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Showing posts with the label Colorado

Best Fall Color Experience Ever

A new reader to this blog might expect a photo-dump after a title like that. But I didn't even bring my Canon digital camera. (I did bring the smart phone, but just don't take it seriously as a camera. Maybe I should.)

My friend and I were mountain biking down a trail along a "draw" in the Gunnison CO area. Despite the anti-scenery slant on this blog, I just had to stop and ogle what was there: about 20 aspens, blazing yellow of course, that were pinned between the cliff and the dry creek. 

It was really sagebrush country, but the small aspens had managed to survive in their chosen niche. There was a drama to their tenuous existence. Also, it had rained a little recently, and the tiniest bit of moisture seems miraculous to me, after this summer! 

The autumnal morning's sun was just clearing the cliff, so that it illuminated the tops of the stunted aspens. The rest of the area was dry sagebrush, in all its glorious austerity. What a contrast!

This was a powerful examp…

'In Harmony with...' Something Better Than Nature

Something unusual happened last night. I was camped in a campground, and yet, felt at peace.

My friend and I were sitting at the picnic table and watching the sky show. The heat of the day was hours in the past, but the night-time chill was holding back.

To begin with, it is an unusually spacious campground. (With kazillions of acres of public lands, what is the excuse for the urban-RV-park-like congestion of so many public campgrounds?)

On top of that, it was half empty, so the neighbors were just at the right distance. You could hear their muffled voices around the campfire, but not the conversations. The campfires flickered at their bodies until it made distant jack-o-lanterns out of them.


There was no music coming out of car stereos. 

Was there some kind of self-selection taking place? Were the people here specifically because they are disgusted with the crowded and noisy tourist industry in Colorado? Were they exhausted from their mountain biking and rock climbing? 

Ahh who knows. All…

Tourists, and the Brains God Gave a Goose

A couple hundred cows (and a couple bulls) came through the campground recently. Therefore there was a huge up-spike in the average IQ of the campground. Do you think I am exaggerating?

Once I tried to suggest alternatives to driving long distances to merely snack on pretty scenery. I argued that a vacation would cost less money and be more relaxing if people went to a luxury lodge of the other side of the metropolis, watched a movie, ordered pizza for the kids, took the wife to an elegant restaurant or "nice" shops, and hung out at the pool.

Additionally, the pretty scenery can be gotten just as well from high-resolution video or photographs on the internet. And it is virtually free.

But I don't think anyone was persuaded. They are still showing up in the middle of the night at my campground, slamming car doors for an hour while pitching their tent in the rain, listening to someone snore in a tent 30 feet away from theirs, sleeping through the perfect weather of a Southwes…

Western Nostalgia in A Ruined State

We were doing our morning rounds, riding up through the sagebrush hills, when we saw three horsemen coming our way. I made sure my dog was on the leash. I pulled off the dirt road just so I could relax and admire the horses.

A man, a horse, and a dog. It just doesn't get any better than that, and I told them so.

The music of Victor Young came to mind, and the images of the opening of the classic 1953 movie, Shane. Nostalgia might seem like a result of old age; but strictly speaking, nostalgia results from a consciousness of loss. Of course the more years you have lived, the more you come to appreciate what has been lost.



This is especially poignant in a state like Colorado. No longer a western state in any sense of the word, other than scenery,  the state has become unbelievably expensive and crowded.

But let's not think about any of that. Let's just look at the pretty horses and remember: 
...the man who rode into our little valley out of the heart of the great glowing W…

Bringing a Cliché to Life

Why do certain phrases annoy, in a vague sort of way? For instance, 'scudding clouds.'  'Scudding' is an interesting word.

Currently I disport on a mountain bike in the sage hills near Gunnison, CO. The monsoons have survived until now. Sometimes this area is hit with showers and wind on these open, sagebrush-covered hills. Once again I thought of 'scudding clouds.'

I wanted to be inspired by the phrase, but it still seemed flat. What was I missing? Perhaps I needed to stop worrying about beauty, and think about ugliness, instead. Some of that was readily available: power lines bisected this area.

