Pitch your tent under the stars

Camping in the Rockies will change your life!

Some of the happiest times of my life have been camping trips to the Rocky Mountains — and also some of the most intense!

Friends of mine have a small cabin that’s actually inside Rocky Mountain National Park. It was built before the Park was created and grandfathered in. The owners now lease the land from the government. It was a definite win-win since the state maintains the trailhead nearby and keeps the road at least passable. However, “passable” can be pretty rugged when you’re talking to men and women who really know 4-wheeling! Our city-living sedans left more than a few scrape-marks on the larger rocks in the road, but that was half the fun of getting there.

Once we’d reached the cabin we were very nearly alone except for hikers going by to reach the trailhead. The cabin was secluded so the majority of them never even knew we were there and we often didn’t hear them going by. A hundred yards in the forest is a surprising amount of sound barrier.

When a lot of us went up for a gathering some would pitch tents and camp in the aspen grove that surrounds the cabin. My wife Marilyn and I did just that on one particular weekend and we unwittingly set ourselves up for the wildlife encounter of our lives.

My friends and are I enthusiastic role-playing gamers and we had a rousing adventure game that night, replete with monsters, demons and of course, marauding wolfpacks that harassed our camps! Good times!! My wife got sleepy before I did and went out to our tent to bed down for the night. A few hours later we all wound down, said our good-nights and were off to sleep. I joined Marilyn in the tent, zipped up the flap and crawled into my sleeping bag.

A few hours later, in the literal dead of the night, so quiet you could hear your own heartbeat, I heard howling in the distance. I dismissed it as coyotes — they’d never come near a structure that smelled so thoroughly of humankind — and started to drift off to sleep. It seemed that only moments later I was awakened to the sound of heavy animal footfalls approaching the tent and, alarmingly, snuffling! around the bottom edge of the tent!! Images of wolves leapt into my head, as my heart leapt into my throat! Less than a millimeter of flimsy plastic fabric stood between me, my beloved and some of the fiercest carnivores on earth! Just then Marilyn rolled over in her sleep, farted thunderously and began snoring! It must have startled them as I heard their padded feet hustling away into the nighttime forest.

I laughed so hard I cried.

Marilyn was certain I was making it all up, until the next morning I showed her the huge dog-like footprints that circled both the tent and cabin. Clearly not dogs or coyotes. Wolves. INCHES away from us. Really made for a silent moment of thought.

The biggest thing that we ran into after that was woodchucks, but that’s another story!

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