Crested Butte Magazine - Spring/Summer 2019

Page 1

Summer 2019 Complimentary

Bob Brazell Photography

Crested Butte’s Custom Home Builder | 970.596.1039 Nathan Bilow


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6/25 Billy Geer 7/2 Alan Ray & the Coconut Telegraph 7/9 Lizzy Plotkin Quartet 7/16 Left Arm Tan 7/23 Storm Pass 7/30 Hot Texas Swing Band 8/6 Jerry’s Kids Grateful Dead Tribute 8/13 Annie Mack 8/20 Kids of the Gunnison Valley

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Pearl Jam Tribute

6/27 The Wailers 6/29 Paradise Kitty

Guns n' Roses Tribute

7/7 Los Lobos 7/11 Cattlemens Days TBA 7/18 Suzy Bogguss 7/25 Cash’d Out 8/7 Reverend Horton Heat 8/8 Charlie Daniels Band 8/14 Asleep At The Wheel 8/16 The Goonies

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10 Girl power by Sandy Fails gOgirls coaches foster close friendships and strong young women through outdoor fun.

32 It ain’t over ‘til you’ve eaten the T-bone


The impromptu Crested Butte Lake Depth Project by Caroline Singleton With a fishing tool, inflatable raft and sturdy hiking boots, these friends followed their curiosity to new heights – and depths.


Finding common ground by Cosmo Langsfeld After years of building consensus, the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative hopes to turn its landprotection proposal into federal legislation.


The best kind of hand-me-downs by Kathy Norgard A world-champion runner, a counselor and a cancer survivor give back through Living Journeys, a cancer support organization.


Woo and wow, Crested Butte style by Stephanie Maltarich Dinner and a movie…nice. But your sweetie won’t soon forget these five “only in Crested Butte” dates. 76 Photo gallery | 124 Calendar 128 Dining/Lodging guide | 132 Photo finish

by Patrick Exley O’Neill Coach Than Acuff’s magic bus and the 2018 state soccer championship.

38 Magic and shenanigans by Janet Weil

Since its first ambitious production in a field 47 years ago, the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre has transformed its actors, audiences and community.

46 Going with the flow by Beth Buehler

Cyclist and fishing guide Lu Warner has crafted a lifestyle that taps the best of Crested Butte and Chile.

52 Remembering truer riches by Brian Levine

John Phillips made his fortune from mining but found greater treasures as an 1880s newspaperman among the colorful characters of Irwin and Crested Butte.

60 Our foodshed grows up by Cassidy A. Tawse-Garcia

Even with high-altitude challenges, food producers are putting down roots throughout the Gunnison Valley.

68 Doctor Rock by Dawne Belloise

Investigating the land’s geologic intrigue with geo-sleuth Dr. Amy Ellwein.

80 “Dear Birds…” by Cara Guerrieri

Through a collection of old letters, an affectionate granddaughter re-discovers the spirited voice of rancher Ernestine Eastman Spann.

84 Forests fueled for fire by George Sibley

Drought, pests, warming climate and misguided fire-suppression have primed our woodlands for wildfire. How can we “manage” that hazard?

92 Captain marvels by Erica Andrews

As Crested Butte ramps up its fire and emergency medical services, three long-time volunteers-turned-captains celebrate the payoffs of dedication.

100 Becoming bear by Molly Murfee

A wild encounter replenishes a work-weary writer.

107 State of the arts by Sandra Cortner

The Center for the Arts’ sophisticated new facility awes a long-time local creative.

THE VIEW FROM HERE 111 Dying with dignity by Keith Bauer

A feisty local character, beset by cancer, shares love and humor at his “going-away party.”

115 Talking to dogs by Polly Oberosler

This ranger-turned-rancher ponders the subtleties of communicating with the animals around her.

119 Friendly dirtbags by Cosmo Langsfeld Petar Dopchev

May we ever embrace the creative, the unconventional, the conscientious car-dwellers. 5



Vol. XXXXI, No. 1 Published semi-annually by Crested Butte Publishing & Creative



Curtis Speer

ADVERTISING DESIGN Keitha Kostyk WRITERS Erica Andrews Molly Murfee Keith Bauer Kathy Norgard Dawne Belloise Polly Oberosler Beth Buehler Patrick Exley O’Neill Sandra Cortner George Sibley Sandy Fails Caroline Singleton Cassidy TawseCara Guerrieri Cosmo Langsfeld Garcia Brian Levine Janet Weil Stephanie Maltarich

Teri Havens

Rosalind Cook

PHOTOGRAPHERS & ARTISTS Dawne Belloise Matt Berglund Nathan Bilow Trent Bona Sandra Cortner Raynor Czerwinski Megan Davey Dusty Demerson

Petar Dopchev Xavier Fané John Holder Constance Mahoney Stephanie Maltarich Rebecca Ofstedahl Caroline Singleton Lydia Stern

Kinder-Padon Gallery Inaugural Summer Season Curtis Speer

July 1-12

Teri Havens

July 23-29 Reception: Friday, July 26, 5-7pm

Reception: Friday, July 5, 4-7pm

Rosalind Cook + John Ingham

Reception: Friday, August 16, 4-7pm

August 13-26

Summer 2019 Complimentary


complete gallery schedule at 6

ADVERTISING Copyright 2019, Crested Butte Publishing. No reproduction of contents without authorization by Crested Butte Publishing & Creative.

Editor’s note

Living large Long ago I interviewed Dr. Harriet Barclay, an esteemed Oklahoma botanist who taught many summers at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab. Bright and animated, she told stories of researching in South American rainforests, on Nepali mountainsides and Arctic glaciers. I was enthralled. But after a while her gaze darted about oddly – looking first to my left, then to my right, then above my head. Finally she hopped up, quite the spry octogenarian, and said, “I’m sorry, but I just have to see what that bee is doing and where he’s going. I’ll be right back.” I thought of Harriet Barclay after a talk this winter by High Country News Editor Brian Calvert. Brian discussed how scientific language has come to dominate our culture and why we still need “poetic

thinking.” He specifically paired poetry and environmentalism; his subtitle was “Language, Beauty and the Fate of the Earth.” Sure, he noted, collections of data tell us how weather, water levels and the habits of pollinators are shifting. But what makes us care? Brian quoted David Abram, who wrote in The Spell of the Sensuous that a new environmental ethic will rise not from logic but from “a carnal, sensorial empathy with the living land that sustains us.” Scientific language encapsulates the world in measurements and facts, so we can know, quantify and reassure ourselves that we’re in control. But, as Brian pointed out, it’s hard to talk about love and beauty in scientific terms. And what is life without love and beauty? How do you measure the awe

Xavier Fané


Editor’s note that halts you in mid hike when you witness a fawn, all ears and legs, teeter from the willows to sip from Oh Be Joyful Creek? Scientific thinking can feel reductive, like solving an equation to find the right answer, while poetic thinking feels expansive – trolling the universe for new connections and ideas. Of course there’s great power when the two come together. What is music but precise mathematical constructs set loose to play in the ether? Perhaps our greatest hope comes from the interplay of scientific and poetic thinking. Some of our most influential scientists, engineers and thinkers leap beyond what is known (or at least assumed) to imagine what else might be possible. And our artists often bring their numinous visions to bear on the solid ground we tread; Ursula Le Guin called these visionaries “realists of a larger reality.” When Dr. Barclay died in 1990, her legacy included the discovery and study of many previously undocumented highaltitude plant species; about a dozen of those were named in her honor. But her painstaking academic work was powered by childlike curiosity and wonderment. I was hardly surprised to learn that Dr. Barclay was an accomplished artist as well as a botanist. In my own life, the reductive/expansive impulses ebb and flow. I like science. I like knowing things. I like lists, which reduce a daunting workload to a series of do-able daily chores. And I like traipsing among trees and clouds, flowers and streams, where my mind can wander to the wordless reaches of the cosmos. When I return to my desk, looser of limb and psyche, I often want to add to my list things like: “Know your deepest goodness. Feed that place. Live from it.” I could write that in between “Proofread the dining guide” and “Get oil changed in Jeep.” This issue of the Crested Butte Magazine spans the spectrum from the scientific to the poetic, from wildfire risk management to a mystical bear encounter. Public land protections matter; so does the joy of a starlit bucket shower when you’re living out of your truck. I’d like to dedicate this issue to poetic thinking – because Crested Butte specializes in the spacious, mystical, creative, sensory experiences the world so needs. May these pages inspire us to use our heads, hearts and senses to become “realists of a larger reality.” —Sandy Fails, editor 8

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“It’s all about

girl power”

By Sandy Fails

gOgirls coaches foster close friendships and strong young women through outdoor fun. The organizers, moms and coaches of gOgirls share one thing: they all wish they’d had a program like that when they were growing up. While the emphasis is on having fun outside, mentors also help the girls gain confidence, develop healthy habits, make friends and learn life lessons. “It’s all about girl power,” said Gunnison coach Molly Dillon. The nonprofit gO Initiative hosts gOgirls twice weekly in both Crested Butte and Gunnison, with different programs tailored to each community. Over the past five years, almost 300 girls have participated. The Gunnison program encompasses more diverse activities, with girls ranging from seven to 12 years old. Molly said, “We mountain bike, journal, do yoga, bake, swim, rock climb, hike, play Zebracatacus tag, paddle board and do a few other top-secret gOgirl activities.” In Crested Butte, the gO Initiative partners with Crested Butte Mountain Resort to offer the gOgirl Mountain Sports Team. These girls, ages nine to 14, focus more on mountain biking, with access to the chair lifts and bike park trails as well as cross-country rides. Both Crested Butte and Gunnison coaches take a holistic rather than purely athletic approach and emphasize camaraderie over competition. Molly said, “Our goal is to foster a safe, fun and honest place and group of friends where gOgirls can be themselves. It’s being 10

active with our crew, not pushing these girls into a sport or activity they don’t like. We have a good time and challenge ourselves and each other.” Ten-year-old Hallie Hicks of Crested Butte loves mountain biking (especially flying down the curvy Rec Path) with her gOgirl friends, but her favorite part is stopping to play in the river. When she crashed her bike one day, her friends hurried to help and later sent cards and called to see how she was doing. “The coaches instill kindness and trust,” said Hallie’s mother, Carrie Hicks. “In a ski resort like Crested Butte, there can be a lot of pressure for young athletes to perform. The gOgirl program is noncompetitive and low pressure; it’s about building relationships with other girls, sticking together, having fun with friends.” The coaches incorporate other life lessons along with

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their activities. As the girls learn bike maintenance, they might talk about selfreliance and self-esteem. Last year, while the Gunnison girls staffed their annual bikewash station at the Growler mountain bike race, they discussed respect, responsibility and giving back to their community. Molly, who has coached for five years, said, “Of course biking skills and climbing skills improve, but that’s not what we measure. It’s a mentoring program, and to see these young women grow up is what makes it special. This is my opportunity to impact a younger generation – to listen, support and help these girls become strong young women.” Molly’s favorite moments – like telling stories and being goofy – often come before or after their bike rides. “A few summers ago we had a feast at Hartman’s after riding one afternoon. My parents, from Iowa, brought out about 60 ears of corn, and we demolished them! Butter, bikes and time with the girls made for a perfect summer day.” In addition to its programs for girls, the gO Initiative offers coaching and training for athletes of all ages, massage, nutrition and mental health services. The nonprofit corporation stages Romp in the Rocks run and bike ride in Gunnison, the Park to Peak to Pint run and the Turkey Trot in Crested Butte. Sarah Stubbe, administrator for gO (formerly Griggs) Orthopedics, noted that Dr. Rhett Griggs opened his Crested Butte orthopedics office in 2012 with an unconventional approach. He wanted to include a performance aspect as well as a medical practice – “getting people out on the trail, not just getting them into the office,” she said. From its early days, gO Orthopedics sponsored athletes in running,

skiing and biking; hosted athletic camps; and educated the community on topics like nutrition and injury prevention. The business also brought in a mental health care professional, noting that getting help to heal a psychological ailment should have no more stigma than getting help to heal a broken bone. Mental health services are offered on a sliding scale. “We’re not trying to compete with other entities; we want to shine a light on all the resources available and to provide another avenue that some people might be more likely to take advantage of,” Sarah said. gO Orthopedics’ performance offerings became such a huge undertaking that a separate nonprofit, the gO Initiative, was created in 2017 to expand community involvement and broaden the fundraising possibilities. The gOgirl program, which started as a free weekly girls’ mountain bike ride, particularly delights Sarah. A competitive mountain athlete who moved to the valley two decades ago, she initially found Crested Butte “very male dominated” and saw the need for more development programs for girls and young women. “We need these girls to become leaders,” she said, whether it’s in their jobs, athletics or communities. Jalene Szuba joined the gO Initiative to organize the Turkey Trot, then took on fundraising, outreach, board education and grant writing. She’s also helping to make the gOgirl curriculum replicable so it can be offered in other communities. “I love the girls,” Jalene said, noting that mentorship played a huge role in her own life. “There are girls in the valley who could get lost in the cracks. Maybe they don’t have the support at home. I love seeing them get that from our coaches and from each other.”


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The impromptu

CB Lake Depth Project

By Caroline Singleton

Photos: Caroline Singleton

Volunteers in the service of science.

Research recruit Tim Speca launches the depth-sounder.

With a fishing tool, inflatable raft and sturdy hiking boots, these friends followed their curiosity to new heights – and depths. Humans love to measure: how many jellybeans in the jar, the distance between the Sun and Jupiter, how much Johnny grew this year according to the pencil marks on the wall. We measure progress to our goals, and how many hot dogs can be eaten in a minute. So why not measure lake depths? I’d heard mythical stories about the lakes of the West Elks. Nicholson Lake, up Slate River Road, was remarkably deep, people said. In fact, legend claimed that an old stagecoach, en route to deliver whiskey to miners, flipped into the murky lake. The whiskey was supposedly still there, sunk to the bottom, too deep for any scuba diver or fishing pole to retrieve. There was also speculation about Emerald Lake, Long Lake and Lake Irwin. Crested Buttians agreed they must be unfathomably deep. These pristine pools, perched high on the shoulders of mountains, inspire us. Photographs and stories feed our imaginations. Are there gold coins or dead bodies lying beneath those waters? Is Emerald Lake so deep that we’d be scared to swim there if we knew about the infinite void below? I got to thinking. Why not measure the depths of these lakes and discover the truth? By late summer, some friends and I got carried away with the idea. The Crested Butte Lake Depth Project was born. We did not apply for grants or university sponsorship. Instead, 14

on Amazon, I bought a $40 fish finder that uses sonar to detect depth. A sensor sends out a sound wave and measures the time it takes to refract, producing a depth reading. The day I received the box, my friend Tim and I drove to a glittering teal-water lake up the Gothic valley. We needed to see if

this little handheld device really could tell us what lay beneath the water. I brought an old wooden paddle from my garage, and we boarded the canoe that lives at Emerald Lake. Summer was about to set. It was cold work. I wore gloves as I clutched my new fish finder. The Lake Depth Project did not require sophisticated methodology. We just dropped the sensor and its yellow floatie outside of the canoe with a plunk. Tim paddled to every corner of the lake while I read out loud: “10 feet…11 feet…12 feet.” We


recorded the data and kept searching for the spots with the highest reading. After surveying the lake, we found that Emerald Lake isn’t quite bottomless; it is, in fact, 40 feet deep. It turns out that many people share our dorky curiosity. We Googled lake depths. Did you know that Crater Lake in Oregon plunges to 1,949 feet? We argued about which Crested Butte lake would win the deepness trophy. “It’s got to be Long Lake,” we speculated. “Topographically, there’s this chasm. It could be 80 feet deep.”



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More friends joined the cause and trekked with us to measure lakes. We spent the fading summer on the shores or in the waters of mountain swimming holes, hypothesizing and measuring. According to my little fish finder, our imaginations consistently had more capacity than our alpine lakes. Our plans slowly became more outlandish. We carried big backpacks with inflatable rafts and hiked to lakes that were accessible only by foot. No convenient canoes awaited us on the shore. Spoiler alert. Read no further if you want to keep the myths alive – or conduct your own lake depth project (which I’d highly recommend). I’m sad to report that our findings weren’t terribly thrilling. We discovered our lakes are mostly 20-40 feet deep, not dramatic, water-filled cracks in the earth’s mantle. They are humble lakes, nevertheless beautiful. They still happen to be deeper than most swimming pools. Ultimately that summer it didn’t matter if those stagecoach stories were true, or whether our lakes were of grandiose proportions. The joy of measuring the waters became much more important than the data. While we floated around the different bodies of water, time slowed as we pondered why those gems were there in the first place. Glaciers carved out basins in the last ice age. The mountaintops collect so much snow, it melts, and little lakes form. They’re cold, serene and ephemeral in our never-summer sort of climate. They’ll always be worth a hike with a heavy backpack, just so we can sit next to them and enjoy the reflection of the bluest of blues, the Colorado sky. While measuring as many lakes as autumn would allow, we crafted our own stories. I remember the struggle of hauling rafts and innertubes for miles up to 11,000 feet. I remember shivering the whole hike back to the car after exposure to 40-degree water. I also remember “borrowing” a forbidden canoe at Beaver Lake in Marble. It was in the name of science, and we weren’t going all the way out there without getting a reading. The Crested Butte Lake Depth Project was about floating under Treasure Mountain looking over the Yule valley and making up our own tall tales about sunken pirate ships in southwest Colorado. These mysterious lakes embolden us humans to be a bit more creative – and trail hearty. They don’t give up their secrets easily.


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CRESTED BUTTE 970.349.6114

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W W W. P R E M I E R- M O U N TA I N - P R O P E R T I E S . C O M All information deemed reliable but not guaranteed and should be independently verified. All properties are subject to prior sale, change, or withdrawal.

Finding common ground

By Cosmo Langsfeld

John Holder

After years of building consensus, the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative hopes to turn its land-protection proposal into federal legislation. In every direction our communities are surrounded by public lands, there for everyone to enjoy. Gunnison County has some of the most accessible and diverse federally managed public lands in the country, from rolling sage hills to the summits of 14,000-foot peaks. These landscapes are part of our daily lives, a primary reason we live or visit here. While conservation has long been integral to our communities, recent years have brought efforts to increase protections for our lands and waterways and the livelihoods that depend on them. One such effort, the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI), has been building consensus from diverse users on what shape those protections could take. The GPLI is a coalition of ten organizations representing local public lands users whose interests include various forms of recreation, hunting and angling, ranching operations, ecosystem integrity, sensitive species habitat, scientific research, and water use 18

and conservation. Along with Gunnison County Commissioners, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet’s office, and a professional facilitator, the coalition is developing a vision for what public lands protection could look like for the county, with a goal of turning that vision into a proposal for federal public lands legislation. In the summer of 2017, after 18 months of collaboration, the group released its initial conservation proposal to the public. It included proposed expansions to specific existing wilderness along with three new stand-alone wilderness areas. It also recommended the creation of a variety of special management areas (SMAs) – a designation that “protects public lands for a variety of uses and values and can be tailored to allow for a range of recreational uses or to focus management on specific issues such as wildlife or watershed protection.” After a year and a half of public outreach, during which the coalition met with hundreds of individuals, local and regional government entities, and community groups, the GPLI released a revised proposal in January 2019. Changes to the initial proposal include scaling back potential wilderness expansions to allow for existing winter motorized travel, and adjustments to SMAs to allow for future trail development or realignment or to allow for access to scientific research sites, to name just a few. At the same time, public

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Diverse land users came to the table to shape the GPLI plan.

comment led to expanded boundaries and protections for other parcels in the 2019 version. One example of proposed protection is the Deer Creek Protection Area and Wilderness Addition. This area, near the town of Crested Butte, is located in the upper East River Valley on the southwest flanks of White Mountain and WSC Peak. The coalition recommends an expansion of the existing Maroon-Bells Wilderness down to a section of the Deer Creek Trail. Below this elevation, the GPLI recommends the implementation of an SMA to allow mountain bikers to access the popular trail in the summer months and to accommodate current ranching operations and water use. These protections, over a large elevation gradient, would preserve critical habitat for migrating elk — and allow for the future preservation of diverse habitats and ecosystems as native flora and fauna adapt to the effects of climate change. The original recommendations resulted from discussions between coalition members and were aimed at preserving the values identified by the various stakeholders. Changes to the 2017 recommendations resulted from public input. For instance, during the public comment period, the GPLI learned that snowmobilers recreate in the lower-angled slopes in the vicinity of Deer Creek. To balance the needs of different interest groups and to correct inaccuracies regarding winter use prescriptions, the coalition adjusted its recommendations to permit winter motorized use within the Deer Creek Protection Area. With more than 450,000 acres of consensus-recommended public lands protections in the revised package, the

Mitch Warnick

coalition has begun discussing how to turn its recommendations into law, and it will be moving into the legislative process in the coming years. For certain areas, the coalition is still engaged with local communities to determine how management designations could best serve those who live near and use that land. These sections are deemed Areas in Discussion, and no recommendations will be put forth without “thorough, proper analysis” and broad support from their respective communities. To meet the needs of these communities, the coalition is very much thinking about the future. As the GPLI states on its website, the Colorado state demographer has projected a population growth in Gunnison County of about 50% over the next 30 years. As more people move to the area, and the local outdoor recreation industry continues to thrive, public lands around Gunnison County will see much higher demand. Much of the land the coalition is seeking to protect contains important wildlife habitat, including for the Gunnison sage grouse – classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act – as well as vital winter habitat for elk and mule deer. The values identified by the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative are elements that, once gone, could be irretrievable. With help from the community, the coalition sees an opportunity to preserve those resources for future generations while planning for the shifts in culture that will inevitably come with a growing population. To find out more about the GPLI or to read the 2019 proposal, visit



The best kind of


Emma Coburn congratulates a young runner at the finish line of her Elk Run 5K.