But are these power lines really ugly? One could think of the power lines and towers as noble pieces of triangular architecture, like the ropes and masts on a ship at sea. This area, with its lonely rock skerries in the midst of a 'sagebrush sea,' (another cliché!) brings to mind the place where 'scudding clouds' is typically used. The mountain bike bec…

Another Tourist Asking for Trouble

I was becoming inured to tourists drowning their brand new $50,000 motor vehicles in our neighborhood river. So perhaps it was a good thing that the young woman showed up at the campground and asked about how to get to her friend's remote location higher up in the mountains.

There was only an hour of daylight left, the usual time for tourists to get organized enough to do foolish things.  She had a text message, but no map. She was driving a low clearance, passenger car. I didn't quite know the place her message named, but I was suspicious. Back in my trailer, I looked up the place on one of my smartphone apps. It was as I feared. 

Did she have much of a chance to get there? There wouldn't be any car repair places open tomorrow, Sunday. She had already lost cellphone reception. Had her friend made it to that location because they had a high clearance car? 

A tourist can be so foolish and get away with it because  -- and only because -- they have cellphone reception and a cred…

Soggy Tent Campers Making the Best Out of It

Oh no, here it goes again. What will it be this time? Hail, a slow all-night rain, or a monsoonal downpour. But the campground is full, mostly with tents or tent trailers. What do people see in this activity?

They have told me stories of how wet they get. But many people seem so good-natured about it. Some people are well prepared with tarps strung up between trees. Their gazebo-shelter-canopies sometimes protect an entire picnic table. Life seems to go on pretty smoothly at the picnic table.

So I want to admire how people make the best of it. I am held back only by the seditious thought that these people are crazy, and should be doing something else on vacations with their hard-earned money.

But they see something I don't. Think of this as a small example of how hard it would be to be a good novelist, who must crawl into the heads of the characters. 

I have better luck using a historical imagination. The other day a Brit was telling me about Scottish weather. Think of life in the win…

Helping Versus Interfering Versus Enabling

When I was first told by my employers to not get involved with people driving across our river, it seemed harsh and unkind. After all, every man is a bit of sucker for wanting to play the hero. But with experience, I have come to a 'keep hands off' position.

Sometimes people seem to resent my advice. Do they suppose I know nothing about the situation when I just saw some fool, with a car of the same category, maybe an hour ago? But now I accept that they want some adventure, and don't want a safety lecture. Apparently the financial consequences of their rashness do not matter to them. Well, they should be a better judge of that than I. 

The biggest reason for adopting a hands-off policy is that I was being an enabler -- that is, offering a safety net for encouraging post-adolescent foolishness. Let them make up their own mind, and live with the consequences. 

Let's find some goodies in "The Case for Working with your Hands," by Matthew Crawford:
My point rather …

German Engineering...in the Middle of a River

These days I feel like a professional accident-gawker. People are doing the craziest things, and not always getting lucky about it: driving across a high and fast stream in crossover utility vehicles; driving low clearance vehicles on rough roads; and in general, having the wrong tires on the wrong car at the wrong place.

They can't imagine being away from phone service, therefore they are confident that every problem can be fixed by whipping out their smartphone, and giving somebody a credit card number. Do they know how long it can take for a tow truck to arrive in the mountains on a festival weekend in a busy tourist town?

Don't they understand that automobile repair and tire shops are closed on the weekends in small towns? That a small town tire shop isn't strong in specialized European or barrio-style tires? That the river is higher in the evening than in the morning?

My favorite was a small Mercedes crossover utility vehicle that tried to do exactly that, cross over, ou…

Three Different Types of Campers

I looked out the window and couldn't believe the trailer coming into camp. Most of our sites are built for car campers and tents. Smaller motorhomes and trailers get by. But this thing!

Besides, the campground was almost full. I went along with him to help, as a tugboat does when an oil tanker needs to dock. You've got to give him credit for guts. He made it. But it was close. 

They were newbies. I tried to think of something helpful to say, but it was difficult. They did not want to hear, "Ya got the wrong trailer." I finally decided to encourage them to camp in flatter, more open land; and to avoid going right up into the mountains proper, with their narrow roads and cramped forest campgrounds.

