Colorado Songs

M John Fayhee: Smoke SignalsAuthor’s note: Though this represents a stylistic change of pace for Smoke Signals (I thought I’d give my liver a break for a month), a book project I have been working on for several years has given me the opportunity to research songs about/from Colorado, most of which have the word “Colorado” in their title and/or their lyrics. I have herein opted to share the fruits of that research. There is no doubt that there will be many reactionary exclamations along the lines of, “Fayhee’s a frickin’ moron! How could he not include [such and such a song] or at least something by [fill in the blank].” Well, I am all ears. Please send suggestions (as well as any corrections to this list) to mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com. I would also be interested to hear songs from other parts of the Rockies, especially those that contain state names within their titles or lyrics.

• John Denver, who was born Henry John Deutschendorf, penned the lyrics of “Rocky Mountain High” (Mike Taylor composed the music) after watching the Perseid meteor shower with friends near Williams Lake, outside Aspen. It was recorded in August 1972 and released the following year. Because he lived most of his adult life in Colorado, a large percentage of John Denver’s discography hailed from the Centennial State. Many of his tunes make reference to his adopted home state, but, if you’re going to seek out a Denver song not named “Rocky Mountain High” that is about Colorado, your best bet is “I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado.”

• Bob Dylan, another singer who, like John Denver changed his name (from Robert Allen Zimmerman), at one time maintained a second home in Telluride (maybe he still does). In “Man of Constant Sorrows” he sings: “I’m going back to Colorado/The place that I started from/If I’d known how bad you’d treat me honey/I would never have come.” And, in “Wanted Man,” he sings: “I might be in Colorado or Georgia by the sea/Working for some man who may not know at all who I might be.” (Note: Contrary to some published reports, Dylan’s “Romance in Durango” is not about the southwestern Colorado town that is home to Fort Lewis College, but, rather, the nice big city that is in Mexico.)

• While still with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Rick Roberts wrote, “Colorado,” which was included on that group’s self-titled 1971 album. “Colorado” was covered by Linda Ronstadt on her 1973 album, “Don’t Cry Now.” Roberts went on to help found Firefall. Several versions of “Colorado,” as performed by both The Flying Burrito Brothers and Ronstadt, can be found on YouTube.

• Stephen Stills’ “Colorado” is an example (of many) of a great mountain-based song with lyrics that you wonder how much pot these folkies were actually smoking back in the earliest days of the Rocky-Mountain-High era. To wit: “I am a man/I live alone/Don’t much bother me/It won’t be long/Come a woman who wants to be near/Me and my mountains, we’ll be right here/Colorado.” At least the tune’s catchy!

• James McMurtry, the son of Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry (of “Lonesome Dove” fame) sang in “No More Buffalo” (“Live in Aught-Three”): “We headed south across those Colorado plains/just as empty as the day/we looked around at all we saw/remembered all we hoped to see/looking out through the bugs on the windshield/somebody said to me/no more buffalo, blue skies, or open road/no more rodeo/no more noise/take this Cadillac/park it out in back/mama’s calling/put away the toys.” This one also boasts a catchy tune.

• Merle Haggard recorded two Colorado-based songs, “Colorado” and “Lucky Old Colorado.”

• Townes Van Zandt’s “Colorado Girl,” from his “Rear View Mirror” album, is one of the most fetching songs about the state. Steve Earl does a wonderful cover of “Colorado Girl” on his “Townes” album, which is a tribute to the late Van Zandt.

• If you are inclined to travel to the deep, dark, musical past — a past that was hilariously skewered by the 2003 movie “A Mighty Wind” — you might like the Kingston Trio’s folk classic, “The Colorado Trail,” which was written by Carl Sandburg and Lee Hayes. The fact that this song came out a solid decade before the Colorado Trail was even conceived, much less constructed, is perplexing. But any song that contains the near-Wordsworthian words, “Weep, all ye little rains/Wail, winds, wail/All along, along, along/The Colorado Trail,” is worth a listen, if for no other reason than to thank the gods that the early-1960s folk music scene was short lived. This toe-tapper can be found on “Melanie’s Melodies of the Rockies: Soothing Songs of the Old West for Home and Fireside” album. One listen to this dog and you won’t be able to resist lacing on your boots and running as fast as you can 500 miles from Denver to Durango on the Colorado Trail. It should be noted, as you’re scrambling to download “The Colorado Trail,” that no other album that has ever been produced contains the word “Colorado” in as many song titles as does “Melanie’s Melodies of the Rockies.” It should also be noted that, sadly, this is not THE Melanie (Safka), of “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain”) fame.

• Even though it may be considered a mildly good-natured anti-Colorado song, National Lampoon’s “Colorado,” sung by, of all people, Chevy Chase, is actually a surprisingly melodic satire of “Rocky Mountain High.” “Colorado” is found on the 1973 “Lemmings” album.

• Folk singer Chuck Pyle is often referred to as the official singer/songwriter of the High Country. His 2007 album, “Higher Ground: Songs of Colorado,” contains one song named “Colorado” and another named “Moonlight on the Colorado.” But it’s his “Little Town Tour,” which begins, “Bayfield, Cascade, Manitou, Palisade … ” that is most interesting in that it includes the names of almost every single mountain town in the state.

• While, admittedly, its Colorado connection is somewhat oblique, Tom Waits’ “Nighthawk Postcards (From Easy Street),” which appeared on his seminal 1975 live album “Nighthawks at the Diner,” contains the lines, “Maybe you’re standing on the corner of 17th and Wazee streets, yeah, out in front of the Terminal Bar, there’s a Thunderbird moving in a muscatel sky.” Those words were penned long before LoDo  — which Waits would hate — spontaneously combusted. The Terminal Bar is long gone, but the building, which now houses Jax Fish House, remains.

