Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas 1977: One to Remember

Now that Thanksgiving is over, Christmas comes to mind. I was just thinking of past Christmases and this came to mind.

In 1977, I was living with my grandparents in Edgewater, Colorado. It was a cold and wet winter. On Christmas Eve, I decided that I was going to go up in the mountains for the day. So I loaded up some stuff in my old Blazer -- a jug of water, some munchies, and some extra smokes. (I smoked back then.)

The roads out of town were not too bad, just wet and slushy. I headed out of town on 285 towards Conifer. As I drove, it started to snow; not too bad, just big fluffy flakes. The sun was shining, so I didn't worry.

As I got to the little town of Grant, I decided to go over Guanella Pass and come out above Georgetown, then head on back home.

The drive was nice and the snow kept falling. As I got closer to the summit, the deeper the snow got. No big deal, right? I had done this lots of times before. As I reached the top of the pass, I had to stop and put the Blazer in four wheel drive.

There was no one else there at the top, and the view of the snow was unbroken by anyone. No tracks, just bright clean snow. The big flakes of snow were still coming down and the sun was shining on all of it.

As I headed down towards Georgetown, I saw that I was making new tracks on the road. Nobody has driven up this way. It was neat to be the first to make tracks down the road. As I got down about a third of the way on the pass, it started to snow harder. It was getting hard to see the road, and my wiper blades were having a hard time of keeping the snow cleared off the windshield. I had to stop several times on the way down to clear the windows so I could see.

About 15 minutes later, my defroster stopped running and I had no heat in the blazer. The windows kept frosting over. So here I was driving down a mountain road in about two feet of snow, no heat, and trying to drive and scrape the windshield at the same time.

Now it takes a heck of a lot to scare me, but I was starting to get a little worried. I was driving at about 15 miles an hour. I was making good time, and I figured that I maybe had about 12 to 18 miles to go to get to Georgetown.

All of a sudden the weather got real nasty. The big fluffy flakes were gone and were replaced with hard wind-driven snow. Now I was starting to get scared. I was driving at 5 miles an hour or less. I couldn't see the road at all. I crept along, still scraping the window to see and trying to get the heater to work and keep the Blazer on the road. I got to close to the edge and the Blazer kinda tilted over, then I was off the road and going down the side of the mountain.

I managed to get the Blazer stopped and I took a deep breath. Now I was in real deep s##t. I couldn't get the Blazer back up on the road, and I was too far off the road for anyone to see me IF anyone drove by, and I knew the tracks of my going off the road would be covered by snow in a matter of minutes.

I could stay with the Blazer and make the best of it, or I could walk out on my own.

I was standing on the road and the wind quit blowing as hard for just a bit and I could see that I was not that far from town. I decided to hoof it out. I packed up my water jug, munchies, and an old sleeping bag out of the back of the Blazer and started walking down the road to Georgetown.

The wind picked up and the snow was biting right through my jacket and clothes. At some point as I was walking, I thought that I heard voices. I figured it had to be the wind. But as I kept going, the voices got louder.

I think that at this point I was hoping that there were voices and that somebody else was up there with me. I called out several times and could swear that I heard them say, "This way! " I listened, but could not hear the sound of running motors. I was thinking, "Great. Some other nimrod is stuck up here like me. "

As I pushed on, the voices sounded really close, but off the road. Did I really want to get off the road? Maybe someone had put up a new cabin since the last time I was up there. I figured that I had to be close, real close, to town. But the weather was getting worse, so I went towards the voices.

It turns out that the voices that I heard were a stream. The water was running real fast, and at one point it ran under ground. As it rushed through this hole, it sounded like a voice saying, "HERE."

It was from the air and water rushing in that made it sound the way it did.

Now I was wondering what the heck I was going to do. The wind let up for just a second or two and I could see an old mine off to one side of the mountain. Boy, howdy, I beat feet to it and looked in. I looked at the time and saw that it was about 5:30 p.m., and realized that there was no way I could make it to town before it was to get dark.

I decided to stay in the old mine over night. No problem, it was out of the wind, I had stuff to eat, water to drink, and an old ratty sleeping bag to wrap up in. Now all I needed was a fire for warmth. Behold, I found an old rat's nest with lots of sticks and other stuff to burn. Now, it wasn't the Brown Palace, but it would do.

Later, much later, at about midnight, the snow let up. I walked to the mouth of my little mine, and saw the sky was clear. And the stars! Yes, the stars! I swear that I have never seen the stars as bright as they were that night. The moon was just a sliver in the sky. There was no wind. All was calm. As I was taking all this in, I could hear the Christmas carol Silent Night in my head.

People, that was one of the best Christmases ever.

Later, when the morning sun came out, I packed up my stuff and headed out to the road. When I got to the road and looked down it, I could see smoke from Georgetown. I walked to the curve in the road and could see the town! I was just 1-1/2 miles to 2 miles from town. And as I walked, things seemed so new and clean in the snow, and everything was bright.

As I came off the last switch back and hit the outskirts of town, I ran into a police officer and, man, did he give me a funny look. He asked me where I came from. I told him that I came off the pass. He looked up the road, back at me, and informed me that they closed the pass yesterday. He wanted to know how I got to town, and I told him that I walked. I told him what had happened to my Blazer and how I spent the night in the old mine above town.

Well, he wasn't too happy with me. He kept giving me dirty looks and kept looking back up the mountain. He took me into town to the police station and let me make a phone call to Grandmother and Pappy. They had figured that I spent the night at a friends house after my day in the mountains.

It took them several hours to clear the road, and another hour or two to get me up the mountain to get my Blazer and have it pulled back up on the road so I could drive home.

Since then I have taken friends and family up on the pass and showed them the mine that I spent the night in and the stream that talks. As I stand and listen, to this day, that stream still talks to me. I will always remember my Christmas on the mountain.

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