Junk: the West’s best friend

Essay by Don Olsen

Rural Life – August 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

JUNK: The West’s best friend

by Don Olsen

OUR LITTLE COUNTY in rural Colorado, like many in the mountain West, recently adopted a new junk ordinance that outlaws the accumulation of old tires, cars and trailers by people (mostly newcomers) who believe it’s a God-given property right to be able to transform their tiny ranchettes into Mad-Max-like post-apocalyptic junk zones.

This often infuriates the neighbors, who don’t appreciate having their view of the mountains blocked by trash and their property values destroyed when Ma and Pa Kettle move in next door.

I can understand why the county wants to protect its more responsible property owners from this invasion of the unkempt, but I also believe the commissioners are doing exactly the wrong thing.

Our agriculture-oriented valley is one of the last in western Colorado to have escaped the attention of the real estate developers who are busy transforming the rest of the state’s ranch lands into tract subdivisions and tacky retail strips for the nation’s wealthy — who want to build second homes here.

But it’s only a matter of time before the developers find us, and the only hope we may have from becoming the next Aspen or Jackson Hole is to pretend we’re hopeless hillbillies viciously opposed to all efforts at tastefulness, civilization, and planned-unit development.

So I think the commissioners should pass a junk ordinance that actually encourages clutter, rubbish, and other socially degenerate behavior. They could even establish a point system that rewards bad taste. For example:

Junk vehicles in your front yard. Five points per vehicle.

Dismantled vehicle engines in your front yard — eight points.

Modular houses — five points; double-wides — ten points; Beat-up trailers — 12 points; Beat-up trailers used as chicken houses — 20 points.

Loud gravel pits located next to state scenic by-way — 20 points; auto-repair shops along scenic byway — 15 points; roadside signs that say, “If you can read this, you’re in my crosshairs!,” 50 points.

Wooden butterflies prominently displayed on side of house or shed — five points per insect.

Chain-link fencing — 10 points.

Chain-link fencing with dog behind it — 20 points (30 points if the dog is rabid.)

Signs that read, “Kitty cat hunting allowed” — 10 points.

Using the John Deere for grocery trips — 15 points.

Topped trees — 25 points.

Electric utility substations prominently displayed along scenic roadways — 30 points; (If substations are illuminated at night by high-powered sodium vapor lights — 60 points.)

Animal carcasses hung in front yards — 15 points.

Self-storage businesses along scenic byway — 30 points. Storage businesses using old trailers or decrepit shipping containers as lockers — 50 points.

Tourism signs that read, “Welcome to Our County — We’re a Mess and Proud of it!” — 30 points.

Tourism signs that read “Welcome to Our County — Please don’t stop for detention center escapees” — 50 points.

I think if we play our cards right, most urban refugees will realize we’re hopelessly tacky here and avoid us like the plague. Maybe they’ll just head on over the hill to Telluride.

Don Olsen is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News, based in Paonia, Colo . He collects junk in nearby Hotchkiss, Colo., where he also