• One of the great musical shames of the past decade is that Denver-based DeVotchKa is not a household name from Maine to Australia. That changed a bit with the release of the Academy-Award-nominated film, “Little Miss Sunshine,” which was completely scored with DeVotchKa songs. It did not appear in the film, but “Commerce City Sister,” with its line, “You know I ain’t never going back to Commerce City,” expresses the sentiment of many people who have actually visited Commerce City, an industrial Denver suburb. Hopefully, “Little Miss Sunshine” will serve as a gateway drug for many future DeVotchKa fans. This is truly a wonderful musical ensemble.

• No Colorado-based song list would be complete without mention of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which spent a lot of time in the state. One of its long-time members, Jimmy Ibbotson, still lives in Woody Creek, where he performs often. One of the Dirt Band’s best-known songs that contains the state’s name is “Colorado Christmas,” which was actually written by the late, great Steve Goodman, who served as a mentor for folk/rock legend John Prine. (Goodman and Prine co-owned a bar in Chicago named Somebody Else’s Troubles, after one of Goodman’s best-known tunes.)

• You’ll be forgiven if the words “Ozark Mountain Daredevils” have not entered your thought processes for many years. In the mid-1970s, this band from Springfield, Missouri, was one of the hottest acts in the country, and their “Colorado Song” (by Steve Cash and John Dillon) was released on their first album, “The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.” This song is highly recommended, despite its second-to-the-last verse, which consists entirely of “aaaahhhhh” being repeated over and over, and the last verse, which consists of “lalalalala” being repeated over and over. At least those lyrics are easy to remember.

• So, OK, it’s technically a song about leaving Colorado, but that can easily be overlooked, due to the fact that Emmylou Harris’ “Boulder to Birmingham” is flat-out one of the best songs ever penned. It has been covered by many artists, including Joan Baez, Dolly Parton and the Starland Vocal Band (yes, they of “Afternoon Delight” fame). The lines “I was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire/And I stood on the mountain in the night and I watched it burn/ I watched it burn/I watched it burn” are made lovely by Harris’ voice.

• Folk diva Judy Collins was actually born in Seattle, but she grew up in Denver, where she attended East High School. Many of her songs contain references to Colorado. Few songs about the state are more accurately evocative than Collins’ “The Blizzard (The Colorado Song),” which contains lines that show the singer was intimate with the realities of life at altitude: “One night on the mountain, I was headed for Estes/When the roads turned to ice and it started to snow/Put on the chains in a whirl of white powder/Halfway up to Berthoud near a diner I know.” You never heard the Ozark Mountain Daredevils singing about chaining up in the middle of a blizzard. They would have just lit a joint and waited for the blizzard to pass.

• So far, these Colorado songs have been a bit on the heavy, philosophical side. Fun needs to be part of the equation, and that’s where Bowling For Soup’s “Surf Colorado” comes in. With lines like, “She’s traded rattlesnakes for bunny runs in Colorado Springs,” it’s easy to overlook the fact that this song is essentially a rant by a Texan who’s angry that his paramour left the Lone Star State to move to Colorado without him. Also, the fact that the album upon which “Surf Colorado” appears is titled “Drunk Enough to Dance” ought to gain it some style points in the hedonistic High-Country resort towns.

• There’s no denying that, when John Denver released “Rocky Mountain High” in 1973, it marked the first time that many Americans gave the Mountain Time Zone the mental time of day. Many people even believe that “Rocky Mountain High” was in and of itself responsible for drawing nationwide attention to Colorado, the same way Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire” drew attention to Utah’s Slickrock Country. But Denver was not the only person singing about the Rockies in 1973. While it does not mention Colorado specifically (and, hey, if the official state song, “Where the Columbines Grow,” doesn’t even mention Colorado, then all bets are off), Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” was in the top 20 at the very same time as “Rocky Mountain High.” Walsh was living outside Nederland in Boulder County when he recorded “Rocky Mountain Way.” The fact that it makes no sense at all does not diminish its place in musical history.

• In the mid-1970s, Dan Fogelberg wintered outside Nederland, Colorado, otherwise known as Ned (its residents are known as “NedHeads”). A decade later, with his popularity definitely on the downslide, Fogelberg released “High Country Snows.” The title song will never become a mosh pit favorite, unless there’s irony at play, but it still does justice to life at altitude, as does “Nether Lands” — which is close enough to “Nederland” that we’ll call it good.

• The Grateful Dead performed at least two songs that contained references to Colorado, “Me and My Uncle” (“Me and my uncle went ridin’ down/South Colorado, West Texas bound”) was actually written by John Phillips, of Mamas and Papas fame (Judy Collins and Neil Young were anecdotally connected to the song by way of extreme drunkenness in a hotel room in 1963). And “I Know You Rider” (“I’d shine my light through a Colorado rain … ”) is considered “traditional.”

• Even though none of his songs contain the word “Colorado,” Elton John did record his 1974 album “Caribou” at the famed Caribou Ranch outside Nederland. The best-known song from that album was “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” but one of the lesser-known tunes was “Cold Highway,” which contains the lyrics, “Where the corners turn blind like the graveyard ground/Oh your black icy snare once cut down my friend/In the deepest dark winter when the world seemed to end.” Before it burned down in 1985, Caribou Studios housed record efforts by dozens of world-class acts such as America, Badfinger, the Beach Boys, Chicago, Phil Collins, Rick Derringer, Earth, Wind & Fire, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Carole King, John Lennon, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, U2, War and Frank Zappa. Rumor has it that, in addition to its isolation, the main attraction to the Caribou Ranch was its altitude, which apparently allowed singers to hit, appropriately enough, high notes that they could only dream of at sea level.

