MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. -- I was returning from a hike up Mount Vigil, the peak you can see from the Ranch at Emerald Valley, near Colorado Springs, when a leathery-faced cowboy walked by, humming a tune and leading a horse.
At the same moment, a car pulled up and the driver, eyes masked behind dark sunglasses, leaned out and asked for directions to the ranch, which just happened to be where I was staying.
I would have answered, but at that moment the old cowboy stopped dead, looked at the license plate -- "Texas," he muttered -- looped the reins around the saddle horn and unwrapped a piece of gum. Then he pointed down the road. "That way," he said.
"Thanks," said the driver, hesitating. "I'm Tony," he added. "Say, do you know why they call it Emerald Valley? Was there a gold mine here? Gemstones, maybe?"
Curious myself, and still out of breath, I stepped closer, the better to hear.
"Well now, I couldn't say," replied the cowboy, pulling a dented army canteen off his belt. "I've wondered on it myself. Might be for them green trees, a hideaway-like, where a person can git away and think.
"They used to call it Camp Vigil, after that mountain there. Real special for old Mr. Penrose, Spencer Penrose he was, the man who built the first lodge up there on Cheyenne Mountain. Back in the 1920s, that was."
The cowboy paused for another long swallow. "The way they tell it," he said, "he'd git down here with his friends, sittin' up late, telling stories about mountain climbing and all. That's a purty fine log cabin he had, the one they still got. It's renovated now, with a real bar, all chinked up, nice and tight. You'll see. No rain gittin' in there.
"All kind of trees shades them log cabins, and your creek has a waterfall and lakes stocked regular with trout. The cabin on the hill is a palace, big enough for weddings and such. The cook's in the kitchen most days, handy with the fixin's. I stop in now and then and he makes me a plate."
When the cowboy took another swallow I spoke up. "Is Spencer Penrose the one who built the zoo at the bottom of the mountain, and every time there was a parade he rode the elephant through town?"