Of Boomtimes Past: The Road to Wellsville

By Ron Sering

Not much goes on these days in sparsely populated Wellsville, a few miles east of Salida, off U.S. Hwy 50. Home now to a couple of modest mining and milling operations and several private residences, the booms that had periodically rippled through the state have passed it by for many years. But that was not always the case.

There is some evidence that Native Americans once spent winters in the area, but Wellsville, the town, was founded in the late 1800s by namesake George Wells. Drawn by the area’s mineral wealth, miners worked the dry hills and canyons for gold, silver, copper, and quick lime, but most prominently for travertine, a sedimentary rock commonly formed from the action of hot springs. Prized as a building material since Roman times, travertine from Wellsville quarries was used in numerous public building projects, including the state Capitol in Denver and the Department of Commerce building in Washington D.C.

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About the Cover Photograph

CC-CoverMay2014FINALOn a visit to the Saguache County Museum last summer, we discovered this beautiful, hand-colored photograph of a young boy on his tricycle as part of their collection. Museum Director Dorraine Gasseling was kind enough to let us rephotograph it and use it as this month’s cover.

The photo is of Saguache native, Jack Redhead, son of Mabel Redhead, according to a note on the back of the photo. The back is also stamped with “Hand Colored De Luxe Kodak Enlargement Made by Broome Bros., Pueblo, Colo.” Jack was born in 1920, so the photo probably dates back to the mid-20s.

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The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

By Phillip Benningfield

Imagine cursing a face full of persistent 25- mph wind, eating food like it was your last meal, being shocked by vistas beyond your expectations, and resting at an idyllic campsite. You’ll then have a very small taste of riding a bike along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Throughout the quiet, the pastoral, the mountainous expanses of this spectacular region of Colorado, a serpentine route for bicyclists exists that takes one far away from local issues, errands and busy summer months.

A portion of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) travels over 300 miles from Breckenridge, Colorado, over Boreas Pass through Como and Hartsel, across the Badger Creek drainage east of Salida, and up Poncha Pass to Old Marshall Pass. Once through Sargents and a highway stretch, the route turns south in bucolic Doyleville and immediately into rolling high desert after leaving Tomichi Creek. Further south along an actual flat stretch, one reaches the Cochetopa State Wildlife Area, then up and over Cochetopa Pass, then again up Carnero Pass past La Garita and Penitente Canyon. Along the western edge of the San Luis Valley to Del Norte the views of the Sangre de Cristos and Southern San Juan Wilderness are panoramic. Finally, the route climbs deeper into the San Juans to Indiana Pass (11’910’)– the highest point along the entire 2,745 mile route – to Platoro. 

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Down on the Ground with the Working Land

Central Colorado lost a good friend and great heart and mind this winter – attorney Paul Snyder of Westcliffe. Among other things, Paul Snyder was a dedicated advocate for what might be called the “working landscape” in our mountain valleys. The ranchlands that are a “working landscape” because, first, they represent a long-standing foundation for the human economy in these valleys, but second (or maybe this is first), because the ranches “work” ecologically and sustainably, when worked with some degree of care. A landscape both functioning and functional.

This seems worth mentioning this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. I will say upfront that, while I am not an opponent of the Wilderness Act, I have never been able to muster a lot of enthusiasm for it either. I’m a human being, a member of a species generally out of control on the planet, and that is a bad situation that we began tentatively, fumblingly, to try to address on many fronts half a century ago, and one of the first steps was to ban ourselves as anything but visitors in the remaining undeveloped parts of our physical landscapes. To believe that “nature” is better off without us does not reflect the degree of empathy that, it seems to me, must underlie any serious effort to reform ourselves as a natural species.

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Rail Writer Leaves a Legacy

By Ann Klaiman

Author Doris Osterwald, best known for her guides to Colorado’s tourist trains, passed away March 27, 2014, two days before her 93rd birthday. In 1965, Osterwald published Cinders and Smoke, A Mile by Mile by Mile Guide for the Durango and Silverton Railroad, and it quickly set a standard for pleasing passengers from casual tourists to true train aficionados. It’s now in its eighth edition and was the first publication of Western Guideways, Ltd., founded by Osterwald and her husband, Frank – a savvy move at a time when self-publishing was known, disparagingly, as “vanity press.” Other Mile by Mile guides followed, including Highline to Leadville (Leadville & Colorado Southern Railroad), Rails Thru the Gorge (Cañon City & Royal Gorge Route), and Sand and Smoke (San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad).

