There’s Still Gold In Them Thar Hills, But it May Be Fool’s Gold

By Martha Quillen

During the second week of November, most of my Facebook friends were posting glad tidings about both the national election results and Salida’s recent city council election. I should have been elated myself, since I voted for winner P.T. Wood. Wood struck me as well-informed, amiable and less partisan than his opponent, and I hoped he might inspire earnest discussion and cooperation.

But with that said? I’m not sure collaborative politics can work right now, because whether the subject is national or local, political discourse tends to be antagonistic and reduced to talking points and reflexive arguments.

I used to weigh in on whether I wanted trees planted or sidewalks repaired in Salida, but that was before accusations, counter accusations and perpetual charges of rudeness, misconduct and incompetence started dominating Salida’s public affairs. Six years ago, I routinely voted for council members and mayors, but in the last five years? I often skip that part of the ballot because local campaigning is so freighted with allegations and suppositions it would take a police investigation to sort it all out.

And I personally don’t feel comfortable even talking about, let alone deciding, whether assertions by Eileen Rogers are more or less valid than Jim LiVecchi’s claims that her assertions were libelous. It’s not that I don’t believe there are things worth fighting over, but I don’t think Salida’s procedural and line item budget issues are in that category.

On the other hand, however, I don’t actually think that’s what we are fighting about. All too often, modern issues are secondary, and sometimes totally insignificant, in comparison to the hostility displayed, likely because what citizens are really fighting about is who matters, which is downright wrong and un-American. But at this point, our political process has divided the whole country into a patchwork of conflicting peoples, and it has us battling over whether red or blue, black or white, rich or poor, Northern or Southern, Idahoan or Ohioan, administrative professionals or blue collar generalists should prevail.

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Inside Out

By John Mattingly

In a year when we’ve been learning how virtual reality actually is, an interesting pair of tomcats came to visit the farm. Though not a cat person, I do enjoy cats. A great number have come along over the years, sometimes as a gift, sometimes as a feral visitor, occasionally as an opportunist, and more than once: as a traveler behind the seat of an old truck. Early on, I decided that on a farm, a cat has to be either inside or out. It has to be fed to fatness, or fed just enough to survive another day living the precarious life of a cat, while policing rodents.

This either/or of in-or-out is probably guilty of many worthy exceptions, but without doubt, every cat that seduced me to invite it inside the house, later fell victim to predators when venturing out at night, into darkness filled with eagles, hawks, owls, coyotes, dogs and raccoons. Those cats who remained outside, living in a den of their choice while hunting – these cats lasted into old age. To live through Valley winters, a feral cat learns early that life is dangerous and some recognize the value of a little help from humans, which they reciprocate by keeping the rodents terrorized.

When a cat wanders onto the farm, the first thing I do is offer food and watch how they eat. An outside cat will take no more than a small nip of food before checking in all directions for potential attackers. An inside cat will keep its nose to the food and never look up, except if petted, and then only briefly.

Over the years, most experiences typical of farm cats have come my way. A calico named Tulip slept with the chickens and occasionally caught a ride on the back of a goat. Then there was Orpheus – a solid black cat with luminous eyes who appeared and disappeared around the yard like a ghost – until, on Halloween night, he rolled over on his back at our front door, expecting a belly rub. Mamasita, a brown female, had a nice home for herself and six kittens in the tool box of a truck I bought from someone almost a hundred miles away. Three months later they all disappeared and showed up at the seller’s farm. Kit and Kat, a pair of females, hunted together sharing the fun of cat-and-mouse for hours.

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CD Review: Peter Israel – Midnight at the Palace Hotel

By Brian Rill Songwriter Peter G. Israel is one of the many weighty names from Salida’s long musical history. He is best known for the song Midnight at the Palace Hotel, and the 2007 album that bears the same name. This catchy tune celebrates the old multi-story brick building where countless outlaws and first-class connoisseurs …

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By Tina Mitchell

favorite memory of my father starts with a cold, clear winter evening. I’m seven; we’re bundled up against the Midwest cold. I’m leaning back on him to stare up at the twinkling stars. He’s pointing out constellations and I’m feeling safe, loved and enthralled by the cosmos. Is it any wonder I love the winter night sky?

