Alone Beneath the Invisible Stars
October 28, 2013
The dogs won’t stop barking. Due to the peculiar acoustics of the place I can never quite tell what direction the howls, yaps, and croons are coming from or exactly how close they are. So every time they wake me from my pitiful slumber I must stay alert for a few moments, straining to discern if the wolves are circling or Rover is just terribly excited about something tonight.
After Pueblo I have one of my most casual driving days. I stop at Salida for a few hours to bask in the hot springs there. Here, as at most Coloradan springs it seems, the hot water has been turned into your typical commercial pool, just well hot. I had hoped to find a rugged outdoor grotto but oh well. Today there happens to be a birthday party going on so the place is teeming with little ones. Thankfully they stick to the wading pool and I’m left alone to swim a few laps (man I’m out of shape), do a few dives, and generally wallow near the tap that brings in the wonderfully warm water.
I try and stay long enough to warrant the $12 but ultimately feel a bit miffed about the whole thing. On the upside, watching all the moms herd their kids about the quite magnificent pool makes me think how nice it would be to raise a family here. Small towns just big enough surrounded by beautiful countryside and pleasant swimming spots. And I haven’t even seen it during the warmth of summer or the height of winter sport season. Who knew Colorado had it all?
I go to the historic downtown for a delicious lupper (lunch and supper) at The Fritz. One delicious hamburger with avocado créme later I’m ready to head on to Hartman’s Rocks near Gunnison for the night, a free camping spot recommended by some locals. I get there just a bit before sunset. The rocks are a beautiful formation typically overrun by mountain bikers and BMX. I quickly try to sort out my camping junk into something I can carry up with me. I’m not really hungry but want to take some food with me in case the burgers satisfaction dissipates. On the other hand I’m a bit worried about coyotes, mountain lions, and anything else I can imagine that could tear through my tents polystyrene walls like tissue paper.
As I stuff an inordinate amount of food into my pack the last few straggling bikers pass on their way home. Warning: approaching isolation. I begin climbing. I only have a medium sized backpack as I decided not invest in a large backpacking bag just yet. Therefore I carry my tent in my mittened hands. After ten minutes I begin to get quite winded and remember the altitude sickness warnings I’d spotted, right next to the park map I neglected to look at as I rushed to beat the sunset. After a few more minutes I find some decently level ground with a view of both horizons. I refused to settle for the boring areas delineated by picnic tables further down so slanted sleeping it is.
As I pound my tent’s last stake into the earth I realize I’m not hungry in the slightest. I eat a banana out of boredom but in my imagination the remaining victuals become a giant red aromatic crosshair for all surrounding predators. After some phone calls, photographs, and stargazing I decide to make it an early night. Here’s where the incline becomes a problem: all camping gear is made of synthetic fabrics, fabrics which have very low friction coefficients. So me, all in synthetic thermals, slip to the bottom of my synthetic sleeping bag which slips down my synthetic sleeping mat. Thus, throughout the night I’m forced to perform an inch-worm-like maneuver to ascend to the top of my tent. Amidst the local dogs’ barking, sliding and predator paranoia it’s a wonder I mange to nod off to sleep, if only in stops and starts.
I hear a loud sniffing and munching noise. It’s barely daylight and I fear the worst. By the time I get on some clothes and out the door there’s nothing in sight. I suppose it was a horse. I strike camp and make the perilous trek back to the parking lot. The likelihood of my slipping and breaking my neck is probably many times greater than the epic coyote battle I had imagined the previous night (my only weapon was the hammer I used to set my tent so it would’ve been an interesting encounter). After brushing my teeth and eating a simple breakfast I strike out for Mesa Verde and the ruinous wonders it holds.