Coyote Amidst the Sunflowers by Shelli Rottschafer

Road trips are cathartic.

Summer 2015, I headed West with my trusted canine companion. Makeda, a black Golden Retriever rescue sat at my side. Our mission: to visit kindred spirits along my 2400 mile route, and re-establish long cherished friendships well-aged over the years. After a few days in Grand Junction with a college buddy, I pulled into Glenwood Springs to convalesce like my famous predecessors before me, Doc Holliday and Teddy Roosevelt. This stop would be my final side trip before Denver continuing eastward toward my Midwest home of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Day One in Glenwood, my pup and I walked throughout town. During our two-hour tour, Makeda and I strolled up the main street turning onto Bennett Avenue toward the mile-long single trail leading to Pioneer Cemetery. The trail lends vistas out over the town of Glenwood Springs and takes the curious to the historic cemetery where Doctor John Henry Holliday rests.

In 1887 Doc Holliday came to Glenwood Springs to self-medicate from his tuberculosis symptoms. He stayed at the Glenwood Hotel, which is now Hotel Colorado. Even on his deathbed Doc was true to his friendship with Wyatt Erp, writing him and reminiscing over their escapades in Tombstone, Arizona. November 8, 1887 at the age of thirty-six, Doc Holliday of OK Corral Fame died from complications due to his illness. His life is a testament. Hard playing makes for hard living. One’s legacy are the friends who remember us. We all are mortal, yet we continue living via our shared memories.

Pioneer Cemetery has two main areas. The pauper burial locations further up the slope, as well as the section where Doc Holliday and other more prominent figures with actual tombstones lay. Along the trail, colored streamers add to the memorial sites. Some visitors display momentos, polished pebbles, or small souvenirs to respectfully adorn the graves. Makeda and I made our respects to the famed gunslinger. I thought on my friendships that I recently had rekindled through this road trip, and how community helps form who we are as individuals. While I pondered, Makeda gently sniffed the wrought iron gate protecting his grave, and we continued on our way.

Walking back down into the town, we passed the train station and the historical markers along the brick laid boardwalk. As we ambled, we noticed one of the plaques which detailed President Teddy Roosevelt’s visits to the area. As a politician, conservationist, and avid hunter Roosevelt made several trips to Colorado. Legend has it, one hunting trip in Williams west of Glenwood Springs; Roosevelt came up empty handed on a Black Bear Excursion. Since, T.R. did not ‘bag a bear’ the locals brought over that night to the Hotel Colorado a stuffed animal made out of black bear hide. Supposedly this was the first ‘teddy bear’ and thus began the craze when replicas were made and sold as souvenirs.

Returning to my Subaru Outback, my faithful companion and I checked into our hotel. Makeda retired for the evening when I headed to The Pullman, an American Fusion Bistro with local farm to table recipes. To begin my evening of culinary bliss, I sat at the bar sipping a specialized concoction as I waited for my meal. Wait staff lingered for their tables’ drink orders and advised about hip local spots. This was how I discovered my next day’s adventure.

The following morning Makeda and I made our way over the mountain pass, as we drove to Jess Weaver or No Name Trailhead. This is a Colorado State Trailhead located in the White River National Forest east of Glenwood Springs. The small parking area for the trail indicates hikers to follow a gravel two-track, which leads to a Thimbleberry skirted path. The single-track winds along a rushing creek filled with runoff and fields of sunflowers sprouting from recent monsoons.

During the cool morning hours, Makeda and I began our seven-mile round-trip hike. The trail led slope-side paralleling the cascading stream. To the left trusses lay in disarray, demonstrating the historical pieces of yesteryear when carts were wheeled out of mineshafts carrying rock. Miners smelted out what precious metals they could find or panned the shallows of the river separating out nuggets and pebble particles.

11 Standing Water

On trail Makeda stuck to my heels or bound down to lick from pooled water. July is monsoon season out west and this trail’s green foliage was evident of the recent rains. The low-lying shrubs grew lush along the single track. The density of the plants and the height they had grown disoriented me because the green obscured the view. A quiet hiker, lost in her thoughts might not be aware of what was lurking around the next bend.

