Sunday, July 26, 2015

Terror at 8,533 feet

Terror at 8,533 feet

Part of my family and I spent last week in the beautiful Rocky Mountain resort town of Estes Park, Colo. I’ve been there twice now, and both times, I can’t quite figure out why I came back. I guess that I just like oxygen.

The vacation trip consisted of my mother- and father-in-law; my sister- and brother-in-law, and niece; my wife, daughter and myself. We were a traveling party of eight which is darn near the same amount of passengers that the SS Minnow had on Gilligan’s Island. I only mention this because much like the castaways, we became stranded on our own little island. Let me explain.

It was our first full day in Estes Park, and we met up with my son, who is interning out there this summer. We ate breakfast at our motel discussing what we should do that day. Somebody mentioned that there was a tram that took passengers to the top of one of the local mountains. It seemed like a plan.

As we approached the place, my father-in-law looked at the bright red, metal tram car ascending Prospect Mountain above the Ponderosa pines. He immediately stated that he had no intention of going up on the thin metal cables. He said he would be nice and safe and comfortable sitting in the parking lot watching the rest of us plunge to our deaths. That isn’t exactly how he worded it, but I know what he meant.

As we were rising up the steep mountainside, we all looked around and got a nice view of downtown Estes Park. I couldn’t tell you how long of a trip it is, but we had time to ask our tram operator some questions about the mode of transportation. He told us about the two cables that our gondola hung from. He said that the lower cable is replaced every 15 years, and the upper cable has never been replaced. He made it sound like we were riding in the safest vehicle ever constructed, and that made me feel good. The captain of the Titanic probably said something similar.

Upon reaching the summit, we all exited the tram car. Being the geek that I am, when we entered Colorado, I downloaded an app for my phone that estimated what altitude we were at. When I checked at the top of the mountain, we were at approximately 8,533 feet above sea level.

They have built a nice cafe, gift shop and observation deck up there. Probably the coolest feature on top of Mount Prospect has to be the chipmunks. Or it least that’s what I thought at first.

On the summit, there is a rocky spot with some scrubby-looking shrubbery that is home to hundreds of chipmunks, or at least that’s what we were calling them. And inside the gift shop, they were selling peanuts in the shell for $4 a bag to feed these lovable creatures.

If you sat down with a bag, the chipmunks would flock to you and eat peanuts right from your hand. They seemed like the cutest little things with their little cheeks stuffed full.

We were up there feeding them for quite awhile when we decided we’d better go down and see how my father-in-law was doing because he has a tendency to worry about us.

As we approached the tram car that was to take us back down, we were greeted with a noise that was not of this world. The sound was emanating from the large motor that was powering the tram lines. Mustering all of my mechanical knowledge, I looked at my brother-in-law and pointed out, “That don’t sound good.” I think he was impressed.

Now this tram had pretty much been running without much trouble since the 1950s. We rode it one time, and we broke it. That seems about right.

We heard one of the mechanics say something about “finding other means” to get people off of the mountain. A lady was freaking out because she had a flight scheduled out of Denver that she was going to miss. There was a family from Nebraska that was stuck out on the cable going nowhere. Things were kind of intense for awhile.

It was then that I looked down and happened to see one of our new chipmunk friends. I think he was smiling. Pound for pound, chipmunks are probably the most evil and conniving of God’s creatures. It is my contention that these vile little rodents sabotaged that motor in an effort to get more $4 nuts out of us flatland rubes.

Eventually, a Chevy Suburban showed up and took a load of stranded folks down the mountain. My mother-in-law went down in this carload, so she could ease the mind of my father-in-law who we thought surely had to be going crazy with worry by now.

Before the next vehicle had arrived, they told us that the problem had been rectified and after several test runs, the tram was deemed good to go, and we could ride down if we wanted to. We decided to laugh at death one more time and try to beat my mother-in-law down the mountain.

As we descended and got closer to the tram place, we could see my father-in-law sitting in the front seat of his van with the door open. He had to be just worried sick about us.

But as we got closer, we noticed that his seat was reclined all the way back and he had his mirrored sunglasses on. You could practically hear the snoring going on.

Some people have a funny way of dealing with anxiety.

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