Western Colorado: Pinyons and Pistols   2 comments

The road that hugs the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado affords gorgeous vistas of the Rockies.

It was a beautiful afternoon in the small town of Montrose, Colorado, the last place I would ever expect to have a loaded pistol pointed at my head.  This was the third time in my life that this adrenaline-producing event has taken place, and I hope it’s the last.  More on this later.

Heading into western Colorado from the Dinosaur country of northeastern Utah, I drove through the lonely canyons and mountains north of Grand Junction.  It’s a beautiful drive south over CO Hwy. 39 between Rangely and Grand Junction, but with few official sights.  Nearly every canyon you choose to walk up along this route contains Fremont rock art (see image below).  The Fremont people were semi-nomadic native Americans who lived off this land roughly 1000 years ago.

A remote part of western Colorado features many rock art panels from the now-vanished Fremont people.

I visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and upon waking I felt the bite of the hawk on a cold and incredibly clear morning.  After Utah, which always seems warmer than the bordering states, it was a shock to my system.  Although I have been spending nights at 9000 feet or higher for most of this past week, the days warm rapidly to a gorgeous autumn perfection.

On a cold autumn morning at Black Canyon of the Gunnison N.P. in Colorado, the fog spills off the plateau and into the canyon.

A pinyon pine that is over 750 years old survives along the rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado.

A beautiful species of pine tree grows along the rim of Black Canyon.  The pinyon pine is an incredible tree.  They can live a long time; in Black Canyon as much as 800 years or more.  Pinyon pine nuts, produced in the fall by the cones, are incredibly nutritious.  They are high in protein and (good) fat, and are chock-full of amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

Native Americans going back thousands of years have collected and dried them in the fall.  The high-energy nuts helped them survive winters.  I hiked the short but very scenic Walker Trail along the Canyon’s south rim, and the ancient pinyon pine stand here had me mesmerized (see image at left).

Now back to my little misadventure.  I stopped in the town of Montrose for some groceries.  I was only in the store for about 10 minutes.  When I came out I noticed one of my tires was completely flat.  A guy got out of a pickup and told me he had seen a guy bend down by my van, then run off with the air rushing out of my tire.  He said the guy had a bandage on his left arm, and also indicated the direction in which he fled.  I gave chase for a few minutes before realizing the futility.  So I called 911 and reported it, then headed back to my van to meet a cop who was to meet me there.

But before I got there a cop pulled up quickly and, jumping out, he ordered me to the ground.  I realized he was looking at my left hand, which was encased in the splint that I’ve worn since breaking my hand last month.  I tried to explain but he was not having any of it.  It was then that he pulled his gun.  He had his taser in the other hand.  Well, I was on the ground after that.  Eventually I was able to convince them (a 2nd cop showed up of course) that I was not the “perp” but the victim.

The appropriate reaction in this case had nothing in common with the reaction that saved me the first time I was faced with the cold blue of a gun barrel pointed my way.  I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland.  On one occasion, at age 18, I was driving my Pontiac through a neighborhood I knew wasn’t exactly a safe one.  My passenger was a “friend” I knew I should not be hanging out with.  But I was young and dumb.

My partner asked me to stop, where he was going to talk with friend for a minute.  I pulled off into an alleyway, where it became immediately obvious that he wanted to buy a bag of pot from two black guys who appeared at the passenger window.  Before I could even protest, I felt something cold and hard against my left temple.  I had not seen the third guy in the darkness.  He demanded all our money.

I could barely speak, whispering to my friend to get my wallet out of the glove box.  But as he opened it, I did something I had never done before, and rarely since.  I reacted before even experiencing a thought in that direction.  In one motion I slipped the shifter into drive, at the same instant slamming my foot on the accelerator.  That Pontiac was the quickest car I’ve ever owned, and it was fairly new then.  The car leaped down the alley and I heard the guy’s yelp of pain as his right hand hit the door jam.  My heart was racing faster than the car as we rocketed down the alley, whipped the corner, and were out of that neighborhood in a flash.

Back to the precious present.  After a visit to the tire shop, I finally was able to leave Montrose behind.  Anxious to leave civilization behind, I immediately headed into the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.  This region is one of the most beautiful corners of America, and it will be the subject of my next post.

n Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a fence blends in with the fall foliage.

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2 responses to “Western Colorado: Pinyons and Pistols

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  1. Beautiful fall photos! I love how you captured the fog.

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