It was only really when a familiar smell wafted in through the aircon that I noticed the change. Even then it took a second to register. It made me look out the window, and I saw green. I saw fields, trees; I saw the Rocky Mountains lining the horizon, and I saw the freshly cut grass. Colorado. I could be on another continent.
I take on one more canyon for good measure - the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The climb up to the rim is through corn fields and arable land; water sprinklers and ranches. Looking back, I could almost be in the South Downs (minus the Rockies). The canyon itself is more what I had expected to begin with - narrow, steep and rugged. With the extra moisture and foliage comes an abundance of wildlife in addition to the ubiquitous squirrels and lizards.
It's getting late and I have some miles to make up. The San Juan range of the Rocky Mountains looms ever larger as I heave the horizon towards me. Although the red rock, dust and sandstone of Utah and Arizona are gone, they still manage to have a Red Mountain Pass that I need to negotiate, and above the treeline orange rock shines down on me. The rain and the sheer drops make for slow going, but the scenery is incredible.
It all seems a long way from the barren, hostile landscapes of the last week or so. I no longer feel like I've wandered onto the set of Star Wars, but back in Europe. Ouros, that I pass on my way, could be anywhere in Switzerland. By the time I reach the old Victorian mining town of Silverton I'm ravenously hungry and tired of driving. Any sense of being closer to home quickly evaporates - the backdrop may be Alpine, but I'm back on a film set and this time it is pure wild west. I have an Elk burger for dinner, drink a few beers and manage not to get shot at on my way back to the motel.