There was a curve in the road just a few hundred feet past our place on Maxwell Hill coming out of Deermont, Colorado (a town which was marked by a single sign in somebody’s front yard), population… whoever was on the lease at the time. It didn’t include whoever was passed out on the floor for the entire weekend.
We were up there at over 7,000 feet, and in the late ’70s, beyond that curve, there were roughly three or four homes beyond the bend. During a visit back there in 2005 I drove farther up the canyon than I ever could before and found a gated community (parcels starting at $500K for a chunk of acreage) with modestly elaborate, tastefully luxurious homes, all in keeping with the landscaping only God could have designed. Some of the driveways leading up to those homes likely started well above 8,000 feet.
I saw lots of Jeeps (Wranglers, Cherokees, an old Willys or two), quite a few Dodge Power Wagons, full-size GMC and Chevy pick-ups, Tahoes, Sierras, some older Jimmys… but not a single damned Hummer in sight. The folks had better things to spend their money on.
People would drive up from Denver and the suburbs during the winter searching for places where they could go sledding. There was all sorts of room between neighbors, not enough to play host to a Winter Park or ski run, but room to move. Our part of this particular branch of heaven was not overly large, but the people alongside us had two-hundred fifty acres, on the other side they had eighty, across from us one-hundred twenty, and most of it all ran up hill.
Invariably I would have people in the station wagons asking where there was a good place to take their kids sledding.
“Nowhere. This is all private property. All of it around here is.”
They’d assure me they wouldn’t leave a mess behind.
“Well, that has nothing to do with it really. You’re not doing it here, ’cause we got too many trees, and I can’t tell you it’s okay to do it where they don’t ’cause those places aren’t ours.”
Sometimes I’d even hear the line about how they didn’t see any signs about trespassing, and I’d remind them they likely didn’t see a whole bunch of them down on their neighbors’ perfectly manicured lawns either.
If it became apparent they didn’t really care, I’d tell them to watch out for the deer and the neighbors who might start shooting at the deer, watch out for the elk that usually don’t come down that low during the day, the bears that nobody’s reported seeing recently…
… and the snowsnakes. They’re extremely cold-blooded and grew to adapt to the cold and wet environment over time. Actually bury themselves into burrows of sorts in the snow to raise their families, dig through the surrounding snow to find any mice or squirrels doing the same.
Snow is an incredible source of insulation the deeper you get into it actually, keeping the temperature and wind-chill at bay, so the snakes will travel longer distances an inch or so below the surface of the snow to cool off.
“Their trails are easy to spot if you know what to look for, so if you decide it’s alright to trespass somewhere and do some sledding, you might want to keep an eye out for them.”
I’d point over at the flat half-acre portion of our parcel across the road from the house, and you could see a compact patch of white landscape etched what were not quite ridges, but ripples running across portions of the pristine blanket of snow covering everything leading up to the tree line fifty, maybe a hundred feet away.
Either Buffy or Chad (I surmised), being worried about the safety of little Heather or Tad (I would have bet my life on) would ask if the snakes bite.
“All I’ve really heard is that snakes use their tongues to sense what’s out there and can somehow sense a warm-blooded object – like the mice or squirrels – and might jump out to snag a mouthful of something just to see if it’s worth pursuing. I dunno. I ain’t a herpetologist. Or a snake.
“But if you head back down the road to Deermont and make a left, up there at the top they have some open space that you could walk across and get to some nice hills. Not a lot of trees. Not much of an incline, but enough to build up some speed on the way down.”
Sometimes they’d take my word for it and head up High Grade Road towards Critchell and, eventually, Conifer, only they would have to do it on an old, converted mine road that was graded dirt, maybe with some sand spread out by the County for traction if the last snowfall had been sitting there a bit.
Barely enough room for the station wagon, not enough room to pull a u-ie. And if you went three feet off the side of the road, you went five hundred feet off the side of the road.
More often then not, they’d head down to Deermont and make a right. Get to the bottom of the canyon, make another right and head back to Littleton or Cherry Hills or Ken Caryl Ranch (the new Johns Manville development, the last outpost of suburban sprawl at the base of the foothills) or from wherever else it was they had metastasized.
Sometimes, though, I’d run across the flat half-acre portion of our parcel across the road from the house up the slope a ways where I’d be able to see if they did try to drive up towards Critchell. Watch them try to navigate the curves.
Had to be careful, though, not to get my legs caught up in the downed limbs that sat under the compact patch of white landscape, their branches having etched what were not quite ridges, but ripples running across portions of the pristine blanket of snow covering everything leading up to the tree line fifty, maybe a hundred feet away.