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The Stupid Zone can show up at your door

Essay by Lynda La Rocca

Mountain Life – October 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

AH, THE JOYS OF LIVING on a major thoroughfare during tourist season in the scenic Upper Arkansas Valley of Central Colorado.

Every summer for the past 16 years, my husband Steve and I have encountered visitors who pull their cars onto the road shoulder just long enough to shout the universal question, “How do we get to Aspen?”

The landlord of our apartment building grew so tired of responding to this inquiry that he annually posted detailed, handwritten instructions and a highlighted map outside his office, directing motorists to Independence Pass and beyond.

Last winter, we moved from that apartment, which fronted the highway, into a nearby house. Even though the house also fronts the highway, we foolishly thought we were finished with tourist inquiries. This is a PRIVATE home, we reasoned. People will respect the PRIVACY of the residents of a PRIVATE home, especially one which displays a “PRIVATE PROPERTY” sign.

Who did we think we were kidding?

On Memorial Day weekend, we discovered that we had unwittingly put down roots in what Colorado Central’s publisher so aptly describes as a “stupid zone.” These are places like avalanche chutes, sandy beaches, and the perimeters of international airports, where people build homes only to spend the rest of their lives complaining about: a) the snow; b) the floods; c) the noise.

Our situation could be described as “Stupid Zone: The Sequel.” For four months, we have been plagued by a parade of cars whose occupants park directly in front of our porch, bang loudly on our front door (thereby launching our already tightly-wound dog into orbit), and ask questions like, “Where’s the road up there?”

“Up there,” in this case, was the summit of 14,421-foot Mount Massive, Colorado’s second highest peak. The driver of this sport utility vehicle with the Arizona plates was mightily miffed to learn that there is no road “up there” for vehicles, and that the only way to reach the summit is on foot.

Hey, pal, I felt like telling him, this ain’t Disney World. Nor is it a Holiday Inn or the Chamber of Commerce office.

And after him came the deluge.

While finishing the breakfast dishes, I was startled to see a young man peering through the screen door. “Who owns the ponds on the ranch next door?” he wanted to know.

Stifling the urge to scream, “Why don’t you ask the people who live on the ranch next door?” I politely directed him — to the ranch next door.

I was at work one afternoon when I heard a voice calling, “Hello? Is anybody home?”

I found a bicyclist holding two plastic water bottles. “I’m out,” he announced. “Would you fill these?”

Too startled by his request to ask whether he knew the meaning of the word “please,” I took the bottles, only to have him snatch one back.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “I still have some water in that one.”

I stood there while he noisily slurped his remaining supply. Then I refilled and returned both bottles.

“You’re welcome,” I muttered as he climbed on his bike without a word and headed off.

It seemed like almost every day, another stranger stopped by wanting something.

“Can we use your phone?” (No. Not when your plan is to call a foreign country.)

“Is this the highway to Pueblo?” (Not exactly.)

“Where is Grand West Drive?” (About 12 miles north.)

Occasionally, these unanticipated encounters were actually charming, as was the case one rainy Saturday when I discovered two elderly gentlemen on our porch. “We heard that the Derry Ranch is open for gold panning,” one said. “Where is it, and how do we get there?”

After expressing my lack of awareness regarding this development, I fetched Steve, figuring that his knowledge of mineralogy and local mining history might enable him to suggest an alternative to the rockhounds.

“I know you!” one man exclaimed the moment Steve appeared. It seems he’d recognized Steve from the photo that appears with his monthly column in Rock and Gem magazine.

“I read everything you write! I’ve got to have your autograph!” the man declared, venturing into the downpour to his van and returning with a pen and a soggy scrap of paper.

“I always imagined you’d live in a house exactly like this one,” the man announced happily, prompting an exchange that lasted a half-hour.

BUT THESE ENJOYABLE ENCOUNTERS were few and far between. Early one morning, two vans pulled up. Eight or ten people emerged and began wandering around the side of our house and peering into the windows.

One man finally knocked. “Who owns zees pasture?” he asked in thickly-accented English, gesturing toward the pasture that abuts the property, which is the summer home of several hundred beef cattle and calves.

This group was scouting locations to film a television commercial (for what, we have no idea), and wanted to set a helicopter down in the pasture during their shoot.

“Zee helicopter make zee cows to run, no?” the man asked. “Is not good for zee cows to run?”

“Is not good,” Steve and I chorused.

After giving them the phone number of the rancher, we watched the crew lounge around out front while they contacted him by cell phone.

The next day, the entire crew was back in front of the house again. “Zee cows” were moved temporarily so the helicopter could land, the shooting was completed–and we didn’t even get a finder’s fee!

Our fair-weather encounters pale, however, beside the experience of a dear friend who once glanced out the window of her Leadville home to find a carload of strangers unpacking a picnic cooler in her back yard.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“You have a great view of the aspens here,” she was told, “so we decided to stop for lunch.”

“I don’t think so,” my friend responded, adding that if they didn’t move on immediately, the next view they’d enjoy would be that of a police cruiser.

Apparently, the entire Upper Arkansas Valley should be posted during our brief summer season.

Here’s my suggestion. “Caution: Stupid Zone. Violators will be — everywhere.”

When she’s not answering the door to answer questions, Lynda La Rocca writes and teaches in and around Leadville.