Winter constellations include some of the brightest and easiest to recognize. Circumpolar constellations – those that circle the North Pole – offer a good starting point. Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is one of the best known. Facing north, you’ll see the Big Dipper, which makes up the bear’s body and tail. These bright stars – four outlining the “bowl,” three tracing the “handle” – create one of the easiest patterns to spot in the night sky.

The Big Dipper guides you to other circumpolar constellations. For instance, Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, parallels its big brother with the Little Dipper, also containing seven stars – four in the bowl, three in the handle. Together, the dippers appear to be pouring their contents into each other. Polaris, the North Star, lies at the very end of the Little Dipper’s handle. To find Polaris, extend a line between the two outer stars of the bowl of the Big Dipper about five times the distance between them and you’ve arrived. Polaris doesn’t point exactly north, but it’s less than a degree off – about the width of your pinkie finger held against the sky – and has been vital for navigation around the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years.

Returning to the Big Dipper, trace a line from the bowl of the Big Dipper through Polaris. Continue an equal distance beyond, and you’ll find Cassiopeia, queen of Ethiopia, sitting on her throne. A very distinct shape, Cassiopeia looks like a “W” or “M” in the sky, depending on where she is in relation to the North Pole.

Not all of the interesting constellations circle the pole, though. Most others can only be seen during certain seasons. To see the Northern Hemisphere’s winter-only constellations, turn your back to the circumpolar stars and face south. Arguably the most famous seasonal constellation, Orion, the Hunter, provides an easy-to-spot starting point. Orion’s Belt anchors the constellation – three bright stars in a straight line. Orion’s sword – another row of three stars – hangs down from his belt. Actually, the middle “star” looks a bit fuzzy and isn’t a star at all. It’s the Orion Nebula, a vast and bright cloud of gas and dust.

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By Daniel Smith

Newspeople can sometimes get desensitized to even horrifying news events – after all, if you’re in the news business long enough, you’ve seen and reported about a lot of them.

Last month, when I wrote about the “numbing frequency of acts of extreme violence in this county,” in the wake of the largest mass shooting in our history at a Las Vegas county music event, I never dreamed we would see another horrific mass shooting just two weeks later at a small community church in Texas. All of the country was shocked by the insane, deliberate brutality of the attack on the congregation at the Baptist church in tiny Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Donald Trump, in expressing his own shock and sadness, still managed to bring in political controversy in commenting that the slaughter was a “mental health thing, not a gun thing.”

Fifth District Congressman Doug Lamborn posted this comment on his website:

“In stunned disbelief, we’ve learned of the loss of innocents during a community church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas. I join Colorado and the nation in mourning the tragic loss of life as we stand with the survivors, united in prayer for all families affected. From the darkness of this heinous act, we’ve also learned of one heroic citizen who took up arms to protect his community from further evil. The days ahead may shed more light on the details of this tragedy, but today, we pray, we mourn. May God bless the people of Sutherland Springs.”

So we see more photos of the victims, hear how promising, precious lives, young and old were cut short, and later learn of the troubled man with a history of yes, mental instability, and red flags and warning signs in his behavior that somehow went ignored.

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A Snapshot of Gratitude

By Hal Walter

I don’t get a lot of photo assignments, but I wish I got more like the one this past Thanksgiving week. Publisher Mike Rosso emailed, overwhelmed with a production deadline and a move. He asked if I happened to know the Rusk family and if I could perhaps take pictures of them to accompany an article about land trusts in the upcoming issue of Colorado Central.

I quickly shot back that I had actually known Randy and Claricy for a long time and would be glad to take pictures of them, though I knew it was a busy week. Subsequently it was decided that I would visit the ranch on the Monday before Thanksgiving, as the Rusks would be working cattle there most of the day.

With school out for Thanksgiving break, I loaded up my son Harrison and we headed to the Rusks that morning. The drive over there was a nostalgic journey as I thought back on just how long I had known this family, and I was startled by the fact that I could remember names of their long-dead dogs, “Sis” and “Copper.”