•  Any song containing the lyrics, “I didn’t kill that man, I called it self-defense/Now I watch the world go by through a twelve-foot barbed-wire fence” deserves to be listed, especially if it’s titled “Colorado.” That would be performed by 19 Wheels (from the album “Six Ways from Sunday.”)

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Cool Cats & Dharma Bums

“‘… no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene) and to see the errors and wanderings and mists and tempests in the vale below;’ so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling or pride.”
— Sir Francis Bacon, commenting on Roman poet Lucretius in “Of Truth” (1597)

Cool Cats & Dharma BumsLet’s say you’ve driven up the pass from your favorite destination/snowglobe/resort town for a day of fun and frolic on a foot or so of fresh powder. You’ve parked your trusty PU/SUV/Suby/POS mountain car in a just-plowed turnout. Skis are skinned, board is tuned, sled cranked or waffle-stompers tightened to your satisfaction. As you look up from your preparations, stalking toward you in an unhurried way is a somewhat furry, low-slung, powerfully put-together specimen of what a certain number of days and nights “at altitude” hath wrought.

Right now, there are a number of considerations. Does the character look dangerous, hungry, displeased? Have you been seen, or is your visitor just passing by? If seen, should you: A. Jump back in vehicle, lock all doors; B. Step slowly forward, showing no sign of fear or aggression; C. Wait for the other party to make the first move; D. None of the above? It all depends, my friend, so read on …

“If the cat could talk, what a tale he’d tell …”
— Hoyt Axton, from “Della and the Dealer” (1979)

One night last March, I’m in a local establishment, having beers and a burger with a biologist buddy of long acquaintance, catching up on each other’s winter activities. He’s been working in a lynx study team, he says; not studying lynx exactly, but tracking people (voluntary participants all) as they cross paths with lynx, and he thinks my journalistic antennae might be stirring right about now. Tell the truth, in a pleasant fresh-brewed haze, I’m ruminating on a long-ago, failed mid-winter attempt to write a light fiction on a second-hand DOS-code piece of ’80s lap-top technology, concerning what might happen if a recently released Colorado-immigrant lynx were to get the bright idea to start walking back to its Canadian homeland, and of a snow-flattened skeleton I found a few years later, in a timberline meadow that had me thinking that this wouldn’t have been a bad place to die … better than some I’d known.

I’m just puzzling out whether I stowed the skeleton’s cat-like skull somewhere in my piles of abandoned gear and assorted flotsam, or if I had left it lying there in the newly sprouted meadow grasses, when my reverie is broken by the very instinct my biologist buddy thought might be killing my buzz. Damn it, he’s right, this might be a good story — except that I’m pretty sure I’m not a journalist, or (as one of my current favorite country-alt-singer-poets puts it) “a drunk with a pen,” but prefer to think of myself as a harmless sort with a lively imagination and a penchant for disappearing into wildlands unencumbered by uplinking technology.

He sets the hook by pointing out something to the effect that this study could add a little more scientific knowledge to the pyre of opinion-mongering on whether, when and where motor- vs. human-powered methods of recreation may (or may not) affect lynx usage of survivable habitat. Now, before too many excitable members of either fringe decide to clamor for heads-on-a-stick a la Gaddafi, let me hasten to add that participating in the group activity known as “citizen science” can be a democratic chance to add knowledge as studies are being conducted, rather than flinging insults, brickbats and lawsuits after the results are in.

How the story’s gone so far (wherein ol’ Uncle B. promises to keep it short and sweet as possible)

Though Lynx canadensis once roamed all the high mountain ranges of North America, the last confirmed sighting of a wild one in Colorado was in 1973 near Vail, via habeas corpus (a trapper produced the body). By the mid-1990s, the cat’s possible listing as an Endangered Species had become a political potboiler featuring multiple unofficial sightings, inconvenient tracks in the path of a mega-resort expansion scheme, the ELF, FBI, etc. — the typical alphabet soup of such shadowy intrigues. Here could begin a recitation of calls to rage at the machine, with responses fearing a scourge of eco-terrorists on our shores; but recalling my promise of short and sweet, we’ll be skipping lightly back to the High Country, circa 1999, when the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) brought Canadian-born lynx to the San Juan Mountains.

Three of the first four re-introduced cats came, saw and died. The release team re-caught the last one, and regrouped. The next releases went better, as biologists figured out how to fatten their captives for the necessary lean times of getting to know the lay of a new homeland upon release. Sort of a mountain locavore training session — with snowshoe hares, squirrels, voles and mice in place of memorizing all the “burger-and-a-pint” nights in a ski-town.

By 2006, CDOW was still releasing about a dozen newly captured lynx a year, and an adventurous few were wandering far from the release area. As is the wont of wildlife biologists, released lynx were fitted with radio collars, which showed immigrant lynx moving into the High Country near Vail and Summit County, and traced some venturing to lynx-unfriendly cultural climes. Think Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas. Some of the stay-at-homes were having babies, anchoring Colorado’s wildland population with a crop of 50 or so 1st-generation kits in 2005, and even a litter from a Colorado-born lynx the next year. Then a brush with disaster when no lynx births were recorded in 2007 or 2008, and hyperbolic press accounts started raising the specter of a failed reintroduction. Snowshoe hare populations had crashed, and female lynx stopped producing babies until prey was more plentiful, matching a cycle known from Canadian studies. 2009 saw resurging hare and lynx births, and, by 2010, a third of the radio-tracked lynx females in Colorado had litters.

