Arthur:

I am an outdoor humor columnist in Mason, Texas, and I have been enjoying your Website about the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness and RMNP. My family and I spent some time in that area this past summer, and had a great time. Following is the column I wrote about that trip. Some friends and I plan to climb Pike's Peak this summer, and I hope to climb more of the fourteeners in the near future.

Sincerely,

Kendal Hemphill



VACATIONING IN COLORADO IS THE BEARIES

by

Kendal Hemphill

 

When I was a kid my friends and I used to sing a song, adapted from the popular television series, about Daniel Boone being a man, a BIG man, but the bear being bigger and Daniel escaping up a tree. This song kept running through my mind recently, as I filled out the necessary forms to enable my eight year old son, Courtland, and I to go on an overnight backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are bears in the park.

My wife and I had decided to do Colorado the easy way, in a Jayco motor home. If you’ve ever gone on a long trip with young children, you know that traveling by burro train across Siberia, without kids, would be more enjoyable than driving a couple of hours in a luxury limousine with three bored youngsters.

My three kids probably get along about as well as any siblings, which means they can tolerate each other for a while as long as all of them are asleep in different states. After five minutes in the back of our van they are usually unable to breathe without punching each other, and seem to believe that death would be preferrable to giving up half an inch of ‘their’ space. And no matter how many toys each of them has, they all ALWAYS want to play with the same thing at the same time. So we got a 26-foot Jayco ‘Eagle’ motor home, loaded up the kids and everything else we could cram into it, and took off for the mountains. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about driving such a large vehicle into unfamiliar country, but the Jayco turned out to be no more difficult to drive down the street than your average sized Walmart store. (Actually, once you get used to it, a motor home is no problem to drive at all. You just have to remember not to try to pull into Sonic.)

One of the main advantages to driving a house on vacation is convenience. For one thing, it isn’t necessary to lug your luggage into and out of motel rooms every day, with the ensuing “Have you looked under the bed and in all the drawers and in the bathroom to make sure we aren’t leaving anything here? Well, look again, just to make sure.” For another thing, reservations are usually not needed. We found out that a great many people who travel in motor homes spend a lot of their nights in the parking lots of 24-hour Walmart stores. This, however, has a down side. If you think you spend too much money at Walmart now, try living in front of one for a week and a half. But the most significant advantage to traveling in a motor home is that the kids aren’t constantly breathing down Dad’s neck with the usual complaints, such as “Are we there yet?” and “How much longer?” and “I’m hungry.” and “I need to go to the bathroom.” and of course, the dreaded, “Never mind, it’s too late.”

In a motor home the kids can eat, watch television, go to the bathroom, and break each other’s toys, all while the family is still driving down the road. Colorado turned out to be quite pleasant, despite being inhabited mostly by people from Colorado. To be honest, there are probably almost as many Texans in Colorado during the summer as there are foreigners. We even met a couple of Park Rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park, George and Cindy Smith, who are from Bulverde, Texas. They spend seven months during the summer in Colorado, and the rest of the year in Texas. Mrs. Smith was helpful in a lot of ways, not the least of which was making us feel at home. We spent a few days in the Manitou Springs area being typical tourists. We spent half a day at the Garden of the Gods, a 1300 acre park donated to the city of Colorado Springs under the stipulation that it would always remain free to the public. Visitors can explore the huge, red rocks in the park and, at the risk of a $500 fine, climb up on the rocks and fall to their deaths. Technical climbers are required to obtain a permit, thereby falling to their deaths without the risk of a fine.

We went to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, where ancient indians lived in ancient mud houses built into the side of an ancient mountain. Visitors are encouraged to go inside the houses and, to keep from bumping their heads on the ancient ceilings, squat in the ancient dirt.
The boys loved it. We rode the Cog Railway to the top of Pike’s Peak, where we hurriedly scurried inside the Summit House, since the temperature at 14,110 feet was forty-two degrees. We ate some doughnuts made from a special, high-altitude recipe, and seriously considered buying T-shirts that said, “Got Oxygen?” They seemed extremely appropriate at the time.

After a few days we headed north and visited the Air Force Academy, and then went on up and spent a couple of nights in Estes Park, located on the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. We stayed a couple of nights in RMNP, which is where Courtland and I went backpacking. Bears are becoming a problem there, and before I was issued an overnight permit to camp out in the park I was required to read and sign a form that stated that, should we be eaten by a bear, our family would not sue the pants off Uncle Sam. We started off with high hopes, Courtland hoping we would see a bear, me hoping we wouldn’t.

We hiked ten miles to where we were to camp, took some pictures of some elk which were conviently located nearby, ate supper, and pitched our bivy tent for the night. As we were packing up to hike out the next morning, I told Courtland that, as disappointing as it was, it looked like we wouldn’t get to see a bear. Five minutes later I looked up and there was a huge black bear, bigger than a horse, ambling down the trail toward our camp. I hollered the most intelligent thing I could think of to say, “Courtland, there’s a bear!” and dove for a camera (hoping to leave some evidence to tell rescuers what had happened to us) while Courtland grabbed his ‘bear stick.’ By the time I turned back around the bear was ambling off through the trees, evidently as camera shy as Sean Penn.

All things considered it was a lovely vacation, especially since we didn’t become an entree for ursus bigtoothus. So if you’re planning a vacation for next summer I highly recommend a trip to Colorado. Remember what happened to Daniel and me, though, and try to spend most of your time in the motor home, or in Walmart ......