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Changing Colors and Private Property in the Colorado Mountains…

September 27, 2014
On Apex Valley Road - near Central City, Colorado - September 27, 2014

On Apex Valley Road – near Central City, Colorado – September 27, 2014

The photo is on Apex Valley Road, a dirt road leading up the Apex Mine just off of Highway 119 – the “Peak-To-Peak” Highway in the Colorado Rockies. The cutoff is a few miles north of the turn to Central City, which used to be a preserved old mining town – now turned into a gambling Mecca. I used to go up this road to look for mushrooms and in some years have found plenty – bolettes galour spiced with a few Steinpiltz types. It was in the late 1990s and I drove the road to the mine in my old Toyota 1984 2-wheel drive pick up on cool clear fall days like today. Then the mushrooms disappeared – they are fickle things – and for this and that no-good reason, the trips stopped. It’s about fifteen years since I ventured that way but when Nancy and I talked about taking a half day trip up the mountains to see the aspen turning, I remember the area. On the way back down the road there is a cut-off to the right which leads to the high ground above Central City. There are a few cemeteries and the Columbine Camp Ground. When our dog Cloudy was young and alive we’d take her up there and let her romp around the forests.

And so today we went back. Nature did not disappoint, not in the least. The aspen were in full color. I must have taken a hundred pictures and have saved most of them. Arriving at Central City we could see that the mountains were filled with the burning yellows, oranges and reds of the season. Turning off Highway 119 onto Apex Valley Road the colors became more vivid and breath-taking and were the whole way up to the mine. Approaching the mine the road got a bit too bumpy for my car and we stopped at a turn and ventured a 100 yards or so into the woods in hopes that some mushrooms had survived this late into the season. No such luck. On the other hand we did find archaeological evidence, traces of humans having passed this way – a bunch of spent bullet shells scattered on the ground in the forest. I picked a spent 357 magnum shell, one among hundreds strewn on the ground – the kind that rip a grapefruit size hole in its target. I picked one up. It is sitting next to me by the computer.

When we had pulled over to the size thinking the car could go no further two fancy-schmancy four-wheel drive pick ups – the kind that cost $40-50,000 came roaring up behind us and hit the turn at considerable speed so as – it appeared – to intentionally blow up the maximum amount of dust in our face. Sweet. I thought of flipping these fine folks “the bird” as we say – but these days a person can get one’s head blown off for less and so I confined myself to just mumbling to myself what assholes they were. That wasn’t the end of it though. We decided to try to walk up the rest of the road to the mine – which I figured was less than half a mile from past trips. It was a pleasant enough little hike until we got pretty close to the top. The not-so-sweet strains of loud country music pierced the mountain calm followed by gun shots. At first they were single shots but soon there after they appeared in rapid succession as if someone was having fun firing a semi-automatic rifle and having a fine time. Nor could we tell in which direction were the rifles being fired. Thinking that in this circumstance caution was the better part of valor and that my middle finger was no match for their semi-automatic weapon we turned around headed back down the road to our car arguing as to whether we should call our new acquaintances “white trash”…or simply “trash”. I opted for the latter; Nancy agreed after we discussed the matter in some detail. As we got to the car two guys who looked like they were from a lost Special Forces squad came barreling out of the woods on to the dirt road in their hunting outfits and two of those super-duper bows that shoot arrows faster than bullets. They were deer hunters, polite enough, but seemingly of some military background. They kept referring to me with “yes Sir, no Sir.” Were you hunting deer?” “yes, Sir.” “Did you see any?” “No Sir, not today but last Saturday, Sir, I saw a whole group of them right by this turn, Sir.” I felt like telling them they could “stand at ease.” Then with my 357 magnum bullet shell in pocket, we headed back down the mountain once again turning off Apex Valley Road towards the Columbine Camp Ground.

We could not go more than a few yards without seeing another “Private Property – Keep Out” signs. They were almost as common as the aspen trees. It is said that the infamous Koch Brothers have bought a whole just west of McClure Pass in the Colorado Rockies. Here on Apex Valley Road it was a more modest version of privatizing the mountains. We remembered in Finland that hikers HAVE THE RIGHT to hike over private property as long as they do not disturb the property or the residents.

On the way we stopped at Gold Mine Reservoir.

Gold Mine Reservoir

Gold Mine Reservoir

The beauty of the scene improved my mood some but not for long. The sign at the parking lot suggested that the place was only for residents of the county, adding to the gazillion signs at every cut off that said “Private Property” keep out. Once again taking the law into our own hands we ventured down into illegal territory to take a look. I hadn’t intended to but once informed that I was not welcomed there I just had to go. Lovely place. Here is a picture.

Having survived my flagrant breaking of county policy by walking to the edge of Gold Mine Reservoir, on we went to the cemetery that sits above Central City. Actually there is not one but are two cemeteries. Most of the peopled buried there within died from the 1890s to the 1930s – late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although our daughters find it morbid on our part, we like to stop at cemeteries and often do. They are filled with local history, some of which comes alive through the stones. The two Central City cemeteries were case in point. Why two? Well one – the lower one which we investigated for a good half hour – forty-five minutes is called “The Catholic Cemetery.” If you are wondering whether there is also a “Protestant Cemetery”…you’d be correct. The Protestant Cemetery sits above its Catholic counterpart, on a hill in the midst of an Aspen grove, this time of year. The Catholic Cemetery is below in a more open area.

