From Cripple Creek to the Santa Fe Trail, Mesa Verde to the mountain towns of Leadville and Steamboat Springs, Colorado provides travelers and natives with a spectrum of beauty that is both awesome and austere. Drawn by the lingering mystique of conquistadores and wild, hot-blooded boom-town mining camps, Stephen May takes us on a physical and spiritual journey, through a Colorado alive with a sense of its rich frontier history.
Interweaving tales from mountains, plains, canyons, and river basins, May explores the old towns and the history, and folklore of the region with townspeople, fellow travelers, naturalists, artists, gas station attendants, and waitresses—the colorful, casual willing communicants we all hope to encounter on the road. But the charm of May’s story is in the nature of its telling. With the refinement of some of the first Victorian travel writers who toured Colorado in tweeds, May peppers his account with what Frank Waters has called “a search for the soul, the spirit of place.”
Along with illustrations of people and places, May supplies anecdotes about a wide range of Colorado personalities and events. Jack Dempsey (coming of age in Cripple Creek), “Uncle Dick” Wootton (who once built a toll road over Raton Pass), Zebulon Pike, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde all figure in May’s account. He takes us on a risky (and illegal) belay over the side of a pueblo wall with a reformed artifacts robber to record, with eyes only, a cache of thirteenth-century Anasazi pots. He covers the landscape by Jeep and on foot, but whether talking with one of the multitude of climbers who dot the rock formations in Boulder canyon any sunny afternoon or listening to an ‘old timer’ living at the base of Loveland Pass, May’s tale is warm and evocative, a true panorama of the diversity of Colorado.
Stephen J. May, who also wrote Pilgrimage and Footloose on the Santa Fe Trail, resides in Craig, Colorado. More info →
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Since the second quarter of the nineteenth century, changing conditions have built and emptied small and large towns across the Colorado plain. At the time when Denver was little more than an overpopulated campsite along Cherry Creek there were numerous other settlements to the east and south, each with its own dreams of growth, gold or silver strikes, railroad connections, and rising influence over the surrounding territory.
The vast Colorado River collects water from the highest Rocky Mountain peaks and traverses the widest plateaus, the deepest canyons, and the lowest deserts before emptying into the delta of northern Mexico. This austere land and mighty river resist exploration, settlement, and description. But in the hands of one of the West’s great writers, Frank Waters, the history and lore of its past make irresistible reading and a resounding case for mankind’s respect for the environment.
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