Last month I returned from some time flying over and traveling down our nation’s roads to see as much as could be seen in nine days of a couple of states of which I had only a passing familiarity, Colorado and New Mexico.
Since in more than a week’s worth of time I’m able to gather so much more using my voice recorder than I have the space to use for an Our Generation’s travel series, please allow me to cherry-pick some thoughts this week for my weekly rant.
My first two days were spent in Denver, and while there using the city’s commuter train system, a couple of thoughts pushed their way to the front of my mind.
First, on the platforms, I found it impossible to find an actual person in a booth to purchase my ticket. Those days are gone, folks, replaced by automated kiosks for consumers of the service. With the preponderance of phone trees where it takes forever to reach a point where you can talk to an actual person and other human-free services like the kiosks I had to learn to use, it seems the longer I live, the more we invent new ways to take the “human” out of “humanity.”
While on that platform looking at the layout of the city’s metro area and its outlying areas, I saw the community names Aurora and Littleton. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why those places sounded so familiar, especially when this was my first Colorado venture.
Then, suddenly, it came into focus, the infamous name James Holmes, who walked into an Aurora movie theatre and opened fire during a midnight premier of a “Batman” movie and then the names Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who brought tragedy and self-destruction to their school, one named for Colorado’s state flower, Columbine, in Littleton. Sometimes, even on vacation, it’s hard to escape how violent our society has become.
After leaving Denver via my rental car, I saw something in Estes Park, considered the Gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park that left me slack-jawed, which was the number of elk lying in people’s front yards. Lady Jane counted more than five dozen, cows lying down in yards with an alpha bull nearby during rut, watching over his harem.
While I sometimes complain about too many squirrels in my yard digging up the turf, these folks have to deal with the encroachment of a far larger wildlife problem.
Further down our roads, we spent a couple of days in the town of Grand Lake, an eponymously named burg beside a lake of the same name formed some 30,000 years ago by glacier runoff. Grand Lake we would discover, is both the largest and deepest of all the state’s natural lakes and is known for its clarity and purity, it occurred to me, so very different than the lake of the same name not far from Lima in Mercer County.
Later in my trip, in the old silver mining town of Leadville, which has the distinction of being the highest incorporated city in the U.S., at 10,152 feet, I had a cold one at the Silver Dollar Saloon, which has been operating since the 19th century. While talking to my ‘tender, I discovered that Doc Holliday once favored the place and, were the wallpaper peeled back, some of the bullet holes could still be seen from men of the Old West who over-served themselves and got a bit too frisky with their pieces.
While in Taos, New Mexico, and reading a cantina’s history on the front of a menu before ordering, I discovered that the building’s walls were almost 400 years old. I couldn’t help but think, between my Leadville saloon and this cantina and their combined over 500 years of history, that something’s wrong when we have trouble with dilapidated buildings here in Lima that need to be razed after mere decades.
Finally, I heard a story from our conductor on a train ascending Pikes Peak outside of Manitou Springs. During our climb, he pointed out the nearby Cripple Creek Victor Gold Mine, one, he said, still producing over a million dollars worth of gold each day and one which comes with a story and a moral about the dangers of over-imbibing.
Once upon a time, the man who held the claim to the mine got a snoot full in a local saloon and wound up selling the claim for $500 and a case of whisky. How’s that for bad judgment?
There you have it, folks, a few nuggets for you, mined amidst such great natural beauty.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]