Friday, July 29- Saturday, July 30
From Arches we set out to join our friends, Peggy and Perrin, who have a vacation home near Crested Butte in the Rockies. We wake up early to see the sun rise, changing the vast desert in front of our tent from gray, to purple to red and then to white as the sun peeks above the horizon and pours light into our tent. The evening had not been too bad with temperatures dipping into the 50s; but by 8:00 a.m. it is already in the low 80s, and expected to top 100 by noon.
Our first stop is a small town in the desert, Thompson Springs, about 40 miles away where one of the camp attendants lives, a middle aged woman with a face showing years of hard work in the sun. We spend some time discussing life in the area, and she volunteers that she lives near her parents in an old mining town that is now a ghost town, a situation she describes with stoic resignation. Naturally we are curious as to what a real ghost town looks like, get directions and arrive there in about 45 minutes. We count about 10 mobile homes, some in disrepair, clustered around a small intersection just minutes off the interstate. Six or seven buildings located in what must have been the village center are boarded up and falling down. The only former establishment that can be identified displays a hotel sign. It is also rundown, and has a truck in the driveway suggesting it is now a residence.
We wonder how many towns in southern Utah are like this, having lost population as mining petered out and are struggling just to survive. What must it be like to live in these towns, which have lost all their services and are often long distances from grocery stores, pharmacies, and schools?
The drive to Crested Butte is up the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, which takes about six hours. We climb from about 5,000 feet to almost 10,000 feet before descending to a valley around 8,000 feet and then up again. The scenery is stunning though similar to what we have seen before in other parks like Yosemite and Sequoia except greener with an abundance of water in streams, brooks and occasional alpine lakes. Traffic is surprisingly light though the absence of guard rails on most hairpin curves keeps us–me anyway–from thoroughly enjoying the views, I am reminded of my granddaughter, Josie’s, comments to me in Yosemite, “Just suck it up, Pepe!” but am sadly finding that I am becoming more anxious rather than less. Perhaps this is just a sign of getting old. But consider this: when guard rails do exist, look at them carefully. All of them—or at least most of them—have dents where vehicles obviously banged into them at some point. Some are even partially destroyed. Now imagine what would have happened if these guard rails had not been there.
Embry says she is tired of hearing me complain and asks to take over the wheel.
There are virtually no villages or signs of human habitation anywhere until after a couple of hours when we roll into Gunnison, a tourist town of several thousand people, located in the valley near the southern boundary the Rocky Mountains. From there it is only another 50 miles north to Peggy and Perrin’s mountain home as we drive along a small highway curving through a green valley with bubbling streams and large ranches with horses and cows grazing. No sign of any desert here.
The email directions provided by Perrin take up one full page when printed out. Three miles here, then four miles there, then turn when the road bends, look for Sam’s cabin, then…. Naturally the GPS has faded, so we are now on our own. Just after the sign for Sam’s cabin, the journey starts to get serious with 7.1 miles to go on a road that starts off paved but quickly deteriorates to gravel and dirt and narrows so that it is virtually impossible for two large cars to pass. And everyone who lives in these parts of the woods drives a very large car.
Since not many people do live around here, you meet few cars coming from the opposite direction, but you do meet some; and unless you are extremely lucky, somebody has to back up to a spot where the road widens a bit, so the oncoming car can squeeze by as you pause along side a 50 foot precipice, biting your nails.
Following Perrin’s explicit directions we start a steep climb with numerous switchbacks, see an entrance to a summer camp, a couple of trail heads, a beautiful alpine meadow with plenty of cows grazing, and finally the trailhead which according to his directions abuts his property. We are there!
Talk about secluded!
The house, which they built about 15 years ago, is a gem, worthy of a cover story in Architectural Digest—natural materials, multiple porches and nooks, huge fireplace, cozy but elegant. My guess it is about 2,000 square feet—medium sized. It is situated in a small clearing surrounded by huge spruces, Douglas Firs, and Aspens with views when looking almost straight up of peaks towering to 12,000 feet above sea level and 3,000 feet above the cabin. Below the house is a roaring trout stream which creates a soothing, never ending ,white sound. Humming birds are ubiquitous.
Peggy and Perrin are old friends from Chapel Hill graduate school days when I was in planning school, Embry in the School of Public Health and Perrin in law school. They are great outdoors people with whom we have enjoyed many white water canoe trips and cross country skiing weekends in West Virginia. They bought the vacation property— an outparcel in the middle of the Gunnison National Forest—almost on a whim. Due to a snow storm preventing them from skiing in Aspen, they went instead (for the first time) to Crested Butte, and when cross country skiing fell in love with this part of the mountain forest. It turned out that one small outparcel was for sale, and they jumped on it without even seeing the property. The rest is history. They spend several months here each year, and it is easy to see why they love it.
We spend the afternoon hiking on a tiny path next to the trout stream, then onto a vast, alpine meadow with breathtaking views of peaks surrounding the valley. The next morning we drive for breakfast to the town of Crested Butte, an upscale, charming tourist community with a wild West theme and plenty of coffee shops, cafes and boutiques, along with music festivals, food festivals, wine festivals and other cultural activities.
After breakfast, we say our goodbyes and head out to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park in what will be our last –and perhaps most spectacular–national park.