Southern Colorado for dummies. The mountains in the background are New Mexico.
My August 9th birthday trip was the best thing I’ve done in years, totally screaming true-to-myself. I picked roads that scared my wife, but hey, she came, and marveled with me at the staggering vastness. She’s tough. I’m tough. We’re all tough. I drove right past this thing. She said, “You ought to take a picture of that house.” Well, what a surprise, of course I should and why the hell hadn’t I, so I proceeded down the gravel road to turn around in the driveway of yet another long-dead homestead, where a pair of red-tailed hawks flew out of an actual tree and swooped so low, they burned us with their eyes.
The place above is made of stone and sits there daring fate. A broken, faded realtor’s sign lies hidden in the weeds. The property even has a kind of skinny shelter dug into the hillside with the ruins of a dirt roof. How many different ways to fail are built into this scene? A short ways farther west we found a three or four-house town and spied a living human being. She didn’t look up as we drove by and I was not surprised. The poignancy out here is palpable—you could slice it into blocks and build a tragedy. I’d been alerted to a certain memorial nearby but missed it in my birthday rush. You might check out that link.
Since writing those words, I’ve learned that the building in question is actually an old schoolhouse that someone recently bought. It was listed at ninety thousand and came with one hundred sixty acres. The odd long structure with the dirt roof must be where students tied their horses. Oh, man. My correspondent lives just down the road and has wild horses running on his land. He says, “Dreams are built out here. Thinking about building this area up again.”
The space will do that to you. The quiet melts the walls.
Looking upstream here. Yes, that’s the Rio Grande.
Turn 180° from where I shot the previous Rio Grande image from an ancient trestle bridge in Costilla County, Colorado and this is what you get. Hard to believe, isn’t it? The mountains in the background make up the Mount Blanca massif and probably have names, but everyone I know just calls the whole thing “Mount Blanca.” The higher peaks are over 14,000 feet. Its fearsome presence always shakes me.
The air was hazy to the north that day, which softened the view in an unusual way for such a powerful wild place. This scene breaks all kinds of perceptual boundaries for me. I feel like there should be hippos here, maybe zebras on the plains, or grazing dinosaurs.
That’s the Rio Grande! Looking downriver here in Costilla County, CO.
This was my birthday trip. I thought of it a long time ago, taking the back roads in southern Colorado through some of the emptiest territory I’ve ever seen to an old trestle bridge over the Rio Grande and beyond, ending up at a brew pub in Alamosa before driving home via Antonito, San Antonio Mountain, and Tres Piedras. We took all day to go about 240 miles, and every one of them was stunning. On the way home we saw a llama stampede.
Much of this was on gravel roads. In this region we were all alone. I mean all alone. Being in such places energizes me. I feel like an explorer. If I had all the money in the world, this is still exactly what I’d want to do: seek out special places where I’ve never been as if I were the only member of my tribe to ever go there. What could possibly be better? The beauty on the route we took would sear you. The quality of the light and air. The clouds! The dark emotions radiating from dead homesteads. I got lost but knew the Rio Grande was “over there,” and that is all you need.
Horizon line from hell
“Look, over there!” she said.
I stared across the Rio Pueblo gorge until I spotted them, half a dozen somethings that weren’t rocks or trees, and then it clicked. “Bighorn sheep! See their white butts?” And so they were. It was like watching giraffes from a helicopter flying low across the veldt. What is this place with almost no one here? The cliffs so high, the rocks so old…
The other day my wife was napping on the love seat covered by a blanket. The sky grew dark, the wind picked up, and then the yard exploded. Half a rotted railroad tie that lined the “flower beds” blew fifteen feet away. There was crazy blowing dust and horizontal sand. All three outside chairs in front got tumbled in the dirt, while their cushions blew off into the sagebrush. Large dead branches rained down from two ancient elms. The electricity went on and off at least a dozen times in thirty seconds, and then everything went dead, leaving us without power for the next five hours. To advance the hands and reset the old G.E. mantel clock’s Westminster chimes, I had to listen to them cycle twenty times.
Shot beside the Santa Fe Trail
We saw these pronghorns just beside the road a few miles outside of Cimarron a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes I think about the life force that produces living, breathing creatures like this out of oxygen and dirt. They don’t look worried. Why did I wake up at 3:00 a.m.?