colorado’s “cosmic highway:” pagosa springs to crestone

When I arrived in Pagosa Springs, Colorado at 3:30 p.m. after leaving Mesa Verde, it was pouring rain.  After checking in to my hotel, The Alpine Inn, I headed straight to the library to do some research my youngest brother had assigned me.  Pagosa Springs was my mother’s hometown, and my brother had asked me to find what I could about the Saddleback Ranch and “Fomp” Turner.  The librarian was very helpful; she found that the ranch had recently sold for $11,900,000, as well as some vague directions.

The librarian also helped me search for “Fomp” Turner on the microfiche of The Pagosa Sun. There, I found some articles about her and also, incidentally, some articles about my mother. I found that my mother had been Miss Red Rider Roundup in the annual 4th of July celebration in 1950. I found she was a bridesmaid at the wedding of her cousin, Phyllis Martinez. I also found that my grandfather, Jasper Martinez, departed for Texas to spend the winter months with his daughter (& my aunt), Judith Shaw, in 1976.  What interesting news these small town newspapers carry!

My grandfather’s brother, Emmett Martinez, had written an article about “Baldy” and “Fomp” Turner and a brief history of the Saddleback Ranch, that I found in The Pagosa Sun.  Apparently, Wellmore “Baldy” Turner, a successful attorney in Dayton, Ohio, and his wife, Florence “Fomp” Turner, bought a major portion of the Saddleback Ranch in 1925. In 1927, he added more land to the ranch. Later, they built the lodge at Saddleback using spruce and aspen logs from Turner Mountain, near the ranch. Around 1935-1940, a two-story frame building was added to the the main ranch log cabin at the south end of the big meadow. A barn was built southeast of the main ranch house, along with a corral area to support cattle operations.

The Saddleback Ranch was a summer retreat for the Turners. Mrs. Turner usually arrived in early June, and divided her time between the ranch and her dress shop in Pagosa Springs called The Fashion Bar. She also entertained a lot of friends from the east and didn’t return to Dayton until late August or early September. Mr. Turner would stay for a shorter time each year, as he had to return to his practice in Dayton.

Though my grandmother, Hazel “Babe” Martinez, was not mentioned in this article, I found from my Aunt Judy (my mom’s sister) that Babe cleaned house for the Turners at the Saddleback Ranch.  At that time, my grandmother had left her three daughters, including my mom, in an orphanage, as she was unable to care for them. Apparently, “Fomp” had five dogs and Babe used to sit with the dogs on a rock in one corner of the ranch.  When Babe died, her son (my mother’s brother), Gilbert Martinez, buried her ashes one night in the pouring rain by that rock in the corner of the Saddleback Ranch.

Somehow, “Fomp” took an interest in my mother and took her to Dayton and helped her attend college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio for one year.

Fomp Turner died in 1973, and Baldy Turner sold the Saddleback Ranch in 1975, and died in 1980. The Saddleback was purchased in 1983 by Adolph Coors Company.  I wasn’t sure who owned it at the time of my visit.

Apparently, my brother was interested in this information as he had spent a summer in Pagosa Springs with my Aunt Judy and had visited the Saddleback Ranch in the late 1970s.

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Bojack Ranch in Pagosa Springs

After doing my research in the library, I went in search of the Saddleback Ranch. The directions I got from the librarian said it abutted the southern boundary of the Bootjack Ranch, and was 15 miles down the valley from the Wolf Creek Ski Area.  It was getting late in the day and I was driving down dirt roads in the middle of the San Juan Forest, and as darkness descended, I gave up trying to find the ranch.  I found instead the Bojack Ranch, which looked pretty impressive.  I don’t know if the “Bootjack Ranch” and the “Bojack Ranch” were one and the same.

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Bojack Ranch in Pagosa Springs

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Bojack Ranch in Pagosa Springs

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Bojack Ranch in Pagosa Springs

I stopped for dinner at Kip’s Grill & Cantina — “Pleasin’ the People for 22 years.” The place was bustling. I enjoyed a Fort Collins Wheat while waiting for a table.  License plates on the walls said: “Eat Rice: Potatoes Make Your Butt Big.”  And “Free Beer tomorrow.” And “Oklahoma RDY2FLY.” Burly men sat at the bar.  All around me were ruddy whiskered faces, baseball hats, plaid shirts, hiking shoes or heavy boots, camouflage jackets and hats.  Waitresses had green-tinted hair. A poster said “Wolf Creek: The Most Snow in Colorado.” I enjoyed three shrimp tacos on corn tortillas while testosterone buzzed around me.

