It was one of those campsites motorhome owners like me dream about. An access road potholed and pitted enough to keep out all but the most committed of off-road campers. An east/west valley with a fine view of the mountains to the west. Sunrise and sunset. With a river running through it. Early in the season with lots of firewood still scattered across the spring flooded valley floor. A multitude of superb campsites of which we have one.
What could be better than free camping with few rules? With miles and miles of terrain stretching all the way to the mountains, our site was an off-roader's mecca of trails crisscrossing the valley and a drivable road for the mildly adventurous to get their mohos down to the river. Off-leash is the norm. Our Saxon Blue is a pretty good dog who sticks close to our campsite. He has been known to mooch offsite for food from other campers, but he never goes far away.
The sun is starting to sink behind The Gap to our west as my daughter Sabrina and I and Saxon Blue began our pre-dinner stroll along the banks of this rushing mountain stream into the sunset. Walking past other campers in their RVs and tents and trailers enjoying the last of the sun at the end of a beautiful day, a man and his daughter and their handsome, winsome Kerry Blue, I felt at one with the world.
Bang! Bang, bang!!
The sound of shots split the chatter of the creek. It only took us a moment to realize as we swiveled around to look, that it was from a near-by campsite where some of the campers were target shooting tin cans set up across the river with their 0.22s. They had been shooting on and off all afternoon and we had become accustomed to it, but our campsite was further down river and so the unexpected shots had never sounded so loud.
As we turned back towards the path, we discovered Saxon had vanished from sight. Gone, disappeared.
We were conveniently in the middle of one of the prettiest places on the planet with miles of nothing in either direction, with the sun going down and darkness falling. This was no place to have our brave Saxon Blue running scared. Sabrina and I have lost the dog! What a terrible turn this beautiful evening has just taken.
"Sabrina! Go down the road back towards our campsite. Call for Saxon and ask anyone you see along the way if they've seen him. Try to find him but if you don’t, go back to our campsite and I'll meet you there. I'll go the other way through The Gap and look for him in that direction."
I know my shy daughter well enough that I suspected it was unlikely she would ask anyone about Saxon, even calling for him would be taking her out of her comfort zone, but we had to split up and search in both directions.
"Saxon! Saaaxxxonnn!!!" I bellowed. Reaching the road, Sabrina turned east, back towards our campsite and where most of the other campers were comfortably beginning to prepare supper. Civilization such as it was.
I turned west and started to huff my way as quickly as I could up the dirt road towards The Gap, a steep, thickly-treed slope to my right, the tumbling river down below to my left. And tried my best to think like my spooked Kerry.
I was pretty certain he hadn't gone back in the direction towards our campsite, the way that Sabrina was going. Something told me he was headed away from people, noisy people, people with Things That Go Bang! Heading West,Young Man.
To safety. Yah right.
I'd driven up through The Gap before, I knew the road would descend and a bridge would take me across a creek flowing in from the north and the valley would open up. Wide, wide; wider than the one we were camped in and long too, it made up most of the of 20 miles or so of the virtually deserted country between me, my Kerry and the mountains. The road, such as it was, would branch and become a series of tracks through the bushy, rocky valley leading the adventurous through some of the sweetest free camping in the world. There would be people there, for the first couple of miles anyway, camped around and about, but with all that land, they would be giving each other lots of room. There'd be bears too and coyotes. Please, please, please let me find my dog soon...
I crested The Gap and descended the road to the bridge into the lengthening shadows of the eve, praying that my beloved fool had not just left the road already and headed up the slopes northward, in which case I was going the wrong way and he was likely gone for good.
Across the bridge, I head for the nearest campers, a group not far off the road who just might have seen a black dog haring his way westward through the twilight. Good luck, Doug.
And then, a miracle, of sorts.
"Sure did." One of the group responded to my query. "He was running down the road that way," he pointed towards the Rockies in the west,,"'bout ten minutes ago." All right then. This was not just some wild goose chase on my part. I was going in the right direction. Thank the Fates he was still generally following the road, running west, and I was tiring as I thanked them and continued my way into the gloaming.
I zig-zagged from campsite to campsite as I jogged onward: a couple had seen him, other people hadn't. It was getting dark. "Have you seen a black dog running loose"? "No."
"Have you seen a black dog running loose"? "No." Maybe he's veered off and not moving this way anymore. It was getting very dark. I was starting to panic.
A campsite with a small campfire with a couple people cooking over there to the right. I'll check over there...
"Hey mister! This your dog?" A voice called from the fireside. I ran over - It was him! "Saxon, Saxon," I gushed in an outpouring of joy and relief. I mean, this dog meant the world to me.
And Saxon, my best buddy, my good companion, my Kerry Blue -- looked up briefly from the sausage or whatever he was eating and then nonchalantly resumed his meal.