I drove into Craig, one of those peaceful little towns (pop. 8133) that dotted the landscape of the Rocky Mountain State. I connected with eastbound U.S. 40 and some 40 miles later I was in the beautiful ski resort village of Steamboat Springs. I stopped by an antique shop where I hoped to find Suzi Brackin (sister of good friend Dodi), but a young lady told me she no longer worked there and had moved (with her boyfriend Rick) to Austin, Texas. It was a slight disappointment since I had several years earlier spent a delightful evening with them at their rented mobile home on the outskirts of town.
After patronizing an in-town Coin-Op Laundro-Mat to do some much needed laundry including the bed sheets, I drove to the south end of town where I stopped at the local Safeway for some comestibles. From the parking lot I could glance up at the foreboding mountainside and see carved out ski slopes (now swathes of green in August) slicing through the aspens and evergreens. At the base of the slopes was a congregation of the usual luxurious lodges, which led me to recall one weekend ski trip back in 1972 with Suzie Humphreys along with Hugh Lamptham (a local Dallas DJ on KVIL) and his lady friend. Well, there wasn’t much else to do except look for an overnight parking space, which I easily did at the city park next to the Yampa River and Union Pacific tracks. Somnolence came easily to the sounds of the rushing river and rumbling coal trains, not to mention the pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof and the cool high altitude air.
After my usual breakfast of milk and banana, I located a lumberyard to pick up some two-by pine end cuts with the prescience that they would be very handy in getting a fire started at my next preplanned campsite. I then made the steep climb up U.S. 40 to Rabbit Ears Pass (elev. 9426 ft.), which offered a dramatic panorama of the verdant valley below. Soon I crossed the Continental Divide at Muddy Pass (elev. 8772 ft.) and then coasted south paralleling the Muddy River to Kremmling with a spectacular view off to the east of the Great Divide as it followed the crest of the Rockies. I stopped at the City Market (an excellent Colorado chain) to pick up some frankfurters and then headed east chasing an Amtrak passenger train as we both wended our way through the beautiful Bryers Canyon.
I eventually found my familiar (and one of my favorite) campsites just outside of Hot Sulpher Springs next to an embryonic Colorado River and within walking distance of the railroad tracks. In fact, having outrun Amtrak (not too difficult to do nowadays), I was able to scurry up the slight incline just in time to wave at the engineer and the passengers as they rolled by. The one disappointment was that I couldn’t see any faces peering out of the cars because of the tinted glass – that was indeed a shame. Within a half an hour, a freight rambled by in the opposite direction, suggesting that the submissive Amtrak had to pull off on a siding to allow the freight on tracks owned by Union Pacific to proceed full throttle. It was no wonder that Amtrak had an impeccable record of never being on time.
Although the site was lush and green, it afforded me absolutely no combustible dry tree branches, which was why I foresightedly gathered the end cuts. There was a paradox when camping out in the West: if there was sufficient rainfall in the area, it meant that open campfires were categorized as “Low Risk” (on those familiar orange diamond-shaped signs), but at the same time all available wood was moldy green, not very conducive to starting a fire. Conversely, an extremely dry season made tree limbs ripe for flammable wood, but it also mandated the warning signs to read: “Extreme Risk” (no open campfires).
I went through my usual routine of dragging out the cookware box and grille, digging out a pit and lining it with rocks, and then striking a match to the paper underneath the end cuts. A ferocious fire ensued, emitting a welcomed warmth in the cool evening air. Eventually, the flames subsided into red-hot embers where I could sit around the fire roasting wieners on a coat hanger wire. Everything was copasetic until a light drizzle started falling, forcing me to throw my tarp over the leftover pine cuts and the smoldering fire. As I sat inside Ol’ Blue in the easy chair, I noticed a young couple in a nearby campsite struggling to put up their tent, and eventually giving up to retreat to their pickup camper. I kind of felt sorry for them, but at least they had backup accommodations. I listened to the falling rain and the ramble of rolling freights as I reposed into slumber land.
I woke up to a misty morning and saw that my neighbors had packed it in and vamoosed. My guess was that all the wet weather had dampened their bivouacking plans. Maybe they took off to somewhere in the Arizona desert. The tarp had done its job keeping the cook pit dry, so l was able to quickly rekindle the fire to heat up some water for coffee and throw a couple of wieners in the skillet, as a culinary substitute for breakfast sausage. After packing it in, I continued south on Hwy 40 through the picturesque little towns of Granby, Tabernash, Eraser, and Winter Park eventually climbing over Berthoud Pass (elev. 11,315 ft.) where I descended some 3,000 feet in a very short distance to merge with I-70 into the Mile High City.
I made a beeline to my “adopted” home base at the King Soupers Super Market (another excellent Colorado chain) in the Capitol Hill district just south of downtown. I had resided in the area the entire six years that I spent in Denver (1978 – 84), and it was a common practice among us “straights” to brand the market as “Queen” Soupers because of the inordinate number of gays living in the neighborhoods. I negotiated with a security person in letting me spend the night in the far comer of the auxiliary parking lot under the guise that I was on my way back to Gunnison (my Colorado plates helped).
I had some time to kill, so I took the opportunity to go ahead and fill up at the Conoco pumps a few blocks away at one of those “working” service stations that were regrettably becoming obsolete. I took a circuitous drive through Cheeseman Park where I had spent countless afternoons simply watching people, volleyball games, and trying to throw my boomerang away, but the darn thing kept coming back. I went back to King Soupers to pick up some fried chicken thighs and potato salad at their superb deli. I then moved Ol ‘ Blue over to my “designated” corner parking space under a huge cottonwood.
After dining on the deli delectables, I unhitched the bike and pedaled over several blocks to Charlie Brown’s, which still featured the last remnant of piano bars that had formerly proliferated on Capitol Hill. My old friend Paul was at the keyboard (he had been playing “The Hill” for more than 20 years). We had a. grand time, singing mainly excerpts from musicals, highlighted by a grand old dame belting out several numbers from Cabaret. The evening would not have been complete without Paul playing Misty for me. I biked back through the cool night air thinking, “What a great Saturday night!” Even though I felt exhilarated, I had no trouble falling asleep.