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Buena Vista, Colorado
Seen from Cottonwood Pass, Taylor Park and the Sawatch Range around it seem like a vast emptiness. It is an illusion. There's thousands of people down there. Twenty years ago it mostly was empty. Now it is teeming with development. The "ghost town" of Tincup, which held perhaps 6 or 7 souls on my last visit, is now pumped full of new houses. The Denver Post is delivered there, always the last nail in the coffin of solitude.
The road down from the pass into Buena Vista was dirt back then, about one and a half lanes with turnouts. Great cottonwoods arched over the ruts of the road, and in October when they let fall their leaves it was like driving through a golden blizzard, for miles. That road is no more. The cottonwoods have been cut back, the road widened to two lanes and paved up to the pass.
You know, I'm beginning to sound like an old crank, lamenting the "good old days". I'm gonna stop that. It is entirely possible I have contrived to depopulate my memories. And that was October, anyway, not July. It is beautiful country, still.
About 5 miles short of Buena Vista, I passed by "Cottonwood Hot Springs Resort" on my left. I remember this place. My back actually cried out in longing, so I found a place to turn around and go back.
The resort is charming, and far from full. It reminds me of a place I visited up in the Olympic peninsula. "Sol Duc Springs"? Something like that. The spa here consists of a line of cabins strung along Cottonwood Creek, and a series of 5 or 6 well designed pools running from tepid to 106 degrees. There is a narrow entrance, and a sharp turn to the right, but once you are in you can make your way to the upper parking lot, which has room for several trailers like mine. You can turn around up there. The spa costs $10 for all day, until midnight. Massage is available for $65 an hour, which seemed a little high to me.
I stayed a couple of hours. At first the sun was burning down, but then storm clouds gathered. It never rained hard. I liked the hottest pool. They had these tubular spongy colorful floats about 4 feet long and two inches through, that you could wrap around your neck. That let you lean back into the water and halfway drift off without immediately drowning. Stuff looked a lot like pipe wrap.
I took possession of a quiet shady corner, pulled my cap down over my eyes, and listened, desultorily, to the conversations around me. There was a bench built into the perimeter of the pools, and shiatsu stones on the bottom to rub your feet on. Felt good. The only thing that kept me from drifting off completely was that there was no lip on the bench, and the lapping water would eventually suck me off if I didn't keep anchoring my feet.
There was a small dead branch or tree planted right by the pool, with sharp snags like arms flung upward, the base decorated with raked gravel and stones in the Japanese manner. Someone off to the left with an eye to the sky half joked that the tree was alive last week before the lightning struck it.
Sometime later a very unusual looking fellow came out of the bathhouse and entered the pool. He looked like he had just walked off the cover of one of those bodice-ripper romances you can buy at the grocery store. "Rogue of the Wilderness", that sort of thing. Harlequin publishes a bunch of them.
He had that deep V from shoulders to waist that you see on competitive swimmers, with little bumps where most people sport a stomach, and big arms, the kind you can only get by pumping iron. He had wide, deep set, dark brown eyes, and there was something Gallic about the nose and mouth. The telling feature, though, was thick brown-gold hair that swept back from his noble brow, over and down his shoulders, almost to his waist. He was a sight to see.
Somewhere in Fennimore Cooper's Pathfinder series, Natty Bumpo is described as "walking like a cat". Or maybe it was a cougar. Anyway, this guy could walk like that. Looked like maybe a Natty Bumpo of the Boudoir. He just exuded physical charisma, sex, and self-confidence. I thought for a minute they had put out a slightly different species of human, and hadn't told me. The latest model, so to speak. I never heard his name, but I thought of him as Armand. He sort of looked like an Armand.
I had been quietly studying a couple of young women in the pool, sitting opposite. From a safe distance, of course, and in an entirely paternal manner. Of course. They were both in their early 20s, animated and alive, with the sort of lithe figures most women enjoy only once, and briefly, on their way to having babies.
They were ripe beestung Peaches, hanging sweet and heavy on the bough.
When Armand entered the water, both the Peaches lost their composure. They seemed to lose control also of their lovely jaws, for their mouths hung open. Armand took it in stride, smiled and said hello to them, and then walked a short distance away to sit down. He did nothing in particular, and yet there probably was not a person, male or female, in this pool or the next, that did not notice him.
I watched the Peaches. They recovered slowly, began whispering to each other. You could almost see tiny Technicolor reflections of him in their eyes. Then suddenly something happened, they shared a sober look, got up together, and left the pool. They did not return.
It's only speculation, but I had the feeling I could read their minds just then. They were completely out of their league, and didn't like it much. It is never a comfortable feeling.
I remember situations like that, a time of two, from my salad days. An absolutely stunning woman would walk into a room. Part of it was looks, part pure heat. Not an intellectual attraction at all. It's not personal. Guys all over the room straightened up and tucked in their shirts, without much thinking about it. When it happened, I knew I had only minutes to save my life. If she could stir me like this from 30 feet, what would happen if I got in closer?
On both occasions, for better or worse, I bolted, just like the Peaches. It was not fear of failure. It was fear of success. You cannot fool around with a sexual singularity like that. Either you leave, or else you do whatever it takes to marry her. And if you marry her, you will never know a moment's peace. Your life will not be your own.
I think the Peaches had a moment like that. I saw it in their eyes. I could be mistaken. Maybe they already knew the guy. But I think not.
Armand leaned back against the rocks, smiling and serene. A spider has no need to chase the flies. He started talking to the woman on his right, a hardy fit sort with weathered features. She could have been 45, maybe 50, but she suddenly looked a lot younger, talking to Armand. I thought of her as the Rancher's Wife, though the Rancher himself was not in evidence. She started telling all about her "cow/calf operation" and how the weather affected haying.
Armand nodded with grave courtesy, murmuring something that seemed like encouragement. He didn't talk much. I may be doing him an injustice, but "haying"? People who know much about that have funny tans, and get sort of drawn and lumpy from the work. Have missing fingers, that sort of thing. Just looking at Armand, you had to think he never worked at anything in his life, outside of the gym.
"Cow/calf"? This operation was going to be all bull.
Too much drama for me. I got out, feeling unusually pale and flabby, seeking a serenity suitable to my years. There was a break in the foliage, with steps leading down. Someone had made a pool of rocks, jutting out into the stream. Maybe 8 inches deep, and large enough for maybe 3 very friendly adults. It caught the overflow from the various pools above.
Another old guy was splayed out down there, half asleep. I got him to move over.
This place was the best of all, more delicious than you would imagine, just looking at it. The bottom was sand, and I lay my head back against small rocks, mere inches from the rushing creek. I scrunched down into the bottom, making my bed. Moved a few rocks. Now and then a little ice water leaked through and crept down my neck. The pipes above splashed water onto flat rocks, which splattered the precious stuff in turn, and it fell as a continuous warm mist on my legs and chest. Young green cottonwoods overhead let through a dappled dancing light, and later a soft sprinkle of cool rain. When I closed my eyes the roar of the creek went right through my head from ear to ear.
I only woke, some time later, when the other guy stepped across me. It's a good thing. I might be there yet.
Up top, Armand and the Rancher's Wife were not to be found. Ain't life a funny thing?
I had some enchiladas down in Buena Vista. The only Mexican joint in town seemed pricy to this Texan, but then this isn't Texas. The grub was tasty, though, and they even made a darned good Cointreau Margarita. Two, in fact. The couple next to me were from New Jersey, here on their honeymoon.
After the soak, the drama, the meal, and the drinks, I was wasted. I wandered in late to White Star Campground, up the road at Twin Lakes, and slept like the dead.
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