Going Back Home to The Upper Colorado River Valley

We left Denver two days ago on my 83rd birthday to head for the western slope of Rocky Mountain National Park where  61 years ago, I served as a rooky seasonal ranger. Within an hour we drove over the summit of Bethoud Pass (11, 306 feet), to descend into the valley of  the Mary Jane and Winter Park ski areas. Gondolas and chair lifts gradually ascended the forested slopes up to the high tundra above 11,500 feet. But not us!

We continued driving along US 40 to the little town of Granby where we used to go for our groceries back in my ranger days. At the western edge of town, we turned onto US 34 to drive down memory lane past Lake Granby, a reservoir of the Colorado River some ten miles long (with a shoreline totaling 40 miles) nestled beneath the Indian Peaks at the south end of the national park. I remember during my breaks at a ranger information stand, I would quickly hustle to the top of Table Mountain to quickly search for arrowheads. One time I stumbled upon a brown chalcedony stone hide scraper with jagged edges and could not believe my eyes. 

 Soon we approached the western entrance of the park to present our COVID era permit to begin our drive into the Kawuneeche (Arapaho for Coyote) Valley of the Colorado River where the Ni-chebe-chi (Arapaho for Never No SummerMountains) rises four thousand feet above with patches of brilliant white snow tinged with forest fire smoke from Colorado’s western slope. We could not help but notice the scar along the base of the mountains from south to north. This scar is known as the Hitchens Ditch, an irrigation canal dug by Chinese workers back in the 1890’s. It angles downwards allowing melting snow to flow into Poudre Canyon to supply the Poudre River with an ample flow to grow crops of corn and sugar beets on the eastern slope of the Rockies.

About ten miles northward, we stopped at a picnic area to have our sandwiches and juicy apples. The silent peacefulness of this valley settled in as though we had gone into Zen meditation. Covid, political hostilities, protests, and economic decline all faded like strands of fog under a burning sun. 

 I remembered giving ranger talks on the life zones of the Rocky Mountains to guests in a valley ranch as a nervous 21 years-old guy fresh out of college. But once I sensed the audience’s sincere interest in life zones (from the bright orange trunks of ponderosa pines all the way up to the tundra with grazing bighorn sheep), I transcended stage fright as I, too, floated up the mountainsides into the clouds above. 

 We finished our lunch and meandered out into the valley where the gentle Colorado River flowed. 60 years ago I reeled in quite a few rainbow trout from these ever-so clear waters. We looked up northward to see Thunder Pass high in the Never Summer Range where the Colorado River begins its course down to the Grand Canyon and the Gulf of California as a chocolate-brown river. Years ago my son Rich and I drove down from Laramie to the Nokhu Crags just north of the Never Summers. We trekked southward to Thunder Pass to see a tiny, crystal clear rivulet of snowmelt trickle downward into the valley where Maura and I now stood fifty years later.

It is amazing to think that this tiny stream a foot wide would become a torrent roaring over Lava Falls deep within the Grand Canyon. Maura suddenly said, “Oh, Look!” pointing her finger toward a single moose grazing near the edge of US 34! Where it was going was anybody’s guess.

 The fusion of past events with the present sound of moose hooves in a grassy meadow was astounding. My young manhood bubbled through my 83 years-old self. This Upper Colorado River Valley took me back to the home of my revitalized spirit.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hi Richard,
    What a delightful way to celebrate your Birthday!! It’s so much fun to relive memories!
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY and all GOOD wishes to Maura, as well.
    Love, Jan

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