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How the Grinch came to the Mountains

Letter from Karen K. Young

Mountain Life – January 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

How the Grinch Came to the Mountains

While visiting Salida recently, my eyes were immediately drawn to the magnificent Sawatch Mountains which rise to the of the village. There I saw Mount Shavano. On it the Angel of Shavano was outlined after a recent snowfall. I had heard the legend of how she got there, and wondered about the story that went with the face that appeared under her left wing. To me, it looked like the infamous Grinch. It took a while, but I finally found someone to tell me the story behind that face.

It seems, so I am told, that the village was making preparations for the annual Christmas celebration. Everything was ready. The maintenance men were putting up the street decorations and other people were decorating their stores and houses. The big project, worked on by many, was the 550-foot Christmas tree that would be lit up on Tenderfoot Hill. This tree could be seen for miles around reminding people of the true meaning of the season.

The tree is red, although trees are usually green, red shows up better on the mountain, so the people string the red lights to form the outline of the tree. In the middle of the tree, the big “S” representing Salida is outlined. A big red heart has also been put in to alternate with the “S”. After all, Salida is in the Heart of the Rockies. It also symbolizes the feeling of the season. Love! Other decorations made of lights are added. At the top of the tree a star is placed. It is all very beautiful when lit up at night.

Now, as the story goes, one year, all the decorations were up, and the town had planned a big celebration for the day after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving night, an inspection was made of all the lights, Santa’s Gingerbread House was in place, and everything was ready for the big event. The planners went to bed confident that this was going to be the best celebration yet.

In the morning, when the mayor went to her office, she couldn’t help but notice that something was missing. She looked up and down the streets. “That’s funny”, she thought, “Something is not right! The decorations are not where they were yesterday. As a matter effect, there are no decorations anywhere!” She called the Chief of Police.

When the Chief arrived, he scratched and shook his head. “I can’t understand it,” he said. “We have never had this kind of vandalism here in Salida before.” He called in his deputies, and they began searching for clues. Whoever had done this was very efficient as not a trace of Christmas remained in Salida. They figured that it had been a whole gang of people involved. Who could have done this to such a warm and friendly town?

Now it just happened that it snowed up in the Garfield area that night. Rob, who had been doing an early morning traditional snow dance on his front porch, just happened to look up and see a faint image of a Grinch-like creature pulling an enormous sled loaded with what looked like Christmas decorations.

He blinked twice, and then said, “I must have really eaten too much turkey yesterday, and I am seeing things. I better go back to bed and get some more sleep. I can’t be seeing what I think I see.” With that, he went back to bed.

Rob’s dance was successful that morning. It did snow, covering the tracks of the heavy sleigh and the strange-looking character who was pulling it into the mountains near Monarch Pass. The world was quiet up in the mountains, and no one had a hint of the panic that was taking place in the town below. Roadblocks had been set up on U.S. 50 and 285. Even the smaller roads that led out to these two main highways had a deputy or concerned citizen stopping cars and making a search to see if the missing decorations could be found.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, I was told, when the phone call came. Apparently having spent much of the night and morning hours dismantling the town, the culprit slept in. Now, a rather gruff voice crackled over the wires into the mayor’s office. “Ha, ha,” said the jeering voice. “Guess I have put a damper on your little celebration, haven’t I?”

“Well,” replied the Mayor in a very pleasant voice, “We were a little surprised, but that didn’t stop the people down here in Salida. We are a town with a Big Heart. Some of our fine citizens have gone to Buena Vista, Leadville, Canon City, and even Pueblo to find new decorations. The show must go on you know!”

“What?” exclaimed the voice. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that we will have the lights and decorations replaced by the time the celebration was to have taken place. That is what I am saying!” She replied calmly. “Would you care to join us in our celebration?”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!” shouted the unglued person at the end of the crackling telephone line. (Maybe he was out of range, or the cellular phone’s battery was going dead, I don’t know.) “It can’t happen, I am sick of this Christmas nonsense! I’ll get you yet!” he threatened.

