TBT: The lake that isn’t there

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This is not a scene from Bonny Lake, this is the Rocky Mountains, which distracted us from enjoying Bonny Lake while it still existed.

Our Gypsy Trip across the country in 2010 was so named because we decided to camp our way across the country, but it wasn’t until our second night that we actually camped. What a first night it was.

Unbeknownst to us, we were camping on land in the middle of an Old West Style war about water. Coming from a water-saturated part of the country, we were all unfamiliar with the water wars that still rage in the western United States today.

Basically, there was an agreement established in 1942 between Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado that required Nebraska and Colorado to supply so much water to Kansas. Decades went by and finally, one day someone realized that Kansas wasn’t getting all the water they were supposed to be getting. So a court case went all the way to the Supreme Court and Colorado had to pay up.

What does this have to do with us camping in 2010? Well, we stopped at Bonny Lake State Park, in Colorado, on our second night of the trip. It was a stopover for us – we didn’t put much thought into the location except that it set us up to get exploring the rest of the state the next day. Not thinking about this more was our loss. I believe there was a lake there, but we never saw it. We arrived late and left early, eager to get moving checking things off our To See List.

The first telling of our Bonny Lake story included the parts about the rowdy neighbors and putting up the tent after dark in a thunderstorm. I’m kind of impressed with us putting that sucker up in the dark and rain; I don’t know if I could do that now and I must have pitched it 50 times since then. I’m also impressed that it stayed staked into the ground with only the corners pinned down. Way to go, little Wal-Mart tent!

The part of the story that didn’t make the first cut is what happened between the time we set up the tent and when we went to sleep – and what happened to that park since then.

We’d been on the road all day, it was late and we’d just put up a tent in the rain. We knew we’d need an early start in the morning, so Amanda and I decided to hit the bathhouse that night so we could pack up and head out quickly. We took the car and drove to try to avoid some of the weather, and left Cory, my brother, in the tent at our campsite.

Hindsight being 20/20, that was a pretty inconsiderate thing to do. See, Cory never complains about anything – or even expresses much of any emotion. He’s someone you never notice there until he cracks a joke about something. He never said a word when we left.

I don’t know how long we were in the bathhouse, long enough for us to pump a few dollars in quarters in the showers. I’m sure we’d been there close to half an hour, and that felt like hours to someone who was alone, in a half-staked tent, in a torrential thunderstorm, a few dozen feet from five or six drunken campers, hundreds of miles from home.

I was finishing up when I heard a knock at the bathroom door. Now, Cory has some big, hazel peepers on a normal day, but when I opened that door his eyes were all I could see.

“Uhhhh, how much longer are you going to be?” He was obviously nervous, shifting his weight.

I guess waiting in the tent while the wind tried to rip it from the ground got to be too much for him, so he braved the weather to walk to the bathhouse.

He hung around for the last of the 10 minutes or so Amanda and I took to finish and we all went back to the tent and crashed. Or at least I did. I always sleep like a baby in storms. (And that time, the tent didn’t leak.)

So we – along with those drunkies a few spots down – made some pretty good memories at this park. But what about that war over water?

The entire dispute reminded me of a standoff in the west. I could just see John Wayne and Robert Duvall standing off on either side of the state line. (Hey! I know they are different cowboy generations, but it would make a great standoff, no?)

“That’s our water you’re holding over there,” Duvall would calmly state from the Kansas side of the state line. He’s on horseback, slouched a little, his hands on the saddle horn.

“Yeah?” Wayne would be casually smoking. “Well, come and get it then.”

Then he would flip the cigarette, probably starting a wild fire that would then require the use of all the water to put it out and no one would have any water and all three states would start hounding Montana or something to send them water.

Whew. That kinda ran away with me, but you get the idea. Instead of a wildfire inducing cowboy standoff, Colorado ultimately decided to drain Bonny Lake and let the water flow away to Kansas. Today, the state park now operates as a nature preserve and is still open to hunters, and I wish we’d taken just a couple of hours to visit the lake.

Let this be a listen to you: When traveling, if you stop to camp beside a lake, make time to actually see the lake. It may not be there the next time you pass through.

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Camping tips from the Trips of Horrors

Every year I go on a camping trip with some friends from college. And every year, disaster strikes.

Every year I go on a camping trip with some friends from college. And every year, disaster strikes.

If any of you reading this ever worked in college media, then you understand when I say if you come out of working the newsroom with friends, they’re keepers. There are few things that can bond people the way newspapering can, except maybe a combat zone. No disrespect to our soldiers, but that is exactly what I felt like I was in most days. It was a game of intrigue, never knowing who was really telling it true and who was using us to meet an agenda. And it wasn’t that every step was treacherous because I never knew what was going to set off a land mine – I knew every step was a land mine. It was just a matter of managing the explosions. The only people I knew I could count on were my brothers and sisters in arms, but at times even that was a small group.

So when I say that my friends and I have been through a lot together, former college journalists understand. Still, the newsroom did not prepare us for The Annual Camping Trip of Horrors. These camping trips have become the stuff of nightmares, with treacherous raccoons, deadly waterfalls, and hikes of doom.

Through all these shenanigans, we’ve gathered some great stories and learned some hard lessons.

The Glade Creek Grist mill was rebuilt in 1976 in Babcock State Park.

The Glade Creek Grist mill was rebuilt in 1976 in Babcock State Park.

This camping tradition started in 2009, with Lacey, who you’ve met before, and Jesse, a friend beget in the newsroom. He and I used to have all sorts of fun writing news stories that made the administration sweat, and then we’d go tramp through parks and attend concerts in our spare time. I can’t remember which of our trio thought it would be fun to go camping, but we decided to hit up West Virginia for the inaugural trip. Since then, we’ve camped at Red River Gorge, Big South Fork, J. Percy Priest and Cedars of Lebanon State Parks.   Continue reading