A few years ago for a friend’s birthday, four of us piled in the car and drove out to Bent’s Old Fort for a history lesson and a trip back in time. We stopped to examine headstones, eat at mom and pop cafes, and stop at a bar or three to have a beer with the locals. We bought gas, maps, books. And, the Southern Colorado Economic Development Tour was born.
Now an annual tradition, we’ve traveled to the Sand Creek Massacre Memorial, Trinidad and Ludlow, and this past summer, Pueblo. Three of the four of us are Colorado natives, the other, a transplant who is firmly rooted in Colorado’s soil and history. History serves as a platform for the road trip, but we enjoy the art, the food, and the landscape along the way.
Instead of taking the highway the pass, we took Old La Veta Pass Road. On an early summer morning this drive slows the car and the mind, and opens the lungs. This well-maintained dirt road takes travelers to a ghost town, and a few summer residences, at the summit. We do this to go back in time, to get away from our busy-ness, to gain perspective on our past, present and future, and do some recreational eating.
We had skipped breakfast to leave early, so we were hankering for the goods at the La Veta Bakery. Part old mining town, part modest second home haven, this tiny community draws visitors to their art galleries, real estate, and some of the best homemade food in Colorado. At the bakery we stood in a line out the door, but the Linder torte made of hearty whole grains and raspberry compote was worth the wait. Later, I sat with a couple of napkins across my lap, peeled the buttery layers of croissant apart, letting them melt in my mouth, sipped my coffee, and asked, “Are we there yet?”
As we drew closer to Pueblo, talk turned to family and industry. The birthday boy wanted to visit the Steelworks Museum and the Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) Archives (www.steelworks.us), because his grandfather and other family members had worked for CF&I. He wanted some insight into those earlier days, hoping public history would inform personal history. While the others are most interested in the overarching political and economic issues of history, I want to understand more about the people, how they lived, their hardships as well as their triumphs. I was drawn to the exhibits of newspaper clippings, memos from the Rockefellers, and company reports. I poured over the demographic records and saw the faces of labor struggles, the demarcations between ethnicity and jobs – the more recent of an immigrant, the dirtier the job. Paystubs showed meager incomes with deductions for food, rent, equipment, and work clothes from the company store. At the end of the month, this worker owed the company money. Connections were made to the Ludlow Massacre near Trinidad. Not only could I see the industrial complex that included mines and smelters and company towns, I saw the rise of the labor movement in context with geography, industry, ethnicity, and the birth of today’s labor laws.
Like history, we moved on to other tasks and the next was lunch at Bingo Burger (www.bingoburger.com). Then to abate the food coma, we stopped by Solar Roast for a cup, or four, of wake-up juice. We walked up and down Union Avenue, visited The Nature Center, and ate some more.
It’s hard to say whether the Southern Colorado Economic Development Tour will happen again this summer, but I’m voting we drive west into the area between Pagosa Springs and Durango. On a ridge seventeen miles west of Pagosa Springs lays a kiva built by the people of Chaco Canyon. Chimney Rock National Monument (www.chimneyrockco.org) rises above the valley that opens into the Southern Ute Indian’s tribal lands. It is thought that the ancient peoples communicated with fire or mica flash signals with Chaco Canyon to the south with only one intermediary. I’m also told the full moon rises between Chimney and Companion rocks once every 18 years. The mystery and majesty draw me.
Pagosa Springs was founded along the San Juan River at the site of a long-popular mineral hot springs which was first discovered by the Ute Indians who used it to heal the body and the spirit. There are great local food options too. Right now my favorite is Kip’s Grill and Cantina (www.kipsgrill.com) which serves tacos layered with a cheese stuffed green chile, grilled steak, cilantro, greens, and pico de gallo – all homemade. On the other hand, Durango firmly establishes the late-19th and early-20th centuries with the Durango-Silverton Railroad, the Strater Hotel (www.strater.com) and fine dining. In between are campgrounds, trails, fishing streams, guest cabins and ranches – something for every mood and budget.