It started out as a simple and straightforward thing to do. Lou took off, leading our group of British mountain bikers back to camp. Just seconds after beginning the ride, he rounded a corner and rode up on a four-foot Rattlesnake stretched out across the trail. Instinctively, he hit his brakes extra hard, which caused him to crash. When the dust settled, he was lying on the side of the trail, penned between a cactus and the rattler. The Brits had quickly stopped and looked on in horror as their guide and the viper were suddenly face to face, and only a couple of feet apart.
It was a Fall Sunday during what was normally the slow part of the year. Autumn in Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains is spectacular with Aspen trees turning gold and warm sunny days interrupted only by the occasional and temporary arrival of winter. Most years, late September is an ideal time to be there, with long pleasant days that are almost perfect for mountain biking, hiking, and climbing area peaks. But this particular year, my days were occupied with the aftermath of the burning down of the OWA base camp lodge rather than recreation. Instead of the comforts of my private lodge bedroom and bath, I was sharing an old one-room log cabin with an 18-year-old intern, and not doing much besides clean-up and prep for the new construction. On the day in question, I was piddling around the job site doing various chores. Since it was something of an off day, Lee (the intern) asked if he could go on a leisurely and straightforward hike toward Bison Peak. I considered the fact that he’d been on several backcountry trips with my outdoor program in the past. And since there was no work planned for him that afternoon, it seemed reasonable. And so, I gave him my blessing.
The various names that are attached to places are intriguing. Some are obvious since they either reflect a physical characteristic or commemorate an individual of importance. But, others not quite so. Many place names tell a story in a few short words—some less straightforward than others, but each worthy of knowing. Here’s a few such stories that I’ve heard. Listen, and maybe you will, too………………..
Winter camping and cross country skiing in Glacier National Park.
It was a good bit of naivety that got the three of us there- that and my Ford pickup. A thousand or so miles of driving took us from Texas up to Montana’s Glacier National Park, where we planned to live out our dreams of winter camping and cross-country skiing. We had the place pretty much to ourselves when we arrived, probably because it was January. We were alone when we pulled in, except for the two park rangers operating the Polebridge Ranger Station (where we entered the park) and the plethora of wildlife still out and about.
For whatever reason, my wife, Lori, and I ended up in Potosi, Bolivia, on that particular part of our vacation. After considering various things to do around the city, we ended up selecting the “mine tour” option. The city is over 200 miles south of the capital city of La Paz. At 13,400 feet of elevation, it’s one of the world’s highest cities. And, as we came to find out, it’s dominated by Cerro Rico, a big mountain which has been mined regularly for silver ever since the days when the Spaniards were the rulers.
“You’re not lost, if you don’t care where you are.”
By this point, we were some 20 miles from the last little outpost of a town that we’d been through. But theoretically, at least, we were about to come to another. Jerry had the best available maps of the area loaded onto his GPS. But it only told us where we were relative to whatever data it was loaded with. The adage, “garbage in, garbage out,” came to mind and was soon followed by the vision of a web page that simply said, “no data available.”
Canoeing and rafting down the Rio Grande through Boquillas Canyon.
The third time I floated the Rio Grande River through Boquillas Canyon was smoother than the first two. Since it was my first time leading an actual group into the backcountry, that simple fact was especially good. There were twelve of us on that particular trip, paddling two per aluminum canoe. We made the 33-mile excursion down the river on the east side of Big Bend National Park over three days, with two nights spent camping out along the way, only a couple of inconsequential technical canoeing problems, and a straightforward vehicle shuttle at the end. Other than dealing with a certain amount of teenager chaos, we mostly just went with the flow, gazed out at the mighty Sierra del Carmen mountains rising off to the southeast, and pondered the majesty and complexities of the humongous cliff walls surrounding us.
A tree catches fire in the Colorado backcountry at a particularly inopportune time.
Lightning streaked across the sky and was followed instantly by an explosion of thunder, telling me that the thunderstorm was somewhere right above us. It was unsettling, but there wasn’t time to worry about it. I didn’t see a lightning flash hit the ground but wondered if there was one up there that had one of our names written on it. The wind kept blowing relentlessly, and the constant gusting made the whole situation seem all the more chaotic. But, where’s the rain, I thought? The Tarryall Mountains needed it. A real downpour might put an end to both the monstrous Hayman Fire, and the smaller thing was that was visibly burning above us on the mountainside.