Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Poudre Canyon

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751):
Poudre Canyon, the locals pronounce it Poo-der.

The Old Man is visiting his son who is now in his first year of college at Colorado State in Fort Collins. Fathers and sons never get along at this time. They seem to eye each other like wary boxers in a ring, both trying to get in the first jab.

With relief the Old Man took the day off to drive up Highway 14, north and west of Fort Collins. The route takes you into the Rocky Mountains, west though desolate Larimer County. The fires which raged all summer long are now put out. The hillsides are bare, except for the skeletons of blackened trees. Here and there is a patch of green, the lucky trees that escaped destruction, and the sign from above that life goes on. There are signs of thanks to the firefighters which grace the driveways to the saved cabins. The river itself, once clear, is now dark, carrying enough hydrocarbons to ensure another degree or two of global warming. There is much to consider.

You are not going anywhere in particular. The next town is Walden, population less than 800, unless you head to Red Feather Lakes for solitude and serenity. Estes Park is to the south. Its route is filled with tourists heading for the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park. Better to stay off the beaten path.

Poudre Canyon, pronounced Pooder

Highway 14 winds though Poudre Canyon, a 40 mile stretch of ancient granite rock that was carved eons ago by the Cache La Poudre River. Poudre is the French word for gun powder. And the story is that the river and the canyon were named by French miners who in 1820 were trapped by a blizzard and forced to bury their gunpowder. The Old Man wonders who lived to tell the tale.Today the narrow route through the high canyon walls is marked by numerous turnouts. In the spring and summer, kayakers hazard the river. Now in the fall, fly fishermen in waders stand knee deep fishing for mountain trout. All year round, city folks, from Fort Collins, Longmont and all along the eastern range, come to escape the frenzy of city life.

Here in Poudre Canyon, the Old Man could wonder about the passage of time. After all, the rocks, mostly Precambrian Metamorphic granite  - the Old Man looked it up - were formed over a billion years ago and then thrust up in a cataclysmic shift of tectonic plates. In the back of the Old Man's mind he hears Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

Today all is peaceful. The Old Man and his dogs Sammy and Tobie, wander along the river bank, marveling at the round granite boulders made smooth by the force of glaciers eons ago. Watered by the river and the rains, the grasses have already reappeared. Here, cooled by the mountain water, the Old Man is far from the maddening crowds.

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