I’m a passenger on a road trip to the middle of nowhere.
Actually, scratch that. Calling it the middle of nowhere is giving it too much credit. It’s more like the exurb of nowhere, or the vague periphery of nowhere. The broom closet of nowhere?
It’s a place called Fort Morgan, Colo. When the driver and I reach our specific destination, we will ultimately spend about 10 minutes there before booking it straight back to our home turf of downtown Denver.
It’s 82 miles each way, almost entirely on Interstate 76. There are lots of scenic drives in Denver, but this is not one of them. On the drive to Fort Morgan, I look over and see a cow. It’s looking back at me. If I could read the minds of cows — and who wouldn’t want that ability, let’s be honest — I imagine the cow would be thinking, “Why are you two idiots driving to Fort Morgan?”
Good question, cow. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and my buddy Chase and I are departing Denver — a place where there’s actual cool stuff to do, even on a holiday — to visit the grave of famed science-fiction author Philip K. Dick.
Who is Philip K. Dick?
Even if you haven’t heard of Dick or read his books, you’re familiar with his work. Dick’s novels and short stories have been adapted into many movies, including “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall” (twice so far) and “Minority Report.”
Amazon Prime’s new binge-worthy series “The Man in the High Castle” also sprang from a Dick novel.
Those are just the really big ones. There’s also 2011’s “The Adjustment Bureau” with Matt Damon; 2003’s “Paycheck” with Damon’s BFF, Ben Affleck; 2006’s “A Scanner Darkly” with Keanu Reeves; and everyone’s favorite, 1995’s “Screamers,” starring the original RoboCop, Peter Weller.
What? You’ve never seen “Screamers?” That’s okay. I’m pretty sure no one’s seen “Paycheck” either, and that includes Mr. Affleck.
Speaking of which, I’ve never read anything by Philip K. Dick, another reason this particular excursion to Fort Morgan makes no sense. It’s one thing to travel to Jim Morrison’s grave. Even if you’re not the biggest Doors fan, you’ve heard plenty of Morrison, and at least you’re in Paris. There’s other stuff to do in Paris. There is literally nothing to do in Fort Morgan.
But the people are friendly, as Chase and I discover shortly after we arrive. And friendliness is what we need, because once we reach the city limits and arrive at Riverside Cemetery — two events that occur all of two minutes apart, because this town is tiny — we damn well cannot find Dick’s grave.
Instead, we stomp around through the snow in futility, freezing for a good 25 minutes, reading headstones and wishing someone had thought to put up a big sign or something.
Would that be tacky in a cemetery? Probably. But what would it hurt? Face it: If your loved one was buried here, you already know where to find the right spot. Otherwise, if you’re visiting Riverside Cemetery, you’re some putz from out of town looking for Dick’s grave.
I’m not saying you need to put up a neon sign, but… actually, you should totally put up a neon sign. Maybe a disco ball. Burger King is the Home of the Whopper, and Riverside Cemetery in Fort Morgan is the Home of Philip K. Dick’s Grave. Own it.
Welcome to Fort Morgan
Yes, Fort Morgan has a couple of other claims to fame. According to the only valid research source in the world (Wikipedia), Big Band legend Glenn Miller was born here. Author Michael Crichton lived here briefly as a child. But neither is buried in Fort Morgan, so it’s time to go all-in on the Philip K. Dick deal.
Then again, Dick essentially had no connection to the town. He was born in Chicago, along with his fraternal twin sister, Jane. Both were premature, and Jane died six weeks later while the family was staying in Fort Morgan. She was interred at Riverside with a headstone naming both twins. Dick lived in California, and when he died in 1982, his father had Dick’s ashes buried with Jane’s remains.
So Chase and I are wandering around Riverside, we can’t find the grave, we’re freezing, and I desperately need to relieve myself. Yes, we stopped on the way, but I had something like 17 cups of coffee and possess a bladder the size of a ping-pong ball or Nicole Richie, whichever is smaller. (I’m honestly not sure.)
Even I’m not so classless as to pee on a tree in a cemetery. Okay, I am that classless. But I don’t want to get arrested on a holiday in Fort Morgan and sit in jail overnight, waiting for (I assume) the only judge in town to preside over arraignment. I also think Chase just might go back to Denver without me. So we head into “town,” meaning the 7-Eleven a few blocks away.
Our smartphones produce precious little information to help in our search. There’s an online video of a British guy in a very strange jacket visiting the grave with his dog. But he’s less interested in providing visual context than he is of rambling on about offerings and prayers. His dog looks bored. I start to wonder whether the dog got to pee in the graveyard. I feel a bit jealous.
Internet research provides us the actual section, block and lot for Dick’s grave, but there’s no online map showing that information. Chase thinks we should try the library or museum. Conveniently, they occupy the same building, but — you undoubtedly figured this out faster than we did — they’re both closed for the holiday.
So Chase figures we should inquire at the elementary school across the street from the graveyard. You’d figure that place would be closed as well, but for some reason, it’s not. Chase gets directions from a local third-grade teacher. We head back into the cemetery, and a few minutes later, Chase finds the gravesite.
This is where I should say something about the powerful emotions that came over us as we stood by the grave of a great American author. But our feelings at that point were essentially limited to cold and tired. We took a few selfies, because we’re really just teenage girls at heart, and headed home.
I should note that we tried to help future visitors find the grave. Specifically, I attempted to pin the exact site on Google Maps, which would provide exact coordinates. However, upon returning to Denver, we discovered that the coordinates I recorded match a rural area in Canada. I think we can all agree that one’s totally on Google and not my own ineptitude.
Regardless, if you happen to be in Colorado and don’t want to waste time with boring things like skiing or snowboarding or hiking or seeing a show at Red Rocks, quite possibly the best concert venue in the world, you can visit Philip K. Dick’s grave.
Our directions aren’t great, but they might help, especially if you’re smarter than we are (no great stretch) and plan your visit for when the cemetery isn’t covered in snow. Just think “west”: It’s closest to West Street, and you’ll be looking west when you face the grave. It’s in the southwest quadrant, well away from W Riverside Ave. (the closest main road).
We hope that helps, but just in case, make sure to hit the bathroom first.