Tag Archives: Centennial

Four Corners – Wolf Creek Pass and Home Grown Delights

6 Aug

We left Alamosa, Colorado and headed west on Highway 160. This took us through towns like Monte Vista and Del Norte. It was one of those days on a road trip where you are just trying to get from one place to another. I drove and looked at the scenery. My wife rode shotgun and looked at the scenery. The girls read, listened to music and occasionally looked at the scenery.

We made our way into the mountains and into a landscape that most people think about when they think of Colorado. The road was almost straight up as we made our way through Wolf Creek Pass.

At the time, I did not know that was its name. The other day, I was at Rotary and was telling one of my table mates about the trip. When I said that we drove from Alamosa to Durango, he said that we went through Wolf Creek Pass and that he had ridden a bicycle through it. I immediately thought about the cyclists that we saw and how miserable they looked.

We were cruising along when I realized that we went by the marker of the Continental Divide. Of course, that gave me the chance to explain what that was to the girls. I was bummed that we did not stop, but that made me determined to stop at the next place.

Crossing the divide meant that we were heading down, and that meant driving down a steep road instead of up one. As we came upon a curve, I noticed a sign for a scenic view and whipped the car into the parking area. When we got out, this is what we saw.image-33

There was a trail that led to a rock outcropping on which my wife and stepdaughter did not want to venture. They were fine behind the fence. However, I could tell that my stepdaughter’s friend wanted to go, and that gave me the excuse to go, too.

It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. When people think of the West, they may think about cacti or mesas or plains covered with buffalo. I think about all of that, but I also think about places like this.

It brought to mind Centennial, the miniseries from the 1970s. At the end, Merle Haggard sang “I Guess He’d Rather Be In Colorado.” At that moment, I could think of no place that I would rather be.

We continued driving to Pagosa Springs, a town that I thought would be a good place to stop and explore. However, the girls wanted to keep going. We got a snack and chugged along.

Finally, we made it to Durango, and cool town in the southwestern corner of the state. After some spirited discussion over who was going to get what room, we ate at the Irish Embassy Pub and walked the streets filled with shops of many kinds. There was one place in particular that caught my wife’s eye.

We had already discussed the fact that marijuana is legal in Colorado, and we had wondered if there was a store in Durango. Suddenly, my wife looked across the street and saw a place called Eolus. It had a sign that said Home Grown. She immediately said that it had to be a marijuana store. We crossed the street to find that it was the nicest restaurant in town with a menu of locally grown ingredients.

It looked fancy, but the food could not have been as good as the Bangers and Mash I had at pub. After more walking and shopping, we made our way back to the room. The next day, we had to get up bright and early for something that I have always wanted to do.

The American West Coming Through My Speakers

14 Jan

After lunch, I was driving back to work with my iPod cranked up. The sun was shining and masked the coldness of the air. Before turning onto campus, one of my favorite songs came through the speakers.

“I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado” was recorded by John Denver, and that is the version on my iPod. However, that is not the version that I first heard and made the song hit me in my soul.

Merle Haggard sang the song in the last scene of Centennial, a 1970s miniseries about the American West. I have already written about that movie and will not repeat myself. That scene is on YouTube, and I urge you to watch it. You will probably recognize some of the actors, and there is a great message. It gets me every time.

When I hear the song, I am reminded of my love for the American West. Its history. Its land. There is nothing better than climbing the dunes at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Mesa Verde National Park brings back the echoes of the ancient peoples. The streets of Durango harken to the days of yesteryear, and the train in Durango will take you on a great ride to Silverton.Durango

The song is about Colorado, but, to me, it is about the entirety of the West. The mountains. The plains. The deserts. Life the way it was, and life the way it is. This song takes my mind to New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and all of the others states that make up that region. The song says Colorado, but it means everything. To me, the song means relaxation, peace of mind and wide open spaces.

The words go like this.

I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.
He’d rather spend his time out where the sky looks like a pearl after the rain.
Once again I see him walking, once again I hear him talking
to the stars he makes and asking them the bus fare.

I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.
He’d rather play his banjo in the morning when the moon is scarcely gone.
In the dawn the subway’s coming, in the dawn I hear him humming
some old song he wrote of love in Boulder Canyon. I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.

I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.
I guess he’d rather work out where the only thing you earn is what you spend.
In the end up in his office, in the end a quiet cough is all he has to show,
he lives in New York City. I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.

New Mexico Days

26 May

Another trip to New Mexico has been completed, and it is time to write about our adventures in the Land of Enchantment. For those who do not know, a few members of our faculty teach a field trip course in northern New Mexico. With Santa Fe as our base, we take students on daily excursions.

