This place is alright if you like scenic splendor
I was alarmed by the alarm honking in my left ear at 4:30 in the morning. I had to get to Rangely from old town Winter Park and needed to be there bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by 9 a.m. I was headed to learn about working in “The TANK Center for Sonic Arts,” a massive steel water tower in Rangely. The sonic echo chamber was once used for the Rio Grande railroad and is now deployed as a performance space and recording studio.
It’s amazing what you’ll do when you have nothing to do.
Pulling onto I-40 on a summer morning before dawn is one of life’s sweet pleasures. The bosom of stillness, coolness and lingering dark hold the truck, the mountains and the valley in a cool embrace.
I was gazing through the Tacoma windshield in a bit of a fog on the inside, not drunk but not at the top of my game, either. Watch for wildlife and maybe the police?
I was feeling kind of in between while passing through Winter Park, Fraser and then Tabernash. There was cool air, fog, misty mountains and not much else on the road and in the fields. Like my dad would say, “This place is alright if you like scenic splendor.”
On that moody morning, I was remembering the first time I visited Tabernash earlier this summer. Like most folks who want to get to know a place like Tabernash, I was looking for the water treatment plant. I drove the mean back streets, a little lost, but found it in the end. There were toys laying around in the nearby yards and some some discarded durable goods stacked hither and fro. Stuff slowly rusting into rural American art.
Or is it just junk?
I’d love to tell people that I am from Tabernash. Tabernash is among the most compelling, most western and most awesome town names to ever tickle my horns. Sure there’s “Sitank,” “No Name” and “Ute City,” but none of them holds a candle to Tabernash.
The town was named after a Native American Ute warrior, “Tabweah” or “Tabernash.” “Tab,” as he may have been known to his friends, fought one of the last Native American stands in the valley, trying to preserve the river, the meadows and the hunting grounds he grew up in. The fact that the Roaring Fork Valley was also considered Ute country gives us an idea of just how big their habitat was.
In 1905, well after the Utes were shuffled off to Utah, citizens founded the town of Tabernash, naming it in honor of a man who fought their founding fathers and manifest destiny, tooth and nail. It could be argued that Tabernash put America first, trying to save the first Americans.
Aspen used to be known as Ute City but now it’s Aspen.
There are other charming names on the road out of Tabernash. There’s Parshall. As I passed the sleeping buildings in Parshall at 65 mph I wondered if it’s “Par-shawl,” “Par-shull” or maybe even the French sounding “Par-shoe.”
And then Hot Sulphur Springs. Mental note: I must explore Hot Sulphur Springs soon.
I’ve heard about the hot springs resort and secret hippie enclaves, but I didn’t know that the town was also the site of the earliest giant ski jump in the West. In 1911, daring young men on long, primitive, heavy, unsafe, experimental wooden skis risked their lives on Carl Howelson’s massive ski jump exhibition at the first Winter Carnival.
These carnival jumpers were America’s first hot-dog skiers. They shushed straight down the snow-packed ramp, skated for the lip of the jump, and hopped into the thin air at 7,589 feet, flying for what must have seemed a really long way as stunned onlookers (now known as “gapers”) cheered and swooned. The carnival in Hot Sulphur Springs planted the seeds of the X Games!
Now, X Games athletes pop backside triple cork 1620s like they are going out of style, which they are. I mean, backside triple cork 1620s are so 2015. Snowboarders do them on Cranmer with their eyes closed. This year, I predict that snowboarders will hit the Winter Park superpipe, fly straight into the air and just keep right on going, vanishing into a lunar eclipse and never coming down. It’s getting crazy!
Highway 40 seems to go on forever. That’s because it does. In Colorado you can drive it from Brontosaurus Boulevard in Dinosaur to South 4th West Street in Cheyenne Wells. Highway 40 crosses the state from east to west, or west to east, depending. She’s a smooth, black snake nearly 500 miles long. It’s a road trip waiting for a road tripper.
This year, I find myself passing those mile markers on Highway 40, from Dinosaur to Berthod Pass, from Maybell to Steamboat Springs. I learn something new, see something and meet someone noteworthy nearly every time I motor through. And I’m just getting started.
Steve Skinner now lives among the people of the Fraser Valley most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Kristi Martens for her new book “Go Grand, Seven Tours through Grand County History,” which informed and inspired some of this article.