The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, ]r.rnWaiting Nights, Beastly DaysrnThe high Colorado Rockies are like arnhpe of beautiful woman, eye-catchingrnw ithout being especially interesting.rnSpectacularh’ well-endowed, they are alsornobious, unsubtle, lacking in indixidualitrnand complexity, bland in their stunningrnperfection, with a hint of vulgarih’.rnOr perhaps it’s the sort of people who arerndrawn in glittering swarms to these toweringrnfourteeners, geometrically perfect alnrostrnas icy pyramids, and the elaborate,rncongested playgrounds they have createdrnaround and between them that’s responsiblernfor the impression. Strung along 32rnmiles of Interstate 70, Vail, CopperrnMountain, and Silverthorne with theirrnsweeping greens and artificial lakes, towrnlifts, ranked condominiums, trophrnhomes, and enough bars and restaurantsrnto accommodate the Democratic andrnRepublican national political conventionsrnsimultaneously, are designed for arnnew breed oiHomo sapiens, one which isrnunable to leave its pleasures—as well asrnits work—behind while on vacation. Inrnthese fearsome places the communitiesrnof Rc Brook, New York, and CherryrnHills, Colorado (only 70 or 80 road milesrnawav) ha’c been substantially recreated,rnwith a few bogus touches added for regionalrncolor. Snake-eyed Westchesterrnvamps carrying pocketbooks stuffed withrnenough cash and credit to feed the WestrnSlope for a week stalk the malls and discountrnoutlets in spike heels and designerrnjeans, while on the golf course their husbands,rncell phones clapped to their prognathousrnjaws and dented chins, do dealsrnwith traders in New York, London, andrnHong Kong. Approaching Silverthornernfrom the north, along the Blue Riverrn(one angler after another dressed in se’-rneral-hundred-dollar outfits from Orxis), Irnpress on toward Leadville and pointsrnsouth without stopping for gas or coffee,rnfrom a previous life, I know these people.rnFor company, I’ll take a Sasquatchrnclan pounding logs with sticks in arnwilderness clearing, any day.rnAt Leadville too, 10,500 feet highrnacro,ss Fremont Pass, the recreational seasonrnis in full swing. Tourist Class: fat familiesrnin shorts, squishy shoes, and rude Tshirtsrnpiling out of camper trailers andrnvans for ice cream cones, souvenirs, andrnnewsstand copies of the latest number ofrnPeople magazine, already waiting in thernmailbox back home. If any question existedrnas to what is basically the slave mentalit-rnof the American people todav’, thernuniformity- of their childish proletarianrndress should put it to rest. Southwest ofrnthe historic village, whose careful preservationrnincludes the starkness —een inrnsummer—of a 19th-centur’ alpine miningrntown, another moimtain rangernstretches, the Sawatch Range on thernContinental Divide. There’s ‘squatchesrnin them thar hills, where Dick Mcllhennyrnwas roused from sleep by a bellowingrnroar fie years ago and the Forest Sen,icernis said to have experimented with greasingrnthe posts of its most frequently pulleduprnsigns, hoping to record the handprintsrnof the creatures responsible for the vandalism.rn(Which is harder to believe in,rnthe realit)- of Sasquatch or Janet Reno?)rnGranite, Buena Vista on the ArkansasrnRiver; the Olympian, so-called CollegiaternPeaks (Mt. Llarvard, Mt. Princeton,rnMt. Yale: Scale one and you’re acceptedrntuition-free?); Poncha Springs and PoncharnPass above the San Luis River; thernmysterious San Luis Valley, bordered onrnthe east bv the Sangre de Christo Mountains,rnwhere tlie deer and the aliens play.rn. . . In Alamosa I rendezvoused w ith Dickrnand at Antonito we stopped to gas up beforernheading into the San Jnan Mountains,rnup toward Conejos Peak.rn”Looks like you’ve had a lot of rain,” Irntold the cashier. “Plent)’ of standing waterrnabout.”rn”Rained every afternoon and night forrnweeks now,” he said cheerfully. “If thisrnweather keeps up, the elk will startrnbugling now, pretty quick.”rnBacklit by the sun, cimrulus cloudsrnwere building above the western mountains,rnnot the kind that produce rain.rn”It looks like it might be dn’ing out finally,”rnI suggested.rnThe cashier ran my card and handed itrnback to me. “No,” he agreed, “it isn’t goingrnto rain tonight.”rnOutside Dick waited behind the wheelrnof his Ford Ranger. “It’ll be dark in twornhours,” he said. “I’d like to be set up inrncamp before then.”rn”Well, let’s try for it. I’ll lead, in casernthe rain has made a slide somewhere andrnvou have to back the trailer off the mountain.”rnThe Conejos River ran high, the potholesrnin the dirt road above the river werernfull of water, and except for the horserntrailers waiting at the trailheads to takernthe dudes out, there didn’t seem to bernmuch of anybody aroimd. At the crossingrnwhere I stopped and turned thernwheel hubs in, I walked back to speakrnwith Dick.rn”Do you suppose,” I asked him, indicatingrna herd of cattle grazing close to thernforest edge, “that rancher loses a couplernof calves or a yearling or two up here ever)-rnsummer?”rn”Could be. And he probably figures arnbear or a mountain lion took it, too.”rnWater ran ever’where, but the graniticrnsubstrate held firm oir the two-track roadrnswitchbacking above the canyori to therntop of the ridge, and along it to our campsiternthe summer before. Dick parked inrnthe road behiird the Powder River gate,rnaway from the treeline, and together inrnthe fading dusk we raised the can-as tentrnfrom the camper and set up the cookstovernand sink inside. “It isn’t that muchrnmore secure than a regular tent,” Dickrnremarked as we unrolled the sleepingrnbags on the bunk beds at either end of therncamper, “but it’s a little better, anyway.”rnWe unzipped the soft plastic windowsrnbehind the screens to let the night soundsrnin and heated supper on the gas stove.rnWith the loaded guns beside us we ate atrnthe foldaway table, drinking purple winernNOVEMBER 1999/49rnrnrn