Just before last winter set in, Colorado’s top political brass announced the recovery program a success. CDOW announced that no more reintroductions are planned, and that tracking would shift from radio collars to camera traps along known trails, genetic sampling and snow-tracking of lynx in winter. Also, a study of how human use of lynx habitat affects their movements, begun in the Vail area in 2008, would move to your correspondent’s home range for the winters of 2010 through 2011. This is how my biologist buddy came to be sitting there, eyeing me for signs of journalistic fervor over the heads of our next round of freshly drawn local brews.

Science and fiction (how B.’s dharma lynx tale turned out) …

One problem with DOS-code-based storytelling is that, as with all things digital, there is (to quote Gertrude Stein), “ … no there there,” until one hits a “print” button. As I remember, that particular ill-starred attempt at writing the Great American Novel, my piece-of-shit (POS) second-hand computer crashed just after my wandering lynx had crossed the border into its native homeland. I never was able to get the thing started again, and shortly thereafter gave up on the ancient craft of making imagined characters articulate transcendent truths, replaced by a continuing fascination with chronicling the strangeness of truth itself.

CDOW’s tracking teams have recorded a lynx wandering over the Continental Divide, bound for points east. One trip ended near Wichita, Kansas, when a tranquilizer dart started a long ride back to Colorado. The next time, the wanderer crossed Nebraska and made it to Des Moines, Iowa, before it ran afoul of the bane of all dharma bums, a driver who may’ve zigged when zagging was the only way not to run over a furry, low-slung, powerfully built archetype of feline curiosity. Another cat even made it back to the land of his birth, only to fall for a Canadian trapper’s wiles last year. Others are testing the edges of their habitat, in all directions.

“… but the cat was cool, and never said a mumbling word.”
— (Axton’s comment on the cat’s tale of “Della and the Dealer”)

No matter where you may head for the slopes this winter in the Rocky Mountain West, watch for adventurous travelers seeking a place to call home. With a little effort, you can even become an official CDOW “snow tracker” and have your lynx observations officially included without producing a body — a pretty cool advance from pre-reintroduction lynx science.

If traveling on a highway, slow down. If possible, smoothly pull to the shoulder, enjoy interfacing and wish your fellow citizen safe travels. If you are on a trail, or schussing, carving, even (shudder) high-marking a slope of manna delivered from the wintry gods/goddesses of all things good and pure and innocent as the newly fallen snow, and have taken to heart this little tale of the migrations of Lynx canadensis, perhaps the encounter will be a high point of your budding service to the renaissance of old Francis Bacon’s definition of the scientific method in a 1620 treatise: “That reason which is elicited from facts by a just and methodical process, I call Interpretation of Nature.

So you wanna be a scientist? (The “how-to-interface” part) …

Here’s a participatory exercise. Let’s say a somewhat furry wildland archetype approached you on a sunny powder morning last winter, and you chose action B or C. After exchanging expressions of mutual joy at being lucky and/or smart enough to be on this mountain, on this day, in this life, your new
acquaintance may’ve asked if you’d consider
taking part in a study he had the good fortune to be conducting that very day. He might’ve showed you a small device he hoped you’d consider slipping into your pack while you skied, rode or sledded through the wintry wonderland. Say you decided it couldn’t hurt anything, as you had no particular intention of engaging in shadowy intrigues with pro- or anti-establishment entities on that particular day.

Congratulations, citizen scientist! Your willingness meant your day’s travels — up, down, around and back — are now added to a knowledge base that just may keep Colorado’s lynx population healthy and growing. The device is a GPS unit, and you’ve joined a select host of citizen scientists and immigrant lynx in laying down real-time use patterns for future planners to peruse, parse, ponder and hopefully arrive at land-use decisions that rise above the pressures and fear-mongering of slogan-based politics-as-usual. You move to the head of our class of participatory democracy.

OK, OK, I know most of us have not had this opportunity, or maybe chose option A or D when my buddy or one of his cohorts in scientific inquiry approached on that morning. He doesn’t hold grudges, and just might’ve avoided a few conversations in his own time. It’s also not too late to consider being part of what I hope by now sounds like a fairly painless way to contribute to possible solutions, rather than problems. Research teams will cruise the high roads again this winter, searching for citizen scientists. If one of these usually pleasant, harmless and possibly burger-sated wildland archetypes approaches, now you know what that device he or she is offering can do, and the rest is up to you.

Senior correspondent B. Frank’s last piece for the Gazette was “The Resurrection,” which appeared in #183. Author of “Livin’ the Dream,” Frank splits his time between the Four Corners and the Border Country. His blog, “The Ragged Edge,” can be found at mountaingazette.com. 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #185

Mica Creek, BC Canada, 1974Mica Creek BC Canada, 1974

After this picture was taken, Narcisse had the misfortune of skiing into a crevasse-like chasm created by creep of the entire snowpack. He fell eight feet onto the wet grass at the bottom of the crevasse. He landed on the point of his shoulder, which separated, and had to be reduced on the spot by one of the guides, who, in his turn, had to churn uphill, sidestepping rapidly through the deep snow to reach him.

I, for my part, skied too close to a tree-well, collapsed the shoulder of the well, and tumbled out of sight and head first into the snow-free column of air next to the trunk, one ski below, with a twist in one ankle. With a teeth-clenched lunge I was able to reach one binding and release it, only to find myself hanging upside-down from the ski above me, dangling by an Arlberg strap and the full length of the front-throw cable, which had come free of its side-hitches.

I was able to pull myself upward slowly and carefully, hand over hand, until I could reach the ski itself. Then I hauled the other ski up from below, and began to build a platform using both skis, which might be able to support my full weight. I could hear the sounds of  the second group skiing past, but realized that I would never be able to make myself heard through the thickness of the snowpack, even though I could hear them.

