Monday’s Mommy Memorial hike left me drained. There was no way I was going to pack up and move on to backpack on the Colorado Trail. I decided to stay at Dinner Station and relax for a few more days. I also wanted to make a pilgrimage to Tincup, Colorado on Tuesday.
Mom had written that I was really upset being out in the boonies and having no place to spend my allowance (a quarter a week)! The weekly trip to Tincup was my only outlet.
Alas, the Tincup excursion was not to be. As I pulled out of the campground onto the main road I noticed a low tire pressure warning. Sure enough, the rear passenger side tire was about 10 pounds low. I must have been a comical sight, driving up and down the gravel road dithering about how to handle it. Air it up with my portable compressor? (stops in middle of road) I haven’t used it yet, what if it lets out what little air I have? Go back to camp and air it up there? (turns around back toward camp) At least I’d be able to stay comfortable while I waited for help. “Help” would mean using the satellite gizmo to text Rick to call Good Sam and give them my coordinates to come save me. Try to limp down to Taylor Park and hope someone could help before all my air leaked away? (turns back toward Taylor Park again) Park here in the middle of the gravel road, blocking traffic while I changed the tire? (stops in middle of road and walks around looking for suitable footing for jack)
I remember one of Mom’s letters; once again I seem to be retracing the steps of half a century ago:
August 2, 1970:
This letter is to tell you goodbye because I may never see you again. We are 53 miles up in the mountains from Gunnison Colorado and the car won’t start.
August 3, 1970
Clarence has tried everything and it won’t start. He is going to hitchhike the 53 miles down to Gunnison & back for points and condenser tomorrow morning and Terry and I will stay here ALONE. We are 7 miles from drinking water so when we run out we start boiling river water to drink.
I thought we’d be alone. Three vehicles just drove up and about 25 boys piled out. (Clarence says it’s only about 10. It just sounds like 40.) (Turned out to be 7)
August 4, 1970
This morning Clarence packed up his backpack and got on Terry’s bike and headed for Taylor Park Trading Post, 14 miles, to get a ride to town, buy his parts and rent a car and come back. In the meantime Terry has become the most popular girl in camp (being the only girl in camp) and when they found out later we were stranded alone they adopted us. Chopped wood, brought water etc. and then just hung around to protect us from the chipmunks. Terry got mad cause she wanted to try her hand at chopping wood and they wouldn’t let her. She didn’t like any of them anyway, they all had short haircuts. When Clarence finally got back she asked him to please let her chop some wood because she never did get a chance to. (It gets 35 degrees at night here).
August 5, 1970
Clarence had a tale to tell when he got back last night. He rode the bike 10 miles I guess, when the rangers picked him up and they took him to the Trading Post where he thought sure he could get a ride to town but he didn’t, so he started walking and thumbing. Finally an old man picked him up. He was on vacation all alone so he said come on, I’ll take you in and back and help you fix the car. He was an auto mechanic!
While I’m remembering the letter and wondering if anyone will ever see me again, MY PHONE RINGS!!! There’s a wee bit of a signal and you can’t imagine my relief when I hear Rick’s voice! We talk it over and agree that heading into Taylor Park is the best plan of action. But as I drive down I second guess myself. It seems a lot further than I thought. Eventually I get out, hook up the compressor and watch it very carefully to make sure I don’t lose air. Wonder of wonders, it worked! I get myself aired up to normal pressure and head for Taylor Park. Apparently while I was up in the backcountry the tourist season had ended and Taylor Park Trading Post was closed. The marina was still open. A nice young man sprayed soap on the tire, found the leak and gave me the card of a place in Gunnison that could fix me up.
Ew. Gunnison is a long way away. This is going to be an all-day excursion. I head down the mountain, thinking about how thrilled Mom & Dad would have been to have a cell phone during that incident long ago. Just below the dam I get a little reward: a mountain goat standing right in the middle of the highway! I may be in emergency mode but I can’t pass up a goat. Many pictures later I climb back in the car. I’m only posting a few here, you’ll see why later.
First stop in Gunnison is a lube place. Sure, they can fix my tire, but they’re shorthanded (I would discover this is a consistent problem everywhere in Gunnison!), they won’t be able to get to it until tomorrow.
Second stop is the address on the card I was given in Taylor Park. Except that he’s not there anymore. The nice man that rents the space now gave me directions to his new location across town.
Along the way I stop at a couple of other places. They’re all shorthanded and can’t do anything until late today, tomorrow or next week!
Finally I find the man originally recommended, who is delightful and perfectly happy to fix my tire right there on the spot. Of course, he’s a Texan, not a native. That must be why he has plenty of staff.
An hour later I’m on my way. I stop downtown for a hot meal and to snap a few photos of Gunnison for Elizabeth.
I asked my server where I could buy a shower. She directed me to a KOA back on the other end of town (again). But the KOA doesn’t have showers for non-guests. They do have miniature ponies and goats so I snapped a stealthy shot on the way out.
Heading back up the mountain again, just past Taylor Park I got to watch real cowboys herding real cows! Apparently cowboys don’t use horses anymore, they use ATVs. But they still use border collies and boy can those dogs work!
Back at camp I finally sighted the little white squirrel I’d been told about, so I spent the evening shooting her and other wildlife around camp and the mountains at sunset, building a righteous campfire, and staying up past dark to watch the stars.
