Journal of Michael Baum / Travels of an Artist

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A Trip to Piñon Canyon...continued


 

As the day progresses, we make several more stops: the ruins of Bent's Stage Stop and the remains of a small settlement called La Placita by the archaeologists. All the remaining structures are built of native stone. Well built, indicating an intent to stay. We visit a game-drive site at an old ranch and examine related rock art. This is one of the sites where the army has consulted with affiliated Native American tribes who have requested that no photos be taken of the rock art here.


Ranch

From here we drive miles to the site of Canyon Station, once a company town built by the Colorado Interstate Gas Company for its employees working at this remote pumping station. It was a pleasant little village with paved streets, sidewalks, streetlights, neat little houses. I imagine manicured lawns with white picket fences defending against the surrounding wilderness. It was a great place to live, secluded from the ravages of the Great Depression and most of the hardships that other prairie communities faced. The company treated its employees well.

What is left, what we see as we drive down Main Street, are the remains: the bases of lamp posts, chunks of sidewalk, outlines of foundations, a blueprint in concrete of the town that was here. Trees once lined the street. Now they are mostly dead and tumbled, sheltering the cries of children at play far away in the past. The remains of the old pumping station are the only prominent structure still standing. Where did the houses go? When the town was abandoned in the 1950s, the houses were sold and removed from the site, scattered over the prairie to become ranch buildings, storage sheds, homes. Some probably still exist somewhere.


Lightning rod

 


Back to now


Hard Country


View from Main Street

In late afternoon light, driving a primitive road that climbs seemingly to the roof of this prairie, we arrive at "the Hogback." It is a knife-edge of black basalt cutting up through the tawny skin of the prairie. The lightning-scarred blocks are peppered with petroglyphs, light grey on dark, weathered stone. We clamber out onto the spine of rock that drops away dizzyingly on both sides. The plains stretch out below us. You can almost see the herds of bison grazing the short grass. Mark lifts an arm toward the horizon and points out that almost every wash and small canyon we see was used as a game drive. It is easy to see why this high place was (and still is) so revered by the Native Americans who lived here, why they left their marks here on these rocks.


This photo by Patrice Rhoades-Baum

A water tower coming into view in the waning light jars us back into the present and signals the end of our trek. We have driven over a hundred miles and spanned perhaps seven hundred years. From Apishapa settlements to Iraqi "villages." We are left to wonder what this land will see in the next seven hundred years. Thank you's and goodbyes, and a long snowy drive through the night, toward home.

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