As I thrashed around with my skis, I was suddenly inundated by a cascade from above which threatened to choke off both air and light. At first I thought it must have been some sort of slide set off by passing skiers, but when it finally stopped, I could tell it was caused by one of those enormous, snow-burdened branches above me, unloading its full weight all at once. Coughing and spitting, I first knelt, then stood up on my shaky skis, and began to climb out of the hole.

I knew that the first group, of which I had been a member, was long-gone down the hill, and that the second group, although they had just been here, was also not waiting for anyone. If I could follow just the right set of tracks, at least I could hope to get to where the helicopter had been, even if it in fact was not still there.

It was there, alright, with everybody aboard except for a couple of the guides. I had been in the fast group, and then the slow group, and then the fast group again. Now they took me aside and told me that they had decided that, if I wanted to continue to ski the way that I skied, on the skis that I skied on, that I should get my own helicopter, and my own ski guide.

Not such a bad idea.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

 

The Deep, Dark Winter of Our Discontent

“For what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tchya know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.”
— Marge Gunderson, “Fargo”

1) Got irony?

The Denver area has been scoring more than its share of Full-On WTFs lately, and while the two gentlemen who took a corpse out for a night on the town comprised our Best of Denver for 2011, we’re looking at a whole new year and, with it, infinite possibilities for Cartographic. The following happened in November, but because it’s for the January issue, we’re reclassifying it as 2012 material. Ergo: Patrick Sullivan, the former Sheriff of Arapahoe County and the stalwart person for whom the Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. Detention Center was named — ostensibly for the dearth of stupid things he had done — was busted Nov. 29 on charges of trying to trade methamphetamine for sex with a man. And, last we heard, he had taken residence in the chateau that bears his name. During his time as a cop, Sullivan was the 2001 National Sheriff’s Deputy of the Year and — only to add to the Full-On WTF classification here — was a member of a methamphetamine policy task force that made recommendations to the state legislature. No word yet if they’re renaming the jail, but we’re guessing Sullivan is having a pretty deep, dark winter.

2) We’re not all that sad, but not that happy either

We High Country dwellers often talk about our multitude of outlets for happiness, but according to a recent piece in Men’s Health that seemed to piss a few people off, we really aren’t that jolly. Using things like suicide rates, unemployment, percentage of households using antidepressants and the number of people who report feeling emotionally lousy all or most of the time, the magazine came up with St. Petersburg, Fla., as the saddest city in the U.S., with Honolulu as the happiest — or most blues-proof town. So there goes the sunshine factor. Anyway, none of our Mountain West locales made the top-10 list for happiness, falling well behind No. 3 Fargo (let us recall how happy Marge Gunderson was, and whose character rates a No. 75 in Empireonline’s 100 Greatest Movie Characters ) and No. 7 Sioux Falls. Out of 100 cities, Billings managed a 28th-happiest ranking and a C+, while Cheyenne (C+) was 30th. Seattle was 47th, rating a C-, and Denver rolled in with a D+ at No. 47. And our venerable Portland, which always gets raves for being so overwhelmingly pleasant, scored a lowly D at 69th place, three slots worse than Milwaukee, and just below No. 70 Albuquerque. Time to change up our prescriptions, don’tchya know?

3) Wearing whiskers for warmth

If the Deep, Dark Winter has you seeking new sources of warmth (with the possible exception of St. Petersburg), Portland appears to have the last word on facial hair and is the self-acclaimed Beardiest City in America. According to a 2009 issue of Portland Monthly, guys can feel at home with their warm, whiskery plumes in the lumberjack culture of the Pacific Northwest. If you want facial hair but can’t commit to a beard, a study by Quicken and the American Mustache Institute (americanmustacheinstitute.org) found that mustached men earn more money than those who have no mustaches or who have full beards. FYI: Chicago is rated as the most mustache-friendly city in the U.S., and if that ain’t enough — albeit unrelated — the AMI recently shaved its endorsement for presidential candidate Herman Cain.

Cartographic #185

4) Florida’s looking good

Every year we seem to come up with a new place that is The Most Ass-Biting-Cold Place in the United States, and every year we find slightly different rationale used for the awards. Like, how many frozen-off buttocks are found in the streets. Anyway, courtesy of The Weather Channel, we’re finding Gunnison, Colo., as the second-most-ABC Place in the U.S., with an average daily temperature of 37.3 degrees and a thoroughly enjoyable 60 days on average that go below zero. Jackson, Wyo., came in at a respectable fourth with an average temp of 39 degrees and a record low of -50 on Jan. 1, 1979. We’ve got International Falls, Minn., in third place, naturally, Caribou, Maine, in fifth and the esteemed Barrow, Alaska, leading the pack. With an average daily temp of 10.4 degrees, it plummets below zero a stinging 167 days a year. If you seriously want Deep, Dark Winter, this is your party town.

5) With snow comes shame

According to our research department, whose influence spans the globe, last year’s heavy snows in the U.K. forced snowed-in people into the ravages of adultery. Illicitenounters.co.uk reported 2,500 new members in a single week of last year’s extreme weather. Bringing that methodology to the Mountain West, we can conclude that Squaw Valley, for example, had some serious indiscretion going on with its all-time record snowfall of 810 inches reported as of June 6. Other shame-inducing record snowfalls: Snowbird, Utah, with 783 inches, and Vail at 511 on closing day.

6) Deep dark boredom

It’s the ultimate insult to be on Forbes Magazine’s Most Boring Cities list, which seems to have it out for Arizona — particularly Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, which took the top three honors in 2009. That’s the latest data we found; figuring people got, well, bored with reading about boring places. Anyway, the list is based on the least amount of national news coverage, making these locales the ultimate places to chill back, or, depending how you see it, a couple notches above hell for a long winter. Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman seemed a bit chafed but came clean, calling his town a “hotbed of celibacy.” Elsewhere in the Mountain Gazette area: Henderson and North Las Vegas, Nev., and Aurora, Colo.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge. 

