I didn’t grow up camping. I didn’t acquire the “roughin’ it” principles at an early age, as so often seen in my more outdoors-savvy counterparts living in the northwest. In Texas, the only “it” that needs “roughin’” is the heat, which is best contended with through the use of air conditioning. So when my dad and I started this thing, I had to “google” camping lists, hiking tips, and what to do when confronted with mountain lions, wolves or bears, “oh my!”. The answer? Bear spray. It’s pepper spray for animal attacks! Who knew? (Not me)
Aside from these camping-for-dummies preparations, we needed to map out a route. Around this time, it started getting really hot in Texas (I know, hard to believe). It was the beginning of June and already the heat was relentless. We decided that first and foremost, we needed cooler weather and good beer. So we headed to Colorado
*Fast forward through the excitement (occasional tumbleweed or cow) of the Texas panhandle*
Two days later, we were driving down a long, far-off road in southern Colorado towards the first of twenty-seven national parks that we would visit that summer: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The massive dunes were easily discernible from miles away, and their size and anomalous form seemed to rebel against the neighboring mountains, refusing to be dwarfed.
As we came closer to the dunes, the landscape began to tweak my sense of scale; people were nothing more than than tiny dots, completely overwhelmed by the the grandiose of drifting desert dunes demanding attention at the knees of mountains, like gypsies before monarchs.
There was a stream of water that ran the length of the dunes at their feet, where people were sunbathing and cooling off from the hot sand. Others could be found climbing the steep faces of the dunes with disks in tow, and then giddily sliding back down. It was a desert playground in the middle of a mountain oasis. It was so much fun.
That evening found us driving north over Monarch Pass, just past the continental divide. The day was beginning to shut its eyes and we needed a place to sleep. On a whim, we turned down a dirt road and stumbled upon a remote campground, called “Snowblind”, tucked away in a southern vale of the Gunnison National Forest. An adjoining meadow lent a sweet smell to the crisp air and a nearby brook gave the grounds an ethereal quality that made me think of pixie dust.
We had set up camp and my dad was cooking dinner when I took notice of several fresh scratchings on the trees surrounding our campsite. I quickly became uneasy as I realized the markings had been made by bears. At this point, I had zero experience with bears. Coyotes…sure. The occasional mean cow…of course! Even the 14 foot burmese python my animal-science teacher of a neighbor keeps as a pet. But bears made me nervous. My dad could sense my unease (probably because I kept telling him) and then said something that really clicked with me. He said, “Megan, there are no killer attack bears. So calm down, shut up and come eat.” Kidding about the latter part! He was right, though. Bears are such special and powerful creatures. As long as they are treated with respect, there is much more to be admired than feared. And that night I was able to fall asleep unafraid…with a hatchet and bear spray at arm’s length.
The next morning led us up a series of state and forest service roads which meandered northwest, towards…somewhere. I had become distracted from a destination as the landscape opened up around me, painted with infinite shades of green that seemed to shimmer under the affects of sun and clouds. The affect on me was spellbinding, and the valley we passed through, though I do not know its name, remains one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.
We ended up in the tiny town of Pitkin, Colorado where we managed to secure some showers at an old hotel turned antique hub. The entire (somewhat small) first floor was cluttered with a random assortment of garage-sale items: used clothes, old movies on VHS tapes, dollhouses, costumes…it was like the pages of an “I Spy” book. We were lead outside and up some stairs by the owner, a sweet older lady, to a second floor which consisted of a dozen haphazardly placed bunk beds and two shower rooms which, I can only surmise, were built for hobbits. It was a strange affair, and after we were clean, we headed to Gunnison and immediately found a brewery.
Colorado, as you may well know, is renowned for its breweries. Have you read “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Colorado”? We live by it. And that’s all I have to say about that. And this: