Back

Stories about places

Even as a child growing up in the foothills of the Appalachians, I found myself admiring the beauty around me. The warm green summers, fall with its riot of red, yellow, and sometimes purple leaves, and winters with church steeples poking through a thick mantel of snow, all inspired me more than playing games with my brothers and cousins.
But, all good things must come to an end, and at eighteen I yearned to see more of the country. I headed west like many young men of the east had done before me.

When I first spied the snow-capped tips of the Rocky Mountains peeking above the horizon, they seemed to call me to come explore them. The rolling yellow grass plains of eastern Colorado seemed to last forever. I finally arrived in Colorado Springs and I was amazed at the majestic beauty of towering Pikes Peak. It begged me to climb to its top and drive to the top I did. I spent the night around a campfire with other visitors. To keep warm I had to add the hot rod magazines from the trunk of my '47 Nash. I was unaware of the view I would have the next morning. It seemed like I was on an island in a sea of clouds. The world below was hidden by clouds, I felt like I could just step out and walk on their tops. When the clouds cleared and I saw to the west range after range of mountains heavily covered by forest and dissected by rivers and streams, I had to move on.

I didn't need to go far when I drove up into a high valley just below the Collegiate Peaks of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. The little town there of Sivercliff seemed like a good place to explore, so I stayed a while. The first thing I did was drive up into the aspens and pitched my tent in a campground in the middle of a grove of aspens. It was off-season so I had the place to myself. There was a stump in the clearing and I perched on it to take in my surroundings. Next thing I knew my head was circled by a group of beautiful ruby-throated hummingbirds! I wondered why they were interested in me, then I remembered that I had just washed my hair with strawberry shampoo in the nearby freezing mountain stream. They must of thought I was some strange new plant because they came so close I could hear the hum of their wings, hovering only inches from my face. I sat there as still as I could because I didn't want them to fly away. That was something I will never forget. I have carried that story with me since, telling it to everyone who would listen. Then I rented an old log cabin in Sivercliff for several months because I enjoyed the views in that high mountain valley. I carried those memories with me for many years until I learned more about painting when I lived in Texas. It was then that I had the confidence to paint Collegiate Peaks, Colorado Mountains and the Ghost Town from memory. But, my wanderlust took hold again and I knew there was more of Colorado to explore.

I unfolded my map and looked for an interesting place as my next stop. Of course, there were no cell phones in those days and I carried a lot of maps with me. Black Canyon of the Gunnison caught my eye. I had no idea what it was like, it just sounded good. I said goodbye to my friends in Silvercliff, loaded up my '47 Nash and headed south through the mountains.

A couple days later I arrived on the north side of the canyon and came across the Blue Mesa Ranch. The low sprawling building sitting in the shade of mighty trees sat next to a large corral. They had a lot of horses there and offered riding tours to the bottom of the deep canyon. I pulled into the ranch for more information about the area and found the people there were really friendly and inviting. The owners and ranch hands crowded around my old car, amazed at its great condition. They seemed to like me too and invited me to stay, maybe even work for them if I wished. It felt so good to have no obligations or responsibilities, so I took them up on their offer.

My first assignment was to join a group of riders going down the trail to the bottom of the canyon. The other rider's voices talking about the beauty around us could be heard over the clip-clop of the horse's hooves. I too enjoyed the sweet vanilla smell of the Ponderosa pines and heavy scent of sagebrush as they drifted in on a gentle breeze. The shady trail was speckled with spots of light coming through the trees as we steadily climbed down the wandering path.
I felt comfortable riding, as I had ridden some before, even though they had to adjust the stirrups to fit my short legs. When we finally reached the river we all craned our necks to take in the painted walls of the canyon. They looked like a crazy abstract artist had gone wild with stripes of red, yellow, gold, and tan. We traveled along the raging river, taking in the beauty of the unique canyon. On the way back up I was second in line with a blonde teenage girl riding last.

Suddenly there was a crashing sound as a deer broke through the brush and leaped across the trail. I turned and looked toward the sound, and the girl's horse had reared up and began to run back down the trail. I must have watched too many westerns because, before I realized what I was doing, I turned around and galloped after her runaway mount. Finally catching up to her, I grabbed the horse's reins and slowed it down. The young lady thanked me profusely to the point I felt my face was warm as I must have blushed. It was only then that I realized the magnitude of what I had done. I loved meeting new people from all parts of the world and stayed there until winter came and the trail rides quit for the season.

Order the book, "A Wandering Artist" from Amazon, at $27.50