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Preserving the dark

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A walk down Main Street after a sunset in Westcliffe is vacant of the day’s small town bustle. ‘Closed’ signs line the sidewalks where locals and vacationers slip in and out of rustic shops and a few small restaurants. Even the neighboring bed and breakfast and liquor store are noticeably still on a summer’s night. Down a few blocks, pas…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

A walk down Main Street after a sunset in Westcliffe is vacant of the day’s small town bustle. ‘Closed’ signs line the sidewalks where locals and vacationers slip in and out of rustic shops and a few small restaurants. Even the neighboring bed and breakfast and liquor store are noticeably still on a summer’s night. Down a few blocks, past the grocery store and bowling alley is an open field that seems to eventually reach the base of the mountains. The street lights stop and it’s dark. Actually, one of the darkest places in the world.
Westcliffe and its neighbor Silver Cliff have been making changes to local ordinances and the ranching community’s culture over the past 15 years to prevent light pollution and preserve the now too uncommon dark skies.
One hundred years ago light pollution didn’t exist. Most everyone could look toward the moon at night and into the rest of the universe and see a nightscape comparable to what inspired Van Gogh. But as population and cities grew and technology improved more outdoor lighting appeared. All of that lighting is usually misdirected and causes skyglow, or a brightening of the night sky.

Westcliffe_Ahlin

Westcliffe’s dark sky over the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival in July. The lines that appear in the sky are “shooting” stars. Photo by Malissa Ahlin


Today, light pollution is growing at a rate of 4 percent, according to International Dark Sky Association, and has even been cited as an environmental problem. Migrating birds can stray from their course because of city lights and bugs are drawn toward artificial light — which can disrupt food chains.
For the most part, all of that light pollution is unnecessary and easy to fix.
“You know all those pretty lights you see when you’re flying over land?” Jim Bradburn, current Wet Mountain valley group Dark Skies, Inc. president, asked me during a recent phone call.
It can be avoided, he said. The city lights that form mesmerizing grids at night are pretty, yes. But not practical.
Dark-sky friendly lighting reduces glare and light trespassing. Bradburn describes unfriendly lighting as blasters, which were, until recently, not uncommon for Custer County because there is such a prominent ranching community. Bright outdoor lighting almost seems like a necessity near a big barn.
It’s easy to minimize light pollution from the blasters without compromising light, Bradburn said. Preventing light pollution requires redirecting the light. So, most of the lights seen around Westcliffe and Silver Cliff are shielded so that the light is very directional and only shines down.
In the past year, the two cities have been working to change local ordinances. It was the last step of becoming an official International Dark Sky Association dark-sky community
In March, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff received the designation, but the award, which has only been given to nine other communities around the world, has been 15 years in the making.

“‘I’ve never seen so many stars! It’s incredible!’ Many have seen their first (maybe only) falling ‘star’ from our valley.” Betsy Banks, Custer County resident, in her supporting letter.

IDA awards parks and reserves as well. But the designation as a dark-sky community requires the involvement of local government to revise light ordinances in addition to education and citizen support.
In 1999, Smokey Jack, the first president of the Wetmore group Dark Skies, Inc., struck a deal with the West Custer County Hospital District to use outdoor lighting that protected the area’s night sky from light pollution. She realized that the hospital might attract other businesses and national franchises that don’t take light pollution into consideration. That sparked a movement that eventually led to the designation, but she was unable to see the end result. Jack passed away in 2004.
For the past decade and a half the organization has taken on several other projects like Jack’s to help cut down on light pollution. From the school district to Family Dollar to ranches, Dark Skies, Inc., has received enough money to help switch out outdoor lighting in various spots around the county to fixtures that keep unneeded light out of the skies.
The light ordinances in both towns, effective in December 2014 for Westcliffe and February 2015 for Silver Cliff, dictates that all “outdoor lighting shall be shielded so that direct light from the fixture does not trespass on neighboring property.”
The IDA application requires ordinances that minimize glare and light pollution. It was the most time-consuming part of the IDA application, Bradburn said.
“Any and all nuisances caused by adverse effect of manmade light, including but not limited to glare, light trespass, sky glow, visual clutter, and wasted energy due to excessive or unnecessary lighting; or artificial light that unnecessarily diminishes the ability to view the night sky or is disruptive to flora and fauna,” the Silver Cliff ordinance reads. “Highway, neighborhoo…
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Let’s Talk About It: Pueblo Murals

Once viewed as vandalism, street art has become the dominant voice of art in Pueblo.

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Look down virtually any of the alleyways in the East side and Bessemer areas of Pueblo and at various locations downtown and in the business district, and you can find some form of street art. Pueblo is regarded nationally as a street art capital, and it’s no secret why. For one, Pueblo is home to many members of the high-profile Creatures Crew – a muralist/graffiti artists group that host collaborators and fellow artists from around the country. You can find some of their work gracing the walls behind The Klamm Shell in Bessemer, or the alleyway outside of Shamrock Brewing Co.