In the meantime, Rob had come down from Garfield. He had a load of snow for the parade. Imagine the surprise he got when he discovered all the activity. “What happened?” he asked, not believing his eyes. He listened intently as the people gave him a thumbnail sketch of what had been going on during the day and for that matter the night before.

“Wait a minute,” he said in a dazed kind of voice. “This morning, when I was out doing my early morning snow dance, I happened to see this strange sight. I thought I was still suffering from an overload of Thanksgiving, but now that my mind is a bit clearer, I can recall what this joker looked like. He reminded me of a character in one of my son’s books. Now, what was that book?” He started to think. He closed his eyes as if trying to picture the image in his mind. “I got it!” he shouted. “It was the Grinch! You remember that Dr. Seuss book called How the Grinch Stole Christmas don’t you? Well, this guy looked a bit like that Grinch.

“Yes,” said a helper who knew her children’s literature. “But in that story, he found out he couldn’t keep Christmas from coming, and returned all the decorations, presents, and food to the town, and celebrated with the people. He became a reformed Grinch vowing never to do something like that again. I can’t believe it was him that stole the decorations!”

“Well,” said a determined Rob, “all I know is that this guy looked exactly like that character. He didn’t have a dog with reindeer horns helping him either. This was a solo job, and he was pulling the sled up toward Monarch Pass. I think we need to take a look up there.”

“He’s right!” said the chief. “We need to apprehend that creature and bring him here to celebrate with us. Let’s go and see if we can find him!”

Now, as the story goes, they went up U.S. 50 and looked for clues as to where the Grinch-like creature had gone. Every so often then would find a piece of tinsel or evergreen bough, so they knew they were on the right track. The trail changed directions, several times often making it hard to follow. Quickly the pursuers changed directions as well. They were relentless. About five o’clock they came upon this vile creature that had stolen all the Christmas decorations. He looked just like the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’s book. But as it turned out, it was his brother. He was jealous that his brother had gotten all the fame from that book, and he decided that he wanted to make a name for himself as well.

“You must come back to town with us, and suffer the consequences for your crime,” said the policemen as they took him into custody.

Back in town, the people had begun to gather for the parade. The new decorations were all in place, and the tree lights were ready to be lit. They were silent as the police brought the Grinch’s brother to the reviewing stand. “Let the punishment fit the crime,” said the judge kindly. “He wanted to do away with our Christmas celebration, and now he must withstand the proceedings. Maybe his heart will melt and he will see that this is a town that has enough heart to share with everyone and even forgive him for the trouble he caused.”

“Let the festivities begin!” shouted the mayor. And with that, the parade began. Soon Santa arrived on top of the new fire engine. He was mobbed by excited childrenand adults who couldn’t wait to greet the jolly old guy. There was music and dancing in the streets. Cookies and drinks in the stores as well. When it was dark enough, someone flipped the switch on the Christmas Tree, and it sprang to life on the side of the mountain.

It was all just so beautiful and happy that it brought tears to many people’s eyes. But not the Grinch. He just sat there, and seemed to become more and more agitated. All at once, he just seemed to explode. A cloud of snow arose from where he had been sitting, and he vanished into the night. People stood in stunned silence for a few seconds, but there was too much happiness in the streets of Salida to take much notice of that pain-in-the-neck who had caused all the problems. Besides, he was gone.

You might think that was the end of the story, but not quite. Next morning, when people looked up at the Sawatch Mountains, as people who live there usually do, they saw something next to the angel’s image. There was a face that looked exactly like the Grinch etched there. Perhaps the Grinch’s brother gained his fame after all and lives there as a reminder to the people of Salida, and other places as well, that the love and peace of Christmas, the working together for a common cause, not the decorations, is truly at the heart of Christmas.

Karen K. Young