Story/photos Allen Best
Our weekend getaway had us in Salida on Saturday night, enjoying Mexican food while watching people frolic in the Arkansas River.
It’s a different town altogether from the one I first visited in 1978. The river was celebrated then, too, but the economy was based on extraction. There was a limestone quarry near Monarch Pass that was part of the steel-making process in Pueblo. Many of the town’s residents worked 72 miles away at Climax, extracting molybdenum, which also has a key role as a strengthener of steel.
Then Ronald Reagan was elected president and the mines shut down. I think this was correlation, not causation, but my old friend, the late Ed Quillen, who had moved his family to Salida in its late days as a mining town, liked to point out that those in rural areas who had voted for Reagan tended to have bad outcomes. Kind of like the farmers today who voted for Trump in 2016.
Working then at the Mountain Mail, Ed was responsible for producing something called the Progress Edition. One year soon after the mining meltdown he focused the issue on Salida’s attributes as a haven for artists. And that is pretty much the story of Salida today. It’s warmer than the ski-anchored resorts, with a river more at the center, now filled with people of a certain age for whom a good hospital also matters.
Is Salida a role model for those coal towns that need to find a new career? As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not so sure that the coal towns have the same attributes – although Paonia has certainly been prospering as never before since its coal-based economy began snoozing, many of its new residents—well, no surprise here— people of a certain age seek to escape ski towns.
In fact, Cathy and I have gotten-away to Saguache, near the top of the San Luis Valley, several times in recent years. It’s higher in elevation than I like, about 7,800 feet, but somehow I seem to breathe easier once I take in those big spaces of the San Luis Valley, rimmed by mountains east and west. And we can afford the price of the motel there.
Luckily, I can point to some of the mountains as ones I climbed when in my prime or, in wheezing fashion, just beyond: Kit Carson, Challenger, and just below 14,000 feet, Adams, a Sheep and one or two others.
Saguache has two or three passable restaurants and, at the old Ute theater, had a folk festival going last weekend. As for that old hotel, it looks available and still in need of work.
Across the street was an old Japanese pickup, a four-wheeler, but with a rusted shell, as had occurred with my old Toyota before I abandoned it with 376,000 miles on the odometer. It was a nice portable motel room.
Rust or not, I wonder what happened that all of our pickups became super-sized. It came during a time when people have become supersized, too. Causation or correlation?
The story here in Salida and Saguache, I think, is of increments but also anchors and also transportation corridors. Salida is not on an interstate highway, but it is on Highway 50. Saguache is more off the beaten path.
Too, Salida has the river, a ski area about 20 minutes away. Saguache has … well, the big sky.
That old hotel may yet get the work it needs to be a viable property. But Ed has been gone now for 7 years, and I suspect I’ll be gone, too, before Saguache becomes a tourist hot spot. That’s OK. It’s nice to know that there are still places with rusted pickups.