Watching the fireworks burst directly in front of us was a sight to behold. “The Staff” from Long’s Peak Inn had climbed through the woods to a large boulder outcropping that offered a perfect bird’s-eye view of the show being staged from Estes Park below. The fact that we had toted a sparkling new stainless steel garbage can “borrowed” from the kitchen which was filled to a sloshy capacity with the traditional recipe of Hawaiian Punch and grain alcohol had no bearing on the shared mouth-gaping amazement that each of us seemed to feel. It certainly didn’t hurt, but the spectacle alone was enough to wow. Sort of made you…high.
Our dude ranch had been around for a great many years and attracted guests and staff from all parts of the world. We offered the basic horseback riding, mountain hiking and trout fishing packages along with kid care and a full bar with knowledgeable tender, hot tub, solar heated swimming pool and in house bakery (that was me!) We welcomed guests on Sunday nights with a staff talent (or lack thereof) show. Kid counselors met the children and parents relinquished control to the fresh-faced crew sporting cowboy hats and western shirts. We participated in the tradition of square dancing and tried to make it look natural despite the fact that hardly a soul was actually from the western states. Those cowboys and girls took off for the summertime beach jobs as soon as the roads thawed.
Each week, it took a tremendous effort by the staff to pull off the extensive activities schedule. Making the experience as close to authentic western dude ranch was important and we took our roles seriously. As much as we loved the experience, everybody needs a break; a midsummer’s night dream. Right?
It can be agreed that the traditional halfway mark of summer for Americans is Independence Day. No matter what day of the week it might fall, July 4th is reason enough to celebrate before moving forward into the dog days of summertime. Our eclectic crew was no exception to the tradition of marking the event with flair, so plans were made and work was dispensed with in a fat hurry on that nearly sacred day.
Being that about half of our staff had come to work for the summer from Great Britain, we Americans felt the need to ensure a memorable Independence Day that would rival any event that the mother country could provide. We did what any typical American kids would do, we mixed up an industrial-sized container of Hunch Punch and set forth to watch the fireworks.
Earlier that day we had cooked and served a traditional “burgers and dogs” barbeque for the guests at the ranch and then made certain that our new friends poured on the right amounts of ketchup, mustard, relish and onions. For my part, hailing from Atlanta, I made certain that the coleslaw was chopped finely enough to mimic that delicious hot dog topping made famous at The Varsity Drive-In located just outside the Georgia Tech campus. It was good eats.
Sated, we all completed our cleanup duties and made fast tracks before dark to our predetermined boulder with blankets and whatever else besides the punch that might make for a wonderful Rocky Mountain High kind of Fourth of July… Everybody found somebody to lean against on that chilly outcropping and a feeling of real summer took effect on our group.
Inevitably, someone produced a guitar and harmonica. Can’t be dude ranch staff without those tools. Just ain’t right at all. Just as inevitably, John Denver tunes began to serenade our quickly mellowing group. We did get treated to seeing it raining fire in the sky. There were friends around a campfire and whether anybody imbibed or not, everybody found a sort of Rocky Mountain High… Colorado, a great place for summer love and summer secrets. Hollywood could not have staged a better set for showing foreigners exactly what a college-aged American summertime is all about and nobody could have provided a better soundtrack than John Denver himself.
Slowly, pairs began to drift off together down the mountain. The singing, strumming and harmony slowed and faded away with the smoke that trailed from the last of the rockets’ red glare. Real stars, their appearance masked by the man made sky show, began to twinkle along with the moonlight that illuminated the aspen path back to Highway 7. It was a path back to our daily routines of waiting tables, baking, frying, cleaning and entertaining an ever-changing group of tourists hungry for horseback riding and trout fishing in the high mountains of the Colorado Rockies that can be found in the colorful pages of travel brochures. But, for that one night, on July 4th 1986, a group of British and American dude ranch staff came together for an unforgettable Rocky Mountain July High.