ing the better part of two days. I askedrnhim what he knew, and he said nothingrnmuch, except for a report he’d had of hikersrnwho had started up the Tobacco LakernTrail a mile southeast of our old camp arnfew days earlier hearing strange howlsrnand roars on their climb up to ConejosrnPeak. As the remainder of the part}’ wasrnset to meet us at the campsite above PlatorornReservoir, we got on the road as soonrnas Dick had finished with his meal.rnAfternoon clouds riding above thernwestern mountains like a cumidous echornoffered no prospect of rain. With a firernban in place on all national forest land inrnthe Western states, we were looking at arncold camp this week, but for cooking wernhad the gas stove in Dick’s pop-uprncamper and a full moon, rising in late afternoonrnand setting at a little past two inrnthe morning, for light. Twenty milesrnwest of Antonito on the road to La MangarnPass we turned onto the washboardrndirt road following the Conejos Riverrnnorth to Platoro. The dust lay thick, andrnthe meadows stretching between the aspenrnforests and the road were burntrnbrown. At Lake Fork Campground werncrossed Lake Fork Creek where it entersrnthe Conejos and began the thousand-footrnclimbout up to our campsite, still tenrnmiles away.rnAt camp, the Powder River gate hadrnbeen dragged open and bent, a part of thernfence pulled down, but the fire ring wasrnin place from the year before, no sign ofrnanv human presence more recent thanrnthe previous elk season. Rememberingrnthe accident—if it wuf; an accident—tornthe trailer awning on our last visit here,rnDick pulled the camper out of the twotrackrnonto high ground, at a safe distancernfrom the tree line. We cranked the toprnup, slid out the bunk beds fore and aft,rnturned the sink upright, unfolded thernstove, and brought in the gear and supplies.rnWe boiled water for tea, carried therncups outside, and sat in folding chairs torndrink it while admiring the scenerv.rn”Do vou remember the first time wernheard It hvo years ago —Fd just finishedrnasking you if you’d considered whatrncould have made the sounds you heard atrnLeadville if it wasn’t what vou later decidedrnIt had to be?”rn”Sure,” Dick said. And right then Itrncame again as if to sav that It rememberedrntoo, not more than 500 yards outrnfrom camp, across the marsh behind arnstand of trees screening the hairpin turnrnin the road: neither a er’ nor a howl butrnan announcement, wordless yet vagueKrncomprehensible —Now hear this! . . .rnAnd then, sounding directK- behind itrnlike a mad chorus, the familiar covote uproarrnof whoops, barks, and giggles.rn”It didn’t take long, did it?” I asked.rn”No. It didn’t.”rnWe opened a couple of cans for supper,rnheated the contents on the littlernstove, and drank a glass of red wine togetherrnas the moon lifted into view in arnpale sky aboe the pointed pines.rn”The Democratic Con-ention openedrntoday,” I offered finallv.rn”It did:”‘rn”Aren’t von sorry we’re missing it onrn”No.”rnI’here was no sense of threat apparent,rnso we bodi turned in after sundovsn for arngood night’s sleep, not maintaining arnwatch. I woke several times before morning,rnonce witli the impression of havingrnbeen awakened by some presence closernb’, but the night was wonderfulK’ still,rntransfixed in the light of the waningrnmoon. We were up with the sun, maderncoffee, and paid a visit to the woods carr)’-rning a roll of toilet paper and a Marine entrenchingrntool before strapping on re-rnolvers and drixing up to the higherrnbench midwa’ between camp and thern12,000-foot knob dominating the basin.rnWhere tire road dead-ended beside arnpile of slash timber we left the truck andrncontinued on foot to an alpine lake fed byrnpercolation from the peak above. Thernlake, witii grass ends floating on tiie surfacernand tadpoles riling the soft bottom,rnlooked shallow; it was surrounded bv arnmargin of mud and green grass imprintedrnwith the tracks of elk. Continuingrnalong the shore we came to the outletrnstream, wliicli Dick’s topo map showedrnto be Lake Fork Creek at its head, drainingrnto our camp below and on to Big andrnRock Lakes, and tiic Conejos River. Wernfollowed tiie game trail beside it and inrnless than a cjuarter-mile glimpsed a clearingrnriirongh the trees dial looked somehowrnfamiliar. It turned out to be thernopen bench aboxe a talus cliff where,rnfrom camp, we had often watched elkrnbrowse in earl’ morning. Fi’e hundredrnfeet below and about a mile out, the trailerrnwas in plain sight; it had been joinedrnb- a Jeep and a pickup truck.rn”Looks like Drotar and his friendrnmade it in,” Dick said. “Uh-oh,” hernadded, as low tlumder rmnbled in therneast and we both looked up to ti:c sogg’rncnmidus forming abo’C tiie mountains.rn”I’m going back, now. I had enough gettingrnwet in Vietnam.”rnBarry Drotar had brought even morerngear than Dick had, but no tent, as hernand Al planned to sleep in their vehicles.rnWe got as much of it set up as we couldrnbefore the rain came, and then Dick andrnI retreated to the camper, while Barr-rnand Al got under the tarpaulin the-rnstretched between the Jeep Cherokeernand Al’s Ford truck.rn”I don’t like the feel of this storm,”rnDick remarked as we sat oer lunchrnacross the foldout table. “It strikes me asrnbeing preth’ much a repeat of last ‘ear.”rn”How could it be? Last year was arnmonsoon year. This is a drouglit one.”rn”I haxe an idea tiie drought just ended,”rnhe said.rnWe spent the next tour days in therncamper except for four or five hours inrnthe morning, before the rains blew in tornturn the granite mountain sogg}’ with water,rnor leave it under a couple of inches ofrnhail. Without a radio, we had no wa’ ofrnknowing the storms were localized, confinedrnto the Colorado-New Mexico border:rnThe rest of the West, trapped beneathrna high-pressure ridge and parchedrnby 30-percent humidity, continued tornbmn cheerfully. Meanwhile, on thernmountain it grew wetter and wetter.rnClothes had to be dried over the gasrnstove, and firearms required careful wipingrnwith an oily cloth to prevent rust spotsrnfrom developing through the bluing.rnThe Voice never asserted itself again, andrne’en the cootes quitodeling: Keith andrnAndrew Foster didn’t make it to thernConejos at all (owing, we later discovered,rnto car trouble). On the tiiird da,rnBarry and Al cried uncle and went backrnto Mancos, Colorado. In a brief respiternbetween squalls, Dick and 1 packed inrnthe camper, cased the guns, and bailedrnout after them.rn”That’s scientific research for ou,”rnDick observed as, streaming water, wernstruggled to raise the tongue of therncamper with a Handi-Man jack. “Yourncan’t ever expect nature to cooperate.”rn”I’m not thinking about science,” Irntold him. “For this, we missed thernDemocratic National Convention onrn^r/?”rnUnder the camouflage parka, hernshrugged his shoulders.rn”Oh well. Perhaps b- 2004 we’ll havernfound the perfect candidate to offerrnthem: the kind of guy that just wants tornget lost and stay that wav. The’ say arngood man’s hard to find, von know.”rn5O/CHRON:CLESrnrnrn