The days were packed with various activities and learning experiences, but I am not going to write about all of them. That would take a week’s worth of posts. Instead, this post will be about the thing I liked most about each day.

Friday – The morning was spent in a ghost town and at a national park. However, lunch at Horseman’s Haven was the highlight of the day. I saw the restaurant on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show and asked that it be added to the dining list. My burrito proved this choice to be a good one.image-30

Saturday – We went to a few places that are on the itinerary every year. Then, we went to a place that was new for the trip. I have been told that Taos is a great place to visit, but the trip organizer has a bad opinion of the place. Due to months of badgering on my part, he agreed to take us there. He got more grumpy with every mile closer we got.

Unfortunately, it was raining in Taos, and we did not see much. However, it was not raining when we crossed the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is 565 feet above the river. It was cool to walk across it and take a peak at the bottom of the canyon.image-31

Sunday – This day brought the highlight of the trip. We had lunch at the home of Josephine, a lady who lives in the Santo Domingo Pueblo. It was a feast of Native American food prepared by her and the other women in her family. Everything was delicious, and the tamales topped it all.image-32

While we ate, Josephine talked about growing up in the pueblo and about the problems facing her people. She mourned the slow disappearance of her native language and lamented the effects of alcoholism on her community. Hopefully, the students were as touched by her hospitality and honesty as much as we teachers.

Monday – As a historian, I should pick a historic site as the highlight of this day, but we visited a site that I have seen many times. Instead, I am picking a hike up one of the volcanoes that helped create the northern New Mexico landscape.image-33

Three ancient volcanoes sit on the edge of Albuquerque and serve as sentinels over the city. I climbed one of them with a former colleague who retired and moved to Santa Fe. It was great to walk with him and rekindle our friendship.

Tuesday – Have you ever been to a town that died from its evil and was reborn through love? When I first went to Madrid and asked about its history, that was the story that I heard. We jokingly call Madrid a hippie colony, but it is an old ghost town that, in the 1970s, became inhabited by people who wanted to escape the rat race and live a simpler life.

I did not take any pictures of Madrid, but you have seen it if you have watched Wild Hogs. In fact, that movie became part of this year’s experience.

Madrid has become a destination for motorcyclists who have seen that film. As we stood in front of the building featured in one of the pivotal scenes, I explained to a student that the building was part of the movie set. An old biker overheard and got mad because he had ridden a long way to eat in a fake diner.

Unlike him, I am never disappointed in Madrid. I always wonder what it would be like to escape to an old town and live a life without worry. Of course, I would probably get tired of it after two days.

Wednesday – Chaco Canyon is an amazing place to visit. It is even worth the long journey to get there. The canyon was home to a people who disappeared, and archaeologists have been trying to figure them out ever since. The conclusions often change, and some are scoffed at with ridicule. The questions may be hard to answer, but the beauty of the canyon leaves no doubts.image-34

Thursday – This was another day of national parks and historic sites. However, they did not compare to our visit to Santa Fe Bite, home of the city’s best green chile cheeseburgers. The restaurant used to be in another location and go by a different name. The important thing has not changed.image-35

Friday – Our last day in New Mexico was spent at Ghost Ranch, where dinosaur remains have been found and artists have been inspired. We hiked the high mesa trail and looked over a landscape that can be found in the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe.image-36

Like I did on all of our hikes, I looked over the land and listened to the theme of Centennial, the 1970s miniseries about the American West. Everyone else thought I was insane, but the music inspires me. I knew that listening to it would add something to my experience and offer something to visualize when I hear that music in the future.

As always, we had a great trip filled with great experiences. These were just a few of them.

Only the Rocks Live Forever

3 Jul

My dad and I just finished our multi-week project of watching Centennial, the 1970s miniseries covering the history of a fictional Colorado town. Lasting over 26 hours, the movie follows the lives of people who influenced the area and help found the town. Native Americans. Trappers. Mountain men. Pioneers. Farmers. Cowboys. The list goes on and on. All of the people you can think of from the history of the West are represented.

As we watched Centennial, several ideas swept through my mind. First was the fact that this was a well-made movie, and, although it was based on a work of fiction, accurately portrayed the history of the West better than just about any movie I have seen. It showed the lives of ordinary people and the complexities they faced. After all, they were living in a hard land that was taken from someone else.

