The high Colorado Rockies are like a type of beautiful woman, eye-catching without being especially interesting. Spectacularly well-endowed, they are also obvious, unsubtle, lacking in individuality and complexity, bland in their stunning perfection, with a hint of vulgarity. Or perhaps it’s the sort of people who are drawn in glittering swarms to these towering fourteeners, geometrically perfect almost as icy pyramids, and the elaborate, congested playgrounds they have created around and between them that’s responsible for the impression. Strung along 32 miles of Interstate 70, Vail, Copper Mountain, and Silverthorne with their sweeping greens and artificial lakes, tow lifts, ranked condominiums, trophy homes, and enough bars and restaurants to accommodate the Democratic and Republican national political conventions simultaneously, are designed for a new breed of Homo sapiens, one which is unable to leave its pleasures—as well as its work—behind while on vacation. In these fearsome places the communities of Rye Brook, New York, and Cherry Hills, Colorado (only 70 or 80 road miles away) have been substantially recreated, with a few bogus touches added for regional color. Snake-eyed Westchester vamps carrying pocketbooks stuffed with enough cash and credit to feed the West Slope for a week stalk the malls and discount outlets in spike heels and designer jeans, while on the golf course their husbands, cell phones clapped to their prognathous jaws and dented chins, do deals with traders in New York, London, and Hong Kong. Approaching Silverthorne from the north, along the Blue River (one angler after another dressed in several-hundred-dollar outfits from Orvis), I press on toward Leadville and points south without stopping for gas or coffee, from a previous life, I know these people. For company, I’ll take a Sasquatch clan pounding logs with sticks in a wilderness clearing, any day.

At Leadville too, 10,500 feet high across Fremont Pass, the recreational season is in full swing. Tourist Class: fat families in shorts, squishy shoes, and rude T-shirts piling out of camper trailers and vans for ice cream cones, souvenirs, and newsstand copies of the latest number of People magazine, already waiting in the mailbox back home. If any question existed as to what is basically the slave mentality of the American people today, the uniformity of their childish proletarian dress should put it to rest. Southwest of the historic village, whose careful preservation includes the starkness —even in summer—of a 19th-century alpine mining town, another mountain range stretches, the Sawatch Range on the Continental Divide. There’s ’squatches in them than hills, where Dick McIlhenny was roused from sleep by a bellowing roar five years ago and the Forest Sen,ice is said to have experimented with greasing the posts of its most frequently pulled up signs, hoping to record the handprints of the creatures responsible for the vandalism. (Which is harder to believe in, the reality of Sasquatch or Janet Reno?) Granite, Buena Vista on the Arkansas River; the Olympian, so-called Collegiate Peaks (Mt. Harvard, Mt. Princeton, Mt. Yale: Scale one and you’re accepted tuition-free?); Poncha Springs and Poncha Pass above the San Luis River; the mysterious San Luis Valley, bordered on the east bv the Sangre de Christo Mountains, where the deer and the aliens play. . . . In Alamosa I rendezvoused with Dick and at Antonito we stopped to gas up before heading into the San Juan Mountains, up toward Conejos Peak.

“Looks like you’ve had a lot of rain,” I told the cashier. “Plenty of standing water about.”

“Rained every afternoon and night for weeks now,” he said cheerfully. “If this weather keeps up, the elk will start bugling now, pretty quick.”

Backlit by the sun, cumulus clouds were building above the western mountains, not the kind that produce rain.

“It looks like it might be drying out finally,” I suggested.

The cashier ran my card and handed it back to me. “No,” he agreed, “it isn’t going to rain tonight.”

Outside Dick waited behind the wheel of his Ford Ranger. “It’ll be dark in two hours,” he said. “I’d like to be set up in camp before then.”

“Well, let’s try for it. I’ll lead, in case the rain has made a slide somewhere and you have to back the trailer off the mountain.”

The Conejos River ran high, the potholes in the dirt road above the river were full of water, and except for the horse trailers waiting at the trailheads to take the dudes out, there didn’t seem to be much of anybody around. At the crossing where I stopped and turned the wheel hubs in, I walked back to speak with Dick.

“Do you suppose,” I asked him, indicating a herd of cattle grazing close to the forest edge, “that rancher loses a couple of calves or a yearling or two up here every summer?”

“Could be. And he probably figures a bear or a mountain lion took it, too.”

Water ran everywhere, but the granitic substrate held firm on the two-track road switchbacking above the canyon to the top of the ridge, and along it to our campsite the summer before. Dick parked in the road behind the Powder River gate, away from the treeline, and together in the fading dusk we raised the canvas tent from the camper and set up the cookstove and sink inside. “It isn’t that much more secure than a regular tent,” Dick remarked as we unrolled the sleeping bags on the bunk beds at either end of the camper, “but it’s a little better, anyway.”

We unzipped the soft plastic windows behind the screens to let the night sounds in and heated supper on the gas stove. With the loaded guns beside us we ate at the foldaway table, drinking purple wine from the blue Saltillo cups, and cleaned up afterward, packing in the stove again and stow ing the pans, pots, and plates to clear the deck in case of emergency. Then Dick plugged the microphone into the tape recorder and pointed it toward the forest. Finally, we settled under our unzipped sleeping bags with the Bionic Ear and the night vision close at hand.

