“It’s a lot like Telluride, but with way better dirtbags,” was the introduction given by our new lifelong friend Lara, speaking of the resident population of a neighboring ski town. “It’s beautiful country up there, God’s country,” Cliff, another new friend, repeated endlessly. Nothing more need be said; we were sold. The next day we scrapped our plans and made for Crested Butte, Colo.
Being surrounded on three sides by State Forest, we figured finding a place to park the rig would be a piece of cake; upon arrival it became immediately apparent we had chosen one of the busiest weeks of the year to camp around the small town. In the process our trailer suffered its first major injury due to a tight downhill turn and a high dirt embankment; the stairs didn’t stand a chance as they dug into the earth, bent, and sheared a bolt. We were stuck, with the truck blocking the road and the trailer hung up. Luck graced us, as the very first person whose path we were blocking just happened to have all the tools to dig our mangled stairs free, as our collapsible shovel was proving laughably inadequate. Within a few minutes we headed down the road, still a little embarrassed.
The site we found north of town wasn’t just beautiful, it was comically beautiful, like a butter commercial mixed with a romance novel cover. The 12,000-foot peaks of Gothic Mountain and Mount Emmons were snow-kissed just so. There were rolling fields filled with wildflowers of every conceivable color. The sky, boundless in its blueness and just-budding corn lilies glowing with an otherworldly silver glint above the tall grass. Overwhelmed with it all, we both spontaneously broke into out in our best Julie Andrews impression, singing “The Hills Are Alive” and twirling with arms outstretched. This continued regularly, to the chagrin of our neighboring campers.
The town lived up to its reputation, and was indeed inhabited by some wonderful dirtbags. Elk Avenue was occupied with outdoor adventure addicts, crust punk travelers, silver-haired art buyers, and farmer philosophers. A strong sense of history kept many of the town’s old mining-era buildings intact, preserved and rebuilt after fires and time. Victorian originals like the candy-colored fire station accompany matter-of-fact structures like Tony’s Conoco, the first gas station in town, now converted into the Crested Butte Heritage Museum. The town packs in
17 art galleries, more than one for every hundred residents of the town (pop. 1,604).
Oh Be Joyful Gallery quickly became our favorite, overflowing with sumptuous oils, luminous watercolors, and deft drawings. These were all curated by the keen eye and exuberant mind of its owner Cricket Farrington, who decided to move to the town and establish the gallery after visiting for only six hours. Crested Butte’s mix of old and new felt much like the Oak Bluffs I remember growing up in, with a hipper edge and some RVs.
Our time there was far too short; we knew we’d be back after the first bite of our amazing tamales from Teocalli Tamale. Crested Butte was a town to spend a lifetime in, but sadly our next job as camp hosts in Alsea Falls, Ore., was calling. After a long weekend, we packed up our “Sound of Music” campsite and drove away.
Three days of driving across four states would bring us to Alsea Falls. This did mean spending July Fourth on the road; we were sad to miss a day of festivities, and had resigned any chance of fireworks as we spent the night in a Walmart parking lot in Caldwell, Idaho. The residents of the town had other plans, however. With no town fireworks display, it seemed every house surrounding the big box store had taken the opportunity to orchestrate a show. From an hour before dusk to one o’clock in the morning, explosions filled the sky; in every direction was a different display. The collective volume and duration of pyrotechnics rivaled any July Fourth event I’d ever experienced. One Idahoan even drove through the parking lot, casually firing Roman candles from his car.
The next day we drove into Oregon. The last climb to camp was up a steep, narrow, winding road, it was hot, we’d been driving for hours, and Truck was not happy. We had to pull over and stop, our temperature gauge was reading nearly 250°, as a warning beeped across the dash. The culprit, we’d later discover, was a broken fan clutch, preventing the fan from shifting into high speed to cool our radiator. Again graced by luck, we were only a mile from the hilltop, and after letting the engine cool, driving a few hundred yards, cooling off, and repeating, we were able to coast downhill to our summer home in the lush shaded conifer forest of Alsea Falls.