Despite the satisfaction and pride I took in drilling and blasting at Climax, and despite my increasing wealth, those high-country bugaboos, cultural famine and cold weather, returned to dampen my enthusiasm for mountain living. Paperbacks, trout fishing, and Leadville’s mining museum were not enough to satisfy my aesthetic needs. As for climate, a running joke in Leadville was its two seasons: Fourth of July and winter. The Mosquito Range soared at its back, and in its front the Arkansas River valley swept up through unyielding conifer forests to the gray pinnacles─including Colorado’s tallest, Mt. Elbert─of the Sawatch Range. Above treeline, stubborn fields of rotten snow, filthy with airborne dust, stared down at us, the huddled Leadvillites, even in August.
Yet there was relief thirty miles southeast of Leadville, offered by an old acquaintance: Buena Vista. On my days off, I’d occasionally drive there, buy a loaf of French bread, a block of Velveeta, and a bottle of Boone’s Farm “wine,” and head for those hills of juniper just north of town. Even at midday in the dead of summer, I’d build a fire of juniper and enjoy the incomparable spice of its smoke. Then I’d dig my bare feet into the sand and relish the warmth, space, and light of the arid woodland. The drip drip drip of the Southwest.