As they died so did they live – two separate Christian Communities at war with one another, segregated in death as they were in life, an American spillover of the European religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries that just continued this side of the Atlantic. No kidding. Not particularly well-known – unless one studies – or teaches such long-lost stuff, but a century ago, when the Ku Klux Klan, hiding behind white sheets and the veil of patriotism, their main target in the Mid-West and mountain states were Catholics – Irish, Italian, Croatian immigrants – who came to Colorado and many other Western mountain towns to work the mines and mills. Gano Senter, who along with his racist wife Laura were leaders of the Colorado KKK, used to have a sign in his downtown Denver restaurant “No Dogs or Catholics Permitted”. I used to pass his former residence on S. Logan Street (just south of where I-25 crosses Logan) and curse his name. About ten years ago, that residence was scraped and is part of a series of rebuilt overpriced Condos, the predominant form of building spreading like a cancer all over the city.

“A Catholic cemetery!” – religious apartheid both in life and death.

The Catholic Cemetery above Central City

The Catholic Cemetery above Central City

That said it was a moving place, made more beautiful this time of year bu the explosion of colors. The place has a bit of a wild, natural look about it, but seems to be well-tended. Someone up there is caring for it. The church? Relatives? Many of the names were Italian, Irish, some Germans. Yes, there are a fair number of German (and especially Austrian) Catholics. So many kids who never made it past their first or second year, lying next to siblings who also died before the age of two. So many adults who didn’t make it beyond their mid twenties. One got the feeling that to survive past forty was close to impossible. A few of the graves were more recent – those precious few who, born around the turn of the century, lived to be seventy or eighty and died more recently. There were signs of recent mourners, pennies left untouched on one tombstone, dimes on another along with a golf tee of all things. Among the names were Fedrizzi (reminding me of my childhood friend Brian Fabrizzi), Andreatta, Phillips, O’Neill, Sullivan, Brodrick, There were bluebirds in the trees as we returned to the car.

Off we went to check out the Columbine Campground, at yet another stunning location. I had a funny feeling of what was coming…a request that I have grudgingly agreed to, to go camping in the near future. OK, OK. I’ll do it. Just before we left the campground another $50,000 (or so) pick up truck pulling a $120,000 (or so) mega camper almost as big as our house, behind which was a flat-bed trailer with two $10,000 ATVs. Daddy, a tall, beer-bellied – and obviously not particularly financially strapped – gent was driving the pick up with the kids in the back seat, while Mommy was driving the $40,000 SUV bringing up the rear. It was had the makings of a military convoy rather than a family. The convoy kicked up a lot of dirt into our faces and then it stopped in the middle of the road, with no room for us to pass. There it stood while the Mrs. futzed around with the mega camper for a good ten minutes unconcerned that we were stuck behind her. She took her time. Worried that someone what that amount of traveling capital could also have an arsenal, I kept my middle finger tucked hidden under the dashboard trying to keep a lid on my mounting anger. Finally these fine folks, obvious to us, or to anyone else on the road or in the world, started up again, leaving us, once again, literally in a cloud of dust. As they and their $200,000 in mobile equipment chugged their way down the road, a huge blotch on nature itself, I wondered to which born-again mega church this fine family belonged and which branch of the military he had served and where?

A peaceful day in the mountains…

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Thomas M. Rauch permalink
    September 27, 2014 4:53 pm


    Thanks very much for the beautiful pictures and the story of the adventures you and Nancy experienced on your mountain trip. Your comments on political/religious struggles of many years ago remind me that similar struggles continue today, alas. Best wishes to Nancy and you.


  2. pat hewett permalink
    September 28, 2014 4:45 pm

    what a sad commentary on the state of our wilderness areas. I enjoyed the bit about the Central City cemetaries and the KuKluxKlan.Thanks, -pat

    Date: Sat, 27 Sep 2014 23:28:47 +0000 To:

  3. Jane Hakes permalink
    October 23, 2014 1:54 pm

    Rob, Love those photos…. makes me a bit nostalgic for our good times in Colorado! Seems from your comments – sadly – that the wilderness is being eroded everywhere. It’s nearly as bad here in the UK, but at least we don’t have the gun nuts hopping out of the woods. Maybe Robin Hood was the last?? We do have developers building everywhere, though. – Janie

  4. July 19, 2017 7:56 am

    We live up there. You would be amazed how how atrocious people are. Unfortunately, the signs are there for a reason. The entire cemetery has also recently been fenced off due to uncontrollable ATV mayhem.

    • July 19, 2017 9:20 am

      Actually I do sympathize and agree that the slob factor involved is pretty intense. It seems that for some folks – like anything – nature is there to play with and destroy. Don’t know if such asocial behavior could be regulated by the state or feds – more rangers, some stiff penalties for violations but maybe it would cut down on some of the excesses…

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