One evening, during one of my many trips to Ouray, and the Odyssey, Bill allowed me to tape his live introduction. After the show, I went to the amphitheater overlook, to look down at Ouray, and up at the stars. And that's when I saw it, north, up the canyon, just above the horizon... Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights!. I just stood there, lost in the heavenly display, with tears streaming down my face. It was simply one of the most incredible experiences of my life. To this day, whenever I hear Appalachian Spring, or Billy The Kid I hear Bill's voice, and walk the mountains in my mind.
Well, that original recording is carefully preserved. I have an Odyssey cassette, custom made with the live intro, blending into the Odyssey soundtrack. I listen to it whenever I feel that homesick need for the peace and beauty of the San Juans. What follows is a transcription of that live introduction, and of The Odyssey itself. For those who never had the chance to see or hear it, you will have to hear it with Bill's voice in your mind, and imagine the beautiful images that accompanied it. But even as only words on a page, it's still powerful... if you listen with your heart.
I hope you've all had a chance to get up into these mountains... you know we might get a little argument from the folks from Alaska, but there is a fact here, that you are here in the San Juan Mountains, at the highest average elevation of anyplace in North America... the reason for that is, because there are more 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado than anywhere else in this land of ours, and we have some eleven, twelve, thirteen of 'em here in the San Juans, there are fifty one of them in Colorado alone, which makes it the highest elevation statewise in the country, and the San Juans beat that out by just a few hundred feet, the average elevation is somewhere over 10,000 feet here in the San Juans.
I'd like to introduce San Juan Odyssey now, for all those who love great mountains, for those from the Sierras, the Cascades, the Tetons, the Bighorns, the Brooks Range, the Appalachians, the Alps, and the San Juan.
One night... many, many summers ago, we were camped... at 12,000 feet, up where the air is still clear, high in the Rockies, at Lost Lake, Colorado. And as the fire burned down low...and only a few glowing coals remained, We laid on our backs, all warm in our sleeping bags, and looked up at the stars. And as I felt myself falling, out into the blackness of the night...I thought about things.
I thought about the time my Grandma told me what to say, when you see the evening star You all remember... "Star light", she said, "star bright, first star I've seen tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish, I wish tonight."
You know the air is crystal clean up here... that's why you can see a million stars spread out across the sky... almost like a gigantic cloud of stars...
I remembered another night, in the canyon of the Green River, in Wyoming... and we had our rubber boats pulled up on the bank and turned over so we could sleep on 'em... and we were layin' there lookin' up at the stars that night too... and one of the guys from Los Angeles said, hey, look at that smog in the sky... smog clear out here in the sticks... and somebody said, "hey Joe, that's not smog, that's the Milky Way, it's a hundred billion stars, it's our galaxy"... Joe had never seen the Milky Way, because of the lights from the big city ...
And we saw the northern lights once ...on the summit of Uncompahgre, 14,309 feet above sea level... they were like flames from some prehistoric campfire, leaping and dancing in the sky, and changing colors... red, gold, blue, violet... Aurora Borealis, The Northern Lights... they were like the equinox, the changing seasons... summer to fall, young to old, then to now... and then, everyone was asleep, except me... and as I saw the morning star come up over the mountain, I realized at last, that life is simply a collection of memories... but memories, my friends, are like starlight, because memories go on forever.
Ladies and Gentlemen... my family and I are very pleased to present... San Juan Odyssey...
I wonder how many times we've seen the sun comin' up over these old mountains, even in our minds, when we're far away, and you know, it never fails, time seems to slow down, and hold it's breath, and our hearts always start to beat just a little faster.
The Indian called this land Uncompahgre, and the snow covered peaks were great spirits, to be worshipped, and feared, and loved... the spirits were very old, and they had fought many wars with the eternal winds, and the ageless rivers of ice, but still they remained, awesome, alive, and hauntingly beautiful... these were no mere hills... these were the towering,battle scarred summits of the san Juan.
The San Juan... the very sound of it, takes us on an odyssey through time and memories... of seasons come and gone, and of the adventure still waiting on those high bridges of heaven.
But the San Juan is more than it's mountains, it's just about all that's left of a vanishing way of life and the old Colorado spirit.
There used to be a sign up here somewhere says "You don't have to be crazy to drive this road, but it helps!" and that's cause there's only one way to go on it... straight up!
