Of the 9 different places I lived in by the time I was 22 (including Germany, Florida, California, Colorado, NJ and Pennsylvania), the most extraordinary one has always been our cattle ranch on Bonanza Road in southern Colorado. The road begins at the small town of Villa Grove and ends in the ghost town of Bonanza. The cut-out backdrop, as you look east, is of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, consisting of nine 14,000ft peaks stretching all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico- a 3 hour drive south. The range staggers high above Villa Grove, a town on Highway 285 you ‘may miss if you blink’, as the locals say- or more likely, if you happen to be speeding. A general store (The Villa Grove Trade), pottery shops, and a post office make up the town’s main attractions, in addition to a church. Buildings with western style façades face adobe buildings opposite the highway and on a typical blue sky day, it feels like a wild west town where tumble weeds should be blowing by. (They do.)
Villa Grove is in the San Luis Valley, saddled to the east by the Sangre mountains (as mentioned above) and to the west by the San Juans. The Valley floor, which was a lakebed 5 million years ago, is relatively flat and dramatically defined by its protective ranges. Because of the startling 7,000ft trough the valley sits in and the unobstructed and unpolluted atmosphere of a small population, the sky and clouds appear larger than normal. Sunrises and sunsets paint large strokes of pink, yellow and red. Blue skies (350 per year to be exact) contrast against full cumulus clouds in a dramatic effect. Sangre de Cristo means ‘blood of Christ’ in Spanish and you’ll know why when you see the final rays of the day turn red as they slide down its mountain sides at sunset.
Wildlife is speckled throughout the region: coyotes yip in the brisk early mornings, elk and antelope herds stop to look as the periodic car makes its way up Bonanza Road, and chipmunks and prairie dogs scout out the scene nervously. The alternating blooms of wildflowers from April to October speckle the fields purple and white next to yellow desert sagebrush, patterns and boundaries defined by creeks and irrigation paths.
I’ve been home a week now and I don’t remember the beauty of this area ever being so vibrant. Perhaps it’s global warming, but we’ve had much more rain recently and the desert dryness seems to be a thing of the past. On my morning runs, I pass deer and rabbits, cattle and horses. I come back for breakfast to find giant blue birds (stellar jays and piñon jays) covering our front deck (waiting impatiently for bird feed) and hummingbirds darting here and there. My afternoons find me out on a tractor brush-hogging, chasing cows into fresh pastures, or out in the fields pruning noxious weeds. The only noise, aside from a cow’s moo or a passing truck, is the occasional fighter jet breaking the sound barrier across an endless sky.
It’s peaceful, empty of car horns and sky scrapers- those are in a different world altogether- and the setting makes you wonder how all we got here in the first place and where we’re going. Standing among wildlife in fields of flowers, I feel like I’m in a painting. How could something so magical be on this earth… and why did it take me nearly 30 years (and 5 continents) to appreciate it?