Living in a resort mountain town during high tourist season takes patience, a positive attitude and the constant ability to forgive. I have some of those … sometimes.
Estes Park, Colorado, is a small town, 6000 permanent residents (around 15,000 if you include the nearby areas). Approximately 5 million people per year visit neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park, and almost all come through our town. And yes, most of those visits are in the summer and on fall weekends.
We have one major grocery store, one central downtown street, two ways to get into Rocky Mountain National Park, and two main ways to get into or out of town. This year, our town motto is “Road Construction Ahead.” We are designed for thousands of people, not millions.
Residents like to grumble about tourists, but Estes has always been a tourist town. It’s like vacationing in Disneyworld and then complaining about the kids.
Here is a story of a typical summer afternoon in Estes:
My job is over mid-afternoon every day. I rush home, grab my inappropriately active dog for my age, and try to dash out before the afternoon thunderstorms arrive. Having a whole year and four months of experience living in this mountain environment, I am now an expert at predicting weather. I can smell rain before it hits, and can discern which way storms are moving, and how much time before said threat reaches me. Unfortunately, Mother Nature frequently shows me who’s boss.
In off-season, I often walk HRH Princess Lily around our neighborhood and into the National Forest. During the height of summer I do not, as the National Forest, as far as I can tell, is like the old Wild West, with few rules, lots of gunshots, plus the twenty-first century bonuses of pot smoking and dumping unwanted things like old carpet onto federal land. Since Lily is afraid of things like plastic bags and our pantry, I don’t think she would protect me should the situation arise.
So in the summer, I like to find a street that is actually not closed due to construction and head downtown to Lake Estes. It’s a beautiful, four-mile walk that usually includes seeing our resident bald eagles patrol their lake and take a fish tax from every other bird who dares hunt on their waterway. Sometimes there are elk, or deer, but most of the time just an array of homo sapiens of all shapes and sizes.
This particular afternoon I was enjoying watching a storm in the distance while Lily reveled in sniffing, trying to jump on people, digging, and tinkling every few feet. A squall was located up the hill over my house, and I know from my many, many years of expertise that if a cell is up around where I live, it won’t come down into town.
The storm rolled into town. I watched as the cloud cover came closer and closer. I turned Lily around and was heading back to the car, when, mid-poop, a lightening bolt flashed and thunder immediately followed. Fun fact: if a dog is evacuating at the exact time of a lightening strike, said dog will jump five feet vertically, while excrement simultaneously flies seven feet horizontally.
As we are doing a mad dash back to the car, I see Lily grab at something along the shore. It is not the usual cigarette butts, or trash, or underwear (!?), but something slimy and silvery. “Drop it, drop it right now!” This usually works on lesser-value treats, but it was a fish head, evidently a delicious, irresistible fish head.
She munched and crunched, turning her head and chewing faster when I tried to shove my finger in her mouth and retrieve what remained of her fish dinner. At this point, girl, have at it. This also reminded me that I had not had my lunch, and was hungry, so, brilliant idea, let’s drive even further into town and get a sandwich.
I was excited to see a parking space right in front of Subway! This never happens in summer. I turn the correct way (note the giant arrows painted in the parking lot) and pull around for the space. Another car, with an out-of-state license plate (I won’t state which state, but I would love to entertain your guesses!) pulls in the wrong way, driving over said arrow pointing the other way. I honk and do the flight attendant, two- fingered point to demonstrate that he is going the wrong direction. He waves and slides into my spot.
I guess it’s time to return home before Lily revisits her afternoon treat all over my car, because I know and you know that is definitely going to happen.
I try to make a left turn across one of the two major arteries leading into Estes. No dice. I eventually turn right, but can’t get over into the lane I need. I decide to drive up and over the back way around town, behind a place that I won’t mention because, frankly, we don’t want the tourists to know about all the shortcuts or they will no longer be shortcuts.
I finally turn down the road that’s not really a road leading to my house. The storm has passed, and I’m looking forward to a quiet, late afternoon sit on the deck, savoring the astounding views and the wonderful solitude of living above Estes, but not actually in it.
How easily I forget the 18 person short-term vacation rental directly below our property. It’s not usually a problem, but there have been instances such as me telling a couple of teenage boys who had just tracked through our leach field that the unscrewing of our septic tank lid was probably not a good idea, and that they might want to think about removing their shoes before going back inside said rental. And the late-evening drone flying, firecrackers, and people enjoying what obviously must have been their first beers, and the family arguments. And let’s not forget the little boy dangling precariously from the steep rock ledge of our neighbor’s driveway.
So I’m sitting outside, on regurgitation watch, and I notice a new group has moved into the rental. They obviously don’t realize we live in a valley, and a sneeze may be followed by a “Bless you!” from a mile across the way. They’re screaming, “John, get the bags out of the car.” “Kids, help your mother.” “Is there a barbecue pit?” “Do you have the keys?” “Yay! a trampoline!” (Oh, goodie.) I can’t really be mad at them, because it’s so obvious it must be a whole group of people who are extremely hard of hearing … why else would they be shouting at the top of their lungs? In a residential neighborhood?
Did I mention I love off season in Estes?