By Kathy Norgard

High school basketball coaches Mary Mike Haley and Paul Holder celebrate their regional victory with players Emma Vosburg and Emma Coburn, 2008.

A world-champion runner, a counselor and a cancer survivor give back through Living Journeys, a cancer support organization. Nelson Mandela defined the South African concept ubuntu as meaning “we are human only through the humanity of others.” What we accomplish builds on the inspiration and work of others, and we’re called to give back in return for what has been given to us. The word might be foreign, but the concept is quite familiar in Crested Butte. Three women who exemplify ubuntu are associated with Living Journeys, a Gunnison Valley nonprofit supporting people affected by cancer. Emma Coburn, who grew up in Crested Butte, took the 2017 World Championship in women’s steeplechase and won a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics. Through both talent and discipline, she’s accumulated amazing achievements in her short 28 years. But she still takes time to think about what she’s been given and how to pass on the gift. Coburn credits her high school basketball coach, Mary Mike Haley, as an important inspiration in her life. “Mary Mike is a magnetic person you want to be around and make proud of you,” said Coburn. “Not only did Mary Mike want the best from her athletes, she also called on us to try even harder and be the best people we could be. She taught us the importance of giving back to our community.” Haley led Living Journeys in those days, so many of the young basketball players, including Coburn, volunteered for the organization during high school. Years later, when Coburn had become a world22

Joel Vosburg

class athlete, she and her husband/coach, Joe Bosshard, decided to host a fund-raising running event in Crested Butte. They chose Living Journeys as the primary beneficiary. Coburn and Bosshard, along with local Joel Vosburg, organized the second annual Emma Coburn’s Elk Run 5K last year, with 500 participants raising $30,000 for Living Journeys. Due to scheduling conflicts with the 2019 World Championships, this year’s Elk Run 5K will be a “virtual race” before returning to a traditional format in 2020 (see side box). “Not only did I want to contribute to the community I love, I also hoped to inspire other young people just as I’d been inspired,” noted Coburn. “I’ve always known how lucky I was to live in beautiful Crested Butte, an incredible community. The school, my teachers – it’s a place where people look out for and care for one another.” Living and training in Boulder now, Coburn said, “I still have to

Darcie Perkins, six-year director of Living Journeys.

Lydia Stern

surround myself with people who hold me accountable and inspire and believe in me. That’s a big part of the race. I rely on others like my husband and coach, Joe.” Mary Mike Haley, one of Coburn’s inspirations, now lives and works in Carbondale at Aspire Recovery for Women, a step-down treatment center for women in recovery from alcohol and other addictions. Haley grew up as the youngest of seven children. “I moved to Gunnison when I was

14 years old to live with my older sister and her husband because I had a serious drug and alcohol addiction. My addiction was pretty bad, so when I finally got sober at 18 years old, I began hanging out with an amazing group of Crested Butte women who were also in AA and athletic. They inspired me by their lives to live my own life sober.” Haley ended up going to college and teaching at Western State College (now Western Colorado University). One of her

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colleagues and supporters in Crested Butte was Cheryl Ryan, who was eventually diagnosed with an aggressive form of inflammatory breast cancer. “I helped her go through cancer treatment,” Haley said. “That helped me realize that life is about giving back, helping others, softening the blows that life can throw at us. Being a good person is infectious. It inspires others to do the same thing.” Haley continued, “Tragedy alters our life perspective and gives us unique insight. It’s not so much what happens to you in life; it’s what you do about it. You can help and educate others because of your own experience.” She added, “Emma and all those kids I coached inspire me. They all grew up into amazing human beings. A lot of those kids are giving back in their own way.” Before cancer eventually took Cheryl Ryan’s life, she, Haley and local restaurateur Dana Zobs founded Living Journeys. The organization provides support and resources for people dealing with cancer. Haley was the first director for Living Journeys and credits much of the organization’s success to its amazing volunteers and board members. Darcie Perkins took the helm of Living Journeys for six years, starting in 2013 after

she’d lived through the devastation of cancer. “I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when my kids were one and three years old. I wanted to see them grow up. I was scared and anxious. Fortunately, the cancer I had has a cure, even though mine had metastasized. My husband, family and friends were my support through my treatment. By the end of it, I felt I had exhausted my emotional support system. I dreaded going to my check-ups, afraid that the cancer would come back.” After Perkins became the director for Living Journeys, she attended a support group meeting to introduce herself. “During the meeting, one member shared that she had a heightened sense of smell post-chemo. My own sniffer is like a canine’s. No one ever told me that could happen. It was a tiny thing, but it helped me know that I wasn’t going crazy. I realized how important support groups can be,” she recalled. Perkins expanded the number of support groups for people dealing with cancer: two in Gunnison, one in Crested Butte South and one in Crested Butte. She also added a youth support group (which the kids call “The Cancer Club,” a club no one wants to join). By having their own group, kids realize they’re not alone as they cope with cancer in

their families. “The kids have a bonfire and often do adventure activities together. They become like a second family.” Living Journeys also offers two bereavement groups, along with yoga, exercise, nutrition and journal-writing classes for those living with cancer. An equine reflection program gives individuals the opportunity to interact with horses. People can begin classes or support groups at any time, and the activities are free for people dealing with cancer and their support systems or families. “Sometimes it seems that our valley has a higher incidence of cancer since we hear about so many local cases,” Perkins said, but actually Gunnison County is at or below the national average for cancer diagnoses. “Because we live in such a caring community and are so connected with one another, we are much more aware of one another’s triumphs and struggles.” As with national statistics, the valley’s most common form of cancer is breast cancer. “It’s important to get those annual checkups,” Perkins noted. Perkins, who’s an equestrian during her off hours, said her work with Living Journeys was “a way to give back for all I received.”

She added that working there was a “daily inspiration – watching people give to one another.” Yes, people living in Crested Butte understand ubuntu.


A “VIRTUAL” ELK RUN 5K FOR 2019 Emma Coburn’s Elk Run 5K will go virtual for one year in 2019. On Sept. 21, registered runners will do their own runs and post photos on social media with the hashtag #virtualElkRun5K. People can run anywhere in the world, and each participant will receive a race bib, 2019 event hat and full “swag bag.” Coburn will be competing in the steeplechase world championships during the normal event time, so for this year only she decided to try the virtual format to raise much-needed funds for Living Journeys. Register ($25) at


Woo and wow,

Crested Butte style

By Stephanie Maltarich Trail 403.

Nathan Bilow

Dinner and a movie…nice. But your sweetie won’t soon forget these five “only in Crested Butte” summertime dates. Alpenglow, bluebird days, high peaks, colorful wildflowers and endless trails. Crested Butte’s beauty and recreation create a natural backdrop for wild and romantic dates. Sometimes the dinner-anda-movie evening can wait... while you take your partner out in memorable Crested Butte style.

A BENCH WITH A VIEW The low-impact date On a knoll at the west edge of town sits a lone bench, a favorite locals’ spot to relax, sit and simply be. Perched on a point above 26

town, it offers a birds-eye view of Crested Butte’s picturesque homes and streets. Early birds can grab a cup of coffee and watch the sunrise, while others might greet the evening there: lounging on the bench, legs outstretched, awaiting a perfect alpenglow from the best seat in town. To access the bench, take a left onto the dirt road, Old Kebler Pass, on the west end of Elk Avenue. Once the road curves, a short dirt path to the left leads to the bench.

TRAIL 403 VIEWPOINT The hike-to-a-vista date Grab some takeout and a mini box of wine and put the car in four-wheel-drive. This gentle hike begins at around 11,000 feet in the pine trees and pops out into the alpine heights, providing expansive views. Follow the trail to a junction and look below; two lone Adirondack chairs overlooking the valley await you on a clear


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summer evening. Gothic Mountain provides a quintessential and unforgettable backdrop for slurping noodles and sipping wine. Trail 403 (rerouted in summer 2018) starts near the top of Washington Gulch Road; the drive requires clearance and four-wheel-drive capability, but it’s worth it.

The bench above town.


John Holder

Guides Ridge.

The adventurers’ date* Take the nontraditional route up Guides Ridge to reach the summit of Mt. Crested Butte. The exposed and adrenaline-inducing ridgeline coupled with 12,000 feet of altitude will take any couple’s breath away. Enjoy views of the surrounding peaks; some in the distance crest above 14,000 feet. Scramble up the exposed ridge in your harness attached to your partner by a rope – the perfect relationship metaphor. Bring a picnic of cheese, crackers and a few La Croix (because, after all, you’ll still have to walk down). Remember to sign the summit register, perhaps drawing a heart next to your names. *This is a technical climb. Technical rock climbing experience required – or hire a guide!


Stephanie Maltarich

The pedal-together-and-stay-together date Rent mountain bikes in town and pedal eight miles out the dirt road to the old mining town of Gothic, now host to Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. The road is mostly downhill on the way there, so be prepared for an uphill (hopefully not cranky) ride back. When you reach Gothic, stop in at the lab’s visitor center for locally made Third Bowl ice cream and coffee. Take a seat and enjoy watching the passersby, or take a tour if you time it right. Extreme couples might tack on a ride on the world-famous Trail 401 before indulging in ice cream.

LOST LAKE AUTUMN ASPENS The golden-hour date Kebler Pass hosts the largest aspen grove in Colorado. During the autumn colors in midSeptember, you’ll feel like you found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Lost Lake, a 45-minute drive out Kebler west of Crested Butte, is a lovely fall outing perfect for mountain couples. There you’ll find a 2.8-mile, three-lake trail system that circles back beneath East Beckwith Mountain, where the granite cliffs plunge into the lake. Sit together at the lake’s edge to celebrate beautiful views and beautiful colors with a beautiful person. Location, location, location. Just before press time, Stephanie Maltarich’s beau, Peter Horgan, proposed to her on a backcountry ski trip. She said yes.


Nathan Bilow


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59 Cinnamon Mountain Road, Mt. Crested Butte, 4 BR, 3.5 Bth, 4,822 SF, 1.05 acres, Skier access, Offered for $1,795,000

4121 Wildcat Trail, Crested Butte, 4 BR, 3.5 Bth, 2 Car Gar, Borders National Forest, 4,264 SF, 36.98 acres, Offered for $1,795,000

450 Oversteeg Gulch Road, Crested Butte, 3 BR, 2 Bth, 2 Car Gar, 1,497 SF, 35.11 acres, National Forest access, stunning views, Offered for $1,395,000

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9 Hunter Hill Road Unit 208, Black Bear Condos, Mt. Crested Butte, 3 BR, 3 Bth, Heated garage parking, Skier access, 1,607 SF, Offered for $850,000

San Moritz Condos, Unit P-104, Mt. Crested Butte, Ski-In/Ski-Out, 2 BR, 2 Bth, 1,001 SF, Offered for $360,000

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LAND LISTINGS Grand Lodge Condos, Mt. Crested Butte, Base Area, Unit 519, Studio, 1 Bth, 395 SF, Offered for $179,000, Unit 355, Studio, 1 Bth, 443 SF, Offered for $175,000, Unit 307, Studio, 1 Bth, 395 SF, Offered for $173,000, Unit 107, Studio, 1 Bth, 395 SF, Offered for $165,000, Unit 375, Studio, 1 Bth, 443 SF, Offered for $160,000

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There it is. The rusty, blue Toyota pick-up truck parked on the school’s track. Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” blares at Volume 11. Than Acuff, enigma, sportswriter, surly local character, sets his bootlegged safety flares in place on the perimeter of his church — the high school soccer pitch. It’s 11:40 p.m. Outlaw Than is getting the boys one extra practice after finding a loophole in the Colorado Athletic Board’s official fall “start date” for high school sports. It’s Than’s Annual Led Zeppelin Midnight Madness Soccer Practice. The local cops know what’s happening, but Sean, Joe, John, Mike and Pete still perform periodic drive-bys to see Than’s latest squad of out-of-shape, tan, sleepy new and returning players. Only two words escape the smiling boys’ lips: “Hey, Coach.” The word “Coach” rings out like a sacred pact, an oath of loyalty and reverence, a testimony to a 22-year legacy. Tommy Linehan and Slater Weil climb into former high school soccer legends Ben and Mo Gillie’s old pick-up truck to grab two bags of balls. The back of the 22R, four-banger rust bucket is an odyssey of broken ski poles, smashed Backwoods cigar pouches, paint supplies, CB Avalanche Center posters and forgotten Al Johnson prizes. Than is real, gritty, authentic, insanely loyal, charismatic, brilliant and kind of smelly. The Big Lebowski of the soccer sidelines. He’s the Dude. But the Dude with the 2018 Colorado Division II Boys State Soccer Trophy safely behind glass in the school’s extensive trophy case. Alums Emma Coburn, Aaron Blunck and David Chodounsky watch over Than’s heavy metal as true Titan Guardians – and SMILE! So where did it all begin? Actually, 26 years ago. Soccer dad 32

Than Acuff gallops to join cheering fans as the Titans clinch their first state soccer championship. Nathan Bilow

Brian Fenerty and I started the U-12 and U-14 soccer program in 1993. We had success on the Western Slope of Colorado. In 1994, I met one of Ian Hatchett’s Crested Butte Mountain Resort “ski rental shop rats.” A telemarkskiing, Grateful Dead-listening, bindingadjusting dirtbag. His name was Than Acuff. Than quickly let me know that he was smart, great in lacrosse and soccer in high school, had many past beautiful girlfriends, and wanted to learn more about the precarious CB BC (Crested Butte backcountry). I immediately liked and disliked Than – the usual spark of lifetime friendships. By 1996, Than was writing sports for the Crested Butte News. Than has spent the last 23 years making me and other local athletes look better than we really are. Trust me! Than wanted to augment his stellar sportswriter and school bus driver salaries with a whopping youth soccer coaching salary. So, in a battle of surly vs. surly, I teamed newbie Coach Acuff with veteran Coach Fenerty – scrappy Philly meets scrappy Baltimore/D.C. Combined urban fire. Than brought a new kind of game to our school: bold plays, unprecedented formations, the dreaded three-quarter sprints, tobacco spit, 1950s Cold War-style halftime rants, his unique fashion statements, intensity, humor,

Lydia Stern

respect, teamwork and crushing hangovers. As to the last item, I often told Than, in 1998 and 1999, not to stand too close to parents on the sidelines. The stale smell of Budweiser and Stoli’s was a bit too...real. Flash to late 2003. After receiving a brotherly, tough-love letter from me, Than went up to Elkton to ski powder, take one last shot of Jim Beam, and put the plug in the jug for “good and all.” Since that day in 2003, I’ve watched a boy become a man. A talented, charismatic yet angry twentysomething become an amazing writer,

fundraising machine, loyal friend, genius on the microphone at award ceremonies, dedicated husband, loving father, and THE best, most complex, authentic, winning coach I’ve ever seen. Than is a psychedelic version of John Wooden. Lebowski with a clipboard and Adidas Samba sneakers. Bottom line: Than loves his players, and his players love him. But, Than never got the final win, the Super Bowl ring, the Stanley Cup, “his” Grand Traverse title. The bad taste in his mouth combined with the bad taste of eating cigars never left his palate. Than got 33

Lydia Stern

Than in laid-back mode – and with the 2018 state soccer champs and fellow coaches Bob Piccaro, Ethan Scott and John LaDuke.

plenty of Coach of the Year, League Champs, Southwestern Colorado Outstanding Coach “small plaques.” A lot of lukewarm mugs-full of that bitter-tasting Almost. Until August of 2018. The Year of Redemption! The Year of Family! The Year of Victory! The Year of Bob Piccaro! The Year of Magic! The Year of Tommy Linehan and Slater Weil! The Year of Grit and Desire. The Year of Gunnison Ringers! The Year of No League Losses. The Year of Gabi Marmolejo’s World Cup-Level Direct Kick! Than needed something new, and he got it — in Spades and Olive Oil! The return of his close friend and former coaching buddy, Bob Piccaro. The master of scrap, leaded gasoline, buzz cuts, grit, chrome toughness and East Coast Italian La Familia. Bob brought the “secret” ingredients of Grandma’s Sicilian sauce: fun, thrift stores, road trips, ridiculous Marine-style runs and, above all, the POWER of family. Than and Bob added coach Ethan Scott, from a town north of Boston, who brought a much-needed infusion of unbridled passion for the sport and a deep belief that every game was winnable. Ethan also introduced putt-putt golf before the State Championship. And, with dedicated goalie coach John LaDuke controlling Slater’s “New York-style, hothead” ways, the boys could not 34

Nathan Bilow

lose. Under Than’s iron guidance, they didn’t! The runaway bus could not be stopped. Than was Cowboy Neal at the wheel. Bob provided the leaded gas. The boys practiced, played and won with “new school” flare that I had not yet seen at the Crested Butte Community School (CBCS). A spicy salsa of grit, humility, Brazilian ginga-style flash, brotherhood, mutual respect and the everpresent La Familia vibe. They were down at half and won. They were not favored and won. They were down at the end of regulation and won in overtime. They played Front

Range dynasty teams in the post-season and won. Than’s October and November texts: “The Dragon cannot be slayed!” “Linehan is going off these days!” “Thank God for Bob.” “Dude, we are playing in the finals at Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium on SATURDAY!” “My wife wants to kill me.” “I LOVE these guys.” “I am not eating.” “This is insane.”

