Here I Am. Part I.

Lobby of the St. James Hotel
Lobby of the St. James Hotel, Cimarron, New Mexico

On The Road Again.

It was a bleary eyed 6 a.m., only one day after I got back to Denver, when my trainer, Charlie, asked, “What was your favorite part of the trip to see your sister in Albuquerque?”

Almost without thinking, I answered, “The St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico.  They had 26 killings there back in the days of the Wild West.  There’re still bullet holes in the ceiling to prove it.  I saw that on the Philmont Scout Ranch website.  Philmont,” I continued, “is close to Cimarron and my son and I went on a trek there years ago. They recommended getting lunch at the St. James at the NRA Training Center just down the road from Cimarron.  There’s a neat firearms museum at the Center.”

Talk about a guy kind of discussion.  And you’ve probably seen the news that both Cimarron and Philmont have since been evacuated because of raging wild fires.  Triggered by the relentless drought that’s had the Southwest in its grip for years.

But there was a lot more to like about my trip than the St. James.  Plenty more.  My wife, Marleen, unfortunately wasn’t with me because of a touch of sciatica.  She flew both ways; I rented a car down and flew home with her.

Don’t Be Myopic.  Take Your Eyes Off The I-70 Mountain Corridor. And See The Wonders Of Rural Colorado.

Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch in Colorado
Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch in Colorado

I took back roads, looping out to the eastern plains. I briefly stopped at the Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch.  I’d been to Peaceful Valley first when I was a kid in the Scouts; then years later with my own son, Byron.

From Peaceful Valley, it was further east through Calhan, the home town of Marsha Looper.  I sat next to Marsha for several years in the Colorado House.   She was a smart, capable legislator. She was traveling when I passed through her small town; too bad we weren’t able to grab a cup of coffee.

Then, it was further east to Limon, where I had lunch a few doors down from the dispiriting ruins of The Golden Inn.  The site of the biggest fire in Limon history, there was little sign that any progress had been made in cleaning up the blackened remains even though the hotel had been reduced to a tangled hulk six months earlier.

Sure, the Front Range and the I-70 mountain corridors are doing just fine, thank you.  But rural Colorado’s in trouble.  Need proof?  Look no further than the ruins of The Golden Inn in Limon.  And, while you’re there, get lunch; they could use your business.

Along The Ruts Of The Santa Fe Trail.

The "town" of Delhi, CO
The “town” of Delhi, CO

From Limon, it was a straight shot south on lonely highway 71 to US 350.   That two lane road, veers to the southwest, paralleling the fast disappearing wagon ruts of the old Santa Fe Trail.  As the sun declined in the west, the vast, gently rolling grasslands of Comanche National Grasslands and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site rolled by.  An occasional clump of antelope browsed near the barbed wire fence line.

Despite the drought that has wracked southeast Colorado for years, the late spring grass looked surprisingly good.  Clad in blue haze, ridge lines rolled away to the distant Rockies like ocean breakers.  Although now little more than tattered ruins, “towns” like Delhi, Thatcher, Tyrone, and Model still show up as dots on the map.

As I cruise controlled along, I listened, sometimes laughing ’til I veered toward the road’s shoulder, sometimes puzzled by snarled plot twists, to a wonderful tale of small time Boston hoods, The Digger’s Game.  By the prolific George V. Higgins, it’s definitely worth a read.

Occasionally, however, I turned off Digger and chewed on a nagging question:  “How did I vote on that bill expanding the Fort Carson army base in Colorado Springs to include the Comanche Grasslands and even more land around Piñon Canyon?”  I hoped the answer was “No.”  But feared, in the wake of the hysteria surrounding the “Global War On Terror,” that it was “Yes.”  Sure enough, when I got back home and checked, I was a “Yes”.  Not a vote I’m proud of.  Nor did I do any good for those folks down in that part of the state struggling to maintain their hardscrabble way of life.  The one redeeming virtue of my vote?  I was on the losing side.