Later, we joked about the movie of Lucille Ball and Desi, "The Long, Long Trailer." As it turned out, he was a young lad at some state or national park in California when they were filming that movie!
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A backpacker walked …

The Mark of the Beast

You would expect something bizarre when you are traveling in the greatest volcanic explosion in Earth's history. Something unearthly. And sure enough, we found it. 


In case you didn't catch it the first time:


A Different Kind of Colorado Postcard

When embarking on any new project, the most important precaution is to keep expectations quite a bit lower than what seems 'fair.' Give the world a chance to surprise you on the upside. This is what I tried to do in the first post on campground hosting.

Some of the campers did just that. One fellow -- and I swear he was the one who initiated the topic -- ranted about how much he preferred semi-open land to thick-as-dog-hair forests. What a relief it was to hear somebody more fanatical than me, on that topic!

Actually, in five days, I have had more quality conversations than in five years of solitary camping. 

The trick is to encourage compliance with the campground rules without becoming officious; to be briefly friendly without being intrusive; and to resist my entrenched habit of steering the conversation in the direction I want, the excuse being that the other person is too much of a blockhead to talk about anything other than 'so where you from?' 

I also need to stop …

Seeking Authenticity in the Natural Experience

There weren't too many mountain bikers around in my time on the Uncompahgre Plateau, near Montrose, CO. First there was muzzle-loading rifle season, and then the archery season. I do feel a little nervous riding my bike with hunters around, but I make the best of it by wearing a flaming bicycle vest. I even got a bright orange safety vest for my dog.

There is something admirable about the bow-hunters, something atavistic, noble, and honest. And quiet. One day a bow-hunter came by my dispersed campsite. I took an instant like to him, and my dog immediately charmed his socks off.  Normally, when I converse, it seems as though it is my job to keep the conversation alive, for the simple reason that the blockhead can't think of anything to discuss, other than 'where ya frum?'

But in this case, I let him do 90% of the talking. He was raised on a real ranch as a boy. He spent some time as a professional hunting guide. He has hunted in Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. And oh my goodn…

Benefits of Getting Outside the Comfort Zone

There probably aren't many readers who are interested in bicycling. Nevertheless I will write about a certain kind of bicycling as an example of a principle that applies broadly and beneficially to early retirement and full-time travel.

Lately I have given advertisements for adapting to steep land by pushing the mountain bike up the hills and coasting down. This makes me uncomfortable, more so psychologically than physically. It helped to consider the history of mountain biking: it originated by using cars or ski-lifts to get up the hill, and then they would ride the bike down.

But I overlooked the examples of other "one-way" sports, such as river canoeing or kayaking, downhill skiing, hang gliding, and parachuting. None of these practitioners think that their sport is ruined by "one-wayness." They would probably have a hard time imagining it any other way. 




The "push up/coast down" style of mountain biking is somewhat similar to a surfer, who drops t…

Becoming More Optimistic Around Motorheads

I've been putting it off: mountain biking up the famous high passes in Colorado's San Juan mountains. Remember that the main tourist draw here is the "adventure" of driving your noisy vehicle over the passes, and then dropping into the boutique towns of Ouray, Telluride, or Silverton in order to eat fudge, ice cream, or pizza. 

If I wanted to share the road with motor vehicles, I would be a "roadie" instead of a mountain biker.

Ahh but...the tourist season seems to be in a little lull right now, with most of the country busy with sending their urchins back to school. The hazy and smokey skies detract from the postcard scenery. So the timing seemed right for mountain biking up to Engineer Pass from Lake City.

There are tricks of the trade when visiting tourist areas. You always win when you start your day early. Tourists are on vacation -- that means sleeping late. Besides, most motorsport-people are exposed to the air much more than in a regular car, and they…

Can Land Be Too Steep?

Although Mother Nature might not be friendly to me in the San Juan mountains of Colorado, there is a way to partially win. It isn't my favorite place for camping or recreation. The land is just too steep for dispersed camping and mountain biking. There are too many ATVs and Jeep Wranglers on the dirt roads. The tourist-boutique towns are over-priced and gimmicky. It is the best tourist scenery in Colorado, but you know how long that lasts.