“I’m a MESS, O’Neill!” And his second to last text: “It’s TELLURIDE in the FINALS! Are YOU f***ing kidding ME?!?!?!” The stage is set. November 10, 2018, Denver, Colorado. Colorado Division II Boys Soccer State Championship. The prechampionship “calm-the-nerves putt-putt golf scramble” scores are in the books. The bleachers are packed with past and present CBCS students, players, coaches, parents, Crested Butte locals and Than groupies. Back home, the CBCS Multi Purpose Room is filled to capacity! Pitas in Paradise is stuffed with Crested Butte and Titans pride, cold beer, a rare state title on the line, one current and four former mayors, nervousness and, again, the CB Family. The same CB Family that is there for those in times of death, cancer, suicide, tragedy and defeat. But on this day it all boils down to a round ball, a Denver professional sports venue, a perfect season, and Than and the boys. CBCS songster Willa Emmitt smashes the National Anthem, which we also sing back at the high school. A cold Denver wind whips up. Than and the Telluride Miners coach stand off like Ali and Foreman in Zaire in 1974. The whistle blows. Game on. Two halves of physical, well-played, defensive yet scoreless soccer. A bit too much like the 2019 Super Bowl. Overtime. OT starts to favor a Telluride victory. My dad’s rosary comes out of my pocket as I glance at terrified Titan Super Fan Joel Vosburg. I pray for Than, Bob, the boys, the school, the town, the former Titan players and me! Suddenly there’s a breakaway from Dagan Schwartz toward the Telluride goal. At the top of the penalty box, Dagan is destroyed, smeared, pummeled! No call! “What?!?! Are you kidding me?!” Than roars from the sidelines. Still no call. A sudden and truly bizarre Telluride cheap hit smashes a still-on-his-knees Dagan on the back of the head. “Friggin’ Telluride, damn festival town,“ I mutter to myself. Yellow card! Direct kick! Game on! Than, my smartest friend, my best friend, my brother, my greatest advocate, signals in a direct kick play. I suddenly think, “Than is my fellow Dead Head who never got shut out of a show. Than is my no-booze buddy of 37 combined years! Than is the guy who was with me when we picked up Ian Hatchett off of First Street two years ago and drove him to Dr. Thorson’s office when his aorta was ready to explode! THIS Than cannot lose NOW!”

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The ball is set. Gabi Marmolejo and Kai Matlock meet at the 19-yard line. Kai steps over the ball and sprints at the goalie. Gabi turns Messi and absolutely BURIES the ball in the top right corner of the net. GAME! OVER! STATE CHAMPIONS! Than, his coaches and his boys storm the fans! Joel and I lose our sh*t! The CBCS Multi Purpose Room erupts! Pitas explodes! A car parade spontaneously hits Elk Avenue! In bliss, Titan fans watch the giant screen as the players hoist the state trophy over their proud Titan heads. Than, the happiest and purest and highest that I have EVER seen him, grabs that state trophy, kisses it and points to the fans, his extended Crested Butte Titans family, his congregation! I was too overwhelmed with raw emotions to stay at the school. I went to my car, turned on the Grateful Dead song “Comes a Time,” and cried. I cried for it all. I cried for our town. I cried for our school. I cried for my father. I cried for those our community has lost: Cheyne Salley, Mike Potoker, Karyn Adelman, Dave Theis. Then, I cried for Than. I couldn’t stop crying. I remembered a guy who was ready to throw all that talent and goodness and life-changing impact away for a CB bad-boy reputation, sketchy ski lines, Budweiser, anger and vodka. Instead, over the last 16 years, I have watched Than become super friend, super writer, super community member, super husband, super father. I watched him become COACH. Than had finally put his mom and dad in the ground, finally won “his” Grand Traverse, finally faced and extinguished his past demons, and FINALLY washed that bad taste of Almost and tobacco out of his mouth. He had tasted redemption, true contentment and victory. And, most importantly, Than had given those boys, our school and this humble, little mining town-turned-ski town their greatest, purest athletic moment of all time. But Than wasn’t done. He had one final mission. On Saturday night, Than had to go with his wife Kristy, his daughter Izzy and some close friends to the best steak house in Denver. At 11:07 p.m. that night, I received my greatest text to date with a photo attached of a clean plate and a barren steak bone. It simply read: “O’Neill, it ain’t over ‘til you’ve eaten the T-bone!” Patrick O’Neill is a long-time Crested Butte teacher, athlete, soccer fan and former coach.






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“Dark of the Moon” launched the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre in 1972.

Sandra Cortner

Since its first ambitious production in a field 47 years ago, the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre has transformed its actors, audiences and community. By Janet Weil


Like many great local traditions, the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre was born in a drinking establishment – in this case created in 1972 by George Sibley and Tom Towler as an alternative to occupying their barstools. “We both realized there were other smart people in town who wanted to do something that was intelligent and engaging other than drinking and drugging, wasting their lives in bars. Something we could feel good about when we were having a beer at the end of the day,” said George. Vietnam vet Tom Towler, who was hiding out in the mountains trying to recover from the trauma of the war, had experience in theater and before being drafted had

trained and worked with Second City in Chicago. George Sibley had been editing the Crested Butte Chronicle. The two barstool buddies thought it would be fun to do a play for the second Arts Festival, another idea hatched in the local bars the year before. To everyone’s surprise, the first Arts Festival had been wildly successful, with crowds coming from all over the state to see what was happening in the small town at the end of the road. Tom took on the role of artistic director, suggesting they do the hillbilly tragedy “Dark of the Moon,” employing a large cast. George volunteered as producer, responsible for the staging, lighting, sound and set design, though he had no prior

Andrew Hadley and cast in an energetic version of “Music Man.”

Paul Gallaher

experience producing plays. The play would be performed outdoors in the grassy field behind the school with Crested Butte Mountain as the backdrop. “We played with the script, writing more parts for witches because there were a lot of beautiful women in town who liked to dance,” George said. Sandra Cortner, who was one of those witches, remembers Tom having them rehearse using improv techniques, hissing and slithering around on the floor to get in a witchy state of mind. George described Tom as “a talented director and charismatic kind of fellow who could get people to do things.” George quickly realized there was nothing but grass in that field – no

electricity, no lights, no sound, no stage. He wrangled a load of lumber from Joe Rozman, who had a sawmill at the end of the street and gave George a sweet deal. He bought some plywood and made 15-foot raised platforms for Diane Kahn, who was doing the set design. George and Tom footed the bill for all the supplies, certain they would make it up with ticket sales. Amazingly, they did. George persuaded a friend at Gunnison County Electric Association to run power in the field, laying the cable after hours from one of the poles. They borrowed microphones and lights, including a large floodlight, from Western State College. They planted poles to hold the lights and

temporarily buried the cable, but only two inches below the surface. Luckily, no one got shocked while sitting on the ground. With creative thinking and gritty persistence, George and Tom made the show happen in time for the second Arts Festival, surprising everyone. The audience sat on blankets and watched their friends singing and dancing across the stage. Few had acting experience, but everyone had enthusiasm. “Dark of the Moon” became the first play in a 47-year run of the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre, the oldest continuously running community theater in Colorado. During the next few decades, the theater flourished, with three plays in the winter and three in the summer performed either in the 39

Michael Danna in “Cabaret.”

Eric Ross and Morgan Queal in “The Good Doctor.”

Tom Mallardi starred in the 1992 production of “Midsummer Nights Dream.”

Photos: Sandra Cortner


Gothic Building in Mt. Crested Butte, the Old Town Hall, the Depot or (after it was created) the Center for the Arts. In 1991, the Old Town Hall got a new foundation, and the Town donated the second floor space to the theater. The winter heating bills for this drafty old building, built in 1883 by Jacob Kochevar, almost bankrupted the theater. A more extensive renovation, funded by the Town in 2018-19, brought a new oak floor, fresh paint, new carpets and an ADA-compliant stair lift. The upstairs space initially lacked a bathroom, so the thespians devised alternatives: a unisex backstage pee can, or the metal grated balcony above Coal Creek, or a quick dash across the street to the Forest Queen or Kochevar’s for a shot and a pee. George and Tom were very idealistic in their vision for the theater. George said, “We wanted the plays to help guide the community in its development and growth, not just be entertainment. It shows elements of that from time to time. It’s a hard thing to achieve. The theater does some plays that have relevance to what’s going on in the valley…. We hoped a few people would buckle down to the task of creating this community thing like the Greeks did, judging their community on

their playwrights who were very critical of their city, trying to keep it from becoming too prideful. It’s still a valuable part of the community.”

AND THE SHOW MUST GO ON… “Some of the funniest and most memorable times that happen on stage are the moments when things go wrong,” said Andrew Hadley, a seasoned Mountain Theatre leading man. “What I love about live theater is you can’t say, ‘Cut’ and do another take. You look in the eyes of your fellow actors and think, ‘Oh God, what are we going to do now?’ Something goes wrong and you have to figure it out. That’s the adrenaline rush.” Cindy Petito, a highly praised actress, recalled playing the mealy-mouthed nurse in “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” While walking onstage to scold the main character, the suitcase she was carrying opened and a large picture of Jesus fell out for all to see. So, was this the man who came to dinner? During “A Thousand Clowns,” actor Steve Glazer was cued to open a closet door. When he did, he saw prankster Rae Lyn Jacobs standing there naked. He kept in character…the show must go on. Lynda Petito, a long-time director, remembers when Gene Mason broke his arm shortly before the “Fifth of July” opened. He didn’t miss a beat and performed with his broken limb. During a performance of the fast-paced comedy, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” a man sitting in the first row jumped on the stage while Andrew Hadley was in mid-sentence and asked, “Where’s the bathroom?” One opening night, a blizzard raged outside. No one came to the show. The cast was getting ready to go home when billy barr, the eccentric mountain man/caretaker of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, opened the door. He had skied to town to attend the theater. The cast agreed the show must go on…and performed for an audience of one. “The coolest thing about the theater is you get to make magic,” said Malia Jones, a long-time Mountain Theatre actress and current vice president of the board of directors. One magical afternoon, Cindy Petito was pulling her children in a sled downtown when a man approached and asked, “You don’t know where there’s a place to live, do you?” Cindy asked, “Can you act?” The stranger replied, “I acted in high

Live the Crested Butte Dream



school. Been a while, but yeah, I can act.” Cindy told him to come by the theater that evening to try out for a part. If he got the part, she thought she could find him a place to live. Cindy knew that Sam Robards, a talented Hollywood actor who was directing “Taking Steps,” needed an actor for one of the roles. She also knew Sam had extra room in his house. The stranger turned out to be David Russell, who tried out for the part. Sam told David if he wanted the role, it was his, and he could live at Sam’s house for as long as he needed. David accepted, and he and Sam become good friends. A spark ignited, and David later moved to Denver to pursue an acting career.

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BECOMING SOMEONE ENTIRELY DIFFERENT Why would someone spend months of precious free time rehearsing for a play? “The reason I got into theater and stay in theater is the feeling of playing someone entirely different from myself,” said Hadley. “You can get comfortable in your skin and become lethargic and go about the things you do because you’re good at it. You’ve done it your whole life, but that focus, that aperture of your life, gets very narrowly focused, and you don’t branch out and do new things. One of the strongest parts of theater is playing someone completely different, every time, whether it’s the dentist in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ or Nathan Detroit in ‘Guys and Dolls’ or Bobby Strong in ‘Urinetown.’ I got to play all these great different characters… You have to inhabit that character so deeply, create a backstory, and you begin to understand why different people make different decisions in their lives. It gives you more empathy, a little more perspective, a little more sympathy.” He added, “It’s always bittersweet at the end of a play. You’ve produced something that’s so joyful, whether a comedy or tragedy, and you’ve bonded with that group of people. Those are some of the best moments of my life. I feel so alive.” Having acted on stage since childhood, Malia noted that the Mountain Theatre includes people of all ages, with children’s programs and an intergenerational mix on stage in other productions. She’s excited the theater will stage “Annie” this summer because “it will give some of the kids who have been in the YouTheatre program the opportunity to use the tools they learned: blocking, cues and trigger lines, knowing stage left and stage right, learning how to


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memorize lines and how to have a public speaking voice.” Nola Hadley, a veteran performer at age 15, learned all about character development from YouTheatre: inventing the character’s background story, imagining her hobbies, thinking how she would react in different situations and why. “Everything you do is about your character, and you can just leave yourself off-stage with everything you’re worrying about and get to be somebody else for a while.” An actress with Teens on Stage, Nola noted that some roles are easily relatable, but it can be more challenging – and more fun – to play someone with a very different persona. Nola loves the moments when each show is over, and she’s standing in the lights surrounded by applause. “It’s always a little sad, too, because it’s so much fun to be in a play. Saying farewell to the cast is sweet, but sad when everyone has to leave. I never want to go home!” As a child, Malia worked with Mountain Theatre legend Tom Mallardi in “Pinocchio.” “Having Tom there made me more able to get weird with the character and not feel self-conscious. Tom encouraged people and pushed them through example. He was so good and made everyone around him so much better,” she said. Tom died unexpectedly of a heart ailment in May 2002. His versatility as an actor, playing roles from dramatic to comedic, was unparalleled. Cindy Petito called him “a prince!” In recognition of Tom’s contributions, the Town renamed the Old Town Hall upstairs space the Thomas A. Mallardi Cabaret Theatre. “Live theater creates the opportunity to become the art form; it’s not just looking at a painting and experiencing whatever the artist intended at that moment,” said Malia. “A lot of different organizations bring art to the valley and allow people to witness the art; buy a ticket, sit in a seat and watch the show. The Mountain Theatre brings art and asks people to participate in it, teaching art to whomever walks through the door and wants to be part of the play. You’re a conduit doing magic with the people around you. The theater gives everyone a place to tell their stories and gives us freedom to be ourselves, or to escape from ourselves. One of the Mountain Theatre’s jobs is to make sure the theater is always stewarding the challenging, the funky, the weird.”

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Going with the flow Cyclist and fishing guide Lu Warner has crafted a lifestyle that taps the best of Crested Butte and Chile. By Beth Buehler


Lu Warner has long interwoven adventure with making a living in the mountain towns that capture a place in his soul. The adventure (and sometimes the living) has involved fly rods, boats, bikes, hiking shoes and skis. Now a fishing guide near Crested Butte and owner of a lodge in South America, Warner splits his year between the Colorado Rockies and the Patagonia of Chile. It’s not always a smooth ride – especially when bikes crash, Chilean volcanoes erupt, or military installations crop up in the backyard. But Warner’s grit and easygoing nature have allowed him to ride the currents and keep on casting.


Warner, 62, grew up outside of Hartford, Connecticut, before moving to Park City, Utah, in 1975 and then northwest Montana in 1978. A decade later he returned to Utah, purchased a home in Moab and established a bike touring business offering multiday biking and camping trips in the Southwest, Idaho and Colorado. During those years in Moab, he met Crested Butte mountain-biking characters like Jimmy Faust, Kris Pogoloff and Dave Lindsay. “I’ve always been a traveler, never happy to be in one place,” Warner said. “A biking business was perfect for the desert, and winter was kind of idle so I skied the backcountry 70 to 80 days a season in the Wasatch and La Sal mountains.” After selling Western Spirit Cycling in 1996, he considered moving to Sun Valley or Jackson, until he researched housing costs. “I didn’t want to live in my truck and I’d just finished a bike tour in France, so I decided to live in a travel trailer for a while and explore more of the Rocky Mountain West,” Warner said. In Durango, he connected with his old friend Bob Woerne (a.k.a. Coffee Bob), who suggested that he visit Crested Butte. As the century rolled over, Warner reconnected with his Crested Butte friends and found a more doable cost of living. “Crested Butte was pretty dead back then, and I thought, ‘I like this.’ Bob was living in an apartment above Pogoloff’s woodshop in Riverland. He moved out, and I moved in. Later, I found a house in Meridian Lake at a foreclosure auction.” Pogoloff found Warner a dauntless mountain biking companion. “I’d heard about Lu’s reputation and that he held the White Rim Trail one-day record for four or five years, so thought I had to meet this dude, and I started riding with him.” After countless bike rides and backcountry ski outings together, Pogoloff describes Warner as an amazing rider who always wants to do one more lap. Or why not detour onto the Snodgrass trail after riding Deer Creek and 401? “Lu has so much energy for a guy his age. I’d say, ‘Lu, I’ve got to go home, I’m exhausted.’ He doesn’t know how to slow down; it’s all or nothing.” It wasn’t just friendships, premiere fishing and riding that attracted Warner to Crested Butte. “There’s a lot of funk here — dirt in the alleyways, and it’s not all polished — and people are doing really cool stuff outdoors at a high energy level on a daily basis, like backcountry skiing, riding mountain bikes and climbing peaks. You can’t do that just anywhere. Here it’s passion first, work second.”


Long ago, by luck or genius, Warner’s mom discovered she could keep her five-year-old son occupied with a stick and string beside a mud puddle. His first real fishing experience was for brook trout on his grandfather’s maple syrup farm in Vermont. He spent much of his childhood fishing the small streams of New England and Quebec, and 47

Lu Warner in his elements: doing trail work on Deer Creek; hiking to the top of Cerro la Teta in Chile; and tying flies with young anglers at Wilder on the Taylor.

adulthood brought him to Alaska, New Zealand, British Columbia, Quebec, Argentina, Chile and the Rocky Mountain West. Since 1985, Warner has worked as a fly-fishing guide in the United States and South America. For almost two decades, he has guided during summers in the Gunnison-Crested Butte area, working for Dragonfly Anglers and Crested Butte Angler before becoming the master fishing guide for Wilder on the Taylor. This is his seventh season at the historic ranch along the Taylor River southeast of Crested Butte. From late October through May, Warner typically lives in Chile, where he owns and operates Valle Bonito Lodge near Futaleufú, specializing in fly-fishing, hiking, multi-sport and family vacations. “I fished until my early twenties without really knowing anything; I was just taking up space on the water,” he recalled. A friend introduced him to the book Selective Trout by Doug Swisher and Carl Richards. “It changed everything and showed me there was a method to the madness… and there was a lot to learn.” At Wilder, Warner guides and teaches fly-fishing fundamentals to owners and guests on the Taylor River, Rarick Creek and six fishing ponds sprinkled around the 2,100-acre property. He also has led local women’s fishing clinics at Wilder and helped the ranch host wounded soldiers and veterans through Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and through Crested Butte’s Adaptive Sports Center. Ron Welborn, development partner for Wilder on the Taylor, praised Warner’s ability to create individualized fishing experiences around each person’s ability and personality. “Lu is very personable and can relate to all levels of fisher people, as he’s honed his skills from travels around the world, working with people of all ages and backgrounds. He’s also great at reading the water and anticipating what the fish are feeding on to present the appropriate fly at the appropriate time.” 48

Jim Garrison/Wilder on the Taylor

Warner makes sure the waterways stay healthy and accessible, managing fish habitat and monitoring flows, and he posts regular fishing reports that anyone is welcome to view at

THE TAYLOR’S TAILWATER ADVANTAGES The years have deepened Warner’s love for the Taylor River. “Most fly fishermen appreciate the challenge of fishing for wild fish. I’ve been firm about not stocking the river, and our owners feel the same. With more than 6,000 trout per mile of river, the Taylor has one of the finest fisheries in the western United States. On the Taylor, fish like to come up to the top and eat dry flies. Many rivers have lots of fish, but they like to stay on the bottom.” Last year, many free-flowing rivers across the West were closed during the peak summer months due to low water and warm temperatures, and many anglers stopped fishing because of the threat to this important natural resource. Tailwater fisheries (e.g. downstream from dams) such as the Taylor River are a saving grace during such challenging years. “While I’m not by any means pro dams, regulated flows assure a minimum of water, and the cold, well-oxygenated, 45-degree water

being released from the bottom of the Taylor Reservoir is a haven for trout, their food and fishermen as well,” Warner explained. “Fish are able to find their comfort spots and stay there instead of constantly moving to find good conditions when times get tough.” Warner also appreciates fishing on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, the lower Gunnison below town and the area’s backcountry streams. “There are thousands of miles of streams and creeks and really cool high-country fishing in the valley,” he said.