Once my mind wrapped itself around the quality of the movie, the storyline began to remind me why I chose history as a profession. In the final episode, a historian shows up to research the town for an article. When he arrives in the village of 2,000 people, he wonders why he has been given the assignment of writing about a town he had never heard of with founders who only the locals remembered. Then, he began to hear the stories of the characters that we had been watching.

I suppose that I am not making sense, but the historian discovered that the little town of Centennial had an interesting history of regular people living regular lives. That’s what history is really about. Sometimes, we get caught up in the deeds of famous people and forget that history is made by everyone.

My next thought – actually, feeling – was a sense of sadness that hit me on several levels. Centennial takes the viewer through several generations of families, which means we are watching their lives and their deaths. We see them starting life with youthful exuberance and ending it after triumphs and tragedies. History isn’t just about the lives of people but also about their deaths.

As I watched the lives of these characters pass before my eyes, I also realized that my dad, like the older men in the movie, has already lived the majority of his life. He is the rock of our family and has accomplished more than I could ever imagine. Yet, he is getting more feeble as time passes, and there will be a time when he will pass away. Then, it will truly be up to my brother and me to carry on the beliefs and ideals of our family.

My dad and I have done a lot of things together. He took me to my first University of Tennessee football game when I was 6, and we have been going ever since. It’s just that he doesn’t make it to as many games as he used to. Together, we have traveled through all 50 states because he wanted me to see historic sites and natural wonders. I saw that watching this movie is another thing that we could do together. As we watched, he would have me pause it to tell him the real history of what the movie was portraying.

As the last episode ended, I was sad because a movie that I enjoyed and invested in had come to an end. I was sad because this experience with my dad had come to an end, and I fear the time when I will not be able to have more experiences with him. I was sad because the movie reminded me something that I had forgotten as I teach about people in the pages of history books. As a line in Centennial says, “Only the rocks live forever.”

On the Wings of Thorn Birds and the Winds of War

8 Jun

Have you ever noticed that television is filled with copycats? Let one show succeed, and the networks clamor with a plethora of similar shows. That’s why the airwaves are currently filled with reality shows and crime lab dramas. That’s why a few years ago we had dozens of game shows with contestants trying to become millionaires. That’s also why television from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s was dominated by miniseries – dramas, usually based on popular novels, that spanned a few nights. They were must-see TV back in the day.

This topic has entered my mind because I am in the middle of rewatching one of my favorites. As I have watched it, I have remember how millions of people got caught up in these shows, and it seemed as if the world stopped to see what would happen. The following are the ones that I remember the most.

Centennial – The one I am currently watching was based on a James Michener novel and lasted over 26 hours. It traced the history of a western town from the arrival of the first trapper until the 1970s and took viewers into the lives of the people who played a role in the history of the area. It was fictional but had some real history mixed in. It seemed to star every television personality of the day, including Richard Chamberlain.

Roots – The granddaddy of them all, this miniseries was based on the work of Alex Haley, a fellow Tennessean, as he traced his family’s history through slavery. Over 100 million people watched it finale, and it spawned two sequels. After this success, Haley was sued for plagiarism and admitted that some parts of his work were lifted from another source. It seemed to star every African-American actor of the day but did not include Richard Chamberlain.

The Thorn Birds – Based on a novel by Colleen McCullough, it was the second highest rated miniseries of all time. Admittedly, I did not watch this one, and I am not sure my parents did either. It is set in Australia and follows a woman who is in love with a priest. This causes her problems for obvious reasons. It had a bevy of well-known stars, including Richard Chamberlain.

Rich Man, Poor Man – I always thought that was a cool title. This one came early in the miniseries experiment and lasted seven weeks. Based on a novel by Irwin Shaw, it followed the differing paths of the Jordache brothers. Obviously, one became wealthy, although not by selling fashionable jeans, and the other one struggled to get by. Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte played the brothers, but it did not star Richard Chamberlain.

Shogun – James Clavell’s novel was a fictionalized account of the life of William Adams. Don’t know who he is? Don’t worry, I don’t know either. However, I know that the main character is an Englishman named John Blackthorne, and he finds himself shipwrecked off the coast of Japan. After the wreck, he makes enemies and friends while trying to adjust to a different culture. The miniseries was filled with Japanese actors and Richard Chamberlain.

The Winds of War – Herman Wouk’s writing was the basis for this one as it details the years leading up to the entrance of the United States into World War II. It covers major world events during this period and their effects on two American families, the Henry’s and the Jastow’s. Robert Mitchum starred in this series, but it did not star Richard Chamberlain.

These are but a few examples of a genre that once thrived on the television sets of America. Obviously, I have missed several. If you have any favorites let me know.