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The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum

By Stephen L. Whittington

The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum (NMHFM) was founded in Leadville in 1987 and occupies the former high school building, built in 1899. In 1988, the U.S. Congress granted the NMHFM a Federal charter, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan. The NMHFM is an independent non-profit organization and does not receive financial support from the Federal government. Its mission is to “tell the story of mining, its people and its importance to the American public.” The NMHFM is dedicated to presenting an accurate picture of the mining industry, its critical impact on everyday life and its place in the Nation’s future.

Each year, a class of four or five individuals who have had a significant impact on American mining and mineral extraction is inducted into the Hall of Fame. The annual Induction Banquet rotates among various cities across the country. Currently, 240 inductees have their photos and biographies displayed in the Hall of Fame and on the NMHFM’s website.

The NMHFM continuously strives to increase interest in and awareness of the importance of mining through dynamic and educational exhibits and programs. The 25,000 square feet of enlightening and interactive exhibits about past, current and future mining practices include “The World of Molybdenum,” “Buried Sunlight: Coal Mining in America,” and “Expanding Boundaries: Harrison Schmitt and the New Mining Frontier,” as well as three walk-through mine replicas. Exhibits incorporate many videos and hands-on activities.

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Dispatch From the Edge

By Peter Anderson As you head into the good cheer of the holidays, you run into an old friend on the corner downtown between the bank and the post office who happens to be hauling a hydraulic wood splitter. And you have several piñons, decimated by an influx of beetles, which have been downed and …

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News from the San Luis Valley

By Anthony Guerrero Marijuana Defeated Alamosa and Monte Vista voters soundly rejected ballot measures regarding the allowing of recreational marijuana sales within city limits. The ballot questions also asked about medical sales, cultivation and associated products. Taxing pot was approved by voters in the event that stores had been approved. In the last two years …

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Places: Our Lady of Guadalupe Church

By Daniel Smith

Nestled in the historically important San Luis Valley, the town of Conejos is the home of one of the early settlements in Colorado, dating back to the 1850s, and a religious treasure with a history appropriate to look back on at this Christmas season.

Folk legend tells of a stubborn burro which caused the first Catholic parish to be established along the Conejos River – yes, a burro.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is a picturesque edifice in Conejos, beloved by the community and well taken care of over the decades.

It was fairly recently the scene of a fire, and a sign left after the fire some of the faithful considered a miracle – more on that later.

First, some history, as outlined in local accounts and in booklets provided by the church.

The old legend says that as Spanish pioneers were making their way through the territory in the valley, they had trouble, not surprisingly, with one of the mules in their pack-train, who stopped, then was unwilling to move.

According to the story in one booklet, “persuasion, threats, beatings, all were of no avail to make the mule proceed.”

In the mule’s pack (perhaps they were taking the pack off) was found a small statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it was reported.

The Spaniards, the booklet’s account claims, declared that this must be a sign that the Blessed Virgin must want a church built in her honor, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe – on that spot. The legend says when the Spanish vowed to build a church in that exact location – the mule, “balked no more and went jogging along with the rest of the mule train.”

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Regional News Roundup

Election Results Salida voters chose a new mayor and three new councilmen in the November election. P.T. Wood beat the incumbent Jim LiVecchi with 68.91 percent of the votes to become the new mayor. Dan Shore will represent Ward 1 after winning 74.14 percent of the vote, Justin Critelli won 70.96 percent of the vote …

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About the Cover Artist: Sarah Woods

Sarah Woods grew up in Wyoming where she developed a love of wide open spaces and the wildlife that inhabit them, but it has been her 26 years living in Westcliffe that has had the greatest impact. Surrounded by scenic vistas, ranch land and incredibly diverse wildlife, Sarah feels passionate about the disappearing western landscape …

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End of the Year – A New Day

By Mike Rosso Last month we featured a cover painting by Beatris Burgoin of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range, looking east from the San Luis Valley. This month, we are looking at that very same range, but west, from the Wet Mountain Valley. This was not intentional, but turned out to be a nice …

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By Anne Marie Swan

Just north of Salida, Dawn and Curtis Emel are living their childhood dream of creating an animal sanctuary. No exotic animals here. No lions or tigers or giraffes to admire from a distance. Instead, Pearl’s Sunrize Sanctuary is closer to a petting zoo for 12 birds, four dogs, 23 cats, two sugar gliders, two ferrets and more, in and around their 800-square-foot cabin.

