In April of my twenty-sixth year, I had survived another winter in the brick and concrete of Denver. I loved Spring 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 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 private 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, directed me to it. Today the land is webbed with carefully graded dirt roads and dotted with high-end mountain homes. Back then, however, at least where I was camped, it was, except for an access road or two, undeveloped. Beside my parked car, after eating a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew, I sat on a foam-rubber pad and wrapped myself against the chill of approaching night in my Sears Roebuck sleeping bag. I watched the relentless Spring winds off La Veta Pass drive the blood-orange flames of my campfire in every direction. Beneath a gleaming field of stars, I studied the distant lights of Alamosa, Colorado, to the west, unaware that in a quarter-century I would be living there. I knew I was back in the genuine Southwest, and it was one of the most pleasurable evenings of my life. From there, in pursuit of more rosey, 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 the mystical town of Taos.