The next morning I got an early start for my long drive to Crestone, crossing over the snow-covered Wolf Creek Pass summit at 10,856 feet.  Tall thin trees jutted up through wispy clouds like swords piercing the sky.  Chartreuse cottonwoods huddled alongside a boiling, churning river below.  I passed Goodnight’s Lonesome Dove & Moon Valley RV. I drove past Chinook Cabins and the Rainbow Motel under heavy skies.

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Rainbow Motel on the way to Crestone

Past the mountains, the land flattened out and browned. Ranches abounded: the Pronghorn Ranch and the Double Spur Lodge and Ranch.  Pioneer United Church and Haefeli’s Honey Farms offered glory and sweetness.

When I reached Saguache County, a handwritten sign on the road said “This is the Cosmic Highway.”  Another sign notified drivers that this was a UFO-spotting site. High Valley Retail Cannabis beckoned. As I turned onto a county road, a herd of yak nodded a “Welcome to the Baca Grande.”  The GPS led me over dirt roads: Tranquil Way, Caprice Way, Harmony Way, Peaceful Way, Rarity Way, and Spanish Trail.

My youngest son was  WWOOFing on a small organic farm in Crestone, so I met him at the yurt where he was staying.  The couple in the yurt ran a small farm that had been in operation for two years. They used the three bedrooms on the bottom floor for Airbnb clients.  My son, who was working for them for no pay, just board (but no room) was staying in a hammock under a tarp outdoors on the grounds.  He had set up an elaborate system of cairns around his “living space” as a bear warning, as well as a special meditation spot near his hammock.

The farm had raised beds with fences around them to keep deer and other animals at bay. A Geodesic greenhouse nourished crops they’d transplant when it warmed up. They had chickens and ducks and collected 20-30 eggs each day from the chickens. A rabbit coop kept rabbits for slaughter.  The owners got their protein from the eggs, chicken and rabbits.

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Yurt in Crestone

My son was at that time investing in a 6-acre piece of land that looked quite barren to me. He had done research to find that Crestone has quite a large aquifer underground and in order to develop the property he would first need to drill a well 80-100 feet to draw on the aquifer.  This would be sometime in the distant future, as he had no means to develop the property at that time.

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my son’s land

We drove all over dirt roads, hilly and bumpy, roads with soulful names such as Spring Beauty Trail, Enchanted Way, and N. Wanderlust Trail.  I got a tour of a hodgepodge of architectural styles: Earthship homes, yurts, cobbled-together structures, and a residence that locals called a Dr. Seuss house.  Quirkiness ran rampant. While people had to get a permit to build, they didn’t have to follow many regulations on how things got constructed. Solar and other forms of alternative energy were popular.

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Earthship house under construction

The Baca Grande subdivision was also known as a center for alternative building, permaculture and sustainable living. Environmental organizations, eco-villages and community gardens were located here.

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close up of Earthship house under construction

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Dr. Seuss house

Crestone itself had just 127 people in the 2010 Census.  The entire Saguache county had a population of 6,108.  At 7,500 feet in elevation and ringed on three sides by mountains, Crestone is beautiful and isolated, subject to extremes of weather, wind, and temperature. It is known as a spiritual community and a haven for those seeking a contemplative or alternative lifestyle. It has an array of spiritual sites: ashrams, monasteries, temples, retreat centers, stupas, labyrinths, and other sacred landmarks, including a ziggurat, a structure modeled on the temples of ancient Babylon. Centers here represent faiths that include Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Native American spiritual traditions, and New Age beliefs.  Eastern spiritual traditions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, are pervasive. However, all paths are honored.

The community of Crestone is unique because of its spirituality, its social and political activism, and its commitment to environmentalism.

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“downtown” Crestone

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“downtown” Crestone

We enjoyed lunch at a cafe in town: a chili vegetable stew chock-full of onions for me and a chicken sandwich for my son.

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Cafe in Crestone

After going to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, my son wanted us to stop at a hot springs but it was getting late.  We drove back to Crestone, where we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the only restaurant in town, Desert Sage.  I had a huge meatloaf, mashed potatoes with gravy and a glass of wine (not a smart move with a long drive ahead of me).  I left half my meatloaf with my son, dropped him at the farm, and took off as the sun was setting for a five hour drive to Pueblo, where I’d reserved a non-refundable room early in my trip, before I’d known my son would be in Crestone.  I wished I’d opted to stay the night in the yurt, because it was a very unpleasant drive in the dark over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in total darkness.

For our visit to the Great Sand Dunes, see my previous post: great sand dunes national park.

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sunset in the Sangre de Cristos

*Pagosa Springs: Monday, May 21, 2018*

*Crestone: Tuesday, May 22, 2018*

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“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose.

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation.  You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, July 22 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, July 23, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired. 🙂

Thanks to all of you who wrote prosaic posts following intentions you set for yourself. 🙂