He yelled at us to stop, seemingly from out of nowhere. I was startled by the sound, but frightened when I saw the ragged looking man standing only 50 feet to our side, but thankfully across a dry gully. I was leading a group of 9 teenage backpackers down the trail, headed back to our Base Camp facility after a week out in the Lost Creek Wilderness. We’d be back in less than an hour except for whatever was about to happen. The lone man was probably in his 40s, unkempt, and had a Pit Bull by his side.
We were backpacking on the Big Island of Hawaii along the Mulawai Trail. The first night out, we camped in Waipio Canyon. Then, the next day we headed toward Waimanu Canyon and stopped for the night to camp on a rustic camping platform provided by the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife. The shelter was conveniently located on a mountaintop within a day’s walking distance of the trailhead and was a welcome sight after our long and hot climb through the jungle and up the Z Switchbacks. We reached the elevated platform in the middle of the afternoon, and since there was still plenty of daylight left and we were all physically drained, everyone picked a spot and stretched out on the shaded and relatively clean plywood for a quick nap. As I dozed off, I thought contentedly of gentle breezes, juicy Lilikoi fruit, and thick clouds. Josh and I were the guides for the group of 8 teenage boys, a fact that would eventually come into play. But for the moment, we all just slept.
We called it the “Valley of the Dinosaurs,” mostly because of the humongous rock formations scattered all around. They dominated the remote high valley in Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains with their sheer size. And they breathed a strange sort of life into the area that had convinced me early on that the whole place was somehow on the move. I could never pick out any one thing that caused me to think that—it was more like a general, overwhelming, and deep gut feeling that had me convinced. I was consumed by the place’s pure and simple beauty and sensed the place was more alive than me from the first time I blundered into it. Through the years, I took every opportunity to return. And while the physical cost of getting there was never cheap- without fail, it was always worth it.