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An escape from the madness off the beaten path

Letter from Greg Veatch

Sept. 11 – December 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Dear Editor:

Summer seemed to have flown by in the wink of an eye. A beautiful fall was upon us and time was moving forward. Then our day was interrupted by the evils of 9-11. In hopes of putting that frightening day behind us, or to at least provide some temporary delay in the impending changes that our country and our individual lives faced, we decided it would be best to spend a day in the high country, rod, reel and dogs in tow.

It was September 16th, and it had been in the 80s in Salida. Some call it the banana belt or Indian summer. Whatever it has been christened it was a wonderful gift to enjoy this late in the season.

The night before I had cleaned out my fishing vest realizing for the umpteenth time that half of what was in these many pockets was at least two times too much. I spent the rest of the night tying the small bugs that I could best imitate in hopes of landing the “biggest fish yet”. Gnats, ashers, coachmen, ants, and a few hoppers should serve our needs on a high mountain lake. I hoped for a fish so big that even I would not have to fib when I spoke of it later. I knew it was out there, or on one of our next escapades, because I had dreamed of it many nights.

Morning was crisp and clear, the sun beginning its flat autumn arc across a cloudless cobalt canvas. A quick breakfast of hot coffee and cold cereal and we were on our way. We couldn’t put the symbols of today’s America behind us fast enough: “billions served,” “no vacancy”, and your choice of premium or super-duper maxi-octane (with no loan process required for a full tank, at least not yet). Making our way up U.S. 285, the Counting Crows and Tori Amos provided the beat as we drove past meadows of hay and even larger meadows of modulars causing us to wonder how much longer we would continue to peacefully enjoy the many jewels that lie in our area off the beaten path.

Turning on County Road 162, we had the regal Chalk Cliffs on our right, guiding us to and past many previous destination points. The old narrow gauge line was visible, as were small campgrounds with families playing, the trail head to Agnes Vaille Falls (a must trip), the Colorado Trail, and Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. The entire section was paralleled by Chalk Creek and it was all I could do to keep the car going. I knew that in those willow and brush sheltered waters lay a chance for a fisherperson to hit an “angler’s grand slam” — to catch a brookie, rainbow, brown and cut-throat from the same waters, on the same day. That would have to wait for another trip.

The aspen trees were ablaze with their gold, orange, and reds. A few even held fast to their emerald hues. Magnificent stands, entire groves, and individual trees all offered up their brilliant colors. It was nothing less than a celebration for the eyes and for today, our spirits. The crisp winds stirred up an alpine orchestra and reminded us why these trees are called Quaking Aspens. As we drove higher, the gold in the trees began to play out much as the gold that brought thousands to Colorado had played out a century before, evidenced by numerous abandoned mines and shacks along our way.

My wife turned on FR 277, a rugged 4-wheel drive road to the top of 14,289-foot Mt Antero. It was the first time we had ventured onto this road and it proved to be demanding, but passable. We covered two to three miles very slowly and came to a break in the road: turn right to Baldwin Lake, our destination, or to the left and the top of Antero. For you rock hounds the latter area offers the potential of finding topaz, beryl, aquamarine, garnet, smoky quartz, and tourmaline. The crystals lie in pockets within the granite mountain, some holding museum quality specimens. You might try previous “diggins” or venture to the area mines, but be prepared for true work. Hard rock mining at 14,000 feet is not for the faint of heart and this spot is the highest gem mining area in North America.

WE ARRIVED at a small parking area just below Baldwin Lake before noon. The dogs were gone in seconds, looking for critters they would never keep up with. This surely had to be a break in the monotony for the pikas storing nuts and seeds for the coming winter. It kept the dogs busy and away from hooks for hours. It was definitely symbiosis at its finest. The air was chilly but the sun soon warmed us to the bone; at that elevation it is like standing next to a campfire.

A short walk of 300 yards and we came to the shores of a small lake surrounded by a cathedral of peaks appropriate for a Sunday. We stood quietly for several minutes in absolute awe. Having never fished here before I wasn’t sure what to expect or even if there were any fish within this breath-taking confinement. My first clue was the trash associated with fishing left by some previous baboon. I stuffed the empty line spool, empty power bait Jar, and empty sun-bleached Pepsi can into one of my now empty vest pockets and proceeded along the foot trail that circled the lake. I quickly found what appeared to be great place: low brush behind me and a drop-off in the water depth only 20 yards out. The tell-tale signs of a few simple rings on the water started my heart going. I tied a #18 Green Trude and began to introduce Mr. and Ms. Trout to lunch.

Six or seven casts later and the bug had done its job; a fine cut-throat was on and moving fast. The tension on my line began to relax the tensions in my mind and soul. I played him to the shore, wet my hands in the icy water and discharged him back to the water. Other patterns also proved tempting and the fishing, that day, was very enjoyable. But it wasn’t the size or number of fish that mattered as it really never is; it is our locale and our solitude. This weekend, it was also our release.

As the afternoon winds began to shorten the time we could remain, I lay my rod to rest on a stubby wind-beaten bush. We stopped and looked at the surroundings that blessed us that day. Granite spires reaching to the heavens gave us a sense of calm, the sun gave us renewed energy, and the endless blue skies gave us hope for a better future. I felt my being change and my fear diminish. America is a place of beauty, hope, and undying energies to succeed and to help others to do so. We are the cutting edge of technology, food production, sciences, generosity, education, manufacturing, and more. As such, we will always be the target of others. But we would soon find out, as this tragedy progressed, that our leaders are guided by peerless composure and courage.

With the day ending, I was ready to go home, to go forward: proud to be an American.

Greg Veatch