Way of the Mountain #185

Thanks to the forbearance of our long-suffering editor, I’ve been given the opportunity to forego the pittance in recompense that passes for reward to our star-studded (and variously tatted) mountain bards — whose work avalanches into these pages with all the ragged energy of an out-of-control skier but with the compact wallop of a lyric two-by-four. Instead of issuing barely enough bar bucks to buy a good night’s drunk, we’ll be entering each poem accepted for MG’s pages into two annual $100 awards — the Way of the Mountain Prize (to be selected by yours truly for the year’s poem best representing Dolores LaChapelle’s “Way of the Mountain”) and a Karen Chamberlain Prize (for the year’s best poem as voted on by our readers). Send your nominations from any poems from 2011’s issues of MG to: poetry@mountaingazette.com

And for those of you who live outside the distributed reach of our tireless bicycle pedalers, we’ll promise to toss you a hard copy of the issue with your piece in it. For official submission guidelines, click here.

— Art Goodtimes
Cloud Acre

Religion

Parched and staggering,
I have swallowed sweet draughts
from trickling desert springs,
prayerfully tasting
the liquid’s own journey
through cloud, stone, and sand.

Water, like smoke, like music,
moves between worlds.

There is no religion
like water in a dry land.

— Eric Walter
Portland

Morning Sun Through Glass

Segmented glasses on the sill,
yellow, red, green, blue,
pouring coloured light to spill
and drip on things beyond my view.

Like this, my heart, be pieced together,
pooling colour where you will
shine through, shine through like this forever
— yellow, red, green, blue.

— Cally Conan-Davies
Australian poet visiting U.S.
Manitou Springs

The Buddha´s Life

He shoved off gently from
the river bank and glided
through the water soundlessly.

The fish would have been
hard-pressed to bear witness
to his passing.

In truth if it were not
for this poem it
never really happened.

— Larry Grieco
Black Hawk

Blunt

Hope you all had a good time.
I was babysitting a genius.
Stupid young people.
Ignorant blessings.

Despite the signal fires of love
& intelligence by you all,
this Age of Endarkenment keeps
lapping at my feet.

Arab Spring, Occupy, are
sweet reactive threads…
But still, G. Benn may have
had it right:

“to live in the dark,
to do in the dark
what we can.”

— Jack Mueller
Creator of Budada
Log Hill Village

Endo

Head upside home fried
Champagne powder, I lip-smack
Fatback and ignore
Scores of dive judges above
Grinning from slack chair front row

— Uche Ogbuji
uche.ogbuji.net
Superior

Why The Man Wore Red Shirts

Fred carried a weasel under his jacket.
His friends thought its heavy
breathing was his heart.
But at meetings it would
gnaw on him, and in bed
it would hang from his left nipple.

— Jared Smith
Author, “Grassroots”
Lafayette

Mountain Media: Books #185

“Path of Beauty: Photographic Adventures in the Grand Canyon,” by Christopher Brown

Path of BeautyWhen you read a biography of a person, you hope that the writer has done his or her research enough to really know the subject of the book, the person he or she is telling you about. If you want to read the biography of a place, especially a monumental place like the Grand Canyon, you want someone like Chris Brown to write it: More than 30 years of hiking, rafting and guiding in the canyon, totaling 35 trips through the canyon on a boat, with a camera at his side all the time. His 115-page book is a love letter, filled with 75 photos and five essays on Encountering the Canyon, Adventure, Beauty and First Sight, Photography, and Reflection — my favorite of which is Adventure, about a mistake Brown made as a raft guide, requiring the rescue of everyone in his boat from a rock in the middle of a rapidly rising Colorado River, and his subsequent redemption. The photographs are stunning, and many of the scenes and colors will surprise anyone not intimately familiar with all the corners of the canyon. Brown is no slouch as an essayist and storyteller, and his passion for a very special place shows in his writing: “While it is always impressive, it is typically spectacular only for a few moments each day when the light is right and then it is sublime.”
$40, chrisbrownphotography.com

“100 Years Up High: Colorado’s Mountains & Mountaineers,” by Janet Neuhoff Robertson, James E. Fell Jr., David Hite, Christopher J. Case and Walter R. Borneman

100 Years Up HighIf you ever forget how much you love Colorado’s mountains, pick up a copy of this book. “100 Years Up High” is a photo-filled history of the Centennial State’s High Country, and the human involvement in it — from early exploration to later conservation, the fun of climbing and skiing and the hard work that resulted in our national parks and national monuments. Each of the bylined authors take on a topic or two in this six-chapter book: Creating a New Club and a New National Park, Reaching Higher, Climbing Harder, Borrowing from Our Children, Carving the Snow and Painting the Peaks. The book, partially funded by the Colorado Mountain Club and published on the CMC’s 100th anniversary, intertwines the story of the club with the history of Colorado’s mountains — a natural combination, given the club’s involvement in all aspects of Colorado’s outdoor legacy, including the 1915 establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park, and finding the original Arapaho names of many of the geographic features in and around the Park. The book’s 176 pages are filled with historic and scenic photos, making the reading very easy on the eyes.
$25, mountaineersbooks.org