Knowledge and Experience

Sam Lumb



In 1995, right before selling his bike touring company, Warner took a three-month, selfsupported mountain bike tour in southern Chile that left him hungry for more. The following year he did a similar trip and soon brought his first fishing clients there to experience uncrowded waters, large trout and the Chilean culture. Seven years later, he and a friend, a rafting and fishing guide, discussed buying a fishing lodge in Chile. Warner, who also worked as a cabinetmaker and trim carpenter, restlessly Googled properties for sale and found Valle Bonito Lodge near Futaleufú. In July, the dead of winter there, he found the lodge “beautiful but pretty beat up. But I’m a carpenter and thought, ‘I can do this.’” Located in the middle of the Andes in northern Patagonia, Futaleufú in Mapuche means “big river.” The town’s small but growing tourism industry is based on adventure, especially rafting and kayaking but also fishing, mountain biking, trekking and canyoneering. Warner and his friend committed and began improving Valle Bonito Lodge in 2006. Warner studied Spanish and began bringing clients to Chile. Two years later, he was set to become the lodge’s sole owner – but Nature had other plans. “A huge volcano blew up and covered our place with six inches of ash. The local rivers were seriously off color, trees were broken and lush pastures had turned gray,” Warner recalled. Thinking Valle Bonito was “toast,” Warner rerouted clients to other lodges in Argentina. But eventually grass grew through the ash and the river began to clear. Warner purchased his friend’s shares in Valle Bonito and painted, stained, repaired and added solar and septic systems. He reopened the lodge in 2012 and began dividing his time between Crested Butte and Chile. Things at last were running smoothly. However, in April 2018, crews began

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constructing a military base near Valle Bonito. Anticipating a period of explosives, machines and noise, Warner decided not to open Valle Bonito in 2018 and instead worked out of a friend’s nearby lodge. This spring, he found the area tidied up and the military base almost unnoticeable from the lodge, so he plans to reopen Valle Bonito for next season. In contrast to the unpredictability in Chile, Warner prizes the consistency of his work among the prime fishing waters of Gunnison County, sharing the outdoors with friends and clients. “That’s what I do best,” he said.

The Difference is in the details!

Photos : James Ray Spahn


523 Riverland Drive, Suite 2A • P.O. Box 596 Crested Butte, CO 81224 970.349.5816 • 970.209.2281 • 970.901.0723 • 50

HOW TO CATCH THE FLY-FISHING BUG Lu Warner described fly fishing as “a true art” and shared tips for growing into your rod and waders. • This sport isn’t learned in ten minutes. You gain knowledge through time on the water. • Find a mentor, whether it’s a guide, friend or family member, to help along the way. This valley has many great guides. • Create your own fishing experiences to understand what mentors and guides are talking about. • Do you have the passion for the sport? If you fly fish super casually, you don’t get good enough to enjoy it. • Be in the moment. Fly fishing requires acute observation and intense concentration. • Tap your hunter instinct. If you have a strong connection with nature, you’ll be more successful as a fisherman. • A good age to start kids is around ten, when their attention spans are greater.

By Brian Levine, as though narrated by John E. Phillips


George E. Mellen

John Phillips made his fortune from mining but found greater treasures as an 1880s newspaperman among the colorful characters of Irwin and Crested Butte. Most of my life I traveled this Colorado mineral trail: Denver to Leadville to Rosita to Irwin to Crested Butte to Cripple Creek. Always searching for some opulent cache of silver or gold, some fast ticket to status and wealth. Only now do I realize my best days were in Gunnison County, where character and story were the real treasures. Maybe that’s what I’d unknowingly sought all those years -- engaging personalities and the energy that emanated from them. I certainly wasn’t aware of this quest on the farm in Sussex County, Delaware, where I was born. Back then, in the early 1850s, I knew little more than dairy cows, corn and chickens. However, by the early 1860s, I’d certainly heard of Abraham Lincoln, the American Civil War and the gold discoveries in the Colorado Territory. The latter intrigued me most. So, in 1878, after completing literature and math studies, I journeyed to Colorado. Then, quick as train travel, I found my way to Leadville, where, it was said, silver just poured out of mines like the Little Pittsburgh and the Robert E. Lee. I found that town frenetic with thousands of people, clanging industry, passion and crime, and a cloud cover thick as soot. Problem was: not one inch of ground had been left unclaimed, and there were enough newspapers being published to fill the deepest mine shaft. In various nefarious and uproarious saloons – Board of Trade, Saint Ann’s, Ben Loeb’s, etc. -- I heard rumors of other mineral discoveries in the south of the state. One tale piqued my interest: a

The trustees and officers of the Town of Irwin with the first issue of The Elk Mountain Pilot on June 17, 1880.

sailor named Bassick who’d found himself a golden chimney in the middle of the Hardscrabble Silver Mining District. I was attracted like the force between two of Maxwell’s magnets, especially after learning that Captain Bassick was now a millionaire, reveling in the incongruous tides of an illustrious life. Inspired, I made my way to the Wet Mountain Valley, in Custer County, and once more found the hills overpopulated with scruffy wealth-seekers. By this time, however, I was low on funds and sought steady pay, if for nothing else than to keep my imagination alive. I went to work on The Index, a mining sheet published by Charley Baker and Ben Lane in the calamitous town of Rosita. From this convenient position, I was able to eat while learning the vital topography of the Hardscrabble Mining District. Rosita was a wild place, with its hotels and mercantiles, saloons and dance halls, stage stops and brothels. I learned on the job and met folk significant to my later life, notably Richard Irwin and Sam Metzler. Irwin was already a legend throughout Colorado, having prospected in the Georgetown Quadrangle, the Breckenridge Gold District, Leadville and throughout the San Juan Mountains. But Irwin longed to be in the Ruby District, high in the Elk Mountains, eight miles above the newly formed town of Crested Butte. He and Charley Baker thought it a bright idea to start a newspaper in Ruby, and after much debate, I accepted the mission. 53

Irwin, Colorado, July 1880 Forest Queen Mine, Ruby District

The Elk Mountain Pilot got its first splotch of ink in the distant, rattlesnake-infested town of Rosita. Gathering all the necessary printing equipment caused me a late start into the Gunnison Country. Baker wanted me to wait on his spare, and quite special, Washington press. He swore Mark Twain had learned the newspaper business on it during the Famous Wit’s time in Hannibal, Missouri. So I waited until January 1880 before this historic artifact arrived from Baker’s hometown of Palmyra, Missouri, where it had long resided in a questionable state of preservation. After packing up innumerable random bits, Charles Stevens and I travelled over Otto Mears’ toll roads from Rosita to Poncha Springs, then to Saguache and over Cochetopa Pass. We entered Gunnison City in February 1880. By then, it was too late to brave the heavy snows up into the mining town named after my friend, Richard Irwin. While sheltered for winter I assisted Colonel C. F. Hall, recently from Lake City, in starting Gunnison City’s first newspaper. The first issue of the Gunnison News, published in April 1880, was lined with items about Jack Haverly – of Haverly’s American United Mastodon Minstrels and Haverly’s Golden Group Mining Company of Colorado. He was on a Gunnison City buying spree, purchasing lots, buildings and nearby mining prospects. He was national news, and we reported all his follies. After our very first newspaper, printed on an ever-popular Washington hand press, was auctioned on Gunnison’s Main Street for $60, Hall asked me to stay at the Gunnison News. But as soon as the road was clear, I had the Thompson Brothers – who’d just sold the Forest Queen Mine – move my printing equipment and me up to Irwin. Packers regularly hauled equipment from King’s Ranch to Irwin 54

around 2 a.m., taking advantage of the cold weather and hardened snow. Each man backpacked 100-150 pounds up the icy trail, usually arriving in town between 5 and 6 a.m. It was an arduous slog, and many a packer collapsed under heavy weight or into weakened ice. We made it into Irwin without mishap and soon found town lots and buildings were already expensive. However, because I was starting Irwin’s first newspaper, I was given a lot on the main street John E. Phillips by the Cornwall Brothers, who’d platted the townsite. I wasted little time selling that property to Messrs. Berry and McQuaid, as they offered me $1,000 for it and I could just as easily operate on a $250 back street lot. That left me with $750 ready capital to construct a log building to purpose. As for McQuaid and Berry, they opened a general mercantile and prospered, while the precious metal was still lustrous. On June 17, 1880, the first issue of The Elk Mountain Pilot – my very own newspaper – was published. Auctioned from atop a whiskey keg on Main, the first newspaper realized $50, with the top bid coming from the owners of the Rogers & Morrison Saloon. The next newspaper sold to the Harding Brothers Hardware for $40. In total, the first six newspapers brought in $156. Motivated and optimistic, we wetted down a thousand copies, all on the old Washington hand press once used by Samuel Clemens. What a day!

What a town! Everything made me feel Irwin was where I belonged. And it was quite heady to be the sole herald of Ruby Camp. So many remarkable people arrived in that remote silver mining district between 1880 and 1881. J. H. Haverly came up, of course, investing in several claims and financing a sawmill. Edward Stoiber, later of Silverton fame, founded a mineral survey office with E. J. O’Connor and an assay office with Otto Schultz. William De LaVergne, brother of Ed -- soon to be credited with early Cripple Creek gold discoveries – ran a drugstore. My old boss, Charley Baker, sold his share in the Pilot to John Lacey, and Lacey trundled into Irwin on one of J. L. Sanderson’s stagecoaches. Sam Metzler, late from Hardscrabble, opened the Bank of Irwin as well as a lumber mill. Sylvester Richardson, Gunnison City’s founder, tried his hand at the Pioneer Stamp Mill. The Swain Brothers located space for their photographic gallery. Horace A. W. Tabor looked over the town’s development but determined Crested Butte a more viable location for his bank. Crested Butte pioneer Howard Smith made an appearance and then returned to his coal fields up Slate River. Two of the most illustrious characters to arrive in Irwin were William Palmer and William Bell, powerhouses behind the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and Colorado Springs. They’d purchased the Forest Queen Mine from Lee and Harland Thompson. The Elk Mountain Pilot quickly gained a significant subscribers’ list, columns of advertising and legal notices, and had just enough space remaining to cover local events, snow shoeing accidents and mining news. Despite Irwin’s climactic extremes, it was a wondrous and theatrical place in the early 1880s. Its residents were stalwart and foolhardy, talented and filled to the brim with personality. Only problem: the silver didn’t last. Somewhere at depth, the geology had shifted, turned upside-down, curled and twisted until most of the mineralized paystreaks were lost. By late 1884, tenderfeet and characters alike were folding up their stores and hauling their buildings down to Crested Butte, where coal production and mining supplies were still in demand. I, too, reluctantly decided it best to rope up my printing plant and bobsled to the rail center of the Elk Mountain District. On May 2, 1884, the first Pilot with a Crested Butte masthead hit the streets. I reported that Sam Metzler had acquired the Bank of Crested Butte and Ed Stoiber had

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joined his brother, Gustavus, in Silverton. Change was on us, and those with pickaxes stuck them in the surrounding rock and consolidated their enterprises. Crested Butte was different from Irwin, Gothic, Pittsburg and Schofield. It served as a part-time center for hard-rock mining but was a full-time coal town. Gold- and silver-seekers, more often than not, didn’t stay long in Crested Butte. They dustily trod in, bought dynamite, shovels, ore buckets, flour and beer, then disappeared back into the hills. It was the coal men who stayed and kept the town lively. Coal towns were composed of company mines, stores, scrip and housing, and its employees were seldom as independent as hard-rock miners. Still, there were personalities. Like Dr. John W. Rockefeller. He started out as a physician with the Colorado Coal and Iron Company but later found independence, owning the Bank of Crested Butte, the Crested Butte Telephone Company, Crested Butte Light and Power Company, East River Gold Mining and Milling Company and later my own Elk Mountain Pilot. There’d once been 50 newspapers in Gunnison County, but as metal production

dwindled, so did the news. In 1890, the Pilot covered Gothic, Rock Creek, Poverty Gulch, Schofield, Anthracite, Bellevue, Rustler’s Gulch, Crystal, Marble, Baldwin and Jack’s Cabin. I still sought out the characters: Cyrus Shores, the famous Gunnison County sheriff; Lon Hartman, Gunnison County’s archetypal rancher; C.F. Meek of the Colorado-Yule Marble Company; Sylvia Smith, Crested Butte’s first female journalist; David Wood, the noted freighter; Colorado pathfinder Otto Mears. And one of my favorites, Dr. Rockefeller, an inventive, ambitious and generous personality who always had a thousand and one projects going on at once. By the early 1890s, that mineral trail beckoned me again. Richard Irwin was now prospecting in the recently organized Cripple Creek Gold Mining District on the southwestern slope of Pikes Peak. Other Elk Mountain characters – friends of mine, like finance man Edwin Arkell of Aspen -- were there, too. So, after 12 years of nurturing newspapers, I once again hit the mineral trail. In 1893, I sold the Pilot to Dr. Rockefeller, and with that stake, I opened the John E. Phillips & Co. Mines, Stocks, and Real Estate in Cripple Creek. In 1894, Arkell and I incorporated The Broken Hill Gold Mining Company, owning claims on Gold and Globe hills, as well as on Battle Mountain. Not long after, Winfield Stratton – soon to become Cripple Creek’s most enigmatic gold baron -- gave us a fortune for those properties. We then reinvested in The Ben Hur Gold Mining and Milling Company and made even more money. Meantime, I got involved with Grand Valley National Bank in Grand Junction. Once again, I was surrounded by characters and stories, but it wasn’t the same. I never thought I’d be even the smallest part of the industrial whirlwind that carried men like Otto Mears, Verner Reed and Simon Guggenheim to fortune and influence. But there I was. Although the business and profits were addictive, it wasn’t me, at least not completely. I didn’t have the same drive as those twentieth-century people. Gunnison County personalities like Irwin and Rockefeller were of more interest, and I missed them. Now, in my golden years, I’m once again on a farm – this time, a walnut orchard in Fullerton, California. Looking back, I realize that, though I made my fortune in Cripple Creek, the people and stories of Irwin and Crested Butte were my truer treasures. (970) 596.1248


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By Cassidy A. Tawse-Garcia

On an unusually warm morning for mid-September, I turn from the highway onto a dusty drive and ease past aging outbuildings to a clearing between vegetable fields, a 200-hen chicken run, and the gurgling waters of Tomichi Creek. I climb out of the car, feeling nervous about the job ahead. Am I wearing the right clothes for this? I look down at my Carhartt overalls, not yet dirty enough to show I work in them, and think, “Well, not for long.” I join a few people gathered around a truck and trailer, which is ringed by a makeshift fence. Through the open door of the trailer, I see a 165-pound, heritagebreed Large Black hog happily munching on his breakfast. He is none the wiser that we have gathered to help in humanely slaughtering the main course for a local foods celebration, the Harvest Hoedown, happening here at Coldharbour Ranch later in the week. Farmer Blaine Pickett lays out the plan and gives us each a job. The process is quick and clean. With the carefully placed shot in his brainstem, the pig dies instantly, feeling nothing. We quickly cut open the carcass and remove the organs. My overalls become only 60

slightly dirty as we hoist the animal by the hind legs to be “bled.” As we watch Blaine work, saving every part that can be used, a sense of amazement comes over me. All six of the young people around me are working in Gunnison Valley food production. When I moved here ten years ago, such a sight wouldn’t have been possible.


he Gunnison Valley is experiencing a food renaissance. Restaurants like the Sunflower and chefs like Dana Zobs, of Crested Butte Personal Chefs, are serving “local” menus almost completely sourced within 100 miles of our valley. Farmers are sprouting up all around the county, where just a few years ago folks scoffed at food operations where the frost-free growing season averages a measly 40 days a year. Food has been cultivated in the Gunnison Valley for hundreds of years, from the Utes growing corn and wheat in their summering grounds to the first settlers planting potatoes and cabbage. But while ranching flourished, the long winters deterred large-scale vegetable production. When the Crested Butte Farmers Market embarked on its first season 12 years ago, there were no Gunnison Valley

Megan Davey


Megan Davey

MJ and Blaine Pickett and daughter Maeve of Calder Farm in Gunnison.

Cassidy Tawse-Garcia pulls apart tender pork after 24 hours of roasting a Calder Farm pig. Though she’d planned for 100 guests, “Big Black” fed all 300 who showed up at the inaugural Harvest Hoedown.

vendors. “Local” food included the nearby, lower-elevation North Fork Valley, where fruit trees thrive and organic vegetables enjoy a longer growing season. In the last decade, though, even with the challenges of high altitude, a small but committed group of local producers has taken root in our backyard.


he real work in bringing local pork to the plates of the Gunnison Valley started long before “Big Black” was slaughtered. 62

Megan Davey

Blaine and MJ Pickett came here in 2015 for MJ to attend the Masters in Environmental Management program at Western Colorado University. Having gained experience on organic farms in South America through the WOOF program and worked at a nonprofit farm in Reno, Nevada, they knew they wanted to farm but weren’t sure where. In Gunnison, “things kinda fell into place,” MJ said. Now in its third season, Calder Farm’s pigs live their lives not in pens,

but munching grasses in the pastures of Coldharbour Ranch, former cattle lands given to the Coldharbour Institute, a ranchland education and environmental advocacy nonprofit. The Picketts raise vegetables on a two-acre parcel of City of Gunnison open space, the Van Tuyl Ranch; the historical ranch was deeded to the city with the stipulation that a percentage of land stay in agricultural production. For the Picketts, the choice to raise meat and vegetables together is very intentional. “We believe that the animal and vegetable systems need to be interconnected,” Blaine said. From a practical standpoint, “pigs are really good at building soil.” From a financial standpoint, MJ said, offering a product like pork “is what we had to do to grow vegetables at 8,000 feet.”


atalie Berkman made Mountain Roots Food Project her home starting in 2015. Beginning as a food systems intern, “I

Farm Manager Natalie Berkman and intern Sam Lesnikoski work the Mountain Roots Farm east of Gunnison.

