Every summer, we camp in Colorado. Even in a drought, Colorado is colder, wetter, and greener than New Mexico. This year, we camped by streams four nights in a row in dense vegetation. However, we returned a week earlier than we had planned. Why?
We encountered a plague of a billion caterpillars that have stripped entire hillsides of aspens. These horror movie wannabes fell from the trees so loudly it sounded like rain. After they fall, they crawl everywhere and climb anything, including you, if you pause too long. We could not walk without crushing many with each step. We crossed a stream choked with thousands, every rock coated, countless floating downstream on the ride of a lifetime. It was obscenic: at once nauseating and mesmerizing.
Except for one male western tanager, we saw few birds. Either these caterpillars taste bad or the birds are afraid they will be the ones eaten. Birding was a bust except for the ubiquitous robins and the invisible warblers. In fact, we didn’t see any wildlife other than prairie dogs, chipmunks, golden mantled ground squirrels — nothing but rodents, not a single deer or elk.
There was a highlight: thousands of yellow swallowtails. They flitted among many lovely wildflowers and gathered in mud wallows by the road. We’ve never seen so many swallowtails. If they are related to the plague of caterpillars, huzzah for the caterpillars. (I don’t think they are connected.)
The wind in Albuquerque has been particularly ferocious this year. We lucked out in missing one horrible night while we were gone. However, I’ve never known Colorado to be so relentlessly windy. The wind blew hard all day long. Such a wind usually presages a change in weather and an approaching storm, but we never saw a cloud, just haze from fires. It was eerie.
We got a camper, in part, to shut out unpleasant neighbors in campgrounds and to be able to move quickly or stay in dispersed campsites away from the herd of fools. Although we found a sweet little campground that was unoccupied except for the opposite end, we saw much evidence of the quality of humanity this area normally attracts. People couldn’t bother to cross the road to an outhouse, preferring to defecate on the surface of the ground between their campsite and a stream, not bothering to cover said feces with anything other than a mound of toilet paper that soon blew hither and yon. This happened more than once in more than one campsite. There was trash everywhere — not as bad as Idaho, mind you, but bad enough.
And the height of folly? Two dolts pushing over a 50 foot tall living aspen for firewood. My hope is that it crushed their bus-sized RV. Yes, with wildfires raging over the next hill, every camper but us insisted on a fire from early morning until leaving it unattended as they staggered off to bed. They pulled down live limbs. They chopped like woodpeckers. They were the envy of the caterpillars.
As we drove away from this obscure narrow canyon with just two campgrounds of 10 and 7.5 sites, respectively, the weekend traffic was pouring in. People were setting up the largest tents and canopies I’ve ever seen in the woods. Campsites had 4 or 5 vehicles, countless people. It was gonna be a good ole rowdy family-funtime up deathtrap hallow until the shootin’ starts. Fittingly, we passed 3 huge trucks unloading cattle. We looked from the cows to the people and back again. We could no longer tell them apart.