I never planned to improve upon any kind of mousetrap but for some reason it appears I've done exactly that. This is how it happened: Every year my wife and I spend a few days avoiding the summer heat of western Colorado by camping high up in the White River National Forest. For the past few years we've stayed in a campground administered for the Forest Service by one of those corporations that have secured the campground concession.
Essentially, the corporation posts a guard
called a "host," charges twice as much as it ought to cost the
public for putting up a tent, and then returns a contracted portion
of their earnings to the Forest Service. It's a kind of economic
mousetrap set by the federal government to generate revenue without
having to hold the cheese.
Anyway, last year as
the season simmered toward fall, we got bored with our old habits
and habitats, so we decided to try for a new camping spot; we
traveled a few more miles down the road to Avalanche Creek where we
discovered a rugged gravel road that climbs well above the
pavement. Our prospecting instinct told us we'd likely find
something more valuable as the quality of the road deteriorated. It
might even be like the old days "- free.
we traveled up Avalanche Creek, signs continued to prevent us from
pulling into any impromptu national forest pull-off until we
reached the end of the trail "- an "official" campground
administered by the Thousand Trails Corp. Defeated, we paid our $24
for two nights and found a site along the creek.
We stayed two full days, thrilled to have our
routines overthrown by the tyranny of leisure. We felt obligated to
eat grapes, nap, read books, go for long hikes and cool our feet in
the icy waters along the bank of Avalanche Creek. When it was time
to leave, we packed everything "- even receipt number 00888053
which we'd filled out and clipped to our site post "- and started
back down toward the real world, which means basically any
direction that heads away from Aspen.
our packing was a little too thorough, or our presence in the
mountains a little too tempting to the sedate lives that some
animals must lead. On the way over McClure Pass I turned on the fan
motor to circulate some of that fresh mountain air and felt a
slight tremor under the dashboard, as if some foreign object had
gotten jammed in the blades. I turned up the fan setting, trying to
dislodge the obstruction, but the shimmy became a serious shake, so
I shut it down, hoping to avoid more damage until I could check
About noon the next day, after a
full morning's sunlight preheated the inside of our truck to an
oven temperature, I casually opened one door and knew right away
why the fan wasn't working. Opening every window, we drove with our
heads hanging outside the truck like a couple of panting dogs,
straight to our local mechanic.
I don't know if
Toyota understands how enticing their tiny under-the-dashboard
compartment for the fan motor might appear to a humble deer mouse,
but to the young mechanic who spent nearly an hour on his back
working to dislodge and vacuum not one but three stinking little
corpses out of their newly acquired lodging without contracting a
dreaded respiratory virus, the cleanup was probably memorable.
Next year we'll go back to that spot along
Avalanche Creek because, frankly, we don't know any better. And
we'll continue to pay the corporation because our public lands are
being swallowed whole by a bureaucracy that feeds on campers as if
they were just another industry, no different than lumber, mining,
grazing or oil.
Next year, with a little luck,
the fees will have only doubled and we'll fare better than the
three dead mice that had blindly decided on a little family
vacation, unaware that the Toyota Corp. would require the ultimate
price for unauthorized camping in a wilderness of wires and