Phil Keim

pretty much said yes to everything they asked me to do. I got to do and learn a lot,” Natalie said. Mountain Roots Food Project was founded in 2009 to educate about, cultivate and advocate for local food. Its largest project is the Community Farm; and in 2017, Natalie jumped on board as farm manager. “In our first season, I decided to stick with crops I knew would grow well at elevation. We didn’t really do much experimenting, except for some citronella we grew and learned that tropical plants do not, after all, grow well in Gunnison,” she said with a laugh. While the first season was all about building infrastructure and getting the farm set up, in 2018 Mountain Roots Community Farm produced more than 10,000 pounds of vegetables and maintained 200 hens on two acres at Coldharbour Ranch. The farm supported a 60-person Multi-Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, as well as providing produce weekly to 19 local families in need, through the Backyard Harvest Program. Natalie commented, “It’s pretty rare to find a small, rural, western community with a budding small-farm scene. There is so 64

much excitement for what people are doing here.”


achel Alter, my “pig production” partner, and I work quickly to stoke the coals. The day is slipping away, and due to Big Black’s size, he’ll take at least 24 hours to cook. Thanks to the help of Mountain Roots staff, the use of a friend’s truck, the donation of cinderblocks from Western Lumber, and the welding skills of a local builder, we have an outdoor oven erected, just yards from where Big Black lived his life. The fire in the pit next to the oven is finally burning itself out; we need red-hot coals to slow smoke the pork to fall-apart perfection. We open the makeshift door to the cinderblock oven and shovel in coals. Working below the grate where Big Black rests, we focus heat around his shoulders — or the “butt,” as it’s called in BBQ lingo – and hind legs. Too much heat on the ribs would mean dry meat for our dinner guests. With one last peek at Big Black, belly up and filling the entire grate, and the glimmering coals below, we shut the door and settle in. We’ll sit watch together for a while, then take turns every two hours, stoking the coals through

the night. I snuggle into my multi-layered puffy jackets and gaze at the stars twinkling in the clear night sky. It’s going to be a cold one.


ue Wyman loves many things about farming in the Gunnison Valley, but her eyes sparkle when she talks about her rhubarb. A gift from the Flick Ranch, a historic homestead near Ohio City, it has been growing in the valley for more than a century. Sitting in the living room of her old Victorian home in downtown Gunnison, Sue is quick to point out that neither she nor her fellow food producers invented the idea of farming in this place. “I always want to acknowledge those who have been doing it for a long time,” Sue noted. A hydrologist and civil engineer by trade, Sue is the owner and operator of Gunnison Gardens. Producing a variety of vegetables, berries and laying hens on four acres within the city of Gunnison, Wyman has been selling to local restaurants and at the Gunnison Farmers Market for four years. For Sue, the connection to this area’s tradition of farming, overlaid with the energy and community of current producers, keeps her growing in Gunnison. “What grows in

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this valley, that is local,” she said with pride.


ana Zobs knows a thing or two about sourcing quality local ingredients at the end of the road. “Ten years ago, I’d just moved back to Crested Butte from the San Francisco Bay Area, and the local food movement here was disappointing,” she told me frankly. “We had a food stand at the four-way stop and that was it.” Dana went to great lengths to get the food she needed, coordinating a delivery pool of food from the North Fork. “The only way to make my personal chef business work was to get food from Paonia and Hotchkiss.” Now Dana delights in our valley’s local food access, including greens and chickens from Mountain Roots Farm. “I now get to source food like a normal business and don’t spend hours on the phone with farmers. We’re always finding new exciting local options. The local food movement here has grown exponentially!“


hese days, the Picketts’ largest buyer is the Sunflower Restaurant

Sue Wyman in her Gunnison Gardens greenhouse.

in Crested Butte. Last fall, they also had more orders for whole hogs than ever before. Sue Wyman said Gunnison Gardens had its most successful season in 2018, and for the first time it was profitable (a feat for any farmer). Natalie was so drawn to farming, she moved to Montana last February to work on a larger organic farm. New farmers are finding strong community demand for their goods – and encouragement from other local producers. “As friends, we’re really a crucial support system for one another,” Sue said. In 2017, six growers founded the Gunnison Producers Guild to increase public awareness of valley producers while providing education and assistance for each other. MJ said, “People are more interested in knowing where their food comes from and how their food was grown. That’s good for us, because we’re interested in sharing. And now there’s a lot of support for each other among the producers.” MJ, the assistant director of Coldharbour Institute and president of

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the Gunnison Producers Guild, said, “We farm in the Gunnison Valley because of our community. It’s much easier to grow food in other parts of the world, but this valley has a deep culture and community that supports one another, and that is something we deeply resonate with.” As MJ looked down at the bundle in her arms, her baby daughter Maeve, she noted, “We are now in this for more. We want to have something to pass down to her.”


rested Butte Farmers Market Executive Director Catherine Vader grew up in the valley; her family owned Gunnison Vitamin. She noted, “It wasn’t until 10 or 15 years ago that folks here began growing and raising food with the intention of selling it locally.” Even with the increasing success of producers in the county, in 2018 the Crested Butte Farmers Market did not include any vendors from the Gunnison Valley. Catherine explained that while they would be welcome at the market, their participation would depend on more than their proximity. “Is their particular product category needed, or is it already super saturated at the market? How do their practices compare to veteran, returning vendors?” Still, we can for the first time redefine “local” food, thanks to this new group of committed, passionate growers and makers, ready to push the limits of what is possible at 9,000 feet. wake up at 5 a.m. to the sound of hoofs on dirt. I peek out of my hat/Buff/sleeping bag face fort and see a lone man on a horse, riding toward the creek. I loosen the mummy hood of my sleeping bag and wipe the frost off my eyelashes. The dawn is perfumed by the pork fat and charcoal smells emanating from the nearby oven. As I gaze at the cowboy, a ranch hand working for Parker Pastures (a long-time, regenerative beef and lamb producer), the sun rises over the hills. I’m stirred by gratitude: for Big Black, who gave his life to feed the community, and for the producers who are changing the foodscape in this valley. I feel the sun’s warmth on my flushed cheeks, and I’m filled with anticipation and hope for what the next ten years will bring.



Cassidy Tawse-Garcia loves cooking with ingredients from local makers and producers. Last summer she started Supperclub Collective with Rachel Alter, offering seasonal, locally sourced, pop-up “dinners for good.” 67


Doctor Rock Investigating the land’s geologic intrigue with geo-sleuth Dr. Amy Ellwein. By Dawne Belloise

Chris Miller

Laccolith. Hang out with “Dr. Rock” – Amy Ellwein – and it could become your new favorite word. Gothic, Marcellina and other familiar local mountains, she’ll explain, are laccoliths – formed eons ago by magma forcing its way into sedimentary layers of earth. The softer sedimentary rock then slowly eroded away, leaving dramatic igneous spires like those overlooking town from Crested Butte Mountain. Heading into the mountains with a geomorphologist changes the way you casually look out your car window. I found out by riding around Colorado’s terrain with Amy Ellwein, who sees this terrain in relationship to ancient landscapes and millions of years of geologic activity. She’s the ultimate geo-sleuth. Amy analyzes the world from the top down, observing crags and outcrops and then seeking explanations far below the earth’s surface. Collecting clues only a sleuthing geologist would recognize, she deciphers tales of upheaval and seismic intrigue like violent, slow-motion murder mysteries. She is, after all, Dr. Rock, and her excited animation is contagious. As a researcher and educator, she describes how and when these mountains formed, how ancient oceans once covered this

land, how an enormous caldera once blew up the state’s western slope. Her expertise is as solid as the rocks she studies. Raised in Minneapolis, Amy confessed that throughout high school, she was a major troublemaker, mostly because she was bored. “I hated high school, so I skipped a lot of school.” When she was 15 years old, her tenth grade counselor gave Amy’s father a choice: she could either be expelled or be enrolled in college. She was enrolled at Normandale Community College, taking science, math and engineering. “I liked understanding the natural world outside of humans. I found us annoying. I wanted to understand nature,” she said. Though dubious at first, she immediately loved her studies. “Science is very selfdirected. To be a good scientist, you have to be objective, skeptical, but also open-minded. There’s a lot of paradox in science and a lot of room for creative expression within those rules. You have to be detailed oriented at one level, but you also have to think about the global implications. You’re putting together a lot of facts and ideas. It’s awesome.” Only one semester away from graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, Amy


Geomorphologist Amy Ellwein on the case and on the trail.

asked herself, “What is my all-time favorite science class?” The answer: geology. “So I walked over to the geology building to check it out. It was the oldest building on campus – dusty and dirty and full of rocks and boxes and characters. Everybody there looked like me. They were all wearing flannel shirts, rippedup Levi’s, and all the guys had long hair. I was home. These were my people.” She smiled. “As a geologist, you got to go camping, traveling, do science outside. And geologists drink a lot of beer.” A couple of years later, in 1993, Amy graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science degree in geology and geophysics. In 1997 she received her masters in soil geomorphology from the University of New Mexico, where she then earned her doctorate in 2011. Amy had begun working in the Elk Mountains in 1994 with her late husband, Tim Wawrzyniec, as he was doing field research for his dissertation. For five years, they spent summers camping up East River, West Maroon, Taylor Pass, Taylor Park and Richmond Ridge, which connects Taylor Peak with Aspen Mountain. She helped in his intensive fieldwork mapping and collecting samples for a paleomagnetism study. Amy explained: “Rocks can lock in the earth’s magnetic field when they form or when they are altered in certain ways. It’s one of the ways geologists figured out how plate tectonics work.” Iron70

bearing minerals can act like little compasses that record the direction of the earth’s magnetic field at the time of their formation. If geologists know the age of the rock, they can then start to piece together how continents move and how massive chunks of rock shift when mountains are being built. “There are some parts of the Elks, West Elks and Sawatch ranges that are mapped in great detail, but it was the places that weren’t mapped well or were mapped a very long time ago where Tim found some very interesting geologic questions to explore,” Amy said. “In those areas, geologists were mapping before the theory of plate tectonics, which only came about in the 1960s. We didn’t have very good dating methods back then either. One area that’s not mapped very well is up Cement Creek, where the most recent published geologic maps are from the late 1800s. We spent a lot of time up there looking at faults.” Meanwhile, as a geomorphologist, Amy was studying the land’s surface and how it changes with climate or tectonics, examining glacial moraines, landslide deposits and river deposits. In 2010, Amy took positions at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) and Western State College (now Western Colorado University), where she is still an adjunct professor, although she’s not currently teaching. She started at RMBL working on a post-doctoral research project, making a

college-level curriculum based on long-term data sets. “The idea was to get students (who couldn’t get to Gothic) to experience daily life and science at a field station, so it was an online curriculum, with a website called Digital RMBL. I built student engagement by introducing them online to people, places, animals and plants in this area, as well as climate and geology. We introduced them to people like billy barr and a range of scientists.” For more than 40 years, billy barr has been collecting climate data, temperature, precipitation, snowpack, avalanche maps, first spring sightings of migratory or hibernating animals, etc. “Once students were exposed to all that, the idea was to get them to play with

the data. So I had to give them tools to enable them to do that.” Amy developed a series of interactive data visualizations and lab exercises that allowed students to see how the data changed over time and to make predictions about future change. The project, which she worked on through 2012, was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In 2013, Amy became the director of science communications for RMBL, while she was teaching at Western and taking students on field trips to see rocks and surface deposits. She trained her RMBL crew in the biology and geology around Gothic because they were also educators, either in the visitors’ center or the kids’ programs. In 2016, she started leading two-hour geology van tours that continue to sell out every summer. “We drive anywhere we can get a van into safely and back in two hours, and I tell geology stories about the area.” From the beginning, her stories were so fascinating that some of the same people came back every week for her tours. Because of the return guests, Amy had to approach each tour as a chapter in Earth’s history. She’d bring the group back to the same places, but tell different stories organized around different time periods. One day she might talk about glaciers and rivers over the last two million years; another day might bring the story of the Ancestral Rockies, the mountains here before our “modern” Rockies. “Around 300 million years ago, Colorado had a mountain belt in roughly the same location and roughly the same size as the one we have now, but over time those mountains eroded,” she said. “That left behind sediments that accumulated in deep ocean basins that eventually turned into sedimentary rocks. Those Ancestral Rocky Mountain sediments are now the red rocks around here, like the rocks that make up the Maroon Bells, Teocalli Mountain or the tops of the Elk Range.” From the same vantage point, Amy can talk about the marine Mancos Shale, deposited around 90 million years ago in an ocean that covered much of the western United States, leaving a layer up to a mile thick of silty gray sedimentary rock. “The geology is so diverse here, you can go to one place multiple times and tell multiple stories – around geologic time periods, specific rocks or major geologic events,” she pointed out. In 2017, Amy met Jack Shroder, a retired geology professor from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Jack was one of the first volunteers in Amy’s new RMBL docent

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program. In their spare time, Amy took Jack around the backcountry in her Jeep, so he could get a closer look at the local geology and they could tell each other stories. These excursions inspired them to write a geology book for the general public. They contracted with Mountain Press, a publisher in Montana that puts out The Roadside Geology series. Their book, likely to be released in 2020 or 2021, will be in the Geology Underfoot series, which focuses on smaller areas and encourages people to get out of their cars and look at rocks. “Our book will be Geology Underfoot of Colorado’s Western Slope, essentially from the Continental Divide to Utah,” Amy said. Paleontologist George Engelmann is contributing a few chapters, and his wife Carol (both from the University of Nebraska) will handle much of the editing. The book is primarily aimed at people who have an interest but not necessarily any background in geology. “We’ve chosen locations where we know people are already going and are likely to be interested in the geology, but also where you can tell an interesting geologic story,” Amy said. They highlight popular state parks and areas where the geologic history is visible, like Mesa Verde, Dinosaur National Monument and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. “We’ve also chosen locations where history and geology collide, like the Colorado Mineral Belt and major recreation areas like Glenwood Springs and Grand Mesa.” Now, as an independent research scientist at RMBL, Amy is working on several NSFfunded projects. A project with RMBL aquatic ecologists is just getting started; another is just wrapping up, examining the use of carbonate rinds on large boulders near Torrey, Utah, to understand climate change over the last 250,000 years. Amy is also collaborating with a colleague from the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, to determine how and where dust is generated from landscapes on the Colorado Plateau. “Basically, we know that dust is blown into the air, and here in Crested Butte, we often see that dust on snow in the spring, but we don’t really know the source of that dust or the specific conditions on the surface that allow dust to enter the atmosphere.” Laughing, Amy offered this description of herself: an extroverted nerd who studies seemingly unimportant minutia, who can then interpret science into stories that get nongeologists excited about seeing landscapes in four dimensions. Amy’s stories captivate us even more with so much beauty and diversity in our alpine backyard.


Doctor Rock wants you to know… •

The east-west hill that stretches from Buckhorn to Riverland is the terminal (farthest down valley) moraine of the Slate River glacier. A moraine is a pile of sediment pushed together by a glacier; this one is more than 15,000 years old.

After the Ancestral Rockies were worn down and before the modern Rockies formed, most of what is now the interior western United States was below sea level. Lots of marine mud accumulated and then turned into rock. That sedimentary rock is the Mancos shale, which can be more than one mile thick!

Most lapis lazuli, a stunningly beautiful blue metamorphic rock that forms from limestone, is mined in Afghanistan. But Crested Butte has its own secret stash of lapis, found in mines on both the east and west flanks of Italian Mountain up Cement Creek. Zachariah Zypp, the local jewelry store, has a great selection of lapis from Italian Mountain mines.

The original name of Treasure Mountain, southwest of Schofield Park, was Citadel Mountain. As the story goes, the current

name came from an ill-fated French mining expedition that was organized in the late 1700s by Napoleon Bonaparte, who needed financing to fund his ambitions. The expedition party supposedly discovered and amassed a large amount of gold near Wolf Creek Pass, had a falling out with the local Native Americans, then buried the gold and fled the area, pursued and hunted by warriors. The lone survivor, the expedition›s historian, was reported to have made two maps of the hidden treasure. Two later expeditions with copies of the map failed to find the treasure, and the mountain was named after the legend of the missing French loot. But Treasure Mountain produced treasures of its own. The Treasure Mountain Dome was mined for silver, gold, zinc, lead, copper, molybdenum and marble. •

Have you ever noticed how flat the top of Red Mountain is? It’s actually a remnant of what used to be a much larger basalt flow (hardened remnants of a lava flow). If you walk up to the base of the basalt flow, you’ll see rounded river gravel under the basalt. The top of Red Mountain is basalt that flowed into what was the bottom of a river valley roughly 10 million years ago!

Photos by Allison White Photography

Chris Miller


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Through a collection of old letters, an affectionate granddaughter re-discovers the spirited voice of rancher Ernestine Eastman Spann. By Cara Guerrieri

My imagination in overdrive, I opened the file of old letters written by my grandma, Ernestine Eastman Spann, to her best friends. She addressed every letter to “Dear Birds,” a reference to the round-robin letter writing they’d begun in 1928, the year they graduated from Western State College. When each woman received the roundrobin letters in the mail, she took out her old note and replaced it with a new one. The cycle continued for the rest of the women’s lives. For years I’d hunted for these letters, hoping Grandma had saved them. I envisioned a treasure trove chronicling her engagement and marriage, her life on ranches in Gunnison and Crested Butte, the birth of three daughters (two born on the ranch) and the joys and heartbreak that come along in every life. Last summer when my brother Dexter told me he’d found them, my heart pounded as if I were a prospector striking gold. As is the case for most wild-eyed prospectors, this vein of gold was not as bountiful as in my dreams. The batch of letters spanned only eight years, 1966 to 1973. Still, I was happy to discover Grandma’s voice again, 44 years after her death. As I read the letters, I smiled at some consistent themes. Along with her regular challenge of finding functional writing implements — “Of all the pens I have, I can’t find one that works” – many letters echo a sentiment she expressed in 1972. “We think our Gunnison Country is best of all places. It is nice to go [away] but nicer to be home,” she wrote. She praised all the seasons – “The trees are turning and the scenery around here so beautiful” – but she heaped the most adoration on wintertime. “The old mountains are sure snowcapped and beautiful with the sun shining on them,” she penned. Grandma Ernestine loved the upper valley, noting in 1967, “The snow above Crested Buttes is beautiful.” She used the plural, “Crested Buttes,” in her letters, which may have been her own peculiarity or a holdover nickname from Ferdinand Hayden’s 1873 survey, in which present-day Crested Butte Mountain and Gothic Mountain were referred to as “the crested buttes.” At any rate, the cold didn’t diminish her enthusiasm. “Come spend the winter in good country,” she told her friends in 1968, though at the top of the same letter she noted that it was -16 degrees. Born on April Fools Day in 1906, the tenth child of Pitkin blacksmith George Eastman


and his strong-jawed wife, Alice, Grandma Ernestine had plenty of experience with Gunnison Country winters when she married rancher Aubrey Spann in the fall of 1928. But she knew nothing of ranching. We’ll never know if it was difficult for her as a young bride to adjust to the unfamiliar lifestyle, but by 1966 she noted with aplomb, “Our job after coming back from cemetery was… fixing wire on fence, check gates etc. [Now] Aubrey is here to get me, will go to upper ranch and move cows and calves across the road.” She was a full partner in the ranch, doing what was necessary in an everchanging way of life. In spring, she helped with calving. “A snow came and wind with it. The cows are calving…. All hands are on deck,” she wrote in the same year she broke her arm while helping a cow give birth. In winter it was feeding hay: “The cows need the hay wagon early in the morning.” In summer, she helped move cows and once “went to check ranches in a helicopter. The weed sprayer man let me go. Aubrey made the arrangement. I think it would be fun to have one, eh?” Grandma Ernestine loved a good adventure and was an independent spirit in many ways. Early in their marriage, she bought their Crested Butte ranch with her own inheritance and put the title in her name so she could vote in special landowner-only county elections. In 1973, when her Crested Butte ranch was eyed as the location for a proposed airport, she wrote, “We are battling a condemnation suit with town of Crested Buttes. I won’t sell [my] land for airport. Wish me luck.” Today’s pristine upper valley, free of a public airport, is a testament to her persistence. Ranch life did present its challenges for her, though. “We are still haying,” she wrote in 1966. “I mean it poured on us yesterday and we have over 100 tons to put up yet. I still dislike the haying season, to put up with men and punk weather when you don’t want it and it seems when weather is nice the machinery is broken.” A few haying seasons later she wrote, “Dear Birds: Tired of pushing on clouds to try to keep rain away. It rains anyway.” In contrast to the frustration of haying, ranching fueled her other passions. She was always ready to go fishing, and with land fronting the Gunnison, Slate and East rivers, she got plenty of opportunity. “I had fun catching fish at [cow] camp,

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caught two big suckers also, fun getting them out,” she noted in 1967. Her letters are also peppered with evidence of another love, spotting wildlife. She recorded seeing mountain sheep, ducks, deer, elk, coyotes, a bear and even a skunk. In 1970 she described the ducks on the pond with their little ones and the deer coming to the river morning and night, commenting, “It’s not long until hunting season. I always dread it.” Grandma’s optimism and humor, legendary in the family, come through subtly in the letters. She pokes gentle fun at the women’s groups she attended. “Alberta J. thinks we ought to sing more... The song was to have been ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and she plays ‘Blessed Be the Tie that Binds.’ The first verse was all right, but she said for us to sing out more. No one knew the second.” And I can hear her laughing when Grandpa “went out irrigating, slipped on grass and went head first in ditch. His face didn’t go in but his cigar did.” All too soon, I’d read the last of her “Dear Birds.” In her final letter she told her friends, “Take care of yourselves. We are the oldsters anymore. It scares you.” As I put aside that last page, my heart sank a little. Grandma died two years after she sent that note. Her warm, newsy, light-hearted letters stirred a deep ache in my ribcage, but they didn’t give me new insights. Instead, her words affirmed what I’d already known, that she was a strong, funny, family-centered rancher who loved her friends, this valley and her life here. Sometimes after their deaths, you find that people are no more and no less than what they were in life. And that is more than enough.


Ernestine and Aubrey Spann on the ranch, 1965.

