Off Limits

Summer and blowing smoke

They may violate some people's sense of propriety, however. Sukle acknowledges that a few observers may not think slogans such as "Spraypaint Your Lawn Green" and "Real Men Dry Shave" are "serious enough." But he's also realistic. "This weather is not that unusual for this type of climate," he says, "so you don't want to alarm people and say, 'You're all going to die.' We just need to work together."

So far, only one sign has been yanked -- after an alert caller notified the water department that the slogan "Pets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Plants Tuesdays and Thursdays" might result in pets being given drinks only on selected days. More typical was the reaction of senior citizens who climbed off their tour bus so that they could have their picture taken in front of a "Shower in Groups" sign, Earle says.

Meanwhile, although Denver Water Manager Chips Barry is known for his dry wit, his troops aren't above borrowing a cup of sugarcoating. After reading the term "sod squad" in Westword's profile of their boss ("Liquid Assets," June 13), they appropriated the phrase to describe their own water police. But Barry has countered with a fluid phrase of his own: He's pledged that his agency will not engage in "vegetative profiling" of overly green lawns.

Take a breather: The weekend warriors who slogged up Mt. Elbert last Sunday could have done their lungs a favor by forgoing an ascent of Colorado's highest peak in favor of a more healthy undertaking, such as snorting lines of coal dust.

Above the treeline at 12,000 feet, the trails to Elbert's summit were shrouded in a bluish haze that reeked of pine tar, a reminder of the Wyoming wildfires then blackening the forests upwind. Just after dawn, when most of the climbers were setting out, the smog colored the setting moon an ominous blood red. By midday, as most of the aspirants were working their ways up the massif's tantalizing series of false summits, the air was so fouled that hacking coughs chorused with the whistles of pikas and the cackles of Canadian jays. One climber likened the experience to working out on a Stairmaster while chain-smoking Russian cigarettes. And once the group finally reached the roof of the Rocky Mountains, the normally majestic view from Elbert's 14,433-foot summit proved a scant reward. Distant peaks in the Sawatch, Sangre de Cristo and Elk mountain ranges were reduced to amorphous shadows, like battleships in a pea-soup fog.

"I'm on top of Colorado, man!" one out-of-state visitor bragged in a cell-phone call to friends in Miami. But then he confessed: "No, I can't really see a damn thing."

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