Photographic Heavy San Juan Story: Small Town Encounters of the Weird Kind


The sunrise was beautiful. I ran around breathlessly for an hour before breakfast, taking a million pictures, wearing myself out, and breathing heavily.


Luckily for me, the entire area had frozen during the night, so it was easy to get around the more marshy areas without getting my shoes wet. If I hadn’t followed through with building the shelter, my opinion would have been different of course. Well rested and excited though, I was happy that it had been so cold the night before. I would have kept taking pictures all day, but my stomach had to be the adult, and made me wake Eric up for breakfast.


We ate the breakfast of an unsuccessful miner: chili and really soupy oatmeal. We couldn’t add the berries we had thoughtfully brought all the way from boulder, because I had made sure to liberally cover them in a thick layer of pasta sauce the day before. My mind would frequently wander to the eggs in the cooler at the back of my car, sitting deliciously in in the puddle of cold water that used to be our ice when we were mountaineering later that day.


It was another day of looking for the picture gold that I just knew was in the hills. In an area called, “Ice Lake” I figured we could easily get some epic shots of beautiful, but uninviting conditions. The lake looked frozen enough to walk on, but not enticing enough for either Eric nor I to feel like we needed to prove it actually was. It was a photography mine better left for braver souls than ourselves.


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A few more hours of beautiful hiking later, and we were finished with that part of the day, and headed back to the car. We had pretty staunch plans to drink a bottle of tequila on top of Sand Dunes National Park that night, and wanted to get there sometime before midnight.

With five hours of solid driving ahead of us, we hopped back in the car, and ran into one of the strangest towns ever.

I was tipped off that the area would be strange when we saw our first three cops after three hours of driving, patrolling the seemingly desolate streets of this small, Rio Grande town. We needed gas, and wanted to pick up some more eggs for the next day, so we rolled into a station to gather some necessities.

Right when we walked in, one of the kids behind the counter said to his friend, “Dude if they could hear what we were saying in here, there is no doubt that we would be instantly fired. These cameras pick up video feed, but not audio.”

This was something any teenager afraid of getting caught with weed might say. Then he spoke again, “Yeah man, politicians  just don’t want teenagers to run the government because they want to keep things the way they are now. The wrong way.” I had to poke my head around an aisle of chips to get a look at the kid.

It was like looking into a cartoon. He was the super skinny acne pocked teenager who might give this same speech in a cartoon. The co-workers around him seemed to be pretty enraptured with his speeches, which piqued my interest to a new level. A few conspiracy theories later, and I found myself wishing there were more cops patrolling the streets. I bought my bag of chips and got out of there, while Eric had an even stranger experience in the bathroom.

“When I walked in there, there were just these two dudes staring at me. And this wasn’t like a big bathroom with stalls and stuff. It was a urinal and a toilet, and they weren’t saying anything, just like smiling at me. I peed and got the hell out of there.

Then I was on my way out, when I hear that kid from behind the counter say, ‘Yeah man, if they blew one of those up, everybody would be screwed.’”

Without a doubt it is the strangest gas station experience I hope to ever have. It made me think of all the small town stories I had ever heard, and how a lot of them must be true. We drove on to the dunes, and persisted to have one of the crazier nights I have had in the woods.


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