picnics in high places

For some reason, I always find myself eating fried chicken in Pitkin, Colorado.

Pitkin is a friendly place southwest of Denver, off Highway 50, where at the end of neighborhood driveways, wooden carved bears celebrate American independence by wearing Fourth of July sunglasses.

The crispy chicken comes from a grocery store and is packaged in a plastic tub. Sometimes, when the super saver stars align, a whole chicken is for sale for $6. This chicken will easily feed a family of four. But you don't just eat the chicken at any picnic table. It's important to get that chicken up to a place worthy of a feast.

I wanted to go to this little stone house on top of a mountain for a couple of years. But whenever I thought about it, it seemed like a very distant place. It remained on my to-do list, undone. 

In 1912, for reasons unbeknownst to me, a fire lookout station was built on a mountain 13,214 feet tall.

The foundation is made of stone from the site, and then a white wooden cupola (which has been rebuilt) sits on top.

From what I have read, it looks like it never was used, or was used for a short amount of time for spotting fires.

The Park Service then refashioned the building and used it for a radio repeater, but this little shelter got struck by lightening too many times. The radio stopped repeating.


Hiking up the rocky ridge, the little structure appears high in the sky. 

A yellow door with the bottom panel kicked out, keeps guard of the little stone house. Inside the small room, there are many pieces of wood, a big plastic bin of tools, and seemingly a lot of unfinished things.

There is a placard above all the mess that says "Enjoy, but do not destroy your American heritage." I may be a prude, but I think there is a thick line between enjoyment and destruction.


All of the miscellaneous items are from an anonymous do-gooder who is taking it upon himself to rebuild this little piece of American heritage, as they say. To get up to the viewing cupola, one must climb one rickety latter up to the top of a table, where there is a second iffy latter that gets you to viewing platform. 

Above, there are views of the whole wide world, or a lot of Colorado. From every direction, a window frames a different mountain range, the Maroon Bells, the West Elks, the Sawatch Range, Taylor Reservoir, and the San Juans. They are all there.

This was a damn good place for a chicken feast.

I had climbed the mountain with this strange plastic purse/basket to put the chicken in. We had traded off carrying the meat.  It seemed uncouth to put the chicken in a backpack. It needed to stay in the basket, even if it was an unconventional hiking accessory.

Up on the observation deck, there was conveniently a 5 gallon bucket, presumably from the efforts to restore the historical building.

For our purposes, the bucket was turned over to be a table for the picnic. With a golden doodle, and the four of us amigos, and our packs, there really wasn't any room to stretch out. With our knees against our chests, the lid was opened. The drumsticks were the first to be chosen from the plastic bucket. No surprise there.

For the next course we had a small cherry pie also from the grocery store. Keegan used his big old knife to carve out triangles. We did not have plates or forks. I used my bandana as a plate. It also doubled as a napkin. It was the nicest lunch I have had in a long time.

We struggled down the ladders to get back to the mountain top. It was time to head home.

There are whys that remain unanswered. For instance, I cannot tell you why fried chicken is best eaten in Pitkin. Furthermore, I can't figure out why this fire tower was needed to keep watch of a sleepy mining town. But I'm pretty sure that I know why lightening likes it up there.