“All That Glitters,” by Margo Talbot

All That GlittersMargo Talbot didn’t take a typical path to becoming a renowned ice climber and guide: childhood abuse, depression and drug addiction, drug smuggling and drug dealing, jail and finally sobriety and therapy. I’m a sucker for a good climbing story that’s more about life than it is about climbing, and Talbot tells her climbing and life stories with unflinching honesty in “All That Glitters.” Beginning with an emotionally abusive and traumatic childhood that led her into substance abuse, and following her into the Canadian Rockies, where she eventually discovered ice climbing, Talbot literally climbs out of the darkness of her depression over the course of several years. But not without a few bumps in the road — during her years of partying, then addiction, she found herself making bad choices, dabbling in drug smuggling and selling, until she finally hit rock bottom in a jail cell after one particularly serious mistake. Talbot eventually begins to find redemption through climbing and her friendship with climber Karen McNeill, whose 2006 death on Alaska’s Mount Foraker dealt a tremendous, traumatic blow to Talbot, but led to the writing of the material that formed the basis of “All That Glitters.” Her writing is without self-judgment, as she lets the reader interpret the events that form the arc of the story.
$20, allthatglittersbook.com  

Letters #185

Letter #185

Envelope: Aana

We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.

Thumbs up for “Pee”

Editor: I loved Jen Jackson’s piece on Moab (“When in Doubt, Pee on the Fire,” MG #183). It really captured the spark that makes living here great despite being inundated by goobs most of the year.

Thanks.

Bruce Dissel
Moab, UT

Wait, don’t pee on our fire

John: After reading the fine article, “When in Doubt, Pee on the Fire,” by Jen Jackson, I had a few thoughts on that flame of eccentricity burning out in Durango that she was referring to. See, I just moved to Durango within the year, and felt the call to defend, or at least comment on, what I’ve seen here. (I should add Jen’s piece kept me happily occupied as I waited in line at the Durango post office one afternoon.)

I rolled into Durango after living in Gunnison-Crested Butte, Colorado, for over a decade. Like many a mountain town residents, the surroundings of an area are essential to my enjoyment of the place, as well as the culture of the people. In Crested Butte, they have both — great rocks, trails and mountains, as well as frequent townie takeovers (a naked one caused quite a stir this summer, I hear), costumed/themed sporting events nearly every weekend (chainless bike race down Kebler Pass, anyone?) and characters that just wouldn’t quite make it anywhere else besides a funky little mountain town.

With this ingrained in my soul, I wondered if I could love Durango in a similar way. I rolled into town waving my freak flag high, with my 220,000-mile spray-painted red, white and blue Freedom Mobile Mazda MX 6. Much to my delight, Durango seems to have more graffiti’d cars per capita than anywhere else I’ve been in Colorado. “Oh, I’ve seen this car around,” is always an icebreaker when I meet new people out and about. One guy I met from Durango out at Indian Creek described my car as immediate probable cause, but, well, that’s Utah, and, fortunately, Colorado honors freedom more than Utah. (Really, a state that tries to bust people for bringing beer across a border? It’s 2012, people.)

Where do we look for companionship and camaraderie in a new town? We look for those that share our interests. I look to the climbers. One couple I’ve met is incredibly resourceful, and maybe a bit eccentric. They grow plenty of their own food, and even resole their own climbing shoes. The guy fixes his own vehicles (he’s also the new Freedom Mobile mechanic), and the woman knits all sorts of things, most notably a breast-shaped pillow (really impressive … you have to see it to believe it) and a penis-shaped mini-hat, which sits on top of a mini-Christmas tree (year round).

There are others I haven’t met yet, only heard about, for example, a woman who goes on epic hikes on the Colorado Trail, foraging for food along the way. There’s the woman I see all around who always carries hula-hoops (must be for sale?). Then you have the “23 Feet” crew, who embarked from Durango to make a film about “people living simply in order to pursue their passion for the great outdoors.” Check that one out (there’s a review in the last issue of MG).

There are funky bikes and funky cars. This is a town filled with funk. On Halloween, the funk was confirmed, though I didn’t necessarily agree with the winners of the costume contest at Carver’s. Four men dressed as Mennonites beat out the two sexy robot girls (sexy girls should always win over creepy dudes). The best costume of the night, though, one I saw while cruising the streets of downtown, was a trio of guys dressed as the Jabbawockeez dance crew. Challenged to prove their skills, they did, with some dope break dancing.

Anywho, I gotta go now, with some deadlines to attend to. Just thought I’d represent my new ’hood.

Sincerely Yours,

Luke Mehall,
Durango, CO

Following some sketchy tracks

Dear John: Just a quick note in the spirit of the week to say thank you for keeping it real. I have been a reader, nay, a worshiper, of the Mountain Gazette for as long as I can remember. I ran away from my home in Tennessee to come to Colorado as soon as I graduated high school, and have been living the dream you write about for 22 years. I’ve even tried to follow in your proverbial ski tracks so to speak. In fact, my girlfriend and I are even now living in Frisco. I’ve done stints in Steamboat Springs, Nederland and on the dreaded Front Range.

Regardless, I was inspired to write this morning after reading the current issue cover to cover, as is my practice, and stumbling upon the lamentations of the article entitled “Resurrection,” by B. Frank. “This place was once my hometown. It was one of the first destination ski resorts in North America, and like most last best towns betrayed by travel mags out to make a buck” … (the truth hurts) … “it suffers the afflictions common to other pick-your-poison elite retreat, real estate development zones that now dot the Mountain West. The streets are familiar but the stores are up-scale and mostly empty of shoppers, seasonal-worker safehouses I once hung out in are gingerbread restoration projects geared to flip on the next boom cycle, dogs are on leashes, and so are most of the people I meet. I’ve had about enough nostalgia for one walk and am heading back to my truck to get the hell out of town …”

The dogs are on leashes and so are most of the people I meet. Not that I’m all that bitter, just sometimes, but thankfully the Mountain Gazette still exists to remind me of how good it was, how good it can be, and that there are still some folks out there who get it. Take care, John, hope to see you out there some time.

