Roger Marolt: From the sparks of idiotic ideas
Hunter Creek is an unhidden treasure. The observation deck overlooking town from Smuggler Mountain is a reference point necessary for reminding us why we chose this place. The jog or hike up Housewife Hill is the perfect venue for showing off fitness or the latest Lulu getup, both of which come at great expense. It is mountain biker heaven.
It might not have been this way. Nor would there likely be any open space or bridge with my family name or statue of any of my ancestors in the town square (actually the bus stop), but for shear terror that led to what, in essence, was a manmade dust storm whipped up to choke the life out of every oxygen-breathing thing in sight to halt what looked to become a catastrophic forest fire. The family name could have become “Mud” or “Moron” very easily.
I have empathy for the two kids who started the gigantic fire on Basalt Mountain a couple summers ago by firing red hot tracer bullets into the side of the tinder-dry hill behind the shooting range at its base. Yes, it was dumb, but I have accomplished dumber things that didn’t end up so badly but easily could have.
At the same time, I am incredulous over the guy who set up his annual firework stand where the old go-cart track used to be east of Glenwood along Highway 82. Just as his signage acknowledges the saving grace of Jesus, I pray he has no sales this summer, for his sake, the sake of his customers who might inadvertently light this place up, and us who could lose pristine forest, property and more from a celebratory sparkler dropped in dry grass.
Perhaps the mythical billionaire who is going to swoop in and write a big check to save the Isis Theatre also could buy the offensive and dangerous firework stand at a price more than fair and then tow it into the desert for the Burning Man festival and blow it up there as part of the fun. But, I don’t think this will happen as this celebrity of cash is either wrestling with some nasty scandal or they don’t exist.
Getting back to the story, in the late ’70s we used to picnic in the spot where the aforementioned popular observation deck is. It was before mountain biking was invented or 30 minute hikes were done for fitness. About a week before Fourth of July, a few local families gathered for a cookout there. My father never liked that location. He complained it was too dry and preferred setting up camp next to a river or lake. He wasn’t wrong … but the views!
Thank goodness bottle rockets whistle through the air. If they didn’t we wouldn’t have noticed that a younger picnic attendee launched a firework off the side of Smuggler when nobody was looking despite warnings against such activity. It was a dud that line-drived into the ground before exploding. The adults scolded him and took his matches.
Some time later, my dad launched from his lawn chair and grabbed a shovel before careening down through the scrub brush in a blur of dust. An evergreen where the bottle rocket landed was exploding in flames! We had only a few gallons of water, which would have done no good even if we could have launched it up into the flaming tree’s boughs. Instead two men used shovels to madly fling scoops of dry dirt up into the tree and all around. The rest of us grabbed metal dinner plates and used them to madly hurl more dirt into the air.
It was hot and we were soon exhausted, but nobody stopped. We ran on adrenaline from fear of torching an entire mountain valley and for our lives, should the flames get out of hand. It must have looked like a tornado from town. When we could no longer breath for the thickness of the dust and sustained intensity of the effort, we collapsed on the ground, completely spent. We lucked out that no winds blew that afternoon.
It’s not like we were ready to leave, though. We stayed from mid afternoon past midnight, nerves taught for the duration, looking for signs of smoldering danger.
In the light of home we resembled coal miners after a cave-in. We stared through hollow eyes ringed with layers of dried sweat and salt-tinged mud, fingers raw and bodies bruised. I hope the catastrophe we averted then has not become an inevitability for today.
Roger Marolt hopes our visitors realize how dry the locals know it is around here. Email at email@example.com.
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Vignettes of life in the valley. Some you may have heard; hopefully, others will be new.