“I don’t expect anything the first night,” Dick said. “Let’s just forget about a watch, shall we?”

“Suits me,” I told him. “I’ve seen all the primates I want to for one daw anyway.”

We slept soundly and awoke together at first light, tucking the bags around us for warmth.

“Do you hear it?” I asked, propping suddenly on one elbow above the rolled oilskin duster I was using as a pillow.

“I hear something, I can’t tell what. It isn’t the coyotes, is it? This damn tinnitus.”

“No,” I said, “it’s not the coyotes.”

The sound was the familiar half-human howl, starting with a whoop and sustaining itself like the exhalation of a trained singer, far to the southeast above the tops of the cold black forest, beyond range even of Dick’s expensive microphone setup and lasting three or three-and-a-half minutes.

“Well,” I added when it had ended, “that didn’t take long.”

“No, it didn’t. Maybe we’ll have an encounter tonight. If we just let it come in to us, like we did a year ago.”

Armed with magnum revolvers we scouted on foot that morning through the rain that had returned in waves of low cloud to the mountains, and in the afternoon I rustled up some of the dead fir branches around and built a smokey signal fire so hot it singed the hair on my forearms and took most of my eyebrows off. Later we sat out drinking tea with the revolvers, the mike, and the Bionic Ear on the folding table before us, waiting for the brooding heart of the wilderness to announce itself. The silence was unbroken until about 6:30, when the coyotes high in the rocky bowl above started up and behind them, distant yet unmistakable, the strong assertive howl.

“I guess we’ve been discovered,” Dick said. “Sounds to me like they’re talking back and forth already.”

Around seven we ate an early supper, then napped until sundown before going on watch at 50-percent alert, Dick assuming the nine-to-twelve shift while I slept.

“You’ll wake me right away if you hear anything suspicious?”

“You’ll be the first to know about it, I can promise you.”

At 10,600 feet, the August night was chill. I slept fitfully beneath the heavybag, unzipped for an instant exit, before I relieved Dick at midnight and lay listening to what might have been the grainy sound of the universe through the headphones attached to the Ear, or the mountains breathing in and out in the moonless dark. Three hours passed quickly, I felt wide awake and alert, and I had decided to allow Dick another hour of sleep when from the silence a gathering, rushing sound arose suddenly in the headphones, like some mysterious energy field bearing rapidly down on the camper. Like nothing at all, a burst of static, but then again like something, and coming fast. Rigid in the bed, I was considering waking Dick when I heard another sound: a sharp click, like one rock struck cleanly against another. The headphones roared in my ear as I threw off the sleeping bag, took Dick gently by the arm, and shook him awake.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. The rock clacking noise is back again.”

He took the apparatus from me and listened, holding the dish at arm’s length as he panned the invisible circumference of the dark clearing.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Neither do I. It must be gone, now. But it was something.”

In the morning it rained again, heavy monsoon clouds from the Gulf of Mexico blotting the peaks and the bowl below them. We drank coffee and played the crucial 15 or 20 seconds of the tape over and over. The mike had jacked up what the Ear had missed: two clicks before the gathering noise, and in the farther distance five measured knocks, like someone pounding a log with a stick.

“So what do you think?” I asked finally.

“I don’t know. Let’s take a walk and get away from here for a little while.”

Game trails in the woods below the camp, thickly printed with the tracks of elk, converged on a grassy meadow trampled by sharp hooves and flattened by bedded animal bodies. At the forest edge, the tall weeds behind a down log lay crushed beside a sturdy pine sapling freshly broken above the root and bowed down across the flattened place. At first glance it appeared like just another bed; a second one said it wasn’t.

“Are you thinking what I am?” Dick asked.

“Something was crouched here last night, watching the elk herd from behind the log.”

“Something with the strength to pull that tree over and break it almost clean off You and I together couldn’t have done that.”

We found no tracks or hair samples, but on the return upstream to camp the wind carried briefly what Dick thought was a rotten smell and I compared to a dirty horse blanket.

“Would you say ‘fetid’ was the word?”

“I’d say fetid’s close enough.”

Another wave of rain came in as we climbed up the drainage and hiked the logging road back to camp, sheltering the bolstered pistols under our waterproofs. The camper stood dripping in the rain as we approached, and then I heard Dick say, “Hey! What happened?”

The awning above the door had been lifted off the ground and flung back over the roof as neatly almost as if it had been stowed there. Stretching to reach so high, we succeeded at last in pulling it down from the roof and rearranging the aluminum poles. None was bent, but the nylon eyes holding the bolts in place were torn clean through.

“It must have been a wind gust that did it,” Dick said finally.

“Except there wasn’t any wind.”

“Maybe a microburst when that latest storm came through.”

“There hasn’t been any wind, I’m telling you.”

“The awning’s on the lee side of the trailer, anyway.”

The grass was trampled into paths between the trailer and the forest edge, but it was impossible to say whether it had been done by us or someone—some thing—else.

“You understand,” Dick added, “that, if it wasn’t the wind, we’ve just had a warning.”

“I understand. It’s almost a staple of the literature at this point.”

We packed die camp in that evening and pulled out next morning. The roof of the camper when we cranked it down had a sizable dent from one of the poles being flung violently downward, as if from a height of ten or twelve feet. We didn’t want to have to shoot anything, and it was beginning to rain again, anyway.”