Pearl Lake State Park
|Updated September 16, 2009
My most recent ancestors were a persistent bunch of Western Slope pioneers, who knew the likes of Butch Cassidy and Tom
Horn. Through some “better-than-John Wayne-style” true grit – Granddad eventually grew the largest sheep company in the
United States on the Colorado/Wyoming border. As years passed, Granddad died, the sheep industry shrunk, and Grandma
sold most of the many acres of land. But she kept one small piece of land where mom’s family continued to summer each year.
Summers at Grandma’s were a special time for me because I got to interact with my favorite cousin, Patrick. (As a side note,
Patrick’s Granddad owned the construction firm that built our Montrose Courthouse). I loved Patrick because, like me, he was an
undying optimist. Our youthful confidence was targeted on capturing frogs and other reptiles. Patrick would return to his
California home each fall, only to re-emerge with some cutting-edge frog-hunting contraption that he had solicitously invented
over the winter months. We would awaken early on most days to tromp joyfully through the countryside in search of the elusive
With this (now rather well-developed) eye for reptile movement, I somehow managed to capture a garter snake who was
slithering beneath my feet as I was walking down the road to grandma’s one afternoon. I was thrilled –Patrick had already
returned to California – so this prize was all mine to savor!
I took my slinky friend into the house and my Aunt Pearl said I would need to find a jar to put him in. So, off Pearl and I went to the
family dumping grounds (that are now, by the way, a State Park campground for Pearl Lake – a Park aptly named after my
Grandma – also a Pearl).
We looked for just the right size and shape for a jar. Finally, after weeding through the pungent dump for several minutes – we
found the perfect match. I quickly returned to grandma’s, cleaned out the jar and poked air holes in the lid with hammer and nail
– and let my new pet loose in his novel home.
My relatives seemed to have varying reactions to this new addition to the family. However, our suppertime conversation did turn
to my decision on the snake’s name. Without a moment’s pause, I said “His name is Sweet Gee-Her-kins.” (I am almost certain
my pronunciation was less than stellar.) My mom and several of her sisters suddenly got these quizzical smiles on their faces.
Next, someone asked me where I got the name. I replied: “It was on the side of the jar that we found at the dump for him”. When
I explained my naming process to my elders, one by one the quizzical smiles turned into roaring waves of laughter. After a few
moments of therapeutic amusement (that helped ease this snake into the family) – my mom explained to me that sweet
gherkins were pickles.
While not intentional, apparently my method of allowing my family to bond with my snake worked because he made it home with
me that fall – still in his special jar. Where my wisdom failed was in my decision of where to place the jar when we got back
home to Estes Park. I placed it on the back of the downstairs toilet so everyone would see my trophy several times a day.
The bonding did not go that far, because soon Sweet Gherkins was missing from his jar. In some sort of Butch Cassidy-style
escape – the lid was still on but no snake inside. I asked at dinner if anyone had seen him. My older sister shot me a very
strange look – one that immediately made her my prime suspect.
So – forget the Butch Cassidy theory – we can all recall Tom Horn, who did not want sheep on cattle land. I think Sis did not want
snakes on her commode and – well – toilets are quieter than guns. Unlike Tom Horn, she would never stand trial because I
could never gather enough compelling evidence to convict her of this unthinkable crime.
But wait – I am an optimist! Reptiles thrive in water! To this day, I have an image of Sweet Gherkins, now the size of some Lock
Ness monster, alive and well in the Estes Park sewer system. Sis – if you ever visit Estes Park – I would watch your backside!