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All Day I Rode The Barren Waste....



I think the West is beginning to revert to form. Somewhere on this trip I saw a display with a quote from Zebulon Pike, who upon conquering the eponymous peak looked out at the vista, and confided to his companions that it looked like nothing so much as the Sahara Desert.

We've managed at great expense to keep that vision at arm's length much of this century, by trapping every pearly gleam of dew behind a dam somewhere, and drilling deeper and deeper into the waters of the ages.

It has in many ways been a noble effort. But Colorado, and indeed most of the central United States, is still a desert. Many years around here it barely rains in the summer. That's why many people like to come here. But the killer is when it doesn't snow, or not much. The Gunnison Valley is a blooming desert, but that bloom depends on a creaking elaborate clockwork of tunnels, ditches, wells, and reservoirs, and if it doesn't snow none of that is worth a damn.

I mentioned in another letter how the reservoirs of the Grand Mesa have turned into mud flats. But none of that really prepared me to see the great Blue Mesa Reservoir, which I remember as an inland sea, reduced after a few miles to merely the Gunnison River again, and then to a stream at the Lake City cutoff. If you could get a run going, you could jump across it. Someone said it's down 100 feet.

At least. The only dock still operating, the only real place to get down to the water, is near the dam.

A fellow in the store at the Black Canyon cutoff put it well. "What we need isn't just snow. We need a humdinger. We need a winter old folks will shake their heads about 20 years from now. 'Remember the Blizzards of Ought-2?'"

He said the almanac says that this should be a wetter than average Winter. He can't keep that almanac in stock. People buy it as a talisman.

When I came down from Grand Mesa, I stopped along the way to enjoy the tremendous view, and then turned into the first commercial campground I came to, a place called "Aspen Trails". I think that was the name. Anyhow, I told them I wanted to dump my tanks, and they said that would be $4.50. I paid and started the dump. Then I noticed there wasn't a hydrant at the dump.

I went back inside, stood in line again, and asked where the water hose was. There was a pregnant silence.

"You want water?"

"Sure I want water. I'm dumping water, I need to replace it."

"There's a separate charge for that."

"Oh? How much?"

"Five Dollars."

I'll be damned. "You could have told me that up front. I presume you want me to clean up around the hole? You got water for that?"

"There's a hose out front. Be sure and put it back on the wheel."

I refused to pay the extra fee because I thought they weren't honest with me, and because I'm sometimes a stubborn cuss. Instead I went on into Cedarview, where I found a much needed car wash. After the wash, which cost $2, I found an unattended hydrant on the side of the building and filled up my tank.

If things stay dry another winter, this sort of thing may become the norm. Think Snow.


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