You knew I had to do it. You knew that if Boulder Canyon opened last night, I’d be heading to Estes Park today. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, except that the road was open and the weather was spectacular.
It was sort of a bittersweet trip. I knew the foliage would be past its peak, and it was. The aspen between Nederland and Ward that are so spectacular in late September are bare now. There’s a straggler here and there that the wind hasn’t stripped yet, but if you’re making the drive to see aspen, the best of what’s left are around either Nederland or Peaceful Valley. Estes still looks pretty, but it’s only a matter of days before the gold is gone.
Traffic was heavy all the way up. No delays or lane closures, just lots of vehicles. I was hoping much of it would be tourist traffic, but it wasn’t. After all, the aspen are past their peak and Rocky Mountain National Park is closed. Why would tourists be going? Why was I going?
I had lunch at The Other Side and browsed the gift shop next door. Only three or four tables at the restaurant were occupied, and there was only one other customer in the gift shop. Elkhorn Avenue was actually driveable. Far too much so. I could have had front-door parking at almost any shop in town. The big public parking lots held maybe half a dozen cars each. So sad. Looked like a ghost town in places. Eerie, almost, with places shuttered for the season and leaves blowing across empty streets.
Rocky Mountain National Park
I decided to drive up to the park entrance just to see what a closed national park entrance looks like. And it’s hardly worth mentioning. No armed guards or anything; they’d have to be paid. Temporary barricades in the middle of each lane. Easy to drive between or around them. But I didn’t. The guy ahead of me didn’t either. He turned around and headed back into town. A quarter mile past the barricades, a white car had parked on the shoulder. Some people just don’t believe in signs, I guess. I stopped and took a picture. Yes, indeedy, I thought. My tax dollars at work. Not.
Curious, I went back to the stoplight and then drove west on High Drive to see how far I could get. (It runs parallel to the highway for quite a ways toward the park.) I passed the barricades in the picture, passed park headquarters with its dreary empty parking lot, and passed another barricade. It was more serious than the first — swinging metal gates completely across the road. Padlocked. You might have been able to drive around one end, assuming the ground wasn’t too soft …
I went as far as I could on High Drive, until it dead-ended at a pair of private drives, and stopped by a No Parking sign. (I never left the car. I was not “parked.”) Rolled down the windows and watched and listened. Wind in the pines. A few birds. Zero cars. Zero people. And zero elk. No bugling to be heard and not an elk in sight. I guess when the government closes the park, the elk get furloughed.
I couldn’t help wondering what would happen to people who just leave their cars and hike into the park. What’s the penalty for that? It’s not like there’s a fence around the park. It’s public property! Besides, who’s there to stop you? What would it cost the government to remove a single padlock and let people drive into the park? And don’t talk to me about liability. You can’t sue the federal government without its permission. Or so I’ve heard.
Back to town
Angry all over again at the idiocracy we’re living in, I headed back into town. With the park closed, I had no excuse not to finally visit Erik Stensland‘s gallery. And sure enough, there was ample parking right at the front door. Still, compared to the rest of downtown, the small gallery was crowded. I walked around, trying not to drool on all the gorgeous photos. And, now, because there was a huge (5′-6’ wide) print of it on display, I know there’s only one there I want to buy. Well, actually, I’d like to buy many, but if there’s to be only one, that’s the one. All I need is $1400.
Stensland wasn’t there but I had a nice chat with the young man who was. Ended up telling him I wished I could buy the print, although if I had that kind of money, I should probably spread it around — go down the street dropping a few dollars in every shop along the way. No, even better: I wanted to be Jesse Pinkman and drive down Elkhorn tossing a bundle of bills on each doorstep. Dammit, where’s Pinkman when you need him?
- Protest Thurs. at Rocky Mountain National Park (piedtype.com)