Obviously my imagination was sparked with the knowledge that this place was Teddy Roosevelt’s getaway to hunt bear. My daydreaming grew darker as I realized the plants lining the trail were Thimbleberries, a perfect snack for myself but also a tasty treat for something large and furry. Discarded along the trail I found someone’s walking stick. I picked it up telling myself it would help bushwhack my way ahead, yet in reality I was scared and my imagination was getting the better of me.

Dogs are smart and they pick up on their owners’ emotional levels. I don’t know if humans emit some sort of pheromone when stressed or afraid but Makeda kept to my side cautiously. Whenever she would get slightly ahead of me, she would turn around and wait. Her inquisitive look wondering if everything was all right.

The two of us continued to hike and I began to sing stupid songs. Perhaps this was out of nervousness, but I also wanted to be as loud as possible on trail. That way anything that I might encounter would hear my off-key melodies and would be aware of my presence. The hope being that my noise would scare off anything I did not want to meet face-to-face.

The heat of midmorning picked up and the hike grew slightly more challenging as the switchbacks steepened. About an hour into the climb we came across a waterfall. It trickled down the slope and where it pooled grew an evergreen thick in trunk with twisting exposed roots as big as my thigh. It created a good leaning spot to rest as I looked down into the arroyo, hearing the rushing water below me.

My imagination was getting the better of me. I had seen the waterfall. I didn’t need to say I had completed the full hike by making it to the bridge. I figured this was a great place to turn around. My fears were justifying my hope to make it back to my car where I knew I was safe from ominous furry creatures, which lurked in the shadows of my imagination.

As I headed back down the mountain singing, Makeda and I stepped into a meadow of sunflowers. I hadn’t noticed this more open space going up trail, most likely because my eyes were turned downward to watch for footfalls. Walking down trail gives a hiker a little more confidence, familiarity with the trail. Apparently Makeda felt the same because she was slightly further in the distance.

I call her back when I notice she trots ahead of me or when brush becomes too tall and I can’t see where she is located. Sensing my nervousness, Makeda came to my feet with my whistle. She greeted me with a lick on my hand, I looked up. Twenty feet down the path a coyote waited, silently staring at us.

It is interesting when met with fear out in the wilderness. Survival mode kicks in and the traveler reacts. Some swift of feet, choose to run; yet I know a chase typically ends poorly. Others freeze, paralyzed by their fear; but unknowingly can position themselves between a protective mother and her babies. I chose to square off and stand my ground. Rather than screaming obscenities, I took a step forward. Raising the walking stick defensively, Makeda cowered behind me and I yelled, “Get out of here!”

With incisors bared, the beast met my glance with confidence.

And then, I noticed. The coyote’s collar announced that it was no wild coyote but someone’s domesticated canine child, just like mine.

Low growling and slight fang rising ensued as the taupe wolf dog observed my defensive body language and Makeda’s response to it. From the tall grasses and standing sunflowers emerged a Grandmother aged woman with her ten-year-old granddaughter in tow.

Perhaps having heard my shrill threat she called out, “Is everything alright?”

I sheepishly lowered my walking stick before she realized I was about to blast her dog. I placed my hands on the Australian Shepard mix. His coat was soft. The dogs sniffed in passing. I calmly announced, “Fangs were bared but all is well.” I shake my head chuckling at my idiocy as we continued singing down trail.

Once loaded back into the car after our hike my trepidation returned. I’d nearly walloped someone else’s pup out of my own personal fear and  my imagination getting the better of me. Further more, what real damage would I have done with my walking stick against the Black Bear I envisioned encountering on the overgrown monsoon season path?

My road trip and this particular day hike on Jess Weaver trail reminded me that those who wander need to travel aware, travel smart, and travel with respect. Mother nature is stronger than humanity. Experiences like these teach us to walk humbly in our hiking boots. Although our mortality may be eminent, the connections we make through the lives that we affect, whether human, canine, plant or mineral leave a mark upon ourselves and our community.

 

BIO: Rottschafer writes Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Fictional Narrative. She is an outdoor enthusiast and can be found running with her black Labrador-mix along the Lake Michigan beaches. Or, during the colder months, the San Juan Mountains beckon her winters.

Here’s to the journey, walk in beauty.