Wild, Wild West, How I Love You

Although I’ve been saying I want to move back to the east coast for about five years now, and although I now have a full time remote job that enables me to pack up and move back tomorrow if I want to, I’m quite glad to have been in Colorado through the Covid-19 shutdowns. And that’s mostly because of our wide open spaces. Last week I posted about my recent vacation to Glacier National Park, but even before that, I was out and about in the forests and mountains. The following are three mini trips I took that helped keep me sane during this lockdown period.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

During the first week in April, I took a trip to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for my birthday. No, Utah did not have a stay-at-home order at the time. And what better time to go than when few other people would be there? So I went to the grocery store and packed everything I’d need for five days, put the tent and the dog in the car, grabbed a friend, and off we went.

Among the highlights were:

  • The epic views of vast nothingness in what I think is the most beautiful state
  • The icy cold water in the slot canyons and how much Trotsky loved it after a long, hot hike in the sun
  • Driving to the end of BLM108, spending the day hiking around the canyon rim and then down into the canyon and not encountering one single other person
  • Two cows sneaking up on me and mooing angrily while I was trying to poop in a hole in the ground
  • Sleeping in my skivvies even though it was down into the 30s at night because I have an insanely warm and comfortable new sleeping bag, and having Trotsky Bear snuggled up nearby
  • The total lack of traffic anywhere. Colorado traffic has become unbearable over the last decade with the population explosion, but the drive to Utah this time was an absolute delight. It would have been a shame not to take advantage of the empty highways, especially with gas under $2/gallon.

Lost Creek Wilderness

One month later, I was feeling the itch to get out of town again, and when my company gave everyone an impromptu holiday for May the 4th (the benefits of working a software company where everyone loves Star Wars), plans were made! Not too far this time. This place was only about two hours away, a drive once again made so much lovelier by the lack of traffic.

There’s lots of dispersed camping in this area, so it was easy to find a place with no one else around. We saw maybe a dozen people on our hike the first day, but only two on our hike the second day. It was perfect.

San Luis Peak

Summertime in Colorado means 14ers, so what better way to celebrate the official beginning of the season than with a hike up to 14,014 feet? On June 20th, our mighty group tackled San Luis Peak on a whirlwind trip 30 hour trip.

I thought by now I’ve visited every place in Colorado, but when we headed northwest out of Saguache on route 114, I realized I was on that road for the first time. After driving through miles and miles and scrub land and ranches, I commented to my friends that it felt like we were in an episode of the Twilight Zone, driving to nowhere on an endless road. How portentous.

First, we saw Bigfoot. Okay, obviously not the Bigfoot, but a man coming out of a forest, down a slope to a creek. He came out of nothing. There were no houses, no trails, no towns, nothing at all for a long, long way. But there he was, loping down the hillside in a very Yeti-like manner. Might as well have been Bigfoot.

Then came the fire, or lack of. We could not get our fire to start at our campsite. The wood was completely dry, we had newspaper and a firestarter, and it wasn’t windy enough to cause this kind of problem. But the wood did not want to catch.

Next, there was a the night sky activity. If you have never seen the stars in a cloudless, western summer sky, you’ve never seen the stars. When you look up, you see hundreds and then thousands of stars at first, but if you give your eyes a few minutes to adjust, you’ll suddenly see millions. The more your eyes get used to the darkness, the deeper your vision will go and, as we did, you can frequently see the Milky Way too. But we also saw something else – a very strange amount of activity. The sky was alive. It began with one shooting star, then some satellites, more shooting stars, an unusually high number of planes (especially in these Covid-19 times), and a strange “collision” of three objects in the sky that quickly dispersed in three different directions. The San Luis Valley is a well-known hot spot for extraterrestrial activity, so I’m not ruling anything out.

We also saw a number of other uncommon, though not strange, sights. The wilderness itself was unlike most that we hike in. Stewart Creek is lined with beaver ponds and the surrounding forest is dead, the pines all killed by the deadly pine beetle. The consequence of this is downed trees, and the trail was littered with them, forcing us to hurdle, scoot around, or crawl under.

Then there were a bunch of pronghorn, a real life cowboy out in the ranch land (though he was herding sheep, not cows), and a man dressed in a giraffe costume bicycling down the road in Salida where we stopped for dinner on the way home. Okay, that last one was strange. And not actually in Saguache County.

But probably the strangest things of all is how to pronounce the name of the county. Ask your friends, ask your family, place your bets, and then watch this video. Good luck!

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