Despite the appearance of new snow on the La Platas, summer officially has arrived. It owes its onset not to the tilting of the earth to give the northern hemisphere a better angle toward the sun, but to the National Holiday Act of 1971, which gave Americans a three-day weekend that included the Monday after the last Sunday in May. This year, the holiday fell as early as it possibly could.
In Southwest Colorado, bicycle racers, classic car enthusiasts, and other outdoor recreationists did their best to ignore fast-moving clouds and occasional downpours.
The second most frequently asked question of the weekend after queries inviting speculation about the weather was whether this summer's tourist season would be a profitable one. That is a hard prediction to make. The tourism segment of the economy always is a wild card, and a great deal depends on who shows up to play. Millions fewer Americans have jobs this year, and many more are underemployed or insecurely employed. Common sense suggests most of them will not be taking vacations.
Other factors are difficult to read. The dollar is weak, which might attract foreign travelers, but the economy is shaky everywhere. Gas prices, predictably, are up. Retirees whose income depends on investments are feeling the pinch. There simply is less money circulating through the economy, and those who have less spend less. All of that could mean fewer visitors, which is bad. It could mean more people taking driving vacations to scenic areas they had always wished to visit, which is good. It could mean that the lower-income travelers play a smaller role and those who otherwise might be visiting more exotic locations will come here instead, probably still a net gain.
Or it could mean nearly anything, and there still are more factors that might come into play. Swine flu has receded from the public awareness, but that could change. There always is the possibility of a bad wildfire season, with attractions closed and smoke obscuring the scenery.
Right now, though, the landscape is lush and green, and for the first weekend, at least, hotel occupancy rates were good. That suggests that visitation will not be as sparse as some doomsayers predicted. This region just needs to keep doing a good job of marketing itself as a great vacation destination.
Once visitors are here, each person they meet needs to be a promoter, suggesting more to do in Southwest Colorado. When money is flowing freely and gas is cheap, the next town down the road is a strong temptation for travelers. Now they have more incentive to settle in for a few days and see all the sights within a small circle that has a Southwest Colorado community as its center. Opportunities abound; after all, residents live here for years on end without running out of things to do. The vast reaches of public lands make vacationing here very affordable as opposed to visiting, say, New York City.
This is an unsettled time. By Labor Day, summer's other bookend, much may be different. That alone is a good reason to make hay while the sun shines. Right now, with all of June, July and August still ahead, the possibilities seem nearly limitless, but that is not an illusion on which anyone should bank.