“We provide a forever home,” Dawn Emel said. “They’re here with us for life. I told Curtis, we may have to get rid of the kitchen table.”

I open the cabin door to a delightful cacophony. A parrot catcalls me when I step in, and silky gray cats weave between my ankles. This sanctuary is a little hectic, a little zany. Dawn hands me a sugar glider, Icarus, with soulful, brown-marble eyes. Icarus climbs my arm, tickling me, and I’m instantly charmed. I transcend time while playing with this sugar glider. I seem to have left my worries and hectic schedule outside the cabin door. Pearl’s Sunrize Sanctuary is a light, happy fun house full of animals to love up.

“It’s like having tons of two-year-olds,” Dawn said. “We’re constantly cleaning up after them. We love it. We wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Fourteen cages and two enclosures house the critters, and this is just inside. The Emels’ birds include a Green-winged macaw, an African Gray parrot, a Black-and-gold macaw, an African Ringneck parrot and a family of cockatiels that weren’t fed properly and, generally, ignored. All are thriving at Pearl’s Sunrize Sanctuary. It’s common to hear an expert rendition of R2D2 from “Star Wars” and meows and submarine sounds and thank yous around the room.

The Emels were quite a sight on the road when they hauled most of their rescued animals from southern Oregon, outside Klamath Falls, to Salida. When their car broke down in the Nevada desert, the birds made the most of it by singing French music by Pierre Felere in the moonlight.

Sadly, the Emels lost their favorite pet, a Goffin cockatoo named Pearl, and the sanctuary’s namesake, on the trip. “Pearl would have been the ambassador,” Dawn said.

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In Land we Trust

By Elliot Jackson The news coming from the Colorado State Demography Office, by way of a July 2017 article in the Denver Post, is eye-opening: by 2050, the state’s population is predicted to rise to 8.5 million – a 50 percent increase from 2015 levels. Most of this growth is projected to take place along …

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Quillen’s Corner: The Conflicts Within

By Martha Quillen

By October, I found myself thoroughly bewildered by conflicting viewpoints about Salida’s attorney, Ben Kahn. To hear local activists tell it, he is either terrific or incompetent, which put me in a wait and see mode. But then a candidate told me he thought getting rid of Kahn was an important objective, and I thought in that case I’d better re-evaluate some things before I vote.

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George Sibley: Down on the Ground with Chicago and L.A.

By George Sibley

A quarter-century ago, shortly before starting this magazine, Ed Quillen wrote a major essay for High Country News – preceded by a two-day conference in Denver Ed had instigated with HCN publisher Ed Marston and the Pacific Foundation, assembling a motley of regional journalists, environmentalists, educators and other western thinkers to explore the question (slightly subversive, given the location): “Is Denver necessary?”

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Farmer Far Afield: In Biology We Trust

By John Mattingly

Fall is a seductive time. The changing colors, rich afternoon light and impending curiosity about the approach of winter. The hot days of summer become a memory and life in the garden moves to preparation rather than anticipation. Regardless of how difficult the summer, the summer solstice and Halloween feel like a reward for enduring the worries of water, weather, weeds and varmints. And larger four-legged mammals.

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The Real Deal Music Review: Brian Rill – Waterfall

Reviewed by Michael Andre

To meet Brian Rill in person gives no clue of the talent and musicianship lying beneath his placid and easygoing exterior. He moves with decisiveness, but his languid way of speaking in a deep, rumbling baritone is more akin to the liquid flow of a river. Nowhere are these characteristics more evident than in his music. With dulcet tones reminiscent of Don Henley’s best work, Rill’s voice is both soothing and energizing. In fact, there’s a thread of virtuosity running deep through his latest ten-track CD release, Waterflow. While Waterflow is marketed as Country/Alt-Country, it manages to straddle several genres – country, folk, rock, honky-tonk, even rumba – each of them performed to perfection. This multi-faceted song writer and performer is a stellar addition to any discerning music aficionado’s collection. Yet he manages to come off as humble and unassuming at the same time.

