the fear


Part Two: Strange madness in the scrub pine

by Rev. Sean M. Breen
South Coloradan Online Editor

The road between Alamosa and Crestone is a long and dreary one. The road is straighter than any road has a right to be. Nothing but perfect geometry-class lines and right angles abound on this road. The scenery is pure boredom -- nothing but scrub brush, blending into a brown carpet around the edge of the road. The only way to tell that you were actually moving was the slow drift of the mountains on the horizon.

What the hell was I doing out on this God-forsaken road to nowhere? On a Sunday morning no less? What did I think I was going to accomplish on this pilgrimage to the legendary hippie capital of Colorado?

I was driving north in the Gonzomobile, my trusty white Pontiac subcompact, watching the sagebrush drift past at ninety miles an hour. A trio of Japanese singers were crooning incomprehensible words into my ears from the car's stereo. Every few minutes the stereo would skip, and jump to a static-filled KASF broadcast. Between the plastic rock from Japan, the plastic rock from America, not sleeping for the past 48 hours and the half-liter of Coke I had drunk before getting into the car, I was quite wired. I was hoping that this would be my triumphal assignment, the one where everything I was looking for was proved accurate.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I was still on my holy Quest to find the stoners. I had found some hiding in the cracks of pseudo Yuppiedom that pervaded Adams State, but they weren't quite what I had expected. They weren't the proud members of the Freak Kingdom that I was hoping to find, rather a group of stressed, nervous college students taking as much relaxation as they possibly could in this sad, twisted world.

So, when confronted with the situation in the flat lands, I decided to go hunting for the one true unabashed stoner I have ever met in this valley; Chris Raines.

Raines was a classic old-school dope fiend. He cut a very unusual figure at an upright school like Adams State, with his hippie clothes, Jerry Garcia beard, and rickety Volkswagen bus. Every time we talked, he'd tell stories about his exploits driving his stash all across the state. It was always an interesting experience talking to Raines, and I regretted being disconnected from the Freak Kingdom when he vanished into the mist one winter.

I had heard through my vast network of spies that Raines was holed up in Crestone, building a house. When my first probing turned up little, I figured that the only way to salvage the story was to find Raines and follow him around for a while. Maybe then I would be on the right track, or a better right track than I was.

Off the main road and drawing closer to the Needle, it's hard to see the town. It's hidden quite well in the thick, short forest growing up the side of the mountain. Along the road, "Do Not Hunt" and "No Shooting" signs abound. I find out why as I pass a cluster of buildings and a small group of deer cross the road, just seconds before I go through at eighty miles an hour. Obviously, without the signs, hordes of drunken rednecks would be shooting up everything and anything in the hopes of hitting an animal. Some of the signs showed bullet damage -- I guess they weren't quite as useful as they were supposed to be. Finally, I reach the last few curves and hit Crestone's main street.

Crestone is a traditional small mountain town at heart. Only the small things give away the place's hippie interior. Posters for New Age seminars are plastered all over the buildings. Even the graffiti has a 60's flavor; Buddhist philosophy can be found sprayed on buildings along what consists of Crestone's main drag.

Still, the purpose of my hunt remains elusive. My initial explorations have yet to turn up any signs of Raines, or of the drug culture. I suspect that my very presence would cause problems in my search.

I stop on a dirt road halfway up the Needle. A half-eaten leg of a deer lay on the ground outside the car door. The place looked like it was a hunter's campsite -- the leg of deer was next to a cold firepit, a case of empty and crushed beer cans, and plenty of used rifle shells. From my vantage point, I have an excellent view of the valley floor. The sagebrush from ten thousand feet and twenty miles looks much better than it does from the road. Absolutely beautiful. When I look out across the valley, I can almost forget the boredom and the madness that I have to return to back in Alamosa.

I spend the next few hours wandering around town on foot. Most of it is aimless wandering. I have no address for Raines, and I can't see his bus sitting idle anywhere. A small voice in the back of my head wishes it had a video camera -- this could make an interesting independent film with the right editing.

What the hell, it worked for "The Blair Witch Project."

I'm not the only thing moving in town, but close. A three-legged dog hobbles back and forth across the street in front of the liquor store. Somebody has staked a llama out in front of his house, and it wanders back and forth restlessly. And of course the deer, dozens of them, just wander through the open yards without fear. I admit the walk is quite refreshing; I've been the goddamned flatlands for far too long. I had almost forgotten that I was living in Colorado.

For lunch I stop at the local diner. A few locals are seated, talking quietly among themselves. I do what I do best and listen into their conversations. Sadly, nothing comes from my listening. The conversations don't involve drugs, just the humdrum routine of country life. I eat my cheap Mexican food, grimly pondering the lack of visible counterculture. I was beginning to suspect that my status as a outsider would keep me from learning anything unless I found Raines. And that prospect was slowly dwindling as the hours passed.
I spent another hour walking around town, looking for a ghost from my past and the key to my story. No luck. Finally, I ended up driving a little ways out of town, along the dirt road I had taken earlier, stopping at a Buddhist shrine hidden on a curve. This was my last shot. The remains of Crestone's ancient commune. If Raines wasn't here, he wasn't going to be found by the likes of me.

He wasn't there.

This town is a place you can easily get lost in. Not that it's very large -- far from it -- but this place, this small isolated section of reality is somewhere where a man could wander back into the scrub pine and just vanish, with only the mule deer marking his passage.

If Raines is here like my sources said, not driving in his bus somewhere along the backroads of America like some monster reincarnation of Johnny Appleseed, I'll never find him. Even if I started to shout his name from the rooftops, it wouldn't do any good. Crestone is a place where people come to vanish, and drawing that kind of attention would not lead to anything good.

Depressed and annoyed as all hell, I get back in my car and drive the lonely road back to Alamosa, dreading having to tell the editor that the story was coming up a bust. Still, I had one last chapter to write in this twisted saga. Maybe the universe would give me one last chance.

To be continued...