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Book Reviews

The Ogallala Road– A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

By Julene Bair

Viking, hardback, 278 pp, $26.95, ISBN-13: 978-0670786046

Reviewed by Annie Dawid

On a boulder-strewn hill behind the cabin, pink barrel cactuses fended off would-be moochers with whorls of bright-pink spines, and in the gorge between that hill and the cabin, water trickled. The pools were too tiny to immerse myself in, but a mile upstream stood a windmill beside a six-foot-tall stock-water storage tank where I could go swimming! Well, dunking anyway.

The above is a sample moment Julene Bair describes in her love story/ecology tutorial/memorial to her Kansas family farm, The Ogallala Road. As a young woman she spends months alone in the Mojave Desert, appreciating every particle of color, light, and, especially, water. With humor, grace, and hard-won wisdom, Bair tells her story of life on the Western Kansas high plains as the child of a farming family, and her subsequent travelogue through many landscapes of adulthood, landing her, finally, here in Colorado.

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Mini-Blessings Small Horses, Big Hearts

By Judy Epperson and Susan Shampine 

It was apparent the boy was upset when he got off the school bus at Mini-Blessings. He went straight to the corner of the arena to be alone. While his eyes filled with tears, the young mare Aurora came over to him, put her muzzle over his shoulder and stood nuzzling his neck, providing him with the non-judgmental affection he needed just then. Before long, he put his arms around her neck, buried his face in her fur and cried. After a couple of minutes he slowly stood and joined the group of other students working with their miniature horses at the other end of the arena. By the end of the ninety-minute session, he was running and jumping with Aurora; a smile on his face and ready to face the rest of the day.

This is the work of Mini-Blessings (MB), a non-profit organization co-founded by Crissey Smith and Susan Shampine. The 3.7 acre facility is located just outside Buena Vista and serves the residents of Chaffee County and Central Colorado. The primary goal of MB is to share the magic of miniature horses with special needs children, at risk youth, and just about anyone who can benefit from close contact with a kind-spirited, non-judgmental being. 

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The Natural World

By Tina Mitchell

Spring brings longer, warmer evenings that lure me outside after dinner. Once with our dogs on a postprandial stroll, I noticed the rustling of dried oak leaves. Do oaks grow in this area? Nope, no oaks anywhere near. Instead, a Prairie Rattlesnake sat coiled at the switchback we had all just walked by, signaling us with its eponymous rattles. Why it sent this warning after the dogs and I had passed remains a mystery to me. But I keep that memory with me as reminder call to be a tad more vigilant as the weather warms.

As exothermic (cold-blooded) creatures, snakes rely on heat from the sun and the ground to regulate their body temperatures. During the winter, they hibernate – sometimes gathering in large numbers – in rodent dens or rock crevices. But as daytime temperatures climb to 50 degrees and above, the likelihood of encountering a snake rises too.

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News from the San Luis Valley

Adams State Under Heat

The most affordable university in Colorado is under heat, facing pressure from news sources that have labeled it one of the least effective colleges in the United States. Payscale.com listed Adams State as one of the colleges with the worst ROI, or return on investment. The ROI is meant to represent whether the amount of tuition spent on the degree will likely be worth the amount of money made with the degree. After Payscale’s list went public, Adams State has been featured on various blogs and articles questioning the worth of higher education and citing how low the college is on the list. Not all, however, are comfortable with the way the study was conducted, with objectors noting the extremely small sample sizes, the basing of rates on out-of-state tuition and failing to take into account the graduate student population. 

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Regional News Roundup

By Christopher Kolomitz

Leadville Hospital gets $1M Grant

In Leadville, a $1 million grant has been awarded to St. Vincent Hospital by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The money will be used for repairs on the heating and ventilation system, which will cost about $2 million. There are seven patient rooms without heat because of the poor condition of the system, reports the Leadville Herald Democrat. The hospital is going after additional loans for additional facility upgrades.

School IT Director Pleads Guilty of Theft

The former information technology director of the Gunnison school district has pled guilty to two counts of felony theft of more than $400,000 from the district. Cannon Leatherwood faces up to 18 years on prison on the charges. Leatherwood is free on bond and sentencing is set for early June, reports the Gunnison Country Times.

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Something Is Happening Here; Now Let’s Call It What It Is

By Martha Quillen

Courtesy of Citizens United, there’s now a surfeit of cash fueling the spin, pander, deceptive advertising, resentment, indignation, and histrionics that characterize modern campaigning.

