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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Dispatch from the Edge

By Peter Anderson

It is the gleaning season. Somewhere in the Bible, he recalls, the farmers leave the remnants of their harvest for the hungry. It is still so for those who know where to look. As the high aspens begin to turn, the sandhill cranes circle above the valley before settling into some shallow wetlands down by the dunes. They will spend the night there, safe from predators. Early in the morning, they will fly west across the valley to glean the leftover grains from vacant farm fields. In a few days, he will rattle by that same field in a beat up Chevy with New Mexico plates, scanning a dusty county road for russets jostled loose from the big potato trucks as they ride the ruts and bumps toward a warehouse in Monte Vista.

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Museums of Central Colorado: The Luther Bean Museum at Adams State

By Linda Relyea

In the early 1900s, Colorado legislator William (Billy) Adams, who would later become governor, recognized the need for a teachers college in the remote area of the San Luis Valley. For years, he worked to introduce a bill that would establish the institution. In 1921 the cornerstone was laid for Adams State Normal School, a teachers college. Over the years, Adams State University grew from one building, currently Ira Richardson Hall, to a large campus offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs.

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Book Review – Navajo Textiles: The Crane Collection at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

by Laurie D. Webster, Louise I. Stiver, D. Y. Begay, and Linda Teller Pete, with introduction by Ann Lane Hedlund
University Press of Colorado, 2017
ISBN 978-1-60732-673-1
Paper, large format, color, 230 pages, $34.95

Reviewed by Virginia McConnell Simmons

Here is a book that will be coveted by curators in regional museums, libraries, private collectors, tourists in Navajo Country and visitors to the museum in Denver’s City Park, who have been beguiled by the beautiful rugs and other hand-woven textiles.

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A Roof Overhead: Workforce Housing Falls Short of Central Colorado’s Growing Need

By Jan Wondra

Talk with Central Colorado towns, cities or counties these days and you hear the same concern: housing stock – the lynch pin of a community’s social structure – is not keeping up with demand. While the situation is true across the entire state, rural areas are less able to deal with the effects of state inbound migration, rising housing costs and non-existent supply.

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Alpine: The Town That Wouldn’t Die

A view of the Alpine railroad station, a combination frame depot, freight room and living quarters. A large group of men is pictured on the wooden plank depot platform with piles of bundled canvas sacks. Denver, South Park & Pacific freight cars are on the tracks, circa 1882. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

By Jan MacKell Collins

There is much to say about Colorado ghost towns that have found new life in more recent years. While some places have simply vanished, others have been regenerated in one form or another. One such place is Alpine, located about twelve miles from Nathrop on Highway 162.

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From the Editor: Not A Local

By Mike Rosso

It’s hard for me to fathom, but I’ve called Salida home for 16 years come this November. This is the longest I have lived continually in any one place, including the town I was born in.

Yet, I don’t yet consider myself a local. I reserve that title for those who were born and grew up here, who raised families here, whose ancestors are buried here. I know quite a few locals, those who decided to stay here for their own particular reasons. But there are many Salida natives whom I’ve never, nor will ever meet. They left the city long ago for better jobs, more culture, bigger cities – for any number of reasons.

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About the Cover Photographer: J.C. Leacock

J.C.’s professional career began in 1988, where, with a pickup truck and 4×5 camera he travelled extensively to scenic areas of the west and beyond shooting for calendar companies, book publishers and magazines. His creative focus has shifted numerous times, from large format landscapes, to cowboys, to outdoor sports and lifestyles. However, the dominant theme that runs throughout is The American West. For that is where J.C.’s heart and passion lies; in the big skies, prairies, mountains and people of the West. His scenic images capture the magical light, grandeur and intimacy of the American landscape, while his photographic portrayal of outdoor western lifestyles and Americana is both authentic and spirited.

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