Chastity Ridge

Humans of each generation live with a certain hubris, thinking that we know more than we do and unaware of our vast ignorance. Not that long ago we believed that the sun revolves around the earth; that our bodies are controlled by four “humours”; and that bad weather results from quarreling gods.

Until last week, we even thought we knew the exact location of the Continental Divide as it passes through western Colorado. Although any geologist could tell you that water west of the Divide flows toward the Pacific Ocean and water east of it flows toward either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic, not one geologist in ten thousand could have told you that the Continental Divide precisely bisects room 47 of the 4UR Guest Ranch in southwest Colorado.

Those geologists would have referred you to this map of southwestern Colorado showing the Divide jutting westward for miles before returning to its general north/south orientation.

Erroneous Contintental Divide Map (The Green Line)

The map is wrong.

You see that portion of the green line jutting to the west? All wrong. Instead, the Divide runs due north/south straight through Wagon Wheel Gap. That imaginary westward jag on the map results from human hubris.

Wagon Wheel Gap

How do I know this and why do I dare fly in the face of scientific consensus? Personal experience, that’s why.

We’re just back from our annual trip to 4UR to bird, fish, eat, and sleep. This year we were assigned to Room 47 which has a brand new king-size mattress in it. The mattress runs north/south, bisecting the room.

The Continental Divide runs precisely through the middle of that mattress. A high, narrow ridge defines the Divide in the middle of that mattress. A person on the east side of that mattress rolls toward the Gulf of Mexico. A person on the west side will roll – unless stopped by the wall – all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

We named it Chastity Ridge.

Any attempt at physical contact between two people in that bed presents great danger to both. Meeting in the middle of that mattress or trying to cross it can result in a fall half-way across the continent. A cup of coffee spilling on top of Chastity Ridge adds one-half cup of moisture to the Pacific Ocean and one-half cup to the Gulf of Mexico. If it were possible for oil to run up-hill, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would end at the center line of that mattress. Sexual congress is flatly impossible. Honeymooners should request a different room when booking.

And, as we’ve told you before, you ought to go sometime. When summer clouds build to the west, obscuring the sunlight and bringing moisture laden breezes to the valley floor and the trout begin to rise, no finer place on earth exists. All human toil and trouble fade away and melt into the mountains. Stress falls away, more fundamental rhythms return, and daily aggravations are far away. At 4UR, everything levels out.

The Divide also bisects the Dining Room, marked by this rifle

Except the Continental Divide. And human ignorance.

Of all humans, perhaps none are more aware of our species’ ignorance than research scientists. They live every day of their professional lives trying to push back the boundaries of what we don’t know. (That is why I’m certain geologists will be happy to know of their mistaken placement of the Continental Divide. Scientists always must adjust their views of material reality when new data surfaces.)

We met two such scientists last week, both of whom run a laboratory doing basic research into when and how a stem cell decides to become a neuron rather than a toe nail. Vigorous cross-examination of them both resulted in a deep personal awareness of just how ignorant I really am. For instance, I did not know that a single neuron cell runs from my lower back all the way to my foot. That length presents significant challenges for that neuron – and its mates – which must communicate with its far distant, distal end. Nor did I know about the intricacies of a stem cell’s DNA’s instructions to its RNA resulting in proteins telling the cell what to become and how to behave. (In fact, I’m so ignorant that I’m not even sure that last sentence makes sense and they were very patient explaining and used really small words.) They study the spatial regulation of genes within the cell. I think.

Wagon Wheel Gap

But there is nothing wrong with ignorance. In fact, awareness of our ignorance drives our progress. Calling me “ignorant” is not an insult; it’s just a truthful statement that applies to us all. Born with only five paltry senses and living such short life spans, nothing else is possible.

So it’s a good idea to converse with people who know stuff about which you know little or nothing. Not only do you relieve a wee bit of your ignorance by talking with them, you also are reminded that we all see through a glass and darkly and so must remain humble.

And, if you should find yourself in conversation with a geologist, ask about Chastity Ridge. The good geologists, the humble ones, will know about it.


Long time readers may remember last year’s entry about 4UR and the liability release guests are required to sign. It’s shorter this year – only two pages – and nowhere nearly as entertaining. I was forced to sign the thing before they would let me go fish. It was an outrage, but I signed it anyway.

An insider’s pun appears in this post. Persons finding it might receive a prize. Or not.

The erroneous maps were constructed at the marvelous government mapping site and atlas.

For more on the scientists, here is the home page of their laboratory.


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