It is now August and those of us who, whether by choice or simply because here we are, deal with tourists on a daily basis are beginning to grit our teeth when we smile. It’s not actually the tourists’ fault, I suppose, it’s just that there are so many of them. This is of course a very good thing for our small town’s economy, but a mountain valley town with one main street, no matter how hard we try, is not really well constituted to accommodate daily influxes of 85,000 or so people, none of whom really know the area and most of whom seem to think they’d lose their amateur standing if they looked at a map.
I have commented on the ways tourists behave in the supermarket before. I have compared getting through Estes Park on its one street (Elkhorn) to attempting to get crosstown in midtown Manhattan. I have pointed out that elkjams are a lot of fun for tourists, not so much for locals trying to get to the post office and probably not as much fun as advertised for the elk. (Mostly, this time of year they’re in the high country, which is cooler, so they’re harder to spot anyway.) So what is it that makes all this more interesting (I was going to write “annoying”, but I’m snarky enough right now and am trying to be pleasant) now than say, in June or July?
Traditionally, it is simply weariness. When the tourists first come back (like the swallows to Capistrano and for the same reason), townspeople whose livelihoods depend on the tourist dollar are so RELIEVED. The cash cow will moo once more. And, let’s face it, there are moments in this paradise of ours, moments we call January, February, March and April, where paradise has some ragged edges, mostly brought about by the incessant wind. And we get tired of our own company, too. It never gets less strange being the only customers in a restaurant (survival tips for winter restaurant dining in Estes Park: don’t go out on Monday, a lot of places are closed or should be; memorize when the Sysco truck deliveries are so you can be more sure of relatively fresh food; go to the several truly popular places because they won’t be holding on to the food as long as humanly possible and there will be other people there, although not on Monday; order something that would definitely have been frozen, since thawing a frozen entree can at least assure you of the smallest amount of bacterial life, whereas “fresh” definitely would not).
So, the tourists are very very very welcome and we worry when they’re not enough of them. The shops furbish themselves up, the new shops put on their brave displays, and we smile benignly when the visitors stand in the middle of the sidewalk making it impossible to turn your car left, right or go straight. They’re HERE! Everybody smiles and it’s a real smile, and when the cash registers start to ka-ching, we hope it’ll be a good summer, because that means a winter in which we can actually make ends meet or at least wave at each other. So June is good.
Then, as summer wends its way through July, fresh Colorado produce actually makes it all the way up here and turns up on restaurant menus and even in Safeway, the afternoon thundershowers keep things green and pretty and cut the dust (and pull the tourists into the shops until the big drops stop splatting) and the locals get used to not being able to make a left turn and figure out their favorite this-summer way to avoid downtown in their errands. The summer residents come back, which sort of makes up for the fact that social life takes a nosedive because people are so busy running shops and catering to the tourists, and all the houses that can look a little empty in the wintertime have kids playing some kind of ball in the front yard, and chairs pulled out under the trees to catch the fresh breezes and look at the mountains. Hikers are all over the place, most of them, thank heavens, staying on the hiking trails. And the wildlife, looking sleek and well-fed, delight everyone. (Estes Park, because it has a lake, is a favorite stopping off point for birds, especially, migrating to and from summer and winter feeding areas, so June and August are filled with birds you would never expect in the mountains so far from an ocean, including pelicans, ibis, egrets, even seagulls. And of course we have the occasional trumpeter swan, lots of Canada geese, ducks, each lady duck trailing her own little comet tail of fluffy ducklings, our own bluebirds, Stellar Jays, hummingbirds (more than three species, all of which fight over any and every red flower and/or feeder–fierce tiny creatures), and eagles and hawks.
Our mammalian wildlife ranges from miniature chipmunks who dart around almost too fast to see to moose, who are newly arrived and seem to like it here. We have a couple of beaver dams in the Estes valley, although most of these industrious creatures stay well away from humans because they know how much we like (for various reasons) to disturb or destroy their dams. We have predators too, of which most people see only the black bears (oddly enough, they look cuddly but are NOT, and in many ways are more dangerous than the mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes who are also make these mountains their home). And elk, deer and bighorn sheep, most of which are sleekening up for the rutting season to come up in the high country.
Estes Park, in addition to very few streets, a huge and glorious national park, lots of high mountains and tiny gem-like lakes, hiking trails and wildlife, also has two golf courses, a go-kart track, a “family fun” center (which is hideous but which apparently makes money hand over fist), miniature golf courses almost without number, an aerial tramway, and rivers that always are festooned with fly fishermen in the summertime. We also have a “fairgrounds” (so-called, but all the signs say Stanley Park), with a horse show or an exhibition every weekend. So there’s lots to do, and a lot of people to do it, and if they’re also spending lots of money and filling up the motels, hotels, B&Bs, condo rentals and restaurants, there’s a lot of smiles on the faces of the locals, even if they do start looking a little weary. (If you run a shop or a motel, your daily worklife lasts at least 10 hours and usually runs from practically dawn to midnight.)
So now that it’s August, it isn’t that the tourists are, in themselves, worse. It’s just that our smiles are wearing thin, the elkjams are getting annoying instead of charming, and why is it that nobody’s kids have any manners any more? You see, now we all just want the visitors to come, look around and gawp, spend all their money as quickly as possible, and leave, preferably in about three days. Or three hours, if we could manage it. We’re tired. And disgruntled. And soooooo ready for them all to go home and back to school and leave use our town for ourselves for a while.
Of course, there will still be the blip that comes during the autumn color season and the elk rut, but that’s smaller and we’ve caught our breath a bit and quite a few of us have looked at the books and realize that winter will be a lot nicer if we get a whole lot of people coming to see the elk play and aspen turn.
And then, of course, being human, we complain that the tourists are all gone too early and we didn’t make our nut and what is winter going to be like? And so it starts up all over again.
But right now, it’s August, and we really wish, in our hearts of hearts, that they all would just go home.
When we visit you are we tourists or friends of the family? I promise NEVER to cause an elk jam.
Definitely friends of the family, kiddo. Technically, the elk cause the elkjams. A friend of mine who for many reasons not necessary to go into is walking these days came upon a huge ten-point bull elk with a harem of over 30 cows (and its accompanying elkjam, which are the cars that stop to gawk and take pictures and enjoy the wildlife). She was very glad the cars were there, because one simply does NOT walk through a harem of elk during the fall rut. It would be about as sensible as walking in front of the embassy in Libya right now. She found somebody she knew who gladly took her (slowly) through the herd and got her into town. Since she also saw a black bear (that’s the breed name, a lot of them are brown) only about 30 feet away, she tells me it was an exceedingly exciting walk.
We city folks don’t get nearly as much fun.
I know. Traffic in Times Square, ho-hum. No elk at all.
Yes, and we can actually find something to eat in Safeway again, instead of going in at 7:30 PM to find that the deli and the fresh sections are completely stripped of all the good stuff, and then actually make it out of the parking lot in one piece, and home in one piece, with sanity still intact, and… and…we can stop counting to ten, twenty times a day. Phew!