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Dispatch From the Edge

By Peter Anderson

How long are you going to be around?” my 13-year-old daughter asked Hester who was ringing up our groceries at the Mercantile. Some years ago, Hester, left town for a while after her husband died. More recently she returned and now has her old job back. Though I don’t know for sure – we are really only acquaintances – I think she went back to Montana to get a little family support, while her son, who had been pals with my older daughter, was making his way through high school. He’s doing well now, I learned, as I ran my credit card through the machine that I have never quite mastered. Credit? Debit? Slide? Insert? Graduated from high school, Hester’s son is apprenticed to an auto mechanic in Missoula who works on Fords, Chevies and Subarus. All good news. But it was her reply to Caroline’s question – how long she would be around – that really caught my attention. “For the rest of my life,” she said.

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Museums of Central Colorado: The Fort Garland Museum

From the Civil War in the West exhibit at Fort Garland. Courtesy of the Fort Garland Museum.

By Anita McDaniel

Western expansion fueled the need for frontier forts. The primary purpose of these forts was to keep the peace between the settlers and the indigenous people.

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Book Review: Richard Sopris in Early Denver

Richard Sopris in Early Denver
by Linda Bjorklund
History Press 2016, 138 pages
ISBN 978.1 46713.593.1

Reviewed by Forrest Whitman

Richard Sopris is one of the least known of the early Colorado influential leaders. This book should help correct that. A “fifty-niner,” arriving during the 1859 gold rush, he was one of the earliest miners and explored many possible gold panning streams. He “discovered” Glenwood Springs and a mountain near there is named for him.

Sopris is best remembered as mayor of Denver from 1878 to 1881. During that time he worked to develop a park system and is best known for establishing City Park. He went on to be one of the founders of the Colorado Historical and Natural History Society (what today is History Colorado and the Natural History Museum). Wherever the action was, Sopris was in it or around it.

Particularly interesting are several accounts of early Denver. The “Bummers wars” were wild affairs. This group of ruffians fought with the vigilance committees during the so-called “turkey wars.” The bummers were quick to steal things, including a cartload of turkeys. This war led to Richard’s career in law enforcement. In 1865 he was elected sheriff of what was then Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory. Later he was put in charge of the Denver jail. He also worked for the new Denver Pacific Railroad that hooked Denver up to the rest of the nation.

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Off Trail: Finding My Way Home in the Colorado Rockies – EXCERPT

By Jane Parnell

The following is an excerpt from the new book, Off Trail: Finding My Home in the Colorado Rockies by Jane Parnell of Fairplay, Colorado, which will be released in January 2018. Jane is a freelance writer and independent scholar. She has taught journalism at Utah State University and writing at Colorado Mountain College, and her articles, editorials and essays with the byline Jane Koerner have been published in High Country News, Mountain Gazette, Colorado Central Magazine and Outdoor Adventure.

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Perfect Imperfection

By Jennifer Welch

My heifer has a penis. If you remember, it wasn’t too long ago that I was waiting for my dairy cow to calve. And I called heifer. So you can imagine my surprise when my heifer was born … with a penis. Damn. I guess it’s true that we can’t always get what we want. But I did get a bull calf, which I aptly christened Boy Named Sue. So it would appear that, if we try sometimes, we get what we need. This seems to be a recurring theme in my existence.

After last summer, I wasn’t sure where the food truck or the farm were heading – if anywhere. I had to ask myself some very hard questions. And what’s worse, I had to answer them. When we learned that we wouldn’t be offered another lease at the distillery, one of my employees mentioned that she might know of a good spot for the bus just up the street. A new couple, Rick and Katy, had purchased a building and lot on East Main and had moved to the valley from Chicago. I reluctantly reached out with an email and a hopeful heart. The rest, as they say, is history. The bus moved into a new location, we gained new friends, and the farm remained secure and stable. 