That evening I pulled into Trinidad.  It’s where the Santa Fe Trail turned south to climb over the nearby Raton Pass before dropping into New Mexico.  I was on the lookout for the B&B I was booked into for the night, The Heart of Trinidad.  Not fancy, but my hostess served up some mean blueberry pancakes, good coffee, and friendly patter as I enjoyed breakfast the next morning.

“The Ludlow Massacre?  What’s That?”

mining monument in Trinidad
Mining monument in Trinidad, CO

Trinidad has a gritty coal mining heritage.  In 1914, The Ludlow Massacre occurred a few miles north and west of here.  The opening salvo in one of the deadliest labor disputes in American history, John D. Rockefeller’s coal company guards and Colorado National Guard troops machine gunned striking miners and their families in the tent colony they’d set up in the now abandoned ghost town of Ludlow.  The fighting raged for the better part of a day; tents caught fire.  Including one under which a pit had been dug and which sheltered four women and eleven children.  Two women suffocated, as did all of the children.  It’s estimated that 24 miners, their wives, and children died that day at Ludlow.

A couple of regrets about Ludlow.  And a question.  First, that I didn’t think to make the short drive to see the granite monument at the site.  Which someone, unbelievably, defaced a few years ago.

And, second, that I sat in stoney silence when the resolution commemorating the Massacre was read each year when I was in the House.  True, one of the leading proponents would have been Pueblo’s tough-as-nails Democrats, Dorothy Butcher.  Once or twice, she took what I considered cheap shots at me from the mic.  In return, on occasion-and from a safe distance-I called her “The Battle Axe.”  But Dorothy was an old school Democrat. Her heart lay with her Pueblo steel workers. And Trinidad’s now vanquished United Mine Workers.  And where did mine lay?  With Rockefeller’s thugs?  I hope not.

And my question?  Where are the Dorothy Butchers in today’s Democratic party?  All, or most, have gone to be environmentalists, enlisted in the War on Coal.  But why?  Is it “Because,” as Willie Horton answered when asked why he robbed banks, “that’s where the money is?”  Hopefully, not always.  But I do know that the money’s not with miners and steel workers anymore, the salt of the earth kind of folks who used to be the bedrock of the Democratic party.  But now, as Barack Obama derisively sneered, are “clinging to their guns and religion.”

From Coal.  To Sex Changes Operations.  To Marijuana.

But what machine guns couldn’t do, played out coal seams did:  mining is toast in Trinidad.

To be replaced by-first, sex change operations.  And then marijuana.  Great.  I could see the “Cannabis Station” from the front window of my B&B.  Because it’s located only a few miles from New Mexico, Trinidad is a favorite stop for marijuana “tourists.”  Pot’s big business in a town whose economy is struggling, generating $44 million of sales. That works out to an astonishing $3,100 for each man, woman, and child.  Moreover, pot has added $4.4 million to city tax coffers.

This isn’t the place to get into the fevered swamps of marijuana.  When I was in the state House, I voted to limit its use every chance I got.  But, at this point, it’s not going away.  The industry has more than enough cash to resist any attempt to turn back the clock on legalization.

Born To Be Wild.  Head Out On The Highway.

Yeah, that’s me all over: wild.  In my rented, white, six banger Camry.  But I did head out on the highway the next morning.  There were still two days to go before I hit Albuquerque.  Stay tuned.


3 thoughts on “Here I Am. Part I.

  1. Three comments, Spencer. 1) You’re at your best when you’re On The Road. I like what you see and how you write about it. 2) I did drive up to the Ludlow Monument. Your story is much more than what I learned by driving off the road to take a look. 3) Are you sure that Barack Obama “derisively sneered” at the salt of the earth kind of people you mentioned? Or is just what you wanted to see through your Conservative Filter?

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    1. Thanks for reading it and your kind words. Hope you’re doing well.
      No doubt I have a filter. But he made that comment at a Bree crowd fund raiser in San Francisco. Justifiably he took a lot of heat for that remark. Read the linked article. I hope you can tell that the main point I was trying to make was sympathy for those largely forgotten workers.

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