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We’ve been both horrified and morbidly fascinated by the wildfires that have been raging in western forests – and destroying homes and even towns nearby. Our valley has been spared such events thus far. We are, however, surrounded by forest and grassland – and for two decades now, by chronic drought. We’ve seen insect invasions and growing numbers of dead trees in our forests, first in the montane pine forests and now up into the sub-alpine spruce-fir forest. Are our forests a major fire event waiting to happen? With that question in mind, I talked with some of the people who have responsibility for managing wildfire in our forests – to the extent that such forces can be “managed.” We have, of course, been managing forest wildfires for more than a century with a strict policy of first trying to 84

prevent them (Smokey Bear) and then, when they happen, extinguishing them as soon as possible. But as we’ve learned more about how our forests live and die, we’ve discovered that this policy, however well intended, has been mostly a mistake. Forests in the West have a “recycling” problem: because of the relatively cool, dry climate, temperate zone trees don’t rot quickly when they die, so dead material accumulates in the forests, from a thick, dusty duff of needles, cones, bark and twigs to jackstraw tangles of dead standing, leaning and fallen trunks and limbs – what forest managers call “dead fuel.” In a wet, warm region, all of this material oxidizes – rots – constantly and relatively quickly, but in our cool, dry mountain forests, most of the dead fuel just turns gray and waits for a “rapid oxidation event” – fire – to complete the


Working the fire line.

Sam Pankratz, local forester with the Colorado State Forest Service.

carbon cycle, carbon compounds to carbon oxides and back to carbon compounds as plants breathe in the oxides. Foresters are also concerned about “live fuel”: still-living trees that are stressed by old age and too many large stems with too little water – the condition of many western forests, including our own, where the policy of suppression has been too successful, thus creating a living-but-weakened wildfire hazard. The short answer to the question, then, 86

is yes, our forests are ripe for wildfire, and the fire will eventually come. But how it comes, and how it happens, and what we can do to “manage” how and when it comes, warrants a longer answer – currently being crafted by many people and agencies. In my misspent youth here, I was a charter member of the Crested Butte Hotshots, an ever-changing group of ski bums and hippies who fought forest fires for a supplemental living, back when Crested Butte didn’t have much of a summer economy. We were on call for the U.S. Forest Service, mostly for small lightning-strike or stupidcamper wildfires on our local forests. But occasionally we got to go on big “project fires” elsewhere in the West, for which hotshot crews were flown in from all over – the kind of very expensive fires that we hear about in the national media. And while we could put out the small local fires in time to get back to town before the bars closed, the big fires were often too big to “fight,” no matter how many crews were on the line; we simply retreated – sometimes very hastily – in the face of firestorms racing through the treetops fifty or a hundred feet over our heads, until conditions (wind, temperature, humidity) changed to favor us over the fire. We didn’t have to go out on too many wildfires to find ourselves harboring the thought – contrary to our job – that the forest

really needed a good fire. That’s essentially what the West’s forest managers at all levels are now trying to shape into new policies – with considerable refining discourse over what constitutes “a good fire.” Pat Medina, a compact and sturdy forester, is the U.S. Forest Service fire management officer for the Gunnison National Forest, Gunnison Ranger District. “Taking care of the landscape is our mission,” Medina said, “and fire is part of the landscape here. How do we learn to live with it?” Learning to live with wildfire is complicated by three major human-caused problems. One is the legacy of a century of all-out fire suppression efforts: millions of acres of over-mature, even-aged live fuel stands littered with dead fuel. This is the antithesis of the best pattern for a stable and resilient forest: a mosaic of tree stands of different ages sprinkled with grass meadows and other openings – a natural pattern nurtured by lightning, but also by Native American hunter-gatherers who used fire, maintaining grass and brush openings to sustain the animals that sustained them. A second complication is the warming climate that results in drying of the vegetation cover through increased evaporation, even if the precipitation remains constant. This is putting a chronic water stress on the overstocked forest, brush and grass land,

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making them more prone to big fires. The third complicating factor is extensive human settlement into what foresters call the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), areas where humans are encroaching on the forests – the American dream of a quaint 4,000-square-foot cabin nestled among lovely old trees, backed up against public lands so no one else can ruin the solitude. Those problems notwithstanding, fire fighting on the public lands is transitioning to fire management, according to Medina. When conditions of fuel, temperature, humidity and wind are not all extreme, and human structures are not immediately threatened, the Forest Service’s crews will try to herd a wildfire rather than automatically trying to suppress it, reducing dead fuels with minimal damage to the living vegetation. “That means smoke and greenhouse gases for a longer period of time,” he said, “but it would be worse if it built up to a catastrophic fire.” They also do some prescribed burning to eliminate dead fuel, when conditions of temperature, humidity and wind are optimal: either piling dead fuel in openings to burn, or setting and carefully herding ground fires in areas of live and dead fuel. That can be treacherous, however, in a region of sudden weather changes. “Mechanical” methods are also used for both fire hazard reduction and disease and pest control. Thinning is effective with some species (ponderosa pine) but not all, and logging has economic benefits to balance costs; when done well, logging can help develop the mosaic of different-aged stands. In or even near the WUI, however, fire cannot be used to manage fire or reduce wildfire hazard, and there’s often resistance to mechanical treatments. That’s where other more local levels of wildfire management kick in – mostly for prevention of or preparation for wildfire. I was surprised to learn how much time, thought and energy goes into this at the county and even more local levels – down to the subdivision. Local investment in wildfire risk reduction began to be systematic in 2003 when the Colorado General Assembly passed the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which authorized local communities to work with the Colorado State Forest Service to develop Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs). Perhaps more important, it gave the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management incentives to work with local governments in establishing such plans – important since most of the wildland in

Colorado is public land. In 2009, this legislation was strengthened by a new act that mandated every Colorado county to develop a CWPP. These could not be dashed off by a functionary in a back office; they had to involve significant collaboration with local emergency units as well as state and federal officials. A fuel reduction strategy had to be part of the plan, along with an analysis of wildfire risks throughout the county, and guidelines or regulations for building materials that could be safely used in the WUIs. Gunnison County completed its overall CWPP in 2011, prepared by a number of County safety and law enforcement officials, participants from its fire protection districts, and the Colorado and U.S. Forest Service. The County CWPP has in-depth sections for each of the fire districts, and for a dozen separate CWPPs that have been prepared at an even more local level – mostly subdivisions like Arrowhead or Gold Basin that clearly face WUI risks. The Gunnison County Wildfire Protection Plan can most easily be found on the website of the West Region Wildfire Council based in Montrose, a member council of a national “learning network of fire-adapted communities” covering most of the Gunnison River Basin: The learning network educates communities to “plan and take action to safely co-exist with wildland fire.” Crested Butte residents might find interest in the section of the Gunnison County CWPP devoted to wildfire adaptation analysis and recommendations for nine communities within the Crested Butte Fire Protection District. Two of those communities warranted an “extreme” hazard rating: Trappers Crossing and the development around Irwin Lake. Gothic got a “very high” hazard rating; Crested Butte South, Red Mountain, Skyland and Washington Gulch all warranted a “high” rating; and Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte were rated “moderate” hazard. For each community, recommendations to mitigate the wildfire hazard have been prepared, from site visits involving the Colorado State Forest Service foresters, the West Region Wildfire Council mitigation specialists, and local firefighters and safety officials. Some of the recommendations involve community actions, like landscaping agreements, road signage and well-maintained escape routes. Other recommendations require individual homeowner actions, like fire-resistant building materials, maintenance


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of “defensible space” around buildings, and adequate turnarounds for emergency vehicles. Grants and other assistance are available for some of the community work. While many people retreat to the edges of civilization to escape the regulatory society, choosing to not participate in such community efforts could be expensive; the fire fighters have no obligation to try to protect homes that have not complied with defensive guidelines, and recalcitrant homeowners are so informed. “Your home is not worth a life,” said forester Sam Pankratz. Insurance companies will no longer insure homes in the WUI that haven’t complied with CWPP guidelines. Pankratz is head forester in the Gunnison office of the Colorado State Forest Service. Big and bearded, the image of a forester, he spends much of his time in the Wildland-Urban Interface working with landowners on the edges of the vast, vulnerable forest, grass and scrub ecosystems of public lands. He is enthusiastic about the state’s community wildfire protection process. “Before we had this legislation,” he said, “we mostly reacted to requests for information or assistance from individual landowners. Now we’re working proactively with land managers at all levels from local to federal on comprehensive community wildfire protection plans.” Pankratz or fellow forester Mike Tarantino (970-641-6852 at the State Forest Service’s Gunnison office) can provide information on these interagency programs. The Gunnison County Planning Office recently received a grant to amp up the CWPP process, including more public education and a review of land use regulations to make them more consistent with “learning to live with wildfire.” Stepping back for the big picture, we are essentially reinventing our relationship with a National Forest larger than the state of Delaware, accepting the inevitability of fire in mountain forests but doing what can be done, house lot by house lot, acre by acre (1,672,136 acres), to live somewhat safely with that inevitability. As Pat Medina said, “We can’t eliminate the fire, but we can reduce its intensity.” Considering that this is a major headwaters area for the Colorado River that eventually waters 40 million people, grows much of the nation’s winter fresh food, and provides recreational adventure for millions more, reducing the threat of a catastrophic watershed-destroying wildfire is critical work.


Leah Fischer, Corey Tibljas and Randy Felix. 92

As Crested Butte ramps up its fire and emergency medical services, three long-time volunteers-turned-captains celebrate the payoffs of dedication. By Erica Andrews

The increasing number of people living in and passing through the Crested Butte area has prompted a new era in its fire and medical emergency services. With a mixture of familiar and new faces, the Crested Butte Fire Protection District is transforming from a volunteer organization to one with paid leadership and staffing. “There’s been a national decline in volunteerism all around, but as a district we still have a duty to provide a certain level of service to the community,” said Fire Chief Rob Weisbaum. Six years ago, with only two paid administrative positions, the District relied almost entirely on volunteers to provide 24/7 staff coverage for the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), which have historically been separate divisions. Since Weisbaum came on board five years ago, the two departments have been combined and each has a chain of command. The restructuring emphasized promoting from within as much as possible. Between fire and emergency medical services, the District now employs 20 full-time and 12 part-time staff, plus around 50 volunteers. A local property tax mill levy, passed handily by voters in November 2017, was critical in helping the District attract, hire and retain qualified members and increase the professionalism of the District, Weisbaum said. “We received EMS service of the year in 2017 for the state of Colorado. We now have six critical care medics, which means we can do a lot of what the hospital does. And we have state-of-the-art equipment.” He noted Photos by Nathan Bilow


pool of qualified and dedicated people, three long-time locals were chosen as new captains: Randy Felix, Leah Fischer and Corey Tibljas. The three boast a combined 50 years of serving the community as District volunteers. Well trained and passionate about their roles, they now have official titles, job descriptions and (for the first time in District history) paychecks.

industrial first aid courses when she was 18. She cut her teeth in emergency services while in Whistler, British Columbia, as a ski patrol volunteer. When she moved to Crested Butte in 1996, she jumped at the chance to take an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course offered through the Fire Department. With her new certification in place, she volunteered for the department. “You just kind of get a bug,” Fischer said, “and then you want to learn more and more.” As a volunteer firefighter for two decades, Fischer took every training course she could, while juggling single motherhood and running her own bookkeeping business. That dedication had an obvious impact on her ability to snag a new title and paycheck. “Now that I’ve been afforded this as a paid position, it has really opened up a whole new world for me,” she said. “I feel so lucky.” While she continues to wear three hats – mom, business owner and now captain – she can commit more energy and focus to the Fire Department. Outside of work, Fischer spends as much time as possible with her sons, skiing, biking and watching them play sports. She also enjoys traveling with friends. In years past, Fischer has volunteered her bookkeeping services for a variety of local organizations, including the Adaptive Sports Center, Chamber of Commerce, Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, KBUT Community Radio and the Crested Butte Nordic Center. In her new role as captain, Fischer said, “The best part of my job is being there for my town doing what I love, and helping to make someone’s day a little better. Driving the fire truck is pretty cool, too!” As if on cue, a cacophony of radio alarms prompted Fischer to jump into action and into the driver’s seat of the fire truck to answer a call. “You never know where the day is going to go,” she laughed.



Leah Fischer is one of those people who sparkle without meaning to. She exudes a mix of sunshine and stability that must come in handy in her work. “Our busiest day is someone’s worst day,” she acknowledged. While Fischer is a 21-year volunteer of the District, a future in emergency services would have been the furthest thing from her mind as a youngster. She was terrified of fire trucks as a child. Yet somehow this Canadian native gravitated toward firefighting. In her teens, she worked as a lifeguard, then started taking

Corey Tibljas is as homegrown as a fire department captain can get. Born and raised in Crested Butte, Tibljas swears he didn’t foresee his future career in firefighting. But his parents did. Tibljas got involved with the District when he was just 16, through the Junior Firefighter Program. “At first, I didn’t want anything to do with the medical side of things,” he said. “But then I saw my mentors respond to calls.” That piqued his interest, and he enrolled in the EMT course and took

Leah Fischer

that while the District doesn’t run the same volume of calls as bigger towns, the standard of care rivals larger districts. Also, a healthy overlap between law enforcement, Crested Butte Search and Rescue, the Fire District and the Gunnison Valley Hospital ensures smoother coverage if an influx of calls hits. The District encompasses the entire north end of the Gunnison Valley, from about mile marker 18 (near Round Mountain) on Highway 135, stretching to the mountainous divides of Schofield, Kebler and Pearl passes. During bustling summer months, call volume can increase significantly; Weisbaum expects the 2019 summer season to be the most demanding yet for both fire and emergency medical personnel. In preparation for a busier future in general, the Fire Department reorganized and created new leadership positions this winter. In a department that’s peppered with determined, type-A personalities, rising above this pack can be tough. From this hefty 94

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Corey Tibljas

the test as soon as he turned 18. “It’s been constant ever since. I’ve wanted to be more involved.” Tibljas’ youthful appearance disguises his depth of knowledge and years of experience and training. While he seems far too young to envision a future when he and his colleagues will retire, he’s focused on cultivating the next generation of firefighters. “This doesn’t work without the volunteers,” he said. “Keeping them engaged and keeping recruitment and training up is absolutely critical. We can only do so much with minimal staffing.” Tibljas’ passion is mentoring youth through programs offered at the Crested Butte Community School. Since he attended the school, he can connect with and relate to the teens. The Junior Firefighter program that sculpted Tibljas has since transitioned into a broader program called Explorers. After 9-11, this nationwide entity was developed for youth (14 to 21) to support local law enforcement, firefighters and EMS and gain hands-on experience and knowledge in their field of interest. The group is responsible for fundraising, organizing and training its own members within the local chapters. “This 96

Randy Felix

year, there are eight teens on the roster for Explorers in Crested Butte. At the end of this school year, there will be four new members of the District as a result,” Tibljas explained. The District averages two new volunteer firefighters per year from the Explorers program. “Our pipeline of the next generation below us and the talent here today is amazing. We have a lot of multi-faceted skilled people waiting in the wings,” he said. Tibljas’ favorite part of his job is making an impact in other people’s lives, and helping to solve problems when someone might be having the worst day of his or her life. He also values the relationships with his crewmates. “It’s a fantastic group of individuals I’m privileged and proud to work with,” he said. “It’s a brother/sisterhood not only in-district but industry wide.” Tibljas also serves as president of the Crested Butte Fire & EMS Volunteer Association. This nonprofit raises money for and manages the Fallen Fighter Fund for District members in times of need resulting from injury, illness or death. In his free time, Tibljas enjoys “going fast,” whether in big trucks or on bikes or skis. “Sitting around has never been my

thing,” he admitted. Traveling is a big part of his life, and his newest passion is driving off-road racecars in the desert. Since his teen years, Tibljas has owned and operated Two Plank Productions, an action sports film and production company. That takes up most of his time away from the Fire Department. “Luckily I love what I do both on and off the job,” he said.

RANDY FELIX In his formative years, Randy Felix envisioned a future in the Army Special Forces. “Then in high school, I discovered rock climbing,” he said, chuckling. “And then I moved to a ski town when I was 19.” When a friend got caught in an avalanche at Berthoud near Winter Park, he became determined to gain more knowledge in case something like that ever happened in his presence. He took an avalanche course, and then one thing led to another and he joined the volunteer fire department in Winter Park. When he moved to Oregon in 1994, he saw an ad posted for wildland firefighters. “I was 21 and ended up doing four seasons fighting wildland fires. I knew I needed to either make it a profession or get

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out.” Because wildland firefighting is seasonal, he pursued a path in traditional firefighting for full-time, year-round work. This year, Felix begins his tenure as a captain in Crested Butte on the heels of a ten-year work stint for the Red, White and Blue Fire Department of Summit County. With a 48/96 schedule (two days on/four off) he could commute to Summit County and still somewhat establish his dream life in Crested Butte, meanwhile continuing his volunteer tenure with the District. “Though I loved my job in Summit County, I never had any interest in moving there,” he said, so he’s delighted that his new District job allows him to earn a living where he lives. “Having worked ten years in a busier system has given me a great background and work ethic that I’m excited to bring back to CB.” Working on his home turf, though, could bring the dreaded call involving someone he knows. “It’s inevitable, and part of it,” he said. Felix’s favorite aspect of his job is that every day is different, and no call is ever the same. “I love that I’ve been able to acquire a very diverse set of skills and have received some great training over the years that has allowed me to advance in my career.” In a WINE BAR & leadership role, he can also help and mentor WESTERN DESIGN COMPANY younger firefighters. “The other part I love about my job is the people I work with. It’s like Offering a unique and intimate family. Everybody’s happy to come to work. setting in downtown Crested Butte You can’t say that about a lot of jobs.” Felix’s Summit County fire department PROVIDING had a partnership with a non-profit organization called Summit that offers training and equipment to fire departments in 7 NIGHTS A WEEK! Honduras. Felix started going on missions to Located directly on Elk Avenue with fireside Honduras, which he still enjoys. “We stay at seating for cool nights and a beautiful the fire station and immerse ourselves in their garden patio for summer months. culture,” he said, noting that he’s worked Wine Tasting • Espresso • Free Wifi • Desserts on a clean drinking water project, a fire and Tapas • Cocktails and Martinis • Daily Specials equipment training program, and a medical services program during his trips there. Outdoor Patio • Happy Hour 5-7 “Going to Honduras has been an amazing Home Furnishings • Accessory Boutique experience. It really makes me appreciate the level of care and quick response that we’re All Ages Welcomed Before 10pm able to provide our community on a daily HOME FURNISHINGS basis.” Since 2002, Felix has served with 218 ELK AVENUE | 970-349-0210 Crested Butte Search and Rescue and is now 6 NIGHTS A WEEK! its president. “We’re fortunate to have a lot of summer garden patio | winter fireside seating Search and Rescue members who are also on martinis | desserts | wine the Fire Department,” he said. appetizers | free wifi Being able to work, volunteer and live in Crested Butte has been Felix’s goal over his many years of training, commuting and O P E N 10 A M-12 A M 218 E L K AV E sacrificing. Along with Fischer and Tibljas, he’s H A P PY H O U R 4-6 P M 970.349.0210 delighted that goal is now within reach.