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Water Update

By John Orr


Several tributaries of the Colorado River get their start in the crags of the Central Colorado mountains. Storied rivers: Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and the powerhouse Gunnison. They’ve all faced the footstep of humankind. The mines dotting the slopes, hay fields, ranching, orchards and cornfields bear witness and are now part of the allure of the high country. Folks cast a line, shoot rapids and enjoy the scenery of those waterways.

On September 27, 2017, the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico inked Minute 323, the amendment to the 1944 United States-Mexico Treaty for Utilization of Water covering operations on the Colorado, Rio Grande and Tijuana rivers. (The Rio Grande is another of Central Colorado’s contributions to the Western U.S. economy.)

An important part of Minute 323 are environmental flows for the Colorado River Delta. Most everyone knows the river doesn’t reach the sea any longer. Environmental streamflow was initiated under Minute 319 signed by then Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

In March 2016 a diverse group of conservationists, biologists, irrigators and government officials effected a release of 100,000 acre-feet of water from Morelos Dam into the dry Colorado River Delta. There was a line of vehicles racing point to point along the river to witness the river’s front. At San Luis Rio Colorado, most of the residents went down to the river to celebrate the return of the river although many had no memory of running water in the sandy channel.

There was a great deal of success from channeling some of the streamflow to restoration sites in the Delta. Within weeks, new growth sprouted – cottonwoods and willows. Much of the diverted water served to replenish groundwater supplies. Wildlife immediately started using the habitat.

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Victor: The End of the Road

By Mike Rosso

Victor, Colorado, is not on the way to anywhere else. To get there requires dedicated purpose.

Those arriving for the first time will discover a time capsule of a town, a place that seems left behind from the modern world, yet still occupied by a hearty citizenry, who seem to prefer living at the proverbial end of the road.

The discovery of gold in the region in 1890 led to the creation of Victor in 1891, the “City of Mines,” along with neighboring Cripple Creek. At its peak around the turn of the century, there were nearly 18,000 residents in Victor and it was once the fourth-largest city in Colorado, but after World War I, the town saw a steep decline due to a labor war, depleted ore and the exodus of miners. The 2010 census has the town at around 397 souls.

In 1985, Victor was designated a national historic district, which led to the arrival of tourists. In 1991 Colorado voters allowed for legalized gambling to occur in certain towns in Colorado and nearby Cripple Creek became one of them, but the residents of Victor opted out, which is one of the reasons the town has maintained its charm and not become an old West facade for casinos like its neighbor to the northwest. Many employees of Cripple Creek’s casinos call Victor home. The Cripple Creek and Victor Mine still operates near town and is the largest current producer of gold in Colorado.

Walking the streets of the town, one is struck by the historic architecture, some of it crumbling, and some in the process of restoration. There is no Starbucks here, but evidence of its mining past is everywhere, in and on the outskirts of town. 

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About the Cover Artist: Beatris Burgoin

Beatris Burgoin was born and raised in southern Baja California, Mexico, as a member of an artistic family. She started painting when she was 19 and recuperating from a car accident. She’s been developing her style for over 17 years and has evolved into a modernistic oil painter utilizing only three primary colors and white. Residing in Crestone, Colorado, she has become a very prolific artist and finds that with Crestone’s big spaces, natural beauty and loud silence, she has room to grow and go deep into her artistic path. In Crestone she has explored different forms of art while continuing to develop technics in oil painting. Her artwork has been acquired by collectors around the globe, including Europe, Latin America, the Western Pacific and North America.

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The Perfect Season

By Hal Walter

It was one of those awkward encounters. A casual acquaintance threw out a random statement and it made me think.

In this case it was in a grocery store and the statement was essentially that there’s such a gap in this country, everything from homeless people “doing nothing” begging in the streets and living under bridges, all the way up to Bill Gates.

This seemed interesting to me because it is believed that a high percentage of homeless people may be autistic, and it’s also been speculated that Bill Gates may be on the spectrum.

My answer to this was that yes, we sure do have a gap and I’m not sure people at one end are doing more than people at the other. This brought a look of total surprise, and the response that “I think Bill Gates does a lot” and that he does so much philanthropy.

