I write this from a picnic table in the shade in Santa Fe, N.M., along a dry creek bed just a few hundred yards from this city’s central plaza. We are in the middle of a journey that started with a stop in Denver about a week ago for a visit with Sabra’s parents.
After Denver and a good time with her 90-something folks we drove a couple of hundred miles south behind what the locals call the front range, where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. The drive is spectacular as you thread your way up through a long winding canyon, cross the divide and then down the middle of the San Luis Valley, an expansive area with mountains in the distance on either side.
Our destination for the day was Crestone, a remote mining town that nearly disappeared but has been revitalized by an influx of counter culture types who want to tune in, turn on and drop out while dining on organic salad greens and driving Priuses. Timothy Leary was probably referring to LSD when he said turn on, but the acid this crowd is taking appears to be more likely an antacid. We fit right in.
It was here that I struck up a conversation with a young woman in the grocery co-op. When she found out we were from Iowa City, she mentioned that she had an aunt who lived there. Her name was Jo and she was a nurse, and that’s all she knew about her. I asked her if her last name was the same as an old biking friend of mine and bingo, it was.
From Crestone, we continued south in the very big world of the valley with Sabra’s sister and brother-in-law making a stop at Fort Garland. The fort’s commander was once a famous westerner named Kit Carson.
Until our stop, I admit knowing very little about him other than he was a famous American frontiersman and Indian fighter. From the placards at the fort, I learned that he was the commandant of this remote and arid outpost. Before that, he was a hunter and trapper who ranged up and down the Rockies. From 1846 until 1848, he served as a scout and courier during the Mexican-American war. During this time, he was dispatched to Washington, D.C. to report on the war and return with orders. Traveling on horseback each leg of the 2,000 mile journey took several months.
Quite a different world from today’s access to instant communication.
Later from a book I’ve been reading about the old west I learned of a quirk about this larger than life figure: he never learned to read or write. this came to light because the men under his command were required to get a signed pass from him to purchase whiskey. One of his soldiers figured out that he couldn’t read and began getting Carson to sign off on slips to buy molasses.