In April of my 26th year, I had survived another winter in the brick and concrete of Denver. I loved springtime in the Rockies, and one April day I headed due south from Denver, hoping to find a landscape similar to my cherished one outside of Buena Vista, where I would spend a night.
I did. It was a woodland on the western slope of La Veta Pass in the Sangre de Cristo―”Blood of Christ”―Mountains of south-central Colorado. Lush with juniper, it also included another diminutive evergreen, one that bore nuts rather than berries: the pinyon, or, as the Spanish know it, the piñon. It was part of a vast parcel of land owned by the fabulously wealthy Malcolm Forbes, although at the time I was unaware of this. A friendly Colorado State Trooper, of all people, showed me precisely where to access it. Today the woodland is webbed with carefully graded dirt roads and dotted with pricey homes. Back then, however, at least where I was camped, it was undeveloped.
Beside my parked car, after heating and eating a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew (the 1970’s novice car-camper’s default banquet), I sat on a foam-rubber pad and wrapped myself against the chill of approaching night in my Sears Roebuck cloth sleeping bag. I watched the wild and relentless spring winds off La Veta Pass drive the blood-orange flames of my campfire in every direction, the spice of the burning juniper barely detectable amid the thieving winds.
Beneath a gleaming field of stars, I studied the distant lights of Alamosa, Colorado, to the west, never imagining I would one day live there. I was back in the spacious “desert” landscape I loved, and it was one of the most pleasurable evenings of my life. From there, in pursuit of more rosy, wind-whipped sunsets, I drove farther south, to camp for the first time in New Mexico, still in the foothills of the Sangres, not far north of Taos, a town still little-known to me.