I said Bill Gates probably does appear to do a lot because he is wealthy enough to have people do a lot of things for him. In fact a close friend received her Masters in Library Science from Denver University through a scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, though I‘m fairly certain the benefactors did not personally sign the check.

But homeless people do a lot, too – they have to scrounge for food, and yes, often alcohol and drugs, find places to sleep, worry about their safety and try to stay warm in the winter.

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Center: In the Middle of the San Luis Valley

By Anthony Guerrero

There is a small town in the center of the San Luis Valley and its location has gifted it with the name Center, Colorado. It is also not uncommon to hear the Spanish pronunciation, Centro since it is populated by a very large Hispanic and immigrant population.

Center was incorporated on January 19, 1907. It has a population of 2,271 as of the 2012 census. That population generally swells by an additional 800 to 1,000 in the summer months due to migrant farmworkers. Close to 90 percent of residents are of Latino descent and a little over 10 percent are Caucasian.

Center resides primarily in Saguache County, and interestingly enough, a small portion, south of Colo. Highway 112 is located in Rio Grande County.

Photo by Mike Rosso

The town is easily identified by the large water tower displaying its name hovering over, letting every visitor know where they are.

Center is not really a tourist destination although there are great opportunities to experience regional culture. The town is mostly the home to hard-working families who help sustain the San Luis Valley’s lifeblood, the agricultural industry.

It is home to one bank, one school, a post office, a dance hall, the preferred Catholic church among other denominations, a popular Alta Convenience gas station, two parks, a few other businesses and multiple restaurants. 

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Greenback Cutthroat Trout Update

By Tina Mitchell

In July, 2016, a lightning strike sparked the Hayden Pass Fire in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Within days, it had exploded into a 26-square-mile conflagration that forced area residents to evacuate. As they prepared to head out, firefighters raced in. Following close behind, a team of more than 30 specially trained wildlife staff and volunteers had one goal in mind – to save a fish from this fire. Not just any fish, but a genetically unique subspecies of greenback cutthroat trout found only in the South Prong of Hayden Creek, near Coaldale.

When they arrived at the lowest mile of the creek, the team found decent conditions. The fish were going about their ordinary pursuits. But for Greg Policky, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) aquatic biologist heading the rescue effort, the biggest concern wasn’t necessarily the fire itself but the potential after-effects such as flash flooding and sediments or ash inundating the stream. By the end of the day, the wildlife team had removed 196 greenbacks from the South Prong. The Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery, between Gunnison and Crested Butte, took 158 of the fish. The remainder were released in Newlin Creek, a small stream in the Wet Mountains south of Cañon City. The team also left several hundred fish in the South Prong, hoping that any subsequent monsoon rains would spare the drainage so that these remaining fish could survive in their natural habitat.

Why put so much effort into the South Prong greenback cutthroat trout? Once widespread in the Arkansas and South Platte river drainages along the Front Range from Wyoming to New Mexico, the greenback subspecies of the cutthroat trout currently inhabits less than one percent of its historic range. Focusing on this one of the four subspecies of cutthroat trout found in Colorado, extensive genetic work in 2012 revealed that this native cutthroat subspecies now existed only in a four-mile stretch of a single stream – Bear Creek, along the eastern flank of Pikes Peak. This same genetic work revealed another surprise. The greenbacks in the South Prong of Hayden Creek – and now in the Roaring Judy hatchery and Newlin Creek – contain genes found in no other living fish. In fact, their genes match only two museum specimens in the Smithsonian Institution, collected in 1889 by ichthyologist David Starr Jordan from Twin Lakes, near Leadville. (See this column in the November, 2016, archive of Colorado Central at for more background on this subspecies.)

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The Rusty Lung: Salida’s Newest Trail

By Mike Rosso

Since 2006, a group of volunteers named Salida Mountain Trails (SMT) have been steadily increasing the number and quality of non-motorized, multi-use trails in the Salida vicinity.

