnight. Makes two largish baguettes, or boules.

You’ll need for two baguettes:
  • 5 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp. yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water

And later —

  • 2 loaf pans
  • ☞ ice cubes (really!)
Now do these things:

Combine first four ingredients in a bowl and mix till smooth. Let sit for about 5 mins. Now knead by hand for about 3 minutes on a floured breadboard, adjusting with more flour or water as needed. Transfer it to a large bowl that’s been lightly oiled. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or up to 4 days).

On baking day, remove the dough 2 hours before you plan to bake. Transfer the dough, as gently as possible so it doesn’t lose its gassy parts, to a floured board and cut in half. Form the two pieces into loaf shapes, dab the tops of each loaf with oil, and cover lightly with plastic wrap to “proof” at room temp for about 1 1/2 hours until the loaves are about 1 1/2 times their original size.

Heat the oven to 550 (!!) Yep, wicked hot!!

Remove the wrap 15 mins. before baking. Now score each loaf diagonally several times with a serrated knife, about 1/2 inch deep. Place each loaf into oiled or Teflon loaf pans and put in the oven. Throw 6 ice cubes onto the floor of the oven to steam the crust (☞ this is the funnest part of the whole deal!), close the door, and lower the temp to 450, and bake for another 15-25 mins. For the crunchiest crust, leave the loaves in the oven for another 5 mins. after turning off the heat.

Remove the bread from the pans and cool on a rack for half an hour before serving. Fabulous! French! Fantastique!

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Calling Out Your Name is my own “open road” novel – a Georgia teenager setting off cross-country, alone, in search of his missing younger brother. Have a look!

There it is.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.