Despite the satisfaction and pride I took in drilling, blasting, and mucking at Climax, and despite my increasing wealth, those high-country bugaboos, cultural famine and chilly weather, returned to dampen my enthusiasm for mountain living. Paperbacks, trout fishing, and Leadville’s mining museum were not enough to satisfy my cultural needs. As for climate, a running joke in Leadville is its two seasons: Fourth of July and winter. The Mosquito Range soars at its back, and at its front the Arkansas River valley sweeps 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, stare down at the huddled Leadvillites even in August. Come mid-September in Leadville, where below-freezing temperatures overnight are not unusual, I actually looked forward to the “warmth” of my underground jobsite: the temperature at the level I worked was a constant 40 degrees.
Yet there was dependable relief 30 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 gentle hills of juniper and cactus 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 continuing drip drip drip of the Southwest.