I decided to drive on as far as I could before nightfall. I headed east up and over Monarch Pass where I stopped at the summit (elev. 11,312 ft.), got out, and nearly froze in my tracks. I figured that was as cold as I would feel for the rest of the year. At the junction of U.S. 50 and U.S.285 near Salida, I headed north on one of the most incomparable drives in the U.S.A. with the Sangre De Christo Range on the right and the Continental Divide on the left. As Hwy 285 wends its way above Johnson Village there’s a magestic view of the Collegiate Range (Mts. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton) with a roadside sign proclaiming: ”Now You’re Really in Colorado”. Now I was really High Plains Driftin’ through the little burgs of Fairplay and Jefferson at elevations of 9,500 feet!
I only had to ascend 500 feet to the summit of Kenosha Pass. This was to be home for the night. I drove the short distance to the grove of Aspen trees where I usually parked, but to my astonishment the area had been converted to one of those “Designated Camp Grounds” replete with restrooms and appointed parking slots (with the ubiquitous stand-up metal cooking grills). The Park Service had sanitized my old camp ground! Not to be outdone, I managed to squeeze through the restrictive boulders and into a comfortable spot that had remnants of an old-fashioned camp fire. It was perfect… I had bit the bullet. Not only that, someone had left a bunch of scrap wood pilled next to the restrooms. What a windfall! It took one match and two pages of the Rocky Mountain News to start a small conflagration since most of the wood was thin latticework of some kind. You know, after hauling that wood some fifty feet and moving rocks to form a circular pit, I didn’t feel winded at all, even at 10,000 feet. I felt pretty good about myself, breathing-wise.
Thank goodness I had some left-over chicken and potato salad for dinner. I really wasn’t in the mood to drag out all the cooking gear. I was content to gazing at the flames and keeping warm. With the temperature dipping down into the 30s and a few flurries falling, that fire was really a blessing. The whole setting couldn’t have been choreographed any better by a movie director. The fire finally extinguished itself and left me in total darkness, as black as dark could be. As I laid back in my chubby, I began reminiscing about all the good times I had had camping out up there. Geemonee, the memories went all the way back to the summer of 1979 after I had moved to Denver in December of 1978. We would come up in July when the Aspens were still apple green, and then again in October at the height of fall colors. Many times we would drive in farther and set up camp along a creek with a honest-to gosh beaver dam. There was even a cabin along the same creek owned by Shalom, a community house in Denver for the homeless, where we would rendevous with some wonderful people. What great times! I dozed off thanking the Lord for getting me there safely, and for one beautiful evening.
I felt like a grizzly awakening from hibernation the next morning. The two blankets and comforter had kept me warm despite the outside temperature of 26 degrees. I just laid there thinking about the unfortunates who made reservations at hotels and had planned and predictable evenings in front of them. I thought how yesterday had been so spontaneous and unscheduled, and how everything had fallen into place so extra ordinary. Gosh, how many times that has happened over so many trips!
Back in the old days, I would have bundled up, trundled out into the cold, and started a fire just to warm up a pot of water for a cup of coffee. Thank goodness those days of “mountain man” were a thing of the past. I never really liked coffee. I just dranked it because it was hot and went good with cigarettes. Now, it was a couple of gulps of orange juice and I had my “fix” (and no craving for nicotine). I still have the blackened coffee pot stashed somewhere under the bed, like a Smithsonian artifact waiting to be retired. Gosh, it’s sat over a lot of fires from Maine to California.
I glided down the twenty miles to Bailey where I stopped for gas. Then one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions came to me – why not stop by and see my second cousin Vivian and family. I asked the lady attendant if she knew where Pinon Drive was. She not only knew, but she came forth with a detailed street map of the area. I sketched out the directions and thanked her immensely. I had no problem finding the Rosso residence – the playground setup in the front yard was a dead giveaway. I really surprised Jerry who was the only one at home. What great timing! They were having a birthday dinner for JoEllen (Vivian’s sister) that evening. Well, the planets must have been lined up just right again. After a tour of their new abode, I took off for bike ride around the neighborhood. With the elevation around there about 8800 feet and not one linear foot of level road, it really gave my respiratory system another workout. A light snow started to fall.
When I got back, the whole clan was there. Jerry was praying for a heavy snowfall. It seemed as though the Bailey area was under a severe drought watch and there had been smoldering fires nearby. I said to Jerry, “Hey, man, I’m praying right along with you.” We had a moveable feast topped off by Vivian’s superb tacos. It was JoEllen’s 44th birthday and I couldn’t help telling her, “You gotta be kidding. I thought you were in your mid-to-late thirties.” She blushingly replied, “Thank you.” Then I added, “You know, in a week I’ll turn sixty-four.” Well, she, in all honesty, said, “I thought you were fifty-four.” One compliment deserves another, I guess. It was a grand evening, and as I crawled under the blankets in Ol ‘ Blue, I thanked the Lord for giving me the opportunity to share the good times with my Colorado cousins.