In 2015, local muralist Mathew Taylor hosted The High Desert Mural Fest here in Pueblo. And along the Arkansas River levee used to be the longest mural in the world as officially declared by the Guinness Book of World Records. The mural ran for three miles along the levee up until around four years ago, when the City of Pueblo announced that a nearly $15 million construction project to address repairs to the levee would mean the destruction of the beloved mural that had been around since the 1970s. Efforts were made to preserve parts of the mural, but it ceases to maintain its world-record status.

Other recognizable murals in Pueblo include a large brown bear surrounded by flowers in the Central Plaza area (painted by Taylor and co artist Michael Strescino), the famous faces depicted outside the Pirate’s Cove, a horse stuck in a tree down on Main Street (that was actually commissioned by the city to commemorate the flood of 1921) and many others ranging from simple to more abstract designs. Some of these designs cross into graffiti territory, but retain an obvious component of artistry that keeps people of the community and city officials from calling for their removal.

Therein lies a point of debate surrounding the street art movement in Pueblo. When is street art considered vandalism? Where do we draw the line between approved artistic expression and illegal tagging?

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

Look down virtually any of the alleyways in the East side and Bessemer areas of Pueblo and at various locations downtown and in the business district, and you can find some form of street art. Pueblo is regarded nationally as a street art capital, and it’s no secret why. For one, Pueblo is home to many members of the high-profile Creatures Crew – a muralist/graffiti artists group that host collaborators and fellow artists from around the country. You can find some of their work gracing the walls behind The Klamm Shell in Bessemer, or the alleyway outside of Shamrock Brewing Co.
In 2015, local muralist Mathew Taylor hosted The High Desert Mural Fest here in Pueblo. And along the Arkansas River levee used to be the longest mural in the world as officially declared by the Guinness Book of World Records. The mural ran for three miles along the levee up until around four years ago, when the City of Pueblo announced that a nearly $15 million construction project to address repairs to the levee would mean the destruction of the beloved mural that had been around since the 1970s. Efforts were made to preserve parts of the mural, but it ceases to maintain its world-record status.
Other recognizable murals in Pueblo include a large brown bear surrounded by flowers in the Central Plaza area (painted by Taylor and co artist Michael Strescino), the famous faces depicted outside the Pirate’s Cove, a horse stuck in a tree down on Main Street (that was actually commissioned by the city to commemorate the flood of 1921) and many others ranging from simple to more abstract designs. Some of these designs cross into graffiti territory, but retain an obvious component of artistry that keeps people of the community and city officials from calling for their removal.
Therein lies a point of debate surrounding the street art movement in Pueblo. When is street art considered vandalism? Where do we draw the line between approved artistic expression and illegal tagging?

Artist Mathew Taylor gives a guided talk in front of one of his murals during a 2018 Pueblo Mural Tour. (Photo: Ashley Lowe for PULP)


Taylor is firm in his belief that legal graffiti art murals deter the practice of illegal graffiti tagging. In his perspective, the artistic drive that goes into composing a mural commands a certain degree of respect. Tagging for the sake of staking a territorial claim is distinguishably less driven by artistic vision and marked by its hurried or moreover careless appearance. Thus completed murals tend not to be vandalized by gang-related tagging in his experience. In t…
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Music

Acoustic heartbreak in the Colorado San Juans with John Statz

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John Statz by Veronica Holyfield

Songs about heartbreak should resinate. And with John Statz they do. They’re equally soft and striking. His new full-length album “Darkness on the San Juans,” available May 11, takes an acoustic turn from his other recent work. Then, he had full bands in studios. With this project, he gathered a few friends in his living room to record. Like heartbrea…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

Songs about heartbreak should resinate. And with John Statz they do. They’re equally soft and striking.
His new full-length album “Darkness on the San Juans,” available May 11, takes an acoustic turn from his other recent work. Then, he had full bands in studios. With this project, he gathered a few friends in his living room to record.
Like heartbreak itself, the album is more personal, more raw and more intimate. The Wisconsin native who now calls Denver home said he hasn’t done something quite as stripped down in a while, and when it came to get back into songwriting after the release of his last album last summer, there was also a reason to write.
It was the aftermath of a breakup.
“We retrace our steps. We look at what we thought we knew. We ultimately discover and face the truth under the stories we told ourselves along the way,” he says of the album.
In addition to the post-love songs, the album features a few songs Statz previously worked on but didn’t have a place on an album, and songs that are meant to be more acoustic. “Presidential Valet” is the story of Armistead, President John Tyler’s valet, or slave, who died alongside seven others in an explosion after Tyler and members of cabinet were watching the firing of the “peacemaker” in 1844.

So, this album is about heartbreak. Did that change how you wrote or approached the album at all?

Yeah. It just kind of comes out more — I don’t know — when you’re writing about heartbreak it’s just seems like the easiest type of writing. It’s just pouring out of you. You don’t have to come up with a concept or a story or any of that.

In the bio you released ahead of this album, it references a pretty famous Ernest Hemingway quotation: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Maybe as a writer I hear about this all of the time, but there’s definitely a writing style associated with Hemingway — to write very concise and clear. Did you take any of that with you into the songwriting or was it all about the emotion?