Margaret Knight on the new Rusty Lung Trail near Salida. Photo by Ben Knight,

The latest addition to the extensive trail system harkens back to the early days of mountain biking in the area. Back in the 1980s, mountain biking was beginning to be taken up by more and more riders. It offered an off-road, nature-based experience. Two early Salida pioneers of the sport, Don McClung and the late Mike Rust, developed a loop trail on the backside of Tenderfoot Mountain on Bureau of Land Management property. It was steep, rocky and challenging, especially in the pre-suspension days of the ‘80s, and named The Sunset Trail by another early Salida mountain biker, Jack Chivvis.

McClung, a bike designer and builder, began riding what he called “a faint animal game trail,” in a 1988 Mountain Mail story about the mountain biking opportunities which were opening up back then. Unfortunately, the original trail disappeared in private property and was eventually abandoned as new, legal trails began popping up.

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Gardening in Circles: Give Peas a Chance

By John Mattingly

Shutting down a garden is like saying goodbye to a good old friend who visited for the summer, a friend who challenged you, fed you, worked you, taught you the upside of patience and sharpened your powers of observation and contemplation.

You knew the friend had to leave, but in the course of the season you tossed that onto the compost heap. It seemed the friend would always be there, connecting body and soul through Earth and sun.

As the end of September approaches, a gardener becomes attentive to the cool feel of the morning air, and takes measures to keep the friend around a while longer, and makes an effort to preserve the friend’s bounty to bring light to the dark days of winter.

In the Valley, frost-free days after mid-September are a gift, even though the heat units are few. Many nights the temperature drops to 33 degrees and then bounces up to 60 in the first hour of sun. This can be good for curing some crops, but inevitably reminds us that our friend is packing up, getting ready to go.

One consolation is that much of the work of a garden continues in all seasons: working with the aftermath and thinking about rotation and expansion options for next year.

One of the farmers I learned a lot from in my youth asked me, “When does next year begin?”

Thinking it was a simple calendar question, I said, “January first.”

He put a rough, gnarly hand on my shoulder. “Son, next year starts right now, in the fall of this year.”

He went on to explain that the way you treat your stubble and your ground in the fall makes all the difference next spring.

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The Last Word: Commissioner Hal?

By Hal Walter

The early morning phone call caught me by surprise. It was a longtime and well-respected friend and neighbor. As I was rushing about trying to get my son Harrison to the school bus, he quickly explained he was calling on behalf of some local citizens hoping to draft me to run for county commissioner. They felt I had a good chance of winning.

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Quillen’s Corner: Being Top Dog Is Overrated

Columbine and Bodie.

By Martha Quillen

Everything I ever really needed to know I could have learned from my dog. But for some reason I didn’t realize how smart he was until after he was gone. Bodie died last month (with a jolt of assistance from the vet). He’d started getting sick about three months earlier, and the vet prescribed an antibiotic.

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Places – Hawkinsville: An Obscure Ghost Town

These are just a few of the cabins at Low Pass, located in Low Pass Gulch north of Hawkinsville. Those living in these cabins worked at the Granite Tunnel, at the Belle of Granite stamp mill or at one of the area mines.

Story and photos by Kenneth Jessen

On the east side of the Arkansas River, north of the town of Granite, were several small mining camps based on the discovery of gold ore in 1860s. Historically obscure, they are only mentioned in passing in ghost town books. Hawkinsville, in Hawkinsville Gulch, was not really a town and more of a named location. There are a few scattered cabin ruins today, but there were probably many more during its peak.

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The Real Deal Music Review: Benny Bowmaster – Lucky Dogs

By Brian Rill

The most popular musician in Salida may not be who you think it is and in fact, you probably have never heard of him. If you haven’t heard Benny Bowmaster then you’re in the same river boat that I was until I witnessed one of the most amazing turnouts in history for a local musician at The Muse speakeasy one night in Salida. Benny is a musician’s musician, so it’s not a mystery as to why he is vastly unknown except for within the somewhat wide expanse of Salida troubadours. What I saw one night was a collection of all the best Salida guitar pickers from the past twenty years gathered together to listen to this one unassuming songwriter perform named Benny Bowmaster.

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