Brief by Central Staff
Geography – August 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine
Which West does Sunset live in?
Sunset, “the magazine of Western Living,” published with an article in its July edition about “one of the high-country Southwest’s all-time best road trips” which “doesn’t run through deserts.”
Both Salida and the San Luis Valley are on the “doesn’t run through deserts” itinerary presented by author John Villani. Salida’s average annual precipitation is 11.57 inches; Alamosa’s is 6.47, and Saguache gets 8.49. By the standards of most climatologists, we’re in a desert.
To continue from Sunset, this road trip “courses along the spires of Colorado’s grand San Juan Mountains” and winds through “burgeoning but unspoiled Sal ida.”
And Salida is “tucked along the Arkansas and surrounded by the 14,000-foot peaks of the San Juan and Sangre de Christo mountain ranges.”
Well, it is along the Arkansas. But Creede, Lake City, and Ouray are tucked under the San Juans. From Salida, you can’t even see the 14ers of the Sangres, let alone the San Juans. The 14ers visible from Salida — Shavano, Antero, Princeton — are part of the Sa watch Range.
The Sunset tour also includes a drive from Lake City to Creede, with the attraction of Starvation Gulch, a campsite for Alfred Packer, who “soon became part of Wild West legend and lore when he was convicted of cannibalism.”
Alfred Packer was never convicted of cannibalism for the simple reason that cannibalism has never been illegal in Colorado. He was convicted of murder. That was overturned by the state supreme court.
Packer was then tried for manslaughter, convicted, and sentenced to 40 years in the state penitentiary in Cañon City — where a museum also promotes him as a “convicted cannibal.”
Back to Salida. We read that even though “its streets are today lined with art galleries, coffee shops, and fine restaurants, it retains touches of its wilder days as an outpost for carousing miners and lumberjacks.”
In its wilder days, Salida was a railroad town, not a mining or timber town, and the carousers were most likely traveling salesmen waiting for their trains.
Perhaps Sunset should change its slogan to “the magazine for the geographically challenged,” or “the magazine of the legendary West.”