Color, and plenty of it

As I drove down highway 115 Tuesday morning, I kept my eyes peeled for the telltale sign indicating the turn off to the May Museum of the Tropics - a concrete Hercules beetle the size of a minivan (only slightly smaller than actual size).

In 1903 in South Africa, a fellow by the name of William May began a noble quest to document and exhibit insects of the tropics. By the time he died in 1956, he had amassed what is still considered to be the largest and most diverse collections of tropical arthropoda in the world. William also worked tirelessly during his lifetime along with his son to put together displays for public events and world fairs so he could teach people about these extraordinary creatures.
A tiny but well kept RV park south of Colorado Springs has become the repository of William’s vast collection, a collection so large that only a fraction of the more than 100,000 specimens he collected are on display at any one time.
When I arrived, the woman who took my admission fee had to open the door and turn on the lights – sadly it seems the museum doesn’t have many visitors outside of bored campers. I started my tour by watching a wonderfully hokey 60s era educational film on insects, but quickly became impatient to move on to the collection, bolting from my chair just as the narrator began his riveting explanation of bee hierarchy.
As soon as I entered the single small room which serves as the museum, I was delighted. Not only were there insects of every color and shape and size, but I discovered that the specimens were arrayed by the legion in simple shadow boxes that still bore William's original handwritten labels. One of the qualities I’ve come to value tremendously in the many, many visits I’ve made to myriad museums both large and small is the intimacy and personality of how things are displayed. So often, in an attempt to appear world class or important, narrative voice or character is eliminated - no personality, no opinion. Fortunately, the May Museum has not succumbed to modern sanitation. I’m probably not your typical viewer, but I much more enjoy seeing something when I can picture the person that made it. When I see one of William’s handwritten labels (e.g., New Guinea, April 12, 1930), I envision an intrepid explorer (with pith helmet, natch) braving the wilds of the tropics to share a gorgeous iridescent green butterfly with me. I get to enjoy a relationship outside of the typical sterile delivery of text that merely informs, but does not inspire.
I very much enjoyed my tour but quickly became overwhelmed with the sheer numbers and varieties of insects I encountered in my circuit around the room. I of course delighted in the iridescent beetles (William even had several of the very rarest gold and silver beetles in his collection) but it was the katydids that I learned to love on this visit. Their extraordinary abilities to mimic vegetation with ridges and nodes and spikes was downright amazing. Another thing I particularly enjoyed was seeing beetles that were literally as big as the head of a dog. I’d never seen any real specimens of that size and it was strangely thrilling to imagine encountering one in the wild.

After taking in as much as I possibly could, I left the little island of anachronism and headed back out onto the open road. My task this day, now that I had absorbed all the magical color and form of the insect world that I could, was to simply drive through Colorado on roads that made my car hum and swerve. I chose roads from the map that were festooned with dots, indicating scenic splendor and was not disappointed in the least.

As I began to gain in altitude, I was delighted to see that the lovely quivering aspens that had been robed in chartreuse and gold in my previous day's travel were here cloaked in vibrant oranges and reds due to their greater proximity to the sunlight and cool air. The azure sky and brilliant white clouds made the perfect backdrop for the delicate aspens that lay tucked in lines and clusters among the timber covering the mountainsides.
It was a joyous and satisfying day of driving. The car was a genuine pleasure to pilot and the scenery a gratifying display. As I meandered along, I selected Steamboat Springs as my terminus for the evening which would put me within striking distance of Logan, Utah, where I planned to spend several days with my friend Bruce. As I pulled into town, the choice for my night's lodging became perfectly obvious - how could I not stop at a place that sported a giant pink neon rabbit head? After checking in, I happily donned my jacket and walked to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant in a mist of light rain. My dinner was delicious and after a pleasant stroll back to my room in what had become a steady drizzle, I opened the window of my room to let in the cool air and delicious patter of rain and took to bed, comforted by the pink glow of neon that bathed the room.

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