One complaint often voiced by longtime Coloradans is that the state's growing population, driven by an unprecedented influx of transplants from far-flung places across America and around the globe, is diminishing the eccentricities that have made the state so unique. But I'm here to report that the idiosyncratic Colorado characters that Westword has celebrated for more than forty years are very much alive, well and zanier than ever.
And fortunately, the one I ran into on Friday at the Colorado National Monument didn't kill me.
The Monument, one of the most gorgeous spots in the Rocky Mountain region, is minutes from Grand Junction, where I traveled with my wife, Deb, last week to attend our fortieth high school reunion. We're both members of Grand Junction High School's class of 1979.
That event promised to be strange enough, but the scenario became even more surreal as we approached the city on Thursday morning and a fighter jet suddenly materialized in front of us and shot straight into the sky. Turns out the pilot of the craft, a Blue Angel, was warming up for the Grand Junction Airshow, which was scheduled to take place that weekend, and not a harbinger of a strike to put down a revolution among local residents, which definitely wasn't happening. The closest thing to a rebellion we saw during our stay were two lonely guys in a parking lot across the street from our hotel trying, mostly in vain, to get visitors to sign a petition to recall Governor Jared Polis.
The following morning, Deb and I decided to travel over the Monument in order to marvel at how we'd managed to survive those moronic summer nights during our teens when we'd zoomed along hairpin curves overlooking sheer cliffs with enormous drop-offs in vehicles whose drivers were utterly inebriated. Near the top of the roadway, we parked, got out of our car in an isolated area where no one was around and walked to an overlook, where we were hoping to get a photo of the majestic Grand Mesa, on view in the distance, when suddenly a white SUV pulled over and a man hopped out.
"Want me to take your picture?" he asked.
The question certainly seemed benign enough, and so did the bandanna-wearing person who delivered it. Sure, he was grizzled, but he looked like a cross between a friendly hippie on the north side of sixty and Walter Huston from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre . "Sure," I said. "That'd be great."
The man jauntily trotted toward us, grabbed my cell phone and took a couple of snaps. Then, as he was returning the phone to me, he asked, "Do you know about the mystery of the Anasazi?"
While that rang a distant bell, I admitted I didn't know much about it — but the man sure did. He explained that the Anasazi had seemingly vanished over 600 years ago, and no one knows what happened to them. He had a theory, however, bolstered by research he had been doing since his retirement. He told us that he'd found three wall etchings — one in Glade Park, near the Monument; a second outside Rangely, in northwest Colorado; and a third in the vicinity of Moab, Utah — that contained the answers.
Oh, yeah: He believed they'd been scratched into the rocks by aliens.
These illustrations, the man was convinced, proved that extraterrestrials had abducted twenty million people, including the Anasazi and members of two other indigenous tribes, and murdered them for their blood. That was why he carried a gun, which he announced while patting his chest, presumably indicating that the gat was contained in a covered shoulder holster.
By that time, I'm certain the smiles on our faces had melted like the last of the snow clinging to the distant mountain peaks and our eyes had taken on the glassy expressions common to horror movie victims who failed to recognize the danger looming over them until it was too late.
Meanwhile, the man kept going. He mentioned a traveling companion he referred to as "she," but there was no woman in the car. Instead, we learned seconds later, there was a very angry little dog who began barking at us as the man went over to the passenger compartment to get photos of the etchings. The grainy images boasted assorted designs, some shaped like stars, with scratches over them that the man said dated to the Ice Age, which proved...well, I'm not sure what they were supposed to prove. But when he asked what I thought of his findings, I knew one thing for sure: I definitely didn't want to piss him off. "I'm not a scientist," I said, "so I don't think I could comment intelligently."
"I'm not a scientist, either!" he happily declared, before further delineating the nuances of the scratches in his pics — and Deb asked several followup questions about them. She told me later that she'd been trying to keep him calm, too, which was totally understandable. But at that point, I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
Finally, after about ten minutes, I was able to break into his monologue to say, "Well, I'm sure you want to get back to your research. Thanks for sharing that with us. Have a good day."
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With that, Deb extended her hand to shake his, but he left her hanging. "I'm germ-phobic," he revealed.
As we walked back to our car, I had to tell myself not to move too quickly, even though there seemed like a more than reasonable possibility that the backs of our head would soon be ripped apart by gunshots. But, no: The man got back into his SUV with his dog and drove away.
Deb and I watched him go, then stayed in our car for another five minutes or so, ihoping that he would get far enough ahead of us that we wouldn't encounter him again a few miles down the road — and we didn't. He simply disappeared over the hill. We never saw him again.
Maybe he was abducted by aliens, or, as he occasionally referred to them, "fallen angels" (and not the blue kind). If so, he died shortly after sharing the truth about the Anasazi — and proving that despite all those newcomers, Colorado is as weird as ever.