Hiking works better on harshly steep land. The ascent is always a fun aerobic blowout; the descents are simply drudgery and trudgery that must be tolerated. But I am addicted to looking forward to descents on a mountain bike.

I have found a trick of the trade that helps me, and it might be useful to some of the readers. Rather than focus on achieving some goal on an outing -- and thereby talking yourself out of going, altogether -- focus instead on being defiantly lazy on an upcoming outing. Think about your dog, camera, clouds, or wildlife. To he…

Failure to Summit

It is quite a balancing act to find the perfect topography for mountain biking: mountains and canyons that are fun to look at, but are not so harshly vertical to make pedaling a wheeled machine impossible.


There is a beauty to land that is felt rather than seen; felt from the pressure in your feet, butt, and legs. When steering, shifting gears, or leaning your weight, you feel the land like a wind surfer or sea-kayaker feels the surf of the sea.

On the way back we passed a group of hikers who were getting out of their motor vehicles (their most important outdoor equipment, after all) and getting organized to climb the nondescript mountain in the photo, above. There was something un-stereotypical about them that pulled me in. Perhaps it was the high dog/hiker ratio. Maybe it was the vehicles: not a single Honda CR-V or Subaru Forester in the bunch. And everybody was wearing long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and broad brimmed hats. (They were from Arizona.)

They were attempting the trick tha…

Why Isn't Heating Your Home Free?

The forests in Colorado are no longer merely worrisome. They are well on the way to complete destruction. Here's an example of what I saw near Little Texas #1:


I asked the visitor's center if the Rio Grande national forest was the worst. Surprisingly he said that it was worse elsewhere. Bark beetles.

Believe it or not, there is something good to talk about. I saw pickup trucks going up my road everyday to cut up and haul out a load of firewood. They are my heroes. 

I asked one about the catalytic converters in the chimney of wood stoves. His experience was bad. In fact he removed it. But catalytic heaters, oxygen sensors, and computer-based control of automobile engines are pretty reliable. So why couldn't the same be true of wood stoves. (Please don't complain about the cost. Wood stove customers will squander an extra thousand dollars for a stove that is nostalgic or fashionable, so what is wrong with a few hundred dollars for something that works?)

Why doesn't the f…

A Camping Neighbor, of All Things

It has been a long time since an impudent camper had the effrontery to move in on my dispersed campsite. My campsite. I took an instant dislike to the guy and to his large wide-jawed dog.

But he was a real camper, and you have to admire that. All his junk was in the back of a regular cab pickup truck. No cap. In no time he had his tent and tarp set up. He used a shovel to dig a drainage ditch to empty out some of the puddles that were threatening to trap us. (So I'm not the only person who does silly things like that.) The campsite was at 10,000 ft. It was raining day and night, as it is prone to do in the Colorado high country.

Coffee Girl sneaked away from me and went over to see his rather intimidating dog. But he was young and playful, and soon they were wrestling and frolicking to their hearts' content.

He had an amazing ability to spot elk on a ridge above tree-line, maybe 2000 feet above us. With his naked eye! He got out his snooper scope, and it was all I could do to se…

Recidivism on a Pit Bull's Rap Sheet

The weekend finally over, the animal shelter opened up today.  I dreaded taking "Tipper", our self-invited weekend guest, to the shelter. I imagined the volunteer taking one look at Tipper and saying, "Oh that's just great, just what we need, another uncastrated pit bull! And this one requiring veterinary expenses on top of that!" Oh geez, would that mean 'the back room' for this sweet monster?

I had to lift Tipper into the van because of his sore foot. He was lighter than I thought. He just sat there. Not a squirm out of him. I rubbed his head all the way to the shelter. There was a stoic resignation that was disturbing. Did he know something that I didn't?

It was the opening of the work week at the animal shelter, and the dogs were acting out their anarcho-libertarian political leanings. They were running loose and barking their heads off. The place stunk. Apparently they don't like being ignored all weekend.

The volunteer opened the door of my v…