You know, it was the emotion part. I didn’t think about that, but the songs are fairly concise and short. So I appreciate that might also be relevant there even though I didn’t intend that.

The title of this album is “Darkness on the San Juans.” Explain that a little bit.

It’s a line in the song “Highways.” Geographical references are all over my songwriting. On every album I’ve ever written. So it’s a song about driving places with someone and either ending up back at those places later and having other memories being their previously. The San Juans was one of those locations that was important.

Why do you think you end up writing about places so much?

I mean, an obvious answer is that I spend a lot of time driving around to gigs, and I’ve been a lot of places because of that. And just for fun. I love roadtripping around Colorado, and camping and that sort of thing. So it’s not a planned thing. I’m living and breathing this lifestyle from A to B to C and that infiltrates the writing. But also, it’s a convenient rhyming scheme. Sometimes it can be hard to find a word, but there’s usually a city that will fill in.

How long did it take you to finish this album, being that the concept is fairly raw?

It all happened pretty fast. The two non-heartbreak songs, “Presidential Valet” and “Old Men Drinking Seagrem’s,” were older. They’re social commentary tunes. But I just hadn’t recorded them to yet and I was waiting for an acoustic album to do that. I started writing in the summer. I decided in December to record them. I called my friend Nate, flew him out in January. And we recorded it in three days in my living room.

Had you recorded like that before?

It’s been a while, but yeah. My first couple albums that I made when I lived i…
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History

The Last Watchman: The lost story of Colorado’s worst train wreck

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The only reminder of one of the worst train wrecks in Colorado history is a weathered post with a small white sign that stands sentinel at the edge of an unassuming arroyo. It is cracked, and wrapped in barbed wire so you must stand very close to make out the fading words. “This historical marker is a tribute to author-historia…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

The only reminder of one of the worst train wrecks in Colorado history is a weathered post with a small white sign that stands sentinel at the edge of an unassuming arroyo. It is cracked, and wrapped in barbed wire so you must stand very close to make out the fading words. “This historical marker is a tribute to author-historian Dow Helmers (1906-1976), author of THE TRAGEDY AT EDEN the story of Colorado’s most disastrous train wreck… ’” it begins.
In 1904, dirt roads may have been the main mode of travel, but they made going long distances impractical and often unpleasant, so the idea that a train could smoothly and quickly get you to your destination seemed an attractive choice for the regular traveler to take advantage of the special weekend rates.

The arroyo today. It was near bushes that probably looked a lot like this that Mayfield found the deceased Engineer Hinman after more searching. Many others were not as lucky to have been found. The Gartlands from Denver suffered profound losses. Kate Gartland and 4 of her 5 children were on the train. None survived and 9-year-old Walter was never found. (C.D. Prescott)


Nothing seemed out of the ordinary on that Sunday the 7th of August in 1904. A few scattered rain showers and even cloudbursts were often expected that time of year. The passenger train from Denver to Pueblo was running on schedule and ticket holders were gathering on the platform for their return trip home from their weekend jaunts.
The train was the No. 12 that had just made the trip from St. Louis to Pueblo where it picked up the dining car from the last southbound train and headed to Denver where it would be stocked, cleaned and staffed in preparation for the trip to Pueblo. Now that it would be heading south, it was redubbed the No. 11.
The No. 11 had seven cars including the engine. There was also a baggage car, a coach car, a chair car, two Pullman sleepers and the dining car. The well-regarded Henry Hinman would be the Engineer and his fireman would be David Mayfield. Both men were from Denver.
Passengers boarded and the No. 11 left the Denver station for its date with destiny on time at 5pm. It was in Colorado Springs that Hinman was given a bulletin order to use caution and watch for standing water. At least 50 more passengers also boarded. Many were headed for Pueblo but there were others that would be continuing on to further destinations.
Leaving the station about 5 minutes after the scheduled departure, Hinman carefully followed his orders and would eventually be running at least 15 minutes late. They were due in Pueblo at 8:15pm but were crossing Bridge 110-B over Hogan’s Gulch at almost 8:20pm at no more than 20 miles per hour.
The engine swayed to the sound of cracking timbers as Hinman eased the throttle forward hoping to quickly get to solid ground. The front had just reached the bank when it suddenly stopped, lurched backwards and began to slide into the churning waters below.
A panicked Mayfield managed to jump clear of the falling engine but after being struck by a timber from the bridge, he was washed downstream just far enough that when he crawled ashore, he was still able to see the train’s headlight shining into the sky. After searching and yelling for Hinman, to no avail, he made his way to the Eden Station for help.
Passengers that got out to investigate were immediately stunned to find that the engine, baggage, coach (smoker), and chair cars were gone. The bridge wasn’t simply empty as it was immediately apparent that it had also met the same fate. It was only the automatic air brakes that had kept the remaining cars from following suit.
Being the heaviest, the engine sank like a stone b…
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One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you can change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you can change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

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