But it’s not the money that’s driving Americans insane, it’s the inherent duality in our psyche. We regard ourselves as good and bad, right and wrong, Republicans versus Democrats, and us versus them. And in recent years, we’ve started casting ourselves as warring factions too divided to ever cooperate, like the North and South, and Allies and Axis.

So what’s happening now that there is an unending stream of money, time and ingenuity pouring into politicking? We are losing our collective minds. Look at how we campaign. The object is not to illuminate the issues or present workable solutions, it’s to convince people that they must defeat their enemies.

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Dispatch from the Edge

By Peter Anderson

What I had in mind when I set out hitching home from Cortez one morning thirty some years ago, was making it back to a girlfriend’s house in Poncha Springs. Instead, I ended up in the Saguache County Jail.

As the day began, I had every reason to believe I would ride a wave of good fortune all the way to Poncha. It was a glorious, green, early summer day on the road and I had gotten in a few quick rides to Pagosa Springs. I was watching the high waters of the San Juan roll by, when a flashy Jaguar with Arizona plates, came to a stop on the shoulder up ahead. “Where ya headed?” said a jovial fellow from Phoenix who had been driving since the early morning hours.

“Poncha Springs,” I said. 

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What Matters is the Story

By Hal Walter

“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand …”
– George Orwell

Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Typically, when I sit down to write something I have the middle in my mind. It’s the beginning and the ending that I often have trouble with.
Not so with a project I’ve been working on for the past nine months. It’s a book, with the working title of “Full Tilt Boogie,” and it’s essentially a memoir about about a guy – me – trying to make sense of the middle part of his life, raising an autistic son and struggling with dwindling career opportunities while trying to win an improbable 7th World Championship pack-burro race.
The idea for the book came from my friend Curtis Imrie, who left a copy of Tom Groneberg’s, One Good Horse, for me alongside Highway 96 with the inscription “For Hal – This is ‘your’ book. You have one in you … and better.”

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The Tour Divide – Racing the Great Divide Route

By Mike Rosso

The world’s longest off-pavement cycling route is host to an annual race, the Tour Divide. It involves climbing 200,000 total vertical feet (or summiting Mount Everest from sea-level seven times). It begins in Banff, Alberta, Canada and ends in Antelope Wells, New Mexico – 2,745 miles later.
Last year, 143 riders began the race and 82 finished. Among those finishers was Kent Davidson of Salida. He took 24 days to complete the race, averaging 115 miles per day on grueling 12-hour days.
Kent, who moved to Colorado from Arkansas eight years ago, described the Tour Divide as “The most expensive free race you’ll ever do,” noting that racers don’t get even as much as a t-shirt for their Herculean efforts.

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The Buena Vista Rodeo Grounds

By Fay Golson

Rodeos are a window into the past and an indelible part of our American culture. Evidance of this can still be found at the Buena Vista Rodeo Grounds, located on 27.2 acres, 1.8 miles southwest of town.
As is well known, the rodeo was not developed as a sporting event, but arose from the performance of utilitarian tasks. These tasks were an integral part of cattle-ranching in areas of Spanish influence in the west, where skills learned from the vaqueros set the stage for an enduring sport.

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A Load of Bull

By John Mattingly

Cliven Bundy is the Nevada rancher who has gained national attention recently for orchestrating an armed resistance to the BLM’s attempt to round up his cattle for non-payment of about a million dollars in fines and fees. Bundy claims it’s only $300,000, but either way, it’s a significant amount of money.
The nub of the conflict is that Bundy’s grazing privileges were curtailed by the BLM due to the listing of the desert tortoise as a threatened species on the vast BLM range where Bundy historically ran his cattle. “Privilege” is the key word here. Ever since the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, the BLM has been struggling and litigating to make it clear that grazing privileges are just that: privileges, not property rights, and not any species or sub-species of a property right. They are grazing privileges, granted at the pleasure of the BLM. The property belongs to the public. Public lands are owned by the public. Obvious as this is, it has taken decades for ranchers to fully understand what that means.

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Leadville Cherokee Kickstarter Project

By Tyler Grimes

This project was a huge learning experience for me, especially about sound. I recorded with a small camera mic so the audio was static-filled, and during the crescendos of songs the audio fuzzed out entirely. Someone explained to me that there are so many sounds coming from the stage that one small mic can’t capture all of the different frequencies (the audio used in this video is from a live performance in Breck recorded by a ridiculous amount of mics). To me, that represents Leadville Cherokee – a diverse group of musicians, pulling from a wide scale of backgrounds, blasting a huge range of frequencies and genres, and- for the most part- channeling it all into one unified vibration.

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