Aaron Bible,
Frisco CO

Choking on Chile

Most Precious Fayhee, oh man, just gotta say… you are a national treasure. serious. I can’t even believe how many years/decades you’ve been making me crack up from a very real, gut-deep, high-mountain-zeal-for-living place inside. your Smoke Signals — The Discovered — in your November, 2011 issue had me choking on my green chile burrito and wiping laughter-based tears by paragraph three. and here is the thing … i haven’t even read past paragraph ten cuz, like, it’s such a glittery jewel of writing so far, it’s like I’m compelled toward delaying self-gratification in case the next fourteen (yeah, i counted) paragraphs don’t meet the standard set by the first ten (it should be noted, however, that this is tendency of ilgs …like, for instance, the fact that i haven’t been back to Yosemite in over 20 years because, well, we used just drive our little sport pick-up with a camper shell on it, right up to the base of New Dimensions wall and camp … it’s like, the present can’t compete with my imprint of the past, so why ruin it?).

honestly, i don’t know how you sustain the health of your creativity (or your liver and lungs!) … even as a two-time cover athlete of that tragic mag, OUTSIDE, ilg just bows to you as low as my paltry padmasana allows for your loving perseverance and stalwart support of deep-fiber mountain journalism. feeble ilg cannot even imagine sharing this plane(t) without Fayhee somewhere on it (or hovering near it, at least). dat’s all. now that i’ve finished my 2,000’ vert of snowshoe hill repeats in La Plata Canyon’s fresh November pow? i’m feeling ready to take on those next fourteen paragraphs of yours. but first, i need to grab me a local brew …

head bowed,

coach steve ilg
durango, CO

ps: LOVED the Bar Issue cover, ’cept that the Scarpa tele boots were too shiny and new … i coulda loaned you my beat up pair … just ask!   ;-)

Uncle John’s Band

Uncle John. Photo: Aaron Plant
Uncle John. Photo: Aaron Plant

John, I read your write-up on your story about 9/11 (“North by Northwest,” Smoke Signals, MG #182). Well, tonight I wrote mine about my trip up the Grand Teton on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with Veterans Expeditions. I am not an English major, but here it is. I hope you read it. Edit the hell out of it and please share it with others. I will attach a picture of Uncle John.

For 30 years I had wondered what it would be like to stand on top of Grand Teton.  As a little boy, I daydreamed of my father’s own experience as a young 20-something atop the mountain as he told his story time and time again. He told me one day I too could reach the summit and behold all of what Wyoming stood for the vast freedom of our land.

Thirty years later, I awoke early. Steve at my side, ever ready, shot out of our tent into darkness fully prepared for what lay ahead and disappeared into morning that was still night. I moved quickly. Did I have what I needed? Headlamp throwing shadows as I placed this and that into my bag and took this and that out of my bag.

Into the cool night air I arose. My stomach calling, I headed toward voices below. Water for coffee was heating as quiet chatter emerged. Tents stirred as more people entered for caffeine and food. I sat with my thoughts of what was to come. My father’s stories turning in my head no longer daydreams, but a reality to come.

We set out into night with headlamps exposing a maze of boulders heading for the saddle like giant stirrups occasionally misplacing feet. We talked. I sang. It was not pleasing, but when I asked what I could sing, the guide only replied, “Make it the blues.” GNR Welcome to the Jungle, Blues, misquoted, but satisfying to my anxiety and fear.

I told them I was feeling anxiety. You know how you tell the party you’re with where you’re at. Well I did. Erica America stated that we could rope up. Now not a bad idea, but I have kids and a wife back home. However, I should not have said no. Next thing I knew, our lead guide Scott says, “Nick! Aaron! You two follow me.” “Follow you where?” I thought. “It is fucking dark out here and why are we leaving the group?“ “We are going through the Key Hole. You guys are going to love this.” In the darkness, I could feel his grin.

My headlamp immediately noticed the ledge and watched as Scott left center stage and disappeared behind stage left. “Put your hand here,” a voice said. “It is a good hold. Just grab on and swing around.” I looked down, down and down some more until my light petered out into the darkness. “Hell, yeah,” I thought to myself. Dad would be proud. We continued this way along the ledge, unroped, and as a key entered Key Hole. My inner soul had been unlocked and my anxiety lifted. I was ready to climb.

After that, it was like time flew by. Twilight began to embrace us as the dawn signaled a new day. There across the valley floor, a shadow stretched out with the new day. It was grand and as I moved the shadow grew. I stood atop the mountain. Our summit time was 8:03 Mountain Time. Ten years earlier, a same time for flight 93. Here we all were. Seven Veterans from different time periods and different life experiences shared that day on the summit of the Grand Teton. It had been a long time since I had held an American flag as first call to colors rang out in my head. It had been a long time.

We all had our reasons to climb that day. I chose to climb for my Uncle John. He didn’t die in the Vietnam War or receive the bronze star. He was young like the rest of us when he joined the military — Steve the Army, Nick the Army, Stacy the Army, Chad the Army, Jared the Air Force, Dana the Navy and I the Navy. He changed like the rest of us when we come home. However, he became really sick with schizophrenia and coped by drinking. I remember driving for hours with my mom and dad out looking for him as he wandered the streets, another homeless vet. He never came home and we left to our new home in Wyoming without him.

Here on the Grand Teton, I took out his picture that I carried with me on so many of the trips leading up to this one. I took one last photo of my uncle with the shadow of the mountain behind him. The shadow he and I were no longer in.

Aaron Plant
Laramie, WY

Mountain Gazette welcomes letters. Please email your incendiary verbiage to: mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com.