Monday, October 6, 2014

Rocky Mountain High

Marshall Pass, William Henry Jackson, 1899
On my first visit to Colorado in 1987, I spent the night at a hostel in Boulder, where I chatted with a young guy on a Peace March for nuclear disarmament.  There had been a lot of hope coming out of the Reykjavik Summit between Reagan and Gorbacev the year before that a lasting peace might emerge in the wake of the Cold War.  I had just come from a Harmonic Convergence at Chaco Canyon and was similarly pie-eyed with expectation that something good was going to happen in this new world order.

Boulder was a liberal den -- a veritable Berkeley of the Rockies -- with a great university radio station that I listened to as I drove into the mountains on my way to the Northwest.  I remember listening to Cat Stevens before the reception faded out, although I suppose John Denver's Rocky Mountain High would have been more appropriate.  I wanted to cut through the mountains and took US 34 out of Boulder toward Roosevelt National Forest.  Unfortunately, I ran into a road block not far from Estes Park, as I climbed to well over 7500 feet.  Even in summer, snow had closed the road and I had to turn back, and take the interstate.

Colorado represented as a "white virgin" in this
allegorical painting in 1876
Like so many states, Colorado has long been divided.  Even its statehood bid was mired by the Democrats who wanted to remain a territory to avoid paying for the administration of government and the Republicans who favored statehood, which brought with it a greater involvement in federal government.  Lincoln was for the 1864 enabling bill, but the territory's Democrats voted against it, and Colorado's statehood drive was deferred.

When Territorial governor John Evans had the votes a year later, Johnson was now President and he placed emphasis on readmitting the Southern states, not admitting new states, particularly those that would bring more Republicans into Congress.  As such, Colorado found itself caught up in the battle of Civil Rights, with a fierce fight over Congressional votes.  Johnson may not have been able to block the 1866 Civil Rights Act, but he was able to block both Nebraska's and Colorado's bids for statehood.

It would be ten long years before Colorado gained the favor of  President U.S. Grant, who admitted the state on August 1, 1976.  Colorado became known as the Centennial State, resulting in this unusual flag.  The country also found itself united again as Grant had pulled federal troops out of most of the Southern states, allowing for local rule again.

Leadville, ca. 1890
The population of the state had soared since the 1861 Pike's Peak Gold Rush.  My Great Grandfather had gone to Leadville at the peak of the silver boom in the 1880's, investing heavily in the mineral, and like many saw his small fortune shattered with the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893.  William Jennings Bryan tried to revive silver in 1896 with his famous Cross of Gold Speech, promoting a new silver monetary standard that would offer greater opportunity to Americans, but he lost the election to William McKinley who favored the gold standard.  The following year, my Great Grandfather died a broken man in a Denver hotel.

Colorado is literally split in half by the Rocky Mountains.  Despite being dubbed the "Mile High City," Denver actually sits at the base of the mountains.  Boulder is situated up the slope from Denver and looks down on the sprawling metropolitan center.  At one time, Denver had attracted the beatniks in the 1950s, as Kerouac described in his short stopover in On The Road, but Boulder was a much more appealing place to hang out at the time I visited.

Mesa Verde, Gustaf Nordenskiold, 1891 
Most of the population is located on Interstate 25 between Pueblo and Fort Collins, but if you get off the main road you can find a number of interesting sites like Mesa Verde, one of the most impressive Anasazi cliff dwellings in the Four Corners Region.  It is located near Durango, and is relatively easy to get to, but you can only take guided tours to the site.  After one thousand years, these are very fragile archaeological ruins and have come under increasing protection.

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