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A wild encounter replenishes a work-weary writer. By Molly Murfee I see a lot of bears. It makes sense, really. Seeking the profound quiet only a walk in the wilderness can provide, I’m most often alone. I crave this silence from deep within my cells. Without meaning to, I sneak up on things. Bears, I think, are often just bumbling around themselves. Hunting nothing, with nothing hunting them, bears can be perfectly in their environment without fear. No crouching, every muscle tense, ready to pounce on prey like the mountain lion. Nor, like the deer, primed to flee at the crack of a twig. An opportunistic omnivore, the bear serendipitously happens upon food. It just. Is. So the bear and I – we surprise each other a lot. It’s my day off. But the work week has proven so draining, I can’t drag myself out of bed. I open my eyes, only to have them slam shut in protest. It’s not a good habit in the mountains, where early birds escape the electric claws of the afternoon thunderstorm. I finally exit my cocoon, not yet butterfly. Slowly I pad to the coffee machine and eyeball the weather through the window. Cumulous clouds have begun to form; by 10 a.m. they’ll turn into black-bottomed monsters. I sigh, disappointed with myself for living a life that exhausts me so much that my days off are 100

often spent in recovery. It’s such an odd thing, this modern life. So out of sync with rhythms – both our own and those of nature. So absorbed we are with whatever non-emergency keeps yelling at us through email and phone messages. As I stare out the window, visions of that flawlessly harmonized life pirouette through my mind – of living in that perfect wild cadence of self and place. I see myself writing from a cabin in the woods, waking in the sun’s glory, a walk in the mountains before settling in, light hitting my page and breeze my cheek, skipping about with my muse until I run out of words, then watching the evening alpenglow seep into the day, darkness finally finding me sleeping with the moon. Bluebirds on my shoulder, rainbows flowing from my pen… But I once tried that full-time writing thing, and it backfired in my bank account. Better to make a solid check to pay the rent, rather than the pocked inconsistency of an author’s income. Yup. Hopes and hearts and destiny be damned. The world’s just too much for all of that hoo-ha. Too much health insurance and rent and groceries. Errands and tasks and demands. Better to travel the road of known financial success with the rest of the herd.

Constance Mahoney

I turn back to my coffee, warm it with a heaping splash, and head outside to evaluate the weather. As I squint at the sky in my bathrobe and flip flops, a friend bellows by in a cloud of dust, dog as co-pilot, truck stuffed with camping gear and beer. Nothing like the culture of Crested Butte to make you feel guilty about sleeping in. It’s late in the day, I tell myself. I always see bears. The clouds are building. I could stay here and get some chores done, maybe work on the first chapter of my book. A raven, black as death, swoops in to rest on the power line above my head and squawks incessantly. “Fine,” I mutter, and go inside to pack. Packing, for me, is no small task. I am quintessentially over prepared – even on a routine hike like this. A first aid kit bold enough to stop the bleeding of a severed leg. Map and compass in case I need to detour away from thunderbolts. Down coat in case I get overnighted from the severed leg. Bear spray, a recent addition due to my abundance of bear sightings. Pocket knife. Safety whistle. Hiking poles to use as fencing swords. I sigh, embarrassed at myself. I could blame it on my years as an outdoor educator, where over-preparedness theoretically protected the gaggle of young students

waddling behind me. Or I could uncover my hidden beliefs that the responsible path – the one crammed with planning and analysis – will yield success. “Be prepared!” psyche yells wild eyed. I’ve always got one leg tremoring to step on the path curving into the overgrowth, while the other trudges behind the crowds on the sidewalk, trailing an air of damp reluctance. I finally swing the pack over my shoulder, enough to support a jaunt up Everest, and head out. I step into the forest, and instantly that burning spot between my shoulder blades relaxes. The earth has a heartbeat, some scientists have discovered, a frequency of vibration identical to that of our brains and DNA. It’s nice to learn what you already know in your bones – that being in the forest is being grounded, syncing up, recharging. The electromagnetic soup of cell phone, WiFi and blue tooth signals, electric boxes, refrigerators and computers constantly infiltrating our skin causes us to vibrate with artificial energy, disrupted and out of rhythm with the earth. Here, the bearberry is green, the moss is green, the needles of the fir are green. All is right with the world, calm and peaceful, abundant, resourceful, feeding, signaling that this is a place of life. The stream 101


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mists a soft barrage of relaxing negative ions through the atmosphere. The muscles in my neck release at last, and I feel the cells in my toes open wide as I inhale a long, slow breath. I finally arrive at my bliss state, striding over the last rise before the highaltitude lake I’m seeking. Only to I realize I am no longer alone. Two couples lounge under the spruce as their five kids jump from a rock into the lake, splashing and making one helluva hullabaloo while the parents snap cell phone photos. I circumvent their boulder to find a spot on the other side. Three fly fishers cast their lines so elbow to elbow I’m surprised to not find one with a hook in his mouth. On a small knoll, a mountain biker pans the horizon shooting video, experiencing the clean mountain air through a screen. It feels like a scene from Disney World. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I grumble. “For this I hiked for five miles?” True, it’s a popular, well-known trail. But it’s a frickin’ Tuesday. No solace here, so I stomp off the trail into the untracked willows, into a little ravine, skirting the dark forest to a hidden pond. The area is overgrown and brushy, but I clamber to the pond’s far side and set down my pack under a tree, then walk the water’s edge in search of that perfect lunch spot with a reflected view of the mountain. I pace back and forth a few times, finally choosing my place, and turn to head back to the tree where my pack lies waiting. She is so blond and small, at first I think she’s a mountain lion. My brain clicks through in rapid frames trying to identify the creature. Nope, not a dog. Nope, not a mountain lion. As she approaches the water from the sandy ramp I’d just vacated, her legs come into view – she is clad in what appear to be black fuzzy legwarmers to match her darkened nose. Wolverine? Finally the frantic shutter photography in my mind decides. It’s a bear. I’m about 30 feet away, with my pack of bear spray, poles, whistle and knife lying between us. My heart picks up several paces. A brief scene flits across my vision of being attacked, but I push it vehemently away. There’s nothing I can do other than be here in this moment, at this pond, with this bear. I sit as still as I can, settling my energy down into the earth, hoping she remains oblivious to my presence. I silently thank the wind for its direction. I walk the emotional 103

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tightrope of being scared in the way you should be scared when faced – alone – with a creature larger than yourself in the middle of two million acres of wilderness, and the absolute honor and amazement of getting to watch a bear this close. Slowly she enters the pond, one paw after the other, sinking past her black leg warmers, up to her belly. The liquid contours over her back, covers her shoulders. I can see her front paws paddling in the water, her head the only thing above the rippling surface. She spins in a few large, lazy circles. On this piercingly hot day, I imagine the cool mountain water penetrating the dense hairs of her coat, flowing over her skin. How refreshing, how soothing to the heat. Instinctively I know the habitualness of this action, this understanding of place, and the comfort within it. Her back feet touch bottom, and standing in water up to her shoulders, she pulls the water over her head, rubbing her eyes and nose. Several times she washes her face, takes a few more strokes into the middle, then pads her way onto the shore, dripping wet, disappearing into the shade of the forest after her mid-day ritual. And I – finally – exhale. Giggling, ever so slightly, at the irony of the situation. Bears are wildness – deep, dark, lightfiltering, silence-brooding wildness. A black bear’s territory ranges as much as 250 square miles. Without forests and empty meadows, without an absence of buildings and roads and noise, bears could not live here. Their omnivorous nature allows them to live a life utterly present, sauntering through moments of serendipity, chance and opportunity. Their bodies, evolved in place over time, undulate in perfect rhythm with the seasons: feasting in the abundance of summer, resting in the cold stillness of

winter. Their hibernation has for centuries taught us humans the necessary practices of journeying inward, of nursing our own resources and offspring. And then, how to emerge from the shadows with newborn promise, protecting our creations and our territory with the ferocity of a mama bear trailing cubs. Cautiously, I retrieve my backpack and sit there, gnawing an energy bar, thinking nothing, enraptured. Eventually I stand, swing the now superfluous-seeming backpack over my shoulder, bushwhack back to the beaten path and make my exit. On the way down the trail, waves of the people from the lake pass me. I can’t seem to walk slowly enough, wishing to stay embedded in the secret folds of my experience. Their voices, pinballing against the verdant walls of the valley, rush over me as I pause to let them roll on. They are loud, oblivious to the blond bear nearby. When I return, the light on my answering machine is blinking; the “on” button of my computer is blinking. I unplug both, cover my to-do lists with a towel, grab my journal and pen, water and a jacket and head back out. On my way to the nearby river, I feel as if I’m wading through rosy flecks of gold. I settle in beside the water’s flow, the last rays of sun making shadows of my pen as it moves furiously across the page, penning words of stewardship and belonging, of being wild and becoming bear, of fighting for what is right in this world. I stay until my fingers cramp from the cold, listening to the call of white-crowned sparrows turn into snipes and owls, watching bats emerge in the twilight, writing until I can no longer see. Finally I saunter to my alley cabin, under the stars and the dusty blue aura of a summer’s full moon.


We built this in school. Contact John Stock 970.209.5538 Toddy Glosser 214.394.6162

This beautiful home was designed and built by Gunnison Valley school students working with local architects, engineers and construction professionals. When it sells, the proceeds will go right back to our schools. How cool is that? The idea is the brainchild of SOAR, a non-profit that teams students with local building professionals to design and build affordable housing. Sold on the open market, the projects create a revenue stream for our schools and give kids a hands-on, interdisciplinary education. Students learn everything from design to carpentry to business administration. SOAR builds up our kids, our schools and our community. To keep the projects going, we need donations and 0% interest loans. Want to pitch in?


Center for the Arts Building in the heARTS of Crested Butte

your new building opens in July Jenny Birnie, Executive Director 970.349.7487 | buildinginthehe ARTS .org




Photos: Nathan Bilow

By Sandra Cortner

In 1986, when we thespians set foot backstage at the thennew Center for the Arts, we were dumbfounded and delighted. We found huge dressing rooms with counter-to-ceiling mirrors — one for the ladies and another for the gentlemen. With separate bathrooms! That was quite a step up from the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre upstairs in the Old Town Hall, where the backstage was a long, narrow aisle crammed with a few chairs and a couple of electric outlets for hairdryers, and we dashed to a hotel/bar across the street to use the bathroom. I told that story to Jenny Birnie, executive director of the Center, last December when she gave me a sneak preview of the Center’s new facility. The NEW Crested Butte Center for the Arts again astonishes: two large dressing rooms with 1012 stations, each with its own electrical outlet; sinks, natural lighting and stage lighting, air conditioning, heat, men’s and women’s bathrooms, even a “green room” where performers can wait just prior to their entrance. The green-painted space is designed to make visiting performing artists feel at home, with its bathroom, laundry, kitchenette, view of Crested Butte Mountain to the north, and separate access doors to the outside. Think: fans hovering outside for an autograph. There’s more: a holding area for children’s or multimember casts, a performance studio for warming up an ensemble, rehearsal room, laundry for washing costumes, storage, and an office for the technical director.

The color of the sky on a bluebird day, the new Center has been under construction for two years. The 35-foot-high Center slowly took shape: from the first pile of dirt to a huge concrete form that hid the mountain to the soaring slanted beams sheltering expanses of glass up to the cantilevered roof, topped by an elevator shaft with a copper exterior. On July 1, after six years in planning, construction and a capital campaign of $16.5 million, the Center will be unveiled at a ribbon cutting prior to the Monday evening Alpenglow concert. The backstage is only a small part of the complex supporting all the arts in Crested Butte. When Jenny led me to the Feldberg Family Theater, I felt like I was on Broadway. The 38-foot-wide stage has a “sprung” floor of mesquite wood; it gives slightly when jumped on to accommodate dancers. It is flanked by balcony seats and VIP seating under the balcony for the primary donors. A hydraulic system raises or lowers a section of the floor to create an orchestra pit. The 380 seats can be arranged in different configurations: flat, raked, theater in the round or even cabaret with the addition of tables. A topnotch soundboard sits on the main floor, with a lighting booth overhead. The solid concrete interior walls throughout the building soundproof between the rooms. A large north window extends to the ceiling. The Center hired an acoustician to fine-tune the sound in 107

the 28,000-square-foot, threestory building. Not only will it feel like a Broadway venue; it will also sound like one, thanks to the Stanley and Theodora Feldberg Foundation, one of the largest donors to the Center. Margery Feldberg, Stan and Teddy’s daughter, called it a “world-class stage that will attract fantastic outside touring groups.” The Center’s large double doors on the first level facing Sixth Street open onto the Grace Lobby, named by the other major donor, David Weekley on behalf of the Weekley Family Foundation. Surrounded by slanted beams and glass, the Looking down on the lobby houses a bar and can be new stage in progress. converted to a culinary arts space for cooking demonstrations. There are also points on the ceiling to accommodate aerial dance exhibitions. Jenny anticipates the crowd could spill out onto the east courtyard in the summer. A grand staircase leads to the second-level lobby with bar, storage and restroom. The Miller Gallery and an aerial dance studio/performance area share a large corner window. The two-story dance studio also has a sprung floor, perfect for ballet dancers. The Miller Gallery, named by donors David and Carolyn Miller, will showcase local craftspeople and artists as well as touring professionals. Adjacent to the gallery and dance studio are Jenny’s office, a conference room, and space for directors of the culinary, visual, literary and performing arts, plus technical and marketing staff. Additional employees oversee the stage area, running lights, sound system, and raising or retracting the theater floor. The staff will eventually number 45. The mechanical system, taking up a third of the building, requires a full-time operator. The Center partners with the Crested Butte School of Dance, Crested Butte Community School Enrichment Program and the Crested Butte Music Festival. Twelve community groups and organizations present at the Center, including the Crested Butte Film Festival. The Center’s umbrella also covers Tour de Forks, Golf Classic Tournament, Chefs on the Edge, Alpenglow, Crested Butte Wine and Food Festival and the Art Studio. The top floor contains a visual arts studio and community room with incredible mountain views and a veranda overlooking the softball field. ”We could sell tickets to the championship game,” joked Jenny. She emphasized that all the spaces are multipurpose, aimed at making the building more versatile. A Donor Wall acknowledges all who contributed to the Center, with a special place for 25 “Front Row” members who contribute $10,000 yearly over a ten-year period for general operations, maintenance and salaries. More than 315 donors demonstrated their support of the arts during the 108

construction. David Weekley kicked in additional funds to upgrade the elevator to insure it could handle the weight of the 4,000-pound grand piano purchased by Jeff and Loretta Clarke, which has its own custom storage closet. The Center continues seeking donations through its Fit Out campaign to finish the interior spaces, including acoustical curtains, sound systems, LED lighting, special film projector, digital control systems, furniture, office and culinary equipment. A million dollars has been raised for this; the Center needs another two million. Following the ribbon-cutting grand opening on July 1, the Center will showcase something different each day for a month to introduce every space in the building. A gala is set for July 17. The Miller Gallery’s first exhibit features Cape Cod photographer Curtis Speer. The next big push for the Center is Phase 2, the remodel of the existing Center building, which has served the community for 33 years after being repurposed from a decommissioned county road maintenance building. First it will be gutted (yes, even my favorite backstage), and two visual arts rooms, two dance studios and a kitchen will be built in the shell of the structure. Jenny said its reincarnation will be a place where “you can get messy and loud.” The project, budgeted at $2.6 million, is set for this summer, along with Phase 3, the renovation of the outdoor stage, estimated to cost $400,000. The Center for the Arts is a huge tribute to Crested Butte’s love of the arts AND respect for energy efficiency. The facility has a silver LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for design, construction, operation and maintenance. Jenny noted that Crockett Farnell, the Center’s general contractor, has lived here for more than 20 years and that 70% of the subcontractors are local, making the Center for the Arts complex truly a community effort. Sandy Cortner has been an actress, singer, writer and photographer in Crested Butte since moving here more than 50 years ago.


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If These Mountains Could Talk...

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MADDIE HART Already familiar with Gunnison Valley thanks to Crested Butte ski trips as a child, Hart chose Western for two reasons: a progressive Environment & Sustainability major and America’s only collegiate trail running team. At Western, Hart can express her zeal for the environment both academically and athletically. Through classwork (and fieldwork and lab work), she is preparing for a career to help fix global environmental issues. On the mountain trails, running has taken her to unforgettable heights–both literal and figurative. “Gunnison is a perfect location for me,” she said. “I love being in the mountains in a small town surrounded by amazing trails to explore.” Profile photo by Taylor Cull.

Josh Addison


Dave Theis surrounded by family and friends.

DYING WITH DIGNITY A feisty local character, beset by cancer, shares love and humor at his “going-away party.” By Keith Bauer Judi called on a Sunday night. Her husband, my friend Dave Theis, was having his “going away party” on Wednesday, she said, and he really wanted me to come. I was pleased to be included, as our recent journeys with cancer had drawn us together at a deeper level. I had dodged a bullet for now and was cancer free. But Dave had taken a direct hit. He’d endured a couple years of hell with various treatments that were ineffective at stopping his disease. With tongue cancer, surgery was never an option. He’d been receiving his liquids and nourishment through a stomach tube for the better part

of a year. After all he’d been through, the oncologists had given him three to six months at best. So I’d made time to visit. We had some great talks about life and death, our kids, the community we were blessed to live in, the whole gamut. I drove him around to visit some folks he wanted to say good-bye to. It was healing for both of us. Dave was a man of many talents, a hard-working and salt-of-the-earth kind of guy with a mighty sense of humor thrown in. Dave lived life on his own terms. He was bound and determined to cross the next threshold on his own terms, too.

The 2016 election was such a surprise that most of us forgot that Colorado voters had approved a new law allowing assisted suicide. But Dave hadn’t. His body might be wasting away, but the rest of him wasn’t. “I don’t need anybody wiping my ass,” he said. As time wound down, Dave and Judi met with their doctor and ordered the “Dying with Dignity” cocktail. They met with Frank, the county coroner, and received a white body bag, which Dave called his “travel bag.” They spread it out on their massive kitchen table, and he invited friends and family over to draw and write on it. We created a masterpiece, a colorful, beautiful and humorous expression


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of love and life. “Oh, the places you’ll go…” was one of my favorites. On one of my last visits, I brought Dave a farewell card expressing my gratitude for his friendship, not knowing I’d be invited to his party. Then Judi called. Wednesday, 10 a.m. She asked everyone to bring two things: what we were grateful for in our relationship with Dave, and what we wished for him on his journey. Wednesday morning was beautiful, and when I got out of the car I knew Dave had picked a fine day to cross over. Judi and Dave’s house is warm, informal and inviting. Family and friends were mingling in the kitchen and living room when I entered. Dave was resting in his hospital bed, greeting folks as they circled through. Barbara, Dave’s niece, led the ceremony. We gathered in the living room around Dave, standing or perched on couches and chairs. Judi stood at the head of the bed, cradling Dave’s head with her hands. For Dave’s visiting siblings, we started with introductions. There were quips from Dave, laughter, and an amazing ease and openness for what was to unfold. Next, we went around the room sharing with Dave what we were grateful for. Dave had chosen a unique talking stick from his tool quiver, a gigantic Snap-on torque wrench. When the wrench made it to Dave’s younger brother, Bruce, he looked at it for a second and said, “Hey, I remember when you stole this from me!” Dave just nodded, but the rest of us howled. The sharing was powerful – a beautiful celebration of love, connection and life elevated to its most basic essence. We were one, yet one among us was crossing over to experience life’s greatest mystery. There was an unspoken acceptance of this transition among those gathered. It came from Dave’s strength and his acceptance of the dance of life and death. He knew that nothing could be destroyed; it could only change form. Dave was ready to be called in for recycling and to welcome the next chapter, whatever that might be. The circle closed with our wishes for Dave’s journey. They varied from a fast motorcycle (one of Dave’s favorite things) to the Limitless Light lifting him up and guiding him through. We laughed, we cried, we were in awe. Then it was time. Judi explained that, by law, Dave had to administer the cocktail himself, adding that the procedure would be painless. Dave chimed in, “We’ll see about

Dave’s lovingly decorated “travel bag.”

that!” He kept us laughing to the very end. We stood in a circle around his bed, holding hands. Meditation music played in the background. With the calm of a Zen master, Dave injected the three-part cocktail into his feeding tube. He laid his head back into Judi’s hands and slowly closed his eyes in a peaceful farewell. As time stood still, I could feel the energy build. Then all the love in the universe lifted him up, and we helped send him off. I’ve seen my share of beauty in this world, and Dave’s departure was right at the top of that list. The softness and glow on his children’s faces as he departed was as glorious as any sunrise or sunset I’ve ever witnessed. Their expression was love beyond love, a total respect and admiration for their dad’s strength. I’ve reflected back on that day many times these last few months. As we’ve often been told, it’s not what happens to us, it’s how we react to it. Dave’s diagnosis wasn’t easy to accept at first, but my friend was able to transform his disease into the most loving gift to himself, and to all of us. Dave showed us how to die with dignity and grace, creating an experience that is forever etched in the consciousness of all who were gathered. Judi had arranged to drive her husband to Montrose to be cremated. Dave’s parting shot was asking to be in the front seat with her, with his sunglasses and hat on for the drive. “You know I’m going to stop at Mocha’s drive-through for a cup of coffee, don’t you?” she said. His response: “Perfect!” That day she texted me a photo of her pulling up to the drive-through window with Dave at her side. I smiled and thanked Dave once again for his friendship, for his farewell gift, and for showing us that in the end, love (and maybe humor) is all there is.



