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A Colorado ‘Hi’

Letter from F.a. Rios

Colorado – May 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

Amigo Ed:

Two items in your April issue cause me to respond. They may or may not be related. One, Colorado’s new state song, “Rocky Mountain High.” Two: “Properly answering the call of Nature.” Let me begin with No. 2.

The thousands who annually answer the call of Nature in Colorado’s mountains today have made even one-day climbs a disgusting experience. Camping for a week is out of the question. By contrast, I think back to my first deer-hunting trip that I made for five days in the Uncompahgre plateau in the late 1940s, when it was possible not to see other hunters across an entire day, much less their toilet paper and associated litter.

These days, my wife and I avoid the mountains, which is a shame. Even as late as the early 70s, we delighted in the relatively intact beauty of Colorado’s mountains: the incomparable high-mesa country between Rangely and Grand Junction, Red Mountain Pass, Còrdova Pass and its natural overlook of the Spanish Peaks, the great wall of the Sangre de Cristo range that sometimes looks like a painted backdrop. We’re glad now that these sights lifted us to our own silent, spiritual heights then. It probably won’t happen again.

Then there’s that “new state song.” What a travesty. It ignores the “other Colorado,” the Colorado to the east of I-25– the high plains, the rolling hills, the river bottoms, the cottonwoods and the people who settled there generations ago. There is so much to see in Eastern Colorado. Begin with a drive on Highway 385 from Julesburg to Springfield. Visit the Beecher Island Battleground. Ride the old Elitch Gardens Carousel in Burlington. Have a great steak dinner in Cheyenne Wells. Tour the ruins of Amache and try to imagine the life of loyal, imprisoned Japanese-Americans.

St. Mary’s Holy Dormition Orthodox Church in Calhan, the restored Bent’s Fort, Comanche National Grassland, Picketwire Canyon, the Santa Fe Trail, Rocky Ford cantaloupes, Highway 71 from Limon through Last Chance and Punkin Center to Ordway, the lonely beauty of fields and hills from Byers east to Joes and Idalia on Highway 36– these are the sights people miss if they think that Colorful Colorado is mountains, and nothing else. And, since you’re in the neighborhood, stop at the Nokra Café in Akron. The portions are huge and the prices are out of the 1950s.

When you drive this country, folks, be sure you have plenty of gas. We tried it and, believe me, there’s no chance of finding gas in Last Chance. Oh, and don’t take your hand off the steering wheel to wave a friendly greeting at that farmer or rancher in a pickup truck that’s coming your way. Just lift your right forefinger casually. He’ll get the message and answer you the same way. Now that’s a Colorado “Hi.”

F. A. Ríos