I’d been backpacking solo for twenty days in the mountains of Colorado, only a biography of Mozart for company, when my feet finally got the message up to my thumb that they were tired—so blistered, and achy, and sun-deprived and tired. My thumb, being a crafty little digit, waited until the trail crossed a road, then sprang into action with all the springiness a thumb can muster. One minute I was a resolved nature pilgrim, the next a common drifter hitching a ride to junk food.
What pulled up beside me almost instantaneouslywas not so much a Suburban as a rumbling patchwork of rust and mismatched panels. The tailpipe, or the little left of it, screamed a warning of danger, but its cries fell on my feet’s deaf ears. I stepped to the lowered window, thinking of ice cream and nothing besides ice cream.
Driving on the Peak to Peak Highway through Colorado’s Rockies with my husband, Bill, and his mountain-climbing friend, Bob, I glimpsed in the valley beyond a cluster of low buildings painted blue, pink, and green. It looked as if a 19th century frontier mining town had been transformed by a happy band of pot-smoking hippies who had journeyed cross-country from Woodstock. The incongruity was so pronounced, I wondered if the air at 8200 feet had thinned my brain cells, causing hallucinations.
We decided we’d stop for the night in Denver while eating at a Taco Johns in North Platte, Nebraska, and scanned the Expedia app on my phone. There was a 4-star hotel in the suburbs northwest of the city on sale for 86 bucks, so I reserved a room because it was the same price as the Best Western.
The year is 1972, and as you’re driving along the highway in Rifle, Colorado, a giant orange curtain appears, looming vibrantly over a distant valley. Or, maybe it’s 1997 and you’re in Switzerland. You’ve decided it’s a nice day for a walk in Berrower Park when you notice there’s something different about the trees—namely that they’re covered in gargantuan sheets of polyester fabric.