Not one square foot of flat land in sight... the San Juans are the roughest, toughest, and steepest range of mountains in the west...
This high country is sacred ground... an alpine cathedral with towers and spires, and steeples... and a stained glass window of trees and flowers, and clouds, and sky... Yankee Boy, and Imogene, and Engineer, and Ophir, and Grey Copper Gulch, and the incredible switchbacks of the Black Bear... the most beautiful mountain trails in all of Colorado... you can hike it if you've got the legs, or you can ride it if you've got the horse, or you can JEEP it, if you've got the nerve, but one thing's for sure... you can't see this country any other way... you gotta climb it!
And there's somethin' else up here... the ghost towns...
You wonder how folks ever survived up here, but they did, for a while, 'til about 1893, and then it was over... gone forever with the white waters of the Animas. The silver camps are gone now, and the mills are silent, and tumbling slowly down the hillsides... the San Juan winters have been cruel and relentless... but if you look deep into those weathering timbers, streaked by the rains and snows of a hundred years, you can faintly sense, the forgotten dreams, of the men and women, who built them.
Once there was laughter, and once there was life, and once there was silver, and gold...
And if you listen hard in the San Juan wind, you can still hear a sound from the past... a sound that can send shivers up your spine.
Twenty miles away in the Animas Canyon, thundering along the high line... a million miles of history on forty miles of narrow gauge track, with the spirit of The Pathfinder himself at the throttle... The last of her kind... up from Durango, and bound for glory... the pride of the Denver and Rio Grande Western ...The Silverton!
Deep in the shadows of the amphitheater, there is a tiny town... one last memoir of those Victorian yesterdays... The Gem of The Rockies... Ouray.
Where in the world, is a more beautiful place to come home to?
Like an alpine Forget-Me-Not, alone on the tundra, small, but proud of it's roots, lifting it's face to the summer sun, and bracing for the long dangerous winter.
It is January, and with it returns the cold fear of one of nature's most terrifying moments... the avalanche. The same force that has the power to create, can suddenly destroy... swiftly, silently...
The winds blow cold now, and the snow drifts high on the frozen summits... and the vigil on the hill begins... watching, waiting... there is a sadness here, and the stark silver magnificence is somehow bittersweet, and lonely.
It is April now, and Ouray is still cradled in it's beautiful mountain valley, warm and safe, under a blanket of white... time to rekindle the flames of friendship, and to make plans to meet once more in the flower gardens, of Yankee Boy.
And then, slowly, quietly, comes the long awaited gift from above... spring!
And the brief happiness of spring becomes the sheer joy of summer, and a hundred year old tradition comes alive... an old fashioned Fourth Of July in Ouray!
Then, the magic of fireworks at 10,000 feet.
And as the starlit summer night comes on, Ouray really does become The Gem of The Rockies, glistening in the blue stillness of the Uncompahgre gorge.
Now stand on the San Juan tundra, and hear the timeless music of creation.
Are there any here among us who can walk with these giants, and not feel the power of their presence? Like a mighty fortress, with granite bastions, raised against all who would intrude upon the sacred world of the high country.
Listen to the names of the nameless... Windham, Sunlight, Wilson, Wetterhorn, Eolus, and El Diente, Redcloud, Sunshine, LaPlata, and Handies, and Uncompahge and Sneffels... fourteeners all, and undisputed monarchs.
And there are soft quiet places here to ...places where the weary mind can rest, and the tangled strings of life can be unraveled... places to feel young again... like the fresh green leaves of aspen in spring... and the cold clear waters of melting snow, in summer.
And if the rains are kind, and the sun is warm, the high country will put on it's brief but dazzling show, with it's millions of tiny flowers.
Even now, the alpine warriors sense the coming of winter, but the mountains still have one brilliant, riotous fling, when time brings another golden autumn around.
Long ago, last fall, we stood here, shivering in the early morning chill, and not saying a word to each other, but then we didn't have to... the sight that filled our eyes said it all... a thousand miles to the east, another year of our lives had gone by... but now it was a September morning, high above Ouray, in the San Juans of Colorado, and we were... home.
And this home too, to one old timer, who said this prayer just before he passed on... "Lord, on that great day of resurrection, please let me see Mount Abrams, just one more time."
Somehow we know, the old man's prayer, will be answered... and long after all of us are gone, our great mountains will still be here, pointing their snow-capped spires, at the stars.