ELWAYVILLE: Real Nature

Do you find it in your expensive new Sprinter van, rushing to every spot there is to visit off the open highway, or just by doing nothing at all?

Last summer, my neighbors bought a new Mercedes Sprinter van. They parked it for days on end in their driveway, preparing it for wherever it is they like to go.

It shimmers like a dark submarine as I walk by with the dog in the morning, an escape capsule waiting for its passengers, animal companions and as much beer as possible before gearing off into the great unknown.

This summer, the owners started wearing plaid and bought mountain bikes to increase their range. When they recently embarked again for the open road, I asked them which Shangri-La they were seeking. “We are going ‘adventuring,’” they said.

For nearly three full days their house sat as still as a sanctuary, a quiet castle awaiting the erstwhile adventurers’ return. When they came back, they spent a day emptying and cleaning the Sprinter, then another two days removing, cleaning with a rag and replacing every single rock in the four decorative riverbeds in their front yard.

I kept watch from my office window. And I couldn’t get the image of a captive lion, happy to pace in place after a short run away from its cage, out of my brain.

Humans in Nature

I grew up camping across Colorado. My father taught us the fine art the same way he learned it from his parents in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, and their parents before. All the earliest photos of Dad’s family are of cold camps and canvas tents, men with mustaches and rifles and makeshift poles holding dead deer.

Dad was never happier than when he was outside with a pack on his back, hiking up some aspen-lined mountain trail. Me too. Although I have to admit, I have also learned to enjoy sleeping in hotels when the time is right.

My wife and I recently embarked on our own road trip (sans Sprinter) with our young dog. It was the first we’d taken in many years. We drove to Salida to see one of her brothers, and where I thought I might hike Mt. Princeton like my father, or fish the Arkansas, like her father liked to do. Instead, we listened to bluegrass and watched kayakers drift by the river. We drank wine and beer. The dog jumped from bed-to-bed back at the hotel—like every kid ever does.

That Monday was Memorial Day and there were flags along Main Street in Leadville, and TV news crews and veterans in full dress uniform beside the memorial plaque at the road to Ski Cooper, a few miles above the historic 10th Mountain Division training grounds of Camp Hale. We kept driving, taking the lush curving road down to Minturn past fresh run-off filled ponds, beaming green hillsides and emerald vales.

At the I-70 Interchange we headed west for Aspen in heavy traffic, past endless acres of highway-fed sprawl. It wasn’t until we started up through Glenwood Canyon that Catherine caught her breath, and recalled picture-perfect memories from earlier years.

Past and present merged in the way the still, green water of the Colorado always seems to be flowing backwards and how the high, ancient sandstone rocks seem to float above the river. Once as young lovers one winter, we had bobbed in the steaming waters of The Glenwood Hot Springs Pool as snow swirled like confetti in the air.

Much Ado About Driving

We stayed at the Mountain Chalet across the street from the park and two blocks from the gondola, built in 1954. I love these iconic ski town hotels, like Alta’s Peruvian, Crystal Mountain’s Alpine Inn and the Alpenhof in Jackson Hole. I feel at home in the vibe, that connection to skiing, and the lack of over-priced drinks and lobby chandeliers.

Still, other than a couple afternoon trail runs up toward Independence Pass, all we really did was walk around town, have drinks at the Red Onion and watch the sunsets shimmer through the peaks, trees and rugby field goals. The whole town was perched on the edge of summer.

Back down in Lakewood we were introduced to a young dog we hope will join our family. He is the only boy in the last litter from the mother of the furry lady we have now. Then we were home. Our lab was excited to be back. She spun circles on the carpet, almost plowing through the screened back door.

In the yard that weekend she sniffed at wildfire smoke. We learned that the Ute Park Fire in New Mexico exploded so fast that you could see the smoke 50 miles north of Pueblo within 24 hours. The 416 Fire in Durango burned right down to the road.

On the road trip, we had commented on how early the peaks of the Collegiate Range were bare of snow. How high water on the Colorado and the Arkansas was already gone. We pointed out every change we could remember, staring out the window. And it seemed strange to us now how we had spent a whole week relaxed by the idea of not doing anything at all.

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