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Petar Dopchev

TALKING TO DOGS This ranger-turned-rancher ponders the subtleties of communicating with the animals around her. By Polly Oberosler The study of human behavior by animals started millions of years ago. As humans adapted tools and skills that allowed them to hunt, their prey realized that people were to be feared. Thus these animals learned to watch for clues of human intent. However, because of their observations, some animals, mainly dogs, also found a connection with the human personality. They began to communicate with each other, and that bond led to man’s best friend. There’s evidence that dogs joined the hunt once they were included in man’s pack. Dogs helped to push animals where the hunters lay in wait, or dogs

might run the prey until they could go no farther. To work together, the dogs must have understood some direction from the hunters. Communication is subtle when interacting with an animal and so much deeper in meaning and understanding than the blaring communication we’re subjected to every day in the electronic world. I liken it to reading rather than watching television. A book doesn’t talk at us; it walks hand in hand with our imaginations. We’re led on a journey by the written words, but our mind’s eye is looking beyond them for information not always expressed in the text. We tend

to feel the intent of a subject because we’re not distracted by the noise coming from a television. The same holds true with animals; we don’t have a wordy conversation, but we communicate nonetheless. I worked for or volunteered my weekends to the U.S. Forest Service for more than 20 years as a wilderness ranger and packer. I lived one summer in the West Elk Wilderness, and my husband and I spent many summers coming and going from there as our real jobs allowed. The woods taught us a lot about how everything is in chorus. We learned how animals live day to day and 115


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the way they communicate. On one trip to camp we heard a cow elk “barking” in the trees. We couldn’t see her, but she sounded very territorial. She had a very distinct voice, which we came to recognize over several summers. Over time she showed herself, a beautiful young cow. I named her Willamena, which means to protect. Early one morning I took my coffee and meandered down the trail, and Willamena came barreling out of the trees, barking insistently at me. She was telling me to get the hell out of there! I stopped and watched her as she retreated into the trees and then returned to bark at me again. I talked to her some and told her I meant her baby no harm. Thinking back on it, I realize I was probably at risk for being trampled by a very angry elk. That was one of the last times I saw her, and after three years of getting to know her, I tried not to think of her fate. Over time, my hearing has deteriorated, so I’ve worn aids for well over 30 years. Because of that impairment I had to adapt in order to understand the world around me, particularly when camping or exploring outdoors. Missing clues in the natural world could be a matter of life or death at times, so I learned to watch the animals and my surroundings. My aids were out when I slept, but I could hear the dogs if they barked or the horses stomping on their highlines, and they would tell me if something was wrong. My journeys allowed me to understand firsthand how animals and humans depend on body language. I noticed readily if the dogs or horses raised their heads or pricked their

Lydia Stern

ears in a certain direction. Over time I began to see the world as they do, at least to some extent. My communication with animals has evolved into more than “stay” and “come.” I use sign language a lot and can scold them with my eyes when “spanking” them would never work. As most pet owners do, whether they admit it or not, I’ve talked to my pets and livestock my whole life, never knowing exactly what they understood. At first it was simply someone to bounce my day off or tell my innermost thoughts, but I learned they talk back in ways I’d never imagined. The eyes are key to their inner thoughts and expressions of love and trust, but their paws, tails and posture play a role as well. They read what we wear or the changes in our stride to understand what we’re about. I have a dog that knows which day is Monday, perhaps because of what we do or don’t do on Sunday. Dogs figure out quickly what makes us happy or mad and certainly choose pleasing us if given a chance. Our dog Edgar came to my office one evening and pestered me with his paw on my leg until I got up and followed him, thinking he wanted to go outside. Down the hall we went, and when we got to the living room, he took a hard left and slinked over by my husband. I was puzzled – until I panned to my right and saw the other dog and the two cats digging in the trash. Oh. Ed wanted to communicate to me that they were being bad, and he had nothing to do with it. Good boy! On another day when he told me something was wrong, I found a plant had been knocked over and the water was

dripping on the floor. Ed kept looking at the cat under the table the plant was on, trying to tell me it was her fault. He never, of course, told me he was the one who chased her up onto the plant table. Ed paid extra attention to my needs, as runt dogs often do. If I couldn’t reach something in the bed of the truck, I only had to point at what I wanted and ask him to “bring it here” and he would oblige, and I would thank him with a pat. He squinted his eyes in pleasure, knowing he’d done things just right. It’s hard for me to convey what I “say” to dogs and other animals, but I know I do much of it with my eyes, touch and gestures. Dogs watch us intently for guidance, and sometimes they know what we’re doing before we know ourselves. A good herd dog waits for direction from the handler, but frankly he’s probably already determined what should come next. I lost my horse one day on my way to my Forest Service camp, and my faithful dog followed him up the trail. The dog kept coming back to me, then dashing back up the trail, and I calculated how far the horse was in front of me by how long it took the dog round-trip. She was instructing me about the distance between the loose horse and me. Dogs and cats take our pain, anguish and joy internally. If we’re in pain for a long time, they’ll often turn gray prematurely. A friend of mine had encephalitis, and her dog turned gray quickly, probably because the dog was both worrying and trying to absorb the sickness for her pack. I’ve seen a sore leg on a dog turn gray as well, because dogs can internalize their pain so an enemy won’t know. A dog will clear our path if we’re hiking or riding, lest some enemy would do us harm. Of course they can take that a bit too far. Their nature is to move others away from us, so we humans must teach them we don’t always need their help. A dog’s life isn’t always the way it seems; they’re very busy trying to understand our every move. They may lounge around as if lazy, but if you watch them, they’re generally lying where they can see you or sift through the intentions of intruders. Our border collies rest where they can survey as much of our world as possible: the car or truck, our coats, horses and us. When clearing trail in the woods, my dog Badge always napped where she could see the horses, because she knew they were to “stay.” Our dogs’ job, as they understand it, is to take care of their friends. Just ask them.

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FRIENDLY DIRTBAGS May we ever embrace the creative, the unconventional, the conscientious car-dwellers. By Cosmo Langsfeld Half a decade ago I spent the better part of a summer helping coach a middle school mountain bike team. On the first day of practice, the kids and a few of their parents gathered in Mt. Crested Butte for a meetand-greet. In introducing me to the group, my boss explained that I was “kind of a dirtbag, but a friendly one.” She meant well by this, and really, I can’t fault her for the label. I was living out of a $750 1988 Toyota Forerunner that, although I didn’t know it at the time, had less than a year of life left before the engine would catch fire (luckily for me, I’d sold it by then). I was camped up Washington Gulch, commuting to work via mountain bike trails. I showered

in the basement of the Mt. Crested Butte Town Hall on my way to work, though eventually I came to prefer bucket baths at camp – after dark, for privacy’s sake – with water heated on a Coleman stove. When it’s 40 degrees out, that last bit of warm water dumped over your head at the end is nothing short of bliss. The merits of different bathing methods aside, though, none of this helped my case in contending that I was not a dirtbag, and for the remainder of the summer, at least to those kids, I became The Friendly Dirtbag. They made up a song that usually included a verse about living in a car and having poor hygiene. (Clearly they were

not privy to the bucket baths. I think they thought that anyone with long hair and a beard was inherently dirty.) My mountain bike was far from modern. I was fighting an uphill battle against this uninvited branding, so I reluctantly accepted the moniker. Webster’s 1998 New World College Dictionary does not contain the word dirtbag. But I’ve heard it defined as one who averts social norms in pursuit of an alternative lifestyle because the contentment or fulfillment or joy, or whatever the individual gets out of it, outweighs any benefits that a “normal” life might bring. To me the term dirtbag means living life as one chooses, regardless of others’ 119

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approval, and so long as those choices don’t harm anyone or anything, then haters be damned. For me personally, it means remaining conscious of how I live my life, the things I own, the activities I partake in, the people I surround myself with. The word “simplicity” comes to mind. For a segment of our valley’s population, living out of a car or tent for the summer is a rite of passage. I need all of my fingers and most of my toes to count the people I know who opted to live for a time without a physical address. For most it was a choice, centering around saving money on rent. For me, the extra cash in my pocket was a no-brainer. It allowed me to have a go at “making a living from writing” – something that seven or so years later has yet to pan out, at least as I’d originally planned. More than money, though, it was freedom. My own space. My own rules. The ability to periodically pack up my belongings, move one drainage to the west, and get a fresh start on life. In the years since that time, I’ve upgraded my living situation to four framed walls and a slanted roof; it is, for better or worse, completely stationary. But I still don’t own many things. If I strapped the bed to the roof, I could probably fit everything I own in my truck and still have room for a passenger and myself. Life is slightly more complicated than back then, or maybe I’m just more aware and accepting of some of life’s complexities. But there is still the draw of that life, the raw versatility, the freedom of movement, and whenever possible, I err on the side of simplicity. After that summer with the mountain bike team, I left the country for a few years. Not because of any legal trouble, as one well-meaning stranger wondered when I put it that way, but to volunteer with the Peace Corps in Paraguay. There I paid $35 a month for a house that was 50% larger than my current residence. I grew a measurable portion of my own food and got “paid” for my work with local beekeepers with a liter or two of honey per harvest and the occasional watermelon. I had shoddy cell service and an internet connection that barely qualified as such. It was a good life, and I considered myself to be doing pretty well. When I moved back to town a few years ago, I ran into a group of kids from the mountain bike team. A parent recognized me and struck up a conversation. While we

were chatting, one of the kids looked at me, kind of squinting, head cocked, and said in the rising intonation of a question, “The Friendly Dirtbag?” I wonder sometimes what kind of impact I had on those youngsters during our short time together, and whether or not their parents appreciated it. Sure, I considered myself a positive role model, but if a kid goes home and expresses an interest in living out of a vehicle when he grows up, you’ve got to wonder what goes through his parent’s mind. Then again, as a five-year-old, while my best friend aspired to be a professional baseball player, I announced that I was going to be a garbage man. I mean, who wouldn’t want to ride around on the back of a large truck all day and crush things in a giant compacter? I suppose everyone has his or her priorities, and in the end, that’s what it comes down to. Crested Butte prides itself on its unconventionality. It’s where the hippies and ski bums found refuge and the freedom of the mountains. The height of my dirtbagginess took place in the days before I ever heard the terms “housing crisis” or “housing shortage.” I knew people at that time who moved here, sight unseen, and within a week had found a decent place to live, in town, at an affordable price. You could do that then. Things have changed, though. Rent is more expensive. More houses and accessory dwellings are set aside for short-term rentals and part-time residents. The ski resort, the main employer at the north end of the valley, was recently sold to a company that at one time was the antithesis of what folks in town considered themselves to be. The corporate takeover of the ski resort is a symptom of the many changes and evolutions that began more than half a century ago with the founding of the ski area. As long as I can remember, jaded locals – myself included – have found something to complain about. The cult classic ski film Ghost Town Skiers features one Crested Butte local lamenting how the influx of people and money was rendering the town unrecognizable. That movie came out in 1973. Hell, back then most of the roads in town weren’t even paved yet, people still heated their homes with coal, and on a clear night with a full moon you could flip your headlights off and cruise down 135 in the dark without any worry of seeing another soul. Or so I’m told. I’ve had a lot of conversations over the last year about the character of Crested



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Cosmo Langsfeld, the dirtbag years.

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Butte, what makes the town special. Reasons run the gamut: Grump burnings and wildflowers, unparalleled backcountry and the ability to go months without ever starting your car. Underlying these conversations is a subtle anxiety that perhaps this singular Crested Butte way of being could be drowned out by a flurry of development and an influx of money and people with a different idea of what life here is all about. Though we have yet to see whether any of these fears are rational, it does feel like we as community have come to a crossroads, not unlike the ones we have navigated many times before. Things are not what they used to be, and yet, some aspects of life here are better than they once were. My one hope is that, as we navigate whatever iteration of progress comes next, we carry a sense of acceptance forward with us, carving out a space for creativity and the “alternative” lifestyles that our town culture has always allowed for. This summer I will undoubtedly throw a tent and a cooler full of goodies, maybe a mountain bike and fly rod, into my truck and head into the hills for a few days. Some people call this camping. I like to think of it as reliving the glory days of my early twenties. I’ll go to places where there won’t be so many people. There I’ll find a little corner of wilderness to call home for a short time and say a quiet prayer of gratitude for my good fortune in being able to live here for so many years. May the dirtbags of tomorrow be granted the opportunities and acceptance I’ve been blessed to enjoy.


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Summer 2019 events


Everything You Wanted to Know about Poetry but Were Afraid to Ask


National Trails Day, Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA)

2, 9, 16

Farmers Market and Art Market on west end of Elk Avenue


Evolution Bike Park opens


KBUT’s Friday Night Fish Fry


Alpenglow: 10th Mtn. Div. & Floodgate Operators, Ctr. for the Arts (CFTA)


Crested Butte Film Festival (CBFF) monthly series: Intl. Ocean Film Tour


Art Walk at Crested Butte studios and galleries


Oh Be Joyful steep creek kayaking race


Literary Arts’ program Writing Place: Homelands in Literature

23, 30

Farmers Market and Art Market on west end of Elk Avenue


Alpenglow concert: Wood Belly


Wild Minds Young Writers Summer Workshops (middle school)


Public Policy Forum (PPF): John Leshy, water and public lands


Live! from Mt. Crested Butte free oudoor concert


Crested Butte Bike Week


High School Writers’ Workshops with Shelley Read


Bridges of the Butte townie tour for Adaptive Sports Center (ASC)


Black & White Ball, Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum (CBMHM)

JULY 1-28

Crested Butte Music Festival


Alpenglow concert: Rebirth Brass Band


PPF: Cheryl Thomas, global efforts to curb violence against women


Art Walk at Crested Butte studios and galleries

3, 10, 17 Live! from Mt. Crested Butte, free outdoor concerts Petar Dopchev


Independence Day parade, games, fireworks, Gothic-CB 1/3 Marathon


Kinder-Padon Gallery Grand Opening: Curtis Speer, CFTA


Wildflower Festival (with related CFTA art & literary classes)


Chalk Walk with Avenheart, CFTA

7, 14, 21, 28 Farmers Market and Art Market on west end of Elk Avenue 7

CBFF monthly film series: “The Great Buster”


Alpenglow concert: Artisanals


PPF: John Nichols on Trump and the media


Field Notes: nature journaling (CFTA)

11, 18, 25 Thursday afternoon Farmers Market at 5th and Maroon


Sandra Mabry


Crested Butte Land Trust’s Caddis Cup fly-fishing tourney


Grin & Bear It trail run from Green Lake


Literary Pub Tour (CFTA)


Literary Arts workshop: Poetics of the Alpine Sublime (CFTA)


Alpenglow concert: The Jauntee


PPF: Sean Theriault on Congressional dysfunction, party polarization


Lao Tizer at the ArtRageous Gala


Intro to Screenwriting; How to Build a Monster; Cursing in Fantasy Worlds


Crested Butte Music Festival Gala

22, 29

Alpenglow concerts


PPF: Ronald Neumann, international diplomatic policy

24, 31

Live! from Mt. Crested Butte, free outdoor concerts

JULY cont. 25-28

Crested Butte Food & Wine Festival


Crested Butte Mountain Theatre (CBMT) production of “Annie”


Living Journeys Summit Hike


CBMBA campout and trail work


PPF: John Walsh on the role of an independent Justice Department

Rebecca Ofstadahl

Dusty Demerson

Chris Hanna


Summer 2019 events AUGUST 1

CBFF monthly film series: “At Eternity’s Gate”


Mountain Roots’ Feast in the Field

1, 8, 15

Thursday afternoon Farmers Market at 5th and Maroon


“Annie” continues at CBMT


Crested Butte Arts Festival


Crested Butte Open for Adaptive Sports Center

4, 11, 18, 25 Farmers Market and Art Market on west end of Elk Avenue 5, 12

Alpenglow concerts


PPF: Patty Limerick on what Colorado history teaches us for the future

7, 14

Live! from Mt. Crested Butte, free outdoor concerts


Gunnison Valley Literary Festival


Art Walk at Crested Butte studios and galleries


PPF final summer forum


CBFF monthly film series: “David Crosby: Remember My Name”


Outerbike in Mt. Crested Butte


Alpenglow concert in Crested Butte South: AJ Fullerton Band


Rocky Mountain Biological Lab Historic Preservation Dinner


Historic Pub Crawl, Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum

22, 29

Thursday afternoon Farmers Market at 5th and Maroon


KBUT Kampout at the I Bar Ranch

Mary Schmidt


Xavier Fané

Sandra Mabry


West Elk Bike Classic

1, 8, 15, 22, 29 Farmers Market and Art Market on Elk Avenue 4-5

Showcase Reception and Community Iron Pour


Mt. Crested Butte Chili & Beer Festival


Park to Peak to Pint run for the gO Initiative


Sundance Head Concert for Tough Enough to Wear Pink


Art Walk in Crested Butte studios and galleries


CBMBA annual fall ride and end-of-season party


Vinotok fall festival


CBFF monthly film series: “Destroyer”


Crested Butte Film Festival


CBMT production of “Becky Shaw”


CBMT’s “Becky Shaw” continues


Farmers Market and Art Market on Elk Avenue


Children’s Book Festival


CBMT’s “A Nightmare Off Elk Avenue”


KBUT’s Zombie Prom

John Holder

Ongoing events: Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, Trailhead Children’s Museum, Stepping Stones Children’s Center, Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum (historic town tours) and Center for the Arts (culinary, literary, Tour de Forks and arts events). Updated calendar: 127

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Irwin Brewing Company



326 Belleview

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Last Steep



208 Elk Ave

Page 131

Marchitellis Gourmet Noodle Restaurant


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Page 130

Old Town Inn



708 6th Street

Page 129

Peak Property Management Lodging


318 Elk Ave

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Princess Wine Bar

Wine Bar/music


218 Elk Ave

Page 102

Public House

Restaurant/music 970-444-2277

202 Elk Ave

Page 131

Tin Cup Pasty Co


425 Elk Ave

Page 130

Wooden Nickel


222 Elk Ave

Page 66


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Farewell to a good neighbor Crested Butte will bid farewell to a culinary mainstay at the end of September. Then Donita’s Cantina will close after more than four decades of serving homemade salsa and colorful hospitality in Crested Butte. First located in the Elk Mountain Lodge, the eatery was moved to its Elk Avenue site by proprietors Donita and Gary Reitze. They passed the culinary torch to sisters Kay Peterson Cook and Heli Mae

Peterson, Don Cook and a staff of lively personalities. Many people have memories associated with the restaurant: birthdays, Tequila Nights, post-adventure celebrations. Donita’s Cantina also has been a loyal supporter of the Crested Butte Magazine and so many worthy community causes. Thank you, Kay, Heli Mae, Don and crew. It’s been a fun ride!




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Allan Ivy, Nathan Bilow, Lydia Stern and James Mongold

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