Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ram It Home

During my trip home last week I had the opportunity to shoot the breeze with family and friends, and occasionally the topic of discussion turned into a bit of a Q and A session about where I live. I am lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful states in the Union, Colorado. Wherever I go it seems that people are generally curious about how it is to live here. So this week I thought that I’d share a personal anecdote that I think pretty much sums up just how interesting life in the Centennial State can be.

A couple of weeks ago I went skiing in Keystone with a friend, and as I was driving early in the morning I recalled an event that happened probably ten or eleven years ago along the same stretch of road. I am pretty much a creature of habit, so I take the same route to the Summit County every time. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising since Colorado only has two roads that go anywhere. Anyway, I usually end up traveling through Golden and buzzing up Clear Creek Canyon to get to I-70. The canyon is often a busy little byway since it takes a load from ski traffic in the winter, sightseers and climbers year-round, and it feeds into the old west gambling towns of Blackhawk and Central City. It has beautiful sheer rock walls that frame both sides of the road, and the sound of the snow-melt creek fills the rock lined halls with the soothing sound of rushing water.

On the day in question I was headed to Vail with a friend of mine, Tiger, (yes, his name is actually Tiger) for a late fall rugby event. As I remember it we had to be there at old man early so we were in the canyon at about sunrise. The morning was cool and crisp. A light frost was on the trees although my breath was barely visible even before sunrise. As is apt to be the case with twenty-something rugby players, we were running a wee bit late, so Tiger was putting his red Mazda Miata through its paces in order to gain a little lost time. We had the top down since my esteemed colleague ate his weight in Mexican food and thought that it would be a good idea to wash it down with a case of Sunshine Wheat the night before, and the interior of that two-seat vehicle would have smelled like a musk ox shat inside someone's fake leg otherwise. It was bad enough with the top down, believe me. So, there we were zipping up the canyon at a good clip with the heater kicking full force whipping around the blind turns making up for lost time. For some reason we had the road to ourselves on that morning which only encouraged Tiger to press the little car into the turns even more.

Somewhere after Huntsman’s Gulch we came around a blind turn, and as I looked down to change the CD I heard the awful screeching of tires that you fear when you’re traveling through a tight canyon. I felt the car lurch to one side in order to avoid a sizable rock that had fallen into our lane. This isn’t too uncommon on the roadways around here, and the Colorado Department of Transportation has gone through extraordinary lengths to prevent rockslides from entering the highways. Several people every year are killed in Colorado from rocks falling onto their cars as they travel down the highway. The rocks on the road weren’t what was unusual. What was unusual was what brought the rocks down in the first place. The likely culprits were standing not a full car length from the Maita’s front bumper, which was now straddling the double-yellow line – two male bighorn sheep in full rut. Generally bighorn sheep are scraggly, mangy-looking animals, but these fellows were in the prime of their life – maybe not trophies, but still excellent specimens. They did not even notice us, and if Tiger’s caffeine fix hadn’t come to the rescue we would have probably had two uninvited passengers for the remainder of our short trip.

As I sat there with my heart racing the two animals took a couple of paces away from each other and then slammed their heads together with such force that the sound they generated in that silent canyon was like a shot going off echoing off the walls all around. Their breath was full of steam and snot as they backed up and raced forward to collide again. Pock! The sound was almost like the sound of ice fracturing across a frozen lake as the morning sun warms it. Their eyes were so wide open that white was visible all around, yet all they could see was the other ram standing in front of them. Pock! Trying desperately not to show any sign of weakness after each deafening impact. Pock! Back and forth they went several more times before a shoving match ensued ending up on the banks of Clear Creek below.

Neither Tiger nor I said a word. We just looked at each other as if to say, “Did that actually just happen?” Somehow it seemed to both of us simultaneously that talking about it until we had reached our destination would take something away from the experience. It wasn’t until we reached Vail (~1.5 hours away) that I finally said, “What the fuck was that, Man?!?” To which Tiger’s response was, “I seriously need to find a bathroom.” It was one of those events that leave a mark on your brain somehow...something unforgettable about witnessing an event first hand that few people ever see except on YouTube. I must have driven that canyon hundreds of times since that cool fall morning, and every time I still expect to see those magnificent sheep doing battle just around the next curve. So far they haven’t been there except in my memory, and that’s how Colorado grabs you and keeps you begging for more.


The Hippy said...

Move forward 5 years, same canyon. Nate (windy) and I traveling up early to hit the powder in one of my hippy mobiles. Coming up to a blind corner, there is a guy in the middle of the road waving us slow. I eased round the corner, and there, in the middle of the lane is a rock the size of a cow. On our side are 4 wheels attached to 2 axles, on the other, a Chevy truck sitting on the asphalt at door level and a lot of people grinning.

Jeff Mowry said...

That's great, Dan. We've got a little pass on the way home from "civilization" called Hardscrabble. Sometime last year my wife and I noticed lots of smaller rocks cascading down the cliffs and instantly grabbed the camera we tend to bring with us everywhere while in CO. Of course, it was a bunch of careless Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep on the edge of the cliffs high above. Got some decent shots after pulling over, but the little point-and-shoot leaves plenty to be desired with the zoom limits.

Just a few weeks ago, we actually scored a couple photos of seven (!) rams together at the side of the road. Of course, if you slow down, they bolt (not like our friendly deer all around us)--so the two snapshots are poorly exposed and a tad blurry. Still--seven rams!

Cool story! Come visit some time--it would be good to meet in person--for once.

Dan said...

Welcome to The Missing Piece, Jeff. We absolutely have to get together for a couple of tasty brews sometime.

Jeff Mowry said...

Thanks, Dan, I'd definitely be up for that. I'll have to let you know if I'm in your area with any time available. Otherwise, if you're ever near Colorado Springs (or south of it) let me know and we can make it happen.