These are some of my best shots of the week. Look for the hummingbird buzzing a rolled-up orange guy line. The shoes on the rock were an unsuccessful attempt at luring them back in. The curious bird checking out my car is a Clark’s Nutcracker. I’m pretty sure the blue bird is a Steller’s Jay. Beautiful and noisy and gregarious, there’s a whole flock of them squawking in the tree. They are almost impossible to distinguish against the exact same shade of achingly blue sky. The brown squirrel is a baby, one of two brown siblings to the white squirrel. The chipmunk is – well, a chipmunk. They’re all the same everywhere you go, cute but persistent little beggars and thieves. The bug landed on my nose just before he landed on the ground amidst much shrieking and waving of arms. Hope he survived the experience. I almost didn’t!
Oh, my God, the stars! The Milky Way in all its unpolluted glory! My photographic skills weren’t up to pictures. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Oh, my God, the stars!
That night was the 28 degree night. I woke freezing at 3am. My nerves were fried, my feet were cold, I was homesick and lonely and my back hurt and I still felt pretty ill from whatever had been plaguing me. I was literally in tears I was so miserable.
Then it hit me: I could leave! I could leave at daybreak! And suddenly all was well. Having a plan makes all the difference. By first light I was all packed up and rolling. Next stop, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park where night time temps are in the 50s!
Well, except for the whole HERD of mountain goats just below the Taylor Park dam! Another spate of furious camera snapping ensued. I’m pretty sure the one standing in the middle of the road is either the boss or a flunky of the boss. He stood there (pooping while he waited!) watching while the rest of the herd crossed the road. He kept a very close eye on me while they did it, too.
On the way back down the mountain I poked around in the lower campgrounds, checking it out for next year’s visit with Rick and the dogs. The lower elevation campgrounds are better appointed, some with water and electric, dump stations, etc. But down here you’re in the canyon and you don’t have those magnificent, ever changing mountain views. Nonetheless, it’s still magnificent territory. There’s some nice fishing lodges along through here, too. Every pullout has an empty car or two and guys out in the middle of the river fly fishing.
The drive to Black Canyon went through Curecanti National Recreation Area. It’s miles of wide, slow reservoirs of the Gunnison River. This series of dams and reservoirs provides water to much of southwest Colorado. Miles and miles of water and hardly a tree in sight. Beautiful, wide open spaces that are lovely to look at and photograph in the early morning light but not really a place I wanted to hang around.
The drive up the edge of the “Gunnison Uplift” is spectacularly beautiful. Long vistas of green fields leading up to mountain splendor. Even the irrigation sprinklers are picturesque. Unfortunately, places to pull over and take pictures are few and I miss the best shots. Safety first!
My senior pass gets me in for free (best $20 I ever spent!) and my campsite is half price. I find a site, pitch my hammock, visit with the solo lady next door, and head to the visitor center. I spend the afternoon driving the overlooks. It’s HOT (but it’s a dry heat)!
I carry 5 pounds of camera equipment when I hike, but it’s geared for nature and wildlife photography. I don’t carry a wide-angle lens and Black Canyon just begs for one. There is too much here for my lens to do justice. For every unit of awesome you see in these photos, add an order of magnitude. This canyon is spectacular!
By the time I finish the gauntlet of overlooks, I need ice cream. If you’re going to visit, get what you need before you go up the mountain. They have NOTHING available in the park.
I drive down the gorgeous drive again, grab a Nutty Buddy at the corner store and go back to drive down to the river via the East Portal drive. A big sign warns off any vehicles longer than 22 feet. The Airstream could not have gone here. It’s a long 5 miles down to the bottom, manual shifting like crazy. I’m almost the only person down here and it’s a little eerie being so isolated while driving a car.
Returning to camp I find a third solo lady camping next to me, and the three of us have a good time drinking wine and patting ourselves on the back for being brave and fearless and We Are Woman, Hear Us Roar! The one in the t@b trailer notices my hammock and tells me I’m her hero! She really wants to try hammock camping so we have an impromptu hammocking tutorial (blind leading the blind). At sunset I climbed up on top of my car to shoot the sunset over the dense scrub oak surrounding my campsite. T@b lady thinks climbing up on top of the car is pretty bad-ass, as well as my Nikon with the screaming yellow silicone skin. That Nikon has attracted quite a bit of attention this week.
I had planned to do a couple of small hikes around the park in the morning, but when day breaks I’m ready to be home. I take off in the first rays of dawn, failing to consider the fact that I have an hour drive to my hotel and check in isn’t until 3pm.
So I arrive in Salida with no place to land, nothing to do and too filthy for human company. I kill as much time as possible eating breakfast, then go down to the pretty little city park on the river. I learn just the tiniest bit what it’s like to be homeless, as I bathe in a public restroom and look for a park bench to sleep on until 3pm. I shoot a few pictures along the way. Before it comes to the point of actually sleeping on a park bench, of course, it begins to rain. I hang out in my car feeling sorry for myself until the hotel finally takes pity on me and lets me in at 2:30.
I spent my last night in Colorado eating double pepperoni pizza with anchovies and washing as much Colorado dust down the drain as the puny, tepid shower could achieve. The drive out the next morning took me through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen all week, and that’s saying something! If you find yourself with a chance, I highly recommend the drive from Salida via US50 to Cotopaxi, 1A to US69 to Walsenburg. From there it’s the end of the vacation and the beginning of the long slog home.
In Walsenburg I encounter the biggest moth I’ve ever seen. Mayhap he was a bit stoned, as he was hanging on the wall of a dispensary.
The only thing remarkable after that was the incredibly comfortable bed, great shower and long hot soak in the tub at the Holiday Inn Express in Vernon, Texas. There may have been some sampling of merchandise from Walsenburg.
And then hugs and kisses from Rick and slurpy licks from the furgirls.
Bedsheets and toilets and steamy hot showers,
Heaters and coffeepots plugged into power,
Bedrooms you don’t have to tie down with strings!
These are a few of my favorite things!
It’s good to be home!