Press "Enter" to skip to content

Miles from Nowhere, by Dayton Duncan

Review by Ed Quillen

Frontier – July 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine

Miles from Nowhere – Tales from America’s Contemporary Frontier
by Dayton Duncan
published in 1993
by Viking Penguin
ISBN 0-670-83195-6

ACCORDING TO THE Census Bureau of a century ago, a zone with less than two persons per square mile is “unsettled territory, peopled, if at all, by a few scattering hunters, prospectors, and cattle herders.” In the parlance of that day, that was “the frontier,” and historian Frederick Jackson Turner made his reputation by explaining “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.”

By that definition, the Frontier is more than a historical curiosity — it’s still quite alive. In 1990, the Census Bureau found 132 such counties in the lower 48 states. Author Dayton Duncan racked up 30,000 miles touring the modern frontiers.

Although central Colorado may look open, only Saguache County, with 1.5 residents per square mile, qualifies. It gets 11 pages of solid, fair, and informative description.

Naturally, Duncan found the Crestone-Baca zone more interesting than the county seat. He lets seekers, monks, developers speak for themselves, and reaches this conclusion:

“In some ways, Saguache County was unique among the counties I encountered. I certainly didn’t find any others where Birkenstock sandals are almost as commonplace as cowboy boots, where the Fourth of July barbecue features carrot juice, or where the list of coming events features a Sufi whirling dervish. But, oddly, in some ways Saguache County is also more similar to the old frontier than the other areas. Land is being marketed to people who have never seen it, on the basis of dreams rather than hard facts. Wealthy investors, none of them local, are locked in conflict with resident settlers over the disposition of a natural resource. And people are gathering in a spot — partly because they think it is a holy place, partly because it offers them remoteness, and partly because the price seems cheap — where they hope they can practice their religions in peace.

“Land, a quick profit, a refuge. Those had been the three main magnets that drew people to the western frontier more than a century ago.”

The book is filled with similar astute observations, and Duncan points out that “life in these counties is more distinct from that in the urban West than the urban West’s is from the West of the country.”

Duncan doesn’t just celebrate such diversity in the forgotten “flyover country” of America. He revels in it, and it’s good reading.

— Ed Quillen